Category Archives: Foster Families

Give Your Kids the Gift of Free Play (Pam Lobley)

Author Pam Lobley shares why free play is so important for children, plus some ways to create more of it. We present, “Give Your Kids the Gift of Free Play.”

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Give Your Kids the Gift of Free Play, Pam LobleyChildren’s lives these days are often planned down to the minute. They go from school to after-care to sports or dance. They take music lessons or participate in scouting. They have homework. Even weekends (especially weekends!) can be jammed with tournaments, practices, and tutoring.

How It Used to Be

Not surprisingly, free play for school-age kids has all but disappeared. Decades ago, it was the only kind of play there was. Kids went outside and played with whatever and whomever was in their neighborhood until it was time to come home for dinner. No one worried if they were improving themselves through lessons or skill building; they were simply expected to play.

In our crazy ‘get ahead’ world, we think our kids will be better off with lots of classes, camps, sports and other types of enriching activities. But studies are now showing how important free play is for our children. It is, in fact, a key part of their healthy development and social skills. Free play teaches flexibility and problem solving. It allows children independence, and teaches them negotiation and compromise as they make up rules to their own games and then have to play by them.

Some Free Play Ideas

Why Can't We Just Play. Pam LobleyIf you children seem whiny, combative, anxious or even just tired, it could be a sign that they are burned out on activities and need to just play. Here are some free play ideas you can easily incorporate into your busy lifestyle.

Seek a daycare or camp offering free play. When you choose a daycare or camp for your children, try to pick the one with the least structure and the most recess. Make sure they have time to make up games on their own, or play in a free-form way (remember “Red Rover” or “Freeze Tag?”). They should be able to play without adults making the teams, calling the shots and deciding the rules.

Teach Them Games You Played. If they’re having trouble figuring out what to play, teach them games you played: House, Cops and Robbers, Capture the Flag, etc. They can play these at a park or in a backyard. Show them the game, but then let them play on their own with their friends or siblings. If you need to be nearby for safety reasons, fine, but don’t interfere with their games. Playing on their own is what gives them independence.

Don’t be afraid to do NOTHING! It might feel weird to have an empty Saturday afternoon, but resist the temptation to run off to the movies or a museum. Sometimes a little boredom is just what kids need to get creative and invent something, or unwind and daydream. When they race from one thing to the next, their minds never get bored enough for this.

Enforce “unplugged” time. They can’t get bored enough to daydream or invent if they are always on their phone or playing a video game. You may have to bear some loud wails of protest, but if you can establish that there are certain times of the day when screens are not allowed, they will eventually accept it and cope by thinking of something else to do.

Do not attach a value to their play. In other words, pretending to be Spiderman for an afternoon is just as good for them as batting practice. As Einstein said:

Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Our children spend so many hours a day in the pursuit of knowledge – letting them cultivate imagination is a gift.

Essential to Happiness

Learning to entertain themselves, and to function in situations when things aren’t going their way, is an essential part of your child’s happiness. Free play will teach this, and they’ll have fun, too. ###

Pam Lobley is an experienced writer, having written comedy, plays, newspaper columns, blogs and books. This article features her book, Why Can’t We Just Play? It’s about the importance of free play in a child’s life, written as a sweet and funny memoir of a special summer she spent “doing nothing” with her kids. Learn more about Pam’s work at her website [link].

 

Family Talk: Creating a Synergistic Home (Guest: Christy Monson)

Radio-style Interview, The Changing Behavior NetworkAuthor and retired family therapist, Christy Monson, shares why quality communication within the family is so very important today. We present “Family Talk: Creating a Synergistic Home.”

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CMonsonphotoEveryone’s in a rush today. It seems that authentic and meaningful communication with others is a vanishing skill. Even handwritten letters have given way to quick emails, quicker texts and hasty tweets.

Few of us have enough time to spend meaningfully with others, and it probably shows.

Families Aren’t Immune

Families are not immune to this “abbreviation” of communication. In many instances, loved ones needing our presence, our time, our words and our support don’t get nearly enough. Oh, families remain intact, but without the strength and bonding that could be there. This is most realized when an emergency or difficult circumstance affects the family.

