Walks Like Me and Talks Like Me

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on June-22-2014

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This weekend we got to tour the amazing property where D will attend camp with 100 other special needs kids in the fall. It feels very strange sending my six year old off to camp without me. This will be such a tough challenge for both of us. I was feeling a bit of anxiety with going. Is he special needs enough? Would he freak and refuse to go? We also needed to have a talk about what type of camp it was and the type of kids he would encounter. I am very open with D and reminded him how all brains work differently and reminded him how autism touches him and makes part of
him who he is. I had to explain
The spectrum and what behaviors he might see. I explained he would meet kids who could not talk or
that might scream. In my head I had an irrational thought of what I would say if someone said he does not look or act like he is on the spectrum…. Something like… Well neuro diversity presents itself so differently and all disabilities are not visual all the time. Of course I did not need to explain myself. This organization and foundation work together so eloquently with families of special needs.
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We timidly got there and walked to a group of people who looked familiar all boys, ranging in age all walking or bouncing in their tippy toes. We met one boy who was D’s age and similar place on the spectrum. Both very factual with how they spoke. It is so great to be in a place where there are other kids that are like my guy. We visited rock climbing walls, tee-pee’s, a pool, ropes course, zip line. My guy is not so sure of any of those due to gross motor delays. He took it all in with a great attitude. I loved watching dad’s step in and help other moms as their teenage child ran off or decided to climb the rock wall. While others interacted so sweetly with their moms. There is such a sense of comfort between a mother and son with special needs.

I so appreciate these one on one experiences with D who has spent a good amount of time without a sibling. I am hoping to volunteer at the end of the summer at camp to give back and see how the camp runs. I miss doing acts of service like I did before kids.

Parents: the next big thing

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on June-17-2014

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Our kids came of age before the possibility of endless distraction– before tablets, smartphones, in-car dvd players, and baby car-seat iPad mounts. To say we are happy that we didn’t have these options would be an understatement. We’re glad that our kids had the chance to zone out in cars and planes, and they are good at it. They both were able to handle long trips without fuss, surviving many flights to Europe (where Anghelika’s family lived) with no personal video devices at all, often ignoring the cabin screens when they were young.

One notable exception comes to mind: Dave picked mom and kids up at the airport after a 10 hour plane trip, and our 5 year old son appeared in the terminal with wild and bloodshot eyes. This was in the beginning of individual screens on airplanes, and he’d watched Ice Age over and over again from take off to landing, about six times. When we got home, he fell asleep a couple feet inside the front door.

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Today the sight of kids with tablets or phones in restaurants, shopping carts, back-seats, and … well, everywhere, is common. And there’s no doubt that we parents have entered a golden age of peaceful conversations, focused work, and generally satisfying adult time. Whether its grown up conversation over dinner, work productivity, or simply a moment of silence, parents do benefit from time without questions or fussing, and our devices do a good job of capturing our kids’ attention and giving us a little of that precious time.

Recently, Anghelika saw a dad shopping in the market with his daughter, who occupied herself with a tablet in the car-shaped shopping cart. He was having a pleasant, uninterrupted shopping excursion. But what kind of interruptions was he worried about? We’re going to assume that the tablet wasn’t there so that she could catch up on her favorite shows and this was the only time in her busy schedule for her to do so. No, our guess is that dad put the tablet in her hands because he wanted her distracted. So what was he avoiding?

We think that he missed an opportunity and gained little in its place. There is really no need for a parent to have silence in the supermarket, a distraction-free experience for savoring the details of shopping without the interruptions of their child. No, the only reason to distract your child in the supermarket is because you don’t want to face the prospect of endless questions, demands or tantrums. Fair enough. We’ve all witnessed horrible conflicts in the aisles of the grocery store, if not with our own kids, then with others’. And it’s painful.

But shopping is the perfect time to engage your child and distract them with a little real life. Grocery stores are very interesting! Share your observations on popular culture. Talk about ingredients. Ask your child for their opinion. Plan menus with them. And when they (inevitably) make their strident requests for the kind of foods that adults cringe at … make a deal: tell them they can have one food item of their choice and they can change their mind as many times as they like. You will only have to buy one ridiculous food item and they will feel empowered. You can also help them choose by looking at ingredients, though that might take the fun out of it. You get the idea.

