Tips for Parents by Susie Kohl

Susie Kohl is White Pony Director and the author of numerous books and articles on parenting and child development.
 

Table of Contents

 

 

29 MAR 06:

Be Silly: Warming Children’s Hearts with Humor

Several seconds of silliness (or more) can bring about cooperation in the most difficult situations. For example, when we’re trying to get everyone ready quickly, our tone usually gets more serious: “Do it now.” “Move more quickly without getting sidetracked.” Getting distracted by humor for a few moments often lubricates things to move along more effectively than pressure. Asking a child if his shoes go on his ears when he’s supposed to put them on or pretending that you are going to wear his jacket can change everyone’s mood—especially ours.

Since humor presents a little puzzle for the mind to unravel, it takes the child’s mind off doing something she doesn’t want. Laughter warms our child’s heart because it sends the message that we enjoy being playful even if it’s just for a moment. Every time we use humor (non-sarcastic) with a child, we also provide a role model for relating well to others. Children who laugh easily usually engage with others more skillfully.

Of course, remembering to inject a lighthearted tone when we have a goal to achieve, like getting children to bed or into their baths, isn’t easy. But those are the times when sharing a giggle helps the most. Since science tells us that the act of smiling actually makes us feel more positive, reminding ourselves to lighten our expression when we need our child to do something is often the first step toward a harmonious process.

back to top

 

 

12 APR 06:

Shhh! Listening to the Silence

If you’ve grown accustomed to the face of rain, try tuning to the sound, especially with your child. We can cultivate good listening through activities that develop the skill. Play a game in which you and your child stand on opposite sides of the room and see if you can hear each other whisper. Take turns closing your eyes and identifying a soft sound like a broom sweeping or two spoons tapping.

Show your child how to be a good listener by giving your full attention when she’s talking—turn

off your cell phone and ask other family members not to interrupt during a conversation. Reflect what you hear your child saying, and when you’re trying to make a point, ask your child to repeat what you’ve said back for accuracy.

At school, we sometimes ask children to “listen to the silence,” challenging them to be absolutely quiet for a short period of time.

When my children were young and they argued, I sometimes insisted we have five minutes of silence. This was especially effective when riding in the car. Instead of working out who started the fight or broke a rule, we simply tried not talking and found the silence brought rich rewards. Transgressions were forgotten. Happy thoughts emerged. After a while, when a conflict arose, my children would often ask for silence.

In a world where so many sounds compete for our attention, learning how to find silence within ourselves is a vital resource. Quiet creates the capacities for concentration on external tasks and on our own inner voice. Try taking time to hear the sound of special things or listen together and to create no sound at all. You and your family may discover a new form of refreshment.

back to top

 

 

19 APR 06:

Dressing the Part: Learning to Play a Role

When I picked up my eight-year-old friend to attend a school play, he came out of his house proudly displaying a white shirt and blue tie. He explained he was dressed for up for this special occasion. He walked taller when we got to school as if his “being” had changed to suit the occasion. When we made our way into the audience, he looked at some children who weren’t dressed up and asked, “Don’t they know this is special?” He could see that in their casual attire, they were just acting like their everyday kid selves.

They say “clothes make the man,” and in the case of my young friend, I think they did. As someone in the audience, he saw his part as looking especially nice to honor the occasion, sitting quietly and focusing not on his buddies but the stage.

In our casual culture, power struggles often ensue when we insist a child wear what we think is suit-able. Asking a child to pick an outfit she thinks is special to honor a friend’s birthday or for a holiday gathering may help her to join a feeling of festivity.

Children can start learning about entering different roles at a young age if they are coached with enthusiasm. We can begin by asking what they think: “What should people wear to a theater?” “How should someone act when eating at a restaurant?” “What about a being a guest at a birthday party?”

Talking about how to be a party guest, an audience member, a teammate, or a quiet shopper helps children to be aware of what other people need in a situation and how they can participate in positive ways. They can also learn implicitly that they aren’t always the center of attention, but sometimes are supporting players who have a vital role in helping activities to go well.

Of course, if we expect perfection, neither we nor the child will have a good time. As we go places with children, we expose them to adult roles and give them the chance to act their most grown-up selves for a time. Being a bigger “self” can be fun, but we also need to be there to support their baby selves when they get tired.

back to top

 

 

26 APR 06:

Counting to 10: Creating Space, Balancing Emotions

Did your parents ever tell you to count to ten when you were angry? Actually, the suggestion has credibility. It helps us to create a space inside ourselves before we say or do something we’ll regret. In addition, cognitive activities help us balance emotions.

At school, we try to always start by acknowledging the child’s feelings: “I see that you’re angry.” But when a child gets lost in emotion, we might ask a question that piques the child’s interest, for example asking “Do you know who this child is?” as we point to someone in the class photo. We consciously try not to talk children out of their feeling or shame them for carrying on when their intensity doesn’t seem necessary to us. We try to pull them into a mental task to give them a tool for recouping.

One day when a five-year-old boy was sobbing, I asked him what was wrong. He was too overwhelmed to respond. An idea came to me. I showed him how to hold up one finger if he was upset about not getting a particular toy. Then I said he could hold up two fingers for something like missing his mom. If he held up three, it would be about wanting to do something in particular. Slowly, he reached out his hand and put up two fingers. As he watched himself hold up two, he looked at his hand with enthusiasm. Part of his wonder seemed to be his success in communicating in this odd way. But he also appeared to be intrigued by the number two.

Some mental activities like counting or calling up the answer to a question produce a kind of mental order. We feel stronger when we can bring ourselves back to feeling centered or in control without any criticism for our strong emotions. Any tools we can devise to support children to find inner poise are important in this demanding world.

back to top

 

 

10 MAY 06

Drawing on Stored Images and Words for Inspiration

A friend told me of a boy who used to repeat, “Coming soon to a theater near you!” Funny the phrases that embed themselves in our brains. I can still recite jingles I heard in my childhood and lines from the mystery show my parents watched weekly. Perhaps in that way we humans are like parrots: we repeat what we hear to others and ourselves. As any of us who have slipped and said something we didn’t want our children to hear only to hear them repeating it can attest, this isn’t always a tendency we cherish.

However, the amazing capacity of the mind to absorb and to hold experience also allows us to reach inside ourselves for inspiration. I love it when children spontaneously sing lines from the songs we’ve created for them while they’re doing other things. “Quiet as a cloud that tiptoes through the sky,”* a child will intone when we’re trying to lower our voices.

