Toy Considerations for Child Development

As a psychologist, I spend the majority of my time retraining
people’s behavior that arises out of the skills missed in childhood, skills that are circumvented, repressed or ignored. These skills
include coping, executive functioning, language and communication, emotional regulatory, cognitive flexibility and social.

Profile-Page_LAstAbout the Author

Daria Brezinski, PhD, lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. She is a psychologist and the Executive Director of What Wize Women Want.

Most of these skills are acquired through children’s play. Here are guidelines for parents on purchases and activities to enhance creativity, intelligence and promote a healthy psyche:

Clever Toy Marketing Strategies

gift-box-1214648-mClever marketing campaigns convince consumers into spending thousands of dollars on toys and trinkets as the means to raise happy, healthy, spiritual children while subliminally promoting a pattern of long-term behavior to constantly consume and crave more, bigger and better rather than nurturing the creative world of the child.

The clever strategies focus on developing products that target the deficiencies in our culture: spiritual, emotional, bonding, socialization, family relationships and community. The lines between these deficiencies and capitalism — between hero/heroine/ saint and sinner/evil-doer — are blurred in advertising, media, movies and toys. The delineation line requires advanced discrimination skills, which children do not possess.

At every turn, children are offered a confusing mix of unhealthy spirituality, emotionality, common sense, morality and entertainment. Adults are the main interpreters of choosing the best modalities for their child, not corporations.

Entertainment vs. Play

120734_play_matesA major confusion among parents is the difference between entertainment — being the observer and acted upon — and play: being an active participant. Play is imperative in integrating culture, rules, spiritual laws and allowing the soul to emerge. Play is the means by which a child becomes master of the world. Play is the source of richness of a child to mimic real-world circumstances. It is the greatest source of learning. Habits developed during play become incorporated in adult daily life.

Real play contains no rules or guidelines. It is unorganized and spontaneous. It enables the child the freedom of exploration. This definition eliminates those toys sold in the marketplace with fixed and immutable rules. In the long run, entertaining children develop behavior patterns that keep the child in need of more stimulation from external sources and less reliance on their inner voice, intuition and creativity.

Less Is More

wooden-pony-on-a-playground-954111-mThe objects of play must be simple and safe, and allow imagination to flourish, freedom of movement and range of complexity. The colors, materials, textures, size and shape of the play object are just as important. The more removed from nature, the less value the toy has in play. Simple, natural materials with earth tones and earthy materials are all characteristics that develop brain-eye-hand coordination, heart, imagination and joy of expression. These are the skills that are necessary when boredom, confusion or depression sets in.

In my opinion, the purpose of toys is to develop creative imagination and intuition, not to entertain. After all of the boxes have been opened on Christmas morning, the greatest joy for young children is playing in the empty boxes. This is because large, empty boxes enable exploration of the “child world.” In a box, one can be exploring a cave, flying a plane, driving a car or just finding a sense of peace and silence from our hectic world. Empty boxes are a very important toy.

The best types of dolls are those that allow the child to “fill in the blanks.” Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf Schools, explained that dolls made of cloth, with thread for eyes, nose and mouth, allow a child more freedom and creativity of expression. Interchangeable clothing made of soft cotton, not synthetic materials, allows children to learn to button, snap, and tie and remove clothing that will later be translated into their own clothing. The textures of cloth enable the child to develop their sense of “feeling” textures, something plastic does not promote.

Dolls of an animal nature are preferable to human in the early years, because children, until the age of 8, relate to animals. Paper dolls for older children are excellent, as well. With allowances for making personal accessories and clothing, paper and cloth dolls can open a world of joy, creativity and skills to play. Dolls like Barbie, Ken, and GI Joe are hard plastic with plastic accessories and inappropriate body dimensions, subliminally representing a distorted value system that children replicate in play and then life.

The child’s room must be a source of peace and comfort. If the room is filled with bright or psychedelic colors, televisions, computers or video games, there is little peace for the child’s mind to integrate information, much less sleep.

Frank Lloyd Wright, author of Complete Works, Vol. 1-12, recognized that peaceful earthy environments are more conducive to health with emphasis on colors (pastels and earth tones), shapes (curved) and child sizes that enable a child to get in touch with the inner self. The harsh colors (psychedelic), bright lights (florescent), textures (computer generated) and cluttered spaces of today’s world do not allow the eye, senses, brain and heart to develop fully. Rooms that have these harsh features overstimulate the retina and do not send proper signals to the brain. Whole Parent/Whole Child by Polly Berrien Berends and Open Connections by Susan Shilcock and Peter Bergson offer environments for organizing a child’s space.

According to research, pre-birth babies have greater awareness of their environment than adults ever conceived or considered previously, both the internal world inside the mother as well as the external. After birth, babies recognize the faces of their parents and other loved ones within the first weeks of life, so a mobile in the child’s crib with faces of loved ones, for example, reinforces a safe and secure environment as well as promoting hand-eye coordination. Record the voices of loved ones to play for the child, along with soft music, as the mobile spins and keeps the environment calm.

Creative Intelligence

little-artist-616026-mFor hand-eye coordination, toys and activities to consider include origami, knitting and crocheting, magnetic marbles (which teaches color sorting and classifying), drawing and painting, putting things together and taking them apart (like old watches or electrical appliances), tangrams or Cuisenaire rods. Put pencils, screwdrivers, little saws, hammers and paintbrushes in their hands as soon as they can hold them—with an atmosphere of encouragement from adult—and children will use these tools throughout life. Allow them to move, climb, explore and stretch their bodies. The age for these discoveries is as early as 1.

Wooden blocks in a variety of shapes and sizes, Lincoln Logs, Legos and Construx help to develop focus of attention, patience, visual discrimination, hand-eye coordination and pre-math skills. Children learn about stacking, size, shape, classifying, categorizing and dimensional space through the use of building toys. Legos and Construcx are good for children after the age of 6, because the plastic configuration is more complicated than wood, which is best for younger children. These toys build much more than just structures.

To promote language development, purchase toys that do not speak. Chatty Cathy, Teddy Ruskin, talking books and learning/talking toys are novel, and manufacturers praise the capability of them as teaching tools. However, the quality of the voices in any mechanical toy hinders language development, because the sounds are distorted unlike human speech. Children get a distorted sense of language through these toys and often form inappropriate and false impressions, incorrect pronunciations and misinformation that are carried through to adult life.

To stimulate language development, talk to the child, record your own voice, read to your child, speak to them at meals and while walking, riding or shopping. This builds language skills as well as auditory discrimination. Bonding is another added benefit to talking with a child, one which is highly underrated. Contrary to media hype, the less mechanical the means, the better the child will be equipped for real-life relationships in communication, which is the function of language.

The greatest form of language development, and any type of
creative intelligence, is reading to your child from pre-birth.
Language exposure from a loved one is statistically more influential on a child than from anyone else. Reading also allows the child to form pictures in their minds—the foundation for intuition and creativity—builds attention span and develops vocabulary. A young child can listen to stories many levels above his or her reading level and comprehend the essence of the story. Early reading aloud develops essential skills for later life, like story comprehension, decoding skills and getting the main idea. Generally, the Caldecott and Newbury award-winning books are the best. You can find these titles anywhere.

