Healthy Anger Management for Boys

I titled this post as anger management for boys not because I think girls do not have anger they need help to manage, but as a personal story about my grandson.

I grew up in a generation and a family where anger was to be hidden.  We talk only about positive things and scorn those that appear to promote conflict or violence.

As a toy maker for children, I seek to promote toys that encourage healthy play environments and to that end, navigate away from creating toys of “conflict or pretend battles.”  Well, at least until I entered the world of play found in communities of boys.  I started to examine more closely traditional boy play environments seeking to understand the why of play conflict, such as super heroes and villains.

I then pondered a world filled with conflict, divorce, separation, and hurt.  Could it be children can benefit emotional well-being through conflict play environments?  A place where the good guy and bad guy are clearly defined?  A place where children are safe in expressing feelings of anger, fear, and triumph?  A place to reconcile feelings they don’t quite understand?  A place where children have complete control over the outcome…who the winners and losers are?

I have researched and written papers on the role-playing aspects of play.  How repetitive play acts as rehearsal and can build positive skills in children.  My worry was that combat play would rehearse the wrong skills—reinforce aggressive behavior.  But I see now, that I was short-sited with application.  Not only do children rehearse and build desirable skills through a guided play environment, but they also practice how to manage conflict, fear, and uncertainty.

For many years we have put aggressive boys into sports teams to help them direct their aggression in a positive environment.  Sports are a type of battle—there are winners and losers.  Here we teach how to be a gracious winner and a tempered loser.  We teach that losing is not the end.  To keep on trying to win at your goal.  The same type of positive application can be true of combat play using toys.

I said this was personal.  Yes.  My grandson is separated from his father.  A father who has not found the value in being an active participant in his life.  Additionally, my grandson has some emotional disabilities that make it harder for him to control his impulses.  The combination of feelings of sadness, loneliness for his father, anger, and lack of control leads to episodes of behavior problems.  My goal is to give him a healthy way to vent these feelings before they build up and contribute to problems that can impact his ability to interact socially.

My grandson is very smart and creative; he loves to make things.  So, I made him a bad-guy that he helped design.  I suggested when he feelings anger, this bad guy is tough enough for a pretend battle.  I gave him permission, if you will, to act out on this character.  My hopes are the stuffed bad guy, that he help make, would help him transition from feelings of anger to feelings of confidence that he can win even when life hurts.  I understand that this toy is not a “magic bullet” in the war over hurt and sadness, but perhaps it can be a tool to help him in times when he needs to express the negative energy created by being hurt in his situation.  At a time when his maturity is not enough to reconcile the situation of his broken home.  I figure, at minimum, he will know his grandmother loves him and this bad guy that we built together represents a positive element in his life.

Via E Japanese Oni Plush Toy PDF Pattern

The feature picture is of the stuffed bad guy my grandson designed.  He selected the colors. (The color selection gives insight, doesn’t it?)  Later today, he will glue on the face pieces and decide what his Japanese oni should wear and we will make it together.  Perhaps we will make some more battle tools to aid his play experience. I hope my story and thoughts create conversations on how we can help our little ones navigate a big and sometimes difficult world.

The Flight of Super Woman in Modern Times

“Pass me another energy drink please.”  It’s 5:30 am and time for the baby’s morning feeding.  This was proceeded by the 10:00pm and 1:00am feeding, making the night a series of cat naps.  A morning shower includes baby in the swing just outside the shower (he likes the light sprinkles that fall on his face as the water bounces off his mother’s shoulders).  Mom reaches down after rinsing the shampoo out of her hair to bring baby in for a quick wash down.  The warmth of the water and soothing feel of the rain-like drops on his back will act like an elixir and ensure a long morning nap–long enough to allow mom to dress, feed, and get brother off to school.  Thank goodness it is not her turn for the school carpool. A kiss and a hug send little Gunnar running to the car idling at the curb in front of the house.  Mom smiles and waves as the red minivan full of neighborhood children rushes off to beat the morning school bell.  Being sure to close the door quietly, she now has just enough time to make phone calls to the morning’s “Hot List” and attend her boss’s ZOOM video conference call.

