Keeping the good moments good

Sometimes kids with grief issues can have a hard time enjoying the good moments in family life. This afternoon we settled in to work on a Christmas craft,  a pinecone elf project that I saw here.  Most of the kids got into the project and enjoyed it.   But one was struggling.

After beginning the project halfheartedly, the child asked if it was OK to make elves with frowning faces.  Hm, how to answer?  Yes, I could sanction the creation of a cranky elf.  But then I’d hate looking at the thing, and the child’s negativity would be manifested in a durable way.  Nope. I didn’t think that’d do anyone any good.

I could lecture the kid, and insist that the elf be a smiling one.  Except I lecture enough in a day, and this was supposed to be fun.  Nobody in the room needed me coming down on the kid like a ton of bricks, as tempting as that was.  No, I had to find a way to make my response fun, while still encouraging the child towards a project that reflected cheer.

“Oh!”  I said, jumping to my feet and pulling up the child too.  “I think that you must not have gotten enough hugs today!!  When people don’t get enough hugs, they have a hard time with joy, and of course this project should be joyful.  Come here and let’s hug until you’re strong enough to make a happy craft!”

Grinning ruefully, the child gave me a noodle-armed hug.

“Oh, no!” I said.  “We’re going to need to hug until your arms are strong enough for a good hug.  We’d better practice kissing too while we’re at it.”

I smooched the child’s cheeks, alternating sides til the child began smiling in spite of efforts to be stone-faced, and actually gave me a decent hug.  “OK, now you kiss me!” I said, offering a cheek.  Kisses were given, still with a rueful grin.

“Now, are you strong enough to make a happy craft, or do we need more hugs and kisses?”

The child hurriedly assured me that enough strength now existed to create a smiling elf, escaped my hug, settled back at the table, and proceeded to work on a happy face.

During the next hour, a few more hugs were needed to refresh the child’s ability to craft happily.  Yeah, I was basically threatening the child with hugs each time cooperation and good attitudes began to slip away.  In an ideal world, my child would actually seek out my hugs,  would be comfortable with happy family time.

But that is not the current reality for this child.  And here’s the thing:  each time I engaged the child in this way, every person in the room ended up smiling.  Even the child.  We ended each interaction more connected, with the child truly more able to participate in the activity.  I felt better.  The kid felt better.  And no one else in the room was subjected to an unhappy showdown.

I don’t always handle it this well.  When dealing with a child who is consciously or unconsciously trying to sabotage family fun, we’ve had plenty of showdowns.  But when I remember to play the humor card, while still sticking to my guns, I tend to be much more successful in redirecting the child, and also safeguard the joy of everyone else in the room.


  1. I love home made decorations ,and think they add so much more to the festivities than shop bought items. I had an aunt who was so good at making somthing out of nothing, boy could she get some mialage out of a Christmas card and left over wrappings for gifts. if you would like I am happy to share them with you.
    Have a very happy Christmmas may it bring you renewed hope peace and re assert the love you have as a family xxx
    P.S I loved the way you smooched a hug right out of one of your children 🙂

  2. This sentence: “Sometimes kids with grief issues can have a hard time enjoying the good moments in family life.” was a light bulb moment for me. Thank you. Grief entered our whole family 3.5 years ago when we lost our 1.5 yr old son and brother to a tragic accident. I actually struggle with it myself which I already understood though often it is a being joyful and sad at the same time, but one of my sons definitely struggles with grief at times of toy and rejoicing. Different grief issues and different family, but joyful family moments are a reminder of what might have been or what should be. Blessings to your family this Christmas!

    P.S. I use your cookbook all the time. I think everything I have made has been a hit. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the timely reminder. Humor always seems to win out, doesn’t it? I was a little to cranky and stern today — a reaction to my own child’s crankiness and stubbornness. Probably a product of last minute holiday rush. Tomorrow I shall make a conscious effort to use patience, love, and humor to “fight” my battles.

    Oh, and cute elfs!

  4. It’s so true that the humor thing can so often help but so often is the opposite of how we feel like handling the situations! I suppose I would have said, “No frowning elves, how about a singing one?” But I like your solution better. 🙂
    And now you have a happy elf for your memories.

  5. Mary, this reminds me of my favorite parenting book, _Playful Parenting_. I have to go back to this idea again and again…Thanks for the reminder.

  6. What a fantastic idea!

    We try to encourage good behavior rather than punishing bad behavior. When Jackjack was a little peanut, he got fidgety when eating out. Rather than taking him outside for a lecture, we would go out and I would pump his arms and blow in his ears to “push the bad manners out.” Accompanied by some silly noises, he would be giggling and ready to behave in no time.

    @Ali BG, “Playful Parenting” sounds like a great book. Will request it from the library today!

  7. Thanks for reminding that me that hugs and not fussing will get me further with my own son.

    Those ornaments are the cutest and with all of the pine trees and pine cones we have will be something that we try here. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Great reminder for me as well! Thanks!

  9. Great way to handle that. I wish, and I’m sure you do as well, that I could come up with something so clever everytime I needed to. Every once in a while I handle something wonderfully and think, why can’t it be this easy to discipline all the time? Why can’t I be calm, level-headed and see what the kid actually needs before flying off the handle?

    So thanks for the good example and I’ll try to follow it while I have all my kids home from school over Christmas break.
    Cute craft too!
    Merry Christmas!

  10. I love your hugging and kissing idea because you emphasized that the child needed it to be stronger. Joy DOES make us stronger as well as the accompanying emotions of security and love.

    Your elves look just like the ones that have hung on our tree since about 1960!! And (silly me) it never occurred to me that we could make them!

    Have a blessed Christmas.

    Jill Farris

  11. Thank you so much for that reminder. I am struggling with the same thing lately.

  12. In my 19 years of parenting 9 children I’ve never considered safe guarding the joy of others in the disciplining of one. Thank you!

  13. Your elves look great, and I LOVE this post. It’s been SO hard for me this month to remember that feeding off the negativity of one child effects the whole family and it is in my power almost all the time to give my energy to turn all that negativity around…with teenagers in the home it is ESSENTIAL that I take the time to do this. Thanks for the reminder.

  14. Great post. Unfortunately, I’m the one who is usually bringing my grief issues to the household, infecting everyone in it. Sure wish I could get some extra hugs and kisses. But I can at least try to force myself to give them more to the babies. Maybe giving them will help bring joy back to my own heart. Thanks for the post.

  15. So simple, but so wise. I’m enjoying sitting at your feet, Mary.

    I’m afraid I don’t know how to do a trackback, but here is a post in which I mentioned this one:

    Thank you for blogging. Your everyday stories inspire.