Determination

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
What a mundane word: determination. Used so casually to describe the driving force behind menial tasks. “Sure took a lot of determination to carry all those groceries in by yourself.” To me, determination means so much more. Sometimes determination is all you have.
Daylight breaks, warm rays of sun fall on your bed and face. Your eyes open and, for a moment, just a moment, you feel at peace.
Pain. Pain hits you like a truck. It doesn’t trickle in from a tap, it pours in from a waterfall. You can feel it everywhere. As it sinks in, saturating your hopes for the day, your ambitions, your solitude, it meets a wall. This wall is my determination not to let chronic pain steal my day.
Lists and lists of things that must be done…. Doctor appointments to book, parent and teacher interviews to arrange, bills to pay, a house to clean, dogs to walk, cats to feed, an Individual Program Plan to review, exams to study for, Low Vision and Autism information sites to read, and I will probably have to pee a few times.
Did I take my meds? Give my son his meds? I must have. I do it twice a day, every day.
There is the pain, still there, eating at me.
Eight things off the list. Have I sat down yet?
What can I postpone? I will get through this day. My pain won’t destroy me. I have unending determination.
Made it. Sort of. I am behind on my chores, phone calls, studies, writing, marketing, health, and organization of a future for my little family. Me and my boys. We have a happy place in this world. We are finding our way.
There are extracurricular and volunteering activities to attend to. That’s fun. Busy, but fun. We have colleges to look at, plans to make, and upcoming holidays. Terrifying, but fun. I can fit in my medical appointments, surgeries, and exams. Somewhere. As long as my son’s shunt doesn’t malfunction, as long as he doesn’t have a seizure, or my truck doesn’t break down, or….
I am determined to not let those things happen and have even more determination to handle them when they do.
The day is moving quickly. A few new symptoms. What’s that about? My son had a headache at school and his aide was being “mean.” But hey, we are down to four headaches a week. That’s great news. No homework? Even better. Let’s cook together. Life skills for the future, boys! Plus, it’s fun.
A bit hard to peel sweet potato when your back feels burned by stabbing hot pokers and your foot is half dead. Even more difficult to cook, make lunches, feed and walk dogs, deal with paperwork, and organize showers when you have more knots in your muscles than a lobster trap and the pain-induced nausea drowns your thoughts.
Let’s do this. My determination will see me through.
Finally, time to sleep. I hope I can sleep. The hours before I drift off are for reflecting, clenching the pain aside, taking mental inventory of coping resources: I kept my temper, didn’t lose my patience, listened to stories of grand dreams, computer games, Sci-fy books, girls, and heard a bit of bickering, of course.
Smiles, laughter, stories, that’s what its all about. Goals, dreams, ambitions, that’s what it’s all for. Maybe I will get my degree, go back to work full time, become an accomplished author. Maybe my son will become the biologist and fabulous family man that he hopes to be, and possibly my other son will receive all the external supports he will require to be an independent adult and marry a movie star….
We will have bumps along the way. Chronic illness does that to you. But we have made it this far. We know a little determination goes a long way.
And it carries all the groceries in, too.

How to Make Storytelling a Fun and Engaging Family Affair

Storytelling is portable and requires no gadgets, batteries, or anything else to weigh down your diaper bag and can bring your family closer, too.

Let me tell you a story…

People across cultures have told stories for centuries. Stories have the power to gather, teach, entertain, and soothe. Human brains are wired for stories. A good story boosts oxytocin levels and can cause brain changes that last for days. Stories make information more memorable. Here’s why storytelling can benefit everyone in your household:

Stories make your kids smarter

Researchers say storytelling is a natural and essential part of linguistic development from early childhood onwards. A new study suggests that when children hear a vocabulary word spoken, they learn to read it more easily later. I don’t tend to often use the words “glisten” or “gleam” in conversation, but I used them both in “Magical Pony” bedtime stories this week. Honing storytelling skills gives kids a leg up in school for tasks like crafting written narratives and demonstrating reading comprehension.

Stories help you rock your professional and personal lives

Contributors to the “Harvard Business Review” hail storytelling as the best tool leaders can use to establish a sense of connection and craft inspiring presentations. They even go so far as to call it an irresistible strategic business tool. Whoa.

Your ability to spin an engaging yarn can make or break your success in social situations. Nothing kills an evening like getting trapped listening to an endless saga, or worse, in the awkward silence of “I Have Nothing To Talk About With This Person.”

Telling stories together fosters family closeness. Storytelling is portable and requires no gadgets, batteries, or anything else to weigh down your diaper bag.

With all these pluses, how do you turn your family into storytellers?

Make it a daily routine

Adults and children can “tell the story of their day” during your commute or family meal. When I frame my request this way, I hear more than “nothing” about what my kids did at school. With mine, I show them how even spotting a goldfinch or finding my lost sunglasses can be narrative-worthy.

Take a cue from preschool teachers

One of my first jobs was a preschool aide. One night a local restaurant burned down and many of the children drove past the wreckage on the way to school. The seasoned teacher started that day by acting out what happened with dolls: they discovered the fire in the block “restaurant,” called the fire department, who bravely put it out and made sure no one was hurt, and made plans to rebuild. Telling the story of a difficult event can be comforting.

Stories can also prepare children for upcoming events. When I took frequent red-eye flights with my toddler to visit family, “We Will Go to Sleep on the Airplane” got a lot of mileage.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

There’s a reason fairy and folk tales have been enjoyed for centuries. In a moment of desperation I once settled my rowdy kids with an impromptu retelling of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” This became a favorite for months. (Full disclosure: it did not inspire my toddler to stop fibbing.) 

