Is Your Child Strong?

Encouraging and Developing Strengths in Our Children

Is your child strong? I don’t mean lifting weights, crushing cinder-blocks strong. Strength, when it is defined in terms of muscular power, doesn’t really reflect all that it represents. Jenifer Fox, in her book Your Child’s Strengths Discover Them, Develop Them, Use Them, says that “children’s innate strengths are like live wires connecting their unique inner qualities to their promise as adults.”

How Can My Child Be Strong?

Fox writes of the seemingly endless possibilities of strengths for which children possess the potential to harness, but that they unfortunately often create what she refers to as an unintentional world of limits. If we as parents want to help our kids get rid of those limits, we have to first come to understand all of the different types of strengths our kids might carry – and according to Fox – there are three types of strengths our kids can develop.

The Three Types of Strengths

Activity Strengths – Your child is good at this and enjoys doing this activity. These two criteria both need to exist (our kids might be good at making their beds, but it doesn’t mean they enjoy it). When I consider my own children, I can see how they each have their own activity strengths, such as creating with LEGOs, playing sports, drawing, and engineering small models.

Learning Strengths – These types of strengths fascinate me – which is probably one of the reasons why I love learning with my kids so much. They all have their own unique learning strengths, which means they all have the propensity to learn through different forms of intelligence (verbal, logical/mathematical, visual, kinesthetic, rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist).

Relationship Strengths – These strengths relate to our closest family and friends, as well as the people we spend just minutes with in the grocery store or at the bank. When your child develops relationships strengths, she learns how to do things for others that in turn makes her feel good about the relationship. Characteristics of loyalty, consideration, honesty, dependability, thankfulness, graciousness, and empathy are just some of the examples that build relationship strengths.

How Can I Help My Child Build Strengths?

We want our kids to be strong enough to rule the world, yet self-assured enough to know if they even want that job. When it comes to helping our children develop and build their strengths, we have to first help them assess where they are – without artificial inflations.

Ask lots of questions. If we want our children to develop their strengths, they have to learn to find them on their own, because true strengths are things our children love and we can’t force those. Ask your kids what they like – colors, books, games, and after school activities. Not only will the answers to their questions help you learn more about your kids, but when your children are asked these questions it gives them reason to reflect on their own preferences.

Listen to your children. When your kids answer your questions, listen for their passions, but also be in tune to what frustrates them or leaves them feeling less than grand. Sometimes there is more power in understanding what doesn’t make us tick than there is in focusing on all of the good. Their answers to questions and their opinions about things might help you better understand their learning styles as well, which is important to understanding their learning strengths.

Give them a minute to pause. Sometimes one of the things our kids are missing most is time to reflect. They are hurried from one activity to the next, and they don’t always have time to truly consider how they feel about or value a certain activity or situation. Make sure you routinely schedule in time for your kids to pause throughout the day – even teaching them how to meditate, pray, do yoga, deep breathing exercises, or any other quiet activity that will help them calm themselves and let them think and feel for themselves.  

Pay attention. I learn so much from watching my children each day, and parents can sometimes easily see things before our kids are mature enough to understand their significances. Long before my son was old enough to consciously understand it himself, I could see that he was a kinesthetic learner – which is one of his biggest strengths. Instead of it inhibiting his progress, he has found ways to build on his natural inclinations. He has also had to learn through trial and error when moving and learning just aren’t always possible. Watch those clues your kids give you – they will help both of you build natural strengths.

Developing Strengths in Children

My sons love to exercise with their dad – testosterone laden grunts and groans emerge from the basement as they bench press, do pull-ups, and a myriad of other exercises to build muscles – and this is wonderful for strengthening their bodies and their father-son bonds. Building other strengths in our children is just as important, but not as easily done.

  • Remember that just because your child is good at it doesn’t make it a strength.
  • Check out some of Fox’s exercises for building strengths – her book includes chapters at the back for parents and teachers to use with kids.
  • Focus on strengths, because often in strengths we find ways to overcome weaknesses.
  • Reiterate the qualities of relationship strengths by modeling good relationships and teaching empathy – and don’t forget to incorporate volunteering in some way.
  • Never punish for shortcomings – it lowers self-esteem and motivation and increases anxiety.
  • Help create situations where your kids can build on their strengths (and remember that they need to be their strengths). As the mom to 3 sons I am always amazed at how varied their strengths are, and I have to keep conscious of ways to provide opportunities for all of them to build on these. In their strengths kids will find their passions, and when they are passionate they will be healthier, stronger, and more fulfilled.

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Fun Backyard Activities with the Kids

Fun Backyard Activities with the Kids

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The weather is amazing, the yard work is calling, and you just want to get outside and mow the grass, trim the trees, or just enjoy your patio as you grill dinner. The hard part might be getting your kids excited about spending time in the yard with you – it’s not like it’s the mall or anything – but it can be a pretty amazing place to be. If you don’t have a yard, you can still create some of these crafts and give them as Mother’s Day Gifts to your favorite moms. Here are three of my favorite activities I love to do with my kids outside, and they seem to enjoy them as well!

Make Homemade Stepping Stones

Every time I walk through my garden I am reminded of the beautiful day my kids made stepping stones with me. Each stone reflects their personalities and are perfect additions to my eclectic flower beds. I admit I can be a little sappy, and seeing their tiny fingerprints preserved in stepping stones still melts my heart.

