So Woke?!? I’m So Woke, I’m Tired

Another humorous posts by Tejal Toprani Misra who is a psychotherapist in part-time private practice and a most-time stay at home mom. She lives in California with her spouse and two young sons.

“Why is your hand on your penis?” This is a question I ask my four-year-old at least once a day. In the active effort to be a forward-thinking, progressive parent I have to beat back my urge to say “Get your hand off your penis!!!” Growing up in a conservative South Asian family, touching yourself anywhere south of your neck would lead to shaming. Now as a parent I get to make the choice to reframe that question and proceed to psychoanalyze my four year old till I am up half the night. This is not where my effort to be a “woke” parent stops. It’s only the beginning. As a mom to second generation, Indian American, four, and one-year old boys (that’s a mouthful) I have also taken on the responsibility of educating them about their cultural background like I am Alex Trebek on Hindu Jeopardy. I’m not pioneering this endeavor by any means but I wish there was some camp I could send them to where they would come back with part immigrant hustle and part American entitlement. I’m envious of other ethnic backgrounds whose migration story to America started more than a 100 years ago so there is more of a flow chart to follow. Something like “if child A does not know about Hindu gods then have child A read book B.” As far as I know, this magical road map doesn’t exist for South Asians, or for anyone else, and if it does then please send it to me at the email below. I will be forever grateful. 

In this continued effort to raise “woke” kids I’ve added more to my plate. After learning that children start noticing race and gender as early three. I’ve been reading books to them on race and diversity since they were fetuses. We sent them to a school in the diverse city of Philadelphia with children of various backgrounds. I teach them daily that love makes a family and families come in all shapes, colors, sizes and make ups. And then in the spring of 2020 the glaring cracks in our racial justice system came closer to the forefront of our minds. Now I am reading about “when to talk about racial injustice?” Is it okay to tell them why there are so many helicopters flying over our previous home in Philadelphia? The answer for us was ultimately yes – but who knows if it was the right one. I do not say any of this in jest. I just have no idea how to navigate this territory. 

Recently the only people I have seen have been neighbors and somehow my professional degree put me at the top of the pedestal in regard to“how to talk to children about matters of race”. I don’t know how this happened but somehow it did. Or wait.  Maybe it didn’t have to do with my professional degree? This topic is a sensitive one and the sensitivity level changes based on the pigmentation of your skin. This puts people of color in a difficult position.  How is it that I/we are supposed to talk about this and how come we are suddenly supposed to be experts? None of us know the “right” way to discuss race but if we don’t discuss it, we will never know. 

Oh, and did I mention that we’re in a global pandemic and the world has stopped moving?  Well yes there is that too. To add insult to injury (shout out to my Mom for her famous line) we’re in a pandemic. We were blessed enough in my family to have one very compliant mask wearer and I told myself that by the time the younger one turns two in December this will all be over, right? Wrong. Now we will have to get my food dumping, bowl wearing on head toddler to wear a mask. If only there was some way to keep it on like a car seat. The silver lining to having a one year old is that he will never remember the pandemic, however I will have the joy of having it seared into my brain matter forever. 

I would love to drop the rope on being a “woke” parent but I also try my hardest to have the content my sons take in depict religious equality, racial equality AND gender equality. For me that means taking on the assignment of changing the pronouns in their books from “he” to “she.” I don’t even know if that’s doing anything but I’m doing it anyway. I try to have them watch content that passes the Bechdel and Latif test.  I also read them books on feminism and if something they’re watching seems off then I stop what I’m doing to interrupt and explain. I ask my boys to help me in the kitchen and clean up after themselves so one day their partners don’t say “Indian husbands don’t do anything around the house.” 

We also carry Costco (my four-year-old’s happy place) sized boxes of chips and water bottles in our car to give to unhoused people we see. This is my attempt at teaching our children that there are people in this world with less than us and to hopefully reduce any future douche baggery on their parts. I don’t mention all this to say I’m amazing but I’m definitely exhausted. The question is, am I a woke parent yet?

