Hello hello! I’m Mackenzie, and I’m so excited to be joining the Science of Parenting blog team! A little about me – I have an infant daughter, I enjoy cooking from scratch, and I’m a total geek for research on the interaction of parents and children (even studied it in college)! These three facts about me actually all roll together into one of my biggest passions – learning about the phenomenon of how parents get the opportunity to help raise new adults “from scratch”!
In my education, I’ve learned a lot about parenting styles, stages of child development, strategies for guidance and discipline, etc. So when I thought about becoming a parent, I had big plans. Oh boy, I had all kinds of plans! I said things to myself like “I will do things this way” and “I would never do that” … Then I held my tiny infant in my arms, and suddenly everything changed. She came into the world with her own temperament, her own challenges, her own quirks. I found out that my plans weren’t panning out how I thought- no matter how much effort I put into them! “What now?”, I asked myself, “I know that research suggests this is the best way to do this, but my plans aren’t working!”
Over a few months, I’ve been able to get some clarity on what I like to refer to as “balancing research and reality”. The research suggested that _______ is the most successful strategy, but I had to balance that information with what my reality was. With certain things, the research-suggested strategy just wasn’t working for us… But Instead of feeling terribly guilty about it, I’ve come to find a level of acceptance. I realized that I wasn’t a failure, but rather a parent who made an educated decision about what was best for my family. In certain circumstances, it was better for my family to change the way we were doing things than to continue on a path that wasn’t working for us. And because I had learned about the research, I was able to make an INFORMED decision for MY FAMILY.
That’s the perspective I hope to bring with me to the blog: understanding that research is here to empower us to be able to make informed decisions about what is in the best interest of our families. So no parent-shaming here. No condescending words to belittle anyone’s parenting. No telling you that there is only one way to do it. Instead, we will work to give you access to information so that you can decide what is best for your family.
So yes, I’m truly excited to be joining the Science of Parenting team, because I just can’t think of a better parent-empowering movement to get behind.
Little girl looking at her mother
I’m reading the Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan and loved the chapter on Raising Grateful Kids. Her stories about UN-grateful preteens and young adults who resented the sense of obligation that comes with “thanking” their parents made me think about how we approach gratitude with our kids. Do we demand that they be grateful for all we do for them?
Modeling appreciation is the best way to teach gratitude. How often does our family hear us express gratitude for our job or coworkers? For the checker at the grocery store? For access to safe, nutritious food? For the privilege of transportation to get where we need and want to go? When was the last time your kids heard YOU say thanks to their other parent for something that just gets done at home? Have your kids seen YOU handwrite a thank you note to a friend for taking time to have lunch together? or bringing in the garbage cans that blew down the street? Appreciating the small things keeps us from taking things for granted. Learn more ways to raise grateful kids in this video Teach your kids the gift of giving.
My granddaughter signs ‘Thank you’ to her Papa when he gets her a drink of water. My heart swells when I see her learn this simple act of gratitude. It starts early and extends throughout our life. I started using the Five Minute Gratitude Journal to keep me focused on looking on the bright side of life.
Thank someone this week for who they are, or what they did, or that they are in your life. . . and tell us what happened to YOUR heart. To their attitude. To the relationship.
My childhood memories of nature include holding soft baby kitties, bicycling on the dusty gravel road, watching ants in the grass, hanging upside down in the swing in the big oak tree, collecting rocks, and digging tunnels in snow drifts. What are your favorite outdoor memories? Did you know that those experiences, in an unstructured, extended time frame, form the foundation of curiosity, learning and development of empathy? Scooping and dumping sand, making mud pies and stacking wood scraps were how you might have begun to learn physics and mathematics? Climbing a tree, running on uneven ground and carrying branches help a child develop body awareness, strength and visual spatial skills. Want your kid to be able to parallel park when he learns to drive? Give him outdoor experiences manipulating large natural materials and chances are he’ll be at the head of his driver’s ed – or graphic design – class. Kids also learn to manage risk and problem solve when they have early experiences in natural settings. Pokémon Go the virtual reality game may be a way to get kids outdoors, however unless they pay attention to the surroundings and explore those spaces, it does not substitute for actual experience with nature. Geocaching is another way for families to explore the out of doors.
I’ve been a certified Nature Explore trainer since 2009. Thousands of Iowa early childhood professionals – teachers, child care providers, naturalists, parks and rec staff and parents – have learned to use tested design principles to help children connect to nature. Imagine my joy when I was invited to participate in a research project on Nature Explore backyards in Iowa City. It was magical to watch families embrace the concepts and open their backyards to transformation. My memory of watching a toddler explore sound in his family’s new outdoor ‘classroom’ sustains me whenever I do a design consultation or teach a workshop. Excerpts from that research are in the book At Home with Nature.
My own backyard contains the Nature Explore principles and I’m having fun seeing how they will change over time as my 16 month old granddaughter grows up. Watching her pick and eat berries for the first time, check out the wren’s nest and sing back to the momma and papa birds, stack river stones, fill a pail with pinecones, turn sea shells over and over in her tiny hands and swing in the mosquito netting hammock all fill my heart with gratitude and hope for her future.
How do you help your kids connect to nature?
“It’s not fair”; “I don’t have time”; “It’s not my job”; Words often expressed by children who are asked to complete some household task!