  • Gather old pie tins, an old cake pan, and even an old plastic dishwashing bin (we had these things in the garage for using at the beach or in the sandbox – you can also find great and inexpensive molds at thrift stores and garage sales).
  • Assemble weather-proof craft supplies. We had plastic beads, fake jewels, and artificial colored stones.
  • Get a pack of disposable rubber gloves to keep hands clean of the mess.
  • Buy a bag of quick setting cement (there are tons from which to choose – and you can even get colored mixes).
  • Spray your pans and molds with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Mix your cement as directed.
  • Kids can create their designs two different ways. They can assemble a design with the craft materials on the inside bottom of their mold, and then carefully spoon their cement mixture over the top (this is more appropriate for older, more patient fingers), or you can fill the mold with the cement mixture and then have kids decorate the top layer of the wet cement.
  • Cement should be approximately 2 -4 inches thick (thicker if you plan to walk on them, thinner if they will be for decoration).
  • Kids can decorate with handprints as well – just make sure to use the rubber gloves.
  • Wait for the cement to harden according to package instructions, then delicately turn over your molds on the law or other relatively soft surface.
  • You can purchase sealant sprays to preserve the stones.

Build a Birdfeeder

These can be as simple or as elaborate as you want – and they work for all ages. We just spent an entire afternoon making birdfeeders and hanging birdhouses in our yard. It is a great way to have some fun conversations, too, and once they are up they can be great ways for your kids to observe nature (we had 19 Blue Jays at our feeder yesterday morning!).

Create an Obstacle Course

I won’t win an award for the most pristine lawn, but it is probably one of the more fun ones in the neighborhood. Last week I dropped the blade and made a few carefully planned passes – mowing our own track/soccer field/football field/rectangular box for tons of fun games! If you don’t want to have this fun (and temporary) imprint in your yard, you can get the same effect with landscape spray paint. Then set up an obstacle course through the field, and don’t forget to join in the fun!

  • Use buckets, boxes, and cones for obstacles.
  • Your kids can run, crawl, skip, or any combination their way through the course.
  • You can create the same effect with obstacle equipment and your kids’ bikes and scooters in the driveway.
  • Add in fun directions like you have to balance a cone on your head while you jump over the tire, or spin with your nose touching the baseball bat 10 times around before moving ahead.

I love gardens, grilling out with the family, and hanging out by a bonfire. None of these activities will earn landscaping awards, but they do help to create some pretty fun family memories.

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10 Ways to Keep Kids Busy

10 Ways to Keep Kids Busy

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Stand on top of an exercise ball, balance a fish bowl on your head, and hold one leg out while you play the piano with your toes. This is what it can feel like to be a work-at-home mom when the kids are running through the house. But there are ways to keep the kids busy, happy, and learning, while you still meet those deadlines and finish your tasks. Unless your children are infants and busy toddlers who need your almost constant supervision, your kids can learn to honor your work time and respect your responsibilities. And it doesn’t mean you have to ignore them in order to get all of this done.

Tips for Work-at-Home Parents

  1. Keep a Box of Emergency Supplies – There are times when a client might need something, a deadline gets pushed forward, or you are simply swamped with work. Pull out the emergency supplies that your kids only get to access during these busy times for you. Inside keep toys, activity books, and board games, but don’t forget to swap out supplies occasionally so it is always a surprise what they will find inside.
  2. Head to the Library – Most of my work I do from the computer, so I can take my laptop and head to the library with the kids. The change of scenery is good for all of us sometimes, and they have books, activities, and computers from which to choose to fill their time.
  3. Stock up on Crafts – Head to Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, or go online to the Oriental Trading Company and order some inexpensive craft supplies. They have great options for kids of all ages, boys included, and they need little other ingredients to make them work. For reluctant crafters, encourage the fun by having them plan and create a craft show after dinner where they get to display all of their handiwork from the day.
  4. Trade Time – Find another parent in your neighborhood or a friend from work or church with whom you can swap childcare time. Sometimes keeping the kids busy and happy means keeping them out of the house. If you have someone you can call, make sure you save it for those times when you really need it.
  5. Give the Kids a Camera – Digital cameras and video cameras are wonderful learning tools for kids and even preschoolers can operate them. Encourage your kids to make a documentary about their toys, their pets, their home, or neighborhood. Have them take still pictures of objects close up and develop a “What is this?” game. At the end of your work time make sure you go back through their film or their pictures with them and either help them edit or print their final results.
  6. Head Outside – If there is any way you can take your work outside while you monitor little ones, or you can send your older kids out into the yard, send them with some fun tools for outdoor activities.
    Metal detectors – if you don’t want them digging up the yard, bury some toys or trinkets that have metals in the sandbox.
    Sidewalk chalk – have them draw their own caricatures that welcome their dad home from a day of work, or have them trace their shadows at one hour intervals to see how they change over time.
    Kites – let them fly premade ones or experiment with building their own.
  7. Turn up the Music – Music can be very therapeutic for everyone in the home. Have your kids dance in the living room, make musical instruments and form their own band, or sing karaoke to their favorite songs.
  8. Make a Tent – This is great for younger ones and you can even barricade yourself in the living room with them while you work on the computer. Somehow a tent just makes the mundane magical. You can even just set up a card table and drape a sheet over it. Give them flashlights and have them fill their tent with their favorite games.
  9. Have them Make the Meal – Sometimes challenging kids with a responsibility, such as preparing lunch for everyone, helps to build their confidence, make them feel like they are contributing, and teaches them great life skills. Even if the meal turns out to be PBJ and applesauce with cookie sprinkles on top, it will give you the time off from the kitchen and help your little ones feel good about themselves.
  10. Let Them Help You Work – If you can’t beat ‘em, let ‘em join you! Keep a stack of junk mail handy for little ones and invest in a mailbox. Tell them you need their help sorting your mail, opening it, and finding the best pictures (they can then turn that into a collage). Older kids can actually sometimes help you complete your work, either by sorting paperwork for you or arranging files. I pay my kids token amounts when they help me with office duties – it is a fun way for them to earn money, helps me get my work done, and we get to spend time together.

