Relaxing Stories and Dream Discs

Give credit where credit it due:  Riley took one of my sleep strategies and renamed it…and even added one important feature!


When we have infants, we are conditioned to believe that once those infants reach a certain age they will magically start sleeping through the night.  And once they do, we will never even remember the sleepless nights.


But then they become toddlers and things like growth spurts, developmental milestones, and teething keep them awake at night.


And once we conquer that, they become preschoolers.  Now they have real fears, like the dark, monsters, and ghosts.  And even though they separate beautifully at preschool, they suddenly need us by their sides at night.  And let’s not forget about the nightmares that result from the combination of active imaginations and a constant stream of new information.


Yes, preschoolers do their best processing at night.  In the dark.  When they are the most vulnerable.


Enter the Relaxing Story and the Dream Disc.


Riley is no stranger to nightmares, and she tends to get nervous when the lights go down.  We have a very specific routine in place to help give her some control over her nighttime worries.  The Worry Box, in particular, works wonders for an anxious mind.


But the Relaxing Story and the Dream Disc have given Riley a new feeling of control over her nighttime fears.  They go a little something like this:


Each night after I turn off Riley’s lights, wrap her in her quilt, and give her hugs and kisses, I lie on the floor next to her bed and tell her a relaxing story.


She chooses the destination.  It might be a walk on the beach, a trip to the duck pond, or a picnic at the park…whatever makes her feel calm.


In a very quiet and somewhat boring voice (never loud voices after the lights go down) I make up a story for her.  I cue her to take deep breaths along the way.  I point out relaxing stops along our journey (a waterfall, a rose garden) and mention relaxing activities (burying our feet in the sand, noticing a cool ocean breeze on our cheeks).


The story lasts about five minutes, sometimes less.  I end each story with the words, “and now it’s time for Mommy and Riley to go to sleep.”


And for a long time, I would lean in close and whisper, “let’s think of a great dream for you tonight.”


Until Riley invented the Dream Disc.


She approached me one morning, her eyes brimming with pride, and exclaimed, “I have a great new idea!  It’s called a Dream Disc!”


And this is how it works:


She imagines that all of her favorite relaxing stories are stored on compact discs on an imaginary shelf above her bed.  She can list them off without stopping to think.  It’s fascinating, really.  When she needs a good dream to help her get to sleep she simply chooses a disc and plays it on the disc player in her mind.


Do you love the imaginary thinking of a 5 year old?!!!


The dream discs give her some control over her nighttime worries.  Not only can she choose to have a good dream, but she can choose which good dream to have.  She feels a little less alone this way, and she drifts off to sleep without any worries.


The Dream Disc.  Genius.


Go ahead.  Tell a relaxing story, have your child choose a dream disc, and enjoy a calmer bedtime experience tonight.


You won’t regret it.




Tips for Teaching Kids about Strangers

Just the very thought of teaching stranger danger ignites panic for most parents of young children.  As adults, we know too much.  We know, for example, that while we want to find the good in people…some people just aren’t that good.


Children come in contact with strangers every day.  They see them at the park, they see them at the grocery store, they even see them at school drop off and pick up.  When you really stop to think about it, children are surrounded by strangers.


Not all strangers are bad, but not all strangers are good either.


Many preschoolers become acutely aware of strangers at around age 5, whether or not they have learned the difference between good and bad strangers.  While they tend to become fiercely independent as they near age 5, they also become more aware of their surroundings.


Right on cue, Riley became weary of being separated in public at exactly age five.  I’ve always kept a close eye on her while out in the world, but suddenly she started keeping an eye on me too.  Just the other day she lost track of me at the bookstore.  In a panic, she screamed my name and jumped to her feet.  I had moved just three feet to the left.


It is essential to teach preschoolers about strangers and how to react when confronted with a suspicious stranger.


Below are some tips to do just that:


Use Age Appropriate Language:  It’s important to teach kids about strangers, but young children do scare easily.  Use language appropriate to the age of the child and take breaks to make sure your child understands.  Answer and welcome all follow-up questions.


Define Stranger:  A stranger is someone your family doesn’t know well.  You see strangers out in public, you see strangers at religious services, and you even see strangers at your front door.  It is difficult to tell if a stranger is good or bad simply by looking at him or her, so it’s important to be careful around all strangers.


