Category Archives: Life With Kids

Children, Communication, and No TV

Big Brother's New HaircutBig Brother had his hair cut today. He chose the style he wanted, explained it to the hairdresser, and then proceeded to have a long conversation with her while she cut his hair. They talked about board games (his favourite is chess, hers is backgammon), what books they’re reading at the moment, the pros and cons of grocery shopping, and whether or not school holidays should go forever. Then he told her about his plan to grow up and invent Helper Robots, complete with what they will look like, how they will help people, and how that will change the world.

At the end of this half hour discussion, Big Brother went and sat down quietly on the seat to wait while Little Brother had his turn. And since Little Brother is a lot more shy than his brother, the hairdresser and I talked.

“It’s hard to believe he’s only six,” she said, gesturing to Big Brother. “I’m always happy when I see you come in here. He always has great manners, and I’ve never met another kid his age who talks so well, and who can actually have a conversation with me.”

I thanked her, chuffed by the compliment. Of course. And then she asked me what school he goes to, and what we’ve done to help him get to this point.

Normally I wouldn’t bring it up, but she was interested.

So I talked about being firm on the importance of manners from the time my children started talking. I talked about leading by example — talking to them the way I want them to talk to me. I talked about the importance of reading books and telling stories and playing board games and not dumbing down language when talking to the children. And then I talked about how the children don’t watch any TV (except for our once a week family movie night) or play computer games.

She was on board with everything until I mentioned TV. But she asked, so I explained.

I explained about the latest research that shows the effect TV has on young brains. I told her that I believe TV encourages children to be spectators rather than to fully engage in the world. I talked about how not watching TV gives my boys plenty of time to play outside, read books, and stage elaborate puppet shows with their toys. But, most of all, I said that I’m not anti-TV. It has its place. Nor do I have a problem with people who let their young children watch TV. Every child and every family is different. But this works for us, and I believe it’s one of the contributing factors in the way Master Six interacts with people and the world.

“Yes,” she said. “But aren’t you worried that when your kids get older and learn about TV and advertising and social media, they won’t be able to communicate with people in the real world?”

To which, I referred her back to her original statement.

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Conversations with Children: Pros and Cons of Reincarnation

(Note: I wouldn’t normally post two ‘Conversations with Children’ in a row, but I didn’t want to forget this conversation.)

2012-12-12 December Import 010

We’re in the car, where so many of our conversations seem to happen. Six-year-old Big Brother has been quiet for a while, thinkingthinkingthinking.  And then the question.

“Mummy, after I die will I come back and be born again?”

As often happens, I find myself mentally pinwheeling. What should I say? What’s the right answer? I don’t even know what I think about reincarnation beyond a vague sense of generic maybe-ness, but my son is looking to me for reassurance and understanding. How do I answer this question with honesty, simplicity, and compassion?

“Well,” I say slowly. “You might.”

“Do people come back again as babies after they die?”

“Some people do,” I say, struggling to put my hitherto unspoken thoughts into words. “Sometimes people choose to come back and be born again, and sometimes people choose to stay dead and live in the Afterlife.”

“I’m going to be born again,” says the boy who was born with the most ancient, knowing eyes I’ve ever seen. “And when I am, if people give me another name I’m going to tell them they’re wrong and I already know my name. I’ll be Big Brother forever.”

I smile. “Will you?”

“Yes.” A pause. Hesitation. “Can I do that?”

“Well,” I say again, my mind racing but my voice calm and measured. “Usually when people are born they don’t remember if they had another life before. So you might not remember your name, because you’d come back as a baby.”

“Oh,” he says. “But… When you die, are you going to choose to come back?”

The questions keep coming, and I don’t know where the conversation is going, and I’m feeling a little scared. Of what, I don’t know.

“I might,” I say.

“Then we can come back together. I don’t want to be born to someone else. I always want you to be with me. So when you come back, I’ll just wait in the Afterlife until you’ve grown up to an adult and then you can born me again. Okay?”

