I wish you all a joyful beginning to the year 2011. I have had a restful few days with my family. I hope that you have been able to make these days special and wonderful in simple ways. It is important to ease yourself back into schedules and routines with presence and intention. Nothing really has to be done. You have much that you wish to do. Much that is expected of you but children are learning to find a way to make the world work for them. Do you really want your child to do everything that is asked of him or of her by anyone? Any adult? Think about how very wrong that might go.

Independence is one of my most important goals as a parent. I want my children to learn to make choices. My oldest has begun to stretch her wings. She is not always under my supervision. She faces choices without me. She decides what to do with her time on days that she comes home from school before me. She chooses the food she will eat when she goes to parties and sleep overs. She decides if she needs to ask for help to finish her homework or to her projects. She understands my expectations of her but she is learning balance her desires and her needs, her values and her indulgences, her obligations and her wants, her choices and the consequences of her choices.

Today there were two stories in the New York Times that reminded my of the power of models of violence and of peaceful problem solving. The first story was about violent toys in Iraq. Children in Iraq have witnessed so much horrific violence and death. They live in the face of war. They also in large families and close quarters. They hear all the adult conversations. Children are not as protected from adult topics and there is little time, attention, or other resources available to help children to express their feelings about what they are seeing.

Day to day children in military settings learn that guns give people the power. In Iraq children are practicing these lessons with very popular toy guns that have been imported into Iraq. The article, At Play Violence Turns Real Iraqis Seek to
Ban Toy Guns
, talks about the psychological injuries of war as well as the physical and psychological injuries of the toys. Teachers and health professionals note that the children turn to violence more
quickly and seek adult support resolving. True the toys are far less important than the war but the toys are an avoidable danger. The article notes that the Iraqi society must take a stand but it seems not everyone is able to see it that way and the method of taking an effective political stand are not clear. What is clear to me is that every time we raise our voices to say violent toys are not safe it is important. We need to have a way of saying violent toys are dangerous before it is too late for our own children.

The second story was about helping patients with dementia. The elderly patients in one nursing home made massive improvements in patient functioning. Patients combative behavior went down and they were easier to care for when the nursing staff made efforts to give the adult patience some control over their environment. One patient responded very well when they gave her a doll: Giving
Alzheimer’s Patients Their Way, Even Doses of Chocolate

The story is a really good reminder that when dealing with stress a little indulgence can go a long way. Pay attention to what makes you happy and what makes your child happy. Give in a little to your pleasure and find a way to give into your child’s. Your child just might find a way to make herself happy even when the world can’t give her everything she wants. She can learn that a little extra time playing a game or reading a book feels good – even if it was a “terrible, no-good-rotten day.”