Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bonding Times and Play Time Favorites

I have just finished reading a parenting magazine and I can’t help but be grateful to be reminded by the editor and their invited pediatrician about certain truths on parenting and spending quality time with our kids. What struck me the most is a line from the developmental pediatrician who said, “Your physical and emotional availability are what really matter to your child.” I also agree with the editor mom when she said that a child need not have too many toys to be happy. Just like what the paediatrician said, it’s not really toys that make our children happy. What really make our children happy are the quality times we spend with them playing together, laughing over stories or silly moments, sharing both regular and special family bonding moments and the like. These thoughts led me to look back at the regular bonding times I spend with my toddler son and I discovered that many of the things my two-year-old boy loves doing with me or with his Dad do not require fancy toys. The truth is, our little boy finds so much joy not so much in his toys that we sometimes use during our play time but more importantly on the fact that we take time to play with him or spend quality time with him. His toys are there to simply add fun to our time together or to be instruments in making our time together extra special.

Here is a list of Yanthy’s favorite daily activities with me or his Dad or with both of us:

1. Tickle Time and Funny Bones – Yanthy loved tickle time ever since he’s a baby. Lately, he’s the one who initiates it. He likes to be tickled and he likes to sneak in and tickle us in our bed, sofa or wherever we are. We started playing funny bones when we first taught him his body parts. We reinforced his new learnings by playing this game and it has stuck with him since then.

2. Playing Hide and Seek – This is a game we loved playing since he was a baby. He’d giggle a lot while playing this game and we have incorporated counting which made it also educational.

3. Running around – Yanthy loved running since he was around 7 to 8 months old. He runs tirelessly all day around the bedroom, house or our compound. When I can no longer run with him (because I get tired much faster), I just watch him on the sidelines and remind him to be careful so he doesn’t get hurt. He had his share of falls and scratches but he remains unfazed whenever given the opportunity to run.

4. Singing and Playing Musical Instruments – Yanthy likes music very much. We spend most of our day with music in the background. He tells me when he wants to listen to music and he would ask me to turn our stereo on. Sometimes, I would just see him trying to turn it on himself. Then, while listening to music or singing songs, we would play one or two musical instruments like his drum, xylophone or maracas. At other times, we play the piano. Yanthy loves listening to the sounds that he makes as he playfully strikes the piano keys. When we are not dancing and playing instruments while listening to music, we draw, color or play with his other toys. In my experience, songs have helped Yanthy increase his vocabulary and sharpen his listening skills. He has actually become so good in listening that we sometimes play name the next song. It was also through this activity that I have discovered that my son is music-smart.

5. Dancing – With music in the background, dancing is not far behind. Yanthy loves to dance and jump whenever he hears fast tunes. Then, we do the actions while singing when we hear action songs. This is one of the things I love doing with Yanthy the most. It also serves as one of the ways I exercise.

6. Playing Make Believe – I noticed that Yanthy has good imagination when he was still a baby playing alone on his crib. These days, he gets to articulate his imagination because he can already talk and he shares with me what he imagines. Yesterday, he turned his clothes hamper into a boat. He dumped his toys inside and he sat inside it. Then, I asked him where he’s bringing his boat. He said, “California!” Sometimes, he plays with his car or airplane and he says he will go to Surigao to visit his grandparents. There are also times when he gets some of his Dad’s things and he would act as if he’s going to his Dad’s office to work. It’s fun watching him playing pretend.

7. Playing with Building Blocks or Stacking Cups – We started playing this game before he turned one year old and he is still hooked until now. He loves building towers with his blocks and he takes pride whenever he finishes a tower. I saw how he grew in confidence and patience by playing with these toys. These are very simple and inexpensive toys but they can teach a lot to a child.

8. Reading or Storytelling – A day never passed that we did not read at least one book. He likes to sit on my lap while listening to me. I read the Bible with him when he’s already awake during my morning prayer time. During the day, we read storybooks or books on the alphabet, numbers, shapes or colors. Sometimes, we read his songbook while listening to music or while singing nursery songs. At other times, I use finger puppets or hand puppets while telling him a story. Reading and storytelling has helped a lot in instilling the love for books in our son. When he’s not busy running or climbing something at home, he’s usually busy reading a book or listening to me read him a book. He loves hearing stories so much. He has actually memorized some of his books including his book that we read to him at bedtime. He has also memorized some of the lines of the characters in the story like in the story of the three little pigs. Yanthy also learned to tell his own stories through these activities. You can ask him a story about one of the books we have read or a movie that we saw and he would tell you what happened in the story. With my son’s love for books at an early age, I’m confident that he will grow to be a learner and that he would find much inspiration growing up.