Our songs were created to nestle in children’s minds and provide lovely images for the future. The lines are affirmations they can draw on without much thought—more uplifting than a slogan for TV—and helpful to anyone who happens to be listening. We can be mindful of the brain’s power of retention when we read books to children or teach them a poem or prayer. Recently a friend told me that walking with her son, she was frustrated when he stepped in a cowpie. She wanted to turn back. Quoting from his favorite storybook, he asked, “Why turn little problems into big ones?” His ability to recall that positive thought transformed their hike.

* From “The Quiet Song” by Hank Mindlin back to top

 

 

17 MAY 06:

Catching Children in Acts of Kindness

“What made you do that?” I asked a five-year-old boy who had “written” an apology note to a girl in our class. She had accused him of hurting her feelings by asserting that she wasn’t right about a fact she had stated. When I asked his motivation, the boy just smiled broadly. “Was it your heart that made you do it?” I asked. He nodded yes, still beaming from the girl’s positive reaction and my delight.

Previously, the girl had demanded a verbal apology for trying to prove her wrong. He had refused, continuing his drawing. Putting his apology on paper was his idea. When he handed it to the girl, he offered, “It says, ‘Sorry.’” When she looked pleased, he amended, “It says, ‘I love you.’”

The act of doing something nice often evokes loving feelings that might not have been present during a conflict. For example, the husband who buys his wife flowers, even though he still feels resentful, often lets go of those feelings when handing her the bouquet.

As parents and teachers, we have the chance to notice a child’s kind act with appreciation. We know that catching them in the act of being nice encourages consideration in the future. Our comments also give children the chance to stop and notice what it feels like when their hearts open to someone else. Usually, that joy feels so much better than being right during the argument.

back to top

 

 

24 MAY 06:

Giving Children Healthy Choices for Snack, Lunch

Remember the saying “You are what you eat”? I hate to think how my teenage pizza addiction affected my growing body. Fortunately, today parents have much more information available about nutrition than our families did when we were growing up.

First Five, an organization dedicated to helping young children, is currently airing a wonderful TV ad showing real children pleading for sugar and fat. This ad does its own small part to counteract the trend toward giving preschoolers pre-packaged food that contain excessive fat, sugar, nitrates, and food coloring.

Parents are put in a very difficult position when it comes to food. With national awareness of the role food plays in childhood obesity and diabetes increasing, people are concerned about their children’s health. At the same time, children are conditioned to want trendy foods that contain ingredients that are bad for them.

Teachers want to support parents in sending easy-to-prepare, healthy foods for their children. We see the effects of sugar and additives in children’s behavior so we put a lot of effort into offering the healthiest snacks we can find.

Here are some suggestions for quick lunches that promote physical and emotional well-being:

  • Having little portions of a variety of foods allows children to make choices at lunchtime. They may not be in the mood for last night’s leftovers, but if they also have slices of cheese or a hard-boiled egg, it makes lunchtime more satisfying.
  • Hot vegetables or soup in a thermos, cut fruit in plain yogurt, plain applesauce, celery with peanut butter, carrots with ranch dressing, and nuts are all foods that promote children’s growth at a time when their brains and bodies are growing rapidly.
  • Offering all healthy choices also empowers children because they can decide what they are in the mood to eat without being obsessed by the sugary treat to come. If you do include candy or cookies, less is more.

It’s hard to put thought into our children’s lunches when our lives are so busy and preparation time is minimal. Please feel free to ask us for ideas for good foods that take little time.

back to top

 

 

31 MAY 06:

Helping Children Find Their Way to Slumberland

“Don’t close your eyes, don’t nod your head,” Mary Poppins sings to her two charges to lull them into falling into slumberland even though they’re resisting. Most of us need tricks to get children to bed at a reasonable time, especially now with darkness coming later.

The amount of sleep children get is actually crucially important. As one mother said recently, “A happy child is a well-rested child.” We’ve all paid the price for letting children stay up too late—crying, tantrums, frustrations. None of us can have the same self-control and perspective when we’re overtired, children least of all.

At school we often try to put over 20 children to sleep at the same time. How do we do it? We slow children down and calm them before we have them come very quietly into the nap room. We play soothing music that they associate with falling asleep. We sit by them, rubbing their backs or heads. In cases when a child’s talking disrupts others, a teacher takes him outside and quiets him before returning. We also use the rocking chair to rock children to sleep.

Here are some tips for helping children to get the sleep they need:/p>

  • Start bedtime at the same time each evening and make it early so they get at least 10 hours’ to 12 hours’ sleep. Children get reenergized as the evening goes on and it’s harder to calm them.
  • Avoid excitement before the bedtime routine begins.
  • Don’t let your children watch television before bedtime.
  • Blackout shades help keep out the summer evening light.
  • Establish bedtime rituals that you carry out each evening.
  • When a child says, “I can’t fall asleep,” don’t worry. Even lying in bed looking at shadows on the ceiling counts as rest. Take advantage of their bedtimes to get rest yourself.
back to top

 

 

7 JUN 06:

Looking Ahead, Remembering the Joy

Research shows that remembering joy helps all of us—adults and children—approach new challenges more effectively. Taking the time to ruminate at the end of the day or the year on events that made us smile or feel close to someone supports our belief that we can do the next thing. Asking “What made me happy today?” also trains our minds and bodies away from dwelling on the slights and resentments that cause our vision to contract.

Right now, as we find ourselves contemplating the next step, a new class, or new mixture of people, let’s remind ourselves of all the good moments. Talk to your child about how she has changed since the beginning of the year—the tasks mastered, the new relationships explored. We aren’t the same people we were in September. Let’s remember, during these days before life reconfigures, to be aware of all the ways we’ve had the privilege of growing together.

 

back to top  

13 SEP 06:

Thinking Positive Thoughts about Your Child

New beginnings help all of us to build strength and a positive view about what life will bring. I once wrote about a young woman who told me how much her father helped her by not worrying about her. “He always thought I would do fine.” What a gift we offer ourselves and our children when we can free ourselves of fears.

A father told me how he worried for months about how his son would adjust to school. “The first day my son said good-bye in five minutes, and I realized I had wasted all that time being anxious about how he would do.”

We can’t force ourselves not to worry. At least I can’t! Our ability to imagine what will happen in the future is one of our wonderful human capacities. However, the human tendency to imagine the worst shuts down our ability to inspire confidence.

We can start by catching ourselves when we start to think catastrophically about our children’s abilities to make their way. When we catch our-selves spinning a negative scenario in our minds, we can substitute a positive one: “I bet he can find the strength to handle this situation.”

Substituting positive thoughts also helps when difficulties do arise. If your child says that “No one played with me” or “I missed you during the morning,” sympathize and ask for specifics.

What part of the day did she feel sad (after snack? during playtime?)? Tell her you had those feelings sometimes as a child too. Ask about activities she enjoyed, people she wanted to play with, the highlights of her day. Then you can problem-solve about what to do in the difficult moments.

