Monday, November 21, 2016

The Value in Volunteering with Your Family

We are entering the holiday season, a time of family rituals that you make look forward to all year long. One family holiday ritual that you may not have considered is volunteering. Volunteering creates unity, builds team, and opens your heart to your community and those in need.  It teaches your children compassion and empathy.  Here is an terrific article provided by Mother Daughter Book Club on the benefits of volunteering and how to find an organization that matches your family's values and interests.

Thinking about volunteering with your children but not sure if it's right for your family? Consider that volunteering has been shown to not only teach children compassion for others, it can also boost their self-confidence, help them learn new skills, and help them meet people of different backgrounds and beliefs.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you look for projects your family can get involved in.
Make sure the activity is good for the age of your child. Even younger kids can help organize a neighborhood blanket and towel drive for an animal welfare agency or collect canned goods for the food bank. Your kids also may be willing to give up gently used books or toys they have outgrown. When possible, bring your kids with you when you drop off items you have collected so they can see who benefits.
Consider these three broad categories when looking for places to volunteer: human welfare, environmental welfare, and animal welfare. Choose what most interests your family, and you are more likely to have your kids get excited about volunteering.
Think about volunteering more than once with the same organization so you can see the changes your work makes over time. For instance, if you join a work party at a local park several times, when you visit the park afterward you may be able to see others enjoying the trees you planted or the paths you cleared.
No sure how to find opportunities in your area? Here's a list of national organizations that list opportunities searchable by zip code and interest area:

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Lessons from this Election

On Tuesday, we experienced an unprecedented election following a highly charged, seemingly endless presidential campaign.  The single piece of clarity that I had in the fog on Wednesday morning was that how we as parents responded to our children about the election results was vitally important .  There are many lessons there for our children and ultimately for us.

Handling Winning and Losing
What we model for our children when we win and when we lose becomes their understanding of civility and sportsmanship.  Celebrate victories with integrity, compassion, and kindness.  Examine losses with confidence, curiosity, and caring for yourself and others.  This election does not change who you are.  It does not change your vision for your family, your community, and your country. 

Handling Feelings
It is important to experience your emotions about the outcome of the election.  Feel your feelings.  If your candidate did not win, allow yourself time to grieve the loss.  If you feel sad, cry.  Let your children see your sadness.  Assure them you are OK and that they are safe.  Let them know that you are simply feeling sad right now and it will not last forever.  

If you feel angry, feel it deeply.  Examine where you feel powerless.   Then remind yourself of what Maria Shriver read from Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty in a video that she posted the day after the election – “Our leaders got confused, so we are all leaders now.  They told us there was nothing we could do.  They were wrong.  When we tell ourselves there is nothing we can do, we are wrong.”   

Whatever emotions you are feeling, feel them, and let them go.  As Pamela Dunn, author of It’s Time to Look Inside: To See Yourself and Everyone Through the Lens of Magnificence, says, “Feelings are meant to be felt, not necessarily expressed.”   I invite you to read Pam’s book and to check out any of the courses from Your Infinite Life Training and Coaching Company for more about experiencing and expressing your emotions.   

Create a space for your children to experience their emotions.  Talk about your feelings and ask them about theirs.  Make this a conversation that will unfold over days and weeks.   

Staying Centered in Your Values
Use this time to reaffirm and stay centered in your values.  Talk with your children about the values that you share with your candidate.  Discuss your family values.  Talk about how to live from your values in your daily life.

My friend, Catherine, recently created a manifesto.  She began with her personal Love Manifesto, which included revealing that “Sometimes, I am mean, nasty, judgmental, and treat others poorly.”  She went on to accept and love those parts of herself as well as the parts that are easier to love.  She closed by saying, “It is only through the sum of my parts and the entirety of my being that I can say…I am a love warrior and I am magnificent.”   She then applied that to our nation by writing the following manifesto for our country:

“If we, as a nation, can understand this in the core of our hearts, 
If we, as a nation, can love and accept the parts of ourselves that we don’t like, and 
If we, as a nation, know that all of our parts have helped us get where we are today and will help us be a better version of ourselves tomorrow, 
Then we will come together, stronger and more loving than ever before.”

Consider writing your own family’s manifesto or living by Catherine’s.  It will allow you, your family, and all of us to rise.

