If you have young children, these dinner games will make meal time- including holiday meals- go smoothly
It’s not just busy schedules that are difficult when arranging family dinners, children can turn dine time into whine time. They’re fatigued after a full day of school or daycare in addition to being hungry. Managing those emotions is difficult for them and they often use dinner as their opportunity to explode. I’m constantly threatening the loss of dessert if my kids stand up, act up or spit up at the table. It’s amazing how siblings can fight over the salt shaker like it’s a ticket to Disney World. Does this happen at your table? To decrease indigestion and increase family bonding, I’ve found some solutions to distract the kids into better behavior and foster that family bonding that dinner’s supposed to provide.
Mix props with the potatoes: I had a too-cute-to-toss card box that I use to collect encouragement cards I found at a local store. Right before dessert, the kids close their eyes, reach in the box and pick a card to read. They love the thrill of mystery and the cartoons on the cards. I like the positive messages, often from the book of Psalms or Proverbs. There are so many ways to do this project. Kids love surprises, even if it’s a Post-it note message out of a jar. Start collecting jokes, interesting things from your day to share or fun questions to ask. Jot them down on index cards and everyone picks one to read. These can also be theme-related. Christmas is coming, after all. Yes, this activity takes advance planning, but the cards are reusable and you can keep adding to the box. (You can also go to Amazon and type in “family dinner games” to order something similar. Now you have no excuse to try this fun family game.)
Don’t just prepare the food, prep the conversation. Put a photo or a cut-out from a magazine under everyone’s placemat and have them pull out their surprise one at a time, maybe during dessert to keep them in suspense. When junior holds up the family photo of going down the water slide at an amusement park last July, ask: what do you remember most about that day? Or, do you remember where we were when this was taken? For laughs, toss in one of your baby pictures, or one of theirs. Kids love to see pictures of themselves. If you’re feeling extra creative, cut out a picture from a magazine or downloaded from the internet and ask them to make up a story about the scene.
Family dinner time is probably the only segment of your day where everyone can be in the same room. Make the most of it by discovering the little details that made up each other’s day. You’ll be surprised at what you discover. Chances are, however, if you belt out, “How was your day?” you’ll get a one-word answer. It’s too vague a question. I have a neighbor who used to ask her kids, “So who got in trouble in class today?” That got the conversation stirring. Another way to do this is to play a round of Fibs For Fun. Everyone tells three things about their day, two are real and one is not. Then you have to guess which is the fib. Maybe the winner gets first dibs at dessert?
Another table friendly game is “Can You Remember?” It calls for one player to close their eyes and guess things like, what color shirt are you wearing or where is the napkin holder on the table, etc. Another variation is “What’s Missing?” Remove something from the table while one player closes their eyes, then ask them to guess what it is when they open them.
Of course, bad moods and manners will seep in from time to time. If yoru child can’t be redirected into better behavior, it’s best to separate him from the table and explain that he’s welcome back when he can act appropriately. This way you don’t spoil it for the rest of the family. In time, the trantrums will decrease, especially when the rest of you are having so much fun at dinner.
As your family gathers for holiday dinners, I challenge you to pick one of these dinner bonding tips for your next feast. I bet your ham goes down smoother, even if you are sharing it with Auntie Ruth and her half dozen cats.
My last couple of posts have been a little on the heavy side. So, with the holiday season upon us, I decided to turn my attention in that direction. Some of you may be thinking: “How is that a happier direction? I am under so much stress, time pressure, financial strain, and an overabundance of family togetherness, I’m pulling out my hair. Arrrgggghhhhh!” Okay, maybe no one is actually thinking that, especially the “Arrrgggghhhhh!” part. But still, I know the holidays can be a bit stressful.
One particular stress that my husband and I encounter around this time of year is the transformation of our lovely, funny children into a pack (can you have a pack of two?) of ravenous “gimme” monsters. That is to say that sometimes they get a little too caught up in Santa and wish lists and shiny advertising. We’ve been able to combat this a bit by trying to emphasize the more spiritual aspects of the holidays. We like to remind them that traditions, letting the people in your life know that you love them, and just being together are the true gifts of the season (and DO NOT have to involve cash and prizes). We have also cut off a major source of the gimme’s, commercial-based television. But, apparently among the six and eight-year-old set, water-cooler (or playground) conversation topics often include what Legos are hot and how many My Little Pony ponies one owns.
