What This Harvard Project Determined About Raising Kind Kids

The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University project, Making Caring Common, came up with five strategies to teach kids how to be kind.

Being kind to others seems to be going the way of the dodo bird. I am appalled by the nasty comments I see floating around Twitter and Facebook. The shaming and the bullying. The judging and the hate. Social media has given an outlet for people to voice their deepest, darkest, meanest, most critical thoughts and people seem to be leaping aboard the nasty train in droves.
But I also see stories that give me hope the world is not lost. Stories of love, acceptance and random acts of kindness. It’s these stories I want to share with my kids. To teach them being kind has a huge impact on their own lives as well as the world around them.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise kids need to be taught empathy. Spend one minute in a room with two toddlers and only one Thomas the Tank engine, or spend one recess outside at an elementary school and you will quickly discover this is true.
So why are we not spending the time teaching our kids how to be kind?
We can sit back and blame it on being too busy. Trying to keep up with family, work, school, homework, extra curricular activities and social obligations in a day where 24 hours just isn’t long enough. Or we can blame it on the ever-growing pressure to focus on giving our kids the competitive edge. Or we can blame it on social media, technology and world events.
Rather than blaming, however, we can look inward and see what we can do to initiate change. And it starts with how we parent.
To address teaching empathy, The Graduate School of Education at Harvard University and psychologist Richard Weissbourd initiated a project called Making Caring Common. In 2013, they conducted a survey of 10,000 middle and high school students. What they discovered is that almost 80 percent of kids rated personal success and happiness as their main priority, while only 20 percent rated caring for others as a top priority. Those results are sobering. And a wake-up call that changes need to be made or we will end up with a society of narcissistic, self-serving buffoons.
They came up with the following five strategies to teach kids how to be kind.

1 | “Make caring for others a priority”

As a mother of three kids, I hear myself ask on pretty much a daily basis “How would you feel if…?” But it is not enough to ask the question. I want my kids to understand and internalize how their actions affect others. How their words and deeds can be used to either heal or hurt.

2 | “Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude”

Caring about others beyond ourselves not only makes the world a better place, but research shows that it also makes us happier, healthier and more successful. Practicing gratefulness and counting our blessings reduces anxiety, strengthens relationships, and fosters hope. So why not teach it to our kids?

3 | “Expand your child’s circle of concern”

There is life outside of our homes, our communities, our cities, our countries. There are people outside of our families and friends. Help our kids to see others, recognize their value, and include them within their world. Playing with the new kid at school, asking the grocery clerk how her day is going, saying thank you to the waiter at dinner are examples.

4 | “Be a strong moral role model and mentor”

Actions speak louder than words. But words matter too. How we talk with our kids and interact with them has a direct impact on how they will treat others. As parents, we need to pay attention to the messages we are sending our kids. When we get cutoff in traffic, when we’re running late, when the barista gets our coffee order wrong. And when we screw-up, which let’s face it, we all do, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and apologize.

5 | “Guide children in managing destructive feelings”

We’ve all been there. The flailing, the screaming, the sudden melting away of bones resulting in a puddle of enraged toddler on the floor. However, temper tantrums and angry outbursts serve a purpose. Not only do they provide an emotional outlet for our children, they also provide us with the opportunity to teach proper coping skills, such as deep breathing and finger counting. These strategies will help them understand and manage their feelings which in turn will increase their ability to be empathetic.
Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to raise kind, caring, socially responsible kids. But in the end, isn’t it worth it?
This article was originally published at Her View From Home.

4 Ways to Make Your Kid a Conscientious Citizen

There are things you can do now, long before your kids hit voting age, to encourage an active participation in the democratic process.

It is 2000, I’ve just turned 18, and I’m excited to vote in my first presidential election. It’s Gore and Bush, in it until the very end. I watch the debates, register early, and read up on the issues. I ready myself for November. It feels momentous.
I’d grown up in a house talking politics – always a one-sided discussion. They were tried and true red, through and through. But my grandparents were all blue – democratic hardliners who survived the Depression and refused to call Reagan anything but “that actor.” There was no safe subject between the generations.
Regardless of party lines, however, they all taught me to care. It never occurred to me not to cast my vote.
This notion of not voting is arising more and more among current young voters. Only 55.7 percent of the eligible voting populous showed up to the polls in the 2016 presidential election. That’s a sad statistic for the present and a daunting one for the future of our country.
But there are things you can do now, long before your kids hit voting age, to encourage an active participation in the democratic process.

1 | Talk about the issues

Don’t hesitate to talk taxes and health care and women’s rights in front of your kids. Let them hear both sides of every issue. Do they wonder why they always have to go to the dentist, the pediatrician, and the eye doctor before the first of the year? Explain high deductibles and why they matter.
Is there a filibuster in the Senate? Let your kids watch them squirm and fall asleep in their seats like children. Is your state primarily Republican or Democrat? Tell them why this matters. The more you talk about it, the more they know it needs to be talked about. This isn’t just stuff for government class. This should be part of the fabric of everyday life.

2 | Make it historic

My parents never took me along when they voted. They always went while I was in school. But when my son was seven months old, I strapped him to my chest and took him to the polls in 2012. We both got “I Voted” stickers.
Voting should be a celebration, a historic act of freedom that we don’t let pass by without a sense of importance. To vote is to execute your democratic right to freedom. It puts action behind words and should be something to commemorate.

