Send anyone this way to read along, but for permission to reprint, please contact Gail.
© Gail Underwood Parker

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Focus on Fostering: Welcoming New Children

For those of you out there who take temporary foster care kids or emergency placements, try this way to welcome and reassure a new child. When you take an infant, the only reassurance you can give is warmth, nurturing, and maybe some duplication of routines. But an older child has practical needs as well as emotional needs. [This is also great if you have been cleared for foster care but do not have a placement yet.]

Prepare a Welcome Book about your home, family, and community.  When your new placement arrives have the Welcome Book waiting on their bed or beside their bed.  Use a three-ring binder and include some of the following items: 

What to include:
--Pictures of family members with their names printed clearly.

--Photo and description of the elementary, middle, or high school your foster kids would  attend. Include pics of playground and/or sports fields.
--Pages with pictures of some of the fun places to go in your area.... bowling alleys, roller rinks, parks, playgrounds, beaches, movie theaters... anyplace fun you may take the kids
--Map of the immediate neighborhood labeling your and nearest neighbor houses with your address and phone#,  plus the closest neighbors' names, phone #s 
--Picture of the church you attend [maybe including the pastor, priest, rabbi]
--Pictures of  frequent visitor friends, neighbors [with names printed]
--Page with channel numbers for local television stations, including common kids channels
Note: The three ring binder lets you choose which pages to include in your Welcome Book depending on the child who is arriving.  [age, gender, interests, concerns, etc.]

Other options:

For young school age kids:  an index card or id folder they can take to school with them that has your names. phone info, address etc., maybe even your pictures
For older kids: include info they can read that includes a welcome message from you, maybe from other kids in the family, include info about crucial family rules, philosophies.
If you have other kids in the family:  
--Take a picture of the whole group holding up a welcome sign, or letters that spell welcome, or waving hi etc. to include in the notebook. [It can also make a great cover!]
--Have different kids do a welcome page of their own, telling a bit about him/herself or making a collage about things they like. [Maybe even a few hints about you or about school?]

Try a Welcome Book, this can help all the strange new things seem a bit safer, and more quickly familiar.Let me know other ideas to include in the Welcome Book.  We're in this together!

Image credit:

Monday, November 29, 2010

School Bell: Four Homework Mini-Rescues

By now you have probably gotten at least one report card from the school.  How are your kids doing?  Is homework time independent or are they asking you the next question before you can get back to your chair after the last question? Do they get assignments done smoothly or is it a dragged out struggle that still doesn't get the work finished?  Now is a good time to check in with your child's teacher if homework is a problem. Now, before the Hannukah, Christmas, Winter Vacation etc. disrupt things completely.

1. Buy some small sticky notes and have your child start their reading assignment. Have them put a sticky note wherever they get confused. If it helps they can code the problem [ex: W=stuck on word, ? = idea is confusing].

2. Put a sticky note at the top of the assignment and write the time homework begins.  Add a sticky note wherever s/he stops and put the time. The teacher will understand the problem better if s/he knows how long it takes your child to do assigned work.

3. For worksheets circle the numbers of or put your initials by the questions that they needed help to do. They can even put a "? " beside answers they are not sure of, or that they guessed.

4. If writing is the problem, try being your child's "secretary" and have them dictate the answers. Put your initials beside it and write "secretary." [This is more for the child's sake... most teacher's can easily recognize a parent's writing vs the student's.]

Try these ideas on your own for a bit, then report the results to the teacher.    OR  
If things are really going downhill, discuss these with the teacher first so s/he will be watching results.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Caring Heart: Another Missed Visit

Today's meditation is for every time you see a child's heart broken a little more because a bio-family member failed to show for a scheduled visit.