Kids can retell, too. Show younger children how to act out familiar stories with toys and add their own twists. How about a house built of wooden play food for the second little pig? Older kids can come up with new story versions or compete for the most dramatic retelling, honing their creativity and performance skills.

Build a story brick by brick

Jason Boog, author of “Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age – From Picture Books to eBooks and Everything in Between,” tells parents to approach storytelling like building a Lego structure: one brick at a time. Start with the simple foundation of a few characters and a setting. Layer on events that build up to a problem or climax and top it off with a satisfying conclusion. Take cues from children’s play: magical elements and the classic good versus evil power struggle are attractive.

Concoct your personal story recipe. When I’m especially exhausted, mine is something like this: Kids take a walk in the forest. Kids find something that imparts special powers. Kids go on a magical adventure. Kids go home. Kids go to sleep so Mom can too.

Create your family’s characters

When my oldest son was potty training, he was afraid to use the real toilet. I took a cue from Schipol airport and stuck a fly decal in the toilet bowl. Soon the fly had a name and even acquired a friend. Zippy and Twirly starred in family stories for years. Recurring characters appeal to kids and give you a go-to story foundation.

Pass on family stories

Hold the magical blueberries and talking insects, some of the best stories are ones from your own family history. Research shows that hearing family stories builds empathy, contributes to positive identity formation, and can even reduce the risks of anxiety and depression.

Play it up

Like many things in parenting, turning storytelling into a game is always a reliable move. Open a magazine in the doctor’s waiting room and tell each other stories inspired by the photos. Resurrect the classic tag-team game of telling alternating sentences.

A family campfire always works to get everyone’s narrative juices flowing, whether it’s an actual backyard s’more-making affair or a rainy afternoon on the couch with a crackling fire playing on your flat screen. (Need more ideas? Check out “Show Me a Story: 40 Craft Projects and Activities to Spark Children’s Storytelling” by Emily Neuburger.)

Storytelling brings out the best of what it is to be human – creativity, intellect, emotion, and connection. Find a listener and go tell your story.

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Determined to Create Your Dreams? Don't Forget This

Life without grit is like eating unsalted popcorn or beginning your day with no coffee.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Life without grit is like eating unsalted popcorn or beginning your day with no coffee. Grit is the juice behind determination the part of you that is going to accomplish your dreams no matter what. I would say all three of my daughters have grit, an insatiable determination to live a better life than their dad and I. “You guys are so boring, you just do the same things all the time.” Perhaps according to their worlds our adult lives lack a bit of luster but what our girls may not be privy to yet, is having determination is only part of creating your vision.
You see for most of our lives, my husband and I have dug in our heels, taking on the many responsibilities and tasks a family of five can bring. Like most people, we are pretty determined to pay the bills, save money, and create a life worth living. However, life’s unexpected trials and challenges threw a few curve balls, getting us to the point where we felt like quitting the game.
Getting up off the ground and dusting yourself off certainly takes a bit of will power however, it is only through love and connection you will be able to heal the cuts and bruises these experiences bring. Now, we have all been there. The toddler who suddenly wants to do things for himself or the adolescent who looks forward to turning 18. It is normal, natural, and healthy for children to crave and desire independence. However, what they might not know now is that it will be their sense of connection to others which will help heal the wounds of their past along the way.
Try as hard as you like, nobody gets through childhood with a clean slate. For many, it will be those childhood ouches, hurts, and mishaps which get them to dream in the first place. “Dream big,” I tell my girls. “Break down your goals into manageable, realistic steps. Take time to connect. Make eye contact with friends and family, enjoy nature, make an effort to speak to others in person (particularly the hard conversations) give and offer hugs, value meal time.”
Our children may not realize it now, but it is these small rituals which serve as the backbone of their dreams. Sure, determination will keep you motivated, but love and connection is the key to inspiration.
So next time you or your child aims for the gusto, takes on a new challenge, and sets a goal, foster that sense of determination with praise and encouragement. Be mindful however, of not losing sight of how love and connection will serve each of you along the way.

Finding Beauty in the Brokenness

This brokenness, these outward signs of our experience so far, doesn’t make us less than others with different worries or heartbreak.

The accident was barely worth talking about.
I’d taken the trash out one night, early in the summer. I was 12. I hummed and bounced the bag against my knee. When I came back into the house, my mother gasped in horror. I looked down and saw my leg soaked in blood. A broken glass in the bag had acted like a knife, stabbing me deeply each time I bounced the bag. I never felt it because the first cut damaged a nerve.
The aftermath of that night was far more painful.
I had a large, angry red scar that the soaring temperatures made nearly impossible to hide. The scar criss-crossed my left knee – six separate scars actually – working together to form a garish butterfly.
In my black-and-white 12-year-old mind, my leg was ruined. Up until then, I hadn’t had plans to be a swimsuit model or star athlete, but my options were now severely limited. I was broken.
I confessed this to my grandfather one evening, sitting in the now-vintage rockers on his back porch, safe in the dimming of the day.
“I can’t dance anymore,” I said.
“But you’re so good at it! Why not?” he asked, curious. He was wildly enthusiastic about any grandchild hobby, quickly assessing our abilities as, in his expert opinion, far superior to those of the average population.
“People will see my leg,” I replied.
“They’ll see them both,” he agreed.
I huffed. Clearly he didn’t understand.
“They’ll see my scar, Grampa. The tights don’t hide it. I can’t dance because everyone will be looking at my leg. It’s awful.”
He smiled in the face of my earnest pre-teen angst.
“It’s unique,” he said. “If you’re ever lost and frozen on a mountain with your double, your scar will identify your body.”
I’ll pause and confirm: yes, he really said this. He was a colorful man and a terrific storyteller.
He continued.
“Everyone starts out exactly the same way. We are born perfect and boring. Then life starts, and we get stories and scars and begin to forge our own path. Your scar is beautiful. It is yours alone.”
I just looked at him.
I’d like to say that I understood, but I’d be lying. I was 12 and he was hopelessly old. What did he know about scars and brokenness and mourning a once-perfect leg?
I understand now.