For physical coordination, children can be encouraged to move and explore, sing and dance, jump and run. The environment of play is nature. Climbing trees teaches a child coping skills, spatial relation, self-confidence, courage, persistence, patience, tolerance, tenacity, hand-eye coordination, learning balance, dimension, depth perception and a host of other skills as well as for being an invigorating, healthy exploration into the world of nature. Their own inner limits are tested and strengthened without fearful grown-up intervention or observation: An adult’s fear is a child’s fear. The rough bark heightens the sense of touch. The aromas of the pines and other vegetation stimulate the senses.

Unlike its counterpart in the plastic concrete playground whose smooth, hard surfaces and toxic materials have no texture to
stimulate—except over-stimulation from bright colors—exploration of the animal and insect world, dirt, sand, leaves and grass enables children a complex and realistic perspective on life from a variety of angles. John Holt’s How Children Learn is an excellent source for the natural exploratory play learning.

In order to gain a sense of self-esteem and comfort with their
bodies, children need to self-exploration. From the time they are infants in the crib, children must be allowed to touch their bodies to become comfortable in their own skin. Knowing the body gives the child a sense of awareness of self that is healthy. Mirrors and
dress-up for both sexes are acceptable ways for this exploration. Although this activity is considered for young children, it is one that suits well into teen years. Children love Halloween and any other opportunity to “dress up” and pretend to explore various sides of themselves. In the art of pretending, a child merges with the values, actions of caregivers, the environment, society and habits of culture. You can know what a child is thinking and what ideas have rooted in the psyche by observing his or her play. Ideas and knowledge will be reflected in pretend play.

The arts are very, very important for a child’s exploration of the world. The arts enable children to get in touch with their passion, soul and inner core. Children need to be encouraged to draw at very early ages with soft pastel paints, light graphite pencils and pastel pencils. The 500 colors in a box of crayons are unnecessary as well as the psychedelic colors of markers. A child can learn to mix and blend colors, to create various shades through trial and error, which builds self-esteem, courage, stamina, perseverance and other skills.

Purchasing art books and paper is very important for children to get in touch with their souls. Coloring books, dot-to-dot and coloring in lines hampers creativity. Encourage the free drawing of lines exploring the entire sheet of paper, and doodling are very important skills that are dismissed in culture today while children, missing this adventure, satisfy that urge by resorting to graffiti. Children need the freedom to explore space both on the paper and off in order to gain a sense of self.

Allowing them to bang on musical instruments like piano, drums and guitar—no matter how awful it sounds—eventually turns into recognizable music. Children proficient in music are generally also exceptional in math. However, there are many mainstream children’s songs that have deep messages that touch the child’s soul, as well. These include the genius of the Jim Henson and other songwriters. Music is like a mantra as it is repeated over and over; it becomes part of the belief system just like any other subliminal repeated message. Choosing the best lyrics and music that touch the heart and soul will enhance the developing child.

Balance is both an internal and external skill that complement each other. Maintaining equilibrium while playing has an effect on coordinating a life of balancing all aspects of life. Along with nature, toys that swing, rock and move are important for building equilibrium in the brain of a child. Rocking horses, spinning around, holding a child in a rocker and wooden swings are excellent. Even a rope tied to the branch of a tree is a learning tool. Trampolines stimulate the immune system and help the body excrete toxins in addition to teaching the body alignment. These toys calibrate the inner child, inner ear, brain and can often be a source of centeredness and peace.

Look for child-sized toys. Marketing advertisements promote the notion that treating a child as an adult, dressing them as adults and encouraging them to behave like adults will entrain adult values and skills. The more appropriate strategy is to create a child’s world in the home. Keep the tools as close to a child’s level as possible. Buy a child-sized broom, dustpan and shovel as well as keeping a child-sized table and chair in the kitchen. Place the pots and pans at the child’s level. Allow them to pretend to cook, clean and follow along in the kitchen—more bonding experiences. Mimicking adult behavior is imperative but at the level of the child.

Children love to clean and pretend to be adults. Allow them to spread their things all over the kitchen while you are cooking and play in the dish water. Modeling adult behavior from the child-sized perspective will entrain behavior, which is a much better approach than at some magical age, attempting to arbitrarily teach them tidiness skills. It takes time to teach a child these skills, and in our hurry-up world, we find little time to teach them and allow them to help. Time spent teaching them self-help skills as a child, at a child’s ability phase, will train healthy members of society.

Beware of Screen Time

home-cinema-setup-2-1361428-mTelevision is a powerful tool that distorts the mind into believing subliminal messages that are repeated over and over, entraining the child to believe what is heard, which then becomes part of the belief system. Electronic toys, games, television, virtual reality and computers are detrimental to a child until age 12 when the child is able to think cognitively and has developed social skills, a conscience and eye-hand-brain coordination.

What these electronic devices can do, if overused, is override the limbic system of the brain so that children have a distorted sense of reality. These devices are also highly over stimulating to a child’s mind and sense of being. It keeps them in need of constant gratification to stimulate secretion of pleasure hormones in the brain.

Sleep and Silence

723868_sleeping_girlSleep is imperative to a healthy life, because in the dream state, problems are worked out; information is stored and is filed away for future reference. Some children have difficulty falling asleep at bedtime when read to because the imagination is activated and the working mind explores options. Others are confounded by the electromagnetic energy, computers and television in the room. Even the digital alarm clock or noises from outside can be disturbing to the sensitive child.

An essential key to creative intelligence is to be allowed to go to quiet places, quiet time and just be or allow the mind to drift off staring into space. When a child appears to have a blank stare or the gaze seems empty, the blank or “far off” look is the brain synapses getting in touch with creative intelligence, making important connections. It is connecting synapses and discordant thoughts into a whole: putting the puzzle pieces together.

An essential key to creative intelligence is something totally lacking in a child’s world of today: silence. Allow time for a child’s quiet space. This does not include nap time or rest. There needs to be a place in the home to allow a child space to be in silence.

As a culture, meditation has become popular, because this reconnects the art of getting in touch with ourselves through silence. Children need to be allowed to go to quiet places and just be. When a child is calm, they become more sensitive to the finer qualities of life.

All children learn and behave differently: kinesthetic (touch), auditory (hear), visual, olfactory (smell) and gustation (taste). Parents are the custodian of a child’s sense of being in this world, self-knowledge of themselves and world knowledge. The purchase of toys, games and activities is a conscious responsibility to be seriously undertaken. A child’s future depends on parental judgments and choices. Create a safe, peaceful, creatively stimulating environment, and a healthy child is the result.

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Defining Creativity

For many people, “creativity” is a term synonymous with artistic expression. But not every child or adult is naturally geared toward music, art, creative writing, culinary skills, landscaping, textile design, inventing, photography, ballet, theatre or another “creative” endeavor. Does that mean that the more logical thinkers among us are naturally un-creative?

rita brhelAbout the Author

Rita Brhel, API Leader, lives in Fairfield, Nebraska, USA, with her husband and their three children. She is a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor in Hastings, Nebraska, and serves as the Managing Editor and Publications Team Coordinator for Attachment Parenting International.

