Nurturing Sibling Relationships

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How to help brothers and sisters connect through shared memories to build strong sibling relationships.

photo siblings snuggling

Image purchased from iStockphoto

It’s become a passion and priority of mine to help nurture my kids’ relationships with each other. It often has not been easy, but has always been worthwhile! Now at ages 28 (boy), 23 (girl), and 17(girl) I see their closeness and feel I’ve done at least one thing right.

To be honest, it has taken determination and even financial cost to help them draw and stay close, especially as young adults. But I realized when my kids were small that one way to help create strong relationships between them was to make sure they were part of each others’ special events in life. Whatever was special to that child, or teen, or young adult would be attended, if at all possible, by the other siblings. I wanted to help them build memories of each other’s successes, so that when they experienced failures or struggles they would turn to each other then, too.

It pains me to think of special events and even crises I missed with my own siblings. I either didn’t hear about them, couldn’t get there, or was too self-preoccupied. My biggest heartbreak was not getting to be at my own father’s funeral with the rest of the family as I was delivering my first child that week, so forbidden to fly. There were multiple practical reasons for our drifting apart: gender, age, personality differences and moving away to school/work.  Much separation can occur naturally, unless parents are determined to curtail that drift somehow.

I became determined when I became a parent myself to make special efforts to glue our kids together through shared critical memories, sometimes whether they liked it or not.  Don’t like to watch wrestling or listening to violins? Tough. Be there to support your sibling. I didn’t force all events, but made sure they were there for at least some, to create shared memories.

That has often meant setting aside funds specifically for family events and coordinating calendars like a ninja. And sometimes firmly telling school officials or coaches our kids would miss school events to be at critical sibling events. I actually laughed when a cheerleading coach complained when our youngest missed practices to attend her sister’s wedding. But most were supportive and highly respectful of our nurturing our kids’ relationships.

Here are a few ways we’ve nurtured our kids in recent years:

  • Flew the family from IA to RI to our eldest son’s graduation from naval officer candidate school, and took our youngest out of school & sports practices for a few days for that purpose.
  • Bought an airline ticket for our teen to do a 3-way trip this past summer to see her brother in CA, and sister in WA.
  • Timed it just right so brother and sister could run a half marathon together.
  • Flew our middle daughter from WA to CA show she could see her brother before deployment and the two of them could visit grandparents together. Brother used his own airline mileage to get his sister there.

Practically speaking, we’ve had to budget for some things by pinching pennies in other ways. We have always bought used cars — and kept them forever — to have at least a small travel budget. We pay for big items (home repairs, etc.) with cards that get us airline miles. We eat out less when we want to save for more important things. And if travel is not affordable, there is always Skype: for free.

Also free and easy is continually encouraging communication. “You might give your sister a call, she’s having a rough time.” “Sister is in a race right now with a live video feed! Here’s the link!” “Brother will be packing up, this is a great time to give him a call.” But what I love now is when I make suggestions like that they are have often already talked or texted each other.

For those of you with multiple little ones, it may seem a no-brainer keeping your kids close. They are always together anyway, either playing or fussing and fuming. Where you go, they all go.

But at some point they grow up. Brothers and sisters with the most distance between ages can naturally grow apart. Older ones leave home for college and careers, younger ones are left behind. Right now they may fight like cats and dogs and you wonder if they will ever get along. But as teens and young adults, they will have fresh opportunities to draw close to each other.

I can’t tell you how many times I told my kids this (especially when they were fighting):  “Friends will come and go — but you will have your siblings for each others’ lifetimes. Cherish that.” Sometimes they said, “Yeah, right.” As young adults they all get it.

Child and Teen Athletes: Saying NO to early specialization in sports

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Early specialization in sports? Not for this family.

by Laurie Winslow Sargent

Back when my kids were ages 11, 17, and 22, I wrote an article called Encouraging Young Athletes — on discouraging early specialization — for Cedar Valley Athlete magazine. Now that my 11-year-old is a teen athlete, I’m glad for choices I made for her back then.

Image: chrisroll / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Until I had my third child, I was a semi-sports parent.