9. Swimming – Most kids love to play in the water and Yanthy is no exception. We exposed him early to swimming even before he turned one year old and he learned to swim without formal lessons before he turned two. This is one of his bonding activities with his Dad because my husband is the one who teaches him how to swim. My role here is cheerleader since I have not learned how to swim until now. This also serves as my husband’s exercise whenever he swims with Yanthy. We plan to enrol him next summer for formal swimming lessons.

10. Drawing or Coloring – I like this activity very much because I love to draw. Actually, I love anything related to the arts. In the beginning, Yanthy just loves to watch me draw. Then, he started to doodle. Now, he loves crayons and he loves using them not just on paper but even on different surfaces (like our walls, floor, and furniture including his high chair).One thing that I noticed and which was also pointed out by the pediatrician in the magazine is that kids spend more time playing with something or they complete an activity when parents take an active part in the activity. I’ve observed this in my own son. When he knows that I’m beside him while he’s doing something like coloring, doodling or building towers, he spends more time on the activity. But when he sees me doing something else, he gets impatient easily or he stops what he’s doing and he goes to me.

I’ve realized that these simple activities that we do together send positive messages to my son or teaches him valuable life lessons. Like when he’s trying to build a tower and the blocks fall and crash the entire structure he has built, he knows that I am there to comfort or encourage him or to help him rebuild it if he wants me to help him. He can bring this principle with him as he grows and starts to set goals for himself. He would know that his parents will be there to help him or give him emotional support. Pretend play can also lay the foundation for him to weave dreams for himself that’s why I encourage him to imagine. It also teaches him resourcefulness and thinking out-of-the-box. In life, he will not have everything he wants but resourcefulness and thinking out-of-the-box would enable him to make the most of what he has and use them to bring him to where he wants to go. And as we enjoy other activities, he can learn that he has family members who share his joys and supports him in discovering and developing his gifts.

I thank God for this opportunity to be reminded that the best gift I can give my son is my time and undivided attention. It can be very challenging especially for working moms but it’s possible. We simply need to be committed in making quality time with our families a priority and to be reminded of this commitment from time to time.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Celebrating All Saints’ Day Meaningfully and Establishing a New Family Tradition

It’s another long weekend because of the celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. We, Catholics, commemorate and honor all the saints, both known (recognized by the Church) and unknown (those who are already in heaven but were not canonized by the Church) on November 1. On November 2, we honor the memory of our faithful departed. Here in the Philippines, it has been the custom of most families to go to the cemetery and visit the remains of their departed relatives on November 1 instead of November 2 probably because most of us believe that our departed relatives are now in heaven with God together with all the saints in heaven.

Celebrating Halloween or All Hallows Evening, which is the day before All Saints’ Day, has become very popular also. It is sad however that the way by which many modern day Catholics or Christians celebrate it today tend to distort the real purpose and meaning of this Holy Day. Donning costumes of ghosts, monsters, the devil, cartoon characters, superheroes, etc. has become popular and widespread. This makes me wonder every time Halloween approaches if we really understand why we celebrate the occasion. This day was reserved to honor holy men and women who have triumphantly overcome their sinfulness and have given us inspiration because of the lives they lived. Why dress up children as enemies of God when they can be dressed up as friends of God just like our beloved Saints? Why choose characters from a movie which are make believe anyway when there are real heroes that our children can emulate? There is such a great cloud of witnesses that has gone ahead of us whose lives have set many hearts ablaze by the example that they gave. I have nothing against costume parties done to celebrate Halloween. I like costume parties actually. But I believe that these costume parties should help us remember the real reasons for the celebration – the saints. A Halloween party organized without honouring the saints in mind is like organizing an awards night wherein the awardees were not invited. It’s like having a Christmas party without Christ in mind. If I am to organize a Halloween party for kids, I would ask the kids to dress up like the Saints they like or in the profession for which their favourite Saint was known for or a patron of. You may click on the following links to get more ideas:'s_Costumes.htm and In this way, kids are taught to value their faith and look up to the Saints as role models.

