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Welcome to Educated, Common Sense Parenting! This is my parenting education/commentary blog. Start here and read About This Blog.

I believe too many parents today have let their children rule their households. Their children dictate their daily lives, demand every ounce of their attention and do not show any respect for their parents. This needs to change. The only way to do this is if parents start letting good old common sense start dictating their parenting practices and stop letting their children run the show. You're the parent. Act like one.

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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Setting Limits Part III: The Process

The reason I like Setting Limits so much is because it's not really a "magic system"...it's really just common sense. Here are the steps I recommend you take to implement this common-sense process with your child:

1) DECIDE ON A TARGET BEHAVIOR: Decide on your top one or two "annoying" behaviors and focus on those. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day, so don't expect your child to reverse every annoying behavior right away. Most parents' top "annoying" behaviors include: 1) Whining 2) Not listening/ignoring instructions; purposely misbehaving 3) Inability to share or play well with other children 4) Tantrums/Pouting when they don't get their way.

2) LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES: Decide on what your "logical consequence" for the behavior will be. A logical consequence is a consequence that fits the crime. Too often parents let misbehavior go and by the time 5pm rolls around and your child has been misbehaving all day, parents lose it. The kid does one minor misbehavior and Mom takes away TV privileges for a week or explodes and makes him stay in his room for an hour. Those consequences are not driven by logic, they are driven by emotion.

**Remember, what I write only applies to what I know and things I have tried. So my only knowledge is with 18 months to 4 year olds. With that in mind, most misbehavior can be solved with the logical consequence of a time out. We started time out with Brooke at about 18 months. At this age we thought she was old enough to understand right from wrong and she was also mature enough to understand consequences. Some 18 months olds are not--you have to judge for yourself. But somewhere around this age, you can start implementing time out. More on the timeout procedure later.

3) SET THE LIMIT:

- Younger Kids (18 months-3'ish years): As soon as misbehavior occurs (not after it's happened for the 50th time that day and you're frustrated and tired), give ONE, SIMPLE warning. Something like, "Michael, we don't whine. It's not nice. Stop whining or you'll go to timeout (or, "you'll be spending some time alone")." For little kids, keep it simple, very few words.

- Older kids (3 years & up): Once kids get older, empower them to realize that they have the power to make their own decisions: "Michael, you know we don't whine. You can keep whining or you can spend some time by yourself...WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?" Those words are key. That makes them actually have to answer, which is quite powerful. When I phrase things like this, I feel like it's kind of an "ah-ha" moment for Brooke. Like she's thinking, "DUH--I don't want to be alone or go to timeout!!!" For your strong-willed ones, if they don't answer that is the same as continuing the behavior. See Step 4.

ALWAYS REMEMBER:

**Use your NORMAL tone of voice. Be calm, but firm. Look your child in the eye.

4) FOLLOW THROUGH: This is THE most important step!! This is where most parents fail miserably. After you have given the warning with the logical consequence, you MUST MUST MUST follow through the VERY next time it happens. So your kid is yelling, you give the warning, he keeps yelling (Remember, he's your little scientist! He's gathering his data!). TOOOOOOOOOO many parents (I have been a victim) keep up with the warnings: "Michael, I TOLD you to STOP YELLING!" Again: "Do you want to go to timeout??" Again: "How many times do I have to tell you!!??" With each warning, our blood pressure rises. This is why many parents are frazzled and burned out. They have spent their whole day threatening their kid and never actually disciplining them.

So what SHOULD you do? Misbehavior happens again. You say, "Ok, I'm sorry. We don't whine. You need to spend some time in timeout." Take him to timeout and say, "You need to stay here until I tell you to get up. I will set the timer." AND SET THE TIMER. I use the tried and true rule of one minute per year of age. I use the timer on my microwave so Brooke can hear it from her timeout and know when time is up. DON'T CHEAT and don't try to "guess" when X minutes has passed. Use a timer!!!

5) CLEAN THE SLATE: When the timer goes off, go to your child. Resist any temptation to over-explain or "lecture." By now, they know what they did was wrong and that you won't accept it. End of story. Hopefully, your child's time in timeout has given you time to compose yourself as well. Please don't hold a grudge!! Many parents like to say things like, "Next time you do that, you'll be there for 20 minutes!" or "I don't know how many times I have to tell you!" Not very educated, common sense parenting'ish. The slate is clean and welcome your child back to whatever you were doing. Keep your words simple like, "Ok, it looks like you're ready to come back! Let's finish playing that game!" Keep your tone of voice upbeat. Take your child's hand and lead them back. Let them know you're not "mad" at them.

And that, my friends is all there is to it. Sounds pretty easy, huh? It IS. If you stay consistent with this process, I can almost guarantee behavior will improve. The hard part is staying consistent. You can't let X behavior (i.e whining) slide one day and then crack down with "Setting Limits" the next. Talk about confusing your child! No wonder he acts out. You need to do the procedure EVERY TIME behavior occurs.

Yes, there are some problems that may occur and some troubleshooting that needs to happen. I'll write a "Troubleshooting" post soon. Happy limit setting!!!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Setting Limits Part II: Our Little Scientists


In his book, Setting Limits, Dr. MacKenzie compares children to mini scientists. Little do most of us know that our little scientists are constantly doing research and taking data on how we teach and enforce our rules.

For example, picture a 3 year old sitting in a movie theater kicking the chair in front of him. You say, "Honey please stop." He stops for a minute and keeps doing it. You say again, "I told you to stop that." He keeps doing it. You say, "Stop that right now or we're leaving!" He stops for awhile and starts again after 10 minutes pass. The people in front of you end up moving after giving you a dirty look. You go on watching the movie. Problem solved. So what data has your little scientist collected from this series of events? You guessed it--your words are meaningless. He doesn't have to listen to you because you never do anything but repeat yourself, raise your voice and threaten. No big deal for him!

