December 2011 - Posts
Why is the sun hot?
How fast can a cheetah run?
How did the dinosaurs get extinct?
Young children ask a lot of questions. Often when we take great pains to answer a child's question it can happen that the child will respond to our answer with "Why?", or another question, and so it goes on. When children ask questions what do they really want? Sometimes they want our attention or just to hear our voices; at other times, when they are confused or scared, reassurance is what they want. The challenge for the adult is to discover the reason behind the query and to find an imaginative answer that is both age appropriate and true. A five year old child asking about how fast a cheetah can run isn't really helped by a number pulled off Wikipedia, but by a living picture of something that makes sense in his or her world. Maybe, "Even faster than Jack the dog," is the right answer, or "Not fast enough to get past me and Daddy and into your bedroom!" It depends on the child and the age. And you might try answering the fifth why with "Because the sky is so high" and a kiss on the nose. Often that is enough!
Of course some questions are hard to answer. A young child doesn't really want to know if fairies or Santa Claus are real. The whole world to them is alive and full of magic. For them a whispered "Somebody ate those cookies we left out!" is probably just right. Or perhaps "What do you think?" For an older child (whose look lets you know that they are ready for more) we might say, "Everyone who is loving and giving helps Santa be real, and you are old enough now to help too!" opening the gate to a bright future of holiday surprises and fun.
In the grade school years there will be lots of time for children to pursue interests and treasure facts. Giving facts to young children is like giving them stones instead of bread. They aren't digestible and leave them hungry. A four year old girl I know always pretends to be a dinosaur of some kind or another. She knows the names and attributes of many diverse species, and it can make it hard for her to play with other children who don't know how many toes she is meant to have, or her precise size and so on. She will also tell me at some length about the great big meteor that slammed into the earth and made them all dead. A phrase comes to mind, one that can be abbreviated as TMI, Too Much Information! She is still trying to digest it all. I wonder if she is scared by the image of a giant meteor hitting the earth. It's a little scary for me!
As adults we know that we live in a stressful time, ourselves flooded by an information glut that can make us by turns apprehensive, depressed and overwhelmed. There are a lot of uncertainties in the future but one thing is quite sure, it will not help our children grow in the strength and confidence needed to meet the challenges of our age if they are allowed to worry about them too soon. In fact it seems to be a good rule of thumb to share with children only the problems and concerns that they can immediately help and do something about, even if it is only with a card or a bedtime prayer. Then instead of feeling powerless and paralyzed they can rise to the occasion and make a difference.
Donating a warm coat to a coat-drive or food to food bank as the cold winter weather approaches is a good way to meet the question "Why is that man with a sign sitting on the corner?" Life has been hard on him and we can help.
Questions truly listened to, and answered with warmth and imagination, meet our children where they are, engage them and give them comfort. Let's make a resolution to really listen to our inquisitive young ones and see what they are actually asking of us. <-->
Our children learn life-long lessons from how we approach
gift giving. Presents are a holiday
tradition for many families, but what is exchanged in those festively wrapped
packages? When we put something of
ourselves into the giving or are truly thoughtful of the recipient, something
more passes between giver and receiver, something that can warm the hearts of
Making things for family, friends, neighbors, and even
strangers, is a way to be active and creative in our gift giving. Gifts from the kitchen: cookies, holiday breads, nuts, teas, as well
as home canned goods; are gifts that children of any age can help make. Simple crafts are also ways for children to
give something of themselves to others.
Sometimes the most heartfelt gift is something that cannot
be wrapped up at all. How about doing
yard work for your grandmother? How
about teaching a friend to knit or sew?
How about playing music at the senior center? If your children are older, engage them in
finding the right gift by asking, "What shall we do for our neighbors this
These kinds of activities can add an invisible, but
meaningful dimension to the exchanging of gifts; and can help balance the
strong tide of commercialism in our culture at holiday time.
I did many of these things with my own children when they
were young. Now grown, they share with
me their own perspective on giving.
