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Welcome to the December 2015
“News for Parents”
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- WHAT’S NEW?
- COMING ATTRACTIONS
I. WHAT’S NEW?
Celebrating on a Budget
Music and lights are two traditional ways of brightening the shortest days of the year, and they are two examples of how we can celebrate at little or no cost. Teaching your kids the holiday songs you enjoyed as a child can be as simple as pulling out a songbook or downloading lyrics from the Internet. Make mealtimes magic by lighting a few candles on the table and greet guests with a luminaria-lined sidewalk or tealights shining in old glass jars.
Want to stretch your legs? Especially if everyone’s been housebound all day, take a walk at dusk to enjoy your neighbors’ lights and, if you’re lucky enough to have a clear sky, the stars and the moon. Or join the crowd at the bonfires often built on beaches for the winter solstice and to greet the decorated boats parading past.
If the kids can sit still through concerts, check with schools, colleges, churches and both community and professional music organizations for their schedules. Shopping centers and downtown retail districts also often have barbershop quartets and choral groups that sing as they rove past stores and restaurants.
Your local newspaper probably also lists the parks, zoos, and cul de sacs that decorate for the holidays. And many neighborhood retail districts have holiday open houses, outdoor markets and other special events that you can attend for as long as the children have patience and energy.
(Of course, never leave candles or open fires unattended and make sure kids stay a safe distance from the flames, or from the dock’s edge if you’re at a waterfront event.)
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Trading Gripes for Gratitude
If it seems as if most of your family’s conversation is about what goes wrong, consider a “gratitude diary.” That’s what one mother of two did to change her outlook, and she chronicled her attempts in a recent book, The Gratitude Diaries: How a Year Looking on the Bright Side Can Transform Your Life.
“I can’t change what happen[s],” writes Janice Kaplan, “so it feels good to change how I think about it.”
Her strategy is something any of us, at almost any age, can try: writing down one thing every day that makes us grateful. As she writes, “A glowing sunset. A good friend’s hug. The first hint of spring. One thing. Who can’t do that?”
Because she is a writer, Kaplan started her gratitude diary motivated to do more than feel better: she had a book in mind. That led her to research that says that people who write down three things they are grateful for every night improve their well-being, reduce the risk of depression—and even sleep better. Another finding: “You don’t need good events in your life in order to feel gratitude. Instead, grateful people reframe whatever happens to them.”
As a parent talking to a child about the school day, we might hear complaints about a homework assignment. An example of reframing might be, “We are lucky that your teacher cares enough about your learning this material that she creates these challenging materials.”
Another important point: gratitude is different from happiness. Gratitude is not passive or dependent on a specific event (the teacher assigning a project that’s fun, or giving kids an extra recess).
Kaplan warns that our society is focused on the negative. “Seeing the good can be a challenge, because a general rule of life is that negative events overshadow positive ones.” An example she cites: the parent who rants about the one C on a child’s report card while barely noticing the four As. That’s one reason for the reference to three daily comments about sources of gratitude: some researchers say it can often take four positive thoughts to balance a negative one.
The reason for sharing the things you’re grateful for, whether in conversation at the dinner table or at bedtime, or in a journal, is that recognizing the good parts of your day is more effective when you take action. A passing thought about what’s good is far less likely to change your outlook than putting that thought into words. And, says Kaplan, changing your perspective needs both that effort and some time. “Most of us need more than two months and sometimes as much as six to make a real change. . .for an attitude of gratitude [to] become completely natural.”
How can we use Kaplan’s approach in our own lives? Here are a few possibilities:
Say “thank you” more often. Her research shows that most of us are less likely to thank a family member than a restaurant server or even the TSA airport staff.
Express admiration for family and friends as they are, rather than always complaining about what they are not or don’t do (the middle-schooler who willingly sets up Pandora for you, for example, even if his bedroom floor is covered with dirty underwear).
Structure sharing with your family. One Parenting Press author and her family began the dinner hour when all the children were still at home by each describing something positive from the day. If your family prefers writing, young children can create special journals to be used at bedtime, when you write down what they dictate.
