JOINT JOURNALING: A powerful communication tool between parent and child

As parents, we strive to help our children understand who they are & what they believe in. We want our children to understand and recognize their feelings, to be able to calm themselves when they’re upset, and to have the coping skills to overcome struggles. We need to help them grow into their authentic selves feeling loved and accepted.  Self-awareness exercises like the one I’m describing today, can help kiddos come to know themselves better.

A fun and useful exercise between parent and child is to pass a journal back and forth nightly.  Pre-teens and Teens really seem to do well with this concept.  My own daughter and I do this and I’ve learned so much about her sweet little 12-year-old soul.  I believe talking and journaling are not mutually exclusive – but they are mutually beneficial!!  Journaling has become a tool in our toolbox to be sure there is an open door communication policy and in helping my daughter come to “know” herself better.

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If you choose to employ a journal, you’ll find you communicate a little differently when you write, because you have time to think.  It’s also quite possible that the child will “hear” you better when you write.  And, you might notice that she’ll be braver when she writes.  Sometimes writing and reading gives you just enough distance… to be totally honest!

This exercise can be especially important when children have difficult topics, memories or feelings they are struggling with. Remain aware that your questions can bring up strong feelings/memories for foster/adoptive children.   Remain aware that addressing these strong feelings in writing gives you ample time to process and formulate your best response.

When kiddos reach middle school, it’s becomes very typical for them to communicate through writing.  They don’t call each other, they text!! It’s exciting to see how your journal paves the way for your child to talk to you as they do their friends.

Mutually, you will find meaning in this exercise and will come to appreciate the time capsule you are constructing.  Everything, from what you’re writing about, to her handwriting and the expressions she uses, captures her in this moment.  Your journal pages can be more powerful than a photograph.

You’ll need to decide a couple of key things: 

Who is allowed to see this journal? For trust to be built, you both must honor this decision.  The journal is just between my daughter and myself in our house.

How will you pass the journal back and forth?  We leave it under each others pillow on most nights. 

When can you expect a response?  Sometimes life gets in the way and we just let each other know that we weren’t able to get our entry done.  We leave a sticky note that says “Response needed ASAP” if it’s urgent. 

Do you want to use a fancy journal or just use a standard notebook?  Either works great; although the blank journal or spiral notebook allows for more flexibility and the ability to come up with your own questions/topics.  We’ve used all three, including a wonderful journal called Just Between Us: A no-stress, no-rules journal for girls and their moms.  You can find it HERE.

What to write?  It’s up to you!  There are no rules for this activity.  Of course, you should do what feels right for you!  Some days you might feel like there’s nothing to say.  Don’t be afraid to doodle or share an inspiring quote instead. Consider using the below list of questions as journaling prompts.  As you get started, it might feel more comfortable to stick to the more “superficial” of these topics.

  • What are your strengths?
  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
  • What are your goals for this school year?
  • Who do you talk to when you have a problem? How do they help?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • What are you worried about?
  • What do you wish you parents knew about you? What do you wish your friends or classmates knew about you?
  • If you could have one wish, what would it be?
  • What do you feel ashamed of?
  • Where do you feel safest?
  • If you weren’t afraid, what would you do?
  • Have you ever felt like a failure? How did you cope?
    How can you tell that you’re getting angry?  What does your body feel like?
  • What’s something that adults say to you that’s really stuck with you? Do you think their right?
  • What do you do when people don’t seem to like you?
  • What is your proudest accomplishment?
  • What things feel “in” your control? What things feel “out” of your control?
  • What do you like about your school? What do you dislike?
  • What do you do when you’re stressed out?
  • What’s something nice you can say about yourself?
  • What’s your happiest memory?
  • What do you do when you’re feeling down? Do you think it’s okay to cry?  Do you think it’s ok to yell?
  • What is your favorite book, movie, band, food, color, animal?
  • What do you like about yourself?
  • What do you like talking about? What do you find it hard to talk about?
  • What are three things you might like to be when you grow up?
  • Who are your best friends? What do you look for in a friend?  What are challenges you face in friendship?
  • Before you fall asleep, what do you think about? What do you dream about?  What’s the first thing you think of when you wake up?
  • Have you ever let fear stop you from doing something you wanted to do?
  • How are you and I the same? How are you and I different?
  • What do you need to know about crushes and dating?
  • What are things you’d love for us to do together?
  • If you could do one crazy thing without consequences, what would it be?
  • What do you love about school? What do you not love about school?  How do you feel about your grades?  What has your greatest learning experience been?
  • How do you feel about the activities you’re involved in? What takes up too much of your time?  What do you wish you could spend your time doing?
  • These are Compliments I want to give you… What compliments would you like to give me?
  • What have you learned from our journal?