We think technology is alright. No, we think it’s great, really. But wow, it sure seems like it is becoming a crutch for tired parents. Here’s our plea: don’t replace yourself with a piece of technology. You matter to your kids, stay engaged. Share your thoughts, even if they are tired and grumpy thoughts. Get them thinking with you during the day. We do so many mindless things that we take for granted, but are wonderful teaching moments for our children. Involve them. Engage them. Let yourself be the Next Big Thing in their life. There are plenty of times when you can’t pay close attention to your child, or when you have to turn your focus away from them. Don’t miss the opportunities you do have. We should be the ones pestering our children with questions, asking them for help with all the mundane questions we face a hundred times a day. And when they have tired of all our questions, that’s the perfect moment to let them have a little screen time!

 

Original image (cropped here) by Flickr user L-T-L. Used under license.

Boy to Man

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on June-15-2014

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Thought it was only fitting to write about Fathers today. If you would ask my husband he would have never thought he would be a father. Meeting me definitely brought him down that path. Having a child(ren) is the most selfless thing you can do. You have to reach so deep inside your soul and use tools you never knew you even had. Now add a child that does not develop typically and that reaching seems impossible at times. There are a high percentage of dad’s that have kids on the spectrum that leave.
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Luckily mine made the decision to stick it out. Has it been seamless? Nope….anything but! I have had the opportunity to watch my husband that I started dating when I was 16 who drove muscle cars partied and was a total bad boy. To a man who provides for his family and does ‘his’ very best to be an active part in our cup of crazy. Sure that boy comes out here and there to let out some steam from the kettle. I have watched my husband who is a me me person to digging deep and doing for his family first. That is so not in his make up.

Then I have added another layer to this sediment that often gets so murky from the chaos… which was expand our family to two. Many might have stopped with the first. That was not an option for me. I had to have two and D needed a sibling. So here we are in the thick of it. Adding two it got exponentially harder and my husband has risen above, dug even deeper and done the best he knows how to do with our two kiddos. Yes! There are many times he annoys the crap out of me with not doing things the way I will do them but I am learning too dad’s are never going to do it how moms
do it and vise versa.

So here’s a shout out to the amazing Dad’s on this special day who save some time changing their kids pants but leaving on the pj top to go to pre-school or put on a romper backwards…hey as a toddler then they can’t get out of it and play with their poop. Keep up the crazy hard and important work that fatherhood is!

Stretching and Refreshing

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on June-10-2014

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Some children tend to run with a crowd, to be social, and love group projects. Others prefer to play quietly, building a private world, appearing to form deep relationships of the imagination. The first kind of kid gets recharged by turning outward, towards people and things; the second kind refuels by turning inward, to the world of ideas and concepts. Of course, we’re describing introverts and extroverts. It can be very helpful to pay attention to how children interact when in social settings: we want to make sure that kids can engage in different ways, to be stretched (by unfamiliar situations) and to be refreshed (by familiar comforting environments).

According to Susan Cain, as told to a TED audience in her presentation, “The Power of Introverts”, the extrovert enjoys a lot of favor these days, and there are times we put undue pressure on kids who are more introverted, by overemphasizing high energy interaction, presentation skills, collaboration. These are all important, and might have been under-emphasized in a time when we used to point all the desks forward. But desks-pointed-forward is not all bad: this gives introverts time to formulate internal opinions before sharing.

Not everybody likes to be ‘typed’, to be put into categories, and not every parent likes to have their children categorized. We can sympathize. Dave is precisely the ‘type’ of person who doesn’t like to be typed. And, school systems are often forced to group kids into categories, solving some problems (kids learning at different rates) while creating others (unproductive–and potentially damaging–labels, like ‘normal’, ‘slow’, or ‘special’).

But categories and types can help us define things for the sake of good educational design. For example, in the classroom, a quick glance around should reveal environments that cater to both introverts and extroverts. And knowing how your kid rolls can make parenting easier too. Kids know what they need to recharge: they naturally gravitate to the kind of activity that refreshes them. If we make sure they can get what they need when they need it, then they will be able to face challenges with less stress and be more likely to succeed when tested.

See You Later

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on June-8-2014

Never been great at saying goodbye however I do it once a year to 20-30 kids and their families. Some are easier to say goodbye to than others but we form our bonds and relationships. I usually just say “I will see you later”. This year is a bit different since I teach TK I get kids from a few attendance areas. So next year half my class will be at other schools. I have not had that yet. They have all gone to the next grade level and come back to visit.

On top of saying goodbye to my kids on Thursday I have two good friends that are relocating out of state and to Southern California which might as well be another country. One has been a friend for almost as long as my career as a teacher and we followed each other to two schools. My other friend is one of the only mom friends I have found here in my community. We are both frugal, belong to the two boy club, share similar interests and values and are crafters. While I am blessed to have a large friendship circle. It will feel half the size without them near. Excited to watch their next chapter unfold on Facebook.

