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Five Ways to Teach Children about Gratitude

grateful child

by Kyle Pruett, M.D. Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

No matter how many place settings there were to accommodate three generations of Pruetts at our Thanksgiving Feast table, everyone had a seat at the grown-up or kids’ table. Every celebration I can remember began with my father−a pastor by trade−telling everyone to hold hands and, starting with the oldest, share one thing for which they were grateful on this day. It was hard to be patient, sitting there, mouths watering, and wondering what you were going to say when it was your turn. In this simple act, we learned that gratitude was what made this meal different from all others. I was amazed year after year by how seriously everyone took this charge. Answers ran from sacred to profane, but the lesson was clear; families thrive on gratitude.

However your family chooses to celebrate Thanksgiving, it is an important opportunity to affirm values that most parents hope (or wish) their kids were developing naturally. The bounty of family life−so obvious on the dining room table−is less obvious to our younger children, and most of them need a little help seeing the connections between what we share as a family and how we feel about belonging to that family. While children seem to have a natural drift toward empathy, even compassion, feeling grateful for what they have is a harder sell. Grown-ups need to place this high on their agenda, along with plenty of patience for this sapling graft to take hold. Before you start, think about why this matters to you and how you got that way. Share those thoughts with your partner, and make a plan about how to sell gratitude as a family value to your children, as it is one of those desired human values that does not always unfold naturally, as our children grow.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Regularly express your own thankfulness verbally. (We are very lucky to have grandma nearby. I’m thankful to have a son like you in my life. Your dad made that so easy for all of us.)
  • Express gratitude behaviorally. (Take a casserole to a neighbor who has been kind or needs some extra help for whatever reason−even better if the children help you make it. When the hand-me-down toys end their cycle, make a Goodwill run with the children in tow.)
  • Make generosity part of your family’s routine. (When seasons change, collect clothes from everyone’s closet to donate or take canned goods to the local soup kitchen.)
  • Take the children along on community fundraising activities, runs, walks, etc. Explain to them why this matters to you. (Make sure they meet the organizers and understand the purpose; if it’s personal, it’s remembered)

Consider this: regularly planned simple activities can make children feel useful and appreciated as givers, not takers, which is the antidote to gratitude). These are the roots of self-esteem, not reward or praise.

Preventing Screen Brain for Children Over the Holidays

Toddler Looking at Screen

By Jack Maypole, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

As in changing any behavior, one might anticipate howling protests prior to separation from devices from children or teens. The equivalent of the primal yawp, or NOOOOO!. I advise parents to be steadfast and clear, and define the limits (no screens means…zero screens), and make these borders non-negotiable when possible. Pushback from the peanut gallery may amount to carryings-on, kvetching, complaining, loud grousing, grumblings, mumblings and bitter statements meant to be overheard. I’d recommend meeting these with the professional cool of an airline attendant sharing a long delay. “We apologize for the hardship, but let’s do the best we can to work together to make the journey enjoyable…” is the vibe I’d go for. Whinging is best ignored, quote the law and move on. Kids will eventually follow.

Card play, board games, or lively ‘parlor game’ type activities, like pictionary or team based activities can get kids out of their grouchy headspace and distracted (or dragged) and into the shared activity. In the case of my kids, this could sometimes take a round or two of play,  to clear the cobwebs and distraction of getting back to their device. Like many kids, they didn’t always want to, but they should be committed to a reasonable amount of time to engage that feels sufficient (15 minutes), and soon enough they moved on and got lost in the game. During such evenings, I’d argue, that ALL screens are best valet parked for the duration, and at least for the evening.

 

How to Limit Children’s Sugar Intake During the Holidays

young girl eating donut outside winter

By Jack Maypole, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

As the holidays come upon us, and the cornucopia of delectable desserts and candies and sweet offerings become ubiquitous from late October through Valentine’s Day, consider the following strategies on managing how much is too much for young children in terms of junky food and sugary snacks.

Is it excessive to sequester them to the kids’ table, where they might only access kale chips and dried fruit? Perhaps.

What is most important is stepping back for a moment, and thinking holistically. How many sweet or junky (and no doubt, delicious) foods or drinks do children consume on a typical day? Parents should have a sense of what a child eats. Keeping a food diary for 2 to 3 days may provide an informative snapshot towards that end.

