My sons and I were in a large department store together. The boys were 9, 4, and 1 at the time. While we were in the car, I restated the “how to act in public” rules:

Don’t look at anything, ask for anything, or touch anything!

I get them into the store. The little one is sitting in the front of the buggy, the 4-year-old is sitting in the buggy, and the oldest is walking beside me. An older lady approached us and said: “OH, you have such handsome and well-behaved sons.” She continued, “I only had one child and felt like I was losing it most of the time. Now, I see you with three boys. Wow, you are like a superhero MOM!” I felt like a fraud. 

Superhero Mom? What is that? 

If she only knew what I said to my kids in the car before entering the store and my tone of voice. OMG! Does she truly think that about ME? Nope, it is not true: I haven’t washed clothes in a week. My house looks a mess. There is no way that I’m a superhero mom. One part of me knows I don’t have to live up to that, but the other part of me says I do.

To me, superheroes are perfect. If you’ve been a mom longer than one day, perfection seems like an unattainable goal. Some days as a mom, all you can do is get out of bed and place one foot in front of the other. You do not feel super or like a hero. You often feel insignificant, overwhelmed, agitated, frustrated, sad, and forgetful because the expectations you have for yourself are already unrealistic.

How do you reconcile your feelings about your parenting with what others say?

Accept the compliment as a compliment (nothing more, nothing less).

Moms tend to be so hard on themselves. You want your child to be successful, happy, and well-adjusted. Instead of accepting what is meant to be a compliment, you can only think of reasons why this can’t be or isn’t true. Or in your mind, other moms seem to do it better, faster, and easier than you (at least that’s what it looks like on IG).  It’s okay even when you don’t feel worthy to just say ‘THANK YOU.” 

Understand the compliment.

Often, the people closest to you see things in you that you don’t see in yourself. Your family and friends see how you: work hard, love your family and friends well, and volunteer in the community. They see your strength, resilience, caring, and compassion in the midst of difficulties. But they also see your struggle yet want to encourage you through it. They want you to know that you are seen and valued for all you do. Their intention is not to add pressure, but to acknowledge all of your efforts. 

Note for the compliment-giver: It’s also important to recognize what moms “hear”  when they are called a superhero. When those words are spoken, many women, because they don’t feel like they are “momming” well, take the words on as added pressure that they need to live up to the title. Maybe instead of calling her a superhero mom, it would help if we actually called out the characteristics we believe make her a superhero—patience with the children, I love the way you engage with your children, your home has a warmth that is comforting, I appreciate the way you keep things in perspective—your children are small for such a short amount of time; the dirty clothes and dishes will always be there.

You do you.

It’s so easy to look to your left and right to see what and how other moms “mom” and judge yourself as lacking. It’s essential you recognize that being yourself is enough. Life isn’t about comparing yourself to others. They’re not you. They don’t have your family. You know what’s best for your family, whether it’s related to technology use or diet. It may be difficult to block out the questions or opinions of others, but it’s imperative you do. 

Be realistic in your expectations. 

It’s important to realize that “you can have it all, just not at the same time.” Take some time to think about and prioritize what’s important to you about your family. Once you have clarity on what matters the most to you and your family, let the other things go, including the guilt of not being everything to everyone. Recognizing what you can and cannot control goes a long way toward reducing stress and unrealistic expectations.

Stop minimizing your attributes.

As moms, we’re really good givers of compliments and time to others, but not good takers when others want to give us compliments and time. Not everyone has the same abilities. Just because something is easy for you, it doesn’t make it easy for everyone. When someone gives you a compliment about something you do, stop internally negating it. Just say, “Thank you.” You may feel like you’re being dishonest because if they only knew… If they only knew the number of shortcomings, flaws, mishaps I have on a regular basis… Guess what? So does everyone else! None of us are perfect, no matter how their social media pages look. 

It’s not easy being a parent. You feel bombarded with information and messages that seem to make parenting even harder. You feel the pressure, all the time. Give yourself a break; all parents have moments of joy and of struggle. Enjoy all the moments you have with your family. Graciously accept recognition, even when you feel like you don’t deserve it or didn’t do anything special. You are special and exactly who your family needs.

That little ball of energy you call your toddler is so cute when they’re little. The mess on their face after eating spaghetti is adorable. The way they want to cuddle with you right after you’ve disciplined them just melts your heart. During these early years, you can lay a firm foundation for having a strong relationship with your child for years to come. Here are just a few fun and easy things you can do to help your child feel safe, happy, and secure with you—the love of their life.

1. Shower With Love.

Sounds like it could be exhausting. It’s not. My 2-year-old loves to stand on my feet as we walk from his room to the dinner table. My 4-year-old loves for me to blow real loud kisses on his cheek. Harvard researcher and founder of The Basics, Ronald Ferguson says the simplest way to show love to your child is through simple acts of affection. Be free and fun with your affection toward both your boys and your girls. Sing to your child in your loudest, most out-of-tune voice declaring your love for her. They’ll know you not only love them, but you like them. After all, it’s difficult to have a strong relationship with someone who you’re not sure likes you. 

