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Becoming a parent changes you, in ways that you never thought possible.   It goes without saying that your entire world and focus changes.  All of the sudden you start to care about things like schedules, and bedtimes.  And you worry about routine, and friendships, and whether or not you are doing a good enough job.  Are you present enough?  Are you offering enough freedom and independence? And if you indulge yourself, there is an endless supply of doubt and worry to be had. Then there are the things that pop up and blindside you – things you thought you had an idea about but were completely wrong.

For me, this was Halloween.  I was a new-ish parent with two young kids, 2 and 1.  I had bought all the Halloween decorations and even a couple of costumes for my littles.  I kept things pretty mellow and stuck with the smiling jack-o-lanterns and black cats.  I was excited to decorate our house and create memories with my kids. That is what we are supposed to do right?  I had memories of my own Halloweens as a child and couldn’t wait to get going on creating those with my own children.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I remember one afternoon walking with my daughter to our neighborhood park.  It was a cool fall day in mid-October.  Halloween decorations were out in full swing in our neighborhood.  We started walking, and only got about a half a block before she stopped all of a sudden, grabbed my hand tightly, and said, “Go home Mama?” I could see that she was nervous about something but I didn’t know what.  “No, we are going to the park remember?”  She insisted, “Go home Mama!” she said pulling me in the opposite direction.  “Baby girl, what’s wrong?” I asked.  “I scared,” she said crawling up my as if something was chasing her.  I looked up to see a skeleton hanging on the front porch of my neighbor’s house.

That skeleton knocked the sense back into me.  All of the sudden I could see our neighborhood through my daughter’s lens.  There were giant spider webs, ghosts, skeletons, creepy bloody goblins, and all kinds of spooky things.  Out of nowhere, her normal had changed.  What was once a simple enjoyable and predictable walk to the park had all of a sudden changed to something very horrifying and unpredictable.  Of course, she wanted to go home.  It was scary out there.

You see, young children are not developmentally ready for Halloween.  Their inability to decipher fantasy and reality makes Halloween very confusing and very scary for them.  What young children need is time spent in hands-on three-dimensional reality. Halloween is so far from reality, that it causes confusion, even worry and anxiety for many young children.

I never ended up decorating our house for Halloween that year, in fact, we never even bought candy or opened our door for trick-or-treaters.  Instead, we held my daughter in the night as she suffered through some awful night terrors.  We spent our days, crunching fall leaves in our little courtyard, painted pumpkins, enjoyed the pumpkin patch, and we let Halloween go.

My daughter is 6 now and Halloween still makes her nervous. I also have two younger sons (5 and 3), and while Halloween doesn’t appear to be as scary for them as it was for her we are still very conscious about how we choose to partake or not in this holiday.  In fact, we have adopted a love for celebrating the Mexican holiday Dia De Los Muertos.  It has given us the opportunity to honor and learn about our family in a real meaningful way, yet enjoy the traditions and desire to decorate and celebrate.

So this year, as Halloween approaches, I would encourage you to pay close attention, and really think about what your children are experiencing.  It’s okay to make Halloween wait.   Take solace in the fact that the time will come when your children will make Halloween memories like those ones you have from when you were a child, it just might be a few years down the road.

How Was Your Day?

“How was your day?”  It’s the automatic question that just pops out of our mouths as parents. You pick up your children from school, you haven’t been with them all day, you want to connect, and so you ask it.  You might even follow-up with “What did you do today?” And more of than not the answers to those questions go something like, “Good.”  and “I don’t know.”

Here’s the thing about those questions.  Asking them becomes a habit, which gives the effort for connection little meaning.  The truth is, our little ones don’t have the capacity to really answer that question.  It’s so big and broad that it is overwhelming to them.  They don’t spend their time at school cataloging all of their activities for the day.  They are living in the moment, working for the sake of working, because it feels good.  They are figuring out routine, learning how to concentrate and make decisions, and feeling what it feels like to be a member of our classroom.

So what should we ask when we greet our children after a day at school?  Is it possible that a question isn’t the greatest greeting for your child?  Consider just a warm welcome with a hug and a smile, and perhaps “It’s so nice to see you.”  Give the connection some space to land, and let your children lead the way.  Do they want to talk?  Do they need some quiet? Are they hungry?  Your children have been on their best behavior holding it all together at school, and you are their comfort.  Be that for them.

There is absolutely a time for learning about each other’s day, and it may even be right after pick up. Sometimes I even start the conversation with a story about my own day.  “Do you want to hear a story about something that made me laugh today?”  My kids love it, and often the conversation about our days will organically unfold from there.  If questions feel more natural to you consider asking specific questions.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

“What made your smile today?”

“Who did you play with on the playground?”

“Which teacher lead line time today?”

“Did you help anyone today?”

“Was there anything that was challenging for you today?”

“What made you laugh today?”

“Who did you sit by at lunch/line time today?”