If we all practice having beautiful images of the new school year, we will create clouds of good feeling to support each other.

back to top

 

 

20 SEP 06:

Fall a Time to Simplify, Nurture

The steep learning curve of fall can remind us to pay attention to feelings before they get intense. Like starting a new job, entering a new school room can challenge a child’s feelings of competence and confidence. Parents have the difficult balancing act of holding a positive picture of children’s capabilities and paying attention to their level of stress.

Children react more when they have to rise to new expectations. They cry more easily and get angrier faster. Knowing that fall is hard doesn’t mean we don’t set limits on behavior, just that we notice stress and provide needed support.

You can help children feel capable of meeting challenges by making sure they get lots of rest and good food. This is the time to monitor how much children are doing rather than plunging them into more extracurricular activity.

The best antidote to feeling overwhelmed, for adults and children, is not only simplifying our schedules but spending nurturing time together relaxing. We carry just the right flame to kindle our children’s spirits just by enjoying their company.

back to top

 

 

27 SEP 06:

Tuning in to Children’s Fears

Two girls at my lunch table announced that they had transformed into “Hex Girls.” “What are Hex Girls?” I asked with the suspicion. The name didn’t sound preschool friendly.

“We kill people!” the two of them burst forth enthusiastically. “And we’re not afraid, are we?”

I told them that I WAS afraid and they laughed loudly. What a crazy idea for a teacher to be afraid. They talked again with bravado about their lack of fear—not just of Hex Girls killing, but in any situation.

It’s easy for adults to misunderstand children’s flaunting of courage, whether it’s watching a scary movie or going to a haunted house. Children often push down their fear to seem more grown up. After a movie, parents often state honestly, “He wasn’t afraid at all. He loved it.” As teachers, we observe the emergence of those fears.

Children are often haunted by images they have seen on TV or in movies. They display generalized anxiety, as if life is unsafe, then talk to us fearfully about what they’ve seen.

Learning to suppress fear isn’t helpful at any age. Feeling afraid is nature’s gift to alert us to danger. We want children to tune in to their feelings that something isn’t right in a situation.

Personally, I would rather remain ignorant about Hex Girls or horror movies and pay more attention to images that help me sleep peacefully at night.

back to top

 

 

4 OCT 06:

Making, Explaining Nutritious Food Choices

“My mom won’t let me have that kind of yogurt,” one four-year-old girl said to the child sitting next to her at lunch. She was referring to a prepackaged variety containing food coloring and sugar. We hear preschoolers talk about their lunches every day. Listening to them, it’s clear that they take in messages their parents give them about food. It’s helpful for children to know why we put particular foods in their lunches and don’t just cave to demands for the latest fad food.

When we talk about health and make it clear why we don’t want them to eat particular foods, children begin to form a point of view about the relationship between food and good health. The little girl whose mother won’t buy her “that kind of yogurt” may not be able to articulate her mother’s reasons for making that choice. But her tone communicated an acceptance of her mother’s point of view.

At this age we have the chance not only to talk about the value of nutritious eating but to illustrate what importance we give to food selection. Congratulate yourself when you make healthy food choices and tell your children why!

back to top

 

 

11 OCT 06:

Practical Life Learning: Teaching Self-Reliance

Teaching a child to do something for himself offers a vote of confidence. It sends the message “I think you can do it,” not “You’re too young, let me do it for you.”

Children have a glow about them when they put on their own jackets, socks, and shoes or clean up a spill. In our busy lives, it takes time to stop and break down a task into steps a child can understand. Yet this practical life learning actually has much more importance in a young child’s development than other things we think we’re supposed to teach.

Parents today often feel pressured to accelerate children’s academic learning, teaching them to decode words and numbers at a young age. However, this focus on abstractions can deter children from interests that build physical and emotional self-sufficiency, not to mention social skill.

Spending time peeling carrots with a child or neatly folding laundry gives her both social and practical skills. Not only does she get time relating to you, but she learns to master a task. We want children to become exuberant learners with confidence, built into their minds and bodies, that they can depend on themselves.

back to top

 

 

18 OCT 06:

Doing Things Slowly in a Fast World

Hannah handed me the four-inch rectangles she had cut and asked me to tape them carefully to her shoulder blades so they wouldn’t fall off. She said they were her angel wings. Soon several children asked Hannah to make them angel wings too. Without hesitation, she earnestly embarked on cutting and taping rectangles for all the takers. Each pair of wings received Hannah’s full attention—beautifully shaped papers that allowed her friends to fly.

Her dedication to the quality of each creation reminded me of the helpful-ness of doing things slowly in a fast world, especially when we demonstrate a task to children.

At school, when we show them how to use a piece of Montessori equipment, we present each detail as if in slow motion. Paying attention to the perfection of rolling a rug or pouring a stream of water without spilling rivets children’s attention.

In preschool they naturally know how to do things with their whole hearts. We just need to confirm the value of their efforts.

Let’s recognize that sacredness of their concentration as a gift they can bring to all their learning if we respect and encourage the process.

back to top

 

 

25 OCT 06:

Seeing Beyond

“Are you drawing a person?” I asked a four-year-old boy. I could see the face and hair emerging after he had done the body. “No,” he said, matter-of-factly. “I’m drawing a girl.”

I quickly informed him that girls are people, but his concentration precluded any kind of gender discussion. Most boys do draw boys and girls draw themselves—probably because unless they are playing together, preschool children don’t tend to pay attention to the opposite sex.

When my youngest daughter was in kindergarten, she remembered all the girls in her class in her night prayers. One evening I asked about including the boys in her good thoughts. “I don’t know their names,” she stated with proud conviction.

Distance and even prejudice toward the opposite sex begins at an early age. “Boys are stupid,” we hear young girls proclaim.

We know from observation that boys and girls benefit from playing with each other. New kinds of play often emerge in both sexes when they collaborate on an activity or a play fantasy. Thinking about these rewards can expand your horizons when you’re thinking of playmates for your child.

When you’re looking around the class for a potential friend for your child or wondering about a play date, think about the qualities of children. Let’s teach our children that what matters isn’t whether a child is a boy or girl, tall or short, black haired or blond. When your child complains about a girl wanting to play, ask what she’s like. What a great world we will see when we look at all our commonalities with others rather than our differences.

back to top

 

 

1 NOV 06:

Modeling Trying, Making Mistakes

A boy asked me repeatedly to make a paper airplane. I kept protesting because of my lack of skill. I finally relented, however, after more pleas. “I’ll try,” I said with little confidence. I folded the paper in half, then tried to make diagonal wings.