2. Play, Play, Play. 

You don’t have to play all day. Stephanie M. Wagner, Ph.D., Clinical Assistant Professor in the NYU Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests, “Spending a few minutes in a special time playing with your young child will help both of you feel good about each other.” Regularly spending some time in free, exciting, adventurous play can do the trick. They’re toddlers, so keep it simple. Throw, roll, or kick soft balls. Build stuff using blocks, couch cushions, boxes, or whatever’s handy. Pull out the washable paint and use paintbrushes or just use your hands to create a masterpiece. Play hide and seek. You’re showing them that having fun is a good thing. You’re satisfying their curiosity and you’re helping them to associate laughter, smiles, and fun with the parent/child relationship

3. Make Adventures Through Stories.

Reading and telling stories creates bonds and builds imagination. When storytelling with your toddler, sometimes use books with words, other times, pictures are plenty. Use your imagination to tell a story based on the pictures. And other times, no book is needed, sit them on your lap and make up a story. Have them guess what’s going to happen next. The places you’ll go together on the imagination train will have the two of you seated together on memory lane forever. It’s a great way to end the day or make dinner time with your toddler fly by. 

4. Create Family Traditions.

A tradition can simply be something your family does regularly. Taco Tuesdays. Friday night movie night. Saturday morning crazy breakfast. I mean fun time. Sunday trip to Grandma’s. October pumpkin patch visits. First day of summer water bash. Children like the consistency and predictability parents and traditions provide. Traditions will help your child feel a sense of belonging to the family unit as they look forward to the various customs you observe in your home. The holidays are good for traditions. However, the most memorable traditions are often ones you create as a family.

5. Make Music. Dance To The Music.

Children love to sing and for you to sing to them. ABCs. Nursery Rhymes. Age-appropriate songs on your playlist. And of course, songs you make up. Sing and dance in the bathtub, in the kitchen, while getting dressed, doing their hair, and while driving them around town. Eventually, you’ll hear your child singing after you lay them down to sleep, while they’re playing with toys, and funny enough, while they are handling their business in the bathroom. They’ll be using those vocal cords to fill the house with a joyful noise.

6. Talk On Their Level.

Toddlers can have some really fascinating thoughts and conversations about the world around them. Just remember they have the mind of a toddler and not an adult. Strong relationships generally have strong communication. Ask them questions about the cartoon they’re watching, the games they’re playing, the visits to family and friends’ homes, and the books you read together. While in the grocery store get their thoughts on food to buy. Ask them to point out their favorite colors to you in the store. For a toddler, talking is a new and fun addition to their life. By asking them questions and listening to what they have to say, you’re teaching them their thoughts and feelings matter. That may pay dividends as they progress through adolescence.

Making memories, creating bonds, having fun, and creating a safe and secure environment will help your child see you as the trusted, loving parent they can depend on. You’ll be cultivating many of the necessary skills for strong relationships including communication, friendliness, and dependability. Incorporating these six things into the natural flow of your life will pay dividends for years to come—for you and your child.

I was walking in the grocery store the other day and I ran into a friend from high school. We started talking and she asked me about my cousin who went to school with us. Our mutual friend asked how she is doing.  I was actually caught off guard because, in reality, I didn’t know how my cousin was doing. She and I have lost touch. I started to think about how disconnected I was feeling from other family members including parents, siblings, and extended family. Then, I considered my children. They don’t have the same memories that I have with my extended family. How can I bridge the gap that has occurred? How can we, as family, stay connected across the miles?

Here are 7 Ways To Stay Connected With Long-Distance Family:

1. Old Fashioned Snail Mail

Mailing correspondence may seem old-fashioned but it is tried and true. Handwriting letters has become a lost art. Letter writing allows you to share in your own words what is happening in your life. It provides a window for your family to see into. Postcards are another tool you can use. If you see a postcard that reminds you of a family member, write a note saying, “I saw this, and I thought of you.” This lets your family know that although miles divide you, they are still on your mind and in your heart. 

2. Create A Family Newsletter

Whether you choose to do this monthly, quarterly, or yearly, it provides updates to your long-distance family. It shares with them: honors, awards, funny moments, celebrations. Let your children help design it and have input into it. Make a family logo and motto to go at the top along with a name like, “Keeping Up With The Joneses” or “Watson Family Gazette.” You could do this online or make it a family production and put it into print. ☆ You could make a “chain letter” that gets added to by a family member and mailed to the next person on the list and keeps circulating around your family, keeping everyone in the loop. 

3. Send Care Packages

Every holiday season, as a child, I would go with my grandmother as she mailed holiday packages to my uncles who lived out of town. In the boxes would be a pound cake, fruit cake, cookies, preserves, and other sweets. You don’t have to choose the same items. You can create your own theme with the box. One theme could be Our Town. Select items representing the town you live in. You could choose My Favorite Things where you select items your sister, aunt, cousin, or dad loves. Or, even a box of Things That Remind Me Of You.

4. Travel Together

It may be fun to select a location midway between you and your siblings and spend some time there together. It may be fun to coordinate time in the summer with the grandparents and cousins and call it “Cousin Camp.” It may be a blast to schedule a multi-family vacation to the beach, mountains, amusement parks, etc.

