Archive for the ‘General Discussion’ Category

Not So Random Acts of Kindness: Show Kids How to Walk the Talk

Wednesday, November 14, 2018 @ 05:11 PM
Author: admin

not-so-random-acts-of-kindness-show-kids-how-to-walk-the-talkLast week’s blog explored how values influence our parenting. We focused specifically on kindness and the importance of teaching our children how to be kind to themselves and others.

During a follow-up conversation with my daughter—who also happens to be a teacher in addition to being a step-mom—she made an important point: it’s not enough to tell our children we value kindness, we must show them with our actions. Even more importantly, our examples must include a soundtrack—an obvious and pointed voiceover that explains exactly what and why we are doing something.

For example, on Halloween when we went trick-or-treating at her house, beside the bowl of candy, she also had a blue pumpkin that held “alternative” treats for kids who can’t eat candy. As an adult, I recognized this gesture as an act of kindness, an effort to be aware of and accommodate the differences between children. But my three-year-old grandson (and any other children who visited her house that night) might not necessarily notice or recognize the significance of this gesture.

For my grandson (AKA Santa) to benefit from this positive example, he first needed to notice it. He did and was delighted to find some temporary tattoos for him to snag. In that moment, the blue pumpkin merely held another choice of treat. For him to learn from this act of kindness, we had to explain what it represented:

Some children can’t eat candy so Aki included treats they could enjoy. It is one way that she chooses to be kind. Our family values kindness.

My grandson nodded. Point made. No need to belabor it.

We left it at that and continued to enjoy Halloween festivities. The next day when we bicycled past my daughter’s house my grandson mentioned the blue pumpkin and how he’d never seen one before. Clearly, it had made an impression even in the midst of a hyper-exciting night. I had a chance to repeat an explanation of its significance and we continued on our way. Example set, observed and integrated.

It is a truism that kids watch what we do and learn more from our actions than our words. But we can’t always count on their noticing. They may also misconstrue what occurred. Too often we assume kids infer the accurate lesson from our examples. But life resembles a three-ring circus more than center stage. They may focus their attention elsewhere. Lost in their own world, they may be oblivious to our good example.  Don’t leave it to chance. Clarify the intent behind your actions and choices. Help your children understand your thought processes and your goals. Talk about these moments so you can learn from them what they are “seeing” and what inferences they are drawing from their observations.

You will gain a clearer sense of how their minds think and they will get a more accurate sense of your actions and intentions. It will also train children to notice context and behavior and to ponder what people’s motivations and purposes might be. This helps them develop a habit of awareness, and nurtures a stronger understanding of how your family puts their values into action as well as how others reveal and live theirs.

Choose Kindness Today. Our Choices Matter.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018 @ 02:10 PM
Author: admin

choose-kindness-today-our-choices-matterLast week during a discussion around the dinner table, my daughter’s step-daughter posed a question: As a parent, what do you think is the most important thing you can teach your children?

That’s a powerful and provocative question, especially from a high school freshman. I reflected for a few minutes and then responded. I believe that kindness serves as the anchoring root of all of my values. All my other deeply held values build upon this foundation. Why kindness?

Like many profound influences, kindness is simple. And, like most profound beliefs, it is not easy. Kindness operates on many levels. It begins with kindness toward self. Ironically, we often treat ourselves more harshly than anyone else. Consider the inner dialogue that plays within our brains. Too often, the things we say to ourselves are harsh, critical, judgmental, unforgiving and lacking compassion.

We would not talk to friends and colleagues that way. If we did, they probably wouldn’t remain our friends for long. Yet we routinely subject ourselves to this negativity. It is essential for us to remember that we are all works in progress! Life is a Learning Conversation.

When we place ourselves in that context we begin to remember that everyone else is also a work in progress. Each of us is facing challenges, shouldering burdens, searching for resources, seeking new skills, and coping as well as we can. None of us is perfect. Perfection is a myth; it is also a cruel taskmaster holding us to an impossible goal and then deriding us for falling short.

As Intentional Parents we strive to think about our actions and beliefs consciously to ensure that they reflect our best intentions and authentically support our goals for self, for family and, for community. I believe one of the most powerful steps we can take on this journey of Intentional parenting is to be kind to ourselves. As this frame of mind takes root and governs our thoughts, behaviors and decisions, it influences our relationship with our children. We will strive to interact, educate, and discipline our children with kindness and love instead of impatience, harshness or cruelty. Our behavior becomes their model. Our voice becomes a through line in their inner soundtrack. We benefit from kindness to self and our families. Like the proverbial stone dropped into water, kindness ripples outward. Kindness begets kindness.

Let’s return to the previously mentioned dinner table conversation. I admit that I was pleased when my daughter affirmed to her step-daughter that she too, believed kindness was the keystone. (Just as certainly meanness, hatred and violence beget more meanness, hatred, and violence—within ourselves our families, and our communities.)