Identify Good Strangers:  Children need to know who they can trust should they become separated from you in public.  They also need to be reassured that not all strangers are bad.  Police officers, firefighters, teachers (at school), nurses (at school or in a hospital), doctors (in a hospital or other medical setting), librarians, and store clerks are all people to approach for help should a separation occur.


Teach Don’ts:  Your child should never accept candy or a ride from a stranger, leave school, the park, or your home with a stranger even if that stranger says that mom sent him/her, converse with a stranger who makes him feel uncomfortable, hold hands with or sit on the lap of a stranger.


Teach About Suspicious Behavior:  Teach your children that adults are not always right.  An adult should never ask a child to break a rule, keep a secret, or do something without permission.  These are red flags that should signal children to seek help.


Teach Physical Boundaries:  All children need to know that their bodies are private and not to be touched by other adults.  All children need to know that an adult should never hurt theirs bodies or make them feel uncomfortable about their bodies.  Use correct terminology when talking about genitals and teach your children that no adult should touch a child’s genitals (unless it is during a doctor’s examination with parent permission).  And, please, let them use the bathroom alone at home!


Empower Them:  As much as children need to know what to look out for, they also need to have a plan.  No, Yell, Run, Tell is a simple plan that even the youngest preschooler can remember.  Children need to know that they can say no to adults, they have the right to make a scene in public if something is wrong, and it is acceptable to run from an uncomfortable situation.  **Make sure they know your first and last name and their home address.


Open Door Policy:  Make sure that your children understand that they can always tell you anything, no questions asked.  Young children fear being reprimanded for poor choices.  Pleasers by nature, they don’t like to disappoint their parents.  They need to know that all thoughts and feelings are ok in your house.  They need to know that they can count on you.


Teach Assertiveness:  Children need to understand that they can speak up to adults.  Adults are not always right, after all.  Practice in benign situations.  After two days of role-play, Riley just spoke up at school today to let her teachers know that she can have crackers with wheat in them, despite her allergies.  I praised her for the act of asserting her needs.  Over and over again!


Instincts:  Teach your kids to trust their instincts.  If something doesn’t feel right or makes them feel uncomfortable, they should run from the situation and seek help.


Role-Play:  Young children learn best through practice.  Role-play various situations at home:  A stranger offers a ride, a stranger asks for help locating a lost kitten, a stranger shows up at school and says mom sent me, etc.  Puppets are another great way to practice difficult situations.


Consider a Code:  Create a secret code word for your family that stays within your family.  In the event that you do have to send an aunt, neighbor, or friend to pick up your child at school, your child should ask that person to say the secret code word first.  That’s the cue that it is ok to leave with that person.


For Parents: 

  • Point out safe places at the mall, the park, the grocery store, etc. so that your child knows where to go in the even of a separation
  • Keep a visual on your child at all times when out in public
  • Teach safety in numbers
  • Keep an approved and updated emergency contact list at school or day care
  • Do not let your children answer the front door alone, even when guests are expected
  • Make sure your child knows his home address and your first name
  • Teach your child to call 911 in an emergency


“The Berenstein Bears and The Stranger” by Stan and Jan Berenstein is a great book about understanding the difference between good and bad strangers.


Have you taught stranger danger yet?

Building Resiliency in Preschoolers

It’s no big secret that preschoolers are easily frustrated.  In fact, their need for mastery and perfection can result in many torn papers and smashed towers.  Riley is no stranger to re-drawing the same picture three times in a row, while Liam still tends to run when the going gets tough.


Full of big ideas, preschoolers tend to create complicated blueprints in their minds, and become sad or frustrated when the finished product isn’t exactly what they hoped for.


Although their increased verbal skills often lead parents to believe that they no longer require much assistance, they do need our guidance when it comes to learning to be resilient.


Below are some tips to help you build resiliency in your child:


Focus of the Positive:  Positive attitudes cause positive attitudes.  Preschoolers often become upset when they feel that their peers are surpassing them in various skills.  The truth is that each child develops at his own pace, and you can’t rush a skill that isn’t ready to be mastered.  But you can instill a can-do spirit in your child.  Praise specific efforts toward meeting new goals (“I love the way you are working on writing those letters in between the lines”).  When your child asserts a desire to try a new skill, smile and say, “let’s do it!”  You might not think your child is ready to ride that trike yet, but he might be ready to try.  Focus on the small efforts made toward the larger goal.