Being a work-at-home parent is not filled with easy days of nightmare-free schedules. I have had to send the kids into one bedroom, given them a new game to play for 30 minutes, and told them to keep the dog quiet while I Skyped with a client overseas. Playing in their room quietly for 30 minutes does them no harm. I just have to make sure than when my overseas connection is complete that I spend that much time engaged with my kids in another activity. Even though it can be so challenging to get set to work and have to stop what I am doing because I hear, “Hey Mom, guess what!” and I know I need to answer, I also know that one day soon enough those voices won’t be calling me to check out their latest magic trick or see their new bike stunt. Keep your kids busy with fun and learning filled activities while you work-at-home, but don’t forget to live in the moment – they are the only ones we get with our kids.

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Help Reluctant Readers Love Books

Help Reluctant Readers Love Books

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Reluctant reader is a relatively new term that it being brought to the forefront of many educational conversations. According to Think Literacy,  reluctant readers are those who

  • Appear to be unmotivated to read
  • Lack self-esteem in their reading abilities
  • Report difficulties in reading because of outside interference (i.e. noise)
  • Are frustrated with difficulty levels of assigned reading
  • Become skilled at avoiding reading
  • Often do not simply choose to read – they must be highly motivated to read and interested in the content

If you see these characteristics, they are possible indicators that you or your student might be a reluctant reader. I’m usually pretty reticent to use labels – the term reluctant can apply to each and every subject in school. And reluctant doesn’t equate to low intelligence or lower capabilities – it is closely tied with personality and personal preferences. Reluctant speller, reluctant writer, reluctant track runner, and the list goes on for any activity practiced in schools. However, when we recognize that kids are reluctant in a certain area, we can do something about it.

Helping Reluctant Readers

If your child just does not seem to want to read, even though you are fairly certain he has the mechanical skills to do so (understands phonics, punctuation, and possesses a fundamental vocabulary), there are things you can do to help. I know from experience – three of my four children loved to read anything, anytime, anywhere. However, one of my dear children didn’t seem too particularly interested in books or motivated to read. Although he loved to be read to, reading on his own was something entirely different. At the library I used to have to place limits on the numbers of books his siblings could check out each time, but I would have to poke and prod him to just “choose two” to try at home. Almost all of the above characteristics fit him – and I had to acknowledge that he was reluctant to read. Then I had to do something about it.

  • Create a deeper and broader pool of reading materials. He and I sat down and selected two magazine subscriptions we both thought would be a good fit. He loved getting his own mail, and the magazines were less intimidating than books for some reason.
  • Check out books on CD from the library. As you are trying to encourage your child to develop a love of reading, keep books interesting and fun (and not challenging). All of my kids love to stay up later in the summer and listen to books on CD – and many libraries have wide selections for kids of all ages.
  • Try graphic novels. All three of my sons are taking a comic class that is focused on graphic novels and comic strips. Through this class my reluctant reader developed a love for good old fashioned Garfield comics. New research also supports the idea that graphic novels are sometimes more likely to entice reluctant readers than other book genres.
  • Visit author James Patterson’s site dedicated to encouraging kids to read. This famous author also has a son who was a reluctant reader, and the site is the culminating effort he and his wife put forth in order to help their son become an avid reader.
  • Find a reading program. Many libraries offer summer reading programs with incentives, but so do businesses like Barnes Noble and Pizza Hut.
  • Read to your child, whether he is a reluctant reader or not, whether he is in preschool or high school. Creating an environment in your home where reading is a positive interaction relieves the stress that reluctant readers can feel when faced with reading assignments.
  • If your child is struggling with reading in school, talk to his teacher to see if more options might be given for his reading choices as he builds his interests, and see if reading aloud is a mandatory activity in class. Research shows that unrehearsed reading – when the teacher calls on a student to read aloud in class – is one of the “most upsetting” activities for adolescents in their “entire school experience.”
  • Try e-readers. Research shows that boys who use e-readers report more positive reading experiences. However, girls who are reluctant readers experience a decrease – they actually tend to prefer tangible, page-turning books.
  • Set kids up for success. Think Literacy says that if there are 7 unknown words within the first 100 words of a book, the material is probably too advanced and will be more likely to cause frustration.
  • Visit Max Elliot Anderson’s site dedicated to reading for boys. It has some great titles and ideas for encouraging boys to become readers.
  • Don’t give up. Reading is a lifelong skill, hobby, and daily activity. It used to be that I was poking and prodding my reluctant reader to pick up a book. Now I am poking and prodding him to put it down for just two minutes so he will come eat dinner. A welcome change of pace in our home.

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Keep Your Kids Safe Online

What Should Parents Know about Chat Rooms  Pinterest?

I have a confession. I would not know ½ as much about or use technology to the extend I do if I didn’t have kids. And because I have children, I have to know twice as much about technology as I would otherwise. The kids are chatting, pinning, and tweeting, and I’m not talking about a lunchtime visit, sewing a quilt, or singing like a bird. Online social media chat rooms and applications such as Pinterest require that parents know the lingo, and more importantly, know how to keep kids safe when using these applications.

More than 45 million children ages 10-17 use technology, but only 52% of parents are moderately supervising online activities. I’m definitely in that 52 percentile, and I owe it to my kids for prompting ne to learn as much as possible about their activities online. I fortunately also have a job where clients require that I know how to operate among various technology platforms. This combination has given me some valuable insight into the technology our kids use.