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In the event that you know journaling is NOT your thing, these questions have a lot of value as talking points too.  Talking with your children is one of the most critical steps of healthy parenting. Speaking honestly and clearly, responding calmly, and listening carefully will occur only if children are provided with models and opportunities to practice. Kids need to learn to share more than just their belongings…

~Stacy Dinkel, M.A.

 

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Pinterest & Adoption

 

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As you likely know, Pinterest is a social bookmarking website for saving, organizing and sharing things. Many, many people have already recognized its benefits for design, fashion, beauty, cooking and other lifestyle topics. But, it can have some wonderful benefits for couples and singles who are hoping to adopt ~ or in the middle of that process, too.

We have been building our agency Pinterest page for a long while now.  And, we’ve proudly amassed a wealth of resources.  In fact, our Pinterest boards have made it hard to keep this “blog” alive — We’ve come to notice that so much important content has already been written and it’s written so well, that, well… why would CHI write it again?

Please accept our invitation visit and “follow” our Pinterest page: Chrysalis House.  You will then have access to a resource that we have designed to support any and every family, including those who are -or- aren’t clients of our adoption agency.

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We have reviewed a wide collection of topics and amassed over 800 pins all nicely divided into boards on adoption and issue specific topics such as:  anger management, special needs, chores, developmental milestones, safety strategies, foster/domestic/inter-country adoption, bonding and attachment, nutrition, discipline, transracial adoption and …probably just about everything in between, too.  We’ve created boards on: what to do while you are waiting (prospective adoptive parents), how to coach adoptive relatives, how to apply for adoption grants and even how to get ready for back-to-school.

Our Pinterest boards are there for you and they. are. free.  Please access our Pinterest pages whenever it can be of use to you.  Simply put, that’s why it’s there.  And, if you see a topic that we’ve missed, we hope you’ll make a recommendation for us to research it too!  (Just email it to stacy@chrysalishouse.com & she’ll humbly accept that challenge!)

But, there’s another reason why we bring up Pinterest…  This social platform can be part of any waiting parent’s adoption networking strategy. It’s popular and has many millions of visitors ~ which is a fantastic audience.  68 percent of Pinterest visitors are women and 70.9% are between the ages of 17 to 44– which includes the demographic you want to reach and connect with, when you are prospective adoptive parents seeking a domestic adoption.  According to a report, Pinterest drives more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined and is now one of the top 10 social networking websites.

How waiting adoptive parents can use Pinterest:

It’s easy to use and once you’ve joined, sharing, following and “liking” others couldn’t be easier. Just create a board and start pinning.  Conveying “who” you are with words can be a challenge.  Pinterest helps you show the “real” you when it comes to telling an authentic story.  Because Pinterest reveals “who” you are through photos and images that you personally identify with, it gives you the chance to connect with prospective birth parents on a visceral level.

For waiting parents, beyond research on “what you can expect while you’re expecting” –you can also use Pinterest to showcase your personality and share many bits and pieces of your life that didn’t make it into your profile.  Your Pinterest page can show additional facets to your family like: hobbies, traveling plans, your love for the garden, recipes you’d like to try, charities you support, and can ultimately reflect …how you hope to parent that child that you hope to adopt.  Consider loading your families Adoptive Profile to your Pinterest page and consider Pinterest to be another resource for connection(s).  Finally, for anyone who is going through the sometimes arduous (but eventually rewarding) process that is adoption, Pinterest’s beauty, messages of hope, and celebration of the everyday can be a daily pick-me-up.

