Parent: teach your child about charity

I am very fortunate to live in a neighborhood with a small-town feeling within the large suburb of Silicon valley. And one of the things that makes us such a neighborhood is the parties we have s few times a year.
Last weekend I discovered a small organization that I would like to tell all the world about: Animal Beacons of Light.
On a quarter-page size flyer it says:
”Animal Beacons of Light gives people specific, tangible ways to share their love, care and nurturing with children of all ages. Donations of new and gently-used soft stuffed animals are freshened, energized with love, joy and Reiki and gifted to recipients around the world. We operate through the generosity of others, whether their donations come in the form of money, time, energy or stuffed animals.”
What a wonderful cause, and what a great way to model to your child how charity works!
A word of advice: Do not rush to donate your child’s animals without his or her consent. You do not want your child to feel his or her parents care for someone else more than they care for them. You can start by talking to your children, and get an extra animal to donate when you get one for them. Charity should not hurt the giver, and a child that is attached to a toy  is not in a position to give it to anyone.

How to choose the right kindergarten?

It is January, but parents are starting to worry about kindergarten: Which one is the one for my child? Is my child ready? Is s/he too young?  Does s/he need to know how to read? Write? Do mathematics? Is private school worth the money? Is public school good enough? Is the choice of kindergarten going to be a deciding factor in the rest of my child’s life?

Here are some points to think about:

*   Entering formal school is important, but you are still the most important piece of your child’s life. Keep the sense of being connected, allow for a comfortable flow of communication, and be sensitive to your child’s growing personality without imposing your own dreams on him or her. That will build a strong basis for your relationship with your child.
*   The personality of the teacher is more important than the methodology or philosophy of the school. Meet the teacher and ask yourself: Can this teacher love the kind of child my child is? Do not expect her to change him/her to the child you want him or her to be (more cooperative, less wild, more obedient, etc.). You want the teacher to love your child and be ready to work with him or her the way s/he is right now.
*   Some schools expect a 4-year-old to be able to read/write/know-the-numbers. If your child does not have these skills yet – s/he is not a failure. S/he is just not a good match for this school. Find a place where the teacher is ready to TEACH all that. You will find out that all your child needs is curiosity and eagerness to learn.
*   In general, when money is not plentiful, private schools are not a good investment. It is better to save this money for college. With a close eye on the child, a close relationship with teachers and administrastors, I have seen many children get a wonderful education in some of the more difficult neighborhoods.
*   Some competitive parents want their child to start school as early as possible. Being the youngest in the class is never an advantage. This child will have no shot at leadership opportunities in the class. It is better to wait another year and let him or her be the most mature (in addition to being the smartest…) so he or she can take adventage of her or his briliancy. Finishing college at 20 is not an advantage in the market, but not having girls your age all along can have a strong impact on a person… And yes, this kind of challenge is most common with boys.
*   Think about the friends your child will make in school: A neighborhood school might afford the possibility of walking or riding a bike to a friend’s home. Picking a school outside your neighborhood can make social life difficult later.

I know that, along with all the advice a parent will get, there is a sense of a big transition, and even anxiety. Make sure your anxiety is kept to a minimum, or your child will start to worry about the whole thing. Starting school is a celebration, not a focal point for worries. Make it one for your child!

Your child’s crying – your crying

The first crying of a baby, the one to which the mother responds so powerfully, is the basis of the mother-child bond. Mother–and father, too–will always jump to help their crying child. The “alarm bell rings,’ and help is on the way. This bond can be described as hormonal/physical, emotional, and spiritual. We are connected. We are one.

As the child grows, and the parents perceive him or her as a more-aware partner in the relationship, it becomes harder for the parents to listen to the crying. If it is obvious to the parent the the child is not in imminent danger, than why does s/he cry? Parents’ thoughts and feelings start to swirl around: Why does s/he do that to me? Why doesn’t s/he listen to me?

And judging start to take place: What a selfish kid! S/he just want to show s/he can get his or her way, to show me s/he is the boss. Many negative thoughts and feelings come to the foreground. The normally loving and supportive parent becomes an angry, frustrated, and negative individual. It is almost like this individual needs to cry, too.

Fact: This parent does need a shoulder to cry on. Our children’s feelings resonate with us, bringing our own feelings to the surface. We have found ways to ignore those feelings, bury them, deny them, invalidate them–but they are there. And spending a long time with young children who cannot cope with negative feelings yet reminds us of times we were just as vulnerable. And we, too, need to find our way out of these negative feelings.

What is a parent to do? If you do feel your negative feelings coming to the surface, do not take it out on your child. Find a safe place, a friend, a journal, a coach or a counselor, to unload your pain, your crying. That will help you to be calm, present, and positive, so that your child will be able to unload his or her feelings safely, and move on.

A parent’s role in the weaning process

So let’s say you are comfortable with the idea of moving your 2-year-old out of the parents’ bedroom, to sleep in his or her bed. What should you prepare yourself for?

There is going to be a lot of crying. We know that: The child is smart, and knows how to play her cards. Up to now, when he cried, Mom came to his rescue, and took him to her bed. Now what?

Mom cannot do the work of the child. The child needs to cry to release her feelings. But there is no reason to be angry at the child, or even frustrated. The child is learning to express his negative feelings and to control them. It is a good thing for the child. So, despite the noise and the negativity the child expresses, Mom should be calm and supportive–supportive of the child in their expressing negative feelings, being angry with her, and with all the efforts to get her to change her mind. Communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, loving, trusting messages , and just be present to witness your baby learn to be separated from, yet still connected to his Mom by love.