Chat Rooms and Kids – The Sites I Won’t Let My Kids Use

They have Facebook accounts, YouTube channels, and Dogster profiles, but they will not have a growing list of accounts with other social media sites. Unfiltered and ill-moderated chat rooms are invitations to inappropriateness and even danger that my children just don’t need to access. Some of the scarier sites out there include:

  • Chatter.myYearbook – This site includes a newsfeed, much like Twitter. You can block profanity, but many of the posts and even photographs have sexual innuendos.
  • Foursquare – This site lists users by geographic locations, encouraging them to meet in person. It even sends location updates to let users know who is where, and when. That is not anything I want virtual strangers knowing about my kids.
  • ChatRoulette – This site is essentially a virtual roulette wheel where each segment is a stranger, often waiting in semi-clothing on the other end of a web-cam. Users don’t know who they will meet, but odds are your kids would have to meet a lot of frogs before meeting someone who really has decent intentions.

If you ever question sites that your kids are accessing, a wonderful tool for parents can be found at Common Sense Media, where all types of sites are rated and reviewed for parents just like me. When in doubt, block it out. With the millions of sites to choose from with your kids, there are plenty to go around for your teens.

Should My Child Use Pinterest?

Relatively new to the social media scene, Pinterest is an application available through either a Facebook or Twitter account. It is the online version of a good, old-fashioned bulletin board. Where maybe your old school push pin board held collections of Bon Jovi magazine clippings, your child’s virtual Pinterest pinboard can take whatever theme he chooses.

  • Users have to either be invited by a current Pinterest member or request approval directly from the sites in order to establish an account.
  • Original, non-copy written materials can be pinned to a board.
  • Users put their interests in categories or themes, like dogs, sports, sports cars, or anything else they choose.
  • There are helpful guidelines and QA items at the virtual support desk of Pinterest – take a few minutes to review them with your kids.

Pinterest is about the freedom of expression and gleaming inspiration from other users’ boards. My teens use Pinterest to collect favorite photos, expressions, and quotations, and find others with similar interests. My daughter uses it for inspiration for new hairstyles. The possibilities are endless. The use of Pinterest, however, does not come without the inherent risks to kids of social media.

  • As of April 2012, there are no complete blocking features on Pinterest.
  • Your child’s account can block her boards from appearing in Google or Yahoo searches (edit the profile settings).
  • People can comment on your child’s board.
  • While there is a rule prohibiting nudity, that rule does not apply to things considered artwork.
  • There is also a rule against hateful content, but doesn’t specify hard and fast guidelines for this.

So far so good on the Pinterest front with the boards my kids have created and seen. This doesn’t mean that we are in a safety zone, but more like a caution zone instead. As long as the kids keep keeping up with technology, and teaching me twice as much as I would have ever needed to know, the caution zone is a doable place to be. I’m the parent wearing the neon safety vest and carrying a whistle – just in case.

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Turbo-Charge Your Infant’s Brain Development With the Mommy Mind-Meld

by Marcy Axness, PhD

[Even though I refer to the “mommy” mind meld, these principles apply to whomever are the two or three connected, nurturing adults in an infant’s life — father, grandmother, consistent (not rotating) caregiver.]

Imitation is the young child’s primary form of learning, which is why one of my first bits of guidance to parents coming to me for counseling is to cut down by at least 50% the sheer number of words they say to their young child. Children learn from who we are and what we do far more than from what we say. And credible leaders don’t yammer on and on.

(Because example is indeed the most powerful mode of teaching and learning — not just for children but for humans in general – it is Principle #3 of the seven principles on which my book “Parenting for Peace” is based.)

But I digress. Let’s get to this exciting topic of…

The Mommy Mind Meld

One of the most powerful ways in which this parent-as-model process shapes your child’s optimal wellbeing is in the realm of actual brain development: the relatively new field of attachment neurobiology has revealed that our babies and children actually piggyback on the self-regulation capacities of the limbic systems in our own brain! When you hold a distressed infant in your arms, the soothing she experiences doesn’t just come from your secure embrace, but also from the actual regulation and modulation of her aroused nervous system that happens when her immature social-emotional brain actually links up with your more mature one!

While the researchers use such terms as “biological synchronicity”[1] and “limbic resonance,”[2] the sci-fi image of “mind-melding” captures it well. Writes one researcher, in evident awe, “It is a biologically based communication system that involves individual organisms directly with one another: the individuals in spontaneous communication constitute literally a biological unit.”[3]

But it gets even wilder than that, and has more far-reaching implications for your child’s lifelong wellbeing and success: over the days and months and years of such attuned, connected encounters, the circuitry of your baby’s social brain wires up to emulate yours! Attachment neurobiology pioneer Allan Schore puts it bluntly: “The mother is downloading emotion programs into the infant’s right brain. The child is using the output of the mother’s right hemisphere as a template for the imprinting, the hard wiring, of circuits in his own right hemisphere that will come to mediate his expanding affective capacities, an essential element of his emerging personality.”[4]

What that means in plain English is that engaged, attuned, playful interactions with us are a basic and essential form of nourishment for our babies. Bruce Perry points out that developing brains require human interaction as fervently as caloric nutrition for their healthy growth! (For more on this, read the Mommy Mind Melt excerpt from “Parenting for Peace”.)