5. Book Club

For many, storytime is an integral part of their bedtime routine. Create space for grandparents who live out of town to be “guest readers” via phone, Skype, FaceTime, Messenger or video. Another idea is for the adults in the family to choose to read the same book and then have a discussion about it. Even the kids could read the same book and draw pictures about the scenes or main characters.

6. Go Virtual

Technology is an innovative way in which families can stay connected. It may look and even feel different from the past. Nevertheless, it allows family members to maintain connections. Don’t be afraid of trying some “high-tech” ways to stay in touch with your long-distance family members. Here are some examples:

  • Have Virtual Dinner Night: Each family makes the same meal and you sit down ‘together’ at the same time to eat via ZOOM, FaceTime, Google MEET, etc.
  • Create Family Group Texts: Families can create a text message group or utilize a messaging app to share information with each other.
  • Virtual Game Night: Families can choose to play online games (PlayStation, XBOX), board/card games (UNO, Battleship), Minute to Win It, or Charades via ZOOM or Google MEET.
  • Schedule Weekly/Monthly Calls: Families can utilize whatever platform they have available (i.e., Facetime, ZOOM, Skype). On the calls, birthdays, special awards or everyday moments can be shared.
  • Facebook: Create a Family Facebook page where you can post pictures, videos, etc.
  • Family and Friends Movie Night. (Netflix for Chrome) Families can watch the same movie at the same time while being in their own homes. Then use FaceTime or ZOOM to talk about it.

7. Cardboard Cutout 

Select a fun picture of the family member you choose and get a life-sized cardboard cut-out made. It allows your kids to recognize their family members. It’s also a way for that family member to be “present” at events such as a spelling bee, soccer games, or track meets.

If you’re feeling disconnected, that’s when you need to be intentional about communicating and connecting with long-distance family members. Whether you choose to make a phone call spontaneously or you send out a calendar invite for everyone to group chat, making that first step to check-in can change the direction of your connection

Don’t get discouraged if everyone can’t make everything. We have to recognize that we’re all dealing with life in some form or fashion. Also, remember to stay in touch with family and friends who live close to you. In this current time, everyone could benefit from a call or note letting them know someone is thinking about them.

Nothing like the hint of fall in the air to lift your spirits. I mean what could be better for your soul than sipping a pumpkin spice latte in front of a fire pit on a crisp evening? 

What? You don’t like pumpkin spice anything? No problem. There are plenty of other activities you can do with your family to create fun during this fall season. 

Here are 25 suggestions to get the pumpkin (I mean ball) rolling on your fall activities:

  1. Gather pine cones, slather creamy peanut butter on them, roll them in birdseed and hang them outside your window so you can watch the birds. OR give them to older folks in your neighborhood who can’t get out, but would enjoy seeing the birds.
  2. Once the leaves have fallen off the trees, gather the entire family to rake leaves into a huge pile. See how high and wide you can make the pile and then jump in it. An alternative could be that a couple of you make the pile and then hide in it until other family members walk past it. Then you jump out of it. That should make for a great game of chase. 😁
  3. If you’ve got littles, take them outside to gather different color leaves and then press them between two sheets of wax paper or put them underneath paper and let them rub crayon over the leaf to make an etching.
  4. Learn about vegetables that grow well in the fall and plant a fall garden. Let your kids educate you about how to do the planting, how many plants you need, how to care for the garden, and when things are ready to be picked.
  5. Take advantage of the clear nights to throw a blanket on the ground and do some stargazing. You can go old school and use a book or high-tech and use an app to find all the constellations. If you prefer to do something during the day, look at the cloud formations and play I Spy for formations that look like a horse, Barney, a tree, or leaves… you get the picture.
  6. Pack a picnic and head out for a hike to look at the fall colors and picnic at an overlook.
  7. Make a list of all your family’s favorite fall foods like pumpkin spice cookies, caramel apples, popcorn balls, pumpkin bread, apple pie, and apple spice cake. Let the baking be a family affair. Keep some and give some away.
  8. Find an older person who needs help with their yard. Take a day and work together as a family to spruce things up.
  9. Make leaf shapes from paper and have everybody write down things they are thankful for. Put them in a bowl, then open them up and read them at Thanksgiving dinner.
  10. Go old school and teach your kids games you used to play when you were their age—Kick the Can, Freeze Tag, Four Square, Jax, Marbles, Hop Scotch, Duck Duck Goose, Monkey in the Middle, Jump Rope or Double Dutch, Spud, Horse, Red Light Green Light, Freeze Dance, and Wiffle Ball ought to give you enough to keep them engaged for a while.
  11. Go for a walk and gather all kinds of things that are signs of fall like acorns, leaves, sticks, pine cones, seedpods, and nuts. Then make a fall wreath out of what you found.
  12. Create a fall yard display complete with a scarecrow.
  13. Have a contest to see who can come the closest to replicating their favorite fall drink.
  14. Build a fire in the fire pit and roast marshmallows and/or make S’mores.
  15. Since it gets dark earlier, go on a flashlight hike and see what kinds of things you can spot. You never know when you might encounter a raccoon, opossum, or skunk. (Pepé Le Pew!)
  16. For your little ones, trace their hand on a colorful sheet of construction paper and help them make a turkey out of their hand.
  17. Have a watercolor painting night for the family with a fall theme.
  18. Learn how to make bread. There is something about the smell of bread baking when you walk through the door that wakes up those taste buds. The best part though is eating it warm out of the oven. Pure happiness.  
  19. Have an ongoing board game competition with your family during the fall months. Maybe the overall winner gets their favorite meal made and served by everybody else.
  20. Decorate your bikes and go for a bike ride through the neighborhood.
  21. Choose some of the old-fashioned relays like the wheelbarrow race, three-legged race, egg/water balloon toss, egg and spoon relay, and crab race. Gather some of your extended family or framily (friends who are like family) and head to a large field where you have room to spread out and let the games begin.
  22. Visit an apple orchard and sample all the goodies. Take the apples you purchased and bob for apples with your feet.
  23. Create an outdoor obstacle course for the entire family to complete. Think Slip ‘n Slide meets mudder run and you’ve got some serious fun in the making.
  24. Make homemade hot chocolate complete with marshmallows and whipped cream and see who can make the best mustache while drinking it.
  25. Pitch a tent in the backyard. Hang a sheet from a tree and watch a movie OR learn how to make shadow figures.