We are all a little bit broken

My friend’s daughter, a cancer survivor, panics at the sight of a needle. A relic of her years of chemotherapy, she hyperventilates and nearly passes out while waiting for her flu shot. My sister, like me, spent years in Spanish-speaking countries. Too nervous and shy to answer the phone or venture out alone, she never learned the language.
My children carry the scars of our divorce. Like my the marks on my leg, they have faded to silver now, but they still exist. Caden fixates on our schedule, carefully checking to make sure the days are indeed even. Simon started to have friends over again in high school – for years our family was “too confusing to explain.” Transition days are still bumpy for Lottie.
Our blended family feels broken as often as it doesn’t: loyalty binds and pre-existing cultures and stepfamily dynamics are complicated.
This brokenness, these outward signs of our experience so far, doesn’t make us less than others with different worries or heartbreak.

This brokenness tells our story

In his masterpiece “Anthem,” the songwriter Leonard Cohen urges us to forget our “perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” I played that song over and over and over again in the darkest days of our divorce and separation. That image is powerful. It became a kind of mantra, and created an idea I carry close to this day.
I think of the scars we carry, visible and invisible, as cracks in the glass of a window. Light shines through the glass, shifted and altered by the cracks. The light casts patterns on the wall, shaped by the cracks but not dimmed. Light through a perfect window? No pattern, no story.
I know this analogy isn’t perfect.
I know sometimes things are so broken no light gets in at all. I know that sometimes people carry scars and stories so heavy they can’t bear the weight of them. I know that some people escape life unscathed, and their light shines brightly unaltered on the floor.
I sometimes wish we didn’t carry these scars. I still sometimes consider the possibility of a perfect left leg. I sometimes sit with what if’s and if only’s.
But I have a choice.
This is our story. This is one of the ways our window cracked. And I can choose to stare up at the window or down at my leg and wish the cracks away, or I can look at what happened next. I can see Simon’s adaptability and watch Caden sharpen his wit, coping with humor. I can be grateful for the lesson my children learn as they watch their parents move forward after everything fell apart. I can appreciate the path our lives have taken and admire the pattern the light casts on the wall.
I choose to find the beauty in our brokenness.
This article was originally published on This Life in Progress.

4 Practical Ways to Tame the Homework Headache

Before homework turns into a battle of wills or a cascade of tears, try these tips to keep the peace.

Everyone had a busy day. Maybe it was at school learning and working hard. Maybe it was at home keeping up with the household. Maybe it was at work doing what you love or what needs to be done. Maybe it was endless errands that left you feeling like you spent the day in the car.
No matter how you spent the busy day, now everyone is home and ready to relax, but there’s that pesky homework to take care of. Before it turns into a battle of wills or a cascade of tears, try these tips to keep the peace.

1| Be present

I know this is hard. We have so much to do, and we multitask. Dinner is not going to cook itself, right? Multitasking, however, may be causing more stress and mistakes.
The more present we can be the more quickly things seem to get accomplished. If your child struggles with homework, your availability can make a big difference and allow you to answer a question before frustration takes over.

2 | Side by side reading

Many kids have reading time as part of their homework. Show kids that reading is a priority by making that time a family reading time. Everyone can participate.
Grab something for yourself and sit down and read. It can be the novel collecting dust on your nightstand or the newspaper. Even something for work could count, as long as it is dedicated reading time. (And no, Facebook doesn’t count.) Even a little kids can sit with a stack of books to look through. Modeling good reading habits goes a long way in teaching kids that reading is a part of everyone’s life.

3 | Know what makes your child tick

Some people insist that doing homework right when kids get home is the best way to get it done. While this ensures a less tired child, that may not work for every kid.
Some kids need time to decompress from a busy school day. You may find that a half hour for snack and playing outside works wonders. Try out some different times and see what works for your child. Once you find what works best, try to make it consistent.

4 | Wave the white flag

Sometimes you just need to surrender. There are days that feel overwhelming and the homework is just too much. While it is important to teach responsibility, we need to be able to recognize when something is truly too difficult for a child to work on independently. Often this indicates that more instruction is needed in the classroom before the child can do it without teacher support at home.
Instead of forcing a truly difficult task, talk about it with your child and make a note for the teacher that it was exceptionally hard. This is not an excuse for not wanting to do homework. Most teachers would much rather know that a student is struggling at home than have a child in tears over their work or, even worse, a parent complete the assignment.
Homework is an opportunity to practice things learned in class and provide feedback for the teacher about how much of a concept a child grasps. Teachers have no desire to know that a parent is capable of completing that math worksheet. Open communication with the teacher, parent, and child makes homework a much better experience for everyone.
Homework can be a tricky task after a long day. For most kids homework is a reality of school life. Making the best out of it will help both you and your child.

What You Need to Know for Taking Professional Outdoor Photos This Fall

Preparation and realistic expectations are key for those wanting memory making moments to be captured on film by professionals.

