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Parents and Teachers: How to Talk to Children about the Paris Attacks

paris-attacks-2How to Talk to Kids about the Paris Attacks and Other Tragic Events

By: Dr. Robyn Silverman

Many of us stayed up late watching everything we could about the tragic Paris Attacks on Friday night. We waited to find out more on Saturday about how many lives were lost, if the perpetrators were all captured and how France and other nations were going to respond.

As a mother of a 5 and 6 year old, I kept the news off while they were in the room and remember running up to the TV to turn it off when a Sunday morning story about the death toll suddenly came on—that’s not the way I want them to find out. Still, I don’t have my head in the sand. it’s important to be prepared to discuss these tragic situations as children hear a great deal in school and from their friends. And with older children in late elementary school, middle school or high school, they likely have head about it already.

How should parents handle it when a large-scale tragedy occurs in the world such as the Paris Attacks?

  • You are the trusted source: If you have a feeling that your children will hear about the tragedy in school, talk to them about it as soon as possible. You can give them the information that is true, appropriate and helpful. Older children might want to learn more about who was involved in the attacks- and there are some websites that provide easy-to-understand information that you can read together or you can read and then discuss the points that you feel are necessary. For example there is this and this for explanations of more complicated facts.
  • Use age-appropriate language and information: Children don’t need to hear the gory details. Give them the information that they need to know in words that they would understand. You can be factual without being gruesome. It is important to set the tone and provide the facts instead of allowing someone else, who may not be correct or appropriate, to do it for you.
  • Allow emotions and fears to surface: Don’t dismiss your children’s fears or emotions. Rather, allow them to have a safe place to express them. If you are upset (as humans, of course we are!), you can talk about being sad or frustrated without going into full detail or matching their intensity. For example, you can say; “I am sad this happened to these people” or “I am frustrated that I can’t help.” In fact, it’s best for adults to talk to other adults about their own feelings rather than delving in deep with children who may not be fully equipped yet to understand.
  • Let them know they are safe: Children are often concerned with their own safety and the safety of their friends and family surrounding them. Make sure they know that events such as these are rare. Talk to them about the adults in this world who are doing what they can to keep the people safe. Discuss the helpers, the heroes and those who are taking action to create peace in this world.
  • Keep an open door: Many children will need more than one conversation to put their questions, fears and concerns to rest. Let your children know that you are available to talk to them if they have questions. You may not know all the answers, but you will do your best to find them out or explore them with your child. For older children, don’t assume that they fully know what’s going on or that you know what they are thinking or feeling. Ask them what they know and how they feel about it. If you feel that there is a better person for your children to talk to about this tragedy, be the bridge or the passageway to the right person so your children feel that their questions have been answered.
  • Honor the loss of life: Whether the tragedy was Sandy Hook, The Boston Marathon bombing or the Paris Attacks, find ways to honor those who were lost. This may be orchestrated through a moment of silence, a family donation or finding ways to help personally.
  • Understand that children all react differently: Some children will want to talk about what’s happening while others might clam up. Some will have lots of questions, while others might seem disinterested. All children react differently. Be aware of hidden signs that a child is upset. For example, sleeping more or having trouble sleeping, withdrawing from friends or wanting to spend more time with family, acting out with poor behavior or wanting to stay home from school. Be open if and when your children become open to talking about the Paris Attacks or tragic events like them.

The best thing we can do for our children is to give them the time, space and arena to discuss their feelings and questions. Just being there can be a comfort when tragedies like the Paris Attacks, the Boston bombing, Sandy Hook occur. And of course, as always, hug them tight and tell them that they are loved. Feeling safe and secure can go a long, long way.

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

Pros and Cons of Children in Sports: Dr. Robyn Silverman on The Today Show

The Today Show brought me on today to kick off a series on children and sports along side football player, Greg Jennings!

What are some of the benefits that children gain from playing sports?

There are so many reasons why sports are great for kids, from the obvious physical reasons to learning social skills to lowering the probability of engaging in risky behavior like drug abuse. But one of my favorite benefits of sports and one I love to present about to children and adults—is that sports can help develop character and grit in children—teaching them to set goals, go after them, overcome barriers and showing them that if these kids dig deep, they have what it takes to achieve those goals.

There are so many pressures placed on the parents and the kids. If you want your child to be the best, you need to get the private coaches or you need to have them practice five days per week. At what point is enough, enough?

First, I think one of the key phrases we need to illuminate here is “if YOU want your child to be the best.” Children have to be as invested (or more) in their particular sport as their parents are or “enough is enough” is going to come way too quickly. Sports are about the children and the team, rather than the parents’ goals.

That aside, a good parent often knows when their child has had too much. When your child’s grades are plummeting, they always seem exhausted, overwhelmed, agitated and physically unwell, they have no time for friends, family or the other things they love, it is likely time to help them re-evaluate their priorities and what they truly want to do. We want our children to learn grit, character and the keys to success, but we don’t want to compromise their long-term mental or physical health.

