Category Archives: Relationships

Holidays and Resilience

The identity of a family is wrapped up in its traditions: the daily routines and the annual rituals. As a parent educator, I talk a lot about the power of routines – the ways we move through each day that help us feel like the world is safe and predictable and manageable even in the midst of chaos and change. Rituals are also important – whether it’s how we do the tooth fairy in our family, what we do on the Fourth of July, or how we spend our winter holidays. Rituals honor our cultural heritage. They show our children what we value by what we pay attention to. They make our children feel special and loved. They help to define who we are as a family.

2020 has messed with all our routines, and with all our rituals. We may have found new daily routines that are working for us. But rituals… so many of which revolve around gathering in-person with the people we love and gathering with our communities… may seem out of reach. It’s natural to have a lot of grief over all the things we can’t have this year. (Here are tips for managing the grief.) But we can also work to figure out ways to adapt our traditions to this year’s limitations. We can create new rituals. And we can use this as a year to focus on resilience.

Resilience is often thought of as the ability to bounce back from challenges. Another way to view it is ““being able to continue functioning relatively normally” in adversity.

There are lots of ways we can build resilience in children, but one important one is to tell our children stories of the family’s history that are not just about the family’s successes, but about the ups AND the downs… “we had plenty of hard times, but we made it through together.” It creates a story for the child that “our people” are resilient. (Learn about Marshall Duke’s research on family stories and resilience.) This year is a great year to find a way to incorporate these narratives into your holiday celebrations. I’ll share something I’ve done here, and encourage you to reflect on how you might celebrate resilience through the holidays this year.

Honoring Your Family’s History

At my church, one Sunday in every December, we ask members to share a photo of their family’s holiday traditions, and we gather them into a slide show. Watching those slideshows always brings smiles, and warm cozy feelings. But this year, when I went to find a photo from a previous holiday, it made me very sad. At first, seeing all those photos of large family gatherings just made me grieve all the things that I couldn’t have this year.

Then going into Thanksgiving, I realized that I needed to reclaim those memories, and re-define their meaning for this year. For our family’s Thanksgiving over Zoom, I went through 30 years of photos, and for each year, I found one photo of a family meal or holiday gathering. The first slide read: “Our Family, Gathering Together for the Holidays… The location changes, the guest list changes, loved ones pass away, and new loved ones join us, and through it all, the family goes on.”

We watched it together on Zoom, talking and sharing memories. We talked about the loved ones in the photos that have passed away and shared stories about them. We puzzled over a stranger in one of the photos… who was it? Maybe the nephew’s “holidate” for that year?? We remembered the year my partner and I were divorced, before we got back together again. (We’ve now been back together for 20 years!) We smiled as the babies appeared – including a baby who is now 27 and all those who came after him. We welcomed the new family-in-law members who have joined us over the years. I included a picture from this year, with three of us at one table, and the laptop showing everyone else on Skype. The pandemic reality seems all-encompassing now but it’s helpful to think that someday, 2020 will be just one picture of many, and we’ll chuckle as we remember “the year we all stayed home.” In our holiday pictures, we clearly saw that although the family changes and evolves every year, the love and connection stays constant.

If you look only at this year, it seems so disconnected from all that came before. But it’s not. It’s just the current chapter in a long history of a family. A history that includes good times and bad, that has been through challenges before and still is strong. Taking time to acknowledge that was helpful. It led me to think more broadly of the stories we could tell with this year’s celebrations.

Honoring Your Family’s Traditions in a New Way

Remembering What Connects Us

A Jewish friend of mine said: “Maybe to bridge the separation we are all feeling this year, think as you light candles over Chanukah of the connection you have to Jews all over the planet who are lighting candles with you. There is synergy this year as remembering a holiday that celebrates our perseverance and faith that things will get better.” Your faith traditions can help to link you to the history of your people, and also to others around the world who are walking through this challenging year with you.

Every year, my church ends our Christmas Eve service by holding candles as we sing Silent Night, and passing a flame from candle to candle till all are lit. This year, on Zoom, we’ll share a slide show of all of us holding candles, and we’ll all light our own candles at home as we sing along. Our community still unites even as we are separate.

Gather Around the Virtual Table

Many families have long been gathering on Zoom (or Skype or Messenger or Teams…) for family dinners and celebrations. (If you don’t know how to use Zoom, I have a full guide to Zoom which can take you from beginning to expert.) My own family’s tradition of a family dinner every Sunday for those of us who live in Washington has now evolved into weekly dinner calls including family in Nebraska, New Jersey, Wyoming, and England. This Thanksgiving was the first year EVER where my husband and I saw ALL of our siblings and ALL of our parents on Thanksgiving. Zoom gatherings are not the same as in-person, but they have their own blessings. (If you need ideas for fun interactive things to do on a telechat, check out this post.)