Stories like this are being written in time all around the United States and perhaps the world.  This story is the tale of a single mom.  Adding a partner to the story may make it a little less hectic, but not much as it takes two incomes to keep a roof overhead and food on the table.  Mom as “Super Woman”, is not a novelty, it is a norm.  How did we get here?  How do we survive a life where the stories are the things of super-human efforts?

I’m not famous where my words will somehow inspire a paradigm shift that solves for sanity, but my observations, sprinkled with years of education, and my own experiences conclude the solution lies in the extended family. Working hard and being independent are two values, when not balanced with the old countries’ values of extended family integration and a ring of close community cooperation, can lead us to striving to be something no human was meant to be—super human.

It takes a village to raise a child is not just a saying, it is wisdom of generations from all cultures found around the world.  But somehow our worlds keep getting smaller.  The “me generation” has created a nasty residue of broken chains between family and community. The solution, I think, is not in creating governmental substitutes wear children are shipped off to free child care centers or the like.  I believe the solution is found in each of us.  In our willingness to connect.  Our willingness to lend another our time, our talents, our love, and support.  Being connected creates a place where each can be a hero without having to be super human.

Perhaps each of us can extend a helping hand to a family member, a community member, or even a stranger. 

Be a hero in another’s eyes as often as you can.  We are the stewards of the world in which live.

With all my heart,

Ellen

The Dangers of Toxic Relationships

A reflection of personal tragedy by Ellen Callen

Suicide.  How does a person of any age reach the point of deciding the only relief is to force an ending?  I’ve had a few weeks to contemplate.  At first, I thought I’d write about the pain of loss and the road to recovery.  But after situation(s) circled around me, I realized at the center of such tragedy was abusive relationships.

Not all abusive relationship couplings end in a suicide, but that does not make such relationships any less damaging.  And in today’s toxic political environment iced with the COVID-19 pandemic, toxicity has spread as fast as the virus itself.

How do we know if toxicity has infected our own relationships?  Ask yourself the following:

Do I feel better, worse, or no change in my emotional state after contact with the person
in question?

Does the person in question speak in positive or negative languages?

Do I feel I have to compete in order to be valued?

Do I feel I can trust the person in question with my well-being?

Do I feel the person in question cares about me?

Would the person in question adjust if they knew they were hurting you?

Does the person say “I’m sorry.” and make changes to keep from hurting you?

Can you, off the top of your head, remember a time shared where you felt loved recently?

Do you feel the relationship is a constant battel?

If you took account of your answers what would it tell you?  I suspect we all know innately when we are being treated in such a way that we feel bad.  The question is, “What to do about it?”

The answer to that question is not so easy as it often depends on how closely tied we are to the toxic person.  If it is a husband or wife, perhaps counseling can help.  To do nothing and to continue absorbing the toxicity is unhealthy and will lead to an outcome that is unpredictable, but surely damaging to your ability to have a healthy state of mind.  If the relationship is with siblings where family counseling is not probable or possible, boundaries need to be set.  No one has the right to abuse you—not even family.  In some cases, we may need to distance ourselves from toxic family relationships until each can find a way to interact in a way that adds value and increases healthy bonds.

Perhaps it is friend, a co-worker, a boss?  Most assuredly I can tell you a toxic friend is no friend at all.  Friendship is defined as:  “a state of mutual trust and support.”  Don’t mistake a person who spends time with you to be the same as a friend.  If the person is toxic, let them go.  What about a co-worker or boss that you can’t avoid?  The first step is to realize the environment is toxic.  The second step is to plan your escape.  See if there is another department you can transfer to, or look outside the company for a new place of employment.  In the meantime, speak to your Human Resources department or health line for support.  Don’t be afraid to protect yourself from toxic people.  We are our own best protection plan.  But you have to be willing to take action.

