It’s Time to Talk about Stuff, Again

Child in a messy room

Have you noticed tiny piles of useless stuff gathering in your child’s drawers? It comes from somewhere, and now, just before Christmas, is the time to determine how to avoid this stuff that never quite leaves, if avoid is what you want to do.

Over the years, we’ve revisited often the topic of stuff, wasteful junk that we acquire without really needing it.

Less stuff isn’t just about less stuff, though it is so much nicer to live in a clean space without all of the junk. Less stuff means

  • fewer resources up front to make the stuff,
  • less expense to buy the stuff, and
  • less waste once we throw the stuff away.

Our Latest Story of Stuff

Earlier this year, my family did a 30-day Eco Habits Challenge to reduce, reuse, and recycle. It worked. Our surroundings felt lighter. The daily expectation to make change helps us focus.

My daughter decided we needed a de-stuff challenge, so we spent the past month going through the corners and drawers of the house we inherited from my mother. It turned out that most of the junk we got rid of was plastic kids’ toys. I thought I hadn’t even let those junky little toys into the house, but they kept sneaking in through Christmas stockings, birthdays, gifts, Scholastic sales, and such.

Everything that could be used by someone else was donated, but piles then bags of this stuff was just broken beyond repair and non-recyclable.

Seeing all of this junk of childhood build up even for children I thought were focused on simple, natural toys reminded me again how important it is not to get caught up in stuff we don’t need, stuff we won’t use, and stuff that will just break quickly.

I’m so glad that my children were able to let go of this stuff so easily. They decided what stayed and what went. Everyone had a veto on getting rid of junk, and everyone was generous in agreeing to one another’s choices. They kept the books, toys, and clothes that meant the most to them, but they didn’t worry about letting go. It’s not always easy for everyone to let go, so I’m relieved they won’t be hoarders. I hope they will be able to let go of the ideas, emotions, and incidents of life when it’s time to start clean as well.

As the season of buying and giving stuff is upon us, focus on genuine needs, buy what will last as long as you will need it, and give consumable or non-material gifts to your family and friends.

Spread the good cheer. We all need that.

Image © Udra11 | Dreamstime.com - Messy Room And Unhappy Girl Photo

How to Raise a Grateful Child

Child at Bedtime

We want our children to recognize and appreciate what others do for them, what they have. We want to raise grateful children.

Science shows us how.

Beyond the appreciation and recognition we give to others through our gratitude, research shows that gratitude is one of those active ingredients in happiness that we have within our control. Recognizing a feeling of gratitude within ourselves and choosing to express it to others is a specific action we take that grows happiness.

For children, especially for adolescents (and I write as the parent of two teenagers, so I’m really writing about my own children), there will be tough times ahead. Even those of us who had happy childhoods met challenges.

Research on gratitude for children suggests greater happiness, optimism, satisfaction, and engagement for pre-teens and teens who are grateful. The concept and the research aren’t so squishy as they might seem.

What I find exciting about research like this is the clear road. Intuitively, we probably realize that it’s better for us to be grateful than to be ungrateful. Quantify and analyze that gratitude, and we find that happiness and its associated effects are largely in our own hands. For children who might feel like life is out of their control, grasping their own power and responsibility is huge.

Habit of Gratitude for Children

As soon as you start talking to your children, from the first day, you can model gratitude. Tell your child what you are grateful for. Once your child can talk, ask what they are grateful for. Make gratitude and expression of gratitude to others a habit in your lives together.

Positive attracts positive. Positive creates the expectation of positive. Positive builds a pattern of looking for more positive. When we express gratitude and encourage our children to express gratitude, we set those patterns of positivity for our children.

One way to build a habit of gratitude for children is to ask at bedtime what your child’s three good things are. This idea is from Christine Carter’s video “Gratitude 365.”

In their book, Making Grateful Kids, researchers Jeffrey Froh and Giancome Bono suggest 32 strategies to encourage gratitude based on seven essential themes.

  1. Model and teach gratitude
  2. Spend time with your kids and be mindful when with them
  3. Support your child’s autonomy
  4. Use kids’ strengths to fuel gratitude
  5. Help focus and support kids to achieve intrinsic goals
  6. Encourage helping others and nurturing relationships
  7. Help kids find what matters to them

For more details on the seven essential themes, see “Seven Ways to Foster Gratitude in Kids” at the Greater Good Science Center or read the book, Making Grateful Kids.