At a holiday gathering on Zoom consider doing a Year in Review. Share the highs and lows of your year, and celebrate the roses you’ve found amongst the thorns of 2020. That celebrates our strength, resilience, and adaptability.

Deck the Halls… or the Yard

Some people are saying “why bother decorating – no one else will see the decorations.” If you always find decorating exhausting, then 2020 is a great excuse to skip it. But if any part of decorating gives you joy, go for it! Do whatever small portion of it has meaning, or go way over the top beyond what you’ve done before. Take pictures and share them on social media! Or decorate the OUTSIDE of your house so neighbors get to enjoy. That outdoor décor can also be helpful if your family gatherings will be outside in the back yard this year.

As a preschool teacher whose classes haven’t met in person in months, I have an overabundance of bubble solution in my life… and I have a bubble machine! So on Christmas Eve, we plan to send bubbles streaming from our deck to anyone passing by. It’s just a small way to connect with a community of neighbors that we value.

How Can We Keep From Singing

Music is important to our family… particularly singing. It’s something we do together as a family. If you miss singing out loud:

  • can you just crank up the tunes out home and sing along?
  • can you sing “with others” online? On a Zoom call, one person sings aloud (learn how to make music work on Zoom) and everyone else is on mute, but sings along at home and can see the others singing- it’s more joyful than you might think!
  • could you go for a Christmas Caroling walk through your neighborhood, belting out the tunes? (Just be sure not to sing when anyone else is within 25 feet or so, because singing does carry a higher risk of transmitting any virus we might have.)

Enjoying singing is claiming your right to find JOY even in these challenging times.

The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol?

Theater is a big part of our family culture. If your typical holiday season includes viewing live performances and the arts are important to your family, try a “dinner and a show” night at home. Get dressed up, pick up a fancy meal takeout, sit at the table and eat a celebratory meal. Then go sit in your living room with the lights off as if you were in a theater, and watch many of the holiday shows that are available for streaming online via your local arts organizations, Broadway on Demand and Broadway HD. (We did this last night and our son pretended to be our “usher” – he escorted us to our seats, asked if we needed anything to be comfortable and reminded us to silence our cell phones before the show started. We clapped at the end of each number.) After the show, remember to donate to an arts organization that has fed your family’s soul in the past.

Giving To Others

Many experts recommend thinking about gratitude and celebrating all the things your family DOES have this year, and then consider spreading your “wealth” – whatever form that takes – to others. Donating money, or time, or sharing beauty through art, or sharing kindness with others, or donating to food banks and gift drives could all be ways to acknowledge that your family has enough blessings to share.

Letting Go of What Doesn’t Bring Joy

This article from Mental Health America has a good point: “Don’t Romanticize Your Typical Holiday Plans. Remember that while your holiday season may normally be full of excitement and joy, it can also be a time of high stress. Long days of travel, endless to-do lists, and dinners with that one family member you don’t get along with are all part of the holidays too…” This year may be a great chance to free yourself from the stale habits and burdensome obligations, and re-focus on what your true priorities are and what things would actually make your holidays happy.

Talking with Children about New Traditions

If you’re parenting young children this year you may feel like you have to put on a smiling face all the time. I think it’s fair to share with our children when we’re feeling sad – “This year, I miss the fact that we can’t do _____ like we usually do.” For older children, honor that this may make them sad too. (Young children may have no memory of what you “normally” do.) And then we can say (to ourselves and to them) – “But I know our family has many many years we’ll be able to do that exact tradition. The part of that tradition that is important is that it honors ______ because that is something that is important to our family. Here’s how we’re going to honor that this year.”

If you have older children, involve them in planning. Time has helpful tips on adapting holiday traditions for COVID, as does AARP.

I would love to hear ideas for how you are adapting your holiday traditions for your family and how this could tell a story of how “our family is resilient and comes through hard times even stronger than before.” Click on “Leave a Reply” at the top of this post to share your ideas.

Muddling Through Somehow

The lyrics of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas say:

“Next year all our troubles will be out of sight… Faithful friends who are dear to us will be near to us once more. Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow…”

As we admit that we’re muddling through this year, we can also embrace that we are learning how to be resilient, how to adapt, and how to find the light in the darkness.

Young Children and Zoom

a child looking at a mobile device

I don’t think the developers at Zoom (or Skype or Microsoft Teams) ever predicted that their software would become a platform for parent-toddler classes and online preschool!