Model reframing. One example Kaplan cites: she and her husband got lost hiking to a popular viewpoint, and they regretted missing sunset at it, but they enjoyed their lengthy conversation with the fellow hiker who led them back to their car. The News for Parents editor’s children rode a school bus that for at least a couple of years was undependable, sometimes not showing up at all. We unknowingly used Kaplan’s technique when we said, “Isn’t it good that there’s a parent who works across town near the school and is willing to drive you in an emergency? And that we can telephone the school so that you won’t be considered tardy because of a no-show bus?”
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Making Memory Quilts
In families that exchange gifts during the holidays or for birthdays, it can be a challenge selecting a present for someone who is elderly or ailing. A perfect one-of-a-kind gift in such a situation might be a memory quilt.
A craft magazine publisher had fabulous suggestions for memory quilts and fabric books last winter, and we’ve added a few of our ideas to the how-to’s:
Create custom quilts from children’s artwork. “Graduate that masterpiece from the fridge to a gallery wall with a quilt pieced from fabrics,” suggested Quilting Daily, and this is easily done by scanning the artwork and then printing it out the image transfer supplies (paper or fabric) available at fabric and craft stores. Even simpler: use old-fashioned carbon paper to transfer a drawing to fabric, or to paper that can be used as a pattern for appliques.
Or use each of the art images for a different page in a book made with fabric pages. Transfer the images as created, or use only the outlines (say, of people or critters) and add print fabrics, eyelet lace, faux fur and yarn hair to make the drawings three-dimensional.
Make story quilts or fabric books to preserve family history. Transfer family photos to fabric and outline maps of the old homestead or the location of a family business with markers or embroidery. Add transfers of letters and postcards—maybe even enlargements of census records printed from online files (see www.census.gov).
Make personalized quilts from garments—souvenir T-shirts (interfaced to eliminate stretching), scraps from home-sewn dresses and shirts, or old ties. Especially if you’re doing a memorial quilt, Interweave suggests, “A patchwork quilt made from an assortment of Grandpa’s flannel shirts or an art quilt with Mom’s favorite apron as the focal point.”
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How to Understand What Children Are Thinking
The importance of talking to your children about how you think they’re feeling, even when they are infants, is a key point in Reflective Parenting: A guide to understanding what’s going on in your child’s mind,new from Alistair Cooper and Sheila Redfern (Routledge).
When we talk to our babies, even about changing diapers, the authors encourage us to identify the child’s feelings and how we’re responding to it, with comments such as, “You’re unhappy because that wet diaper is so uncomfortable! Now we’re going to get that off, and get you dry and warm and comfy with a clean diaper.” What does talk like this teach kids? First, that we’re trying to understand how they feel. Second, that what they’re feeling has names: wet, uncomfortable, dry, warm, comfortable. “Each time you link what your baby is feeling to the physical world, your baby begins to understand how things connect and work together.”
Such talk to babies also emphasizes to them that they are individuals, with feelings that may be different from those of their parents. “In reflecting back your own thoughts and feelings [to the baby], you are also helping your baby to understand that other people have their own thoughts and intentions.”
And especially when combined with actions such as a diaper change or the offer of food, babies learn to recognize parents and caregivers as “regulators.” The authors say that the “supportive and in-tune presence” of a parent “is what helps [the baby] manage his feelings of distress, which over time as he grows, teaches him that feelings can be managed.”
An important point: “Children don’t just grow out of difficult behavior of their own accord; they need you to show them how to grapple with emotions. . .Challenging behavior is a natural part of childhood, just like growing physically. If children don’t get this kind of help from you, then these emotions can become more exaggerated as they make greater efforts to get a response from you.”
“Reflective Parenting” advises parents to think about how they were parented, and how their behavior is being influenced by recent and current events—everything from financial problems or family illness or death to lack of sleep or criticism from other family members. Especially in a season when we often have more extended family gatherings and more commitments of all kinds, the authors help us understand why some situations can turn unpleasant or stressful. Being sensitive to what triggers such situations and how to respond more positively will help our children—regardless of their ages.