Who knows.

How Will YOU Boo?

This is the first post by Wendy Lias, LSW. Wendy has a clinical background in child and adolescent mental health as well as the treatment of substance use disorders. Wendy lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with her husband and her children, ages 5 and 2.

In light of the pandemic, The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has advised against traditional trick-or-treating this year.  It’s strange to think that during a year when mask-wearing is a topic on everyone’s mind that we’re putting the kibosh on our only mask-wearing holiday.  If you read Dr. Masur’s recent post on 2020, then you know that she reminded us that 2020 as year is not cancelled—and that includes Halloween.  Let’s talk about how to incorporate some spooky spirit into your Halloween, even if you won’t be making it out to trick-or-treat this year.

HIT THE BOOKS

Whether you head to your local library or pull from your own book collection, there is plenty of fun Halloween-themed reading to be done with kids of all ages.  The littlest listeners may enjoy the Halloween tales from popular book series like The Berenstain Bears, Arthur, Little Critter, and Clifford.  There are no scares to be had on the pages of those books but they still manage to evoke the spirit of Halloween.

For those kids who would enjoy more of a spine-tingle, Tell Me a Scary StoryBut Not Too Scary by the late, great Carl Reiner certainly fits the bill.  The book is framed as the narrator telling a scary bedtime story.  The narrator frequently interrupts the story to make sure it’s not getting too scary.  This literary device provides the benefit of reminding the reader that the scares are only part of a story AND of reminding us the chills and thrills of the season are only fun as long as they’re fun for everyone.

If your young reader is ready for something in the chapter book variety, the Harry Potter series has some of popular culture’s favorite witches and wizards. The eponymous Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage also follows a young boy with extraordinary magical powers.  Chris Colfer’s The Land of Stories series finds two modern-era children thrust into a world populated with familiar fairy tale characters.  If you’re looking for an oldie but a goody, don’t discount Roald Dahl’s The Witches, as a source of spooky fun. 

COOK UP SOMETHING SPOOKY

There are plenty of Halloween treats that you can whip up in the kitchen.  My five-year-old son, for instance, really enjoys making what he calls “Boo-nana Bread.”  Spoiler alert: it’s just banana bread with a slightly spookier name.  Since it’s that time of year, anything pumpkin flavored would also fit the bill.  As for what I’ll be baking this year with my kids, it’s going to be sugar cookies.  It’s my personal belief that you cannot go wrong with a sugar cookie.  There are a million recipes—each as good as the next—and there is absolutely no wrong way to decorate them. An afternoon of cookie-ing is suited for the littlest hands (who doesn’t love to watch icing distributed in the manner of Jackson Pollock?!) all the way up through adulthood. 

THEMED VIEWING

If you’re looking to cuddle up on the couch for some Halloween viewing, again, there is simply no shortage of material.  It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Room on the Broom both make for short, family-friendly viewing.  A slightly older crowd might enjoy Hocus Pocus or Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. To borrow a title from earlier in the post, the movie version of The Witches is just as good as the book.  Although not specifically for Halloween, Disney’s Coco is certainly of the season.  If somebody in your house is looking for some true blood-curdling thrills, the options are myriad; but not the fare that I’ll be listing on a Thoughtful Parenting blog. 😉

BORROW FROM ANOTHER HOLIDAY

Finally, in the absence of our usual Halloween traditions, borrow some customs from other holidays. The gingerbread house is traditionally associated with the winter holidays, but who says you can’t build and decorate a spooky Halloween house? And—credit where credit is due—my mother came up with the brilliant idea of hiding little treats in glow-in-the-dark eggs and letting kids do an egg hunt on Halloween night.  I also happened to see some places are selling pre-filled plastic mini-pumpkins that you can send your little ones out to hunt for. 

If you try any of these suggestions, we’d love to see and hear about it.  Did you know that Thoughtful Parenting is on Facebook and Instagram? Feel free to hop on our social media and share either your thoughts on these suggestions or suggestions of your own.