Rely on a Mantra:  Preschoolers love rhymes, songs, and mantras.  Little songs and sayings help them to stay focused and give them some control.  That’s why the clean up song that you’re tired of singing actually gets the job done!  Develop a family mantra to use when the going gets tough.  You might hear my kids muttering, “slow and steady wins the race” when tackling the monkey bars at the park or completing a difficult puzzle.  Talk about the importance of remembering that tasks aren’t always easy, but that doesn’t mean that they are impossible.


Model Resilience:  You know that moment when you want to pull your hair out because the phone is ringing, the kids are starving, and the lock on the front door is stuck?  That would be the time to find your sense of humor and model some coping skills.  Frustration happens.  For children and adults.  Watching their parents keep their calm, and possibly even crack a few jokes, in the face of frustration teaches children that we are all human, but we can find ways to cope (that don’t include tantrums and/or sobbing).  Point out the trigger of your frustration, label your feelings in response to the trigger, and talk your way through your problem solving strategy.


Keep Things Age Appropriate:  Preschoolers tend to be very verbal and they like to assert their newfound independence and capability.  Allowing the growth of this independence is crucial.  Giving them tasks and toys beyond what it is developmentally appropriate will lead to frustration and giving up.  Choose puzzles, toys, and books in their age range (they are clearly marked for a reason).  Ask them to perform tasks around the house that they can complete with ease.  Carrying heavy grocery bags into the house will be difficult, but unpacking the groceries into the pantry is an excellent task for a preschooler.  And remember to praise their efforts…no matter how they choose to “organize”!


Provide Guidance, Not a Rescue:  I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to sit back and watch while my kids struggle.  So I don’t.  But I don’t rescue them either.  I work with them.  Stay calm and provide guidance when your preschooler becomes frustrated with a task.  Ask something like, “how do you think we can make this tower stand?” and wait for their ideas before you share yours.  Sometimes a short break from the task can help to restore some calm before making another attempt.  Relying on empathy and sharing your own struggles when you were small will help your child feel less alone.


The best time to teach a new skill or attempt a new milestone is when your child is calm, well rested, and has a nice, full tummy.  But don’t rush them…they need to meet those milestones when they are ready.


How do you build resilience in your children?







5 Tips for Teaching Empathy

Opportunities to practice empathy are everywhere.


Opportunities to practice empathy can be found in nature, in books, during TV shows, at the park, and in the home.


Empathy is the ability to understand and experience the feelings of others, and to respond in helpful ways.


Some children seem to develop empathy more naturally than others, but all children need to be taught this critical skill.


Children who are empathic will be better able to cope with conflict and difficult social situations.


Children who are empathic will be less likely to engage in bullying behavior, and more likely to jump in and help a friend or peer who is being bullied.


Children who are empathic are more likely to grow into well-adjusted adults with adaptive coping skills.


It’s never too early, or late, to start teaching empathy to your children.  Why not start today?


5 tips for building empathy in your child:


1.    Model:  The best way to teach empathy is to model empathy.  Pick your child up when he falls, label his feelings and let him know that you’ve felt that way too, and listen to your children.  Instead of walking away from that temper tantrum, stay calm and talk your child through it.  When children see you respond to difficult situations with empathy, they will internalize those behaviors and learn to do the same.

2.    Meet their Emotional Needs:  Kids are more likely to develop empathy when their emotional needs are being met at home.  Yes, parenting can be trying at times, and kids have emotions that shift by the hour.  But they need to feel heard and helped when things are hard.  When children have secure attachments with their parents, they are more likely to show empathy toward others.  Give them the gift of security.

3.    Teach Feelings Identification:  You teach them how to get dressed, you teach them how to put on their shoes, and you teach them how to brush their teeth.  But have you taught them how to identify their feelings?  Label their feelings for them (positive and negative) so that they can connect feelings words with emotional reactions.  It’s nearly impossible to understand how another person feels if you can’t even understand how you feel.  Try a few games.  Mirror, Mirror:  Make feelings faces in the mirror with your child and try to guess what each face depicts.  Talk about times that you’ve felt that way.  Did you know that you actually experience emotions just by play-acting them?  It’s true.  Feelings Charades:  A great game for family game night!  Take turns acting out and guessing various feelings.  Use books and TV to your advantage.  Observing Feelings:  Don’t just read through a book quickly or sit quietly through an episode of Franklin…point out the facial and other non-verbal cues and try to identify the feelings.  You will be reading the books and taking TV breaks anyway, why not make them a learning experience?

