Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Return of the Native American Playmobil -UpdatedMay29

*I knew this post would inspire controversy, but the first round of comments has made me realize I wasn't as clear as I could have been and that there were suggestions and approaches I should add.  The post has been updated to reflect this.  Big thanks to Debbie over at American Indians in Children's Literature for taking the time to comment, suggest resources and teach us.  
Playmobil®s first releases in 1974 - Indians theme 1/4

When I was little, I remember spending hours playing Indians with my Grandmother's Playmobil.  I would painstakingly set up each Tepee and headdress.  The Indian moms would wear their children on their backs, the little babies carefully holding their dolls and I would put  tomahawks and bows in the hand of each brave.  Sometimes, I would also let a girl hold an ax (I was a budding feminist after all).  When I was done setting everything up my cousin would come barging in and knock everything down with his Cowboys or He-Man or GI Joe or Dinosaurs and the game would be over.  As one-sided as it sounds, I absolutely loved it.   

As I got older, I cringed when I thought of those games.  I hated all the stereotypes we had based our play on and realized how few tribes the tepees and totem poles really represented.  When I was old enough to have kids of my own, and noticed that Playmobil no longer made the Indian line and I thought that made sense.  Way to finally be PC, Playmobil.  It's about time.  It turns out they phased out the Indian line in the late 1990s.  

But then one Thanksgiving, it happened.  I was telling my children (5 and 3) the story of why we celebrate Thanksgiving.  Because I am an over the top P-SAHM, I had prepared beforehand by looking up the actual name of the Indian tribe (Wampanoag) so that I would be PC and respectful.  And as I was trying to explain the whole thing, it dawned on me that my children had never heard the term Indian or Native American before.  Everyone we know tries their best to be PC.  Our one chance was Thanksgiving, but in preschool, no one dared mention Native Americans. Thanksgiving has become a day to give thanks without a historical context.  Not all bad of course (it is a tricky story to tell in a culturally sensitive way),  but my kids had no idea that Native Americans existed, not in the past and not in modern times.  I felt like in a quest to be PC, the pendulum had swung too far and people were afraid to even mention Native Americans.

That thought made me sad.  I remembered my childhood play again.  But this time I wasn't so hard on myself.  I remembered the awe and respect I felt for the Native Americans.  I remember the reverence for nature.  The tiptoeing through the woods.  Sure, our play wasn't perfect and yes, it was clearly stereotypical but I realized I would rather have my children KNOW about Native Americans than not know.  And children learn through play.  In our family, my children's toys inspire interest and that interest leads to researching and learning facts and figures.  I feel like I am doing parenting right when one of my children runs over to me and asks if we can check out a book to learn about X.  

So . . when I noticed Playmobil had started releasing a Native American line again, I bought it opening day.  I was disappointed that Playmobil called them "Native Americans" rather than a specific tribe but I was excited to have toys in my home that could inspire my children's interest.    

Playmobil - Native American Camp with Totem Pole #5247

Playmobil is not the only one braving Native American play sets.  With the Lone Ranger movie coming up, Lego has released Native American sets too.  

As excited as I am that it seems to be starting to be okay to talk about American Indians again.  I wanted to make sure to do it right.  So I did a little research.  First I found out that according to a 1995 Census Bureau Survey (there is not more recent data) 50% of American Indians prefer the term American Indians, while 37% prefer Native Americans.  I had no idea that both were acceptable.  I thought Native American was the only PC term but it turns out that even the Smithsonian calls their museum, the National Museum of the American Indian

I also found two wonderful articles for discussing discussing Native Americans with your kids,  here and here.  You should go check them out but here are the tips I found the most useful.  
  • Make sure your kids know that Native Americans are alive today and that they dress and act like us.  They are not just historical figures.  Point out that the Playmobil and Lego figures show how people of some tribes used to live and dress but that they are not accurate.   For example, no tribe that lived in Tipees also made Totem poles.  
  • Talk about different tribes with your children.  Make sure your children know that talking about the specific tribes is preferable to the generalized "Native American".    
  • Point out that not all American Indians lived in Tepees or built Totem Poless or paddled canoes etc.  
  • Make sure to read books to your children that show American Indians in modern times as well as historical times.  I have yet to read these books but I have them on hold at our local library.  And I am grateful for the recommendation.     
Most sites also talked about how headdresses and feather tend to be sacred in many Native American tribes and it is not respectful to dress up with those items. 

So there you have it, now you can let your child play with American Indian toys with confidence--okay, apparently not with confidence.  As the comments below indicate this is a very complicated and controversial issue.  I stand by my post though--it is better to do the best you can to teach your kids, than to be too afraid to broach the topic

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ask a Behavior Analyst: Anger Management.

