Two months ago I moved to Northern California. Our backyard has a deck and lots of bare dirt. I was talking with some of the children in our extended family (ages 9, 7 and 5) about ideas for the dirt. The five-year-old suggested that we put in a “beaver pond.” Other ideas floated were for a butterfly garden, lizards, birdhouses, sunflowers, ladybugs and “a bird’s nest—tiny.”
As we talked, the youngest started making a checklist (I recognize those boxes with check marks!) and another was sketching out the garden design (see above). When I noticed their affinity for planning, I decided to turn their ideas into a S.M.A.R.T. goal for myself and show it to them. Maybe I could model for them one proven method of moving ideas into becoming a reality.
I chose the birdhouses as my example S.M.A.R.T. goal.
- SPECIFIC: I want to add two birdhouses to my garden.
- MEASURABLE: To meet my goal I will gather materials to make 2 birdhouses and invite these children to help me make them.
- ACTION PLAN: Go to the craft store for supplies. Arrange with their parents a good time to work on it. Brainstorm what we want to do to celebrate our completed goal.
- REALISTIC: (for reflection afterwards) Did I reach my goal? What worked? What didn’t work?
- TIME (BY WHEN?) By June 15
Maybe one of them will want to try making a SMART goal for something they want to do this summer.
“Small victories, successfully implemented, yield huge results.” –Peter Walsh
Tweetable: Free from school routine, kids can turn some of their own ideas into reality with S.M.A.R.T. goals. Click to Tweet
Unstructured summer days lie ahead. What activities can we use to enrich kids’ lives while having fun at the same time?
Strengthen a child’s empathy this summer and you may see these results in the upcoming school year*:
- more relaxed physically, with lower levels of stress hormones
- pay attention better and learn more effectively
- fewer behavior problems, such as aggressiveness
Children learn empathy very well by doing acts of service.
For example, you make a donation to a food pantry and you discuss with your children about how others are hungry. Sheila Sjolseth shares her experience.
The service acts where I see the most distinctive difference in my boys are when we interact with others in our community—those acts where they helped someone in a completely different situation than their own. By far, the acts of service that have been the most profound were when we helped:
- the elderly in nursing homes
- those who are experiencing homelessness
- those who have great medical need
- animals in shelters
Beyond taking in a neighbor’s trash cans or holding the door for someone–
–good as these are, empathy building means finding experiences where kids will see the needs of others and choose to meet them.
- Prepare and take healthy treats to the fire department or police station.
- Write a thank-you note or picture for the trash truck driver.
- Make a chemo care package for a family friend.
- Do an internet search for more ideas….
- Get ready. Brainstorm who we want to help. Talk about how the person’s life is different from the child’s. What can we expect?
- Keep it short. Think 10 minutes (not counting prep time).
- Show them how. Model the behavior you’d like to see them copy.
- Let them help. Even let them take the lead as they get ideas and want to initiate service.
- Reflect and debrief. Sheila asks her kids: “Was it what you expected? Why or why not? How did your service help the other person?” And I add, “How did you like doing it? What did the other person say or do to show how they felt?”
Try it once and see if it’s worth the effort.
*Harris, P.L. Children and Emotion: The Development of Psychological Understanding, 1989.
Tweetable: Do summer activities here to strengthen a child’s empathy and you might lower their stress hormones. Click to Tweet
In an old issue of Psychology Today, I ran across an article featuring the words of Dennis Rosen, M.D.
Sometimes children seem so self absorbed and so preoccupied with gadgets and toys, we wonder whether they are aware of, or care about, what goes on around them. We like to tell ourselves, “Something” must be wrong with this generation.
Except there isn’t. The problem lies with us, the adults, who could be challenging them to think about others, and leading them to action.
Prior to going to Haiti to volunteer at a hospital, Dr. Rosen spoke to his daughter’s second grade class about the conditions there, showing them pictures of what life is like for children just like them. Following his visit, the class collected over 7,000 vitamins for him to give out.
“The empathy and genuine interest of these seven year olds was so impressive, and yet, upon reflection, not really that surprising. To help others in need is a very basic human instinct (though one that is not always acted upon).”
5 fun activities teach kids to think of others.
