If you think about it, parenting is a huge responsibility to all of society. It's not enough just to keep your kids safe and loved, educate them, and help them transition into self-sufficiency. One of the most important, meaningful, and never-ending aspects of parenting is inspiring your offspring to make the world a better place and play a role in advancing the human race.
As long as you are breathing, you are either taking from the world, or giving back to it. Teaching your child how to give back is one of the biggest ways you continue to give back. As most parents know, what you do has a greater impact on your kids than what you say. They will be watching as you teach by modeling learning...say something important by listening intently...receive fulfillment by giving away your time and treasure to a cause greater than yourself...and make your voice heard by amplifying the voices of others. This isn't difficult to do, but it doesn't just happen on its own. It requires intention. And it's never too early to start.
Look for ways you and your children can listen and learn together.
Show your kids that learning is a lifelong process. Explore the world beyond your own gate. Go to museums; read books; pay attention to current events; learn about history, religion and cultures outside of your own. Forge relationships with others from diverse backgrounds. Ask grandparents to share stories of their past experiences and personal struggles. All of this enables your children to put themselves in other people's shoes and develop an empathy and compassion that is crucial to improving the world for everyone.
Model the behaviors you want your kids to emulate.
Demonstrate what it means to be a good citizen. Take them with you to vote. Talk to them about the electoral process. Describe your volunteer work. Tell them about the causes you support and why you chose to make them a priority. Discuss age-appropriate current events at the dinner table. Invite friends and co-workers from diverse backgrounds to your home and visit them in theirs when invited. Introduce your children to food, customs, holidays and traditions from other cultures. Read the paper and educational magazines both in front of them and to them. Let them witness your continuing education about the world around you. Share with them about a time you changed your stance on an issue after listening to the other side's arguments. It's important for them to see that beliefs and priorities can evolve as you continue to learn and seek out new perspectives.
Encourage them to get involved.
Plan a summer project or field trip your family can do around giving back to the community. Participate in family-friendly volunteer events. Encourage them to give gifts that support a cause or to opt out of receiving gifts themselves and instead set up a fundraiser for a cause near to their hearts. Support them in a run for student council office. Enroll them in scouts, youth groups, or other organizations that center activities around serving others. Share with them what other kids are doing and nurture their creativity in finding ways they can offer their own unique skills and talents to the world.
There's no shortage of examples, but here are just a few more of my favorites:
Every voice matters. Even the smallest effort can make the biggest difference to one person. Empower your children from a young age to become the change they wish to see in the world. Download and print out the Raise Good Citizens PDF to get started.
With a little bit of contagious enthusiasm and the desire to keep learning, growing and contributing, even raising good citizens can be easy peasy.
Quite a few years ago, when my kids were younger, I spent a much-overdue weekend away with my three older sisters. It was the first time I had ever been away from my children, then ages 7 and 9, for more than one night. I was sure they would miss me, and I knew I would miss them, but my son responded to the news of my impending trip with this elated proclamation to his father:
“Hey Daddy, that means that we can do whatever we want all weekend, because Mommy won’t be here to boss us around!”
Alas, it’s true that we all need to take a break every now and then from doing what we’re supposed to do. That’s why we take vacations or occasionally skip the gym...why we sometimes take a “mental health day” from work, or cheat on our diets. In this case, my son thought that with his drill sergeant mom on leave, there would be no one ordering him to clean up his toys, make his bed or clear his dishes. He envisioned my time away as one long boss-free, video-game-playing, TV-watching, Lego-dumping weekend filled with Cocoa Puffs for dinner, chocolate cake for dessert and no church or teeth-brushing to cramp his style. Except he forgot his sister would be staying home with him. Here’s how he described her at the time:
It says: This is some big information. I have one sister. She is really bossy. For example, she tells me what TV shows and DVDs I can and ca'nt wach [sic] I like the great-white shark. It eats fish.
(I wonder, are those blue things fish, or a bossy sister's feet? Hmmm...)