Readers of my book review blog know that I search for and promote books that highlight the importance of kindness. I highly recommend one memorable book, Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson. Although it is a picture book continues to resonate in my thoughts. Its provocative message will touch the hearts of all readers regardless of age.

choose-kindness-today-our-choices-matter-Each-Kindness-Jaqueline-WoodsonEach Kindness a Jane Addams Award Book by Jacqueline Woodson, also was named a 2013 Coretta Scott King Honor Book. This is truly an exceptional book. As I read it goose bumps shivered my arms. E.B. Lewis captured the deep emotion of the story in dreamy water colors. The illustrations juxtapose both beauty and heartache because they reveal the children’s lack of kindness, their unwelcoming cold shoulder and judgmental rejection of the new girl.

One might assume this story replays the classic storyline of the challenge that every “new” kid faces.

But it exceeds that think-how-the-shunned-kid-feels meme as the children rebuff her repeated efforts to break into their circle. Instead, it goes beyond empathy and asks the reader to imagine being the child who chose unkindness, who joined the taunting, who derided and jeered.

After the teacher uses a pebble-dropped-in-water to demonstrate how one act ripples in an ever-widening circle, Chloe undergoes a change of heart. She wants to include the outcast girl. She anticipates making amends, only to discover, it is too late. The girl has moved away… Chloe has lost the chance to repair the damage done.

The book ends with the words, Chloe “watched the water ripple as the sun set through the maples and the chance of a kindness with Maya became more and more forever gone.” The final illustration shows Chloe in a lush, lovely pond side spot. The beauty contrasts with Chloe’s uncomfortable realization that it is too late to make amends for her ugly treatment of Maya. The reader feels the weight of that understanding. There is no and-she became-Maya’s-best-friend easy answer.

The message is clear. Sometimes, do-overs are not possible. We—adults and children—must choose to be kind today, not tomorrow, now not later.

Holiday Traditions and Rituals Weave Connection

Wednesday, October 24, 2018 @ 02:10 PM
Author: admin

holiday-traditions-and-rituals-weave-connectionHalloween is just around the corner and a rapid succession of holidays will quickly follow.  As Intentional Parents, we have the opportunity to be deliberate about which holidays to observe as well as how we will celebrate them. Whether we follow traditional routines or invent our own personalized versions, family traditions and celebrations help to weave a cohesive family identity. They are powerful factors in creating connection, creating and sharing fun, and opportunities to define who we are collectively as a family. Traditions can reflect both cultural practices as well as rituals unique to a specific family.

For example, we did treasure hunts which involved a lot of going up and down steep hills and culminated in the discovery of some hard-won trinkets followed by a “feast” and tired kids who welcomed bedtime! Our kids remember these hunts fondly and my son has decided his three-year-old is ready for his first! Treasure hunts started out as a way to have fun at the lake and have become an anchor point in our family lore. What fun activities from your childhood might you want to continue within your own family? What new ones might you create?

Even if you do not celebrate Halloween, pumpkin mania has overtaken us once again. They are featured on restaurant menus and seasonal items at the grocery store. Neighborhood pumpkin patches tempt us to choose the perfect candidate for carving. Here in Florida, pumpkin-carving is both fun and frustrating. The heat and humidity cause our jack-o-lanterns to last only a day or two before they crumble into a sodden, stinky, mildew-laden mess. Some still enthusiastically perform the ritual in the hopes that this year, they’ll last just a bit longer. Others take a more practical approach and opt for painting pumpkins which definitely prolongs their life.

How and what will you celebrate? Share your family traditions with us and we’ll post them for others to sample.

Treasures of the Heart

Wednesday, October 17, 2018 @ 02:10 PM
Author: admin

Moving-van-treasures-of-the-heartI have skipped writing GIFT’s weekly blog post during the last few weeks because I’ve been in the process of moving. Downsizing actually. This requires me to be particularly disciplined about deciding what to keep. I’d forgotten what an energy and time drain moving can be. I had to handle every item in my home and decide its fate. Pack? Pass it on to one of the kids? Donate to charity? Toss?

One might expect that the process would be cut and dry. Is item X worth packing, hauling, unpacking and repositioning? Does it have continuing usefulness for me? Yes or no? But the process is more emotional than intellectual. Stuff embodies memories and it can feel like eliminating the item is disparaging, disrespecting, even like it is destroying the memory.

It has been fascinating to observe not only my own behavior throughout this process but also those of my children who are married adults living on their own. They had strong feelings about what things were worth keeping; the sorting process clearly had an emotional toll on them as well. After I’d “condemned” something to the “not keeping” category, they then had to decide if they had space in their homes as well as their hearts for an item they did not want to “lose.” They too, had to confront that complex process of identifying value. Often value bears no relationship to the monetary or practical and has everything to do with the sentimental significance.