All of these are pretty simple and fun things you can do with your family.

The best part though is that in the midst of creating all of this fun you are also teaching your children, listening to them, letting them lead, laughing together, modeling how to be a good loser and a humble winner, how to share, what to do when you disagree and how to be a good team player—just to name a few.

It’s been a year, to say the least. We all could use some fun right about now. So, work can wait. Put your phone down—except to take pictures of course and go all-in for some fall family fun and activities. You won’t regret it.

The nip of fall is in the air, which means Halloween and fall festivals should be right around the corner. Sadly though, this year may look very different. Some festivals have been put on hold and many parents are uncomfortable with trick or treating. If you’re looking for fun ways to celebrate Halloween that don’t involve trick or treating, you’ve come to the right place!

Here are seven ways you and your family can celebrate Halloween without feeling like you’re missing out.

  • Make your own costumes and take family photos. Have some fun prizes for the most creative, out-of-this-world, colorful, funniest, scariest, and judge’s choice. Let the entire family vote on the costumes.
  • Create a Halloween-themed scavenger or treasure hunt that involves candy in all the places where they actually find the “treasured item.” This can involve making fun clues. They could do the hunt individually or as a team.
  • Host a neighborhood Halloween Costume Parade for adults and kids. Families can walk or bike together while social distancing. You could even pool your candy and make bags ahead of time to hand out at the end of the parade. (The upside to this is you don’t have too much of a sugar high for the kids. The downside is there isn’t enough candy for the parents to steal. Just sayin’…) 
  • Have a pumpkin-painting contest. Let everybody choose their own pumpkin and give them a set amount of time to decorate it. You may or may not want to limit the materials they use. Categories could include: scariest, silliest, most unusual, most original, best use of materials, best traditional, most unique shape and most adorable. Winners could get candy, gift cards or some other fun prize.
  • Build a fire and roast S’mores. No fall celebration is complete without a bonfire and roasting marshmallows for S’mores. While you’re eating S’mores, play Build a Story. Here’s how: one family member starts the story with a sentence and the next person adds a sentence to build onto the first one. See how long you can keep it going. If you want to get really creative, build the story around a theme like Halloween, fall or some other topic.
  • Plan a Halloween menu and be creative. Let your kids help you come up with Halloweenish goodies. Think eyeball cookies, deviled egg spiders, gummy worm ice cubes, pumpkin-face cuties, “finger” foods, etc. (You get the picture.) Then have a Halloween/Fall party or meal with your family.
  • Play Minute to Win It or other friendly “competition” games. We all know trick or treating involves getting the “good” candy you love (YES, please). But, you also get the “blah” kind you’ll still have to hand out next Halloween. Buy everybody’s favorite candies instead! Then give them as prizes to the winners from the different Minute to Win It games.

No doubt this year will be different in a number of ways. Although many are choosing not to have corn mazes, fall festivals, trunk or treats and trick or treating, it doesn’t have to be disappointing for you and the kids. Launching off of these ideas and some of your own family traditions, there’s lots of fun to be had for sure!

Thanks to Frank Luca for sharing their work on Unsplash.

“QUIT HITTING YOUR BROTHER!!!”

“DIDN’T I TELL YOU TO PICK UP YOUR TOYS???”

“I’M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU AGAIN. YOU CAN’T HAVE ANY MORE COOKIES!!!”

“STOP WHINING!!!”

“FOR THE 1,000TH TIME, NO, YOU CAN’T ___________(fill in the blank).”

And then they ask for the 1,001st time and you totally lose it. I’ve lost it. More than once. More than twice. Let’s be honest, several times. 

