Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Courage - its roots in family and community living

This following words come from the quarterly journal of parent education published by the Child Study Association of America. It describes an upcoming conference sponsored by CSAA. My grandmother, Jennie L. Whitehill, was the Chair of the Board of CSAA for many years, including the time of this conference, March 1954. Nana Jennie would have been 113 years old today

Child Study Association of America is long gone but the Program Statement of the CSAA Annual Conference of March 1, 1954 resounds loudly today, 66 years later.

Courage - its roots in family and community living

In all times, the community has counted on the courage of individual men and women to maintain significant beliefs and pursue common goals. Individuals in turn have looked to one another and to the community for mutual support.

Now, as the community widens to a whole world, and united action is demanded on a huge scale, the need for personal courage and strength becomes ever more urgent.

The scene we live in and the problems we face seem remote even from those of a generation ago, they are startlingly new and sometimes overwhelming. Many of the traditions which have sustained us are under attack, so that it sometimes seems that democracy itself is scarcely understood. In the stress of today’s living, family ties are loosened, men and women are lonely, parents are bewildered. It is no wonder courage often fails us.

Yet people throughout the world do carry on their daily lives with unbelievable courage, sustained by the tradition and knowledge and the aspirations which are their heritage from the past. They are heartened by the conviction that the great majority of their fellowmen share with them the task of finding new sources of strength to meet the demands of the day.

What is this quality of courage? What are its sources? How can parents preserve their own strengths and communicate them to their children? How can they keep their own integrity and sense of individual purpose in a world that calls for collective purpose and unified direction?

The aim of this Conference is to explore the nature of, and need for, courage in our time, drawing on the contributions of psychiatry, sociology, anthropology, education and religion to shed light on these questions. It is an attempt to determine the sources of courage within the family and within the community, and the ways in which this strength can be passed on to others, especially to children.

In these strange times we each need to find the courage and strength to move ourselves forward, courage that shines from our hearts and fills us with the strength of which we are in need. We can find the wellsprings of courage inside each one of us, and we can be inspired and strengthened by community members who are walking this path with us.

The late John Lewis said, ended his final essay with these words:

I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

Friday, June 5, 2020

This Struggle Must Succeed

We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. - Elie Weisel

I am on the side of change! As an early childhood educator, I consider as my primary task the creating of an environment in which people learn how to live together. We have to participate in moving toward a world where we can all live together, and as a white man I am connected with my own responsibility for participating in positive cultural evolution. It is up to me. And you. And everyone, especially if you are white. The problem is not a problem of darker skinned people. The problem is white people. I am part of the problem. And I can be part of the solution.

Sure, we are all in this together, regardless of the color or tone of skin we wear. And it is always the right time to help children recognize the humanness in others, it is always the time to stand as a boundary to protect children from physical harm, emotional harm and from ingesting beliefs that have lead to implicit biases about the worth of others. 
We are all in this together and as adults we must stand up for equality, and equity, and we can speak out for justice.

Most of all, we can honestly look inside and try to discover any biases we have in our thinking and in our habits. It is there! It comes from our upbringing. It comes from the media we were ’exposed to’ as a younger person. It comes from hundreds of years of the reinforcing of systemic racism and oppression, both conscious and unconscious. It comes from the stories, and depictions of those stories that are so prevalent in our world. 

We each have to find the tools that work for exploring and transforming our own implicit biases, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. There are many techniques but simply reading about implicit bias is not enough. Talking about it and writing blogs about it is not enough. This is seriously hard work that takes significant time and effort. The first action toward creating a better world for all is to look honestly and courageously inside ourselves and then do the hard work of undoing our own biases. Open-mindedness is also important because we only have our own perspective. Can we learn to hear someone's observations or even criticisms about us in an openminded way? There is no other way forward.