Another Missed Visit

Lord, her mother missed another visit today.  It broke my heart to see her face as the clock moved minute by minute, later and later until it was clear her mom wold not be coming today/  First confused, then worried, then determined not to show how hurt and disappointed she is.  After the other times I know that this quietness is temporary.  Next will come the storm, maybe picking a fight with me or the other kids over some inconsequential think just to give her a vent for all those emotions bottled up inside.  Maybe a rant about being a foster child, or about her mother.  How do I balance letting her know her feelings are all fair with helping her be okay with herself despite another missed visit?  Be with her mother as she makes these decisions or faces whatever circumstances led her to be a no-show again.  Give her courage and skills to face her challenges and work to become more able.  Amen.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker

Friday, November 26, 2010

Anything Can Happen: Black Friday

Theoretically, this is a photo of the 1893 Oklahoma Land Rush.... 
I think it was the first Black Friday!

Image credit:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know it's supposed to be Parent Tips today,

but it IS Thanksgiving

so the tip for today is


[My serious cartoon about Thanksgiving I already posted with the Thankful Tree post.]

Image credits:,,

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Soapbox: Say "Thank you Sarah!"

Give a lady her due.  Take a quick peek at the history of celebrating Thanks in this country listed below.  Check out the dedication and determination of a single lady.  Widely acknowledged to have been the driving force behind this wonderful holiday, Sarah Josepha Hale should be a household name. She was a thoroughly remarkable women in her time or in any time. I was honored to research her and do a chapter about her in my book on amazing women from New Hampshire.  She deserves recognition! 

July 8: 1630: Governor John Winthrop [Massachusetts Bay Colony] documented a celebration in his records: "We kept a days of thanksgiving in all the plantations."June 29, 1671: a celebration of thanksgiving at Charlestown, Massachusetts by order of its town council.October 3, 1789 President George Washington signs a decree appointing November 26, 1789 as "a Day of Publick Thanksgiving and Prayer."  You can read the original as published on October 14 that year in the Massachusets Centinel newspaper or a transcribed copy.

1817:  New York State makes an official annual Thanksgiving custom

1827: Sarah Josepha Hale begins 36 years of lobbying American Presidents to officially declare an annual national celebration of Thanksgiving and prayer.

October 3, 1863:  President Abraham Lincoln issues his Thanksgiving Proclamation setting the last Thursday of November for annual celebration nationwide. [Note: Some previous Presidents had done individual year proclamations.] 1939: President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the 4th Thursday of November as the official holiday. 1941: Congress approved Roosevelt's date as a national holiday.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Focus on Fostering: Keep it Simple!

This will be short.  Model  being thankful, even in a challenging time. Be thankful out loud: especially about them, coming to you, even about their parents [Sept 28 post].

Allow them to feel what they feel, but model joy and gratitude
-for who they are
-what they can become
-how they add to your life
-all they can give the world

That's all.

That's everything.

Image credits:,

Monday, November 22, 2010

School Bell: A great Thanksgiving Read Aloud!

Gather the family for a great read-aloud and begin a Thanksgiving tradition!

In 1881 Louis May Alcott [of later Little Women fame] published a short story titled An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving. It is a delightful picture of a family of children left alone who decide to prepare a full Thanksgiving feast by theselves... with predictably amusing results.  I have used this wonderful story for years with children both at school and at home. I found that sometimes kids were slow to get into the story  [I explained unfamiliar spices] but once the mistakes began happening, they truly enjoyed listening, and couldn't wait to see how things all turned out. My kid's favorite is the currently available new Alcott/Wheeler illustrated version [above] though I also like the available used  Alcott/McCurdy version with its woodcut illustrations [below] .  

The School Library Journal review wrote:
"When their parents are called away to care for an ailing grandmother, seven children continue preparations for the family's Thanksgiving meal, hoping to surprise and cheer their parents on their return.  And although the plum pudding is rock-hard and the turkey stuffing bitter, the children's efforts are appreciated, and the holiday gathering is enjoyed by all.  A high-spirited, good-humored account of rural, 19th-century New Hampshire Thanksgiving, this story demonstrates Alcott's belief that health, and work, and cheery good will are of greater value than wealth and position.  Her description of children gives the impression that she both understood and liked them."