Semi, because although my two eldest were involved in multiple sports, those sports were school or city sponsored, seasonal, inexpensive, and close to home.  We still had plenty of time for family fun, including sailing, hiking, and vacations. Our children were able to explore non-sports interests too.

Between preschool and high school Kid One (boy) was on soccer, basketball, football, and wrestling teams. In college he enjoyed rugby, scuba diving, skiing, and weight-lifting. Kid Two (girl) played soccer and basketball, swam, and ran cross-country. Both, now young adults, are committed to physical fitness and enjoy running, hiking, and other recreational sports.

Kid Three (girl), however,  pushed me into a whole new athletic realm, with far more decisions to make — with time and finances.

Raising an Athletic Child (Whew!)

Her athletic inclinations were noticeable — no kidding — at about ten months old. As a toddler all her first words were verbs (run, jump, swing). As a young preschooler, she was always planning physically precise movements. She became very upset when I moved the ottoman, because she had invented a headstand-flip routine with it. At city parks other parents looked on with horror as my 3-4 year old scrambled up full-sized play equipment while I looked on nonchalantly, as she’d done it since about 16 months old (well, yeah, that gave me a heart attack too). At age five or six she challenged my husband’s weight lifting gym members to a pull-up contest (hilarious).

Then came basketball, gymnastics, swimming, soccer . . . (I’ve lost track already).

Parental Pressures for Specialization

By the time she was 11, parents and coaches were chastising me: “You should get her on a team.” (Meaning: an expensive club team with year-round commitments.) You should, you should, you should. No matter what sport she played, it was always implied that if I didn’t get on the ball and be a real sports parent, I’d be wasting my kid’s talent and ability to play competitively in her teen and college years.

YIKES! Was that possible? My gut said no. At first I even resisted locking her into any classes or teams at all. We had so many fabulous parks to explore. When she did finally join teams, I wanted to her challenged but still to have fun simply playing without pressure, specialization, or year-round sports. I also wanted to use family funds for family fun as much as possible. Upward basketball at our church was fun, and mountain hiking was still a family favorite.

At that time I felt very affirmed by the book Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy Over Youth Sports. The author, Regan McMahon (journalist and mother of two athletic kids) addressed concerns experienced by parents of young athletes: loss of family time, pressure to join costly clubs (with “potential”, but rare, scholarships as lures);  loss of children’s opportunities and time to explore other interests; kid stress; and competitive use injuries.  McMahon offered practical advice as well.

Now – fast-forward — Kid Three is an 11th grade teen athlete. Through middle and high school she has enjoyed basketball, competitive cheer, track and now cross-country, all courtesy of her public schools. The closest I’ve come to being a real sports parent has been needing to manage far more sports/games/meets in a year than Kid One or Kid Two ever wanted. It’s also been more important to Kid Three for us to be present at as many sports events as possible, and travel farther, but we are pleased to oblige and support her. It just means I fill my calendar first with sports obligations — then work around them.

My Teen Athlete’s Own Choices

This past fall of her junior year in high school, my daughter has finally chosen, to specialize:  in running, at least for a while. That was a tough choice for her, having competed nationally with cheer as a flyer. However, now she’s experienced ever-increasing opportunities to run cross-country and track at very competitive invitational levels, which has been very exciting, including a national meet in Manhattan this past weekend.

This has given me confidence that I made right decisions for her in avoiding early specialization in sports. As she runs increasingly competitively, it does add some stress for her that could have so easily discouraged her at a young age. Also, income that could have been spent on club sports for her  instead helped Kids One and Two through college and should help Kid Three as well. Any scholarships on the horizon? If so, that will be a bonus and of course, very welcome! But I’m so glad I didn’t spend my child’s elementary school years pushing her to pursue that, and allowed plenty of time for her to enjoy childhood and the sheer love of sports.

There’s a new great book out called The Real Story of a High School Coach which I’m delighted to see affirms my choices. A teacher and coach of baseball and cross-country, the author, Michael Miragliuolo has led many high school teams to championships, and many of his athletes have gone been awarded college sports scholarships. He grew his cross-country team in an unusual way from 25 runners to over 200, so was featured in USA Today. We also happen to be thrilled that he is my daughter’s head coach. That’s how I found the book. Yet I  nodded in agreement while turning the pages, as his views on early specialization in sports are vehement and mirror my own. Then I noticed he’d included a photo of my daughter’s 2013 state winning cross-country team — an unexpected, fun surprise!

