Archive for the 'Thinking about slow parenting' Category

How Halloween Might Injure or Kill Your Kids

Mark Parisi from http://www.offthemark.com

Before you let your kids out of the house this Halloween, have you considered that they are more likely to be hit by a vehicle than at any other time of the year? Or have you seen the reports warning parents about the flammability of Halloween costumes? Oh, then we have to take into account that child molesters use this day to lure children into their homes. Also keep in mind that Health Canada is urging parents to let their children draw faces on their pumpkins instead of carving them – gasp – children might cut themselves.

Halloween is a great time of year to crank up parental fears.

Of course, we all know that crime is at historic lows. And that an unhealthy focus on safety paralyzes children from having any kind of fun. But that doesn’t seem to stop the fear mongers. For fun, I collected some of the best (or, worst) news headlines from this last week about Halloween fears.

Halloween makeup: safe or toxic?
Some parents may think the ghost-white makeup they slather on their kids’ faces this Halloween night is safe because of the “non-toxic” label on the package.

Forget Scary: It’s all About Caring in Calgary
Children wanting to wear scary, violent or blood drenched costumes will have to trade them in for more caring and community-friendly outfits at two public elementary schools in Calgary this Halloween.

The biggest Halloween scare? Emergency dental bills
After savouring a giant gumball, her son Benjamin snapped the spacer on his braces with a Sour Patch Kid. Next, it was Ms. Belanger’s turn: Having weakened her teeth on chocolate bars over Halloween, the Calgary mother of four cracked a tooth on a nut in an apple crisp – a root canal and crown would follow.

Smaller Halloween treats lead to larger eats
Treats packaged in Halloween-sized mini portions trick people into eating far more chocolate and candy than they otherwise would, researchers from the University of Alberta and University of British Columbia have found.

Brace for the most dangerous traffic night of the year for kids
While costume creation is in full gear, give a thought to something else: road safety. Studies from both the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta and Safe Kids USA warn that Halloween is the most dangerous traffic night of the year for kids.

Sex offenders ordered to keep “lights out” on Halloween
The sex offenders must have their lights out and cannot answer the door on Monday night, unless their probation officer comes knocking.

Realistic toy guns can be dangerous around Halloween
Officials with the sheriff’s office want the public to be aware of the dangers and consequences of showing those weapons in public.

Is Halloween Too Scary?
Halloween is everywhere you look, but the scary decorations, costumes and traditions may be scaring your children more than you realize.

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Lessons in Friendship

It has been so long since I’ve managed to scrounge together some time for a blog post. With the Bear starting school in September, we have been barely keeping our heads above water with the amount of commitments we’ve had. There are the ordinary ones such as school and work. Then there are the social activities that sneak onto the calendar.

MJ and I are pretty social people. We value our friends and regularly lament that we don’t have enough time for them. We don’t like turning down invitations and we enjoy doing things as a family with other families. But the Bear’s social life is adding a new twist…

The Bear has quickly learned to always say ‘yes’ to every invitation she receives. And the neighbourhood kids drop by regularly. She can’t quite fathom an afternoon by ourselves, at home. We’ve been doing playdates regularly (although I resist the definition, they are firmly a part of our lives) and birthday parties seem be part of nearly every weekend.

Of course, at the age of five, the Bear’s social life has a direct impact on MJ and I – we are doing the driving (which can be tricky when you have only one car!) or the coordination of the details. I’ve started to make sure that I have enough cheese in fridge for the usual my-friend-is-over-lunch: grilled cheese sandwiches. And then there is the issue of birthday presents – the costs quickly add up.

Part of slowing down is learning to say ‘no’. It is stepping back to prioritize your life so that the important elements are given the most weight. The tricky thing is, family and friends are high on our priority list. I love to see the Bear surrounded by such wonderful kids. And I love that there are no organized activities on our schedule (other than school) so that the Bear has time for developing these friendships and having loads of unstructured play. And theoretically, I love the randomness of her social life. Her social life is, unfortunately, getting to be more than we can handle.

So, what to do? My ever-wise sister suggested that we impose limits but let the Bear choose how to use her social time. For example, allow her to attend only two birthday parties a month. Or let her know she can have two playdates a week, but no more than that. And if she is the one calling the shots, then MJ and I can embrace the randomness.

I think we can all live with that.

And MJ and I need to remember to set an example too. We can’t see everyone all the time.

Finding our Groove

Photo Credit: Lavinia Marin at http://www.sxc.hu

Sometimes I feel like a bit of an imposter. As much as we try to slow things down, life just seems to speed up.