LINKS: You can download the text free online:   or at     You can also find a version with music box background:    

WARNING:  Be aware...the Hallmark TV movie may be based on the original and may be wonderful BUT it makes BIG additions to the story. They add jealousy, romance, a bitter estrangement, widow the mom, etc. etc. etc.  Read the original!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Caring Heart: Too Many Appointments

This was written for all parents who are raising children with special needs: physical, intellectual, or emotional.

Too Many Appointments

I am sick of so many appointments!  Give me patience, Lord and endurance for this long haul.  It seems that each day is a new round of trips to counselors, dentists, psychiatrists, evaluations, family visits, court dates, social worker meetings, family team meetings, school meetings.  It just goes on and on and on and on!  Some days I can barely remember who it is that we are seeing and why.  Sometimes I am filled with guilt about that other appointment that I still haven't scheduled.  I get so tired of it all. I am tired of trying to give a sixty-second recap to introduce the situation without humiliating the child sitting and listening.  When I feel so tired of it all, please stop me, Lord. Remind me to imagine what it must be like for this young child who must be equally sick of these endless appointments.  Help me imagine what it is like to be the subject of all this investigation and evaluation and treatment and questions.  How fearful that may be.  What must that do to self-image, confidence, and hope?  Take away my frustration and impatience and replace it with empathy and with support.  Amen.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Quick Takes: One Holiday at a Time

Just for fun-- two cartoonists' take on a common November complaint.

Image credits: and

Friday, November 19, 2010

Anything Can Happen: Thank you tree ?

Tis the season of Thanksgiving. Christmas has a Christmas tree.  But not everyone celebrates Christmas.  Almost everyone can celebrate the act of being thankful. Some can celebrate a bountiful feast as pictured below. Some are thankful for the very ordinary as so often shown by people with very little. Gratitude is a trait that is crucial to resilience and is so important to teach our children. So... how about a Thanksgiving tree? Based on the idea of a kindness tree I saw once I am trying a Thanksgiving tree this year. IT is a work in progress and I am asking the children [AND guests or visitors] to add to it each day.  I started by cut up index cards,  hole punching them and tying ribbon through for ties.  I gave each child 5 card tags to start with and piled markers, crayons, and old magazines on the table in front of them. Each child was to write down, draw, or cut and paste something they are thankful for this year.  Big things, little things. People, events, anything that has brought them joy.  When everyone was done we went outside and tied them to the branches of a tree. [Ours is actually a bush!]  Send me photos of yours?

Image credit:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Parent Tips: A Unique and Precious Gift

Start now to make your child [or each of your children] a very personal holiday gift. Make them a book about who they are that year: "Carson at 9" or "Meghan at 13" or even "David at 20." Make each page separately on individual sheets.  When it comes time to finish the book you can choose to put the pages in what is called a "presentation folder" [under $5 at Office Depot or Staples etc.]  If you are feeling grand have them hard-bound at an office store [such as Staples'  "Ambassador" binding for about $10 per book. These "A Year in the Life" style books can be done for any age person and are always big hits at birthdays or holidays.

Page style options and examples:
1- Scrapbooking style  or stickers or borders or colorful
2- Photo album style pages
     [WITH captions to id the people and places]
3. List pages
[Steve's friends this year, Suzi's favorite TV shows, etc.]
4. Anecdote pages
[funny or special stories from the year]
5. Theme pages
[School, Vacations, Work, Friends, Sports]
6. Accomplishments pages
[Learning to Drive, First Steps, Little League, Starting College]
7. In the News pages
[capture the year in news stories, sports, entertainment etc.]
8. Guest pages [ask relatives or friends to do a page about
the person]

Be as fancy or as simple as you want! This is a gift that no one else has, that doesn't need batteries, and gets more and more valuable to both the giver and the recipient with every passing year.

P.S. Be sure you date it, write a "To/From" page, and put a current picture of the person in the front!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Soapbox: Diagnosis not Epithet

All those who live for political correctness be warned.  This soapbox is not politically correct!

I have a grandson who is mentally retarded.  Yes, I said the words mentally retarded.  It is an accurate statement of his diagnosis. It is frank. It is blunt.  It is the truth.