Gary Ezzo's book, Toddlerwise gives "obedience percentages" by age. An obedience percentage is the amount of times your child **should** comply with your instructions:

2 years old: 60%
3 years old: 70%
4-5 years old: 85%-90%

As educated, common sense parents, of course we want those percentages to be as close to 100% as possible! And quite honestly, it's not too much to expect that your child obey 85%-90% of the time, no matter what his age. The majority of young children WANT to please. Brooke definitely falls into the 85%-90% range. Most of the time, she does what I ask. However, she does have a very strong-willed side to her. When this side comes out, she will explain and try to negotiate her way out of compliance. She challenges the hell out of her dad and me on some things. I can only imagine how it will be when she's a teenager! When she pulls this on us, I definitely have to use my Setting Limits knowledge and parent her differently than I would when she's being compliant.

Likewise, you might have one child who is very compliant and another who is strong-willed. You will have to parent these two children differently. Going back to the scientist metaphor, compliant children don't need much "data" to make their decisions: you tell them to do something and your words are enough to make them comply. On the other hand, the strong-willed child is dubbed the "aggressive researcher" by MacKenzie. He will constantly "test" you to see if your words have any value. He needs more than your words to make him compliant. He needs to know your actions will speak along with your words. Go back to the strong-willed child at the movie theater. He is thinking: Will she actually take me out of the theater for kicking the chair? Let me try and see. He kicks the chair again and you don't do as you threatened. Research project over.

These aggressive researchers are not "bad" kids. They simply have different personalities that require you to "parent" a little harder. Since we learned at a very young age that Brooke did have this strong-willed side to her, we started Setting Limits with her at about age 2. It's always better to start early when the problem has not escalated into a full scale family war. Remember, good habits are easier to create than bad ones are to break. We used limits and logical consequences with Brooke as early as 18 months, which included time out. When we first started, we had to do timeouts fairly frequently. But as we got problems nipped in the bud, it has become a lot less frequent. I've sent her to timeout maybe once in the past year.

I will discuss in a lot more detail setting limits, logical consequences and the timeout procedure in the next post.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Setting Limits Part 1

My sister in law recently asked me if I knew of any good "parenting" books that she could relate to for her 2 year old. I told her hands-down, the best book on parenting I have read thus far (and I have read quite a few!) is Setting Limits by Robert J. MacKenzie. Let's face it, around 18 months (give or take), we've hopefully got the eating and sleeping things sorted out with our kids. Now it's time to move from "caring" for your child, to actually parenting your child. This is when the fun begins!

I'll be writing a series of posts on all different aspects of this book. Hopefully you will find them helpful. I learned so much by reading this book.

I have had the pleasure of meeting Dr. MacKenzie in person last year. He and his team trained our entire teaching staff on how to set limits in the classroom. He's also held a number of parenting seminars for the parents at our school And lord knows, many of them need to learn a thing or two about parenting! We've been implementing his program at our school with great success.

Dr. MacKenzie is a smart, witty, easy-going, common sense kind of guy---which of course is why I like him so much. His methods are straight-forward and are practically all just plain COMMON SENSE. No special "methods" or "tricks"...no getting in touch with the "primitive" side of your toddler--for those of you who have read The Happiest Toddler on the Block. The great thing is, you can read this book and you will be able to relate it to your 2 year old who throws applesauce off his highchair to your 16 year old who constantly breaks her curfew. It's timeless! However, I have not had the opportunity to parent any child older than 4, so I will not be commenting on how this book relates to anyone older than 4. I will only talk about my personal experience with this book with a 2-4 year old.

The first thing this book does is categorize three different parenting approaches:

1) The Punitive Parent: Punitive parents are often caught yelling things like: "Do that one more time and I'll...[insert threat here]," or "How many times do I have to tell you..." Punitive parents yell and threaten. They can be found in grocery stores around nap time and in the Target toy aisle. Punitive parents present themselves as frustrated, mean and exhausted. More than likely, we've all been a punitive parent at one time or another. I know I have! Although this isn't my typical parenting approach, I have definitely been known to raise my voice and use false threats: "Stop that right now you're going to bed!" (it's 5pm, and that would be nearly impossible). It mostly happens when I am exhausted or stress gets the best of me. For many parents, however, threats are the only way they know how to "parent."

2) The Permissive Parent: Permissive parents permeate the upper middle class. These types of parents are often overly-concerned about their child's feelings...never wanting them to be upset, hurt or disappointed. Permissive parents often end their sentences with"OK." "Spencer, stop banging your brother's head against the wall, OK?" Permissive parents tend to over-explain, and want to parent their children as "equals" instead of clearly establishing themselves as the person in charge. Permissive parents are always trying to bargain, plead, lecture and negotiate with their children. Children of permissive parents rule their households. They have learned that their parents never follow through on any sort of "limits" they set and they also have learned the art of negotiating their way out of undesired things such as going to bed.

3) The Setting Limits Parent: This is the approach endorsed by Dr. MacKenzie and I'm sure in our minds, what we all strive to be. The Setting Limits parent is fair, yet firm. These parents are clearly in charge, without being a dictator. The allow their children freedom, but with limits. This parenting approach requires that you set fair and firm limits and FOLLOW through each time. As with sleep training your infant, it is not always the easiest parenting approach emotionally-speaking, but this is a long term parenting approach, not a short term fix to get your kid to stop throwing a fit in the grocery store.

Imagine this: You're grocery shopping with your 2 year old. You are almost done when your toddler decides he wants a box of Captain Crunch. You say no. Toddler starts whining. You hold firm and try to explain--"No, sweetie, that type of cereal will rot your teeth and then you'll have to go to the dentist and...blah, blah, blah." [The Permissive Parent] Toddler throws a fit, starts screaming. People start looking at. Yes, you are worst parent ever! :-) In frustration, you say, "OK just this once. But next time, we're getting Special K." Toddler is happy.

Now as educated, common sense parents, you know exactly what this person did wrong. But admit it--it IS easier to just quiet a screaming child and save yourself embarrassment, isn't it? Just like it's easier to nurse your baby to sleep for 12 months than hearing her cry every time you lay her down to bed. Easier in the short term, that is. Don't forget, my friends, parenting isn't about the short term. You're in it for the long haul.