Angry Miss M. (and yes, I am proud of my tiger face painting)
Several moms over the past month have asked me for advice on handling anger issues with their preschooler/school aged child.  I think we've all been there.  Just yesterday a plate of toast got shoved to the floor because I "didn't cut it right".   The parents I have been talking to have been concerned about a short fuse with siblings as well as melt downs in anticipation of transitions (leaving the park, getting read for school etc).

As with all behaviors, the first step is figuring out what the child gets out the behavior.  So let's run down our functions of behavior.

  1. Attention:  Is your child screaming because you pay attention to her when she screams?  This may seem like a silly question but I have seen it a lot.  Heck, I'm guilty of this scenario at least once a day:  My two kids are playing quietly, so I try and get some work done.  I completely ignore them until one of them screams, then I come over to intervene.  If my child is feeling attention-starved, I have just taught her that screaming is the fastest way to get me to interact.  The fix:  If you think this is the case, start making an effort to interact with your child when she is not yelling.  Catch her being good and shower her with praise and attention.  Also, try to minimize the attention you give when she yells.  
  2. Escape/Avoidance:  Maybe your son screams and throws himself on the floor every time you ask him to do his homework.  Because you have two other kids to help as well, you just tell your son he can play for 10 more minutes but then he "is doing homework for sure".  Sound familiar?  This is such an easy trap to fall into.  But letting a kid off the hook for screaming is just teaching him that tantrums work.  The fix: I know it's easier said than done but you cannot let your child escape a task because they melt down.  If you have been letting him off in the past, sit him down and explain that crying is no longer going to work.  But also explain that you want him to be successful.  So set the timer for 5 minutes and let him know he can get a break when it rings.  Start small and then increase the time.  
  3. Tangible:  I see this in stores all the time.  Your daughter really wants a candy bar, you say no and the crying begins.  People are staring and you are feeling judged.  You can't take it anymore and really need to just get through the shopping so you can get home in time to make dinner.  You give in and give her the candy.  Presto, you've just inadvertently taught your daughter that crying works.  The fix: Don't do it.  Ha.  Easier said than done, I know.  I admit I have given into tantrums in similar situations.   Here are some strategies to make it easier.  Prep the child before you enter the store.  "We are going shopping and we are not going to get any treats"  or, "we are going shopping and if you are cheerful you can pick out a treat at the end".  Make your expectations clear and then stick to them.  If it is an especially stressful/important trip, just give them a treat to begin with.  We get a churro at the beginning of every Costco trip.  Best dollar I spend all week.  
  4. Sensory:  Your son just gets upset.  He may be tired or sick or just overstimulated.  His meltdown has to do with something going on inside him.  The fix:  Give your child some tools to regulate emotions on his own.  I will talk about these in more detail.  
I'm hoping that if your child is melting down for attention or escape or to get something, you now have a good idea of what needs to happen.  Sensory is (as always) a little more tricky.  and the thing is, in my experience, all kids go through melt downs for sensory reasons at some point.  If I think my daughter is crying simply to get attention, I ignore her but I don't ignore when I know she is just overstimulated and upset.  The following are some general strategies to help your child learn to regulate some of those emotions on their own.  

The first thing I would suggest is talking to your child about what to do "when their feelings get too big".  I really like the above book, but when I read it, I always change "worries" to "feelings" (I want it to be all inclusive).  My favorite thing about this book is that it has a very visual scale of upsetness with 1 being calm and 5 being super angry.  I explain to my daughter that I can't be around her when she's a 5 (it's not safe) but I will come help her as soon as she's at a 4.  

The next thing that I love is the Mind Jars.  I learned about them from this site.  There are several ways to make them but basically you add glitter and water and a thickening agent.  You can use glue or corn syrup or glycerin.  The idea is that you want the glitter to take several minutes to settle to the bottom. You'll probably have to experiment.  I would also let your child pick the color of glitter.  The more involved in the process they are, the more likely they are to buy into it. You then explain to your child that shaking the jar makes the glitter fly everywhere just like what happens inside his head when his "feelings get too big." As he breaths and calms down, his thoughts settle just like the glitter.  The jar can also serve as a timeout timer.  You child should stay in his room until the glitter settles.   As a warning, if your kid is prone to throwing things, I would not give him a glass jar. 

The book Moody Cow Meditates is about an angry cow who's Grandpa makes him a mind jar and can be a good way to introduce the jar.