The autumn season makes for a beautiful backdrop when it comes to outdoor family pictures. Fall is the most in-demand season for professional photographers because the weather is typically great and the sunset lighting is magnificent. The changing of the leaves adds background color, while the gentle harvest breeze distracts the bugs from biting. Family photos taken during fall also have a practical essence because proofs can be ordered in time for the gift giving season or to be mailed as holiday cards.
As pretty as autumn is, it cannot dismiss the stress associated with booking a photo shoot, especially when extended family members need to be involved. Young children make pictures great, but they are still prone to tantrums no matter the time of year. Autumn also means school days are in full swing, as well as hectic extra-curricular activities. Preparation and realistic expectations are key for those wanting memory making moments to be captured on film by professionals.

Communication

The best way to be prepared for a photo session is to talk about it beforehand with the photographer and all of the adults planning to be in the picture. Things will go smoother if everyone is on the same page regarding date, time, and the length of the shoot. Most photographers like to have a pre-session consultation, which lets the professional behind the lens know exactly what a customer wants. This type of meeting can be short and take place in person, over the phone, or via email, text messaging, or social media. The photographer will be better prepared if details and expectations are shared.
Here is a list of items and questions that should be discussed with a photographer in advance:
1 | The number of people attending the photo shoot must be known because location and backdrops can change dramatically if too many or too few people are in a shot.
2 | The ages of children involved is important data to share for scheduling purposes, and also for establishing the amount of time needed to complete the session. Photographers often try to avoid nap times or meal times when dealing with younger children. They may also stage it so different families come at different times in order to avoid a lot of standing around time for all involved.
3 | Is the photo shoot for an immediate family consisting of just the parents and children? Or is it a multigenerational photo with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents? A photographer needs these answers beforehand in order to create a rundown list that accommodates all requests. Multigenerational photo sessions may include several families, plus pictures of just the grandparents with the grandchildren. By knowing the family dynamic before picture day, a photographer can be sure to take all of the necessary group poses.
4 | Is there a preference between candid or formal shots? What is the overall look hoping to be achieved? A photographer wants to know a person’s style and a good photographer never wants to waste time (or precious lighting) taking unwanted pictures. Outdoor family photos are meant to resemble the style and dynamic of the individuals being photographed. The poses and staging need to reflect a personality that is recognizable to the photo subjects.
5 | What kind of final print images are wanted? If there is anything specific one wants from a photo shoot make it known early and often to avoid disappointment when proofs are made available. A photographer needs to know when a person wants a large, rectangular canvas for over the fireplace because he or she can then take multiple shots that fit this desired horizontal look.

Clothing and hair

What to wear can be the biggest stress when it comes to getting family pictures taken. Matching outfits is never mandatory, but coordinating colors is a plus. The family member that is hardest to shop for should be the starting point for all of the other outfits. Find something for him or her and then work to get everyone else dressed in similar styles and complimentary colors.
Women should be cautious about wearing dresses or skirts because they make sitting difficult. They can also inadvertently add a few pounds to a person’s look due to an unflattering angle or sudden gust of wind. Little girls look cute in dresses, but getting them to sit with their legs together can be an impossible feat. Sometimes these unladylike poses are adorable and sometimes they are irritating.
Everyone wants great hair on picture day, so try to keep it simple. Ladies should avoid ponytails because pictures taken from straight ahead can give the look of having short hair. Pigtails are very cute and photograph well on young girls. Guys with spiky or parted hair may want to use gel to keep the look in place. However, above all else be natural because a family does not want to be unrecognizable due to fancy hair.

Props

Outdoor pictures include grass, dirt, and sticky tree branches. Bring a blanket along or ask your photographer to have one on-hand so that clothes and body parts do not become stained or dirty during the photo shoot.
Props are typically welcomed by photographers, but it is a good idea to discuss what items need to be brought and their importance so the photographer can make them a priority. If a family picture is to include a sports theme, than it would be smart to bring balls and equipment from home. Photographers typically have a stash of props they can bring, as long as they know to do it. Seasonal items, vintage decor, and more can all make a family photo cozier.

Timing

The best time for an outdoor photo shoot is the late afternoon leading up to sunset. Many professional photographers describe this time as “the golden hour” or “the magic hour” because the sun puts off a beautiful glow that is great for a variety of skin tones. If a photo session cannot be booked during this magical hour, than a spot with a lot of shade should be used so that photo subjects do not have to squint or worry about being washed out by brightness.
Weather cannot be controlled, so when a person plans an outdoor photo shoot they need to be flexible and realistic. Rain, fog, clouds, and extreme temperatures can all put a damper on pictures taken outside in the elements.

Memories

Ultimately family pictures should be celebrated and during the photo shoot it is important to try to have fun and let go of the worries. There is definitely stress associated with planning for professional photos because everyone wants to look their best. However, the goal is to capture the beautiful moments in life that are happening right now. A child’s toothless grin, a grandmother’s distant look, and the laugh lines (that may actually be wrinkles) make for great photographs. Childhood is fleeting and everyone ages, but professional photos lead to hard copy proof that a family cared enough to make the time and get together.
Capturing a family’s bond against the backdrop of changing leaves and harvest sunsets will showcase a moment in time that cannot be lost.

10 Rules for Sharing Every Sibling Should Know

What if you erased everything you’ve taught your kids about sharing and started fresh? What rules or guidelines would you put in place?

“I feel like I need two of everything,” you lament to a friend as your kids argue in the living room.
“It wouldn’t matter. Even if I had two of everything, they would still find something to fight over,” your friend replies.
Sighing, you sip your coffee, close your eyes, and try to ignore the noise.
What if you erased everything you’ve taught your kids about sharing and started fresh? What rules or guidelines would you put in place?