Only then can we truly begin to entertain thoughts of guiding young children away from racism and away from anti-blackism in various creative avenues. For this step, I always need to consider the particular child in front of me when determining what to say and how to say it. How much awareness and awakeness is present in this human being before me? But it is not a question of when to say it. When is the right time? The right time is the very moment when it comes up, when the child observes or says something in this now moment. 

As educators of young children, we can guide the little ones into the possibility of less implicit bias. And we can do it in how we respond to things the children say and do. 

Here are some specific ideas:

1. Be awake to the moment with the young child! Young children are by nature curious. When a child opens the door to conversation by making observations about physical attributes such as skin color, hair texture, or any other physical characteristic, do not wait until 'later.' Not only are young children so strongly 'in the present moment,' later usually never comes. Have those conversations even if you do not feel prepared. Base your comments on observations, on what can be seen? Examples; "Yes, we all have different skin color." "I think it is so great that people have different colors and are not all the same.""People with skin like me are usually called 'White,' even though my skin isn't really white. People with dark skin are often called'Black' even though their skin isn't really black."

2. Take opportunities to highlight the value of engaging with people different than yourself. And always engage the child when he or she mentions something that attributes value to physical attributes. Do not let the opportunity slip by out of embarrassment or the hope that it will slip by unnoticed. The child WILL notice if he or she says something and you do not engage with them in that moment. This is how they discover our values - not by explaining things, but by being present to what is and engaging with it in the now.

3. Offer the child the example of your words and actions. This is how they learn and develop habits, values, and unconscious biases. When you hear unkind words or biased statements from others, say something. Call it out. I always advise these words as a simple and truthful reveal of what is my inner truth - "I don't like that." "I don't like talk like that."

Of course, try and make "I statements" and don't say "I don't like it when you say...." That won't go well. If you state what is your inner truth about such things, the child may eventually begin to take up that practice through imitation.

4. Be sure the children have experiences of events celebrating other cultures. This is a great opportunity for questions to arise from children. Advise parents to take the opportunity to engage in honest observation-based conversation. Restaurants offering food from other cultures is another avenue into conversation.

5. Give your stories careful contemplation before you tell them. Consider the embedded messages in the stories, and find stories whose messages align with valuing all types of humanness. Story can be a powerful tool for behavioral and attitudinal change so we must carefully consider what are the stories we are telling our children. Find those stories that align with true human values, or write new stories.

A systemic change in American society is needed. I do not have the big answers. I know that each one of us can make a difference if we start with ourselves and the people whose lives we have direct contact with.

All of my grandchildren are of mixed race and ethnicity. I want them to grow up in a better world. I want a better world for all the people of our shared planet. And so I ask you to join me in the hard work of self education and self transformation for the sake of all of our fellow humans.

We have to learn to listen to each others' experiences, we have to be open to honest evaluation of our efforts and we must continually refine our understanding in this struggle to make this a better place. This is a struggle that must succeed.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Fear, Our Young Children and COVID-19

What do we DO now? 

We have young children, or are caregivers for young children and we are in the midst of a world pandemic. Everything is changing so quickly in our world. Information travels so quickly - yet we have no way to gauge the truth of the information we receive. Much of the so-called information is misleading or false and sometimes even dangerous. We want to take the advice of the “experts” but who are the experts and who are the misinformation purveyors?

This can only lead to fear and anxiety for us. Fear breeds more fear. Unfortunately, in the U.S.A. we have not been guided by wise actions taken by the government to keep us safe. Finally they are waking up and starting to take action. This has not helped to stem the rise of fear, panic and hoarding. Many people feel un-empowered and unable to know what to do. I would like to offer some suggestions for staying calm and making the wisest choices we can. We don’t have to be invaded and occupied by worry, and we can take actions to keep ourselves safe and healthy as best we can. The best things we can do is to find ways to manage our own stress, fears and anxiety. Then our personal choices during this crisis can be grounded in thoughtfulness and compassion.