It’s the end of a full week of having the Bear in Kindergarten. Banana also started ‘school’ this week at a community-based childcare centre. She will only be going one day a week. But the amount of labeling, shopping for school supplies, filling out of paper work and driving has been over-whelming. MJ and I have also started our own courses and work is piling up. Then there is end-of-year garden duties and processing of veggies. We’ve ended the week exhausted with all of us feeling a little sick. Not good.

But I have to look at the positive. Thank goodness we’ve avoided out-of-school activities. I can’t imagine the pressure of having either/both the girls in another activity. And soon the frost will be here and the garden will sleep until spring giving us some rest.

So, as MJ and I struggle to keep our heads above water, I have to be grateful that we’re healthy and organized enough to manage this time of year. This is a time for adjustments. It’s time to find a new groove after warm, casual summer days.

As the wonderful women at Slow Family Living ask families, “Is this working for you?” And now that we are somewhat settled, I can answer, ‘yes’. Yes, there has been some headache getting organized, but we’ll be okay. We’ve found our groove again.

School Schmool

Photo Credit: Cienpies Design from http://www.sxc.hu

I’m all for homeschooling, just let me know which ‘home’ I should drop my children off at.

Today was the Bear’s first day of public school. Although, according to Tom Hodgkinson of The Idle Parent, homeschooling would be preferable. There are many homeschooling parents out there who are advocates of bypassing the system in order to better engage in child-directed learning or perhaps avoid some of the negative outcomes that the ‘system’ can produce.

Alas, I’m more of a work-for-change-within-the-system kinda gal. I’m also more than happy to have some child/parent separation. Therefore, enrolling the Bear in our local community public school was a no-brainer. And, no, there were no tears shed this morning as we dropped her off.

I think it is interesting how slow parenting has become inextricably linked with shunning the so-called shackles of the school structure. I understand the desire to have more control over your day so that you can offer children downtime, a chance for free play and child-directed learning opportunities. However, I wonder if homeschooling can also be a recipe for developing helicopter parents – parents are so intent on overseeing their children’s education that they have a hard time letting the kids develop independence. I do think that slow parenting can be accomplished by both the homeschoolers and public education supporters. At the same time, either type of parent can be prone to hyper parenting.

Here is how I hope public schooling will support my children. And I do say ‘support’ as there are many influences to an individual’s education.

1. I hope the education system supports my children in becoming literate. Sounds obvious, but all learning hereafter stems from my children being accomplished readers and writers.

2. I hope the education system inspires them to be self-learners. Afterall, if you’re motivated and resourceful you can really learn anything throughout life.

3. I hope the education system inspires them to be creative. Because I’m a big believer that ingenuity is the key ingredient in any definition of success.

4. And finally, but most importantly, I hope that the education system supports my children in becoming critical thinkers. Because, I want my kids to be critics of the systems they will inevitably be part of.

Beyond these four hopes, I think the rest is just icing on the cake.

I also want to add that many of the public school critics I have read come from Britain and America (I recently watched Waiting for Superman which documented the American system). The Canadian school system, while not without issues and critics, is fortunately one of the best ‘systems’ in the world to resign oneself to!

Just So You Know, The World Doesn’t Revolve Around You

Photo credit: Caltiva Creatividad from http://www.sxc.hu

One of the tenets of slow parenting is to be less child-centric. That is, parents need to merely acknowledge, not immerse, themselves in the ebb and flow of children’s lives. For example, let your child play soccer, but don’t let them expect you to be there for every game.

In child-centric families, the children, not the parents, rule the home. The warning is that child-centric families create little princes and princesses – children who believe that they are the center of the universe. These are children who believe their opinions matter as much as a 30-year-old. We are told that child-centric homes create narcissistic children who can’t function by themselves in a world that has more barriers than they perhaps realized.

In theory, I understand this. But as always, being less child-centric is easier said than done. As a mother of young children, my life has been uprooted and twisted around in order to accommodate them. My routine depends on my children’s routines. And any decision that I make is dependent on my children’s schedule.

I also think that there are elements of child-centrism in many of today’s parenting trends that I have come to believe are important. For example, attachment parenting philosophy could be criticized as being very child-centric. And so could the progressive ideas of how children learn – how one should follow the child’s interests and lines of questioning rather than a pre-determined curriculum. Really, all very child-centric.

So how does one avoid being child-centric when we are also a society that [purportedly] believes in the best for the next generation?