Every parent has been there

At some point, I decided I can’t keep losing it. I can’t keep yelling at my kids when they fail to meet my expectations or they simply don’t do what I’ve told them to do. I can’t continue to scream at them to get them to listen to me, and I can’t frighten them into respecting my role as their parent

Research shows that yelling at your kids out of anger or frustration can damage them emotionally. Researchers also found that adolescents who had experienced harsh verbal discipline suffered from increased levels of depressive symptoms, and were more likely to demonstrate behavioral problems such as vandalism or antisocial and aggressive behavior. I don’t want to yell at my kids, but sometimes there seems to be no other way to get their attention.

How do you actually stop yelling at your kids?

1. Allow the consequences to do your screaming for you.

One of the best parenting tips I received early in my parenting journey was that you train your kids when you’re serious. If you never yell until the 3rd time you’ve said something, then your kids learn that their parent isn’t serious until they’ve said it 3 times. Of course by the third time, you’re frustrated. The focus is now on your yelling and not on the issue. 

Practice telling your children one time, make certain they heard you and then give them consequences after the first time. No yelling required.

Example: “Look little Johnny, please pick up your toys.” Get assurance that he heard you.

If a couple of minutes later, Johnny hasn’t picked up his toys, proceed like this. Without yelling, but in your normal conversational tone say, “Johnny, you didn’t pick up your toys like you were told. I’m now taking your toys for the rest of the day.” 

Johnny’s learning that you’re serious when you say it once, not the 3rd time. Johnny may scream, Johnny may cry, Johnny may throw a fit. But Johnny isn’t used to you being serious the first time. Johnny will become trained to hear you without the yelling. And the focus is on the act, not how upset you are.

2. Know Your Triggers.

What causes you to go off the deep end? We all have triggers.

  • Do you obsess over the cleanliness of your house?
  • Do you absolutely hate to be late?
  • Are you fearful about how your kids will represent the family in public?
  • Do you hate having interruptions?
  • Does disrespect make your blood boil?

Your children probably do some things that you don’t like that don’t bother you much at all, while others set you off very quickly. Name those things that set you off so you can prepare to respond rationally when they push your buttons.

3. Apologize.

If you’ve yelled and violated your no-screaming clause, then be proactive and apologize to your children. You don’t need to apologize for the consequences, just for yelling and expressing your anger in a way that is not loving. 

After you’ve sincerely apologized a few times to your kids, then it’s amazing how you begin to become more conscious of your actions the next time they frustrate you. A few apologies shouldn’t cause you to give up hope. Let it be quite the opposite. It shows your children you’re human, and that you’re actively trying to improve as a person and parent as well. Who wouldn’t want their child to learn that lesson for themselves? They too may be a parent one day. They’ll value the apologies as much, if not more than, they valued the discipline. 

☆ You’re also much more likely to get a kid who genuinely tries to do the right thing.

4. Take a Timeout.

Yes, it is hard to take a timeout in the heat of the moment. But the alternative is apologizing again or giving up. Your kids are too important to give up on and even if I’m willing to say “I’m sorry,” I’d rather not need to. The key to the timeout is to jump on it the minute you feel your button being pushed. 

Nothing is lost when you take 10 minutes to calm down. You haven’t lost any power as a parent. You haven’t lost the opportunity to teach a lesson or the chance to effectively discipline. Generally, nothing bad can come from taking a moment to calm down and think through the issue and consider what is the best way to get the outcome you desire.

5. Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask.

When you’re sleep-deprived, lacking energy, and stressed, you’re more likely to get irritated and it becomes more difficult to respond to your kids in a loving way. Finding time to get good sleep, have some quiet time, spend time with friends, or snuggle up with your sweetie can be difficult. Talking with your family, friends, and loved ones about helping you to get some alone time is vital.

While practicing good self-care does not guarantee that your kids will never push your buttons, it can help you be in a better mindset to respond in a positive way to help your relationship with your child grow. Taking care of yourself will help you be the best parent to your child.

Remember, kids will be kids.

It’s easy to forget that your brain has developed its sense of judgment, problem solving, and basic understanding of right and wrong. Sometimes we yell at our kids simply because they’re not adults yet. You see the dangers of the toys on the floor. They don’t. You understand the value of respecting your siblings. They don’t. 

Yelling at them says that you’re mad at them for the given behavior. Calmly teaching, training, and disciplining them says you love them. The message we want to deliver to our children is that we love them, and that message should never be confused with anything else. They may not hear that when you’re taking away a privilege, putting them in timeout or whatever loving consequence you enforce, but it’s a lesson they will grow to love and respect as their brains develop the judgment, problem solving, and basic understanding of right and wrong that you already have. Let’s not confuse any of that with yelling. 

Let’s save the yelling for the real, physical danger that calls for drastic, immediate action.

The crack of the bat. The cheers. The applause. My son just hit the ball over the head of the second baseman to collect his first hit of the game. This isn’t the proudest moment of the game for me, though. My proudest moment came an inning earlier when he struck out for the second time of the night. As I watched him walk back to the dugout with his head held high, no pouting. He put his bat and helmet up and cheered for the next player up to bat.

When we think about the strengths of our children, we often think about what they’re good at, like math, reading, sports, spelling, writing… the list goes on. These strengths are good and deserve recognition, but what about the strengths of character? As parents, we can help our children recognize character strengths just like we do physical or mental strengths.

