School Days….

the transition when your child starts school
of the most important rites of passage for both parents and children
happens when we send our little darlings off to school for the first
time. What an exciting, scary, bittersweet time for parent and
children march off to school  and have no  trouble  whatsoever  settling
in. For others, it can be more traumatic. And there is nothing
worse than leaving your child in the throes of separation and
stranger anxiety when you want so desperately to relieve them of this
son happily went off to school for the first three days of
kindergarten. But the following Monday he decided he had had enough.
When we started out to meet the bus, he ran around the house and in
through the back door sobbing that he wanted to stay home. My
neighbor stepped in, bless her heart, walking and cajoling him to the
bus stop. That was the day I cried.

your child’s anxiety gets the better of them, you will be faced with
the agony of tearing yourself away as s/he is begging you not to
leave. Their apprehension is so understandable when you consider
that this is a whole new experience and your child has no idea what
to expect.
are some ideas that may help in the transition for you and your
the first day, plan to visit the school with your little person
during a day when the teacher is in the classroom. A Visitors Week
or some other event is sometimes set up for this purpose.
Otherwise, call the school and leave a message for the teacher to
call and arrange a convenient time to visit.
are numerous story books about starting school. Helping a child to
visualize beforehand what will occur, is very beneficial. The
Kissing Hand, a lovely story by Audrey Penn, is especially helpful in
dealing with separation anxiety, and worth reading with your child
before school starts.
a small token for your child to keep in their pocket to remind them
that you love them and will be back soon can be a great comfort.
a special day of your child’s first day in school. Start the day
with a nutritious breakfast of eggs or fruit and toast or whole grain
cereal. A breakfast loaded with sugar merely aggravates the emotional
upheaval your little one experiences and will make things more
difficult for your child, yourself, and the teacher.
your child wants to bring their favorite doll or stuffed animal to
keep them company, let them. Explain that if this little “friend”
is too disruptive, the doll or teddy may have to wait in their
backpack until it is time to go home.
first day of preschool or kindergarten is often shortened to allow
the children to gradually become accustomed to this new environment.
Tell your child that you will be back when it’s time to go home.
Give them a frame of reference as to how long that will be (e.g., if
it is going to be an hour, say, “That’s how long Sesame Street is
with your child that when you come back, you will have a special date
and go out for lunch or to the playground.
about your child’s feelings. (“It’s a little bit scary when…”
or “ I feel that way sometimes too, but you know what? It always,
always gets better.”) When I tell young children that I always
feel shy on the first day, it validates their feelings and empowers
them to feel braver.
your child that some kids become upset when their parents leave, and
suggest that if that happens, they can make a special effort to make
friends with that child.
if a child is distraught, it is much easier for all
of you

if you just leave (although sneaking out is usually not a good idea).
Your hesitation just proves that there is reason to be afraid!
not let your child see you cry in this situation.
child’s distress passes much
more quickly if you make a clean break. Once when my husband and I
were leaving one of the kids with a sitter, when we left them in his
room he was crying- until we reached the first landing.
you bring your child in the morning, explain that when it’s time
for you (the parent) to leave, you will leave, but will be back when
it’s time to go home. Then leave! More often than not, a child is
distracted enough within the first five minutes to enjoy the day so
much that he doesn’t want to leave when it is time to go.
the parking lot after they have deposited their children, parents
sometimes organize meeting for coffee. What better time to support
one another in a time of doubt, and start meeting the parents of your
child’s new friends?  -RDW
(2005, revised 2010)

Leading to Responsibility

a lot of work in any family, particularly if there are young children
involved. Everyone must be fed, clothed, and organized. Many of us
tend to help a child with a task, either because we don’t realize
that they are old enough to do something themselves, or because we
don’t have the patience to wait around while they do it. I remember
when my youngest was two-years old, he used to exclaim “Self!”
whenever we tried to assist him in any way. It was great-unless we
were in a hurry!
and four-year-olds are old enough to do lots of things: get dressed,
put on their own shoes and jacket, and pick up after themselves. But
we must
them how, often

more than once because they don’t have the experience to have gained
that knowledge.