4.    Teach Responsibility:  Kids who have responsibilities tend to be more empathic and caring.  Give your child a specific job, allow your child to care for a small pet, and get involved in family community service projects.  When children are taught to be responsible, they learn to think about others.

5.    Teach Problem-Solving Skills:  It’s tempting to solve every problem for our little ones.  We usually have a solution, after all.  But if we solve every problem, we rob them of the opportunity to learn a critical life skill.  Teach your children to Stop-Think-Act.  Stop:  Assess the situation and determine the problem.  Think:  Consider possible solutions.  Will sharing a toy make my friend feel better?  Act:  Choose the best option and put it into action.  When children know how to problem solve, they are more likely to jump in and help a friend or sibling.


Opportunities to teach empathy are everywhere.  Don’t let another one slip away…


How do you teach empathy?

Get Out and Play!

You are always welcome to Pin my posts…

Kids are spending much less time outside these days.  It used to be that the minute you got home from school you ran outside to play for a while before starting the dreaded homework.

But that was the 80’s.  Things are different today.

Homework has been redefined (several times), and is now more time-consuming than ever.  After school activities easily rival the hours of full-time employment for some kids.

And then there’s that little matter of technology.  Screen time is sucking the energy out of our children

Don’t get me wrong.  I am in favor of some TV time and even some educational iPad apps.  Kids need to de-stress and check out.  In moderation.

But for some kids, screen time trumps nature.  That’s not a good thing.

Research shows that kids who log more outside hours are happier, healthier, and stronger.  They also laugh more often and experience less stress (lower blood pressure). 

Research also shows that children who do not get enough outside time are more likely to have attention issues, aggressive behaviors, lethargy and other symptoms of Depression, and are at an increased risk for obesity.

There’s even a term for it: Nature Deficit Disorder, coined by Richard Louv.

This is unacceptable.

We are spoiled here in Los Angeles.  We are outside pretty much every day, even on the rainy ones.  We often start our days with a “pajama walk” and end them with ten minutes of extra backyard play before the bath.

I am just as dependent on the fresh air and sunshine as my kids are.  A cranky day is easily turned around simply by removing the sandbox cover.  And digging in the garden is a daily occurrence.  It’s good for the soul…

Below are some reasons to get out and play:

1.    Increases Gross & Fine Motor Skills:  When you move your body, and you have more space to do it, you work on your gross & fine motor skills.  Digging in dirt and sand, stirring dirt and water, gardening, burying small objects and digging them up, running, jumping, hula hooping, and swinging a bat are all excellent places to start.  Once they get moving, they won’t want to stop!

2.    Increases Creativity & Imagination:  My kids are constantly playing pretend and creating something out of nothing.  Although they love to play dress up, imaginary play can easily be moved outside.  Build bug hotels, create duck ponds, bake mud pies, and get into character before heading out on a safari walk.  The possibilities are endless, and the kids will have a blast.

3.    Explore Science:  Learning from a book is great, but learning in nature is even better.  Search for bugs, butterflies, worms, and snails.  Explore their habitats.  Compare what they eat and how they work.  Check out Science for Preschoolers for other activities that you can incorporate into your outside play.

4.    Math Concepts:  Liam loves math.  Loves it.  He is constantly counting and adding and subtracting.  At 3 ½, he has found his calling!  Collect sticks, rocks, fallen flower petals, branches, etc.  Sort them by size, shape, and object.  Count them together.  Preschoolers love to organize and count.  Just the other day, the kids spent the afternoon helping with the tree trimming.  They sorted the branches and carried them to the curb together.  They loved every second of it.

5.    Promotes Problem Solving & Togetherness:  When you take away all of the toys, noises, and craft kits, kids are challenged to create their own fun.  When playing outside without any structure, kids will work together to create their own fun.  They rely on their imagination and will use objects found in nature as props.  That’s problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, and working together all wrapped up in one.  Does it get any better than that?