Now, isn’t that (P)interesting?  (wink.)

 

 

The Weight of the Wait

 

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The old proverb is right.  Time moves slowly for those who wait.  For prospective adoptive parents, the period between home study approval and welcoming a child home – can become excruciating.

There is no way to rush this waiting period, which proceeds at its own pace. Fortunately there is much you can do during your time as a prospective adoptive parent – to keep your mind off the calendar. You have more time now to accomplish things that need to be done, and your future life as a parent will be easier if you do them now.

Take positive, constructive action weekly ~ or even daily. These actions will help you keep your perspective, your sense of humor and your sense of balance.  We’ve compiled a lengthy list of action items for your waiting period.

{Relax.  These not all need to be done – but if it makes you feel better in the interim, accomplish them as needed to alleviate the “weight” of the “wait”}.

  1. Research employer family leave plans. Talk to your employer and start planning for time away from the office when you are placed.
  2. Research and consider options for your new will, life insurance and make your guardianship plan legal.
  3. Kick any unhealthy habits that may be a detriment to your future child (i.e. quit smoking, loose excess weight, etc.)
  4. If adopting a newborn, learn the nuts and bolts of baby care.
  5. Consider taking a college course on Childhood Development.
  6. Attend an adoptive parent support group.
  7. Prepare a First Aid Kit with child specific tools (contact the Red Cross or your pediatrician).
  8. Research furniture for the child’s room, making selections (but not purchasing unless a match has occurred which can be considered solid) for the age range you are open to.
  9. Request forms for adding a child to your health insurance plan.
  10. Research car seats and strollers.
  11. Practice installing your car seat and get it checked by a car seat specialist (call your local police and fire department for assistance)
  12. Research and discuss discipline styles/techniques and alternative parenting techniques you may like to try (sign language, baby massage, breastfeeding, etc.)
  13. Research and interview childcare providers.  See if you can be added to a wait list for accessing services.
  14. Research and consider if you’d like to mail out an adoption announcement.  If you do, address your envelopes now to save you the hassle later.
  15. Begin your child’s lifebook – your experiences as you start your adoption journey and anticipate the child’s arrival is an important part of the story.
  16. Begin talking about adoption with family and friends, so that they know how you feel about certain topics (open adoption, sharing the child’s story, attachment parenting, etc.)
  17. Take full advantage of your free time.  This will diminish when you become a parent.
  18. Research childhood nutrition and if there will be any special considerations to be made for the child you wish to adopt.  (i.e. smoothie diet for child with cleft palate; nutrition rich foods for internationally adopted child; healthy snack availability for child who may hoard food, etc.)
  19. If adopting internationally, learn about your child’s birth culture.
  20. If adopting internationally, begin practicing recipes associated with your child’s culture.  Visit restaurants with culturally specific foods and try them out.
  21. Start noticing the “children’s menu” at your favorite restaurants.  Make note of places that have really great menus.
  22. If married, set up a weekly “date” and keep it.  Nurture your relationship now. Start addressing #23.
  23. Start having conversations about how you plan to parent.  Discuss religious education preferences and child-rearing practices.
  24. Start considering names for your child.
  25. Spend time around children.  “Borrow” friends and relative children for fun outings so you can learn through hands-on experience.
  26. Start shopping for child necessities.  Don’t go overboard, but spreading out the financial burden of toothpaste, child shampoo, hairbrushes, eating utensils, sippy cups, etc. can be planned more carefully now – rather than at the last minute.
  27. Keep busy with productive and enjoyable activities that nurture yourself:  Revisit and old hobby, start a self-care/exercise routine, etc.
  28. Get in shape.  You will soon be running, carrying and bending more than you ever have.
  29. Read everything you can about topics you are concerned about.  Visit adoption forums online, Read Parenting Books and blogs.
  30. Begin Childproofing your home beyond what the agency requires you to do in preparation.  Take a close look at your surroundings from the “eye of a child” (taking into consideration the age range you are open to).  There may be sharp corners, unshielded electrical outlets, unlocked cabinets filled with household cleaners and other hazards that will need to be removed before the child comes home.
