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Let’s Be Friends-Young, Old, and In Between

grandpa teaching toddler grandson to fish

Intergenerational Relationships Rock

Seniors are important in the lives of children. Research confirms the value of intergenerational connections. Although we think first of grandparents, elders need not be biological relatives to forge deep and lasting relationships. Unrelated adults and children easily form strong attachments. Ones built on mutual acceptance and constancy. Children thrive with such unconditional love. Even the most devoted parents cannot provide what elders do.

As a child I was blessed by the presence of elders in my life, some relatives, others not. All happily gave me the gift of their time and undivided attention. Time had a different quality then. We were unhurried, at ease, comfortable. As we spent time together, we talked. Sometimes they shared stories of their childhoods. Other times I asked questions or sought their advice. Always I felt safe and loved.

Pots of Gold, Spring Water, and Blackberry Brambles

I learned about leprechauns and shamrocks from Mrs. Higgins. She shared stories of her native Ireland. Cousin Mary not only  took me for rides in her Model A Ford but also invited me to sleepover in her cabin in the woods. Where water came from a natural spring. And we carried what we needed in buckets.

When my maternal grandmother and I went berry picking, she cautioned me to pay attention to the  brambles. And as we crossed the cow pasture, to keep a sharp eye out for cow patties. Later I made a blackberry roll under her gentle guidance. That’s when I learned that some people know how to cook without recipes. On wood burning stoves.

Mutual Admiration Societies

All strong and nurturing, these women made a positive impression on me. They were accepting and encouraging, generous of spirit. They enjoyed our time together as much as I did. Clearly forged  our own mutual admiration societies.

Everyone benefits from positive relationships across generations. Younger ones learn when and how to lend a hand. While elders, accustomed to their independence, learn to appreciate and accept thoughtful gestures of assistance.

Becoming An Elder

Now I am the elder and recognize, in a way I did not as a parent, that children are drawn to adults who slow their pace and savor the present. Parents have many more responsibilities. Calming their minds and being in the moment often eludes them. Having “been there and done that,” we know the feeling. Current parents benefit from non-judgmental relationships with veteran parents. Hearing messages of encouragement and appreciation make a positive difference. We strengthen bonds all around when we give harried parents a couple of hours of respite. That’s a triple hitter.

We must pay attention if we want to create mutually respectful intergenerational bonds. Listen attentively. Show compassion. Respond gently. If we want those we cherish to be open and honest, we must be willing to acknowledge what we’re being told without judging. Being critical is the least effective way of communicating. We can be honest and compassionate. We have feelings and need to respect ourselves as well as those around us. Honesty and kindness strengthen our connections.

Being Our Best Selves

We need to share our stories. Our lives may seem ordinary to us but to the child who adores us, we are absolutely fascinating. People who have lead extraordinary lives. Moreover we are not only fun but downright funny as well.

Change occurs so quickly now. Even we are in disbelief about all we’ve experienced. We grew up in different times. What once was the norm, now often seems like ancient history. Yet our stories have the power to impress.

Steam trains are relics of the past, yet every week-end, weather permitting, enthusiastic families show up at Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum to ride the 1/8th scale model trains and learn railroad history and lore.

To our adult children (or others of their age), we bring experience. If we’re willing to listen without telling them what they should do, we can offer encouragement as well as  learn something along the way. To quote the Beatles, we all “get by with a little help from…friends.” We live longer, healthier, and happier lives when we’re well connected with people both older and younger than we.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

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Intergenerational Play Rocks

quote about what makes a family

Thanksgiving Gatherings

Everyone benefits from purposeful intergenerational relationships. The gathering of family and friends to share a meal at Thanksgiving traditionally involves multiple generations. What better time to share activities that nurture connections among different age groups?

 PlayopolisToys serves the citizens of play. Those children and adults who delight in entertaining themselves with engaging activities. That’s what play is. Younger and older citizens having fun together forms bonds that enrich everyone involved. Opportunities abound. Take a walk. Share stories, Read a favorite book aloud. Create something. Play a board game, preferably a non-competitive one. Or go on a treasure hunt while sitting together on the sofa.

