Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Art of Roughhousing

The topic is in the news today, but we've known it all along. Good old-fashioned roughhousing is often what fathers do best – tossing a child into the air, playful wrestling, tumbling together on the floor. Roughhousing is a welcome release of both love and stress for work-weary dads. For children, it is over-the-top, laugh-out-loud fun.

Our children are natives in a technology world, which does little to get their bodies moving. Their outside play is often limited in the name of safety. That makes the body-building physical involvement of father play all the more important.

In The Art of Roughhousing, authors DeBenedet and Cohen suggest pillows on the floor, guidelines for safety (huge!), and limits on "going too far." Horseplay quickly goes over the line. Children cannot instinctively gauge their own power, or play by the rules. My word of caution: what begins as fun, like tickling, often leads to tears. Sometimes not even dads sense when to stop. And when a child transfers tickling into his own play, he too pushes the limits. Maybe with the hilarity of tossing, tumbling, and wrestling, you don't need tickling. Remember, if a father – the ringmaster of roughhousing – winds a child up, he must be sure to wind him down!

A father's rough-and-tumble play is an ideal complement to a mother's nurturing. Know also that, intertwined in the layers of play, a child:
  • Gains higher intellectual, motor, and social growth as early as his first year
  • Acquires gross motor skills, which precede fine motor skills
  • Learns to give and take, build self-control, and manage himself within boundaries
And you thought you were just having fun!

A Colorful Thought:
Your playful presence colors your child like the sun's radiant light over water.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sleep Well, I Love You

Discipline, first; bedtime, second. That's the prevailing order of parents' concerns, year after year. The top two concerns marry each other when a relentless child calls from her bed, "Mommy, I want a drink!" or "Daddy come back. I need you!" What's an exhausted parent to do?

A loving bedtime ritual takes your child from the safety of your presence in the daytime to the safety of your non-presence in the dark. But television is not your ally in the transition. Television, or any form of screen time, delays bedtime. It stimulates rather than calms a child, and isolates her at the very time you need to draw close.

Your child needs you. Begin bedtime with a quiet activity together. End it quietly, as well. Save something - prayers, or a whispered good night to the stuffed animals in her room - for after your child is in bed. Then leave with a reassuring "Good night. Sweet dreams. I love you."

If your child calls out or cries for you:
  • Go to your child, but do not take her out of bed.
  • Tell her, "It is time to go to sleep. You can do it. Good night."
  • Go back again and again, if necessary. A child left to cry hysterically in the dark will hardly let go of you the next night.
  • Be reassuring.
  • Be brief.
  • Be consistent.
  • Be together if you are a two-parent family.
  • Hold the line with a loving, firm voice. On this your child has no choice.
Sleep well! I love you.

A Colorful Thought: Rituals are the comforting colors of love a child can count on to be repeated, day after day.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Bedtime Begins in the Morning

"Listen up, everyone!" the excited mom cried out as she rushed into our evening workshop. "For the first time in two and a half years, Thomas went to sleep without sobbing!" She was exultant! Just the week before, the class of young parents cried out, in unison, for help.

"Bedtime should be the sweetest part of the day," they lamented. "But it dissolves into tears and tantrums and angry words. It's exhausting!" So we stapled together the pages of a simple, step-by-step bedtime book. That night, Thomas went to sleep without sobbing. Eventually, all gussied up professionally with pocket pages and charming, collage-cut illustrations, the little book became Gently into Sleep: A Bedtime Ritual.

Bedtime begins in the morning. If a child has your focused attention only at bedtime, he will do all he can to prolong your closeness. But a child who is comforted and cuddled during the day is more likely to sleep well at night.

Then, because you are the authority in your home, your child needs you to set the beginning and the ending of bedtime. But all the choices in between are his. Going to sleep becomes his responsibility. Wait! A contradiction? No. Good parenting! When you give a child ownership of a decision, you open the door to his cooperation. I've rarely known a child to say "No!" to a choice he has made. A little guy who sequences the steps of his own bedtime ritual will follow it. Happily. Right into bed. And gently into sleep.

Thomas and his missionary mom took his bedtime book with them to Germany. No matter how strange the sounds of the new language around him, Thomas knew the sounds of these words by heart: "Sleep well. Sweet dreams." And he did.

A Colorful Thought:
A bedtime ritual warmly colored with love is the security blanket of childhood.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Crayons of Childhood, Part 2

I can't imagine a child in a world without hugs, music, flowers, books rich with language, beautiful colors, and empathy – my favorite things. On second thought, put empathy first. It is the ultimate positive crayon, the first one out of your crayon box in the early years.

Your child needs two things. She needs to be heard, even before she has language. And she needs to be understood, even when lost in the tears and tensions and tantrums of growing into learning. Can you see yourself coloring her with a gentle stroke of empathy? Empathy listens to a child's feelings to understand them, not to change them. A worthy sense of self grows inside a little one whose feelings and thoughts are honored, center stage. Empathy does that. It opens your child's heart and allows you to handle gently what's inside.

And what about the days when you're exhausted and wonder how you can possibly color a relentless child with a positive crayon? You can. A smile and a hug are ambassadors for empathy, as full of color as a burst of spring green ivy reaching for the top of the wall.

A Colorful Thought: Your child needs to be heard and to be understood. Color her with the gorgeous hues of understanding that never fade.

P. S. What's coming up? Bedtime. I promise you won't want to sleep through it.