  31. Finish projects around the house.  Now is a great time to finish anything that was started and left hanging.
  32. Register for baby/child necessities at a store so that well-wishers have a guide to best fit your needs when you receive placement.
  33. Pray if you’re so inclined.  And Pray some more.
  34. Prepare your pets for the child’s arrival by making changes to their routine (more time outside or in a crate) well in advance.  Familiarize them with children when on walks and at parks.  Work on their bad habits (jumping, nibbling, stealing food, etc.).
  35. If you are adopting internationally, begin planning for any necessary immunizations that will be required for your adoption trip.
  36. Line up your support team, especially if you are a single parent.  Ask close friends and family who might take over every once in awhile to allow you a chance to sleep, run errands, etc.
  37. Write your own parents a thank-you letter.  Tell them how excited you are to follow in their footsteps and how much you appreciated their parenting efforts.
  38. Research early intervention and preschool programs that you might access; specifically considering any special needs you are open to.
  39. Buy a camera and learn how to take really good photos.  Photographic memories are priceless.  Take a class if you are interested.
  40. If adopting internationally, try and learn as much of your child’s birth language as possible.
  41. Get your own appointments out of the way.  Schedule dental, optometrist, veterinary, etc. visits if you are able; so that you can concentrate on the child’s needs when they arrive.
  42. Start your library of children’s books.  You can peruse the titles and thoughtfully research the messages within them at your leisure now.
  43. Research community and resource class opportunities (check your local library for story times, Parents Day Out, Mommy & Me, MOPS groups, etc.)
  44. Cook and freeze meals for your first weeks as a parent.  Consider asking a friend to set up a meal delivery sign-up through signupgenius.com for close family and friends to help out.
  45. Consider gift options for your child’s birth family, big brother/sister (if applicable), orphanage caretakers, etc.
  46. Put your finances in order.  Work on your “emergency” fund if you don’t have one.
  47. Consider joining or starting a “Waiting Families Group.”  Getting together with people on similar journey’s can be very rewarding.  No one understands what you’re going through better than someone who is also living it!
  48. Declutter, clean and organize your home.
  49. Start planning for college.  Research and consider all your options including a Upromise Savings Plan, a prepaid college fund or a 529 Savings Plan.
  50. Make sure your passport is up to date if adopting internationally.
  51. Make a packing list of what you need to take with you in the event you get a last minute “call,” or even if you have ample time to plan your travel to pick up your child.
  52. Plan a last “kid-free” vacation.
  53. Compose a letter to your child.  Help siblings write a letter.  Ask grandparents to write a letter.  Add these precious mementos to the child’s future lifebook.
  54. Consider fundraising opportunities, which can help you realize your adoption goal.  Some parents fund their entire adoption via fundraising.
  55. Read everything you can on nurturing attachment with an adopted child.
  56. Connect with friends.  Feel free to ask parents you admire – questions about parenting.
  57. Read up on “adoption friendly” terminology and begin deciding what language you will use in describing your own family.
  58. Sit in the child’s room and ponder what the child will find scary within it.
  59. See all the adult movies you care to watch.  Once a child joins your family, you’ll likely spend your movie budget on more child-friendly options.
  60. Sleep in.  As much as possible.  Because soon, it may not be an option.
  61. Buy all the birthday, anniversary, graduation, etc. cards/gifts you’ll need for the year.  If possible, address and add sentiments to the cards, so they’ll be ready to hit the mail when needed.
  62. Remind yourself of the best lullabies, nursery rhymes and children’s games  from when you were a child.
  63. Begin watching garage sales and craigslist for great deals on toys.  Begin preparing a small selection of commonly loved toys.  A household with kids can never have enough games, puzzles, legos, art supplies, etc.
  64. Pick out the perfect “cuddly” for your child.  Many kids have a blanket or special friend that tags along with them throughout their childhood.  Choose something that is super soft and that can withstand many, many washings.  If you’re sure it’ll be “the one” consider purchasing more than one so that you always have a spare to rely on if it gets lost, dirty, etc.
  65. Start spreading the news and ask for prayers and good wishes.