Before the advent of this novel coronavirus, adults had plenty to worry about. Anxiety lives in adults because there is so lack of things to be anxious about. The climate on our planet is rapidly changing and it seems like nothing is being done to change that course or adapt to the results. People are becoming more allergic to foods and environmental situations. Also, our world is filled with people who use fear as a tool to get us to buy certain products, to vote for certain candidates, and various other intentions. Anxiety and fear permeate all types of media. And we carry around a device that lets us be constantly connected to media. Our neurology is primed to look for threats and danger, and fear is used as a tool that gets our attention in media. Stress is lurking everywhere.

We all know that the young child is like a sponge for experiences in his or her environment. All levels of sensed experience go deeply in to the child’s developing soul and body. And the young child has the capacity for sensing levels of experience that most adults have long since filtered out from their palette of experience such as feelings and thoughts of those around them. Young children are a sponge also for your feelings and what you think about. And they attempt to digest all of their experiences and make them a part of themselves as they create themselves. This what Maria Montessori named the absorbent mind.

Adults are causing health issues in themselves from all the worrying and tension. Fear, worry, and tension release cortisol and other stress hormones to help us be ready for quick actions. But we are constantly flooding our bodies because our sympathetic nervous systems are overactive. The children are growing up in an environment filled with our anxiety. The children sense our anxiety, even when we are not speaking about it, and even when you are not even aware that you are feeling your anxieties.

Three things happen to the children?
  1. They adopt anxiety as their normal state, as the default mode.
  2. They cannot truly connect with other people including their anxious parents and caregivers. (Anxious parents and caregivers also are not able to truly connect.)
  3. They cannot develop to their full potential.

Young children learn by imitating. They take in what they experience and make it part of themselves. Experiencing anxiety in their beloved adults, the child learns to be anxious.

When someone is fearful or anxious, they cannot connect with those around them. Fear stimulates the reptile brain to take actions of self protection. Fear creates reactions that don’t include reaching out with openness and care to those around. So the child loses out on connection with his anxious parent.

When the adults in the environment are anxious and fearful, the young child experiences that tension and lives within it. How much effect does this have on the child's capacity for play, the young child’s essential tool for grasping the world? One can contemplate the possibilities. Fear interferes with play. True play can be a means to overcome fears and grasp the world. Play serves as a venue for learning to cope with life. There is a vicious cycle at work here.  To play requires an atmosphere of security. One has to feel safe. No safety, no play. No play, no grasping of social dynamic. In play, we are safe and so we can be vulnerable.

To top it off, the advice we are all receiving to slow the spread of COVID-19 is that social distancing is what is needed. The danger is that we combine emotional distancing with physical distancing and make our world more and more dis-connected. 

What are we gonna do?
  1. Develop our own practice of anxiety and fear reduction. A practice means it is something we have to do over and over. And over and over. Every day, except when we forget. At the same time every day, so it can become a habit, and that makes it easier to do every day. For at least a few minutes. And it’s a practice, so we don’t expect to be perfect, we only are trying to do better and better. Find your own way toward joy! I recommend watching this short video from Rick Hanson about what is needed in this present moment.
  2. What is the best practice? That is up to each of us to discover. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe. The best one for you is the one that you actually do that helps you to reduce fear and be able to make your inner life a safe have for peacefulness and calm, and to be able to access your parasympathetic nervous system to calm your vagus nerve. My go to for help with this are various meditations Rudolf Steiner offered, as well as the wise guidance of Rick Hanson (
  3. It might be a good idea to limit how much time we spend on our devices plugged in to the anxiety creating media, and what times of day we do that plugging in. Perhaps make a commitment to leave off all devices during mealtimes? Perhaps don’t check your phone right before bed? Or first thing upon waking up in the morning? How often do you need to see if there are any updates about the virus? Remember, all the time you spend online is time not connecting with your children.
  4. Prepare to answer your young children when they ask why is there no kindergarten, what are we staying home, what can’t I have a playdate? The core truth I would say to my young children is; I want us to be safe and healthy. There is a virus/flu/sickness that can be serious for grownup and I don’t want anyone we know to be sick. Short, true and to the point. 
  5. You are probably staying at home a lot now. Take this as a great opportunity to enjoy being with your children!

