Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Papa Green Bean's Secret Sauce

Vital Ingredients for Happy Parents and Cheerful Children

  • Use a huge amount of humor, silliness and absurd thinking to encourage imagination and optimism. Respect for children includes a genuine light-hearted view of life.  Embrace a witty perspective in day-to-day activities. It gets your children to open up to you. This closeness to you enables a child to follow her dreams with gusto.  The ability to let loose—to be ourselves, lets the child know that there is true joy in living. All of the rest of it, then, becomes much, much, easier for everyone. 
  • Babies are born watchers—they develop based on the modeling within their immediate environment. That's why when my daughter was a newborn; I was holding conversations with her—that's correct! I would use her facial expressions, mainly her eyes, as her non-verbal responses to my statements and questions. She became a good conversationalist by first being a good listener.

  • Insights into brain development are more than just interesting science.  They underscore the importance of hands-on parenting—taking the time to cuddle a baby—converse with a toddler, provides a stimulating experience for everyone. Therefore, the natural unfolding of each newborn, and how best to allow, rather than hinder, this enormous budding of a human being to reach its fullest potential is critical.
  • Our challenge, as adults, is to respect the child's cues. Each time a baby tries to touch a tantalizing object, gaze intently at a face, or listen to a lullaby, tiny bursts of electricity shoot through the brain, knitting neurons into circuits of connectivity.  There is a time scale to brain development, and the most important period is the first thousand days.
  • The child’s ultimate achievement is to develop the power of concentration. The parent is the caretaker of this right. We must help to bring it out. One of the most precious gifts we can give the child is patience.
  • Encourage exploration and discovery. Let your baby crawl around and get into everything. Simply, safety-proof the room and let them go—fully charged! Also, let them manipulate objects for long periods of time—there is no rush to a babies trials and tribulations—they are building blocks to becoming a life long learner.

  • The freedom to work as long as she wishes according to her own timing and rhythm should be respected, like allowing a child to play with wooden blocks, creating her own structures, unimpeded.
  • We should allow time for repetition, like climbing up and down a sofa or stairs 5, 10, even 15 times consecutively—then again the next day, and the next….
  • Real learning takes place without interruption, like when a child becomes completely absorbed in drawing with colored pencils on blank paper, working with model clay, or pouring water into different sized cups in the sink. 
  • Reinforce curiosity. Avoid the urge to stifle their mindset of intrigue—no matter how naughty! If allowed to search to their hearts content, they build self-confidence and the power of experimentation—the spark of a genius mind, indeed.
  • Allow time for reflection.  Children need plenty of down time to absorb their activities and observations. If they show a need to just sit and rest, let them be. 
  • Read with inflection and introspection. Reading books to a baby, toddler, and infant is as important as all the experts tout. The factor that makes reading even more valuable is when the adult makes the concerted effort to speak in dramatic tones with nuanced variability. And if the child asks questions, it is a prime opportunity to open up a discussion of the dynamic within the story line. The parent can also initiate questions. This builds empathy and emotional connectedness to the characters in the story, as well as you. 

  • Model games of imagination, like play acting or singing and making up your own amusing lyrics.  Encourage outrageous fun. This allows the child to create her own comical ideas without reluctance. Cooperation with other children becomes easier when the child is around attentive adults, who regard the child's needs as they would their own. Children are very sensitive mirrors. Surrounded by peaceful, loving, laughing parents, they will grow up flowing in the here and now of life.
  • Time together can often be open-ended. And it doesn't mean you must always be having a conversation.  Try a silent walk just holding hands. Lie down together on a grassy knoll with eyes closed, taking in the sounds swirling around.
  • However, you may also turn to a spontaneous entertaining game. For example, while closed-eyed, open your ears, taking turns naming the plethora of sounds in the air. Then, open your eyes to describe clouds or trees silhouetted against the sky—classic games of imagination. Tell stories, taking turns. Laugh and roll in the grass. Take your shoes off and dip into the lake. Ask open-ended questions about life to ponder and discuss. 
  • Encourage wonderment and awe. Have discussions about nature, wildlife, science—everything and anything with your child. Never talk down to a child about the real world we live in. Briefly, explain the truth. They may not fully understand what shining stars are, but the fact that you let your child up past 'bedtime' to see real twinkling diamonds in the evening sky is a moment of true bonding. 

