Hey, look!

Last night, while sitting at my nephew’s baseball game, the antics of my other nephew reminded me just how important it is to young children that we adults see them.  We had a rousing game of peek-a-boo going on, for one, but about every five minutes he climbed up the bleachers to get a hug from mom or dad or show us something he’d found, or share something he’d seen or said while playing with his cousins.

I’ve written about this need before here, along with some insights from Becky Bailey about how we can respond to children in such situations without judgment.  One of the advantages of noticing our children and observing them without judgment is that they are less inclined to misbehave from a place of seeking any attention, even if it’s negative.  We can pre-empt much of this by making sure they know that, just like we did when they were newborns and we oohed and aaahhhed over every little body part or gurgle, we still see them as the miracles they are.

This morning, however, I wanted to share some thoughts about noticing kids from the book I’m currently reading, Playful Parenting.  The author, Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., talks about noticing, “what children need” (pg. 36).  In a Kindermusik class, for instance, if your child is unusually cranky or disengaged with the activity, noticing what he or she needs might include wondering if breakfast was sufficient or if the big trip to the zoo yesterday means being extra tired today.  Maybe some quiet time away from the commotion is in order.

Most pointedly, the author says, “I’m always amazed when adults say that children ‘just did that to gedt attention.’  Naturally children who need attention will do all kinds of things to try to get it.  Why not just give it to them?” (pg. 36).

Of course, there are many reasons I don’t often given my kids enough attention, as I’m sure there are for you.  There is food to get on the table, laundry to clean, and sometimes, I’m the one who needs some attention, too! (In which case, a lunch with my friends is clearly in order.)  Still, remembering just how valuable it is for the long-term emotional health of our kids can be extremely important.

The author also adds that it is important not to “cut off” our kids when “they are talking about ‘unimportant’ things, or when they are chattering away about nothing, or when they are repeating themselves” (pg. 39).  I know I don’t like it when my kids cut me off or ignore what I am saying—and the best thing we can do is teach by example, right?  Eventually, they’ll get around to the part that is really interesting for us, and then the payoff will be pretty great.

I’m knee deep in summer sibling rivalry.  As an only child growing up, I often find this kind of behavior to be extremely draining, and the logic behind it escapes me.  Today, however, in the middle of the 4th of July family madness, I’m going to see how well the day goes if I focus on noticing their good behavior (without judgment) and wondering what they might be needing (from me or from the situation) when they’re fighting.  I’m also going to tune in to myself—to note what it is that may be preventing me from playfully engaging with them.  With any luck, such a tweak may help the day go better.

The Power of Observation

I take guitar lessons with a local studio.  As part of that experience I participate in “band class,” where we learn how to put together different songs—it’s great ensemble work.  Every once in awhile, we play out in public.  A couple of months ago, one of my friends, an accomplished musician, came to see our band perform.  Afterwards, he gave me some very specific observations, such as, “You all stayed exactly on beat, and I was very moved by listening to your version of Landslide.  You threw in a little country lick on that one song, too, I noticed.”

While he could have said, “You guys did great,” he refrained from giving us any judgment of “good” or “bad.”  Often, when I hear, “You guys did great,” something happens inside me that mistranslates such praise—I often think, ”Yeah, but you’re just saying that.”  By having him tell us what he noticed in particular about his performance, without judgment, I felt completely elated at what we had accomplished.  I knew that he had been listening intently, and I knew what things in particular we had done really well.  Nothing was mistranslated in my brain, and I walked away having courage to do even better and believe in myself as a guitarist.

Becky Bailey, in her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation, writes about children’s innate desire to be seen, rather than judged.  (My experience playing the guitar that night goes to show that this desire probably doesn’t go away when one becomes an adult.)  She goes on to explain: “Noticing children is an excellent way to encourage them.  Describe what you see to your child and leave her free to make her own evaluations of her efforts or accomplishments” (pg. 130).

What I find even more amazing is that, according to Dr. Bailey’s work, when we notice children, we “stimulate their frontal lobes.”  (pg. 130) Why is this important?  The frontal lobe of our brain is responsible for reasoning—it can help regulate the emotional part of our brain, or the amygdala.  The more developed our frontal lobe is, the easier it is for us to calm ourselves when we’re upset.  The ability to calm ourselves is critical.  Of course, for preschoolers it means fewer or less intense tantrums.  But even into adulthood, when the consequences of being upset can be more devastating, regulating emotions also helps with addiction or anger management, for starters.

Dr. Bailey gives us three steps, a little script, to help us notice our children and give constructive encouragement (pp 131-2).  Of everything I have learned from this book, I believe that these three steps have been the most helpful.