My husband and I are not perfect and neither are our children, but we do okay in our efforts to keep the gimme’s at bay. Fortunately, there are some interesting books at HCLS to help, or at least provide some perspective. Juliet Schor’s Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture examines the materialism, commercialism, and consumerism of our society, especially as it is aimed at children. Schor also gives some ideas on how the battle these powerful (and calculated) influences.
There is also the sometimes chilling Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover Childhood by Susan E. Linn. And if your kids are older, you may want to check out (or better yet, have them check out) How Does Advertising Impact Teen Behavior.
There are also some excellent ideas in Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success by Madeline Levine (and Levine takes on way more than the gimme’s—definitely worth a look). And Rafe Esquith’s Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Kids in a Mixed-Up, Muddled-Up, Shook-Up World will make you want to do right by your children in every way—not only learning to fight off the gimme’s, but to grow into a person of uncompromising character (and we could use of few more, don’t you think?).
Or you may also want to relate to your kids on a level they’ll understand. Read something to them like Betty Bunny Wants Everything by Michael B. Kaplan, and they may just figure out that they have to learn to fight the gimme’s a bit on their own.
(P.S. Betty Bunny is featured on HCLS’s Choose Civility book list for children.)
I’ve been called the Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge and a few other choice things. I understand. They are labels thrown out by people that can’t fathom my particular brand of holiday spirit. To them, there is no holiday without shopping and wrapping… without gift exchanges at the workplace, the preschool, the mom’s group, and the basketball team. It’s the season of giving, right?
Absolutely. Many illuminate the longest nights and darkest days of winter with a celebration that involves giving. It is at that point, however where we usually diverge, as I choose the path less traveled and that has made all the difference in my life.
Long before the downturn in the economy prompted conservation, Occupy Wall Street caused us to consider our own personal levels of greed, and recent studies called to mind our staggering level of consumption; our family chose to tune out the unrelenting cacophony of the holiday season and celebrate Christmas “unplugged.”
Nearly fifteen years ago, on Christmas morning, my husband and I applied the proverbial brakes. Surrounded by a sea of torn wrapping paper, empty boxes and mountains of new non-essential things to put away, we realized that which we had taken months to create, had taken only ten minutes to undo. We had succumbed to commercial interests and become conspicuous consumers. We had filled the landfills with more than our share of stuff. We were stressed and snappish. We had lost sight of our own faith-based reason for the season. And, most heartbreaking- we had lost our most precious gift- time with our children. There was no way to reclaim those dozens of hours lost each year to the commercial clamor of shopping and wrapping of holidays past, but we could rewrite the future.
We resolved to change. Out of respect for the sensibilities of young children, who could understand the theory, but not so much the practice, we eased into our new tradition. We limited the gifts to three presents per child for the first year, but the next year, we were all in- we graduated to Christmas- Unplugged.
Holiday display at the National Botanic Garden
We concentrate on what we do, and not on the things we don’t do. We bake cookies. We see the the lights in Hampden or visit the holiday train and monument displays at the United States Botanic Garden. We visit the International Crèche display at the Washington DC Temple. We support the local arts and go into Baltimore to see Tuba Christmas (200 of Maryland’s finest tubas and euphoniums in concert). We try to catch a show- last year it was Monty Python’s Spamalot at the Kennedy Center. We participate in workshops, like the annual Sock Monkey Saturday at the American Visionary Art Museum (memorable for the hopeless looks we received from the men in the family as they tried to stitch their creations together.) We go ice skating outside
and take long walks along the Patapsco and Middle Patuxent rivers. We play games like Bananagrams or Cathedral or Apples to Apples. We watch football games together.
Together as a family we celebrate old traditions and create new ones, we carve out time to spend together and in the process, we create lasting memories. Our family has grown and evolved, but the Christmas Unplugged spirit remains a steady reminder that the spirit of the holidays is within us.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone!
