Sunday, August 28, 2011

What Frisco Taught Me

Baby Frisco
This was taken a few days before he crossed the Rainbow Bridge to be with Bucky.

My beloved Frisco silently slipped away on Wednesday night.  He left this world the way he lived his life, quietly, peacefully and without asking for attention.

Frisco was a friendly, happy dog.  He was happy just to be who he was.  He never competed for attention or demanded much.  He loved to be outside digging or laying in the dirt.  He loved treats, and he gave love and affection to everyone he met.

Frisco was only 10 years old.  He did have an enlarged heart and an ineffective valve.  He was on four medications.  But he lived each day with the same sense of love, affection, playfulness and peace.

His last day was a really good day.  We went for a long walk, a ride in the car, he chased lizards out back.  He ate a good dinner and did his business before bed.  As I got into bed, Ziggy hopped up with me and Frisco lay in his favorite place on the cool tile.  He gave what sounded like a sigh of satisfaction after a pleasant, well lived day.  Ziggy hopped down immediately and sniffed Frisco all over, then jumped up and stood with his paw on my shoulder staring at me.  So I got up and poor Frisco was gone. 

We are heartbroken.  When Bucky died we had lots of time to tell him we loved him and that he would always be in our hearts.  Frisco was gone in the blink of an eye and then there was no time to tell him all the loving thoughts we have about him.

Yes, I know he knew.  And I was telling him day by day but I want 5 more minutes to really let him know.

What I've learned from this experience is not to wait.  You cannot get back any of the time you let slip by.   So,
  •  if your child wants you to play, drop what you are doing and play.  Childhood will not last forever.
  • if your partner wants to spend time with you, do it.  The opportunity may be lost.
  • if you love someone, tell them every chance you get.  Tell them when you wake up, leave the house, go to bed, during a disagreement, whenever you have those 5 minutes I want back.  You can never say it enough.

We often say we don't want our children to grow up too fast, but they will whether we take the time to enjoy their childhood or not. 

Savor every moment with your children.  They will remember the time you spend with them and the expressions on your face.  Love them every second of the day.



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Letter to Former School Aged Self.

Dear Debbie,
It's time for school to begin.  A new year lies ahead and it will be full.  Full of the adventures, triumphs, memories and experiences you choose to engage in.  I have some advice for you since I am further down the road and can look back fondly at the child I was.  Here are 10 things I want you to remember:
  1. Don't be afraid to make mistakes.  The most important lessons I have learned came from the mistakes I made.  Pack a big eraser, keep practicing until you master whatever the lesson might be.
  2. Make friends with everyone.  Be kind to everyone and they will respond to your sweetness, your compassion, your helping hands, and your sense of humor.
  3. Have courage.  Take advantage of every opportunity to try something new.  Take sensible risks.  Enjoy all experiences that come your way.
  4. Discover your passions.  Find the things you love to do and don't let anyone stop you from pursuing your passions.
  5. Have faith.  Know that you have all you need to succeed inside of you already.  If you are kind, safe and doing your best you are already successful.  Believe that you are right where you are supposed to be in life and that you possess the talent that will take you where you want to go.
  6. Speak up for yourself and "the underdogs".  When someone is in trouble or being picked on, stand up for what is the right thing.
  7. Be in nature.  Everyday you should go out and experience the beauty of the natural world. 
  8. Find time for silence and reflection.  Everyday should contain sometine when you can be alone with your thoughts.  Time spent with yourself is valuable to your inner peace.
  9. Be grateful.  Appreciate the people and the experiences around you.  Be thankful even when you are having a tough time or something seems unfair.  You create a positive atmosphere by being grateful.
  10. Never doubt that you are loved.  Enough said.
Enjoy every second.  You have no need to worry, all will be well.  Remember that you are wise, you are beautiful, and you are loved beyond your wildest dreams.
Your older self

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Does Silence Matter?