What are some of the sacrifices families may need to discuss when children are involved with sports?

Sports can provide so many wonderful learning and health opportunities from physical strength, flexibility and endurance to mental strength, powerful character and lowered risky behavior.  Sports can be wonderful for children!

However, especially as the child grows and becomes more competitive in sports or involved in certain sports, time, money and energy will be allocated to this particular sport for this particular child.  That means the time, money and energy will not be allocated elsewhere.  Some sacrifices may be unstructured playtime, down time, extra homework time, sleep and other activities that your child also wishes s/he’d be allowed to do.  Lay them out on the table with all those who will be impacted in the family (the driver, the parent who has to wake up or travel with the child, the parent paying, the child) and decide if the sacrifices are worth it before you move forward.

How can children balance their schedule?

Competitive sports can get intense.  And while our children are todayshow_march2014b-300x225involved in sports, we also want them to stay on top of their academics, spend time with friends and family, relax and engage in other activities that they love.  But our children can’t do everything.  Some options to think about are (1) Limit the number of competitive sports to one (or maybe two if they are seasonal) per year, (2) Consider recreational sports instead of competitive ones or do a combination of each, (3) Schedule in breaks during the week or during the year when the pressure is off and the children can just be children.

How do we know if children are in sports for the right reasons?

Why are your children in sports?  There are clearly many benefits, however, we want to make sure our children are involved in sports in which they love and they want to participate.

As parents it’s vital that we don’t;

(1) Live vicariously through our children.  The question is, are they doing it for themselves or are they doing it for you?

(2) Merge with our children. Meaning, don’t allow the sport to become more important to you than to the child.  When we take over their responsibilities, attend every practice and game, talk about the sport all the time, coach them and say things like “we had a great practice today” and “we have a game on Saturday.”

(3) Wig out. If your moods depend on your children winning or losing or you find yourself screaming at the children or the coaches during the games, you may need to take a step back.

For all the parents out there, what is the most important thing to keep in perspective?

Our children aren’t all going to be Olympians and world class athletes.  And that’s OK! Remember that sports are supposed to be fun and teach kids about life and themselves—they’re not all about fame, fortune and winning.

Is struggle good for kids? Kate Winslet talks about the good in divorce

katewinslet“I think it’s very important to teach your children to struggle on some level,” actress, Kate Winslet tellsHarper’s Bizaar this month.

This month, Kate Winslet is featured in Harper’s Bizaar. In it, she talks about her divorce and how it created a struggle for her children– and that struggle can be good.

How can this be?

  • When children go through a struggle and come out the other side, they learn that they are stronger than they thought—that they can handle more than they dreamed—and that they are more prepared for what life will hand them.
  • They can learn that change can be good. Change is going to happen—so being able to handle change and see the silver lining is important to moving forward. Perhaps they can see that there is less fighting or less stress—that the new solution is actually more comfortable.
  • A moderate amount of struggle can show children that powerful character and grit can get them through to the other side. Grit is developed when our children are put under reasonable pressure and they find that by reaching inward and reaching out to key adults and friends, they can endure and thrive (I speak about grit in several of my presentations and believe it is a necessary quality in our successful leaders)

What should this say to us as parents?

Allow your children to struggle a little! Growth happens when our children are challenged slightly above their abilities and they rise to the occasion.  If we consistently try to “save” them, they avoid the struggle as well as the growth.  In terms of life circumstances such as divorce, not making the team or fighting with a friend, allow your child to work through their feelings as well as solutions.  You can be there to support– just not take over.

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

My 4 year Old Gets his Freak on: Superbowl Half Time Show

Just a little comic relief on this snowy Monday– my 4 year old flying his freak flag during last night’s SuperBowl halftime show with Missy Elliot and Katy Perry. I never knew he had so many dance movies.  Next step…hip hop class?

 

Bad Parenting Day: 10 Tips for Making Tomorrow Better

blog_stressYesterday was one of my worst parenting days.  You ever have one of those?

Coming off a night of tossing and turning I just shouldn’t have gotten out of bed.  But with a 3 and a 4 year old, you really don’t have that option.  So groggy with a bit of cotton-head I got up at 6:45 when my daughter called for me.  Both of my kids always love to get up deliciously early.

My daughter got up on the wrong side of the bed.  Everything from her dreams to her outfit were wrong.  She didn’t even want to wear the underwear I had put out for her.  Really?  “It’s freakin’ underwear,” I could hear myself repeating in my head.

My son had just gotten up with my husband and was playing one of his new birthday games, Hungry Hungry Hippos.  As my kids are allowed to open 2 gifts per day in the days following their special day to control the indulgence avalanche, he was ready to open his second gift.

It was a remote control car.  Harmless enough—but a source of great argument when you have two children who are raised in a home where there is no such thing as a “girl toy” or a “boy toy.”  They both wanted to play with it.

