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

Monday, January 31, 2011

School Bell: To Catch the Bus..... or not

It all seems so simple. The bus comes at x o'clock and stops, your child hops on, and the school day begins. Oh, the first time you put your kindergartner on that first school bus it was tough.  Maybe there were tears [yours or theirs]. Maybe not. But soon the routine became just that.

Sometimes they were ready for the bus.  Sometimes they made a mad dash trailing coats half-on and sneakers half tied, to catch the bus before it rolled on without them.  Sometimes you probably gave them a mercy ride when they missed the bus or there was a problem.  When they are young it's part of the territory.

But now they are in middle school, or in high school and the choices get trickier.  What happens when they oversleep and they are old enough to be responsible for getting themselves up? What happens when they just prefer to sleep, or are too lazy to get up without umpteen calls? Do you make them walk? What about rain?

What if it is 2 degrees Fahrenheit and it is snowing?  What if they are deliberately sleeping in to get a ride? What if they just want to miss the first period of school?  So many possibilities.  Not so simple.  I recently made my 18 year old walk 2 miles to school in the cold, drab middle of winter after being warned repeatedly that if he wanted the rights of 18 he needed to take the responsibilities of being 18. Did it work?  He remembers.  The school remembers. [Yes, I had to deal with the call about him being late, and refusing to excuse him or drive him so that he would be on time.]

But, he has already said that the forecast is for much much colder weather next week.. "Will I have to walk even if it is that cold?" I remind him the new alarm clock works, and at 18 he is able to wake up and be ready in time. "Even penguins don't go out if it's that cold!'      Wish us luck!    

Image credits:,,

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Caring Heart: One A Day

Who says New Year's Eve is the only time for resolutions?  Foster parents are use to beginning over, and over again.  And, not only do we gather ourselves with new energy with children already in our care, but also get to start over each time a new child arrives. I talked over a week ago about one a day chuckle vitamins... here is another type of one a day experiment.

One a Day

I'm trying new vitamins, Lord.  Same routine: one each day, hoping to build up a strong and healthy child. But these aren't pills, capsules, or chewable gummies.  I have decided to choose one thing each day to correct.  Only one. With so many issues, it is too easy to bury this child in corrections that must inevitably feel to them like constant scolding. Help me be wise and be selective.  Help me focus on the most crucial and the most achievable goals.  Stop me when I feel tempted to throw corrections like throwing a bowl full of vitamins. Help me choose only one vitamin for healthy life for each day. Help those I choose nourish the growth and healthy development of this so needy child.  One day, one issue, one child.  One a day.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker      Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Quick Takes: Quirky Birthday Tradition

My grandson's birthday is in two days and he is already looking forward to a favorite family tradition. Cake and ice cream? No. Friends for a party? No. His favorite tradition is birthday bedtime. When I had little money and many children I had to get creative with treats. One of my most successful ideas was that one your birthday you have NO mandatory bedtime. That's right. None. You can stay up as late as you choose. The rule doesn't change even if it is a school night!** Radical? Yes. But sometimes what makes something special is how radically unusual it is.

Has anyone ever stayed up all night? Not yet. I've had many children do this for many years and no one has made it terribly late. The following is based only on my children over the last few decades:  Most preschoolers don't make it past eight.  Most children elementary age don't make it past 9 before their eyes give up and close. Middle-schoolers occasionally make it to 11. My high schoolers sometimes made it until midnight or a bit later, but usually got bored and went to bed or fell asleep in front of the television despite their best efforts. 

**I do warn teachers ahead of time, reminding them that one night out of a whole school year is not going to make or break the child's education.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Anything Can Happen: Repurposed Sofas???

I was looking for something silly and fun for today's entry when I happened on a site for quirky sofa designs.  I was amused by some, and intrigues.  I even saw one [the infinity design] that looked remarkably like the waiting chairs at an airport where I was stuck for hours earlier this year.  This design with egg crates WITH eggs seemed like a good challenge. Want a seat anyone???  Anyone want to put that sofa on top of their new carpet??

Then I saw a sofa made to order for my kiddos when they were younger... Are any of you old enough to remember the "Trouble with Tribbles" episode of Star Trek.  It is a classic, and still funny after all these years.  I have found that like Capt Kirk and Lt. Spock's Tribbles, stuffed animals seem to multiply exponentially. They soon overrun a child's bed, then floor, then entire rooms. What to do with them? Those precious, if bedraggled, once cute and cuddly stuffed animals that can't be parted with, can't be given away, and yet are taking over.