Stay safe and happy haunting!

Perfect Parenting

Dr. Corinne Masur

After I mentioned in a recent post that it is OK for parents to allow themselves and their children to eat pizza four nights in a row, one mother responded by saying, “We are in a never ending battle with being too hard on ourselves” and she admitted to letting her children eat french fries for their dinner while sitting on the couch.

Why do moms in particular feel the need to be perfect as parents?

Why do we put THAT much pressure on ourselves??

Just today a mom was telling me how guilty she felt for getting more babysitting help.  And this was not because she wanted more time for herself – it was because she needed to work more and thus needed more coverage at home.  But she still wondered, “Is it OK?” And she still worried that her children would miss her too much and that these missing feelings would damage them in some way.

At some point in evolution, mothers started to feel like they had to be perfect in order to bring up decent children.  

Moms started to feel like they HAD to make ALL their baby’s baby food; they HAD to do one on one play on the floor with their babies and children multiple times a day; they felt like they HAD to be really present in the moment with their children; they felt like they HAD to read to their babies every day starting at birth; they felt like they HAD to give their children healthy food at all times, organic if possible, farm fresh whenever available, often gluten free and no sugar EVER. And, more recently they have felt like they HAD to provide interesting projects for their children and COVID safe play dates and virtual music lessons and outdoor tennis lessons and online language lessons and some kind of religious education and and and and…..

But – – – -what if we do allow our children to get bored? Or eat some cookies? Or pizza? Or heaven forbid, french fries on the couch? 

We have to feel guilty.

But now I have something to say.  I have said it before and I am sure I will say it again: It’s too much.  In normal times it’s too much.  And right how? It’s a pandemic.  Parents are being asked to make decisions about their children’s health and safety every minute of every day.  Parents are being asked to be their children’s distance learning aids.  They are being asked to keep track of work sheets and pass codes and log in codes.  They are having to figure out how to get a 3-year-old to wear a mask and how to get a 15-year-old off their video games. And when I say parents, I mean mothers.  It is mostly mothers who carry the guilt of not being perfect.

AND IT IS TOO MUCH. 

In 1953 the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott coined the term, “the good enough mother”. And this is what he meant: mothers do not have to be perfect to raise their children well. They just have to be good enough.  

Winnicott took care of thousands of babies during his career and what he observed is this: it does not benefit babies or children if their mothers are perfect – if their mothers are always there and if they always fulfil every need, this is actually not optimal for the child’s development. Newborns of course require immediate care and feeding.  But as the infant gets older, they can tolerate a little delay of gratification, they can wait a few minutes for a feeding.  And as they turn into toddlers and then children, Winnicott observed that it was actually helpful to them to have their mothers fail them in small ways at times. This built up their frustration tolerance and their ability to delay gratification.  It prepared them for the inevitable disappointments they would experience in the real world.

So, mothers – stop putting so much pressure on yourselves!  If you say you will do something for your child and then you cannot, if you promise something for dessert and then you find you’re all out, if you say you’ll be there in a minute and it takes you 10, if you can’t find the log in code or today’s work sheet, if you fail to be on time for a class your child attends – online or in the real world – your child will survive.

These experiences of small failures on your part and small disappointments for your child are opportunities for repair.  You apologize to your child and your child learns that you are not perfect but that you still love him or her. 

You do not need to be perfect, moms.  Your child does not need you to be perfect.  In fact, putting this much pressure on yourself just isn’t helpful. It is likely to make you LESS happy as a mom, less playful and less able to cope with the multitude of pressures we cannot change in this crazy pandemic time!

So, take a few minutes to take this in. Give yourself a break psychologically…and go ahead, face it, there will be days when you need to let your children eat some french fries on the couch…and you may even need to join them. 

Will the Pandemic Ruin my Child?