When the boy, who had waited patiently during my folding, looked at my finished product, tears appeared in his eyes. But not out of joy. After a moment, he said, “People don’t love those kind of airplanes.” In spite of his disappointment, he was trying to be tactful.

It seems helpful for children to watch adults attempt things that they don’t know how to do. We seem so supremely skilled that young children assume we can accomplish anything and that we never had to work at learning to ride a bike or read.

It’s human nature to hold back from attempting what we’re not good at, but it’s helpful to role model trying and making mistakes: “I didn’t make a good airplane this time, but I’ll try again.” No apologies need accompany our lack of skill—just a demonstration of our persistence.

back to top

 

 

8 NOV 06:

Doing It Again, Mindfully

When children forget and run across our classrooms, we don’t just ask them to stop. We often have them go all the way back to their starting place and walk. Doing something again with a positive intent can help children learn to live more mindfully, noticing the people and the objects around them.

I don’t mean the mechanical awareness required when children had to write 50 or 100 sentences delineating what they should never, ever do again: “I will never use bad words.” We want to focus children on desirable behavior rather than the road they shouldn’t travel.

Requests to do something over don’t work when we do them in a blaming, impatient, or frustrated tone. In fact, our polite example is what elicits cooperation: “Could you come back and put your dish on the sink more carefully before you watch TV?” “I need you to ask me in a nice tone. Could you say it again more politely?” “Please pick your toy up and hand it to me rather than throwing it.”

In this age, when we all do so much so quickly, retracing steps, words, and attitudes helps to teach the value of consideration.

back to top

 

 

15 NOV 06:

Watching Adults Work: Lessons in Persistence, Patience

A few preschoolers worked together carefully painting a huge tree trunk for their bulletin board. Afterward Mr. Max sat down to attempt painting animals in the two holes left showing in the bark. Four or five children gathered quietly to watch him—then six or seven, and finally 12 or more observed. They weren’t just captivated by his artistic skill. Today opportunities for children to watch adults working aren’t as abundant as they were in the past. Previously adults counted on children to learn tasks and contribute to the family home or business.

It’s apparent to those of us who work in preschool how eager children are to observe adults working. The drain-repair man recently endured a huge preschool audience, sitting in chairs around him in our yard for a half hour or more. Just as many gathered to watch Miss Star sew on her machine and tutor individual hand-sewing on another day.

When children watch adults work, they learn more than techniques. The concentration and pleasurable flow of work, along with the mistakes and frustration, provide lessons about being persistent and patient.

It’s nice when we remember to invite children to be with us while we’re working and ask them to offer assistance as they are able. Those images help them to envision the adult world and imagine it as a satisfying place.

back to top

 

 

29 NOV 06

Sweet Dreams: Crossing the Divide

“I had two nightmares,” a three-year-old girl told me. From her wide-eyed expression, I imagined that she would simply say she saw the monsters preschoolers commonly complain about at night. Not so. The little girl described her nighttime dilemma with surprising articulateness.

“In one dream, my favorite blanket flew up through the vent and I couldn’t get it back,” she said, as if picturing the blanket in flight. “Then I dreamed the wind blew my blanket away on a street corner and I couldn’t catch it.” I suppressed the smile I felt at the earnestness of her expression. Instead, I wanted to show her that I understood how helpless she must have felt.

Like fantasy play, dreams give us the chance to step across the divide that separates us from a child’s perspective and connect with her empathically.

It’s tempting to explain children’s anxieties away, to tell them that there are no monsters and their security blankets will never blow away. How- ever, I tried to put myself in this three-year-old’s shoes, remembering dreams where I was floundering because something I needed felt out of reach.

I will never forget a father who really listened to his child’s dreams of monsters and put a squirt gun on his son’s bedside table so he could spray any bad images away. “At night I would hear him wake up and squirt then go back to sleep.”

I’m not suggesting giving a child a gun, a controversial topic in itself. What impressed me was this father’s desire to validate his son’s feelings and help him to feel empowered. Being privileged to hear this little girl’s dreams reminded me how the process of sharing a fear and receiving understanding at any age provides its own blanket of security and well-being.

back to top

 

 

6 DEC 06:

Setting boundaries, making expectations clear

“You’re not the boss of me,” a mother reported her daughter saying. Recently a preschooler retorted to her teacher, “I don’t have to do what you tell me; you’re not my mom.” The teacher calmly asserted that children need to listen to their teachers, who are in charge when parents aren’t there. The little girl said, “I’m going to a new school next year so you won’t be able to tell me what to do then.” This isn’t a reflection of mutiny in preschool or an indication that today’s children are headed for hell in a handbasket.

Actually, the line between adult and child has blurred because parents are trying to understand children and treat them more kindly. Diminishing the harshness used with children has been a benevolent turn in child-rearing. But it’s also confusing. What if children talk back or act out toward us physically? One of our jobs as adults is teaching respect for others. We need to help children predict the reactions authorities might have to inappropriate behavior.

It’s natural for children to question authority, especially at age four, and think they run the universe. But we have to set boundaries when the questions have a sardonic tone. I like the way a teacher handled a small group of girls one recent morning when they laughed at the way he cleaned off the table. Hearing their derisive tone, he shifted from his jovial voice to one of strong adult neutrality, saying, “That sounds like teasing to me, and I don’t like the way it’s making me feel.” He also withdrew his energy from play until they stopped.

It’s good to center ourselves and feel adult when children challenge us—not by turning into the Hulk, just someone who can understand the innocence of play and teach expectations calmly.

back to top

 

 

13 DEC 06:

Teaching the Joy of Giving

When we passed out musical shakers, we were one instrument short. One child sang without a shaker in his hand as my co-teacher hurried to find him one. No word of protest escaped his lips. Even though I knew that the teacher would be back with one soon, I asked after the first song if anyone would like to share his or her shaker with the little boy who had done without. I wanted to offer an opportunity for the children to put themselves in his place. Most people held their shakers tighter, staring at me in disbelief. In the midst of this tense silence, a four-year-old girl leapt up and said, “I’ll give him mine!” Her face was beaming.

We can offer lots of lectures to children on the value of giving and get back those familiar blank stares. However, research has shown that this girl’s experience—the joy of offering to someone else—is what convinces children that giving is worthwhile.

In truth, preschool life abounds with such generosity—the drawings labored over then handed to a friend with such heart, the crowns cut out and placed on others’ heads. As adults we’re enriched when we make little of children’s tendencies to say “It’s mine!” or “I want that!” and comment on their offerings: “How did it feel when you gave that picture to your friend? Do you see how happy it made her?”