Rushing off to a busy week ahead of closure and transition into being a SAHSM. Wish me luck!!

New Experiences

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on June-3-2014

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Our son got plenty of warnings and reminders that we were going out to dinner last night, whether he needed them or not. We learned a long time ago that our son (now 17) was not comfortable with transitions, often throwing tantrums at the door when we needed to go. He doesn’t do that any more … but we are well-trained. What we learned, by necessity, was that it really helped to draw a map for him, sometimes quite literally, of what was coming, where we would be in a day, or a week, and how we would get there.

Some children can change direction and speed at the drop of a hat, eagerly trying something new, and following their parents with no problem. Others settle into a place and have a mental day-planner carefully laid out (even if the only thing on the schedule is “Keep reading this comic book until I don’t want to anymore”). But all children face new experiences daily and can be easily intimidated by things that adults take for granted.

During the months of May and June, young children are hearing lots about transitions and summer plans that may be exciting and fun for parents but have no meaning for them, because they have no context for new words or new experiences. “You’re graduating!” “Next year you get to go to big kids’ school!” “We’re going to Disneyland this summer!”

By Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For parents, these all seem like good things, but children can be stressed by the sudden change in routine, the pressure of expectations, and the threat of the unknown. And actually, maybe they know more than we think they do. ‘Big kid’s school’ might sound scary until they learn that they are in fact going to be one of the ‘big kids’ and that’s why they are changing schools! And, while Disneyland might seem like a kid’s dream vacation, your child might only be thinking about the terrifying things in the forest that had to be faced before happily ever after (remember, Disney movies can be scary, so why would a child assume that Disney land is fun?). Sometimes we adults simply use new words without explanation (“graduation”, “celebration”, “vacation”, “camp”) and children generally don’t raise their hands to ask for a definition. We get to provide the definitions, and the map of what to expect. And we might have to do it more than once.

Parents can help children understand that they get to bring familiar things with them into new experiences. “There will be kids your age with you,” “you’ll bring your favorite lunch box,” “we will all be together,” “you can do this”. Dave is 48 and working on his second master’s degree, and he still gets stressed thinking about next year’s classes! Sure, he’s old enough to remind himself that when he gets there, he will have what he needs to face new challenges. But it can be very helpful to remind students (of any age), “You can do it! You have what you need to do well!”

Parents will want to remember that life can feel a lot like the forest in a Disney movie, full of mysteries and shadowy threats. We can make the journey much less stressful by helping children understand what to expect and by walking with them through new places, holding their hands and laying bread crumbs along the way. Sure there are times when our little heroes and heroines have to face things alone, but we adults are the ones who teach a child hope and trust by leading them gently into new experiences so that they learn that they can handle new things on their own.

The Perfect Picture

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on June-1-2014

We started a new family routine of getting up on Sunday mornings and walking at a different park each week. Our city and neighboring cities have so many cool sights to see. Another reason for this new routine is D hates to go on walks. So my husband thought this would get him use to it since it is important to us to get out and see our world. We could also use the exercise. We have always taken the pusher parenting approach. If D does not like something we don’t shy away from it. Exposure with empathy of his sensory challenges is how we roll.

We went for a walk this morning and I love the chance to wear Bubba. It is so peaceful and one of my favorite things. I was trying to keep D entertained. I usually bring a nature scavenger hunt and that keeps him going where he checks things off the list. But I am human and forgot it. I gave him my phone when I noticed I was leaving him. Fun to see pics he takes especially of nature. He got a shot of my husband and I walking with bubba hanging on my back. I put it on Instagram and with the perfect filter we had the perfect picture. It was a great moment. But as we all know perfect doesn’t exist.
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It was a sweet shot and moms rarely get in a picture. So I was elated. But minutes later D was over the taking pictures game and eased into full blown tantrum mode. Screaming and grunting and refusing to follow. These brief moments of joy and bliss are lightening speed. But they are pretty powerful. We got through our walk by riding the wave of the tantrum and not giving in. Gees consistency sucks sometimes. We opted for secret shortcut back :)

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Scary Movies

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on May-27-2014

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Last weekend, we went to see Godzilla. We were excited for the afternoon date and the mindless entertainment (mindless, because we don’t have to take monster movies seriously even when they try to make a deeper point about the folly of humanity’s self-destructive love affair with advanced weaponry and technology, and attendant disregard for the delicate balance of our natural environment. Mindless fun!).