In the 32 years I taught middle school I watched a wonderful trend develop.  As students were mainstreamed into regular classrooms there was an educational process about different conditions. I had a student with epilepsy and early in the school year she stood in front of the class and explained what it was and how it affected her and it cleared the air.  Everyone understood. The label lost its mysterious significance and the teasing dropped dramatically.  Same with a boy with cerebral palsy. Once he stood up and explained and humanized the condition, the rude comments of "spaz" etc. dwindled to nothing within the class, and his classmates often came to his defense outside of class. Even more ordinary conditions like diabetes and bee allergies were addressed openly and factually.  By demystifying the condition and learning more, the students developed empathy and understanding. Whether spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, asthma, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, autism or any of the above... I have seen all addressed openly and honestly with very positive results.

Why not mental retardation?  But instead we find new ways of describing and labeling the same diagnosis.  Developmentally delayed.  Intellectually challenged. By not addressing it honestly,  we contribute to the subtle sense that it is something to be embarrassed about, ashamed of, etc. Even Downs Syndrome and autism are now often explained openly to students. Why not mental retardation?

My grandson has mental retardation.  It is not his fault.  It is not anyone's fault.  It is not something shameful.  Unlike most of the other conditions mentioned, there is no medical to cure it, no pill that eases its impact on his life and future.  Sometimes mental retardation is almost invisible, sometimes it is obvious. Parents often keep their child's diagnosis "confidential".. secret.  Society not only doesn't talk about "regular" mental retardation, we won't even say the words in public. If I say it, others are shocked and often even shush or scold me. It is time to bring it out of the shadows, out in the open. As long as we treat it as something unmentionable, something to be whispered about, we are encouraging spiteful individuals to use the diagnostic label as an epithet, a weapon to shame, ostracize and embarrass.  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Focus on Fostering: "Happy" Holidays?

Not everybody loves holidays!
For experienced foster parents the approach of Thanksgiving often starts a dreaded pit in the stomach and a rush of house preparations, increased structure, and advance planning of a kind Martha Stewart can't imagine. The stretch of Thanksgiving, then Christmas or Hannukah, then New Year's all too often becomes a perfect storm of potential disaster for foster children.

Everywhere they look foster children are confronted by visions of family: family events, family cards, family traditions, family relatives, etc etc.  For a child or teen who may have been abandoned, or mistreated, or neglected, or traumatized by family, or even "just" separated from theirs, these happy, wholesome "family" images provide a range of pain, anger, and an inner battle of wishful thinking and hopelessness.   When "family" is more of a "f" word than the usual ones, trying to survive emotionally during the extended rolling holiday season is an almost impossible challenge.

So... they act out. Often kids in care will find it difficult to meet normal expectations during this season, much less "best behavior" events. They may backslide or raise the rate of button-pushing or explode so often you feel the entire house is ready to implode.
A few hints that might help a bit:
1- Respect the realities of their feelings.
2- Limit extras as much as possible.
3- Pick what is most important to keep and let the rest be optional or maybe even dropped.
4- Be sure to keep communication open and flowing.. check in frequently with your kids, keep your eyes open for warning signs.
5- Plan safety valve opportunities for the kiddos to escape from high stress situations and gatherings.
6- Respond quickly if they start showing the strain... get them out of the situation before it gets worse.
Use those safety valves.
7. Don't take it personally!

Image credit: and

Monday, November 15, 2010

School Bell: Teacher Gifts?

This is a great time of year to give have your children make a gift to give their teacher.  By doing it at Thanksgiving time you avoid any concern about who celebrates what holiday.  Thanksgiving time is also a very appropriate time since any teacher gift is a thank you for what they are giving your children.  I like to have my children make something homemade or give something useful or both.

Homemade Gifts: 
••Cookies or Breads the children can make with your help.
••Make a mini book that tells what the child likes about that teacher --even just a single word per page [ex: patient, funny, fair] with the pages colored and decorated. Bind and wrap.
••Make a bunch of whisks assembly line if you have several kids. The one pictured is for a Christmas theme but it is easily adjusted.  Put any Thanksgiving or autumn candy in a small bag, stick in the whisk, wrap in plastic wrap and tie with ribbon.  Add sentiment  signed by the child.  "We whisk you a Happy Thanksgiving!"  