My last suggestion is one I just introduced for my 6 year old.  She was yelling at least 10 times a day, at either myself or her brother.  I explained to her what the problem was and we made a chart together.  (Don't you love the grumpy hearts?) This chart represents 15 minutes of computer game time before bed.  Every time she yells, she moves the magnet down one block and then only has 14 minutes of computer time etc.  It is really important to give them something that they can loose incrementally rather than all or nothing.  That way if they yell at 9am, they don't give up for the rest of the day.  You could also do this with minutes you can stay up past bedtime, or number of M&Ms or whatever you think would motivate your child.

The chart has worked wonders in our household.  It turns out just seeing the magnet move down is motivational enough.  We no longer do the minutes, she just doesn't like it to move down.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Guest Post: 7 Parenting Lessons Star Wars Taught Me

By: Cameron Graves
All of those hours geeking out about light sabers, Ewoks, and the Force—I have decided—were not void of spiritual growth. And now that I’m a dad, I’ve learned that Obi-Wan really has taught me well.

  1. “You must unlearn what you have learned”Master Yoda

Yoda, you are a Jedi genius. All of those years I spent prepping myself for adulthood were decimated the day I became a father. Parenthood is like a blank slate, in a way, or like starting from scratch. A lot of what you already think you know gets rocked like the Death Star and you find out maybe you didn’t get things quite as well as you thought. Unlearn and relearn. Good call, Yoda.

  1. Courage is Key R2-D2

If a large lunchbox could have a kid, R2-D2 would have been a great dad. Not because he could create holograms with his nostril, or spin his head in a complete 360, but because he always just jumped—or rolled, rather—right into battle. It didn’t matter what kind of challenge he was facing, R2-D2 always had the courage to go forth and conquer! The best part was that half the time he had no idea what he was getting into—he just knew what needed to get done and he did it. (And he did it all while whistling!) Thanks for the handy fatherhood tip, R2.

  1. Patience: Portrayed by any scene where there is dialogue between R2-D2 and C-3PO
Just keep rolling. R2-D2, you are my hero. C-3PO, shut your pie hole. This dynamic is ridiculously similar to fatherhood, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, R2-D2 is the dad, and C-3PO is the whiney kid. And sometimes this is what fatherhood is—taking care of business while toting along a perpetual whiner who says things in the realm of “No. I don’t like you either” or “This is all your fault” or “I’ve had just about enough of you. Go that way. You’ll be malfunctioning within a day, you near-sighted scrap pile.” At times, I would like to pull my hair out or turn and give them a happy little shock with my mechanical welding arm, but I settle for the quiet blessing of patience learned. Thanks for the lessons C-3PO, maybe you weren’t as useless as I first thought.
  1. Devotion: Han Solo and Princess Leia
Okay, so they’re not the best example in a lot of cases, but at least one thing can be gleaned from their
relationship devotion. I don’t care what kind of outfit she’s wearing or if her hair resembles two cinnamon buns, I’m always happy to see her and she’s always beautiful. Even when I’ve just come out of carbon freeze and can’t see all that well, the sound of my sweetheart's voice is enough to bring me peace. Sure we don’t always mix it up with calm voices, but we always work it out and end up getting our—(enter C-3PO/interrupting child)—almost getting our freak on in the engine room. Kids, pay attention. I love your mom and treat her with respect. As should you.

  1. How you get so big eating food of this kind?” –Yoda

The unknown. Seriously. How do you get so big eating crayons, stale goldfish crackers, and gogurts? Where did you learn that word? How do I console you? What were you thinking? Every single day is littered with these questions, and although I haven’t reached the end of my time as a parent here on Earth, I expect they will never end. Children offer us the opportunity of a lifetime that I don’t believe can be properly experienced elsewhere. That opportunity is to head into the unknown with a lot of heart and not a lot of armor. And is there actually a finish line?

6. Humility: Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker gave a few good pointers on humility. First off, if there is anyone more clueless and whined more than C-3PO it’s got to be Luke. Throw in a bag of humility and a few lessons from Master Yoda and you’ve got potential to do some great things. In the end, he pulled it off—patient, soft-spoken, focused, Jedi. If a father doesn’t accept his bag of humility with a grateful heart, he will never become a true Jedi. Without it, we are only boys and fathers. But with it, we become men and earn the much more noble title of Dad.

7. Sacrifice: Darth Vader vs. Darth Sidious
There are too many fatherhood lessons in this scene to quantify. Don’t abandon your kids. Taking over the empire will never be as important as taking care of your family. Forgive and forget. Don’t play with electricity. But the most important lesson—and in my opinion the tops on this entire list—is sacrifice. Do anything and everything for the benefit of your kids that you’re capable of. Whether you’re protecting them from evil or you’re adding some good to their lives, just keep going and doing your best. And if you need to, use The Force.