“Refugee” by Alan Gratz: A Book Review by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Refugee by Alan Gratz is a New York Times best seller, and for good reason.  I came across Refugee when my fourteen year old son was reading it for school.  My husband then read it and raved about it, so I decided to read it too.

Refugee follows the stories of three young refugees (all about 11 to 14 years old) from three very different cultures and time periods.

Photo Source: Back Cover Schoolastic Australia 2018 edition.

Initially, before reading the book, I thought to myself, “Why not a Vietnamese or Cambodian Refugee?”  I have lived in Vietnam (Hanoi) for three years and have a number of Vietnamese former refugee friends.  During my time in South East Asia I travelled extensively and also visited Cambodia.  As well as this, during my childhood, a number of refugees from both Cambodia and Vietnam came to my home country, New Zealand, and I attended school with some of them.  A Cambodian or Vietnamese young person would also fill the “timeline gap” in Gratz’ book, as most of these refugees were making their journeys from the mid 1970s.

There are refugees from numerous other countries and time periods throughout the 20th Century too.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees defines a “Refugees” as:

“…people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country.  They often have had to flee with little more than the clothes on their back, leaving behind homes, possessions, jobs and loved ones. 
Refugees are defined and protected in international law. The 1951 Refugee Convention is a key legal document and defines a refugee as: ‘someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.’  By the end of 2017, there were 25.4 million refugee men, women and children registered across the world”.   Source: https://www.unhcr.org/what-is-a-refugee.htm

There have always been refugees throughout history.  Unfortunately mass human displacement has intensified during the 20th and 21st Centuries.  Battles have never just been between soldiers of opposing sides,  but recent conflicts have become, more and more, centred in our cities and towns, effecting ordinary men, women and children.  Our weapons have become more destructive.   As well as this, there are “environmental refugees”, those fleeing natural disasters, some of which have come about through “global warming” and human created environmental issues.

As I read Refugee it became clear that the three stories (of Josef, Isabel and Mahmoud) are very cleverly connected.  There is a reason for the Gratz’ choice of these three.  Through connecting them, the book shows, without needing to state it directly, the interconnectedness and commonality of all humanity: across cultures, faiths, times and places.

The characters in Refugee are fictional, but Gratz has successfully entered their hearts and souls.  Each is a “real” child with hopes, fears and dreams, set in the context of their own nationality/ religion/ race.  At the end of the book Gratz describes the inspiration behind each character, as well as minor characters in the stories who are real people, as are the events from history.  My husband says he found the book “confronting”.  I agree, but I also found it compelling: the stories are interspersed: first Josef, then Isabel, then Mahmoud, then back to Josef and so on.  The chapters end on “cliff hangers” and we want to read on, not only to see what will happen, but also because, as the interconnectedness of the three stories becomes apparent, they are also fascinating.  We all know that the journeys made by refugees are dangerous, life and death ventures.  We become embroiled in their worlds, we worry for them and hope for their eventual safety: elements that definitely make this book a page turner.

For me personally, I found that Refugee connected with my sense of humanity and social justice.  As a mother, I thought of how I would hate my children to go through ordeals like those suffered by the children in the book.  Refugee children are among the world’s most vulnerable and are often go without health care and education, due to being “on the run” and “countryless”.    They also suffer from the trauma of things they have seen and experienced, things which are sewn into the fabric of the “forever years” of their childhoods.  Many refugees and former refugees whom I have known personally say that they never expected to have to leave their homes.  We never know what the future will hold: it is a situation which no one would want to find themselves in, but which could happen anywhere.  Gratz expresses this in Refugee, particularly through his tying together of Josef, Isabel and Mahmoud’s stories.  This is a powerful book, by a skilled author, which young people– indeed any people– should read to understand the human face of this very important world issue.

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“The Half Mermaid” by Carol Krueger: Book Review by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

The Half Mermaid is the latest book written by magical Dunedin children’s author Carol Krueger.

Ondina appears to be an ordinary fourteen year old girl who lives with her Mum, step Dad and two younger brothers. One day, however, she discovers something extraordinary about herself… something which appears whenever she gets wet.

