Lower Holiday Stress Through Compassionate Communication

Mother listening to a child

Are people around you all wound up and snappish? Despite all of the talk of happiness and joy, I find that people are more stressed and anxious leading up to the holidays. There are a lot of obligations to meet, school events, parties, cookies to bake, presents to finish, and everything starts to pile up. Our ambitions can get ahead of our capacities, and we get stressed. When we’re stressed, we might snap at others.

Underneath all of those actions, though, are often the best of intentions. We DO sincerely feel those best wishes we spread around. We ARE grateful for those teachers who open our children’s minds to new ideas. We DO feel joy when we see family members we don’t see nearly as often as we might like.

We feel those positive feelings underneath it all, but we still have that list of obligations to get through. Sometimes it is difficult to be present enough in the moment to focus on that deeper feeling.

For those stressful times to turn into negative experiences, it usually takes two people feeling bad and taking it out on another. I see that happening all around me.

On top of that, we are setting a pattern of expectations for our children. If holidays bring on a stressful time for our children, they will have a more difficult time feeling that joy year after year.

How do we stop the cycle of stress?

I suggest that you slow down just enough to bring compassion into your interactions with others. Recognize that the people around you are doing their best and falling short, just like you and I are. We all are. It’s OK! Extend a genuine smile, a handshake, a kiss on your child’s forehead as the stress starts to show around the edges.

Practice compassionate communication with your children, with the people around you, and even with yourself. That starts with listening and understanding what the other person feels.

Give yourself a break. If your expectations exceed your capacity, scale back. Let go of what isn’t working.

Have a joyful holiday season, and spread that joy to all you meet.

Are you interested in learning more about compassionate communication? A basic book that any parent can read is Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Create Your Life, Your Relationships, and Your World in Harmony with Your Values. Another more specific to parenting is Raising Children Compassionately: Parenting the Nonviolent Communication Way. Follow the links below to IndieBound to find an independent bookseller in your area that carries either book.

Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communicationhttp://www.indiebound.org/book/9781892005038

Marshall Rosenberg, Raising Children Compassionately. http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781892005090

Gifts You Won’t Find on Amazon

Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks

Are you rushing to be ready for the holidays? Relatives visiting, parties to cook (or buy) for, neighbors to acknowledge some way, and kids’ gifts to think about. Think about this as you are rushing around.

Our rushing rubs off on our kids, but children need space for deep, open play to process the masses of information that they are taking in as they learn about their world. They don’t need toys that tell them how to play. They need the simplest of objects that can join the stories they are already telling themselves in their own minds.

A couple of years ago, my friends passed around a story from Wired’s Geek Dad“The 5 Best Toys of All Time.” This Geek Dad led with a pile of discarded box full of bits of plastic toys. These were once cool stuff and awesome gizmos, but they didn’t make the top 5 list:

  1. Stick
  2. Box
  3. String
  4. Cardboard Tub
  5. Dirt

Everyone loves the gizmos for a day—or an hour.

Are you hoping to help your child develop a somewhat longer attention span? Make sure your gifts are worthy of the attention. The best gifts aren’t much to look at in the box or under the tree. Kids fold them into their lives. To enable your child’s creativity, turn yours on now before you are tempted to grab those last-minute tchotchke and stocking stuffers that won’t even make it from the pile of gifts into your child’s toy box.

By far the best holiday gift I ever gave my daughter was cotton play cloths in a dozen colors. These lasted even longer in circulation than her most beloved Waldorf doll. I didn’t choose the those because I knew what impact they would have. I didn’t know beforehand that play cloths would be blankets and costumes and wrapping and decoration. I just liked that rainbow of color. I was satisfying my own desires!

You might not know which simple, open toy will hit that sweet spot for your child, so be prepared for a few misses as well as hits.

If you are worried that you don’t have the right toys for your child yet, let that worry go. The toys that enable happy, imaginative play are simple.

Happy holidays, and don’t sweat the toys.

Why Choose Natural Toys

Natural wooden marble run toy

 

You anticipate toy shopping soon—as do I. I just want to give you a few reasons to look for toys made from natural materials like wool, cotton, wood, and rubber.