3 | Encourage empathy

A recent program called Fast Track, originally created to help at-risk kids succeed in school, had a positive side effect. By encouraging social skills, specifically empathy, it created better voters. Of the adults who were in the Fast Track program as children, 7.3 percent of them turned up at the polls as adults.
John Holbein, the Brigham Young University professor in charge of the study, explained in a recent article in New York Magazine that “[T]here are people experiencing various things in their lives: various hardships, various difficulties, various obstacles in their lives. [Fast Track] gave [kids] the ability to see that and say, ‘Okay, what am I going to do about that?’”
If kids don’t care about what happens to anyone else, they won’t care about the big issues. Teaching your children to notice and invest in the people around them teaches them to care about the world at large.

4 | Promote perseverance

School, work, relationships, health – all the most important things in life require dedication and personal investment. The same goes for active citizenship.
Encouraging your kids to stick to the hard things – the new sport, the rough patch in math, or the after-school job – will also build the perseverance that will get them to keep fighting for the issues that matter most in their country. Being a good citizen means putting in the time to stay informed, to stay involved, and to stay in the ring just as long as the guys on the other side of the issue.
It is a great thing to give voice in politics and to participate in the checks and balances of the system. As parents, we can help our kids while they are still young to feel that they have a voice and to want to share it because it matters.

How to Encourage Failure With a Cheap At-Home Science Lab

Your kids don’t have to have their own Menlo Park to practice in. You can set up their first scientific failures with just one trip to a big box store.

You thought it would be a parenting moment worthy of Instagram Stories. But after you and your kids bought all the ingredients and mixed them together … nothing.
You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re just not done with your experiment yet.
One of the problems of Pinnable science project “recipes” is that parents and kids have all forgotten that experiments take time and careful repetition. Although there’s no formal record of how many attempts Edison needed to perfect a commercially-viable light bulb, there are plenty of false quotes attributed to him, nearly all of which emphasize the following: every new attempt of an experiment shouldn’t be viewed as a failure, but as one step in the long process of discovery.
Your kids don’t have to have their own Menlo Park to practice in. You can help set up their first scientific failures with just one trip to your preferred big box store. A well-stocked workbench will give you sufficiently large amounts of supplies so that you can test variants of each activity – what explodes, what flops, and what truly surprises you.

Equipping your lab

All conscientious scientists need a clean and organized workspace, so you’ll want to stock up on paper towels and bleach wipes. If you prefer an easier post-experiment clean-up, you may also want to buy disposable plastic cups and plates to use as your lab’s “glassware.”
The baking aisle offers lots of cheap ingredients for experiments, including the classic baking soda and vinegar. But there’s plenty to find in the produce, cleaning, and pharmacy sections, too. Scroll to the bottom for a good starter list.
Many science projects are masquerading as “experiments”: they tell you how much of each ingredient to use and then walk you through how to use them. But to have a true experiment, you need variables. That’s why you’ll only find rough proportions below. It’s your job to experiment and find which amount works best.

1 | Sandwich bombs

Requires:

  • baking soda
  • white vinegar
  • plastic snack bag
  • plastic sandwich bag

Forget volcanos. These sandwich bombs will give your kids a little more agency in designing and testing their own experiments. Pour baking soda into the sandwich bag and leave open. Pour vinegar into the snack bag and seal to close. Place the sealed snack bag inside the sandwich bag and close the sandwich bag. Then hit the snack bag to pop it open. As the baking soda and vinegar mix, the sandwich bag will begin to expand.

Variables

Change the amount of baking soda and/or vinegar to develop your best sandwich bomb recipe. You can also experiment with the size of the bags, using gallon and sandwich bags to make bigger sandwich bombs.

2 | Elephant toothpaste

Requires:

  • an empty plastic bottle
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • liquid dish soap
  • a small paper cup
  • warm water
  • yeast

In the empty plastic bottle, mix the hydrogen peroxide and liquid dish soap. In the small paper cup, mix the warm water and yeast. The next part is a bit easier to do if you have a funnel, but if not you can always pinch your small paper cup to form a spout. Add the yeast solution to the plastic bottle and stand back!

Variables

Change the amount of yeast, soap, and hydrogen peroxide to see what combination will give you the foamiest results. The hydrogen peroxide you can buy at big box stores is likely to be 3 percent, but if you stop at a beauty store you may be able to find 6 percent. Check out Science Bob to see what happens if you get the lab-quality stuff.

3 | Expanding soap

Requires:

  • bars of soap
  • paper or plastic plates

This is the simplest experiment on the list. Unwrap a bar of soap, put it on a plate, put the plate in the microwave, turn on the microwave, and see what happens!

Variables

Although the experiment is simple, it offers a valuable lesson about trusting what you read on the internet. If you google around for this one, you’ll see that Ivory soap is the only acceptable bar for this experiment. A budding young scientist might buy every other brand and publish a thorough review debunking those claims.

4 | Bouncy egg

Requires:

  • egg
  • vinegar
  • mason jar

This experiment is a great lesson in patience, because it takes seconds to set up but days to complete. Add the egg to a mason jar and pour in enough vinegar to cover it. Seal the jar and leave it on the counter. Check in every day to see what happens. After a few days, you’ll note that the egg has increased in size and “lost” its shell (which has been dissolved by the vinegar).

