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No Forced Kisses for Your Kids: A Holiday Safety Tip for Families

As parents well know, the holiday season is both incredibly exciting and potentially overwhelming for kids, sometimes all rolled together into one. At gatherings with families and friends, expectations about affection, attention, and teasing can create unnecessary stress and discomfort. By accepting our children’s different personalities and thinking through our boundaries ahead of time, we can teach our kids important life skills and make holiday parties and reunions more fun.

Most of us can remember being pressured to just “suffer through it” from our own childhoods. Who doesn’t recall being forced to kiss “Great Aunt Edna” as a kid, or getting scratched by Uncle Bob’s beard as he leaned in for a squeeze? Or, being told to just ignore the teasing and roughhousing of our cousins?

As a mother, I can relate to the embarrassment that a parent might feel when a child doesn’t want to give a big hug to Grandma when she walks in the door—especially if Grandma has been eagerly anticipating the visit for weeks and months. But through my work teaching personal safety as a Kidpower instructor, I have learned that supporting our children when they set boundaries is a very important practice.

Backing up a child who doesn’t want to be kissed or hugged does not mean that Grandma, or Great Aunt Edna, or Uncle Bob or Cousin Sara are doing anything wrong, but it does demonstrate that touch and play for affection or fun is your child’s choice in all situations. The holidays are a perfect time to work on “boundary setting” with our kids, so they feel confident and empowered as they move through different ages and stages of life.

When possible, try to bring relatives into this conversation ahead of time, letting them know that you are practicing with the kids to help them learn to set boundaries—and who better to practice with than people who know and care about the kids. That way, when a child sets a boundary with Grandma, she can feel that she’s part of a positive practice rather than left out. Some parents report that this is a difficult conversation to have, but I maintain that is an important one, and an opportunity for meaningful dialogue and exploration. Many parents feel that their culture has expectations the children show adults respect through affection.

At Kidpower, we have found that this is truly a cross-cultural phenomena across a wide variety of backgrounds, and an issue that is worth addressing: how can we come up with ways for children to show respect to their elders in ways that feel nurturing and respectful to the child as well? One point I like to emphasize about child safety is to ask “How can we expect our children to set clear boundaries about touch when they are on their own, if we do not support them in doing so when we are together with our families, standing right there in a position to advocate for our kids and back them up?” In practice, this may be as simple (yet powerful) as saying, “Do you want to give Grandma a hug, a high-five, a kiss, or a wave? ….Not right now? Okay… Maybe you’ll want to blow a kiss or do a high-five later.”

Some kids are social butterflies and will thrive on the opportunities to be the center of attention. Be prepared to help them to notice the boundaries of others and to remember to follow your safety rules about Checking First before changing the plan, even in a family gathering. Other children are more reserved and are best off being allowed to warm up at their own pace. They might need your involved advocacy to redirect unwanted attention away from them and your help in setting boundaries when well-meaning adults try to pressure them.

Even if a relative is offended when a child does not want to kiss or hug them, this is an important time to keep in mind the bottom line—kids need to learn from an early age that touch or play for affection or fun should be the choice of BOTH people, safe, allowed by the adults in charge, and not a secret. This core safety rule should be respected in all situations.  (Editor’s Note: remember…this is not just a “keep my child safe “during COVID” rule – this is a teach my child a skill that will keep them safe “for LIFE” rule).

Touch or play for affection or fun should be the choice of BOTH people, safe, allowed by the adults in charge, and not a secret.

It’s confusing for kids to try to set aside their feelings of discomfort for certain kinds of affection or teasing in the name of good manners, since it gives young people a contradictory message about their boundaries. Keep in mind Kidpower’s founding principle: A child’s safety and healthy self-esteem are more important than ANYONE’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense. Or, more simply stated: Put Safety First.