My youngest child-now-teen’s trademark has been the way she’s always grinned while playing sports. Coaches and teammates have consistently commented on that. That’s because her participation has been for the joy of it. Yes, she’s always been competitive and at times very serious. But there has always been joy underlying her sports choices. A basketball referee once joked that her smile was blinding him. When her grins turned to grimaces when playing that particular sport, she was done with it.

As long as she can run and still enjoy it, I’m right behind her. (Well, not right behind — she leaves me in the dust.) But it will remain her choice. We will both know when the smiles stop that it will be time for a change. For now, she’s running and grinning.

A final note: no sport will be fun all the time, of course. My daughter has run track for five years, and now cross-country, through rain, snow, and sleet (even when the mailman wouldn’t). She’s experienced aches and pains, and many emotional highs and lows with team successes and struggles.  It’s her dedication, competitiveness, and underlying joy for the sport that keeps her going, encouraging others along the way.

[Image: chrisroll / FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

7 Key Features in the Best Toys

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By Laurie Winslow Sargent:

With the glut of toys on the market, how can you choose the best toys for your child? Look for these 7 key features.

This post contains excerpts from the book The Power of Parent-Child Play, © Laurie Winslow Sargent, Tyndale House Publishers. 

Measure Up Cups by Discovery Toys

Image: Measure Up Cups (Discovery Toys)

In my mind, the best toys or games are safe, plus have several or all of the following features related to play value:

 

  • Can be played with in a variety of ways and stimulate some imagination
  • Teach more than one skill
  • Appeal to several age groups
  • Encourage positive behavior and learning
  • Are fun (for the child—and hopefully for the parent, too)
  • Get frequent, long-term use and stimulate interest in independent play
  • Offer a window into what the child is thinking or feeling

Toys that don’t meet many of these qualifications can be a waste of money and do little but create clutter in your home.

I’m big on what toys teach, partly due to my previous experience working as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) in public schools, including one Birth-to-Three program. But I’m also a huge fan of helping kids learn through toys because I did just that with my own three kids. (My middle daughter is now a teacher in early childhood education.)

I used to write toy reviews for the former Christian Parenting Today magazine. Toy manufacturers (including Fisher-Price® and PlaySkool) sent me boxes of play materials to evaluate. That made me think more deeply about what was worth occupying space in my own kids’ rooms and what I could justifiably recommend to my 250,000 readers.

Once when the UPS man delivered a huge box of toys for me to review, the neighbor kids were gathered in my yard. Reviewing the toys became a group project. One thumbs-down preschool toy was designed so poorly it made us all laugh. A catapult was supposed to launch plastic treats (with numbers on them) into a creature’s plastic mouth. Theoretically, it was designed to teach child recognition of the numbers one through five.  Realistically, correctly loading and launching the catapult required the motor skills of a child who could count to fifty. Of course my creative crowd found other things to launch with the toy until the catapult fell off.

A much better toy, one that all three of my children loved, was a set of Measure Up Cups, which can be used to “dump, fill, nest, stack and stamp. These volumetrically correct, sequentially numbered cups introduce important preschool concepts related to volume, size, time, color and measurement.”

The toy is described as appropriate for children from 12 months through primary school, but an infant can also play with the larger cups. That means the toy can be played with by the same child for four to five years–and my kids did.

The manufacturer’s site describes 16 different ways you can play with the Measure Up Cups. I’ve modified their list a bit to focus on games you can play with your baby, toddler or preschooler.