Part 2: Intellectual Development

Dr. Corinne Masur

Parents are SO worried that this pandemic year will interfere with their children’s intellectual development and academic progress. So let’s talk about that according to your child’s age and stage of development:

0 – 2

Infants and toddlers will in no way suffer due to increased time at home: IF you talk to them all the time, if you read to them at least once a day and if you provide reasonable amounts of play time (with you, your partner and their siblings).

And at this age, babies and toddlers will NOT suffer from missing the programming provided at daycare or pre-school. PLEASE, do not feel the need to fill in for the curriculum that might be in place were they attending a program. What babies and toddlers need to learn, they learn in the course of normal interactions with family members, during play and during story time. Whether your two year old knows his or her shapes is actually irrelevant – no matter what you hear. At this age what is needed is basic human interaction, hearing lots of words and being able to do lots of play, both alone and with others. At this age structured classroom time is neither necessary nor optimal. And screens of any kind are not needed either – but a little bit of screen time (an hour or less a day) may not hurt.

3 – 11

Older children of all ages are having their school routines and their learning processes disrupted. This is hard for children and parents. Everything is different. Online school is extremely hard to manage – especially for parents! There is nothing optimal about the compromises that have been made in setting up virtual school, hybrid models, shortened school days, etc.

Some children in this age group will be excited about online or in person school and they will be cooperative. But if they are attending school online they still will need help choosing a place to be each day for school, getting online, having supplies and worksheets ready and staying organized – and this is very hard for parents, especially working parents. You will find that your child misses some things due to technology problems, confusion about schedules, forgetfulness, etc. TRY not to stress over these. They are inevitable. Everyone is experiencing them.

And if your child is going to in-person school – even some of the time, he or she will need help remembering to wear their mask, to socially distance and to go by all the safety guidelines in place at school. Your child may also need help understanding why it is safe to go to school now when it wasn’t a month ago. And of course this is a difficult question. But remember, at this point in the pandemic we have learned that what we need to do is minimize risk. We can not eliminate risk altogether but we know more now about how to lessen the risk of contracting COVID than we did at the beginning. You can explain this concept to your child, no matter what their age, and you can encourage them to think of ways to minimize their own risk.

No matter how much we try to prepare them, however, some children in this age group will have trouble getting used to online school or a hybrid model, When they are online, they may have trouble paying attention, they may intentionally “forget” to log back in after a break or they may do other things while class is in session. This too is hard for parents because we cannot be there at every moment to check up on what our children are doing. Especially for working parents, this is a dilemma. Again, try not to stress too much when these things happen. Young children have naturally shorter attention spans. Having to look at a screen for learning purposes for more than a couple of hours a day is very very difficult for them. Getting anxious about your child’s school participation is natural and getting angry with your child is, at times, inevitable – BUT –

Remember, all children are going through this right now. It is not just your children. Everyone’s learning process has been compromised. AND a year of this will not ruin any child’s chances at getting a good education. Children will catch up, they will make up for what they did not learn this year. They will learn again how to be in a classroom. This is important to keep in perspective. This situation is NOT forever.

11 – 22

Children of this age are hungry for learning and for the social interaction that takes place at school. Online school, hybrid models and in person school with masks and social distancing will be very very hard for many of them.

Parents, however, are not teachers and we cannot expect ourselves to make up for all that children of this age are not getting at school.

This is extremely hard. Parents are worried about standardized testing, SATs and college admissions. But again, remember, everyone is going through this. Colleges will understand this when it is time to apply. And intellectual development proceeds – school, no school, or limited school. Remember, intellectual development and academic progress are two entirely different things.

What parents can do:

Parents are overwhelmed right now. I actually think that the effects of the pandemic may be worse for parents than for many other segments of the population.

But if you CAN, supplementing your children’s school time learning to promote their intellectual development can be helpful at this time. If you do not have the time or the band width, that is totally understandable and feel free to ignore what’s below.