According to the American Psychological Association, “creativity” is not so easily defined. Personality differences and personal backgrounds may lead a person into a career of creating sculpting masterpieces or to become a physicist creating theories on the origin of the universe. Both paths involve creativity, with different parameters and environments.

In addition, there is a difference between what is called “little-c” creativity and “Big-C” creativity:

  • little-c creativity—an indicator of mental health, includes everyday problem-solving and the ability to adapt;
  • Big-C creativity—far more rare, occurs when problem-solving reaches the level of genius as in Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners.

There are many factors in creativity, from relevant skills, intrinsic task motivation and definitions of quality to freedom, support and positive challenges. Also critical is the ability to see things from a different perspective.

There are also known ways to inhibit creativity. While these are related to the adult workplace, they just as easily can be applied to the home or educational environment:

  • Lack of autonomy—All people, whether adults or children, need some degree of control over both the end result and the process.
  • Frequent interruptions—Creativity relies on being able to focus.
  • Insufficient resources, such as materials, information and  support from others.
  • Too narrow of focus on short-term goals—The creative person is able to see the big picture, too.
  • Time pressure—When in a hurry, people tend to prioritize  finishing the project over creativity.
  • A rigid structure—Flexibility helps in the “cross-pollination” of ideas.

Creative Learning with Carolina Blatt-Gross

It’s amazing how far our understanding of children has come in the last two decades since 1994, when Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker cofounded Attachment Parenting International (API). I was in middle school at that time, dutifully sitting in a desk all day and using rote memory to absorb classroom material as was expected. Two years later, my sister did the same.

About the Author

rita brhelRita Brhel, API Leader, lives in Fairfield, Nebraska, USA, with her husband and their three children. She is a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor in Hastings, Nebraska, and serves as the Managing Editor and Publications Team Coordinator for Attachment Parenting International.

But in another four years, my brother entered the same classroom. A brilliant but easily bored child, he was not content to sit in a desk all day. He learned best by moving—a lot! Unfortunately the public school he was attending was not at all equipped to accommodate his learning style, and my brother struggled through to graduation. Life has done little to hold him back, though, and today he is highly successful.

API doesn’t take a stance on educational choices, but whether we as parents decide to homeschool, unschool or enroll our children in a public, private or charter program, API supports making informed choices throughout the parenting journey and that includes our child’s learning environment. One of my favorite people to discuss this topic with is Carolina Blatt-Gross, PhD, an Assistant Professor of Art at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Georgia, USA, who lectures on art education. She is the mother of two very active children and a proponent of progressive learning environments.

RITA: Thank you, Carolina, for fitting me into your busy schedule. To begin, can you share about your passion for encouraging progressive learning environments for children?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: I have been making art as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I earned my PhD in art education that I realized how important art is to our educational environments and how quickly the arts are disappearing from traditional education.

We have become so focused on the linear, positivist thinking measured by standardized tests that we have forgotten about encouraging our brains to think in diverse, critical and creative ways. Art is essentially an elaborate problem-solving exercise situated in the enormously satisfying experience of making something with your hands and/or body—which means if you learn kinetically, the arts offer a wealth of opportunities to physically grapple with ideas and communicate nuanced concepts.

Once I had children, my dedication to art education was no longer academic. It became imperative that my sons have consistent
opportunities to make things and to solve complex visual

Are you a little-c or a Big-C creative? Read “Defining Creativity” by Rita Brhel

RITA: Your CNN article, “Why Do We Make Students Sit Still in Class?” piqued my interest as many API families have children with “spirited” temperaments, including children who do not fit well in the traditional mold of sitting at a desk all day. What learning environments are better for enhancing learning for any child, whether spirited or not?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: What learning environment is best depends on the temperament of each child. Some children might flourish in a still, silent classroom. Those children might find movement and sound distracting.

Other children, like mine, require a more active environment that will allow them to filter learning through their bodies. For these children, focusing their energy on restraining their bodies is a waste of student and teacher resources. This does not mean that they should be permitted to run around the classroom screaming and flailing chaotically, but rather that their bodies should become part of the learning in a structured way.

RITA: How old are your sons, and what learning environment do you have them in?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: My sons are now 18 months old and 3 years old. My youngest son stays with a caretaker in our neighborhood who is invested in including music and art-making in his day.

My older son attends Hess Academy, which is a progressive school in Decatur, Georgia, dedicated to authentic and child-focused learning. The teachers are exceptional at identifying and supporting students’ physical, intellectual, emotional and developmental needs. The students get to regularly experience art, music, language, yoga, dramatic storytelling, outdoor classrooms and all kinds of wonderful kinetic learning.

Although traditional formal education often dismisses these hands-on activities as secondary to the educational “meat and
potatoes”—math and literacy—the teachers at my son’s school recognize that physical learning is part of the main course. Their bodies actually become part of their learning environment rather than a detriment to it.

RITA: How is this trend of pro-movement learning environments progressing among formal public/private schools? Are these progressive learning environments more the exception to the rule or are more schools beginning to go this route?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: Education seems to be heading in a more progressive direction, and it is easier to find teachers who are
interested in alternatives to neatly aligned rows of silent students. Montessori schools have been taking this approach since 1907, but the quality can vary dramatically from school to school.

Fortunately, as we understand more about the brain and its
mysteries, we are starting to translate some of the research into practice. We now know that different parts of the brain are active during different activities, so the more parts of the brain we can activate during learning, the richer the experience will be for students—and the more profound their understanding of a concept.

For example, learning to speak a letter, write a letter, read a letter, make that letter with your body, sing about that letter, paint a picture of that letter and so on all require different, but related, skills. These concepts build upon one another to create a more
profound understanding.

RITA: I live in a rural, conservative-minded area and yet hear of some teachers in the area experimenting with having children sit on bouncy balls rather than chairs. Are there some ideas that are catching on more than others?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: Bouncy balls and rocking chairs as well as some sensory tools are becoming more common in classrooms and often with very positive results.

While there are likely benefits to allowing more movement in the classroom for some students, I would be wary of a one-size-fits-all approach, where all students sit on balls, simply because some are wiggly. This also seems like a palliative approach to a deeper
problem. The bouncy balls might appease some students’ physical natures, but it doesn’t make that movement a meaningful part of the learning. It seems to be an easy fix but not a true embrace of the potential learning that could happen through students’ bodies.

RITA: Many public schools, in an effort to balance budgets with limited state funding as well as meet testing standards, are reducing time in schools in art, music and physical education classes as well as recess. What are your thoughts?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: There is plenty of research on the cognitive benefits of the arts. Studio Thinking by Hetland and Winner, et al., and Arts and the Creation of Mind by Elliott Eisner are two well-written sources. Unfortunately, in our test-centric culture, we often expect the arts to play a supporting role to subjects that are featured on standardized tests and many studies attempt to
understand how the arts can improve test scores.