What is NOT nourishing to the developing brain is “electronic engagement” — which is largely an oxymoron, as far as the social brain is concerned. I’m referring to Baby Einstein and other info-tainment, as well as data on the screens of iPhones, iPads, and lapware computers designed for babies. The Baby Einstein juggernaut bears commenting on, just in case you feel like the mom who said, “You want to make sure you’re doing everything you can for your child, and you know everyone else uses Baby Einstein, so you feel guilty if you don’t.” In case you missed it, in 2007 Baby Einstein, along with all other so-called educational screened programming, was found to be associated with delayed language development; television or video watching at this age, said an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson, “probably interferes with the crucial wiring being laid down in their brains during early development.”[5]

The take-away is, our children wire up to be us ourselves, from the very beginning; this foundation then serves as their launching pad, at the most basic level of brain structure, for surpassing us into higher realms of accomplishment, social intelligence, and joyous self-mastery.

The Power of Example (With a Miraculous Twist)

For this and many other reasons related to the potent teaching power of models, a fruitful question to ask yourself, ideally beginning even before you have a child, is “Am I worthy of my child’s unquestioning imitation?” Daunting, yes. But it’s best to realize early on that whether or not you can answer “Yes” to this question, what you see in the mirror is to a great extent what you will see in your child. And, most likely in your child as an adult.

But don’t despair: Nature seems to have built in a special mechanism that allows us to give our children a fighting chance to surpass us. If our children’s potential was constrained by the limitations of our own accomplishment, we’d be doomed! We’d have to wait until our sixties, seventies, eighties — or maybe never — before we’d feel prepared to be parents. Nature has brilliantly built into the system that our children most powerfully respond to our *inner life*; thus, it is the ideals, aspirations and earnest striving we engage in that greatly shapes them — our upward striving that helps Life, in theologian John Cobb’s words, to “exert its gentle pressure everywhere, encouraging each thing to become more than it is.”[6]

Indeed, as I look back into my own history as a new mother, I recognize it quite starkly: if this mommy mind meld deal were merely a copy-and-paste situation, my son and my daughter wouldn’t have had much hope. Motherhood brought me to my knees, and it was many years before I recognized that I had suffered from what I’ve come to call CCPD — Chronic Covert Postpartum Depression. I had grief and rage bubbling up all over. It was really hard for me to be present.

But I never stopped striving — for insight, for healing, for wholeness. And that changed everything, and I believe it is why my son and daughter have both flourished into their early adulthood.

So what does this miraculous striving look like day to day? Presence. Mindfulness. Renouncing multi-tasking in favor of uni-tasking. Being fully engaged with all of you in whatever you’re doing. UCLA psychiatrist and Buddhist meditator Jeffrey Schwartz discovered that mindfulness (the willful mastering of the flow of thoughts and feelings) could successfully treat serious OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and writes in his amazing book “The Mind and the Brain,” “…the exertion of willful effort generates a physical force that has the power to change how the brain works and even its physical structure. The result is neuroplasticity.”

This mental force that can change the brain, can certainly change the download of the mommy mind meld. What we hand down to our children as we parent is not simply a linear, one-for-one duplicate of ourselves, and that is where the stunning possibilities of parenting for peace lie: through refining our own consciousness we throw the door open on our children’s  potential. 

Where’s Your Head At?

All this fascinating neurobiology of attachment, including the Mommy Mind Meld, is why the “biggest bang” intervention you can make in your parenting skill set (i.e., one thing you can do that yields maximum benefit across multiple dimensions of your and your child’s wellbeing) is to begin cultivating your inner life, and mastery over the flow of your own thoughts. Meditation, yoga, mindfulness, contemplative prayer, journaling — these are all avenues by which to do this. 

Engaging in a practice of gratitude is also a big-bang parenting tool, beginning as early as possible. Why? The fields of positive psychology and psychoneuroimmunology (mind-body science) have revealed gratitude as one of the most surefire ways to amp up your physical and emotional wellbeing. And epigenetics (which refers to the potent influence we have on whether certain genes we carry are expressed or not) shows us that we have far more power over our own selves and our own destinies than we ever before imagined. And a good deal of that power comes through the influence of our attitudes, our feelings and our perceptions. Here’s a handy list of seven ways to rewire a negative mindset and move toward more gratitude at any time! 

Nature’s Own Head Start Program

The reflection of our own inner lives in our children doesn’t wait till the mommy mind meld in infancy to begin. Pregnancy is Nature’s Head Start Program, when a baby’s organs and tissues, including the lifelong foundations of basic brain infrastructure, develop in direct response to lessons they receive about the world — lessons that come from Mom’s diet, her behavior and her state of mind.

It is Nature’s job to create organisms as well-suited as possible to their environment, so the unceasing question asked by the baby in the womb — which is answered chemically and energetically via the mother’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors (and of course nutrition) — is, What kind of world am I coming into, Mommy, through your eyes? Chronic, unremitting stress teaches the baby via Mom’s biochemistry that it’s a dangerous world out there, and foundational brain circuitry wires up to thrive in a dangerous world. (So if you had undue stress during pregnancy, and your infant startles easily, seems hyperreactive, cries a lot — or the converse, seems “zoned out” — is hard to soothe and settle, this can help you understand why. This isn’t about blame or guilt, but about the empowerment that comes with understanding. It’s never too late to harness neuroplasticity!)

I’m not suggesting anyone become a blandly response-free Stepford Mom — either before or after birth. Normal, occasional stresses are part of life and part of normal development, but I’m inviting pregnant moms to orient themselves toward a posture of holding a protective, buffering space of appreciation — one of my clients used an image of a crystalline, pink bubble for her baby when she was having a stressful day — so that your baby can flourish as robustly as possible.