I'll go into more detail on how Dr. MacKenzie recommends becoming a Setting Limits parent in future posts.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Truth About Santa?

The holiday season is in full swing and if you have kids, this can definitely be one of the happiest (and busiest) times of the year! However, I feel it is my duty to point out some of the parenting stupidity out there regarding Christmas, Santa and your kids.

I recently read an article somewhere that discussed Santa and how you should approach the Santa discussion with your kids. The article asked, "When you tell your children about Santa, aren't you ultimately telling them a lie?" [Um..YES] It went on to recommend that when your kids ask about Santa or when the topic arises you should turn the question back on them by saying, "Now sweetie, do you really think Santa could fit through our chimney?" or "Do you think there is enough time in one night for Santa to deliver ALL the gifts to every boy and girl in the world?" or "Do you think Santa puts all the gifts under the tree or do you think Mommy and Daddy do?"

Ok, people. Lighten up here. Christmas time and a discussion about Santa is not the place I am going to decide to teach critical thinking skills to my 4 year old. Does she really think there is enough time in one night for Santa to deliver ALL the gifts to every boy and girl in the world? Actually, YES! Considering she a) has no clue how many boys and girls there are in the world and b) she doesn't really have a firm grasp on TIME unless it's today, tomorrow, yesterday or RIGHT NOW!! So PLEASE! If you have older kids, you may end up having the "discussion" with them, but I feel like most kids just end up deciding when they want to "give up" Santa on their own. Kinda like when they decide to give up their security blanket...one day, they figure out none of their friends are doing it and they stop doing it too.

And if you don't mind, let's use a little common sense here....each and every one of us, at some point in our life got our bubbles burst about Santa. Quite frankly, I have no recollection of when I found out the "awful truth" but somehow, someway....YES, I am STILL ALIVE!! No permanent damage done. I don't even think I needed counseling to help me through this difficult time. Christmas is supposed to be a FUN time. If your kid wants to believe in Santa, let them. They'll figure it out sooner or later...let them be a kid for awhile. Appreciate this innocence. I'm really finding out that it sure doesn't last long.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I'm Baaack!!!

I have to say I really, really missed doing this blog!!! It wasn't as though I had any less to say, but I went back to work on August 12th and needless to say, life has been a blur every since. It has taken me 3 months, but I finally feel as though I have my feet on the ground and my life is more...let's say, GROUNDED right now vs. spiraling out of control! :-)

I have been thinking about blog topics for the past 3 months, but with no time to write them down. Now that I am slightly more sane and Christmas vacation is almost here, I hope to update the blog at least once a week.

Since this is a public blog, I always like to know whose reading, so become a follower! Just click on "Follow" on the right-hand sidebar and sign in with your Google, Yahoo or Twitter account. Happy Reading!!!

PS: If you don't get the Brett Favre picture, no worries :)

Raising a Happy Child

If someone asked you "What do you want for your child" and you only had one second to answer, what would you say? More than likely the first word that would come to your mind would not be rich, sexy or famous--it would probably be "happy." Nothing makes our hearts swell more than to hear those little infant giggles or to watch our toddlers chase bubbles like it was the most fascinating, joyful activity in the world--sheer happiness in our children in a joy to experience.

But how can we be sure we raising happy children? We can't be sure. Environmental and genetic factors definitely come into play in determining whether our little cherubs will end up "happy." However, there are things we can do to help them along.

Edward Hallowell, author of The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness outlines several things we can do to help raise happy children who remain happy adults.

His research shows that "over indulged" children who are showered with toys and who are constantly kept out of harms way emotionally (think back to "Everyone Gets a Trophy") may end up cynical and joyless teenagers. He says the best predictors of happiness are internal, not external. In other words, help your kids develop self-coping skills. Let them make mistakes and learn from them. Skills like patience and flexibility can give children the inner strength to get through life's ups and downs.

Here are a few things Hallowell recommends along with my own two cents. Note that these relate to little kids--toddler to preschooler--but can be applied to older kids as well:

1) Good sleep and healthy habits: You've read enough of my posts to know how I feel about sleep. It could be the #1 predictor to how happy your child is day-to-day. Teaching your child good eating and exercise habits is also important. No, they may not always eat the spinach or brussel sprouts you put in front of them, but by making them "try" or "take two bites" you are teaching them that eating healthy food is important to you--and it should be important to them as well.

2) Help them develop their interests and talents...without pushing too hard. Sure, we all want our kid to be the next Tiger Woods. Oh, wait...did I just say that? Let's see...Yo-Yo Ma? Michael Jordan? At any rate, we would LOVE for them to be a superstar! However, as we are very aware, we don't all have the God-given talent to be a famous sports star or concert pianist. Some of us have other much more boring "talents" such as being super organized or being able to make fancy Excel tables with their eyes closed. Help your child develop their "talents" however small or boring the might seem to you. For instance, Brookey seems to have an amazing talent for remembering things--words, pictures, events. So I decided to teach her a few Kindergarten sight words. Low and behold, it didn't take her any time at all to start memorizing these words. No, it might not get her a Division I scholarship, but she might do OK in Kindergarten. Likewise, don't PUSH you child tooooo hard to, for instance, learn to read. Brookey is INTERESTED in doing Hooked on Phonics and learning to read. Not all 4 year olds are. That is completely OK. Believe me, your kids will turn out fine! I really wanted Brooke to love gymnastics, but one day she decided she was "done." I went with it, even though it made me pretty mad. I figure at some point we can try it again, but right now I'm going to let her develop her own interests.

