“The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories” by David LaRochelle

Two more days and it is Halloween again. Judging from the looks of our neighborhood,  scary jack-o-lanterns, creepy spiders and spine-chilling skeletons are getting ready for a big night of the BOO fun. Meanwhile, my son and other children are choosing costumes and getting ready for their trick-or-treating adventure. But if your little guy is the scaredy-squirrel type and is too afraid of ghosts and other unearthly creatures to join the black-and-orange celebrations, I have a very special confidence-boosting book for them. “The Haunted Hamburger and Other Ghostly Stories” shows that EVEN ghosts are afraid of certain things…

Franny and Frankie, two little ghosts, are already tucked in their coffins, but they demand a bed time story. Papa ghost decides to tell three stories. The first one is about their uncle Ned, who once tried to scare a baby and ended up as a baby diaper. Then Dad ghost tells a story about their cousin Nell, and her unfortunate encounter with the scariest looking hamburger. The last tale is the eeriest, though. It is about the Big Bad Granny, who terrifies little ghosties with her kisses and tickles. 

I don’t know if any Granny will like the last tale, but I am sure that every child will get lots of Halloween giggles from each ghostly adventure, so hilariously written by Davis LaRochelle and  amusingly illustrated  by Paul Meisel. Have a lot of spooky fun! I still need to fix my costume. According to our son, I should dress up as a witch and his dad as a vampire. Don’t ask me where he got his inspiration from.

“Even Monsters Need Haircuts” by Matthew McElligott- a fun story for Halloween and beyond

With Halloween just a few days away, I have a few spooky books and ideas to recommend. Me and my son have already shredded an old T-shirt and turned it into a fearful ghost that is now hanging on our entry door. Today we are going to carve a pumpkin. We have also read quite a few quite scary stories. They weren’t the hide-under-a-blanket scary, though. More of a nervously-giggle-scary type.

In “Even Monsters Need Haircuts”, a  little boy is a barber, just like his dad. Unlike his dad, his clients are monsters and his shop is open at night. You just need to see the scary clientele and their haircut preferences. Frankenstein always goes for a clean shave, Medusa likes to experiment and some others just need a trim. The young barber works hard the whole night, but by dawn, the shop needs to be cleaned up, everyone must be gone and the boy must be back in bed.

A hilarious take on monsters or haircuts. Lots of humor in the story and the pictures. I admit, I was hoping this book would help me to to convince my son that getting a haircut is no big deal. Even monsters do it, after all. Unfortunately, he didn’t buy into it decided to stick to his dad the barber and his private barber shop in our bathroom.

It might work for your little guys, though, before their first haircut. And if not, they will sure get some healthy giggles (or  goose-bumps) when reading this fun book.

“Harriet’s Had Enough!” by Elissa Haden Guest

This month I am focusing on the communication between parents and children. I view it as an open dialogue, that includes verbalizing feelings and is based on partnerships.  Last but not least, it’s a dialogue that is intimate and confidential. It sounds like promoting some kind of conspiracy , right? Well, I see it more as discretion. If we want our children to open up to us, we need to assure them that whatever they share, won’t be spread around to their embarrassment or disadvantage. I haven’t found a picture book on discretion to prove my point, but let me illustrate it with a real life example.

Last week we had a tough conversation with my son about an incident in the park. He accidentally bumped into a child while going down the slide and somehow, he made a big deal out of saying “I’m sorry”. The whole thing escalated out of  proportions as I was trying to make him apologize and find out the reasons of this odd behavior. He finally said “I’m sorry” but not without tears. I found the whole thing quite baffling and we had a talk. As it turned out, my son was intimidated by the child’s dad, who gave him a talking to before I could react. He promised to be more careful in the future, but he also asked me “not to mention anything to dad”. I found that even more surprising than the whole park affaire, considering my son’s young age. I am not sure he knows what discretion means, but he certainly asked me for it. I chose to respect that. 

As much as I  was upset about the whole incident, but I also was happy to see that my theory and practice meet. Children will talk with us, but they need to trust us.

And as far as the book. It is not so much about confidentiality, but certainly about a mature, effective and open dialogue between parents and children. Besides, it also touches upon our last month’s topic: the role of chores in raising a responsible individual.

