Welcome to Joyful Toddlers!

This space is about increasing our enjoyment of the young children in our lives through concrete action and by adjusting the lens through which we view them. My work comes out of LifeWays, which is inspired by Waldorf education. I welcome your comments, and questions about increasing your enjoyment of the children in YOUR life.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Making Your Own Rituals

You may have noticed that the children in your life love having things done exactly the same way every time. There is a good reason for this: when we do things the same way each time, it lets children develop competence. They are able to anticipate what will happen next, they know exactly how things go, and eventually they will be able to do it themselves. Children get a great deal of satisfaction in having things done the same way each time. As adults, this can sometimes drive us crazy, either because we're in a rush, or simply because we get bored of doing the same things over and over again. However, there is a way to do things the same way each time that feels fulfilling to both child and adult: to take our routines and transform them into rituals.

What is ritual? There are six definitions in my dictionary. One is, “Any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner.” If we use this definition, we engage in many, many rituals each day, whether we think of them that way or not. However, the term ritual often has connotations of ceremony, sometimes in connection with religious or spiritual practice. The set of actions is imbued with emotion or meaning. Think about the rituals that you remember as a child. Many people have fond memories of holiday rituals. Whether you are religious or not, holiday rituals often hold a special place because adults do their best to imbue them with specialness, with love and beauty.

When we take our day-to-day routines and imbue them with love and beauty, we transform the experience, and with it we transform our children's experience of the world. An easy place to start is eating and sleeping. How can you add some love and beauty into these routines? It can be simple, such as saying a grace or lighting a candle before a meal, or saying a certain nursery rhyme as you wipe their faces after meals. As you start to get inspired, your rituals can become more complex. For example, if you like to keep fresh-cut flowers in your dining room (which I highly recommend!), then you might have a little bud vase that stays by your child's bed. The bedtime routine could start with the child choosing one flower from the dining room arrangement, and taking it upstairs to put in his bud vase. He brushes teeth with you and gets pajamas on, then climbs into bed and you bring the vase over for him admire and smell the flower one last time before turning out the lights, and you sing softly while he falls asleep. Later, before you go to bed yourself, take the bud vase downstairs and set up a breakfast spot for your child: beautiful place-mat, bowl, cup, bib, and the bud vase with the flower, to wait for your child's awakening. After your child has eaten breakfast, you or he can put the flower back in the dining room flower arrangement, and you put the bud vase by his bed again, to wait for evening.

Incorporating these little pieces of beauty into your day can change things from being ho-hum to being a bit magical. My only word of warning is not to add too much too fast, and not to add so much that you get bogged down going through all of the steps every day. Remember, simpler is often better (notice that there was no story-reading in the bedtime ritual described above; the flower took its place). Try adding one thing at a time, and let everyone get used to it before you add the next piece. So you might start adding beauty to your meals first by getting fresh flowers for the table or sideboard. Then by getting nice place-mats. Then a candle to light at the meal. Thinking about how to add beauty and love to each portion of your day can help keep you inspired in your parenting and home-making.

You can also have rituals which only happen periodically. I knew one lovely woman who would pick up her young grandson from kindergarten every Friday and they would take the city bus to the library, choose one book, and bring it home. That one book would be read every time she saw him (she was a secondary caregiver) until the next Friday. To me, taking the city bus with a five-year-old sounds like torture, but she explained how taking the bus was an integral part of their experience together, and they both looked forward to it all week. So it's not so much WHAT you do, it's HOW you do it, and the life you breathe into it. Other periodic rituals can happen inside the home, such as baking bread or making cornmeal muffins on the same day each week, or having certain toys that only come out on rainy days, or singing the same song each time you go to a certain place (My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean each time you go to the lake, or Over the River and Through the Woods each time you go to Grandma's house, etc.). Giving these activities the regularity and the same-ness that you might not otherwise consider doing can turn them into rituals, and may be the ones that your children remember fondly when they have grown up.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Everyone enjoy your Thanksgiving!  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I'm really missing the States today, and feeling especially grateful for my family and my community in Boulder even though I'm not there.

Instead of writing about toddlers, I'm going to give you my current favorite Thanksgiving recipe.  I found this about 3 years ago, and I love it!  It's relatively easy, but the colors are vibrant and it tastes fresh and delicious.  I love the beet/tarragon/orange flavor combo.