BUT IF you CAN:

  • Encourage your children to read more.
  • Make frequent trips to the library if your library has good Covid safety.
  • For kids under 14, start reading to your children for a half hour to 45 minutes a day on weekends. Reading aloud does not just have to be for bedtime. Pick chapter books with engrossing stories – or books of interest to your particular children. Iceland, which has a long winter with very few hours of daylight was, for many years, the country with the highest literacy rates – because reading is what children and adults did during those long dark hours.
  • Encourage teens to read fiction AND non-fiction.
  • Have discussions at dinner time – current events should provide plenty of material! There is a civics lesson in every day’s news. Talk about the electoral process, the constitution, the Supreme Court, the way Democracy should work, etc. Ask your children their opinions.
  • Encourage teens to also have some social down time (ie something other than playing video games or looking at social media by themselves), for example, encourage them to set up game nights with friends online or to do group chats.
  • Encourage younger children to play games online with friends – and actually support their doing so rather than nagging them to get off the computer!
  • And parents, use the time that your children are online with friends to do what you need to do. One of the hardest things about enforced togetherness is the lack of privacy and downtime for PARENTS.
  • Encourage your children to start or continue playing a musical instrument. Lessons can be online.
  • If your children are interested, take some virtual tours of museums – science, art, whatever they like. And don’t ask them if they want to – because they will often say “no” especially if they are busy playing video games! Perhaps there can be one dinner a week when the family take a virtual tour during the meal.
  • And try throwing a documentary or Broadway play into family movie night.Many of these things can be streamed for free. Sweeten the deal with snacks: popcorn, pizza, brownies, anyone?
  • If you enjoy games such as Chess or Go, teach your children to play if they are interested. For younger children, intellectually stimulating games which involve matching, making pairs, memory skills and using numbers are also a possibility.

Good luck, stay safe, and please, do not despair.

Will the Pandemic Ruin My Child?

A Three Part Series

Dr. Corinne Masur

Part 1

Parents are all worried about what effect this pandemic year will have on their children’s development.

And of course, it’s complicated.  There’s the concern about how children will be affected by all the health worries.  And then there’s the worry about how they’ll be affected by not being able to see friends easily.  And THEN there’s the worry about how disruptions in their educations will affect their academic and intellectual progress.

So, let’s break it down:

The effect that the social limitations and the school interruption will have on your children will depend on their age and stage of development. So, we are going to talk about this by age group – and in this part of the series we will talk about:

Socialization

0 – 2

Babies do not require social interactions outside the home. 

You will often hear people say that they are sending their babies and toddlers to daycare because they need the socialization.  Well…this is not exactly true.  Older babies and toddlers often enjoy seeing other babies and toddlers.  They will be interested in them, laugh at their antics, cry when they cry, etc. but actually, they do not NEED to be with other babies and toddlers to develop well. What you provide for them as loving parents is what they need.  Babies and toddlers require their parents’ love and attention and social feedback. What you provide at home for them is what babies and toddlers need the most.  Talking to your baby, reacting to your baby’s facial expressions and verbalizations, playing with your baby, reading to your toddler, setting normal limits and teaching basic rules is what children of this age need.  They are FINE at home.  In fact, some parents have noticed that they are getting to know their babies and young children better than they did before when daycare or babysitters were involved – and they have found this to be a good thing – for themselves and for their children.

2 – 4

You will be surprised to know that what was said above is also true of older toddlers and young children.  

At this age, interaction with family members, play with family members and learning basic rules of socialization (what hurts another person, what’s fair, etc.) is what your child needs.  Is it fun to see other young children?  Does it give Mom or Dad a much-needed break to get together with families of other young children? Yes, of course.  But remember, for millennia there was no school at all and up until recently, very few children went to daycare, and many children did not even go to preschool or nursery school – and they did fine. 

At this age, children want their parents’ approval.  And if they say “NO!”, it’s the parent they are saying it to.  At this age toddlers and young children are just beginning to develop a sense of themselves as separate and independent human beings – and they do this best in the context of the family!

So, in essence, if you are not feeling safe about sending your children to daycare or preschool or setting up playdates, this is FINE.  You may have to spend extra time on the floor or outside playing – but you are NOT damaging your child in any way.

