Bubble Kids & Helicopter Parents: A Risky Business

As Frank Zappa said, “It’s a great time to be alive, ladies and gentlemen.” Despite the gloom and doom of the current economic and environmental concerns, we are fortunate to be Canadians living in relative prosperity. But despite improved access to health care, improved safety, and reduced crime, North Americans would appear to be more stressed now than ever before.
Helicopter Parents
Maybe despite our relative wealth and welfare, we don’t share the same optimism about the future as our parents’ generation did when they were our age. Parents in our generation have come to be known as “helicopter parents,” because we are often seen hovering over our kids as they complete tasks, eliminating or mitigating potential risks for our children. Our over-protectiveness has extended beyond our homes and into our communities and schools: even at the university level, we have parents coming in to speak on behalf of their adult sons or daughters. This is also occurring in the workforce, as discussed in a recent article from global news, where parents are weighing in with employers to defend their “kids.”
We need to be better at detaching
Statistically speaking, our children have never been safer, but with all this added protection, I wonder if we are sometimes doing a disservice to our children and not providing them with sufficient real-world risk-taking that they can learn and grow from. I have to admit that sometimes I feel like Nemo’s father, Marlin, from “Finding Nemo” – always watching what my kids are doing, always protecting, always hovering. As much as “being in the moment” with your children is a very healthy mindful experience, we also need to be better at detaching. We need to let our children “fail” and “fall” now and then, and have confidence and trust that our children will learn from these experiences and triumph over their challenges (a lesson well learned by Marlin, Nemo’s dad).
Our hovering tendencies have had a substantial impact on our schools and playgrounds. We now live in an era where even “tag” is considered too risky for children to play on the playgrounds of most Island schools.  At the beginning of this school year, our 12 years old son came home one day and was visibly depressed.  We asked him what was wrong, and he told us that he was upset that they could no longer play “tag” or “manhunt” at school, as well as other “hands-on” games. We were surprised, because it was not obvious to us how a game like tag could be problematic. The argument was that kids were getting hurt and, in particular, that such activities put younger children (especially kindergarten-age children) at risk. When following up on this issue, we were told that such “hands-off” practices have been in operation for “some time” and part of the school board policy in our province (Prince Edward Island, Canada). Further checking revealed that in fact it wasn’t a school board policy, but “schools were well within their rights to ban such games.” Now, we were not questioning the safety of kids at school, especially younger kids. But how frequently do kids actually get hurt playing such games and could not alternative measures be put in place to mitigate potential accidents to smaller kids (having different recess times, for example)? How can we be worried about games like tag, but yet still sign our kids up for contact sports like hockey, rugby, lacrosse, soccer and basketball?

Risk is an important component of child development
Internationally, there is a growing reconsideration of the kinds of playgrounds where unstructured active games like tag have been eliminated in the way they have here on Prince Edward Island. There is also a growing awareness of the need to address the “increasingly sedentary and risk-averse generation of children…,” according to the International School Grounds Alliance (ISGA).  How can children learn to gauge themselves if every “natural” and unstructured active play opportunity is over-regulated or eliminated?  According to Stephen Smith (Associate professor in phenomenology and physical education at Simon Fraser University), “risk is an important component of development in children. It is through the taking of risks that children learn to be competent, to overcome fear, to work with others, and to measure their own capabilities.”
Sometimes of course, children are going to get hurt playing tag, as “tags” can very quickly turn into “shoves” when an intense playground game gets going. Some parents and educators might worry that this kind of experience might have a lasting impact on a child, psychologically and physically.  But, in fact, studies have shown that the opposite is true. When for example, a child is hurt in a fall before the age of nine, that child is actually less likely to develop a fear of heights as a teenager. There is a growing body of research that points to the physical, emotional and psychological value of a bit of physical risk when it comes to child development. Researchers and parents claim that managing the risks inherent in a game of “tag,” for example, can help children with problem solving and conflict management. Unstructured games on the playground, if properly supervised, can teach children about leadership, negotiating and of course they get kids running and building their physical strength.

Like most of us, I am trying to do my best as a parent (without the owner’s manual) and really just asking the basic questions: what are we doing? Why are we doing this? If I could obtain balanced, well-defended/supported arguments, then I may be convinced as to some of our recently adopted policies/practices; however, I think that we are really just being over-protective, over-reactive and, to a certain extent, paranoid. The question is: what longterm impact could this behaviour have on our children?
This is an article that my husband, Sheldon Opps, wrote for a local family magazine. Sheldon is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Ace Flyer Airplane – A new outdoor activity for Casa del Sol

We just purchased a new Ace Flyer Airplane for Casa del Sol. It took about 6 hours or so for my husband to put it together, but as you can see our kids have already started to enjoy it.