Two extremely “Type A” children, one car, one remote. You see where this is going?  If they weren’t arguing with each other about whose turn it was, they were frustrated with the car for not doing what they wanted it to do. Boy throws remote on the ground.  Remote breaks. Time out in the corner issued.  Fixed remote. Girl gets impatient- tries to take remote.  Boy swats girl. Remote gets thrown again.  Breaks again. Another time out.   More frustration. Pushing. Shoving.  “It’s mine!” “I want it!” “You can’t have it!” Grabbing. Tackling. Remote gets thrown…Repeat.

I usually keep my emotions in check when it comes to parenting but spoiled, rotten behavior infuriates me.  Entitlement gets under my skin.  Lack of gratitude simply pisses me off.  So I lost it.  Getting two garbage bags, I walked into the den and took the car, the remote…and every other toy they had in there.

“No toys for the day!” I shouted out of sheer aggravation.  “If you don’t treat your toys kindly and you can’t treat each other with respect, forget it.  No toys.  No TV.  No Ipad.  Nothing.  Nothing at all that costs money,” I barked out while feeling the heat of my anger in my furled forehead.  “You may have a piece of paper and crayons.  You may read.  You may go outside but go nowhere special.  I refuse to have ungrateful children who don’t know the value of what they have. You clearly have too much that you think you can treat each other and your stuff like that. So there are no toys for the entire day!  And we’ll see if you earn one or two back for tomorrow.”  Then I just got quiet.  I could hear my breath.

It doesn’t make me proud when I lose my temper.  I think it’s kind of ugly even though it’s human.  As a Child Development Specialist who speaks around the nation on parenting and working with kids I often expect myself to be text-book perfect—even though that’s completely unreasonable.  But I said what I did, so no toys no matter how much they apologized or whined for them.  Especially if they whined.  That really drives me nuts.

My head swam for the rest of the day.  I felt deflated.  I felt like a failure.  Why were my kids acting like this? Questioning why I couldn’t have just kept my cool and talked it out with the simultaneous compulsion to make kindness, gratitude and respect a big deal issue, I wondered if I did the right thing taking away everything while also contemplating if I should ever give the stuff back.

By the time one of my closest friends came by to drop by a CD of photos from my son’s birthday party, a very happy day indeed, I had moved from anger to sadness.  We talked it out and the cloud was lifting.  I read 2 articles that were circulating about having bad parenting days— and reminded myself that I’m not alone in grappling with all this stuff. My friend told me to take it as a sign that I was a good Mom, that these feelings were normal and it was time to let it go. I made a conscious decision to take a breath and shrug off the morning.  It was the middle of the afternoon, after all.

By the time dinner time rolled around, I was fine.  The nighttime ritual went well and everyone went to sleep on time.  I was in bed by 10:30.  I wanted to keep this day as short as possible.

Upon waking up when my son called for me at 6:45, I made a decision that today was going to be better.  And it was.  I even gave a few of the kids’ toys back because they were behaving quite well.  Not perfect—but that’s never required.

So when they started arguing about the “Build a car” toy that came with its very own drill, screws and bolts, I was ready.  We had a plan for positive turn-taking and sharing.  And when my daughter took one of the screws my son had just reverse drilled and he swatted her again, I took a breath and remained calm.  The car was removed temporarily and my son had a time out. He walked back in the room and I helped him say what he needed to say to be both assertive and respectful.

“When it’s my turn…” I prompted.

“When it’s my tuwn, pease don’t touch it, Tawwie,” he said assertively.

“And when it’s your turn…”

“And when it’s your tuwn, I won’t touch.”

“And I’m sorry…”

“And I’m sowwy for hitting you.”

After my daughter apologized for taking the screw in the first place and all was well again, they worked together quite nicely, taking turns and sharing. I told them how proud I was of them. Three screws drilled in, three screws drilled out.  Switch. So the morning had started off on the right foot despite the minor sibling rivalry and the day before was becoming a distant memory.

I later took my son to his 3 year old doctor’s appointment and then over to meet his counselor at the little camp he’ll be going to over the summer.  We met my husband for lunch at a little place in the next town.

While at the restaurant, we played “I spy” and drew in a coloring book.  But my son started to get impatient and yelled. I immediately took him outside and explained; “Going to a restaurant is a privilege.  We must be kind and thoughtful of other people.  We can not yell—we must speak in a soft, inside voice.  Do you understand?”  We went back inside and all was well until a second yell.  The kindness message was repeated with the added remark that if he couldn’t keep himself from yelling, we weren’t going to be able to stay.  If he wanted to stay, he needed to follow the rules and speak in an inside voice. He agreed.  No further incident happened.

Just before leaving, a lady of about 75 came to the table and leaned over to me.

“I’m really impressed by how you handled the situation with your son today.  You are a wonderful parent.  I can tell you that I’m proud of my 3 children and I have 8 grandchildren.  Many parents don’t do what you do.  You’re doing an excellent job.”

