5 Ways to Start a Storytelling Tradition

by Christa Melnyk Hines on August 29, 2014

Books picStorytelling is a wonderful way to connect with your child. Through stories you can weave lessons about your family’s values, while also enhancing listening skills and delighting your child’s natural curiosity and imagination.

Chances are you have already told your kids stories about when you were a child. If your kids are like mine, they probably never tire of hearing about some of the difficulties you experienced or the funny situations you got yourself into.

Here are a few ways to introduce storytelling into your child’s life.

Display old photos. Integrate a few old photos or paintings of your grandparents or family ancestors into your home decor or pull out the family photo album. (Remember those?!) These photos invite curious youngsters to listen to stories about the family members who were previously just names that dotted the family tree. Share funny anecdotes or any stories of the struggles your relatives overcame during a time when life didn’t have all of the modern conveniences we enjoy now. 

Story Cubes. Roll the dice and make up a story. An inexpensive game called Rory’s Story Cubes gives kids and adults the opportunity to practice their improvisational storytelling chops. Arranging the dice into a storytelling line, also helps kids think about the order of the story that they tell.  

Picture this. Sitting side by side or around the kitchen table each person draws a picture or cuts a photo out of a magazine. Next, set a timer for up to 5 minutes. Each person writes a story about his or her picture. When the timer goes off, everyone stops and reads what they wrote. No critiquing or worrying about achieving perfection. Take it from me, there is no such thing as a perfect first draft. This is only for fun! *If your child is too young to write, have her draw a picture and tell a story about it. 

Circle story. Stuck on a long car trip or winding down at bedtime? Start telling a story. Either make one up or start with a real event. Ask your child to add to it. Take turns until you come to the end. Kids love considering what-ifs. This technique offers a good opportunity to imagine a what-if no matter how outrageous! 

Replay. Sometimes books don’t end the way we’d like them to. Ask your child how she would re-invent the story if she was the author. 

What are some ways you have introduced storytelling into your family’s life?  

 

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Social Media Networks for Kids

by Christa Melnyk Hines on August 19, 2014

HH&H_cover_730x600-1Somewhere between the ages of 7 and 12, consider slowly beginning to social media train your child. While most social media networks only cater to the 13 and up crowd, there are several social media networks designed for younger kids that provide a healthy training ground.

 With your supervision, these sites can offer a positive introduction to how social media works and address questions that come up while interacting with others online.

What is COPPA?

When you start exploring social networks geared for kids under the age of 13, first take a look at how the company plans to use your child’s personal information. Under the Federal Trade Commission’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a company that targets kids under the age of 13 is required to disclose to parents what it plans to do with any personal or identifiable information it collects about your child. Parents must also provide consent for the child to use the site.

Discussion Opportunities

When you land on a site that you and your child like and you’ve read the terms of privacy and terms of use, start discussing the following:

  • How to create a strong password.
  • Safety and security. Never share your password with anyone and tell mom or dad if something you see makes you uncomfortable.
  • What a good, safe profile looks like.
  • What types of information we don’t share with others.
  • What interests him about the site.
  • What an avatar is.

Sites to check out:

Club Penguin (7+): Part of the Walt Disney company, this network offers an interactive forum for kids to play games that help with motor skills, creativity, teamwork and math (like money management). Kids can chat with other players in a safe community and can also create their own social groups. 

YourSphere (9+): CommonSenseMedia.org gives this site a 4-star rating for its safety and clean content. YourSphere requires that parents go through a background check to verify their identity. Kids earn credits for positive interactions in the community and membership rules are stringent. 

GromSocial (9+): This site doesn’t win the highest quality marks on CommonSenseMedia, but it appears safe. This social media network was started in 2012 by Zach Marks, who was 11 at the time. The network touts safety for kids in a friendly, monitored environment. It features a built-in filter that kicks out profanity and has a strong anti-bullying message. Parents can receive reports about their child’s activity, such as who he communicated with and what he viewed. The site features games, music videos, live chats, opportunities to customize avatars, and post photos and videos. There is also a place for kids to seek help on homework. Parents approve friend requests.

Is your child on a social media network? Please tell me about it. I’d love to check it out!