According to our guest on this program, retired therapist and author Christy Monson, families that focus on becoming synergistic, and put the work into making it happen, not only handle the tough times better, bonds within the family grow stronger and stronger.

A Family Council

Giving a Child Too Much Power, Christy MonsonOne important activity of synergism is the family meeting, or Family Council. When family meetings are scheduled, and the time and effort for having them are honored, children learn how their presence and input matters. They learn the facts of family finances and how to set and realize goals. And they learn that conflicts and problems can be resolved, because walking away is not an option. Indeed, family meetings can teach dozens of insights and skills that children can practice for a lifetime.

In this program, Christy discusses the benefits and payoffs of synergistic families, and she takes us through the steps of establishing, conducting and maintaining the Family Council. Her experience and personal examples will make it meaningful.

Christy Monson

Christy has authored many books and articles that support and strengthen individuals and families. In this program we’re featuring her book, Family Talk: How to Organize Family Meetings and Solve Problems and Strengthen Relationships. (27:48)

http://www.ChristyMonson.com

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Comfort in Chaos: Understanding Trauma Brain (Shenandoah Chefalo)

I make no bones about it: As a foster child, I don’t think I was an easy person to get along with. I certainly wasn’t trying to make bonds or connections with those around me. Of course, I knew nothing at the time about trauma brain.

Shenandoah Chefalo, Comfort in Chaos: Understanding Trauma BrainI went into foster care at the age of 13. My life prior to entering the system was one of immense dysfunction; I had practically raised myself. My mom was rarely around, and, when she was, it was usually to tell me that we were moving. We moved over 50 times and I went to more than 35 schools in my life before the age of 13.

Chaos had become my normal.

In learning to “cover” for my mom’s actions, and watching my mom talk her way out of almost any situation, I learned a valuable skill early on: lying. It was a skill that saved me numerous times from severe punishments.

Foster Care and Beyond

I thought foster care would be a positive solution to the life I was living. What I found was more of the same as loneliness, isolation and depression followed me into care. I had become disconnected from my feelings and simply accepted that I was unable to love … and was unlovable. I continued behaviors from the past and found no solace in the families that took me in.

I ultimately aged out of the system at 18 and was turned loose onto the world with no real connections to other people. When I hit the college campus, a feat I wouldn’t learn was remarkable until later, I made a pact with myself to never talk about my past with anyone. I was a good liar, and, because of that skill, I kept that promise to myself for more than 20 years.

Trauma Brain

I spent those years, hiding the past, keeping myself at arms length from any real relationships, and doing the one thing I was knew I was good at: lying. I didn’t know it at the time, but I found myself in what I now refer to as “trauma brain.” I would go to that comfortable place in my mind, a place of Fight, Flight, Freeze or Appease.

For me, there was comfort in chaos. When things in my life were going well, I looked for and caused chaos for myself so I could feel “comfortable.” Of course I  didn’t realize, at least not consciously, that I was doing it until I started to become increasingly unsettled with the life I was living. I had a good job, managed to get married and had a child, but I was only comfortable in the unknown.

I wanted to change.

For most of my life, I chalked up my behavior to the idea that I was just “crazy,” a concept I was comfortable with. I figured it was only a matter of time until I turned into my “crazy” mother. I was working in a law office at this time, and I would watch clients with similar tendencies. I had wondered about their past and when I started to ask, I was surprised by how many of them had been former foster kids, also. I had always assumed there had been very few kids like me. The numbers appearing in my office were off-putting, to say the least.

Garbage Bag Suitcase, Shenandoah ChefaloSelf-help Search

Flash forward. In an effort to find peace in my life, I initially turned to self-help books. I found a little relief, but often found myself going back to old habits. I started to realize that hiding my demons was only making me more depressed and more disconnected.

I tried everything: more books, journaling, yoga, meditation. and hiking. Physical exertion was having an impact, but it only lasted a few hours, then I was back in my mind, returning to old habits.

I finally realized that I had to tell my story. I wrote Garbage Bag Suitcase and began diving into an understanding of trauma and its effects on the brain.

