Friday, July 23, 2010

fostering an understanding of friendship

i've been pondering a lot in the past few days about friendship preferences. we've reached a new stage in my kids' lives. they've begun decide who they do and do not wish to have as friends. as parents, we want our kids to enjoy the company of other they know from school, from the neighborhood, random playground playmates, and children of our close friends. but after a certain age, our children begin showing preferences in choosing who they wish to spend time with as well as voicing who they no longer want to have as a buddy. knowing this, when is the right time to allow your child to decide against seeing certain kids socially? for me, the answer is this: as soon as your kid is old enough to articulate the WHY.

before this shift occurred, it was easy to plan get-togethers and play dates around which moms and dads the mister and i wanted to hang with. the kids, we figured, would just be kids and play happily with any other small humans, and as parents we'd simply chalk personality clashes and disputes over toys and whatnot as age-appropriate behavior.

however, lately, i've seen our kids on both sides of the to-friend-or-not-to-friend dynamic. the unicorn plays better and enjoys himself more with certain kids as does the dude. then there are kids who don't appreciate one or both of my kids' ways of doing things. whatever. we just limit togetherness with those kids to little contact and hope that over time things will even out and playing together can resume. there's no sense in setting our kids up for hurt feelings caused by being shunned by someone they consider a friend.

and when it happens in reverse, when one child (or both children) tell you they no longer want to be around certain playmates, what can you do but respect their choice? by ignoring a child's concerns we run the risk of injuring the trust we've been busily building with them since birth. if we ignore their feelings, we only condition them not to come to us for support and guidance---and there's no way i'll risk that.

i'm not saying that the first time your kid comes to you complaining of being treated unfairly or feels snubbed or isn't getting enough time with the coveted toy of the moment you jump in and protect your kid by pulling him away from the play date. that solves nothing. children learn valuable social skills through playmate interaction. give and take, turn-taking, consideration for other peoples feelings, fairness, self-expression, cooperation...the list goes on and on. a parent's role in helping the young child forge friendships is to set our kids up for success, not failure, and to be there to help them try again when they do encounter setbacks.

so my game plan is this: to continue truly listening when my kid expresses how a particular friend makes him feel, in hopes that understanding and perspective is all he needs to keep the friendship intact. but when appropriate, support and respect his decision to not continue the friendship. as adults, we know that friendships are selective by nature, so why should it be any different for our children? there are so many ways to begin exploring the understanding of what being a good friend means. but it is equally important to recognize the natural happiness that comes with finding real friendship when you see it, and knowing when you don't.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What to Do? Review: CMOR Short Pump

Yesterday, The Unicorn and I ventured deep into the darkest depths of Richmond's suburbia to check out the Richmond Childrens Museum's new Short Pump location.

The space itself is very Short-Pumpy, a fluorescent lighting filled retail space located within the heart of one of those a pre-fab "town center" areas cropping up across America at the moment in an attempt to make suburbanites feel less like they are missing out on a rich cultural life by their choosing to hunker down in little boxes all the same.

Unlike Downtown Richmond's CMOR, the new location caters mainly to parents of very young children. All areas of activity stress the importance of play-based learning and parental encouragement. The neat and tidy main room contains all of the basic areas of interest to kids under the age of 6: a water play area, a dress-up stage, a small & safe pirate ship to climb, a "sandbox," a small playground, as well as a special area for kids under age 2, and an electric ride-on train. Electric ride-on train? Yup. It departs every half hour, giving 3-4 minute rides for around 15 minutes, which is genius. If they didn't make it stop service periodically, the kids would want to do little else. Plus, its a great way to teach kids about waiting in line and taking turns.

All this is great for the preschool set, but children over the age of 8 appeared to be bored to death, spending their time in the well-stocked art studio when they weren't sulking near their parents and begging to go home.

Moms, Dads...prepare your older child for what's in store before you take them. Nothing can ruin your outing like a bored kid with a chip on his or her shoulder. Talk up the art studio and if they aren't into it, leave your big kid at home. Trust me.

But for kids under the age of 6, and especially for parents of multiple children in that age range, the new CMOR is brilliant. Because the entire museum is contained within one large room, children are easier to keep track of---which is handy dandy if your kids are like mine and always split up on you the minute you enter a public place. Kids were visibly enthused by the ability to bounce from activity to activity without hovering parents making sure they stay close or stay right beside siblings. We were there for over two hours and I didn't ever hear a panicked mother or father searching for a lost kid....and I see that all the time in places you'd least expect, like every time I go for groceries at Kroger. To me, this is the real selling point of the new location. Freedom is fun, and the kids were drinking it up.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010