Useful gifts:
••School supplies that the teacher otherwise spends their own money to buy.  Examples: A "Mid-Year Survival Kit with fresh new pencils, a couple of rulers, glue sticks, box of tissues, hand sanitizer, sticky notes, etc.  They can use them at home or at school.
••Gift Card to a local bookstore, coffee shop, movie theater  [maybe even an ice cream shoppe?!]

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Caring Heart: Stickers and Smiley Faces

This was written in the "Celebrations" section of the book and will be familiar to any parent, bio, foster, adoptive, kinship...any parent who has a child who has struggled in school.

She brought another sticker-topped paper home today.  I can hardly believe my refrigerator is full of papers.  I can remember when I thought he would never experience success in school.  Heck, I can remember when I feared she would never even learn to read! And now all these stickers and encouraging comments, and decent grades with stars and smily faces and "Atta Boy" notes scrawled at the top.  Even better he is so proud of them that he races to post the latest on the refrigerator for everyone to see.  Maybe she never thought she could succeed either?  I am so excited that he is finally doing well. I am even more excited that she is proud of doing well.  We thank you for the joys of hope and pride in accomplishment!  Amen.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Quick Takes: Kids List #11-20

This is the second installment of "Kids List." My "Kids List" is things I wish all kids could get to experience before they are grown up and independent.   They are not in order of age, difficulty, expense, or anything else.... just a list. 

Kids List #11-20

  11. Have a pillow fight 
  12. Hike following a trail
  13. Change a baby's diaper
  14. Do a sun stencil project
  15. Sleep overnight in a tent
  16. Vote in a school election
  17. Grow something from seeds
  18. Do all your laundry for 2 weeks
  19. Talk to someone older than 80 for at least 20 minutes
  20. Use a wheelchair for an hour or more without getting out

I try to do one Quick Takes entry each month from my Kids List. Hope you try some of these with your kiddos.  List #1-10 is in the Oct 16 blog.

Photo Credit:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Anything Can Happen: Ever Do Sidewalk Chalk?

No, the picture on the left is NOT a broken water main turned into a rafting opportunity.

One of my daughters is an artist and so friends often send me unusual art projects they find online.  I am showing a couple here just to give you an idea of how amazing sidewalk chalk art can be.  Think of the times your children may have passed time on a summer afternoon drawing on the sidewalk or driveway with thick chunks of colored chalk.  My mind is boggled by the skill and imagination and creativity that transforms some of those small children into sidewalk chalk artists of the like of Julian Beever [above] or Tracy Lee Stum [right] whose works are shown here.  I encourage you to check out their work and others by googling 3D chalk and then share it with your children. Mine are always awestruck and amazed.  Seeing what is possible with sidewalk, chalk, effort, and talent is really impressive.  Think of the joy and wonder this kind of art work brings.  Check out julian beever, kurt wenners, madonnara, Tracy Lee Stum and more! For an aMAzing video of the process check out:

Image credits:,

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Parenting Tips: Breaking TV's hypnotic hold

Sometimes it seems that children are totally hypnotized by TV. Their eyes glaze over as they star wide-eyed into the magic box. If this sounds like one of yours, sooner or later this will become an issue. How can a family game time, card game or coloring time compete?  
One of the best solutions I found was to make it all a contest. 

With one of mine we started by having the degree of TV connection be by chance. we made a grand announcement of "TV-Game Time." During that hour we played games, did puzzles, colored etc. together on the floor in the same room as the TV. We made a spinner and labeled it... TV on, TV off, TV sound only, TV picture only. We started by spinning every 5 minutes and adjusted the TV accordingly. No matter what the spin, we continued the activity. [Believe me 5 minutes was plenty long when it was a spin the child was unhappy with!]. Over the course of time we lengthened the amount of time between spins, we moved our on the floor activity center farther and farther away from the TV. Eventually we made a new spinner that had more sections with TV limited and only one "TV on" choice. 