“Okay,” I say. I can’t say anything else. I’m fighting back tears of… of something I can’t name, and trying to drive, and trying not to sound like I’m… like I’m feeling whatever I’m feeling.

“How many days will that take?” my beautiful son asks.

“How many days will what take?”

“How many days will it take for you to be a grown-up?”

“Um. Quite a few.”

He thinks. “I’ve changed my mind,” he says. “I don’t want to be away from you  for lots of days. We should both just not be born again and stay in the Afterlife. Then we can be together forever and ever and ever.”

He reaches his hand towards me at the same moment I reached mine back to him.

“I love you, Mummy,” he says.

And the tears flow, whether I want them to or not.

 

 

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Conversations with Children: You Can Work It Out

The Superheroes

We have a toy dragon.

Actually, we have lots of toy dragons, but apparently we only have one “good” toy dragon. And it is that dragon we had in the car with us this afternoon on the drive back from school.

Here’s some basic maths: Two children + one toy = noise.

“It’s mine!”

“No! Mine!”

“I grabbed it first!”

“No! Mine!”

“Well it’s actually mine, because I got it for a present!”

“No! Minemineminemine!”

There’s a certain point where, as a parent, you need to intervene in these arguments. For me, that point comes either when someone (usually Little Brother)  resorts to physical violence, or when–

“Mummy! Tell him he can’t have the dragon, because it’s mine!”

Or when my name is invoked.

“You two can work it out,” I said. “If you can’t I’ll have the dragon.”

There’s silence from the back seat for a few seconds. As though this answer is a shock. As though it’s not the same answer I give every time they argue over a toy.

Then it starts again.

“Mine!”

“No! Mine!”

And then six-year-old Big Brother realises what’s happening and says more quietly, “Mummy’s going to take it away from us. You have to stop yelling.”

“Mine!” screeches Little Brother.

“No,” says Big Brother. But he’s calmer now. He’s not yelling. Assertive rather than aggressive. “I picked it up first. But you can have it when I’m finished.”

Another few second of silence and then… “Okay. Mine.”

And happiness reigns for almost five minutes. Big Brother gets bored with flying his dragon back and forth in front of his face in the cramped car and hands it to his brother. “There you go. Your turn.”

Little Brother takes it and says, “Look, Mummy! Brother give me!”

“That’s great,” I said. “Good sharing, Big Brother. Little Brother, did you say thank you?”

“Yes,” said Little Brother.

“No,” said Big Brother.

And I immediately regret asking. Because right now, they’re both happy. If I hadn’t said anything, I could have let them happily play and I could have driven home in peace. But I asked the question. So now I have to do something with the answer.

“Please say thank you, Little Brother.”

And he doesn’t. Of course. He cuddles the dragon against himself, and refuses to speak. He doesn’t respond when I talk to him. He doesn’t play with the dragon.

When it comes to passive resistance, Little Brother is a champ.

“You have one more chance to say thank you,” I say. “Or I’ll have the dragon.”

And I hate it. I hate that I put myself in this position. I hate that I’m about to turn my beautiful son into a screeching harbinger of doom. But I said the words, so I have to take the action. That’s how it works.

Little Brother doesn’t say thank you. I take the dragon away from him and put it in my lap. “When you say thank you, I’ll give it back to you,” I say.

He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t even scream, which is both a pleasant surprise, and somewhat disturbing.

After a few minutes Big Brother asks, “Are you going to keep the dragon forever? Because you could just give it to me…”

I run back through the conversation in my head. Did I say I’d keep the dragon? Did I, at any point, indicate that I would keep the dragon, or just that I’d take it away?

I hand the dragon over the Big Brother. “There you go. If Little Brother says thank you, he can have it back.”

Happiness reigns. Kind of.

We’re almost home when Big Brother gets bored and/or feels bad for his little brother. He lowers his voice, leans across the car, and puts the dragon on Little Brother’s lap. “Here you go,” he says quietly. “You don’t have to say anything. I don’t want it anymore, so you can just have it.”

