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with Win and Bill Sweet
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  How do I keep things joyful when we have to be somewhere by a certain time or get to bed with teeth brushed by a certain time? My daughter seems to have no concept of time. Even if we are going somewhere that she wants to go to, getting anywhere on time is a struggle.

          Getting basic things done like washing face and teeth is mostly difficult. She starts out for the bathroom and finds a book along the way or starts playing with the toothbrush or making a bed for the toothpaste tube. When I have to be somewhere early it's just not pretty. Do children become self-motivating about all that basic daily living routine stuff? (My daughter will be 9 years old in September.)

  Your question is a common one these days. We usually find that the pace set up in the home is too fast, too crowded for the child to handle with equanimity.

          But it's not so much the pace in the home that's at the root of the problem—it's the pace set up in today's culture. Unfortunately, we cannot change the culture, but we can sometimes change our own household routine to give the children more time to simply be themselves—exploring, discovering new ways to use the imagination, day dreaming, and just being.

          It was delightful to read that your daughter was making a bed for the toothpaste tube. That's just the kind of activity that stimulates the brain cells to grow in a way that will serve her well in the future.

          It is hard to keep things joyful with the insidious pressures of our culture. We suggest that you eliminate as many time constraints as you possibly can and still function as a family. You are right. Children have no concept of time and certainly no concept that they are slaves to the moving hands on the clock as we adults are. The more you can save your daughter from becoming a slave to the clock, the better she will be able grow graciously without emotional burdens.

          And do look for delightful moments to share in joy with your daughter. Think of it as building a Joy bank account for her. Then, when it is impossible to give her space to function as a child rather than as an adult (which is so often demanded of children), she can draw on that bank account and hopefully not become so traumatized.

          Best of all, schedule blocks of time when you can be completely relaxed and play joyfully with her. Let her lead the way—she is obviously a very creative person. Playing together with no stress and much joy really fills the bank account quickly.

          In regard to your question, "Do children become self-motivating about all that basic daily living routine stuff?" They become self-motivating when all that stuff becomes personally important to them. You'll be surprised when that shift comes—she wants to get somewhere at a certain time, etc.

          Don't think they must be forced into a routine or regimen in order to grow up o.k. When they feel the need personally, "miracles" happen. And beforehand, the less they are forced into something that is senseless to them, the quicker they adapt and shine naturally.

          Some of the parents we mentor create contracts with their children as a compromise to what is ideal for the children. If you know ahead of time, (like the night before), that a situation you described might be coming, ("When I have to be somewhere early, it's just not pretty,") sit down with her with a piece of paper and negotiate a cooperation memo. She wins something that she can appreciate and you get to wherever you need to go early without trauma.

          This kind of parenting is well worth the time it takes.


  Last Sunday my daughter put on the most uncoordinated outfit before going to church. She was so proud of herself that I didn't have the heart to make her change. But all during the social hour I found myself explaining to other adults that Chrissy picked out her own clothes that day. My discomfort comes from knowing that I was embarrassed by her clothes and wanted people to know I didn't select that combination. What could I have done differently?

  You have justifiably taken pride in having made the effort to dress your children in well-coordinated clothes. And you certainly were considerate not to crush Chrissy's spirit by making her change her clothes when neither safety nor integrity were violated. Wearing well-coordinated clothes is a plus in a person's life. However, in relationships, especially with children, the condition of the emotional core usually nets out to being more important at the moment than the other issues. You chose the higher way: you protected her emotional core. In the long run of her life, that will be of greater value than insisting that she change her clothes. It was okay that you assured your friends that Chrissy proudly dressed herself that morning. We see no need to feel embarrassed. In fact, you were really sharing with them that you were standing on two important principles: 1) honor a child's creativity, and 2) protect the child's emotional core. As time goes on you can indirectly show her the principles of good aesthetics and the expression of beauty so she will naturally come to practice those principles for herself.

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  I have a three-year-old who is bouncing all over the house in the late afternoons. It's hard to prepare dinner with his interference and constant attention-seeking. I can't afford a babysitter to watch him while I make dinner every night. What can I do?

  Children seem to be more apt to play independently in the morning. That makes morning a good time to prepare as much of the dinner as possible. During these months or years perhaps you could plan simpler, quicker meals than is your usual custom. Your dinner preparation time is probably exactly when he's running down and wants to be cuddled, read to, and have you play with him. This is precious time between you two. Do remember this opportunity will pass and those special intimate moments with him will be forever gone. Preparing dinner goes on and on long after he has left home.

  How do I know when my child is ready for extracurricular activities at school?

  This question infers that it is a given that extracurricular activities should be in a child's life. While these activities can be positive for a child, there are very few, if any, circumstances in which they are necessary in a child's life. That's why they are called "extra." It is important that extracurricular activities be a bonus for a child, not a burden on top of what the child may feel, perhaps without conscious thought, is already a heavy load of basic school.

A good clue to watch for is the child's sincere desire to participate because of her or his own interest, not because of peer or parental pressure. Then look at the motivation and try to sort it out objectively. Is the motivation positive? Will the motivation push the child into a stressful situation or experience?

Also examine: Is the activity competitive or non-competitive? (Competitive activities are stressful.) Ask: What is the value? What are the risks? Would it just be more school work on top of the regular school work, which is probably already too much? And perhaps most important of all, "Would the experience be truly fun for the child?" Above all, be sure that your child has lots of time each day for completely self-directed and stress free activities that don't include television or hours at a computer.

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  Recently I took my little son to a kids' hair cutting shop for the first time. He thought he was there to play on the little horse that was really the hair cutting chair. The minute the hairdresser started cutting his hair he began crying, looking at me so plaintively to rescue him. I didn't know what to do. The hairdresser told me to go outside. I was in anguish as I heard his crying become louder and louder. I feel so bad about the incident and my intuition tells me that was not the way to handle it. What should I have done?

  If we'd been in your shoes, we would have tenderly and lovingly picked him up off the horse as soon as we realized he was frightened. Then we would have paid the lady for a haircut and gone home, later finishing the haircut ourselves as he was used to having it done. Clearly, he was not ready for that experience. Sometime it is tempting to become caught in the "getting my money's worth" syndrome. Don't! Whatever it costs, it is well worth it to protect a child from frightening experiences. The money can be replaced; damage to the emotional core can be long lasting.

It is often difficult to judge readiness, but it is always wise to immediately abort an experience as soon as the lack of readiness becomes obvious. This must be done with no irritation or scolding of any kind, because it is not the child's fault. Rather, you are lovingly protecting him as quickly as possible from experiencing emotional trauma caused by a frightening experience. When in doubt, provide more time before trying new experiences. In fact, that is a fine parenting principle.

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