Cooperative Games Foster Teamwork

Cooperative games require players to work together toward a common goal. By putting aside competition and working cooperatively,   everyone comes away with positive feelings. Non-readers and readers. Preschoolers and high schoolers. Parents and grandparents can enjoy playing a game together. Team work leads everyone to success. Moreover no one leaves the game gloating or feeling like a loser. 

Megana Hosein, a mother of four, is enthusiastic about the value of cooperative board games. She “loves how board games encourage interacting and thinking with children in a way that is rarely explored in our busy lives. I am always amazed to hear what they have to say about solving dilemmas within the game. This taps into greater topics of conversation that might otherwise have gone unrealized. Furthermore my children can easily make new friends over the commonality and cooperation in a board game, both with peers and adults. Truly a gentle way to introduce social rules. And simultaneously focus the active child while drawing out the shy one.” Consider cooperative games for those times when kids of different ages and  abilities as well as kids and adults want to play together.

Thwart Stink Bugs

Ever thought about hiding bugs under a rug before stink bugs show up and stink up the place? That’s the  challenges players face with Snug As A Bug in A Rug. One of more than two dozen fun-for-all-to-play cooperative games by Peaceable Kingdom.

With three levels of play, these skills-building games grow as players become more proficient. Create a team to solve these problems. Two players will do, but there’s room for more. Designed to be played in 15 minutes, these games offer a quick solution to the challenge of keeping the peace before and after Thanksgiving dinner.

Search for Treasure

Find It games, theme-based treasure hunts in a cylinder, invite intergenerational searches.  Both offer cooperative and competitive ways to play. Think of  Wildlife, Dinosaurs, Mythical Creatures, or anything that elicits the comment Eww Gross.

For those who thrive on challenges,  Mythical Creatures is the ultimate Find It for intergenerational play. After all, two heads are better than one, and the more heads, the merrier the conversation, especially in intergenerational play.

Mythical Creatures requires knowledge of folk tales and supernatural beings from around the world. Keep a dictionary or Wikipedia handy while going down the list. Otherwise, when you see the word hippocampus, you might think of the region of our brain thought responsible for emotions and memory. Although that’s true, you’d be missing a chance to identify one of the fish-tailed horses of Greek Mythology. The beauty of Mythical Creatures is the chance to find out who’s who and what’s what, then check each off the list. While concentrating on finding out about the Jersey Devil, a kraken, or a troll or taking note of the similarities and differences between a hippocampus and a manticore, you’re happily learning, making memories and nurturing relationships.

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How Worry Eaters Help Children Manage Fears

Plush character holds worries and cuddles

Everyone Worries

We are all afraid of something. So we worry. Children and adults alike. And that’s not altogether bad. In fact, our fears help keep us safe and motivate us to do whatever we can to avoid what we fear could happen.

Whether we’re 16 or 60, taking the written test to get or renew a driver’s license is likely to make us anxious. We fret over the possibility we’ll fail. That fear motivates us to study the manual until we feel prepared. No guarantee we’ll pass, but we’re more likely to answer the questions correctly and to feel less apprehensive.

Real Versus Imaginary

Children worry too. Sometimes their fears spring from their active imaginations.  Take monsters under the bed. These fearsome creatures may be make-believe, but to the young child not yet clear about the difference between fantasy and reality, the fear is real.

Magical thinkers who view the world from a self-centered perspective, children often believe themselves responsible for events. I recall our then three year old son thinking his grandparents had bought a new car because he’d thrown up in the old one. He worried they were angry with him. In his mind, he’d ruined their car. That months had passed between these unrelated events never occurred to him.

Tools for Managing Worries

Gerd Hahn knows the feeling of losing sleep from worry overload. A creative man, he used his angst and talent to create a solution – Worry Eaters. Engaging, soft, huggable characters, their manta is “Let me carry your worries so you don’t have to.”

Their invitation is simple.

1. Write down or draw your fears and worries.

2. Feed them to me – I’ll hold them for you.

3. We’ll get through this together.

That’s a powerful message. Worry Eaters help children put a name on their worries and express their feelings. As adults we sometimes can’t put a finger on the cause of our distress. Likewise children sometimes cannot find words to explain theirs.