“What is something you saw that made you think?”

“Were you brave today?”

“Did you ask any questions at school today?”

“What was for snack today?”

“Did you do a work on a rug or a table today?”

I mention this as it is all fresh in my mind these days.  This year for the first time I’m not part of my daughter’s classroom, and I have no idea what is happening during her day.  As her former teacher, this is super tough for me, and I’m working through the adjustment.  I’m practicing patience and learning this new dance with her.  I’m trusting that she’ll share what she feels she needs to and leaning more into the uncomfortable of not knowing every single part of her day.  And as habitual and instinctive as it is, I’m working on refraining from asking her, “How was your day?”





Holding The Line

It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.  Holding the line that is.  It’s one of the hardest parts of parenting, but also one of the most important.

You’re getting ready to leave for the day, kids have been fed, all their school belongings are gathered, lunches packed, coffee in hand… “H put your shoes on so we can be on time.”  Read that again.  Notice my careful choice of words?  It’s a command, not a request.  I’ve recently learned the importance of not confusing the two.  Also notice how the focus is on the outcome I want which is to leave on time.  I didn’t say, “H, please put your shoes on so we are not late”  That is a request that he can say no to, and the focus is on being late which is exactly what I want to avoid.  I’m not perfect at my word choice all the time, in fact it’s something I’m working on every day, however, I will say, when I say it right, and my word choice is on point, it’s much more effective.

Back to the story.  I could see it coming a mile away, this was a day for battle.  This was a day where my line holding had already been tested and I knew there were going to be more tests. And those tests no matter what I do are unavoidable.  “Shoes.” I reminded him.  I could see him getting frustrated, eyebrows furrowed, stalling at the whiteboard to draw a quick monster truck.  I handed him his shoes and asked, “Would you like me to help you?”  Now if you ask any parenting expert they would tell you that I’ve already lost the battle, I shouldn’t give him so many chances, I shouldn’t have even offered to help him because it is something he most certainly can do on is own, and does often.  But at that moment in time not being late for work was more important than waiting for my son to finish his drawing and put on his own shoes at his leisure.  I asked him again, “H, would you like help with your shoes?”  He looked at me, scowled, said nothing, and returned to his drawing.  Immediately I got my wits about me and realized it was time, I needed to hold the line.

Without saying anything I grabbed my things, and headed for the car.  H came running after me in tears shouting “I need my shoes!”  I responded in a calm voice, “It’s time to get in the car.”  At this point he was screaming, raging mad, begging for his shoes.  My husband stood by me communicating with just his eyes, “Are you really doing this?”  I responded with just my eyebrow “Absolutely.”

We drove to school, H screamed the entire way, and I said nothing.  Less is more, there was no need for words.  Mine would probably be less productive then necessary, and he already knew what was happening. When we arrived at school, I gathered my things from the car.

 H asked me, “Can I have my shoes?”

“I’m sorry, I do not have your shoes, you chose to not wear them today.  Let’s go”  Inside I was dying.  I did have his shoes, and I didn’t tell him that.  Is that a lie?  Or is a necessary part of this lesson?  We walked into school.  H followed behind me, while I shed a few tears with him just footsteps ahead.

When we were inside school I put my things away, and so did he.  His breath was that kind of staccato breathing that happens after you’ve been crying really hard for a long time.  I quietly grabbed our classroom peace flower and walked over to him.  His eyes were red and puffy, and his cheeks were stained from tears.  “I can see you are very sad.  You don’t have your shoes and you want them.  I feel sad too.  I didn’t like it when you ignored my words, and when you made an ugly face at me.”  He looked me in the eyes, his extra long eyelashes were drenched in tears.  He said, “I’m sorry Mama.”  My heart was beating fast, and I felt both sad and relieved.  Sad because he was truly sad and truly sorry and I don’t like it when my kids feel anything other than happiness and joy even though it is necessary.  I felt relieved because I knew he got it.

“H, I need you to be more helpful in the mornings so that we can get to school on time, and part of being helpful is putting your shoes on before we go.”

“Okay, I will, I promise.”

“I know you will.  I brought your shoes today but I need you to understand that if this happens again I will not bring your shoes and you will spend the day at school without them.”

“Okay, I believe you”  And he did.

“H, one more thing… can we declare peace?”

We held the Peace Flower together and said, “We declare peace.”  We hugged it out.  I held the line.

It’s hard, that line holding, but it is so very important.  Sometimes it hurts, often it’s the harder choice and is met with a battle.  But if we don’t hold the line now, if we don’t set limits, and hold boundaries who will?  When you hold the line you are creating safety and predictability for your children.  You are allowing them to experience disappointment an discomfort in turn, helping them develop a sense of empathy and minimize narcissism as an adult.  You are allowing them to struggle just a bit which is important because there is no learning or mastery of anything without struggle.  So I encourage you – make the hard choice, stay strong, and hold that line, you be glad you did one day I’m certain.