Archive for February, 2013

The Art of Helping Out

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

As parents, we walk a difficult line between supporting and enabling our kids. We want them to learn for themselves, but it’s hard to see them fail. A vital and often overlooked life skill is the ability to ask for help as well as the self-awareness to know when it’s truly needed.

Most likely, we as parents haven’t honed the art of asking for help either. We are too busy trying to do it all and given the high performance society of today, perhaps we feel unworthy if we can’t do it all ourselves. These are unrealistic expectations that get passed on to kids. There is no shame in asking for help—be it with homework, housework, getting organized or even emotional support.

Half the time, just talking about feeling overwhelmed can be beneficial. Make sure that the first response to a difficult problem or situation isn’t to simply give up. Break down the parts and find the real source of the problem. It’s important that help does not mean completing tasks for our child—sometimes it’s just standing nearby for support. Other times, it’s reducing distractions, scheduling more down time or a special breakfast before a big test or project.

Ask your kids if there has been a time recently when they thought they needed help but did not ask for it. Their answers might surprise you. It’s worth establishing signals for you and your kids to express when they are feeling overwhelmed. Getting help at the beginning of an issue can thwart a situation from spiraling into a bigger problem. When it comes to helping others outside your family, just be sure you are doing something truly helpful for that person and not just something that assuages your conscience or anxiety. Helping someone should not just be something to check off a to-do list. It is tailor-made to each individual. Picking up the slack, taking extra carpool shifts, walking the dog—these are just some things that may really help someone struggling to get through a tough spot. Helping out and asking for help is truly an art. Make sure your family practices and uses it.

Time Shift Your TV – Oscar-Nominated Animated Feature Films

Monday, February 25th, 2013


At Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, only one movie was deemed the winner in each category. Even so, all five movies nominated in the Animated Feature Films category offer fine, fun family viewing.

All are rated PG, all are available On Demand on TV, and all are well worth watching. Kids will likely find all of them appealing and should be able to glean a good message from each.

Here are brief descriptions:

Brave, last night’s winner, is the story of a high-spirited Scottish princess named Merida, who is faced with a marriage she doesn’t want. There are weapons and fighting, but ultimate the story is about family and relationships.

Frankenweenie focuses on a science whiz kid whose dog, Sparky, dies in an accident, prompting imaginative and creative young Victor to see if he can reanimate his pet.

ParaNorman is the story of smart, lonely Norman Babcock, a boy who can see and communicate with the dead. This one might be best for the older, tween kids. Little ones could find it a bit too scary.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits is the tale of a band of buccaneers, science (Charles Darwin is in the film) and loyalty. It’s a fun romp to be enjoyed by young kids as well as older ones.

In Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph is a video game character who leaves his game, determined to become a hero.

Celebrate and Learn About Purim This Weekend

Friday, February 22nd, 2013
Photo Credit: ulterior epicure via Compfight, cc 2.0

Hamentaschen, by Photo Credit: ulterior epicure via Compfightcc license

This weekend, Jewish families will celebrate Purim. The festive holiday celebrates the Jewish people’s deliverance from the evil Haman, royal visier to King Ahasuerus, who plotted to kill all of the Jews in the King’s empire. Careful and daring efforts by Queen Esther, Ahasuerus’ queen, and her adoptive father Mordecai thwarted Haman. Today, people celebrate Purim with food, drink, costumes, charitable giving, and dramatic performances of Esther’s triumph.

Whether your family generally celebrates Purim or not, here are some activities, books, and videos that explore the holiday for a broad audience. Does your family celebrate Purim? What are your traditions?

Shalom Sesame explores Purim in preschooler friendly videos and activities. Though families who are Jewish will enjoy these videos, they also speak well to viewers who are simply curious about Jewish traditions and holidays.

Before the festivities begin, make hamentaschen! The delicious triangle shaped cookies are usually filled with jam, chocolate, poppy seeds, or nuts. They are surprisingly simple to make, and it is easy to find recipes online.

During Purim celebrations, guests listen to the megillah, also known as the Book of Esther. It details the story, mentioned above, from which Purim originates. Whenever Haman’s name is read out loud, it is customary to blot out his name with noisemakers and foot stomping. There are plenty of instructions online for making your own noisemakers. For a geeky twist, you can even make yours out of LEGOs.

Charitable giving is a central part of Purim, too. Here are some ideas for unique ways to give that won’t stretch your budget.