Author Cat Skorupski’s ideas I’m going to use with the kids in my life this summer:
- Surprise parents by making a favorite food for each of them and present it at the next meal.
- Do a chore without being asked. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s one that will resonate big-time with parents. The more annoying the chore, the better. Make a movie of each child doing it and show their parents.
- Raise money for a cause dear to someone’s heart. Showing that you care about something he or she cares about—enough to invest your time and energy—is a huge compliment.
- Take a song you already know and write new words to it, making it about someone special to you! It doesn’t have to be complicated—heck, it doesn’t even have to be on-key. It’s the thought that counts! Then record it onto a phone or computer and send it to them.
- Create a scavenger hunt. Hide affirmation notes around the house for a sibling or other relative to find. The notes could be hidden in sequence with clues that lead the hunter to the next treasure or they could just be hidden randomly.
Tweetable: Show kids how you care about others, then guide them do this directly on their own with 5 new ideas. Click to Tweet
Are we doing children a favor by letting them have the easiest and best of everything? “What distinguishes healthy families is not the absence of problems or suffering but rather their coping and problem solving abilities.” (Froma Walsh)
A good definition of “resilient” is found in Ms. Walsh’s book, Strengthening Family Resilience: “the capacity to rebound from adversity strengthened and more resourceful.”
Ways to let children practice resilience
- Praise a child’s patience with a younger sibling’s interference with their toys, rather than jumping to stop the conflict.
- Encouragement: “You’re a star when it comes to trying new things.”
- Even if you think it’s “too hard” for a child, give him or her independence to try new things they initiate, such as climbing at the playground or opening a container. Let them try things for themselves, even if it means they may fail. Nothing builds resilience like failure– and the realization that you can move on from it.
- Teach children phrases such as “this too shall pass” or “every challenge makes you stronger.” These phrases frame struggles as challenges to overcome, not tests to avoid.*
Resiliency’s spiritual component
Adversity invites all of us, including kids, into the spiritual domain. Strong faith, beliefs, and practices can foster a resilient spirit that lasts a lifetime.
See how these different spiritual beliefs influence a child’s resilience:
- They tried to bury me, but they didn’t know I am a seed. (Mexican proverb)
- Not everything is good, but God causes everything to work together for the good.
- “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me….” (Psalm 23)
- “Get up rejoicing. It’s a new day… with a will, there’s a way.” (M. Izunwa)
What spiritual beliefs in your family’s heritage influence resilience?
Note: Credit goes to Chelsea Smith for the Ideas to practice resilience.
- Strong faith beliefs and practices can foster a resilient spirit in kids that lasts a lifetime. Click to Tweet
- Do we really do kids a favor by giving them the easiest and best of everything? Some thoughts on resilience. Click to Tweet
Are you a teacher, dad, grandparent–someone who will coach children in their Mother’s Day messages and gifts? Here are some fresh ideas to get them started on their messages.
Young children may touch mom’s heart with their crayon-drawn cards….
….but older children can begin to venture outside the box of “Thanks for all you do for me” into specific actions mom does. Just two or three of them will communicate a deeper level of appreciation perhaps.
Older children and teens can begin to articulate specific qualities, character, personality traits and attitudes.
These creative sentences may spark children’s short messages affirming the spirit of their mother. I like these ideas offered by Keely Chace :
- You’re the glue that holds us together.
- I hope you know how much I admire the woman you are.
- You’ve taught me so much without saying a word.
- Your love has shaped me in lasting ways.
- You are the heart and soul of our family. I love you.
- For all you’ve gone through, all you are and all the love you share.
- You’re the best listener I could ever ask for.
- You don’t just give love, you are love. And I love you so much, too!
- There’s simply no one else like you. I feel so blessed.
- Creative, generous and fun–that’s you. [or whatever qualities fit her]
And for stepmom (or mother figure):
- Thank you for being such an important person in my life. You’re someone I can tell anything and ask anything.
- I wanted to recognize you on Mother’s Day for being such a caring and positive influence in my life.
- I look up to you more than you know.
- You’re an amazing women I admire, appreciate and love.
Tweetable: Creative ideas for Mother’s Day messages beyond “Thanks for all you do for me.” Click to Tweet