Here are additional Kidpower resources about how to use boundaries to make our holiday gatherings truly joyful:

5 Practical Tips to Teach Kids the “Never Give Up” Work Ethic

Many historians feel that one of Winston Churchill’s greatest speeches was given at a graduation ceremony at Oxford University. He had worked on the speech for hours. When the moment finally came, Churchill stood up to the cheering crowd, and in a strong, clear voice shouted just three words, “Never give up!” He paused a few seconds and shouted the words again, “Never give up!” He then reached for his hat and slowly walked off the podium, satisfied that he had told the graduates the message they needed to succeed.

We need to make sure we pass on Churchill’s message to our own children. Only when children realize that success comes from hard work and diligence will they be the best they can be.

The following five techniques are designed to boost children’s work ethic and help you help them understand how critical perseverance is to achieving success:

  1. Define “perseverance.” Take time to explain that perseverance means “not giving up” or “hanging in there until you complete the task you started”.  When your child sticks to a task, point it out: “There’s perseverance for you. You hung in there with your work even though it was hard.”
  2. Teach “don’t give up” words. Help your child tune in to the language of persevering individuals so that he can learn to use the terms in his own life. Ask, “What are the kinds of things you hear people who ‘don’t give up’ say?” Write a list of phrases, such as “I can do it!” “I’ll try again.” “Don’t give up!” “I won’t quit.” “Hang in there. Don’t stop!” “It’s usually harder at the beginning.” “Almost! Try again.” “You’ll get it. Keep at it!” “The more you practice, the easier it will be.” “Keep it up–don’t stop!” “The harder you try, the more successful you’ll be” and hang up the poster; encourage everyone to say at least one phrase a day. The more you repeat those phrases the more likely your child will be to adopt them for his self-talk.
  3. Model effort and a strong work ethic. Take a pledge to show your child how you don’t give up on a task even when things get difficult. Before starting a new task, make sure your child overhears you say: “I’m going to persevere until I am successful.” Modeling the trait is always the number one teaching method.
  4. Start a family, “Never give up!” motto. Begin using the family motto, “Don’t quit until you succeed.” A father once told me that conveying this life message to his children was so important that they spent an afternoon together brainstorming family anthems about perseverance such as “Try, try, and try again and then you will win,” “In this family, we finish what we start,” and “Quitters never win.” They wrote the mottos on index cards, and his kids taped them on their bedroom walls. Develop your own family anthem as a reminder that your family code of behavior is to never give up.
  5. Create a “Stick to It” award. Ask your child to help you find a stick at least the length of a ruler to acknowledge stick-to-itness. A family in Seattle uses an old broomstick; another mother said her family uses a yardstick. Print “Stick to It Award” across the stick or dowel with a black marking pen. Now tell everyone to be on alert for family embers showing special persistence for the next month. Each night have a family gathering to announce the names of family members who didn’t give up, and print their initials on the stick with a marking pen. Make sure to tell the recipients exactly what they did to deserve the award. Make it a contest to see how long it takes to fill the stick with family members’ initials. Children love to count how often their initials appear on the stick!

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Dr Borba’s book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, is one of the most comprehensive parenting book for kids 3 to 13. This down-to-earth guide offers advice for dealing with children’s difficult behavior and hot button issues including biting, tantrums, cheating, bad friends, inappropriate clothing, sex, drugs, peer pressure and much more. Each of the 101 challenging parenting issues includes specific step-by-step solutions and practical advice that is age appropriate based on the latest research. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions is available at amazon.com

Don’t Pull Your Hair Out Over Brushing Your Kids’ Teeth

mother and daughter brushing teethWhining at tooth-brushing time can make you want to pull your own hair out. We know a better solution than threatening to take them to the dentist and pulling their teeth out instead.

How exactly can you get your kids into the bathroom and brushing their teeth correctly? 

Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger when it comes to having problems getting kids to follow through with tooth brushing. Survey results show that just 58% of children brush their teeth 2X a day. Your goal is to get your kids into the bathroom and brushing their teeth correctly? Here are 5 tips to peace and quiet in your home as well as healthier mini-me’s.