3) Let them struggle a bit: No, your job as a parent is not to make sure your child is happy...every single second of the day. They shed a tear, you don't automatically need to scoop them up and "save" them. They're struggling to cut a piece of paper? You don't have to take the paper and scissors and cut it for them. This is NOT how you raise a happy child. This is how you raise an interdependent, helpless child!! Let them make some mistakes. That's how we all learn. And even more important, teach them COPING skills. They're frustrated because they can't cut the paper on a straight line? Teach them what they could do, which might include calmly asking for help. By letting kids learn on their own we create a sense of independence and confidence...which leads to greater self-esteem and happiness. And the best thing--we didn't even have to give them a trophy!

4) Be a good role model: As your kids get older, it becomes very apparent how much of a role model you are to them. You'll find them repeating things you say or taking on your preferences and mannerisms. Scary, but it can be helpful if you play your cards right. Happy parents usually equal a happy child. Stressed parents often exude this stress onto their kids directly and indirectly. Not to say there can be no stress in your lives. Obviously, there is! But be very aware of how you might transfer YOUR OWN day's stress onto your kids. Deal with that privately or with your spouse. Don't take it out on your kids.

5) Have FUN. The daily grind for me is wake up, get the kids dressed, quick breakfast and off to school...then come home, cook/eat dinner, baths, bed. Some days it seems like just that--a GRIND. Many days it seems like I am rushing, rushing, rushing. Where is the fun in that? Not all days are fun, but try to make it a point that every weekend is family time. When I feel like the day or the week has been too crazy and I am always rushing my kids someplace, I'll do something "fun" out of the blue like pick Brookey up early and go to ice-cream or to the library. No matter how busy I am, I always try to somehow, fit FUN into the day's equation....even if it means Brookey staying up 30 minutes later so we can cuddle and watch and movie together or bake cookies.

Here's to happy kids!!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Back to Work Summary: Week 2

My second week back to work was easier...and harder than Week 1. The most important thing I am learning to do is coming to realize that my family always comes first. It's easy to say and it should be quite obvious, but it's slightly more difficult to actually practice--especially when work seems to consume you.

Emotions: My emotions were a little more even-keeled this week. I got into a routine and I was happy to see both Brooke and Will were adjusting well to being away from home all day. Brookey was a a lot less emotional this week, too. She got into a regular nap pattern at school and has not been talking about wanting to stay home with me anymore! She also comes home well rested which makes for a much easier evening! Because she takes 2 hour naps at school, she has been going to bed later which we are not used to, but it's all working out. The key is she's getting enough sleep so she's not Miss. Drama Queen ever night!

This week I was also more stressed with work, so I found myself being short and even rude to Brookey. Stress equals a short temper for me. This summer, I hardly ever felt annoyed with Brookey like I did this week. Luckily I was very cognizant of it the moment it happened. The quick fix was just taking a step back and reminding myself that my family comes first. And no matter how stressful things get with work, when I am with my family I need to treat every moment as precious. Just changing my frame of mind seemed to help.

Schedule: Will's schedule is a little off, but I am slowly learning to go with the flow. When I read his schedule from daycare on Tuesday, it looked pretty off and he didn't take a good morning nap. I was a little irritated. But he's sleeping well at night, going to bed at the same time and most of all, is REALLY HAPPY when I pick him up! So I know he's getting enough rest and eating well. So that's what matters. Even when I had him home from the summer, days didn't always go "as planned" no matter how hard I tried. So I can't expect everyday to be exactly perfect and exactly the same. Slowly, I am letting go from my control freakishness about his schedule...

Work: Last weekend was definitely overwhelming. I had a slight nervous breakdown about the craziness of this school year (LOTS of changes)and all the work I was faced with. After having a good cry, I went to bed and it began to look better in the morning. I also took the wise advice of my husband and asked my boss for help. The work I am faced with is definitely not a one person job. One of my weaknesses is that I don't like to ask for help--to me, it's a sign of weakness and potential failure. But I am getting over that, too. I am coming to understand that if I am going to keep my family on the top of my priority list, I need to enlist the help of others and ask for things when I need them.

On the flip side, it was nice to see my colleagues again and have some adult interaction. I know some stay at home moms say they really miss adult interaction. I can't say I really MISSED adult interaction when I was home this summer, but I do like my colleagues and it was nice to see them again.

Although I am extremely, extremely nervous about this coming school year and all of the challenges it presents, I have to say that I am also genuinely EXCITED to see how it will all turn out.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Back to Work: Week 1 Summary

My first week back to work was definitely a roller coaster of emotions! I decided to write a little weekly summary to chronicle the good, bad and ugly of having two kids and working full time!! Here is the Week One low-down:

Emotions: Roller coaster is how I describe it. Surprisingly, my first day back was awesome. I really didn't even worry about the kids. Brookey came home excited and happy about seeing her friends again and Little Will--he was just his angel little self. The rest of the week was hit or miss. Will was even-Steven ( i swear, we should have just named him Steven) and came home happy, well rested and is still sleeping great. Brookey, on the other hand started come home exhausted and waaaay overtired most likely due to all the activity and excitement at school. I also found out her best friend at school doesn't nap, so of course Brookey didn't nap either! I don't even think she did daily "quiet time" like we did at home. So on Day 3, I wrote a note to her teacher asking her to PLEASE be sure that Brookey lays down for at least an hour during the day. Ever since then, she's been taking 2 hour naps at school and coming home a completely different girl! So nice. It's amazing what a little sleep will do.

Brooke's emotions have been a roller coaster this week too. She's my little drama queen!! The first day, she didn't even want to come home and raved about being at school. The next day (no nap), her teacher said she cried a little and said she missed me. She also told me she didn't like school and didn't want to go to preschool. On the third day, she was a lot happier, but she told me she still really missed me and when could she stay home with me again? Friday, she was super happy and told me she couldn't wait to go to preschool. Ahhh, I wouldn't expect anything less from this drama queen. I swear, GIRLS!! So much emotion!!! I pity the man who marries her.