Staying Involved
Teach your children that they can continue to move the world forward through supporting their friends and community.  You can model that for them by staying involved or by getting involved.  Contribute to your community as a family by volunteering with organizations that share your values.

Read the book Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty with your children, and practice acts of kindness and beauty. Begin to notice those acts being done by others and point them out to your children.  Ask them to begin noticing, too.  

Facing the Fear of What We Imagined Would Happen
We live surrounded by a media that feeds us sound bites.  We do not know the complete, complex human beings running for office.  From the snippets we see, we label them, judge them, and imagine the worst.  We develop a fear of what could happen if they won.  If your candidate did not win, those fears are coming to fruition.   How do you handle that and teach your children to handle it?  Here are a few ways:
  • Be willing to be wrong – Open a space, even if it is initially a tiny space, that you may be wrong about the winner and what he will do so that you are willing to give him a chance to succeed
  • See what is positive in the winner – Practice seeing one thing, even if it is initially a tiny thing, that is positive about the winner
  • Talk to people who voted for the winning candidate and seek to understand their reasons and feelings  – Make sure that you do this from a place of curiosity and do not engage in pointing out how they are wrong
  • Explain to your children that not every person who voted for the winner embraces the beliefs he professed and that there was something else more important to them
  • Have a conversation with your children about misinterpreting anger for authenticity or power when it is actually the opposite – Introduce the concept that kindness is a strength and that authenticity doesn’t mean being disrespectful or uncivil
  • Practice focusing on what you want to occur rather than focusing on what you do not want – What you focus on expands and focusing on your desires allows you much more flexibility and creativity
Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs, recently wrote, “I’m worried because millions of people now seem to believe that [the winner’s] supporters are racist, xenophobic, and uneducated misogynists. I'm worried because despising our candidates publicly is very different than despising the people who vote for them.”  Again, talk to people.  Connect on a feeling level.  Seek to understand over seeking to be right.

Talking about the Bullying Behavior of the Winner
Of all of the leaders that children typically look up to, President of the United States is at the top of the list.  In this election, children have seen disrespectful behavior shown by the winner of the election toward women, minorities, immigrants, and the disabled throughout the campaign.  How do we teach children about inclusiveness, compassion, and justice when our President Elect has not displayed those values?  How do we explain the divide between having seen those behaviors and the fact that he was elected to the highest office in our country, an office children assume is held by someone who exemplifies our highest principles?
  • Without explaining away or dismissing the behaviors that you do not like, discuss the ways you would have liked him to have behaved
  • Explain that all famous people – including politicians, presidents, basketball players, actors, musicians – are not necessarily our mentors or heroes, and then discuss who their heroes are and the characteristics that they admire, focusing on how they want to be
  • Discuss the concept of accountability – that people are responsible for their behavior and the consequences of their behavior – and how that applies to the president elect’s behavior (such as the loss of respect and lack of trust)
  • Discuss how adults can choose bullying behavior and it doesn’t make it right
  • Explain that this election was not typical and that you feel equally confused, again emphasizing that the majority of people voted for him in spite of those behaviors not because of them (something was more important to them) 
Dr. Tim Jordan, author of Sleeping Beauties, Awakened Women, recently wrote, “Instead of being left with a sense of disillusionment, encourage kids to become people of character who do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, regardless of what everyone else is saying or doing. Hopefully they will do as I say and not as the politicians have done.”

Supporting the Leader
In our parenting courses, we teach the concept of ‘supporting the leader.’  That leader may be you or it may be one of your children taking charge of the dinner menu.  A part of building team and increasing success is to support the leader.  Our success as a nation depends upon our leader’s success.  Teach your children that desiring your leader to do well is important.  Supporting the leader does not mean that you agree with everything he proposes or says. It does mean being cooperative – not compliant – and holding your leader accountable.  It means influencing for the greater good.  Although you may disagree with the leader, it does not mean being an obstructionist. 

With your children, point out how you do that in your family and encourage more of it as we move forward. 

Moving Forward
In a recent post, Desmond Tutu said, “Each side now must come together and realize that you share a greater goal than victory, which is the development of a country that serves all of its people and that leads the world to a greater destiny. The only way to peace and healing is to turn to one another and try to understand what motivates such fear and anger. The anger over inequality and injustice, whether in America or South Africa, is real and must be addressed, for a country is only as strong as its weakest and most vulnerable citizens.”

