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Growing Healthy Kids: Voices of Ohio’s Children

Kids Health ConferenceI recently got word that my proposal for the 2015 Kids Health Conference for Voices of Ohio’s Children was accepted. My session, Growing Healthy Kids: Looking Beyond Weight as a Measure of Health, will share research about supporting kids’ health without relying on anti-obesity rhetoric. I will share the recent research about what we know about kids, weight, and health along with ways families can support kids in both their physical and mental health.

This is a hard sell for a lot of people who believe that obesity is the enemy and that kids need to be protected from that enemy at all costs. The problem is that the “obesity epidemic” is a lot more complicated and recent research shows that our well-intentioned efforts may be doing more harm than good.

Some of you may have read the article I wrote about this a few years back (you can find it here: Weighing Down Our Children) and I’ll be sharing some of that info but updated and with more information about things we can do to help our kids be healthy without demonizing differently sized bodies.

The conference is May 6th and 7th and my session is on the second day. The conference will take place at The Westin Columbus and there are CEUs available for social workers (but not counselors — frustrating! maybe that’ll change).

You can register by going here.

I may offer the same workshop in my office at some point so let me know if you might be interested. (You can contact me here.)

It Bears Repeating

it bears repeatingOne of the hardest thing for us parents to wrap our heads around is how often we have to repeat ourselves.

“Shut the door.”
“Pick up your shoes.”
“No, you can’t have cookies for dinner.”
“Hitting is against the rules in this house.”

You’d think they’d figure it out after the 457th time we’ve said it and yet there we go, repeating ourselves over and over and over again.

Argh! Frustrating!

There’s a reason we have to turn into broken records; our kids are always growing and so they need to learn some things over and over and over again.

When your child grows from one stage into a new stage she’s learning things in an entirely new context. She has new developmental tasks to master, new facts to contemplate, and new skills to integrate. In this entirely new environment the things you’ve taught her — shut the door, pick up your shoes, etc. — don’t mean what they used to mean and she has to learn them again.

For example, your average everyday 3-year old may be pretty good about not slamming the door. She’s anxious to please you, likes your approval and wants to prove what a big girl she is. That’s the context she’s learning that whole “shut the door quietly” rule.

That very same child as a 4-year old may start slamming the door again. Her curiosity may be more intense at this age so she may be so anxious to move onto the next thing that the door slams behind her before she even notices. 4-year olds may also be more interested in challenging adults, leading to more door slamming because now she wants to explore what happens when she breaks your rules.

Totally the same behavior happening in totally different contexts with totally different things to learn. We just see the annoying behavior, we just hear ourselves saying it yet again — “Don’t slam the door!” — but for her it’s not just a slamming door, it’s a whole new thing to learn in a whole new way.

What parents need is faith that all of our repetition is sinking in because it is. We also need to know that continued commitment to the house rules and values create a structure that makes it safe for our children to grow and that part of that growth includes challenging that structure. It’s not easy, I know, but know that with every repetition you are offering your child a new opportunity to learn.

Parenting is a long-haul operation, lemme tell you. Hang in there!

And now for your listening pleasure (because parents need a little pleasure to get through some of this rough stuff) is The Bird and The Bee singing Again & Again.

The Bird And The Bee “Again and Again” from Miky Wolf on Vimeo.

Imaginary Friends

Did you have an imaginary friend growing up? About 48% of us did. Imaginary friends are usually part of our lives between the ages of 3 to 9. A small percentage of us carry them on into later years and some of us continue on with them into adulthood, although by then we call it writing fiction.

Those invisible playmates help children understand, explore and tolerate the world. When asked, kids say that they like playing with these friends because they can count on them always being there. An imaginary friend can show up at the most convenient times — when you need someone to stand in as a hero or a villain, when you are scared in your room at night, when you need a scapegoat for the mess you’ve made or when you need someone to talk to about your troubles.

All kinds of children create these playmates. According to UK researcher Karen Majors (and note that link opens up a PDF), there is little commonality between those who have imaginary friends beyond an active imagination. Children with mental health issues or Asperger syndrome or Down Syndrome have them but so do typically developing kids. If your child instructs you to please move one seat over so you don’t sit on an invisible race car driver at breakfast, there’s no cause for alarm. If anything an imaginary friend is a sign that your child has the internal resources to create helpful ways to cope with the challenges of growing up.

It’s OK if parents go along with the game and buckle an invisible friend into the car or tuck them into bed the same as one might a teddy bear or beloved doll. Likewise it’s all right to sometimes be too busy to do these things.

Like the teddy bear or doll, children will naturally let go of their friends eventually and learn to manage without their continual presence. Parents don’t need to discourage them since children will naturally let go when they’re ready.