10 sharing rules every sibling should know

Rather than thinking of this list as a cumbersome list of expectations, see it as a starting point. An opportunity to look at the concept of sharing from a different perspective.

1 | Sharing is a choice

Start by setting the expectation that no one is forced to share. Forcing kids to share often leads to resentment and bitterness. Instead, encourage kindness and empathy by modeling the behavior you want to see. Use respect and patience as you guide your kids through the ups and downs of sharing.

2 | Give them the words

Kids need to learn how to ask to use something, how to respectfully join a game, how to politely refuse to share, how to ask for more time with a toy, etc. Slow down the conversation and give your kids time to learn and practice these phrases before expecting them to do them well.

3 | Define the word “mine”

When kids claim something is “mine!” they may actually be trying to say “I’m using this right now” or “I’d like to use it soon” or “I’m worried you’re going to break it.” Rather than getting into a power struggle over the true owner, help your child use different language to express their feelings and find a solution.

4 | Taking turns takes practice

Kids need to know that there are a lot of options when it comes to taking turns. As they build their toolbox full of ideas, they can brainstorm together to find the best method. Using a timer, setting a schedule, counting jumps on a trampoline, or giving the blue crayon when they’re done coloring the sky are all solutions to explore.

5 | Special toys need a special place

Allow each child to have a few toys, games, or objects that they do not have to share or that they can choose to share with certain people, at their discretion. Make sure each child has a safe place to store these objects so other children do not disturb them or play with them without permission.

6 | Trading can keep the peace

From the outside, trading may look like a shady business deal, but it is also a savvy social skill that kids can use to navigate play dates and friendships. Offering a different toy, packaging a few toys (and three stickers), or allowing their sibling to play with a normally off-limits toy may be a great way to play peacefully together.

7 | Long turns are acceptable

Rather than setting a random “time’s up” rule, create a common household language to give kids the option of using a toy for an extended amount of time. If someone asks for the toy, the child can say “I’m having a long turn.” Then, they can explain when the long turn will be up – the next morning, after lunch, etc.

8 | New toys get priority

Birthday gifts or other presents get special priority over the everyday toys and games. While some kids may willingly share their new toys, other kids may be more protective. Rather than forcing them to share right away, give them the opportunity enjoy the excitement of having something new.

9 | Big feelings are okay

There will be times when a sibling says “no” to a request to join a game, or when someone else is having a long turn with a toy. Let your child know that it’s okay to be upset. Empathize with these feelings. Explore ways to manage disappointment or sadness. Talk about what they can do while they wait for a turn.

10 | You can ask for help

Sometimes, the situation is too intense or complicated for kids to come to a peaceful conclusion. Let your kids know that they can come to you when they are stuck. Your role is to listen and facilitate conversation between the siblings, rather than pick a side or create a solution.

Putting the sharing rules into practice

This list may look overwhelming at first. Don’t panic. You don’t have to do a complete overhaul of your family’s sharing rules overnight. Look through the list and pick one or two that you would like to focus on first. Or, sit down with your kids and get their feedback.
The goal is not to have a rigid set of “rules” but a way to change the atmosphere around sharing in your home.
To introduce respectful communication, problem-solving, and empathy into the mix.
And … to avoid buying two (or three, or four!) of everything.

It’s not too late

Maybe you’re thinking “Well, it’s hopeless. My kids are too old to learn these skills.”
Or “I wish they were fighting over toys. We’ve moved on to bigger – and more difficult things to share – like iPads and game systems.”
You’re right, the older your kids get, the more complex sibling rivalry can become. But older kids are able to engage in discussions, think critically through challenging situations and be a part of the solution.
So, take the rules above and adapt them to fit your children’s age or developmental stage. Open up the conversation and see what insight they can bring to the table.
You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.
This article was originally published on Imperfect Families.

Karaoke Therapy is the Family Bonding You've Been Missing

Besides improving our mood, singing karaoke offers many physical, emotional, social, and educational benefits.

A few weeks ago on a Friday night, I was feeling grumpy and unmotivated. The kids were bored and I didn’t have the energy to deal with it. I was about to head upstairs to my bedroom and hide from my family, but then something shockingly spectacular happened. My husband turned on our karaoke machine and our house became a happening spot. All of our moods transformed almost immediately as we sang one upbeat song after another. We became obsessed with trying to come up with the next best song to pull up on our karaoke machine. I think two hours flew by before our voices started getting scratchy and we went to bed.

Singing has always been one of my favorite go-to stress busters. When I’m alone in the car, I love to blast the radio and sing along to my favorite tunes. My children love music and singing as well. They are always walking around the house belting out a song they heard in movies like “Trolls” or “Sing,” and sometimes they even make up their own songs. We’ve also caught my son singing in the shower on several occasions.

We happen to be somewhat of a musical family: I sang in the school choir growing up and now my kids and I take piano lessons. However, the beauty of karaoke is that you can be a total amateur and have a terrible voice, but you can still reap the numerous benefits that singing provides.

As pointed out in a previous Parent.Co article, scientific research has found that the act of singing (as opposed to just listening to music) can naturally boost our mood because we release endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in our body. Besides improving our mood, singing karaoke offers many physical, emotional, social, and educational benefits.