1)  A special trip to the store for toothbrush shopping

Everyone likes buying new things; it just makes you feel better. Children are no different.

  • Before the trip, do some talking around them that you are planning a big excursion for an important purchase for their health, something that will really help them in a special way. Let them know that they’re going to be allowed to choose their very own “special” toothbrush.
  • You are smart because you are using psychology to help you get to your goals: kids brush teeth and reduce dental disease.  It’s a well-known fact that when a child chooses a toothbrush on their own, they are making a much deeper commitment. They actually own the decision when it’s their choice. And, they are much more likely to actually use it.
  • Go for the counter at the drug store with the colorful brushes, action figures and cartoon characters. It may seem elementary, but they are going to do much better if they own the toothbrush in their mind.

2)  Establish a pattern of behavior

Timing is everything. Like any routine, once it’s learned, it becomes a habit and is not fought against. The trick is to make it fun, easy and forgettable (as to the stress part of it).

As a child develops, the one thing that is comforting to him or her is being in a routine.

Routines give them a sense of security, helps them to develop the discipline necessary to do boring things…such as following good oral hygiene practices!

3)  Happy Time

Could it be that kids just mimic what they see their parents doing? The average person does not brush their teeth for the full two minutes that dentist’s recommend. Why would a kid know any different? We need to be better role models, certainly. I know it’s boring to brush for two minutes, but there are payoffs if we do.

Cooperation comes from making it a fun game, a happy time. Perhaps some of the following suggestions will do the trick.

  • What if you also brushed as the child brushed? Just that could make it a fun time.
  • Prop a favorite doll on the bathroom shelf above the child. At tooth brushing time, take the doll down and have your child practice brushing the doll’s teeth. Next, tell them how happy their doll is with them and the job they did. Finally, suggest they give it a try on their own teeth.
  • YouTube has in its archives many “toothbrush songs”. To make brushing fun for your kids fine one for each day of the week and play a different song each time. You’ll notice that most are two minutes long, just the right amount of time to brush thoroughly.
  • If you can create a game of it all, you will win big time. When they go the full two minuted duration, they win. When they make all the right moves, brushing inside and outside, they win. Be sure they get a prize when they compete the game!

4)  The family that brushes together stays together.

As I mentioned, do this as a group. Child, mom and dad doing the tooth brush shuffle!

  • When the time comes to whisk away the sugar bugs, make it a big deal. Excitement sells lots of things, even tooth brushing. The fun you generate on your way to the bathroom will pay off in spades when you visit the dentist in a few months.
  • Kids want in on the fun. Curiosity can get them to follow you both to the bathroom. There the brushing can begin. Talk about the doll or the super hero figure needing to be saved from sugar bug attack. Make it fun time for the child.

5)  Electric toothbrushes work for kids

As adults, most of us probably use an electric toothbrush because they are absolutely the best for us. The truth is, kids absolutely love them, too.

Several electric toothbrushes are available specifically made for children with colorful designs, audio jingles and sound effects to encourage children to brush longer.

  • You may want to start slowly; gradually increasing the brushing time from one minute to two minutes.
  • I like to divide the effort into eight parts, inside left, outside left, inside right, outside right all on the top and then do that same four sections on the bottom teeth.
  • Don’t forget to brush every tooth on every side, not just the tops of the teeth or just the front six teeth.

Some of the most fantastic success stories we have heard came from our small patients getting an electric tooth brush and using it to whirl away the sugar bugs. Try it, you’ll see!

Teach Gratitude & Give Your Child a Healthier, Happier Life

Research shows us that adults who are grateful report having more energy, fewer health problems, and a greater feeling of well-being than those who complain. Most studies show that the more gratitude we show the healthier and happier we are.

The same goes for children. Children who express gratitude are more appreciative, more empathetic, kinder, more enthusiastic and generally happier. Grateful children look outside themselves and understand that others have needs too. They are more polite, usually better behaved and generally more pleasant to be around.