6.    Exercise:  We all know that kids are not getting as much exercise as they once did.  Many PE programs have been cut or minimized in public schools.  Prioritize fresh air and exercise (which does not have to be an organized sport) to keep your kids healthy.  Yes, academics are important.  But if your children aren’t healthy, they won’t perform well in school.  Strike a balance and get them outside.

What are your favorite outside activities?

Coping with Sudden Loss

My little beach community is in mourning.  It’s not my story to tell, so the details will remain confidential.  But a very healthy, happy, outgoing, ten year old girl who once sold lemonade and cookies to my daughter passed away unexpectedly last week.

Shock quickly spread through the community as the elementary school sent home information to the parents.

Our community responded immediately with meal schedules, donations, and flowers.  But it’s not enough.  How could it be?

Although we only knew these neighbors through lemonade stands and friendly hellos en route to the park near our home, our hearts are broken for this family.

This kind of loss is unimaginable.  This kind of pain lasts a lifetime.  This kind of tragedy should never occur.

As our community grieves for this little girl and her family and tries to help as much as possible, we also have to teach our children how to cope with such a sudden and unexpected loss.

Below are some tips to help children cope with the loss of a friend:

1.    Be honest, but brief:  Children struggle to understand such a great loss.  They will ask for clarification often.  It causes them to question their own safety.  Whether or not you know the details, offer honest but brief explanations.  Avoid words like “sick” or “illness” as kids are often sick and might fear their own health.  It’s ok to repeat the same answer over and over; they are looking for a consistent answer to make sense of the tragedy.

2.    Provide reassurance:  Grief is incredibly overwhelming for children, and often delayed.  It might even cause laughter instead of tears or other behavioral changes.  Reassure your child that you understand, that you are there to listen and keep him safe, and that these kinds of tragedies do not happen often.  Kids worry.  While you need to be honest with them, it’s also acceptable to reassure them that they are just fine right now.

3.    Show emotions:  Kids often react to overwhelming situations with opposite emotions.  The loss of a friend is very difficult to process and understand.  Share your feelings.  Cry when you need to cry.  Say that you feel sad, angry, confused, etc.  Teach your children that all feelings are ok as you attempt to cope with the loss.

4.    Send off a balloon:  Kids need tangible ways to say goodbye.  Have your child write a note to her friend, tie it to a helium balloon, and send it off into the sky.  This helps your child feel like she’s doing something for her friend.  Symbolism goes a long way with little kids.

5.    Have a child friendly celebration:  Funeral services are overwhelming for young children.  They are also long and it can be hard to sit still.  Consider organizing a child friendly celebration of life party where the kids engage in activities once enjoyed by their friend.  Have them share happy memories if they feel up to it.  Organize a craft to memorialize the child, such as garden stones.  It’s important to teach children that people live on in our memories even when they are no longer alive.

6.    Create a memory book:  Children often feel helpless when tragedy strikes.  They want to do something to help, but don’t know where to start.  Give children the opportunity to create a scrapbook page in memory of their friend.  Encourage them to include pictures, memories, and a share things they enjoyed doing with that friend.  Completed books can be given to the family cherish and look through when they feel up to it.

7.    Fundraising:  Families often set up memorial funds when lives are lost.  Encourage kids to raise money for memorial funds by holding lemonade stands, bake sales, car washes, etc.  Let them help.

8.    Hold them close:  There is no right way to explain or cope with this kind of loss.  Some kids will react immediately, others will experience delayed grief.  Some might not show any reaction at all.  Be there for them.  Be patient.  Be empathic.  And hold them close.  Young children need constant reassurance, especially when tragedy strikes.

Please join me in sending good thoughts and prayers to the family of this young girl, particularly her little sister, as they attempt to recover from this enormous loss.

Lessons in Gratitude

It always amazes me how much happiness children gain from everyday moments.  It truly is the little things that bring the biggest smiles to their faces.

And yet, gratitude can be hard to teach.

Kids, by design, are impulsive.  They are constantly learning and changing, and new ideas seem to pop up by the minute.

They are exposed to advertising just about everywhere…even if you do rely on the DVR or DVD’s.

They hear about new exciting adventures and toys from their friends and they just have to have them.  Right…now!  And for a minute, they love that item or adventure…until the next big thing comes along.

It’s exhausting, really.