I was on my morning walk with Frisco and Ziggy, listening to my Ipod when it occured to me that the music was a distraction to the world around me.  I am not saying that music is a bad thing.  I love music, I love to sing, and I think music has a sacred place in our culture.  But what about silence?  Does silence have a sacred place too?
Have you ever felt relieved when your children go to sleep because you can finally hear your own thoughts?  I have read that many people fear silence because they equate silence with death.  When children are born they learn early on that sound is the easiest way to get attention.  Giggles, squeals, cries, shouts all get your attention and the comfort of your presence.  So the child equates the sounds they make with getting your love.
Is the TV, computer, radio, CD player on at your house all the time?  There is constant input to our ears.  Input that we can control.  It can be challenging to hear your own thoughts when there is a lot of noise already coming into your head.
Silence is important.  In silence we can quiet our minds and listen to our hearts.  You don't have to "meditate" and sit idly in one spot.  You can have silent time at your house when everyone is doing something but all media is off, talking is discouraged, and children and families learn to enjoy the peace and tune into their own hearts.
We play the silence game at school.  Maria Montessori created this game and it is played with reverance.  The value of silence is hard to measure, but it brings with it a variety of benefits.  Among these are peace, creativity, critical thinking, connections to the universe, and an open heart.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Let's Hear It For Legos, Dolls and Wooden Blocks!

How many of us have given in to our children's requests for a certain toy and found it did not live up to your child's expectations?  Have you observed how a toddler is more interested int he box the toy came in rather than the toy itself?  Do you have a closet full of toys that do not get any attention?  Maybe it's time to rethink the type of toys that help children develop focus, creativity, discovery, and problem solving abilities.  Toys should be used by the child to stimulate brain development not merely keep them entertained.

Are You Buying Toys That Stunt Your Child's Brain?
Posted: 8/3/11 08:42 AM ET  from The Huffington Post
I recently watched Terrence Malick's Tree of Life. The film is centered on a family with three young boys growing up in Waco, Texas during the late 1940s. It chronicles their childhood, the ups and downs of their family life and the long, languorous days that seem to stretch on interminably as the years go by. They play in nature, wade in streams and entertain themselves for hours on end with old tin cans. I was struck by the contrast of their "play" to that of my 8-year-old nephew and 4-year-old niece who recently came for a week-long visit. They spent a good portion of their time staring at tiny hand-held screens that were screeching and flashing. They sat next to one another, but were so riveted by their individual experience that they did not interact with each other. On this same visit, I gave my four-year-old niece a new doll for her birthday. She opened the box with great zeal, and professed her love immediately. Fifteen minutes later, her new doll was placed nicely in the corner and she was back on her device. When I asked her if there was a reason that she was not playing with the doll, she shrugged her shoulders and informed me that the doll "did not do anything."
Enter any toy store and you will find that most toys do "a lot." They beep, buzz, and have flashing lights and screens. They have everything your child needs in order to be entertained, mesmerized, bombarded and distracted. Toys that do "a lot" are actually doing "too much" and unfortunately, your child is doing "too little." Most importantly, what they "do not do" is develop creativity and imagination. Children must be active participants in order to exercise and grow their imagination and creativity; it cannot be downloaded or uploaded. The simple act of thinking is very challenging when the background noise is so invasive and the pace is preset at whirlwind speed. The collateral damage of inattention is immense. It affects the ability to learn, to think, to read, to study, to concentrate at school and to form deep and connected relationships. As a psychotherapist, the psychological harm I have seen is enormous!! A child's self-esteem takes a huge beating when they don't "get" what is going on around them, when they do poorly in school or when they can't connect with other kids.
Although there is no single cause for the epidemic of attention disorders, it makes intuitive sense that over-stimulation on a constant basis cannot possibly be helping matters. According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of children 3-17 years of age diagnosed with ADHD is 5.3 million to date and that number is on the rise.

That number is extraordinarily high, however, I believe that it profoundly underestimates the number of children that are having difficulties paying attention, but do not meet a level that is significant enough to diagnose. When the threshold for excitement is so high, the ability and desire to concentrate on nuanced and subtle aspects of life become uninteresting and in the words of my two daughters, "annoying."

The sharpening of attention skills develops over the course of many years and essentially the brain needs to practice paying attention in order to become proficient. Research has shown that computers and computer games often conflict with the brain activities needed for the development of these "attention" skills. Too much sensory input makes it difficult to pay attention to only one activity and eventually impairs the overall ability to stay focused. It is imperative that parents encourage play that nurtures focus and attunement. You can accomplish this through choices of toys and games that you allow your child to play with, and most importantly, through the time you take to connect and attune with your child.