can help your preschooler in asserting his/her independence by buying
clothes that she/he can put on by himself. It is helpful to everyone
if you send your young child out into the day with Velcro shoes and
pull-up, elastic wasted pants, as it not always convenient to
interrupt what we are doing to buckle overalls or put together a
complicated outfit. Teach with patience, as many times as it takes,
how to use buckles, buttons, snaps and zippers. Most three- or
four-year-olds are old enough to learn these things. If we miss the
window of opportunity when children are eager to try things for
themselves, they become perfectly content keeping you in their

a child becomes older, and is able to do more for himself, he can and
should assume some of the load of family life. Here are some ways to
get your kids to pitch in:
    * Make sure responsibilities are
clearly understood. If your children are not used to helping out,
have a meeting to discuss why they must get involved. Involve
everyone in the family when assigning jobs.
      * Make yours an
equal opportunity household. Boys should learn about food preparation
and laundering clothes. Girls need to learn how to handle simple
tools. Household chores can be a way of giving your kids survival
skills for later life.
      * Develop “no-nag”
methods of reminding children of their responsibilities. Some
families post a chart on the refrigerator. Each day, family members
check off their jobs as they complete them. When I add myself and
the jobs I am expected to accomplish, it puts things in perspective
for everyone else in the family. My sister-in-law told me her secret
as I shared my frustration over my children’s lack of willingness to
do something when asked: Before the kids get up, write a list of the
days expectations for each child, with the admonition that these
tasks must be completed before they go out the door, watch TV, or get
on the computer. By doing this, it is the paper telling them what
they need to do, alleviating much of the nagging noise we are
horrified to hear coming out of our mouths.

    * Don’t redo
chores your kids have done. If a job can only be done your way, then
you have to do it. Redoing a job is hurtful to a child’s feelings,
and can lead to learned incompetence: the discovery that if I don’t
do a job well enough, I won’t be asked to do it! On the other hand,
if you are clear with your expectations from the beginning, and
insist that the job be done well (not necessarily perfectly) then you
are helping to teach them a good work ethic.
     * Finally, help
your kids learn that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. As
they do more, they should also expect more freedom: the privilege of
having a friend over, pick of TV show (within reason!), what to do
for a special treat, or choices in how to spend their free time.

independence and responsibility is a win-win situation for everyone.
Teachers say that children who have learned to accept jobs at home
are better able to accept being in charge of their own learning. And
it will improve your quality of life as well! (RDW 9-17-09)

Overbooking the lives of children

     When my
children were young they played Little League baseball and attended
scouts. Many of our friends’ children did as well, in addition to
their piano lessons, dance, karate, and church school. It seemed as I
spoke with other parents that this level of involvement with extra
curricular activities was the norm and I began to question my own
instincts to let the kids have the time I thought was necessary for
creative play, for discovering who they are without being bombarded
with scheduled activities. In a moment of self-doubt, I asked my sons
if they felt gypped because their friends got to do all of these
things and they didn’t. “No! I like to play!” And play they did.
They built forts and went in search of stream critters and made
treasure maps and played Hide and Seek and Capture the Flag. They had
neighborhood Olympics and read great books, created masterpieces with
sidewalk chalk, made potions, climbed trees, kept detailed notes as
they spied on one another, had back yard carnivals, and played kick
ball. It was a rare occurrence to hear them complain that they were
bored. TV time, including video, was limited to an hour per day.
Computer time was limited to 30 minutes per day, or an hour after
they turned ten to accommodate more sophisticated activities. 
   So many kids today have little time just to be. There is
so much pressure on us as parents to live up to the standards of the
people around us. I want to laugh and cry when I see the Baby
Einstein and educational materials designed to create little geniuses
and when the children can’t live up to being the best, most
brilliant, most athletic, most fashionable kid on the block,
excelling at each thing put before them, then clearly they (or their
parents) are a failure. What pressure they endure from the most well
meaning of loved ones!
     I have come to believe
that the thing that matters most is that they are fully aware of
their own inner light, that they are able to call on their inner
resources: creativity, courage, contentedness, acceptance,
forgiveness, and happiness. Allowing the time to discover who they
are in this world without the constant intervention on the part of
the adults in their lives. Guidance yes. Loving support and
encouragement, by all means. But trying to mold them into the some
preconceived notion of perfection, or into the person we wish we had
become can only be detrimental to their well-being.- RDW (6-26-07) 