 

Playing with the sand tray

sandcastle-insideWe used to have two gorgeous handmade wooden sand trays at our agency but when our boss left she naturally took her toys with her and that included the sand trays. I knew they were leaving but didn’t think much of it because I figured we’d get out the old Rubbermaid boxes we used to use and I thought, well, they aren’t as lovely but what the heck, they’ll work just fine.

Funny thing, though — they don’t work nearly as well.

An official sand tray is wooden and is painted blue inside (to symbolize water). They come in different sizes (and some of them are round) but the standard size is around 24″ x 30″ and about 3″ to 4″ deep. The reason they’re so big is they’re meant to hold an entire world. The reason they’re not even bigger is that they’re meant to hold that world in a space small enough that the child can see all of it without turning her head.

The Rubbermaid containers are smaller and they’re not as pretty. The small size matters because the kids who are used to the bigger trays are annoyed to find the worlds they make are now all cramped up. And the prettiness matters because the toys we use are our means to communicate with our clients and the better our tools, the more we are conveying our respect for what they have to say. I believe that the respect that comes with working in a solid, lovely sand tray makes a difference in how welcomed the child feels in our sessions together and the Rubbermaid fix — while workable — doesn’t have that same gravity and consideration.

I didn’t have a sand tray for my private practice because I was holding out for a good one and they’re not cheap. I kept thinking about giving in and buying something makeshift but I didn’t want to compromise. Once I saw the difference our switch to the Rubbermaid containers made in my sessions at the agency, I became even more determined to wait until I could get a good, solid, wooden tray.

Then I found these instructions for making your own. Hurray!

Now I’m not handy so I knew that I wasn’t up for the task but when I was talking to my father-in-law about it he volunteered to make me one. And he did and it is beautiful and I am thrilled.I’m still working on building up my miniature collection and exploring ways to display it to make it accessible (right now it’s a jumble). I’m thinking about using molding to create shelves for the figures but want to make sure that they’re not prone to tumbling off before I start drilling holes in the wall.

I love using the sand tray with my clients. It’s such a great way for a less verbal child to communicate with me and it calms down the sensory seekers like nothing else (except maybe play dough). Children who are feeling shy about choosing toys in the playroom will generally dive into sand tray work much more quickly and then it seems once they’ve established their place in the sand then they are able to transfer that sense of ownership over to the rest of the toys.

It’s also a useful way to get a better understanding of relationships since families can create trays together. Watching two brothers negotiate a world together gives me a glimpse of how they work together (or don’t) at home.

A sand tray is an important investment for anyone doing play therapy and getting a good one is definitely worth the time or money. (I tried to talk my father-in-law into making himself available for building one for local friends but he said that while it was an easy project, it’s not something he’s rushing to do again. But he does encourage the handy among you not to be afraid of trying to build your own.)

The Tyranny of Property

luggage-insideI recently reread The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau and I walked around the rest of the day thinking with an English accent.

This is the last paragraph of The Willow Cabin (it holds no spoilers):

In such a moment of solitude as this, she could feel accompanied by every joyful adventure that she had known, every person who she had loved. She brought into the empty room the crowd, of whom she was made.

Beautiful!

The book was making me think about acquisitions. The two main women in the book talk about the “tyranny of property.” I am not like this — I like property for the most part.

Then later when I got online to do some writing, I (of course) tried to avoid work by scanning through my bookmarks and I started seeing the tyranny of my bookmarks.

I bookmark things out of greed; I love the acquisition. I have no time to ever look at 75% of them again. Instead I feel guilty every time I open my bookmarks file to find the one or two I use regularly but I can’t delete the rest. Tyranny indeed. When I get a new browser I rarely import the bookmarks. Then for a very brief time, I feel absolutely free of all those sites I mean to visit someday to read in earnest instead of just scan. But eventually it begins again. Someone sends me an article I want to read but don’t have time or the homeschool email list has a link to a nifty science site and there I am drowning in bookmarks again. It’s a terrible thing.

When the kids were small we used to have regular rounds of Twenty-Five Toss, which was when I’d take a cardboard box, place it in the middle of the hallway and tell them to find twenty-five things they wanted to throw away or donate. By the end of the day we’d have a box full of gum wrappers and outgrown socks and toys no longer needed. If we did this once a week through spring or summer we’d end the season with more space to think. Plus the kids like the alliteration.

Twenty-five is a reasonable number — big enough to make a dent but small enough that the kids won’t get overwhelmed. Plus a person can always cheat her way through it if she needs to and just throw away twenty-five magazine order cards and receipts and old envelopes instead of committing to an entire day digging through basement boxes.

So I think I’ll try this with my bookmarks over the course of the next week or so. And maybe if I get really ambitious, I’ll apply it to my iTunes library, which is about to take over my entire computer.

Now please do not bookmark or pin this article if it’s just going to end up tyrannizing you. Or do it and then make it the first of the twenty-five things you’re going to do away with to make your life more free and easy.

 

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