Coming Tuesday, September 16! Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital World

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Put Family Rules in Black & White

by Christa Melnyk Hines on August 14, 2014

RulesPost photoSpelling out your family’s principles now can help later.

Are your kids a few years away from owning a smartphone and stepping into social media? If so, now is the perfect time to get crystal clear about your family values reflected in the house rules you set.

In many ways the online world still seems like the wild west as far as what is appropriate behavior and what isn’t. The unknowns and ever-evolving platforms fuel perplexity and plenty of anxiety for nervous parents.

Online life has become an extension of our offline life, underscoring the need to teach kids appropriate filters, boundaries and conscientious behavior.

Recently, my family gathered to outline our household rules. The decision to put these rules into writing was mostly driven by an uptick in sibling conflict, disrespectful attitudes, poor choices and irresponsible behavior–issues that I assume many families with elementary school age children deal with.

We went around the table and we each took a turn adding what we thought should be a family rule and the consequences for breaking those rules. With our kids dialed into the process and understanding what our family felt was important to creating a happier home life, we established a new tone about how we relate to each other.

Later as I sat down to compose our household rules, I couldn’t help thinking about how these same rules will translate in the online environment for my kids in coming years.

For example:

  • Use respectful language
  • Engage in courteous, kind behavior
  • Ask for permission
  • Aim for compromise
  • Apologize if you make a mistake

These rules for living seem so basic and simple.

But as we all know, life doesn’t lend itself to simplicity. Life is messy and complicated. New situations present learning curves. Sometimes we make a wrong turn. Sometimes we break or push rules out of curiosity. Kids do this all of the time. Other times it isn’t until we swerve off the cliff of not-so-great choices that we decide to rest our weary heads on the values and principles that have never steered us wrong in the past.

For my family, seeing our rules in black and white posted on our refrigerator reaffirmed the values we hold dear in a non-nebulous way that I hope will guide their choices and behavior as they eventually begin interacting with others online.

Naturally my kids test these rules every day and remind each other “Hey, you just broke a rule – you can’t call me that name.” Sometimes to change a pattern, we just need to be more aware of it. And I believe this exercise is helping.

If you would like to try this with your own family, ask these questions:

  • What household rules are a reflection of my family’s values?
  • How will we hold each other accountable?
  • What are the consequences for breaking a rule?
  • What are the incentives that will positively reinforce our household guidelines?

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Coming Tuesday, September 16!

I am pleased to announce the launch of my next ebook Happy, Healthy & Hyperconnected: Raise a Thoughtful Communicator in a Digital Age. Head over here to get more details and read first reader reviews!

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Why You Need to Understand Social Media

by Christa Melnyk Hines on July 17, 2014

“I don’t like Facebook. I don’t see the point and it’s a waste of time,” a mom says to me.

She makes a great point. Social media can be a time suck. I jump onto Facebook or Twitter during the day for an actual purpose, and then I completely forget what it was I was going to say, do, or check on. I’m easily sidelined by the entertaining moments or daily news posted by my friends and family. 

ID-100198698Many parents choose to stay off of social media for privacy reasons, too. They don’t want photos of their kids floating around the Internet or they aren’t interested in re-connecting with people from the past.

These seem like valid reasons to steer clear of social media.

But, here’s the thing: Even if you aren’t an active user of social media, you need to understand how these platforms work. If you are in the throes of parenthood, you are raising children who are–or will eventually be–digital users. Today’s kids simply don’t conduct their social lives in the same ways we did.

As Tracey Hawkins, the Safety Lady, says in my article “Stay Safe from Social Media Gossip” in the July issue of Kansas City Parent magazine, you can’t fight what you don’t understand.

Do you want your kids to cut their teeth on social media with guidance from their peers or from you?