Anyway, a little time off from the regular routine is both healthy and necessary, and summer is the ideal time for relaxing our standards and enjoying some easy, laid-back simplicity. But there is a fine line between a relaxed routine and a free-for-all that can be difficult to reverse. Just like enjoying that all-you-can-eat dessert buffet, the long-term negative effects of your binge can be minimized with just a smidgeon of advance preparation and a plan in place for easing back into the rigors of everyday life when reality resumes in the fall. Also remember that kids need a little structure in place to reassure them when they crash from that sugar rush.
Here are just a few strategies that I have found make for a smoother transition back to reality when summer ends:
So go ahead, turn on Nat King Cole and turn up the volume as you savor the sweetness of these long summer days, but just remember that you still need to brush every day if you don’t want a cavity!
With a little structure and routine over the summer, even transitioning your kids back to a school-time schedule in the fall will be easy peasy.
As a parent, one of your most important - and perhaps daunting - responsibilities is preparing your child for the day he leaves your nest. Believe it or not, that day will come much sooner than you think or will be ready for. When you first bring your little bundle of joy home for the first time, it seems as though you have all the time in the world. But there's so much knowledge to impart over the next 18-21 years. The good news is that the awesome task ahead of you will no doubt become one of the greatest and most rewarding adventures you will ever embark upon.
Sharing your knowledge of the world and instructing your child in the life skills he will need as an adult presents a unique opportunity for bonding. Think back on your own childhood and I'll wager some of your fondest memories are the times you learned a new skill under the loving tutelage of your parents or grandparents. Learning to ride a bike with mom and dad cheering you on; standing on a kitchen chair to help stir the cookie dough; receiving driving instruction from your white-knuckled parent looking terrified in the passenger seat...these are shared moments of victory...of the successful transference of knowledge and skill from one generation to the next. These little successes form a foundation of confidence your child can build upon in the years ahead. Like your parents before you, you are your child's first and most effective teacher. Endless opportunities present themselves during the course of everyday life to teach him everything from how to get dressed and do his laundry to selecting and wrapping an appropriate gift for someone else and even saving up the money to buy it. All too often, we miss these little teachable moments as we scurry through the busy-ness of life, so it's worth a little time and effort to lay a plan for capturing and harnessing them as you go.
Where to start
Begin by brainstorming all the skills you use every day. There are the obvious things like cooking, cleaning and laundry, but think a little deeper. Don't overlook the ones you take for granted because they are so second-nature, such as tying a tie, shaving, or pumping gas. Make a list and group them together by topic or download the Life Skills Made Easy (for younger kids) and Life Skills for Teens (for older kids) PDFs for FREE. We've already done the brainstorming for you! Once there's a game plan, it's just a matter of seizing opportunities to implement it as they arise. It's easier to recognize those teachable moments as they come up once you've identified what they are.
Even very young children can start learning life skills. In fact, the younger they are, the more eager they are to learn. What can your child do right now that will help him begin developing a new life skill? A four or five-year-old is obviously too young to handle a sharp chef's knife, but he can learn to safely cut his own sandwich with a plastic table knife. Even younger children might enjoy watching you cook as you explain what you are doing and why. He will learn just through repeated exposure to the activity and will want to emulate your actions as soon as possible. Encourage this!
Remember that "practice makes perfect"
Resist the temptation to just do things yourself because it's quicker and easier. Set aside some time to patiently coach your child in developing and practicing new skills. Praise their efforts even when the results may not be up to your usual standards. Point out what they are doing right. Remember that teaching them how to properly perform the task is more important than completing it quickly or perfectly. Don't be afraid to let them make a mistake (as long as they are not endangering themselves or others). Sometimes errors are the best teachers...they learn what not to do as what to do. (Likewise, you learn to be more specific with your instructions...like the time I instructed my daughter to drain a can of beans in a colander but forgot to suggest she do so over the sink...oops!)