 

What would you add to this list?

Doodle Therapy: The Family Playdate

Did you know that May 10 is National Family Playdate Day?  (Okay, I’ll be honest. Neither did I — until I saw it on Facebook!)

But, apparently a group has deemed May 10 to be a Family Playdate Day – and in theory, it’s a really great idea for all of us to make meaningful plans for time together as a family.
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Today, within one simple project my little family built two stepping stones.  We played as a family. We were artful (& Messy).  We had fun.  We had great conversations.  AND, we managed to create two lovely gifts to be given to the “Nana’s” in our lives in honor of Mother’s Day.

There are numerous benefits to spending quality time together, but for families touched by fostercare and adoption, the following are really important:

1. Participating in family oriented activities are meaningful and focused opportunities to bond and connect as a family.
2. Promising your personal time at least one day out of the week can help members in the family gain a sense of self worth and belonging – and to assign a true value to “family time.”
3. While spending time together, family members learn how to listen and work cooperatively together.
4. Children that do not have a sense of family values are more likely to be influenced by friends that do not necessarily have their best interests at heart.
5. Parents often admit to frustration when it comes to communication. Parents can use this time to relate to their children and actively listen while everyone is together. Using creative projects like this is a good way to create a “release” and to open up discussion about what is going on in each members life.

Our Stepping Stones project can make a great Family “Playdate” for any family. The outcome can be made to embellish your own lovely garden – or can be a memento/gift given to Mothers, Grandmothers or Birth Mothers in celebration of an important milestone, in celebration – or just to say “I love you” any day of the year.

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All that’s needed for the project pictured is a stepping stones kit. My family used two kits with the goal of making a stepping stone for the grandmother on each side of our family. We actually abandoned the templates, combined the embellishments from the two different kits and just did what we thought looked nice by laying out our “plan” on the table. (If you’re especially crafty, you can make your own stepping stones without a kit – by simply using concrete ).

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If you haven’t been inspired to make stepping stones, here are a few other options that you might consider for your own Family Playdate(s):

* Start a garden together and teach the children about growing their own foodstuffs. This also encourages healthy eating!

* Plan a meal from new recipes or even from another culture, assigning each family member a job. Set the table according to the cultural traditions and share a discussion about similarities and differences.

* Plan an outing to the park together and play games, go on a nature hike or make a picnic together.

* Create a Scavenger Hunt or “I spy” list of items which can be found outside. Head out on a family walk and use cameras and/or iPhones to record group shots next to each item found.

* Create a “We bicycled 100 miles” chart and record each mile rode together as a family. Use a smart phone app to track each of your bike rides so that you know your mileage. This can also be done during walks or jogs.

Basically, just choose a project that is easy enough for every family member to participate in. Encourage children to use their unique talents to make the project special. The most important thing – is that it should result in lots of fun!

What ideas do you have for a Family Playdate?

~Be well and Be Creative!  Stacy Dinkel, M.A.

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If you are interested in creating stepping stones like ours, we used the following kits: photo stepping stone kit   and mosaic stepping stone kit .

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An Introduction to Doodle Therapy

Hi!  I’m Stacy Dinkel and I’ve been on board in some capacity at Chrysalis House, Inc. for twelve+ years.  Regardless of the role I’ve filled at this agency, I’ve always relied on my creativity to serve those I work with.  I’ve always been “artsy,” following in my own Mama’s footsteps and interjecting creativity into everything I do, (whether it be in art projects, social work OR parenting).  Although I have a Masters in Counseling – my undergraduate degree is actually in Art Therapy.

Enthusiastically, I’m introducing a new series on this blog, which we’ll be calling Doodle Therapy.  The Doodle Therapy posts will use creative activities as a means to connect with your own family in a variety of creative ways. I do not claim to be a registered Art Therapist, nor will we be assessing any artistic projects in a therapeutic way.  Yet, this series will be designed to encourage CHI families to get creative together, using art as a touchstone for conversation, growth and healing!!