Roasted Beet Salad with Oranges & Greens

6 medium beets w/ greens attached
2 large oranges
1 small sweet onion in thin wedges

1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. grated orange peel
1 small bunch fresh tarragon
salt and pepper to taste

Chop off the greens and roast or boil the beets (to roast, wrap each one in foil and cook at 400 for 90 minutes.  This can be done a day in advance).  Peel and cut into bite-sized wedges.

While beets are cooking, peel oranges and peel off the sides of each segment (some types of oranges are better for this than others, but I don't know which).

Chop beet greens and steam till just tender (if your sweet-onion is not sweet enough, saute onion slices until almost soft, then fold the greens in)

Mix up the dressing, then combine everything.  Let stand at least one hour before serving.  Serve at room temperature.  If you want, add some soft goat cheese on top.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Being Firm Without Being Mean

I've talked before about how it benefits children when we have clear expectations and firm boundaries, and how it is reassuring to children to know that we are in charge. I've talked about how having regular schedules and doing things the same way each time can help cut down on discipline issues and allow children to develop expertise. But even when we do all of these things, issues are bound to arise. One of the main tasks of the toddler is to establish their own opinions.

A mother came to me last spring to ask advice. Lately, when they had been getting dressed in the morning, her 2 ½ year old daughter wouldn't allow them to put socks on her. Mom, who was home with her all day, thought they should pick their battles and wanted to let her go barefoot in her shoes. Dad said that it was important for her to know they were in charge, and once he'd said she had to wear socks, he couldn't back down. He had tried reasoning, bribing, and finally resorted to manhandling her to put her socks and shoes on. The whole thing had taken twenty minutes and involved lots of tears. What was my opinion?

The first piece of my response is that while it is important for everybody to feel like you are the one in charge, that doesn't mean that you can't take her opinion into account. So if you tell her she has to put socks on and she puts up a fight, you might say, “Oh! I can see you don't want to put your socks on. Why don't you try asking me politely: 'Dad, please no socks!'” When she manages to ask politely, you can consider her request. “That was nice asking. I think it would be OK for you to have bare feet today.” On the other hand, if it's snowy and cold, you might respond, “I heard your nice asking, but it's a snowy day. We will all wear socks today.” Sometimes, just feeling like their opinion has been heard will be enough to diffuse the situation. More likely, however, tears will ensue. At this point, many adults make the mistake of trying to reason with their child, pointing out the temperature, talking about the importance of warmth, etc. But reasoning almost never works at this point; it can even have the opposite effect and send tears into a tantrum. When you've said no to something, just be compassionate for a moment. “That's a disappointment, isn't it.” Give her a hug. Really acknowledge her feelings, and then move on, using humor and a little imagination.

You might try something like this: “This ssssock iss a sssslithery ssssnake! He'ssss ssseeking ssssomething to eat! Sssssssssss! The sock-snake probably won't go straight for the foot. He might try to eat a book, then the bed-post, then it finds the foot. “Sssay, sssausssage! Delicioussss!” And the snake may be able to eat up that fat sausage, and the day can go on. But maybe he comes up to the foot, and she remembers and pulls her foot back. The snake's 'head' bows down. “Ohh, the ssssnake is ssssooo ssssad!” The snake shakes his head sadly, and peeks up at her. She's smiling a little smile. “Pleassssse, says the sssnake! PLEASSSSE sssend me the sssausssage!” Maybe she sends her foot his way. If she doesn't, it's time to take more drastic action. Put the sock on over your hand and swoop down and swing her up. “This snake is starving! He's gobbling you all up!!!!” Fall onto the bed with her, kissing her and nuzzling her into helpless laughter. While she's laughing, slip that sock on. Then immediately pick her up and move on into a different room. As you're leaving the bedroom, you might say, “Wow, that was sure a hungry snake! I'm hungry too! Let's see what's for breakfast.”

The most important lesson in all of this is that when children don't want to do something, don't try to 'change their minds' through reason. You can't use reason to change an emotion, and they don't WANT to. Instead, meet the emotion with understanding, then work to bring up a different emotion using imagination and wit. When this other emotion is going you can usually do the action that they were protesting, without talking about it. If you're tired and hungry yourself, and you can't come up with the imaginative forces to turn that sock into a snake, there is the simpler (although less effective and less joyful) method of saying, “I see that you're not ready to put your socks on yet. We can put them on in a minute or two.” Then after a couple of minutes, don't discuss anything, just matter-of-factly put them on your lap and start pulling the socks on, while talking about something else altogether. Children who are loving the word “No!” will often let you do things without words that they will vehemently disagree with if you ask them verbally.