GODZILLA

Our fun day at the movies was almost ruined however by the appearance of an entire family a few chairs over. And by family, we mean mother, father, and three very young children (aged, we guess, 8, 4, and 1). We cringed and gritted our teeth.

We were not worried about noise, although we expected it. We aren’t the kinds of people who don’t like flying or eating in restaurants with kids. We think kids are noisy and there you have it. Kids trapped indoors are perfectly free to vocalize and act out in our opinion. While it can be hard to be trapped indoors with them, we sympathize with parents who do not always have choices when they need to travel somewhere or do something difficult with kids in tow.

No, what was threatening our calm was wondering how anyone could think it was a good idea to voluntarily sit in a dark room filled with images of death and the sounds of screams and destruction with children too young to know that what they are seeing and hearing isn’t really happening.

A couple years ago, Dave took our teenage son to see Looper, a smart but very violent movie. A similarly-aged family sat behind them, and the kids, one of whom was a toddler, were not so happy to be there, and fussed and cried. The parents tried to keep them quiet (another blow—let’s put small children in a noisy, scary, dark, and constraining environment and then make them behave quietly and respectfully so that we can enjoy ourselves) and they were sort of successful. But after multiple grisly killings, Dave couldn’t stand it and turned to appeal to the father, saying, ‘This is not a good movie for your kids. It’s too violent, too scary. I don’t think they should be here!’ The father, whose English wasn’t great, apologized and seemed to think that the complaint was about the noise. They left shortly after.

This raises questions. Are parents dragging the whole family to movies because a) they think that the risk of permanent psychological scarring is outweighed by the chance to share popcorn together during a fun family outing, b) they are intentionally desensitizing their children to media violence and sex through exposure, c) they can’t afford a babysitter, or d) they lack the education or knowledge to make a wise decision?

One way or another, there are cultural differences here. We think differently than the people who would take their kids to see movies with mature themes. Maybe they were raised this way. Maybe they are thinking it through and actively making choices. Maybe our position is a position that we can afford to take.

But before we talk ourselves out of being horrified, or assume that parents should just do what feels right for their family, it’s not a bad idea to take a step back and maybe check in with someone who thinks about these things for a living.

A good starting resource is Common Sense Media, a collection of media reviews for families. On this site you’ll see a breakdown of a movie’s content in categories such as violence, sex, language, drug use, etc.. These come along with ratings by the editors, by parents, and by kids. What do the kids think about Godzilla? They rate Godzilla appropriate only for ages 11 and up.

We’re not talking here about violence in society. The editors rightly point out that the research on media violence begetting violence is not very conclusive, and most commentary on kids and violence is fraught with anxieties related to infrequent but high-visibiltiy crimes by youths. It’s too hard to say what the impact of media is in such matters when many factors come into play. But it’s clear that violence (including images of violence for the very young who cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality) causes stress and stress causes a reaction (which in the very young can be impossible to talk out). At the very least, learn from your child’s ability to talk about stressful issues. If they can articulate their feelings, or tell you how they feel, then you can reflect together on something you’ve watched. But if they are not verbal enough to understand or communicate an issue of violence, then don’t expose them to it.

With our kids we really tried to learn from them what their threshold for discomfort was. Our daughter was far more bothered by intense images than her younger brother was, and in the beginning we had to judge whether a Disney movie was too scary (and when our kids were very young, they were!). We tried not to put her in a situation where she’d be exposed to something she was uncomfortable with. We remember her first movie in the theater was almost a non starter because the previews were so loud and intense—she and mom went into the lobby to wait them out. Once the feature started she was fine. Remember what it was like when you were young, listen to the experts, and don’t be in a hurry.

Preparing for the Worse

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on May-25-2014

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I would love to write about a fun cushy moment about my kids but I have this phrase in my head about sharing information and being more aware that I heard at a training the other day. This was a training that 13 years ago when I was in my teacher preparation program I never would have thought that I was going to have to take. I took a training put on by the police department under a federal grant called violence in the classroom and the active shooter……my heart literally stops beating as I type that.

It was a bit intimidating sitting in a room full of cops. This was such a different training to prepare for mentally and sit through. The officer who led it was from the city I work and live in and he was fabulous. I learned a lot in this four hour time period. I wanted to share with you how this impacted me as an educator and as a parent.

Something that kept me glued to my seat was an officer telling us that Sandyhook elementary school had this exact training two weeks prior to the devastating shooting that occurred at their school. One teacher in fact had accidentally left her pre-cut paper up over her windows for the drill they had and all students in her class survived.