Schedule: The kids were on a pretty good schedule this summer, especially Will. I expected a few days of adjustment for him as he got used to his surroundings. On Day 1, I called his school around midday and much to my surprise, he was eating and napping on his schedule with no crying!! I was shocked...and proud. I worked pretty hard to get him on his schedule and made sure I stuck with it this summer and it's definitely paying off and making HIS life and his teacher's life much easier! I think "angel" is the word she used to describe him. She said she had never seen a baby who didn't cry when going down for naps. Ah, if it could only stay this way into his 2's :-)

Work: I worked my a** off this week. Going back to work would be different if my job was just a desk job and not so emotionally attaching. My job is not just a teaching job, either. I work with the toughest kids...i also manage a team of aides, have mountains of paperwork to do AND have to teach. We're starting up a new special ed program at my school this year as well, so that's just added stress. However, the flip side is that everyday I pull off this feat of "balancing it all," I feel a huge sense of accomplishment.

Did I make the right decision to go back to work full time? Is this all going to work out? No clue. All I can do is take it one day at a time. Whether you stay home or work, there are good days and bad days. There are days when you feel, " Hey, I can totally handle this" and there are days you feel like jumping out the window. I think that is what all moms have in common, whether we choose to work or stay at home. Both jobs have amazing challenges, but also amazing satisfaction.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Developmental Olympics

At the beginning of Tracy's Hogg's (AKA: The Baby Whisperer) book, The Baby Whisperer Solves All of Your Problems she discusses what she calls The Developmental Olympics. The Developmental Olympics is exactly what it sounds like--this intense pressure and "training" we submit our kids to in the area of development. Don't lie...you've done it. You're at play group and you notice Sally Jane, who is two weeks younger than your little one is saying "Da, da" and "Ma, Ma" all throughout the play group. "Why isn't my little Susie saying ma, ma yet??," you wonder. A wave of jealously, mixed with slight feelings of inadequacy slowly comes across you. You leave the play group and spend the rest of the afternoon in your daughter's face saying, "Ma, ma, da, da! Can you say ma, ma? Can you say da, da?" until she swats you with her sippy cup.

Why do we do this? Haven't we heard a zillion times that "Children develop at different rates?" Sure we have. And we believe it, too.... just so long as our kids are the one developing the fastest! I think much of this is brought on by all of those lovely BOOKS on development. You know which ones I am talking about, What to Expect The First Year, What to Expect The Toddler Years, Your Baby's First Year Week by Week....that last book to me is the kicker. Has anyone read this book?? It tells you, week-by-week what your baby "should" be doing. For instance, "Week 4--your baby is smiling this week!" Um, not she's not! Should I be rushing her to the emergency room???

Books aside, I also think there is something innate with our generation (Gen X & Y) that somehow makes us think that if our kids aren't the BEST at something, then they're not good enough. As a special education teacher, I have had parents come to me saying they thought their child had a learning disability because they were reading at the 50th percentile. 50th percentile, my friends is called AVERAGE. A learning disability occurs when students are significantly below average--think FIFTH percentile, not fiftieth!

I am not saying we should just accept "average" from our kids. Sure, we need to push them so they can become the best that they can be--within reason. It is important to understand what you can control and what you cannot. Maybe your child says her first word 2 months after your friend's child. SO WHAT. It does not mean your friend's child is verbally gifted or destined for some kind of greatness. It also doesn't mean your kid is slow or has weak verbal ability. She just took her a little longer to speak up. That's it. If there was really a problem with some "milestone," your doctor would speak with you about it. And if she's reading at the 50th percentile and not the 95th, maybe you can spend some extra time reading with her. Talk to her teacher. See if there are things you can do to help her along. But for heaven sake, don't put this intense pressure on your child to make them a 95th percentile kid-- it's just not worth it.

I have learned with Brookey that there is a fine line between "firm encouragement" and pushing her over the edge. For example, I firmly encourage her to always try new things and not shy away from unfamiliar situations--because it seems to be in her nature to do so. On the other hand, if I push her too hard, she'll become frustrated and completely shut down. You have to determine the correct balance between encouraging and just letting them proceed at their own pace...and every child has a different balance that works for them.

When you put things into perspective, in the long run, no one really gives a damn when your precious Sally Jane sat up, said her first word or rolled over. So long as it's within NORMAL limits (and I am telling you--"normal limits" encompass a HUGE range!), we all have nothing to worry about. I have to admit, however that it is so much fun to get excited about our kid's many milestones, especially during the infant stage when it seems like everyday is a new milestone...just so long as we don't take it too seriously.

I know, I know, I can say it until I am blue in the face: "Children develop at different rates." I know you--you will still compare. It's okay, I forgive you...because I will, too. Maybe it's just a motherly instinct that we want our kids to be successful. Maybe you are just trying to get a gauge on where your child is compared to others. That's fair. Just make sure as you are comparing, that you are being fair to the child in front of you. Don't force her into the Olympics when she is still struggling at the Regionals.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

To Work or Not to Work? That is the Question...


I have been struggling with this question for a few months now. I think most moms, whether stay at home or working, have this question cross their mind at some point in their parenting career. Stay at home moms might like the idea of some "personal" time at work and a sense of personal and professional accomplishment. On the other hand, working moms are constantly trying to keep a balance between work and career, often battling guilt from not being with their kids.

I don't mean for this to be a debate of any kind. In fact, I could debate both sides damn well. There are such benefits to working AND staying at home. Because I am in the midst of making some decisions about my career and family, I just wanted this to be a place where I could candidly document what I am going through. My hope is that in this process, I will somehow come to some sort of peace with my decision...whatever that may be.

When I was pregnant and went out on maternity leave, the question of not coming back to my job was well, not even a question! I love my school and it's a pretty good gig. Additionally, all I could think about was how I was going to survive handling TWO kids at home for FIVE MONTHS without jumping out my bedroom window. But if you have read my previous blogs, I have changed my tune a little since my son arrived. Having this time together with them both has made me appreciate them immensely. I love seeing Brooke interact with Will and I have loved seeing her grow and mature this summer. Likewise, Little Buddy is changing everyday---getting cuter and doing all of those cute baby things. I was also able to put him on a schedule and stabilize his sleeping and eating habits--something I didn't really didn't get a chance to do with Brooke. Staying at home has definitely made me more in control of every aspect of my kids lives (what they eat, their activities, etc). Which I like since I am mildly control freak'ish.