The Half Mermaid is a magical tale for children and young people and Krueger’s style is very accessible.  The book is also packed with colourful, engaging photographs.  My eight year old daughter and ten year old son spent an afternoon transfixed by the magic of Krueger’s tale (or should I say “tail”?).The story also has an environmental message and gives us practical ideas for how we as individuals can keep our oceans clean and habitable for sea creatures.

I highly recommend this book to all who love mermaids, mystery and magic.

 

Book Review by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp: “Dear World” by Bana Alabed

Cover

Bana Alabed, a brave young girl from Syria, was born in 2009 in Aleppo.  Her early years were peaceful and happy, surrounded by a loving family.  The onset of war in her country changed her life and the lives of her family forever.

“Dear World” is Bana Alabed’s account of what living through a war feels like, through the eyes of a child.  Alabed writes in a simple, straightforward and very honest way and her book is very readable, both for adults and children.  It is also interspersed with writing by her mother, giving us an insight into the pain of a parent trying to protect her children from harm in the most terrible circumstances: circumstances which ultimately lead to the family deciding to leave Syria and become refugees.

Alabed says, “I dedicate my book to every child suffering in a war.  You are not alone.”   Her book is prefaced with a quotation from Anne Frank…. another very famous girl who wrote about her experiences living through a war.

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What struck me, as an adult, reading “Dear World” was the universality or Bana Alabed’s experience of modern war: the similarities of her story to that of children and young people (like Anne Frank) who have suffered as a result of war, in our world’s recent history.  The words, “When will they ever learn?” from Bob Dylan’s famous song come to mind.  Regardless of the time period and technology, the trauma experienced by children living through a war is the same.  Alabed is a child of our modern technological age, born in 2009 (the same year as my third son).  She plays with Barbie dolls, wears “Princess Barbie boots” and watches Sponge Bob Square Pants and Tom and Jerry with her two younger brothers… in between running to the basement during shelling.  There is a sense of a “normal” childhood, interspersed with the horrors of war.  Alabed has an I-pad and she uses it to communicate with the outside world.  Her “tweets for peace” in English become famous around the world and draw attention to her country’s plight.

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These same tweets also made Bana Alabed, then aged only seven, an enemy of the Assad government, who actively attempted to silence her.  As well as living in fear of the war, the Alabed family were terrified for their young daughter’s life and dressed her as a boy whenever they went out, to avoid drawing attention.  Alabed is an intelligent, sensitive and perceptive child who lives through her father being taken away by the secret police and the death of her best friend  Yasmin, whose body is lifted from the rubble after a bombing.

“After Yasmin was gone, I was even more scared to die….the way I missed Yasmin…gave me a feeling like I was sinking inside. I couldn’t talk to her. We wouldn’t get to dress up in our favourite princess dresses ever again. I bet Yasmin’s favourite dresses were all under the rubble still.” [pp.114-115].

Alabed tells us that all the things she loved about her childhood vanished because of the war: going to the local swimming pool, going to school or the playground or shops.  Hospitals, schools and public places became targets and even in their homes, people felt like “sitting ducks.”

Although Alabed’s story ends with her safe escape from Syria as a refugee (and it does not destroy the story to tell you that), it raises questions for us all. What use is our modern technology and ability to communicate with those in a war zone if we are unable to help?  And why, despite our technological advances, do we still live in a world where war is necessary? And where children suffer because of war?

Alabed also draws attention to the plight of refugees the world over.  At the beginning of her book she speaks of her pride in Syrian culture and sense of belonging in her family and history.

“I wanted to live in Syria always.” [p.15]

Her mother says they never imagined a war could happen there.

“I suppose that’s what everyone believes until it’s too late.” [p.51].

This puts me in mind of people the world over, who have had to leave their countries.  Everyone likes to feel safe in their homeland, the land of their ancestors, and to believe that their children and grandchildren will always live there.  Unfortunately, this is not always possible.  Alabed advocates for children still living in war zones everywhere and for fellow former refugees.