Is this sofa is the answer?
If not a sofa...
Maybe a child's bed????  

Have a good weekend!

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Parenting Tips: Room Rescues

With a large family it takes very little to quickly clutter up a room, any room.  If there are six in the household and each person leaves out one book, one coat, 2 shoes, a half-empty glass, a pile of school papers or mail, then scattered around the living room, front hall, etc. are at least 6 books, 6 coats, 12 shoes, 6 glasses, and 6 piles of papers and mail.... anyway.  You get the picture.  I found the picture example online, where I had literally hundreds of choices.

Two strategies I used periodically with my kiddos to help stem the encroaching lava-flow of clutter:

Five-Finger Pick-Up:
Each [and every] person in the house is responsible for picking up and putting away properly any 5 items that are where they don't belong. The items do NOT have to be theirs.  They can be anyone's.  [If the person left them where the items don't belong, the person loses the right to complain if someone puts them away.] This does not thoroughly clean a room, but it has three benefits: 1-It is a fast route to improving the clutter. 2-People quickly learn which things are easiest to put away quickly. 3-The family sees that working together they can clean up what working together they messed up. A possible benefit: The person/s that are the worst offenders quickly see that.

Five-Minute Room Rescue:
We set a timer for five minutes. [Anyone can spare five minutes!]  Everyone [adults included of course] runs around picking up and straightening up as much as they can until the timer dings, when they can stop no matter what is still left. Again, ownership of the mess is not a part of the discussion. I should note that this is the one time that careful running is allowed in my house [an unusual and coveted treat for my kids.] It is a wonderful way to teach how little time it takes to make a really big difference when everyone is working.  Yes, some do more than others, yes some do it better than others, but the rule is just that everyone is doing it for five minutes.  [When I first started this we used a timer set to only THREE minutes until they got older and better.] We even pitch in to work together and do a room rescue in a child's bedroom if it gets ahead of them and they feel overwhelmed.  It usually gets them going and gets it well started.

Favorite times to call a Five-Minute Room Rescue:  Before Dinner, Before we head out for a Saturday Adventure, and best of all..... when the phone rings and someone we didn't expect says they are on their way to the house!

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Soapbox: Patch Adam's Challenge-- #1-Public Joy

Well, you have listened to [read] my soapbox rants for several months and I thought you should have a break from mine.  So I have been hunting for someone else to try.  While writing my entries on joy and humor I ran across a list that had promise. Has anybody heard of Dr. Patch Adams?  Yes, the one on whose life the Robin Williams movie was based. Although the movie oversimplified his approach [of course] he did believe that "laughter, joy, and creativity are an integral part of the healing process." He once wrote a list of Ten Questions he thought could change our society.  Called "Patch's Prescription" it is his "Take 10 and call me in the morning." So I got thinking that maybe we could try one or two each week and see if we saw any difference in our lives or those around us. [Check out the link if you want to know some of what the soapbox will be looking at in the next few Wednesdays.]

Since we've been talking joy... let's look at his question about joy:

"If being publicly joyful, even silly, were beneficial for our society, would you participate?"

You can choose to do something small but silly like wear a clown nose, or two ties, or mismatched socks. Get some friends to join you! You can try being a bit more daring anonymously with a chicken dance in public or with some friends like the Inspired Mayhem group who also tried some silly walks in public to see if others would join in. Flash mobs are one of the better known examples of large groups and public silliness.
Some flash mobs create the effect by doing nothing in the middle of a grocery store.  

In NYC and other major cities there is an annual, really radical: No Pants Subway Day  [3500 participated in NYC in January]
In the UK they did two public art projects to revive the sense of silly in adults.

Sometimes silly even catches on and becomes a fad [Think hula hoops, pet rocks, and silly bandz!]

So. I challenge each of you to participate in an act of public joy this week.  If you are more radical or more daring, organize a group activity. Let's see what happens.  Let's make joyfulness contagious!  Think what could happen. I suspect Dr. Adams would be proud.  