The research began turning me onto new books. Suddenly I understood my “trauma brain” in a whole new way. I wasn’t “crazy;” my brain was just programed to constantly be in Fight, Flight, Freeze, Appease mode, and this knowledge changed everything for me.

Like a Sledding Hill

I recently heard Dr. Cathy Fialon explain trauma brain as a sledding hill. When you go sledding the path becomes worn, so you gain greater speed. The well-worn path is easy and comfortable. However, if you take your sled over a few feet to a part of the hill that hasn’t been used, it becomes more difficult to slide down; you can’t gain momentum and you often start and stop a lot. It takes time, she explained, to break in this new path and make it again enjoyable for sledding.

I understood exactly what she meant. My learned reactions as a child had become the well-worn sledding hill. It was easy for me to go down that road, regardless of the effects. But when I started working on myself (i.e. taking my sled to a new hill) it was difficult. Don’t get me wrong, while I’m still working on breaking in my new path, every once in awhile I like to take a spin on the old one.

That is “trauma brain” retraining ourselves, and oftentimes those we care about, how to break in a new way of thinking. I am thrilled to say I have a new career that allows me to help others recognize their trauma brain and the trauma brain of those around them, and to help themselves and others heal in a brand new way.

After all, we all deserve to try out a new place to sled. ###

 

Speakers Group MemberShenandoah Chefalo is a former foster youth and an advocate. She is the author of the memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase, and co-founder of Good Harbor Institute, an organization focused on ensuring sustainable, implemented trauma care within organizations and individuals. You can learn more about her and her work at www.garbagebagsuitcase.com or www.goodharborinst.com

 

Garbage Bag Suitcase: A Survivor Speaks Out, Part 2 (Guest: Shenandoah Chefalo)

BTRadioInt-300x75-300x75This podcast concludes Dr. Sutton’s interview with Shenandoah
Chefalo, author of Garbage Bag Suitcase: A Memoir. It’s an insightful and inspiring story of one girl’s will to survive and achieve in the face of unbelievable difficulty.

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Shenandoah Chefalo, Garbage Bag Suitcaseunfortunate, but true

There are those youngsters that struggle in school, but not because they cannot do their work. They struggle because of the meals they have missed. They struggle because of their concern for the care of younger siblings still at home, or they worry intensely that, when school is out and they go home, they will be on the street because of unpaid rent.

And then there are those youngsters that are victims of outright child abuse.

These things should not happen, and they certainly should not happen in the United States of America. But they do.

garbage bag suitcase, Shenandoah ChefaloGarbage Bag Suitcase

In this frank and candid two-part interview, guest author, Shenandoah Chefalo, explains why she broke 20 years of silence to share her story of abuse and neglect as a child. She tells how, much too often, her only true friend was a stuffed, cloth bunny and how, with only a five-minute notice, she learned to put all her belongings into a plastic garbage bag as her family left town, again.

400,000+ Foster Kids

Shen shares how going into foster care was not the solution she had hoped for, and how her experiences in the foster care system gave her insight into the changes that need to be made for the sake of over 400,000 boys and girls in foster care on any given day in the United States. Shen knows of what she speaks, and she speaks it very, very well.

Shenandoah Chefalo

Shen is one of only 1% of foster care kids to ever earn a college degree. She and her husband, Gerry, own and operate a successful law practice in Michigan, where she also works with local youth organizations. Life today seems pretty normal for Shen, Gerry and their daughter, Sophia. But, as a survivor, Shen is quick to point out that some hurts don’t go away easily. (27:216)

http://www.garbagebagsuitcase.com

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BONUS: Shen has offered to provide a FREE Skype call for any group (workplaces, book clubs, organizations, church groups, service organizations, etc), sharing her interest in encouraging and supporting young people, especially those in foster care and adoption. Contact her through her website and mention this podcast. [website]

Garbage Bag Suitcase: A Survivor Speaks Out, Part 1 (Guest: Shenandoah Chefalo)

BTRadioInt-300x75-300x75In this radio-style podcast, Dr. Sutton interviews Shenandoah Chefalo about her life and her book, Garbage Bag Suitcase: A Memoir. It’s an insightful and inspiring story of one girl’s will to survive and achieve in the face of unbelievable difficulty.