It’s so easy to simply join the bandwagon since almost everyone is doing it. Many people find it harmless. As for me and my husband, we don’t find it in our hearts to participate in a Halloween celebration where we do not see the real purpose of the Holy Day being upheld. Romans 12:2 serves as our guide: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

It was with these thoughts that I chose to come up with a new and meaningful family tradition for our growing family. Traditions are manifestations of the values of the families that practice them. I want our family traditions to communicate to our son that we are a Catholic Filipino family and that we uphold our rich heritage both as Catholics and Filipinos. I want our son to grow up practicing meaningful traditions. That’s why I thought of introducing one to two Saints every year on All Saints’ Day to our son, Yanthy. He’s already two years old this year and I think he’s old enough to be introduced to the heroes of our faith. I brought up the suggestion to my husband and he said that he had the same thing in mind. I’m not surprised I married this man! So, excitedly we went about preparing for our story telling session with our son. We searched for books, videos and possible props. We ended up buying a dvd on the life of St. Paul the Apostle. Back home, I reviewed the life story of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and thought of ways to share it with Yanthy.

All Saints’ Day morning came and we began our new family tradition by telling Yanthy what Saints are and that we will be introducing at least one Saint to him each year. We watched the video on the conversion of St. Paul and his ministry together with Yanthy. It was our first time to watch the video. That was a mistake. We should have viewed it first without him. It was too late when we realized that it was not suited for very young children like Yanthy. The material was quite heavy and there were violent scenes like the stoning of the first martyr, Stephen, and that of St, Paul among others. Yanthy didn’t like the video. Lesson learned: screen videos first before showing them to your child even if it is a Christian video. That way, parents like us would know if it is age appropriate. Another lesson that we learned is that story telling with props is a better alternative. With those lessons learned, I introduced St. Therese of the Child Jesus to Yanthy after attending Holy Mass and dinner.

I didn’t use a video or a book. I only used pictures of St. Therese from the internet and everyday things that Yanthy is familiar with. Then, I chose to tell some parts of St. Therese’s life which I think Yanthy could relate to. For example, I told him that St. Therese is also called the Little Flower and I likened her to our orchid which Yanthy and I water every morning. I told him that in the same way that our flower makes me happy every time I see it, St. Therese makes God happy because she is beautiful in God’s eyes. I also told him about St. Therese’s love for the child Jesus. I used his ball this time to relate St. Therese analogy about her relationship to the child Jesus. Yanthy responded much better with our story telling session as compared to the video. I used that opportunity to retell St. Paul’s story using the old fashioned way. I told him that St. Paul rode a big boat and that there were times that his big boat encountered storms at sea and there were lightning and thunder accompanying the storm. But these did not stop him from going to many places to tell people about Jesus. I told him that St. Paul loved Jesus very much that he kept telling people the story of Jesus wherever he went. I was very happy with Yanthy’s response. At the end of our story telling session, Yanthy asked me to kneel down with him and we prayed that we would be good like the Saints and be close friends of Jesus like St. Paul and St. Therese.

Looking back, I realized that I benefitted more from the activity. I have read the life story of St. Therese countless times since I was young girl but I still had new insights yesterday when I reviewed it. It could be because my insights now are related to my new role as a wife and mother. Let me share some of them. First, St. Therese’s Little Way inspired me to do my routine duties as a wife and mother daily with great love not only for my husband and son but more importantly for Jesus. Her example inspired and encouraged me to persevere in doing household chores with joy in my heart even when they are difficult. Once more, she taught me to offer my inconveniences and sacrifices for the purification of my soul and for the conversion of more people. Second, reviewing her story reminded me of the power of prayer to bring hearts and souls to Jesus. I thought of how my fervent prayers for my son would bring him close to the heart of God and I was greatly encouraged to faithfully intercede for my son and for others. Another thing that I found striking in reading St. Therese’s life story is finding out that she had tantrums when she was a little girl and that she was very stubborn. It was cited in her biography that there were instances when she would roll on the floor and cry unceasingly when she didn’t get what she want. I was surprised and at the same time relieved because my little boy is going through the terrible two’s stage. Like St. Therese, he can be very stubborn and throw tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants. It was comforting for me to know that although she was once like that, she was able to overcome her temperament eventually. She even became a saint! I shared these insights with my husband and he said that we need to pray not only to St. Therese but also to the parents of St. Therese so that we would be wise parents like them who raised holy children like St. Therese.

I thank God for inspiring me and my husband to start this family tradition. I’m excited to discover new things about the Saints and to learn from their example. I pray that as we carry out this tradition in our family we would grow in our love for God and in Christian character so that one day we would also be triumphant like the saints. Let me close this sharing by quoting Philippians 4:8 (NKJV). “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy––meditate on these things.”

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