But what about the children?  It was because of children that I created Via E.  In the hope that one of the Dollfriends®, and now Brothers Adventures™, would find its way to the arms of a child in need of a safe friend.  That the activities would help develop confidence, and the community would result in a support system.

Humm…but my thinking was flawed.  The children in greatest need are buried by the command of their abusers.  What do I mean?  Our system in society too often fails the at-risk children.  They bounce back and forth from abuse to help to abuse.  This cycle of abuse to help to abuse leaves the child felling there is no escape from the abuse…each time hope is restored it is taken away.  Until the point the child puts an end to it on their own.

How can we stop this cycle?  How can we save our at-risk children from toxic situations that seem to never end?  Never end…sounds like I am using words to over state the situation.  BUT, in a child’s mind the idea, the belief that someday they will be free from their pain is outside of their mental development.  Today, the now, is everything to a child.

My grandson, at the age of 14, decided two weeks ago that his best escape from a toxic situation was to end his life.

Was he loved…yes.  To the moon and back.  But he was caught in a custody battel with one parent deep in toxicity, perhaps unknowingly stripping her son of his will to live.

This blog post does not claim to have any answers.  It is a reflection. It is a call to action for all who read it.  Toxic relationships kill.  They kill our spirit, our joy, our self-concept, and yes can even lead to loss of life.

What can we do?  We can pray.  But God calls for action as well.  First, we have to clean our own house of toxic situations.  Set boundaries where appropriate to allow our healthy minds and hearts to become strong.  Only then will we be able to see toxic situations in others and be able to support others toward finding a path to detox and selflove.  The children, we must dare to get dirty if the call to support crosses our path.  If we are whole, we are in a position to lend our heart to those in need.  Learn about support organizations and be willing to build up a child’s sense of self whenever possible.

My grandson’s name is Marques.  I won’t say “was.”  Marques lives on in our hearts, our memories, and in God’s kingdom.  Those that knew him will miss him.  We all wish we were there at the moment he felt he could not escape his pain, to hold his hand and assure him that we were on his team.  Life is fragile.  If nothing else, let’s remember to love one another, be kind and tender-hearted, acting to others as we would wish to be treated.

I finish this long post with a thank you for reading.  With a hope that each will work to remove toxic things and people from your life so you may reach your highest dreams and have the energy to lift others up along your path.

Sending all my love, Ellen

Have Things Gotten a Little Negative at Your House?

In August, my family will start its sixth month of quarantine. Grocery shopping has become a task I look forward to because it is the one thing that brings new life through the solid oak entry door. I have the sacks of bounty delivered. We sanitize the counters and hands after putting away what will become my entertainment.  Mask, wrap-around glasses sit on top of a stool right next to the door.  Shoes stacked under the stool and a designated quarantine area for the daily mail complete the additions to our decor.  I think I have gained at least five pounds and I’m feeling a bit squishy.  So, a stationary bicycle has also been added to the backyard.

We started out like a pack of bears huddled in our den while we kept each other safe and warm.  But as the weeks became months and the forecast became many more months to come of COVID-19, being close turned into being too close.  I noticed more infighting from extended family and the two plus one at home seemed to make picking on each other a sport.

Last week I had had enough of all the negativity.  So, I created the Negative-Nelly or Negative-Ned game.  I pulled three retired plastic cream cheese containers out of the bottom kitchen drawer, grabbed a Sharpie from a pencil cup in my nearby office, and then wrote my name on one, my husband’s and son’s name on the other two.  With scissors, I cut a slot in the top of each. Then I announce the rules of the game,

“Each time someone says something negative to another, they get a ticket dropped into their container.  At the end of each week, the person with the most offences has to perform a favor for the other two.  For example, my car sits and collects dirt now days, so I may ask for a car wash.”

It started out as a joke, but those three little containers performed magic in my house.  The negativity disappeared.

In a time like now where we have so many stresses and at the same time are pushed together in spaces designed for basic shelter, perhaps a little reminder (in a non-threatening way) can help us all remember to be kind to one another.

