Are We There Yet?

The Baras familyMany parents, when they think of traveling with their kids, immediately hear this whine in their mind, coming from the back seat of the car, “Are we there yet?” I have seen similar scenes in way too many movies too. Being in the car with bored kids is possibly one of the most common fears parents have, which causes many of them to avoid traveling with their children.

How horrible.

Another thing that is now very common is the use of electronic gadgets to pacify kids and keep them occupied on the way to interesting places, because of the fear of what they might do if they get bored. Watching a DVD or listening to music, often each person separately listening with headphones, seem like good ways to “have some peace and quiet”.

Again, how horrible.

Ronit and I have just returned from a week away with our kids. It is now winter in Brisbane, with temperatures below our enjoyment threshold, so we decided to go to Port Douglas, which is in the tropical region of Australia. We were hoping for nice, warm weather. Instead, the sky was overcast, it rained lightly on most days and the temperatures we pretty mild. But we had a ball anyway.

Read more about how to travel with children

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Slumber Party: Sleepover Reloaded

Girls at a slumber partyLast week, our 11-year-old daughter Noff had a slumber party for her birthday. Since she has a birthday party every year (most of her friends do not), we decided we would try to do something different this year. She had already had one or two friends for a sleepover, but never a whole slumber party. At first, I asked her how many girls she would invite and she said 5, but when the invitation went out, I discovered she had invited 12 girls.

Hmmm… I wondered how that would work.

While I was worried if we would be able to fit 12 girls into our living room as the invitation went out, I realized that a slumber party required more than just a big living room. It comes with lots of other challenges. Some people also questioned our choice to allow this mass sleepover to take place, but I thought it was a great opportunity to give our daughter a chance to learn things about herself and others that no amount of talking could.

Challenge 1: The number of kids

The first challenge was to reduce the number of people from 24 that usually come to her parties to 7, which we thought would be a good number. Obviously, this did not work for us, because with a lot of effort, Noff only brought it down to 12. She struggled so much that we comforted each other, “We’ll manage. We always do”.

Eventually, 7 girls confirmed, we put mattresses on the floor, and as the girls came with their small suitcases, we discovered there were 9 girls there, 10 including Noff.

Oops.

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Quality Time: How to Have Fun with Your Kids

Now that you know what quality time is and what quality time is not, what can you actually do with your own kids? Here are some great things you can do to have more quality time with your children and help them feel loved and close to you.

Ask open questions

Bedtime storyWhenever you meet your kids after school and work, show interest in their day. Do not confuse asking questions with interrogating – one comes from curiosity and the other one from a need to control. So pay attention to the tone of your voice and to your intention and ask to hear the child’s answer. If you expect some “correct” answer, it is not quality time and your child will not trust you next time to answer your question. Instead, gently explore with your child his or her impressions, reasons and feelings.

Tip: when you ask a child “How was your day?” the answer is typically in the form of a rating, e.g. “Good”. To avoid this dead end, rephrase the question as “Tell me about your day” or “What happened to you at school today?”

Read more about how to connect with your kids

Fathering Adventures

Father and 3 childrenSometimes, the Universe seems to conspire to make us do something. In this case, I think it wants me to write about how important fathers are in the life of their children. We keep focusing on parenting in this blog, but there is a difference between mothering and fathering, which we have not discussed much.

I have a friend who goes on a men’s camp every year. When his boys were young, he went by himself and felt very supported there. As soon as his boys turned 13 and were allowed to go with him, away they went together and spent a great time bonding – singing, dancing, doing physical exercise and watching performances. He has been nagging me to come with him on that camp for a few years now, saying there is something special about the freedom and “safe space” it provides.

So far, I have not gone.

In the past few months, Ronit worked with several boys whose father had died or spent a lot of time away from home. Whenever we talked about them, I kept having the feeling that although they were young (5 to 8 years old), they felt like little men. I felt they saw themselves as somewhat responsible for the wellbeing of their family and had to fill the very large shoes of their absent father.

That was not enough either.

Read more about how to be a great father

Topsy Turvy World (4)

Happy toddler on an ice slideOur world is a weird and wonderful place, but sometimes, we act in weird ways that make it not so wonderful anymore. In many situations, there is a conflict between what is good for us personally and what is good for everybody. In others, the conflict is between what is good for us right now and what will be good in the future. Without considering the implications of our actions, they sometimes make the world just a little bit less pleasant.

Of course, when we do many of these things and lots of other people do them too, the decline accelerates. I often think of my kids and the kind of place I would like them to have when they grow up and it makes me worry.

No Running, No Jumping, No Playing

When Tsoof was 4 years old, his favorite activity was soccer, he loved to play drums and was a very energetic and talkative little boy. We wanted him to be with other kids, so we sent him to a nearby kindergarten that had great facilities and looked really nice.

Over time, we noticed our little boy was becoming sad and agitated, until he said he did not want to go to kindie anymore. When we ask him about it, he said, “They just want me to sit all the time. I can’t run and I can’t jump and I can’t climb anything. And they want me to be quiet all the time. If I sing or shout because I’m happy, they say ‘keep it down’. I heard something outside and I climbed the toy box to see what’s happening and the teacher pulled me down”, he said.

The next time we dropped him off, we went in with him and asked about all these restrictions. His teacher told us there had been some accidents and some children had gotten injured from climbing or bumping into each other while running, so their insurance company had told them they would not pay for these anymore and they should make sure the kids did not do anything dangerous.

“But this is what kids do”, we said, “They run and climb and experiment. It’s good for them”.

“Sorry”, said the teacher, “We can’t afford to lose our cover”.

Read more about our topsy turvy world

Bejeweled Sharpens Your Mind

Bejeweled Blitz logo I am not a great fan of playing computer games, because I believe it takes children away from social interaction and from creativity. I must admit that when I was a student, I worked at the Special Education Library designing similar card games and board games and dreaming of creating something like a computer game to make things easy for me.

Computer games are not a dirty word if they support the development of the player. When a child plays a puzzle on the table, their cognitive skills are stretched as much as when they play a puzzle on the computer.

I remember preparing hundreds of pages that ask the kids to circle the “odd one out”. Now, they can play many computer games that are way more colorful and varied that reuse the same “cards” for the children to choose from. I was limited by the number of stamps and my drawing ability and used lots of paper to allow each child to have enough pages to experience and learn. Now, any simple computer game can give the kids endless opportunities to find the odd one out, with great graphics, sounds and animation.

Read more about how to benefit from computer games

Grow Younger and Happier

clip_image004_thumbIt is amazing what we can learn from kids. Inexperienced and naïve, they have some truth they were born with and I wonder if we can borrow this naivety from them, until we also grow our happiness.

Do you not feel sometimes that “growing up” also means losing something?

I do!

For a long time, I held the belief that being around kids would remind me that I needed to unlearn some things in life and go back to the source, to the original state of trusting life, unexplained, to laugh at silly things and possess a strong belief that “everything is going to be all right”. Kids are great reminders of this state.

Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul
– Samuel Ullman

Please do not get me wrong. There are frustrations, tears and problems for children, but most of them can be fixed with simple things like a kiss, a balloon or just a suggestion of a better option to choose. The younger they are, they easier it is to make kids happy. My two new nephews who live on the other side of the world and I see in photos, in videos and on Skype, remind me of this purity, this innocence and joy. Every time I talk to them, I find out how much they have learned from the previous week and realize that their mothers, my two younger sisters, probably learn lots more every day.

Read more about how to be happy in life