Games to Play with Measure Up Cups

  • Stack into a tower to knock down. (Toddlers love to do this, and don’t realize they’re learning cause and effect.)
  • Build a castle (the scalloped edges make great castle turrets). This can lead to some fun pretend play with preschoolers. This is a new feature my kids’ cups didn’t have. Neat!
  • Scoop, fill and pour water, sand, rice or small safe objects. At the same time your child learns mathematical concepts, since the contents of cup #1 plus cup #2 equals the contents of cup #3.
  • Nest the cups to learn about size and relationships. This also helps your toddler’s motor skills.
  • Practice number recognition with your toddler; the cups are numbered both on the outside and inside on the bottom. For fun, a child can put a corresponding number of small, safe objects in each cup.
  • Learn English, French and Spanish words for numbers as those words are stamped on the sides of the cups. This is also new, awesome feature to extend the fun even through early elementary school.
  • Practice color identification as your child sorts and stacks the cups.
  • Hide objects under the cups, then reveal them. This can teach a baby object permanence, but also can be fun for illusion tricks with preschoolers.
  • Touch and feel numbers with your eyes closed, inside the cup on the bottom.
  • Identify animals on the bottoms of the cups with your baby.
  • Stamp the animal designs into dough or wet sand with your preschooler.  Point out to your child that the designs grow progressively larger as the cups increase in size.
  • Trace around the cups and then match the cups to the right sized circles.
  • Practice telling time with your preschooler: the designs on the outside of the cups correspond to clock face positions–another new feature.

As a recap, to choose the best toys for your children, look for ones that can be played with in many ways, stimulate creativity and imagination, teach more than one skill to more than one age group, and make learning fun. The best toys will be used often and your child will enjoy playing with them by himself but also with you. Great toys can actually make parenting more exciting, when through parent-child play you see your child thinking, learning new skills and reaching new milestones.

Play on!

Laurie

CandyLand, AGAIN? Making Preschool Games More Fun

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When child #3 wanted to play Candy Land, my eyes glazed over at the thought of playing that preschool game for the umpteenth time.

Then I found two ways to spice up the fun.

Candy Land

“Mom, can we play Candy Land? Please?”

Tyler and Aimee had already worn out our first game box. It had fallen apart at the seams, and the brightly colored cards were bent and faded. As I had thrown it away, I’d muttered aloud that Elisa (then three) could surely live without it, couldn’t she?

However, Tyler’s fourteen-year-old friend heard me and said plaintively, “Every kid needs Candy Land!”

Do you know that Candy Land was introduced in 1949, created by a woman in San Diego California who wanted to entertain children afflicted with polio? See The History of Candy Land.

I reluctantly bought a fresh game for Elisa for Christmas.

Once again I found myself impatiently drumming my fingers on the board with the rainbow-colored trail, desperately hoping for a Queen Frostine card so I could race to the end and out of candy country. I’d already tried my trick of stacking the deck–putting the picture cards in the top one-third. But Elisa was getting the good ones, and I the duds.

What is it, I wondered, that makes this game so appealing to kids? The image of a sweet fantasyland is no doubt a big draw. Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory had similar appeal.

Candy Land makes preschoolers feel quite clever playing board game like their big siblings, Mom and Dad. It excites them to recognize colors and practice counting skills. And there’s the suspense: Will the next card send you all the way back to Plumpy, to start all over again?

For me, suspense had long ago given way to yawns. I decided to try a new version. At first this meant our little gingerbread place markers, when passing each other on the board, shook their plastic hand and had very fine, squeaky conversations with each other.

Then I invented Color-I-Spy. While playing the game, when drawing a new card we would also do this:  find an object in the room containing the matching color–no repeating objects. (For purple and orange we looked on CD covers.)

This turned out to be a great way to play a table game with a wiggly child. Cruising the room for matching objects requires movement and imagination. It also offered vocabulary building: “Look, Mom! There’s some red on that globe in South America!”

A preschooler always learns a whole lot more from a table game than you know–how to sequence, match colors, count spaces, etc.  In fact, any game is fun for parents to play when we pay attention to our child’s developmental milestones–perhaps with round one of the game your child can’t yet count spaces, and the next he can.

But also stimulating his imagination makes playing more fun. And it doesn’t hurt that it will make it a whole lot more fun–after endless repetitions of the game — for Mom (or Dad, or Grandma) too!

See this adorable video review of Candy Land: My 4-year-old’s favorite game. It really makes me miss it now and look forward to playing it as a Grandma someday!