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Shenandoah Chefalo, Garbage Bag Suitcaseunfortunate, but true

There are those youngsters that struggle in school, but not because they cannot do their work. They struggle because of the meals they have missed. They struggle because of their concern for the care of younger siblings still at home, or they worry intensely that, when school is out and they go home, they will be on the street because of unpaid rent.

And then there are those youngsters that are victims of outright child abuse.

These things should not happen, and they certainly should not happen in the United States of America. But they do.

garbage bag suitcase, Shenandoah ChefaloGarbage Bag Suitcase

In this frank and candid two-part interview, guest author, Shenandoah Chefalo, explains why she broke 20 years of silence to share her story of abuse and neglect as a child. She tells how, much too often, her only true friend was a stuffed, cloth bunny and how, with only a five-minute notice, she learned to put all her belongings into a plastic garbage bag as her family left town, again.

400,000+ Foster Kids

Shen shares how going into foster care was not the solution she had hoped for, and how her experiences in the foster care system gave her insight into the changes that need to be made for the sake of over 400,000 boys and girls in foster care on any given day in the United States. Shen knows of what she speaks, and she speaks it very, very well.

Shenandoah Chefalo

Shen is one of only 1% of foster care kids to ever earn a college degree. She and her husband, Gerry, own and operate a successful law practice in Michigan, where she also works with local youth organizations. Life today seems pretty normal for Shen, Gerry and their daughter, Sophia. But, as a survivor, Shen is quick to point out that some hurts don’t go away easily. (27:25)

http://www.garbagebagsuitcase.com

TO LISTEN, use the player below or left-click the link. To access the file right-click and “Save Link as …” to save to your audio device), CLICK HERE FOR LINK


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BONUS: Shen has offered to provide a FREE Skype call for any group (workplaces, book clubs, organizations, church groups, service organizations, etc), sharing her interest in encouraging and supporting young people, especially those in foster care and adoption. Contact her through her website and mention this podcast. [website]

How to Be A Great Parent (Guest: Dr. Nancy Buck)

Dr. Nancy Buck, Peaceful ParentingThere is plenty of evidence to show that the brain processes negative factors quicker, longer and with more gusto than it processes the positive. We tend not to reflect on things that are going well, but just look at what we do when events and circumstances cause us concern.

What does this mean regarding how we communicate with our children and students? Answer: Just about EVERYTHING. Welcome to “How to Be a Great Parent.”

A Clash of Priorities

According to our guest on this program, developmental psychologist Dr. Nancy Buck, we want our kids to be SAFE. Our children, however, want to have FUN. These distinctly different priorities can clash into conflict. (It happens often, doesn’t it?) Nancy will show us how our typical responses in these situations can take a toll. In the process of unintended difficulty, relationships suffer.

How to Be a Great Parent, Nancy Buck

Understanding Wants and Needs

In this fast-paced and stimulating program, Nancy provides the research and rationale for better understanding a child’s wants and needs, as well as methods for redirecting youngsters in ways that are more successful and more pleasant. It takes a bit of practice, but it’s worth it.

Dr. Nancy Buck

Dr. Nancy Buck is the founder of Peaceful Parenting, Inc. She blogs regularly for Psychology Today, and she’s an in-demand speaker and presenter on the topic of effective parenting. Nancy is the author of the acclaimed book, Peaceful Parenting, as well as a just-released work, How to be a Great Parent: Understanding Your Child’s Wants and Needs. (29:17)

htpp://www.peacefulparenting.com

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Tackling the Terror: Empowering a Child to Overcome Fear (Guest: Michelle Cohen)

BTRadioInt-300x75Welcome to this interview with Michelle Cohen entitled, “Tackling the Terror: Empowering a Child to Overcome Fear.”

Fear has been described as a guide to wisdom. That sounds a bit strange, but fear can, and does, help keep us alive sometimes. Fear, for instance, is what keeps us from wanting to make friends with rattlesnakes. A little fear is a healthy thing.

Michelle Cohen, Tackling the Terror: Empowering a Child to Overcome FearBut too much fear can be crippling, a major handicap that limits the quality of one’s life. It eventually can make people sick as it steals the joy from their lives. It’s important, therefore, for one to learn to address and manage fear effectively.