Our most vulnerable citizens are our children.  Conversations about the election, including listening intently to what your children care about and what they feel, can re-establish balance after this tumultuous campaign season.  How you respond sets the stage!  

Monday, October 3, 2016

Halloween Fun: The Toddler Edition

Many thanks to Amy Webb of The Thoughtful Parent for this article on Halloween and toddlers. Our own memories of fun Halloween's past and our desire for our children to have a great time may keep us from seeing how scary Halloween might be for a toddler.  Amy's suggestions can make for a very happy celebration for your entire family. 

By Amy Webb 

Fall also means fun holidays like Halloween. Most adults love Halloween and older kids too, however, it can be a little intimidating for toddlers. As adults, we often ramp up our expectations for cute costumes and picture-friendly moments that we will never forget. From a toddlers perspective, Halloween is odd--talking to strangers at houses, it's dark outside, and everyone is dressed up in weird (or scary) costumes. Here are a few ideas that will hopefully help make Halloween enjoyable and prevent some meltdowns from your toddler:

1. Explain the activities in advance. As much as you can explain to your toddler what's going to happen in advance if you are taking them trick-or-treating. Talk about that it might be dark outside, that people will be dressed up in costumes, etc.

2. Plan Halloween activities at a toddler-friendly time. Yes, we all love trick-or-treating, but if you wait until your toddler's bedtime to do it, it won't be much fun for anyone. It's okay to go out while it's still light outside or just go to a Halloween party instead. Many libraries host toddler-friendly Halloween parties during the daytime hours.

3. Don't stress over manners. We all want our kids to say "thank you" and "you're welcome" but in the midst of Halloween fun, might not be the best time to enforce those rules. It's great to encourage it, but if your toddler is overwhelmed by the situation, she probably won't remember her "please" and "thank you's."

4. Have low expectations. That super cute costume you bought a few weeks ago may not bring the same joy to your toddler that it does to you. When my son was 3, he wanted to dress up like Woody from Toy Story...until Halloween night. Then he refused to wear that costume and instead wanted to wear his Superman t-shirt with cape attached. I was disappointed but he never new the difference. He loved being Superman (with just a t-shirt) and all the neighbors thought he was adorable.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


In our over-scheduled, stressful, hectic world, our children need to experience the flow of summer.  Author and behavioral pediatrician, Dr. Tim Jordan, recently listed important reasons why kids need summer camp. He said, "Camp can be a time to slow down your pace of living. Kids today feel hurried and stressed out about trying to fit everything into their busy lives. Hopefully, most camps allow a more relaxed, less structured schedule so that kids can relax and slow down." Simply substitute "summer" for camp, and you know what I mean! Your children need unstructured play, and that play actually impacts their future happiness.  

Shifting into the summer schedule can be challenging for both adults and children.  With this shift, we alter the regular routines that we have followed during the school year.  Any time we have a transition – even a positive one – we experience stress.  Your child will feel this stress, too.  For the child who has difficulty with transitions, the shift into the summer schedule can be particularly stressful.  The stress our children feel may show up as increased misbehavior.

Here are some ideas for making the transition into summer smoother:

Talk about Changes Ahead of Time: Children can feel powerless when they experience unanticipated changes.  The more information they have ahead of time and the more opportunities to talk about the changes, the more powerful they will feel.  Talk about the details with your child.  Let them know how summer will be different from the school year, about any plans for travel that you have, and about how daily life will look.  

Provide Ramp Down Times: Remind them that summer will begin in three weeks, then two weeks, then one week, and so on.  Help them ramp down.  “Ramping down” is especially vital for children who do not transition easily.

Engage Your Child in Planning: If you have vacations, camps, lessons, or day trips on the agenda for the summer, engage your child in the planning.  Again, children will feel influential and valuable when involved in planning family activities.  They will also get excited!  Anticipation is a big part of the joy of it all!  

Stay in Touch with Friends: Your child will not be seeing the same people that he has seen on a daily basis since the school year began.  It is helpful to plan ways to stay in touch during the summer.  Have contact information on hand.  Scheduling a get together once a week, every two weeks, or on whatever basis works for your family can be encouraging.  It could be meeting for a movie each month or going out for pizza.  Your child will know ahead of time that he will be seeing his friends regularly.