The de-programming process was slow, but it worked. Slowly the child became less dependent on TV and more able to ignore its lure.  Even better, the other activities gave us the chance to teach the child other, more interactive, social, and positive activities to enjoy. Any other ideas to share??

Image credit:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Soapbox: Aging Out Kids Need A Connection

Estimates show that by 2020 [if nothing changes]  300,00 children will "age-out" of foster care without ever having found a permanent home.  When that happens they discover that a family is a safety net that lasts long beyond childhood. And they don't have one. Those same studies show that 75,000 of those who age out without a family connection will experience homelessness. For a child who ages out there is no one to call when you are desperate. That can result in disaster and sometimes worse.

Facing the trials and tribulations of normal adulthood without the support of a circle of family and/or friends who can have faith in you and care about you is devastating. In Hawaii they recently experienced what a tragedy it can become. Imagine your own child having to be completely on their own the day of their 18th birthday-- financially, educationally, physically, medically, emotionally alone.

Among the 20,000 or more children who age-out of care each year, fewer than half finish high school, most have no  jobs and no home except maybe crashing on the couch of a luckier friend. Health problems, welfare dependence, and incarceration rates are markedly higher than children with family connections. This is not only morally discouraging, it is also a financial burden of real proportions.

We need families.  Not just biological and foster and adoptive families.  We need extended families.  ANYbody can be an extended family. There are many caring, compassionate people who are not able to be foster parents and raise the children who have come into care from abuse and neglect and trauma.  But couldn't there be a system to match such caring people with children aging out? Couldn't those "extended" family members take responsibility to stay in touch with the new "adult" as they try to find jobs, apartments, friends?  Maybe phone or text once in a while? Couldn't they send a birthday card or holiday card to let the new adult know that someone notices them, cares about them, would miss them?  Even if these aged-out new "adults" never found a forever family, especially if they never did, they need someone to care.

Image credit:,,

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Focus on Fostering: Revelations

One of the sad realities of raising foster children is the revelations that sometimes happen.  They can give you a frightening glimpse into the childhoods [or not-so-childhoods] they experienced. I remember the time we were driving in the car and heard a nearby firetruck, sirens blaring.  The three year old in the back seat matter-of-factly said, "Oh-oh... somebody got mad and kicked their their television!"  You have to wonder when a child's first association with a firetruck is anger and violence.  Or when a six-year-old calmly explains that the reason policemen have guns is so they can kill you if they want.

Sometimes it doesn't start as an outright revelation.  Sometimes it is just a reaction that lets you know there is a memory, a story, a fear.  Like the time I was pounding an old metal ice cube tray to loosen some stubborn cubes. My new foster daughter came running from two rooms away, ears covered tightly, yelling, "Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!" and crying.  She may not have said anything about what those sounds meant to her, but it was a revelation none the less.  Needless to say, I switched to easy out plastic trays the next day. I also put her in charge of helping me empty the ice trays each day.

All we can do as foster parents is keep our ears and eyes open for windows into the pasts of our children. We can carefully not react with shock or horror that can make them feel even more isolated. Then we must work to give them a more "normal" set of expectations of the world around them. We may never be able to erase the memories or fears they arrive with, but at least we can be sympathetic and supportive while we try to help them heal and gain a happier, safer view of the world.

Image credit:,

Monday, November 8, 2010

School Bell: Let's go Fishing!

Try this trick for getting your reluctant child to do their homework or practice their spelling or math facts.

Let's Go Fishing!:  Buy a bag of goldfish type crackers. Make a construction paper fishing picture with a boat on water and an assortment of simple outline fish in the water.

You can put on peel and stick fish or draw your own using something like this coloring page of fish you can download and use as an idea starter. When they start their homework put a goldfish cracker on top of each fish on the paper. [You should have 8-15 fish depending on the project or the child's age.] For each question they answer, or each spelling word they get right, etc. they get to eat one of the goldfish crackers.

Let's Go on Safari! :
If goldfish aren't their style try using animal crackers.  Do a safari theme using a download like one of these!] and place the appropriate animal cracker on the pictures.  You can even just take a photo of the jungle and lay the crackers anywhere you want on the picture. Use your imagination. As with the fish, for each answer done they get to eat one of the animals.