Image credits:,,,

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Focus on Fostering: Bio Phone Calls

Do your kids struggle with conversations when it comes time for phone calls with their bio-parents?  My kiddos did.  I'm not talking about situations where they may not want to talk to the parent [perhaps because of bad history]. That is a totally different matter, fit for a soapbox entry sometime. This is about kids and parents who just don't seem to know how to talk together. These are the kids who play pass the phone like a game of hot potato to avoid talking, or who pass the phone off to you after a few "I dunno"s or a couple of grunted responses that range from "ok" to "un-huh."

Here are a few tips that may help things go a bit smoother.

1. Try to establish a schedule for the phone calls if possible.  Having a routine for these, like most things, will make it easier for the kids [and the parents] to plan and prepare.

2. Make a Phone Notebook for your child [or for each child].  I found a small memo book style seemed to work best.  Use a fresh page after each call.  Keep the notebook handy and at dinner time, jot down some of the things the child talks about it from school, scouts, friends, whatever.  When it is time for the phone call, the notebook page becomes not a script, but a list of conversational cues.

3. For children too young to read:  You write in the notebook as above, but before the phone calls, draw crude pictures or cartoons to go with each topic or idea.  Go over the drawings with the child before the phone call. The child can use the pictures to jog their memory and to cue their conversations.

4. Come up with a few basic questions they can ask their parent appropriate to the time of year, the weather, or other safe topics.  Use the same pattern of talking with the child to generate the ideas, writing them down, or using drawn cues.  This helps them learn that conversations usually include questions and answers from both sides.

5. Stay close by for moral support and conversational hints or prompts, until the kids are old enough or skilled enough to handle the phone calls on their own.

If you are lucky this system will help them develop a pattern of sharing and exchanging information. It will help them learn how to keep a conversational ball bouncing between two people and soon they will be able to chat comfortably on the phone instead of passing it off.

Anyone out there have any other hints to share???

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Monday, January 24, 2011

School Bell: How many "Atta Boys" do YOU give???

I have an uncle who was a commander in the Navy for years, including commanding an aircraft carrier.  Although he had a great sense of humor, he knew that being in command required discipline, judgment and perspective.  He taught me his professional habit of keeping two files at all times to keep him headed in the right direction.  One he labeled "Atta Boy" and into it he would put all commendations, letters of thanks or congratulations, celebrations, etc.  The other he named [forgive my typing] the "Oh S%$#T" file. Into that file he would place all the complaints he received about his work, his decisions, etc.  Knowing the realities of human nature, every time he placed a new item in the "Atta Boy" file, he would reach into the "Oh S%$#T" file and remove four or five. Following this pattern, as long as the files stayed reasonably equal he considered he was doing ok.

As a teacher, I prized the occasional "Atta Girl" note.  It always boosted my spirits, my energy, and my patience. When was the last time you jotted a quick note to a teacher complimenting a lesson topic, thanking for accepting a late paper, for giving extra help, for modifying an assignment, for anything? When was the last time you complained about something?  How is your ratio of "Atta Boys" and "Oh S%$#T"s?  I even found a site that sells a pad of check lists for giving High Fives in a hurry! We often wish teacher's would spend more time praising the children.  Consider how it might change the climate of your child's classroom if there were more praise to the teacher. 

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Caring Heart: Creating Joyful Moments

This meditation was based on a story a foster parent shared with me. Given our focus this week, it seemed the perfect week to include this one from the "Celebrations" section. 

Creating Joy

He needs celebrations, earned or not.  I finally understand that I need to spend joy on her rather than save it, saving it like a miser for a later, bigger reward.  It began when he came home one afternoon and announced that at school he found it it was National Pickle Day. So we had an impromptu dinner celebration of pickles.  He loved it!  His delight was all I needed for a cue.  Since then we have celebrated the National Cowboy Museum, the invention of elastic, the opening night of High School Musical 3...anything I could concoct.  Only rarely did I get a genuine smile out of him in the beginning.  I think the turning point was the night we celebrated the invention of the ice cream maker.  We had a buffet dessert with choices of ice cream and every kid of topping I could father.  Then today he bounded off the bus and came in grinning from ear to ear.  "I have a celebration for this week... You wanna guess?  Can I plan it?"  He was so excited I could barely believe it.  I don't care if it is the invention of the pooper-scooper.  I'm celebrating !  He has learned to create his own joy.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker     Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Quick Takes: Laughter

For the last few days I have been focusing on humor and so today I decided to share some of the actual researched benefits of laughter and options for finding laughter:

Laughter is Healthy Medicine! Take a look at this excerpt from

Laughter is good for your health

  • Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
  • Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
Also, a sense of humor is considered one of the 24 essential character traits for positive living by positive psychology experts. It builds resilience and optimism, two things we all want for our children. 