As the summer winds down, I’ve felt the child-centric issue more acutely. Both the Banana and the Bear seem to cling to me (which I hate) since we’ve been around each other SO much these last two months. There have been so many times where I have been very to the point about the fact that I need to do something or we (as a family) will be doing things such-and-such a way. This is despite the fact that the Bear or Banana want to do something very different.

And maybe that’s the solution. To let their needs and wants be acknowledged but not always give into them; to not be afraid to expose them to adversity but always be there as support…

On the Importance of Letting Your Kids Make a Mistake

The Bear and I had some friends over the other day. As the ‘responsible’ adults were chatting in the front yard, the kids wandered off. When we realized they weren’t around, we started calling for them up and down the street. Even though they were in a group, they are only pre-schoolers. They appeared in the backyard – coming through the back gate. I cringed when I saw them all in bare feet and realized that they had walked down the back alley without shoes. I was torn. I was not impressed with the Bear (I knew she was the ring leader) but I was also admiring the fact that they had made it around the block by themselves. I was also thinking about the broken glass that was likely to be found in the alley and how it could now be in their feet.

This past week, I read an article about risk in the UK’s Guardian. Written by children’s advocate, Tim Gill, it is a call for rethinking how we expose kids to risk. The article re-ignited some of my thoughts about the importance of letting children make mistakes. In other words, it is only by allowing children to make mistakes (and this always involves exposure to risk) that they really learn. It is through mistakes that children learn about which risks to take, how to weigh out the pros and cons, and how to deal with the consequences.

When all the parents tell little Johnny to get off the top of the wall because it is too high, how is little Johnny to learn about his limits or abilities or discover the power in deciding for himself? Perhaps little Johnny falls off that wall and breaks his arm, wouldn’t you feel awful that you didn’t stop him? But at some point, he needs to know what is ‘too high’ and be able to assess this for himself without someone else doing it for him. Beyond physical risks, children need to be given the opportunity to take a risk in meeting new people or attempting a new activity without a parent assessing the situation (and therefore, risk) for them. They will only hone this skill through making mistakes. Maybe the new kid at the playground shuns them or the new activity is too difficult. But they need to experience the error in their judgment rather than have someone else make the judgment for them. And I think that this is the hardest thing to do as a parent, to sit back and watch your child make a mistake.

So there I was with the Bear and her friends in the backyard. They were perfectly fine – there was no glass in anyone’s feet and they were oblivious to the fact that they had successfully navigated their journey without an adult. And even though my mind was full of the ‘what ifs,’ I knew that even if something had happened, it would have been a learning experience. Without experiencing difficulty, uncertainty, or the pang of misjudgment, we don’t grow. And isn’t that our role as parents? To help our children grow? We need to swallow that ‘better safe than sorry’ mantra and watch our kids make mistakes. We can be guides and act as a resource, but we need not live our children’s lives for them. Let them make a mistake.

Playing on the Edge

Banana playing in the water drain at the Millwoods Spray Park.

Some of you may recognize the location in the picture. This is a water drain that runs parallel to Edmonton’s Millwoods Spray Park. We recently visited the park on a hot day last week. It’s a new park – beautifully landscaped, fresh sand in the sand box, clean picnic tables and bathrooms. And of course, the amazing spray area. Where do my kids end up playing? Yup, in the water drainage system.

As I’m watching the Bear float her flip-flops through the culvert, I hear another mother tell her children – very firmly – that they are NOT to go to this area of the park; they must stay in the playground or the spray area. She was not the only parent. Another told her children that the drain was ‘filthy’ (and admittedly, it was!) and to stay on the concrete. All these comments had a similar message: play in areas that you are ‘suppose’ to play in; play in ways that are expected and ‘normal’; play in places that adults perceive to be sanitary and safe.

Now, I have to be careful not to judge too harshly. Maybe there were circumstances that I am not aware of. And there were plenty of parents who were letting their kids explore the water drain. But I’m guessing that the parents who did not let their children play in this area were parents who regularly miss the point of play – to have fun! And children have fun in ways that we usually never expect. Their fun involves exploring, creating worlds, and imagining games that are outside of the mundane world that adults control.

We have to let the kids go to these places – the places that are dirty, uncontrolled and on the fringes. And I am always grateful to the parents who let their kids play alongside my children in weird but wonderful ways.

Where did you love to play as a kid? I only have faint memories of playgrounds – my favourite place to play was in the forest that surrounded our small town. This was a place where we were free to invent whatever world we wanted. We’ve got to extend our children the same sort of privilege. Let them play on the periphery. Let them play unsupervised. Let them explore the worlds that adults have forgotten still exist. Let them play a little on the edge.


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