Should I say anything? The arrangement isn’t in keeping with my parental decree, but it’s so sweet. And clearly been done so I don’t notice…

And then, from the back seat, a little voice. The same whispered volume as his big brother’s.

“Thank you.”

 

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The “How to be a Super-Hero” Party

130510 - The Batman

Like most boys his age, Big Brother loves super-heroes. He’s not too fussy about which ones, although Spiderman and Batman are probably his favourites. So his answer shouldn’t have come as a shock to me when, a few months ago, I asked the fateful question: “Shall we have a birthday party for you this year?”

“A super-hero party!” Big Brother said, with the type of enthusiasm usually reserved for… well, super-hero parties, I suppose.

“Sure,” I said, in that Mummy-tone way that actually means: “I’m not sure, actually. But it’s a few months away. And maybe you’ll change your mind between now and then.”

But he didn’t. So, two weeks before his birthday, I had to actually admit to myself that it was going to happen. We were going to have a super-hero party for him and his school friends.

The trouble is, I suck at children’s parties. I’m no good at running party games (as I discovered a year ago, when Big Brother turned five). And the idea of a group of five and six-year-old boys running pell-mell around the house without direction or parental control fills me with the kind of dread usually reserved for… well, children’s parties.

But do you what I don’t suck at?

Storytelling.

So the challenge was: How do I turn Big Brother’s 6th birthday from a super-hero party into a super-hero story?

As it turns out, it was easier than it sounds.

We had the birthday party in a local park on a Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago. (Several hours after Big Brother woke me up by excitedly yelling, “Mummy! It’s my birthday! And I’m six years old!!) Four of Big Brother’s school friends were there, along with their parents and three little sisters.

“Do you like super-heroes?” I asked the children. “And would you like to be a super-hero?”

With two resounding answers of Yes!, we started the day’s activities.

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All the children sat down, and I gave them each a plain white t-shirt and some fabric markers to design their own super-hero costume. When that was done, they moved to the next table to colour in their own super-hero mask.

The children loved it. So did the parents — some of whom spent more time designing the costumes than their children did. (If I did this again, I’d definitely have adult-sized shirts on hand as well!)

We had a Neo-Flash, a Neo-Batman, a Neo-Superman, Z-Man, and the Golden Arm of Justice. (Also a couple of Princesses and Fairy Queens.) When the children were dressed in their costumes, they super-heroed around for a while until everyone was done. And then we moved on to the next part of the party.

“Do you like stories?” I asked.

Another resounding Yes!

So I gathered the children together, and we sat down in a circle on the grass for a story.

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“This is the story of Rocky the Rabbit,” I began. “Rocky the Rabbit was a very special rabbit. He wasn’t a flesh and blood rabbit living in a field. No, he was something much better. He was a money-box rabbit living in a playroom. And at night, when all the children had gone to bed and the toys came out to have their own adventures, Rocky the Rabbit dreamed of being a super-hero.”

And then I told them the story of Rocky the Rabbit — a story I wrote for the occasion.

Rocky the Rabbit wanted to be a super-hero, but he didn’t have any super-powers. But during the course of the story, he rushed to try to help everyone who needed him. And at the end of the story the toys all gathered together to throw a party of Rocky.

“But I’m not a super-hero,” Rocky said. “I’m not super-fast, and I’m not super-strong, and I can’t even fly.”

“You may not be super-fast,” said the toys. “And you may not be super-strong. And you certainly can’t fly. But when you heard someone calling for help, you hop-hop-hopped over as fast as you could, and you found a way to help them. And that’s what makes a real super-hero.”

And then the toys presented Rocky the Rabbit with his very own shiny cape. And from then on, every night after the children had gone to sleep, Rocky the Rabbit would put on his cape and hop-hop-hop around the playroom, looking for people to help. Because he really was a super-hero.

The children loved it.

And when the story was done, I presented each of the children with their very own shiny cape. We attached them to the back of the super-hero shirts, and off they flew to do super-heroic things.