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Art as “therapy” is a topic that always raises eyebrows and questions.  While art can absolutely be used to develop an understanding of the person who makes it — the process can be extremely useful in helping people grow, rehabilitate and heal too.  Despite what you believe – art therapies require no talent.  Drawing, painting, clay work, etc. are all methods of expression easily available to us all, regardless of age or artistic ability.  The purpose is not to create great “art” but to explore and express yourself! Art can be a profoundly relaxing activity; ultimately reducing stress and anxiety.  Another side benefit is that you can also simultaneously begin to resolve overwhelming emotions, crises and traumas.  Mindful questions and talks about what has been portrayed can be a super important part of the process and extremely useful to parents and children.

As a parent of an adopted child, art can be an excellent opener to talking about the hard stuff  (which can include past abuse, current anxiety, grief & loss, fears or even what the child can expect in the future).  Consider these Doodle Therapy exercises a “tool” you’ve added to your parenting toolbox! Don’t hesitate to bring topics to your CHI social worker or a therapist, if you feel they need further address.

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Today, let’s think about how available art is to your children – as you may want to consider making it a more prominent resource.  Do you have art supplies readily available to your kiddos?

Crayons, pencils, markers, scissors, chalks, paints, Play-Doh, etc. are all tools you can utilize in future exercises regardless of your child(ren)’s age.  Many parents have a fear of allowing children free reign to these items – and many choose to restrict them to sessions of well-supervised use.  Whatever the case – you know your child best and know whether they may initiate haircuts or create unwanted wall murals!  If you believe your child(ren) can handle free access to art supplies, you may be surprised at what they have the potential and freedom to create.

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Throughout this past weekend, I asked my kids to draw pictures of themselves and to help each other in the creative process.  My kids started out drawing one another and then swapped pieces back and forth until they decided they were complete.  My daughter has taken interest in caricatures, so we tried to take my son’s piece in that direction (I helped with the outline).  I left their artwork and and supplies on a table for the duration of the weekend. This strategy served several purposes:

  1. It was a 4 day weekend and art was a great time filler that they came back to repeatedly.  (Art can offset boredom!)
  2. It was a means of encouraging cooperative and positive interaction between the two siblings.    (Art can facilitate relationship building and bonding!)
  3. It prompted many discussions about what they like about themselves and each other – and how to depict that in picture form.  (Art can involve self esteem building!  You can create a better awareness of self and others!)
  4. The artistic experience simultaneously hones other skills too – fine motor skills, technical skills, creativity, an eye for composition, confidence to try new ideas, etc.  Through creating and reflecting on art processes, people can cope with symptoms, facilitate the ability to label and express emotions and enjoy the self affirming pleasures of being artful.

& finally… it offered me a project to post here as an introduction to this new series!  My kiddos are Kenzie (9) and Rylan (6), and they’ll be assisting me in demonstrating future Doodle Therapy projects.  My daughter’s nickname is “Doodle,” so she’s especially qualified for her new position.

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Please join in the fun!  Your first Doodle Therapy assignment is:

Have your child(ren) create a self-portrait, a portrait of a sibling ~ OR ~ Create a family portrait.  

This can be done individually or as a collaborative family process by working together as a team! To alleviate frustration and encourage relationship building – this is a great project for siblings/parents to support each other through any rough spots.

This project is about finding your way artistically and enjoying the experience.

Be well and Be creative!

~Stacy Dinkel, M.A.

P.S.  Because we’d like to promote your ability to play along, I have set up a Flickr (www.flickr.com) group specific to this series.  Please consider joining the group and submitting projects that your children have completed as result of our Doodle Therapy series.  This will be a closed group, available to ONLY those who are invited to participate.  To Join: Please send an email to myself at: stacy@chrysalishouse.com requesting to be “invited” to join this group. 

Please note:  If confidentiality is a prominent concern, please refrain from posting pictures which specifically include your child(ren).  In this event, you may simply submit a photo of only the art itself.  Agency use of your photos is not the focus of this group – we are merely wishing to encourage and join you in your creative journey as a family!  CHI will never use your images without first requesting permission to do so!