Kids who are not taught gratitude are forever disappointed and fight feelings of entitlement. They struggle with feelings that nothing will ever be good enough for them.

As parents, “Teaching our Children Gratitude” should be at the top of our to-do list. It doesn’t come naturally to our children. It is learned. Who better to teach, than us?

The first thing we might need to do is stop doing some of the things that parents have been doing for years. Avoid pointing out to our children that they are more blessed than others. That doesn’t teach them to be grateful. When it comes to meals, don’t tell them “you should be grateful for your food and eat it, kids in other countries are starving”. This won’t work either.

Instead…

We need to model gratitude ourselves. We must live lives of gratitude if we want our children to really learn to be grateful. That means they need to see us take care of others, including our spouse, write thank you notes, say “please” and “thank you” and show empathy. That means we need to complain less, criticize less, and strive to point out the positives, not the negative, in situations, and in people. This includes our children and spouses. We need to refrain from complaining about our children (and spouses), instead tell them how grateful we are for them. We need to show gratitude for adversity too. Remember, children will, for the most part, do what their parents do. That is why gratitude has to start with parents, in our homes.

Provide your family opportunities to take care of others. Start by encouraging your children to take care of other family members, and then help them find ways to actively take care of others outside the family. Let them help you as you take care of others. They will learn by example. The goal is to give them “grateful eyes”, so they begin to foresee the need before they have to be told.

Give your children responsibility. We are always more grateful for things when we have to do them ourselves. The same applies to children. Give them appropriate responsibilities. They will realize the effort and energy it takes to accomplish them, and become more grateful for the people around them that do things for them. (Like their mom and dad.)

Teach your children to write Thank you Notes. Insist that this be done. Teach them that it is part of life. Organize a thank you note station in your home that is always stocked with papers, envelopes, stamps and crayons, etc. (Let your children see you sitting there often also). Start when they are very small by having them draw “thank you pictures” and then you write the words to go with it. Then move on to notes that have most of the words filled in. Have children write what it is they are thankful for and sign their name. By the age of 7 or 8, it shouldn’t be a problem for them to write the entire notes themselves. Don’t worry about perfection. Worry that they are remembering to do it. And doing it.

Teach your children to be grateful for adversity. When things are hard, or uncertain, or don’t go as planned, we need to teach our children to be grateful. To recognize the blessings that comes from hard things. We don’t want to teach, “we are luckier, or better than someone else”. Instead help children see what can be learned, and how we can take what we learn into other situations to help others and ourselves.

Say “No”. Our children don’t need everything they ask for. It is important for us to be reasonable and say “No”. We also have to be careful rewarding our children for everything. We want them to do good because it is the right thing to do, and not because they get something, like a new toy or money.

Role Play. Practice saying “please” and “thank you” with your children. Role play situations (grandma gives you a new toy, or someone pays you a compliment). During the role play, talk about how others feel when we show them gratitude. Remember, children aren’t thinking about everyone else. They are thinking about themselves, so we have to teach them.

Point out the simple things. Teach children to be grateful for the creations around them, the seasons, the sunshine, the falling leaves and the rain. Children will quickly understand that there is beauty all around, and that it has come from something much bigger than we are. Celebrate creations. Jump in the leaves, splash in the puddles, and feel the sun on our skin.

With Thanksgiving on our minds, it is a great time to encourage gratitude in our children.

By starting new traditions now, we can hope to encourage gratitude year round. Here are some simply Thanksgiving Traditions that can help our families “think grateful”.

Make a Gratitude Chain

Cut long strips of paper in different colors. Each day have family members, or help little family members, write down something they are thankful for. Take your stapler or tape and hook the strips together to form a chain. Hang it where the family can see it everyday and watch it grow. On Thanksgiving have each person read what they have written throughout the month.

Fill a Gratitude Jar

Any jar will work. Cut up strips of paper and round up some pens and crayons. Put the jar in an obvious place in your home. Everyday until Thanksgiving, have everyone in the family write or draw a picture of something they are thankful for that day and drop it in the jar. Help small children. On Thanksgiving day, pull all the strips out and read them as a family. Talk about how it felt to show increased gratitude all month long.

