From Dr. Jane's Notebook

Soon, the cycle begins again

         I remember this past June. July went by like a flash. And now it’s August! The end of summer provides one last opportunity to do summer things before we are faced with the beginning of a new school year or the return to work from vacation. As you anticipate the New Year, you may want to consider whether it’s time to make a few changes in your family life as well. Here are a few thoughts on the matter.

·        Put Family dinners back on the schedule. When parents think about the new school year, we often think about clothes, teachers, school supplies and other logistics. For our children, however, the beginning of a new school year raises very different questions: Will I like my new teachers? Will my teachers like me? Will I have friends? Will there be bullies? And will I succeed? Kids and their parents need opportunities to sit together, to talk, and to listen to each other. Family dinners (even if they don’t occur every night) are important opportunities for kids to ask questions, share their experiences and listen to the conversations of their parents. Our children learn a lot by listening to us and hopefully, we provide good role models.  Regardless, having a regular forum for discussion is an important family ritual.

·        The lost art of communication. Communication requires, above all, the ability to listen. In the process of learning to function in a  multi-task society, many of us have lost our patience and the  ability to focus on one thing at a time. As a result, we often interrupt each other, we offer answers before we’ve fully heard the question, we’re rude to those who speak slowly, and then we blame others for failing to communicate. Some of us approach conversations like we’re playing the game Jeopardy. While this style of talking may help us feel smarter, it does little to promote relationships.

·        Discuss financial goals and strategies. While it’s not healthy to make children feel anxious about money, it is healthy to teach them about the value of a dollar. As parents, we work hard for our money and we do the best we can to provide for our families. However, we often fail to teach our kids how we make our financial decisions. As a result, kids will often hear us say “no” to one purchase and “yes” to another without understanding the rhyme or reason for these choices. They may hear us complain about having no money and also see us buying “toys” on credit. To the uninformed child, we may be playing favorites or they may misinterpret purchases as rewards and punishments.

·        Install a Family Calendar in your kitchen. It is important for family members to feel synchronized as a group. One way to promote family synchronicity and cooperation is to keep everyone informed. I recommend a large paper calendar (20” x 30”) on which everyone can post their plans. Allow each family member to adopt their own color of marking pen. When we can see each other’s plans on paper, the results are fewer transportation surprises, reduced chaos, improved communication and reduced stress. Plus… all the events listed on the calendar suggest topics for interesting conversations. By studying the family calendar, parents who travel and must be absent at times can also stay abreast of upcoming and recent events which may ease their transitions in and out of family life.

Raising children and providing a healthy environment requires some structure, some flexibility, and quite a bit of backbone. Like most other things these days, from time to time, it is necessary to upgrade the way we do things. Establishing healthy family habits and rituals helps children develop their own identity, develop a clearer sense of their personal and family boundaries, and gives them more time to enjoy meaningful family relationships. As parents, we must remember that although the world has become a technological wonder replete with endless videogames and electronic magic, it is still true that the best thing we can give our children… is our time.      

©Copyright, 2008, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.            

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