I nearly cried.  Tears did in fact come to my eyes.  “I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear that today.  I truly appreciate your kind words.”

 “We all need encouragement” she continued.  And you can be proud of the job you are doing.”

Wow.  So let me leave you with what I learned from this whole situation—which really is the most important part of all this, isn’t it?

  1. We are all going to have bad parenting days.  But there is always tomorrow.
  2. Clear the “cache” at night.  Don’t take the rain from yesterday into the possibility of a sunny day today.
  3. Make a conscious decision to have a good day, even when you are tired and don’t think you have it in you.
  4. Talk to a good friend.  Good friends totally rock in these circumstances— they can help you put things into perspective and move forward.
  5. Remember it’s a bad parenting day.  You are not a bad parent.
  6. Don’t expect perfection.  You are human, after all.
  7. Go to bed early.  Sleep helps.
  8. When your kids do something wrong, take a breath. Then speak.
  9. Praise your children when they get it right.  They need to hear that.
  10. Tell parents when they are doing a great job.  They probably need to hear that too.  I know I did.

So let me say it now. You, too, are doing a great job.  You may not always get it right.  You may lose your sauce some days and think you are the worst parent ever.  You’re not.  And even if things aren’t going well right now, remember, there is always another moment…another day…another chance to make it better.  What I’m saying is; even a great parent can have a bad parenting day.  Onward, fine parents!

 

 

 

Parents; How to Talk to Your Children about The Oklahoma Tornado

“Hi Robyn; We’re fine. It missed us by 2 street blocks.  We’re fine, our houses are fine. So sorry we weren’t able to call or text during the storm.  We love you guys.”

In the recent past, I’ve written articles about how to talk to children about horrifying events such as the SandyHook, Connecticut shooting and The Boston Marathon bombing.  In both articles, while incredibly concerned, I was not touched personally by the tragedies.  I had lived in Boston for many years (I received my PhD from Tufts University near Boston) and made many friends there—but nobody I knew had attended the marathon and all were perfectly safe during the tragedy.

Yesterday, a massive tornado hit Moore, OK.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw the name in the news.  Moore?  I have a deep personal tie to Moore.  Both my children were born there.  Both of their adoptions took place in Moore.  And most significantly, the birth family of both my children still live in Moore.  Their birth mother, their birth father and their birth grandmother.

Many of you who are constant, devoted readers of my parenting site know that we have an open adoption plan with my children’s birth family.  This is not just on paper.  We are extremely close with the birth family—so much so that none of us regard each other as “birth family” and “adoptive family” (I only use those names here to avoid confusion)—we just call each other family.

I am so happy to report that our family members in Moore are all safe.  The message on the top of this article was left by our children’s birth grandmother.  We have been in contact over the last 2 days and while our whole family had quite a scare, they got out of the storm unscathed.  The tornado passed 2 miles away from my kids’ birth father’s house and a ¼ mile from his girlfriend’s place of work.  He was holed up in a bank vault for safety while my kids’ birth mother took refuge in a Walmart with a hundred other people.  The kids’ birth grandmother literally drove herself away from the oncoming storm.  The whole thing is beyond scary.

The experience has given me a more nuanced perspective of how to talk to children about frightening events such as this tornado in Oklahoma.  Since my children (especially my 4 year old) know about the storm and how it affected our family, it is from this perspective that I write my tips today.

(1) Ensure your children know that this tornado is not a threat to their safety: “Is the tornado coming here” my daughter wondered?  Sometimes just saying; “no, it’s all done” is enough.  Other times, for the very curious child, this may be a good  for a little weather lesson.  You can say; “Just like a speed bump in the road slows down cars, most people believe that something gets in the way of tornadoes making them slow down until they are no longer tornadoes anymore.  That’s what happened to this tornado! So no, it’s all done.  The tornado is not coming here.”

(2) Listen to their fears:  Parents often want to “fix the fear” or diminish the importance of it as soon as possible.  Take a moment to listen instead.  It is valid that your children may be scared.  Ask questions like “What is scaring you?” and  “What might make you feel better?”  Reflect their concerns by saying: “Yes; it’s scary to hear that the tornado hurt some people” or “I get the feeling that you are worried about tornadoes coming to our town.”  Steer clear of saying; “Don’t be scared” or “Stop worrying so much” as it invalidates their emotions—which are quite real.

(3) Turn off the news: Make sure the information your children are learning is from you rather than from the TV.  The news can be very graphic and not at all age-appropriate.  While you may want to keep posted on what’s going on, do it privately rather than in front of your children.

(4) Let them know about the positive stories: This morning I heard about a teacher who kept her students safe in the school while the tornado came through town. Tell your children about that. There have been reports that, through his family foundation, Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant pledged $1 million to the American Red Cross disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma. Tell your children about that.  This morning it was reported that the OK Highway Patrol confirms that 101 people were found alive in Moore overnight. Tell your children about that.  In this tragedy, there was good news—and children need to know about these stories. There are a lot of helpers and we are so grateful.