“…children are still dying and getting hurt everyday…we all have to help one another, no matter what country we live in.” [p.203]

“If you had no country or your parents or children were going to be killed, what would you do?” [p.201]

Here at the “Forever Years”, we see the world’s children as our own children.  “There but for the grace of God go I” (John Bradford) is a phrase that comes to mind.

I recommend “Dear World” to children and adults alike.  As J.K. Rowling says, it is “a story of love and courage amid brutality and terror.”  Through reading this book, we come to love its young author, Bana Alabed, and the strength of character she displays as she continues to send her message of peace to the world.

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“In the Shadow of the Axe”, by Carol Krueger. A Book Review by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Carol Krueger’s latest children’s novel, “In the Shadow of the Axe”, makes history come alive… and all “through the eyes of a child”.   Through the narrator, 13 year old Bessie, we are taken back in time to the reign of King Henry VIII of England during his divorce from his fourth wife, the German Anne of Cleves, then his marriage to his fifth wife, Katherine Howard, both during the month of July 1540.

Bessie is asked to be a “Lady in Waiting” to the new Queen Katherine.  This is historically accurate, as girls this young, from “noble” families were often invited to “serve” in the royal household. Indeed, this was regarded as an honour and even made these young women more of a “catch” for future husbands… most were married between 14 and 18 years of age.  Bessie is a rounded, believable character and we can empathise with the terrible pull she feels when asked to testify against Queen Katherine to whom she has sworn an oath of allegiance.

Portrait of Agnes Tilney, a Lady in Waiting to Anne Boleyn, who came to court at age 15 and carried the Queen’s train during her marriage. She was later God Mother to Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth.

When these women joined the queen’s office they had to swear the ceremonial oath. This oath was used to form a bond of allegiance between the ladies and their queen.

Furthermore, Katherine was only 17, close in age to Bessie, and, of course, had formed a strong bond with her.  Refusing to testify, or being accused of lying, would result in being accused of treason… the crime which was punished with the harshest penalty of all.

In “The Shadow of the Axe” Krueger shows us not only life at court, but also the harsh realities of the times… the plague (households were “shut down” for 40 days to be sure there was no risk of contamination); high infant death rates (Bessie’s mother has a stillborn baby during her daughter’s time at court); how marriages were arranged, particularly among the upper classes… daughters in particular had very little say in who they were to marry… and the gruesome reality of what happened to those who incurred the King’s wrath and were “sent to the tower”– as Katherine Howard was in November 1541, until the time of her execution in February 1542 at the age of 19.

Colourful characters such as Lady Rochford, who goes completely insane, or the intimidating Archbishop Cramer, who is tasked with questioning all the Queen’s staff about her behaviour and loyalty to the King, are even more interesting when readers learn that these were indeed real people and Krueger tells the story of Katherine Howard’s downfall and eventual execution realistically and accurately.  There are also interesting historical notes at the end of the novel.

A word of warning to the squeamish: accounts of torture and execution are not spared… the description of the death of Frances Dereham is particularly gruesome and Bessie’s sense of horror at what has happened is palpable.  I know some people strongly disagree with children learning about such things as Medieval torture and execution.   Personally, I believe that “knowledge is power”, particularly when it comes to history and the mistakes of the past.  The harsh reality of King Henry’s subjects (including his courtiers and even his wives) being at the mercy of his temper and power to snuff out life also pervades the book.

My ten year old son (who loves history) and I read this book together and we both really enjoyed it.  Despite knowing the historical outcomes, the book has another layer of interest, as we wonder how all these things came about and what happens to our narrator, Bessie.  Krueger has a talent for crafting time, place, character and scene, so that events which took place over 500 years ago come alive.

 

What’s the Deal with Puberty? Sex Education for Children in Norway… and the World. By Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Norway’s State funded educational TV series “Newton”, presents sex, sexuality and puberty for young children.  The series, which has been described as “graphic”, because we see male and female sexual parts up close, as well as being told details about various sexual practices, was banned from Facebook for a while and even called “disgusting” by some who felt it was “too informative” and would be damaging to children watching it.  Meanwhile views of the series have continued to increase, particularly after it came with English subtitles from 2015.

