Posts tagged ‘children’

February 10, 2014

Tooth Fairy Pillows & Kissy Lips

by Katherine Higgs-Coulthard  38-FE3-KathyHiggs-Coulthard

My daughters were supposed to be brushing their teeth and getting ready for bed. Instead, they were ransacking the bookshelf. The youngest, Hannah, cried while Laura murmured words of comfort. As I approached the doorway, the words “She won’t forget. It’s a tradition” stopped me in my tracks.

Although the “she” must mean me, I could not imagine what tradition Laura expected me to remember.

I silently cursed Laura’s second-grade teacher. Traditions were a big focus of her family heritage unit each year. With two older children, it was a project I had come to dread. Many families could trace their lineage back to Germany or Sweden, Japan or Africa. Their children made cute little cutouts, decked out in cultural regalia. Presentations involved tea ceremonies and recipes for Wiener schnitzel.

My ancestors had not kept track of lineage. And, as for tradition . . . well, did watching football and eating turkey on Thanksgiving count?

Luckily, my husband’s family is English and Irish. They have whole books on their family history. So far, our children always survived the heritage unit, even if their family trees were a bit lopsided.

Laura’s comment about traditions must have meant the cursed unit was upon us. What tradition could be relevant at 8:30 on a school night? The beginning of February didn’t exactly call for Easter eggs or a candlelit Mass. It wasn’t anyone’s birthday. Sparklers were reserved for July; costumes for October. I still had a few weeks until Valentine’s Day.

By the time I entered Hannah’s room, the girls were cuddled together in bed. They scooted over to make room for me. Hannah’s gap-toothed grin accentuated the air of expectation. “Ready, Momma?” Laura asked.

Just as I was about to break down and admit that I apparently had forgotten some vital family tradition, Katie ran in and plopped a book on my lap: “The Real Story of the Tooth Fairy.” In her other hand she held a lace-pocketed pillow. “You can use mine, Hannah. Mommy’s still working on yours.” She gave a grown-up wink, indicating she knew that I hadn’t even bought the fabric yet.
After tucking Hannah’s tooth into its little pink pocket, Katie snuggled in with us. I gave her a special hug.

At 14, she is already aware of something I hadn’t realized: Tradition is not always spelled with a capital T. It’s the little things, quirky family rituals, that mean the most — not just to children, but to us all.

The next day, I brought up the subject over breakfast, asking the children what other traditions we had.
They all shouted ideas at once.
Hannah: “Catching snowflakes on our tongues.”
Katie: “Family game night.”
Laura: “Birthday candles in our Pop-Tarts.” (Okay, so this is not the most healthy of traditions.)
“Dad’s haunted trail.” This from our teenage son, Chris.

The list grew and grew. Christmas stories with Dad, gingerbread with Grandma, Frisbee golf with Uncle Jerry. Snow cream and snowball fights with one grandpa, putt-putt with the other.

As they named all of the ways our family stayed close, I realized many of the traditions had been initiated not by me or my husband, but by one of the children.

It was Katie who suggested last Thanksgiving that we create small gift boxes out of wood for each family member. In them we put little notes praising each other for our contributions to the family.

In kindergarten our son, Chris, told us about St. Nicholas. If it weren’t for his enthusiasm, we would never have known to leave our shoes on the stairwell each Dec. 6, so St. Nick could fill them with treats.

Laura’s tradition involves planting a tree each Arbor Day. That, and sneaking Nana’s cream wafers faster than they come out of the oven.

Hannah, young as she is, has already influenced our family to put “kissy lips” on all the mirrors every Valentine’s Day.

If tradition is the glue that binds families, we’ve concocted our own adhesive out of flour and water, so that we are the sum of the little moments we create together. And while Tooth Fairy pillows and kissy lips may not be as exotic as tea ceremonies and Wiener schnitzel, they define our family better than any hand-me-down ritual.

A few Tooth Fairy Books:

night before tooth fairyTitle: 
The Night Before the Tooth Fairy
Author: Natasha Wing
Illustrator: Barbara Johansen Newman
Genre: Picture book

Title: What Does the Tooth Fairy Do with Our Teeth?what does tooth Fairy
Denise Barry
Illustrator: Andy Boerger
Genre: Picture book

Ask your children what your family’s traditions are? Surprised by their answers?

February 13, 2012

Sexual Harassment in Schools

Are kids being sexually harassed by their peers a lot more than we think? And what are the consequences? After reading a report by the AAUW, I talk about these issues in an article published in ParentMap magazine.

To read more articles I’ve published, check out this list here.

October 26, 2011

Throwing in the dish towel

Today I’m over at Nashville Parent writing about getting toddlers to eat.

January 29, 2011

Call Me When You’re Bleeding

We went to the playground today; it was the first day in a long time it was warm enough to do so.  (I had thought when we packed the moving boxes that I was moving to the “sunny” South, but I was actually moving to the freezing-cold-winters/hot-sticky-summers/nice-couple-of-months-in-the-fall-and-spring South.)  But that’s a different story.