And always keep in mind that during pregnancy and beyond, you are your child’s living example: your child’s biological mandate is to shape himself — including the intricate circuitry of his brain — to match the promise of the world you portray.


by Marcy Axness, PhD, author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers



Images (in order):

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Lisa Pflaum Photography by permission

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Book cover, fair use 

[1] Schore, A. N. “Attachment and the Regulation of the Right Brain.” Attachment and Human Development 2, no. 1 (2000): 23-47.

[2] Lewis, Thomas et al. A General Theory of Love. New York: Random House, 2000.

[3] Buck, R. “The Neuropsychology of Communication: Spontaneous and Symbolic Aspects.” Journal of Pragmatics 22 (1994): 265-78, quoted in Schore, Allan N. “The Neurobiology of Attachment and Early Personality Organization.” Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health 16, no. 3 (2002): 249-63; italics added for emphasis.

[4] Schore, Allan N. “The Neurobiology of Attachment and Early Personality Organization.” Journal of Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health 16, no. 3 (2002), pg. 258.

[5] Christakis, Dominic A. “The Effects of Infant Media Usage:  What Do We Know and What Should We Learn?” Acta Paediactrica 98 (2009): 8-16. The researchers put so fine a point on the infant media debacle as to declare, “Parents hoping to raise baby Einsteins by using infant educational videos are actually creating baby Homer Simpsons.” My contempt knows no bounds for an enterprise that leverages parents’ insecurities and fears (Will my child have what it takes to succeed in this ever more complicated world?) into a frantic market for baby-improvement “infotainment” that flies in the face of everything science knows about what infants and young children need for healthy development. They even thumbed their nose at the American Pediatric Association’s guideline that children under two shouldn’t watch any television.

[6] Quoted in Cobb, J.J. Cybergrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. New York: Crown, 1998, pg. 56.


Thank you, Marcy, for sharing your ideas and your new book with us!

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Parenting for Peace with Marcy Axness

Parenting for Peace with Marcy Axness

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Join us for an author event that will get you thinking about parenting ideas in ways you never imagined!

Better Parenting is excited to announce that Marcy Axness, Mothering blogger and parenting expert, will be sharing her insights and ideas about her new book Parenting for Peace right here on April 23rd. Keep an eye on Better Parenting for her posts and our Facebook page to talk with Marcy on April 23rd!

What to Expect

Mommy Mind-Meld: Turbo-Charge Your Baby’s Brain Development

Early development specialist and Parenting for Peace author Marcy Axness, PhD, shares the latest scientific secrets for how you can easily chart a course of future success for your baby. She’ll reveal:

  • the amazing research proving you and your baby are a single biological unit when you interact — and how to use that knowledge to boost both your brains’ power!
  • toys and activities that build brain power (and ones that drain brains, too – like Baby Einstein and other screen-based entertainment)
  • what the heck epigenetics is and how it can work for you! Insights to use right now…
  • how pregnancy is “Nature’s Head Start Program”; knowing what lessons take place can help you start your baby off right… and understand if baby’s early weeks aren’t going so smoothly

An early development specialist and parent counselor, Marcy is also a popular international speaker on attachment, culture,and child and parent development. Featured in several documentary films as an expert in adoption, prenatal development, and Waldorf education, Marcy’s combination of life experience, cultural acumen, and scholarly credibility uniquely equip her to provide compelling and entertaining guidance through the thicket of choices parents today face in raising children.

Marcy wrote Parenting for Peace as both invitation and challenge: if we really want to change the world, let’s raise a generation “built for peace”… from the very beginning. Her book is a user-friendly scientific roadmap for how to do exactly that – detailing a unique seven-step, seven-principle matrix for hardwiring our babies and children with the brain circuitry for such essential peacemaker capacities as self-regulation, empathy, intelligence, trust and imagination, while in the process, bringing more joy into family life!

Marcy will be making other stops on her blog tour:

Eco Child’s Play
Elevating Child Care
Positive Parenting Skills
Creating a Family

Make sure to join us at Better Parenting and Marcy on April 23rd for more! 

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Don’t Hide the Veggies!

Don’t Hide the Veggies!

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We used to hide our cat’s medicine in any appealing food for her – cheese, hot dogs, or anything else she might wolf down and not notice there was wedged that little pink pill. Hiding the necessary evil isn’t the message I want for my kids, however, when it comes to eating healthy foods. So when dieticians and health fanatics promote disguising healthy foods as less nutritious foods, I get a little skeptical. Shouldn’t the message be to teach children how to make healthy food choices? Does hiding vegetables in pizzas and mac-n-cheese really do that? Instead of being sneaky, be smart about adding foods in ways that appeal to kids.

Developing Good Eating Habits

The earlier in your children’s lives you begin to play around and have fun with healthier versions of recipes the better the chances of them developing more balanced tastes for preferred foods. You can make healthy additions and substitutions without confusing your kids by telling them it “is just pizza” when it is really 3 servings of vegetables in disguise. Here are a few easy ways to encourage healthy eating habits.

  • Add color. Kids are often Green Veggie Detectives because things with bright green colors often have sharp tastes for young taste buds. Keep the green in your menu by sprinkling bland greens like parsley flakes (even dehydrated ones) and cooked or frozen spinach in basic recipes. That way when your Green Veggie Detective sees something green he won’t automatically think it must be bad.
  • Change gradually. If your typical meal consists of mac-n-cheese and hot dogs, you can’t dump those out the window and just serve steamed veggies without a fight. Gradually add things like finely chopped and cooked cauliflower to your pasta noodles. Switch over to whole wheat buns as well, and serve a side of fresh fruit.
  • Make natural combinations. There is just something wrong about prunes in cookies, but add healthy things like nuts, bananas, and raisins to breads, cereals, and yogurts, and even cakes and cookies.