Sex education for prepubescent children (or even for preteens and teens) has long been hotly debated, with those arguing against it traditionally saying kids are “not ready” for such information and that “too much knowledge too soon” will inevitably result in increased rates of teen sexual activity and accompanying problems such as STDs, early pregnancy as well as emotional distress/ depression when early sexual relationships fail… all  issues which have life long negative impacts.

Studies show, however, that the opposite appears to be true.  As a general rule, having  more (and accurate) sexual knowledge seems to mean children and young people are a) less likely to become sexually active at younger ages and   b) when they do become sexually active, are more likely to make responsible (informed) choices.

In 2008, the Washington Post reported on a University of Washington study which found that teenagers who received comprehensive sex education were 60% less likely to get pregnant than someone who received abstinence-only education.  Numbers of sexual partners among those who were sexually active were also significantly lower.  The latter is important, not only because it indicates a lesser risk of STDs, but also because it has been shown that greater numbers of sexual partners, particularly during the teenage years, negatively effects mental well being, and can decrease the ability to maintain healthy relationships in adulthood.  Education on matters of sexuality has also been found to work hand in hand with dramatically lowering a child’s vulnerability to becoming a victim of sexual abuse (sexual abuse prevention education).

Sexual health is an essential part of good overall health and well-being. Sexuality is a part of human life and human development. Good sexual health implies not only the absence of disease, but the ability to understand and weigh the risks, responsibilities, outcomes, and impacts of sexual actions, to be knowledgeable of and comfortable with one’s body, and to be free from exploitation and coercion. Whereas good sexual health is significant across the life span, it is critical in adolescent years. health. http://www.naswdc.org/practice/adolescent_health/ah0202.asp

Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) leads to improved sexual and reproductive health, resulting in the reduction of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV, and unintended pregnancy. It not only promotes gender equality and equitable social norms, but has a positive impact on safer sexual behaviours, delaying sexual debut and increasing condom use. (United Nations Global Review, 2015).

http://www.un.org/youthenvoy/2016/03/comprehensive-sexuality-education/

Scandinavia has long been admired by American liberals and sex education advocates who cite comparable rates of adolescent sexuality, yet lower rates of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion in Scandinavia.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14681810601134702

Returning, then, to Scandinavia (and specifically Norway), how do markers of risky sexual behaviour in young people compare with those of other countries?  Rather than writing about these differences, some diagrams of statistics (sources cited) appear below.

Teenage pregnancy…

Sexually transmitted diseases…

Personally, having watched Norway’s State funded educational TV series “Newton”, I felt the episodes were well presented and in good taste.  For some of us seeing naked male and female anatomy, as the show’s host, Line Jansrud removes towels from real human bodies may be a little shocking, but isn’t that the problem?  Don’t we need to get over ourselves and present sex and our bodies as what they are, a very natural part of our humanity and one which our children can only benefit from being accurately informed about?

Line Jansrud speaking during one of the eight episodes in the “Newton” series (now with English subtitles)

Topics in the Norwegian TV series of eight episodes (in English) are as follows…

Episode 1 – How does puberty start?

Episode 2 – Breasts

Episode 3 – Penis

Episode 4 – Hair on your body

Episode 5 – Growth and Voice change

Episode 6 – Vagina and menstruation

Episode 7 – Zitz and sweat

Episode 8 – What’s the deal with puberty?

 

How to talk to your kids about Syria, by Sarah Williams, Child Psychologist

Sarah Williams is a child psychologist at Refugees As Survivors (RASNZ). She is currently working with the Syrian children and families arriving in New Zealand who seek the support of RASNZ during their 6-week orientation at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre.

World Vision spoke to Sarah about how to speak to Kiwi children about the crisis in Syria and about refugees, and about the new Kiwis arriving here from the Middle East. 

1. Speak honestly, but use language they understand

Firstly, ask your child what they know about the situation. Listen to how they are making sense of what they know or what they have seen in the media.