If you are living a fast-paced and busy life, the downtime you get from a seemingly innocuous "device" that passively entertains your kid, is probably a welcome respite. However, Gameboys, computers, cell phones and the plethora of over-stimulating toys should not be your babysitter. I am not advocating a militant, anachronistic journey back to the days of handmade wooden toys and found objects. What I am advocating is that you as parents take a conscientious look at how your child is spending his or her playtime. Make sure that all of your child's free time is not screentime. Choose toys and games that inspire creativity, artistic development, musical ability and physicality. Try to choose activities and games that motivate children to relate with each other. For babies, sometimes even simple objects like stacking cups and wooden spoons can be used imaginatively in multiple ways. For older children, think about toys that do not do "a lot" such as dolls, action figures, blocks, trains, instruments, art projects and books. Beware, you may encounter some resistance when you choose Legos rather than PlayStation, but stay the course.
The window for creativity and attunement that is open during childhood is vital to the development of the person, so give it plenty of thought before you plop your child down with an electronic toy that totally consumes him for hours and turns him into a zombie. Give your child's brain a chance to work, and not be worked on.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Helping children with compassion

I am including an article that was on Oprah's website.  We have done some simple quiet meditations in class, but this gives it focus.  There is actual science to show that meditation can change the brain.  I am hoping to implement this Compassionate Meditation in my own life and in the classroom on a more regular basis.  Children can usually do this for a minute at the beginning but will build up the concentration to meditate for a longer period of time.  It improves focus, redirects excess energy, and creates an atmosphere of kindness.

Compassion meditation involves silently repeating certain phrases that express the intention to move from judgment to caring, from isolation to connection, from indifference or dislike to understanding. You don't have to force a particular feeling or get rid of unpleasant or undesirable reactions; the power of the practice is in the wholehearted gathering of attention and energy, and concentrating on each phrase. You can begin with a 20-minute session and increase the time gradually until you are meditating for half an hour at a time. If your mind wanders, don't be concerned. Notice whatever has captured your attention, let go of the thought or feeling, and simply return to the phrases. If you have to do that over and over again, it is fine. 

  • To begin, take a comfortable position. You may want to sit in a chair or on cushions on the floor (just make sure your back is erect without being strained or overarched). You can also lie down. Take a few deep, soft breaths to let your body settle.
  • Closing your eyes or leaving them slightly open, start by thinking of someone you care about already—perhaps she's been good or inspiring to you. You can visualize this person or say her name to yourself, get a feeling for her presence, and silently offer phrases of compassion to her. The typical phrases are: "May you be free of pain and sorrow. May you be well and happy." But you can alter these, or use others that have personal significance.
  • After a few minutes, shift your attention inward and offer the phrases of compassion to yourself: "May I be free of pain and sorrow. May I be well and happy."
  • Then, after some time, move on to someone you find difficult. Get a feeling for the person's presence, and offer the phrases of compassion to her.
  • Then turn to someone you've barely met—the supermarket checkout woman or UPS man. Even without knowing his or her name, you can get a sense of the person, perhaps an image, and offer the phrases of compassion.
  • We close with the offering of compassion to people everywhere, to all forms of life, without limit, without exception: "May all beings be free of pain and sorrow. May all be well and happy."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Back to School Timeline

It's August, the countdown to the first day of school begins this month.  Whether your children start school in August or September it helps to have a timeline to help get back into the school routine.  This is meant as a general guideline, you can tailor it to fit your family and school. 