For those kiddos who consume a larger amount of sweetened drinks, candy and junk food (say, several times a week), their parents may want to be more mindful and more vigilant in general, and work as a family to define what is reasonable. Resources like myplate.gov offer some nice resources to start that conversation. And, I’d reckon, a fair number of families may find that their children take in more sugary calories than they think.

So what to do for the holidays, then? A more pragmatic and sustainable approach of limiting sweets and sugary foods tends to eliminate free-range access to candy dishes and cabinets of findable goodies. Simply, don’t buy or leave these items around. They will be found!

Rather, during holiday gatherings, when the breaking of bread and sharing of food becomes a focal point of many family bonding sessions, buy them then, and perhaps in less mega quantity than wholesale brands would have you think you need. And, for the day or two that friends and family are about, set some ground rules and ease up a little. Perhaps if a child finishes a reasonable portion, then they earn a reasonably portioned dessert. Keep it conversational, and children will engage–and even cherish–times when the treats are allowed, and they are given a little liberty to indulge. Done thoughtfully, perhaps sharing that ‘special rules apply’ on these special days, children will understand. Limits will be set. Goodies will be had!

Bon appétit!

Creative Ways to Teach Your Children to Say Please and Thank You

Toddler spelling Thank You with foam blocks

By Helen Hadani, Ph.D.
Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Parents all want their children to be polite and have good manners. One of the first steps is teaching your children to use the magic word when asking for something and then thanking them when they (hopefully) get what they requested. Teaching your children manners is an ongoing process that takes patience and persistence. Young children respond differently to family members, friends and strangers, and the environment also plays an important role, so children often act differently at school than at home. Don’t be surprised if your children’s teachers say they are very polite at school, but you struggle to get a “please” or “thank you” out of them at home.

Here are some creative ways to encourage your children to mind their Ps and Qs:

  • Engage in pretend play that involves asking for something or provides an opportunity to thank someone, such as imaginary tea parties (“Please pass the cookies.”), restaurants (“May I please order another pizza?”) or schools (“Thank you for sitting so nicely during circle time.”);
  • When reading books with your child, highlight when characters are polite and considerate of other people’s feelings (“I bet the bear felt good when his friend thanked him for bringing him some honey.”). It can also be helpful to point out to your children how happy they feel when someone thanks them for doing something good;
  • Close the day with gratitude and giving thanks. At dinner or bedtime, ask each member of the family to say thank you for something that happened that day. If your children are stuck, prompt them with a question like “What was your favorite thing today?” and guide them to say thank you for that thing;
  • Teach your children how to say please and thank you in a different language. This can be a fun way to introduce your children to a foreign language and show them that there are many different ways to be polite.

 

Three Approaches to Teaching Your Child to Be Kind

women holding preschool child

By Lee Scott, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

We all want our children to be happy, well liked and good to others. How do we support our children in learning to be kind? This topic often comes up in fall as children make new friends at school, and it is part of the National Bullying Prevention Month messages. This year, we will want to use same approaches to online interactions since so many children are interacting with classmates, friends and family members through video chats.  

Children develop social-emotional skills in many ways. The three approaches that make the most impact are modeling role playing and playing games, and storytelling. Parents can help to build a foundation for their young children by incorporating these approaches in their families’ daily activities.   

Modeling – Act kind yourself. Modeling is by far the best way to instill kind behavior in your children. Children love to imitate us, and if we act in a kind manner, they will, tooPraise your children when they exhibit kindness, and explain why you thought what they did was a kind thing to do. It’ll become a habit. When you see kindness in others, share your thoughts with your children. “That was so kind of Jane to share her snack with you at school.” In an online situation, compliment your child (i.e., “You waited your turn to speak.  That was great!”). When our children hear the praise we give others, they will want to exhibit the same behavior. Try not to be negative, and redirect your children when they act unkindly. For example, explain how the other person may feel, talk about what your children could have done differently and help your children apologize.  