Anxiety is not healthy for you! It gets in the way of sleep, it influences your digestion and it affects your connection with those you love.

Your anxiety is not healthy for your children. It gets in the way of their connection with you, it affects all aspects of their development, and it creates anxious little people.

Maybe now is the time to start working to overcome the anxiety of the modern world for the sake of the children, the future of our world.

I would like to offer a thought from Rudolf Steiner 100 years ago. He was speaking about the 1918 Spanish Flu but it more than applies today:

When you can't think of anything else other than fear of the diseases that are taking place around you in an epidemic, and go to sleep at night with these thoughts of fear, then unconscious after-images and imaginations - imbued with fear - are created in the soul. And this is a good seedbed in which pathogenic germs can nestle, thrive and find a pleasant breeding ground.
We can meet the false rumors and worries and not let them invade our psyches. We can meet fear head on with our warmth, love, interest, enthusiasm and compassion. What is the present moment asking of us? I think it is a call to inner work to be able to place our attention on what we choose. It is a moment to develop the capacity to make choices based on reasoned wisdom and not fear. It is a call for compassionate community. And it is an opportunity to develop active hope for positive change based on our thought-filled actions. We can work together for the good.

We have a lot of work to do. it is up to each one of us. The only obstacle is ourselves.
Take what actions you can to make your family as safe as is possible. And do the work to keep fear from invading the inner sanctum of your soul.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Connecting With the Elements

The essence of being human is the activity of connecting - connecting on so many levels. In the weeks before the Winter Solstice, we can take the opportunity to reflect on how we are connected to all that is around us. This interconnectedness is so wide and deep - we rarely take the time to contemplate the web of which we are a part. At this time of year, I invite you to take stock of our relationship to the Earth and the kingdoms of nature in various ways - Intellectually, for the adults, and metaphorically/symbolically for the young children.

In our time, it is clear that in general, people are only dimly aware of the web of life, and we can recognize this in the diminishing biodiversity of our planet that is related to the activities of humans, a major factor in the Earth’s changing climate. I want to inspire people to find creative approaches in which the interweaving of the kingdoms of nature can be highlighted during these weeks leading up to the Garden of Light and Solstice in ways that the children can best digest them.

One way is to create a conscious path of four weeks leading to the Garden of Light, four weeks of connecting to the 4 elements. In the first week, we can take stock of the element of Earth. We can honor that we are made of the same substance as all life on earth, and can learn to nurture and respect our planet and the matter out of which the physical body is formed. On early childhood nature tables, we can have stoners and crystals, as well as representations of the plants and animals that live on earth, especially representations of endangered species - but without drawing the intellect of the young child to those. Simply place a wooden carved rhino or elephant or orangutan on the nature table among the stones and crystals and plants you have chosen. There is no need for explaining or describing. As adults, we can add to this, in our own silent thinking, thoughts of care and sadness for the animals who have been driven from their indigenous homes because of the perceived needs of human beings, and thoughts of gratitude and love for the animals that we eat (if we are not vegan) and recognize that in most cases these farmed animals are not treated with love, care and respect.

In the second week, we can contemplate the element of water. Water is life for human beings, and for all life forms! We can add a bowl of water that has special meaning for us to our nature tables. Maybe it is water from Mt. Shasta, from the Ganga river, or from a special stream or spring we are familiar with. The adults can remember the great oceans of our planet out of which animal life sprang millions of years ago. We can be mindful of the cleansing nature of water - from our own cleansing tears, to the rains that cleanse the lands clean by washing trash into our streams and rivers and eventually out to the oceans. We can think about the creatures of the sea, from the tiniest plankton to the massive whales, whale sharks and rays. We can stop to consider the effects of human activity on the entire food chain of the oceans, and even the effects on the waters of the oceans themselves. We can also consider that water can be representative of life energy (or qi or prana or etheric). There is reality of flowing liquid in our body - the blood and lymph, and even the most prominent ingredient of our cells - water. Humans are made up of more water than any other substance.