Resources

Jeffrey J. Froh and Giancome Bono, Making Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character, Templeton Foundation Press, 2014.

Image © Alekuwka | Dreamstime.com - Child Awake Photo

Toys That Encourage Open-ended Play

Painting as Open Play for a Child

In open play, a child’s imagination guides use. Simple, open-ended toys can be much more than one thing to any kid. A child’s early education involves play, imitating adults’ actions around them and exploring their surroundings—including their toy box.

Single-purpose toys with pre-determined limitations and outcomes keep a child busy, but they do not engage the child in creating their own worlds.

Open-ended play means a child has freedom to create their own rules within the environment and transform all objects as their become part of experience. Toys in an open-ended environment are simple enough to have many uses—any use the child can imagine. Yes, blocks can be used to build or they can be food. Yes, play silks can be wings or they can be baby doll blankets. Yes, a doll can be a baby or a doll can be an audience.

Open play encourages abstract thinking and active creativity and problem solving. The characteristics a child brings to this world are given free reign. Children also learn as social and emotional skills are needed, meeting each challenge as it arises. They develop fluency in the ideas and materials of their world.

As parents, we—Nature Mom and I both—have made the way clear for our children to create their own play spaces by giving them simple, natural toys that can be transformed in play. To help you do the same as a parent, in the bynature.ca store, we make every effort to support open play with the children’s products we carry.

Dress up Toys

Silk reversible cape for a child

Silk cape

An overflowing dress-up box enables a child’s self transformation. Simple pieces can be worn many ways.

Building sets

Maple wood blocks toy

Colored maple wooden blocks

With blocks and building sets, you can choose cubes or shapes; stackers, magnetic blocks, or no connection at all; beautiful colors, story blocks, or just simple, beautiful wood without embellishment.

Dolls

Waldorf doll big friend

Waldorf Doll

The dolls a child needs as a baby, a squeezing bonding doll, differ from the dolls a child needs as they begin to imitate life. Choose dolls as well as the doll baby carriers and diapers that encourage your older child to take care of their baby doll.

Musical Instruments

Wooden musical instruments

Wooden musical instruments rhythm set

Music and rhythm instruments give a child the power to create a variety of sounds. Children are delighted when they discover this power.

Art Supplies

Glob natural paints for kids

Natural paints

Natural ingredients, particularly the colors, in the art supplies distinguish the bynature.ca collection.

More on Open-ended Play

Cultivating Compassionate Kids

Child sitting quietly

How can we help our kids be kind to others? Beyond telling them, “Be nice,” which seldom reaches past the surface, science shows us that there are specific practices in cultivating compassion that can change our brains and our actions. If we help our children learn these practices, we help them learn kindness and compassion on a deeper level.

I’ve been writing a bit lately on mindfulness and meditation as it can be applied by us, the adults, in simple ways in our busy lives. This comes from my own seeking. I’ve been calling it my Happiness Project for myself and my family.

As part of this project, I’ve recently been taking a course through edX (online MOOC, massive open online course) called The Science of Happiness, taught by two scientists from the UC Berkeley Great Good Science Center.

It’s easy enough to express a vague wish to be happier or to help my children be happier, but understanding the science of happiness helps motivate me to take clear steps forward. I know what works and why. No barrier left.

Over the next couple of months, I will share with you some of the work of the Greater Good Science Center on children, parenting, and marriage. I figure, if you find that cultivating this kind of peaceful focus is working well for you as a person, as a parent, as a partner, it makes sense to want to share this with your children.

Today, I want to share an article and short video from the Center suggesting that when you want to start meditating with children, an option is loving-kindness meditation (metta). This is a specific kind of meditation in which we repeat a few phrases that express our desire for safety, health, and happiness for ourselves and for others.

Read instructions for the meditation and watch the video here:
Christine Carter, “Greater Happiness in 5 Minutes a Day: How to Teach Kids Loving-kindness Meditation,” Raising Happiness blog, Greater Good Science Center, 10 September 2012.

