Night Buddies - Adventures After Lights Out

The Role Empathy Plays in Parenting (And How You Can Gain More of It)

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A recent article from steamboattoday.com claimed that one of the most important, vital characteristics of a good parent is empathy.

The article makes a good case; a parent who can know and understand what their children are feeling are better prepared to help them when they are hurting, find joy with them in their highs, and bond with them on a deeper level. An empathetic parent won’t have their children grow up to say, “My parents just never understood me.”

Many parents have the tendency to be annoyed by their children’s many observations of the world around them. After all, what is new to a child has been seen and understood a thousand times by his parent. But rather than rolling our eyes or sweeping past the tears of a heartbroken ten-year-old, or fallen and hurt toddler, an empathetic parent will take these moments to acknowledge, understand, and heal their child so they are better prepared to handle themselves in the future.

I found this article and this idea particularly interesting, because as many studies have revealed, one of the best ways to learn empathy is through reading literature.

Books and stories help to put in the shoes of someone entirely different than ourselves, see the world from a new perspective, learn things and feel things we hadn’t ever come face-to-face with in our own lives. So what better way to incorporate more empathy into your parenting than to read children’s books? These books can help those of us who may feel long-past our youthful days to see the world from a child’s perspective again, and therefore better understand and empathize with our children. We might not remember what it’s like to be abandoned by our friends at the lunch table, or be bullied by a group of popular kids, or to have a crush write us a note during recess. But children’s books can help us to understand those feelings again.

Better yet, why don’t we read these books with our children. That way, if your child finds something in the book particularly relatable, it will open up a discussion between the two of you. You will come to better understand your child, and you’ll still be learning more and more empathy along the way.

Do you feel that empathy is a valuable component of parenting? How do you demonstrate this to your children? Let me know in the comments!

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The 2016 New Year’s Resolution You and Your Child Need to Make

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We are just a few days away from the start of the new year, and with that typically comes a reflection, or an assessment, of where we are at, what we’d like to improve in our lives, and what we’d like the coming year to look like. Some people do this in list form, forming a number of goals, or resolutions, for the upcoming year, others choose one word they’d like to theme the next year of their life. However you do it, I know that you’re looking to make some New Year’s resolutions, and for parents, resolutions tend to involve figuring out how to better their children’s lives instead of just their own.

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But what if I told you I had a resolution that would improve 2016 for both you and your child/children?

For regular readers of this blog, you know what a big advocate I am of parents and children taking the time to read together. And as such, I like to promote the campaign, Boys Who Read, which encourages the younger generation to fall in love with reading while taking advantage of all the benefits that come with it! (Read this article for a list of benefits reading has on child development.)

So as 2016 is rolling in, I am going to challenge any of you parents out there to make a New Year’s resolution of spending at least ten minutes a day reading a book, or short story, or poem with your child. It will not only help them in the numerous ways listed in the article above, but it wall also help you to strengthen your parent/child bond, and maybe even encourage you to remember why reading books can be so much fun!

If you take my challenge, reach out and tell me via Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #BoysWhoRead, or send me a picture of what you and your child are going to read together this year! I’d also love to hear if any of you are going to start out the challenge with a Night Buddies book!

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Wishing you all the best New Year. Thank you for yet another amazing year on this blog, on social media, and at all of the book signings and events I met you at this year.

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“For Parents, Happiness is a Very High Bar”

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This week I came across a TED Talk that I would recommend to any parent, whether your child is just learning to walk, is just starting school, or is old enough to have a family of their own. It was a talk by a woman named Jennifer Senior called “For Parents, Happiness is a Very High Bar,” in which she discusses how the aim of the modern day parent is to provide their children with happiness, and how that aim is one that causes stress more than anything else.

(If you’re having trouble watching the video above, you can watch the TED talk here)

This talk struck me particularly because I have never heard anyone who could blame the hardships of parenting on wanting children to be happy. You hear it time and time again, from every parent you meet, even from your own parents: “I just want my kids to be happy.” But Senior questions, what does happiness look like? We can hardly control our own happiness, and yet this elusive state of being is something we take full responsibility of in our children?

And this goal not only puts in parents hands something that is practically impossible, it also means that everyone forms their own judgment about what creating happiness looks like. Our society is full of parents putting down other parents for parenting differently than they do. Married homes look down on single parent homes. Gluten-free homes look down on homes that order pizza on Friday nights. Some homes stress academics over extracurriculars, others the reverse. Everyone achieves happiness in different ways, and so everyone parents differently to pass happiness down to their children.