Children are certainly not immune to experiences that frighten them. Real or imagined, their fears, especially fear of the dark, can trouble them greatly. Youngsters expect us, the adults, to “fix” what frightens them.

But do we, really? Is it possible for parents, grandparents and teachers to dismiss a child’s fear by saying something like, “There’s NOTHING to be afraid of.” Well-intending statements like this don’t work very well, and they can often compound the problem.

Actually There Is Something Under the Bed, MIchelle Cohen

Solution: Empowerment

Our guest on this program, author Michelle Cohen, will urge us not to dismiss a child’s fear, but rather empower them to manage it effectively themselves. Michelle is with us on this program to share her insights and multiple ways to give kids the strength and skills to conquer once powerful fear of the dark, and other fears. Michelle will also offer possible explanations for what children are seeing, hearing and sensing in their moments of fear and distress.

Successful Protocols

Not only do these interventions work (Michelle calls them “resolving fear protocols“), guidance counselors, therapists, psychologists and families have been using them successfully for years.

Michelle Cohen

Michelle Cohen is a creative, multi-faceted, multi-talented producer and author. Her work has been featured nationally in television, radio, stage, film and print. Michelle’s production work includes the off-Broadway mega-hit, “Schoolhouse Rock Live!” and she’s the author of Actually, there IS Something Under the Bed: A Parent’s Guide to Empowering Their Child in the Dark. (28:15)

http://www.michellecohenprojects.com

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The Joys and Challenges of Foster Parenting (Dr. John DeGarmo)

Dr. John DeGarmoIt would be difficult for us to ever fully realize and understand the value of foster parents. Their contributions are ongoing reminders of the resilience of the human spirit and the impact of love, support and assurance when it is needed most. Indeed, there are many successful men and women who were raised in foster families. This program is about the joys and challenges of foster parenting.

It’s a serious thing to remove a child or teen from their biological home, yet circumstances can dictate just that. Through no fault of their own, youngsters’ lives can be changed dramatically as they are placed with a foster family, for not to move them could expose them to serious, even life-threatening, physical and emotional risk.

Although folks who have “been there” will tell you the blessings of being a foster parent outweigh the troubles, it’s understandable how a child or teen going into foster placement might not be happy about it. Patience, insight, understanding, and sometimes a pretty thick skin are needed to help these kids find their footing on a better road. So, according to our guest on this program, foster parent and foster parenting expert, Dr. John DeGarmo, being a foster parent takes a substantial amount of grit in addition to love and compassion.

Fostering Love, Dr. John DeGarmoIn this program, Dr. John explains the nature and process of foster parenting, and he freely shares some of the ups and downs he and his wife, Kelly, have experienced in their 12 years as foster parents. He also discusses some of the behaviors and characteristics of youngsters coming into foster placement (especially for the first time), and how they are best addressed. (These could include hoarding of food, boundary issues, poor school performance, difficulty with conflict, problems in exercising trust and fear of rejection.) Dr. John also shows how we all can best assist foster children and their foster families.

Dr. John travels extensively, speaking and training on foster care. He also hosts a weekly radio show, Foster Talk with Dr. John, and he’s the author of a number of books on foster care. In this program, we’re featuring one that has been especially well-received, Fostering Love: One Foster Parent’s Journey. This book is an absolute must-read for anyone thinking of becoming a foster parent. (28:50)

http://drjohndegarmofostercare.weebly.com

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Your GPS for “Perfect” Parenting (Kirsten Siggins)

perfect parenting, institute of curiosity, family values, Kirsten Siggins

Being a parent these days is tough. So often I coach people who find their life as parents to be overwhelming. In our hyper-connected world of smartphones and social media, society has created an image of perfection in aspects of our lives, including how we are ‘supposed to’ show up as parents, which very few feel they are able to achieve. This societal expectation can create impossible challenges for many, leaving a wake of frustration, anger, judgment, shame, and even blame. I think we can all agree being a parent is hard enough and no one welcomes the pressures of trying to achieve “perfect” parenting.