Lea Waters, Ph.D. says, “Strengths are things we do well, often, and with energy.” 

Here are some clues you can use to identify your child’s strengths:

  • There’s a Drive or Yearning. Your child will have a desire to use their strengths. They will look for ways to express it.
  • Your Child Naturally Displays It. Observe what they naturally do or say. My son loves to read and write. He loves history and he will find videos to learn about a specific subject and then write his own book about what he learned. This is a natural curiosity; he’s always asking questions. He’s used this strength to help his classmates who may be struggling with schoolwork. My daughter (age 4) loves to draw. It’s how she shows her creativity. There are pictures taped all over our house of her drawings. She uses this to draw pictures for her friends and family. This is a way she shows love and care for others. Often, it’s a form of encouragement to others.
  • Your Child Loses Track of Time When Engaged in It. It’s hard for children to focus on one task too long. So when they do, pay attention to what it is. When they lose track of time engaging in an activity, they are doing something that energizes them and brings joy and fulfillment.
  • It Can Be Put to Positive Use. As we help our child discover their strengths, let’s look for ways for them to positively impact others. You can hear more about these clues from Lea Waters here.

You don’t have to respond to each strength you discover, but you can take steps to encourage them to develop some further.

Remember, just because your child is good at something doesn’t mean they enjoy it. As we help them develop these strengths, we can help them understand the character traits that accompany them. 

You have the opportunity to help your son or daughter discover what makes them unique and how they can utilize who they are to make a positive impact on the people around them. You get to walk this path with them, encourage them, and strengthen your relationship through this process of self-discovery. I, as a parent, am the most influential teacher my child will have. I have the privilege of pouring into and encouraging their development. You do too!! Use this strength development journey as a way to grow your relationship with your child.

She’s never going to want to run ever again. I told myself this watching my then-10-year-old daughter run in her first elementary school track meet, lagging behind the faster runners, red-faced, and breathing heavily. She wasn’t last, but she certainly wasn’t first. My heart sank for her. As she (finally) crossed the finish line and I went to meet her, nothing could have made me guess what would happen next. 

The girl loved it. She went on and on about the strategy her coach told her to use, the fact that she had passed another runner (albeit the one that came in last place), and how she felt herself “kick it in” on the last leg. Well, I’ll be darned. 

Fast forward three years later. (Warning: total dad-brag about to happen…) Today I watched my daughter run in the second cross country meet of her 8th-grade year… as a member of the varsity high school team. She came in 8th place overall. And afterward, she went on and on about her strategy, passing the girl in front of her (actually, several girls), and “kicking it in” over the last hill. She’s found something she loves. 

It’s so amazing to see your kid discover and develop their strengths. And although I can’t take much of the credit (because let’s face it—I’m not about to run three miles in the hot August sun in the middle of a field), I’d like to think that my wife and I did something right to help her develop her love of running. 

Have you seen that spark in your child’s eyes when they’ve found something they’re strong in?

Whether it’s an external activity like running or painting, or an internal quality such as compassion for others, you can use some definite strategies to encourage your child’s strengths. 

Encourage experimentation.

Kids in that 8 to 12-year-old range are in a stage where they are naturally “trying on” pieces of themselves. They aren’t quite sure if they’re into competitive sports, artistic activities, problem-solving tasks, specific topics of study, or a combination of these! In our house, we’ve always had a philosophy of if it piques your interest, let’s just try it.” There were definitely activities that were off the table; neither of my daughters had any kind of an interest in softball or basketball, so we didn’t push it. But if there was any hint of I wonder what that would be like, we did what we could to find short-term opportunities to try it on for size. (We prompted our runner-daughter to attend a week-long cross country camp the summer after her 5th-grade year, where she fell in love with the sport, and the rest is *current* history!) 

Here’s another approach: a friend of mine has a rule with his family where each of his children is to be involved in one artistic activity and one physical activity. This is a brilliant idea to encourage your children to discover and build on those strengths. 

Throw them in the deep end of the pool.

After falling in love with cross country at summer camp, it was a no-brainer for my daughter to want to run on the middle school team the following year. My response to her: Okay, but if you’re going to commit, you’re going to commit. What are you going to do to prepare yourself for the upcoming season? The result: several days a week over the summer, she ran as far as she could while I biked beside her (Did I mention I don’t run??). 

When your child has found that thing they are interested in, encourage them to dive in headfirst and soak up every ounce of experience they can with it. Coach them and encourage them in experiencing both the joy as well as the gritty work that comes with their strengths. (Running is fun when the conditions are right, but you have to be willing to run in the rain and the cold if you want to get better.) Obviously, approach this with a strong dose of grace. But help them see the value in improving upon what they are passionate about. 

Ask lots of questions.