4 – 7

Children of this age love to play and socialize.  

Starting around age 4, most children love to have friends.  In fact, they start to create their own small worlds with their friends – and this is the beginning of being able to operate as people separate and apart from their parents.  As children get to be 5 and 6, they often develop best friends and are pleased to play with these friends without the intervention of their parents. Socializing at this age is an important part of their development.

As a result, even during a pandemic, it is helpful to allow 4 to 7 year olds some time with other children if you can do so safely and comfortably.  Playing outdoors, going to a local park, riding bikes and scooters, playing running games with masks can all be possibilities. And if you can find one or two children whose parents’ views on COVID safety are in line with your own and regular play get togethers and be managed, even better. HOWEVER, again, what you can comfortably provide for your children is what is most important. Children of this age are hungry to learn about the world – and if you are not comfortable organizing play dates or pods, if you can take them on outings, read to them, play together for an hour or two a day and teach them the rules of interaction with others, they will be getting most of what they need socially.  You may not believe that this is true – but again, in many societies, children do not even start school until age 6 or 7.

7 – 11

At this age the peer group is what kids really care about. By this time children are keen observers of other children and their behavior.  They know who they like and who they do not like.  Their relationships are complex and alliances can be strong…until they shift. Children of this age generally love to be with other children they know.  Games with rules are of great interest and playing games can take up hours.

Given this, allowing your children, if they are at home for school, some time to play with other kids each day is important.  If you are not comfortable allowing them to get together with other children this often, then allowing them to play video games with other kids can fill the bill during this unusual time.  Zoom conversations and virtual play dates are also an option if your child likes them. And if you can manage to allow your children to get together with friends outside once in a while, even better. It may not feel like enough to them or to you – but a year spent this way will not ruin their social development.  Learning social skills is a lifelong process – and again, do not underestimate what you provide at home. When you say things like, “No, we cannot play that game AGAIN” or “No, you cannot have the last donut” or “Figure out what to do when you’re bored” you are providing your child with necessary social feedback. These are basically the same things they learn from their peers when they play together. At this age children are learning what is fair and how often they can expect to get their own way.  They are taught by their peers what they can and cannot do if they want people to like them, what is right and wrong, what rules are and how often they have to stick to them.  When you interact with your children at home you are also teaching these things just in the normal course of everyday life.

11 – 20

Kids of this age often seem to care more about interacting with each other than they do with you. 

Social contact with others their age is important. This time of limited social contact is especially hard for this age group. 

Parents will need to work on their own flexibility and patience with children and teens during this quarantine/pandemic time because kids of this age will feel deprived and angry if they do not get to see their friends.  

 If you feel comfortable allowing this, perhaps you can let your child get together with certain friends at your house – or you might allow them meet up outside at a park.  But if you do not feel comfortable with this amount of contact then in this case, technology is your friend. Perhaps some loosening of limits on phone/pad/computer use will be necessary. Kids need to be able to text and Instagram and Facetime and IM for at least a few hours every day. Most will want to have their phones with them all the time.

Summing it Up

So – in summary, from a social standpoint, the pandemic and the quarantining required is NOT ruining your child or his/her social skills.  It IS hard; it IS limiting and frustrating. It DOES require us as parents to do more than we ever thought we could.  But a year of limited social contact will not stunt the development of your children.

*****

What can parents do?

– When you are not working, play on the floor and outside with your babies, toddlers and young children as much as you can manage.  

– If you have reached your limit with meeting your children’s needs and feel you just cannot do it all, bringing in an older teen or a babysitter or nanny (whose COVID safety you trust) to help at home may be necessary and may ease your burden.

– If you are working either from home or from your work place then day care or a sitter may be the only way your family can realistically manage AND allow your children some socialization time. Parents who are trying to help their children with virtual school while working are finding that this is just not possible.

– Set reasonable limits on device use for older children.  These can include no phones during school or homework and a set bedtime after which no phone use is allowed – but otherwise?  Let them go for it!