Research on loving-kindness meditation is interesting. A little bit (7 minutes) can increase your feeling of connectedness, and a lot (10,000+ hours practice for those studied) can change your brain.

One of the researchers into this neuroplasticity, Dr. Richard Davidson, has also been active in finding application of the research through mindfulness and meditation training to cultivate well-being. I keep meeting him through articles and videos, so I’m sure I’ll mention him to you again.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll come back with ideas about how to teach your children gratitude.

Resources

  • “The present study demonstrated significant effects of loving-kindness meditation on both explicit and implicit positivity toward neutral strangers. Even a brief (7-min) exercise in cultivating positive regard was sufficient to induce changes of small to moderate effect size.” Cendri A. Hutcherson, Emma M. Seppala, and James J. Gross, “Loving-Kindness Meditation Increases Social Connectedness,” Emotion 8:5 (2008), 720-724. http://spl.stanford.edu/pdfs/Hutcherson_08_2.pdf

Image © Eleonoraos | Dreamstime.com - The Girl Meditating On The Beach Photo

Family Halloween Party Ideas

Kids carving pumpkins

Are you throwing a Halloween party? I love gathering with friends on Halloween, just a few families for dinner and wandering the neighborhood.

We have friends who live in a neighborhood that is crazy for Halloween decorations and lights. We arrive at their house when it isn’t quite dark, and we all eat dinner. As the sun goes down and the lights come up, we join the rest of the neighborhood in wandering from house to house.

I’ve pulled together a few ideas for games you can play while it’s still light then more traditional activities that ease your Halloween into a Samhain celebration of the end of harvest.

Finish the Harvest

Before party time, gather the last of the food from your garden and clean up the yard. Make a wreath from your own garden. Mine will include a lot of grapes from this year’s bumper crop.

Fun Halloween Games for Kids

You don’t need more than two or three games for kids. If they are in costume, they can make their own fun. Here are a few simple games to bring them back to occasional focus.

Bones relay. Cut out simple outlines of bones to create a full skeleton. Put a piece of tape on each bone. Depending how many children will be at the party, you could have more than one set of bones. Start each skeleton with a skull on a wall or a large board. Put the pile of bones at least 10 feet away. Have one child start by picking a bone and running to the board with the skull to add the bone. Then, the child runs back to touch the next person, who chooses a bone and runs to put it on the board. The relay continues until all of the bones are stuck on the board.

If the kids don’t know how a skeleton fits together, it’s OK. Guessing works just fine. The fun is in seeing how wild the final skeleton can get.

Any party game involving the harvest is perfect for this end-of-harvest-season celebration.

Bobbing for apples. Fill a metal tub with slightly warm water. The cold weather will cool it down, and you want people to stick around long enough to get an apple. Have kids gather around the tub. One at a time, have them hold their hands behind their back and bite at an apple using only their mouth. It gets very wet!

Squash bowling. Put 10 tall, flat-bottomed squash at one end of a lawn in triangular, bowling configuration. Butternut squash are perfect for this. Then, give each player a small round squash (like a pumpkin), small enough to hold with one hand, and let them roll it across the lawn to knock down the squash pins. You don’t need to keep score because everyone has fun with this one.

Carve a Traditional Jack-o-lantern

If your children are going to prowl the neighborhood for treats, how about using traditional jack-o-lanterns?

Carve jack-o-lanterns not just from pumpkins but from turnips and beets as well. You could do this activity earlier in the day or even the day before. (They dry out if you do them too far in advance.) Suspend the small lanterns by strings hanging from sticks. You can either put a tea light or a battery light in each. Carry these around to light your night. Leave them lining the walk when you get home to light the way for the ghosts who return that night to find their way home.

End with a Bonfire

When the kids get home and the parents just want to sit in a circle and talk, it’s a perfect time for a bonfire. Tell stories. They don’t need to scare the children, but it is traditional to tell stories about your own dead friends and relatives.

Be sure to leave an extra, empty place setting inviting the dead to join you. Welcome the dark half of the year with the fire. The fire is orange; the night is black.

Have a bountiful end of harvest.

© Ilona75 | Dreamstime.com - Boy Busy Carving A Pumpkin Jack-o-lantern For Halloween Photo