The taste pallets of children are sensitive, so just remember to ease into the stronger flavors of some fruits and veggies. Get your kids in the kitchen to help whip up fun creations, and encourage the one bite try for new foods each time you serve them.

Easy Substitutions and Alternatives

Sometimes we need to think a little outside of the recipe box and add in healthy alternatives to our standard recipes. If you’re trying to teach some better eating habits, don’t expect your kids to love them overnight, and don’t try to change everything all at once.

  • For things like tacos and sloppy Joes, consider trading half of your ground beef for black beans. You can soften them and partially mash them in order to reduce their “bean-like” consistency.
  • Switch from ground beef to ground turkey.
  • Finely chop your veggies in a small handy-chopper and add to meatballs, tuna salad, and even in mac-n-cheese or on pizza.
  • Puree pumpkin, pears, apples, and squash for thickening agents for soups and moisture additives for breads and muffins.
  • Use whole grain pastas and breads. If you are a white noodle kind of family, gradually switch over by first introducing wheat noodles into foods with sauces that overpower the noodle taste.
  • Add cooked cauliflower to mashed or baked potatoes.
  • Substitute apple sauce instead of oil for baking things like cakes and muffins.
  • Use honey as a sweetener in smoothies or on toast instead of sugar loaded jelly.

Healthy Recipes for Kids

Super Smoothies

Kids love straws and things that resemble ice cream shakes. Use some of the basics of orange juice, bananas, and fat-free vanilla or plain yogurts and turn them into super smoothies. Easy additions like flaxseed and wheat germ can be added without affecting the taste. Throw in some fresh or frozen fruits for added punch, and try honey as a sweetener. Some of my kids dislike the seeds on some fruits like strawberries or raspberries, so I opt for blueberries and plums (you can even blanch the plums and remove the skins).

Crunchy Chips

Chips are a salty favorite for many kids, but there are some healthier ways to get that crunch. Make homemade potato chips with seasoned olive oil – garlic and parmesan adds a low sodium option. Thinly slice the potatoes and brush them with the olive oil, then spread in a single layer on a cookie or pizza tray and bake at 350 degrees until crispy. Place chips on a paper towel to absorb the extra oil and allow them to cool.

Try this easy and healthy veggie chip recipe from All Recipes that is the perfect way to use up some of that leftover zucchini and give your kids some extra nutrients.

Golden Chicken Nuggets

What kid doesn’t love a good old fashioned chicken nugget? Try this healthier version than the ones offered by most fast food options.

  • Take boneless, skinless chicken breasts and pound with a meat mallet until 1” or thinner, and cut into strips or nugget-sized pieces.
  • Finely crush 1 cup of whole wheat crackers and add to the crumbs 1/8 tsp. sea salt and ½ tsp. crushed black peppercorn. If your kids like a kick to their nuggets, add crushed red peppers instead.
  • Beat 1 egg and brush the egg mixture onto the chicken pieces.
  • Press the egg-coated chicken pieces into the cracker crumbs.
  • Place on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with canola or olive oil and bake at 350 degrees until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.
  • Provide dipping sauces like honey, barbeque sauce, or spicy mustard. Enjoy!

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No More Painful Immunizations?

No More Painful Immunizations?

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Reduce the Pain Your Baby Feels with Techniques Like the 5 S’s

Shots hurt. Your baby struggles, cries, and looks at you with such a look of betrayal it can be enough for some parents to feel even worse than their little ones. When babies receive their immunizations there is no rationalizing with them or convincing them of the health benefits in the face of the physical pain. However, new research supports the idea that physical interventions to reduce pain are effective and worthwhile.

The 5 S’s

According to researchers who tested the theory put forth by Dr. Harvey Karp, the 5 S’s method is successful at reducing the experience of pain for childhood immunizations. The results released in the journal Pediatrics demonstrate how an independent study took the idea from the book The Happiest Baby on the Block and put it into practice at 2- and 4-month baby visits where between the two visits children would receive approximately 7 shots.

The following 5 S’s are designed to mimic the comforting sensations your baby would have felt in the womb.

  1. Swaddle
  2. Side or stomach (place baby in your arms on her side or stomach)
  3. Sway (gentle rocking)
  4. Suck (use a pacifier to encourage sucking)
  5. Shush (make a gentle shushing sound in your baby’s ear)

Even though the researchers were initially skeptical about the 5 S’s method, their comprehensive study found that there is good reason to believe that pain can be reduced through gentle physical interventions. The children who received the comforts of the 5 S’s method from medical staff trained in the use of it were comforted more than any other group. Interestingly, the one item that could be left out with the least affect was #4 – sucking. Not all babies use pacifiers or are comforted by this sensation.

Other Ways to Reduce Pain

In other cultures and increasing numbers in America the use of childhood chiropractic interventions and infant massage are being used in similar fashions. Parents are turning to these non-medication approaches for everything from relieving pain and symptoms of ear infections to improving movement and behaviors.

  • Search for local classes on infant massage. I used these techniques to comfort my colicky son and the results were positive. I could use the approaches anywhere and they fit with my overall loosely based attachment parenting style.
  • Consider gentle chiropractic care. Many parents are now even taking their newborns in directly from the hospital for gentle adjustments following the trauma of birth. I took my older child in when she was suffering from constant swimmer’s ear with minimal improvements, but it was better than just throwing more medications at the problem.
  • Look for alternatives and seek a natural remedy. Children with special needs and health concerns, allergies, and heightened sensitivities can often benefit from physical and emotional interventions.

