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EXCITEMENT AND HAVING FUN:

Your infant shows you most clearly what excitement and having fun are all about. Perhaps the excitement comes from a new toy, mother's returning home, a bottle of milk or a taste of ice cream when she is a little hungry, or any number of other things. You may sometimes be surprised to see what small and seemingly inconsequential things evoke excitement in your infant.

As your infant becomes a toddler and she can understand when things are about to happen, you can see these same signs of excitement being evoked by the anticipation of situations and events. You tell her you are going swimming, going to visit Grandpa, going to stop for ice cream, or some favorite friends are coming to visit, Mom or Dad is coming home from work soon, or something else pleasurable is going to happen, and your toddler becomes excited almost as if it were happening then.

It is a very sad fact many adults have lost the ability to enjoy themselves and to become enthusiastic about things. Unfortunately, some adults who can experience fun and excitement are either unable to share the feelings with others, or they express the feelings in ways alienating other people. Nurture and encourage their capacity to experience fun and excitement, and encourage the expression of those feelings in ways that help them become adults who can experience pleasure and good times fully and spontaneously, and who can give expression to those feelings in sharing and socially contagious ways.

It starts with your infant. He learns about excitement and having fun from you. It is unlikely he develops the spontaneous experience of fun and excitement unless you are genuinely excited about and have fun from holding him, playing with him, feeding him and giving him a bath, touching him and making funny noises to get him to respond - generally being with him and doing things for him. If you do not find him fun and exciting, he is not very likely to find you or the rest of the world fun and exciting. This principle (your child finds life fun and exciting if you find your child fun and exciting) continues throughout development.

With children of any age, but especially with adolescents, many problems can be resolved or reduced if parents just overlook the negative and focus on increasing fun and excitement in the relationship. Try it for a month or six weeks. Spend more time with your child, overlook negative attitudes and problematic behavior, find good things to talk about. Sit down with your child while she is watching TV. Listen to her music, ask if you can participate when she is involved in an activity with friends, ask if you can go to a ball game or movie with her (with the understanding she can bring you home and then spend time with her friends), ask her to tell you about the book she is reading. Give your emphasis to listening to her talk about what interests her. Play her game according to her rules; participate in her activities on her terms. This is not a cure-all and occasionally may not help very much. Nonetheless, it helps a lot of the time and you may even have a little more fun and excitement in your own life.

Since in large measure your children grow up to derive fun and excitement from the same things that are fun and exciting for you, be clear about what kinds of things you want your children to enjoy and what you want them to avoid. You want them to enjoy school, reading, and music, to have fun at parties, to feel good about being with their family and friends. You may also want to encourage interest in swimming, playing ball, riding bicycles, having pets, cooking, sewing, working on hobbies, or any number of other things. Let them know these things are fun and exciting. You also have a list of things you hope your children do not see as fun and exciting. Hopefully, the list of things you want to encourage is at least as long as the list of things you want to discourage.

For some activities, make a point to discuss the pros and cons with your children. Included here are activities such as smoking, drug and alcohol use, premarital sex, and other activities on which you have strong feelings and beliefs. Yes, there are both pros and cons related to each of these and to other activities about which you strongly disapprove. Your child deserves and needs to know what you think and what you believe, including why you hold the beliefs you hold. If it is hard to know what to say or how to start the conversation, know this. Even a conversation you handle badly is always better than no conversation. This is especially true when the topic is one on which you feel strongly.

Next, many fun activities require special instruction; for example, you want to make the learning process as much fun as possible. Nonetheless, the learning process needs to be handled in a careful and sometimes fairly strict way. There are many things that have to be learned to be enjoyed. It may not be a lot of fun to learn how to play chess but may be exciting once one knows how. The same holds for building block towers, riding a bicycle, roller-skating, cooking, and so on. The range of things to be learned about or mastered before they can be enjoyed is extensive. Observe what your children become interested in, in case special instruction is needed.

In general, having fun and excitement arises fairly spontaneously in children if they are nurtured and encouraged, and if your child's expression of these feelings is appropriately contained. For example, your child who becomes excited about participating in some activity must learn not to push and shove, or in some situations not to scream and yell, must learn to do some things slowly and carefully. It is equally important to understand on certain occasions you may not want to enforce these limits so harshly. It is only natural for children to be a little more enthusiastic at birthday parties, on holidays or special occasions. Be a little more tolerant and loosen the limits a little on such special occasions. Even then, there are limits to what you accept.

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