In Senior’s talk, she comes to the conclusion that rather than pass down happiness in our children, maybe we should pass on decency. Morals. Work ethic. Things that will allow children to find happiness in this world for themselves. I agree with her. I raised my son without consulting thousands of parenting books, and without concern for the judgment of homes that might be raising their children differently than I was.

When we take “happiness” out of the picture and fill that role with something concrete, maybe we can take the judgment out of parenting, take the stress off of parents who feel they aren’t doing their jobs if their children aren’t always 100% happy, and maybe we can even raise children that will be be good, productive, and dare I say it, happy members of our society.

What did you think of Senior’s TED talk? Do you agree or disagree with her stance on parenting? Let me know in the comments!

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How Much TV Should Our Kids Be Watching?

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This is a question I know has come up again and again within groups of parents, education systems, and in my own life as a father trying to raise a son who knew the pleasure of reading in a world ruled by television screens. No household is without a TV, no school doesn’t have one in their classrooms, and it’s known that we can’t stop ourselves or our children from spending time in front of it, but how much is too much? Where is the line between watching a healthy, even educational, amount of television, and becoming addicted and attached to our nightly programming?

According to an article on kidshealth.org, “Most kids plug into the world of television long before they enter school. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF): two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of 2 hours a day. Kids under age 6watch an average of about 2 hours of screen media a day, primarily TV and videos or DVDs.”

There’s no argument that those statistics reveal that there’s a large amount of TV watching in our children’s lives these days, but rather than determine a specific “healthy” or “unhealthy” amount of TV watching, I think it is our job as parents to rule what is playing on our children’s screens. Watching two hours of a PBS show, for instance, or a Disney show that you think is teaching your child wholesome life lessons such as learning to apologize or being thankful for what they have is probably less harmful than watching two hours of mindless entertainment.

It is also important to make sure you add other activities into your child’s life than television, and the amount of time they have to watch TV will dramatically decrease the more outside activities they have to do. Whether those activities involve playing a sport, taking music lessons, spending time outdoors, hanging out with friends, or reading books, all of them will help to make sure your child is getting a range of experiences off the screen, and becoming a healthier person for it—emotionally and physically.

When it comes down to it, television is not evil. It doesn’t need to be cut out of children’s lives. And if you as a parent approach television in a responsible way, your children will too.

How much time do you and your children spend in front of the TV? Do you have any suggestions to keep it from becoming the main source of entertainment in your house? Let me know in the comments below!

 

 

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My Journey from Single Father to Author

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I’m so excited to share with you this week an article I wrote for the Good Men Project! This was my first time writing for them, and I hope to have many more articles to share in the future. Let me know what you think of this one either in the comments, or over on the Good Men Project comments.

Looking forward to hearing from some of you guys. Enjoy!

Post originally appeared on goodmenproject.com here

When my son John was born, I didn’t expect to become a stay-at-home father. I didn’t know any other dads who stayed at home to take care of their kids most of the time. I didn’t grow up with a stay-at-home father, and the concept of being a man who changed his job description from a solid 9-5 to being a single homemaker was not something I ever envisioned.

But then John came around, my wife and I soon divorced, and there I was with full-custody of a young boy who needed someone to stay home and look after him. I didn’t know it yet, but I had just entered the greatest time of my life.

As a stay-at-home father, I felt like two different people. Half of the time I spent with John I felt like a kid again. John and I did everything together, went everywhere together, and were about as inseparable as any two friends can be. During the summers we drove through forty-eight states and five Canadian provinces.  We participated in all kinds of father-son activities: little league football, basketball, and baseball, as well as boxing, golf, boating, camping . . . the sky was the limit, and I loved seeing the smile on that boy’s face when he got lost in doing something he loved.

John got his first puppy, a St. Bernard he named Henry, and we loved him so much that I began breeding St. Bernards. Most of the memories I have of John’s youth are of our adventures, his laughter, and the feeling that I was getting to experience life through a child’s eyes for a second time. But the reality of being a stay-at-home father and raising a child by myself wasn’t always idyllic.

There was the time I arrived to pick him up at the movies when he was ten, and the theatre he had gone in was dark and deserted. He was nowhere to be found. When I finally got hold of security, we turned the lights on and found him sunk down in one of the seats, asleep and quite unaware of the panic he had caused.