Any discussion with children needs to be adjusted for age and level of understanding but it also needs to be honest. Children trust their parents to help them understand what happens in the world around them.

With younger children use situations they might understand – leaving one’s home, leaving possessions behind, fleeing without saying goodbye, feeling scared, trying to find a safe place. Talk to them about people in Syria needing to quickly leave their home and travel to another country to be safe due to the war.

With older children we can talk about what it means to be a refugee, the complexity of the Syrian situation, persecution, and the difficult journey to seek refuge in another country.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

https://www.worldvision.org.nz/news-blog/blogs-2017/may/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-syria

10 Dr. Seuss Books you’ve Never Heard of, by Crystal Ponti

Dr. Seuss is one of the most beloved children’s writers of all time. During his career, he wrote more than 60 playful and exuberant books – each with a deeper message about life, love, and humanity.

His most memorable titles, like “Green Eggs and Ham” and “Cat in the Hat”, are mainstays on children’s bookshelves. But he also penned many books that never quite made it into the spotlight.

Here are 10 Dr. Seuss books you might not have heard of (and if you have, you must be a super fan):

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“And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” (1937)

The very first book Dr. Seuss ever published under his pen name, this lively tale about Marco and his vivid imagination predates his bestselling titles, but is still among his best. Travel down Mulberry Street, the most interesting place in town – a place where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Marco spins a wonderful story for his father, turning everyday sights into wild highlights of his journey home from school.

icanlick30tigers

“I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today!” (1969)

Follow the Cat in the Hat’s son, daughter, and great-great-grandfather on three magnificent adventures, as told by Cat in the Hat himself. From battles with tigers to the unexpected consequences of a runaway imagination, this is the only book where children can thunk a Glunk and wrestle with King Looie Katz. The illustrations are a unique combination of gouache and brush strokes rather than the usual pen and ink, adding even more uniqueness to a timeless rarity.

wouldyouratherbeabullfrog

“Would You Rather Be a Bullfrog?” (1975)

“Would you rather be a clarinet, a trombone, or a drum? (How would you like to have someone going boom-boom on your tum?)” In traditional form, Dr. Seuss asks young readers fun, rhyming questions to make them think, ponder, and laugh. The book helps children understand there are so many things they can be, and that they have plenty of time to figure out who they are and where life might take them.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

http://www.parent.co/10-dr-seuss-books-youve-never-heard-of/?utm_source=newsletter_256&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pcodaily&utm_source=Parent+Co.+Daily&utm_campaign=83f735ef56-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_04_03&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3f341b94dd-83f735ef56-132097649

 

10 Books to Read to Your Kids About Climate Change, by Crystal Ponti

The Earth’s global climate is changing. Although this has been a naturally occurring process for millions of years, only recently has the change accelerated to the point where significant impacts are felt the world over. People are causing these bulk of these changes, which are bigger and happening faster than any climate changes that modern society has ever seen before. From increasing temperatures and rising sea levels to intensifying natural disasters and loss of entire species, climate change is an issue we’re all confronted with now and one our children will face for years to come.

Below are ten books about climate change to educate and empower our future generations:

thetragictaleofthegreatauk

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk

by Jan Thornhill

Great Auks were flightless birds that resembled penguins. They were prolific in the icy waters of the northern Atlantic until human hunters, egg collectors, and climate change led to their extinction. Unfortunately, many other bird species are on a similar path. “The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk” is a beautifully designed picture book that reminds us how precious life is – all life. Booklist says, “This vivid, fascinating story emphasizes not only the importance of conservation but also how deeply intertwined the human and animal worlds can be. Eye-opening and tragic, to be sure, but surprisingly hopeful all the same.”

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Giddy Godspeed and the Felicity Flower

by Maria-Pilar Landver

This fun and creative story is about a little girl named Giddy, who wakes to find a wilting flower in distress. It’s much too hot, even at night, and all the flower’s delicate petals are drying out. In the garden the next day, Giddy discovers all is not right in the world and embarks on an imaginative tale to help the flowers survive. Although climate change is not mentioned directly in the book, the message is multi-faceted with a deep connection to helping the earth. The story is accompanied by a wonderful collection of abstract illustrations that will captivate young audiences.