Laughter clubs are springing up and have even been covered by CNN. The research shows that even fake laughter [without being spurred by jokes] offers huge health benefits.  Watch the you tube CNN report.  

Online laughs.  Laughter is contagious... If you don't have a laughter club nearby, and need to enjoy a good laugh [who doesn't] go online. Search videos for laughter. Google images. Seek out the healthy laughs. If you don't believe the way a good laugh makes you feel your spirits lifted, or if you don't believe that laughter is contagious then you must view this you tube classic

Go for it!   Laugh away.... at least once a day!

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Anything Can Happen: Riddle Me This

In hunting for funny jokes that do not disparage anyone or any group I found that riddles seem the largest category.  Here are a few simple to remember riddles you can teach for younger children to share:
Warning: They are more like groaners than guffaw-ers. 

For younger kids:
1. Why was the math book sad?
2. Why didn't Noah fish very often?
3. Why do seagulls fly over the sea?
4. Why did Humpty Dumpty have a great fall?
5. Why did the Pilgrims' pants fall down?

For slightly older kids who have some knowledge base:
6. What do Alexander the Great and Winnie the Pooh have in common?
7. Did you hear the news about corduroy pillows?
8. Why couldn't Mozart find his teacher?
9. Why did the chicken cross the road?
10. Did you hear about the restaurant on the moon?

1. Because it had so many problems.
2. Because he only had two worms.
3. Because if they flew over the bay they would be ba-gels.
4. Because he was making up for a boring summer.
5. Because they wore their belts on their hats.
6. They have the same middle name.
7. They are making headlines.
8. Because he was Haydn.
9. Because the ref was calling fowls.
10. The food is great but there is no atmosphere.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Parenting Tips: One a Day Laughter

As I said yesterday, I think we need to make humor more a part of our parenting.  We need to teach and model healthy humor.  Besides.... we all need to laugh! We have no qualms about giving a one-a-day vitamin for good health.  Many of us have to give multiple medications for mood and depression and anxiety in our kiddos.  Are we just as willing [and able] to hand out chuckles, giggles, and laughs for to help them fight their moods, anxieties, and depression.  Much research shows that it might work as well, maybe better.  So..... here are some ideas for sneaking humor into your children's days.

#1-Buy a blank book or spiral notebook. Compile your own Family Joke Book with the best jokes you and the kids find.
#2- Expect each child to bring and share a riddle, knock-knock, or other healthy joke at the dinner table. The winner gets written in the Family Joke Book, or... they all get written in and the one that makes everyone laugh the most gets a star beside the joke.
#3- Post a Joke of the Day/Week on the bathroom mirror.
#4- Stick a riddle in their lunch bag.... they get the answer at dinner if they haven't guessed it by then.
#5- Encourage these activities by scheduling a Family Comedy Night once a week or once a month... Maybe that the night is when jokes are shared at dinner. Maybe rent a movie comedy for the whole family. Maybe listen to an old Bill Cosby recording, many are wonderful for family laughs that never get old!

For older kids:
#5-Have your children each write or phone a relative and ask them for their favorite joke. They can share it at dinner or another time.
#6-Challenge your children to find a funny you-tube video that does NOT involve someone getting hurt.

If your kids are too young: Make coming up with a joke optional for younger ones.
If your kids balk: Try rewarding sharing a joke with something simple... [Maybe anyone who does share a joke does not have to clear their place at the dinner table?]

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Soapbox: Funny?

I have been thinking about what constitutes "funny" these days. This is just one of the questions that has been making me feel very old and out of date lately. My grandson is in a phase right now where he thinks it highly amusing to say "no" to every request.  He says it, then grins, and does what was requested. But he starts with a blunt "No."  "Could you please put your coat in the closet?" "No"  "Do you think you could take those clothes down to your room?" "No."  etc. etc. etc.  Probably seven or eight times a day this happens.  Now, it is not the worst thing in the world, especially since he goes on to do the thing he was asked to do.  But it still grates each time. What annoys me most is that he truly thinks it is funny.