However, the arts are worthwhile, satisfying and require complex thinking independent of their ability—or inability—to make us better at standardized tests. But that is more difficult to quantify.

Unfortunately, we tend to have a very narrow definition of intelligence that is generally limited to math and literacy skills, when in reality there are a multitude of different forms of thinking, communicating and problem solving. Forgetting about intellectual diversity is a myopic mistake, in my opinion. It not only alienates a large number of students but also creates a population with a limited, inflexible skill set and reduced intellectual resources.

Neglecting our bodies is never a good thing, either, both from a learning and fitness perspective.

RITA: What can parents do to advocate for more progressive learning environments in their local schools?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: Parents can be vocal advocates for
progressive education. Simply letting the administration know when a teacher is trying something that is successful with your child can provide powerful evidence that something is working. The bigger challenge is conveying that information to the governing bodies in education, since they typically establish the standards and testing requirements that teachers find so limiting.

RITA: Thank you, Carolina, for your insights. A final question: For parents who homeschool, what are some tips to setting up a home-based learning environment?

DR. BLATT-GROSS: Parents who homeschool face the challenge of not having a whole team of educators with diverse skills,
experiences and strengths to interact with their child.

Take advantage of programs offered by local museum and cultural venues to get them exposed to topics and teaching styles that you may be unfamiliar with, particularly if your child does not share your learning style—which tends to be the natural basis for our teaching style.

Also be sensitive and adaptable to your child’s strengths and
weaknesses. If your student can’t focus on math because he wants to be outside all day, maybe it’s time to take the math lesson
outside and start counting leaves.

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A Parent Story: It’s Not About You…It’s About Them

This past Christmas, my children and I sat around a table with my former mother- and father-in-law, my former husband, my
mother and my long-term boyfriend. We ate a delicious
Christmas feast, shared drinks and stories, and created a wonderful memory for my children by celebrating together.

About the Author

April C, a retired API Leader, lives in Maryland, USA, with her children, whom she co-parents with their father.

Three years ago, during the turbulent time of early separation and co-parenting, I wished that one day we would be able to gather again in joyous peace. Three years ago, I never expected it to actually happen.

Early separation and divorce are messy and complicated. Aside from the inner grief, bruised egos, shame and anger, everyone’s world falls apart. The children’s reality shifts from a home with two parents to a home, or homes, with only one parent present at a time. The adults’ reality of expecting a marriage to last “’til death” shatters and is replaced with “’til it doesn’t work anymore.”

During this early time, my former husband and I were lucky to have well-grounded, realistic and practical parents who did not take sides and encouraged us to take only one side: the kids’. His parents reminded us that our children had no say in our decision to marry, have children or dissolve the marriage. These were our choices and ours alone. The children are innocent. We are to be their voice.

Quickly the reality hit us: If I hurt my ex, it will only hurt our kids.

We successfully resolved to settle our divorce out of court and without lawyers. There was a lot of mutual anger and hurt, so it was extremely hard to talk to my former spouse to discuss the custody, schedules, parenting decisions and how we would divvy up what little assets we had together. But from their births, we decided to be our children’s voice when they are unable to speak, and this voice was never meant to be given up to anyone else, certainly not to lawyers or to the courts.

As bad as it was working with my former partner, I knew it would be much harder if we had to shell out college tuition in lawyers’ fees or had the courts making the choices for our children. In the back of my mind, I had to remind myself that an act against their father is an act against them. Every one of us is someone’s child, so in proceeding with divorce agreements, we resolved to do nothing against the other that we wouldn’t want done to our own child.

Our goal as parents always was to have strong connections with our children, with them always knowing they come first. Divorce does not, in any way, change this goal. Divorce can certainly impede its success when parents are not respectful of the child’s need to have a unique and special relationship with the other parent. Divorce can impede the child’s need to have both parents present at special moments in their life.

The kids come first. Regardless of how we felt toward one another, it needed to have nothing to do with us coming together to show support for our son’s first soccer game, or their birthday parties, or their school celebrations. We could be mad at each other as much as we wanted to in our own time alone, but when it came time for the children to be in the spotlight, all of that noise needed to be silent. If we had nothing nice to say to each other, we said nothing. If it was hard to sit close, we gave each other distance. But our family team was still there, full of support and full of love, as all families should be, regardless of their marital status.

When making arrangements for this past Christmas, I asked my children what they wanted to do. They decided where they wanted to have Christmas dinner and who they wanted to invite. They were very precise in deciding who, what, where and when. It was up to us to make it so. It was all of us, and we were successful.

Their father and I are not best friends, but if we see each other out socially, we will be social with one another and then part ways. Time has allowed us to heal and let go of old wounds.

At some point, my children will be grown, and they will look back at us and look at how we treated each other. I want them to look back and know that, while we were unable to maintain our marriage, we maintained our family—a strong family that will always be there no matter what.

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A Parent Story: What Co-parenting Looks Like for Us

My daughters were 6 and 9 years old when their dad and I decided to separate.

Lisa FiertagAbout the Author

Lisa Feiertag, API Leader, lives in the USA with her two children, whom she co-parents with their father. She serves as an API Leader Applicant Liaison for Attachment Parenting International.

It had become quite obvious that our relationship had come to its natural ending, and their dad and I were both ready to be in a place where there was less tension and more peace. When we finally decided to voice the realities of separation, we realized that one of our main concerns was the children and how this new structure would affect them.

I had questions: How would I function as a mother who would be away from her children for any length of time? How would my children react to being physically separated from me? Could I continue to financially support us without losing additional time with my girls? Would my children emotionally survive the divorce without scars?

It was quickly determined that we would share custody as best as possible.

We had modeled suggestions, such as every other weekend plus two nights per week or one week on/one week off. The latter was quickly thrown out, as I could not imagine being away from my kids for a week at a time. What we eventually decided upon was a schedule similar to the first option with an individualized scenario of offering our kids one-on-one time with each parent one weekend of every month: one girl on Saturday, the other girl on Sunday.

It was agreed that having this for our girls might help with the adjustment and allow for much-needed alone time with each child. This was a concept that we thought would happen only for the first few months, but when we went to reassess, our girls protested and shared that this was their favorite time in the month. How could we take that away? Three years later, we still have this setup with no end in sight.

The topic of finances brought on a lot of other emotional obstacles. Dividing all of our assets in half may seem easy, but it is not as carefree when you get down to all the little details. Financial concerns are stressed with the reality of living within two separate homes on the same income that you did in one house.

In the end, we were able to compromise and found a solution that would allow us to put our children first: I would have the girls when their dad was working in exchange for a higher child support payment that would allow me to continue to support myself just as I did when we were living together.

We also delayed our date of divorce so that health insurance and other issues could remain the same as we settled into this change. This assured that my children would not be in another person’s care, keeping the consistency of being with one parent at all times.

Within our negotiations, another challenge became very obvious: No matter what, the father of my children and I will always be connected.

We found that raising our girls in a shared manner would require a need for frequent communication. In speaking with one another, we needed to find a way to remember that it was best if we could be as direct and civil as possible. This is not always easy when emotions are running high.

