Family Time: Instant Protection Against Dangerous Influences

Moms on Edge LogoFamily time is a necessity for those wishing to build happy and healthy families. Parents that take time out to eat as a family, play, read, and talk together, teach children that they matter, that relationships are worth nurturing, and that strong family bonds breed success. 

Setting aside blocks allocated for family time can be very difficult for busy families. By the time everyone is home from work, school, sports, and other outside activities people are tired, playing a board game seems like the least important item on the to-do list. However, playing a board game, metaphorically, is the most important item to cross off of the list.  

Family time is valuable time when parents can take time out to observe their children, follow their children, hug and kiss them, encourage, guide, and laugh. Family time is when children feel comfortable opening up to their parents; this is a time when the mood is relaxed and children feel supported, valued and loved. 

Eat together

Studies have shown that the family activity with the greatest positive impact on children, is sitting down together to dinner each evening. Benefits for children include learning patience, (family members should wait for everyone to be served before eating and remain at the table until everyone is through), sitting quietly and calmly to eat, and listening attentively and participating in the conversation. If an evening meal is impossible to schedule, families can find a different meal to gather, a fun idea is to set the table later in the evening when everyone is home, and have dessert together.  

Children should be included in meal preparation, setting the table, and clean-up. Although table manners must be taught and reinforced, mealtime should be a pleasant experience with a focus on togetherness. Quick behavioral reminders will reinforce good manners and then conversation can be resumed. Parents should choose to be in a good mood and not let the day’s issues weigh down the meal. After all, this is family time! 

Creative planning can make the evening meal easier to put on the table and clean up afterwards. Simple meals, and meals prepared in advance and frozen, are good ways to ease the evening scramble and help keep the focus on family time, not on cooking and cleanup. Instead of spending an hour cleaning the kitchen after the meal, simple meals free up some time in the evening for togetherness. 

Shut off the television and the computer

Shutting off the television in the evening helps to place the focus on the people in the house instead of the strangers on the screen. The evening hours spent interacting as a family instead of staring at the television will benefit everyone greatly and will help create warm and lasting memories.  Shutting off the television and the computer eliminates the risk that children will be exposed to damaging levels of violence and sexual content. Experts claim that violence and sexual imagery negatively change the brain chemistry of children, resulting in permanent changes in the brain’s wiring.   

Set a relaxed mood

Bathe young children and put them in their pajamas. Put on some light music that isn’t jarring or offensive, this often cues a little impromptu dancing from children, always good for a laugh. No arguing, bickering, or crabbiness. Family time should be warm, joyful and happy. Parents should be demonstrative and giving, snuggle, hug, and kiss the kids and each other. Family time like this is ideal for modeling loving, kind behavior. 

Find fun games and activities

The nature of children is to be fun loving and flexible and open to many ideas. Coloring, board games, guessing games, acting, playing with dolls or cars, and reading are all fun things to do together. Allow children to help set the evening agenda. One idea based on the Montessori principal of learning suggests observing the child and leading by following the child.  

There are other opportunities during the day for family time

The evening is not the only option for family time. Parents should seek out other times to be together. Take the kids on the morning and afternoon dog walk, invite them to join in on gardening, ask them to help wash the car or help with the laundry. It is probably true that activities will be completed slower with kids as helpers, but their happiness far outweighs the inconvenience. 

Parents who zone out each evening in front of the television or computer for hours and hours rob children of the necessary family time that they need. It is stingy of parents to choose to channel or web surf over spending time with their kids. In a blink of an eye the kids will be up and out of the house and parents will have the rest of their lives to stare blankly at a screen, alone.  

Making a conscious effort to spend quality family time together is vital to the health and welfare of children. Children do not thrive if parents don’t interact with them daily. When parents choose to have kids, they automatically choose to sacrifice their time to raise their kids. Family time is a parenting tool which helps to regulate the content that children are exposed to and introduce healthier activities. Developing strong relationships with children also will build bonds that last a lifetime.   

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Nurture Your Child Not Your Ego

moe-logo.jpgParents should never allow their egos to become wrapped up in their child. Many parents measure their own value and success by their children’s successes and failures. Children behaving like children, not hitting milestones early enough, or not living up to a parent’s unrealistic expectations, can be devastating to these parents and to the healthy development of their kids. The parent becomes focused on what the child can do versus on who the child is.  