Physical

  • Breath better: Singing helps slow our heart rate and improve our breathing pattern. In addition, when we sing karaoke, we are usually standing up and using our whole body to get into the song. This forces us to breath more efficiently and easily because the muscles from our diaphragm and lungs become fully expanded and our abdominal muscles more relaxed. Finally, our lungs get a workout when we use proper singing techniques and vocal projections.
  • Strengthen immune system: A study at the University of Frankfurt found that singing can improve our immune system. Professional choir members had their blood analyzed before and after an hour-long rehearsal. The results showed that the amount of proteins in the immune system that function as antibodies, known as Immunoglobulin A, were much higher right after the rehearsal in most cases.
  • Improve posture: To be a successful singer, we need to stand up straight with our shoulders and back properly aligned. Therefore, karaoke is a fantastic way to show our children how to develop good posture.

Emotional

  • Express feelings and emotions: When we belt out a song that has meaning to us or inspires us, we trigger an emotional response within ourselves. Singing, therefore, helps us express our feelings and emotions in a creative way. Karaoke also gives us the opportunity to express a specific song and its meaning using our own style and personality. When we do that, we communicate in an emotional way to ourselves and our audience.
  • Increase happiness: When we sing a happy, upbeat tune, our overall mood improves because it is enjoyable and distracts us from our daily commitments and worries. In addition to releasing endorphins, we have a tiny organ in our ear called the sacculus that creates a sense of pleasure when we sing.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety: Karaoke does wonders for reducing stress and anxiety, so much so that it has been used as a type of therapy to help people get over their fears or phobias. One study out of Japan analyzed over 19,000 men ages 40 to 69 and discovered that karaoke reduced their stress levels and lowered their risk of stroke and heart disease. First of all, singing releases muscle tension and decreases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our body. Singing also provides a sense of relaxation to let us enjoy the present moment to the fullest.

Social

  • Build confidence: Singing in front of a crowd takes a ton of confidence, so karaoke gives your kids that special experience that will help them grow and develop. At first, they may feel shy and awkward, but with some practice, karaoke will help build their self-esteem. Public speaking is considered most people’s top fear, so your children will have a leg up by practicing with karaoke. This hobby is sure to help your kids overcome their fears and challenges – lessons that they can take with them throughout their lives.
  • Practice team work: When we do karaoke with others, we have to work together to coordinate that we are singing either in unison or at the appropriate alternating times. This creates a type of teamwork approach. Our kids can learn how to encourage their singing mates so that everyone is successful and has a good time.
  • Bond with family: Karaoke is an amazing way to bring your family together to do something creative, meaningful, and fun. You will enjoy introducing your kids to the “oldies” that you grew up with. What a wonderful way to create some lasting memories for your family!

Educational

  • Stimulate the brain: Singing can be complex. It requires a lot of brain power to follow along with the rhythm, melody, and lyrics. This challenge causes activity in the neurons of our brain that bring together emotional, physical, and psychological changes.
  • Improve reading. Karaoke is no simple task. The lyrics flash up on the screen and we need to react quickly by reading accurately and then singing them. Once your children are pretty comfortable with reading, karaoke can help them master their skills. Karaoke makes learning reading fun since it’s set to music that they enjoy. It also provides a change of pace from the typical reading hour before bedtime. Karaoke tends to be ideal for visual learners who learn by seeing and doing. Start off by practicing singing along with your children to one of their favorite songs – nothing too vocally challenging. After some practice, let them sing without the backup vocals. Eventually, they will be able to sing using only the instrumental track.
  • Sharpen memory: Singing along to a song requires us to use the memory section of our brain. Even though the lyrics are in front of us on the screen, we still access the memories we have in our brain about the song if we have heard it before. This helps to stimulate our brain and improve our memory muscle.

The next time you are looking for an entertaining activity for your family, head for the karaoke machine. Your children will grow in so many tremendous ways, all while having a blast singing their favorite songs.

Don't Feel Guilty If You Don't Have Time for Family Dinner

How can your busy family carve out 15-30 minutes a day to check in and spend quality time together? Here are five alternatives to the revered family dinner.

It’s 4:50 p.m. on a Wednesday, and this is the scene at my house: I’m madly rushing to finish up cooking dinner, while tripping on my one-year-old who, in preparation for her witching hour, has thrown herself at my feet. Meanwhile, the five-year-old is bemoaning his starvation, despite the fact that he had a snack an hour ago, and his dinnertime smoothie is already in front of him.
I slam their food on the table, like an ornery waitress at one of those 50s-themed diners, but I won’t be sitting down with my kids to eat tonight. Sure, I may plop down in exhaustion on the chair next to my son, but I’ll be up in three minutes, cleaning up spilled milk from my kindergartner or thrown food from the toddler.
My husband won’t be joining us either, thanks to his Silicon Valley job with a long commute and even longer hours.
Yet again, we won’t be having a family dinner together. Even though I know my husband and I spend plenty of time with our young children, I still feel guilty from seeing report after report extol the virtues of having every member in the family sit down together for an evening meal.
I know we’re not the only family who’s not having dinner together tonight and feeling bad about it. But a study from 2012 can assuage our guilt. Researchers from the University of Minnesota found that family dinner itself did not create the benefits that have been previously reported in children whose families share nightly mealtime. Those benefits were lower obesity rates, greater academic success, and fewer instances of substance abuse and delinquent behavior. Instead, family dinner was “a marker for families that have a bundle of traits that contribute to good child outcomes,” MinnPost reported.
Families that regularly have mealtime together tend to have more time and money and are more likely to have a non-employed stay-at-home mother than families who don’t dine together, according to the report.
Unlike in previous studies on family mealtimes, researchers for the University of Minnesota report were able to use data that asked both children and parents questions about their family life, and it asked these questions at several different times during the participants’ childhoods. The data came from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, a long-term study of a sample of 18,000 children.
The study’s conclusion is a classic example of confusing correlation for causation. It’s also reminiscent of recent research that indicates that the previously-reported benefits of breastfeeding have been exaggerated. (Breastfed babies tend to be in families with more resources than formula-fed children, and this socioeconomic status is more likely the cause of these children’s better health and well-being.)
In a similar vein, Bruce Feiler, a New York Times columnist and author of “The Secrets of Happy Families,” argued that it’s not the family dinner that yields the benefits, but the quality time spent together – no matter the occasion or time of day.
In his research into tens of thousands of cataloged chats around the dinner table, Feiler found that there is actually only 10 minutes of real conversation.
“The rest is taken up with ‘take your elbows off the table’ and ‘pass the ketchup’ and all that kind of stuff,” he told radio program “The Splendid Table.”
So if regular family dinners don’t work for your family – like mine – there’s no need to feel guilty. Ann Meier, co-author of the University of Minnesota study and University of Minnesota associate professor of sociology, told MinnPost that family meals “may be a nice kind of ritual context for good parenting to happen,” but families can connect with each other at other times and in other ways.
Feiler came to a similar conclusion, saying that as long as families can find 10-15 minutes a day to bond and have that “real conversation,” they will reap the same benefits as having family dinner. Taking the concept of “time-shifting” from the work world, he said, families who can’t eat together nightly can simply time-shift their family time.
How can your busy family carve out 15-30 minutes a day to check in and spend quality time together? Here are five alternatives to the revered family dinner:

Family breakfast

This is one of the alternate rituals Feiler recommended, but is family breakfast a truly viable option for families scrambling to pack lunches, make daycare and school dropoff, and get to work? Apparently so, I found when I crowd sourced family-dinner-alternative ideas from friends and parenting groups on Facebook.
“We only do family dinner one to three times per week, but we have breakfast together every morning,” said Beth Wolf, mom of two children under four in Chicago. “The kids get us up early anyway!”
Family breakfast is an ideal choice for families with little ones who are up at the crack of dawn. If you’re up with your kids and sleep deprived long before you have to start your morning commute, why not share some eggs and toast together?

Video chats

Since my kids changed their nap schedules this summer and started going to bed at 7 p.m. – before my husband even gets home from work – an evening video call through the Houseparty app has become part of my family’s daily routine. It’s a chance for my son to tell Daddy about what happened at transitional kindergarten that day and the toddler to say “Dada, Dada” excitedly when she sees her dad’s face – and a great replacement for the family dinner that doesn’t work with our family’s schedule.
Family video chats are well suited for families where a parent travels a lot or works odd hours, like Laura Birks-Reinert’s family in New Jersey. Her husband works nights, so she and her twin six-year-old boys Skype with Daddy at 7 p.m. every day, sometimes during bath time.

Play

Many families feel like mealtimes aren’t the best time for real conversation anyway. Families with young children often spend most of dinnertime cleaning up spills and managing one crisis after another. Tweens and teens feel like they’re being interrogated about school and friends when everyone is gathered at the dinner table, staring at them.
Family play time might, in fact, be a better way to spend quality time than mealtimes.
“In our home, our family spends plenty of time together,” said Teresa Currivan, parent coach and mother to an 11-year-old in Oakland, Calif. “As long as some of that is quality time, I’m fine skipping the family dinner. Our family does improv games together, Nerf battles, etc. Play lends itself to more connection than sitting and eating together all the time – at least for my gang.”
Blogger and author Kelly Holmes has instituted five to 10 minutes of family cuddle time in bed after everyone returns from work and school to give her family of five a chance to re-connect before their busy evening routine starts.
While family play happens more spontaneously with little ones, there’s still ways to engage with older kids. Families can gather for weekend board game nights or participate in daily conversation games that author Bruce Feiler recommended. Those games include “Bad and Good,” in which every family member takes a turn telling one thing that was good about their day and one that was bad, and “Pain Points,” where everyone talks about a difficult situation they’re facing.

Special weekly routines

Like the weekend board game nights I previously mentioned, creating weekly family traditions is another great way to bond, especially as your kids grow older and want to spend less time with you and more time hiding in their rooms (on Snapchat with friends).
Move family dinner to Sunday night, and invite the kids to help you prep and cook. Bring the family together for Sunday brunch, go for a walk Sunday afternoon before dinner, or sit down for a movie and bowl of popcorn Saturday night.

Driving time

Make use of all those hours you spend in the car, shuttling the kids to and from after-school activities. Instead of conversation during family dinner, this is where your family’s real discussions can happen.
Car chats are what works best for Jacqui Pastoral-Conclara and her husband in San Bruno, California, as they drive their three boys, aged 11, 13 and 15, to after-school sports and weekend travel tournaments.
“I found that the time we drive to the games is the perfect opportunity to connect with my kids,” she said. “They tend to be introspective and profound in these conversations when trapped traveling in the car with their parents.”
And if your child is feeling a bit reticent about opening up on their own during the drive, try one of Feiler’s conversational games: “Bad and Good” or “Pain Points.”