Encourage learning and curiosity
Kids naturally want to be more like you and do the things you do. They view the "grownup things" as fun. (Shhhh...I won't correct them if you don't!) Keep your grumbling over doing your chores to yourself. Let them continue believing you are having a grand ole time for as long as possible! Find fun and creative ways to help them master each new skill. Go on "field trips" or do things differently than you normally would to expose them to new opportunities. Never underestimate the power of novelty to transform a mundane chore into an adventure. For example, take the bus to the post office instead of driving. Turn grocery shopping into a game. Turn on some energetic music and wash and dry the dishes together as a fun family after-dinner activity instead of simply loading the dishwasher as you normally would.
Reward and incentivize practicing
Even once your child has learned a new skill, it's important for them to continue practicing it. Reward their accomplishment with something tangible that will encourage them to keep using and perfecting their newfound skills. For example, a personalized stationery set might motivate them to send thank you notes without arguing and thus continue using the skills they mastered to earn a Letter Writing Badge. The Life Skills Badge Program is designed to reward kids with a physical badge they can display in their rooms upon completion of each module, while the Life Skills for Teens workbook suggests tangible rewards to encourage older kids to continue using their skills.
Become a curator of ideas
While your child's life skills education begins with you, that doesn't mean you have to do it all yourself! Look for fun camps, classes, books, DVDs and apps that can help. Seek and share ideas from friends and family members. Read parenting blogs. Search Pinterest to see how others are training their young ones.
My nephew and his wife recently shared with me their brilliant and creative "restaurant" idea for teaching responsibility, money management and table manners all at once! Their three young children earn "mommy/daddy money" by doing chores around the house throughout the day. Then that evening, they transform their dinner table into a "restaurant", complete with a host/hostess who seats everyone and a waiter/waitress who takes everybody's order from a laminated menu. Each child must make sure they have enough mommy/daddy money to pay for their meal, and impeccable table manners are expected and practiced throughout the meal. I love, love, love this idea!
There's no one way to transfer life skills and knowledge to your kids. The Life Skills Badge Program and Life Skills for Teens PDFs are free resources that can help you get started, but how you implement them is up to you. Please share your creative ideas in the comments below for other parents to try.
With a little patience, creativity and thirst for adventure, even raising capable, independent, and confident kids can be easy peasy!
If you're trying to establish more order and reduce stress in your life, one of the best places to start is with your car.
Why? The only thing worse than departing your house in a stress-filled rush is departing in a stress-filled rush in a mess-filled vehicle! Most of us spend more time than we care to think about in our cars, fighting traffic, ferrying arguing kids here and there, and worrying about making it to our destination on time. A clean and tidy car can go a long way toward calming your nerves and creating a more pleasant driving environment.
Secondly, car seats can become a breeding ground for all sort of--em--"scientific experiments" that can create an unhealthy environment for your passengers. Many families eat on the go in the car. By keeping up with the crumbs and trash, you can avoid some unpleasant surprises (like the maggots my friend recently discovered under her child's car seat...gross)! Carrying less stuff around in your car makes it quicker and easier give it a quick wipe-down and vacuum when it needs it. Cleaning out your car should take you minutes, not hours!
Finally, nothing is more time-consuming and frustrating than losing track of items because you left them in the car. In an ideal world, the only items you should be keeping in your car between journeys are the things that you only use in the car or when you are away from home. Start treating everything else you bring home like a gallon of milk and put it away as soon as you reach home. You wouldn't leave a gallon of milk sitting in the car for days, right?
How? Emptying your car after each trip is not so difficult if you keep up with it...it's just a matter of getting started and staying disciplined. Start by giving the inside of your vehicle a good, thorough clean. This will help you want to keep it that way. Next, train all your passengers to share in the responsibility for keeping it tidy:
A couple of years ago, I posted about the advantages of creating a "command center" in your home to keep everyone in the family informed and on the same page in a low-tech manner. I showed you an example of the elements we included in ours here at Chez Sheridan and provided a few tips on developing your own. If you missed it, you can still read it here. While ours has served us well, I was ready for a change...something simple yet a bit fun and whimsical that everyone in the family could get into. I decided to go with a chalkboard and wanted to share with you just how easy this is!