Soon after, we gathered the children together so Big Brother could open his presents. And then we had cake.

130505 Or cakes. With an s.

For some reason, I decided on the spur of the moment that cupcakes would be a better idea than a large cake.

Do you have any idea how long it takes to decorate 30 cupcakes?

A long time.

But the children loved them, and that’s the important part. In fact, the hard part was getting the children to leave them alone until after the candles had been blown out and the birthday song sung. Then they attacked the cupcakes with gusto, everyone grabbing the symbol of their favourite super-hero.

So I count the decorating as time well spent.

After cake had been consumed, it was almost time to wrap up the story party. So I called all the children over and told them we had a little present for each of them to say thank you for coming to Big Brother’s birthday.

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Once the children had all lined up, excited faces and hands outstretched, I tried to open the box of goodies.

But it wouldn’t budge.

“Oh no,” I said. “It seems to be stuck.”

I tried again to no avail. “Wait. There’s a letter here.”

The children watched with wide eyes as I read it out.

Dear super-heroes,
Ha ha ha. I have locked your presents away in this box and sealed them in there with my magic power ring. I’ve hidden all the other magic power rings in the world, so now you will never get your presents. Ha ha ha.
Your sincerely,
Super-villain X.

“Oh no!” I cried. “What will we do?!”

The littlest super-heroes got it straight away. “We have to find the magic power rings!”

And off they went, running as though their presents lives depended on it. They searched high and low, around trees and benches and fences. And before long, they all had at least one magic power ring to their name. (Some had as many as six. Trust me, you can’t have too many magic power rings.)

When the children were all back, I got them to all line up. “Maybe if we all point out magic power rings at the box and say the magic words really, really loudly… Does anyone know any magic words?”

“Abracadabra!”

“Monkeys!”

“Please!” (Bless. Not my child, but he had the best magic word of them all.)

We worked out a combination of magic words, and then all the children pointed their rings at the box and yelled and —

130505 - Power Rings— it worked!

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The box opened.

And I gave everyone their party favour: a real Rocky the Rabbit money-box.

Complete with cape.

The children flew their Rocky the Rabbits around for a while, and then it was time for everyone to go home.

It was a great morning, and everyone enjoyed themselves.

As everyone was leaving, one of the parents said to me, “This was great. I can’t wait to see what you do next year!”

Right. Next year.

You mean children have more than one birthday?!

What have I gotten myself into…

Have you had any particularly good (or bad) children’s birthday party experiences?

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Conversations with Children: When I Grow Up I’ll Be Rich

Dollar Sign

“It would be really cool to be a robber, wouldn’t it?.”

We’re in the car, on our way home from dance class, and Big Brother is thinking out loud.

“When I grow up, I’ll be a robber. Then I’ll be rich. Right, Mummy?”

“Yep,” I say. “You’ll be rich right up until they put you in jail.”

He thinks for a minute and then says, “No, it’s okay. I’ll be a Good Guy robber. And first I’ll tell the police that I’m going to help them.”

I have to admit, I’m intrigued. But I don’t quite understand the difference between a Bad Guy Robber and a Good Guy Robber. “How do you be a Good Guy robber?”

“Well… I’ll only rob from Bad Guys.”

He pauses, and I let him work out his plan.

“Bad robbers only rob people at night. Because they’re bad. So I’ll wait until the morning when the Bad robbers will have to be asleep, and then I’ll sneak into their secret hideouts and I’ll steal all their gold and money and jewels and crystals.”

I can’t help it. I have to ask. “And what will you do with the money you steal?”

He doesn’t even hesitate. “I’ll give it to other people.”

Awww… That’s lovely. “Anyone in particular?”

I glance in the rear-view mirror to see him shrug. “Anyone who needs to money.”

“Okay,” I say. “That’s really nice. And you think the police will be okay with that?”

“Oh, yes,” he says confidently. “Because then I’ll sneak into the police station and I’ll tell them where the Bad Guy Robbers have their secret hideouts. And then the police can go and arrest them.”