Harriet threw a fit when she was asked to clean up her toys.  She packed her suitcase and decided to leave. On her way out, she got to share her grudges against the “mean” mom who makes her do chores with dad and grandma ( who ironically were busy with their chores).  Then it was the mom who wanted to talk to Harriet.   She didn’t try to dissuade her from leaving and she didn’t wait for an apology. She opened up first and expressed her own feelings about the fight.  To cut a long story short, Harriet not only made up with her mom, chose to stay, but also learned  a thing or two about the importance of chores. 

What I find interesting in this story is how seriously the grown-ups took Harriet’s decision. They didn’t try to dissuade her from leaving or force her to stay. The choice was up to her. Secondly, they didn’t form a team against the little rebel. Thirdly, let’s look at Harriet’s conversation with mom. It was the parent who reached out first and initiated the talk, even though it was Harriet who owed her mom an apology. Not every parent can do that.

A great little book about big parenting issues: responsibilities, our last month’s theme, and the current topic, a parent-child dialogue.

“Boy + Bot” by Amy Dyckman

A boy meets a robot. He asks if Bot would play with him. “Affirmative,” the robot says. The two have a lot of fun, but when Bot’s power switch gets accidentally turned off, the boy doesn’t know what to do. Is Bot sick? He treats him with soup and a warm blanket. Bot is equally perplexed, when he sees his friend in an inactive state, a.k.a. sleeping. He tries to bring him to action by reading him a manual and even changing his oil and battery. Finally the friends realize that they are two different creatures, but it doesn’t stop them from having fun together. “Want-to-play-tomorrow?” Bot asks. “Affirmative!” The boy responds. 

A warm and clever story about an unlikely friendship between two seemingly incompatible individuals, speaking two different languages.  We can make friends and communicate with each other, across the cultures, species or ages,  but it does not happen without challenges. Boy and Bot had to learn about each other’s differences, accept them and build on what they had in common. They even learned to speak each other’s language.

An adult- cild conversation can often resemble a boy-bot exchange. Two different perspectives and two different languages. What is obvious to an adult, like that a couch is not for jumping, needs a lot of explanation for a little guy. And vice versa. Splashing in puddles goes without saying for a child, but somehow, it is a no-no for the parents. How should we talk with children considering our different points of reference and understanding of the world?

I believe that despite our better knowledge and wisdom, that hopefully comes with our age, we have a lot to learn from a child’s perception. We should base our dialogue on partnership. It’s not always: I am telling you what you should think, say and do, but also I wonder what you think about it and how you would do it.

Other ideas I suggest regarding a parent-child dialogue:

1. Encourage conversations

Make your child used to sharing with you his or her opinions, comments and experiences. A simple “How was your school?” shows you are interested. (Of course, if a child says “good” and you move on to a new topic, then instead of your interest, you communicate “whatever”. It doesn’t augur well for an open dialogue in the future.

2. Forget your child’s age. Talk to an individual who shows interest in a topic. 

We often assume that children’s simple questions need to be answered simply. Wrong! Children formulate simple questions, but their thoughts are often very big and their memory good. A simplified response will result in more questions and a made-up answer will be remembered for a long time. I once asked my aunt what would happen if I swallowed an orange pit and she told me that an orange would grow in my stomach. I believed her for (too) many years. Of course, our responses can’t be overly informative and scientific, to discourage asking or cause disconnect. In language teaching, we talk about communicating just above a child’s level of understanding  ([n+1] formula, where [n] is child’s level of understanding). I think that this formula is easily applicable in any kind of conversation that is supposed to broaden children’s horizons.

At the same time, how to react to uncomfortable and difficult questions? My son recently asked why our neighbor lives only with her dad. Where is her mom? Why does she live in a different house? Will me and his dad will live in separate houses as well? These were all very deep questions and I had to be careful not to put my foot in my mouth. One wrong word could make my son  wrongly encode and misinterpret the concept of divorce. I chose to be truthful, but vague about our neighbor’s situation and very reassuring about our own family future.

3. Cherish your child’s simplicity of thinking. Once it is lost, it never comes back.

My son gets quarters from his dad every now and then. He saves them or chooses to spend them on toy cars. He thinks that one day, thanks to his quarters he will buy his dad a Hennessey Viper and himself, his favorite Bugatti Veyron. A real thing that is. At first I wanted to educate him on how insignificant his pennies will be, considering the cars’ price tags. But on second thoughts, I found his thinking so endearing that any word against it seemed unfair, if not brutal. I wish I could dream so purely, believe in Santa and Superheroes.  My son still has time to learn about disillusion.