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The Problem of the Hot World

by Pam Bonsper

The trees have stopped growing. The grass is all gone. The world is too hot, and there’s no more water to drink. When the forest world is turned upside down, how will the animals survive? Five friends – a fox, a bear, an owl, a mole, and a deer – set out on a journey to find where the water has gone. Can they bring it back? “The book has a lovely forest setting with recognizable animals, very interesting and charming illustrations (in perfect synergy with the story), and tells the story of environmental changes in a very simple, friendly, serene way,” says one Amazon reviewer.

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The Lorax

by Dr. Seuss

Well before climate change was a household term, Dr. Seuss shed light on the harms of hurting the environment in his classic book “The Lorax.” The rhyming tale is a timely warning of the dangers of clear-cutting, polluting, and disrespecting the earth. Told from the perspective of Once-ler, readers learn how the narrator once discovered the Truffula Trees and Brown Bar-ba-loots and harvested the trees until nothing was left but a single seed – which ends up in the hands of a caring child. “The Lorax” is a wonderful reminder that we all have a role to play in protecting Mother Earth.

(To read more of this post, please follow the link below…)

http://www.parent.co/10-childrens-books-climate-change

10 Simple Ways to Build an Unbreakable Bond With Your Child, by Angela Pruess

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Our connection to our children means everything.

It means the difference between a confident child and an insecure one. It means the difference between a cooperative child and a defiant one. Our early attachments and ongoing connection to our children fostered through love, nurturance, and guidance is a strong predictor of our child’s success in many areas of life.

We’ve heard a lot about attachment, so the concept and importance of bonding with our baby seems obvious. Just because your little one has grown to become a lot bigger, smellier, and sassier doesn’t mean your bond and connection with them is any less vital to their development. In fact, it continues to be of the utmost importance throughout childhood.

Life with kids is busy. It’s not uncommon at the end of the day to find yourself wondering whether you even sat face to face with your child. Here’s the good news: You’re likely already engaging with your child in activities that promote a strong parent-child relationship.

Reading

We all know reading with children is a simple way to improve their language and reading skills. But research also shows that reading with children actually stimulates patterns of brain development responsible for connection and bonding.

This makes sense when we consider that story time usually involves cuddling, eye contact, and shared emotion. If you make reading together a priority in your home, you are without a doubt connecting with your child.

Art

Engaging in art or craft activities with children is an awesome way to provide not only a fun and enjoyable experience, but a therapeutic one as well. No matter their age, you’ll be hard pressed to find a child who can’t find an art medium that interests him.

When engaged in a creative process with children, we provide an outlet for them to express their thoughts and feelings. This is especially true with younger children, who aren’t yet able to verbalize their complex emotions. When your child has access to acreative outlet, odds are that interactions between the two of you will be more positive.

Music

Whether listening to them play an instrument or dancing to the “Trolls” soundtrack together, music offers lots of benefits for both parent and child, including bringing our awareness into our bodies and into the current moment. Your kids will be practicing mindfulness without even knowing it!

It’s pretty difficult to focus on a mistake at school yesterday or the test coming up tomorrow when we’re busy processing auditory input as well as coordinating our motor skills.

Nature

Feeling stressed? Stress is often a huge barrier to parents engaging with their children. Spending time with your child out in nature will go a long way to increase emotional health and physical well-being for both parties.

Research tells us that exposure to nature reduces our blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, as well as the production of stress hormones. Nature is no joke. Even if you don’t have time to go for a hike, simply water a plant together. These studies show similar effects can be derived from even small amounts of nature.

Play

Play is the language of children, so it only makes sense that we should try to connect with them though something that comes so naturally. When parents enter their child’s world and follow their lead in play, they open up the possibility for many positive outcomes, including taking on a different relationship role and seeing our children from a new perspective.

(To read more of this post, please follow the link below…)

http://www.parent.co/10-simple-ways-to-build-an-unbreakable-bond-with-your-child/