Instead of worrying about consumerism, let’s concentrate on helping children believe in all they have to give.

back to top

 

 

3 JAN 07:

Stepping Forward, Looking Back

In chilly January, we need to rekindle the fires that brighten the “daily-ness” of our lives. If you sense an after-the-holidays letdown, it helps to realize that we’re not just going “back” to work or “back” to rushing to school on time. We’re taking our first steps into the year 2007. We can continue to make wishes though the new year has already begun. Doing so with our children gives meaning to the turning pages of time. It’s fun to think of January as a continual toast.

What do you want to remember as a family from the last year? What did you and your children especially appreciate? This is a time to toast all their accomplishments. We can reminisce about all the things they’ve learned, the new people they’ve met, the skills they’ve acquired. Look at pictures from the beginning of 2006 and talk about how much your children have grown, even physically.

Marking milestones helps us connect with each other and live our lives more fully. Talk about the changes in our beautiful surrounds. Was there snow on Mt. Diablo last year? When did the hills start turning green? It’s a season for awakening our awareness that the earth itself hasn’t seen this year before and we can participate in its evolution by viewing life with new eyes.

back to top

 

 

10 JAN 07:

Helping Children Learn to “Self-Soothe,” Relax

When my dad yelled “Calm down!” he didn’t mean “Find a quiet place within yourself” or “Breathe deeply.” “Calm down!” was his code for “Stop!” and “Do what I’m saying.” My dad grew up before the word stress as a state we “find ourselves in” was coined. Our knowledge of transforming the “I’m stressed out” state and helping our children calm and relax has increased exponentially in the last 30 years.

The first step is always to quiet ourselves, mentally and physically.

On a recent episode of The Supernanny, Nanny Jo observed while a five-year-old and his mother fought ferociously. The boy kicked and hit his mother. There was no way the boy could hear his mother’s words as he flailed with over-excitement. Jo suggested the mother hold her son and breathe deeply with him. It worked the first time. Mother and son attuned themselves to each other with each long in- take and long expiration of breath. Then they spoke with each other respectfully as a new relationship began to form.

As we begin the new year, let’s agree that we can’t underestimate the value of learning to self-soothe.

back to top

 

 

17 JAN 07:

Helpfulness Comes through Practice

“We’re not having maids clean our house any more,” a four-year-old girl announced. “I’m old enough to help, and the maids didn’t do a good job cleaning anyway. They didn’t even clean behind the TV!” Her voice reflected an air of capability—even a vision that her help would get her house as clean as it should be. This young child’s image of herself as a person with helping skills is obvious at school, where she helps set up snack and mats for rest time. At lunch if a classmate can’t get the lid off a container, our young helper leaps forward to do it.

In this age when adults often describe children in terms of potential academic or athletic prowess, what delight we feel when children talk about them-selves in terms of important qualities like being able to help, wanting to be kind, or being able to cheer someone else. In the not-too-distant past, children were counted on as essential contributors to the home so they needed to learn skills as soon as they were able.

Young children love to create order and master tasks in the physical world, though we need to break down jobs and teach them step by step. That kind of teaching involves time. But when you show your child how to wash a table or peel a carrot, imagine him sharing those abilities with others. We want all children to see themselves as helpers—people capable of responding to all kinds of challenges and convinced that they can put a helping hand out whenever it’s needed.

back to top

 

 

24 JAN 07:

Setting Aside “Uninterruptible Time”

People were broken into duos and we experimented with communicating in a focused way, then in a distracted mode, during one of our parent seminars. The results were dramatic. People took turns being the speaker and the listener for short periods. When the listener concentrated completely on what the speaker was saying, both felt connected and satisfied. However, when the listener checked her watch or shifted her gaze occasionally, listeners reported feeling angry and even abandoned. Interesting, since they knew what the experiment was ahead of time.

This experience was aimed at helping all of us understand how children feel when our attention is divided during time meant to make them feel loved. In this age of multi-tasking, it’s so hard to remember how a distracted listener make us feel. Here are some ways to heighten your aware-ness of being there when you’re together.

Experiment to see how long you can play on the floor with your child or talk without interruption. Time yourself until the phone rings, someone else has a demand, or you have to run to check your e-mail. If you want to understand what this phenomenon feels like, talk to your spouse while he does e-mail or watches a program on TV. Our responses to their inattention isn’t usually warm and fuzzy.

How about setting up a regular time when we turn off the telephone, TV, and computer and have fun together for an hour, half an hour, or even 15 minutes. We can call it the uninterruptible time —a time when we think of nothing but each other and anything we might want to bring into our conversation.

back to top

 

 

31 JAN 07:

Preschoolers’ Thinking “Magical,” Not Logical

“How did the horse get out of the barn? He flipped when he was getting out.” Not your usual riddle? Welcome to the world of preschool thinking, more “magical” than logical. Actually, psychologists tell us that children aren’t capable of logic until adolescence.

It’s so hard to keep in mind that young children think in a way that we can’t remember. The moon follows them, and they can make things happen by willing them.

It behooves adults to try to be aware of how preschoolers think rather than demanding that they understand our way. We want to give reasons for limits, but lengthy explanations can create deaf ears and/or rebel-lion. Teachers often try to keep statements short and positive: “Feet on the floor.” We try to use more words to acknowledge their feelings and make them feel loved.

back to top

 

 

7 FEB 07:

Learning the Fine Art of Negotiation

Two four-year-old boys were fighting over a picture of how to build an intricate tower. One boy said, “He grabbed it from me.” How hard not to take that indignant builder’s side, insisting that the second boy give the directions back! But we want to help children to learn to negotiate. If we solve their problems, they learn not only to depend on us for solutions but to create conflicts to grab our attention. We see this with siblings all the time.

The two boys arguing in our classroom over directions were in emotional turmoil verging on aggression. However, once they were asked to sit down and talk to each other with a teacher’s coaching, they did. It takes thought for an adult to mediate in this way because it requires a neutral perspective. We have to believe that each person has a point of view, even if one is bigger and doesn’t understand the other’s.

It turned out that the boy building the tower had laid the directions next to the project on the floor. The other boy, walking by, thought they were available and picked them up. He had no awareness of the other person’s intent building pursuit. Once he understood, he gave the directions back, despite his tears about wanting them. The respect of an adult listening so closely and helping him to articulate his reasoning seemed to aid his generosity.

Don’t we all feel more generous when we’re accepted rather than blamed? When someone listens to us deeply? Expressing differences calmly and kindly seems a lovely idea to teach to our children so they circulate it in the world.

back to top

 

 

14 FEB 07

Energized Vision Promotes Cooperation

When children discover a common purpose like building a huge city of blocks or creating a hideout, something mysterious occurs. It’s called massive cooperation. I say massive because even little children, energized by their vision, can work in close physical proximity without shoving or yelling, “It’s mine!” Cooperation appears to have its own energy that eclipses more primitive sentiments like “I won’t be your friend any more, starting now.”