“But they won’t arrest you?”

“No. I’m a Good Guy.”

I’m glad he’s got it all worked out. But there’s one thing I’m still confused about.

“So, let me get this straight,” I say. “You’re going to wait until morning–”

“So the Bad Guys are asleep,” he interrupts.

“–so the Bad Guy Robbers are asleep. Then you’re going to sneak into the bad guy’s hideout and steal all the money and jewels they’ve stolen from other people–”

“And crystals!”

“–and crystals. Sorry. Then you’re going to tell the police where to find the Bad Guys, and you’re going to give all the money away to other people. Right?”

“Right.”

“So how is this going to make you rich?” I ask.

He sighs. That long-suffering five-year-old sigh I know so well.

“Oh, Mummy. I’m going to give all the money away to people who need it. But I’m going to keep the crystals. You know, like diamonds and rubies and emeralds…”

“Ah.”

“Do you understand now?”

Oh yes, I understand. But we may need to move to a bigger house to accommodate his Merry Men.

And his “crystals”.

 

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Conversations with Children: I Want Candy!

Candy

This story begins, as many do, with me sitting at the dining table, exhorting five-year-old Big Brother to eat his dinner.

It’s not that he doesn’t like his food, or that he’s a fussy eater. He just gets distracted by all the thoughts and stories in his head. If no one reminded him to eat, I’m sure he’d just wander off and not notice his grumbling belly for days at a time.

“Come on, Big Brother. Keep eating,” I say.

“Mummy?” It’s the tone of voice that tells me he’s got an important question to ask. “Is this candy?”

I look at the food on his plate: Lettuce, cheese, green beans, broccoli, carrot sticks, boiled egg, and ham. You’d be hard pressed to describe any element of his meal as “candy”.

“No,” I say. “Eat up.”

He picks up a bean and slowly, carefully nibbles on it until he’s holding a stub between his fingers. He pops that in his mouth and his eyes refocus on me. “Are apples candy?”

“No, Sweetie. Apples are a type of fruit.”

“I know,” he says. “But something can be candy and fruit. Can’t it?”

“Well…” My first instinct is to say ‘No’. But then I think of candied apples, and I wonder what they’re made of, and if they’re really apple or not, and if they are, are they classed as fruit or candy, and… and… and this is exactly where Big Brother gets his wandering mind from. “Eat some more of your dinner,” I say to cover up the gap in the conversation.

This time it’s a carrot stick. He nibbles on it, his eyes unfocused and his mind far, far away.

“Then, what’s candy?” he asks.

I don’t even know what to say. First of all, I don’t like the word ‘candy’. It’s not a term we use in Australia. Over here, we eat lollies and chocolates and biscuits. If you’re particularly posh, you might even eat confectionery. But not candy. In my head, the word conjures up images of spoiled rich kids holding up Halloween bags and buckets and screaming, “I want more candy!!”

I know, it’s not the poor little word’s fault that I have negative associations. But still.

Big Brother picked up the word years ago,  back when he watched TV. And that’s one of the reasons he doesn’t really know what it means — it’s not a word he hears in the real world. But it is a word he likes the sound of.

“What do you think candy is?” I ask him in return. (Long-term readers may recognise the turn-the-question-back-on-you technique that is my parenting staple.)

“Well,” he begins, absentmindedly building a log cabin out of beans and carrot sticks. “It’s something yummy that you don’t get to have all the time. And it might not be healthy. Is candy healthy?”

“Not usually,” I say.

He thinks a moment longer, then nods. Answer given. Decision made. Conversation finished.

“That’s a pretty good definition.” When he has nothing more to add, I say, “Now how about you finish your dinner?”

He eats quietly for awhile. Then he looks up at me with a mischevious grin. “Mummy, do you know what my favourite candy is?”

“What?” I ask.

“Sushi!”

Sushi

And you know what? I’m just going to go with it.

Bring on the candy!

What’s your favourite candy?

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