As I mentioned in my original post, an effective command center should be located in a central spot where all family members will see it. I have this weird little wall between my kitchen and the main living space in my home that makes the perfect spot, but it's also one of the first things you see when you walk in the front door. As you can see from the photo, I'm not very artistic, but part of the fun of the chalkboard is that you get to play around with it and it's a fun way to get your kids (and spouse?) involved too. I'm pretty sure I can trick my teenagers into keeping themselves informed if it involves doodling with chalk!
To make your own chalk wall, all you need is chalkboard paint, painter's tape, some chalk, and an eraser. It really doesn't get any fancier than that. I bought a can of chalkboard paint for about $8.50 from WalMart and still have about one-third of it leftover after two coats on my little wall. Simply tape up the trim with the painter's tape and roll it on. It dries to the touch in less than two hours and is ready for a second coat in four hours. Allow it to dry for three days before writing on it. Then "season" it by rubbing the side of a piece of chalk all over the board. Erase it and you are open for business!
As I said, I can barely draw a stick figure, but there are lots of great resources on the Internet for inspiration on fonts and designs you can use to spruce up yours. This was my first stab at it, but I look forward to getting better with practice and adding some color next time. At least my kids won't be bugging me about what's for dinner tonight and will know what's on the calendar in the coming days.
Get creative and encourage other family members to contribute, too. After all, the whole idea is to foster more communication between you. The more they are looking at the board, the better the chances they'll absorb the information on it, right? Enlist their help in keeping it updated by assigning "chalkboard duty" to a specific person each day or week. Add reminders, an inspirational quote, or some seasonal doodles. My photo only shows the top half of my wall, but I deliberately left the bottom portion blank for my kids and their friends to write on. The more involved they are, the more organized and on top of things they will become.
With a little chalk and some creativity, even keeping the whole family informed can be easy peasy!
It's mid-September. By now, everyone is back in school, the extracurricular activities have resumed, and the seemingly endless stream of papers have come pouring in...papers telling you:
First, it's important to establish a solid after-school routine. Even if your schedule varies depending on the day, try to have a set routine for when the kids arrive home with all their stuff. We call ours "backpack unpack" time. Unpack and repack lunchboxes (if applicable) right away to avoid a scramble the next morning. Designate a landing pad where each kid can unpack homework materials and a separate "inbox" where they can leave papers for Mom or Dad to see or sign.
Next, equip your kids with a homework station. Whether it's at a desk in their rooms or contained in a bin or basket that can be transported to the kitchen or dining room table, make sure they have a clear work surface and all the supplies they need to complete their homework assignments...pencils, sharpener, erasers, highlighters, ruler, compass, calculator, protractor, glue stick, scissors, crayons/colored pencils, and paper. Try to keep it well-stocked and somewhat organized. If helpful, include folders for keeping study aids and work in progress easily accessible.
Third, maintain a common calendar for tracking all upcoming tests, deadlines, project due dates, and other reminders (such as "Wear Sneakers" every PE day and "Remember Library Books" every Media Center day). Color code it using a different color ink for each child. Post it in a central location and train the kids to review it each morning before school and each evening before bed. Gradually teach them how to share responsibility for maintaining it.
For older kids, help them set up their binders with divided sections for each class and two separate homework folders: one for homework to be completed, and a second for completed homework that is ready to turn in. Encourage them to write all homework assignments and upcoming tests, quizzes and projects in an agenda during class and then review it each evening to be sure all assignments were completed. If applicable, you can also check your school's online assignment tracker just in case they forgot to write something down in their agendas. (This will also help you know about upcoming tests and projects so you can add them to the reminder calendar.)
So now, what to do with all those papers they bring home for you to see or sign? Well, let's start with the stuff you DON'T have to keep: You do not need to save every piece of graded classwork or artwork your child brings home. Less really is more when if comes to selecting keepsakes. Only THE MOST precious items should make it into your keepsakes box, lest you end up needing to build a new wing onto your house in a few years to hold a forest of paper you will likely never look at again. (You are more likely to look at it again if you have less of it...trust me on this!) As for the rest of their work, once you have reviewed it, you really only need to keep the papers that may be helpful in reviewing, either with your kids or their teachers, potential problem areas.