(5) Encourage them to do something to help: My daughter is only four and my son is just shy of three—but that doesn’t mean they can’t do anything to help.  They can write letters, draw pictures and may even be able to help donate items needed.  But perhaps their voices of love may be the kindest thing to provide.  We had our daughter call her birth mother, her birth father and her birth grandmother and leave a message on their phones (getting through is still tricky).  She was able to say; “Hi, I love you and I’m so glad you’re safe.”  The act of “doing” can be very reassuring for a young person.  Actually, it can be very reassuring for all of us!

During all of this—stay calm.  Our children absorb the emotion we release.  That doesn’t mean we need to be stoic or happy—it just means that we should leave the heavy burden of our feelings to our peers and our adult loved ones.  You can say; “I’m sad for all the people in Oklahoma who are having a tough time right now because of the tornado.  I wish it didn’t happen.”

Because really; don’t we all feel that way?

 

 

 

Mom & Dad; Are we safe? Talking to your children about scary things presented in the news

martin_bostonmarathonAs we now all know, yesterday’s tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon resulted in at least 176 people injured.  Nine of them are children—at least 8 of whom are being treated in hospitals.  One child, 8-year-old Martin Richard, was killed during the Boston Marathon explosion while enjoying ice cream with his family. His 6 year old sister lost her leg and their mother underwent brain surgery due to her critical injuries.

There are many other stories of families affected and many of us have been touched either directly or indirectly by this senseless act.  One of my good friends just reported that her son’s friend may lose his hearing because pellets were sprayed from the bomb and got lodged in his head. He was there to cheer his dad on who was running the marathon. The juxtaposition of happy joyous cheering, eating ice cream and enjoying a special outing with the family with the horror of a senseless bombing is hard to fathom.  It’s even harder to explain.

As we talked about during the Newtown Connecticut shootings and other stories of senseless child murder, these are unimaginable acts that are likely to bring about questions.  Some are easy to answer.  Others feel nearly impossible.  Still, we can’t put our heads in the sand, as we want our children to hear the truth in an age-appropriate way from someone who knows them best—and that likely means you. Remember, if you aren’t talking about it and they want to hear an answer, they will go to another source.  It is our job to be the source.

So how do you talk to your children about ugly, scary things that are talked about in the media?  What can we do?

(1) Media exposure should be limited:  Information is best coming from a trusted source who is sensitive to the way your child can best receive it—at a time when is best for your child. You can limit details based on age and maturity—and seeing gruesome photos and frightening video is inappropriate for most children. Information on the news is aimed at adults—not at children.

(2) Let them know that responsible adults are working to keep us safe and healthy: When situations seem unsure, children need to know that the grown-ups are helping those in need.  Authorities are working to keep people safe. Medical staff, like doctors and nurses, are helping those who have been hurt.  And be sure to let them know that this incident is rare and in no way means that it will happen again in the same or a different location.

(3) Stay calm and keep your emotions on an even keel: It is normal and natural to feel frustrated, sad and angry when senseless acts occur.  As a parent, teacher or child mentor, being “there” for young people sometimes means keeping our emotions in check so that we don’t overwhelm or alarm our children.  While you certainly don’t need to be stoic or aloof—and you can talk about feeling sad when things like this happen—the full gravity of your feelings should be reserved for other trusted adults in your life.

(4) Expect questions to come over time: Children aren’t always ready to talk when you are.  That means that it’s normal for children to have questions about sensitive topics over time.  It may go on for weeks—a question here and a question there—never lasting more than a minute or two.  Other times you may have a few longer conversations. Children process tough topics in different ways.  It’s OK if you don’t know the answer—sometimes it’s more important to simply listen.  Other times, you may need to tell them you can find out the answer for them at a later time.  You are a source of comfort and information—but you don’t need to be Wikipedia.

(5) Remain open to talking about fears and concerns:  Don’t be surprised if fears and concerns seem illogical, disconnected and come at unusual times.  You might be driving your child to an after-school program on a beautiful sunny day when your child pops a question about something horrific that happened days or even weeks before.  Your child may develop a temporary fear of the dark, loud noises, people in uniform or otherwise while trying to regain their footing.  Ask them; “is there something I can do to help you feel safer or more secure?” or “Would you like advice or would you prefer that I just listen?” Be patient and open to talking, reassuring and even just “there” during these tough times.

(6) Know that unusual behavior or feelings may arise: Sometimes frightening and unexpected news can make children act in different ways.  Some may become clingy or hyper while others may become withdrawn and quiet. Some may sleep more while others may sleep less. Still others may eat more while others may report that they aren’t hungry. Ask them if it would be helpful for them to talk out their feelings. Assure your child that their feelings are OK and give them space to feel anyway that they do—validating their emotions as normal and natural.