These are techniques that I use all the time with the toddlers in my care. By keeping my compassion intact and my imaginative forces strong, I am able to move through the day with relatively few battles of will. And sometimes I see how strongly a child feels about something, and I change my mind. But even then, children can rest in the assurance that I'm the one who is making the decision.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Having Their Own Experiences

Whether we work with children or we are caring for our own, we are with these children because we love them, and we will do anything to help them. Some of us have devoted our careers to them, others have given up careers to be with them. With such large commitments on our parts, it is natural that we want to be right by their sides as they explore the world, be with them for each new discovery. When we see that they want something, we reach to give it to them. When they tumble down we go running over. When they laugh for joy, we are laughing along with them.

Children experience things so fully, it can be lovely being with them as they go through it. And we are, most of the time. But I would remind all of us to consciously take a step back as often as we think of it, and let our children experience the world on their own. Children have inner lives of their own, and they need space to experience and develop them. When we give a running commentary on what our children are doing or seeing or experiencing, we shape their experience into what we are experiencing. Many times I've seen a child playing in the play-kitchen, and an adult walks over saying, “Oh, are you cooking soup?” The child nods. He may not have been cooking soup when he was playing alone, but by putting that suggestion out there, the adult has transformed it into soup. “What kind of soup are you cooking?” the adult asks. The child thinks for a minute. “Tomato,” he answers. He has now been taken out of action of his play, and moved into his head, into thinking about play instead of actually playing. “Can I have a taste of your soup?” asks the adult. “Mmmmm! This soup is delicious!” The child is watching the adult intently, and has stopped playing altogether. He waits for the adult to ask him to do something else. “Would you cook me some eggs?” asks the adult. The child is happy to comply.

I'm not saying that we should never play with our kids, or that playing with our kids always takes them away from their own play. If we're reading on the couch and they come over with a spoon and say, “Taste!” then by all means taste the delicious soup. And there are times when it is lovely to play imaginatively or energetically or joyfully with our kids. But what I'm suggesting is that it's valuable for children to have times when they can delve deeply into their play without having it shaped by us at all.

Likewise, if we notice a child has been sitting for a long time in one place outdoors, we will often go over and start asking them questions, or trying to engage them in play. But just sitting outdoors can be stimulating for a child in all the right ways. Maybe she was experiencing the wind blowing through her hair, or feeling the sand beneath her feet, or watching a bug that we couldn't see as it crawled over a leaf. When we go over and start asking her questions, or try to prompt her into play, we are taking away her own experiencing of the world. Even if we notice what she's noticing, when we comment on it, we shape her experience into the form of our experience “Oh, are you watching a bug?” we say. “Look, he's black and red!” Instead, let's let her notice her own things; they don't have to be verbalized to be appreciated.

Even when a child takes a tumble, it can be useful not to rush in too fast, and let them truly experience it. When a child tumbles down at Rainbow Bridge, I watch them first. If they look to me or start to cry, I will let them know that I'm there. “I saw you fall. I'm right here if you need hugs and kisses,” I'll say. If the tears continue, I hold out my arms. Quite a few times I've seen a child fall down and start to cry. I invite them over, but they stay on the ground. Soon their crying stops, but they don't get up: they have discovered a whole new world down at grass-level. Other times they get up, and start to come over to me, but see something more interesting, and away they run. They didn't need me after all. And sometimes, they get up and come to me for hugs and kisses. Being there in my chair with me, they can stay as long as they want, and we watch the world together from our perch. Whichever option they choose is fine, I'm available but watching as they go through their experience.

Children who are used to having a constant commentary on their lives may not initially know what do without it if you stop. You might say, “Well, I try to step back but my child doesn't know how to play by himself.” If this is the case, you will have to be even more conscious of this. If your child always wants you to play with them, stop making yourself the most interesting thing in the room! There is a certain way of being present for a child that lets them know that you are there and available for them, without having to be involved. The best way to cultivate this is to find “something else” to do. This “something else” should be something that you can do in the presence of your child, that your child can help with -or imitate- if they wish, and something that you can start and stop easily if your child needs something. As you do this “something else,” you can gradually become invisible. Household chores are really good “something else”s: folding laundry, doing dishes, sweeping the floor. Instead of thinking of these things as items to be rushed through so you can do something else, try lingering over them, stopping and starting again as kids need you, but you are always drawn back to it, like a magnet. Knitting or other types of craftwork can be good for this too, and raking leaves or working in the garden are great in the yard. The trick is to be available for them if they call you; don't tell them that you're busy. But you are soon back to doing “something else,” and invisible. The more invisible you let yourself become, the deeper they can get into their own experiences.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Hi All,
Sorry not tot write last Thursday, it was my birthday and I took the day off.