For the third week, we can consider our relationship with air. Air is what we breathe and joins us to the carbon/oxygen cycle with all plant life. Through the breathing process of humans and other mammals, we join with all plant life in an exchange that to each os life giving. As mammals, we utilize the oxygen present in air that is ‘exhaled’ by plants, and we in turn off carbon, a waste product for us, as an important nutrient for plant life. Additionally, there are many types of creatures that use the air as their medium of travel, from the tiniest of insects to the great birds of our world. Can we think of all those creatures of the air who are responsible for pollination and without which we would have a lack of fruits and other edible plant materials. Air is the element of relating. We must begin to recognize that all species of life on earth are dependent on each other, and find ways to share that picture in approaches that suit the developmental capacities of the children. We breathe our environment in and out. We breathe in ideas, experiences and each other. It is the realm of our sentience and of our thinking. It is the realm of that part of the human being so connected to the cosmos, the astral world - the human soul - where both thinking and feeling reside.

And for the last week, we can consider the nature of fire. We can think of the element of fire as the realm within which we share warmth and love and joy. Fire is energy. Fire lives in the core of each human being, it is the fire of the human spirit. And fire is connected to the will. Or perhaps it is even will itself! The fire in our will is initiative and the energy to do and to complete projects. The energy to take hold of the present, to take hold of oneself and make the changes that one decides are necessary. Fire is the energy for transformation of which we are in need -individually, and collectively as we face the challenges of our world. Fire is one form of light. Light carries the wisdom of the universe, if only we can begin to listen. Plants transform the light they receive into a substance needed for life - chlorophyll. Humans can transform light into vitamin D. On another level, humans can receive the light of the cosmos, the wisdom of the stars, and transform it into selfless deeds done out of love, the love that is for all that is around us. Our own inner light allows us to reflect on our deepest and truest self, and to begin to redeem our relationships with others, to redeem the deeds we have done and words we have spoken that we regret, and to offer and ask for true forgiveness.

From another angle, we can consider the warmth, the fire, of the sun. It warms the earth, warming the water that has settled onto the earth. This warming process creates evaporation - water traveling through the air. When there is sufficient mass of water, it falls to the earth as rain or snow. We can thereby witness in our imagination another beautiful cycle of life on this planet as the four elements interact in support of life. How have we as human beings interfered and even damaged this process of the water cycle?

We can also see a direct interaction of mammals and plants. Plants take in carbon and breathe out oxygen. Humans and all mammals take in the oxygen and exhale carbon. One kingdom’s waste is another kingdom’s gold!

As adults, this can be a time to take stock of our relationship with the Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Climate, Biodiversity and the Web of Life, and to resolve to do better in the coming year. And as adults, we can plant and nurture imaginative seeds that can flourish as the young children grow and become the adults of the future who will help bring the world back into balance. If we truly understand what we as early childhood educators are doing, we can recognize the immense responsibility we bear.

For those of you engaged with groups of young children, these weeks of thoughtful imagining can culminate in the ritual experience of the Garden of Light (ideally as close to December 21 as possible) that is enhanced by this preparatory work. And your Garden of Light can be a beacon of inclusive welcoming for all to participate in the process of connecting when we cognize the underlying elemental aspects of our existence, and attach it to the tangible experience of the Solstice. The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and soon after we notice the annual return of the light. The Light.

These experiences are universal, it is the same for all human beings regardless of their religious leanings and traditions. This is what brings us together.

May you be open to receiving the light and transform it into deeds of love!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Are you struggling with your young children?

A Workshop for Parents and Teachers with Steve Spitalny

Saturday, May 11
10am to 3pm
at the Santa Cruz Waldorf School

Have you been struggling in your life with young children? What happens when they don't do what you want or what you tell them to? Are you ready for some changes?