(7) Don’t stop living: Sometimes you may want to just construct a bubble for your family to live in just to keep potential dangers out.  I get that.  I’m a parent too.  But living in fear is no way to live.  Instead, enjoy everyday.  Love deeper.  Hug longer.  Tell your children how grateful you are for their safety, their health and their presence in your life.  Teach your children to do the same.

And don’t forget to tell your children about the good in the world.  There aregood people. Very good people.  As Mr. Rogers’ said; “look for the helpers.” People who look out for others.  People who put themselves out in order to take others in.

Instead of blocking out the world, let us teach our children to become the kind of people that make this world a better place.  Children thrive when they feel that they can contribute to their family, their community, their country and beyond.  Encourage them to do that.  By doing so, you will teach them that there is a lot more good in this world than there is evil.  And, yes, they are a big part of that good.

In other words, they don’t just need to look for the helpers, they can become them.

 

 

 

Boy Toys, Girl Toys and What Kids Learn When We Allow Them To Choose

vet_hospitalsmAs a parent, I often wonder about how the toys and role models in my children’s lives translate to behavior.  I tend to be the kind of mother who encourages a wide range of toys, games and books.  I am less about banning (unless it is truly counter to our family’s core character-based values) and more about providing a continuum of options so that my children gain experience, choice and understanding.

That means that we have everything from princess dress up and dolls to blocks, science kits, dump trucks and dinosaurs.  And both of my children play with whatever they choose to that day.  Yes, my son has put on a tutu while bouncing and laughing in our basement bounce house and my daughter has crashed Batman and Wonder Woman action figures into a tower of blocks, saving the “little people” trapped inside from disaster.  I’ve played race cars with my son while crawling around on the kitchen floor and my husband has played dolls with my daughter while cuddling in the den. To me, it’s all good.

But I sometimes see that a range is not provided or accepted in households around America and elsewhere.  Boys play with “boy things” and girls play with “girl things” exclusively.  What do our children miss out on when toys, books and games are selected for them rather than allowing them to gravitate naturally to what interests and intrigues them?  What do they gain when they are the masters of the toys, games and books they see?

While it may not be obvious, my feeling is, quite a bit.  When our children are masters of their own toy rooms, they learn what they love.  They gain a more complex understanding about history, empathy, technology, language, engineering, art and science.  They learn that their personal passions are valid and imagination or play of many kinds are fun.

I asked my 2 ½ year old son what he liked about wearing a tutu in the bounce house a few weeks back and he told me; “It’s funnyyyy! And I yike how it goes up and down when I jump!” Yes, yes, that makes sense.  He likes the science of it—a piece of clothing that catches air when you jump is cool! Isn’t that…awesome?!  And here some might be stressing out about what wearing a tutu in a bounce house can do to a boy’s “future masculinity” but truthfully, he couldn’t care less.  He’s having a blast! Can’t we just let children play?

Skip to the cars as I asked the same question; “What do you like about racing cars in the kitchen?” My son answered; “they go weally, weally fast and woooooh they cwash!” Yup. Physics. Mechanics. Cause and effect.  Good for every gender!

spidermansm-200x300My daughter has been known to “acquire” my son’s Batman figure as well as his Spiderman book.  She asked for a Superhero book of her own for her most recent birthday that features Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman all together.  She’s even going as Wonder Woman to a Superhero/Princess birthday party this weekend.  When I asked Tallie what she likes about Wonder Woman, she told me; “She’s cool! She fights cwime!” Justice. Power. Self reliance.  Good for every gender!

And the lessons generalize to other areas of life. I saw something pretty remarkable the other day at the playground.  As Tallie was climbing up a steep slide, she struggled to reach the top.  Her brother, already at the top put out his hand and exclaimed; “Tawwie! I’wl save you!”  I saw her stop for a moment and look at her brother. Then she just kept climbing as she called back; “I don’t need saving! I can do it myself!”  These words are rooted in countless conversations we’ve had while playing both princesses and Superheroes.  Don’t wait to be saved; save yourself.

superheroessmThis morning, Wonder Woman single-handedly stopped an oncoming train from crashing into the building of blocks that we all built together– and Batman rescued the people off the train. Unfortunately, there was a casualty.  The Wonder Woman action figure was decapitated.  Who makes a Superhero with such a flimsy neck? She’s an Amazon Princess Warrior for cripes sake– not a runway model! Ah, well, off to the store to invest in a Wonder Woman toy that can hold her ground…and keep up with my kids!

 

 

 

Pregnancy By Proxy: The Out Of Body Experience of Open Adoption

In honor of our daughter’s 4th birthday, I am republishing some of my adoption articles. This is the third article in the series. Happy Birthday to our sweet baby girl.

wey_77b_mommykiss-225x300Believe me.  This was not what I had envisioned when I thought about pregnancy for myself.  I was more of a traditional gal—thinking that the whole baby- boarding process would actually be taking place in my own body. You know—baby bump, bloated feet, morning sickness–the whole enchilada. I certainly hadn’t considered the possibility of pregnancy being an out-of-body experience.