Two Weeks Before the First Day

  • Help your child clean out closets, dresser drawers, desks, bookshelves, and organize their rooms.  You will need to make room for backpacks, school supplies, books, school clothes and other necessities.  It is helpful to have separate spaces for school clothes and play clothes, this will help children with getting dressed in the morning.
  • Make a specific spot for children to store their backpack.  Children can be forgetful and you will need to check the backpack for homework assignments, notes from school, permission slips, etc.  After the child completes the homework assignment he or she should put it in the backpack right away so it is ready to return to school.
  • Designate a spot in the kitchen for lunchboxes.  Have them practice packing and unpacking their lunchbox and putting things in the sink after school.  You will want to monitor the lunchbox to make sure your child is eating lunch.  At our school we have the children bring home any uneaten food.  Please clearly mark the lunch box, thermos, reusable containers and other items with a sharpie.  Both tops and bottoms of reusable containers should be marked.  It is an environmentally sound idea to use these types of containers instead of ziploc bags.  Be sure to include a cloth placemat and napkin for your child.  You will want a barrier betwee,n the lunch table and your child's food.  Children often drop things on the table so it would be healthier if it fell on their placemat.
  • Mark all removable clothing items (including shoes) with the child's name.  This will be very helpful to the teacher and items are more likely to be returned to the proper owner if they are easily identifiable.
  • Consider visiting the school, helping the child find his or her classroom, bathrooms, water fountains, where they will be dropped off and picked up, where the playground and the school office is located.
One Week Before the First Day
  • Buy school supplies.  Take your child with you so that they can make some choices. When you get home, unpack and store supplies in appropriate areas.  Label with a sharpie any supplies they take to school unless the teacher says otherwise.  Sometimes teachers ask students to bring in pencils and they become classroom supplies so they do not need to be labeled.
  • Buy a new toothbrush while you are buying school supplies, it is a good time of year to start with "new" things.
  • Place items that need to go to school in the backpack and set it aside so everything is ready to go.
  • Practice packing lunches in the lunchbox with your child.  What things can he or she do without your help.  Have a "conference" with your child about foods you both agree are acceptable and healthy for lunch.
  • Start the school bedtime routine.  We all tend to get out of the routine over summertime.  It is best to get back into the routine a week or so before the big day.  Some children will not be able to sleep before the first day of school so if the bedtime routine is established parents and children have an easier time.
  • If possible, take your child with you to meet the teacher.  As a teacher I always want to meet the families in my class before school begins.  It may ease your child's anxiety to stop in and say "hello".
  • Be sure the school has all of your phone numbers and email addresses.
The Day Before
  • Help your child pick out the "First Day" outfit, from underwear out.  Set all the clothing aside so your child knows to get dressed in the am.
  • Explain to your child the time schedule for school.  What time you will drop them off, pick them up etc.
  • Talk about the child's feelings, with younger children be sure to let them know that you have complete confidence in their abilities, that this is a great adventure, and that you will be looking forward to hearing all about it after school.
The First Day

  • Keep the routine low key, calm and happy.
  • Drop your child off, give him or her a big hug and tell them you will see them at (whatever time school ends).  Do not prolong the goodbye.  Leave them in the care of the teacher even if your child is nervous, scared or tearful.  The teacher will know how to deal with this.
  • Go to work or go shopping, something to take your mind off leaving your child in someone else's care.

I wish you all a very successful school year!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Making wise decisions can be confusing and overwhelming.  Ask anyone who has had to choose an insurance company, a doctor from a network or a congressperson.  Making the wrong choice or no choice can have an unpleasant outcome and can make you feel helpless, this is not what we want for out children.  Let's guide them into making educated decisions about their lives.  You can start this at an early age.  Childdren have preferences and want to have an element of control over themselves and their environment.

I have created a 4 step system that will help children "Look befor they leap" into a choice.  As a matter of fact using the letters in LEAP will help you remember this system.

Knowing what type of question to ask is essential when giving children choices.  Take a look at the following 2 questions to see the difference:
  1. What would you like for lunch?
  2. Would you like a turkey or a peanut butter sandwich?
The first question offers unlimited options, many which you may not have or want your child to have.  Therefore:
Limit the choices
Offering a choice between two or three things is a great way to start helping children make their own decisions.

Sometimes children will not be able to make a choice and will say "no".  Therefore:
Eliminate negative responses
Look at the following questions to see the difference:
  1. Would you like to help me with the dusting or folding the laundry?
  2. Would you rather dust or fold the laundry?
The first question gives a choice but also gives the option to refuse.  The second question eliminates the chance to say "no".

If there is a certain choice you would like your child to make, remember to make it the most
Attractive Option
Look at the following questions:
  1. Do you want to do your homework now or later?
  2. Do you want to do your homework now while I make dinner and can help you or later while the rest of the family is watching a (DVD)?
When offering choices in this way, you are basically helping the child think through the options and come up with a wise choice.

It is a really good idea to talk with your child about choices he or she makes, so:
Parlay choices into discussions
When a child makes a questionable choice or a choice you didn't exdpect, it is always good to ask them why they chose that option.  Opening up a discussion with your child gives you insight into the way their mind works.  Always remind them that you are there to help.  Let them know that you will be happy to talk them through any decisions they need to make. 

Children have many decisions to make during the day and your guidance is important to them.  Children choose friends, recess activities, books to read, music to listen to and games to play.  Talking with your child about what motivates him or her to make a choice is the first step, standing by their decisions is the next step.