As I end my last week before I technically plan to go back to work, I find myself questioning my decision to go back. One of the feelings that I have trouble with is guilt. In Brooke's first year, I remember every time she got sick and I couldn't go to work, I was overcome by horrible guilt. Guilt for not being able do my job 100%. Guilt about being a "slacker," not being there for my team of coworkers. Seems silly, I know! In the last couple of years I have gotten MUCH, MUCH better at letting go of these feelings and just concentrating on where I needed to be, which was be with my sick kids, of course! Work can wait! In fact, I had a parent get fairly annoyed with me for not attending a meeting a week and a half after Will's birth. He was still in the NICU but she wondered if I could just escape for a couple of hours to attend. Two years ago I probably would have gone to the meeting!! But my years have made me wiser and I didn't even feel one ounce of guilt for being with Will instead of that meeting!

I think my biggest fear about juggling a "day" job and my job as a parent is not being able to be successful at both. If I work, am I compromising the precious quality time with my kids? If I stay home, I am somehow depriving my kids of other social and intellectual opportunities I can't give them at home? Some people try to debate one side or the other claiming there are certain universal benefits to either working or staying at home. These people somehow claim they know what's best based on a few "case studies" they know about. "Well, I know little Sally Jane down the street goes to daycare and look at her..she is a hellion. That is why I stay home to teach her manners." Or, "Little Jimmy Smith...look at him! He stays home and he's shy and has no social skills. That's why kids need to go to daycare." You honestly can't use your limited range of "case studies" to determine what is right or wrong for YOUR child. Personality and temperament of both the kids AND the parents play a large part on which situation will work. Not to mention the quality of childcare and the quality of your parenting skills! It is a very personal decision and it needs to be treated as such. What's right for Cindy Lou down the street may not be right for your family.

After being quite frustrated and upset at the possibility of having to go back to work full time as opposed to part time (decision my position could not be shared), I actually calmed down and thought about it. Why did I want to stay at home so much? I finally came to the realization that it was purely a selfish decision. I wanted to spend more time with my kids. Plain and simple. That's it. I love being with them. But Brooke is SO excited for preschool and can't wait to see her friends. Plus, I know she will thrive in the super structured environment offered at her school. As for Buddy--well, he could benefit from cuddles from mom, but his daycare is excellent too. He'll be cuddled and talked to and played with there just as much--if not more--than he would be at home. Plus, he'll be able to observe and learn from other older kids at his "school." Brooke truly thrived at this daycare from age 0-3 and I have no doubt he will too. We are fortunate to have quality childcare...another consideration to take into account when making any decisions. So the kids will be fine. It's selfish Mom that wants them all to herself! But as my boss said as I discussed this with her, "It is really the QUALITY of time you spend with you kids." And that is right. Whether you stay at home or work, quality of time is everything. And I will have plenty of QT with my kids...especially during the summers, Spring Break, Thanksgiving Break, Christmas Break and every holiday known to mankind...Columbus Day, Labor Day, Caesar Chavez Day....ok, I think they cut Caesar Chavez Day because of the budget crisis....

It will all work out. I'm determined to find the balance, somehow. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ready for School? Part II

Last week, I talked about what Gary Ezzo believes to be the most important school readiness "skills." The two from last week--sleep and structure/routine. These skills are more the product of the home environment ("nurture") rather than inherent traits however can be strengthened or weakened by general temperament ("nature"). Some kids are "born to sleep" and are just generally adaptable kids no matter what parents do. However, if kids are not this "sleep-wise" and adaptable, parents can have a large part in ensuring their kids get the sleep and structure they NEED.

The next two--attention span and focusing-- are the opposite. These are more inherent skills ("nature") but can be strengthened or weakened by by home environment ("nurture"). Some kids are just born with longer attention spans than others. Some kids have no problem focusing on objects. You can see this as young as 2-3 months when they are playing on their little playmat. Some kids--like Will--can just be down there playing and grabbing and cooing for an hour at age 4 months. Brooke, on the other hand, could not play on the mat for more than a few minutes without getting "bored." However, this does not mean that "nurture" or home environment cannot play a HUGE role in developing (or hindering) and child's attention and focusing skills.

Attention Span: Ask any pediatrician what the #1 prescribed medicine is (at least in MY school district) and it's ADD meds. It's rampant. I bet 50% of kids at my school are on some kind of ADD med!! Yes, some people have a longer attention span than others. By the look of things, my daughter is on the LOW end and my son will be on the HIGH end. :-) But Brooke does not suffer from ADD or ADHD. Some kids truly do suffer from it and it's a disorder that definitely does exist. But it does not exist in 50% of the population. For 48% of them, it's learned. Attention span can be weakened and strengthened by environmental factors.

Attention span develops in a structured environment and it develops at a very young age. When I was home with Brooke this summer, I did my best to have planned activities for her throughout the day. Some requiring my assistance, but many of them independent. For example, I would say--it's puzzle time! And she would choose some puzzles to work on for a set amount of time. Another thing I do with her is work on coloring. Which, done correctly, takes a lot of attention, focus and concentration. I would give her a picture and tell her to do her "best preschool coloring" which means everything had to be colored and colored within the lines (as much as she can at this point! just no aimless scribbling!). At first, she had trouble with coloring the WHOLE picture perfectly without wanting to move on to another picture, but as time went on she improved a lot. Just little activities like that once a day can definitely help build attention skills.