The authors, both British clinical psychologists, point out that our own strong emotions can be triggered by:
- A situation or interaction: a flat tire, being pushed on the bus, the dishwasher flooding
- A tone of voice the child uses
- A comment someone makes, such as a complaint about what’s being served at a meal
- A thought you have, such as irritation at a friend who cancelled a lunch you were looking forward to
- A strong belief system, which may be as simple as insisting on being on time for work, school and appointments
They also warn that becoming a reflective parent and working to understand both your own and your children’s feelings and thoughts can be difficult if you’re experiencing:
Weariness. Besides the standard advice to nap when children nap, the authors encourage parents to tell your children and other family members that you’re tired, and that this sleep deprivation is what has caused your mood or tone of voice.
Drugs and alcohol. People often use drugs and/or alcohol when they’re already tired, and “the combination of the two is a recipe for almost total absence of a reflective self.”
Physical health. When you have aches and pains, whether you have the flu or a chronic illness, “it is especially hard to think about other people and their needs.”
Mental health. Even “everyday low moods. . . will have an impact on your ability to reflect on your own feelings,” the authors say, emphasizing that ongoing anxiety and depression as well as the such significant mental illnesses as psychosis require help.
Life events. “Accept that you are under additional strain” when struggling with bereavement, divorce, job loss, moving or the birth of a child, and help your children understand why you feel overwhelmed or sad. If there’s been a family death, for example, telling the kids that you’re grieving “is perfectly normal, and it will help your children to understand that the relationship was an important one to you. . .”
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Tips for the month
Each Saturday, Parenting Press posts a new parenting tip and the previous week’s tip is moved to the archive. If you’d like the tips emailed to you each week, just let us know with a message to email@example.com. Make sure you put “Weekly tips” in your subject line and include the email to which the tips should be sent.
This month, we’ve selected four seasonal tips from our archive. We hope you’ll find them valuable as you prepare kids for holiday events, especially the dinners that often are longer than children are accustomed to.
December 5 — Reducing Criticism
December 12 — Offering Older Children & Teens Support When They’re Upset
December 19 — Tips for Parenting Teens
December 26 — Changing Your Approach to Your Teen
Family Fun Ideas — Gingerbread Village
Is there anything more charming than a gingerbread house? That chimney built of peppermints, the roof tiled with Necco wafers, the window boxes filled with gumdrop blossoms? What’s more fun is a cluster of houses, some simply made with graham crackers and Chex cereal or with packaged kits. Preschool and older children will probably love this project and even toddlers can help press decorations into the frosting that cements most of the architectural details together. Libraries and magazine racks have dozens of designs to inspire you, and you’ll find instructions and patterns online, too. What’s usually important: start with a sturdy cardboard base so that your structure doesn’t sag and collapse. Cookies, cereal, pretzels and hard candies can be glued directly to the base. If you’re baking gingerbread from scratch or a mix, overbake it a little to make it harder and longer-lasting. It’s also wise to construct each building on a firm surface—a cutting board, cookie sheet or thick cardboard. And once your village is complete, remind kids that the “building supplies” are no longer edible, especially if you’ve used real glue. (Display the structures high enough that pooches and very young visitors don’t try to taste anything, too!)
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Community Service — Caring for Lonely Neighbors
Our goal with this column is to suggest ways that you can model the concept of sharing and giving back to your community. Children also learn to work as part of a team. There are practical advantages to community service, too. Kids can use these projects to meet school or youth group requirements for community service and to start building resumes that they’ll use when applying for first jobs or college. You’ll find dozens of ideas for family-appropriate community service projects in our downloadable book Teaching Your Kids to Give Back and our Qwik Sheet Community Service for Kids.
This month, as always in December, we encourage families to give of their holiday spirit to those who may be lonely or ill. Doing for others can be a rewarding experience for the giver, especially if this is a bittersweet season for your family due to a personal crisis, the deployment of a family member, or bereavement. And providing holiday cheer for someone whether next door or across the country can be easy and inexpensive: help the kids slice refrigerated dough into cookies for an elderly neighbor, and get out markers and glitter to make cards for distant relatives. Videotape all of you singing a Christmas carol and e-mail the file to friends and relatives (maybe instead of mailing holiday cards). Or take your caroling from door to door on your block, into the senior center, and into the lobby of the assisted living facility.
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Special of the month — Feeling Elf Posters
This special has expired.
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