As the block city goes up, that cooperative energy usually precludes the need for adult interfer-ence. When an adult has to help negotiate, reminding children of their common goal usually does the trick. Cooperation is the skill set of the future. So when you’re starting a project, think about including your children. Getting them excited about what you’re doing or encouraging them to get siblings or friends involved in their projects prepares them to accomplish anything with others.

back to top

 

 

21 FEB 07

Love Notes: The Magic of Writing

In this age of succinct e-mails and text messages, the value of love notes is not lost—especially in preschool. Whether a child suddenly misses his dad or scrapes her knee and wants mommy to be there, love notes evoke your presence. We’ve discovered that the process of writing those pangs of longing on paper works better than reminders that you’ll come back or any form of distraction. The magic words “Do you want to write your mom a note?” pull children out of a cloud of temporary withdrawal or sadness. When children move on, they often clutch the note as if the paper itself contains that loving connection between you. At the end of the day, if you discover a note saying “I miss you,” don’t feel guilty. It only represents love felt deeply and sent through the mysterious process of writing.

Notes can also transform situations between children. It’s hard to get one’s thoughts together during conflict, but one little boy used notes to communicate effectively. If he felt left out, he would draw a big sad face (his) and a big happy face (the other person’s) to show the latter his dismay. He always felt better after getting those strong emotions down, and sometimes the note got him back in the game. He preferred initiating his own form of communication rather than having a teacher intervene.

 

Other children dictate strong feelings for us to write down and read to another child. When pressed for an apology, our children often find a note effective—sometimes dictated to a teacher or at home to a parent.

You can try note writing at home. If your child has strong feelings toward a sibling or toward someone at school, writing a note offers the space to think things out. It smoothes the way where talking during upset often makes it worse. Notes can also communicate love and strengthen that connection between people. Your notes tucked into lunchboxes definitely bring smiling mo-ments. When in doubt about a situation, try the writing option; you may be surprised.

back to top

 

 

28 FEB 07

Helping Builds Confidence, Self-Esteem

ONE OF THE BEST KEPT secrets of boosting self-esteem is having an older child help a younger one. When we have new children come to our class, we ask for volunteers to aid them in finding their way. Many people volunteer because preschoolers love to raise their hands. A few actually remember to show the new child around and befriend him or her in play. They are the lucky ones. Imagine the capability children feel when they are the ones who know where the toys are or when they get to tell someone else about the routines in our class.

But this demonstration of competence doesn’t just occur with new children. At lunch pre-schoolers love to show their strength by opening another student’s container. At the art table, they feel more empowered when they show someone how to rip Scotch tape.

It’s wonderful when we pay attention to the benefits of children getting older and having the skill to lend someone a hand. We’ve given lots of attention to sibling rivalry in recent decades and less to the status of being an older child in the family—the opportunities for contributing and the privileges of getting older.

When children know that getting older reaps rewards, they have more motivation to act in positive ways. For example, we may take an older child to an event that a younger one couldn’t manage. Acknowledging age differences doesn’t mean lecturing children about being a good example or insisting they give in to a younger child’s demands. Rather, we want to appreciate children’s pride in accomplishment and their abilities to use them to help others.

Next time your younger child asks to have a glass of juice, try asking your older one to pour it. We don’t want to push children to grow up or wait on their siblings. But encouraging them to flash their competence makes them feel good about themselves.

back to top

 

 

7 MAR 07

Learning to Cope with Difficult Situations

WHEN YOUR SPOUSE SAYS “My job is the worst” after a long day, most likely you don’t panic. You know his condemnation of work actually means “I’m tired” or “I had a hard interaction today.” Exaggerating the negative for emphasis is the style in our culture—“This is the worst day of my life,” “I’ve never been through anything so crazy.” Even young children can pick up on this style of communicating. It’s up to adults to hear what they really mean. “Cheryl was mean to me” often means “Cheryl wouldn’t do what I wanted” or “wouldn’t give me something she was using.” “Nobody played with me today” might in reality mean “For a little while, someone I wanted to be with was playing with someone else.”

We learn to better interpret the actual experience behind children’s communication when we talk with them and their teachers, calmly. Staying somewhat detached isn’t easy. Hearing phrases like

“I have no friends” or “Amelia (her best friend) won’t play with me anymore” conjures pain from our childhood interactions. Nothing can bring tears more quickly than the image of our child feeling rejected or hurt by another child.

 

One of our roles is to help children move beyond tunnel vision  For example, preschoolers often believe they can only have one friend. Then when their playmate is busy or absent, they feel bereft. However, if you looked around the classroom, you would see that many children would welcome overtures from that child.

We want to validate a child’s feelings: “It’s hard when your friend is absent.” But then we can ask her to problem solve how else she can make herself happy in that situation. As most of us know from experience, lectures about having lots of friends don’t work, but encouraging child-ren to find solutions to their problems does.

 

It’s a tremendous benefit for children to learn to get along with all kinds of people. Some may be assertive, others retiring, some really difficult. Give your child positive feedback for coping in hard situations. And when he says “My life is ruined,” start by decoding the actual experience and help him think in terms of all his options.

back to top

 

 

14 MAR 07

Demonstrating Patience Is a Virtue, Too

My friend Mary J. Ryan wrote a book on patience partly because she hated standing in line at the grocery store. Starting her writing project, she explored the subject of patience by noticing the areas of life where she could wait peacefully. In her wide exploration, she discovered what a beautiful quality the willingness to wait without inner or outer turmoil is.

We can teach children patience by paying attention to their ability to delay gratification. Com-ment when they use self-control not to repeat a request or turn it into a demand. Since our lives move so fast, we have to remember that being able to demonstrate patience is a virtue.

We can extend children’s ability to be patient by suggesting that they wait quietly until we’re ready to do something. But we also need to pay attention to our role modeling. Can we stay calm when someone else is slowing us down or we have to wait in line? Best of all, practice being patient together.

back to top

 

 

21 MAR 07

Programming Your Child into Your Life

Write dates to spend alone time with your child on your calendar or in your Palm Pilot. It’s that important! Without scheduling the time or programming it into your routine, life will blow all the opportunities away. When your children don’t get time looking into your eyes, playing and having lighthearted fun with you, without a cell phone in your ear, they start to wilt. They throw toys or hit others just to pull us into their space and get the contact they need. Alternatively, they ask to be in a teacher’s presence every minute.

 

It’s looking into your eyes and sharing your laughter while playing a game that makes them feel integrated and independent. Having your undivided attention for a short time every day gives them strength to weather the ups and downs of the day. You are the sun that their hearts revolve around, and that’s the way their dependence on you should be when they’re young.