While the temptation is to keep everything, we can benefit from a rigorous assessment that clears space for new memories and new “treasures.” Honor and keep the gems. Before eliminating an item that still tugs at you to keep it, snap a photo; it takes up no space and can provide a bridge from the old to the new.

How does this conversation connect to Intentional Parenting? Adoption-attunement reminds us that adoption sensitizes our kids to loss and change. Respect this reality.  Reminisce about things and revisit the emotional touch points. When we acknowledge and understand them we can factor it into our decisions and relationships.

bird-treasures-of-the-heart Here are two “treasures” that made “the cut” for me. You might not be the least bit impressed and probably would toss them without a bit of hesitation. It is true that they have zero monetary value. But I treasure them none the less.

My daughter sculpted the bird in pre-k. When she was annoyed with me, her bird would “fly” back to her room. Once the bird reappeared in the kitchen, I knew I’d been forgiven.  I confess, that bird clocked a lot of miles! Now married with stepchildren of her own, she and I still laugh about our bluebird of happiness to this day. This little sculpture was a tangible barometer of her emotional connection with me and that makes it priceless.

birds-treasures-of-the-heartMy son painted these watercolors in kindergarten. They hung on our kitchen wall for over twenty years. Now faded, one can barely make out the details. When my son was helping me choose which artwork to move to the new house, he assumed these were keepers. He never considered the possibility that I wouldn’t find room for them in my new little place. In his heart–and mine– hanging his drawing served as a validation of his talent.

Each of these “treasures” embodies memories of childhood innocence and joy, of a time when our lives—and our problems—were simple. As a family, we’ve weathered a lot and have managed not only to survive but also flourish. These little trinkets bring me joy to this day.

What items serve this purpose for you? Ask your kids the same question. You might open some special conversations.

Disaster Preparation Eases Fear

Wednesday, September 19, 2018 @ 01:09 PM
Author: admin

Wildfires, tornadoes, floods and hurricanes—weather has dominated the headlines in recent months. Disaster strikes with heartless intensity. Even a single death is one too many. Mother Nature can exact a crushing toll. Though many of the losses are material and replacement can eventually be made given enough money and time, the losses are still heartbreaking, discouraging, and frightening. Many significant losses cannot be measured in dollars and cents because the destruction destroyed things of intrinsic or sentimental value. But beyond measure are the losses “without price” —intangibles like peace of mind, souvenirs and photographs of life’s milestones. Another huge loss is one’s sense of safety and permanence.

Unable to prevent these natural disasters, we watch in horror. News coverage appears on a range of devices that keep us constantly updated and agitated. The scale and frequency of bad news can overwhelm us and can lead to compassion fatigue. Or, it can tempt us to throw our hands up in despair, do nothing and simply take our chances. As Intentional Parents, we understand and appreciate the value of planning ahead, of predetermining our responses as a way of reassuring and protecting our families.

Adopted children may be especially vulnerable to anything that threatens their sense of continuity and permanence. Having already experienced a profound loss—the loss of their first family—they may feel a strong need to hang on to “stuff” as a way of imposing some sense of control or “insurance.”

disaster-preparation-eases-fearSentimental pack rats may hate to part with items that may seem trivial to us. Avoid dismissing or belittling their desire to preserve memories. These items may provide them with essential ballast for steadying them through uncertainty. Help them discern why and what they want to save. Respect their inclination to save “stuff” and help them find ways to organize and curate their “collection.”

When disaster hits the headlines, our kids absorb the news (even if only peripherally.) All the dramatic coverage may cause them to feel a thrum of anxiety and uncertainty. They may not even suspect this is what makes them feel so unsettled. As adults, we too may be triggered by the pictures of flooded homes, collapsed dams, and houses floating down neighborhood streets. We hope our homes will be sturdy and remain undamaged and that our families will be safe. We may wonder if we have enough insurance, an adequate Emergency Fund or sufficient stockpile of emergency supplies. We may worry about potential damage, lost wages, and repair costs

We may unconsciously telegraph our own fear to our children. Consider holding a family meeting. In the absence of reassuring conversations, their fears may overwhelm them. Talk about what is occurring. Inform children of the preparations you’ve made, etc. Let them know how they can help. Invite them to pre-select what they would want to pack and preserve in case of a weather emergency. Explore how you can help neighbors and others in the community.

Ideally. hold these conversations when circumstances are calm, before danger looms. Ask kids to talk about their fears as well as their ideas for solutions and strategies. The conversation may even lead to children sharing other concerns and fears not related to storms but equally or even more important to discuss.

How might your family benefit from talking about disaster preparedness?