But when we decided on adoption, and ultimately, open adoption, that’s what it became. I can say now that I couldn’t be more grateful.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. But at the start, I thought I might just throw up my lunch.

Look; the 1st trimester is never a sure thing. It’s unpredictable, tenuous, and scary.  I should know; I had lost 4 pregnancies during those 1st 12 weeks.  And yet, here I was willingly and excitedly matched with a birth mother whose baby—no, fetus—was only the size of a pin head and looked more like a baby seahorse than anything human.

What was I doing to myself?  How would I survive the next 35 weeks just watching and hearing updates from the sidelines? The last time I checked, pregnancy was notsupposed to be a spectator sport. I often wondered how I would get through it all considering I was no longer in charge.

I tried to remain “stress-free.”  I did yoga. Took hot showers.  Went to bed early.  But my mind stayed up like a hyped-up teenager on a case of RedBull. Is she eating right? Drinking? Smoking? Resting? I hope nobody is stressing her out at work.  I’ll kill ‘em.

OK. So maybe “stress-free” wasn’t going to happen. I’d settle for not going nuts.

The one saving grace was that our birth parents, C and M (not providing full names because I want to be sensitive to their privacy), were totally relaxed and completely willing to share the process with us.  In fact, C would give me the play by play.  And what could have been unpleasant and anxiety-provoking, became, well, fun!

“You’re baby has elbows!” she wrote to me in an email. I loved that she said “your baby” – It reassured me that this was actually happening. This baby would become my child.

And I loved that she kept track of what was happening inside her body.  I savored every nugget of information—no matter how small—because it somehow connected me to this life that was soon to intertwine with mine.  C even sent me a phone video showing a remote control dancing along her belly just so I could experience what it was like to see my baby kick. She didn’t have to do it. But she did.

C invited me to become her partner in this process.  We came to care about each other.  We checked in with one another.  How was she feeling?  How was I? What were our thoughts, concerns, hopes and dreams for this child? What questions did we have for the doctor? Amazingly, and with great sensitivity, she allowed the pregnancy to become “ours” rather than just “hers.”

Of course that meant that we got all the stressful news as well.  Yippee.  There was the bleeding episode in the 10th week when we all put our feet up in sympathy and prayed for a summertime miracle. And then there was “the flu that stole Christmas” when M called us from the hospital to tell us that C had thrown up 17 times and she was now on an IV drip. Happy Holidays.

But the good always outweighed the scary.  And while my body wasn’t growing and changing, C allowed us to experience the pregnancy through her.  She invited us into her private world.

So we were there—flanked at C’s head and feet— when Tallie made her first on-screen 3D cameo.  It was week 18 and the four of us found out that we were having a little girl.  I couldn’t help it.  I kissed C right on the head. And when we couldn’t be there, since we were in Massachusetts and they were in Oklahoma, C played a CD of our voices to her belly every night and morning. “She loves when you sing to her,” she would write.  “You’re going to be the best Mom.” My heart was full. She had no idea how much that meant to me.

She even let me feed her. Does that sound strange? I don’t mean that I carted C around on a satin chaise and fed her grapes.  No.  She allowed me to send her big vats of food.  Being raised by a Jewish woman, I guess you can say I am programmed to make feasts.  It’s in our blood.  So C indulged me when I sent containers of turkey chili, roast turkey dinners and of course, chicken soup, to her home.

Being a girl who didn’t cook and who lost her mother at the tender age of 13, C didn’t know much about home-cooked meals.  So she gobbled up what I sent her, replete with yummy noises to boot, and thanked me profusely.  She told me how grateful she was. But she was the true hero.  By allowing me to nourish her she was also allowing me to nourish my future child as well. Not everyone would get that. But she did.

And when it came time to discuss the birth plan, it was decided unanimously that we would all be in the room.  She insisted on it.  And Jason was to cut the cord.  “He’s the Daddy, after all,” she said. “Besides, M would faint like a little girl if he had to do it.”

So on the day of our daughter’s birth, we all stood united in the delivery room.  And at 10:19am, we all cheered and teared up when Tallie took her first breath.

I was the first to hold this beautiful baby girl—a momentous occasion indeed.  But perhaps one of the most memorable moments came after all the doctors were gone. It was the moment that we got to introduce our baby girl to her birth mother—the one who had cared for her over the past 9 months—the one who had loved her enough to place her in our arms—and the one who made this out-of-body pregnancy one of the most precious experiences of our lives. One might think this moment would be scary. It wasn’t.  It was…beautiful. It was the moment that we became a family.  All 5 of us.

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a Child & Teen Development Specialist, Professional Speaker and parenting expert often seen in national press such as on The Today Show, Good Morning America & Anderson Live.  Her adoption series won a silver award from Parenting Publications of America. She is so grateful to have been able to build her family through the amazing process of open adoption.