The first year of separation is somewhat of a blur for me and was a time of complete survival. I didn’t recognize this at first, as I was intently focused on my children, but when we were apart, I experienced some of the darkest moments in my life. As an example, in the first month of our separation, I called a friend and asked her to help me pack for a trip that I didn’t want to cancel. She began to give me the basics, and I had to stop her and tell her that I needed specifics: I needed her to tell me exactly what she would put in her suitcase, so I could write it down and find the items in my house.

When my girls and I arrived at our destination, I realized what was forgotten and laughed as it was not on the list, so it did not make it into the suitcase. We did enjoy that trip and learned to live without some items. We were together and experienced a much-needed healing opportunity.

Momzelle_AD_Vertical TAF 13-14Over the last few years, I have come to realize that being securely attached to our children does not have to look like all of the other households where two parents are living happily under one roof. My children and I can maintain our connections from a distance with a few creative endeavors. For instance, my oldest received a phone at a younger age, so she can be in communication with her dad and me at any time. Another idea is that I put together little bags of small items for my youngest, so she can have pieces of me when she is away from me at night and needs to feel our connection. I continue to search for flexible, creative ways that my children are able to reach out to me even when we are apart.

The fear that my secure attachment to my children would end began to diminish in time. What I have come to understand is that I have to be fully present to my girls when I am with them. I need to be ready to sit, snuggle and be open to changing our plans if it doesn’t feel right.

It is important to recognize that their dad will do things differently, and that is OK. From this place, I am able to answer the questions that come up around meeting Dad’s girlfriend and her kids, help determine the best way to explain this scenario to the children’s friends and hear my oldest encourage me to begin dating.

Most importantly, I have to work on my own healing when I am alone so that I can do all of this and more as the need arises.


Co-parenting Basics

The number-one support call received by Attachment Parenting International (API) is parents seeking resources while going through the physical separation and legal side of divorce.

lisa fiertag 2About the Author

Lisa Feiertag, API Leader, lives in the USA with her two children, whom she co-parents with their father. She serves as an API Leader Applicant Liaison for Attachment Parenting International. Read her personal co-parenting story.

API supports relationships that are nurtured for life. We are about promoting parenting practices that create strong, healthy emotional bonds between children and their parents through API’s Eight
Principles of Parenting, which offer parents wisdom to help establish the connection that is needed to offer respect to all children regardless of their age or circumstance.

“Co-parenting” is the term used to describe the situation when children are parented by two individuals who are no longer in a marital or romantic relationship with one another. When children are a part of the divorce equation, parents quickly find out that co-parenting is critical for the kids’ health and well-being.

At first, co-parenting may seem like an easy solution for two people who are constantly arguing, but often it is quickly determined to be a hardship in and of itself. Co-parenting can become even more of a challenge when one or both of the adults practice Attachment Parenting (AP).

One of the resources offered to parents who seek out API support can be found at This co-parenting worksheet comes highly recommended by such parent educators as Ruth Nemzoff, EdD, LCSW, at Storris, Connecticut, USA: “I do not exaggerate when I say that giving that document to my clients, when they are pondering separation, has sometimes resulted in figuring out how to stay together. It captures in exquisite detail what it takes to really co-parent in ways that are based on the best interests of the child!”

This document introduces the many challenges of co-parenting and leads the reader to question how one or both parents can successfully co-parent as an AP family.

Determining Peaceful Custody Arrangements

One of the first tasks parents will need to arrange is the custody schedule:

  • Will parents divide days and nights equally?
  • How will holiday, birthday and vacation schedules be handled?
  • Who will provide childcare for children who are not school age or during times children are out of school?
  • How will the transitions take place?
  • Where do the children go when they are sick and childcare or school is not an option?

It is important for parents to remember that the children are the top priority when negotiating the daily tasks of life. This job becomes a major adjustment when two people are struggling to define a new relationship after separation or divorce. It is the children’s needs that are required to come first, and the parent(s) must keep their own feelings toward their spouse/partner or the new reality in check as they navigate schedules and calendars.

Being open and flexible with one another is extremely important. Any finalized plan may need to be re-assessed at the different developmental stages to determine what is best for each of the children. Parents can be creative with the schedule, such as introducing concepts like one-on-one days with each child and being together on major holidays and birthdays during the first year.

An AP family can be confident that they have the resources to determine what works best for their individual family. Couples can remember that they can work together to set the schedule
instead of relying on a predetermined, court-appointed custody plan.

For younger children, it is recommended that they do not move in between homes, but instead have a primary residence with a consistent caregiver and to limit the amount of shuffling as much as possible.

With older children, parents may find that it is less about the location of the home—the place itself—and more about the person that the children are securely attached to: the parent. Thus, going in between homes is less traumatic as long as the child has time to securely attach to the parent and sufficient transition time at the new location.

In the beginning, the agreed-upon nightly schedule may not happen until the child is comfortable with the new situation, and it is wise for the parents to honor this need of the child while remembering that this is not a permanent phase. As children grow into adolescence, parents may honor their voice and allow them to be a part of the decision process of where and when they are with each parent.

Children will need some amount of consistency and allowances for transitions. If the child is accustomed to a stay-at-home parent, care must be taken to help the child adjust if this reality will be altered. Younger children may withdraw from social friends and outings in order to be with the parent, while teenagers may need to spend more time with peers. Parents need to be on hand and available to be with the child when needed for emotional and physical support.

Read the author’s personal story: “A Parent Story: What Co-Parenting Looks Like for Us” by Lisa Feiertag

Deciding Upon Medical Care

After custody is determined, the questions about medical care need to be discussed:

  • Who will be the primary liaison with the doctors?
  • Who will schedule routine appointments?
  • How will medical expenses be divided?
  • Who will provide insurance coverage for the children?
  • Will the children remain with current physicians, eye doctors and dentists?
  • How will larger bills, such as emergency care or orthodontics, be divided?
  • What is the time frame for a parent who handles emergency visits to inform the other parent?

It may be easiest to maintain the established relationships with doctors who had cared for the children before the parents’ separation. If this is not the case, parents will need to work together to decide how they will select future doctors.

Children can develop attachments to their medical providers, but the most important factor is to have a primary parent attend the appointments to provide the comfort the child needs. Children may prefer to remain consistent in having the parent who previously attended all appointments continue to do so. If this was the role of a stay-at-home parent, attention may be needed to make it possible for this parent to continue in this role.

The couple may need to brainstorm ways for doctor visits and payments to be divided up in a manner that is best for each person.

Educational Issues

As parents are negotiating living arrangements, careful thought must also be given to any changes that may happen in terms of schooling. Many AP families are involved in alternative schooling that may need to change for a variety of reasons after divorce. Co-parenting will involve determining ways to make this transition smooth or, if possible, to continue with the educational route that was determined before divorce.