And during coronavirus, all the parents who used to try to minimize screen time for their young children now find they need to utilize it as their child’s primary way to connect to people outside their household. How do we make the experience as rich and as developmentally appropriate as we can?

These tips can be helpful whether you’re a parent planning a call between your child and their grandparent, or you’re a preschool teacher planning a class for a dozen kids.

Before the Call

Choose a good time of day when the child is relaxed and attentive.

It doesn’t have to be a long call and a big deal – it’s fine to do short calls. A few minutes here and there is great for some kids. On the other hand, it’s also fine to have long calls. I know one family in Seattle where the grandmother in China “comes for breakfast” every day (before grandma turns in for the night.) She “sits at the table” with them, and chats with the children as the parents get ready for the day.

Before the call, gather anything you’ll want to use during the call: books, instruments, and show & tell items so that no one has to step away from the computer during the call – that might cause the child to lose interest.

Prepare the child. Talk about what will happen and how long the visit will be. Remind them who they will be speaking to and what they talked about last time.

Consider staying nearby. Young children may be best able to engage with a zoom call if they’re sitting on their parent’s lap or the parent is sitting beside them. (Note, some organizations, like Outschool, require that adults be off camera, but when I teach preschool age children on Outschool, I find that the children who do best in class often have an adult right next to them – I’ll see the parent’s arm reach in to help out. Once children have done several classes, they no longer need that active support, and you may be able to step away and get things done while they’re on a call.)

Teach them to un-mute. The host can mute the child, but not all systems allow the host to un-mute, so be sure the child knows how to un-mute. There are a few choices: if you have a touch screen, the easiest may be to teach them to tap the bottom corner of the screen to bring up the command bar, then tap on the mic icon. Other options: moving the mouse cursor to the bottom of the screen and clicking on the microphone (this can be hard for little ones), pressing alt-a, or holding down the space bar (note: as soon as they let go of the space bar they return to muted.)

Over time, help your child learn Zoom skills to be more independent in the call: how to mute, how to chat, how to use the reactions like clapping, how to share screen. How to place a call. Help them understand what’s happening when their screen buddy “freezes.”

During the Call

Have familiar rituals – perhaps the same greeting each time, or the same song each time – these cues help a young child to remember who they’re speaking to and reconnect.

The remote person should speak slowly and clearly. The person in the room with the child can repeat questions and comments from either side, as needed.

The remote person should look directly at the camera – this will feel like eye contact to the child. Don’t be tempted to look at other distractions while talking. Use a lot of gestures, body language, and big facial expressions – it’s much more engaging.

Stay unmuted as much as possible so everyone in the call can hear each other and feel as though they’re in the same room.

Consider using a mobile device like a tablet or laptop so you can move around and show each other new things.

Some children focus better if eating a snack while talking – for others, that is distracting. Some children focus better if they have some simple toys nearby to hold in their hands and play with during the call. Others may find that distracting.

Let the child know when the call is nearing its end, and make a clear ending. (Maybe a song, or a story, or something to signal the ending.) Talk about when you’ll “meet” again.

Making Video Chats Interactive

Here are ideas for interactive activities to try out:

  • Play Peek a Boo. Normal style, or by covering the camera and uncovering it.
  • Read Stories. If you have a physical copy of a book, you can hold it up and read it. Or you can scan in pictures of the pages and share those as you read. Or find a YouTube of a read aloud book, but mute their video, and read along with your voice.
  • Sing Songs. With audio lag you can’t sing in unison or it sounds awful. But you CAN take turns singing.
  • Silly Faces. Take turns – who can make the silliest face? (Spotlight them.)
  • Pretend to Be – Take turns pretending to be different animals, or whatever.
  • What is My Stick? Hold up a stick. Demonstrate how it could be a fishing pole, or a baseball bat. Try a few more and ask them to guess what it is.
  • Use Props. Puppet shows can be fun!
  • Make Art Together. Get out art supplies on each end, and draw pictures together. Hold them up to the camera from time to time to share your work.
  • Show and Tell – each person brings an item to show to people and to talk about.
  • Play Guessing Games.
  • Share a travelogue – each person takes pictures of their day, and shares it with the other on the next call.
  • Dance Party. Put on some music and dance!! (Learn how to make music work well on Zoom.)
  • Talent Show – Take turns demonstrating special talents you have: telling jokes, crazy dances, singing songs, patting your head and rubbing your belly…
  • Progressive Stories. One person starts a story: “Once upon a time, a polka-dotted elephant…” then the next person continues “… boarded a spaceship headed for… “
  • Would you Rather? “would you rather ______ or _______”
  • I Spy: Do a google search for “I spy pictures.” Choose one, then share your screen and play I Spy together.
  • Play Simon Says.
  • Play Tic Tac Toe, Hangman, and other pencil and paper games on the Zoom whiteboard.
  • Guess How Many. Person A fills a container with objects (20 pennies? 30 mini marshmallows?) and shows it to Person B. They have to guess how many objects there are, then they count them together. On the next call it’s B’s turn.
  • Scavenger Hunt. Name an object – they run and find it in the house and bring it back.
  • Find the Hidden Object. The remote adult can conspire with the in-house adult. The in-house adult hides an object before the call. During the call, the remote adult can give clues to help the child find the treasure.
  • Pretend to Share Snacks. Plan ahead and have both of you have the same food to eat together. Make it a fancy tea party if you’d like.
  • Go on a walktogether” with mobile devices. Share what you see.
  • Go on a field trip “together.” Lots of zoos, aquariums, and museums have created virtual field trips or have “panda-cams” and such. Go on one together by sharing your screen and talking about what you see. You could also do virtual tourism together. My mother-in-law has found a whole world of “virtual walking tours” on YouTube and goes for walks all over the world every day in her living room.
  • Watch movies together. Share a screen and talk as you watch.
  • For older children (elementary on up), there’s lots more ideas here: https://janelledurham.com/games-interaction-on-zoom/.