Any other papers requiring action, such as permission slips or sign-up sheets, should be addressed and immediately returned to school in your child's backpack (with instructions to your child on what to do with them) or added to your To Do pile. Information about school policies, test results, and report cards should be filed. Any other items not requiring action can be discarded after reviewing them.
Finally, if you aren't already in the habit of weekly dinner menu planning, I strongly encourage you to try it. It's an investment that can save you a ton of time, money and sanity on hectic school nights. Check out this helpful menu planning tutorial to get you started!
With a little planning and the right attitude, making it all the way through the school year with a full head of hair still intact will be easy peasy!
Re-publishing this post from May 11, 2012 in honor of Mother's Day.
Ever since my kids’ last embarrassing dental appointment I’ve been making a point of following behind their evening brushing job to make sure they are being thorough. They resisted at first, but I keep telling them it’s just one more little way for me to show my love for them. So when I overheard this conversation between my husband and son at tuck-in time the other night, I had to chuckle.
Hubby: “Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend, so we have to think of something nice we can do for Mummy.”
Son: ” I know! Maybe we can brush her teeth for her!”
My heart still does a little dance every time I think of that!
I’ve never been a jewelry-and-roses kind of mom and would much prefer to receive a lumpy clay paperweight clumsily wrapped in newspaper or a macaroni necklace that’s been colored with magic marker. And while brushing my teeth for me may be more than he bargained for, I’ll bet no fancy salon pedicure could ever feel so good.
But my favorite Mother’s Day gift of all comes when I observe my offspring exhibiting their loving care for each other. These precious moments pop up from time to time throughout the year, not just on the second Sunday in May, and they always bring a smile to my face. Their cooperative teamwork in carrying a laundry basket upstairs, the sweet notes of comfort they write to one another to help sooth away disappointed tears, celebrating each others’ successes and mourning each others’ losses, sharing a favorite toy, and compromising on an activity as they play together. I even love to hear them echoing my advice. “When you are feeling frustrated, take a deep breath, relax and count to ten.”
Sure, it isn’t all sunshine and roses, and there is an equal amount of arguing, but I cling to these gifts as proof that they really are listening and all my efforts are not in vain. I believe that a mother is not someone who has borne or raised a child but someone who plants seeds of love and kindness and patiently tends the shoots until they blossom and make the world more beautiful. Happy Mother’s Day to all you “gardeners” out there.
What’s the best/funniest/sweetest/most memorable Mother’s Day gift you’ve ever given or received?
It’s never a good sign when it starts raining in your garage…especially when your kitchen is above the garage and you’ve just stepped in a wet patch near the dishwasher!
So yes, we need a new dishwasher and no, there is no room for one in our budget right now. At first I was so busy being grateful that it wasn’t an issue with the kitchen plumbing that I forgot to groan about having to hand wash all my dishes for the foreseeable future. It didn’t take long for me to remember just how much I hate it. I mostly hate not having any room on my tiny counter to put all the clean dishes and how quickly I run out of dry dish towels since I don’t have a drainer and have to drain them on a towel. (I’m actually anti-dish drainer because I think they invite you to leave the job unfinished and take up valuable space even when not in use.) But once I figured out that I could use the empty dishwasher as my drying rack, my perspective began to change. I began to see the silver lining to this cloud and realized that what at first seemed like a curse may indeed become a blessing.
For one thing, washing and drying dishes is something everyone in my family can do…even the more “spatially challenged” among them. My kids have finally completed the Dishwashing Badge in our Life Skills Badge Program. My husband is more sensitive about helping with dinner clean up, and I don’t have to worry about whether the bowl I really want to use is going to take up too much space in the dishwasher later. Maybe now we won’t have to take out a second mortgage just to pay the water bills that also fund my daughter’s showers. (She’s the only 11-year-old I know with permanently wrinkled hands.) And once the kitchen cleanup is done, it’s done…no more dishes to put away later since I ascribe to the dry-them-and-put-them-away-now philosophy.