Curiosity is at the Core

So what can we strive for as parents? At the Institute of Curiosity, we believe curiosity is at the core of being the best parent you can possibly be, whatever that looks like for you. Each of us, based on our upbringing, experiences and education can use curiosity to better understand ourselves and understand others, which supports us in being a better, stronger and happier self.

Perfection is in the eye of the beholder and like conflict, it begins with our values. When you have clarity around your personal values, you can co-create family values that will help you navigate the challenges of being a parent. This also helps your family in conflict! Developing joint values around parenting supports a unified approach when dealing with issues with your kids. These values create a GPS for you to stay focused in all aspects of your lives including challenges that arise for your family and help you align with your vision of ‘perfect’ parenting.

3 Steps to Creating Your GPS for Perfect’ Parenting

1. Identify and define your values. Get curious to understand what’s non-negotiable for you. Ask yourself right now, “what are my values?” If you don’t know, that’s OK and it is time to start exploring them. Explore them personally and with your partner. As you explore them, it is important to define what they mean to you as we all define our values differently.

For example, adventure may be the movies for one and skydiving for another. Until you are clear on what adventure means to you it is difficult to live in alignment. Once you are clear on your values, you will gain clarity around what holds importance for you, what the non-negotiable are in your life. You will also gain that same clarity around your partner and how you want to show up together as parents. If you need some help exploring your values, check out a step by step process here: http://www.instituteofcuriosity.com/what-do-you-value-what-you-need-to-know-to-be-successful/

2. Identify your family values. What holds importance for you as a family? Working with your partner and kids, using the same steps as above, identify and define your family values. Once defined, clarity will be gained around how you and your family want to navigate life together. These values will support your kids in how they behave, make decision and manage expectations. Family values will also support you as a parent navigating the many challenges with continuity, and create consistency your kids can rely on. These values will also come in handy when in conflict!

The Power of Curiosity, curious questions, staying curiousAs an example, let’s say safety is a family value. Your teen wants to go to a party and you are concerned about their safety, you don’t want them to go. Rather than an all out war of “I am going/ No you aren’t” you can use that value as the focal point of your conversation when discussing the party to learn about your teen and their approach to the party. It could sound like: ‘Safety is one of our family values and we wonder, how do you plan to ensure you are safe while at this party? What strategies do you have in mind if you find yourself in a situation where your safety could be at risk?” Questions like these take the focus off you and your teen so you can both focus on your joint value of safety. Together you can decide if strategies need to be developed to ensure safety in order for your teen to attend the party.

3. Stay open and curious. As you discuss what is important to each other ensure that you stay open and ask curious questions to learn (focus on questions beginning with WHAT & HOW). We are each unique and just because you are a family, it doesn’t mean you all value the same things OR define your values the same way. Your definition of safety may be very different than your child’s, making it difficult to align and cause conflict. Be present to listen to your kids and spouse as they discuss what they value and how they define that. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but it does allow you to better understand their perspective and experiences, and creates a framework that helps each family member make choices in their every day interactions.

This navigation system ensures you stay the course and support each family member in the challenges that present themselves each day. Sounds pretty perfect, right?

For more tips and tools to stay curious & connected, even in conflict, visit: www.instituteofcuriosity.com

Kathy Taberner & Kirsten Siggins are a mother/daughter communication consulting team with a focus on curiosity and founders of the Institute Of Curiosity. Their book, The Power Of Curiosity: How To Have Real Conversations That Create Collaboration, Innovation and Understanding (Morgan James 2015), gives parents or leaders (or both) the skills and the method to stay curious and connected in all conversations, even in conflict.

 

The Harder You Work, The Bigger the Snowman (Michael Byron Smith)

There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.

Mahatma Gandhi

It starts around October. People, almost exclusively adults, start complaining about the onset of winter. I understand their point of view. Their focus centers on being cold, dealing with icy roads and often dreary weather. I don’t like those things either, but not enough to worry or complain about them.