Some issues to consider are:

  • Will the child remain at the current school?
  • What form of transportation will be needed to attend school?
  • How will parents divide up the responsibilities of
    extracurricular activities and school volunteer opportunities?
  • Who will be the primary contact for the school system?
  • How will information about the children be obtained from the school?
  • Who will attend parent-teacher conferences?
  • What about post-high-school education?
  • Will notices from school go home to one parent or both?

Depending on the age of the child, educational issues could become a very involved conversation between parents as they navigate what would be best for the newly structured family.

Ideally, for school-age children, keeping them in their known classroom environment or homeschooling scenario might be best. Children form attachments with teachers and classmates, so keeping them in the same school will help to soften the transitions that are happening at home. This will allow a consistent adult figure to remain with the child, as the child may struggle with issues such as abandonment. Often the school counselor will facilitate groups on separation and divorce, which may be beneficial to a child so that she can feel as if she is not alone in experiencing the emotions that arise based on her new reality.

Parents will need to discuss who will be the primary contact for the school and how they will share information with one another. If issues develop at school, parents will need to determine how to work together to find positive solutions with school staff and within the two separate homes. Consistency and flexibility may prove to be what helps them to find ideal solutions in school, just as it would be for the home environment.

For preschool-age children, and older children as needed, transportation to and from school may need to be addressed, as primary residence and work-related schedules for one or both parents can change. Transportation to and from school could be a factor in determining custody schedules.

When determining how parents will attend extracurricular activities, volunteer opportunities and parent-teacher conferences, couples will need to decide upon what is most comfortable for all involved. If parents are in a working relationship where each person is civil and able to communicate effectively, then overlapping responsibilities may not be as much of an issue than if the couple is in disrepair and unable to work together. If the latter is true, then the parents may decide that the person responsible for these activities is the one who has custody on the given day. Teachers are more than willing to work with parents to hold two separate conferences if needed and provide information to each separate household.

Looking at what is best for the child may be exactly what is easiest and necessary, even if parents need to put their own feelings of discomfort on hold to be in the same conference or extracurricular activity.

Other Areas of Compromise

Parents will have many issues to discuss and compromise on throughout the child’s developmental growth years and into adulthood:

  • Will the child attend a certain religious organization and follow in those life-cycle events?
  • Will there be changes as the child grows?
  • How will the parents work out travel during holidays, school breaks and vacation times? When and how will parents inform the other of the travel? How will parents work out travel between states and outside the country?
  • When extended family visits, how will this be incorporated into the custody schedule?
  • What happens if one parent passes away or is involved in a major medical life issue?
  • Will the extended family be granted visitation if a parent dies?
  • How and when will new romantic partnerships be introduced to the children?
  • At what point do you allow the child to decide for himself what house to live in?

These are questions that all parents, regardless of their parenting approach, will have to answer at some point in the co-parenting relationship.

After all of the technical questions of co-parenting are addressed, one is left to ponder how parents can stay securely attached to their children when they are no longer with them on a daily basis.

This may be especially hard in families where one parent was with the children as a stay-at-home parent. Some may decide to delay divorce because of the obstacles in finding employment for both parents and childcare for the children. The stay-at-home parent’s world is changed, not only from losing a partner whom he or she believed would last a lifetime, but also with the reality that shared custody of the children involves forced separation from them.

Divorce impacts each person in a family unit, and care must be taken to help each individual through the transition, along with the unit as a whole or the newly revised units.

Get more co-parenting insights with “A Parent Story: It’s Not About You…It’s About Them” by Katie C

Emotional Support

The primary parent—often the mother but sometimes the father—may find that a child holds all of his emotional discomfort with the separation when he is with the secondary parent. As a result, when the child transitions into the home of the primary parent, he may unleash all of the feelings that were held until he is back in a familiar environment. Therefore, it may be wise to remain as flexible as possible during transitions and leave time for the  emotions to come out before moving into a new activity.

Both parents will need to remember that this space may be just as needed for them. Parents will find that time without the child is very quiet, and when the child returns to the house, it becomes loud and chaotic. Thus, this transitional time is beneficial for all, and secure attachment will continue to develop and grow stronger as each person is allowed the time needed to adjust and heal.

Remaining flexible also allows for any mishaps in timing when one parent is delayed in meeting the other person. Having extra time diminishes any anger from unmet expectations of being somewhere by a certain hour.

Children’s reactions to divorce may be very different from how adults respond and can be drastically diverse for each child. Parents may benefit in gaining an understanding of the developmental stages of childhood, focusing specifically on the emotional, social, spiritual and physical growth expectations within each stage.

It is also helpful to understand how children grieve, even though they still have both parents, because reactions to divorce can be similar to the changes that happen when a parent has died. Divorce is a life-altering experience for all family members, and each person will grieve the loss of the security and structure of having one solid home full of love and support for each person.

Emotions will come up for each parent, and it is OK to express those feelings in front of the children. When parents are able to show their emotions, children will see that they are not alone in how they feel. They will be able to cry or get angry and express themselves, which will alleviate the chance of any of the feelings becoming stuck—of kids holding on to the emotions for fear of releasing them or feeling alone because no one else seems emotional.

Children need to know that what they are feeling is normal. If children feel any lack of concern from a parent, they may stop their outward expression of emotion, fearing that the parent believes the feelings are not important. Children might also worry about causing more pain to the parent.

Other adults may have shared with children the importance of taking more responsibility than is age appropriate. Statements such as “You are the new man of the house” or “As the oldest daughter, you should take on more household chores” may come from well-intentioned adults but may contribute to the stoic stance that might facilitate repression of feelings.

Regardless of the source, it is vital that parents offer children the time to express their feelings without judgment or control and to be vulnerable in front of the children as needed. Children model and learn from their parents. It is also important to realize that children may not show emotions of loss until a year or longer after the separation.

Each parent must be willing to honor what feelings arise within and express emotions in a manner that is respectful when children are present. Often children will heal within your embrace, so it is vital that you are clear on your own emotions, reservations, concerns, agendas, etc. When parents offer permission for the child to express the feelings that come up, they are strengthening the child’s attachment to both parents and are supporting the child’s self-image.

Parents may need to help children understand that they can love each parent and form bonds with both of them. Children are a product of each parent, and they may feel as if something might be wrong with them as a result of the separation/divorce. This is not a time to ask children to reject the other parent, and it is another reminder of the parent’s need to remain aware of their own issues that come up. Parents do not want to project their own insecurities onto the children. Children of all ages can and will pick up on any negative feelings that one parent may have for the other.

Effective communication between parents who are separating or divorcing is an integral part to their remaining securely attached to their children. When parents are together during activities, events or transitional periods, being compassionate toward one another is important for children to witness. Children love and support each parent and want to know that they can continue to have these feelings without reservation. When parents are able to be in each other’s presence without discomfort, a child can know that it is safe to express their own feelings and communicate any issue that arises.

Along these lines, it is wise for parents to maintain an ability to speak with one another and to avoid placing the child in the middle. If children are placed in the middle, they may begin to resent this as they grow older and will not be able to distinguish if they are communicating with each parent because of their own desire or for the sake of keeping the information flowing. It is wise for parents to be responsible to one another no matter how painful or awkward the situation may become. It is advised that parents find time away from the children to have conversations if it is tense while the children are present.