Best of all, I’m no longer worrying about what will happen if my dishwasher breaks…I already know. My children will enjoy an excuse to play in some sudsy water before school. My husband and I will giggle and flirt as we snap dish towels at each other. I’ll imagine my mother, now gone to her rest, washing that very same serving spoon back in our kitchen on Timber Trail Rd. The clean scent of the dish washing liquid will remind me of my grandmother’s kitchen.
Sometimes we need something to break to realize how truly unimportant it is. And often in our never-ending quest to simplify our lives, we end up complicating them instead. The modern conveniences designed to free up our time wind up stealing our opportunities to forge that time into something memorable. Think about your funniest family anecdotes. Chances are they felt like catastrophes at the time. (Someday I’ll share my “Mom in a Manhole” story…a real family classic.) Next time “disaster” strikes, look for the hidden blessing instead of feeling cursed.
I suppose we will replace the dishwasher eventually, but I’m not in any hurry. It might be kind of fun to share KP duty with my sister after a family holiday meal just like the old days. But only if she dries.
"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read" --Groucho Marx
I am blessed to have two children who love to read! In fact, my 7-year-old son is known for swiping his Dad's Playstation Magazine and hiding it under his bed before my husband has had a chance to read it. We knew his zeal for reading had reached new heights when he started making off with his nursing journals too.
My daughter insists on saving all of her birthday and Valentine's cards and routinely reads through her current stash. She reads our Webster's dictionary quite regularly, and I had even encouraged her to share a "word of the day" with the family each night at dinner until I started noticing a disturbing pattern in the words she chose...Adder, Anaconda, Asp, Cobra, Copperhead... Last Fall, we had to confiscate her Harry Potter book at bedtime in order to keep her from reading it in the dark. After discovering that she had been sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to read in secret, we had to tell her that an alarm is set to go off if anyone is creeping around downstairs after Mom and Dad go to bed. (Of course, this backfired on me months later when I wanted her to run downstairs to fetch something for me after we'd all retired upstairs for the night.)
Whether it's library books, greeting cards, yard sale finds, magazines, or another generous Amazon shipment from Grandma, there seems to be an abundance of reading material circulating in our house. Even the shortest car trip requires a traveling library, and I want to encourage their bookishness. To contain all this fabulous print, we have bookshelves strategically placed in every major room of our house and magazine baskets in all the bathrooms. Yet it remains a struggle getting my little bookworms to re-shelve with adequate frequency.
Thus I have introduced the "book basket", where reading material can be tossed with ease by the day's appointed "librarian" during our quick evening tidy-up. Every couple of weeks, the kids re-shelve the contents of the basket and I slyly seed it with a few neglected titles from the shelves upstairs to encourage them to select a variety of different texts to read.
"So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall."
— Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
This was nearly a headline in my local newspaper this morning. Talk about going out with a bang! I am forever chastising my husband for leaving his dirty clothes on the floor at the foot of our bed, and last night I had a rude awakening from my half-slumber as I got tripped up in his skivvies on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Dirty clothes on the floor is just one of the many hazards I have faced in our seemingly-innocuous three-story suburban household. A barefoot stroll across the living room can feel like walking on broken glass because of all the stray Legos, and one misplaced Boys' Life or American Girl magazine on the stairs makes a heck of a slip-and-slide.
So in the interest of home safety, I've set up a small basket on each set of stairs in our house and do regular sweeps throughout the day to keep the floor clear. It only takes a few seconds, and anything that isn't in current use but belongs on a different level of the house gets tossed into the appropriate upstairs or downstairs basket. You'd be amazed at how much neater a room looks with a clutter-free floor. The kids need occasional reminders to empty the baskets and put things back in their proper place, but I find that they are fairly good about it.
So if you want to cut down on trips to the ER and save your vacuum cleaner, give this a try and save your 15 minutes of fame for something a little less fatal.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.