Tuesday 27 Sep 2016

Before They Grow Up
Jennifer Flaten

"Party like a rock star," the shiny, gold invitation urged. The invitation was creative, the wording printed on a compact disc, with a picture of the birthday girl. Kewl, with one exception, is it a suitable invitation for a six-year-old. A little girl, as I see it, barely knows about the idea of a rock star, let alone parties like one.

Parents seem all afire, to turn their little kids into big ones, big rock stars. Besides giving little ones parties, more suited to 16-year olds, they are place high-end electronics in the hands of their children. I wonder how much this adds to the average credit card balance, of almost $9000.

I know a seven-year-old, who has her own I-Pod. This isn't a little kid's version of the I-Pod, but an honest to gawd I-Pod. Can a seven-year-old need to store.

More important, why would you entrust a seven-year-old to take care of such a pricey piece of equipment. What do you or your child gain, when she or he learns, at seven years old, that it's all right to tune you out? It's unavoidable, that as teenagers, your child will think of you as someone to avoid. Why ask for it sooner. At seven, your child should still want to talk to you. They may even still think you are cool.

This is the time to set up those strong bonds. When troubled, you want your teenager to come to you. Well, that won't happen, if you never talk, when they are young. Start the big patterns, early.

At this point, it is prime opportunity to fix practices, which allow for conversation. At dinner, bedtime or even odd-times, such as riding in the car or waiting for an appointment, are valuable time to talk. No longer, if you allow them to tune you out with their headphones. A longer family trip used to offer enough time, to talk. Now, it means the kids catch up, with all the movies or video games they have missed, not telling their parents about something funny, which happened at school.

You will have to take the good with the bad. If you are not taming them with the DVD player, they might start picking on their siblings or they might start complaining. Your job, as mom or dad, is to step in and mediate; even such little tangles, which siblings get into and annoy their parents, are learning opportunities. It teaches kids that everyone is annoyed, occasionally; it's all right and easy to move past.

Maybe, the reason society has such a short fuse, these days, is we no longer learn annoyance is all right, even normal. Some people and some tasks are annoying; you get over it and move on.

The kids are pinching each other. You have to discipline them. You become annoyed and they do, too. Ten minutes, down the road, you are discussing your favourite Harry Potter characters. The more often you provide this lesson, the less often it happens.

A primary complaint, of parents, today, is trying to reconnect children into the family. Magazines and TV talk shows thrive on articles or bemoaning parents, desperate to find family time. The answer seems simple: spend more time together.

Picking up your children, after-school and shuttling them to their myriad of practices, cocoons them, in headphone silence, and doesn't count as reconnecting. Doing this and that together means engaging in a way that allows for making contact, different forms of contact, and being together. These needn't be huge events, such as a family vacation or camping trip. Every day and simple tasks are an awesome opportunity for families to connect.

These simple every day events allow children to feel a part of the family. If they are there helping with the shopping or yard work, they are contributing and their decisions count. If all your child does is go to school and sports practice, how do they feel connected, part of the family?

Research confirms those little bits of togetherness is what fosters healthy emotional development. That is what parents need to focus on development, not just rushing them from babies to rock stars. It benefits everyone, adults, who stop complaining about rushing everywhere, and overscheduled kids who will feel loved and stop acting out.

As parents, you have a small window to fix these connections with your kids. The time you have with them is so fleeting to begin with, it is hard to imagine wanting to speed that up. Soon enough they will be out on their own, it is a parents responsibility to make sure they have learned there is more to life then partying like a rock star.

Jennifer Flaten lives where the local delicacy is fried cheese, Wisconsin. She writes about family life, its amusing or not so amusing moments. "At least it's not another article on global warming," she says. Jennifer bakes a mean banana bread and admits an unusual attraction to balloon animals and cup cakes. Busy preparing for the zombie apocalypse, she stills finds time to write "As I See It," her witty, too often true column. "My urge to write," says Jennifer, "is driven by my love of cupcakes, with sprinkles on top. Who wouldn't write for cupcakes, with sprinkles," she wonders.

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