Variables

Make multiple eggs and leave some to sit longer than others. Which bouncy eggs are the hardest to explode? Also add food colorings to the vinegar to change the color of the bouncy eggs. If you’re buying eggs in bulk-store volume, consider hard boiling some and doing this egg-in-a-bottle experiment. Unlike the bouncy eggs, these will still be safe to eat … if you can get them out of the bottle.

5 | Crystals

Requires:

  • pipe cleaner
  • string
  • chopstick
  • mason jar
  • boiling water
  • borax

Kitchen-grown crystals are all over Pinterest, and for good reason: they’re awesome. But they’re also a frequent subject of science fails, because they require even more patience than vinegar eggs. Use your pipe cleaners to create a nest shape. Tie one end of the string around your pipe cleaner nest and the other end around a chopstick. Pour boiling hot water into a heat-safe container. Mix in borax until you can’t dissolve any more without leftover borax sitting at the bottom of the container. Place the chopstick over the container and leave to sit for a while. Some crystals may grow overnight. Others may take over a week. And sometimes no crystals will grow, because your solution isn’t saturated enough.

Variables

Many crystal recipes make it seem as though you need a particular ingredient, but all you need is any household product with a crystalline structure. Your science lab is equipped with crystals already. Many salts (epsom salts, plain old table salt, baking soda, even driveway salt) all have crystalline structures, as does sugar. Experiment by dissolving different salts and sugars in water and trying to grow crystals. Just make sure they’re carefully labeled so you know which ones you can eat (rock candy!). You can also experiment with what to grow the crystals on. Different materials (a hair tie, a piece of yarn, a metal washer, eggshells) will grow crystals at different rates.

6 | Lava lamp

Requires:

  • bottle or vase
  • oil
  • water
  • Alka-Seltzer

The best reason to equip your workbench using a big box membership is that you’ll need large quantities of oil. For this experiment, get a empty bottle or vase and fill it three-quarters of the way full with whatever oil you’ve bought in bulk. Top off the bottle with water. Add Alka-Seltzer and see your lava lamp in action.

Variables

Play around with the proportions of oil, water, and Alka-Seltzer to see which yields the most mesmerizing lava lamp. If you’re not sure what else to do with all that bulk oil, check out these citrus candles.

7 | Invisible Ink

Requires:

  • water
  • baking soda
  • paint brush or cotton swab
  • grape juice

Mix baking soda and water. Use a paintbrush or cotton-swab to write a message and allow to dry. Paint the paper with the grape juice to reveal the message.

Variables

Try painting your invisible message with lemon juice instead of baking soda and see how the grape juice interacts with it. Why is the lemon juice message a different color from the baking soda message? To answer that, check out one last experiment.

8 | pH Tester

Requires:

  • all of your science lab supplies
  • purple cabbage

If you can find a purple cabbage at your favorite big box store, you’re in luck! The cabbage can work as a pH tester. Mix a few cabbage leaves and water in a blender. Strain out the cabbage pulp so that you have a purple liquid. Pour the liquid into small clear cups. Try adding lemon juice to one cup and baking soda to another. Then test the various supplies in your home science lab to see what happens.

Shopping list

The following list will allow you to complete all of the above experiments:

  • Lemons
  • Eggs
  • Purple cabbage
  • White vinegar
  • Canola oil
  • Active dry yeast
  • Baking soda
  • Grape juice
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Borax
  • Sealable plastic bags
  • snack size sealable plastic bags
  • sandwich size paper cups
  • bathroom size plastic drinking cups
  • Plastic plates
  • Bars of soap
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Alka-seltzer

Food coloring is often added to experiments to make it easier to see. Some big box stores don’t sell food coloring, but don’t let that stop you! Many sell products that can act as stains, such as onions, saffron, turmeric, as well as berries and juices that you can use to create your own dyes.

A Tale of Growing Up and A Drive-Thru Memory to Keep

The thought of placing a drive-through order gives me the jitters. “What? Don’t worry, I will place the order,” he says, his tenor that of an adult.