1. Call your child by name, or use “you.”  [I have found it’s helpful to say, “Look at you!”—It puts some enthusiasm in my voice.]

2. Describe what you see your child doing.  [Just this morning I said to my oldest daughter, “I noticed the other day that you needed to have a black leotard washed for school.  You remembered what your teacher asked of you, you got your laundry sorted and started, and you waited around to switch the laundry!”  It helps me, too, when I can be as descriptive as possible about what I noticed.  Realizing just how much effort my daughter put into completing this task on her own allows me to take a moment of mindfulness, in gratitude for the young woman she is becoming, and in awe of what she is capable of doing.]

3. End with a tag—a little note about the value or attribute that you are trying to instill in your child: “That was a lot of hard work,” or “That was very thoughtful.  Thanks!”

As for you parents and caregivers at our studio, here’s an observation: I notice many of you bringing your children to class and getting excited with them at the things they are doing.  You engage in bonding with your kids, and I see how you are attentive to their needs.  You have courage to crawl around on the floor with your little ones, and make silly faces when Miss Carol asks us.  Such a thing really adds to my Kindermusik experience.  Thanks for being a part of the Song of the Heart family!

Summer fun from Kindermusik Camp!

I promised in the last blog post that I’d put together a list of activities that you might consider using in conjunction with our Kindermusik summer camp programs. Just remember—these are simply ideas to get the juices flowing, not a list to look at on the fridge as a reminder that you’re not a good enough mom if you’re not doing any of it. And, if you’re not coming to camp, (we’ll miss you!) there are lots of great ideas for Summer family fun anyway.  Enjoy!

• Go swimming (of course)
• Run through the sprinklers (Remember how much fun you used to have, even before the invention of the Wham-O Slip ‘N Slide Triple Racer? It can be the good, old-fashioned Rainbird sprinkler, it doesn’t really matter to your kids)
• Go to one of the city’s fountains—check out The Gateway Mall; City Creek (water shows run at least every hour on the hour, perhaps more often); and the new Mountain View Park (at 1651 E. Fort Union Blvd.)
• Enjoy a popsicle
• Watch “Finding Nemo” as a family

Up in the Sky:
• Visit the birds at Tracy Aviary
• Attend Sandy City’s Hot Air Balloon Festival (BONUS: it is held August 9-11, which nicely corresponds with the August summer camp)
• Create a rainbow—use paints, crayons or clay—you could even do some fun mixing experiments with colored water
• Learn about rain cloud with this cool (and simple!) cloud demonstration
• Watch “Up.”

Busy Days: The obvious answer here is to go to each of the places we visit during class (the store, the park, to a family gathering). However, you might add a Becky Bailey I Love You Ritual to each of them (as well as include the songs you sing in class while you’re there—YES! I mean sing a song as you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. The person who most deserves your connection is your child—don’t let any embarrassment in front of strangers-who-you’ll-never-see-again dictate if you make a connection with your child or not).
A ritual to consider: Story Hand
Tell the child, “It is story time.” The child will probably think you are going to read a book, but instead, take her hand. Starting with the pinky finger, give this finger a nice massage and say, “This little finger wanted to learn how to ride a two-wheel bicycle.” (The story you will use will be telling will be based on your child’s life. I am using the success story of learning to ride a two-wheeler as an example.) [Or, use something from camp—pick out bananas to buy/play with cousins/feed the ducks] Go to the next finger and give it a nice massage, saying “This finger was a little scared she [or he] may fall off.” Continue to the next finger, saying “But this finger said, ‘I can do it. I just know I can.’” At the index finger, continue with the story by saying, “So I decided to try and try again.” Finally, come to the thumb and with excitement have the thumb say, “Did she [or he] do it? Did she [or he] do it?” Then tuck the thumb into the palm of the child’s hand and say, “No problem. All the fingers knew she [or he] would do it all the time.” –pg. 165, I Love You Rituals, Becky Bailey, Ph.D.

Peek-A-Boo: Ready for more I Love You rituals? That’s the whole theme of this camp! Things you could do to amplify this camp would be to (as mentioned earlier), employ the rituals you learn in class to as many of your daily activities as possible (play peek-a-boo when helping your child get dressed, for instance). Here are some additional thoughts about the importance of these rituals from Becky Bailey:
“Remember your purpose. The goal of the activities is to join with our children. These rituals allow us to rejoice in togetherness, experience each other’s beauty, and delight in the expression of love that we all are. They are not about having your children learn their body parts or which way is up or down. Learning these things are valuable subgoals, but the ultimate goal is to connect. Relax, have fun, giggle, sing, just be yourself—begin to trust that all is well.
“Be fully present with your children.. . .
“Be in the moment. Simply stated, your mind must be clear of clutter. . .
“See yourself and the child as complete, good enough, and totally deserving of this precious interaction.” (p. 39)