Say Goodbye: Plan a “See Ya Next Year” ritual that you can do at the end of every school year.  It could be a pool party, year book signing, visit to the ice cream parlor, or a trip to the movies.  This event can be something that everyone anticipates, and it is a setting for saying goodbye for a few months.  You can keep a scrap book of each year’s event.  Rituals like this are unifying and calming.

Recognize Your Child’s Needs and Your Needs: All of us, adults and children alike, have needs.  When our lives change as they do when we shift from the routines of the school year to a different set of activities in the summer, our needs are not met in the same ways.  Your child may have felt very valuable in fulfilling his “school job.”  How will he get the need to feel valuable met during the summer?  He may have felt very influential with his classmates.  How will he get the need to feel powerful met while out of school?  Let’s take a closer look at our needs.     

Have a great summer!

Monday, February 8, 2016


The need to belong is immensely powerful.  In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown defines belonging as "the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us." Pam Dunn emphasizes the significance of belonging in her book, It’s Time to Look Inside.  She writes, “When a person’s need to belong is unfulfilled, like when they don’t feel like they belong in a certain group or when they feel judged, they will become either the bully or the victim.”   

Children experience their sense of belonging initially at home, then later with neighborhood friends, on teams, and at school.  We experience it as adults in our families, at our places of worship, at work, and in organizations such as book clubs, sports teams, and political parties.  That sense of belonging can get disrupted when we move or change jobs; when someone dies; when a new child enters a family; or when you get married or re-married.  A child’s sense of belonging can get disrupted when he changes grade levels or schools; when his friend moves away; when he becomes a big brother or big sister; or when his parents get a divorce.  Any time our orbit in our world gets shaken, our sense of belonging feels the wobble.   It could be, as Pam Dunn says, when we feel judged.  At any of those moments, we shop around to see how we belong in the new dynamic or our new “world.”

Parents can do many things to remain sensitive to their child’s need to belong.  When children belong, they feel encouraged.  They have a solid, safe, and secure foundation from which to spring.  They feel empowered to take healthy risks and to follow their soul’s desires.  They have the resilience to bounce back from a fall or try another avenue when their path is obstructed.  Here are a few things to consider. 

1.  Children belong when they feel heard and their emotions are validated
Listening, especially to the feelings behind your child’s words or actions, will make all of the difference in the world.  Listening means avoiding minimizing or dismissing experiences that may seem inconsequential to you as an adult and are big deals for your children.  An example is your child’s friend being absent from school.  For a young child, that absence may be earth shaking.  Your first response may be to reassure your child by saying, “It’s not a big deal. Jane will be back tomorrow.  It’s only one day.” Although true, your child will feel deeply heard by simply saying, “You must have missed her” or “Sounds like you felt sad when Jane wasn’t there.”  Go for the feelings behind the words.

2.  Children belong when they are encouraged rather than praised
Providing your child with usable information as well as feedback on his efforts – rather than on an end result such as a grade or the winning run in a game – are powerful tools for building belonging.  For example, notice the difference between saying “Great hit!” and “The way you focused on the ball from the moment it left the pitcher’s hand really worked for you in making that hit”.  Another example is to ask, “What did you do to change that ‘C’ to an ‘A’?  I noticed that you studied every day during the last semester.” That is much more powerful than praising the end result – the ‘A’.  Those examples focus on your child’s efforts and they give concrete, usable feedback.
3.  Children belong when their family honors peaceful problem solving
Your child will have disagreements with siblings and with you.  There is no getting around that!  Rather than you solving your children’s problems for them, teach them to resolve them peacefully themselves.  One key is to have an agreement in your family that if one person has an issue with someone else, he will address it directly with that person rather than talking about it with other family members (other than to get some assistance in solving it).  That agreement holds people accountable, prevents others from feeling judged by family members talking about them behind their backs, and shows that you honor problem solving.   

4.  Children belong when you model and experience your own self-acceptance
     In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown wrote, “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are. Because this yearning [to belong] is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”  The most power thing you can do to enhance your child’s self-acceptance is to expand your own and then model self-acceptance around making mistakes, around feeling your feelings, and around being vulnerable.