“Mama, can you stop at McDonald’s drive-through? I’m super hungry,” says my 14-year old son.
It’s Thursday evening and we are returning home from his Taekwondo class.
“It’s a week night. I cooked stir fry okra today. Your favorite,” I tell him.
“I don’t want to eat that. Please.”
Why is he refusing to eat at home? He knows our family’s rules: we only eat out on weekends. My son is an only child, so I worry about him growing into a selfish and insensitive adult.
I was born and raised in India in a middle class family. My family did not own a car; my siblings and I bicycled to school, exposed to the sun in summer, buttoned up in raincoats in monsoon, bundled up in scarves and hats in winter. Eating out was restricted to an ice-cream cone once a year, on the evening our final exams culminated. I never tried to bend or question my parents’ rules.
I talk to him about spending wisely and saving hard-earned money. I eulogize the benefits of eating fresh, home cooked food. I demonize the empty-calorie comestibles sold by fast food restaurants.
My son pulls a long face. That and the fact that he will be fleeing my nest in another three years soften my heart. He is a good kid. It’s not his fault that he has not seen poverty and longing up close.
I have to accede to his request today.
The thought of placing a drive-through order gives me the jitters. I tell my son that I have never, in my 15 years of life in the US, done a drive-through.
“What? Don’t worry, I will place the order,” he says, his tenor that of an adult, resolving a puerile conflict.
I glance at my son in the passenger seat. His head is bent into his phone. The line of black hair on his upper lip appears thicker and darker. Pimples and their remnants dot his forehead and sideburns. A whiff of Axe deodorant escapes from his underarms.
This boy, who came from the smiley shaped incision on my abdomen, now towers over me. He has never noticed that his dad has been on the wheel anytime we have done a drive-through. What else does he not know about the machinery of our life as a family?
What does he mean by he will place the order? He doubts my spoken English. He corrects my pronunciations, tells me which syllables to stress in words like Indianapolis and Kentucky. But I am an Information Technology professional and am gainfully employed by an American business.
My mind begins to wander. We recently watched an Indian movie “English Vinglish” on Netflix, in which the protagonist is an Indian mom who visits the USA to attend her niece’s wedding. This woman, who has a tremulous command over English, tries to order a coffee at Starbucks and ends up being insulted by the barista.
My son is unconsciously drawing parallels between that woman and me. I have never heard Starbucks baristas speak in a condescending tone. The plot is implausible to me.
My hesitation is not because of my lack of language but because of my short arms. I am a tiny person. My mind is mired in doubts – what if my arms don’t reach the window and I drop my credit card or the food packet?
Finally, I scrape out courage from each cell of my puny body and pull into the drive-through lane, approach the microphone and rattle off the order of one Filet Fish sandwich with a medium fries. The person on the other side does not say repeat or pardon.
My son looks up from his phone. I approach the payment window, steering carefully. The window guy’s fingers reach mine and I hand him my credit card. Success. We then float – my son, my Lexus, and I – as an autumn leaf to the next window, where another oblivious partner hands me the paper package.
I hand over the steaming package to my son, without even looking at him, like it was a mundane activity.
“Thank you, mama,” my son says, looking at me with eyes brimming with pride.
My son narrates the story to my husband later that evening. “Mama is brave,” he says, “She just needs to try.” Animated conversations and moments of levity have become rare in our house.
The teenage years have pulled my son into a shell of reticence. He answers in deep sighs, bored monosyllables like “yeah” and “no” or boorish phrases like “kind of’” and “not really.”
My son has stopped lingering in the kitchen. Before, he used to turn over the parathas for me or shell the boiled eggs for curry, all the time chattering. I had to ask him to stop the blabber or my fingers would forget to add some vital ingredient, like the ginger-garlic paste to the egg curry.
He has moved his homework station from my kitchen island to the den. He leaves the den only when called. He eats with us every night and heads upstairs to his room soon as he is finished.
I don’t complain but I have not stopped missing him. I miss trimming his nails every weekend and pouring eye drops in his eyes every night. I miss helping him with his homework. I miss his telling me of his tummy aches. I miss his asking me simple questions.
As I lie in bed, I feel accomplished and happy. I have conquered a fear and I have built a strong memory with my son. This memory is most precious. My son might forget how I raced in my heels to his daycare. He might forget how I wracked my brains over his Math Counts problems long after he went to bed. He might forget how I folded his laundry and placed it neatly in his closet when his dad asked him to do it. He will never be able to forget this drive-through experience that we shared. Perhaps, he will narrate this tale of his puny mother’s courage to his kids.

Just One More Time

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
There is a skate park in our town, built sometime in the decade before we moved here. It’s steep concrete bowls are confined to a space that could park a half dozen cars. It’s because of this park that our youngest son received a used skateboard from his best friend on his seventh birthday. We saw excitement, not determination. That would come later. But, that skateboard, in a tiny skatepark in rural Colorado was the fuel for a dream.
By his eighth birthday he wanted to be a professional skateboarder. His mind was made up. Two years later he was still skating at the park everyday after school and all summer. In the winter he’d read skate magazines and watch the same videos over and over. Just before his 12th birthday a half-pipe ramp became available in Denver. If you don’t know what a half-pipe ramp is, imagine two, vertical, 12-foot walls you roll off, no nets, no ropes, and no rules. It required two truck trailers to move the wooden monster 180 miles up into the mountains to our back yard. I was less than excited to buy it, worried about injury, and thought it was total overkill on my husband’s part to be the cool skate dad. It would require hundreds of hours to assemble. I shelved my aggravation and pulled out the screw gun. It was my son’s communion.
He skated that ramp nearly every day. The number of people who could skate our behemoth paired down to a narrow few. After a few hours he was generally alone again. Back and forth. Fall. Climb. Skate. Fall. Climb. Skate. He’d bake in the summer sun and shovel the snow off before school in the winter. He’d skate at night under farm lights. His dad and I would watch him practice the same trick repeatedly, for hours. I’d try to talk sense into him after watching his 50th failed attempt, but he’d always say “wait, just one more time,” until he’d either land it, or collapse in a demoralized heap. He competed in any and every competition in Colorado. Later, in the pursuit of his passion, we’d spend a couple weeks a year traveling to competitions in California. Oh, California. The skate Mecca.
Watching passion at work can be a gut-wrenching experience. For years he made lists of the tricks he wanted to learn and stuck these lists to the fridge. He followed his heroes on Instagram and Youtube, bought into brands, and saved for gear. There were countless pep talks, and so much frustration. He had so much love for this sport that beat him to pieces. It wasn’t the competition he loved, but the camaraderie he found with other skaters. He was finding his people in this artsy, off beat, punk rock world and to lose them would have been unbearable.
He was a good skater but isolated by climate and geography from becoming great. He worked and saved his money. He planned. He skated the wooden beast that his dad had known, early on, would be what he needed to stay inspired and relevant. He graduated a semester early and at 17 moved to Southern California. His grandmother gave him her old Subaru and we watched as he drove away on a brisk, brilliantly blue, winter day.
We never told him it was going to be hard, or that he should go to college (though he had good grades). We never told him he should have something to fall back on. He was too excited, so full of hope and passion. He was so much braver and fiercer than I had ever been, with a sense of humor that could help bolster his resolve.
As parents, we watch our babies move through a series of somewhat predictable progressions. In the early years, their reward is, in large part, the adulation of a caring adult. That back and forth feels so natural. But, later their independence and character seems to hijack the process and it’s hard to build them big enough wings. It was hard to watch my baby step out of the nest, and off the edge, with nothing but words of encouragement because his determination was always a force beyond my understanding, but something I learned to respect.
It’s been two years. He’s worked numerous jobs, and found his crew. In the last nine months he’s traveled to Australia, six countries in Europe, Mexico, and China exploring and competing with many of the skaters he worshipped. He’s happy and busy. An artist, and an athlete willing to practice the same trick over and over and over until he can barely stand. Then he’ll yell to his friends, ”wait, just one more time.”