PS I know it is not politically correct to endorse letting your child cry, let alone CAUSE him or her to cry. Please let me know if you feel strongly that I am wrong – I do have a lot more to say about it! Also: it is possible you will change my mind…

Parent: time for weaning

Weaning a baby from anything is a difficult process. It is hard for the baby – he cries, she gives all kinds of distress signals , but it is equally hard on the mom, if not more. That is why the process of weaning has to address both sides.

If Mom has decided to listen to some authority and stop nursing, stop using the bottle, move the child out of the family bed, stop using the pacifier or lose the blanky–if she is not sure at the very bottom of her instincts that it is the right thing to do, and that the baby is going to be OK, and that the baby IS OK despite the crying , it is going to be a complicated process. The reason: The baby can read Mom, and depends on her feeling secure in the process. If she is not secure–he or she will not be secure, and will not be OK.

This is the danger in listening to someone else without Mom having respect for her own feelings. She can decide her feelings are in the way. She can decide she would like to learn to act and feel differently about her baby, but she needs to deal with her inner feelings first, before she puts her baby on a difficult emotional journey.

Some parents feel they do not want to expose their baby to this precess, ever. This is very understandable position: To find a “non-violent way” of weaning. I am not sure such a way exists. A baby who has never faced a “no” will always be challenged by limits. And will always cry!

Some theorize that there is a magic age for weaning. What a mother needs to know is that any research or theory is true for some abstract average child, and her child most probably does not match that ideal. I recommend Mom ask herself what she feels about her child, and trust this as her guideline. If you think your baby is going to be OK–it is the right time for weaning.

Holiday safety

Winter holidays are a lot of fun, and hold a lot of beauty: the lights, the colors, the smells, the music. There are visits and visitors, crowds in the mall, and so much more. But also: There is the hectic kitchen, the hot oil on the stove, and the candles and electic wires, the noise, the wild schedule, and everyone’s stress that comes from trying to make it the perfect holiday.

Both these extremes do not affect the very young child in positive ways. The child’s routine is disturbed, the house has new rules, parents the parents’ attention is stretched to the breaking point

Children do not need the perfect holiday. They will have other opportunities to make it more of a grown-up event. To make the holiday a child-centered one, it must be stress-free. Even if it means not so many decorations, not so many runs to the mall, not so much shopping, and not so many cookies. Just as long as the child is not fussy, and does not cause the parents to feel the baby is interering with it all.

If you are disappointed because you dreamt of more involvement for your child in the holiday spirit, just remember that there is next year, when the child will be able to join in and handle more, and more years to follow.

And in the meantime, you can enjoy the holiday from your young child’s point of view!

Gift-giving, gift-receiving

The more we try to give a “perfect” gift, the more we expect our effort to be appreciated. A delighted facial expression, a surprised joyful laugh, a great “thank-you,” and a big hug–that lets us know we made the right choice, and we feel rewarded.

Sometimes this puts a lot of pressure on both children and adults. In the book “Nurture Shock,” Po Bronson points out that children are expected to say “Thank you” and act happy–even when they are disappointed.

What adults fail to recognize is that young children do not take intentions as an excuse: The fact that the parents meant to make a good choice of present, but the child actually wanted something else, puts the child in a bind: If he or she says what they really feel, they will hurt their parents’ feelings. If they choose to make the parents happy, they will lie. So by demanding good manners, we are demanding lying. This is the conclusion of many research surveys, and as parents we should know this.
If you are going to coach a child to act in a sensitive way, you must take his or her age into account . In the early years, the child will understand such coaching as permission to lie. This is a very challenging fact for parents to deal with, and there is no simple answer as to what to do.
But knowing this, maybe we can take the pressure off the youngsters in the family, and give them some time to figure things out,. Perhaps for a while, we can let them feel free to express their true feelings about the gifts they receive. They might be disappointed, angry, frustrated, or just simply not excited.

Let them know you love them no matter what they feel. You know in your heart what the choice of gift was intended to communicate, and that their appreciation might not come right away. This way you give your child an opportunity to mature, under the wings of your love, and allow them to figure out the right use of “white lies” when he or she is old enough to deal with social complexity.

Coaching your child to have good manners

Over the years, the ideas of “let the child become ready,” together with “allow the child discover things by himself” dominated the parenting approaches in this country. A side effect of this focus has been that teaching manners has fallen by the wayside.

When is it too early to expect a child to say “please” and “thank you”? When is it too early to instruct a child to make eye contact when he or she speaks, to have a firm handshake, to say “excuse me” when he or she wants a parent’s attention, and then wait to be acknowledged?

Teaching manners is an example of how parents need to be the ones who initiate the learning, modeling it, and expecting the correct behavior. Many parents shy away from this teaching so they can be “the nice person” and not impose something the child is not interested in. Why take on more responsibilities? Let it happen “naturally” and “when the child is ready.”

The child is never going to be ready. It is us, the adults, who need to bring manners up, model the behaviors, and expect them from the child. It can work like coaching: Coach-parent and child have a conversation to lay the groundwork for the expected behavior, and as the child practices that behavior, the parent provides feedback, correction, and support.

When to start? As soon as possible. We all know how happily a baby learns to say, “bye-bye.” The baby smiles, waves his or her hand, starts to vocalize. The more he or she practices, the better he or she gets. Why not do the same with saying “hello”? With asking a new friend, “What’s your name?” With saying “please” and “thank you” and excuse me.” A baby who is immersed from day one in such behaviors, who coached to perform them, and who is expected to do them, will reward us by learning highly important social skills.