There was the time when his kindergarten French teacher told me John probably had a learning disability because he was having trouble in her class. Now he speaks ten languages and has an M.A. from Edinburgh University with honors in Russian and German—and wouldn’t I love to tell all this to that teacher!

There were the six years of piano lessons that were like ripping out my fingernails just to get him to practice, until we finally threw in the towel.

There was trying to be both mother and father, parent and friend, teacher and student. I had no examples to follow, no comrade to turn to on the hard days, no office to escape to when watching Sesame Street for the hundredth time made me think I might actually be going crazy.

But those hard days are nothing compared to the good stuff.

Sitting side-by-side on cross-country trips, lots of sports honors, tons of academic awards, a year in Germany and learning German, but best of all, reading stories at night before John went to sleep. In fact, being a stay-at-home father led me to my current occupation as a children’s book author.

Night-Buddies-Go-Sky-HighIt was essential to me that John be exposed to literature and the pleasure of reading from Day One, so I stocked up on children’s stories, from Grimm, Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, and Roald Dahl, eventually to the likes of Dickens and Victor Hugo. But one night when he was about seven, I suggested that he ought to create his own bedtime companion to keep him company while he slept—from there, the main character of my children’s series, Night Buddies, was created.

Many nights John and I made up stories involving him and this bedtime companion, a red crocodile named Crosley, until Crosley became another member of our little family. John always held onto his love for reading, and when he grew up and started traveling the world, creating new adventures for himself, I turned my memories of the little guy I once looked after, and his goofy buddy Crosley, into a book series that I would be able to hold in my hands. Because in all honesty, being a stay-at-home father was the best job I’ve ever had—I don’t want to forget a thing about it. And given the chance, I would do it all over again.

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It’s Okay to Ask for Help as a Single Parent

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There’s this secret a lot of single parents hold inside of them. A secret they think sometimes they might be judged for, that society would look down on them for, that their children won’t forgive them for. It’s a secret I used to hold inside of me while I was raising my son, by myself for the most part. It’s a secret with consequences I am going to reveal as myths, right here, right now.

The secret is that sometimes as a single parent you just need help.

I don’t know at what point in time parenting started to be thought of as a one-man job. Moms parent, dads go to work; dads parent, moms go to work; if you’re a single parent, you somehow work and parent and figure out how to do that all on your own. But you chose to be a parent, which means you must be prepared to go at it by yourself, right?

Wrong. Why is it acceptable for you to have an assistant or intern at your job, but bringing in a babysitter or live-in nanny means you just aren’t parenting well enough? Society might be more accepting of this way of parenting now, but it still doesn’t erase the guilt I know many of us feel—the guilt that we aren’t giving our children our all, or that we are somehow failing by reaching a point where we have to ask for the help we know we need. That guilt is a tricky little sucker who carries the weight of “unworthy” on his shoulders and plants it in our brains.

I am unworthy of help because I volunteered to be a father. I am unworthy of help because I can work from home. I am unworthy of help because my child needs me to be there. These are all sentences I have told myself before. These are all sentences that hold no truth.

It is okay to accept help as a single parent. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t there for your child, or that you aren’t parenting well enough. Sometimes it actually means you are parenting better, because with help, nothing slips through the cracks of your son’s or daughter’s childhood. They will always have the help and support they need, always have someone taking care of them, and not your half-attention when you’re trying to work and earn a living to support your family and raise them at the same time.

Throw away your guilt when you enlist family, friends, or professionals to help your raise your children. It takes a village to raise a person to be their absolute best, and you’re doing the best you can.

Have you ever felt the guilt of asking for help as a single parent? Share your story with me in the comments!

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Should Kids be Reading on Tablets? The Benefits and Drawbacks of Reading on the Screen

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You can call me old school, but I don’t do the e-reading thing. I like to sit down with a book in my hands, flip through the pages, write in the margins, and keep all the screens at bay even if for just a few hours. Reading, to me, is an escape from the world. And lately, it seems like the world is full of nothing but smart phones, laptops, and tablets.

But what about the next generation? The parents raising kids now, not those of us who raised our kids thirty years ago? It seems they won’t be able to avoid keeping tablets in the house, and with cheaper books and easier access, shouldn’t switching from books to screen actually be a benefit to today’s children?

In some ways, yes. Books are more easily available than they have ever been. Children’s e-books are usually made with interactive features now, so kids can feel even more like they become part of the story they’re reading. They can guide the content, write pieces of the stories themselves, draw pictures of the characters, and take their creativity to entirely different levels.

