Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bang, Bang! Toy Guns and Boys

Q: Should boys be allowed to play with toy guns of any sort? If so, can they point the gun at each other and shoot someone else? Play dead when shot? What guidelines do you recommend for teaching them how to play with toy guns? My sons keep asking for them and I’m not sure how to respond.

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A: If you have a boy, chances are pretty good that he’s shot, stabbed, lasered or otherwise tried to kill you, the family dog, the chair, or his younger sibling with some sort of weapon. Said weapon could be anything from a finger, a stick, LEGOs or a stuffed animal. Frankly, I don’t know how you prevent shooting and playing dead among children, especially boys, even without an actual toy gun in a child’s hand.

We’re asking the wrong questions when we fret about whether or not a toy gun of some sort will somehow be harmful to our kids. Instead, we should focus on what’s going on in their own hearts when they play or interact with others. Is the play mean-spirited or fun for all involved? A boy who shoots his sister with his toy cap gun, for example, could be perfectly loving toward her on most occasions, except when she’s the bank robber and he’s the sheriff.

Video games and movies have more potential for desensitizing kids to violence than playing with a toy gun. Rather than worrying about whether they play with toy guns (or pretend to knife, slash or shoot others with pretend weapons), we should concentrate on helping them treat others with kindness and respect most of the time (because no one can be perfect all the time!).

Our homes should have a general atmosphere of love and not anger with siblings that respect and love one another most of the time. If our focus is on the intangibles of our children’s relationships with each other, then what toys they have won’t matter as much--because in the end, it’s not the toy that causes the distress, it’s the child who wields it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Channeling Your Inner (Christmas) Child

There’s something about Christmas that is almost magical. Maybe it’s the colder weather. Maybe it’s the bright lights and cheerful holiday music. Maybe it’s the anticipation on the faces of every child you meet.

But sometimes we as adults are like the children in the Polar Express book, the ones who grow up a bit and don’t hear the sleigh bells anymore. We’ve somehow lost the Christmas magic in the hustle and bustle of the season. We’re too stressed with our long to-do lists that we miss the simplicity of the season.

Image courtesy of Theeradech Sanin/
That “amnesia” of what Christmas used to mean to us can make us short with our kids’ natural exuberance about presents and seeing family and Santa. We forget that memories are made not with gifts but with time spent together as a family. We eschew quietness for busyness, leaving little time for reflection. We let our children’s zeal for the season to irritate us rather than give us joy.

This Christmas, I challenge you to remember how much you enjoyed the holidays as a child. Pick a favorite memory and hold it close as you hear your children’s squeals of excitement, see them bouncing around the house, and generally become nearly overwrought with anticipation.

Share your own Christmas memories with your children. Let them share theirs, even though for most of them, they don’t have very many Christmases from which to choose. Ask them what makes Christmas special—you might be surprised at what they say. Pick several low-key things to do with your family in the midst of the to-ing and fro-ing that’s part of the season.

Most of all, cherish your kids’ expressions of joy. There’s nothing quite like the look on a child’s face when he opens a hoped-for gift. Or the surprise on a child’s face when she receives something unexpected yet welcome. Don’t wear yourself out so much that you can’t enjoy those moments. Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect but you can have the best Christmas ever.

Until next time,

If you want some tips on how to create contentment at Christmas, visit The Happy Housewife, where I’m interviewed in a blog entitled “HelpingYour Children Face a Lean Christmas.” 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Gift Question

Q: How do we handle grandparents and other relatives/friends who want to buy our kids things that we’d rather our kids not have, such as electronics, which we restrict most of the time at home. We don’t want to monitor their usage of an electronic device we didn’t want them to have anyway. I know they are well-intentioned, but our kids would be as happy with a gift card to the local bookstore. What are your suggestions for how to approach this topic?

A: One Christmas when our oldest was around five or six, one of my sisters gave her a Care Bear “exercise” doll that stood on its own and moved up and down, saying things like, “Exercise is great!” and “Let’s get physical,” a la Olivia Newton John’s hit song. Now, I knew by this sister’s wicked gleam in her eye that she figured the Care Bear wouldn’t go over so well with my husband or me. Yes, that bear was very annoying but I decided to see how it played out with my daughter.

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Sure enough, the first forty-eight hours were pure agony hearing that bear’s squeaky voice talk about getting physical. But a funny thing happened once the newness of the bear’s animatronics wore off. My daughter tried to play with it as a regular doll, but it was too stiff “at rest,” so the bear was soon left behind, un-played with and lonely in the toy box. A month after that, I was able to quietly remove the bear and put it in our yard sale box. My daughter never missed it.

Sometimes, the gift that we dread our children receiving ends up not being a big deal after all. Other times, we do have to step in to curtail usage. You won’t know which you’ll have to do until the gift is given.

However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a conversation with your relatives about toys. Don’t begin it with “We don’t allow…” or end it with “so please don’t buy them that.” Instead, talk about what your kids do like to do. Mention how much fun they have spending time with grandparents, aunts and uncles. When asked about gifts, you could suggest replacing another toy with a one-on-one outing with the relative. I know my own children have relished birthday gifts that were simply an outing with their grandmother or aunt and uncle, such as a trip to the circus or ballet. The outing itself doesn’t have to be spectacular—keep in mind that some of our best memories are from the small things in life, like an ice cream cone while walking around the neighborhood or a drive through a park to look at Christmas lights.

