Friday, February 27, 2015

Learning About Our Feelings

Learning to recognize our own feelings, as well as the feelings of those around us, is something that I am constantly trying to find way to work with my children on.  One of the best ways I've found (as with many things) is through books.  Books help give my kids the vocabulary they need to identify certain feelings, as well as the opportunity to talk about characters other than themselves who are experiencing various emotions.  Some of our favorite books about feelings include (and I recognize that my focus here has been primarily on identifying and addressing "negative" emotions - there is so much wrapped up in this topic...more posts to come!):

The Way I Feel by Janan Cain - the illustrations in this book are absolutely fantastic - colorful and bold - they catch the attention of young children right away.  The expressions are exaggerated to really show children the way emotions play out on a person's face - and help them get in touch with the idea that what we're feeling on the inside can show on the outside too.  Each page highlights a different emotion - and then there is a short poem about what such an emotion feels and looks like. Ben's favorite page for a long time was for "Scared" which portrayed a child in bed on a dark night looking at thunder and cowering under the bedsheets.  When Ben started sleeping in his own bed and experiencing his own fear of the dark, it was comforting for him to reference this book and know that he wasn't the only one who had those kind of fears.

When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry... by Molly Bang - This book about a little girl named Sophie who kicks and screams and wants to smash the world to smithereens really resonated with my girls.   Sophie experiences her anger, bubbling up like a volcano and exploding.  She then runs and in the silence she is able to hear peaceful sounds around herself, find space for herself, and eventually breathe her way to comfort so that she can better deal with her anger.  I like that there isn't judgment about Sophie's anger.  It is presented as an emotion that is to be experienced instead of squashed.  Of course, we all hope that our (and our children's) angry episodes don't last for long periods of time, or don't result in violent outbursts - I think this story helps kids know that it's okay to have these feelings - and the important thing is that we are  figure out the best way to deal with our emotions in a way that doesn't hurt others or ourselves.

Calm-Down Time by Elizabeth Verdick - This book doesn't help with identifying feelings, but it has been a huge help in our house for figuring out how to deal with being sad and angry.  The main exercise the book suggests is to take a deep breath and say the phrase "1, 2, 3...I'm taking care of me."  There were countless times when Ben was in his terrible two phase that I held him kicking and thrashing and simply breathed deeply and repeated this phrase over and over until he started to say it for himself.  I remember being in high school and being overwhelmed and stressed in certain situations - my basketball coach used to just yell out - "Breathe!"  At first it seemed so ridiculous - who could forget to breathe?, but the truth is, I forgot all the time and having someone say it to me was a reminder to slow down, re-focus, and take a step back.  I realized that once in awhile I just needed that reminder.  This also came in handy when I was preparing to go into labor with my first child.  My husband wasn't quite sure how to help me, so I told him, "it sounds weird, but just tell me to breathe.  That's all I need."  Well, I needed a lot more than that to get through childbirth, but remembering to breathe was a big deal.  I think our kids often need the same thing.  This book also has a picture of a boy in his "calm-down place" which is a reading corner that looks very similar to the one we have in our house.  So my kids like to read this book - and then run over to their reading corner (if we aren't already there) and recognize that the reading corner is a quiet space where we can re-collect our composure and work it all out.

Feelings are complicated - even as adults, I think many of us don't always recognize what we're feeling, but talking about feelings and recognizing with our children that we all have them and that's perfectly fine - is, I think, a powerful step toward self-care and healthy interactions.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Learning to Love Iron Man

I have a minor obsession with Little Free Libraries.  Part of it is I just love the idea of leaving books, getting books, and sharing books all around neighborhood.  Part of it is it's like a little treasure hunt - you never know where you might find one, or what books you might find in them.  Awhile back, my husband discovered one just around the corner from us during one of his neighborhood runs.  We have been visiting it about once every couple weeks when I think of it.  Yesterday, I walked a different route down the hill to the bank and came across another one.  And this one happened to have quite a number of young reader books in it - perfect for my son, Ben.  Even better, they all seemed to relate to his recent obsession with superheroes.  So, I borrowed: This is Iron Man.  This goes back to an earlier post of mine about what kind of books I want to encourage, but lately, the answer to that question is:  anything my son is interested in reading!

As soon as I got home, he ran off with the book and looked through it several times on his own (he can only read a few words at the moment, but the picture told the basic story).  He came running back to me, "Mom!  Did you know Iron Man is not a robot?  He is a real man just in a suit!"  This led to a pretty fun discussion about which superheroes are "just" people in suits and which ones are creatures or aliens or actual robots (I'm not sure if any are actual robots?).  He questioned how Batman could be a person in a suit, but also be Bruce Wayne - which led to a discussion about secret identities.  And then he asked about Superman, who is also a person - Clark Kent, but seems to come from another planet, and are there people on other planets?  And then strangely the question of whether there are animals on other planets or just aliens.  It got a bit complicated as we tried to piece out what is "real" and what is "imaginary."  It made me think about issues people always raise about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy - and how much kids believe or should believe or can believe.  The line between reality and fiction is a very difficult one to be sure!

Ultimately, Ben seemed a bit disappointed that Iron Man was not a robot, so I asked him if it was better to be a robot or a person in a suit.  He thought for a moment and said, "I guess a suit.  I could put on a suit, but I'll probably never be a robot."