The Infertility Club: Shifting My Goal from Pregnancy to Adoption

In honor of my daughter’s 4th birthday, I’m republishing my adoption series.

robyn_tallie-292x300As you can probably imagine, I felt like the shoemaker’s daughter. I didn’t just work with children and families, I provided parenting tips and tactics to moms and dads around the world…all the while housing a secret that taunted and tortured me every day. I couldn’t get pregnant. Well, that’s not exactly true. I was pretty good at getting pregnant. I just couldn’t seem to stay that way.

After repeatedly bashing myself and feeling every emotion from maudlin inadequacy to stark raving anger, I decided to donate my body to science. Yes, I became a card carrying member of the ever-popular but rarely discussed “infertility club” which allows millions of women to play the role of “the willing pin cushion” in the quest to become a parent. Not that I wasn’t grateful for the possibility—it’s just challenging to keep up your enthusiasm when your hormones are fluctuating between those of a moody adolescent to those of an over-heated menopausal woman. And this was normal. Or so they said.

When you join the “infertility club” you start out thinking that there are certain thingsyou’ll have to do and certain things you’ll never do in order to get pregnant. Well, at least I did. I found myself making concessions and deals–“I’ll take the pills but I won’t do the injections” – “I’ll do the injections but I won’t do IVF.” But years get long and time gets short and well, desperation sets in. “I’ll never do injections” turns into “just make it quick” as you hand your husband a 2-inch needle, turn around and close your eyes. You’ll do anything. You don’t know if it’ll work but you’re willing to try. You have to have a baby. NOW.

Each time you think “could this be it?” And sometimes it works. And it’s a miracle. It’s exactly as it was intended to be. But other times, as in our case, it wasn’t that simple. The drugs did their job but my body played hooky. Each of my four pregnancies ended in miscarriage.

As a woman, this was unacceptable. I had the will. I had the heart. I had the parts! After years of trying not to get pregnant, this was supposed to be MY time. I was ready…and waiting.

Of course they told me that it wasn’t my fault— but you can’t help blaming yourself. I went over every place I had been, every food I ate, and everything I did over the previous weeks. Was it the sushi I ate before I knew? The 5 pound bag of potatoes I lifted at the market? The plane ride I took to my cousin’s wedding? Your head tells you “no” but your heart demands an explanation.

And with the blame game came the ridiculous claims and promises—”Next time, I’ll keep my feet up in the air. I’ll stay on my back. I’ll barely move until it’s time to push.”

I felt so alone. Pregnant women were everywhere. And babies. In the park. In the library. At the market. What angered me the most was seeing parents yell at their children—or worse yet, ignore them. I wanted to throttle them and say, “Don’t you see what you have here! You should be grateful every single day!” But I kept my mouth shut and merely grumbled under my breath. I promised myself that when I did have a child, I would cherish every moment. I would make myself remember that there are women out there willing to trade places–even on the most challenging days—just to have a turn to be called “mommy.”

I often found myself in tears but nevertheless, I carried on. I tried new things. I learned more about my body than I ever wanted to know. Temperature. Timing. Patterns.

Roadblocks came up frequently. In our case, after the doctors put me out and retrieved a total of 38 eggs during two different IVF procedures, they explained to me that something was wrong with my eggs. My husband and I tried to keep things light. We had countless jokes. Eggs Behaving Badly! Eggs Gone Wild! How would you like your eggs? Scrambled!

So we turned to the women whose eggs were pristine and in demand. Egg donors. Never heard of it? It’s very hush hush. Most people don’t talk about it. I actually felt a little naughty while interviewing them since the whole thing felt so “underground.”

Truthfully, it was kind of like online dating. What do you look like? What are your hobbies? Could I implant some of your DNA in my body so I can have a baby?

I thought, could this be our solution? Could this be the ticket to Babyville? But we kept getting tripped up. This one had already donated up to her limit. That one couldn’t get off work. This other one didn’t respond to the drugs. But we had to try again. We had to get in sync. We had to take more drugs. We needed another week, another month, another round.

Every couple has their breaking point- -when they say, “enough is enough” and they put down their needles. They throw away their pills and they take a much needed, life-altering, deep breath.

Our breath of fresh air came on April 12, 2008. It was the day our final donor told us she wasn’t going to be able to make it. It was the day we decided to stop researching new ways to get pregnant and start looking for ways to have a family. It was the day we decided to adopt.

I didn’t know exactly how it was all going to play out but I did know one thing that day. We were going to have a family. Finally, I knew for sure. And it was one of the best days of my life.

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a child and teen development specialist, professional speakerand parenting expert often seen in national press such as on The Today Show, Anderson Live, Good Morning America and various print media.  She won a Silver Award for this Adoption Series from Parenting Publications of America. Dr. Robyn is proud to have built her family through the amazing process of Open Adoption. The first of this adoption series is posted here.