Discover the needs of the young child (Birth through 7 years) through an understanding of physical, mental and emotional development. Steve offers four basic and easy to understand principles that will give us a compass for finding better practices of deeper connecting with the children. The workshop will include tips on resolving conflicts when your child doesn’t do what you want, as well as ways to stay calm in the face of the storms that arise. Come on a journey into the world of the young child and learn to weave a fabric of trust and safety!
Early childhood consultant and author Steve Spitalny has been a kindergarten teacher at the Santa Cruz Waldorf School for nearly 30 years. Since the mid-1990's, he has given workshops, lectures and courses on many themes for various institutions and groups across the world. He is faculty member at WISC (Waldorf Institute of Southern California). Steve is a former Board member of WECAN (Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America) as well as former editor of Gateways, the bi-annual newsletter of WECAN. His many articles have been widely published. Steve has written 3 books about young children.

Bring your own lunch!

$50 - $100 sliding scale per individual or couple

Monday, March 4, 2019

What's the Deal About Boundaries?

All around the globe it seems parent issues are the same. Being a parent of a young child can be a challenge, especially if you are not equipped in advance (who is, anyway?). The question often comes down to what boundaries are best for you and your child, and how to deliver those boundaries.

What is a boundary? In this context, a boundary is a limit on some activity. So why would we want to put any limits on our children? If you were walking down the sidewalk with your child and she suddenly was going to jump out into the street, you would want to prevent that. That physical safety boundary for your own child is an important boundary that all parents want for their child. 

Boundaries can give a child a sense of security, and sense of being guided and cared for by their parent, and can give an opportunity for self-discovery. I find myself at the boundaries.

To me, equally important are boundaries making other children safe, both physically and emotionally. As parents, I think it is our responsibility to help our child to be with others in as much of an atmosphere of safety as is possible. And if we want to bring boundaries in a way that sticks, we have to understand several features of the young child.

1. The primary way young children learn is by imitating. They copy the example of others. If we want a young child to change a behavior, we have to give the example of the new habit we want to (eventually) see.

2. To learn something, everyone has to do it for themselves. That means we have to lead our horses to water, so that they can drink for themselves.

3. The young child is a creature of habit. As adults, much of our time is spent in habitual activity, perhaps upwards of 40% of our waking time. The young child even more so.

4. How we speak to the child can either support an environment of trust, or become an obstacle to connection.

With the young child, as with all humans, trust develops based on experience, the experience of needs being fulfilled, particularly the needs for safety and connection. Human connection gives us the feeling of being loved and being understood. 

Here's an example:
A child is playing with a toy and your child notices. She goes over to the child, grabs hold of the toy, and pulls. She knocks the other child down (you can never be sure about intention, so don't assume) and ends up with the toy.

In my experience with these types of interactions, a common response from the child’s parent is:
“It’s bad to take things from others.” Or, “That was not appropriate. How would you feel if he did that to you?”

This type of response is somewhere along the spectrum of punishment. Check for yourself. What your child did needs to be corrected, to correct we must scold at least. Perhaps a time-out or a spanking is in order?

When we meet our child’s behavior with any sort of feeling that what she did was wrong or bad, she can feel it even before we speak a word, even before our foot starts tapping and our pointer finger starts waggling. As soon as she senses our “attack,” she shuts down her higher neurological functioning and the reptile brain is in command. The options for a reptile brain response are fight, flight or freeze. Learning a new method is not one of the options when the reptile brain engages. When the reptile brain is engaged, there can be no connection with your child. They are in a defensive mode.

Here are some suggested options, some possible script lines for you:
“It’s his turn now. Your turn is next.”
“He doesn’t like toys to be taken from him.”
“I don’t like when things are taken without asking.”