Even with our cold spring weather, our sons found the time to spend some hours outside “flying” with the plane. We are certain that our young guests will also enjoy this new addition to the outdoor activities that we offer in Casa del Sol. It can seat up to 7 kids! We got the plane from Amazon.com.Ace Flyer Airplane

Amazing Piñatas for Birthday Parties

My husband is a dedicated father who takes birthday parties very seriously.  He always comes up with unique party themes and bigger and better ways to celebrate the birthdays of our children.  For my step-son who is now 12 years old, my husband selected themes such as dinosaurs, Captain Underpants, Pokemon, Harry Potter, Super Mario and the Legend of Zelda.  For our 4 years old, so far, the themes have been Toupie & Binou, Mickey Mouse & Friends, and Dr. Seuss. 

For each one of these parties, my husband made certain that relevant activities and decorations were prepared or organized for the parties.  This was not often an easy task because we wanted to stay within a certain budget.  An element that was always part of each one of these parties was the piñata.  Of course, finding the proper piñata for a given theme was challenging, forcing my husband to be creative.  Below are some of the amazing piñatas that my husband made for these parties. 

Majora Mask (Legend of Zelda Birthday Party)

Toupie  (Toupie & Binou Birthday Party)

Snorlax (Pokemon Birthday Party)

Kirby (Kirby Video Game Birthday Party)

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Past Emotional Experiences can Influence how you Parent your Children — A Solution

One of the things that I have realized since I am a parent and a step-parent is that there are many, sometimes too many, factors affecting or influencing the relationship with my children.  On one hand, every child is different, with unique combinations of abilities and needs that certainly affect our relationship with them.  On the other hand, the way we were parented also significantly influences the way we view the world and how we come to parent our children.  According to Drs. Tina Payne Bryson and Daniel J. Siegel, research has repeatedly shown that when parents offer repeated, predictable experiences in which they see and sensitively respond to their children’s emotions and needs, their children will prosper —socially, emotionally, relationally, and even academically. But, what is the secret for this?

Using your Past Experiences to Construct a New Future for Yourself and your Children
According to Drs. Bryson and Siegel, “The most important factor when it comes to how you relate with your kids and give them all those advantages, is how well you’ve made sense of your experiences with your own parents”.  In my opinion, this is a very powerful sentence because although many of us are determined to avoid the mistakes that our own parents made, we often times follow in the same trap.  How many times, did you tell yourself, “I don’t want to make the same mistakes that my parents made when I was a child” or “I am sounding like my mother (or my father) now”.  According to the above mentioned authors, if you can make sense of the past experiences with your parents as well as understand your father’ or mother’s wounded nature, you can break the cycle of inherited non-desired parental behaviours.  Of course, this may require hard work on your part, possibly even some help from a therapist.  You will most likely need to deal with hidden or implicit memories that are doing their work on you without you even realizing it.  Clearly, it will not be an easy or short process.  But, if you can make sense of your memories and understand how they have influenced you in the present, you may be able to use this information to construct a new future for yourself, and for how you parent your children.  As the authors said in their article, it is by understanding our own experiences and learning to tell the story of our childhood, the joys as well as the pain, we can become the kind of parent whose children are securely attached and connected to us in strong and healthy ways.

YNAB – Budgeting Software

Recently, we discovered YouNeedABudget also known as YNAB.  This budgeting or financial software is great for many reasons.  It has a large and active community.  YNAB is only partially about its budgeting software, although that’s what you’re paying for when you buy it.  In reality, when you purchase YNAB, you also get access to financial literacy classes, tutorials, a community of users, budgeting tools and many other useful items. The app itself is available for Windows and OS X, with mobile versions for iOS and Android.  Since the app runs locally, you have access to your financial information offline if you need it, and YNAB still imports transactions from your banks, credit cards, retirement funds, and other accounts to deliver a single-pane view of your financial health.  You can use YNAB to set or organize your personal, family or small business budget.  What is interesting with YNAB is that is organized in a way that can help you set your financial goals and, more importantly, to stick to them.  YNAB can also help you reconcile accounts when your numbers feel off, and can walk you through the budgeting process in a simple, comprehensible way.  

Interested in trying YNAB?
You can try YNAB for free for a month, but after that you’ll need to pay $60 for the app, which is not such a bad price considering that your license is good for all your systems, and the mobile apps are free.  So, if you want to try YNAB, use this link http://ynab.refr.cc/384XJJ9


Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli
Your happiness is your responsibility.  That may sound a little like tough love, but it’s actually just a reminder to you that your happiness depends on you, or if you prefer, is within your control.  If you are struggling with your own happiness, I recommend a few things that can help you create happiness in your life today, starting with reading the book “TheHappiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin.
12 Ways to Create Happiness
The list below is a compilation of ways and ideas that people have found, or used to create or improve their happiness.  Know that Life is nothing, but a story, a flowing river, a life’s meaning with you as the key character.  
1.           Abandon self-judgement and develop self worth
2.           Put yourself first – Decide to make yourself a priority
3.           Write your achievements  – Create visuals of your awesomeness
4.           Abandon the judgment of others
5.           Try everything once – Fill your day with tiny things you love
6.           Try something you have never tried before – Don’t get stuck in routines
7.           Beware the highlight reel
8.           Choose gratitude
9.           Share your wisdom
10.        Do not live in regrets – Allow yourself to make mistakes
11.        Discover your passions and follow them
12.        Live in the Moment