Thinking about birthdays, I thought I would share a few thoughts about toddlers and birthdays.  When a child turns one, have as big a party as you want.  The party is really a party for you, getting through your first year of being a parent to this little being!  When your little one gets tired, just put them to bed and keep partying with your friends.

After that first birthday, you start wanting to have a birthday celebration for your child's benefit.  It's fun to think of your child as a social being, and perhaps you remember wonderful birthday parties from when you were a child.  Before you get carried away, however, heed my advice:  SIMPLER IS BETTER.  The birthday parties I remember most fondly fell from about age 7 to age 11; save the big parties for that age.  Younger than that, birthday parties can spin out of control really easily.  You think you will invite the five girls in your three-year-old's preschool class, and suddenly you have six three-year-olds, twelve parents, and two to four older or younger siblings all crowding into your livingroom and kitchen.  You may not have planned on a party for for twenty-three people, but that's what you've got.

In general, a good rule is to invite one pint-sized guest for each year of your child's age (or you can do their-age-plus-one).  Three friends over at the same time is absolutely enough to be a party for a three-year-old, and that holds true at almost every age.  Additionally, be clear on your invitation if parents are to stay or to go, whether siblings are welcome, and what time things will end.

Another good rule is to plan activites that alternate big energy with quiet energy.  It can be so exciting being the center of attention and having so many people over, that children need help calming themselves down.  You can give them this help by planning a storytime into the schedule of events, either reading a picture book about a birthday, or telling the story of your child's actual Birth Day, or telling the story of the star child choosing his parents and making the journey across the rainbow bridge.  Most of you readers have seen the puppet show of that story that I do for birthdays, so I won't share it here.  If anyone hasn't heard it, tell me in the comments and I'll write it out for you.  I remember hearing that story every year up until the age of seven, and it holds a special place in my heart.

And finally, keep it short and sweet.   An hour or two hours is quite long enough for a party for a child age 5 or younger.  Birthday parties can be so exciting that children go through their energy reserves very quickly.  Having a wonderful time and then saying goodbye leaves everybody with fond memories, looking forward to the next birthday.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Caring for Ourselves

When I spend the majority of my day caring for 8-12 toddlers per day, I tell people, “When I get enough sleep, I have the best job in the world. When I don't get enough sleep, I have the worst job in the world.” People who don't have children laugh, and people who do have children laugh too, but it a completely different way.

I believe that there are a couple of reasons for the stark contrast of how it feels to be with kids when we're rested vs. when we're tired. The first and most obvious reason is that our patience is impaired, along with our imagination and our wit, all three of which are huge bonuses when it comes to enjoying the children in our lives. But I think it's actually more than that. I think that it has to do with the fact that children learn how to interact with the world though imitation, and it is largely us who they are imitating. Not just our actions, but our mannerisms, attitudes and moods as well. So when I am short on patience and snappy in my interactions, I suddenly have my hands full with children who can't get along with one another, and can't resolve their conflicts peacefully. Children have no filters at this age.  They soak in whatever is around them, and it comes out in their actions.

If we accept this idea that children soak in and imitate everything around them, then we must strive to be worthy of imitation as often as we can. And this means taking care of ourselves. Not just in getting enough sleep, although that is certainly necessary. But to really take in and believe that the more we care for ourselves, the more that benefits the children in our care. Not just our physical self, but our social, intellectual and spiritual self as well.

Our Physical Self
Caring for our physical self is fairly straightforward, although even this can seem overwhelming if you have a toddler and a newborn at home. Getting enough sleep, eating nourishing foods, and exercising all help us feel less harried and more alive. Outdoor air and sunshine are also important for our physical selves, and young children benefit enormously from large chunks of outdoor time, so try to be outside with your child both morning and afternoon if you can, perhaps a long walk in the morning, and play in the yard or at the park in the afternoon.

Our Social Self
Caring for young children seems to take up all of our energy, and we often feel too tired and sometimes even guilty to take the time to nurture our social lives. But making the effort to have social time with other adults, both with your child and away from your child, is important. Having social time with other adults while your child is present can start out as a challenge if they're not used to it. Start small, and use it as an opportunity to teach your child the skills they need in social situations: to welcome a guest into the house and offer them something to drink, to say “excuse me” if they would like to interrupt two adults talking, and to thank them for coming when they leave. I loved having guests at both Boulder Waldorf Kindergarten and at Rainbow Bridge, and the children quickly grew to love it too, and often played 'guests visiting' in the play-room.

