Friday, March 26, 2021

Fostering Imagination

We took a little field trip this month to the Pioneer Village. In previous years, the trip was a standard in the school field trip cycle, but never been a family favorite. I was curious as to why it failed to please because the website looks amazing. I gathered my daughter and a friend, packed lunches, and headed west.

Our trip did little to clear up why it was listed at the bottom of the list. This year the girls had an absolute blast. They performed a little show on the stage in the Opera House, counted money and learned how to use a scale to measure gold at the bank, talked to the carpenter about the tools he used, tried to pump water up by the mines, learned about chamber pots, talked on a phone in the old phone booths, and pretended to be 'wanted'.  

As I watched them taking turns being the banker, I marveled at their ability to step back into time and take on different characters. 

They loved the pretend play and to use their ability to put themselves roles and be completely in the moment together. 

Our children have really suffered lately in their opportunities for social interaction, and because of this, make-believe play may take on an even greater role in children's social development. 

We know from decades of research that free play or make-believe play is vital for children's normal development because it provides a forum for the expression of a multitude of skills including decision making, persistence, creativity,  and learning in general. This practice does seem to transfer to real life situations (unlike the skills that are practiced online, or in video game type virtual scenarios). Rather than learning to respond as one does in online play, make-believe play fosters a greater depth of creativity. Make-believe play is also associated with increased capacity of self-steering which in turn is foundational for mental flexibility, intrinsic motivation, and internal locus of control. 

Spontaneous self-initiated play is a normal developmental skill that we should encourage. If you want your 2 - 9 year old to be a creative thinker, motivated internally with confidence that their actions make a difference in the world, you need to unplug the TV, turn off the WiFi, and give them some wooden blocks, a box of dress up clothes, a chance to play the role of chef or scientist in the kitchen. Or maybe just send them outside to build a fort and figure it out. 

The little ones and I had such a great time playing at the Pioneer Village, I finally asked my older kids why they had found it boring. As we discussed it, the answer became clear. They experienced the field trip when they were too old. The curriculum and field trip topics over lapped, so of course it seemed like a good fit. In reality, the students at this age had moved out of make-believe play. Instead of stepping back into time, the middle school students were irritated by the dust, thought the talks were boring, and had no interest in role playing. 

If you have little ones in your care, encourage their imaginative play in any way you can. Take them on the fun excursions, get them the dress up clothes, and stoke their imaginations. The time will come when they put the costume box aside and use their imagination in different ways perhaps, through music or writing or art. If you have an older child who balks at pretend play, seek different ways to engage his or her imagination. As in most areas of parenting, finding the right developmental fit it key for growth in imagination. 

Imagination is more important than Knowledge. 

Knowledge is limited. 

Imagination encircles the world. 

- Albert Einstein

Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Readying Kids to Return to Mass

 Why do we have to go back to church in-person?

Why can’t we just watch Mass online?

What if we get sick?

But we don’t have to go to Mass, so why are we going?

Can’t I just watch Mass later?


These are some of the questions I have heard over the passing months as our family navigated shut downs, waves of quarantines, and now some of us are dipping our toes back into society and full communion with The Church. How we answer our children’s questions, will help them to understand with some clarity, why any of us ever go to Mass.

Helping your children understand why we attend Mass is a life lesson.


We attend Mass weekly because our souls need to be in contact with Jesus.  The Eucharist sustains us. Now, more than ever, we need the supernatural strength found in the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. We don’t attend because it is an outward obligation. We attend because our souls require it.  Thus, we attend when we can, if we can,  even when the dispensation is in place.


Watching Mass online allows us to listen to scripture, and the Homily helps apply that scripture to our daily lives, but Catholics are not Sola Scriptura. We are a sacramental people. Our souls long for confession, for Eucharist, for connection with the Lord in these most intimate ways.


If we ourselves are healthy and able, we go. If we are careful and follow the guidelines, many of us can safely worship together and participate in this celebration and sacrifice of the Mass. It is important not to put physical comfort or irrational fear above spiritual health.


Prepare your children for the changes they will see when they enter the Sanctuary. Pews are now taped off, sanitizer is in place, Holy Water has been removed and the passing of the peace is skipped over. Offering baskets may no longer float the pews, and at our parish carpets have indicators to remind us of social distance. It looks different. It feels different. Depending on the attitude of your priest and parishioners, the members of the congregation may, or may not, be wearing masks. All this said, the beauty of the Mass remains as it has for 2000 years. The important things remain the same.


We are all trying to make sense of the risks and weigh those risks for our own families against the rewards of a fully sacramental life. God willing, at some point, those who have been participating in online worship rather than in-person Mass, will return to the Sanctuary. Hopefully by reflecting upon why we attend in person will help us all to appreciate the Sacrifice of the Mass more deeply, and help us all to draw closer to Him.

For more tips like these be sure to catch my podcast Parenting Smarts, or join me on Instagram.