Have Grateful Hands

Once a week, throughout the month of November, trace the hand of everyone in the family. Sit down every Monday and write down 5 things you have each been thankful for that week. We like to write one in each of the fingers, like feathers. Tape the hands to your kitchen wall throughout the month so everyone can see them. Use the hands as a centerpiece for your Turkey Table. You could even laminate them after the holiday and post all the old ones each year as your children grow. They will love seeing how their hands, and their gratitude has grown.

Gratitude Tree

Head outside and find a few sticks and twigs. Put them in a jar and cover them with some rocks to hold them in place to make your own “tree”. Cut a bunch of leaves out of “fall colored” paper ( or just use tags, or small slips of paper). We have even used real leaves. As you write down what you are thankful for on your leaves, tape them, or tie them to your tree. Use your gratitude tree as your dinner centerpiece on Thanksgiving day

Thankful Tablecloth (My Favorite)

Find a big tablecloth. Or make one the size of your table. You will want a material that has a tight weave and that is smooth. On Thanksgiving Day, trace each person’s hand on the table cloth and write in the middle of the hand something they are thankful for and the year. Fabric markers work best. Each year, on the same cloth, enact the same ritual. Your family will love not only seeing how their hands have grown, but they will love to see what they were thankful for in the past.

Once thanksgiving is over, don’t let the gratitude stop.

  • Each night over dinner, have family members express three things they are thankful for that day.
  • Encourage your kids to keep a gratitude journal. Help them write down one thing they are thankful for each week. Or, have little ones draw pictures of things they are grateful for. Encourage them to move up to every night.
  • Clear a “grateful space” on your fridge. Throughout the year, post anything your family members are thankful for. Encourage family members to contribute. It can become an everyday reminder of the people and blessings your family is thankful for.

Above all things, start by focusing on our own behavior. This in and of itself will help model and teach our children gratitude.

If We Want Ethical Kids, They Need to Learn “Honor” From Us

We all wish to grow healthy, happy relationships with our children. We interact, play and talk with our children to enjoy one another and feel connected. In those moments when we are in conflict with our kids at home, we wonder “What can I do to enhance my relationships with my children?”

One way to improve our relationships is to show that we honor one another.

In its simplest terms, honor is the degree of value, worth and importance you place on a relationship. It is granting another person a position of value in your life.

You likely model honor in your own home naturally. You are caring, loving and trustworthy. If you are ready to delve deeper, here are some steps to spring you forward in the depth and experience of teaching honor in your own home.

Honor begins at home here’s why:

  • You are your kid’s finest role model. If you respect your children in your words and behaviors they learn to do the same with others.
  • Honor is about allegiance, when you teach your children to honor their relationships they become friends who stand up for one another, support one another and are true to each other.
  • Honoring honesty, hard work and patience builds children who value hard work and completing tasks to their rightful end.

Reflect for a moment: Do you honor your relationships? Is it important to you that people honor and give value to what you say and feel? How do you show your kids that you honor them?

Here are some questions to ponder. You might even wish to write them in a journal and note what you do, when and why? This process will bring honor front of mind, help you monitor your tone and change your behavior as needed.

  • Do I talk with my children eye to eye?
  • Do I share their exuberance when they show me their schoolwork?
  • Do I make their lunches based on what’s quick or do I buy food that will keep them healthy, and that they in turn like?
  • Do I take phone calls in my car when I am with my kids?
  • Do we make an effort to sit down to family breakfast and dinner?
  • Do I attend my children’s activities and pay attention to them, or do I take calls on my cell phone while my children are doing their best to show me their achievements? **Editor’s note:  although Covid-19 has significantly curtailed our children’s ability to participate in a number of activities, the question is still worth considering: when you are with your child, are you “with them”?
  • Do I involve my children in the tasks of everyday life such as cleaning, cooking and caring for our home? Or do I tell them “I’ll do it” because that is easier than working through the process with them or dealing with pending messes?
  • Do I take the time to genuinely learn about my child’s interests?
  • Do I schedule my work hours when the kids are doing their schoolwork (irrespective of location), or do I work at home all hours of the night when they are not engaged in schoolwork and need time with me?
  • Do I focus on what my children do right rather than what my children do wrong?