The Negative Reasons to Choose Natural Toys

Choose toys made from natural materials because they aren’t made from plastic. It isn’t just that plastic is unsustainable, being made from oil and gas that are in limited supply. Plastics, especially soft plastics, can be health hazards.

With the passage of the CPSIA in the U.S., six plastic softeners (phthalates) were banned in children’s products that could be used for eating or sleeping because of the risk that a young child will suck on the products. These plastic softeners were’t banned in every product, though, and they can still pose a hazard through off-gassing. You know that new plastic smell? That is the toxic off-gassing, the hormone disruptors that can cause developmental problems for children (as well as high rates of miscarriages among women and erectile dysfunction among men).

You are less likely to find some of the worst chemicals in children’s toys now, but that doesn’t mean all plastic toys are safe. Avoid soft, vinyl plastics (phthalates) and polycarbonates (Bisphenol A or BPA).

The U.S. PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) is still warning against toys made with PVC plastic. Even they are recommending that parents “choose unpainted wooden or cloth toys instead.”

For more details on the reasons to avoid plastics in toys, see “Why No Soft Plastics.”

For sustainability and for health, just avoid plastic toys. Choose natural toys instead.

The Positive Reasons to Choose Natural Toys

Natural materials are sustainable. They grow in nature, and they can grow again after they are harvested to make your child’s toys. That is what is meant by renewable materials (in contrast to petrochemicals used to make plastic, which do not replace themselves—or, more accurately, only replace themselves over millions of years).

  • Cotton grows as a protective fiber (a boll) around seeds in a cotton plant in a field
  • Hemp is grown as the stem of a hemp plant in a field
  • Wool is the hair of a sheep, sheared annually
  • Silk is the coccoon of a silkworm
  • Rubber is the milk of a rubber tree
  • Wood, of course, is the body of a tree

Natural materials generally require less processing before they can be used to make toys. Pick up a stick, it’s already a toy. Sheer a sheep, and you just have to wash the oils out of the wool in order to use it for stuffing. The milk of a rubber tree coagulates easily into the kind of rubber we know as Sophie the Giraffe or a rubber duck. Natural materials are renewable in the long term but they are also lower impact in their processing in the short term.

In addition to sustainability, consider the sensory experience of natural materials. They feel warm, smell nice, and look soft. Natural materials feel good in the hands of a child. Read more about the sensory experience of natural materials in last week’s post “What Are Waldorf Toys?”

It’s tough for me to come up with rational reasons to choose natural toys because I usually just stop with “why wouldn’t I choose natural toys?” They are the obvious choice unless I’m buying into the nonsensical stories that mass marketing tells me about the superiority of plastic toys over nature.

But there are rational reasons: choose natural toys for the short-term and long-term good of the environment and because of the sensory experience your child will get with natural materials.

Choose Natural Toys

We know that most of our customers are deliberately seeking more natural ways of parenting. Choosing carefully when you buy toys that your child will play with every day is an important step in creating a natural environment for your family.

Read more about natural toys in “Toy Monday: Why Natural Toys.”

To buy natural toys, see our Holiday Gifts Guide at bynature.ca.

What Are Waldorf Toys?

A child play with silk cloths

 

We are asked in the bynature.ca store about Waldorf toys and Waldorf dolls. Waldorf toys are simple toys made from natural materials, beautiful toys that inspire a child’s open-ended play.

First, What is Waldorf?

The “Waldorf” in Waldorf toys comes from Waldorf education, based on the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian founder of anthroposophy around the turn of the 20th century. Sometimes people refer to “Steiner schools” or “Steiner toys,” and these are the same as Waldorf or Waldorf-inspired schools and toys. The “Waldorf” part comes from the name of the factory where the first Steiner school was created for children of the factory workers.

Waldorf education is followed in schools and in home education throughout the world. You don’t need to follow Steiner’s educational philosophies or Waldorf education methods to appreciate the beauty of Waldorf toys, though.

Play in Nature

If one of your goals as a parent is to help your child understand and flow with nature rather than against nature, you can do that more easily with toys made from natural materials.