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, January 17, 2021

How to Celebrate a COVID Safe Birthday

We employ a risk-reward assessment every time we leave the home, or welcome someone into our home, as all of our interactions are laced with risk. Some of us have contact with the elderly, others do not. Some of us are working outside the home, others are not. Some of us are caring for COVID patients or in a high-risk occupation, and others are not. Some of us are as risk for complications, and others are not. Some of us face mental health challenges that are exacerbated by isolation, others do not. Each family is left to determine its own comfort level largely depending on our circumstances. As we come closer to marking an entire year of this pandemic, those of us caring for children have begun to worry not just about the physical risk of COVID, but also the larger social and emotional consequences of a continued life of social isolation. When it comes to a birthday, or special moment in our life, we feel the isolation even greater.  

There is an intensification of emotions around important dates, and as parents, we want to honor and celebrate each of our children in a special way. As the pandemic emerged and shut down orders were put into place, many turned to drive-through or drive-by birthdays. Cars were decorated, signs were made, contact-less gift drop offs and party-favor pick ups were created. We spent more time driving to the home than we did interacting with the birthday boy or girl, but the efforts were appreciated. We were happy to do something in a time when we were scared to do anything. It was a very temporary solution to larger problem that we hoped would go away quickly.

This month we will complete a year of my family's COVID birthdays, and we chose to mark the occasion with the safest in-person social gathering possible. Our birthday girl no longer has a classroom or recess with friends, and she is starved for social interaction with peers. The best gift we could give her was a little party circa 2019, with some minor modifications too keep everyone a little bit safer. 

Here are our tips for how to safely celebrate without taking way any joy of the day. 

* Celebrate with a small group. Pre-pandemic it was common place for children to invite their favorite friends, cousins, neighbors, and teammates over to celebrate together. It frequently made for a stressed out host who was pulled in different directions, and some awkward time for the guests who didn't know each other. With the creation of pandemic pods, we have the benefit of being encouraged to celebrate in smaller, more naturally occurring groups. One of my sons had a few classmates over for some food, volleyball, and bike riding. One daughter opted to gather with soccer teammates at the park for pizza and a scavenger hunt. Another invited her cousin over for swimming and a high tea. If you are limiting the gathering it to children from a small group, let the other families know. It will increase their likelihood of attending. "The only guests in attendance will be ____ teammates, and we will not be entertaining other friends and family at the party". 

There is beauty in sharing the special day in a more intimate way, according to your own comfort level. 

*Celebrate outdoors. Not all climates make this possible. In summer, here in the desert heat we are either forced indoors or into a pool. Find a park if your yard isn't ideal. The best part is that you won't have to clean your house if you keep everyone outside. 

*Plan activities that keep the children spread out as much as possible. Snuggling up to watch a movie and share a bag or popcorn is probably not a good idea. Putting a TV screen outside and having kids set up in their own sleeping bags, with individual bags of smart pop is maybe a better option. Playing a game of twister in the living room, maybe not so good. Doing a scavenger hunt in teams of two, or completing an obstacle course at the park is maybe a better choice. 

*Keep foods simple and in single servings. Individual bags of chips, little juice boxes, disposable water bottles, cupcakes not cake. And remind the birthday kid not to blow all over the other cupcakes when she/he blows out the candles.

*Use disposable as much as possible. Yes, you have permission to throw everything away. 

*Kick the parents out. Parents are more likely than children to be spreaders and the more people present, the bigger the risk. If your children are closing in on their double digits, a drop off party is usually preferred by by all anyhow. "We invite you to drop your daughter off for a few hours of birthday fun at the park"  is a nice way to make it clear that you don't want the parents to hang around.

*Limit the time. Traditionally two hours is plenty to time for socializing, a game or two, food, cake, and presents. Depending on the activity level and age of the children, you may be able to even shorten that. The longer the party the greater the risk. 

*Delay. If you still aren't comfortable with a gathering now, consider celebrating a 1/2 birthday in 6 months. Maybe you and your birthday child can spend some time on the actual birthday planning; create a budget, make a guest list, plan the foods and special theme. Give your child something to look forward. 

*Do something new and special. Put together a little photo or video slide show of your child or do a little birthday trivia game all about the special birthday child. 

*Remind your loved ones of the special day. People have so much on their minds it is easy to let a special day go unnoticed. Send your family a reminder a few days before, and then if needed, on the special day as well. In past years, your child probably got well wishes all day long from friends, teachers and classmates. He might not have cared if Uncle Bob remembered his special day in previous years, but it is more important now as our social interactions have been reduced. Invite loved ones to send a little video clip with happy birthday wish for your child. That will be much more meaningful than a simple text message. 

*Decorate your home. Put up some streamer or a banner, and wrap the gifts ahead of time to put them on 'display'. Put a special birthday tablecloth on the table with some balloons or flowers. Visual things are important. If the birthday isn't being celebrated as it has been traditionally, think about some fun way to celebrate visually with decorations. 

There are plenty of ways to celebrate your child's special day. For a year now we have all faced disappointment with canceled plans and delayed starts. With some careful planning you can still make this birthday, a day to remember fondly. 

Thanks for stoping by!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Cultivating Goodness in a Culture of Fear

Fear is the path to the Dark Side.

Fear leads to anger,

Anger leads to hate,

Hate leads to the suffering.