A surefire way to encourage your child in their strengths and interests is to show interest yourself. Assume the role of the complete novice and allow them to be the expert. There have been so many conversations about running simply sparked by my asking a “dumb” question. (So, when you’re in a race, are you allowed to elbow people? And off we go on a great discussion on cross country rules…) 

Don’t forget to ask questions like, “Are you sure you still enjoy this?” Just because a your child is good at something doesn’t mean they enjoy it or can’t get “burned out” on it. Sometimes parents try to live out their dreams through their children. Just because you were a great swimmer, and maybe your child is too, it doesn’t mean they share your passion for it. They might hate it. Ask questions to make sure your child isn’t participating in something because they know it makes YOU happy.

Help them find other sources of inspiration for their strengths, especially things to read.

Kids will naturally eat up any kind of extra bits of media and information on the strengths they are passionate about. Art, books, hiking magazines, cooking tutorial videos, photography blogs… all these are great resources to “pass along” to your child who wants to go waist-deep into their strengths. For her birthday a couple of years ago, I bought my daughter a subscription to a women’s running magazine. And now, I am receiving a constant education on the value of spiked running shoes, how to train for marathons, and what you should eat before a race (evidently chocolate cake doesn’t make the list)

Help them find a community that will encourage them in their strengths.

It’s one thing to encourage your kids from the home front to pursue and strengthen their interest. But your encouragement receives an extra boost when you help them find other kids—just like them—who are passionate about the same thing. And let’s face it: not every interest has a ready-made team waiting for them (like, say, cross country). But nowadays, if you look hard enough (like internet searches of what’s in your community), you can usually find a common interest group with just about any activity. And if you can’t, talk with your child about starting a group yourselves. There may be a huge number of kids ready to come out of the woodwork to share their passion for bead art, geocaching, or videocasting with others… just like them

Help them and encourage them to match their strengths to goals, projects, and experiences.

In his (excellent) book, Artificial Maturity, Tim Elmore says that directing kids’ strengths toward real-life ventures helps them form a clear sense of identity and prepares them for life as an adult. You can’t go wrong with that. And besides, giving your child a sense of mission with their strengths puts meaning behind their interests. 

For example (warning: another dad-brag is coming your way…), my younger daughter discovered an interest in videocasting. She formed her own YouTube channel, recorded herself hosting topics from craft projects to how to clean your room to fun family activities. Then she edits and puts the videos out there for family members and close friends to view. (I have had the distinct honor of guest-starring in a number of her productions.) 

Again, I can’t take all the credit, but we’ve tried to encourage her as best we can and help her think how she can use this interest to help other people.

As a new 6th-grader in middle school, she has built upon those strengths and has now transitioned to hosting her own podcast, using her school’s recording equipment to interview teachers in her school about their experiences as young people and making it available to the students. (Seriously, I’m totally humbled by my kids. At their age, I was content just reaching the next level of Pac-Man.)

One last thing about encouraging your child’s strengths…

At times I have done the above very well with my kids, and other times… not-so-well. But I have found that encouraging my kid’s strengths has actually afforded me opportunities to connect with them and have a deeper relationship with them. The conversations that have resulted have been invaluable. And I wouldn’t trade the experience of riding my bike (what felt like) hundreds of miles beside my oldest daughter running or hamming it up on video with my younger daughter for anything. And I’m pretty confident they won’t forget those times either. Value those times and soak it up. It’s amazing to see your kids grow.

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I woke up late because I forgot to set my alarm, so I hurried to the shower and got dressed. Then I rushed to my son’s room to get him up and ready for the day. On my way to the room, I’m  greeted by a BIG smile and my son saying, “MOMMY, look! I helped you. I got dressed and ‘made’ my breakfast.” He was dressed like a bag of skittles. He had on a purple shirt, lime green shorts, red socks and his blue shoes. Breakfast consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk. Actually, only half of the peanut butter and jelly made it to the bread. The other was spread on the table, and none of the milk made the glass. It was in a puddle in the middle of the kitchen. 

I was experiencing a variety of emotions including feeling stressed, bothered, frustrated and angry.

My son watched what was going on on my face and waited for my response. What could I say or do? I could yell out of frustration and anger. Or say, “YOU made such a MESS! I don’t have time to clean this up. We are GONNA be late! What are you WEARING?” Or,  I could laugh, open my arms, and say, “OMG! Thank you for helping Mommy this morning. I was running behind. I appreciate you dressing yourself and eating your breakfast.”

No matter the response I chose, one thing is for sure: my response will have an impact on my child.

Here’s 3 ways your emotions can affect your child:

1. The way you behave when you experience an emotion teaches your child about that emotion and how to respond to it.

Emotions are not good or bad; it’s what you do with the emotion that will be either positive or negative. Your child needs to see you express a variety of emotions from anger, sadness, stress, anxiety, joy, elation, frustration, disappointment, pride, boredom, tired, scared, and nervous.  

2. Your child is watching to see what you do or how you react to a given situation.

There may be times when you struggle with a work assignment, and you feel frustrated and annoyed. Saying to your child, “Mommy had a HARD DAY at work and I need you to complete your homework or chores the first time that I ask you.” You are modeling for your child that having a bad part of the day doesn’t have to ruin the whole day. 

3. Children recognize fake and faux emotions.

If you’re actually sad, but try to fake happiness for the sake of your child, you’re doing them a disservice. Because your child can see that you’re sad, they may actually believe that it is because of them you are SAD. As you experience emotions, have an age-appropriate conversation with them. You are teaching them how to deal with emotions which is a skill that has long-lasting effects.