A trusted, caring adult, can help a child figure out and assign a name to what’s bothering him. Through the process of sharing his feelings, the child gains emotional support. By feeding his worries to a Worry Eater, the child lightens his load, creating space between himself and his worries.

A favorite Worry Eater also becomes a confidant. Whenever a child needs an ear, Worry Eater listens. Soft and huggable, Worry Eater comforts and consoles.

Not Just for Little Kids

Worry Eaters help bigger kids too. School age children face daily challenges as they grow and develop. Managing worries in a healthy way is a must. Worry Eaters, like a journal, serve to ease anxiety by encouraging kids to identify and cope with what’s bothering them. The process of naming the worry and feeding it to a Worry Eater symbolically creates space for problem-solving.

Customers have purchased Worry Eaters for their young adult children too. I recall one buying two to send daughters in law school. She figured – and you know she’s right on – those young women had plenty of worries in need of holding.

Worry Eaters in Therapeutic Situations

I credit my daughter-in-law with this idea. Having individual Worry Eaters for every little kid client is expensive. What she suggests is creating a file box with an envelope for each client. Between sessions transfer the worries to these envelopes for safe keeping and quick retrieval.

Something for Everyone

Worry Eaters help children (and their adults) express and cope with their worries in a healthy way. With two sizes and an array of delightful characters-five available both large and small-you’re sure to find a Worry Eater perfect for every worrier in your life.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play

 

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Might Hospitalized Adults Benefit From Practices Advocated by Child Life?

baby with stethoscope and teddy bear
Making Hospital Less Traumatic for Children
I’ve written about the ways child life specialists make being in hospital less traumatic for children and their parents: advocating for positions of comfort, educating patients in age appropriate ways, providing distraction during procedures and opportunities for children to engage in activities that encourage self-expression. Play is essential to a sense of well being. Amidst the chaos of hospitalization, play gives children a normalizing experience. While playing, children are in charge, an important respite from having little control over what’s happening in their lives.
 Well Documented Benefits
All these practices reduce stress, enhance coping skills, and help patients manage pain. With preparation and distraction, procedures require less sedation thus reducing the risks of side effects. Patients recover faster, readmissions decline, and both children and their parents report increased satisfaction with the hospital experience. The benefits are so well documented that the American Academy of Pediatrics advocates for child life services.
Adults Struggle Too
Granted adults aren’t children, but illness and injury leading to hospitalization are discombobulating at best. Even the best educated, well informed, well adjusted among us can easily become overwhelmed by all that’s happening. We know we need to “get a grip.” We have questions and need easy to understand answers. We need time to process all that’s happening, figure out ways to cope, relieve our distress, and manage our pain.
Patient-Focused Care for All
 Recently the Wall Street Journal published an article online entitled “Why Hospitals Should Treat Adults Like Children.” Or to be more precise, how making adult hospitals more like children’s hospitals reduces anxiety and readmissions. This insightful article is a must read for everyone interested in patient-focused health care.
 Less Stress, Better Outcomes

The author, Lisa Ward, interviewed Kumar Dharmarajan, MD, MBA, an assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine and co-author of “Balloon Animals, Guitars, and Fewer Blood Draws: Applying Strategies From Pediatrics to the Treatment of Hospitalized Adults,” which appeared in Annals of Internal Medicine, 19 May 2015.

Anyone who has ever been in hospital recalls being awakened every couple of hours for medical interventions, whether checking vital signs, drawing blood, or giving medicine. In neonatal intensive care units, best practice prescribes grouping interventions to minimize sleep disruptions. That’s a practice we all can appreciate and one example of how “treating adults like children” could make hospital stays less stressful.

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Rain, Rain Come Our Way

girl with rain boots jumping in puddle

After years of drought, we experienced the wettest January in more than a decade, and I celebrated every drop. Granted inclement weather poses challenges, from rain slick streets and highways to mud flows and flooding. Yet week after week of sunny skies during the winter creates severe water storages. Rainfall is absolutely essential.