I hope I never get tired of talking or writing about this subject because demands make it so elusive. I still remember and appreciate the mother who managed to transform her daughter’s behavior by straining her mornings to include play time. When she saw the results in her daugh-ter’s demeanor, she said tearfully, “I got my girl back!”

back to top

 

 

28 MAR 07

Empathy Soothes Even Two-Ice-Pack Hurts

Remember how much it hurts to fall on your knee? When one of our four-year-old girls was crying about a knee scrape, her friend stood nearby trying to console her. Putting her arm around her tearful playmate, she said, “Remember the day I fell down and had to have two ice packs?” The crying stopped. A smile lit the injured girl’s face at the reminder of that catastrophe.

Rudolf Dreikurs, bestselling author of Children: The Challenge, suggested that adults respond to children’s little boo-boos a similar way. He noted that showing children one of our bruises or cuts when they are hurt can lift their spirits. Of course, we wouldn’t do this with an air of dis-missing a child’s tears (“That’s nothing to cry about”).

The empathic girl who cheered her friend communicated tender understanding. Her story also painted a broader picture. “You’re not in this alone,” she seemed to say, “because we all get hurt.”

Sometimes our bumps even require two ice packs. Falling down is expectable, and when we see somebody get hurt it brings a unifying feeling. It’s also true that thinking about all the knocks and spills that occur in daily life can lighten the isolation—“This shouldn’t be happening to me”—of an injury experience.

back to top

 

 

11 APR 07

Doing Things with Mindfulness

Five fluffy chicks visited our preschool classroom at Circle Time. The mother who brought them offered to let each child have a turn holding a squawking baby bird. A wave of gentleness swept the room as 29 children cupped their hands, as they had been shown, in anticipation.

Our admonitions not to squeeze seemed unnecessary as we hovered over each child, making absolutely sure the birds were held in a protective way. It was our job to prevent accidents, but the children’s motivation to rise to the opportunity was impressive.

Later, when a latecomer wanted to touch a chick, children gathered around a table. They leaned forward watching the chick placed on the table wobble in all directions. No one grabbed. We could see self-control and mindfulness emerge out of the trust that had been placed in them (with a grown-up monitoring every move).

Maria Montessori observed that children love learning to be careful in just this way. Shown how to pour with a glass pitcher using meticulous care, even young children demonstrate delight in rising to the occasion. In this age of plastic toys, stuffed animals, and disposable dishes, it’s nice to remember the value of training children’s hands and hearts to care for things.

 

At school we try to teach children how to turn the pages of books without tearing and the impor-tance of handling beautiful toys delicately. Ms. Star offers lessons in how to feed her little dog, Angel, without scaring her. Recently some children in our class scrubbed our doll cradle and our large doll house, training their eyes to see the difference in the wood that had been cleaned. Montessori offered children opportunities to polish silver (which can be done without toxicity, using toothpaste) and shine mirrors.

Now when our consciousness of protecting our environment is being kindled, we can work together in just these little ways to teach the values of regarding the beings and objects around them with carefulness and attention.

back to top

 

 

18 APRIL 07

Celebrating the Joy of Spring Cleaning

Scrub brushes with handles. Used toothbrushes. Small sponges (cut in rectangles from larger ones.) Channel your child’s energy into spring cleaning. Preschoolers who recently cleaned the doll house, doll cradle, walls, baseboards, and Techline cabinets in one of our rooms used so much “elbow grease” that we couldn’t believe how everything sparkled.

It was as if the tools themselves empowered children to find dirt underneath cabinets and in the crevices of toys—places we find hard to access. They loved comparing surfaces before and after attacking a space with bristles and sponges and correcting each other when the wrong technique was used. The responsibility they took expanded as they took charge and saw results.

Is rollicking energy the reason we traditionally clean in spring? This season always brings added spunk to our classrooms, and we’re used to finding projects to channel that spirit into positive projects. The unbridled joy of cleaning is that it provides such a physical release.

We marveled that children whose energy might tempt them to push others or test limits in other ways were the most meticulous, super-charged cleaners. And the most persistent. They searched for plants bending toward the light. They relished their observation that older items looked new. We sing a beautiful song at school, composed by Hank Mindlin, called “Hiding in the Soap Suds,” about the transforming power of cleaning to make our environment shine. It celebrates that feeling of “Wow, our hard work makes a difference!”

back to top

 

 

25 APR 07

Receiving Children’s Effusive Adulation

“It needs to be fixed!” Overhearing these words propelled a four-year-old girl out of her chair with enthusiasm for her father. Without even stopping to find out what needed repairing, she exclaimed, “My dad can do it. He’s really brave. He can fix anything.”

Young children extol their parents’ virtues so freely that it’s tempting to laugh and try to bring their assertions back into reality. (“Your dad can’t fix anything in the world!”) But the fact that her father might not be the most courageous, fix-it genius isn’t the point.

We want to appreciate the purpose behind young children’s effusive-ness toward their mothers and fathers. Parents are children’s first loves, and their ability to accept adulation makes children feel more capable of making others happy. Looking in their eyes when we say “thank you” for the painting or the outrageous compliment demon- strates that their love affects us.

Every time we remember to communicate “I take in what you are giving me,” we build their belief that the feeling of the joy of unity with others is what life is all about.

back to top

 

 

2 MAY 07

Letting Go of Anger, “Resetting” Our Feelings

Never go to bed angry. This old adage for married couples holds special wisdom for par-ents too. Resolving ill feelings before sleep provides children (and adults) with more relaxed rest. The same principle holds true for other transitions like saying goodbye before school.

When we get behind the clock, it’s easy for everyone to get frustrated and start the day on a wave of anger and resentment. Conflicts are bound to occur, especially when we’re trying to move children from one activity to another. We don’t need to feel guilty about these conflicts or pretend that anger doesn’t exist.

 

What matters most when parting in the morning or going to sleep at night is working first to let bad feelings go—then replacing them with something wonderful.

Children find it unsettling to come to school after an angry exchange with a parent, even if they initiated it. We can start to heal the tension by noticing, “You look like you’re still feeling bad because we had a hard time this morning. Let’s walk through the gar den.”

The idea of “making up” has nice connotations—taking the time to smooth the threads that connect us by making up for what previously went wrong.

We can usually feel that moment when a child lets go of tension and  the love starts flowing between you again.

When we take the time to “reset” feelings, we prevent anger from being carried to other situa-tions: “I want to hit someone because I’m still mad at my mom.” We also teach children how to work with their own feelings: “I’m angry and I need to be alone for a minute.”