A perfect example of a parent never satisfied with her son’s accomplishments was the mother of a preteen tennis player. When complimented by another mother about her son’s skills, the tennis player’s mother responded through clenched teeth, “Well, he’s no Roger Federer.” (She was referring to the number one tennis player in the world, a living legend, and perhaps the greatest player in history.) 

The mother’s response was typical of a parent desperate for her child to astonish and dazzle the world. Her expectations were destructive to herself and to her child. Her comparison robbed her of the joy of watching her son play, and because even Meryl Streep isn’t a good enough actress to hide the kind of disappointment the mother was feeling, this child’s self-esteem was most likely suffering as a result of her conditional love. 

The other side of the coin is the parent who takes all of the credit for the child’s success and creates an entire identity around that child. This parent yearns for an exceptional child. The parent is special because the child is special. The child becomes responsible for the parents feelings of self-worth.  

It is important for parents to disentangle their egos from their parenting. As soon as the umbilical cord is cut, children begin their own journey through life and even though hands on, attentive parenting is vital to their growth, children deserve to own both their disappointments and successes. Parents are then able to comfort, encourage, applaud, feel pride and express love.  

Taking parenting personally can also make parenting much harder. Unable or unwilling to see the child realistically, the parent misses what skills, manners and behaviors need work, and then the parent gets frustrated and confused when the child acts out. “But my child is gifted, why is he unable to potty train? I must be a bad mother.” 

Recently a very well known parenting expert was quoted in the New York Times, “The thing about toddlers is that they are uncivilized,” Dr. Karp says. “Our job is to civilize them, to teach them to say please and thank you, don’t spit and scratch and don’t pee anywhere you want. These are the jobs you have with a toddler.” 

To a parent who has their ego enmeshed with their toddler, the Dr.’s insight above would be terribly offensive and even hurtful. Instead of saying, “Yes, that is exactly what I am experiencing with my toddler, and I am really enjoying helping my toddler to become civilized,“ she says, “How dare he say that my child is uncivilized.” The mother is unable to actually see that the Dr.’s statement is not a personal attack, he is saying that her role is vital and it is okay to have a child who doesn’t understand proper social skills, and with her unconditional love and training the child will learn. 

Being objective and establishing appropriate boundaries with offspring is an important step towards not allowing ego to get wrapped up in the child. “Helicopter Parents” or parents who hover, are very inappropriately involved with their, often, adult children and have skewed the division between themselves and their child. For example, it has become commonplace for parents to come to the defense of their children who have been given a low grade or have been reprimanded by a teacher. Their ego is damaged when their child needs correcting, and in response they bristle and challenge the professional. The term “helicopter parenting” has been coined to describe these hovering parents. 

A true but unbelievable example of “helicopter parenting” happened at a large insurance agency. The father of a smart, well educated and capable, twenty-five year old woman, called her boss to discuss her job performance. Weeks later this same young woman missed a flight to a meeting she was supposed to take with her boss. He understandingly told her that she should go straight to the office and work. Instead she took an 8 hour train ride to the city to try to attend the meeting anyway. When questioned why she did not go back to the office as she was instructed, she responded, “My mother told me that I had to go to the meeting.” 

Parenting without ego helps develop healthy self esteem in kids. Children experience their parent’s unconditional love and feel valued for who they are and not what they succeed at. When parents allow their children to be their own people instead of an extension of themselves, children begin to take responsibility for their own decisions, likes and dislikes, good and bad behavior and choices. Establishing appropriate boundaries between parent and child helps the child become autonomous and independent and not feel pressured to excel in the hopes that their parents will feel fulfilled.  

An excerpt from a wonderful poem that summarizes this theme is in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet: 

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

“Must Use” Parenting Tool: Nine Point Checklist for Proper Phone Etiquette

moe-logo.jpg Parents learn quickly that telephones are like magnets to children. With multiple cell phones and land lines ringing, children have greater access to phone communication than ever before, and are more fascinated than ever with their use.  

Per Spiderman’s creed, “With great power comes great responsibility,” children need to be taught early that the telephone is not a toy and that proper behavior is a must for anyone who uses the phone. Parents should always model courteous phone etiquette.  

The check list below is a good parenting tool to ensure that children use the phone properly. 