The few crackers they eat make a relatively healthy after school snack and often motivate and reward the child for tackling that list of math problems or other dreaded work. Try it!

Image credit:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Caring Heart Speaks: Trying to See Strengths

This meditation is for those weeks that fostering children who have endured so much is such hard work. When the road ahead looks so long, the hill so high to climb.

Oh God, this has been a hard week. Help me to see the strengths and positives in this child.  Help me to look past the challenges, the lacks, the negatives.  There are so many days it seems all to be focused on what is wrong with this child.  Help me to make a point today of noticing what is good in this child, to see the traits that others may see and celebrate.  Let me see the intense loyalty that enables her to still care about those who mistreated her.  Let me see resilience in his very willingness to be in this new family.  Let me see the inner courage that enables her to put on that brave exterior when she is so frightened inside.  Let me see the strength that is help him cope with all he has lost.  Don't let me get so mired in always working for progress that I miss opportunities to celebrate accomplishments along the way.  Open my eyes today to see the smallest signs.  Open my mouth to tell them that I see their efforts, that I celebrate their strengths. Amen.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Quick Takes: Creative Rewards #6-10

Today's quick take is five more creative rewards for your kids.  Since this is November, the season of thanks, make a simple thank you note. See if they can guess what good deed or behavior earned them the card and the reward listed inside!  Examples are for a mix of ages and genders. [Creative Rewards #1-5 are in Oct 2 blog entry.]

 6.  Ice cream party  [basic ice cream, special sauces, fruit, sprinkles, nuts... as crazy as you want]

 7.  Get a bedtime back rub or extra story [often great with young kiddos]

 8.  One-on-one time with a favorite adult [breakfast out together is a common favorite choice]

 9.  Stay up late [the thrill of getting to stay up past bedtime rarely gets old]

10.  Marshmallow Roast [s'mores taste just as good toasted over the kitchen stove]

Note: If you have several children be sure that you find ways for each of them to get a thank you if at all possible. The size of reward may be different if behavior is radically different.

Image credit:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Anything Can Happen: Kindness Explosion

Today on "anything can happen" day I challenge you to choose a new way to celebrate the Thanksgiving season. Check out some of these people who are finding thankful hearts by spreading gratitude, kindness, and caring.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a project gives out free yellow umbrellas with return address cards included for posting pay it forward kindness online.  Check it out at here you go to see the results.

In Santa Cruz, California, Greg Archer took a microphone out on the street to conduct an experiment in passing out compliments.  Check it out at the bottom of the gratitude experiment.

A woman named Patience Salgado teaches her children [and all of us who follow her kindness girl blog] the art of finding joy in doing goodness anonymously. I am continuously inspired by her and the unending ways she finds to do small kindnesses destined to transform the day for the lucky recipients. [I especially love her children's conversation about magic in her October 16, 2010 blog entry.]

Rachel Whetzel was inspired to guerilla goodness encouraging local school children with chalk walks the first day of school. Check it out!

Michael J. Chase chucked his thriving photography business and founded The Kindness Center in Maine. His goal is to convince people not just to perform random acts of kindness, but to choose kindness as an intentional way of life.

So what can I and you and your family do?  I challenge us all to take the 19 days left between today and Thanksgiving to explore new ways to be kind and to be thankful.  Let's commit to doing ONE thing each day to be kind and thankful. Write it down. Send in your updates.  Let's see how that might transform our day of Thanksgiving, and maybe us in the process. What do you think? Keep us posted!

image credit:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Parent Tips: Letters to Politicians

This week when your children say those familiar two words.... "I'm bored" allow me to suggest an option and a story for them. On Tuesday all kinds of new people were voted into office.  Some of them may be your first choice, some may be your last.  But they are now elected and will have control over parts of your lives and your children's.