Role Playing and Playing Games – Create opportunities for your child to play. Your child will act out reallife situations while playing with stuffed animals, robotic toys and dolls. Interacting in unguided play with other children also supports learning to get along with others. Playing games can be part of dramatic play, tooGames help children learn to take turns and develop sportsmanship. Try games where your children need to collaborate with another player to win. Relay races, parachute games and family scavenger hunts are several good choices.   

Reading and Sharing Stories – Read stories where the characters must make decisions about their behaviors. Talk about the consequences of both kind and not-so-kind actions. Children learn through the stories by relating to the characters and the events. Here are some favorites that focus on kindness to get you started: 

  • If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson 
  • I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët 
  • Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton 
  • The Kindness Quilt by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace 
  • Possum’s Harvest Moon by Anne Hunter 

You can also share stories from your childhood or from your family’s experiences. These are important to young children and can help them learn life’s lessons. 

 

Seven Ways to Help Your Children Develop a Positive Relationship with Food

three children eating ice cream

Candy is junk food. It’s not good for you.  

You need to eat your broccoli. It’s so healthy! 

You can have dessert after you finish your dinner 

Do any of these statements sound familiar? I’ve heard them throughout my life, so I have always labeled foods as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy and nutritious or junkWe are all trained to believe that foods can only be one or the other 

I never thought about the effects of labeling food until I became a mom. When my son started eating solid foods, I furiously searched for articles by nutrition experts who could tell me exactly what I needed to do to ensure he developed a healthy relationship with food. My own food insecurities took over my brain, and all I could think was, Will my sweet tooth be passed down to him so he’ll gorge himself on cupcakes all day? That wouldn’t happen on my watch! My goal was to raise a vegetable-loving, fresh-foodeating son.  

Did I achieve this goal? Well, no. Is my fridge filled with dinosaur nuggets and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Maybe. Have I given up? No. I’m proud to say that my son loves carrots.  

Is that the only vegetable he eats right now? Yes.  

I’m only human, and I’ve made some mistakes on my journey toward helping my son cultivate a healthy relationship with food. I’d like to share some of the insightful tips that have helped me reevaluate harmful attitudes toward food that I’ve learned. 

Do Not Label Foods as Good or BadThe first and most important step is to make a conscious decision to stop calling foods goodbadhealthy or unhealthywhich is something discussed in a previous article about how to handle sweets at home. Pediatric nutritionist Jill Castle recommends using the words nourishing or fun 

In an article on her website, Castle shares a real-life example of the harm that labeling foods may cause. She discusses a client who was frustrated that her daughter didn’t make healthier choices. The client would ask her daughter, Are you sure you want that?” and “Couldn’t you choose something healthier?” Her daughter did try to make good choices, but she felt deep shame about enjoying her “bad” choices, too. 

“Ultimately, [the daughter] became conflicted about food, which started to eat away at her self-esteem. She didn’t feel good about herself (or the foods she enjoyed eating) and knew she wasn’t meeting her mom’s food expectations,” Castle said. 

 To avoid unintentional harm, I like to use registered dietitian Jennifer Anderson’s method for discussing foods without labeling them. Read the text in her Instagram post to learn how to tailor your conversations to the ages of your children.  

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Do Not Pressure, Force or Bribe Children to EatPressuring children to eat can include pleading with them to take another bite, spoonfeeding them as they resist or bribing them with dessert. 

Young children are experts at understanding their bodies’ cues about food. They know when they’re hungry and when they’re fullIf we plead, force or bribe children to eat, we’re teaching them to ignore those cues. Using dessert as a bribe can lead over- or undereating as children focus on getting to the sweets. 

Alisha Grogan, a pediatric occupational therapist, says,“[] in the long run we’re accidentally reinforcing that the food that’s on their dinner plate really isn’t as good as the dessert. It sends the message that the food during the meal is something that just has to be endured to get the real prize.”  

Do Not Restrict FoodsSweet treats, fried foods and sugary drinks are everywhere. At some point, most children will develop a taste for themIf you don’t allow these foods in the house, it could cause a greater desire for them. This can lead to secret eating, binge eating and overeating 

Like adults, kids want what they can’t or don’t have. It’s human nature,” says Castle. 