In addition to having guests over, it's worth the expense to get a babysitter, or the effort of arranging childcare swaps, to take social time away from the children. Go on date-night with your partner. Meet a friend for coffee or for a drink. I remember quite clearly as a child when my mom's friend Harriet would call, my mom would excuse herself, and I'd hear peals of laughter emanating from her room for the next twenty minutes. I would sit outside the door, unable to hear the words but enthralled with this new, vibrant side of my mother. Later, as a teenager, I used to babysit for a family with three boys ages five and under. Every other Friday they would go out on date-night together, and come home laughing and full of life. I remember even at age 16 being impressed that they “had a life” (as I thought of it) just with each other. When you take the time to be social without your children, the positive effects spill over to them.

Our Intellectual Self
By nurturing our Thinking Self, I mean pushing ourselves to continuously push our boundaries and learn new things. This can happen through signing up for classes, doing workshops, reading books, or any way of seeking out new ideas and working to gain new skills. I can clearly remember my dad referring continuously to instruction manuals as he did home-improvement projects, saying quietly to himself, “Aha, so that's what I need to do.” Or going on nature walks with him and stopping to figure out what kind of conifer we were standing under, using the tree-identification book. He'd go through all the questions with me (rough bark or smooth? Long needles or short? Single or multiple needles from one spot?), but he wasn't doing it to teach a botany lesson to me, he was doing it because he was curious. He was nurturing his Intellectual Self. Likewise, when I took the LifeWays early childhood training, every time I came back from a training session I was completely jazzed up, full of new ideas of things to do or try with the children. Or simply seeing the things we were already doing in a new light, based on my new-found knowledge of child development. I was truly sad when the year was over!

Our Spiritual Self
If you already have a spiritual or religious practice, then take the time to renew your energy in these areas. But even if you don't consider yourself to be spiritual, you can nurture your Spiritual Self quite simply by doing the things that help you feel grounded or centered. For me, these include going on hikes by myself, doing artwork, sewing, dancing. Each time I do one of these things I feel so good afterward, and think, “Why don't I do this more often?”

Which things make you feel that way?

If reading all of these areas with the different selves makes you think, “well, that sounds nice and all, but I'm far too busy with my high-maintenance two-year-old who is driving me crazy,” I sincerely suggest that you think again. You don't have to work on all of these areas of your life at once, just choose one thing to take care of yourself, and start to do it. Children are happier when the adults in their lives are happier, and they are learning their way through the world from us. Taking care of ourselves is an important piece of taking caring for them.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Value of Rules

We often think that the rules we impose on kids are something which benefits us, their caregivers. We know they're necessary to keep our sanity, but when we're feeling good we often don't bother to enforce them, because we don't feel like we need them at that moment and we may even feel a little bit guilty about imposing them. But I'd like to suggest the idea that in fact, rules benefit our children even more than they benefit us.

How can this be? Well, remember that for our children, we create the world that they live in. A world with clear expectations and clear boundaries is so much easier and more enjoyable to live in. And isn't that what rules are: expectations and boundaries? Just think of the last time you traveled to a foreign country you'd never been to before. You have to be "on" all the time, because you don't know what to expect, or what people expect from you. So the clearer and more consistent we can be with our expectations and our boundaries, the more our children can relax into the world. I read a wonderful quote the other day in the book The Family Virtues Guide, which I will review in a few weeks. It talked about how not providing clear expectations and boundaries for a child is like a person without a job description. "Imagine yourself on a job in which your supervisor walks in the first day and says, 'Do a good job,' but fails to give you a job description. How is this different from parents who want their children to "be good," but give them no guidelines?" (p27).

What happens when expectations aren't clear, or boundaries aren't enforced consistently? It creates anxiety. Instead of being able to relax into knowing "how the world works," children must constantly watch you and try to gauge your mood to see where the boundaries might lie at any given moment. When the boundaries move around, children are forced to test where they are, again and again and again. Not because they're trying to annoy you, but because they MUST know where the boundaries are.  Why?  I like to think of it like a ship in the ocean: when the depths of the sea are consistent, the ship can sail at full speed. But coming in to rocky shoals, everyone on board must be on "high alert," and sailors must do coninuous soundings in order not to run aground. Children may seem like they want the boundaries to shift, because they push against them, but they're just pushing against them to make sure that they know where they are, and how firm they are. If our boundaries are consistent enough, our children can relax and sail full speed ahead, only stopping every now and then to test the waters.