I also did "Roomtime" which Preschoolwise recommends. I gave her a choice of a few activities she could play with independently upstairs in her room. She would have to play independently for a set amount of time. Preschoolwise says 45 minutes but I think that is a bit much. I did 15-30 minutes. With younger children (about 6 months and up) you can do the same sort of thing but in the Pack 'n Play. Just have one or two "activities" in the PNP and allow him to play independently (without you in DIRECT sight) for a set amount of time. If your baby hasn't been playing independently I would start on the really low side (5 min!) and then slowly work from there. Babies, especially around 9 months when separation anxiety kicks in, need to know that you are coming back. Both Roomtime and Pack 'n Play time allow your child to focus on just one or two things at a time, instead of running around aimlessly from activity to activity. It is never too early to start developing a good attention span....think about those college lecture halls! And it is always easier to start early than to try and fix a bad habit :)

Focusing: This goes hand in hand with attention span. This is the ability to focus on something without being distracted by your surroundings or other things going on around you. In a school setting, this is vital as there are distractions EVERYWHERE! Other kids talking, the pencil sharpener, the door opening and closing, you name it.

According to Ezzo, the ability to focus is developed by giving children time to play by themselves when given a set activity and set time limits. Ezzo says this playtime needs to be in a place where they are not easily distracted. I'm not sure about this. I think focusing on something when there is other stuff going on around you is something that needs to be practiced. Preschool is a great place to practice! Another way to practice is having your older child do a worksheet (or coloring, whatever activity you choose) with their other sibling in the room or while you are making dinner. Try to see if she can stay focused with pots clanging and siblings talking around her.

When kids are about 3, you can talk to them about focusing and explain to them they need to concentrate on the activity they are doing. I definitely struggle with this one with Brooke. She is VERY easily distracted. At tennis, her teacher will be showing her a backhand and she'll be staring at the football players walking out of the locker room nearby. Gentle reminding works well with her, too. Kids at age 3 are in such "imagination mode" they sometimes need a reminder to be brought back to the real world! :-)

Given there are no other major problems such as a learning disability, children who get enough sleep, have structure, a developed attention span and focusing skills WILL, more than likely, be quite successful in school. These are not easily developed skills especially if your child isn't inherently born with one or all of these skills! However, with work and practice YOU, the parent, can "train" your children on ALL of these skills. Like anything else in parenting, it might be tough, but the payoff will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ready for School? Part I

As Brooke gets ready to enter to first "school" experience (preschool!), I've been thinking a lot lately about what I have done to prepare her for this experience.

Some people are adamantly against teaching children at this age any "academic" skills. The argument is, children need to be free to explore their world, letting self discovering be main focus of learning. I don't completely subscribe to that theory and am not against teaching your preschooler academic skills. You can get into heated debates about flashcards and those "Teach my Baby to Read" DVD's. I am neutral on this--I think it is really up to how comfortable parents feel with this sort of thing. Remember friends, the keyword here is balance. Common sense. Don't have your 2 year all spending 3 hours a day with flashcards and teaching him to read. He's a BABY. Let him be one! On the other hand, you cannot completely disregard "academics." since little ones are such sponges at this age it would be a shame not to capitalize on it a little bit! Not to mention, too much "self-discovery" can lead to some not-so-productive behavior as well!

Gary Ezzo's book Preschoolwise, outlines the top "school readiness" skills that children should have before entering kindergarten. Although there are many specific learning skills you should be responsible for teaching your child such as math readiness and reading readiness (more on those in a later post), he stresses that the MOST important skills are not academic in nature. They are "skills" are are absolutely essential to to create a solid foundation for learning, however are often overlooked when parents begin preparing their child for Kindergarten. As a teacher, I have to agree with him on all of these wholeheartedly:

1) Sleep
2) Structure and Routine
3) Attention Span
4) Focusing

I will go over the first two in this blog:

1) The Sleep Factor: This is crucial, yet not taken seriously by many parents. I feel like most parents UNDERSTAND their child's need for sleep, however they are not willing to make the sacrifices that might be needed to protect their child's sleep. All new parents can understand how vital sleep is to their overall functioning throughout the day. When I have restless, interrupted sleep and wake up super exhausted, I am a completely different person. A spilled glass of milk can put me over the edge. When I am well rested, I don't even think twice about those things! Think about your child trying to concentrate all day in school not having slept well! Yes, he WILL be the "problem child!" Marc Weisbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child did a study of 2,700 children with superior intelligence. The common link between them all? They all experienced healthy nighttime sleep!

Every person and every child has different "optimal" sleep requirements. Some of us can power through and do great on less sleep. Others like myself, need 8 hours to be at peak performance. The sleep recommendations for school aged children is 10-11 hours a night. For preschoolers it's 11-13 hours. My daughter is on the low end of this at about 11.5-12 hours each night. I am guessing from the way my son is, he will be on the high end. Kid needs his shut eye! Find your child's OPTIMAL sleep time and do whatever it takes to protect it. Your child's teacher will thank you :-)

2) Structure and Routine: Preschoolers and school aged children do their best when they have consistency, predictability and boundaries. When limits are set at home (no, you cannot stay up as late you want and no, you cannot have every Barbie you see at Target), your child will have a much easier time adjusting to the many limits they will be exposed to during school. We all have busy lives but some sort of routine or structure can do wonders for a child. Even if it's just laying with them and reading stories for 15 minutes every night. That is something they can look forward to and expect. It gives a calm end to the day and a chance for you to spend quality time with your little one.

I will go over the last two skills, attention span and focusing next week.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Judgement Day

Let me preface this by saying, I never watch Oprah or any other daytime talk show. They're either too depressing or too cheesy. I seriously don't need to know the latest way to lose weight or about how my brother slept with my ex-sister in-law's fiance. However, my mom called me the other day and told me to turn on Oprah. She said it was a bunch of moms talking about "mom issues" and she thought I might be interested. Ok, fine...too bad I didn't have anything better to do right then.

I turned it on and Oprah was hosting a "Truth About Motherhood" show. She introduced the show saying, "Today we're creating a judgment-free zone, a sisterhood of motherhood where anything goes." What a crock. Judgement day has arrived. The moment you announce your pregnancy, you have officially thrown yourself to the wolves. You WILL be judged. By friends, friends of friends, co-workers, in laws, parents, cats, dogs, zebras, you name it. The sooner you realize that and are able to get over it, the better of a mom, wife, friend and coworker you will be. The bright side is, motherhood also gives you the license to sit at the judges table as well. Which I will do right now to all of these morons on the Oprah show.