Dinnertime: nourishment
of body and soul 


As we settle into the
whirlwind of fall activity, it may become necessary to set
down time to be a Family.

“Down time?! Are you
Crazy?! Between ferrying kids to and from scouts and sports and
dance and karate and gymnastics and music lessons and play practice
and jobs, and the multitude of meetings and appointments and errands
and other obligations required of us, how in the world can there
possibly be time left to set aside?”

      There’s a story about a
teacher who presents her students with a jar filled with rocks and
the question of whether or not the jar is full. They unanimously
answer that yes, indeed the jar is full. She pours pebbles over the
rocks, shaking the jar gently and filling the crevices between the
stones. “Is the jar full now?” “It sure looks full” Sand is
added. “Full?” “Definitely!” She proceeds to add water.

    This is suggested as a
metaphor for setting priorities in life. The rocks represent the
things that make our lives full: family, partner, children, friends,
and health. The pebbles represent other things that matter: work,
school, car, house… The sand and water are everything else. If you
fill the jar with “sand” first, it leaves no room for the
relationships that are most critical to our well-being in this life.

How can we find time to
really get to know one another as individuals living in the same
family, when everyone is running around doing whatever it is they do
from dawn until bed time?

    Having grown up during a
time when most families sat down together to share the evening meal,
I never questioned that the dinner hour provides the time necessary
to connect with one another. But things have changed a lot since then
and consistently gathering together over family dinner is no easy
feat. So we settle for a drive through McDonald’s and eat together
in the car while running to the next appointed task. Round and round
we go, until we arrive home frazzled and grumpy, with little
patience left for our most beloved.

     The dinner table is the
place to learn manners and how to be polite; it is where our children
learn to be social with grace. You are a role model and when your
children hear you say “please” and “thank you”,
observe you sitting still, chewing with your mouth closed, and
listening to one another, they are more likely to follow suit. If
being polite in social situations is the expectation, children learn
to carry their manners into other aspects of life.

setting aside time to share dinner, more planning and careful
preparation goes into creating a healthier meal than what we are able
to get on the fly. One way to make this seem more manageable is to
get into a routine of preparing several meals at a time for the
freezer (soup, spaghetti sauce, chili, casseroles…) This in itself
can become a family affair, with the added benefit of teaching the
kids kitchen safety and the basics of cooking.

At the dinner table (or
perhaps breakfast is a better option for your family), we become
exposed to our children’s way of life through discussion of school,
friends, books, music, TV, current events and societal pressures.
Sharing a meal with those we love allows us to celebrate and
commiserate, to problem-solve and learn about where we fit into the
grand scheme of things.

When my kids were little
and needed to have dinner before Daddy could get home, they would
later join us at table with a bowl of cereal before going to bed. As
they became involved in their own extra-curricular activities (which
invariably occurred through the typical dinner hour) mealtime was
pushed back, and often we did not sit down until 8:30 or later.

But here’s the thing:
Two of my sons have gone off to set up housekeeping together with
some of their friends in another state, and they continue to sit down
together for dinner every night. For as my 24 year-old has so wisely
observed: “Family is sacred.”

                                                                                                                        – RDW (9-17-10)


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