So, does this mean that we can never change our routines, never relax and let things slide "just this once?" No, it doesn't mean that, but there are ways that we can do it so that children don't feel like the sands are shifting beneath their feet. First, try to do it as little as possible. Then, when you do alter the rules, announce quite clearly how things usually go, and what's going to happen this time, and for how long. For example, one day we were having a picnic lunch outside at Rainbow Bridge, when a child blew bubbles in his water. Now, I'm not morally opposed to children blowing bubbles in their water, but with a group of ten children ages 1-5, that's like setting a spark to tinderbox. Normally I would squash this right away. But it was sunny and breezy, and I was in a good mood. So I announced, "Normally, our water is just for drinking. But today it will be OK for you to blow bubbles in your water. You can blow bubbles today, but tomorrow at snack things will be just like normal, and we'll all use our water just for drinking again." The kids had a blast blowing bubbles and fooling around. At the end of the meal I said, "That was sure fun. What a treat to do that one time. Tomorrow we will drink our water again."

The next day, just as snack was starting, I said, "We had such a fun time yesterday, but today we are drinking our water, just like usual." And do you think they sat quietly and drank their water? NO! As soon as it was passed out, someone tried blowing bubbles. How could they not? The boundaries had shifted, and they needed to know where they were. So I quickly and firmly said, "That water is just for drinking. You can drink it quietly, or I will keep it by me until you're ready." Then another child tried it, and another. I took one cup away, and that was the end. After a moment I asked if she was ready to drink her water, and she was. At the next meal, nobody tried again. They knew things were back to normal.

So, was it worth it? Maybe. The older kids remembered that day for a long time. They would reminisce about it often, and they would sometimes ask if we could do it again. I would smile fondly and shake my head. "That was a fun day, wasn't it," I'd say.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Book Review: Raising Happiness

I absolutely loved the book Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents, by Christine Carter, Ph.D.

Christine Carter is the executive director of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, an interdisciplinary research center that “translates” the study of happiness, compassion, and altruism for the public. Through examining the research, she shows that:

1) Fully 40 percent of our happiness come from intentional choices about what activities we pursue, and
2) Happiness is a skill that we can teach to our kids (and benefit ourselves in the process).

Most people I know don't think of happiness as a skill, but read Carter's book and you will be convinced, as I was convinced. Many of us think of happiness as something you just “have” or “don't have.” However, Carter points out that this is a false assumption on our parts. For example, studies have shown that one of the best predictors of peoples' well-being is how connected they feel to other people. Knowing that, we can increase our happiness by making a conscious effort to increase our connection with others. There are concrete steps we can take in this direction, and Carter gives them to us. She does it with humor and grace, and left me laughing and feeling inspired at the same time.

This book is so full of good, practical ideas of things to do with children of ALL ages, that after the initial reading I could easily see re-reading a section per week, and choosing one or two or three activities to do from that section. And then starting again the next year, till your kids move out to go to college.

Here's an example of the type of how she works: in one section of Chapter 2, she talks about kindness. First she looks at the benefits of doing acts of kindness, and adds, “It is important to note that experiments have demonstrated again and again that the effects of kindness on our health and happiness are causal” (p.31). She goes on to say,
My guess is that most parents hope their children are kind, but few deliberately teach kindness in conscious ways. In young children and adolescents, there is a lot of evidence that parenting practices are significantly associated with kindness in children, meaning that we can, in fact, stack the deck so that our children grow up to be kind and generous adults(p.32).
She then goes on to list Seven Ways to Raise Kind Children, with each “way” containing between one and three things you could do. She intersperses her “research-y” style of writing with funny anecdotes of applying (or attempting to apply) these lessons with her own daughters, ages 5 and 8.

My only complaint is that I wish she had cited more of the the studies she talks about, instead of saying “studies have shown.” She does have a long list at the back of the book, but there are so many it's hard to tell where you could find a certain fact. Addtionally, in my opinion she doesn't talk much about the different stages of child development, and what might not be appropriate for children of certain ages. So as a parent you will have to decide for yourself which activities are age-appropriate. That being said, even those things that are not appropriate for the young children in our lives would still be beneficial for ourselves. This is a book I'll be keeping on the shelf for years to come.