-Yoda (Phantom Menace, 1999).

I am not a Star Wars fan, but this quote by Yoda is one that stayed with me. In the past year, I have repeatedly thought about these words as we witnessed what happens to a world when fear runs unchecked - No, not unchecked, but rather promoted. 

In the early days of the pandemic, a retired police officer told me to prepare for massive civil unrest. She said that anytime you have a community living in fear, whose government puts in restrictions (as we anticipated would be coming), you have civil unrest in some form. Because fear leads to anger.

Neither of us knew what the trigger would be, but as a sociology major she knew that something would happen, because anger would soon follow the fear that was already growing around us. 

The anger unleashed, rather dissipating in a cathartic wave, grew into hatred as it was stoked by social media, cancel culture, a lack of national leadership, and social justice warriors taking up the mantle of not just reporter, but also that of judge and jury. 

Hatred towards entire occupations.

Hatred towards entire political parties.

Hatred towards our entire economic system.

Hatred towards our entire judicial system.

Hatred towards our entire democratic process.

Hatred towards our own brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors.

Rather than a constructive critique and transformation of processes that was failing us, we heard a call for utter destruction. A razing of our way of life. 

Rather than civil discussions with friends, we turned to division and conflict. When someone failed to agree with our opinion, we were shocked by their ignorance. There was no longer room for ideas that were different. Diversity once considered good, is now considered evil. 

Rather than I love you and I am sorry, rather than I forgive you or I don't see it that way, we accused one another of being unconscious, or worse harboring a cruelty of heart. 

Rather than teaching and leading and listening to one another, we assaulted one another's very character. 

Evil already roamed the earth, but this year we invited it into our communities, into our friendships, and into our homes. We taught our children how to recognize and point out ignorance in others, rather than teaching them how to recognize intellectual elitism and pride within our own selves. We invited in the fear, we stoked the anger, we justified the hatred as righteousness and we cultivated evil in our sacred domestic churches. 

It is time we undo it. Remove it. Cast it out. If we fail to root it out now, we pass fear, anger, hate and suffering along as a legacy to our children. 

We start by driving out the fear, and this can only be achieved through Perfect Love. 

Shut out the voices of anger and division and replace them with reminders to Love for the Lord and all of His creation. Invest, trust, and believe in your relationship with the Lord above all else and remain in His peace. Give specific thanks for the tangible things each day. Assume the best of others, not the worst. 

Be prudent, be just, be merciful, and be hopeful. You can not cultivate goodness without first driving out the fear. And don't wait. Your children are watching, listening, and learning. 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

How Should We Talk To Our Kids About Crisis?

How do we talk to our kids in during a National Crisis? It is a question I have received a number of times in the last 24 hours as we watched our institution of democracy undermined in an afternoon and into an evening. 

In a National crisis, some of us try to absorb as much media as we can. Others avoid.

As members of this still-great federal republic, we have an obligation to be aware, but as adults we need to protect our children. We don’t have permission to obsess and neglect and bring fear into our home.

This year has given us multiple opportunities to sit on our sofa with the news and our phones, and doomscroll while we soak in the fear and anger of others. And there is much about which to be angry.

But as parents, we have an obligation to personally educate and protect our children. It is our job to do this. We must be the filter, the translator, the primary educator. We must provide context for what they see, answers to their question, soothe their concerns, and then recognize when we should turn it all off and play a game of cards together.

Children need reassurance that they are safe, that their world is good, and that there us hope for our future. Our conversations should convey that. Our interactions and responses should provide that.

Parents are their child’s primary protector. If your child is young, this means sheltering them from information they can not cognitively comprehend. If they are older, it means being honest about the world and providing much needed context for the events they see. 

We live in a fallen world, and evil is real. People have free will and make poor choices that put the lives of others in danger. The choices we make have consequences. These are all lessons that are being showcased. 

Here are 5 things parents should do:

First, you need to turn off the news. Let your children know what is happening. Show them a bit if you want, but endless steaming of violence and hate and abuse and anger shouldn’t be allowed in any home. The stress caused by the news is real for both adults and children alike. You can always flip it back on when they go to bed.

Secondly, if you don’t know the facts, find out rather than pretending. If you don’t know the difference between a riot, a protest, an act of sedition or an act of domestic terrorism, look it up. If they ask a new question, seek an answer together. Don’t rely on the non-expert. Experts share their knowledge freely.

Third, simplify your explanations and allow the child to ask for more. Too often adults dump information on children rather than letting them explore the issue together. A child who requires a one sentence answer doesn’t need to hear a dissertation about the subject, your thoughts, feelings, and fears for the future.

Fourth, be careful with your language. Always, never, but... these are words to use sparingly. Speak with charity and wisdom. And if you don’t have anything nice to say, then say a prayer. 

Lastly, look and listen. Some children will be upset even though you do everything right. Some children are more sensitive or fearful. If they need extra help, attention, or just more TLC, give it to them.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for passing this blog post along. 

For more parenting tips follow along on Instagram @Dr.MaryruthHackett or subscribe to my podcast Parenting Smarts. 

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