If you have younger children, they are not immune to the effect of your emotions. They are often unable to verbalize their negative feelings so they display them by acting out. They may revert to a younger stage like sucking their thumb or having bathroom accidents. You may also notice them not wanting you out of their sight or being extremely weepy. 

As a child, you may have learned lessons from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

These are a few poignant words he has to say about feelings. “There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.” 

As a parent, you have the opportunity to teach your children that having a variety of emotions is normal and natural. How you either react or respond is the lesson they learn. Because your child has been watching you over time, it may be a shock how accurate they are in interpreting your emotions. Whether you are happy, excited, angry, or frustrated, your child is aware.  Your increased awareness of that fact helps to create a calm, peaceful and stress free environment for them to grow and develop.

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Does it feel like you’re at war with the clock? Like you don’t have enough time to do all the things on your to-do list? Struggle with finding time for yourself? Feel disconnected from your kids?

If you answer any of these questions with a “yes,” welcome to parenthood! Being a parent is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding jobs. You have so many things on your to-do list. Often, we are spouses, employees, caregivers, dietitians, Uber drivers, and teachers for our children “going” to school digitally. With so much on our plate, we become overwhelmed and stressed. This easily can turn into not being really present. We feel disconnected from our children, ourselves, and from our lives.

How do you reconnect and become a more present and “in the moment” parent with your kids?

1. Put down your phone.

It’s so easy for us to be engrossed in our technology (i.e., social media). When you do, it’s easy to see other people’s photos, videos, homes, and compare them to yours. You may ask yourself: “Why doesn’t my house look like theirs? Why doesn’t my family look this happy? What am I doing wrong?” 

The average adult spends 11 hours per day in front of some type of screen while they check their phone every 10 minutes. When you put down your phone, it allows your attention and focus to be placed on what is important to you (your children). It allows you to prioritize time with your children, your family, your spouse, and even yourself. I encourage you to take an honest look at how much time you spend on social media (IG, FB, Pinterest, etc.). Once you have that amount of time calculated, invest that time in doing something that brings value to your life. 

2. Be intentional in spending quality time with your child. 

Whether it is when they wake up or during your bedtime routine, create space for intentional and focused time with your child. Quality time doesn’t have to be a big planned activity. It’s really the little sweet moments that matter like telling your child you love them, placing a note in their lunch box, playing with them, or reading to them. As they grow, allow them to read to you, have a snack together, tell silly jokes. It can be easy to start with 5 to 10 minutes, then work up from there. When you are intentional with spending quality time with your child it increases the bond between the two of you

Things You Can Do First Thing In The Morning To Be a More Present Parent:

  • Lovingly rouse them from sleep.
  • Wake them by singing a good morning song.
  • Cuddle in the bed with them. 
  • Ask them what are they looking forward to today. 

Things You Can Do At Bedtime To Be a More Present Parent:

  • Read them a book.
  • Ask them about the highs and lows of their day. 
  • Give them backrubs and back scratches.
  • Snuggle up with them.

Your child will begin to look forward to and anticipate the time that you will spend together. Try for quantity time and quality time and mind your mindset while you are with your child. Make sure all of you is present.

3. Take time for yourself.

If your tank is empty you have nothing to give and won’t be present. As parents, we have been told that our lives should revolve around our kids. Parents feel like it is selfish to take care of themselves. It’s really not. When you take care of yourself, you are creating greater capacity to give your energy to be with your child. Taking time to get enough sleep, eating right, exercising (running, yoga, biking, walking, hiking), or writing in a journal, all help put you in the right frame of mind to be an engaged and present parent. 

4. Bring them into your daily life.

There are many parts of our lives that we can incorporate our children into.

Exercise: If you walk, run, or bike, get a baby carrier and take them with you. Put them in their stroller for a walk around the neighborhood or park. All the while, talk to them about what they see: the tall trees, the falling leaves, insects, and animals.

Cooking: Set up a small table for your child with child-sized utensils. Allow them to play with pots you’re not using. If your child is an infant, place them in their seat where they can see you. Cook while having a running conversation with your child. Talk to them about what you are doing. Ask them questions about their thoughts and feelings. 

Work: If you are having to work from home with a young child, create a “workspace” for your new “assistant.” Give them paper, crayons, and washable markers as supplies. 

Household Chores: Your child can sort clothes by color to place in the washing machine, take clothes out of the dryer, and carry clothes to the correct room. Give your child the responsibility to feed and water the family pets. 

If you’ve been beating yourself up as a busy parent, STOP.

Kids aren’t looking for perfect parents; they are looking for present parents. Don’t allow the stress of “Am I doing enough?” hamper you from enjoying what you are doing. Spending quality time being present with your child should trump your feelings of guilt and stress about not spending enough time with a child. 

In reality, working moms today are actually spending more time with their children than stay-at-home moms did in the 1970s. Father-child quality time together has almost tripled in that same time period. Please give yourself a break. Make the most of all the moments you have with your child. You can do it!