Showing gratitude every minute of every day just isn’t part of what kids do.  It’s not that they don’t appreciate what they have and who they are, it’s just that they are always learning and processing and soaking up information.

It’s our job to slow them down and teach them to be thankful for what they have.  It’s our job to capitalize on the small moments and help our kids stay grounded.  It’s our job to model the gratitude that we want our kids to demonstrate each day.

Nagging won’t do the trick; that will just send them running.

Below are some tips to help you teach lessons in gratitude:

1.    The Happiness Jar:  When kids become bored, frustrated, or feel like they don’t have what they really need in life, it can be useful to stop and think about what they do have.  What you need:  A large glass jar and a stack of index cards.  In a moment of calm, ask your kids to name the things that make them feel happy.  Write one happy statement on each index card and place them in a large glass jar.  Place the jar in a prominent place and reach in and grab a happy statement when life starts to feel overwhelming or unfair.  Talk about why that makes everyone happy.  It might be playing cars, walks on the beach, or chasing butterflies that makes your children happy on any given day.  Sometimes they just need a gentle reminder that they can do any of these things.  For that, they can be thankful.

2.    Three Good Things:  Bedtime is a great time to decompress and check in with your kids.  It’s also a great time to talk about gratitude.  Ask your child to identify three good things in her life as she goes to sleep.  Keep a journal by her bed so that you can write them down and revisit them during the day.  You will probably find that family, mommy & daddy, and favorite toys make the list often.  Many kids tend to think about these things as they end the day.  Having them verbalize it shows them that it feels good to go to sleep feeling happy and thankful.

3.    Collect Coins:  It’s no secret that kids love coins.  They like to play with them, hoard them, fill their banks with them, and throw them in fountains.  Create a special coin collection jar.  Have your kids put a few coins in the jar each week.  When the jar is full, talk about local charities where they can donate the coins.  Better yet, find a fountain that donates the coins to a local food bank or some other charity and make it a fun outing.  Be sure to explain where they money goes and how it helps other people.  Kids (even toddlers) take great pride in helping others.

4.    Pick a Stick:  Do you ever feel like your kids are constantly looking for something to do despite shelves of books and toys?  It can be tempting to start listing the things they should be grateful for, but this doesn’t actually teach a lesson.  Sometimes kids just need visuals.  Make a list of fun family activities and toys and games the kids have at their disposal.  Make use of those extra craft sticks by writing one activity on the end of each stick.  Flip the sticks over and ask your child to pick one.  Flip the stick back over to see what activity the family should do next!  Sometimes a simple game to make things fun reminds our children that wonderful things are all around us.

5.    Small Moments Photo Book:  I love to take pictures of our fun little moments each day.  When I flip through the pictures at the end of the day, I always feel incredibly grateful for what I have.  Why not give our kids the same experience?  Give your child the iPhone camera (or another camera) and let her document what makes her happy each day.  Compile the pictures into simple photo books so that she can look back and feel grateful too.  Warning:  You might end up with 11 pictures of Easter chicks and 37 pictures of a “rock museum”.

How do you teach gratitude in your home?


Good Sportsmanship for Tweens

Tweens live in a competitive world.  Whether it’s sports, music, art, or academics, the push to be the very best starts at an early age. During this developmental period characterized by identity formation, tweens are particularly prone to setting unreasonable standards for themselves.

Although they are generally reluctant to admit it, they often seek praise for their accomplishments (both on the field and in the classroom) as a means of validation for their hard work.

This need to win in order to feel confident puts them at risk for equating losing with failure.  The fact is that they can’t win every single time.

Learning how to lose with grace is an important part of growing into an adult who can work well with others, cope with failure, and perform under pressure.

The focus on good sportsmanship should start early.

Studies show that participating in team sports improves social skills, physical development, and emotional health for tweens and teens.  It’s not about whether or not they win each game, it’s that they work together with peers, get some exercise, and clear their minds.

That said, below are some tips to help you raise a good sport:

1.    Model Good Sportsmanship:  If you are always focused on getting the win, you are setting your tween up for failure.  Losing is part of living.  Show your child that you can still have fun playing soccer with him, even when you miss a goal.  Shake his hand when he wins at a game of basketball.  Help him up if he falls and give a high five when he scores.  Talk about how much fun it was to play Monopoly, even if you didn’t win.  And don’t let him win every single time.  The lesson should be that your self-esteem remains in tact even when you lose.  Focus on fun.