Take away the candy, and kids can’t stop thinking about it. However, unlike adults, kids have less control over their biological drive to eat. 

 Maintain an eating schedule, and don’t stray from it. My son was a grazer, so we gave him snacks with milk or diluted juice throughout the day. Then, we were flummoxed when he wouldn’t eat during our main meals. Well, why would he? He ate all day. Once we set specific times for meals and snacks, we fell into a stressless feeding routine.  

Remember the Division of Responsibility. Renowned therapist, author and lecturer Ellyn Satter developed the Division of Responsibility to help make feeding your children less stressful. Basically, parents are responsible for what, when and where they serve their children food, and children are responsible for how much and whether to eat. Once I started to practice this method, mealtimes became much less stressful. I didn’t feel any need to pressure my son to eat, which meant he could listen to his own body and his hunger cues. I highly recommend reading through all of the resources from the Ellyn Satter Institute. 

Serve dessert with dinner. Wait, what? By serving a small portion of dessert with dinner, you’ve removed the feelings of restriction that can lead to cravings while making fun foods less of a novelty or soughtafter reward. When children know they get to have dessert and no foods are off limits, it can lessen their feelings of deprivation and guilt. They learn what a moderate portion is and how to incorporate fun foods into a balanced diet 

You don’t need to serve dessert every night or provide a fun food free-for-all. You can still set boundaries with your children, but your goal is to teach them balance. Jill Castle has some great tips for how to get started setting food boundaries. 

Repeatedly introduce new foods. Let your children get used to seeing new foods. My son’s reaction to them is usually “EWWW!” and that’s fine. Let your children know that they don’t have to eat the new food if they don’t want to, so there’s no pressure to eat – and no battles about eating! It can take children anywhere from 12 to 30 exposures to a new food before they’re willing to try it. 

Here are some other great ideas: 

  • Plant a garden together; 
  • Take your children grocery shopping and let them find fruits and vegetables they want to try; 
  • Prepare meals together; 
  • Try serving family-style meals. 

 Even if your children refuse to eat a rainbow of foods, it’s okay! It takes time, and your children’s limited eating habits don’t make you a bad parent. Give yourself a break, and please don’t compare your family’s dietary habits to anyone else’s. Even though my son isn’t interested in expanding his vegetable palate right now, we have gotten to a point where he will try a few new things – even if it’s a quick lick and a grimace. That’s a win in my book!  

Five Simple Tricks to Make Bedtime a Breeze

preschool child sleeping

By Lee Scott, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

We often talk about how important bedtime is for little ones, especially as they return to school or begin a summer program. It has been made more difficult by the stayathome routines many of us have adapted to in recent months. Hopefully, you have been able to keep to some routine. If you have relaxed yours lately, now might be a good time to get back into the swing of things by giving your child some structure and taking some time for yourself. 

Making the transition should start with your child’s participation. Explain that we need to get our bedtime organized so we all get plenty of sleep. Ask your child how we can do that. You might be surprised by the answers. Being involved in the solution will help your child buy into the changes more easily. For younger children, give them a couple of choices such as “Which should we do first – brush our teeth and then get into our PJs or get into our PJs first?”   

Here are five more tips to help you along the way: 

  1. Have an actual lightsout time and stick to it. 
  1. Try to eat an earlier dinner not too close to bedtime. 
  1. Keep afterdinner activities to a minimum, slowing the pace as you get closer to bedtime. Watch a favorite show together, play a simple board game or work a puzzle.  
  1. Set up a routine chart for older children who can check off each activity as they go. 
  1. Make time for a calming moment – reading a story, talking about the day, planning for tomorrow or doing a few fun yoga poses together before jumping under the covers. 

Research has shown that when children don’t get enough sleep it has a negative effect on their attention span, behavior and emotions. Routines play an important role in helping your child get the sleep he or she needs. We hope you can get some rest as well.  

 

Dealing with the Ups and Downs of a Preschooler

mom holding preschool daughter

by Kyle Pruett, M.D. Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Last evening, our neighborsparents of three children under seven, were sitting out on their porch steps, masked and full of coffee. They said hello as I (masked and at a distance) walked byI paused and asked, How’s it going? Kids asleep? and heard, Thank God” in unison. The mother continued, sometimes it’s been sweet and sometimes sour – very sour. I feel kinda hollowed out in the middle. I really love, both of us love, simply being together with them for more than just a snippet of the weekend, and other times, I feel bottomed out, discouraged.” I thoughtthere is the pandemic family anthem in a nutshell. 