Few of us have to be in the cold air longer than it takes to walk from our toasty car to our toasty home or office, at least not often. Slippery roads are a nuisance, but where I live in the Midwest, there may be only 10-15 days all winter when the roads are seriously snowy or icy for part of a day. In more northern states, they really know how to deal with their more frequent snowy days and they do it efficiently. There isn’t much you can do about dreary days, but I’ve seen dreary days in every season. With those realities said, I believe any adult that doesn’t like winter has the right to complain about it or move to a warmer climate. But it is also my opinion that children who are raised in areas that have seasons are advantaged in experiences and learning.

Cardinal in WInterNow I admit that winter comes in last in my list of favorite seasons. Spring, fall, summer, then winter is how I rank the seasons. But I LOVE seasons! In winter, I thoroughly enjoy watching the snow fall while I sit by a fire. And there is certainly beauty in winter if simply a red cardinal resting on a branch with a snowy background.

One of my favorite sensations ever was at my farmhouse in the country, waking in the morning after a heavy snowfall had blanketed the earth the night before. The wind was completely still in the bright morning sunshine. I walked outside and it was the most profound silence I have ever experienced. It was as if the snow had muffled every possible sound, except the squeaky sound of my boots sinking in the snow. The scene was truly a Norman Rockwell painting.

I accept winter and look for those experiences that only winter can provide. This brings me back to children. You rarely hear them complain about winter. They pray for snow and run around outside so much they don’t get cold. When they come in, a little hot chocolate will put the exclamation point on a fun and memorable kid experience. I have many memories of playing outside with friends, coming in with my hands so numb that the cold water from the tap felt warm, and I loved it!

You can join in the fun with them. Have a snowball fight or take them on a hike in the woods. The exercise and cooler weather make it comfortable and invigorating with views no longer obstructed with leaves. And you can sneak in a few life lessons occasionally using tricky little metaphors that may stick with them longer than a boring lecture.

Teachable Moments in Winter
Build a snowman with your children. Maybe you can have a competition for the best snowman. The teachable moment may be, ‘the more you work on your snowman the bigger and better he will be–just like anything else you will ever do’. But working hard isn’t the entire answer to success. You have to work smart also. It’s impossible to make a good snowman with very dry snow, even if you work very hard at it. With a little patience, a warmer sunny day will melt the snow wet enough to be able to build your snowman. The teachable moment: Patience and smarts will often save you a lot of time and effort with better results.

Go sledding with your children. Find a nice long hill and feel the thrill of zooming down. If they want to ride down again, they will have to trudge up the hill. The first ride down is free, after that they will have to work to experience it again. Going down is easy. Going up is work! The teachable moment: Nothing worthwhile is really free. There is always effort required by someone. The only ones who sled down for free are those that don’t have the strength and need the help of others to get back on top. Which of those would you rather be?

Not only are there life lessons to teach, but there are science lessons that will be remembered when they are in school. Take your children ice skating. Skating is best when there is very little friction, allowing them to glide effortlessly. But when they need to stop, they want some of that friction back so they dig into the ice. Friction is like fire. It can save your life or ruin it. How people use it makes all the difference!

Some history lessons can be best expressed in the winter. The strength of our forefathers and ancestors can be demonstrated, when there were no furnaces to warm them up with a push of a button; or when their home was a teepee or mud hut. No snowplows helped them out. Grocery stores were rarely nearby and food had to be grown or hunted. Traveling for just thirty miles would take half a day or more and the only heat was from the horse if you were lucky enough to have one. Not until one thinks about how tough conditions were for others in the past will they understand and appreciate the fortune they have today.

But maybe the most important of all these moments, whether you stop to teach or not, is to be actively engaged with your children, having fun, creating everlasting memories, and making connections to them that will serve both you and them forever. I already mentioned a couple of winter activities, but there are others you can enjoy with your kids including baking things together, movie nights, reading books, crafts, snowball fights, going to sporting events, and so much more.

Take advantage of every opportunity
I wish everyone a great winter season! Make the best of every day no matter the season, and never miss a chance for a teachable moment for your children. And for you older folks out there who hate winter, just think about how fast time passes for us! It’ll be spring before you know it; the recent contrast of winter causing it to be even more appreciated. I can almost see the tulips and crocuses popping through the ground already. Another teachable moment! ###

Article and photographs by Michael Byron Smith, author of The Power of Dadhood [website]
“Helping Fathers to be Dads” blog