Seek Out Parent Support

Embracing friends and family during this time of transition will be helpful to the parent who is struggling to adjust to the new reality.

There are many different resources available to parents and children who are experiencing divorce:

  • Communities typically offer support groups for divorced individuals to come together and be in the company of those who have been through a similar situation.
  • Local agencies can provide legal assistance and help with food and housing costs.
  • Mediation services are available to parents who need assistance when communicating with one another.
  • Libraries have a wealth of resources for parents to educate themselves on a variety of issues and find help to answer career needs such as how to prepare a resume or practice for an interview.
  • School systems have resources and groups for children.
  • Local nonprofits may provide after-school activities and outings for students.

API is committed to providing parents with resources for all issues that may arise within the child’s developmental life stages. Information can be provided to parents as they determine the best course of action for their children within the legal system. API can suggest professionals who may be willing to act as expert witnesses, and provide printable information for a parent to share with his or her lawyer.

However, API cannot guarantee any outcome in an individual case or predict the future and how the divorce may impact children involved. The reality is that divorce is complicated, emotional and messy even when the best of intentions are present for each parent.

While there is some amount of relief and freedom with the act of divorce, when children are involved, there are many challenges to consider with co-parenting. Many issues may not come to resolution in the exact manner that any parent may desire.

Each parent must realize that there has to be a high level of integrity, and compromising with one another is extremely important. Attorneys may fight for their client but may not have the capacity to truly understand what it means for a couple to work out co-parenting issues, especially when one or both parents are nurturing the children in an AP manner.

With that said, there is hope. Children are resilient, and when in securely attached relationships with parents, they will be able to remain emotionally healthy and stable when their needs are being met, whether or not they are living in an intact family or in two different households.

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Going Roadtripping…with the Kids

In front of the wood-burning stove, well into winter, we began our typical summer vacation daydreaming. We settled at last on a cross-country road trip to see family.

Jamie Birdsong Nieroda & childrenAbout the Author
Jamie Birdsong-Nieroda, API Leader, lives on Long Island, New York, USA, with her husband and their two children. She serves as the group leader of API of Suffolk County Long Island in New York.

Truth be known, the idea of driving from New York, USA, to Oklahoma, USA, was inspired initially by high airfare: We weren’t thrilled about dropping $900 per person to get there.

Thus began our planning of a long car trip. I think of the process as part of the ever-present task of “educating oneself about parenthood” included in Attachment Parenting International’s First Principle of Parenting.

IMG_2024At some point during our trip planning, we realized we could fly to Dallas for half the cost of a flight to Oklahoma, but we already were excited about taking a cross-country trip with our children. I didn’t want to bypass the memories I’d envisioned for the tarmac and nearly instant arrival to our destinations. I wanted the experience we could have as a family on the road as well as the relationship my children would gain with the land and its undulations.

Ultimately, I wanted the time with my family to be about connection as we experienced a series of places together.  As fast paced and demanding as life can be, I found this vision beckoning to me as a welcome retreat from our schedules at home.

No, I didn’t suffer from delusions that the trip would be without bumps. A 15-minute trip to our local library sometimes challenges my patience. Driving there with arguing children the week before our vacation commenced, my husband and I wondered if we were going to regret our decision to undertake “The Great American Road Trip,” but any worries were unfounded, and here’s why:

Portable Geography and Car Parties

IMG_2213I printed free online maps of each state and purchased a children’s atlas. My children drew or wrote about each place, including significant land and water features, year of statehood, state nickname and flower, and so on.

We crossed each state line with a homemade “car party,” complete with penny whistles, bubbles and a novelty snack, and began reading from our atlas, which contained details such as strange and wacky laws in each state, like the one in Sag Harbor, New York, USA, that restricts people from changing clothes in their cars.

This activity alone broke up the miles as every new state brought with it a change of focus and a car party to anticipate! We traveled through 11 different states and more than 1,500 miles one way, so we had ample opportunities to focus on our parties, paperwork and atlases.

Connecting through Storytelling

We traveled with “Trip Talk: Box of Questions” conversation-starting cards from I wrote our answers in journals to capture everyone’s replies, though videoing their responses would have also been a great memento, and what kid doesn’t love to use a camcorder or other recording device?

Riding along, all of us took turns responding to questions like “What’s the first vacation you remember?” “What’s the fanciest hotel you’ve ever stayed at? What’s the dingiest?” and “Ten years from now, what memory from this vacation will you still be talking about?” It helped us connect in our little Honda Civic as we drove mile after mile.

We continued the storytelling once we had arrived to our
destination by asking other family members and chronicling their responses as well. What a great way for our children to connect with and learn about their great grandmother’s life by hearing
stories, such as her very first vacation occurring when she was 19 years old!

IMG_1805In addition to our own stories, we brought a mix of books and audio books. I mostly chose stories that related to our travels. As we drove through the Smoky Mountains, we read a Carole Marsh mystery about the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, USA, which excited us all for the visit that lay ahead. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate accompanied our Texas, USA, travels, and Davy Crockett’s tall tales entertained us before we visited his Tennessee, USA, homestead.

I sought online materials to deepen our experience of a place. Once there, we made use of treasure hunts, I-Spy games or activities that supported our children engaging actively with their surroundings.

Attending to Multiple Needs at Mealtime

IMG_1723When the need arose, we parked at rest stops to stretch, play ball, go for walks and eat our meals.

Due to some food restrictions as well as the desire to eat well while saving money on the road, I had baked and cooked food to last us a good portion of the trip. I had a cooler full of frozen meals: vegetable quiche, meatballs with diced kale and broccoli, quesadillas on gluten-free tortillas and quinoa-kale burgers. I also packed hard-boiled eggs, cacao nut chews, fruit, veggies, hummus and almond jam cookies.

Not only did this save money, but it allowed us to play games
together in nature rather than sit in a restaurant or stretch in a hot parking lot, effectively meeting multiple needs at once and “feeding with love and respect,” Attachment Parenting International’s Second Principle of Parenting.

Positive Discipline and Playful Parenting

When our children had a seemingly immediate need, we tried to remain empathetic, “respond with sensitivity” as in Attachment Parenting International’s Third Principle of Parenting and “practice positive discipline,” the Seventh Principle of Parenting.

We really could understand their frustrations and verbalized that when frustrations arose, rather than telling them to get over it. We then moved on and found an activity that transformed the irritation to focus and fun.

One of our best tools for riding the waves of frustration when they arose, besides switching the activity or taking a break from the car, was to create music. One of us would begin singing the blues: “He wants some gum (x2), don’t know what to do (x2); he wants some gum. Hey, I do, too! He wants it now (x5), shooby shooby do do! He wants that gum, how ‘bout you?”

During that song, everyone began to add  “do-wops,” yodels, knee slaps and new lines. And believe it or not, we rode 17 miles in creative bluesy-bliss to the next rest stop where we found more snacks and stretched. The gum request, due to hunger, was long forgotten.