Although I didn’t rely on a study in a journal, I used the principals of the 5 S’s and infant massage as a natural response to the frightening trauma my baby was experiencing. I received a phone call that my 9-month-old daughter was being rushed to the ER because of a seizure, and when I met the ambulance crew and found her screaming on the gurney, my instincts took over. Although I couldn’t pick her up and swaddle her, I cradled my arms around her, shushed quietly into her ear, and gently rubbed her temples and arms. Almost immediately she relaxed enough so that the doctors could work on her, and a nurse said, “That’s all she needed – Mom.” Even though we can’t solve many of life’s pains as easily or quickly, we can use these natural methods to ease some of those inevitable ones for our kids along the way.

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What’s So Grand about Grandparents?

Selfish, rude, and juvenile are some of the ways parents describe the overindulging grandparents in their children’s lives. Parents are claiming that grandparents have no rights to “spoil” their children and break some rules because it disrupts their own immediate family’s needs and structure. If you’re a fed up mom or dad and your parents or in-laws give your kids candy, soda, and more toys than Santa’s sleigh can hold, you’re not alone. However, it’s time to search for the happy medium. Let there be some grand in grandparents.

Be Careful What You Wish For

I just wish his grandma wouldn’t buy him so many toys. I just wish her grandpa wouldn’t let her eat candy all day. If these statements sound like something you’ve muttered as you retrieved your child from Grandma’s house in a sugar-induced frenzy and unable to nap for 36 hours, you’re not alone in your struggles. Just scan the parenting boards online and you’ll see complaint after complaint about indulging grandparents. Yes- helping your children land safely back on planet Reality can be exhausting and you maybe just want the grandparents in your lives to follow all of your rules and everything will be so much better. Or maybe not.

The research clearly shows that involved, participatory, and even indulging grandparents are extremely important to raising healthy, confident, and resilient children. Researchers from the Institute of Education found in an in-depth study of grandparents and grandchildren that close relationships between the two helped to create “buffers” against adverse life events and that strong grandparent ties helped develop resilience in grandchildren.

In fact, research also shows that grandparents play an important role as a bridge between children and their parents, and because children sometimes view grandparents as “less strict” they sometimes feel more comfortable coming to grandparents with problems. In these situations grandparents are treated as confidants and children feel that their grandparents are consistent sources of support. The research shows that – Yes – grandparents are often associated with “spoiling” but that children recognize this special relationship and it doesn’t necessarily mean that “spoiling” is a bad thing.

Create Balance Between Grandparents and Your Kids

If your parents or in-laws followed all of your rules, did everything just as you do and want, and loved your children to pieces, they wouldn’t be grandparents – they would be you – the parent. As much as we may want to be the sole sun that sets in our children’s eye, the truth is that they need amazing grandparents. Grandparents are different and they do come with a different set of rules. It isn’t always easy to be “the heavy” and doesn’t always feel good to be the one to say “no” to your kids, but it doesn’t mean that grandparents shouldn’t be allowed to indulge some of their favorite people in the world – your kids. In order for your children to have the opportunity to benefit from relationships with their grandparents, it might require fewer rules and softer expectations.

  • If it takes 2 days for your child to recover from the sugar and spice of Grandma’s house, plan accordingly. Don’t schedule a full day of events if you know that for 12 hours before your child will be living in the lap of Grandparent Luxury.
  • Reiterate that what happens at Grandma’s, stays at Grandma’s. My kids absolutely know without a doubt that their grandparents have earned the right to indulge by putting up with me as a teenager, and someday I will hopefully have the same blessed privilege of being an involved grandparent.
  • Ask your child’s grandparents for help – help cheering her on at her dance recital, sharing your family history, caring for her when she is ill, or any other way you can be the one to reach out and include them. The less you try to push their spoiling ways out the door and invite their presence into your lives the less they might focus on presents.
  • Invite and include grandparents in fun activities. There is no replacement for the time and conversations that grandparents can give children. If you want to see them more involved in the doing and less in the material giving, help create situations where they get to be active in your child’s life.
  • Be honest – in the kindest way possible. If you have a real and legitimate concern that has definitive health or safety repercussions, talk with grandparents about how important your concerns are to you and why they matter to your child. Reiterate that with affirmation of the importance of their love for your child – and how much you value that as well.
  • Offer compromises. If you have big spenders for grandparents, request a certain dollar amount limit on indulging when your child goes to spend the weekend. In return, make sure you tell the grandparents that you are so very glad that your child is lucky enough to have grandparents who want to spend time with him and give him all the love he can handle, and allow them a little leeway to show that love.

The reality is that not all grandparents indulge their grandchildren, spend time with them, know their favorite lunch foods, and smile like they won the lottery when their grandchildren tumble into the room. The grandparents who live their own separated lives, casually interested from afar in the lives of their children and grandchildren, might make nap times easier and sugar highs less frequent. But they and their grandkids lose out on one of the most precious and rewarding relationships a child can have. Subtly loving from afar might seem easier and better, but it in no way compares with a significant and even indulging relationship.

There is something magical about the relationships my kids have with my parents. Yes – there is soda pop for lunch (with caffeine, even!), a drawer with sugary treats, and the carte blanche to do things I would have been grounded until eternity for doing at their ages. But there is real and unwavering power in the love that overrides all of those “spoilers” and connects my kids with their grandparents. That is worth all of the sugar highs in my world.

Grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever.  ~Author Unknown

Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation.  ~Lois Wyse

What is it about grandparents that is so lovely?  I’d like to say that grandparents are God’s gifts to children.  And if they can but see, hear and feel what these people have to give, they can mature at a fast rate.  ~Bill Cosby

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