An article on amplify.com said it best: “Kids aren’t just passive receptors anymore, they expect to be able to interact, remix some of the content, and work collaboratively with others to do things with the content.”

Kids are excited to sit down with these e-readers, because it’s no longer a time just to clock silent reading hours—reading has turned into another kind of game time. And while I am glad that books are getting out there and children are reading, I would also argue that this is the exact problem.

The experience of reading changes when it is filled with hyperlinks, game times, and endless upon endless distractions. It distracts from the general enjoyment of reading—losing oneself in a narrative. Why have interactive features when you can instead take the place of someone else’s consciousness, and live a different life than your own for a few hundred pages? An article on mom.me quoted a study which said, “Of those who took part in the UK’s National Literacy Trust survey, only 12 percent of those who did their reading on a screen said they enjoyed reading, while 51 percent of those burning through pages said they liked to read. Print readers, even if they mixed it with screen reading, made up a larger percent of above-average readers compared to those who only read on a screen—15.5 percent vs. 26 percent.”

Long story short, we can turn reading into a sort of game time, but real game time is only going to be a tap of the screen away from their book. Why spend a few hours reading when Angry Birds is just as easily available on the same device?

I think kids and parents benefit from putting away the distractions, locking the screens away for just an hour or so, and sitting down to read books together. You can still encourage your children to create stories and imagine for themselves—that’s how the character Crosley from my book series was created—but without a tablet and all the distractions tablets come with in the way, hopefully the pure pleasure of reading a book will continue to be passed on through the generations.

Do you prefer reading books or on tablets? Let me know in the comments!

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Why You Should Give Your Child a Journal

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As parents, so often we want to find gifts for our children that will mean the world to them. Whether it’s the new game they’ve been dying to play, a Lego set they’ve had their eye on for months, or a football to throw around the neighborhood with friends, when birthdays and Christmas roll around it is our job as parents to give them something they’ll always remember. But I think that sometimes it is also instrumental to gift them with something that they’ll not only enjoy, but that will boost their confidence and expand their knowledge. That’s why I gave my son so many books when he was a kid—I wanted him to know the enjoyment of losing himself in a world that wasn’t his own and teach him that reading isn’t an activity restricted to school hours. But then I got another idea—I was going to give him a journal of his own. Here’s why that was the best decision I could have made.

A journal allows children to spend time with their thoughts. Kids are usually much less introspective than adults, and that is often a good thing. It allows them to live in the world and follow their instincts. But I think it is also important that kids try to understand why they feel certain ways, and writing in a journal gives them that power. My son could write down what happened on one of his bad days, and realize that it was bad because he felt disappointment, or anger, or sadness. He had a personal space all his own to explore his thoughts, and in doing so, to explore the world and his position in it.

A journal allows children to explore their creativity. I asked John to write down stories in his journal, to live in his imagination for a few pages each day, and to not second-guess what he was writing down. Having the opportunity to make up stories any way that he wanted, knowing he wouldn’t be judged for whatever he wrote, was instrumental in growing his creative side and making him dream bigger than a lot of other kids his age.

A journal improves children’s literacy skills. Sitting down to write a few days a week, every week, gradually helped my son become a better reader and writer. He was using skills learned in the classroom in his own way at home in the journal, and his Language Arts grades in school improved astronomically as a result. Kids don’t realize how much they’re learning by writing, to them it should become as much a part of their home life as watching TV, but every word they put down helps them become better students.

A journal will preserve memories most children lose as they grow up. It’s fun to go back and read journal entries you wrote from years past, but it’s even better to read back through childhood memories. I hardly remember what it was like to be in elementary school, but if I had kept a journal I could travel back into my head at that time and see what I thought about the girl who sat next to me in class, and about my parents, and about sitting with the nerds at lunch. These are priceless memories that your child has the opportunity to remember forever.

Did you keep a journal as a child? Would you pass that tradition down to your children? Let me know in the comments below!

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My Journey as a Stay-at-Home Father

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When my son, John, was born, I didn’t embark to be a stay-at-home father. I didn’t know any other dads who stayed at home to take care of their kids full-time, I didn’t grow up with a stay-at-home father, and the concept of being a man who changed his job description from a solid 9-5 to being a full-time homemaker was not something I ever envisioned. But then John came around, my wife and I soon divorced, and there I was with full-custody of a young boy who needed someone to stay home and look after him. I didn’t know it yet, but I had just entered some of the greatest years of my life.