• Share the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon “The Rabbit of Seville” with your kids (what did we ever do before Youtube?). (By the way, the clip I’ve linked to is incomplete and child-friendly. However, a user whose user name includes some not-for-kids profanity posted the only entire episode I could find—so it’s there, but search at your own discretion).
• Read Magic Treehouse #41: Moonlight on the Magic Flute together
• Invite the kids to put on a puppet show, re-writing lyrics to favorite songs in order to create a story (maybe re-working your favorite classic children’s tale, such as “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”)
• Find as many sing-a-story picture books as you can at the library—consider: I Know an Old Lady, The Lady with the Alligator Purse, or How Much is That Doggie in the Window

Jumping Beans:
• Choose a night for Latin American food. Maybe enchiladas from Mexico, an asado from Argentina/Uruguay (just throwing some meat on the grill will do!), or a simple Chilean salad.
• Make a Quetzal Bird or a Day of the Dead mask
Color some flags of Latin American countries
• Learn some Spanish
• Play “Identify which instruments do you hear” when you’re listening to songs in the car.

Prince and Princess:
• Build a castle out of your favorite building toy (or find some supplies around the house—toilet paper rolls for turrets, ribbons for flags—maybe even with marshmallows and toothpicks!);
• Create a shield or sword or magic wand with poster boar
So many books to choose from
• Get the neighbor kids together and create an obstacle course, with all the boys and girls getting “knighted” upon successful completion
• Watch The Princess and the Frog (because apart from being the one with the best music, Tiana rocks).

Sound fun? Anything you’d like to add? Tell us in the comments. Maybe you could even get together with the other families in your Kindermusik camp and plan a playdate outside of the Kindermusik studio!

Tickles and Hugs

Tickles and Hugs

“Touch is the only sense we cannot live without. You child could be blind and be fine, she could be deaf and be okay, but without touching and being touched, a child will die.” —  I Love You Rituals, Becky Bailey, Ph.D., pg. 10
The other day my son asked me which of my five senses I would give up if I needed. I told him that although it would be sad (more than sad) if I couldn’t hear him or his sisters again, or if I couldn’t see their faces as they grew older (and life without chocolate might be unbearable!) I certainly would retain my sense of touch. I want to be able to nurture my children through touch, and I definitely want to be loved and held myself. Nothing soothes my soul like a hug from one of my kids.
Researchers have looked extensively at the devastating consequences of non-touch, especially at the deprivation that occurred in the Romanian orphanages. This Scientific American article points out that skin-to-skin contact with babies calms them and helps them sleep better (who doesn’t want a baby to sleep better?) and helps mom’s own levels of stress and depression.
Of course, if I had read this as a new mom I would have an increase in my stress levels, wondering if I was holding my baby girl enough. Sometimes she didn’t sleep well at night—was I doing everything “right?”
Now, I read that advice and I notice all the times during the day that I DO hug my kids, or snuggle with them while we read on the couch. And I think to myself, “My preschooler may be upset today, but it’s NOT because I didn’t touch her enough—it’s got nothing to do with me and I’m doing my best here. And just think how upset she might be if I HADN’T hugged her?”
Having an 11-year-old daughter, I know it isn’t always easy to give her a hug (especially when she really needs it—that’s when she’s at her most resistant to me). Still, I try to look beyond the moments that she squirms away from my hugs and instead find the times when I can put my arm across her shoulders or brush her arm gently to wake her up in the morning.
You may have noticed that in the green studio we have some words on the wall. From time to time when I’m snuggling with my son during class I look up and see the word “touch.” I’m reminded that this is the gift of Kindermusik—it gives me a chance during the day to focus exclusively on my son, to hug him and let him know that I see him and I value him. If there are more important things to give my son, I’m not sure I’ve found them yet.
One of the rituals we do in some of Kindermusik classes is called “Round and Round the Haystack.” It’s a great way to entertain the kids while you’re waiting for the oil to get changed or while standing in line at the grocery store, as well as engage in some playful touch.
Round and round the haystack goes the little mare (draw circles on your child’s hand/knee/shoulder, etc.) with your index finger
One step, two steps (walk your fingers up the child’s arm/leg/back, heading for a ticklish spot)
Tickle you under there! (Give a gentle tickle under the child’s arm)
(Also found in I Love You Rituals, pg. 111)
Do you have a favorite snuggling ritual with your child? What are some of the ways you engage with your kids in some playful touch? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!