Even if you have no intention of doing anything more than lurking, at the very least familiarize yourself with social media platforms that you know your child uses or would like to use. Here is why:

  • You’ll be able to follow your kids online and see what they are posting and who they are interacting with. Use mistakes or errors in judgment as opportunities for discussion.
  • Your involvement will promote conversation about social media between you and your child. Ask your kids questions. Ask them to teach you about the sites they are interested in. Help them think critically about these sites. What do they like most about these platforms? What annoys, bothers, or frustrates them about the sites?
  • You can offer guidance to help your kids build a smarter, confident digital identity. Just because they are tech savvy doesn’t mean they always make the right choices when it comes to creating a street-savvy online footprint. You teach them how to be safe in their offline life. The same attention needs to be paid toward their online life.
  • You’ll know how to navigate their social media pages. (Make sure you have access to their passwords.) As their parent, you are ultimately responsible for knowing what they are doing and saying online. Be proactive now to avoid playing defense later.
  • As an aware parent, you can proactively and firmly shutter accounts that you feel are harmful to your kids or promote cruel behavior among participants. Be sure to discuss why these sites don’t align with your family’s values.
  • By brushing up on social media rules, you will be in a better position to be aware of and enforce age restrictions set by the sites. (Most require that users are at least 13 years old.)

To read more about social media use and teens, also check out my article “Separation Anxiety: Teens & Social Media Addiction” in the July issue of The Health Journal

Which social media sites are your teens currently into? 

Photo courtesy: FreeDigitalPhotos.net/chomnancoffee 

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Inspiring Mom Blog Series: Beth Beseau

by Christa Melnyk Hines on July 7, 2014

Welcome to the Confidently Connected Inspiring Mom Blog Series, in which I feature moms who inspire connection among mothers in their communities. This month I’d like to introduce you to Beth Beseau, facilitator of Kansas City Mompreneurs!

beth beseau headshotI first met Beth McElwain Beseau at a presentation I gave to a group of moms. She invited me to join her group the KC Mompreneurs, which includes more than 200 mom entrepreneurs from across the Kansas City area. Through her website, social media, including her popular Facebook group, and networking and shopping events, Beth is instrumental in helping moms connect with customers, as well as, find support and network with other business-oriented moms.

Beth worked in the accounting and financial field before she retired and became a stay-at-home mom to two wonderful boys. Two years ago, Beth was looking for her chance to start her own business. Although she was tempted to become a financial advisor, she instead launched Frugal Froggie which is a website that shares tips for frugal living, frugal resources, recipes, and reviews.

CMH: You are a busy working mom. What inspired you to start KC Mompreneurs?

Beth: I wanted an affordable place for moms to network and grow their business. Having attended events that were expensive to join and to attend, and usually children are not able to attend, I wanted a place for a mom to network as a business owner and bring her kids if she needed to bring them. 

Originally the group was more of networking playdates, but the group as grown so quickly that we have not had a networking playdate in a while.  I do hope to begin the networking playdates again in the fall. 

CMH: What has surprised you most about the networking group? 

Beth: I truly want a place for a mom to get her piece of the pie. Most stay-at-home moms left the workforce to be stay-at-home moms. Having just a little bit of success for the stay-at-home can mean the world to her. That boost of self confidence is just amazing to see. And to see a mompreneur who was nervous to present to a room full of mompreneurs and have an amazing presentation and be thrilled with herself and job well done is what keeps me going. It makes me smile to see that nervous mompreneur smile as she says to herself, “I did it!”  

CMH: What advice do you have for moms who are feeling isolated?

Beth: It is so hard to be a mom and start a business, let alone do them together at the same time. It is great to have a group that is there to support and help you grow your business. And even better, that it is a group of moms who completely understand the unique experience of being a business owner and mom. 

Want to learn more about Kansas City Mompreneurs? Visit www.KCMompreneurs.com.  The group is also on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Google+.

Know a mom who you would like to suggest to be included in this special blog series? Contact me at christahines13@gmail.com. 

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3 Signs It’s Time to Move On

by Christa Melnyk Hines on June 11, 2014

Paulo CoelhoBy nature, we women need to surround ourselves with a supportive village of other women. It’s a survival mechanism that is practically written into our DNA from those hunting and gathering cave-dwelling days.

In today’s society, we have the advantage of many choices when it comes to the different social groups we can join––both online and offline. But beware of joining the wrong group which can be demoralizing and can fuel isolation as much as lacking a network at all. 

Here are three signs it is time to move on:

1. Mismatched values. Values in friendship are as important as they are in marriage. If the group is critical of the choices you make in the interest of your family, the chances of forging long-term, trusting friendships in that group are slim. 