As a stay-at-home father, I felt like two different people. Half of the time I spent with John I felt like a kid again myself. John and I did everything together, went everywhere together, and were about as inseparable as any two friends can be. During the summers we drove through forty-nine states and five Canadian provinces.  We participated in all kinds of father-son activities: football, basketball, baseball, boxing, golf, boating, camping . . . the sky was the limit, and I loved seeing the smile on that boy’s face when he got lost in doing something he loved. John got his first puppy, a St. Bernard he named Henry, and we loved him so much that I began breeding St. Bernard’s. In most of the memories I have of John’s youth, I remember our adventures, his laughter, and the feeling that I was getting to experience life through a child’s eyes for a second time. But the reality of being a stay-at-home father and raising a child by myself wasn’t always so picturesque.

Me and my now grown son, John.

Me and my now grown son, John.

There was the time I forgot to pick him up from the movie theater when he was ten, and when I finally arrived the theater was pitch black and he was nowhere to be found. When I finally got ahold of security, we found him sunk down in one of the seats, asleep and unaware of the panic he struck in me. There was the time when his kindergarten teacher told me John must have a learning disability because he was having trouble with his French lessons, and I almost believed her. Now my son speaks ten languages and holds an M.A. from Edinburgh University—and wouldn’t I love to mail his degree over to that teacher. There were the six years of piano lessons that felt like ripping out fingernails just to get him to practice until we finally threw in the towel. There was trying to be both mother and father, parent and friend, teacher and student. I had no examples to follow, no comrade to turn to on the hard days, no office to escape to when watching Sesame Street for the hundredth time made me think I might actually be going crazy.

But those hard days are incomparable to the victories, both big and small. Getting him to sit at the piano for an hour without complaint, sitting side-by-side on a cross-country road trip, and best of all, reading books and creating stories together every night before John went to bed. In fact, being a stay-at-home father led me to my current occupation as a children’s book author. It was always very important to me that John be exposed to literature and the pleasure of reading from a very young age so I stocked up at the library every week with children’s stories, from Roald Dahl up to Dickens and Victor Hugo. But one night when he was about seven, I suggested to him that he should create his own bedtime companion to keep him company while he slept—from there, the main character of my children’s series, Night Buddies, was created. Every night John and I made up stories about him and his bedtime companion, a red crocodile named Crosley, until that character became another member of our little family. John always held onto his love for reading, and when he grew up and started traveling around the world creating new adventures for himself, I turned my memories of the little boy I once spent every day of my life looking after and our bedtime stories into a book that I would be able to keep forever. Because in all honesty, being a stay-at-home father was the best job I’ve ever held, and given the choice I would always choose to do it all over again.

 

 

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Why You Need Rituals in Your Parenting Life

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Last week, I wrote about how necessary forming rituals as a writer can be in order to produce the best work you can as regularly as you can. But then, after I wrote that post, I started thinking about that same principle in terms of parenting. Could forming rituals in your parenting life lead to a more organized, productive form of parenting?

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I believe the answer to that question is a firm, “Yes.” Here’s why:

Children depend on routine. There are many studies out there that prove children are more likely to succeed in homes where a routine has been established for them, including this one published by the Washington Post. Wake up at this set time. Eat lunch at this set time. Read with Dad at this set time. Bed at this set time. All of these seemingly insignificant routines provide a child with a sort of security blanket, and lead to fewer fights and tantrums.

Parenting rituals keep you, as a parent, more organized. When you know what times need to be devoted to your child’s needs, and you have them on a set schedule, you can work your schedule around them. This leads to fewer time conflicts, fewer instances of work not getting done on time, and hopefully no instances of forgetting your time for carpool (yes, that has happened to me before).

Rituals in your parenting routines establish a tone for your home. Let’s say that one of your rituals is saying a prayer with your children before dinner—once you do it enough, a quiet, peaceful, and thankful mood will be established in those minutes together. Maybe one of your rituals is having a dance party in the evening, an hour or two before bedtime. This creates a fun, vibrant, energetic tone to your home in the hours you want, and will hopefully lead to a tired, quiet tone again just in time for bed. And hopefully, through all of the routines and rituals you set as a parent, the tone you set for your home will be one of love.

If you haven’t already, see what happens to your home when you start building and incorporating firm rituals into your children’s lives. Hopefully a happy and more manageable future awaits you!

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Children's Museum of Alamance County
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