"Mom," they tell me, "giving needs to feel free." It's not about lists or limits, but about
the spontaneity of the heart. I agree.
season is upon us. For most of us it is
a time to connect with old friends and family with feast and festivity. For those of us who have chosen communities
and lifestyles a little outside the mainstream,
the holidays can be a source of stress too, as we try to explain to
Uncle Norman for the fourth time why it's not alright with us if the kids watch
‘a little TV for Pete's sake'. And what
about those Gameboys and Bratz, that you have been so careful about, sneaking into
your house in lovely gift wrap? It is no
fun to feel like the Grinch at Christmas time, or be the party pooper at a
Chanukah party. What can we do about
all, as the holidays approach, spend a little time finding out which limits are
really important to you as a family and which things can slide just a
little. Pick your battles. Then let your loved ones know, kindly and
gently, before they shop or plan a party, what will work for your family. This may mean having to say no to some
events. Consider meeting the group after
the movie or trip to the arcade for a hot chocolate or ice skating. And be creative. My kids were practically in middle school
before they learned about batteries. At
our house, objectionable toys would just ‘break' and be quickly forgotten and
your loins and practice your arguments a little
- reading an article or two in Family Year might help with this. Then you will be less likely to be annoyed
when asked to explain your choices.
Sometimes our own parents are the hardest to convince. They can feel judged if we are choosing to do
things differently than they did.
Perhaps remind them that they must have done something right (to have
such an upstanding son/daughter as you!) but that the world has changed and
needs new approaches.
stand your ground. My kids can't stay up that lat; I want them to have as good a time
sledding tomorrow as they had today. The next morning when all the cousins are
whiney and your kids are suited up and chirpy, just remember NOT to say I told
may be a bit more work, consider hosting friends and relatives at your
place. It is a little easier to keep
healthy habits and limits on your own home turf. You might want to pre-plan a lively activity,
something special. Get out dress-ups,
rig up a stage and let the kids put on a play, or just play a good old game of
your sense of humor and be of good cheer.
If you are lucky enough to have a partner with whom you can sneak a
moment to laugh about it all, go ahead and do it. Plan a massage or day at the gym or spa to
keep loosened up. Then create your own
traditions for your family that reflect your values and share them with those
Those of us lucky enough to have our
children in a Waldorf School can particularly appreciate the article in The
Atlantic's October 2011 issue " All Work and No Play: Why Kids Are More
Anxious and Depressed". The article
advocates allowing more free unstructured play for children. The author makes the case that this free play
is critical to help them grow into confident and competent adults. Freely-chosen play is believed to be a
testing ground for ‘real' life, and is an activity through which children
develop executive functioning, problem solving skills and critical
thinking. It is also key in teaching
them to manage their emotions, practice empathy and form relationships. Perhaps most importantly, it is a source of
It is interesting that while children are
spending more and more time in academic -based and adult directed activities,
the United States continues to fall further behind most developing nations
academically. Perhaps even more
frighteningly, more young adults are being diagnosed with depression and
anxiety than any other time in our nation's history. Below are some statistic
from the article.
- Children spend 18% more time in school than they did in 1987
- Children spend 145% more time doing school work than in 1987
- Children spend 168% more time shopping with adults
- Suicide rates have quadrupled from 1950 to 2005 for children
less that 15 years old and doubled for those in their teens
Let us know what you think...
Esther Entin, M.D., is a pediatrician and
clinical associate professor of Family Medicine at Brown University's Warren
Alpert School of Medicine. She writes for TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com.
articles for this month will soon be delivered, but don't overlook choice bits
of wisdom from last year: To make this
gift giving season a little greener, check out Gift Wrapping, which includes a link to a nifty tutorial on
time with extended family this month? Healthy Humor for the Whole Family will
help keep things jolly, and What's Good
About Tears & Tantrums will give you a little perspective if meltdowns
perhaps you're looking to infuse the holidays with more meaning this year? Along with last month's Home Grown Rituals, browse Hanukkah,
and Celebrating the Kingdoms of Nature,
for inspiration. Or borrow some of our
favorite traditions as detailed in Pasta-bilities
and Black-Eyed Peas. (You'll notice they are both centered around
food-we all like to eat here at Family Year!)
you choose to celebrate, we hope you'll feel at home here at Family Year. Thanks for visiting.