We can’t get away from conflict, but we can take joy in learning how to re-harmonize with others afterward—that’s the fun, most far-reaching part of the process.

back to top

 

 

9 MAY 07

Convincing Children That They’re Honest

At lunch time, I found a chocolate chip cookie on the floor next to our table. I asked a five-year-old if it belonged to her. “Yes!” she said eagerly. Then, after a moment of reflection, she added, “Just kidding.” I exclaimed at her honesty.

How many preschool children could resist claiming such a sumptuous treat, especially if an adult was offering it to them? The girl beamed at my intense praise for being truthful and asked if I could tell her mother. Later in the afternoon she reminded me about reporting her honesty. I fol-lowed through, and the next day the girl beamed when she remembered talking to her mother about the incident.

We want to convince children that they are honest even at an age when they make up fantastical stories. Rather than challenging them for telling a lie, we can dodge confirming outrageous tales. When a child says she rode horseback at school, we might respond, “You’re using imagination,” thus teaching the distinction between fact and fiction. When children claim they didn’t hit some-one or throw a toy when we saw them do it, we can calmly assert that we saw the action. By not drawing attention to their fabrication, we help prevent the empowerment of feeling they can out-wit us by lying.

To trick them into getting caught being honest, one can offer a little test. We see a child eat his sandwich but feign ignorance. “Have you eaten your sandwich?” we inquire. If he says yes, we say, “Thank you for being so honest.” This trial run works best when the question is neutral. If they’re going to get in trouble, many children (and adults) want to skirt the issue. A wise woman once told me that we encourage honesty in children by not “reacting” intensely when they share something wrong they have done. Even if we still give a consequence, we can applaud the brav-ery of telling the truth.

back to top

 

 

16 MAY 07

“My Child Did What?” New Behaviors Blossom in Spring

Omigosh, I never thought my child would do that!” Spring behavior can be surprising. The same exuberant forces that make flowers bloom runs through our students. They want to expand and master new challenges. We have to give them new and more mature work. They are so eager to move forward that they have sometimes expressed that by trying to scale the walls in the preschool yards. Our classrooms are alive with verve and imagination.

Part of that process involves pushing the boundaries adults set for them. Someone told me recently, “It was hard for me to be a child. I wanted to make decisions for myself and be an adult.” That children do seem impatient to grow and push the limits wakes us up to the fact that they aren’t the same people they were in September. Looking at how their behavior propels us into understanding the “new child” is a good way to reframe our consternation at boundary pushing. This is the time to pull out a book on child development and read about the next stage our children our entering.

It’s up to us to have faith in their development even when we aren’t ready for their new behav-iors. We have to set limits, but their growth also asks us to communicate with them in new ways and offer them new responsibilities and privileges. Take heart when your child pushes ahead even when it’s signaled by negative behavior. Remember how spring beckoned you as a child—to get outside and run with those new currents of energy.

back to top

 

 

23 MAY 07

Bedtime Routine Leads to Sweet Dreams

I sleep all night with my eyes open,” a four-year-old boy told me. “It’s the only way to stay safe.” The fear he talked about was making the trip to the bathroom in the dark. For young children, feeling afraid is a common sleep disturber. Four-year-olds, who can imagine more things to be scared about than their younger siblings, often want to crawl into their parents’ beds. But so do six-year-olds who get anxious. One boy, almost seven, told me that although he’s not afraid of the dark anymore, he does get scared by nightmares. He said, “I try to wake myself up, then go get my mom. She gets in bed with me.”

Instinctively, most parents know that helping their children to relax before bed helps them fall asleep more easily and rest more deeply. When I read some relaxation stories to two children spending the night, they relaxed so deeply that they found it difficult to wake up in the morning. Happy thoughts also help us relax during sleep. Many parents have lovely talks with their children about the day, but bedtime might not be the best time to explore the most difficult situations of the day.

Children’s stress often expresses itself through sleep issues—difficulty falling or staying asleep, suddenly wetting the bed. Some parents note that night terrors often occur after a stressful day. Using bedtime to focus on things that a child has done wrong may program her for bad dreams.

Children’s bedtimes are an ideal time for parents to practice letting go of their worries so they can help a son or daughter do the same. The time right before sleep is often a suggestible period —a time when we can whisper things children do that delight us. We can use their half-sleep to plant positive ideas about how the night will go and how happy their morning will be.

back to top

 

 

30 MAY 07

Helping Leads to Feelings of Competence

I found a dead cricket,” a three-year-old screamed with excitement. “Look at him!” After we stared at his limp body, the boy and I decided to bury him in a nearby flower pot. He car-ried the bug in cupped hands, placing him delicately on the soil. After we covered him in a half inch of dirt, the boy said, “Dear Earth, please take care of this bug and help him come back to life.”

What is about a bug—alive or dead—that calls forth a concern and gentleness that children often find hard to show with their peers? One answer is that a bug’s vulnerability is obvious. In addition, the benign bugs that usually capture children’s interest aren’t threatening—they don’t run into them and bump heads like other children or grab their toys. Handling bugs provides practice in developing compassion and care.

Experiences that awaken these emotions aren’t just limited to catching bugs. Words like “Be gentle” or “Use self-control” mean nothing without applying them to experience. A child who hurts another child can be asked to help care for him, bring him an ice pack or a cup of water. Ministering to child often transforms an angry feeling into concern.

In many cultures, children play a major role in caring for younger children. Dare I say the exper-ience of tying a younger child’s shoe or teaching him to kick a ball can evoke the same caring, gentle feelings as keeping a bug from harm. When a young child asks me to do something for her, I often ask myself if an older child could do it instead. This gives the helper an experience of competence and pleasure. It also offers me the opportunity to say, “Look how gentle you’re be-ing!” or “How careful you’re being; that takes self-control.”

back to top

 

 

6 JUNE 07

A Time to Review, Reflect, Reassure

What will the next thing be like? Anxiety about change or upcoming events that signal a shift in life is actually part of the energy of excitement. Thinking about mov-ing to the next level at school for children (or at work for adults) stirs the mind and body. Asked about going to kindergarten at circle time, children deny being fearful, then vie to express their concerns: What will the teachers be like? What if I can’t do the work? What if I don’t know anyone? The end of the year provides a wonderful time not only to reassure children but to go back and review the year’s progress that they’ve made.

Progress can be recorded in a scrapbook of work, an album of photos (Look how big you are now!) or simple reminiscences. Parents are the keepers of a child’s history, the ones who need to subtly remind them how they’ve handled challenges in the past. Remember when you didn’t know anyone in your class? Look how many friends you have now!

Reflecting on what we’ve done well balances out the human tendency to look ahead with some trepidation. It helps to stay aware that children wonder if the next challenge, even if they deny it. Looking at evidence of past growth (rather than lecturing on how well they’re going to do) fills their cups with the taste of past glory—and propels their confi-dence that they can handle life.

back to top