Our young children are feeling much the same these dayskinda hollowed out in the middle, caught between the highs of being together and the lows of losing so much of their active physical and social life. That’s why they can go from angelic to demonic in a few hours or minutes. Parents wonder at such times if they are being good parents in the way they handle these huge swings. Their children know how clueless they feel about how to helpDisappointment is around every cornercan’t do this or that, can’t see your friends or grandma, have to wear that itchy, annoying face covering. As adults, we’ve learned something about coping with disappointment by now, but for our preschoolers and young children, this may be the first time they have had to confront it in such a huge dose. No wonder they and we are upset. They are missing out on some things that we know they need to keep growing up well. Helping them cope requires as much compassion and patience as we have ever mustered on their behalf.  

Advice:  

  1. When they are upset and need us to fix something, most of us just rush in with a tool or solution as soon as we can think of one. Don’do that, at least not right away. 
  2. Listen carefully through the tears for what is wrong. Say it back to them in your own words and ask if you got it right 
  3. Confirm that you get what’s so upsetting without judgment or even if you think it’s a bit ridiculous and that those kinds of feelings do hurt and make us sad. This compassion is less likely to soften your children than it is to strengthen them. It validates them and their feelings as more important to you at the moment than correcting some injustice. 
  4. Limit the amount of pandemic-focused information flowing at them through screens (especially back-ground TV) and from other sources, such as over-heard adult conversations. The most menacing, toxic force in the pandemic’s arsenal other than the obvious mortal threat to our health is its mystery; this scale of not knowing what’s coming is unfamiliar to most of us 
  5. Running on empty,emotionally and physicallyis very hard on everyone in the family. There are many replenishmentout there if you look. A favorite for families with pre-k children is Common Sense Media’s list of 26 Kid-Friendly Documentaries for Families to watch together. Turn off your phones, kick off the shoes and grab healthy snacks. Then snuggle up and let someone else do the entertaining for a while. Don’t forget to breathe. 

“But Mom/Dad, Why Can’t You Play Right Now?” How to Answer This Question Effectively and More When Working from Home with Children

testing-blog-graphics-1

By Jennifer Jipson, Ph.D., Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

For weeks now, I’ve been spending my days shifting between multiple roles, and it isn’t getting any easier! When I’m working, I feel like I’m ignoring my children. When I’m attending to their needs, I feel guilty about not being able to make progress on work-related projects. When stress hits, I’ve often reacted to my children’s interruptions and emergencies with an abruptness that I later regret. I’m guessing many of you have experienced something similar at some point.

In this blog post, I share a practical strategy for how to interact with children in a way that respects their desire for your attention and your need to set boundaries that help you get some other things done. The approach is described by Dr. Marjorie Kostelnik and her colleagues as using personal messages. It’s a developmentally appropriate strategy that helps both parents and children achieve their goals while building trusting and affectionate relationships. In my role as a college professor, I teach it to college students who are learning to interact with preschool-aged children. It might seem awkward or too wordy at first, but it gets easier with practice. It pays off because the more your child hears you talk like this, the more tools she or he will have to control her or his impulses to interrupt.

The following is how it goes.

STEP ONE: Offer a reflection that describes your children’s perspective.

I think of this step as sportscasting, except instead of being on ESPN saying, “he shoots, he scores,” I’m in my home office having conversations like the following:

When my adorable child says: I’m tempted to say: Instead, I try to say:
“Moooom, you said we could make brownies!” I can’t right now. You’re frustrated that I can’t make brownies with you yet.
“Come see what I did!” I’m busy. You’re excited about your painting and you want me to take a look.
“I’m bored.” Shhhhh I see you’ve finished that episode of Daniel Tiger and you don’t know what to do next.

Describing a child’s perspective before reacting shows that we are trying to understand his or her point of view and that we care about his or her experience. It also gives us a few extra seconds to think about how to respond next.