Costumes are a fun part of Purim celebrations, and many children dress up just as they would for Halloween. Explore these explanations for how costumes became a part of Purim celebrations, and see some Purim costume examples in this video from Shalom Sesame.

You can learn more about Purim and other Jewish holidays from Malka Drucker’s Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays, which includes a Purim play. Another book, Raisel’s Riddle, features a different sort of Purim story. It is a Cinderella tale, in which the main character Raisel attends a Purim play at which she wins the heart of a rabbi’s son with her clever riddle.

When Heroes Fall

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

The saying goes, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” But when a hero flames out in the public eye, the collateral damage is often the worst for younger fans. Thanks to media and technology, these types of stories are hard to avoid. So, how do you help your kids deal with a hero who cheats or misbehaves?

According to experts, the first thing to do is to keep any idolization in check. It’s great to be a fan of a sports player, pop singer or public figure. Just make sure to keep it real and balanced. It never hurts to talk about expectations and morals. “What would you do?”  hypothetical scenarios are great storytelling exercises with a purpose. Reassure kids that everyone is vulnerable to mistakes and temptations. The true test of character is not necessarily avoiding mistakes, but handling yourself well after the fall out.

Look for smaller scale heroes closer to home. Good deeds and random acts of kindness don’t make people heroes, but those who consistently help out and try to do the right thing in difficult circumstances do qualify for the “h” word. Be sure to encourage inspirational stories of men and women who beat the odds to do something helpful, not just those who rose to fame and fortune. As writer Brandon Mull says, “Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.”

Here is some more information on the subject:

Lessons Learned When Heroes Fall

When Heroes Disappoint Our Kids

Time Shift Your TV – The 2013 Oscar Nominees for Families

Monday, February 18th, 2013
Life of Pi

Life of Pi (2013)

On Sunday, Feb. 24, Hollywood champions its own with the 85th Academy Awards. The show airs live on ABC at 8 p.m. ET with Seth MacFarlane as the host. He’s the brains behind TV shows including Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, none of which is recommended family viewing and all of which employ raunchy, irreverent and often offensive storylines and quips. MacFarlane will likely snap off quick one-liners from the Oscar stage and undoubtedly the network is hoping he’ll appeal to a younger audience.

While MacFarlane, along with the fashion, performances (Barbra Streisand will be singing on the show for the first time in 36 years)  and speeches are likely to provide a lot of Tweet-worthy water cooler chatter, there are bound to be any number of better ways to spend your time on a Sunday night. After all, the movies are what the Oscars are really about.

There are nine films nominated for Best Picture. Zero Dark Thirty, Argo,  Django Unchained and Silver Linings Playbook are rated R. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Les Miserables, Amour and Lincoln are rated PG-13. And Life of Pi is rated PG.

Should you take your kids to see any of these fine films? Would they want to see any of them? Here’s what to expect from the PG and PG-13 rated Oscar nominees:

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Life of Pi is a visual feast and an emotional story of friendship and faith. See it in 3D and you will be mesmerized from the opening scene, which takes place in a zoo in India. Be prepared, however, to discuss what the film means; it’s quite a tale. It may be rated PG, but there are tense and harrowing scenes of an accident at sea, and the concepts are complex.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is available On Demand on your TV now. This gritty story of a little girl in the bayou backwaters and her alcoholic father is tough to watch, as it incorporates some whimsical big beasts along with the very real poverty of their existence. Ultimately the film is about home and friendship and community. Heed the PG-13 rating.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln


Les Miserables is a musical based on the book by Victor Hugo. And in this musical, every single word uttered comes in the form of a song. While it seems like that could make it unappealing to young teens, it is such a gripping piece of filmmaking that it holds your interest from start to finish, with grand scenery (including grimy prisoners and prostitutes), top-notch performances (Anne Hathaway is thought to be a shoo-in for the best supporting actress Oscar), a love story and battle scenes. In the end, it’s really about hope and kindness. If you think your teen would appreciate a musical, this is an excellent one to see. Younger children are not likely to appreciate it.

Amour is probably the least accessible of the films for families. The winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s top prize is shown in French with English subtitles. It chronicles the story of an elderly couple dealing with declining health. Its subject matter is most appropriate for adults.

Lincoln, a history lesson of the political maneuverings behind the 13th amendment, has been widely-praised on many levels, but don’t go expecting epic battle scenes. Do go to see Daniel Day-Lewis’ amazing transformation into Abraham Lincoln.