In 1982 a ten-year-old girl from Manchester, Maine asked her mother if she could write to Yuri Andropov who had recently become the head of the former Soviet Union. This was a time when nuclear war seemed almost an inevitable part of our future and likely between the Soviets and the Americans.  This is the text of the letter she sent:

Dear Mr. Andropov,
My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren't please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.
Samantha Smith
To everyone's surprise, he answered in detail.  Her letter became one small chink in the wall between our countries.

Challenge your children to write a letter to one of their newly elected officials and say what is their biggest concern.  They may get an answer.  They may not. But either way, we can help them learn that it is up to us to tell elected officials how we feel. The sooner they write after elections the more likely they are to get an answer I have found. Good luck!

To learn more about Samantha check out Samantha Smith site or the Wikipedia article or this website about how she is remembered.

Image credit:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Soapbox: Elections

Yesterday was election day..  state elections.  As I write this the votes are not all counted, the results are not all in. But they are over. Whoever wins, I can't help feel that in a sense we are all losers in the election process.  We are all survivors of brutal nasty wars of words. When I went to South Carolina for the writers conference I had the chance to see political ads from there to put beside the Maine political ads and the Massachusetts, Georgia, Ohio, and New York political ads I have seen.  As someone who writes and teaches about the ethics of truthfulness I find political campaigns profoundly disturbing. Truth is massaged, shaded, and twisted to places so misleading, that the words have little truth left in them.

When I taught school I used to try to have students write down the promises during October and then we would track the results as part of current events the rest of the year.  It was generally disappointing, and always provided demonstrations of the cooperative realities of politics, the origins of skepticism, and why cynics are fed.

I also had students write down or highlight the competing claims in political flyers in local papers and left on doorknobs.  They quickly realized that not everything they read could possibly be true, that the truth would be tough to find and decipher and it would take effort. Suddenly voting seemed a tougher job than before.

Even local school board, town council, and bond issue campaigns verge on trashy lately. And the signs??? Do we really need dozens of signs for the same campaign on a single corner? Is that good use of money and effort?  Even small town school board campaigns now need large amounts of cash to mount a campaign.  Small wonder that kids running for class president even in middle school now engage in trash talking their opponents, signs, and giveaways as they model the adults route to success.

I worry. What we adults, candidates, and voters are teaching the coming generations about the value and usefulness of ethics, honesty, choices, and promises?

Image credits:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Focus on Fostering- Helping children be thankful

Children who have been taken into the care of the state and separated from their family often find it difficult to see the bright side of things.  If they aren't guided carefully, it is ever so easy for them to define themselves as victims of their beginnings.  We foster parents must really work to teach them how to notice the good things: the good people in their lives, and the good events that happen.  They need to lear to see these good things and put them next to all their pain so that eventually they can find happiness on their own. Try this experiment for the month of November... or even just from now until Thanksgiving if it seems to tough to start a longer tradition.

Start a 2010 Thanksgiving book.  A simple spiral notebook is fine, but a fancier one is also an option.  Either way, try making time as part of the bedtime ritual to help them think of something or someone that was a bright spot in their day. Put the day, the date, and what was happy that day. Little ones are fine... catching the bus even though you got up late, a rainbow, the first snow, a new flower, a loose tooth... anything that brought a smile. Maybe you can help them to add in some of their successes, some progress made. Guide them when they need help coming up with something. Help them to find something good in each and every day. If they can't think of someTHING that has been a good thing, have them write down the name of someone who cares about them that day.  Remind them to celebrate that someone cares. Make a separate section in the book that lists all the different people that care about them... family, friends, teachers, support people, neighbors, people from their faith community, and more.

If things are tough, bring out the happy book and look over the things that have gone well. Go over the list of people who care again. Be sure to teach them that those people who care are the people they can go to for help when they feel discouraged, when things are tough.

Keep adding to the book each day between now and Thanksgiving Day.  If the kids get really into it, have them add photos, or drawings, or anything they like.  They can add a section of clippings of things or sights that make them happy.  Build their happiness book page by page, moment by moment, person by person.  By Thanksgiving you and they will have a book that shows the things and people that made that child happy in November 2010. You will also have a child who comes to Thanksgiving Day with a greater idea of what they have to be thankful for this year.