2.    Focus on Effort:  It’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement and anticipation of a game and only cheer when things are going well.  When we only cheer for shots made or games won, we teach kids that winning is everything.  Praise specific actions and talk about the effort your child and the other players made.  Acknowledge that the other team was tough but that your child played his best.  When we focus on effort, we teach our children that trying their best is more than good enough.

3.    Zero Tolerance for Negativity:  While tweens are often in competition with their own high standards, they do have a tendency to blame whoever is viewed as the weakest player.  Make it clear that you do not allow taunting, blaming, or teasing of other players (either on their own team or on opposing teams).  Teach your child how to cope with negativity from other players.  Check with the league to see how they teach sportsmanship and try to find a coach who is focused on learning, not winning.  Part of being a team is recognizing that each player is equally important.  They win and lose together.

4.    Focus on Team-Building:  When tweens get along on the field, they have a better overall experience.  Consider organizing a few team-building nights throughout the season.  Group scavenger hunts, spa days, bowling, make your own pizza night, and roller-skating all make for fun adventures.  When they play together off the field they are likely to bond in a different way and get to know each other better.  Forging friendships = creating good sports.

5.    Skip the Incentives:  The fact that parents pay kids for things like grades, goals, and assists is alarming.  It teaches kids that the end result is far more important than the learning process.  It also creates tension between peers.  Skip the private reward systems and focus on the importance of being part of a group.  There is a reason that gambling among athletes is strictly prohibited.  If your child requires payment to step on the field then it’s probably best to sit that one out.

6.    Teach Frustration Tolerance:  It’s a fact that kids with better social skills perform better on the field.  They are more adaptable and can cope with setbacks.  Teach your child to recognize the symptoms of frustration:  Muscle tension, rapid heartbeat, excessive sweating, and/or clenched jaw.  Find a coping strategy that works for child during heated moments:  Stress ball, count to 10, three deep breaths, jumping jacks, and taking a lap are good places to start.  If your child throws his bat in frustration, chances are he’s not measuring up to his own standards.  Help him learn to cope and carry on.

7.    Lose Your Ego:  Were you a great athlete in your day?  Are you secretly hoping that one of your kids is too?  That’s normal.  We all have dreams.  But the dreams need to stop there.  Stay focused on your child and the effort she makes each time she plays.  Avoid making comparisons and sharing your triumphs; this puts excessive pressure on your tween.  You had your time, now it’s time to focus on your child.

8.    Show Appropriate Sideline Behavior:  When parents compete, kids lose.  End of story.  Cheer; don’t coach.  Don’t argue with officials, no matter how strongly you disagree with a call.  Don’t argue with other parents. Congratulate the other team and the other parents.  If you are yelling, coaching, and arguing your way through every game, you are sending very mixed messages.  You have to be a good sport to raise a good sport.

How do you teach good sportsmanship?

When Children Grieve


Always preview books about coping with loss before reading to children

 Tips for Coping with Grief

An old friend of mine just lost her father and, while it was expected, it is devastating.  The loss of a close family member is never easy, at any age.  I said goodbye to my own father at 23, but the loss of my grandmother at 91 was just as hard.

Grief can be all consuming, but it is a part of saying goodbye.

As adults, we sometimes struggle to cope with loss.  For children, it can feel nearly impossible.

Children, particularly very young children, have difficulty processing the finality of death and will often get stuck in the bargaining phase of the grief process.

Children might attempt to will or bargain their loved one back to life in exchange for good behavior, good grades, or helping mom and dad in some way. Their natural tendency toward egocentrism causes many children to wonder if they (or another loved one) will suffer the same fate.  For instance, following the loss of a grandparent, many children will worry about the health of their parents.

For adults, grief often comes and goes in waves. It can resolve in months or it might take many years.

For children, the waves shift fairly quickly.  They are likely to alternate between sadness, anger, frustration, happiness, and even excitement.  Children who experience a significant loss are likely to play dead and ask the same questions repeatedly.

You can expect regression, anger, aggression, clingy behavior, excessive tears and sadness, temper tantrums, refusal to eat, and sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep).  For the most part, these changes are temporary. If any behavioral changes following a loss affect your child’s ability to function (within the family, at school, in the community) call your pediatrician immediately. Play therapy helps many young children work through grief, at any stage of the process.