  • Children speak to a universal truth—life is most enjoyed by letting go of both the past and the future, and rather, living in the most precious time of all—the here and now. Young children do this so very well. And a few lucky adults are able to retain that enlightenment. There is a lot of life in every moment if you slow your pace, look, and listen.
  • Understand that children have a delicate sensitivity of not just childhood—but of life itself.  A. A. Milne wrote of “long thoughtful shadows” in enchanted places. This expresses the free-range outdoor play that transcends boredom, spinning quickly into inventiveness—when sticks become boats and woods convert to castles.
  • Support unstructured play. As young ones reach age 4 or 5, most do not need to be directed much of the time. It is difficult for many parents to hold back and let a child play in their own way and at their own pace. Allowing a child to play, either by themselves or with playmates, encourages imagination and conflict resolution in the most unexpected and interesting ways. It actually gives you a break to catch up on the newspaper while you keep an eye on your little scientist toiling away.

  • Permit experimentation. Again, this builds on the theme of not interfering with a child's natural desire to take in the world around them as they test parameters. It is important to let the child 'fail' at simple tasks when very young. There is no better lesson in a toddlers 'misfits' than to spend an hour filling a bucket with the treasures of the garden, only to spill the contents struggling up the porch stairs, and having to carefully put all the 'treasures' back again.
  • Gifts of creative love take a bit extra. My father would write a short poem on my birthday card or on a present at Christmas time—in the form of a clue to the mysterious gift inside. It became a family tradition that I have carried on with pleasure. Today, I frequently write a poem onto an anniversary, graduation or birthday card. My wife and daughter often return the favor.  This thoughtful act is a present in itself—the time and effort is much appreciated by all.
  • Poetry in day to day life can be as simple as saying to your two year old, "I don't suppose you can touch your nose with your toes?" or, "Before you put on your pants, shake out any ants!"
  • This kind of rhyming catches a young child's attention and forces them to smile, but also to think. One of the reasons I did these fun exchanges with my daughter was because it kept me engaged in some of the more mundane daily activities like getting dressed. 
  • Depending on the age of your child, these 'games' (as I like to call them) should be adjusted, but be sure to throw words out there that your child will not necessarily know. Kid's brains are great at surmising meanings. They appreciate intelligent conversation, stretching minds... "All this play in the park has made me ravenous, I think I could eat a rhinoceros".

  • Display the "Just try it" attitude. Loving life means modeling the proper perspective about the willingness to try new things. And to a young child, everything is new! A parent’s positive encouragement to give all things a go spills into the child's malleable psyche, giving them a tang for daily living.
  • I was always honest with Anna. I stuck to my word in our conversations together. She grew up knowing she could trust me. She also knew I was watching her, and that I would encourage her efforts more than her results. She knew she had the time to play/work on whatever it was that occupied her, so she developed concentration and confidence in herself. 
  • If a child grows up in an atmosphere of 'truth', the art of communicative conversation rises to higher and higher levels. By the way, this includes discipline. For example, you tell your child that you would like them to put away their books and wash their hands before dinner. Then if they sit down with clean hands but books still strewn over the floor, you politely remind them to pick up the books and return them to their bookshelf. There is no reason to threaten them with 'no dinner' if they don't. It becomes simply a matter of living together in a respectful and loving environment.

  • Follow through on your word. Consistency is certainly one of the best methods of instilling a spirit of healthy zest in your children.  Secure sincerity becomes contagious and creates a foundation for trust. When your children believe in you, they will love you forever.
  • Using 'I don't know' with young children opens up the honesty channel for greater communication. When children know they can trust you they are able to become themselves and blossom without self-doubt. 'I don't know' is very powerful in all relationships. I said, "I don't know" a lot. The "I don't knows" were often followed by, "But why don't we find out!"
  • Fatherhood is changing for the better. There are more stay-at-home fathers. Fathers are also becoming more in tune with the intricacies of what matters in life. Dads are spending more quality time with their families. No doubt, it's exhausting to play with your toddler, devoting 100% of your attention. But this is what it takes early on in their life. It is so worth it. It is without a doubt—the best investment I’ve ever made. 

Lather on that secret sauce,

Papa Green Bean

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