Every time we go to the playground, I’m usually shocked by someone’s parenting.  I’m sure they are shocked by mine as well, and they are welcome to blog about it, but this is my podium, so to speak.  Here is what I see all the time: a young child, taking some tentative steps up a ladder or towards a slide, or onto a boulder and the parent snatching them up, explaining how it’s “too dangerous” for them, and re-directing them towards something safer, and usually way more boring.

Now, I know that many of these parents have very opposite (but similarly disapproving) thoughts on my own child-rearing skills because I’ve actually had parents tell my child to be careful or not go too high despite the fact that I was standing right there, obviously the mom, and obviously without any concerns.  Well, it’s not that I don’t have any concerns, it’s just that I weigh them differently.  (For the record, I have never suggested to someone else’s kid that she keep climbing.)  Here’s my version of risk analysis:

1) how likely is he to fall? (I base this on similar falls, similar climbing experiences, or similar feats I’ve seen him accomplish in gymnastics class or on my living room furniture)

2) if he does fall, how likely is he to get hurt? (I base these extraordinarily unprecise calculations on things like the height off the ground, the material said ground is made of, and his position on the apparatus and the body part mostly likely to hit the ground material first)

3) if he does get hurt, how close am I to an ER? (Okay, I don’t actually ask myself that, but it’s possible I should.)

4) How much energy do I have and do I really feel like going over to the monkey bars to rescue him?  (This might indicate a slight downside to my plan, as given this logic he is increasingly likely to fall the more pregnant I get.)

And then here’s the thing: even after judging, I still almost never take him off and redirect.  When I can, I stand underneath, so that my soft, cushiony body will act like the firefighters’ trampoline.  If I can’t do that, I try to support a little bit–hold a foot in place so he’s less likely to slip, etc.  And if I can’t help at all and it really does look too high up with too great a possibility of falling, I resign myself to asking him not to do it (he’s usually figured this out on his own at this point anyway), and try a modified version to increase the likelihood he’ll be able to do it on his own soon.

(For example, I did discourage my 2-year-old from jumping from the side of a high platform in an attempt to reach a pole to slide down.  But I did let him come down to the ground, where I lifted him up to the pole and showed him how to slide down.  He’s still learning, and maybe by the time he feels good at it, he’ll be tall enough to reach out and grab that pole at the top of the platform.  I look forward to that day.)

I certainly don’t think my way is the only way, but I do think parents need to worry a little bit less about their kids.  Specifically, they need to worry a little less about physical danger.  In my world, I worry (perhaps too much) about digital media, screen time, and junk food.  I do this because I’ve been in classrooms with middle schoolers for many years and have yet to see anyone permanently damaged by a playground fall, but have seen many that have suffered the consequences of too much of the stuff I mention above.  So yes, parents, it’s okay to worry.  But think first about what you’re worried about and why.  Ask yourself what your kids would be allowed to do if you weren’t worried about it, and think about the trade-offs.

And that’s all to say that Wendy Mogel is a great author.  Not just because she would agree with me on some of these things, but because she has good, solid advice delivered in about raising kids and how to deal with the mistakes they will inevitably make along the way.  She’s professional, humorous, and knows what she’s talking about.  So here it is.

Title: The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children
Author: Wendy Mogel, PhD
Genre: Parenting

Summary and Review:

Ah, the religious disclaimer: Religion tends to be a touchy subject for some people, so I should let you know that the book is written from a “Jewish” perspective.  I put Jewish in quotes because it’s also written from the perspective of a PhD and parenting expert, and I truly believe that everything in the book is universally applicable.  But you should know that she will quote from and refer often to Jewish texts such as the Bible (which of course is also Christian), the Talmud, and others.

If you are Jewish, or religious and not Jewish but open to learning the perspectives of other religions, or even just interested in spirituality and history, then I think these quotes serve as a unique and refreshing perspective through which to look at family life.  She also talks about teaching religion and spirituality to children and how to honor the holy in everyday life.  So, if you believe religion is responsible for all bad things in the world, then you might want to skip this one. 

Topics in the book include honoring each child as their own person (and learning to accept “good enough”), honoring parents (and how parents can better be someone to honor), overprotecting your child (hence my playground story), and many other gems of parenting confident and capable children.

October 12, 2010

Okay, I get it, you are two. You don’t need to prove it.

Right now, we are spitting.  Spitting water, spitting milk.  Spitting anything and everything we get to drink.  Not so consistently that we think dehydrating him until he turns into a raisin would be a good idea, but consistently enough that we think about it.  Knows better.  Proves it by saying after he spits “NOT a good idea!” or “NO! NO! NO!” or “Time out?”  Me not having to say these things somehow does not make it better.  And these are the times I turn to Michael Thompson.