No one is perfect, but when we strive to be mindful about how we honor our family, it builds trust, respect and love.

In relationships where we honor one another, listen to our children’s unique voices and really hear what they need, we improve how we communicate, how we express our love and how we get along across a lifetime.

If you are ready to take steps today try this:

  1. Be consistent with your children.
  2. Be attuned to their individual needs.
  3. Respond to your kids by getting off the couch, computer or phone and going to them. Proximity matters when you are communicating with your children.
  4. Take your child’s concerns seriously. This means acknowledging their feelings. Do not mock or tease your children. Sarcasm is painful and it cuts deeply.
  5. Match your child’s exuberance and excitement by sharing whole-heartedly in their joy.
  6. Give your children your undivided attention in the moments they need you.

If we wish to raise ethical kids in this complicated world, we need to begin with the lessons we teach at home. Being present, modeling respect and showing the meaning of honor is a solid start at any age.

How to Get Your Kids to “Hear” You

Getting our kids to listenIt’s a basic premise for successful parenting: You tell your kids what you want them to do, and they do it. But how often do you resort to yelling or pestering to get that result?

The problem may be you, not your kids, according to parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries and 22 other books. “We blame the kids for not listening; we tune in to them instead of ourselves,” says Borba. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What could I be doing?’ It’s not just what you say; it’s what you do.”

Getting kids to listen takes a time commitment on your part, both in terms of changing your behavior and getting your message across. These 9 steps will help you gain your children’s respect and compliance.

  1. Don’t ask; tell.
    Your kids shouldn’t be doing you a favor; they should be respecting what you say. So don’t turn your statements into questions. “Make sure your comment has a period after it,” says Borba. Watch out for that throwaway ending: “OK?”
  2. Lower your voice.
    It will catch their attention. “ They’re not used to you talking quietly; they’re used to you using the opposite tone,” says Borba.
  3. Be brief and clear.
    Keep it to 10 seconds. If you spend more time than that, they’ll tune you out.
  4. Make sure they’ve heard you.
    Have your kids parrot back what you’ve just said. You’ll know for sure they understand, and it will reinforce the message that you mean business. (Note: This step requires an additional 10-second time commitment on your part.)
  5. Look them in the eye.
    “Get eyeball-to-eyeball instead of talking across the room,” advises Borba. Squat or bend over to make direct contact if need be.
  6. Be realistic.
    If your child is engrossed in something — a game, a book, a TV show — don’t expect him to drop it instantly and swing around to listen to you. (Would you be able, or willing, to do the same if you were in the middle of something?)
  7. Stand your ground.
    Literally. If you don’t get timely compliance, go to your kids and plant your feet in front of them. You don’t have to say anything more. They’ll get the message and know you mean business. “Your expectation is that they stop what they’re doing and listen,” says Borba. “And you’re going to stand there until they do it.”
  8. Take action.
    If they still don’t budge, walk over and turn off the TV or take away the book. “You’re now retraining your kids: “You don’t listen, you don’t watch. This is how we behave,” says Borba.
  9. Model respectful behavior.
    Say “please” the first time you call for their attention or tell them what you want them to do. Say “thanks” when they do it. Think of what you’re showing your kids and ask yourself if you would want them to copy it.

It may take awhile for your kids to change their behavior, especially if they’ve been tuning you out for a long time. But it may also take you awhile to change yours. The good news is, according to Borba: It’s never too late to get your kids to listen to you and follow through. In the process, you just may teach them a thing or two about asking for, and expecting to be treated respectfully by others – and that would make this an invaluable lesson for both of you.

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