2. Something’s off. You can’t put your finger on the problem, but something doesn’t sit well with you when you are hanging out with the group. If the members’ discussions and way of doing things make you uncomfortable, anxious, bored, negative or unenthused, this is your intuition’s way of telling you to keep shopping.

3. Life changes. As time goes on, our kids grow older, our lives evolve and our priorities change. We may suddenly find ourselves in a group that is no longer a very good fit for any number of reasons. You don’t have to spurn those friendships, but do give yourself permission to expand your network and seek other groups that nurture your spirit and accommodate your goals, interests and schedule.

Do you frequently find yourself in groups that don’t feel right? Decide if you are being true to your authentic self. Get crystal clear on what you desire in your friendships and in your support network. For example:

  • Do you need to be around women who share your commitment to a healthy lifestyle? 
  • Are you someone who thrives on inspiring and lively discussions about books, news and other cultural events? 
  • Do you have a need to be around people who are as passionate about making a difference in the world as you are? 
  • Are you more comfortable around moms who work outside of the home or do you relate better to stay at home moms? Why do you think this matters to you?

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Finding a circle of friends that is just right for you will make a critical difference in your personal happiness and outlook on life. As far as I’m concerned, you deserve nothing less.

 

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How to Be a Good Customer…and a Positive Role Model

by Christa Melnyk Hines on June 5, 2014

ID-100224430While in college, I worked as a waitress, now referred to in more politically correct terms as a server. This was probably one of the most physically demanding and difficult jobs I have ever had, but also one of the best learning experiences.

One of the restaurants I worked at was a chain restaurant that tried to offer a fine dining experience. The cozy leather booths were deep and relatively private, the lighting dim and the muzac twinkled softly through the speaker system. We had a number of regular customers who we either looked forward to seeing or dreaded. 

One customer who I waited on a handful of times came in every Sunday for the early bird special. She was a middle-aged woman with blunt cut brown hair who never smiled and would request the exact same booth each time. 

She occupied her time by reading a book––and complaining about every detail of her meal and service. The steak wasn’t cooked quite to her liking. The salad didn’t come out fast enough. The food she said was abysmal. 

The first time I waited on her I was hurt when she left and didn’t leave a tip even though I’d worked hard to accommodate her many requests. Another waiter told me not to worry about it. This customer never tipped anyone and came in every weekend despite how horrible she claimed the food and service to be. 

Adversity is part of life and learning to patiently manage these types of personalities is a valuable learning experience. But, positive comments go a long way, too, toward creating an empowered, confident workforce. 

Many teens are flooding into the part-time work force this summer. Here’s how to be a good customer to kids who are just learning the ropes of customer service:

Be patient. Keep things in perspective especially when dealing with teens. Kids make mistakes. They are still learning. And for the most part, many of them care about doing their jobs well. Consider how you would speak to the teen if he or she was your child or a friend’s child. 

Avoid bullying and intimidation. Adults who scream, yell and bully kids working customer service not only set a poor example in front of their own children about how to manage their irritation and treat people in retail, they aren’t achieving anything constructive. If you make this mistake, be sure to apologize in front of your kids, too. 

Use positive reinforcement. Tell your customer service rep when he or she is doing a great job. Customer service is hard work and chances are these kids are receiving more negative comments than positive ones. Give their confidence a boost with a little thoughtful encouragement.

Managing incompetence or blatant disrespect. We are all guilty of losing our cool from time to time especially in light of obnoxious behavior or total disregard for our needs as the customer. In this situation, it makes sense to seek out the adult manager to address the situation proactively.

Overall, don’t steer your child away from customer service because you are afraid of how he or she will be treated. I firmly believe every adolescent should cut his teeth in a customer service capacity at some point. 

Customer service builds resilience, patience and teaches kids how to work through conflict and proactively manage unhappy customers. It is a skill that will help them no matter what career they eventually go into. 

And, most of all, your kids will learn how to treat others in the service industry politely and respectfully because they appreciate it when they are treated that way themselves.

 Photo courtesy: FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Amenic181

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Working from Home: Summer Vacation Day 1

by Christa Melnyk Hines on May 28, 2014

I love working from home, but summer vacation presents its own challenges. I end up working around home and my kids during camps and other activities. Every year I somehow manage to make it work, but here is what our first official day of summer vacation looked like:

I wake up early to get a little work done.