As for me, I'm coming around to these Superhero books.  They may not be my genre of choice, but they sure can lead to some fun discussions!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Helping Empower My Daughters: Red Knit Cap Girl!

Given my strong feminist ideals, it may shock many people to know that I do not discourage my two-year-old daughters from their interest in dolls and princesses.  I make an effort to have other options available to them - and they love legos and puzzles, running around outside and all kinds of art - but I'm more fine than I thought I would be with having them choose to wear pink and purple and get excited over dressing and taking care of their baby dolls.  For any parent who is worried about their children in this area, I highly recommend Peggy Orenstein's book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter in which the author explores everything from the Disney Princesses to Toddlers and Tiaras in an effort to find out how much these messages are damaging our daughters, and how much, perhaps, our girls actually need them to grow into the empowered free-thinkers we all want them to become.  

My general belief is that no matter what, my girls are going to be exposed to media images of women and girls that aren't quite what I wish they would be.  And there are going to be aspects of these characters that my girls find fun or intriguing or dangerous or exciting.  All of that is part of growing up and experimenting.  But, to counter-balance all these models of behavior, I try to be a good role model and I know they are surrounded by so many inspiring women - from their grandmothers to their teachers to so many of my friends.  I am also
always on the look out for books and other media that feature empowering female characters - ones who go on adventures, save themselves, build, create, treat other girls well, and do more than simply wait around for Prince Charming.  To this end, I have relied heavily on the website A Mighty Girl, which bills itself as "The world's largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls."  I have found endless suggestions for books on this site - not just for my girls, but also for my son -as I see nothing wrong with also presenting him with books featuring strong independent and creative girls.  I also cull through countless reviews and other blogs and websites looking for the latest recommendations in children's literature on this front (and others).

Recently, we came across a girl character who definitely fits the strong independent bill.  Her name is Red Knit Cap Girl.  Some may argue that the fact that she is named after a piece of her clothing is already objectifying and disappointing.  Believe me, I had that thought.  But, I'm putting it to the side because I am enjoying her adventures and love the stories and how they are illustrated.  She has really appealed to my kids and I'm going with it.
Red Knit Cap Girl is the creation of Brooklyn artist Naoko Stoop.  She was introduced in 2012 in the eponymous Red Knit Cap Girl, in which our heroine lives in the forest with her woodland friends and embarks on a journey to talk to the moon.  The next year, she appeared in Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue in which she and her rabbit friend save a polar bear cub that has lost his way from the North Pole.  And most recently, in 2014, she appeared in Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree in which she and her animal friends find a hollowed out tree to hide and share their treasures.  I loved the line from a review which described Red Knit Cap Girl as someone who "celebrates friendship, bravery, and the importance of home."  These books teach wonderful lessons, but they also inspire active play.  Watching my girls "fly" around the house helping rescue their animals or go on journeys to the moon is definitely better than watching them wait around to be saved.

I'm happy we live in a time where encouraging our girls to be strong and independent is recognized as so important - there are resources everywhere for us to draw upon.  And yet...we still find ourselves wondering where the female Lego characters are or wondering why the "girl" version of toys always has to be pink.  I wonder why even in Frozen where the story line is supposed to be more about female friendship and empowerment, the newly independent Elsa is so risque (it reminds me of the Jessica Rabbit line, "I'm not bad.  I'm just drawn that way.").  But for every time I shake my head, there is a time when I smile because there is someone out there thinking differently.  Just one of these people is a childhood friend of mine, Dana Goldstein, who has recently combined her art talent and her frustration at the media and started Spirited Sparkle -" clothing for children that is both empowering and fabulous."  My Alice loves her Dragon Princess shirt and we're looking forward to the release of new designs very soon!  

Disconcerting images and messages are all around us.  We can and should only protect against so much.  But, I see no problem with making the empowering ones equally, if not more, available to all the kids in our lives.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day!

There is certainly no shortage of Valentine's Day books for kids.  I love most holidays, and Valentine's Day is right up there - who can complain about cards, crafts, and candy?  It's a perfect time for kids, and all the pink and red makes me happy.  I don't have any favorite Valentine's Day books, but we've been exploring all the ones the library has available for us.  Here are a few that have made us smile in the past week or so:

The Biggest Valentine Ever by Steven Kroll - mice buddies, Clayton and Desmond, learn that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts in this cute little story about creating the biggest Valentine's Day card of all!

Snowy Valentine by David Petersen - my girls, especially Clara, have a recent affinity for bunnies (Easter will be fun this year!), so this was a fun one about a bunny couple.  Jasper goes on a hunt in the snow for the perfect Valentine for Lilly.  As he becomes more and more discouraged, he discovers he's created the best Valentine of all.

Pete the Cat: Valentine's Day is Cool - we have just recently started to get to know Pete the Cat in our house, so this has been a fun one for the holidays.  In this adventure, Pete learns how cool Valentine's Day can be as he makes Valentine's for all the special cats in his life.

These are just a few of the hundreds of books out there for kids (and adults) for Valentine's Day.  All of them have inspired us to create our own Valentine's and to talk about the people in our lives that we love.  And, they have inspired me to celebrate Valentine's Day a bit more throughout the year.  Hope everyone out there has a love and candy-filled celebration!