 

Don’t Forget Who You Are

I think every parent goes through a period of time where our children find themselves in situations that rattle their self confidence.  Perhaps it is a group of mean kids at school, maybe a teacher that has lost his/her compassion for those they teach, or maybe a sport or other competitive activity has turned from healthy life lessons to a political mess of adult goals and favoritism.  Regardless, we parents often feel inadequate to help ease the pain of such situations and powerless to protect those that are so dear to our hearts because, in fact, life is not always fair.

I’m in one of those situation now.  With four children, this is not the first time I’ve faced the situation and, I suppose, it will not be the last time either.  But I wanted to blog about the one thing we can do to help our children, no matter how old they are or become. Confidence is a very important life tool.  It becomes a shield to protect from life’s challenges and injustice.  We can’t stop the world from presenting difficult times or situations that feel unfair, but we can build and prop-up our children’s confidence.

Remember to tell your children how proud you are of them, tell them they are strong, smart, talented.  Find their strengths and give them opportunities to be successful so they can build their identity in confidence.  And when life gets hard and people are telling your child they are not good enough…remind your child of their talents, successes, intelligence.  Teach your children sometimes things just don’t fit together and that is O.K.  Give your children the power to remove themselves from situations that are abusive and everyday they walk out your front door to face the world tell them, “Don’t Forget Who You Are.”

Because who you are is good enough even when others say less.

From one parent to another,

Ellen

Can Playing More Be The Answer?

Parenting is tough.  There is so much to do!  To complicate things, entertainment has become almost anti-family values.  Do you know the background of those who are creating your child’s playthings and entertainment?  How much do they know about childhood development?  Do they even think past just selling a toy?  Via E does.  My goal is to help by providing a play culture and play things that are engineered to follow the latest science of child development and learning so you can rest assured.  Here is a list of courses I have completed or are in process (this list will continue to expand over time):

  • Child Growth and Development
  • Teaching Foundations and Frameworks for History and Social Science
  • Child Guidance and Communication
  • Early Care and Education Administration
  • Foundations and Frameworks for Language and Literature
  • Child Family and Community
  • Teaching Language and Literacy
  • Teaching in a Diverse Society
  • Infant and Toddler Development
  • School Age Before and After School Programs
  • Personnel and Leadership in Early Childhood Education
  • Principals and Practices of Teaching Young Children
  • Math and Science for Young Children

Supporting research and books:

  • Mind in the Making – The seven essential life skills every child needs by Ellen Galinsky
  • The Owner’s Manual for The Brain – Everyday applications from mind-brain research by Pierce J. Howard, Ph.D.

We have a whole lot of fun playing, but our play has a purpose of building strong minds and values.  The more play, the more learning…so let’s Play More!

Play More = Higher Intelligence

Playing makes children smarter.
In fact, playing increases intelligence in adults too.  Sounds like a marketing pitch, right?  Wrong.  I have spent over seven years investigating this premise and I can’t find any data to debunk this claim.  Actually, the more I research the better I understand the why of this claim.  The crazy thing is our schools are decreasing the amount of free play in their curriculum in the United States.  No doubt this is the result of the well-meaning politicians who know not what they do.  The subsequent increase of homework for all ages is almost at epic levels.  Well my friends, here is a bit of homework that will increase your child’s intelligence and at the same time, decrease stress at home…Play More.

Tinkering:  Time Magazine reports, “Research in the science of learning shows that hands-on building projects help young people conceptualize ideas and understand issues in greater depth.”[1]

Free Play: “The average bright child seems to spend about 45 to 50 minutes a day more in play than the average dull child. In mental recreation (“picture shows; playing checkers; cook and similar games; playing the piano or other instruments, etc.”) the average bright child spends an hour more than the average dull child.” Writes Boynton and Ford, in The Journal of Applied Psychology back in June of 1933![2]

Sports: There are scores of reports that show a positive correlation between participation in sports and academic improvement.

Doll Play:  Another scholarly paper writes, “Pretend play might be a zone of proximal development, an activity in which children operate at a cognitive level higher than they operate at in nonpretense situations. “[3]

I like to keep my posts short and to the point. But if you wish to read on, here is a great article found at Parenting Science: http://www.parentingscience.com/benefits-of-play.html.