Also help your children develop their own wish lists that are reasonable and practical. For example, we remind our children that nothing on their list should cost more than $30, as that helps keep their greed in check and is respectful of others’ finances.

And for those gifts that don’t meet parental approval? Let them play with it, but put the same restrictions on it that you would have if you had purchased it. Remember that the relatives are likely only thinking of your child and are not out to undermine your parental authority. Always assume the best intentions unless you have hard evidence otherwise—and enjoy the blessings of having family who care enough to bestow gifts on your children. (Don’t forget to have those children write prompt thank-you notes, too.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Preparing Our Kids for Encounters of the Assault Kind

My children are still in elementary school, so the talk about the increase of sexual assaults on college campuses isn’t something I’m overly concerned about as touching my children right now. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not preparing my kids for the day when they might encounter such a situation, either through a friend, acquaintance or personally. Of course, no mother (or father!) wants to think her daughter or son would ever have to worry about unwanted sexual advances, molestation or rape.

But we live in a world where such things are not outside the realm of possibility. Rather than fearing what might happen, I’d rather focus on what we can do to help our children be strong, compassionate and responsible adults. The type of person who would speak up when seeing wrong or stand firm when others are crumbling. That training should begin when our children are young. Here’s what we’re teaching our children about being a good friend and citizen—in short, becoming young adults who will be more apt to do the right thing and not stand aside to let the wrong thing happen.

1. Teach them to stick up for the weak. Even in elementary school, helping our children develop a heart for those who are being picked on will strengthened their desire to do the right thing, even when it’s the hardest option. So many times, stories of sexual assault are peppered with tales of bystanders who did nothing to help, either before, during or after such incidents. By helping our children find the courage to speak up when they are young, we will instill in them the will to continue on that path into adulthood.

2. Teach them to tell the truth—no matter what. Sometimes, speaking up with the truth is harder than telling a lie or staying silent. That’s true about playground scrapes and it’s true about sexual assaults, especially when someone you like or admire is involved. By stressing the need for truth to always be told—and by ensuring that you encourage and model that in your home—you can help your children realize that truth might be hard, but it’s always the best course of action.

3. Teach them to treat everyone with respect. There are people in this world that we don’t get along with—different personalities, different backgrounds, different interests, etc. But we should strive to treat everyone we encounter with respect. Helping our children internalize that character trait is essential to their living a life of honor and of being good citizens. Having that respect at the core of their being will help them recognize that everyone deserves to be valued.

4. Teach them that everyone is made in God’s image. This goes along with respecting all people, but it digs deeper. When we realize that God has created all human beings, that’s a powerful incentive to be kind to everyone we meet. It’s essentially the backbone of all the other lessons we’re trying to teach because respect, truth-telling, helping the weak—all stem from knowing that everyone we encounter is a reflection of God.

5. Teach them of their own worth. This goes hand-in-hand with everyone—including themselves—being made in God’s image. Knowing who they are on the inside will go a long way to helping them avoid potentially dangerous situations because of a longing to be liked or to fit in with the right crowd. Also drill into them that their bodies are their own, and that no one has the right to touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable. Add to that no one has the right to tell them to keep quiet if something does happen. Having a sure sense of self can prevent our kids from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

6. Teach them that love is more than sex. This starts with showing them what a good marriage looks like by being affectionate with your spouse, by treating your husband or wife with respect, by modeling what a good relationship between the sexes looks like. It’s also helping them as they begin to express interest in the opposite sex to understand infatuation and how that can lead to bad decisions. It’s guiding them to recognizing potentially unsafe situations and giving them the tools to avoid them. It’s helping them see that reporting any misconduct is always better than saying nothing—and that you’ll be there to help them through the process no matter what.

Of course, there are no guarantees that even if we teach our kids these truths they will never stray off the right path, but we would be remiss in our calling as parents if we didn’t do our best to teach them the way of righteousness.

Until next time,

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Crying Instead of Sleeping

Q: Our son turned two recently. He’s been a good sleeper most of the time, with bedtimes not so terrible a task. However, lately, he gets very upset at bedtime. Our routine at night is bathing, brushing teeth, reading a book, having some milk, going to the potty, then into the crib for a few songs. Now, he’s getting so upset with us leaving the room that he’ll cry until he throws up. What can we do to get over this hurdle?

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A: Turning two can be a huge change for some kids, and it sounds like it has been for your son. That said, there are some things you can do to help him make this transition smoother at bedtime.

First, shorten the bedtime routine because it’s kind of long now. Kids his age don’t really need a bath every night (a couple of times a week will usually do the trick). Cut out the milk right before bed, too, so that he won’t have milk on his teeth overnight—you can give this to him a half hour or so before bed instead.

For the crying, leave him in his crib, then come back into the room after a minute (literally, count to 60 outside his door). Tell him everything’s okay and leave. Don’t pick him up and don’t stay longer than the time it takes to pat him on the back and tell him it’s okay. Repeat as necessary, gradually lengthening the time between when you re-enter the room. This might take a few days or a week or so, but he should get over this and stop crying so much at bedtime.

A happy client:

After I had originally answered this question, the client wrote the following: “I just wanted to thank you for your help! For the past few days, I’ve put him down, we wait literally a minute while he wails like a banshee, then my husband goes in and holds his hand for awhile. By the time he leaves, our son’s been too tired to do much besides let out a few impassioned squawks. It’s not ideal, but it’s certainly better than him barfing everywhere!”
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