The first step, though, is an inner step for you, the adult. It is to reframe the situation so feelings of wrongness and blame are not coming toward your child from you. To get there, you have to understand that your child has a habit of taking to get what she wants. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with that because it usually is successful, and we can also understand the habit arose out of a strategy to get what she wants.  But the other child does not feel safe, and, in fact, is not safe. 

How do we create an environment with healthy boundaries? We as adults can take actions that create an environment where there is more and more safety for the children with each other by  working on the habit life of the young children.

Sometimes things unfold in a way we didn’t want, sometimes our child does something we don’t like. When we interact with our child in these situations without judging and blaming the child, with openness to creative solutions, then we weave a fabric of trust and connection between us and our child!

I think one of the secrets of parenting - or being a human being - is not to take things personally, not to frame the world into fault and blame and judgment. One can take up as a practice learning how to try on others’ perspectives, trying to see into what needs they are trying to meet. Then it is easier to stay calm and try to find an effective solution to the challenge at hand. 

As adults, I think it is our job to help our child be able to interact with other children so that the other child feels safe with our child. It is our job to teach boundaries for safe social interaction!

Monday, November 19, 2018

7 Tips for Your Child this Holiday Season - and one bonus suggestion

As we approach the end of November, thoughts turn toward holiday times and family. For some reasons, this is the time of year when extended family meal gatherings and gift giving has become the norm. 

What about the young children? How can we support their needs during this time of year?

I would like to offer seven suggestions about how to make this time of year, which can become hectic and full of stress, a more supportive experience for your young child, and for you.

1. Find ways to engage your child in preparing food, in cooking. Involve the child to the extent of their abilities in cutting and mixing, stirring and pouring. Being part of the process will also help them to become more adventurous eaters.

2. If your family has a gift-giving tradition, figure out some things your children can make  as gifts. As a grandparent, I can tell you that a gift made by a grandchild is so much more valuable to me than any store bought item. Children can make gifts for each other, gifts for the parent who isn’t home at the time the gift is being made, gifts for the postal delivery person, etc....And food gifts are a wonderful way to go. (See #1 above) And if you give gifts to your child, consider that less is more. Giving a pile of gifts makes each individual gift lose value in the bigger scheme of things. The best things in life aren't things!

3. Maintain your child’s daily routine during holiday times as much as is possible. When you feel the need to go to the mall, find someone to be at home with your child so they don’t have to experience the overstimulation, the frantic rushing, and what always ends up as staying there too late. All young children do better in every way when their mealtimes and sleep times come at consistent times in the day. And let’s not forget that home cooked meals are more nutritious than any type of fast food you can get while in the rush of shopping.

4. Consider how much training you want to give your child in becoming a member of consumer culture. Remember that young children learn by imitation, and habits that are learned at a young age are deeply imprinted and are hard to change. What about developing a family culture of making gifts. You know all those tools gathering dust in your garage, use them to make a wonderful wooden chest or shelf. And the sewing machine you got a few years ago, try it out! Make a simple quilt or doll clothes. Knitting a scarf or hat doesn’t take very long if you dust off those skills. Another idea is to develop a family tradition of attending a performance or concert together as a sort of gift to each other. Shared experiences at holiday times become especially warm memories.

5. Try not to use the screen to occupy your child while you are otherwise busy. Your child’s brain will thank you for it. 

6. Remember that as an adult, your senses have developed filters to minimize overstimulation. Your child does not have those filters yet and their senses are more sensitive than yours. Try and be conscious of volume levels and how much overall stimulation is going on around your child. 

7. One amazing way to connect with your child at any time of year is through stories. Tell stories to your child. Read stories to your child. And maybe start a holiday tradition of giving one special book to your child. 

Bonus: I would like to offer one more holiday season tip, and this is for the adults. We adults need to have tools for maintaining calm and centered-ness when chaos and hectic-ness are all around. Rick Hanson is a teacher whom I deeply respect. His ideas and practices can help you get a sense for your own well being, and find ways to feel more safety, satisfaction and connection in your life. Watch this video for more info....