STEP TWO: Share your own emotional reaction and explain why you feel that way.

STEP THREE: Tell your child what will happen next. Be sure to follow through!

These steps give children a chance to practice their developing perspective-taking skills and to improve their understanding of emotions. Then, by hearing parents share clear expectations for what will happen next, children can begin to develop strategies that will make moments of waiting easier.

Step One Steps Two and Three
You’re frustrated that I can’t make brownies with you yet. The people I work with are waiting for me to finish this project, and I want to get it done. After I give it to them, we can go to the kitchen together and make our special treat!
You’re excited about your painting and want me to take a look. I’m proud of you for working so hard on your art project. I’m on a conference call right now and I will come to see it as soon as the call ends. 
You’ve finished that episode of Daniel Tiger and you don’t know what to do next. It’s important to me that I have some time to get a few things done. I’d like you to find something you can do on your own right now. Do you want some help choosing a few puzzles to do?

When adults talk in clear, responsive and respectful ways, children’s self-regulation skills improve. It’s also important to model your respect for their activities. Instead of interrupting their play or media use, you might say something like, “It looks like you’re having a lot of fun drawing with chalk, I have a break now and it’d be nice to take a bike ride with you. Is this a good time?”

Full disclosure: As I’m writing this, I’ve been guilty of responding a bit abruptly to my youngest child’s plea for attention. it’s not easy to practice what I teach consistently. But when I catch myself responding with annoyance, I start over and try again. Many people give up on personal messages because it feels clumsy at first. My advice is to keep trying. Practice makes better (forget perfect), and we have a lot of opportunities lately to refine our skills in warmly-communicating clear and respectful boundaries with our children.

OPTIONAL ADDITION

Note – Planning can ease the pressure of competing responsibilities. One important strategy is providing young kids with a visual cue to your availability. In my house, when I can’t be interrupted, I put a note on my office door letting my older children know when I’ll be available next. With younger children, I suggest displaying a picture of Quiet Coyote or some other signal so that they know not to interrupt. Be sure to take it down when you’re better able to be interrupted.

Dad’s Important Role in Parenting

Dad holding preschool daughtor on sholders with her arms stretched out

Dr. Kyle Pruett, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Fathers don’t mother, just as mothers don’t father. It is obvious from the start; they are less likely to use baby talk, choosing real words instead. They like their babies activated when they are interacting with them, while mom is more likely to comfort and cuddle tight. Play and surprise are more common in dad-infant interaction than with mom, who often prefers a soothing and regulating routine. Even the way a dad holds his baby, more commonly facing out than when mom does, hints at feeling his job might be different than hers – more of a let’s see what the world has for us today than I’ve got you safe and secure right here over my heart.  

Safety and security are huge concerns for today’s parents, both at home and in the wider world. So, which approach is more likely to raise a secure child? Both are, especially when woven together. Secure attachments between mothers and children seem most uniquely effective in providing comfort when the child is distressed. While fathers are committed to comforting their distressed children, there is a unique component to their interactions with their children. Fathers often provide security using shared, controlled excitement through sensitive and sometimes challenging You can do it! support as the child’s exploratory system gets stimulated by novelty. That roughhousing that is so common between men and their children serves a purpose; while it is fun and stimulating to both players, it also helps the father teach the child where the edge between play and trouble lies, No fingernails!  When the father lets the child wander off a little further than the mom might at the park, he’s allowing the child exploration and novelty, retrieving the child when something looms to threaten the security of such adventure. 

That distinction is worth celebrating this Father’s Day. It’s why dad is not just a stand-in for mom, who so often bears the weight of being the real parent. Helping children feel comforted when distressed is incredibly important to their sense of security and so is the support they feel from being fathered when they start looking for the world beyond mom’s arms.  

SoMoms and Dads, here are two tips to help you as you parent together: 

Moms – Support the fathering figures in your children’s lives with your appreciation and respect. They are not just subbing for you; they are your tag team in keeping your children secure and safe, not just from the world, but in it. 

Dads (biological and otherwise) – Turn off your devices and be in the moment with your children. They need to know, trust and feel the real you. Take your unique role as the securer of exploration seriously; they do.