Breakfast.

My boys do their chores, math worksheets and journaling while I work.

Threaten silence during a phone call.  

Begin phone call.

Who is blowing up a balloon and releasing it? It sounds like someone passing gas, which explains the giggles. I snap my fingers in the air and make pointing gestures indicating they need to go to another room. My boys think this is funnier than the balloon, but they accommodate and head to the basement to play.

Snack.

An argument about name-calling. “Stop calling him ‘cute’!” I yell.

Boy 2 –the reporter–returns to me and says something about brother kicking him. 

OKAY, TIME OUT!!

Snack.

Bike ride and play at the park.

Snack.

Discover giant dinosaur-sized moth at the neighbor’s house. This thing can’t be native to Kansas, can it? Turns out it is.

Lunch.

Swimming pool/snacks.

Back home – boys fight about who is going to shower first.

Send both to backyard to play so I can work.

Boy 2 gets mad at Boy 1 about something and throws the key to the fence across the yard.

Boy 2 thankfully finds the key to avoid being grounded the next day.

Sit down to work for a little bit. Two minutes later, lots of screaming coming from outside. Is someone trying to steal my kids?! 

No, Boy 2 accidentally let dogs loose while trying to help a friend out of the backyard.

Dogs had a blast chasing something across the street, but thankfully didn’t get run over.

Get them safely corralled. 

More complaints about hunger–how much food do these two really need to consume?! 

I have a headache that is about the size of that moth.

Time for dinner. And yes, they eat every bite despite the snacks all day.

Is it bedtime yet?

Yay! Bedtime – I sit down to work, but each child pops back out of bed with various concerns and issues. Hubs has strategically placed himself in our bedroom to intercept escapees, but they are sneaky! How can they not be exhausted?!

I know we’ll settle into a routine soon, but thank goodness I scheduled camps and have babysitters for the summer.

Do you work from home? How do you manage summer vacation?

 

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A Letter to the Future

by Christa Melnyk Hines on May 19, 2014

 

Got end of the school year blues?

letter quoteAs the school year comes to a close, I can’t help but feel nostalgic––more so than when my kids begin a new school year. I know as parents we often ask ourselves questions like: “Where did the time go?” “Why does each year seem to be going faster than the last?”  Before you roll your eyes at these cliches thinking “well, that’s just life” consider that there is a special way to freeze frame the year momentarily. 

This month, my son’s third grade teacher asked the parents to consider writing a letter to their future 8th grader. The letters will be placed in a time capsule, and they will read them when they are preparing to graduate from 8th grade. 

As much as I loved this idea, I admit I was dragging my feet about getting my letter written. This is a crazy time of year after all. But, once I sat down and started writing, I had a hard time stopping! I had so much fun thinking about the events of the past year. 

Want to try this project? Here are few things to include in your letter if you are stumped about how to begin:

  • Write down the funny things that your child said or did. 
  • Talk about the different projects she engaged in over the school year that she really enjoyed.
  • Note the activities she especially loved to participate in.
  • Discuss the family’s highlights from the year.
  • Mention the character traits you are especially proud of when you think of your child.
  • Include inspiring advice that you think your future child might need to hear as she starts her high school years and begins preparing for college. 
  • Add a favorite quote that reminds you of your child.

I found this process deeply reflective and it helped me see the positive side of parenting. I have a tendency to get deep into the weeds and really focus on everything I’m doing wrong as a parent and what I need to fix. It’s healing and helpful to look at the things my husband and I are doing right. 

Letter writing to the future is a grounding process. But it’s something you can start way before your kids ever enter school. I wrote a letter to my son before he was born that I intend to give to him when he turns 18. I wanted him to know how excited we were as we were about to start our journey into parenthood. 

I encourage you take a moment. Reflect on your children’s year, whether they are staring at you sweetly from their baby carriers, in the throes of toddlerhood, preparing to enter kindergarten, trudging toward middle school, or chomping at the bit to go off to college. 