As a middle school teacher I constantly saw another "humor" that was more mean than funny. Times that I heard people say "I laughed till I cried" or wondered if it was more "crying until I could laugh."  People who think they are clever often start by devising nicknames based on physical traits, "Spock" of "Elf ears" for someone with pointed ears, "Sparky" for a child with hair that sticks up, "Four eyes" has been around for years and yet I was shocked that some of my grandchildren who wear glasses talked about being called that and being hurt by it. The old "It's just a joke" retort doesn't really cut it.  "Sticks and stones" admonitions don't really ease the pain. Humor based on making someone feel badly shouldn't be called humor.  And the only person who should be allowed to make fun of someone is themself. [I don't know how to do that grammatically but you know what I mean.] When I talk to someone who just made fun of him or herself, it usually develops that they said it because they would rather say it themselves first than wait and have someone else inevitably say it.  They say they know someone is going to say it, so they feel a little more control of it if they say it first.  However long it has been true it is still sad when the best way to protect your feelings is to make fun of yourself.

I propose that we start making a conscious effort to teach our children what really is funny.
Step 1: Find some really good joke books.
Step 2: Tear out or cross out all the jokes that are based on cruelty or meaness.
Step 3: Memorize some of the best, funniest, guffaw-producing jokes that are left.
Step 4: SHARE them with everyone you can.  Send them to me. [I'm going to try to collect some for Anything Can Happen Fridays.] Send them to others.  Let's remind ourselves and our kids what good, clean, not-at-someone-else's-expense humor is.  It's a thought.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Focus on Fostering: Define "Happy"

Foster children often carry an air of sadness about them.  School pictures often show sad eyes inside a face that thinks it is smiling.  This week I want to spend each day's blog thinking about happiness, about joy, about fun.  My father used to say that people should assume that they are happy unless something is actively making them sad.  [He said it far more cleverly, but of course I have forgotten his exact words.]  But the point stuck with me.  Many people spend [waste?] their whole lives waiting to "feel happy."  One of my favorite holiday decorations is a pillow I've had for years... it says:  "Dear Santa, Define Good." It always makes me smile.  It started me thinking... We spend lots of time teaching our children how to define Good.  Do we ever get around to teaching them how to define Happy?

Oprah Winfrey advocates keeping a "Gratitude Journal" to be more actively thankful for the good things in our lives.  Not a bad idea.

I wonder if maybe we could help our children keep a "Happiness Journal." Children who have been abused, neglected, or traumatized have no problem at all identifying feelings of sadness, of anxiety, of fear, of want.  What they struggle to recognize and label are joy, pleasure, happiness. They usually would have little trouble listing the things which make them sad or unhappy.  How about listing things that make them happy? It would give us a glimpse into them, and would help them document a list of happy moments and events to someday outweigh the sadness.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

School Bell: Don't Drop Out

Many of my school bell posts have been for younger or mid-grade children.  Today I offer a very unconventional strategy to help kids understand the value of finishing high school by understanding in a more concrete way the advantages of learning, of education.  Normally I don't believe in using money to reward, or in using isolation. But... as a short-term lesson where the children can control their fate I think it can make the intangible more concrete.  Be sure you explain that the "game" is going to be for a limited time and don't just spring it on them. Give them a chance to be prepared.

Knowledge is Freedom
Adults who did not finish high school are 58% more likely to be incarcerated at some point.*

Tell your children the above and then explain that for one week the children will have to use knowledge to "earn" their evening "freedom." In this case, their freedom will be to spend time in the living room or family room with the television, play station, computer or whatever.  [Otherwise they spend the evening time in their room, cleaning, playing, reading, whatever.]  They can earn minutes by answering questions correctly.  It's up to you what to use for questions and how stingy to be with minutes....5 minutes earned for each correct answer, or 10 minutes, or even one minute per answer, depending on age, ability, etc.  For questions you can use spelling words, math facts, review questions for an upcoming test, vocabulary flash cards, history facts. If you need ideas... borrow one of their text books and ask any of the review questions at the end of chapters or units they have done... to their teacher.  If a week of this is too much, try doing it one night per week instead. Remember the idea isn't to make them angry or annoyed.... it is to have them experience the difference knowledge can make.