A special note about teenagers

Remember that University of Minnesota study showing that family dinner isn’t what leads to the positive outcomes in children? There’s one exception – teenagers. (Teenagers are always the exception, right?)
According to the researchers, adolescents whose families shared mealtimes tended to report fewer symptoms of depression. Study author Ann Meier theorized that these regular family meals might be an opportunity for parents to check on their teenager’s emotional well-being and intervene if necessary.
Note: There was no similar association between family dinner and adolescent substance abuse or delinquency, like shoplifting or damaging property.
But again, if you’re a parent of teenagers and can’t fit nightly family mealtimes into your schedule, connect with your kids with Sunday dinner or conversation during car rides.
No matter what your children’s ages, try to take at least 10-15 minutes a day to really be there for them. Put down your phone, turn off the TV or car radio, open your ears, and see what happens.

How to Turn Mundane Chores Into Mindful Moments for Our Kids

We can make chores a special experience for our kids by incorporating mindfulness into the tasks that might otherwise seem repetitive or boring.

We could all use a little bit of help around the house, right? It seems that children these days are too busy with homework, after school activities, and electronics to do any chores. In fact, unlike prior generations, most American parents today do not believe that their children should have to be responsible for household chores. According to a survey by Braun Research in 2014, 82 percent of adults polled said they had regular chores when they were growing up, but only 28 percent asked their children to do any. This is unfortunate because when children help out with such tasks, the entire family benefits. Parents are less irritated and stressed when we have some of our responsibilities lifted, and our children thrive in so many ways.
When children take on tasks such as making their bed or setting the table they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Encouraging children to participate in regular, age-appropriate chores has been associated with social, emotional, and academic benefits that help them succeed throughout life. Studies show that children who start doing chores as early as three years old become more self-sufficient, independent, confident, and responsible. Chores also give kids a chance to learn how things work around the house and create many opportunities for family bonding.
When it comes to identifying the benefits of children taking on chores, Marty Rossmann of the University of Mississippi is often quoted for her work in this area. After analyzing over 25 years of data, she determined that children who started doing chores beginning at age three or four were more likely to be well-adjusted, have better relationships with friends and family, and be more successful in their careers. In addition, the chores taught children about the importance of contributing to their family and developed their sense of empathy as adults.
Rossmann also discovered that the way in which chores are presented can impact a child’s ability to become a well-adjusted adult. She recommends the following tips: tasks should not be too overwhelming, parents should present chores in a way that fits their child’s preferred learning style, and children should help choose which chores they do through family meetings and a weekly chore chart. She does not think a financial allowance is a good idea, but this is a controversial topic with many perspectives that parents can explore. Finally, the earlier parents begin getting children to take an active role in helping out at home, the easier it will be to get them involved as they get older.

Add mindfulness

Another way that we can make chores a special experience for our kids is to incorporate mindfulness into the tasks that might otherwise seem repetitive or boring. Mindfulness has become a hot topic in recent years, with science demonstrating how being mindful can improve our lives. Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the moment at hand in a non-judgmental way. Study after study indicate how mindfulness improves our health because it relaxes us and reduces stress and anxiety. It allows us to quiet the endless distracting chatter of our mind so we can focus on the current moment. Furthermore, when we experience mindfulness, we connect with our inner thoughts and feelings so we can make calm, positive decisions.
Many experts suggest that we add mindfulness into everyday tasks, so what better way to show your kids how to get their mindfulness on than during some simple household chores? Mindful chores will help bring focus, attention, and sensory exploration to basic tasks like washing the dishes. Interestingly, research published in Mindfulness Magazine in 2015 found that dishwashers who looked at their task in a mindful way showed more positive attributes (e.g., inspiration) and less negative attributes (e.g., anxiety).
Essentially, we can show our kids how to use the time spent doing chores as a mini meditative session to promote mindfulness. The key is for them to focus on what they are doing and to notice all the sensations and feelings they experience. Make it into a fun “noticing game” for them.
Here are some questions to train them to ask themselves while working on their chores:

  • What colors do you see?
  • How does what you are doing feel? Does it feel soft or hard, wet or dry, smooth or rough?
  • What do you smell? Do you like the smell?
  • What sounds do you hear?
  • How does this activity make you feel? Happy, sad, frustrated, excited, proud?
  • What thoughts are you having while you complete the task?

Start simple

Your children will be ready to take on certain types of chores depending on their age. Start simple with something pertaining to their own personal care like brushing teeth. Instead of fighting you, they will now have an activity to focus their attention. In order for your children to really experience mindful teeth brushing, they should slow down and not rush through this typically boring chore. Encourage them to appreciate the many sensations they feel at each step. You can guide them by asking some easy questions:

  • How does the toothbrush feel in your hand? How does it look?
  • What does it feel like to squeeze the toothpaste onto your toothbrush?
  • How does the toothpaste smell?
  • How do the bristles feel in your mouth? On your tongue, teeth, and gums?
  • What does the toothpaste taste like?
  • How does your mouth feel differently after brushing your teeth?

Anther important chore to ask your children to do is to make their bed every morning. It only takes a minute, but it can set the tone for their day because it creates a tidy and organized environment that will help them feel calm. Add some interest to this chore by asking them how the sheets and blanket feel.
The next time you ask your children to set or clear the dinner table, turn it into a mindful event for them. Ask them to focus carefully when they hold each object so they don’t drop it. Also, ask them the following questions:

  • How heavy does each cup, plate, bowl, spoon, knife, fork, and napkin feel in your hand?
  • Are the objects smooth or rough, hard or soft?
  • What sounds do you hear when you place each object on the table?
  • What colors and patterns do you see?
  • What do the plates smell like as you clear them off the table?

Other typical chores for children include folding laundry, cleaning their room and playroom, wiping down the table, light vacuuming or cleaning up with a dust buster, and taking care of pets. Each of these tasks can easily be transformed into a relaxing, introspective time with a little mindfulness magic.