Below are some tips to help your child cope with loss:

1.   Explain the loss:  Children have difficulty processing lengthy explanations, but they do need facts.  They know when parents are lying to protect them.  Be honest but brief in your explanations.  Focus on the fact that this is something that happened to this particular person right now to avoid excessive anxiety about who will be the next to die.  Something as simple as, “Grandpa’s heart stopped working which made his body stop working.  When his body stopped working, he could no longer live” works well for preschoolers and early elementary children.  Older children will need more specific facts, such as the name of an illness.  **Remember to stay focused on this one incident and provide frequent reminders that you are ok.

2.   Say goodbye:  Only you can truly answer whether or not your child can handle attending a funeral but, in general, kids under age 7 might struggle to process the event and to behave appropriately to the situation.  However, all children should be given the chance to say goodbye.  If you know that death is imminent and the loved one appears peaceful, allow your child a quick goodbye.  Explain that the loved one can hear your child saying goodbye.  Encourage your child to make a card for the loved one.  Hospitals, medical equipment, and a very sickly appearance can be very scary to children.  Skip the face-to-face goodbye in these cases and allow your child to attend some portion of the funeral or other services.  It’s important to remember that children tend to process things later, not in the moment.  Fears and other intense feelings are likely to arise at night.

3.   Label and normalize feelings:  Children struggle to make sense of intense emotions and often laugh when under stress or experiencing anxiety.  Help your child label his feelings and label your own to provide an example.  Help your child understand that it’s perfectly ok to feel sad, angry, hurt, overwhelmed, confused, and even lonely.  Help them find outlets for those feelings.  Coloring and drawing their feelings helps, as do many of the strategies provided in, “When Someone Very Special Dies” by Marge Heegard.  This is an excellent resource for teaching children about the grief process.

4.   Create a memory book:  The finality of death is very difficult for young children to process.  In fact, they will sometimes continue to ask to see their loved one for months following a loss.  Let your child create a memory book of her time with that loved one.  Have her choose pictures and describe her memories for you to transcribe (older children can do the writing).  Your child can also draw pictures and add other items from special events.  Resist the urge to suggest the important memories.  This book is for your child to look over.  Her book; her memories.

5.   Remember me by:  While older children can participate in funeral services and gain closure by saying goodbye, funeral services are often lost on younger children.  Consider allowing your child to draw a picture to put in the coffin or near the coffin or urn during the service.  Younger children respond well to making a goodbye card (including a picture) to share their feelings. Discuss with other family members prior to offering this suggestion to your child.

6.   Provide reassurance:  Children tend to be egocentric, meaning that they worry about how life events (small and large) will affect them personally.  They worry.  Be explicit about the steps you take as a family to remain healthy.  Visiting the doctor for check-ups, eating fruits and vegetables, getting regular exercise, and getting adequate sleep are all steps toward good health.  Your child will need frequent reminders that you are ok, and that he is too.

7.   Phrases to avoid:  It’s difficult to know what to say to children when someone special dies.  It’s best to rely on facts (“his body stopped working”) and avoid phrases such as, “it was his time to be with God”, “it’s his turn to go to Heaven”, “he was very sick”, or “I don’t know”.  Young children scare easily and have difficulty understanding God and Heaven (even if those are your beliefs), so it’s best to stick to the facts:  He died so he can’t walk, talk, or breathe anymore, but we have many memories of him and will keep him in our hearts by talking about him and looking at pictures.

8.   Take care of you:  This probably should have been first on the list.  It can feel impossible to take care of your children when you are grieving.  Call in help, go to bed early, eat well, and talk to someone who can be there for you.  Don’t be hero; ask for help.  The best way to teach your children how to cope with great loss is to implement adaptive coping strategies in your own life.

**Note:  People often recommend a book called, “When Dinosaurs Die” by Laurie Brown & Marc Brown as a reference for children coping with grief.  While this can be a good resource for older children, I don’t recommend it for anyone under age 8 or any child over 8 who tends to have significant worries.  There are many details regarding various potential causes of death that are not appropriate for young children and might cause further worries for older children.  It’s best to focus on your specific situation and help your child write his own story about the loss instead.

Has your child experienced a loss?