We made up songs like “Ode to Nashville, not Asheville” to cross the miles. Sometimes these songs were sheer genius, not begun due to any lurking fiasco but preemptively whiling away a stretch of road when we were between activities.

Another activity that proved helpful was an engaging game shared by API of Suffolk County Long Island member Efrat Bolze that she has used to transform car struggles with her son: Together they
imagined together all the items they could put in a bowl of cereal. This game can entertain children up to at least 11 years old, because I’ve seen it in action. This technique dovetails with the “fulfill through fantasy what you cannot grant in reality” positive
discipline tool.

Breaking Up Travel Time Creatively

Twice, we opted for evening and nighttime driving after a full day’s
activities. We spent a day at the Biltmore Estate, playing at the vineyard-farm area and eating dinner there before we began driving from 7:00 p.m. to midnight. Bonus: The adults got a chance to talk without interruption across the miles, a rare luxury when children are awake.

Other days, we made headway during daylight when we could see the scenery change and engage in all of our activities.

Down Time Between Visits

IMG_2478Using our drive time to connect with one another helped to prevent tantrums. We divided the trip between camping and hotels, nature and city, friends and our own forays. We planned time with our children in between visiting family, taking the time to connect, which a busy pre-vacation schedule had made less frequent than we would have liked.

Rather than having endless visits with people our children do not know, in child-unfriendly environments with inappropriate expectations for their ages, we gave them breaks where just the four of us could reconnect. One especially exciting activity was taking them rock climbing at a converted grain silo.

Realistic Expectations

IMG_1750I told myself that even a 15-minute trip to the library could have bumps, so releasing expectations that this trip would go smoothly was imperative. Attachment Parenting has helped my family to be cognizant of developmental stages, set realistic expectations and remain flexible.

We also didn’t expect our children to want to do every activity we presented. When our 8-year-old said she didn’t feel like going to Garvan Woodland Gardens in Arkansas, USA, I waited in the car with her, suggesting we read and relax instead.

She jumped at the opportunity to enter the Gardens less than 10 minutes later when her father and brother called to say they had seen a snake in a water feature. We then enjoyed the afternoon together, with her willingly participating, which made us all happier.


We bought postcards at rest stops and chose which one suited each recipient, and took time addressing and stamping them, deciding what to write and getting them mailed. In this way, we connected with loved ones as we traveled along, inviting them into our journey.

Audio Stories

We also traveled with audio stories from, created by a former Waldorf teacher who saw the need for children’s media that is simple and filled with a sense of wonder — stories that would inspire children to play, marvel, laugh and be kind. The stories model healthy relationships and values and engage a variety of ages.

Woven between the “Travel” Sparkle stories are some long staircase verses that everyone can join in, as well as some fun and original car games designed to entertain and inspire the whole family—which leads me to…


Games help everyone to enjoy the ride. A favorite of ours is
searching for objects we pass that begin with each letter of the
alphabet. Sometimes we attempt to get them in order from A to Z, and other times we passed something too good not to write down, like silo or carnival, so we “collected” it before we reached that letter.

For this trip, I brought some games new to my children. API of Suffolk County Long Island member Carole Vande Velde — a friend who is a veteran of long roadtrips and had suggested snacks that keep hands busy awhile, like edamame or pistachios in the shell — offered to loan me some favorite manipulatives. I brought out these completely-new-to-my-kids toys on the last day of the trip when the anticipation of returning home — and back to Dad, who had flown home after two weeks with us — began to create impatience.

state_list_2Had I been more together, I would’ve succeeded in printing a worksheet to identify which state license plates we’d seen so we could have crossed them off as we went along.

One thing that we did find necessary to make time for was creating our own game board, which gave us direction when upset feelings arose. Since Dad had flown home partway through our journey to return to work, my children were really missing him. Any time they expressed sadness about missing Dad, we put the energy into creative expression, creating our own board game designed by my son. We named it “Welcome Home,” with the objective to complete the tasks on the board by the time we made it back to Dad. Creating a “Welcome Home” deck of cards provided us somewhere to place our practical questions, concerns and lessons learned throughout our journey.

Everyone Has a Voice

We knew the return trip, especially without Dad, might be less compelling for the kids after having already made the journey once. I already knew the route for the return trip and where we would stay for two of our stops. These details were nonnegotiable. Yet I wanted everyone to have a say in what the return trip could offer.

Sitting around Grandma’s kitchen table our last evening in Oklahoma, USA, I asked everyone to list a few things they wanted to do during our travel. I noted that we wouldn’t get to do all requests listed, but we would do at least two from each person’s list.

IMG_2139I wrote down my son’s first request, “Look for crawdads at Sam Gray’s creek,” and each proceeding idea. Grandma, who was driving back with us on the return journey, suggested: “Visit Mount Vernon.” Everyone seemed to want to have ice cream of some variety, so we wrote that down as well. I added: “Hike somewhere,” “Visit a museum,” and “Go somewhere or do something new and unexpected.”

We created a funny, little pledge that might help us just as someone was, say, whining that they didn’t want to stop in Washington, D.C. The pledge was inspired by the book, The Penderwicks.

Ours went something like this:  “We, the Nieroda family, do hereby promise to try, to the best of our ability, to remain positive during activities others most want to do on our return trip home and to stay patient as we wait for our own chosen activities.” As did the Penderwicks, we placed our hands on top of one another’s as we said our pact.

I thought we might return to it as a gentle reminder at some point east of the Mississippi River. As it turns out, the pact may have been unnecessary, as everyone kept such positive attitudes. Perhaps “responding with sensitivity” to each family member’s needs, Attachment Parenting International’s Third Principle of Parenting, and “striving for balance,” the Eighth Principle of Parenting, strengthened the connection that in turn supported us all as we journeyed home.

Journalling the Trip as Traveled

Having more than two weeks’ worth of vacation under our belts, we used Instagram to create artistic photos of our journey. Pulling out of town at 4:00 p.m. after a day of active play with content kids, my last stop was to pick up the photos. Looking at and discussing them occupied us awhile as we drove eight hours that first evening.

IMG_2292The next morning, when we set off again just east of the
Mississippi River, Grandma sat between my kiddos as they created their own scrapbooks of the trip. We laughed that if anyone asked how the vacation was upon our return, they could whip out their albums and say, “Here! Let me show you!”

We prompted my 5-year-old son to draw pictures of events or
objects that he wanted to remember from the journey. He drew a “thing with an arm that goes up and down” (an oil rig) and a salamander that he’d found while camping just south of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, USA.

My 8-year-old daughter busily jotted photo captions on scrap paper, then transferred them to her album. As we visited new places on our return journey, Grandma asked us about our recollections.
Poems were created this way, then thank-you cards and finally new entries for the scrapbooks.

Reflecting On the Trip Afterwards

IMG_2834Did I mention that I had brought a stack of homeschool books with the intention of opening them for a whole other path of learning? It just didn’t happen with the many other diversions and hands-on learning and living we experienced.

And you know what? I really would not trade this trip for four round-trip tickets from New York to Oklahoma. Really.

And next summer? I’m already dreaming of the possibilities.

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