[This story is an excerpt from The Power of Parent-Child Play, page 148. © 2003 Laurie Winslow Sargent, published by Tyndale House. For reprint permission, please contact the author.]

Have you found any fun ways to adapt table games to make them more fun? Share your tips in a comment below!

Free At Last! . . . or is that Three?

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When I hear “Free at last!” in the rousing speech by Martin Luther King, I admit I don’t think only of that inspiring pastor and the human rights movement.

I also think of my daughter Aimee’s 3rd birthday.

Free at Last!Back in the ’90’s when Aimee was two and her older brother six, one of our favorite CDs was by the group DC Talk.

Our church was less than a mile away from home in our tiny town of South Bend, Washington. But if on the way home a song we liked was blaring out our speakers, my husband would  drive up and around hills and through neighborhoods as we all loudly sang along.

This also involved a lot of posturing and what I called “finger and head dancing”. (There is only so much you can do when strapped into a car seat.)

Our favorite song was Free at Last. It had a humorous off-key opening (which can most likely be heard in any small church congregation) and the “free at last” passage from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech. Most of the song was upbeat Christian rap, featuring the singer known now as TobyMac. Our car rides were so much fun (we also danced crazily with the kids in our living room) that the song Free at Last became a family favorite.

So of course when we realized that at that age Aimee counted this way—one, two, free, four—I couldn’t resist putting up the sign (see image above) on her birthday, when she was finally “free at last!”

The only thing missing from this video is better sound quality, and the car-dancing Sargent family:

Fun and Learning with Picture Puzzles (8 Developmental Stages)

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by Laurie Winslow Sargent:

Previously published in Christian Parenting Today magazine.

Puzzles can offer a window into your child’s mind, helping you see how he thinks and problem solves.


I still remember learning about the way my child thought logically through problems as we worked this puzzle together, many years ago. (Ignore the 80’s hairdo!)

Puzzles can be a fun diversion.  But do you know that they also will help your child develop the following skills?

* color, shape, and pattern identification and matching,
* recognition of integrated parts, and their relationship to the whole,
* fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination,
* problem solving skills, and
* the ability to make choices independently (even when uncertain about the outcome) with self-confidence.

In my occupational therapy work with young elementary school children, I often used picture puzzles. Puzzles can be used to teach kids new skills and also offer a window into a child’s mind. Watching a child and having him verbalize what he’s thinking helps you to better understand his ability to problem solve.

Following are eight developmental stages in puzzle problem solving, which I believe children move through sequentially, from preschool through elementary school.  Thinking about the stages your child has passed through (and the stage he is currently in) will help you choose appropriate puzzles for him.

Understanding how your child is thinking makes playing with him more exciting, as you see him go from one stage to another. This also may give you clues as to how your child problem solves in general, which may affect his schoolwork as he grows older.

Let’s begin, using a typical preschool puzzle (separate holes for each piece; differences in shape are obvious), with:

1) HOLE FILLING: A very young child discovers that holes in a puzzle can be filled with loose pieces.  She usually tries to push all pieces in all holes (regardless of color or shape) to “make” them fit.

2) MATCHING HOLES AND PIECES: She now realizes that each hole has only one corresponding piece.  Tends to rely on color  to find the correct one.

3) RECOGNITION OF DIFFERENCES IN SIZE and SHAPES:  Your child now takes size and shape into consideration, looking closely at both holes and pieces.  Finds the correct one more quickly.  Does not yet understand turning a piece to make it fit, however (especially if small protrusions mean the piece fits only one way).   May abandon the correct piece and try another, incorrect one.

4) MANIPULATION: She will turn a piece to see if it fits.

At any of the above stages, after completing a puzzle, your child may be able to re-do it easily alone by simply relying on her memory and fine motor skills.  But she may now be ready to tackle a jigsaw puzzle, with interlocking parts and an outside boundary (cardboard back with raised edge on all sides), using the following skills:

5) INTERRELATING PIECES AND SORTING:

Your child sees relationships between pieces; begins to sort and group them by similarities in color and design.  He is beginning to discern tiny differences between pieces; and may compare the puzzle pieces to the design printed on the box.  Realizes the scale is different.  May not yet understand significance of straight edges on the sides of some pieces.