My goal for Via E is to provide an educational experience that is cloaked in fun.  Since play is a natural part of learning, we have science on our side.  So, come on…let’s Play More!

Always yours, Ellen

 

Ellen Callen, B.S., M.B.A., Instructor at the University of California, Irvine, Division of Continuing Education, researcher of Child Development and Early Learning, is the founder of Via E, Inc. Via E’s, mission is to develop and deliver wholesome play products and integrate methods to increase cognitive and creative abilities in the young and young at heart–and have a lot of fun doing it.

[1] http://ideas.time.com/2011/10/19/in-praise-of-tinkering-2/

[2] http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/apl/17/3/294/

[3] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1993.tb02914.x/full

The Freedom to Play

When my grandson was about a year old, I introduced him to an Alexis to see what his reaction would be.  I don’t know why I was surprised when he took to her right away.  He sat her on his push toys and pushed Alexis around the room, picking her up when she fell and promptly seating her back to continue the ride.  He would study her face and poke at her eyes and then he moved on to the next toddler thing to do.  So, I decided I should dress this Alexis in more appropriate “boy wear” and braided her hair so she would be read for tough love.

My grandson, now about 2 ½ years old, moved away last year as my daughter received a great job offer in Virginia.  She keeps me up to date and we Skype so I can still talk to my grandson.  This week my daughter sent me this picture. She said that my grandson, Gunnar, pulled Alexis out of the bottom of his toy box and took careful effort to sit her up to watch him play with his cars.  I’d like to think Alexis reminds him of his grandma, but most of all I love the story because it reflects a world where parents are more open to gender-neutral play.  My grandson also plays with a 12” action figure, but neither are anything more than just Gunnar having the freedom to play and explore.

In a Psychology Today post on their website, Peter Gray Ph.D. wrote, “Play is, first and foremost, an expression of freedom. It is what one wants to do as opposed to what one is obliged to do. The joy of play is the ecstatic feeling of liberty. Play is not always accompanied by smiles and laughter, nor are smiles and laughter always signs of play; but play is always accompanied by a feeling of “Yes, this is what I want to do right now.” Players are free agents, not pawns in someone else’s game.”[1]

Bravo Dr. Gray!  Here’s to the freedom to play and a wish that you may…Play more.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/200811/the-value-play-i-the-definition-play-gives-insights

Play More…Play is for grown ups too.

playmore-logoPlay More is a series of posts presenting the value of play.  Play, for both children and adults, is as essential to health as are eating well, exercising and diet. Integrating play into the family unit, increases emotional bonds, a sense of well being, and is an element of successful navigation in an ever growing complex world.

This post is based on, “The Healing Potential of Adults at Play”, by Dottie Ward-Wimmer https://www.psychceu.com/Schaefer/intro.pdf retrieved 2/16/2017

When at play, both our analytical and creative mind interacts in a symbiotic, relaxed nature that increases the flow of creativity and elicits a feeling of a relaxed state.  In this relaxed state of being our body is able to better support the biological needs such as breathing, digestion, and heart functions.  Play allows the “unwinding” of stress that attacks the immune system.  There are several books about increasing outdoor activities and getting involved in a sport and although this is strongly supported, not many talk about the health aspects of simple play.  No competition (not even with yourself), no rules, just simple play as found in coloring, tinkering, toy cars, action figures or dolls.

Dottie writes, “Play can increase our self esteem.  It invites access to states of well-being and calm as well as stillness and joy.  When released in play, we often have an increased capacity for empathy and intimacy.”  She goes on to support the premise for adult play therapy stating that it releases stress, increases confidence, and connects adults to the joy projected on the things loved in childhood.  “Play is a natural and enduring behavior in adults.  It has healing powers for the mind and spirit that we are only beginning to appreciate and learn to use.”

Take the time to Play More.  You have earned it; your mind and body need it.