NOTE:  This week’s original post was nearly done, when I came across something that stopped me in my writing. Now I’m reading a book of Alfie Kohn’s that I somehow missed several years back (hint, hint!).  Stay tuned  for how this book plays into a topic that has weighed heavily on my mind.  Until then, below is revised version of  Get What You Need from April 2009.  Also, I  wonder if you’re on Facebook, if you “Like” the Wonder of Children page?

photo courtesy of dreamstime.com

Once again,  Easter bunny left the shopping until Good Friday. I wandered the barren aisles, with my teenager alongside,  I thought “how ridiculous is this?”  Traditionally, the bunny leaves candy, eggs and small toy(s)  to enjoy in the spring sunshine.  That tradition looked to be coming to an abrupt halt (again!).  I called my husband for some back up, who responded with a pragmatic, “it’s fine. they don’t need anything.”  He was right (again!).

There isn’t much my kids want and even less that they needed at the moment.  Candy, cool new pens, and new journals will be waiting in their baskets. As the holiday unfolds, what my kids want and need, was the traditions we’ve shared  — both silly egg-hunting type and the church-going type.  Rituals bring us familiarity and comfort, whether it is in times of abundance or not. There’s so much we could have,  but when we focus on what it is we truly need and what our priorities are, we’re remarkably content and productive.

Think about what happens when there is conflict and trouble in our immediate communities and the role schools play in establishing some normalcy and security for children.  After 9/11, after hurricanes or multiple snow days, what children  crave is the predictable routine and comforting faces at school.  It helps us feel grounded and able to move forward when things are out-of-whack.
Parents often ask about specific concerns they have for their child based on what they see at home.  It can be surprising that the behaviors they see at home are not at all what is observed at school.  The structure and security inherent to school, combined with a teacher’s determination to give kids what they need,  are often at the heart of this difference.  A child may want to build in blocks all morning, but academic choice means doing some word study, meeting in guided reading groups and working with your team on other activities which integrate academic goals and fun activities.   Routines and patterns are predictable at school.  They’re  based more on what’s important than what any individual wants.  It can be far more difficult to maintain that level of predictability at home; if you’re priorities are set, it’s a bit easier.

Here are 5 questions to keep in mind as you prioritize what’s needed versus what might be wanted.

  1. Know what to expect at each age/stage.  This  helps you keep your own child’s behavior and growth in perspective.   If you’re not sure, check out Yardsticks, the Gesell Institute “You’re Five Year Old” series or ask your pediatrician or teacher.
  2. Prioritize your own goals for your family, yourself and your child.  Is it important that your child is well-rested and has down time after a full day at school?   Do TV/computer impact bedtime and sleep? Is nutrition or time outdoors imporatnt in your house?  Does everyone need downtime after school before homework?  Small, but deliberate, changes that reflect these priorities reap big benefits.
  3. Determine what are you – physically and emotionally – capable of right now. If life is throwing challenges at you, who can support you and your child? Give yourself some time so you can give your child some undivided time, too.
  4. If needs are met, triage the wants to instill a sense of appreciation.  Kids want a lot.  We can thank, in part, the media and clever marketing to thank for that.  If a child wants something, help them begin to understand that having “stuff” sometimes requires some effort and sacrifice.  Teach them about saving and spending by providing a weekly allowance. Let them have $5.00 to spend a the dollar store on whatever they choose (it may be time consuming, but it’s a life lesson to choose how to spend). If they get more, are they sharing what they don’t need/want with those who might put those items to good use?
  5. Remember that child development (and life) is not a linear process.  Things hum along smoothly, and then they don’t.  Kids grow and mature, and then seem to slide back.  There will be periods of equilibrium followed by disequilibrium.  Life and human beings change, so remember that what you’re experiencing is temporary.

My kids would have loved a new skateboard or lacrosse stick for Easter, but instead they are getting what’s needed – time together, laughter and a yummy meal or two. Hope you get what you need, and a bit of what you want, too – this holiday weekend!

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