Knowledge is Money
Adults who finished high school earn 1.5 times as much per year as those who did not finish high school.*

Do the same thing as with knowledge and freedom, but for this allow them to earn money. Remember this is for a short time, and with small amounts of money. But do try to take them somewhere like a dollar store or similar where they can use the money for fun and immediately enjoy the "fruits" of their "knowledge." [My kiddos would choose a trip to the ice cream store most often.  Only one made the voice to save it and put it toward a longer range goal he was saving toward.]
Good luck!

*Statistics Based on:
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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Caring Heart: He's Lost Everything

Everytime a new child arrives, a foster parent is confronted with all the losses the child has faced.  The challenge to help the child grieve and start to heal can seem mountainous.  This is from the "Milestones" section of the book.

He's Lost Everything 

How do I help him grieve?  He has lost his family.  He has lost the school he attended, the friends he knew, the familiar neighborhood, his clothes and toys.  Oh, they may get some of his toys an clothes to him, but who knows if or when they will.  Yes, our home is undoubtedly a safer, warmer home.  It has food and lights and even extra toys and clothes. And nothing to put him at risk. But regardless of what his home was like, it WAS his home.  It is all that is familiar to him and it is all gone.  Maybe for a while.  Maybe forever.  But for now, it is all gone.  New walls, new smells, new bed, new people, everything is new for him.  All that he has known is lost.  How do I help him cope.  How do I help him understand that it is okay to be sad about all that is lost?  And, if he doesn't let that loss show, how do I still help him with the grief buried inside?  He has lost it all.  Whatever it was or wasn't, it was everything he had.  Be with him, Lord.  And be with me. 

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker      Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Quick Takes: Kids' List #31-40

This is the fourth installment of "Kids List." My "Kids List" is things I wish all kids could get to experience before they are grown up and independent.   This month has a mix of small folk and bigger folk experiences. Use your grownup judgment to see what fits your child. 

Kids List #31-40

31. Learn to climb up a rope 
32. Visit someone in the hospital  
33. Memorize a poem 
34. Shovel snow
35. Talk about a big problem with a grownup 
36. Learn a solitaire card games  
37. Sew something 
38. Learn to fold clothes 
39. Talk with a fireman 
40. Have or care for a fish for at least two week

I try to do one Quick Takes entry each month from my Kids List. Hope you try some of these with your kiddos.  Search for "Kids List" to find #1-30 in earlier posts.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Anything Can Happen: Anti Know-it-Alls

I was always annoyed by know-it-alls.  You know them.  The ones who drive everybody crazy because they know it all, and if you don't think so, just ask them and they will often tell you they do.  [I find the ones who usually DO know it all are often the quieter ones.] Anyway... Here are a few comeback challenges that you can try [or teach your kiddos]. Don't cheat by looking at the answers first. No guarantees, but you might have some fun.

#1-Read this carefully: Woodrow Wilson's wife walked wearily through the wisteria trees because is was Woodrow's wish to whistle while washing the windows on the west side wall.
How many W's are there in all?  [Read again if needed.]

#2- Which month has 28 days?

#3- Everyone knows you can empty a glass of liquid faster with two straws than one, but can you empty a glass of water in less than two minutes with two straws in your mouth... one straw in the glass, one straw out of the glass?

#4- Write down the letters J.F.M.A.M.J.J.A.S. What are the three letters that complete the meaning of this series? 

#5- Name all four phrases that appear on current U.S. coins. [No checking your pocket or wallet!]

                Have fun!  

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Answers [don't cheat]: 1-none. There are no w's in "all."2-They all do.3-Straws work only because the mouth creates a vacuum pump.With one straw sucking air, no airtight pump. Both straws are useless.4-O.N.D. [The letters are the first of each month in the year in order.]5-Liberty, In God We Trust, E. Pluribus Unum, and United States of America  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Parenting Tips: Consequences - part 2

I said last Thursday how tired I get of discussions of logical vs natural consequences, preferring to focus on effectiveness rather than punitive.  But I promised to explain why I said people tend to misuse the terms logical and natural consequences.

Too often people describe natural consequences as ones which directly connect to the misbehavior.  They talk about taking away cellphones and enforcing extra homework time and other enforced consequences.  These are NOT natural consequences.  They may connect. They may be a good match to the "offense." That is was makes them good logical consequences. Natural consequences are automatic reactions to a behavior. They are not consequences a parent imposes. In fact, a parent has no control over true natural consequences.