Imagine your children someday in the future when they are grappling with thousands of questions, wondering what their purpose is in life.You’ll be giving them a simple keepsake in your own handwriting. A nostalgic glimpse back into fleet-footed childhood. And most of all, you will remind them of what a special treasure they are to the world around them and especially, to you.

 

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Inspiring Mom Blog Series: Mandy Fields Yokim

by Christa Melnyk Hines on May 5, 2014

Welcome to the Confidently Connected Inspiring Mom Blog Series, which features a mom each month who is inspiring connection among mothers in her community. 

Headshot_MandyFieldsYokimThis Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of Mother’s Day. I think this is the perfect week to introduce you to Mandy Fields Yokim, a talented writer, editor and mother from Pittsburgh, Penn.

Mandy’s work has appeared in Parents magazine and regionally in Blue Ridge Country magazine, as well as in family parenting magazines across the country and Canada. She has been a contributing book editor for Bridges of Pittsburgh, Ultimate Pittsburgh Trivia and Grit, Smoke and Steam. Recently, she founded a global-education initiative called Wonderaddo which helps families and children learn about the world through global connections in Pittsburgh. Mandy was recently highlighted as an Inspired Pittsburgh Mommy on The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog.

I couldn’t agree with The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog more! Mandy is an inspiring mom who is not only a community builder at large, but also finds small ways to build networks among mothers.

1.) You are a busy, working mom. Why is connecting and building community with other moms a priority for you?

 I have learned that it feels really good when you have women in your life who support and encourage you. I feel stronger with a good community of women in my corner because we can understand each other and help each other out. While we all have different experiences, there are plenty of things that we have in common. I like to find those common areas and build on them so that I can learn from other women and support them as well. We are all stronger women when we can encourage each other. It has been my experience over the past few years as I’ve worked toward new things professionally or gone through things personally, that having strong, supportive women in your life is a gift – priceless.

2.) What made you decide to start your group and how does it work?

We’ve all done it – “How are you?”, we ask in passing. “Good!”, we answer in passing. I love the moms at my son’s preschool but I realized that, although we saw each other frequently at drop-off, pick-up and when we volunteered, these times were often quick and busy so there wasn’t really a chance to talk and catch up. Since it’s my son’s last year of preschool, I also realized that my community with these women that I’ve come to know and appreciate over the past few years will change once our kiddos enter the elementary schools. I wanted to hear a real answer to “How are you?” on a regular basis and have the opportunity to share experiences and have more than a shallow, rushed conversation.

I decided to plan a monthly “Mom’s Playdate” event. I set up a meeting place at a local restaurant/bar and scheduled a later start time (8pm). This allowed for us to still have dinner with our family, help with homework, get baths, then head out for some fun. We picked the 3rd Thursday of every month for consistency. It’s very casual – if people can’t make it, no big deal. Some months are super crowded, others less so. I send out email reminders a week before the event and I make sure that people know that ANYONE is welcome to attend, spread the word. It’s really been so nice to build on the sense of community that we’ve created over the years. We laugh a lot, we talk about our kids but we also talk about other things in our lives outside of motherhood.

3) What advice do you have for moms who feel isolated or disconnected?

Remember what makes you happy. I think that sometimes when we feel disconnected from others, we are also feeling disconnected from ourselves. I suggest writing down a few things that inspire you – is it exercising more, hiking, gardening, taking photographs? Whatever it may be, search out a way that you can include some of this into your day. Maybe even just sharing this interest with others is a start. Taking a class, visiting a museum or joining a book club are ways to explore an interest and potentially meet others who may share it with you.Find time to do what you love, talk about what you love and try to connect with people who love the same things.

Let the internet be a positive influence. Recognize what makes you feel good and what makes you feel bad. Sometimes going online if you’re feeling isolated or disconnected does not help, let’s be honest. There can be a lot of drama on Facebook and in chat rooms and online groups. If you’re already feeling low, it may not make you feel better to go onto Pinterest or look through vacation pictures that others posted. Recognize this. Maybe surfing through these things DOES make you feel inspired – great! Recognize that, too. One of my FB friends recently tagged me in a post of people who lift her spirits – I had no idea! So, take it further and make your presence online be more positive than negative (while always being genuine – no one likes fake positivity) and try to attract things into your day that uplift you and help you feel connected. This goes for offline as well.

 

 

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