Unfortunately history repeats itself and we need to learn from the past to prepare for the future. It did repeat itself sadly this past Friday in Southern California. An active shooter is an individual killing people in a confined or populated area typically through a firearm. These events occur in small towns and the average incident lasts 12 minutes. This was a huge take away for me. Do whatever I can to delay the shooter. They are acting fast and are looking for as many people they can hit that are vulnerable targets. There is prevention we just need to be educated and be aware of the signs. We need to teach our kids to be aware of behaviors…. Acting different, not being connected to anyone on the staff or community. Attackers are rarely impulsive. Most of these attacks are very well thought out with plans. They even tend to share their plans somehow. We have shyed away as a society from snitching it has gotten a bad rap. But if our internal voice tells us something is off that is a pretty good indicator. We need to train our kids to sense behavioral indicators in their peers and people around them.

Schools have systems in place now and students can have faculty fill out a threat assessment on any individual. We need to get better at relationship building and sharing information. We need to strengthen our decision making through scenario based training. We know when there are weak decision making there are deaths.

Scenario based training can be as easy as just talking about these tough topics and walking through how you would react. I have spoken to my students and son about this subject but watered down. There are people in the world that make bad decisions or their brains are not well and we need to be prepared so we can stay safe. Play the what if game with your families at home in the car. The scenarios will vary depending on the age of children you have.
What if you and other people notice behaviors are off in a classes? What if a gun man came into a store you were shopping at? We like to throw in there a few fun what if’s so it is not so worrisome. Have a code word that your family has if they would ever need to use in an emergency. This code word needs to be a rare word that when they hear it they act swiftly and listen to your every word. We need to teach our kids to practice vigilance. Look at risk factors, watch for behaviors and report. When in an environment be aware of escape plans. Will you RUN, HIDE or FIGHT? Have back-up plans for each.

Run: know where your threat is, Know your escape routes, leave belongings behind, keep hands viable for law enforcement.

Hide: have a plan, lock/barricade( the more time it takes to get to you the more your chance of survival is) doors, stay calm and under control, spread out but be prepared to fight.

Fight: if you have no other option be mentally prepared, what weapons do you have around you. For me I have a mighty hole puncher and paper cutter, use surroundings and practice mind set games. Just like the passengers on flight 93 you may need to take action to minimize the killing of others.

Like a hero first grade teacher from Sandyhook told her little ducklings….. “We are in here hiding from the bad people but the good people will be here soon to get us out”. All her first graders survived due to her proactive actions. At this point in the training I was bawling. I can’t fathom but the reality is plastered all over the news and thousands of families still grieve from this type of violence.

I can only pray this never happens but have to be prepared.

On Celebrations

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on May-20-2014

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When families participate in important events, kids can be a real wild card. We’ve seen that the likelihood of a meltdown is proportional to the importance of the event. This is not a plot! It’s not the fault of the children. In fact, when there’s a high level of anticipation and expectation, adults communicate stress, often without being aware. When we’re anxious about something, kids pick up on it, and they often internalize the anxiety. Just think about the emotional turmoil that surrounds a birthday, for example: most of the energy is positive, of course, but it’s stressful nonetheless. These can be hard events for kids: since they don’t have the tools to manage their feelings like adults (hopefully) do, their young-but-powerful emotions erupt in ways that can be, shall we say, counterproductive.

You might think that kids should naturally love the parties we throw for them. But graduations, birthdays, mitzvahs and other celebrations often become opportunities for adults to ‘put on a show’ for ourselves, forgetting who the event is for. We invest a lot into these events, we stress about the success we hope for, and young kids feel the strain.

To help young children survive events that are meant for their benefit, here’s a few tips:

  • Remember that these events are supposed to be a blessing for the child, not for us (Simple, but it has to be said).
  • Help your young child know what to expect (“We will do X for a little bit, then we’ll do Y, and then we’ll be all done!”).
  • Give choices whenever possible (“Do you want to sit next to your aunt or next to Dad?”; “What would you like to eat first?” … “Dessert!” is an acceptable answer on certain occasions).
  • Consider their threshold for public humiliation (“You look SOOOO cute in that suit!”) and honor them without embarrassing them.
  • Direct their attention to keep their mind off their own discomfort (“Watch your sister practicing her dance moves”).
  • Don’t compare a child to others (“Look how that little boy is sitting quietly”), rather catch them doing their best and acknowledge their efforts (“Sitting still is so hard, but you’re becoming a real patient kid!”)
  • Be determined to focus your energies on enjoying your child (rather than on the success of the event), and they will feel more special and less stressed.

Keep a sense of humor while dressing up and celebrating your child, and the likelihood grows that you will all take good memories from these special events.