This is not a children’s book.  But if you have children, you should probably have this book.  So I’m going to throw it up here.  I’ve seen Michael Thompson speak a few times on the educator’s circuit.  He is funny, educated, well-spoken, and he doesn’t talk down to you.  He speaks the language of a parent, with the heart of a parent, the time-tested soul of a parent, but filters everything through the brain of a PhD.  And that, to me, is useful.

Title: It’s a Boy!
Author: Michael Thompson
: Parenting
Age: Adult, Parents of boys

Summary and Review:

Thompson, like some others, has a lot of books on raising kids.  He almost exclusively focuses on boys.  He is a guru on boys.  Of course, there will be some who don’t like his ideas and strategies, but I have to say they are middle-of-the-road enough and varied enough that I think there is something for everyone.  Thompson has really led the bandwagon of others who are just now starting to figure out that our way of raising, schooling, and often medicating boys is failing them in huge, huge ways.  This book is less about those issues than what you can do at home as they are growing up, but following his advice at home is certainly likely to help you out in the future and maybe help you avoid some of the problems boys tend to have in schooling later on.

The book covers the development of boys from birth to age 18, which I guess is Thompson’s idea of when they are supposed to leave and be on their own.  Given current trends, I’m not so sure that we won’t need an extended version as adolescence seems to stretch later and later these days.  But that’s another story for another blog.

Thompson combines personal stories from families he’s worked with and schools he’s observed with summaries about what happens at each age of development.  Right now, we are reading both the “toddler” section and the “powerful little boy” section, which seems to cover everything he’s doing and a lot more.  The book is wonderfully reassuring, and speaks very frankly about things some parents don’t want to admit or talk about, such as playing with the penis or turning every toy into a weapon of some sort.  It’s well organized, with short, clearly-titled sections that are easy to read and even easier to reread when you need to reference something.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

I think anything you want to follow up with is in the book.

September 7, 2010

Justin Case is a wonderfully likeable worrywort

Title: Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters
Author: Rachel Vail
: Matthew Cordell
Genre: Fiction
Age: Chapter Book for grades 2 – 4

Summary and Review: I laughed; I cried.  Was it better than Cats?  Almost definitely: I’m a musical fan but I didn’t love Cats.  But this is a great book!  The hero of the story is Justin, a third grader with a long and hard-to-pronounce last name who gets the nickname “Justin Case” from the class bully who is a surprisingly good friend and supporter (and even, partially against Justin’s wishes, gets him voted to the student council).  The nickname, as the title of the book suggests, is an allusion to Justin’s tendency to worry.  About everything.  Justin worries about the new dog he begged his parents to get (and is terrified of in a wonderful way that reminds me of Mo Willem’s The Pigeon wants a Puppy).  He worries about his stuffed animals and the ominous way some of them look at him when the lights go out.  He worries about climbing the rope in gym class.  Most importantly, he worries in a lovable and funny way that will make many kids relate to him.

The ways in which Justin overcomes his worries is also priceless. For example, at home at night he is terrified often.  But when his little sister is scared, it’s his bed she sleeps in and he who comforts her.  He is scared of nothing more than “Bad Boy” an imaginary enemy he often thinks is in his house.  But when he hears his dog whimpering (and let’s remember he’s also scared of the dog), he jumps out of bed to the rescue, ready to battle whatever forces of evil await him.  If you have kids who are similarly scared, they might find some short passages a little scary.  But you don’t have to worry–everything has a good explanation and Justin will prevail.

The writing is wonderful.  I find myself quoting Justin now.  Should I be embarrassed about that?  Maybe.  But when Justin’s mom reminds him to say “no, thank you” instead of “I hate” when asked if he wants something, Justin translates that to every use of the word hate, and I’ve begun to as well as when I recently said to my husband “I no thank you cockroaches”.  And there you go.  In Justin’s own words, “There’s always tomorrow for all the bad things that didn’t happen today.”

The book captures a lot about elementary school that goes beyond Justin’s tendency to worry, though.  Being friends with girls, for example.  Dinosaur Day project presentations.  Being forced to practice the violin even though you are terrible.  Being forced to play soccer, basketball, and baseball when you’d rather be anywhere else in the world.  Birthday parties and everything that comes with them.  Classroom social dynamics.  Still sleeping with stuffed animals and finding out that even some of the “tough” guys do, too.

Definitely a book to pick up for your 3rd grader, worried or not.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

I think the best conversation to have about this book would be to talk to your child about the main character.  Did she like him?  Could he relate to him?  What was funny about him?  Clever about him?  Does your son have any friends like him?  Could the book help your daughter to understand someone else she might previously not have liked?

Talking about how Justin prevailed over his anxieties would be great, too, although honestly I think that a kid would relate better if you come at this subject indirectly from just talking about Justin.  Every kid worries, whether you consider them a big worrywort or not and seeing a great example of an everyday wimp becoming his own hero is a great thing.