The Determination of the Tiniest Fighter

They told us that our contact with you needed to be limited to a short hold a day. They said you couldn’t handle being out of your incubator for too long.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
They told us not to think the worst when we didn’t hear a sound. They said a baby of your gestation wouldn’t have lungs developed enough to cry. That tiny, determined cry as you were pulled from deep within me is etched in my mind for the rest of my life.
They told us you wouldn’t be able to breathe by yourself. They said you would need a ventilator until you got stronger. I can so vividly recall watching your tiny lungs, fighting hard to push out breaths by themselves, under your paper-thin skin.
They told us that our contact with you needed to be limited to a short hold a day. They said you couldn’t handle being out of your incubator for long periods of time. I held you, skin to skin, tucked down my top, your tiny little head resting on my chest for hours at a time.
They told us that you were too early to know who we were. They said you didn’t know I was your Mum. But I know that you turned to me when you heard my voice, that your heart beat slowed when I held you, that when I looked into your eyes, there was a connection.
They told us that you would need to be tube fed as you were so early. They said you were not yet at the stage where you would have mastered sucking, swallowing and breathing all at the same time, that these skills were mastered in the womb. I remember watching you in awe as you drank your first sip of milk from a bottle, your tiny mouth barely big enough to take the teat.
They told us it was unlikely you would breast feed. They said that I could try and nurse you for the comfort. For six weeks I pumped for hours a day to have the milk ready for you when you were strong. I knew you were a fighter and I knew you could do it. I was right.
They told us you would be in special care until your due date at least. They said they had not let a baby as tiny as you leave the hospital. Four weeks before your due date we carried you out of that hospital. At six weeks you weighed under four pounds.
They told us that there was a chance your development may be impaired. They said you might experience delays and to look at things in terms of your adjusted age. By 12 months, you had not only caught up with any developmental milestones, you were ahead of them.
My tiny little fighter, beating the odds from the moment you entered the world. A world you shouldn’t have been in yet, a world you fought so hard to stay in, a world that you weren’t ready for, but thrived in all the same. I know you will continue through life with this same desire and determination to succeed. My little fighter. Don’t ever stop fighting for what you want.

On Halloween, by a Candy-Loving, Dentist's Daughter

I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.

Halloween (and in particular the candy procured) is one of my favorite Holidays – which is curious considering my dad, his dad, and my dad’s two brothers were all dentists. Of course, growing up the candy-loving daughter of a dentist had its daily challenges. Simply biting down on a blow-pop induced heart-wrenching guilt. (That sticky sugar just sits between your teeth!) But – oh holy day! – on Halloween, my dad the dentist smiled his pearly white smile, and allowed me to guiltlessly celebrate the holiday in all of its sugar-laden, cavity-inducing glory.
Even as an adult, there are many reasons to love Halloween – the crisp fall air, the childhood excitement, the silly and scary decorations, and obviously the candy – plus, there is no atoning for our sins and no sitting through sermons. It’s a holiday of untainted indulgence, until I learned information that shook my moral compass: A nationwide program called Halloween BuyBack is working with dentist offices nationwide for children to trade in their candy in exchange for money. I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.
To better grasp this internal conflict, it helps to understand that a comically tortured relationship with candy runs in the family: My dad used to keep a personal stash of sugary orange circus peanuts and sticky black licorice in his office cabinets – right next to boxes of “Stillman, DDS” engraved toothbrushes. He is now retired from his practice, but according to the website halloweencandybuyback.com, it doesn’t matter: This year an estimated 22,000 dental offices will be participating. I checked the website, and there a six dentist offices within five miles of my house alone. That certainly makes it convenient for my family, but do I make my kids bring in their loot?
While the child in me sees Halloween BuyBack as a Halloween horror story, the mom in me sees the obvious benefits. Like so many parents these days, my husband and I are stringent when it comes to our kids’ sugar intake. We are aware that too much sugar may lead to childhood obesity and childhood tooth decay, not to mention that my kids are like suped-up wind-up-toys when they get a pinch of the white stuff. We never give them soda. Juice is for special occasions. Dessert is a treat, and often taken away for bad behavior. Yes – when it comes to sugar, we are a million times stricter than my parents ever were, despite my dad’s dental profession.
Yet, like my parents allowed for me, Halloween has always been a free-for-all for my kids. So when I brought up the cash for candy concept with my third grader, he looked at me like I offered him broccoli for dessert. “No way!” He said incredulously.
With logic on my side, I tried to talk sensibly: First of all, he could not possibly eat all the candy he’d collect, even over several months, even with my help! And then there’s the “selfless lesson” because it’s for a good cause – the candy goes into care packages for US Troops. Lastly, it’s bad for you! It will rot your teeth and your body!
But honestly, my heart wasn’t in the argument. Nostalgia (and hypocrisy – I’m eating sour skittles as I write this) get the best of me. I remember the thrill of dumping my precious treasures into my desk drawer after a long night of hitting every house in my neighborhood. When I was little, I would have screamed like I saw Freddy Krueger at the thought of someone ripping my hard earned candy from my sticky fingers, and no amount of cash would have lessened the blow. (Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who asked the Tooth Fairy for gummy bears.)
But I’m an adult now. The teacher of healthful living, and selfless giving. So this year, I’ll try to be a better person. I’ll let my kids run house to house until their little arms ache under the weight of all that delicious, teeth-rotting junk-of-the-Gods. Then, that first night, I’ll let them gorge until they feel physically ill (like roll around on the floor, clutching their belly, ill). The next day – candy hangover in full effect – I’ll have them fill a ziplock bag to take to their local dentist office. I’m not sure who this will be harder on, them or me.
In the weeks following, they’ll each get a piece for dessert or as a treat in their lunch, until they forget it about it altogether. The rest is mine, all mine (duh!). And yes, Dad – I promise I’ll floss.