6) VISUALIZATION and PART S V.S.  WHOLE:

He now can “see” in his mind, how pieces will look together (i.e., pieces with a black line running through them, together will form one continuous line.)  He sees individual sections, as well as the whole. (ex., clown puzzle: sorts out face pieces, even if different shapes and colors, then leg pieces, etc.)

7) MIRRORED OPPOSITES:  She now does the above, but also with  mirrored opposites. (i.e., a butterfly; wings pointing opposite directions.)  Visualizes how pieces will look together; reverses images in her mind.  Recognizes similarities despite reversed directions.

     Now your child can move on to standard jigsaw puzzles, done on a table with no confining frame.

8) CORNERS AND EDGES (square puzzles):  She realizes that two connecting straight edges, at 90 degrees, makes a corner piece.  Know there are only four such pieces; will actively look for them.  Realizes that only one straight edge indicates that piece will create an edge of the completed puzzle.

Note: Your child may be able to do a 70 piece jigsaw puzzle alone after trying it a few times with you, but still not understand corners and edges.  He may still rely on visual memory (remembering how the puzzle looked when it was completed).

By the end of first grade, your child should progress through the first five stages (and may progress through all eight).  If by fourth grade he still seems unable to grasp the concepts in stages 6 & 7, a learning problem might be indicated.

Watch your child do a puzzle. You can practically see how he thinks as he looks and sorts pieces.  If he struggles, have him verbalize how he’s figuring it out.  Resist the urge to tell where pieces go as you coach him. Model problem solving by asking questions: “How are these two pieces alike?” “This piece has a straight edge–where could it fit?”.  Don’t forget to be cheerleader too, giving your child an enthusiastic “Yay!” when he’s successful.

Copyright © Laurie Winslow Sargent. Contact the author here for reprint permission.

How Do I Stop My Kids’ Fighting?

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By Laurie Winslow Sargent:

One frustrated mom asked, “How I stop my kids’ fighting? It’s driving me crazy!”


Photo by Stuart Miles: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ooooh, been there, done that, felt that. I know, it can be enormously frustrating. I think what  made me craziest was the noise level–just having to listen to it.

Even handling it perfectly (and how would that be?) won’t make it go away entirely. Kids are learning how to relate to each other and will practice with their siblings.

As we enter this discussion on sibling squabbles, ask yourself this:  “What am I most reacting to?” Is the answer:

#1 The noise?

#2 The issues at hand, which you feel you must intervene in (and should you–really–or must they work it out themselves?)

#3 The need to protect one child from another, physically or from wounding words?

Kids pick at each other for all kinds of reasons and many do require adult intervention (AKA refereeing). But for this first post on kids’ fighting, let’s examine your own attitude as a parent, as I was forced to examine mine.

Is it possible that your interventions in kids’ fighting sometimes make things worse?  Consider your:

(CLICK to cont. for 6 Ways parent attitudes can affect kids’ fighting…)

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Are We There Yet? 3 tricks to help kids travel (more) patiently

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By Laurie Winslow Sargent:

How do you keep your sanity when traveling kids whine, “Are we there yet?” Here are 3 ways to keep them occupied, so they travel more patiently and pleasantly.

How do you keep kids from whining, “How much farther?”           Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today I had to lay still for half an hour for a simple medical test, but couldn’t see a clock. To pass the time (and distract myself from moving) I played an old mind game, Count the Music, which I played with my kids on long road trips.

Try this, plus two more ways to keep your own kids occupied as you drive:

Way#1: Count the Music

Consider that most songs on the radio are 3-4 minutes long. In your own head, take the number of minutes you expect it to take to reach your destination and divide by three. Tell the kids “We’ll be there in 7 songs,” (or whatever). They can keep track of the number of songs on their fingers.

While listening to music during my medical test, I’d calculated that would hear eight or nine songs. I only heard three, so must have dozed off while counting and focusing on the music. It tends to work the same way with kids–they either get into the music or fall asleep. It also gives them a sense for how much time is passing if they can’t grasp what “half an hour” is nor tell time.

(CLICK TO READ Way #2 and Way #3)

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