Ask to use the phone

To maintain boundaries, it is a good idea to require children to ask before using the phone. Very small children can be tempted to hit the redial button over and over, annoying the person on the receiving end. Older children can while away hours chatting, before parents become aware.  

Answer the phone properly

Parents should equip children with a polite greeting for answering the phone. “Hello, may I help you?” or “Hello, who is this speaking please?” are polite salutations and not abrupt like, “Yeah? Who’s this?” Unless the child knows who is calling, he should refrain from identifying himself. If the child knows the caller, (the phone is handed to him, or he recognizes the number displayed on the caller I.D. feature) he should say politely, “Hello, this is “Dan”.” 

When a child answers the phone and it is for someone else, he should politely say, for example, “Yes my mom is here, one moment please while I get her,” and always hand the phone to the requested person. Yelling, “MOM, PHONE!” is disrespectful to caller and call recipient and should be curbed immediately. Suspending phone privileges is an effective method of reinforcing ground rules; time out from phone use gives kids an appreciation for the privilege. 

Responding to a wrong number appropriately is crucial. Kids should never give personal information of any kind to unknown callers, including their own names or the names of others in the household. A respectful and smart response to a wrong number is, “I am sorry you have the wrong number,” and hang up.  

Conversing with a stranger over the phone is dangerous. People who prey on children know how to manipulate them into giving personal information. Parents should teach kids to hang up immediately and without saying, “goodbye,” if the caller makes them feel even remotely uncomfortable. After hanging up, the child should alert a parent immediately. 

Older children, home alone, should never let a strange caller know. Parents can train children to have an excuse ready, “I am sorry but my father is busy and can’t come to the phone right now. Goodbye.” The child should hang up immediately without further discussion. Screening calls is an even safer idea, kids can pick up only those calls where they recognize the caller’s I.D. 

Use a polite salutation when placing a call

A child placing a call should identify himself using his full name, “Hello, this is John Jones, is Miranda at home?” is a polite greeting. 

Speak so the listener can understand

Kids should be told to use an “indoor voice,” and encouraged to speak into the receiver clearly, without mumbling or yelling. Very young children sometimes go silent or trail off when on the phone, so parents should be ready to encourage the conversation or take over. Parents should make sure that the caller is amenable to speaking to a small child, as adorable as kids are, not everyone responds positively to teaching kids to use the phone. 

Establish time limits

Phone use is a privilege and parents need to set clear boundaries. Most families don’t allow calls to go out or come in between 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning and 9:00 at night.  

Set a reasonable amount of time for children to be on the phone. Preschoolers up through elementary age children are easy to limit, but parents need to be very clear and consistent with time limits for preteens and teens. It is appropriate to take a time out from the phone during the homework block, while eating dinner or during family time. Cell phone use and text messaging should be monitored to ensure activity doesn’t get out of hand.  

Finish the call politely

Little children should be taught to say, “goodbye,” at the end of the call, not to just toss the phone down or hang up. As children mature they should finish all phone calls with a polite remark such as, “It was great speaking with you,  Grandma.”  The phone should always be returned to its designated home by the person who used the phone last. 

Be respectful when others are using the phone

Eavesdropping, creating background noise, and speaking to or distracting a person who is on the phone, are all impolite behaviors that should not be tolerated. In addition, pushing phone buttons, playing with the cord, picking up an extension and grabbing at the phone are off limits behaviors that should be “nipped in the bud.” 

It is difficult for very small children to understand that they must be quiet when a parent is taking a call. Cutting calls short or planning important calls when children are napping, occupied by the other parent, or engaged in an activity, helps ensure less stressful phone calls. Parents can let older children know beforehand that they need quiet while they are on the phone.  

Take a message please

Children of about age eight and up can take a basic message. Paper and pens should be placed near phones and kids can be coached to ask for whom the call is for, who is calling, and the telephone number where the person can be reached. The child should read the information back to the caller to ensure accurate content. 

Leave a clear message

Even small children can be taught to leave a clear and concise message with their name and telephone number.  

The increase in telephone usage over the past decade has magnified the need for good telephone skills. Most people have a telephone on their person at all times. In addition, predators have gotten very adept at infiltrating homes and communicating with children. Completing the above checklist will assure parents that their children are politely and safely using the phone.