A Mother's Proclamation About How This Day is Going to Go

Today, we will get out of the house. This will be no easy feat, but we will get out of the house.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Today, we will get out of the house.
This will be no easy feat, as I will need to dress both of you while you are fully committed to this riveting episode of Paw Patrol. It will be like attempting to tug clothes onto an angry octopus, or actually, like trying to dress two fighting octopi that can’t keep their tentacles to themselves.
But we will get out of the house.
I must pack enough snack rations to feed an entire small town for a week, even though we’ll only be gone for a couple of hours and you just ate your weight in muffins at breakfast. And I need to make sure I have exactly the same number of banana applesauce pouches for each of you. Strawberry applesauce is obviously not acceptable.
And you, my dear daughter, must go potty. I realize this is a 42-step process, and that you will shout “I pooped!” just as I am trying to wrangle your brother to the ground, pinning him down with my body weight so I can change his diaper. But we can do this. We must.
And then we will be ready – hooray! Dressed, bag packed, faces (somewhat) clean, hair brushed. We will just need to find your shoes and socks and put them on. Easy-peasy, right? Yes, I know we are missing one of your gray socks with blue whales, and that it is nearly impossible to go on living without it, but we will prevail.
Despite all of this, we will get out of the house.
We will figure out a way to get in the car, even though you will each insist that I buckle you into your car seat first.
We will go to the library to return our overdue books and pick out new ones, even though you, my sweet son, will sob, your little face scrunched in rage, because I have the audacity to insist that I hold you while we cross the street.
After the library (where one of you clearly will not respect the quiet rule), I will – despite my better judgment – take you to the bakery next door for a donut. You will argue over who gets the bigger half (news flash – they will be exactly the same size). You will coat every square inch of your face, the table, and the floor with cinnamon sugar.
But today, I will get out of the house.
Here is a list of things I will not do:

  • Fold the load of laundry that’s been waiting for me in the living room for three days.
  • Clean the kitchen, which may be reaching health code levels of dirtiness.
  • Spend any measure of quality time with my husband.
  • Clean out the back of my car, or finally take those clothes on top of my dresser to Goodwill, or do our weekly meal planning, or write, or go for a run, or take a nap.

I will not do any of those things today.
Some days I wonder – what am I doing with my life? Am I achieving enough? Am I reaching for my dreams? Am I doing anything really worthwhile? And importantly – will these kids ever sleep? Will my house ever be clean again?
I am often tired and frazzled, overwhelmed by how much you need me and by my inability to do it all. But I do know deep down that it is all okay, and that nothing lasts forever – not even these days, which are messy, mundane, and maddening … but also magic if I am determined enough to pay attention.
Today, I will get out of the house. I will take you to the park. I will watch as you play in the sand, giggle your way down the slides, and shriek with joy while you chase butterflies. I will push you on the swings, one hand on each of your little backs. I will raise my face to the warmth of the sun and be grateful.

Play This Spooktacular Orchestral Soundtrack for Your Kids This Halloween

There’s a wide selection of symphonic music that is beautiful and powerful as well as spooky for Halloween.

Every Halloween, my Dad would play this spooky piece of music while we were busy carving pumpkins. I never knew the name of this piece until I was older and studying music history at university. Turns out, it’s an orchestral piece called “In the Hall of the Mountain King” composed by Edvard Grieg in 1875. It’s dreamy fantasy music that evokes images of marching goblins and trolls and my sisters and I would dance around in our devil costumes with our jack-o-lanterns.
Years later, I inherited my Dad’s LP record collection and I now play Halloween music for my kids as well as other orchestral pieces found in his extensive collection. There’s a wide selection of symphonic music that is beautiful and powerful as well as spooky for Halloween. Make this Halloween extra fun and spooky by including symphonic music selections as well as the popular Halloween standards when trick-or-treaters arrive on your doorstep. Here is a list of orchestral pieces to get you spooked:

1 | “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas

Paul Dukas was a French composer who composed this dazzling orchestral work in 1897. It became popular through its inclusion in the 1940 Walt Disney animated film Fantasia, in which Mickey Mouse plays the role of the apprentice. The music conjures up images of magic spells, wizardry, and dancing brooms. The pizzicato broomstick theme on the clarinets gives the music a marching rhythm. The final bars of the piece finish with a calm and mysterious tempo before the rush to the cadence and the final loud chord. Encourage your kids to draw or paint a picture while they are listening to this imaginative music.