Example:  When your child steals something from a store, you don't trust them the same way as you did before you found out they stole.  You can't help it.  The next time they go in a store you worry.  The next time you see them with gum you didn't buy for them, you wonder.  That loss of trust is the natural consequence. You didn't choose it. It happened. You can't stop it. It happens naturally. In fact, you can't even control how long it lasts.  A natural consequence often lasts longer than the misbehavior that caused it.  How often have you seen a child's reputation as a liar continue even after they begin telling the truth again. That is because the loss of belief is a natural consequence of their lies. 

Parent trainings should help parents understand natural consequences and know how to use them to encourage children to value and protect, preserve or regain a positive reputation. We need to label natural consequences for our children so that they can understand and learn from them. We can be on their side as they work to deal with or they work to reverse the natural consequences.  Society and nature are imposing those consequences, not us. For a change we can be the teammate, their cheerleader and coach. Go team!

Image credit:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Soapbox: Patience

Paul Sweeney once said, "How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to its young?" For me, patience is a survival skill, a life skill. I do consider it is a skill, one that must be kept fresh and like a muscle exercised often to stay strong and available when needed.

Despite Sweeney's concerns, I think we must find a way to teach patience to our children. Children need to have patience to call upon when the work of life and living gets hard, when the progress toward a goal is slow. They need to understand that when we are patient with them, it is not because we do not have the energy to discipline, or the strength to engage.  We are using that strength and energy to keep our eyes on the distant goal. Patience is not laziness, or fatigue, or lack of commitment.  One of my favorite quotes about patience is by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. [I know, I know, Yes, it is the same Bulwer-Lytton of "It was a dark and stormy night" infamy. But I DO like his patience quote.]

Patience is not passive; on the contrary, it is active; it is concentrated strength
I like the concept of active patience, of concentrated strength. Perhaps that is because sometimes it takes so much inner strength to hang on to my patience?  In any case, I wish us all patience.  I wish all of our children patience.  I recently found an affirmation quote that I wish were true.  When I need more of that "concentrated strength" of patience I repeat it over and over to myself.  Like many affirmations, I hope that perhaps if I say it often enough it will be true.  So, for all of us out in the ether world who may need it... repeat three times with me.....
"There is within me a deep, deep well of peace.  All day long, I'll draw on its endless supply."

Image credits:,

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Focus on Fostering: Christina Greene and Anxious Kids

This past weekend a young girl died because she was in the right place at the wrong time.  Christina Greene was born on September 11, 2001, in fact selected as a "Face of Hope" celebrating babies born that day.  Her father, in his statement to the press, pointed out that Christina's life was bookended by two tragedies. as her father pointed out in his statement to the press. Her story and that of the other victims, the target, and assailant were all over the news and almost impossible to avoid with the periodic news breaks that happen throughout the day.

Those of us who are raising children with anxiety disorders find the nightly news a challenge.  Children who have experienced violence in their own lives are often particularly vulnerable to anxiety about becoming a victim to violence.  Helping them deal with the fears is always tough, but when a child is killed the fear is more real, making the task of calming your children even tougher. At least with television shows you can be vigilant and be prepared for challenging story lines.  But the news can spring on you with a news flash breaking into whatever your child is watching.

When a news story like this is prominent, be especially supportive, aware of mood changes or behaviors, do your best to keep the routine as normal as possible, and use your best judgement and knowledge of your child to decide if and how to address it.  If the child is school age, avoiding hearing about things like this is not realistic, so be prepared. Be alert. As with almost all the other issues common to children in foster care, the greatest gift you can give them is a sense of safety and love. There is no safety bubble we or any parents can put around our children. Hang in there.. and those of you who are comfortable, say a prayer for the families for whom this is not a distant news story, but a local story, for those for whom this is a tragedy that happened not to someone else, but to people they knew, or to them.

Image credits: and KTLA news [from the family]

Monday, January 10, 2011

School Bell: Building a Homework Habit

If your child does his or her homework cheerfully and willingly, skip today's blog... it's not for you.  But mine needed "encouragement" to develop a good homework habit. Years ago I got tired of always hearing, "I don't have any," when asking about homework due. I knew that although they sometimes might have none, the expectation of our school was an average of 10 minutes per night per grade level. [30 minutes in 3rd grade, 60 minutes in 6th etc.] Their grades and parent conferences confirmed they were avoiding homework. So I tried an unorthodox approach.