Enjoy chatting with your child and enjoy the book. It’s truly engaging and memorable. The other day I asked my son if he wanted to go to the park. “Affirmative,” he answered.

“How Do you Feel?” by Anthony Browne

Hi, how are you doing?

Where I come from, you are expected to answer this greeting with a complaint. Anything negative you can think of and share. Something about your health, weather, or the political situation. Now I live in the US, a country of happy, healthy and successful people, where the only correct response to “How are you?” is “Good!”. Unfortunately, in my opinion, nothing good comes from either rhetorical style, as both of them promote hiding or denying our feelings. Of course,  I am not saying we should unbosom ourselves to strangers, but I do think that this simple exchange of greetings exposes some kind of emotional masquerade, which we willy-nilly join and teach to our children. Ask my three-year-old about how he is doing and you will hear a confident “Great!”  Shouldn’t a preschooler be a bit less conventional?

I was happy we came across “How Do You Feel” by Anthony Browne. In this charming book, a little Chimp contemplates his different emotions. Sometimes he feels happy, but sometimes sad. He  knows the feeling of lonely, bored and confident. The book ends with a question to the reader about their own feelings in various situation, which is a great way to start talking about children’s emotions and  feelings.

When we read this book for the first time and I asked my son how he felt, he answered decisively: happy.  At first, I was happy to hear it. After all, I do want him to be happy. But on second thoughts, I suspected he gave me the answer I wanted to hear. He knows I want him to be happy.  I repeat it often enough. Well, I do want him to be a happy child, but I do not want him to deny that sometimes he feels sad, angry or frustrated. There is nothing wrong with that.   I owed him an explanation:

1. Feelings are a part of us and life. If someone hurts us, we feel sad. When we miss our friends, we can feel lonely. When we practice, we feel confident about our performance and when we win, we feel happy. We should respect our feelings and feelings of other people.

2. Feelings are not good or bad as such and they don’t make us good or bad people. 

3. Feelings are quite tricky.  There are many look-alikes among feelings. Cranky and tired. Lonely and sad. Vain and confident. It is important to  find out what we really feel, so we can either enjoy the feeling again or prevent it. For example if we feel cranky, perhaps we are hungry, or tired. Perhaps more sleep and regular meals could help us to avoid the crankiness. If reading makes us happy, maybe we should read more often to feel happy more often?

It is important to think about feelings, in order to be able to take control over our emotions. But we should not over-analyze or get sentimental, as it is an easy way to get lost in a feeling and become its victim. 

Know your feelings  —-> Name your feelings —> Take action/control

Feelings were more of a taboo in my house. My father, a typical thinker and introvert, never talked about feelings. It was for him a sign of a weakness.  My mom, a typical feeler, and pessimist, struggled with putting her emotions in words and bluntly caricatured them.  Confidence was for her vanity, enthusiasm boiled down to silliness,  ambition was always over-ambition, sadness-moodiness, and so forth.  As a result, I never discussed my lows and highs with my parents, for one. Secondly, I started second-guessing my feelings. Was I positive or naive, assertive or inconsiderate, happy or maybe not?

Well, it took me a while, but I’ve found peace with my emotions and feelings.  In time to be able to discuss them with my own children.

1bookperday in October: Parent-Child Dialogue

Not everybody is cut out to be a great speaker.  I am absolutely okay with that. Some people have the gift of the gab, some others can build houses, design bridges or bake delicious cupcakes. At the same time, I think that whatever our skills as a talker and story-teller, we should try to learn to express ourselves clearly.  The clearer we talk, the better the chances  that others will understand us correctly, and we can avoid the ever frustrating miscommunication.  Communicability is a skill with a big impact on our life.  I have already understood as a student and  as a teacher. I gave up on it as a child (more about it in the upcoming posts), but now I am diligently applying it as a parent. I want my sons to understand me and I strive to understand them. Talking helps a lot.

In October, I’d like to focus on  three aspects of parent-child communication:

1. Verbalizing Feelings

2. Partnership vs. Patronizing

3. Respect and Discretion

More picture books about responsibilities

Since September was all about responsibilities, I though I might expand your reading list by a few more titles dealing with the subject.

1. “Tops and Bottoms” by Janet Stevens

2. “Pigsty” by Mark Teague

3. “I Wanna Iguana” by Karen Kaufman Orloff

These books were described in my previous posts 1-365