2 | “Danse Macabre, Op. 40” by Camille Saint-Saens

Danse Macabre is a tone poem for orchestra, written in 1874 by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The composition is based upon a poem about an ancient superstition wherein the Grim Reaper appears at midnight on Halloween night. He calls forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle. The skeletons dance until the break of dawn, when they must return to their graves. The piece opens with a harp playing a single note 12 times to signify the clock striking midnight, accompanied by soft chords from the string section. This then leads to the eerie melody played by a solo violin, representing death on his fiddle. The piece is energetic with strong dynamics. The final section, a pianissimo, represents the dawn breaking and the skeletons returning to their graves. The piece makes particular use of the xylophone to imitate the sounds of rattling bones. Lots of fun at a Halloween dance party!

3 | “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens

Camille Saint-Saens also wrote a humorous orchestral suite, which is wonderful music to play at Halloween for young children. “Carnival of the Animals” is a suite of 14 movements and each movement represents an animal. For example, there is the “Royal March of the Lion,” “The Kangaroo,” “The Elephant,” and “The Swan.” The most famous movement is “The Aquarium,” which is musically rich with a mysterious and ominous melody. Encourage your trick-or-treaters to wear animal costumes and move and dance to the music, pretending to be the animals.

4 | “Totentanz” by Franz Listz

Liszt loved to flirt with death. The great Romantic was obsessed with all things macabre and diabolical, themes he explored in many of his works. Totentanz (Dance of the Dead) is a symphonic piece composed in 1849 for solo piano and orchestra and it is one of his most thrilling pieces. The piece opens with menacing and sweeping chords and the solo pianist must play repeated notes with diabolic and percussive intensity. There are also special sound effects in the orchestra in the “col legno battuto” section where the strings play with the wooden part of the bow and sound like rattling or clanking bones. Give your kids wooden rhythm sticks to tap to the beat at the “col legno” section.
Symphonic music is an enjoyable and wonderful way to spend time with your family at Halloween or at any time of the year. By taking the time to explore symphonic music, you will be expanding your child’s imagination and inner sense of creativity. Happy Halloween!