I went to the local bookstore and found the section with all the academic workbooks currently popular.  For each of my kiddos I bought a grade level workbook for their grade. This gave me the option of several different subject areas etc.  Each workbook was full of single page worksheets [with the answers handily in the back!].

 I announced my new plan. Each night I would tear out and hand out worksheets  [2-3] to each child.  They could earn the privilege to  watch television [or other "screens"] by finishing the worksheets and handing them in to me.  If they had homework from school to do, they could do that instead to earn their time. In a short time, they were suddenly remembering homework and our nightly homework time turned into a mix of worksheets and schoolwork instead of challenges and denials.

Why did this work?  I think they figured out that if they were going to have to do school type work anyway, they might as well do what the teacher assigned and avoid detentions or lower grades.  A side benefit was that since they had either school homework or my homework every school night, they developed a routine of doing school work nightly... a routine they desperately needed. What has worked for you?  

Image credits:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Caring Heart: Giving Gifts Away

This is a meditation from the "Challenges" section, but happens so often I could have placed it in with other milestones. You can't take it personally.

Giving Gifts Away 

He gave away the gift I gave him.  I suddenly realized I hadn't seen it for a while.  When I asked him, it wasn't even a big deal to him.  "Oh, I gave it to a friend of mine."  That's all.  No apology.  No sense that one is even due. Was he being generous?  Was he trying to buy a friendship?  Or did he just not care.  Never mind that I wanted him to have it.  Never mind the money I saved up to give it to him.  I don't know whether I am more mad or more hurt.  I try to honor his generosity.  But I can't.  It hurts that a gift from me is only a possession to him, no emotional value or attachment.  It is such a reversal from the collection of gifts I treasure only for who they are from, not for its intrinsic monetary value.  Let him grow to value me, to value our connection.  Help me to value our connection more than any gift's value. 

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker     Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Quick Takes: Creative Rewards #16-20

Today's quick take is five more creative rewards for your kids.   Examples are for a mix of ages and genders. [Creative Rewards #1-15 are in earlier blog entries.]

 16.  Use special dinnerware [good china or crazy funky paper plates]

 17.  Bubble bath with colored soap crayons. [washable of course!]

 18.  Trip to the library with a friend of their choice.

 19.  Pick the radio station or CD for the car ride. 

20.  Chewing Gum [especially if you surprise them with a new or crazy flavor]

Image credit:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Anything Can Happen: What to Do? What to Wear?

Have you ever wondered.....


can I do 

with my hair 


B  U  T 

if it gets too cold...

here's the perfect matching hat!

Image credits:,

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Parenting Tips: Consequences - part 1

Everytime I go to a parenting workshop or behavior training the concept of logical vs natural consequences seems to be part of the discussion.  Unfortunately, most of the time I hear the terms used incorrectly. I will talk about that in part two [next Thursday]. But my other objection is that few trainers focus enough on the purpose of consequences.  To my way of thinking, a consequence's purpose is to encourage change.  Too often parents choose a consequence for maximum punishment not maximum encouragement. Making a child miserable might be a side effect of the consequence, but it should never be the purpose.

When you impose a consequence with the goal of punishment it is more about you than it is about the child.  It is more about you than the misbehavior. By doing that you risk unintended consequences for yourself.  While you may be intending to teach your child good behavior, you may be modeling something closer to revenge.  You may be modeling the desire to get even, to repay pain with pain. Tempting? Sure. We all [I think] have that little devil inside us that is tempted to respond in kind when we should be responded with kindness.

There is no rule that says discipline has to be mean.  Discipline can be done with love. Generally it is more effective done with calm and with understanding rather than anger or punishment. The child can focus on what is being taught, rather than distracted by resentment, defensiveness, and the need to protect themselves physically or emotionally.

Consequence is defined as "something that follows as a result, the relationship between a result and its cause." The same dictionary defines punish as "to impose a penalty for wrongdoing, to respond harshly, often causing damage or pain."  If our goal as parents is to encourage proper behavior doesn't the relationship approach offer a better chance than punishment? We need to aim for positively effective consequences and be on guard against negative unintended consequences. When you discipline do you impose consequences or punishment? Weigh in, please!

[Part 2 next Thursday]

Image credit:  unintended.jpg at