More holiday unplugged resources:
Mary Catherine Cochran
Posted by HCGH on Nov 26, 2013 in Fitness, Parenting | 2 comments
Family Fun while Supporting a Good Cause
Family fun is an important way to strengthen family relationships. Family fun begins early when your baby is born. Fun is a component of play that helps your baby learn. As your baby grows you can expand fun to include planned trips to playgrounds, parks or special events. Understanding the value of fun throughout your lifespan will benefit both you and your family.
The holiday season brings families many opportunities to have fun together. Consider coming to the Healthy Families Howard County (HFHC) Winter Wonderland Walk. This annual fundraiser for HFHC is sure to delight children of all ages as well as adults. Walking through the beautiful, lighted pathway makes the magic of the season more real. The Winter Wonderland Walk is on Friday, December 6 from 4:30 p.m. until 5:45 p.m. The last admission is at 5:15 p.m. Tickets are $10 each. Children 12 and under are free. Tickets may be bought in advance at the HCGH Wellness Center or will be available on site.
HFHC is a free, voluntary program for new first-time parents who live in Howard County. For more information, visit our website or find us on Facebook. See you there!
Posted by HCGH on Nov 24, 2013 in Parenting | 0 comments
Ace your Parent-Teacher Conference with these tips
My first parent-teacher conference was two years ago and I still replay the personality assessment my daughter’s kindergarten teacher gave her. It was fun to hear how an objective observer viewed my five-year-old (I have a dreamy artist, by the way). Of course, now that she’s in second grade, I’ve got academics to review as well as the “fun stuff” during the conferences next week. Following are some conference tips that may help us both, whether your child is in kindergarten or reaching for that high school diploma at the end of the year.
Before Your Conference
- Ask your child what grade he would give his teacher. Even if his opinion is skewed, it gives you a starting point of where he is coming from and why. Maybe there’s a detail in your child’s view that can foster better interaction with his teacher.
- Ask your child if he has any school-related questions or concerns, or anything he’d like you to bring up with his teacher.
- Review prior communications with the teacher, if any, and mention ones that are still relevant. For instance, my son’s kindergarten teacher sent home a note at the beginning of the year suggesting he hone his fine motor skills with some exercises. I’ll certainly ask if she’s noticed any progress.
During Your Conference
- Show up with a notepad, pen and list of questions. The teacher will be impressed with how seriously you take your child’s academic success. Bonus: it may impress your teacher to be even more open with how she communicates with you outside of conference.
- Effective evaluations or critiques follow the sandwich technique (compliment, offer constructive criticism, compliment). Note if your teacher follows this method. Why not try following this pattern as well? Start off with complimenting the teacher. For instance, I plan on telling Mrs. A, “I think it’s great how you offer a reward from the prize box after the kids have five days in a row with green (good) behavior.” It’s such an incentive for my son! When he comes home with a Happy Meal toy from the box, he’s as elated as he was opening his Green Machine on his birthday. Let your teacher know what he or she is doing right. It sets a great tone for the rest of the meeting and may foster a more cooperative relationship.
- Your child is not perfect. No, really, she’s not! Don’t close your ears with walls of defense (that includes making excuses for your child) if the teacher has a less than glowing review of her academics or behavior. Listen first, then ask questions so you can better understand the teacher’s point and determine its value. Even if you’re passionate that your child has been treated unfairly, or that the teacher hasn’t handled the matter as well as he could have, don’t accuse. You need to work with this teacher for the rest of the year for your child’s sake. On the positive side, your child isn’t married to her teacher. She gets a new one in nine months. Maybe you’ll have a better teacher-child combo next year.
- Bring up any emotional stresses that may be impacting your child’s behavior or academics. A recent divorce, move or even a new baby in the family can affect a child’s performance. If you inform your teacher, she’ll be better equipped to accommodate for the situation.
After Your Conference
- Write a simple note thanking the teacher for his time and interest in your child. Obviously it’s his job, but don’t you like feeling appreciated? Let your child read or hand in the note. Show her you value a good relationship with her instructor.