Taking responsibility for a household task can assist children learn essential life skills, including taking responsibility, and expressing generosity. Families who work together to make decisions, keep the house clean, and care for one another, can use that energy to tackle even tougher issues! Don’t give up parents! Teaching your children to accept responsibility through assignments at home will create strong children!
As parents, we want what’s best for our children. But as a parent I’ve experienced the urge to provide experiences and material possessions that I wasn’t fortunate enough to have had as a child and as an adult I have the financial means to provide for my child. I have learned that this urge needs to counter with the question of “what is best?”.
How do we know what’s best? I ask myself this question every birthday, and every holiday. I have used a couple questions to keep my urge to give under control. The first question I ask is “Is this gift or experience good for them?” In other words, does giving this gift promote or prevent learning? Then I evaluate the financial impact that this gift will have on our family budget. Does it use too many family resources that should be used or saved for something else? College isn’t many years away even for an infant. Even little purchases add up over the years. The last question I consider is that of need. Is the gift something I want? Does it benefit me more than my child? Am I using the gift as a way to compensate for time, I wish I had spent with my child?
Overindulging and buying too much has become epidemic among parents. As parents we need to question our purchases and respond with moderation and mindfulness. Even with good intentions, the results of giving too much can be harmful.
This week we welcome guest blogger Kristi Cooper. Human Sciences Specialist in Family Life and new grandma.
I had no idea I’d be taking my own advice years after I wrote about the overspending of grandmothers and aunts on new babies. I’m very excited to provide my 11 month old granddaughter with as many new experiences as she can handle. Her parents are practical and their home is small so the oodles of toys, clothes and other baubles that are bestowed upon her by well-meaning relatives create stress. Besides, my grandgirl is pretty happy with simple household surfaces to pound and pull up on, and a human or two to keep her entertained.
Marketers of baby stuff focus on female consumers – aunts and grandmothers in particular – because their hearts are as big as their wallets. By keeping our wallets closed and our hearts open we can avoid turning our grandchildren into beggars and entitled teens. Here are 5 ways to love those precious little ones without creating strained relationships, stress over stuff and maintain our financial wellbeing.
- Gift of Talent/Skills – We all have the need to contribute to our family and community. Share age-appropriate activities with your grandchild or grand baby. Play together – Teach a game from your childhood such as kick-the-can or hide-and-seek.
- Gift of Words – Talk Together – Encourage grandchildren, nieces, and nephews by highlighting the positive values you see in them. Ask about their goals in life. Talk about how they can reach those goals. Point out the characteristics that you admire in them.
- Gift of Time – Nothing says, “I love you,” like full, undivided attention – sharing conversation and activities. Work together Do household chores, homework, bicycle repair or volunteer in the community with your younger generation. Working together teaches skills, work ethic and the value of contributing to others.
- Gift of Objects – We all like to receive objects that have been thoughtfully selected just for us. Keep material gifts to a minimum and consider the life-span of the object. Create together – Choose toys and consumables like art materials that stimulate critical thinking, imagination and are age-appropriate. Ask yourself, who is doing the thinking – the child or the manufacturer?
- Gift of Touch/Self Care – Wrap these gifts in plenty of hugs and kisses, bedtime backrubs, tickles and laughter. Practice relaxation techniques so you can be fully present for your grandchild.
YOU are the best gift your grandchild can receive!
There are many similarities between goal setting and traveling down life’s highway. How do we help kids learn how to achieve goals when the path life takes you isn’t typically a superhighway. Rather it’s a curvy, twisting, mostly uphill dirt road scattered with potholes and mud puddles. At least that’s how many people would describe the path their life has taken.
I don’t think that we are fair with our kids, if we paint a picture of success that is void of the obvious potential obstacles that may get in their way. I’ve found goalsetting to be more productive with my kids, if together, we can anticipate the difficulties that might lay ahead. As adults we already know that it’s much easier to travel down a road that has signs posted that help you avoid potential perils. We’ve learned that it’s easier to drive with your headlights on, in other words, being prepared for the conditions and what lies ahead.
My other piece of travel advice. Never travel without a roadmap. A roadmap—is essential for the experienced and inexperienced traveler. In goalsetting—the map is the plan. A plan that has been made with all of the anticipated obstacles in mind… will make success much more probable!
I grew up on a farm in northeast Iowa and my summers were spent picking up rocks, cutting volunteer corn from soybean fields and learning from 4-H. 4-H was interwoven
into the culture of rural life. Learning was at the center of summer and 4-H was the catalyst. Fair projects provided the incentive for me to learn many things. I learned about the science of cooking—why eggs turned green if boiled incorrectly, the process of canning and using a pressure cooker, tying a variety of macramé knots, the details of furniture refinishing, photography and the effects of different light exposures to only highlight a few. Learning didn’t stop when the school bell rang, in fact, learning moved into high gear. For me learning that was purposeful or necessary to do something was powerful. I learned early the importance of how to learn and the joy and satisfaction that can come from learning.
How can we encourage this kind of learning today? Kids are still joining and learning through 4-H and the Scouting organizations are still running summer camps. I’m seeing my 15 year old off to Scout camp this weekend for a two week stint and he can easily give testimony to what he has and will learn at camp. Youth programs like 4-H and Scouts offer valuable opportunities for youth to learn not only practical, technical skills, but life skills like communications and getting along with other youth and adults. Sadly, more should and could take advantage. Summer youth programs can provide a unique opportunity for youth to learn in a relaxed environment outside of school.
It’s not too late to get your child enrolled! It’s not too late for learning! Call today.