Shelter In Place

People tend to stay indoors when anything wet begins falling from the sky. I readily admit to  savoring every opportunity to curl up with an engaging book and read and nap the day away. Some people watch favorite movies or channel surf until something interesting catches their eye. Others take pleasure in assembling pots of delicious homemade soup or baking favorite treats. Those passionate about a craft likely lose themselves in their latest project. Sooner than later, however, almost everyone comes down with cabin fever, feeling cooped up and restless.

Head for the Door

Who says we have to stay indoors? In fact, getting outside does wonders for what ails us. All we need is proper clothing for the conditions and a spirit of adventure. Dress yourself and the kids in waterproof boots, pants, and jackets, pull on gloves and a hat, and head out the door.

Splash in  Puddles

Walking in rain or snow is invigorating. Decades ago when our son Edward was four years old, we had 10 consecutive days of rain. And everyday we’d don our wet weather gear and take a walk. Always in search of puddles, he happily splashed his way around the neighborhood. Watching him delighted me.

Engage Your Senses

Engage your senses and experience the world around you. Breathe in the fresh, cold air. Open your mouth, stick out your tongue, and taste what’s falling. Feel it fall against your face. Watch as puddles form or powder covers the ground. The world looks altogether different with rain dripping off leaves and running in gutters or blanketed by fresh snow. Listen to the sound of rain falling and the silence of falling snow. Splash around in puddles. Make angels in the snow.

Savor Your Experiences

When you’ve had enough, go inside, shed your outer wear, and head to the kitchen for a steaming bowl of soup or cup of cocoa. Expand the rainy/snowy day experience. Talk about your exploits. What did each person enjoy most? What was the least fun? Write stories, draw pictures of what you saw and all you did. Savor the memories.

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Random Acts of Kindness

Valentine’s Day often finds us expressing our love for family and friends by presenting cards and gifts, and that’s a lovely tradition. When I was in elementary school, the idea was to exchange Valentines with our classmates, and the rule was that each child had to bring a Valentine for each and everyone in the class. No exceptions. Likely that’s why old fashioned Valentines came in cellophane wrapped boxes of more than enough for a class full of kiddos. I recall complaining about having to give cards to everyone, even those I was sure I did not like and definitely would not want “to be my Valentine.” My mother, of course, agreed with the teacher and made sure I had a Valentine for every classmate.

That was an early lesson in being kind. Did you know that Random Acts of Kindness Week begins on Valentine’s Day? That strikes me as perfect timing. What better day to launch a week – that hopefully begins a life time – of practicing acts of kindness? What better time to talk to our children about kindness and how being kind makes our world a better one for all of us?

Let’s explore with our children what being kind means and how we can be warm hearted, friendly, and generous-spirited, considerate, and sympathetic to the needs of others. A smile, a greeting, a compliment, pausing to hold the door for someone are all acts of kindness easily incorporated into our busy lives.

Talk with your children and together decide what acts of kindness each of you can do, then go out and “walk the talk.” Later gather for dinner and share your adventures of walking in kindness. The discussion will likely be lively, and everyone will likely agree that a day practicing random acts of kindness feels so much better than a day spent being grumpy and rude.

We’d like to hear your stories. Let us know your experiences in sharing Random Acts of Kindness Week with your family.

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Feed the Birds – One Way or Another

Relatives can be treasure troves of information and ideas. Recently I was spending a winter week with my 90 year old mother in Virginia. Among my daily duties there is feeding the animals: putting out a cob of dried corn for the squirrels, and filling a trough of cracked corn for the deer, a feeding box of black oil sunflower seeds for the squirrels, and a trio of bird feeders – black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and thistle seeds. The yard is a flutter with birds: from the reddest cardinals – seven on one occasion – to the biggest crows. Acrobatic squirrels “fly,” and when they’re willing to take a chance of being seen, deer, from last spring’s fawns to bucks with impressive racks, wander up from the woods into the clearing with its promise of food.

Whereas my mother also has suet feeders, a favorite among the woodpeckers, hanging on a line, her younger sister Theresa prefers hanging peanut butter treats from her trees. Both my mother and my aunt are troubled by severe arthritis and must constantly figure out ways to adapt what they enjoy doing to circumvent their limitations. When her fingers began cramping too much to allow her to fill the spaces in a pinecone, my aunt switched to a dried corn cob. What a brilliant adaptation and  one that makes sense for young children too.