- Save any notes you took during the conference in a designated file folder. This will enable you to review past conferences and identify your child’s patterns, strengths, weaknesses and progression.
- Discuss the conference with your child. After all, in this case, it is all about her. Talk about what she’s doing well and the things she needs to work on (think “sandwich” approach). Let her know you’re on her side and will help her. Maybe offer a reward for reaching a goal she’s struggling with.
- Inform your child that you’re staying in touch with her teacher. This may make her more accountable for her behavior or performance at school.
- Finally, follow up. If a specific issue needs monitoring, send the teacher an email in a few weeks to see how things are progressing. Don’t wait until the next conference.
Click for a printable download of a conference prep sheet.
Oh, the joys of being a new parent! No one can truly prepare you for how your life will change once you’ve had a baby. Some days it’s just hard.
I feel this pressure to be “Super Mom.” I have to be able to do everything (at once) while also taking in “the joys of motherhood.” I need to care for my child, exercise, clean the kitchen, keep the house, do the laundry, and remember to pay attention to the other people in my life- like my husband. I question myself constantly about the essentials: should I use this time to shower, nap, or eat? I usually opt for the nap. My husband and I are in our thirties and we’re tired all the time. In fact, I’m more tired than I have ever been in my entire life!
I really didn’t know that having a baby and working full-time would be so challenging. It’s a lot of work and I have forfeited a lot of sleep in the process. What I’m learning though, is the importance of being compassionate with myself in the midst mommy-hood. If I don’t make time for self-care, I’m affecting my ability to be the best mom I can be.
I’ve put together some seemingly obvious (but easy to forget) suggestions of how to take care of yourself as a new mom. Basically, these are things to make sure you do, or are aware of, on a daily basis. Jennifer Wider’s awesome, practical book, The New Mom’s Survival Guide, which resonates with some of these tips. Wider also keeps a humorous tone when it comes to some of the topics that I’m not covering in this post (i.e. sex). I also recommend taking a look at Mojo Mom. Here are my self-care tips for new moms during those first weeks of maternity leave.
- Sleep. Sleep when your baby sleeps. No. Really. Try to do this! Don’t feel guilty about housework. Your sanity is more important. Folding the laundry can wait.
- Eat. As a new mom, I have the tendency to focus so much on feeding my baby that I forget to eat, or I end up eating junk food. It’s imperative to eat healthy, well-balanced meals regularly. By the way, if you want to visit someone who just had a baby, the nicest gift you can give is a meal. Whether it’s store-bought or home cooked, they will appreciate it.
- Bathe. Take care of your hygiene every day. A quick shower or warm bath can rejuvenate you. Trust me, you’ll feel better even if you don’t get a chance to leave the house.
- Exercise & Breathe. Get out of the house every day if you can. Have some time to yourself. Go for a walk, run an errand, go shopping. Give yourself some breathing room, enjoy a chance for some alone time. When your spouse is home from work or you have a friend who can watch your little one, switch off and take some time for yourself.
- Socialize. Try not to isolate. Call family or friends every couple of days. Join a mom’s group. It’s easy to forget that there is a whole world out there when you’re focused on your baby.
- Get Help. Postpartum depression is real. I have experienced it and it can happen to any new mother. If you notice changes in the way you’re feeling or have any symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor and get a referral if you need one. Know that you’re not alone. Let your family and friends know that you need help with everyday tasks too. You can call on your network of support simply by reaching out to your loved ones.
- “Appreciate and enjoy your baby.” At my baby shower, a family member said to me, “I wish I had taken more time to hold my baby. I got so caught up in ‘she needs to take a nap, then, I need to feed her’ [I wish I had spent time] to hold her just for the sake of holding her.” I enjoy cuddling with my daughter and I have to remind myself that it’s okay to just be together like that.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Do you have any self-care suggestions for new moms? Please share your ideas in the comments below. I suppose part of motherhood is remembering to be kind and forgiving to yourself as a new parent. There are many joys in raising your first child, just as there are many challenges. It’s up to you to find that healthy balance and what works best for your family. I’m still figuring it out for myself!