You know we love natural materials—not just because cotton, silk, wool, wood and other natural materials are renewable therefore sustainable but because natural materials enhance a child’s experience of nature. A child can experience natural toys through all of their senses—or most of them. We don’t necessarily want our child tasting their toys, but if you have used food-grade coloring on natural materials, a lick here and there probably won’t hurt. Natural materials look beautiful; they smell nice; they sound rich when when a child plays with them; and they feel warm to the touch.

When you want to teach a child about a tree, what makes more sense? Look at a book about trees, get out a plastic model of a tree, or go outside and meet a tree. If you want your child to learn about nature and how things work in the natural world, put them in nature! Even when they are playing with toys, a natural toys put them closer to the natural world.

Soft and Simple Means Open

There is a softness to Waldorf toys—soft dolls, soft lines, soft colors, soft details.

A Waldorf doll made of cotton outside and wool for stuffing and hair will have a simple face so the child adds the details through imagination. Sometimes, a baby doll get sad. It’s tough to imagine that when the doll has a smile painted on her face.

Waldorf toys and other handmade, natural toys inspire open play—play led by the child rather than play that follows a specific motion to a pre-determined end. Waldorf toys join the stories a child tells in his mind, and they stimulate a child’s imagination rather than bringing a child out of her own world into an assembly-line play experience. Natural, simple toys can be more than one thing. A play silk can be a cape flying in the breeze outside or a river flowing past a doll house or the wrapping for a gift.

When you are choosing a toy, think about whether it leaves space for open play. Will this toy inspire your child’s imagination? Will this toy join the ongoing stories of your child’s play? Will your child add the details to make this toy a rich part of her or his experience?

A Few Waldorf Toys at bynature.ca

 

Halloween Stories for Children

Mother tells Halloween story

If you are trying to avoid the candy-focus of so many Halloween celebrations, you will probably want to create your own family traditions that your children will look forward to.

Tell your children stories. Help them see holidays as time to sit and reflect with family

Over time, you might develop your own family stories. Until you get there, I have a few last-minute suggestions for stories.

Our Halloween

For my family, Halloween in our big holiday of the year. It’s our new year. We focus on what is happening in nature as it gets colder outside but the snow hasn’t yet fallen—or hasn’t yet stayed. We rake leaves, jump in them, then rake them again. We draw on our pumpkin—our one pumpkin that grew this year—then we cut it up to make soup.

And, we tell stories. We tell stories about ancestors in the tradition of Day of the Dead, Ghost Festival, Samhain, and All Souls Night. We tell stories about the season. We tell funny stories.

We also have fun dressing up and going to parties with friends, but we reserve a part of the day and night for our family celebration.

Halloween Stories

Tell stories out of your imagination, stories that pull your children in as the adventurous protagonists. My children still love this, and they still tell one another stories. They write stories, comic books, novels, animated tales. They expect to be part of the adventure.

If you aren’t quite ready to make up stories for your children, you could collect stories and books, experimenting to find your favorites.

It’s a bit late to be looking for books for this year, so I’ve gathered a few Halloween stories you can share with your children right now.

For very young children, 2-4 years old. “Little Orange House” is a short, active story that will surprise little kids. I don’t want to give it away, so you’ll have to watch to see the surprise. Nothing scary at all. Watch the video, and look at the collection of other non-scary stories and songs for young children. You will need a couple of simple props to tell this story to your children.

For young children, 5-7 years old. “The Witch Who Was Frightened of Halloween” is an audio story, 9 minutes long, about Katie, an ordinary little girl who happens to be a witch. You can read or listen to this story.

For older children, age varies. If you want to venture into more scary stories, how about choosing old stories and folktales. American Folklore has a dozen spooky but not quite turn-your-hair-white frightening stories for children. These aren’t the sweet, predictable stories often written for young children. These are stories collected by folklorists from old tellers of tales. If you need more horror or fright, look for their “Scary Stories” and “Supernatural Stories.” You can either read or listen to these stories.

It’s Your Halloween!

To create the holiday you want your children to have, it only takes a little preparation and a little time to bring the focus where you want it to be for your family: nature, the season, celebration, fun, and maybe a little bit of scary screaming. Happy Halloween.

Image © Aldegonde Le Compte Tools | Dreamstime.com