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Fun to do this season – chain of kindness

December 5, 2010 Leave a comment
A Danish Christmas tree illuminated with burni...

Image via Wikipedia

Given the materialism associated with the holidays, I am always kind of struggling during this time as how to give more meaning to the season in fun but not expensive ways.  So I thought I would share one in case anyone else is in the same boat.

A couple of years ago I read about the tradition of the good deed paper chain in The Book of Family Traditions.  The book suggests hanging a paper chain up with links for each member of the family. Every morning in December each family member breaks a link and does something nice for the person whose name is on the back of the link. If someone gets their own name, they pass it on to another family member.

We modified the idea a bit.  We build a paper chain as well, but we write random acts of kindness committed by our members of our family on it as they occur in the month of December.  So some days there might be many links made and some days there might be none. It is very fun to watch it grow! We leave it by the advent calendar so Santa can see it. It took a few days to get it going but it has definitely instilled the Christmas Spirit in our house this year!

How do you Teach Honesty? The difference between “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and “George Washington and the Cherry Tree”

November 15, 2010 2 comments

In the book NurtureShock, authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman discuss research by Dr. Victoria Talwar, one of the leading experts on children’s lying behavior. During one of Dr. Talwar’s experiments, reading the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree (George confesses he chops downs a prized cherry tree with a hatchet and the father forgives him and says to hear George tell the truth is better than having a thousand cherry trees) cut down lying in boys by 75 percent and in girls by 50 percent. While 75 percent of parents polled by Bronson and Merryman on their website (http://www.nurtureshock.com/) believed The Boy Who Cried Wolf would reduce lying, it actually served to increase it slightly.

In essence, what Dr. Talwar’s research found is that children lie to make parents happy. Most parents respond to lies with anger and punishment. She found in her experiment with six-year olds that what really reduces lying is for the parent to say that they are not upset with the transgression and that if the child tells the truth, they will make the parent very happy. While it also reduces lying to say that the child will make him/herself very happy, young kids are most focused on making their parent happy, hence the greater effect when saying it in the context of the parent’s happiness.

The other reason that children lie, Talwar notes, is that they learn it from us in the most subtle ways – white lies and disapproval about tattling. More on that some other time.

Listening with Empathy

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

One of my very favorite parenting books, which I received as a gift from my father-in-law, is Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child. It is a classic that was published over 35 years ago (although I just saw on Amazon that his wife released a revised edition some years back).

I have been trying to remind myself lately to really, really listen to each of the kids so that they feel heard. Sometimes that is all that they seem to need. Not for me to solve their problems, but to just listen. I try to practice active listening, reflecting back what the kids tell me, and really trying to understand where they are coming from.

One step further than active listening, Ginott emphasizes the need to empathize with a child when listening. This requires some interpretation andIt is hard to do under stress (I almost find it impossible to do when running late), but when done, it really does connect you with your child in amazing ways. Examples he gives are:

1) Respond to feelings rather than a reported event. For example, if a sister is asking why her brother received more presents, she is likely asking about the love the parent has for her rather than more presents. So a good response would be to ask whether she is wondering if he is loved more than her because he received more presents. Then let the conversation flow and reassure. Or when a child comes home to complain about a friend or teacher or his life in some other dimension, respond to his feeling tone rather than obtain details. It is more comforting for them to be understood and that their feelings are normal than for the parent to devise a solution. So if your child comes home saying he hates his teacher, you could respond by saying emphatically, “you had a really rough day!” and then let him spew.

2) Accept ambivalent feelings. Children can feel two ways about people – e.g., they can love them and be angry at the same time. When we acknowledge these feelings (e.g., you seem to feel two ways about your teacher, you like him and dislike him). Our calm acceptance of these feelings makes them realize that they are understood and that is something others feel from time to time as well.

3) Mirror emotions. Rather than judge an emotion that your child is having (e.g., there is nothing to be afraid of, don’t be sad, etc.), however well-intended, try to just help your child label their feelings. To the child, this will be experienced as very comforting. Once calmed down, the child might be ready to explore solutions. Not only does this convey to the child that you are willing to take the time to understand him, it also teaches him how to problem solve, rather than having the parent do so.