I also like this suggestion from Zero to Three: “Be the “hands and heart” of the the person on-screen. When the screen partner “tickles” your baby’s tummy, give your child’s tummy a tickle, too. When a grandparent leans toward the screen to “kiss” your toddler, you can give him a kiss on the cheek. By taking this role, you help nurture the relationship between the child and their on-screen friend.”

Long Distance Babysitters

During the coronavirus stay-at-home time, many parents have been with their children 24/7 for a long time with few breaks. You can use a video chat as a “babysitter” to get you a break. Have your child talk with grandpa, or an aunt, or a friend while you rest. If you have a very young child, you may need to be in the same room but at least the child’s attention is captured by someone else. For older children, you may be able to be elsewhere in the house, and let your child know where to find you. I know some parents of elementary age kids who will go for a walk in the neighborhood while their child is online – the remote adult has their cell phone number and can reach them immediately if needed.

Internet Safety

This blog is primarily aimed at parents of kids age 1 to 6, so I assume the parents are nearby during video calls, and keeping their eyes and ears on what is happening. If you have an older child who may be making video calls independently to friends, here are some helpful safety tips: https://www.protectyoungminds.org/2019/02/19/11-safe-video-chat-rules-you-probably-havent-taught-your-kids/.

Audio Quality

If the person on the other end seems to have a hard time hearing you: Figure out whether you need to add an external microphone to make your child audible (especially if they’re speaking with an older person whose hearing isn’t what it used to be). Children tend to have quiet voices and may be hard to hear over a video chat if the internal mic on your device isn’t great. Plus they wiggle around a lot and don’t always stay near the mic. You can test your mic – use the “voice recorder” app on your computer and record your child talking, then play it back. If you can hear it with your speaker volume at any setting, it’s fine. But if you can only hear the recording if you crank your speakers up to 80 or 90 out of 100, then consider buying a mic. (Click for more tips about audio settings.)

Resources

If you’re teaching classes to young children, here’s a handout you can send to the parents about help your child succeed on Zoom.

Here are some of the sources I used when writing this.

What the research tells us about developmental impacts of video chat vs. other screen time for kids: https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/10/03/496362094/could-video-chats-be-good-for-your-infant

More about managing screen time during coronavirus time: https://gooddayswithkids.com/2020/05/22/screen-time-in-coronavirus-time/

If you need a tutorial to the basics of how to use Zoom, or any of the advanced features of Zoom, check out my Guide to Zoom.

And, to get a break from the screen: https://inventorsoftomorrow.com/2020/03/26/connecting-to-outdoors-during-coronavirus/ 

When You…. I Feel… I Wish….

conflict res

In Honest, Direct, Respectful: Three Simple Words that will Change your Life, Dennis Adams describes a three step process for communicating your needs to others. This can be used in times of conflict to share your feelings and work toward a mutual resolution.

  1. Identify the behavior: “When you….”  The more concrete and specific you can be, the better.
  2. Identify the feeling: “I feel…” and then state the emotion (e.g. “I feel sad…” or angry… or disappointed.) Be careful not to say “I feel like….” because then you may be tempted to say “I feel like you are ignoring me” which is your interpretation of their intent, it is not how you feel because of their behavior.
  3. Identify something you want, wish, or wonder. You might use “I want” with someone you supervise – a child or employee – to tell them what action you want (and expect) them to take. “I wonder” is a continuation of your feeling statement: “I wonder if you notice what I do for you?” And “I wish” says what you want, without telling them that they have to do it for you.