She spreads crunchy peanut butter on a dried corn cob and rolls the cob in seeds. That is easier on her hands than filling the spaces in a pinecone. She and her son David figured out how to form a holder from a wire coat hanger, and each morning he stops by the house and hangs out a new cob. How lucky the seed eating birds flying into her yard are and how delighted she is to have these feathered friends to entertain her.

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It’s Cold Outside – Feed the Birds

If “the weather outside is frightening” think of the birds and how low temperatures and wind, ice and snow make foraging for food hard. Think too about how cabin fever has you aching for a diversion. Then collect what you need, gather the family, and get busy making pinecone bird feeders.

At the top of the list of ingredients is pinecones. The best ones are fully open. You’ll need twine, string or monofilament for hanging the feeder. Attaching this at the beginning of the project is easier than after you’ve filled the spaces. Tie the string around the pinecone, allowing three feet or more for hanging. Some folks like to tie around the wider stem end of the pinecone; others prefer tying nearer the top, between the third and fourth rows. Do you like the look of upside down or right side up? Decide which way makes more sense to you.

If squirrels share your yard, using monofilament might keep the squirrels at bay. Personally, I doubt anything is foolproof, but watching the squirrels do their best to get to the bird feeder provides entertainment aplenty.

Peanut butter is the easiest filling for the spaces of the pinecone; however, less expensive alternatives are vegetable shortening, lard, or suet mixed with corn meal or oatmeal. One-half cup of shortening and one-half cup of corn meal or oatmeal well blended makes enough mix for one large pinecone.

Carefully spread the peanut butter between the layers of the pinecone, on the bottom and around the edges. Smooth peanut butter is easier to spread, but chunky peanut butter gives nut eating birds an added treat.

Next pour wild bird seeds into a pie pan or on a cookie sheet. Different birds prefer different seeds, but most seed eating birds flock to black oil sunflower seeds. If you plan to offer black oil sunflower seeds regularly, use hulled seeds. Yes, they are more expensive, but they do not create the mess of hulls piling up beneath the feeder.

Safflower seeds are small white powerhouses of fat and protein, and squirrels typically dislike their bitter taste. Among seed eaters are woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches as well as goldfinches, finches, chickadees, and northern cardinals.

Roll the peanut butter filled pinecone in the seeds. Pat the seeds in place. You can also press small bits of dried fruit or chopped nuts into the peanut butter.

Hang the feeder from a tree and watch as birds flock to the newest diner in their neighborhood. The birds will be grateful for the high-energy treat, and you will be in for a treat too. You may be hard pressed to know one bird from another, but you can enjoy watching and appreciate the beauty of our feathered friends.

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Intergenerational Crafting – Pomanders

Think Yuletide decorations from nature and handcrafted gifts to welcome the New Year, then gather family and friends, adults and children alike, around a table, sip hot cider, and make pomanders. These clove-studded fruits, dating from medieval times, came to Europe from the Middle East.

Traditionally the surface of the fruit is tightly covered in cloves, and once dry, the pomanders last for years. That said, I have seen contemporary arrangements using partially clove studded oranges and even grapefruits. These are short-lived but attractive variations on an ancient craft.

You can use apples, lemons, limes, oranges, even tangerines if the skin is smooth and thin. Select small fruit, and inspect to insure it’s intact, with no bruises or nicks. Use a sturdy toothpick, a bamboo skewer, a large embroidery needle or a thin knitting needle to punch holes in the fruit and insert a whole clove in each hole. As you go along, you can weave metallic thread among the cloves or use narrow ribbon or braid to embellish the pomander, either inserting the cloves through the ribbon or placing cloves along the edges. Tie a bow at the top or make a loop for hanging, if you like.

For best results, plan to finish what you start before moving on to something else. I speak from experience. Last year I started a lemon, divided its surface vertically into quarters with an open weave gold braid and filled in the spaces with cloves. Next I added a row of cloves between the original rows. That’s when I ran out of time and set the project aside, not realizing the fruit would begin to dry and harden immediately, making coming back later and adding more cloves out of the question. The exposed skin turned brown as the lemon dried but my first pomander remains fragrant and firm after a year.

 PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play