Goodnight, Sleep Demon

After years of sleeping just fine in her own room, she stopped. At first we thought she must have had a bad dream the night before. But it kept going.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
“My stomach hurts.” “I can’t sleep;” “Can you close my closet?” “Can I just sleep with you?” Sound familiar? You are not alone – and neither is your child.
Obviously all children have times of anxiety when leaving their parents, or meeting new people, or going to a sleepover for the first time. Most will even go through a period of wanting to sleep in your room. But most toddlers or young kids grow out of that.
What they don’t generally do is stay awake all night long, miss school, throw random tantrums about leaving you; or turn down sleepovers with their close friends. What they don’t generally do is bring that anxiety into the school years.
They also don’t spend two years trying to sleep in their own bed, alone in their own room, but just being incapable of it. Seriously.
Approximately 12 percent of children suffer from separation anxiety disorder before they reach 18. While that’s not a huge amount, it’s enough that it should be talked about, highlighted. There should be information out there for parents to know what’s typical and what isn’t. You know what to look for in the flu, but where’s the document about anxiety, or Anxiety – and the differences between them. I wish i had clued into any of the telltale signs before I did. But honestly I didn’t know what those signs were. All my friends had kids who had had some trouble sleeping. And when you are living through it, it feels singular; like you alone are battling these ever-elusive sleep demons.
For a while I traveled a couple of days a week for work – and my leaving was excruciating. It was also excruciating when I called home and could barely understand anything being said through enormous fits of tears and “Come home, Mommy; please come home.” It broke my heart. My husband was hassled, frustrated, and downright cranky: Trying to get her to school was anything but pretty in the mornings I was away. I felt enormous guilt and was torn between trying to calm and comfort Carrie or telling her to just suck it up and go to school. I often hung up in tears myself. But I comforted myself. I just thought “ this too shall pass”.
That all changed one day when my daughter’s kindergarten teacher saw me dropping her off and said “oh it’s so great having you home – no more tummy aches.” EXCUSE ME?? That was the first I had heard of those apparently daily events. The fact that they disappeared when I was home was clearly a sign that she was distressed. Carrie had worried I would get hurt or die in an airplane, or not come home, or any number of things all the time. But we didn’t know that – she didn’t have the words to tell me, was too scared to say it, and Dave and I didn’t stop to ask the right questions.
Things improved when I was home more often. There was continuity, I was clued into her sensitivity and she felt safe. So again, I wasn’t too concerned. She went to school just fine, she liked her teachers, had friends, and had fun. She was actually back to being a bundle of joy, laughter, and creativity. Until she wasn’t.
You know that story of when he was good he was very, very good, but when he was bad, he was terrible? Well, let’s just say I do too. Carrie started to turn down play dates – or would only have them at our house. She wanted to only play one on one; she said she felt like a prisoner at school, and she was always worried. She needed to know what the plan was and when it changed? Then watch out – tantrums like crazy came on. Inconsolable tears; fits where she would straighten her back and not get into the car to save her life. She stopped going to sleep overs, or would go but have to be picked up in the night – and believe me, that was not good for anyone.
And then, after years of sleeping just fine in her own room, she stopped. Just stopped. At first we thought she must have had a bad dream the night before or something. But it kept going. Night after night, we would check her room and closet for bad guys and people that might want to hurt Mom. She couldn’t sleep because what if there was a fire? What if someone broke into the house; what if she was kidnapped? Or worse, what if her brother was?
Clearly something was off. There was no talking logic to her and there was no sleep for any of us. So when we were beyond ourselves with exhaustion and frustration, we found a counselor and had her start seeing someone to talk to and work through the fears. But now on top of the no sleep, the stomachaches were back; and panic attacks going to school were starting. Carrie was seriously struggling. Unfortunately, by then we were all struggling. Dave couldn’t understand that for Carrie these issues were completely real. Their conflict, the stress and walking on eggshells to keep the peace was taking a toll.
Our efforts to calm her or use reasoning were completely ineffective. Sick of the arguing and tears, we tried letting her sleep with us for a very little while. Wrong choice! So wrong. Then no one slept because the bed was too small and she thrashed around all night. Finally, counselor number two suggested we try something different: put an extra bed in her room and one of us sleep there. That was step one – get her to sleep in her own room again. Eventually, it worked; she got some sleep. Me? Not so much.
Step two was that once she fell asleep, we then returned to our bed. That worked … until she woke up, saw we weren’t there anymore, and started screaming. Or woke up from a nightmare. Back one of us went. By then we were so tired ourselves that we might fall asleep in her room before she did – thereby not affecting any change in the right direction.
A tired mom is a short-tempered mom. A tired dad might be even worse. The house that was once so joyful and peaceful was now filled with angst, anger, and just plain exhaustion. I wasn’t sleeping; my husband fell asleep in her room confounding the issue. So then we were tired and at odds. Add to that an older brother who was tired of all the fights and of his sister being such a nightmare. Everyone’s patience had dissolved long ago and family dynamics hit a new low. Clearly we needed more help and so did she.
By now we had tried all of the tricks to solving this issue. Gentle bedtime routine? Check. Regular bedtime? Check. Warm bath; stories; snuggles? Check, check, and check. We encouraged rituals that soothed her – gave her her blanket and favorite stuffy. We tried meditation, soft music and then white noise when that didn’t work. She read. We read to her. You name it, we tried it. At this point we realized she had some serious Anxiety and we were well beyond our abilities to solve the issue. So we found a new therapist to help us face this sleep demon.
Our new therapist was great – Carrie really took to her and looked forward to seeing her and, I think, to having someone of her own to talk to. One of us was still staying in her room at this point. We again tried leaving after she fell asleep. More tears. Then the doctor suggested a more gradual approach. After getting her to bed and completing our nightly, calming rituals, we (one of us) sat in her room. Not on a bed, not lying down. Sat in a chair so we would not fall asleep. Which, if I’m honest, had it’s own issues, but still.
When she fell asleep, we were supposed to move to the hallway and sit there. Slowly, ever so slowly over many nights, we moved a little farther away within the room, then into the hallway, then further down the hallway, until finally we made it to our own bedroom.
So how did our new therapist help? A few ways. She had Carrie talk about her fears and give voice to them. Apparently that sounds way easier than it is. The Anxiety that Carrie felt also meant she had had a hard time voicing or admitting to the scary thoughts. So her therapist had her look at What Ifs. She talked about those What Ifs. Then Carrie would tell me about them so I could help her at home. For instance if she brought up a fire, we could lead her through that. “Have you ever had a fire or known anyone who did? If not, was there a reason her house might get one? Did anyone smoke or leave on the gas? No, well then was it possible no fire would happen?” Same with a burglar or an airplane trip – or whatever; we learned to walk and talk her through her fears. Which sounds good and is a great starting point. But of course that alone didn’t do it, as this Anxiety is not rational.
Another helpful tip was having her picture her fear and describe it. Then draw it and name it. That helped put some distance between the fear and her. Plus we could use humor and come up with ways for her to yell at it or tell it to go away; we were able to make it a little, tiny bit fun and less scary. Sometimes I had her draw her feelings and we’d throw the drawing away or burn it so it couldn’t come back.
Another winner? While we had tried relaxation and meditation apps (didn’t work for her) her therapist taped her own soothing voice in a little meditation for Carrie. Reminded her what to do, how to relax, how to help herself. We had her play that in her bed when she was experiencing a tough night. And as we got one night of sleep, it went to two, then maybe back a step – but eventually we were able to have enough success that she set up her own goal and reward system.
She would choose how many nights she would stay alone and if she was successful, what fun thing we would do. It became hers; she controlled it. She was sad, mad and therefore determined to banish it. Thank God for her stubborn streak at those moments.
Lo and behold, it took. She realized she could make the sleep demon disappear all on her own. She owned it and she conquered it. And eventually, she even went on a successful sleepover again.
Last week she came back from three weeks away on a service trip where she didn’t know anyone. That is a beautiful thing.