Imagine if you said, in frustration: “You never pick up around the house. I always have to do all the work.” That would likely put your partner on the defensive, and it’s easy to get into a battle of one-up-manship where you both pull out all your martyr cards about how hard you work and how unappreciated you are. Instead, try:

“When you leave your piles of clean laundry in the TV room, I feel stressed that our house doesn’t feel like someplace I can relax. I wish the house was tidier so we could both enjoy our time here together.”

This re-frames the situation to you working together as allies toward a mutual goal.

Let’s look at a few more examples.

Instead of “You don’t care about this project – you never even respond to my emails!”, try “When you don’t respond to my emails, I feel frustrated, and I wonder whether you really want to work on this project with me.”

Instead of “You need to get your act together and be on time”, try “When you’re late to meet me, I feel unloved, and I also feel frustrated that I’m wasting time waiting for you. I wish you could be on time or let me know when you’re running late.”

Instead of “You’re so rude to people! Why are you such a jerk?”, try “When you interrupted her when she was speaking, I felt really uncomfortable. I wonder if you realize that could seem disrespectful to her?”

Instead of saying to your child “I’ve told you 1000 times not to leave your shoes all over the house”, try “When you leave your shoes all over the house, I feel frustrated. When we ran late to school three days this week because you couldn’t find the shoes you wanted, I felt mad. I want you to always take your shoes off and put them on the shelf as soon as we get home, so we can easily find them when you need them.”

This model is reminiscent of Marshall Rosenberg, and his model of Non-Violent Communication. I’ve written a handout on using a variant of his model to Communicating what You Really Need.

Test it out this week – it’s an easy method you can use with your kids, partner, co-workers, or anyone you’re feeling in conflict with.

Click here for a free downloadable worksheet on using this Conflict Resolution tool.

To see all my posts on relationship skills, click here.

Parental Anger

angryParents often ask: “Is it OK to be angry in front of my kids?” “Is it OK to be angry at my kids, or does that make me a bad parent?” “What if my partner and I get in a fight when the kids are in the room?” The reality is that there will be times you’re angry in your child’s presence, there will be times you’re angry at your child, and there will be times you fight with a family member when your child is around. Anger is a very basic human emotion, and we all feel it sometimes. (Click here for a post on your child’s anger and how to respond.)

When teaching your child emotional intelligence, I recommend that you say to them clearly that “Your emotions are always OK. Sometimes your behavior is not OK, so I will set limits on that when I need to. But I still love you even when you’re having big emotions and even when your behavior is bad.” We can set the same standards for ourselves as parents – all emotions are OK, but we want to handle them as maturely as we can in the moment, and repair things later when we don’t handle them well. Rather than trying to hold yourself up to an impossible standard of never getting angry, instead, accept that it will happen and make a plan for how you will manage the situation.

If our children see us get angry and then calm ourselves down, they learn many things: it’s normal to get angry, being angry doesn’t make you a bad person, being angry doesn’t have to mean losing control, and it is possible to calm yourself down from a big emotional meltdown.

This week, I’ll be doing a full series on parental anger. Tune in for

(If you’re a parent educator, who would like a one page printable handout on this topic, click here: Parental Anger.)

photo credit: Yelling Man via photopin (license)

Love Maps

John Gottman, a prominent relationship researcher, says that successful couples have “Love Maps” of each other’s lives.

These couples have made plenty of cognitive room in their minds for their relationship. They remember the major events in each other’s histories, and they keep updating their information as the facts and feelings of their spouse’s world change. They know each other’s goals in life, each other’s worries, each other’s hopes and dreams. Without such a love map, you can’t really know your partner. And if you don’t really know someone, how can you truly love them? (Source)

I think love maps are VERY powerful.

I know someone who says “Every time my mom calls me, she asks me about the weather. I would love it if someday she said ‘How’s work?’ or, even better ‘I know you’ve been frustrated by budget issues at work – is that getting better?'”

I know lots of parents of school age children whose standard question every day is “So, how was school?” Think how much more powerful these questions would be: “I know you were worried about your math test today – how did it go?” or “You and Chris have been having a great time playing ____ together. Did you have time to do that today?”

Read more about love maps:

http://www.gottmanblog.com/sound-relationship-house/2014/10/28/the-sound-relationship-house-build-love-maps?rq=build%20love%20maps