As I watched this show, I found it absolutely painful. Basically it was a mom bitch session. Can we all just agree on one thing before I start? YES-I KNOW. Being a mom is a tough job. It's THE toughest job. Like the woman said in my post "Moms: What do you do all day?" said, it's the constant scrutiny while concurrently teaching everything from manners to language to empathy to how to pee in the toilet. It's a tough job physically and emotionally. But doesn't everyone know that? Didn't you kind of have an inkling that it would be tough BEFORE you decided to get pregnant? Of course nothing can truly prepare you for the job. After all, there's no job description posted. But why do some women feel the need to constantly, constantly bitch about their kids? Here is what the women were saying on Oprah during her "open forum-don't-judge-me" segment. Let me preface this by saying these women were ALL upper-middle class suburban women (or seemingly so). Oprah didn't send her camera to the back roads of West Virginia.

Mom 1: I once made my kid's entire lunch from scraps I found in my car.
Judge: It's called a hot lunch, you idiot. It's $1.50. I bet you could have found that amount of money in change your car.

Mom 2: I hate bodily fluids. I could do away with the liquids. The snot and the poo. I'm not fond of those things.
Judge: Well, I happen to LOVE poo and snot! LOVE THEM!!! Are you serious?? This is supposed to be news to us...you don't like poo and snot??? Those things come out of your body, too. You didn't realize they would come out of your baby as well? Get OVER yourself!

Mom 3: If I can get out of bed and get breakfast on the table, I'll be happy. If I can get them to school, I'll be happy.
Judge: You need to 1) Raise your standards of happiness--ASAP 2) Get up earlier 3) Pop your Prozac

Mom 4: I don't feel I had permission to talk about how hard motherhood really was.
Judge: You DO have permission to talk about it, you just don't have the permission to constantly WHINE about trivial things...i don't like poop, I'm tired, my kids drive me nuts. GET OVER IT. We all feel this way at some time or another. That is what motherhood IS. And guess what? You are stuck with it. So you can either suck it up and truly start ENJOYING your kids (that IS the reason you had kids, isn't it?) or continue to whine and be miserable for the next 18 years at the same time, driving away your husband and making everyone else in your life miserable as well.

What puts this all into perspective for me is those two weeks Will spent in the NICU. I met an extremely nice couple whose daughter was born at 25 weeks. 25 weeks. Most women haven't even had their baby shower at this point. I talked to her quite a bit since she was always there. She asked about Will and when he was going to go home. I told her "in a few days." I asked her about her baby and when she was coming home. She said "hopefully July." That was in March. Never once did that woman complain about changing her daughter's diapers through all of the wires, feeding tubes and machines she had to navigate through. She never complained she was too busy or too tired to spend practically all day in the NICU with her baby. Instead, I am positive she thanked God every time she walked into the room and found her daughter still breathing. SHE has a license to complain and be frustrated and tired and emotionally spent. When people like that feel this way, it's genuine. When we do--assuming our kids are healthy and doing well--it's whining.

Sure, we all have our mommy moments and urge to complain. But if you find yourself complaining about your kids more than you are enjoying them, there is something that needs to be fixed. Maybe it's getting control of your child's behavior, maybe it's tweaking your lifestyle to make it less stressful, or maybe it's just stopping for a moment and being thankful for everything you have.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Recipe of the Week: A New Family Fave!

My decided to venture from my normal chicken enchilada recipe and try something new. This is the new family favorite! As Brooke said, "It's so scrumptious." And the best part is, the cheese is the only mildly "bad" thing for you in the this entire recipe...but who can't live without cheese?! This one is a keeper! ENJOY IT! :-)


Healthy Chicken Enchiladas

2 cooked, shredded chicken breasts (you can also use store-bought rotisserie chicken)
1 can of whole black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup onion, diced
1 tablespoon garlic
1/2 cup each of ANY combo of the following: frozen corn, diced red pepper, diced green pepper, diced zucchini (i just used frozen corn this time)
1/2 cup store bought salsa (i like the fresher kind from the deli)
1 small can of green chilies
2 tablespoons cilantro
2 tablespoons no MSG store-bought taco seasoning (you can also use equal parts of chili powder, cumin, onion powder and salt)
8 medium sized flour tortillas
1 cup jack cheese
1 14 oz can enchilada sauce

Preheat oven to 400.
1. Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a large pan. Add onions and garlic and cook until soft.
2. Add cooked chicken; sprinkle with 1/2 of the taco seasoning until coated.
3. Add black beans, veggies, green chilies, salsa and remaining taco seasoning. Cook until flavors are combined-about 5 minute. Taste; reseason.
4. Remove pan from heat and stir in cilantro.
5. Cover the bottom of a 14x9 baking dish with enchilada sauce.
6. Lay out one flour tortilla, fill with a few tablespoons of the filling, roll and place seam side down in the pan. Repeat for all tortillas.
7. Pour remaining sauce over the enchiladas until covered.
8. Sprinkle cheese over the top. Bake for 10-15 minutes until cheese is bubbly.

** Leftover filling makes great burritos the next day! Just add some shredded lettuce and cheese! Soooo yummy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Giving Everyone a Trophy and Other Dumb Things We Do

I am currently reading Gary Ezzo's 3rd book in the "Becoming" series, On Becoming Toddlerwise. Although I don't practice everything Ezzo's preaches, I love his old school, back-to-basics philosophy and his no-nonsense attitude towards parenting. He's not afraid to tell parents how it is--even if the truth hurts.

One of my favorite quotes in his books is from Toddlerwise when he talks about parents who are constantly trying to make their children happy (usually involves buying things for them), constantly trying to make sure their kid isn't sad...constantly trying to make everything "fair" for their child. He states in his book that instead of wasting your energy on all of this, "Train your child to learn to deal with disappointment. You cannot create a conflict-free environment.... [parents should] learn to deal with it."

To quote my favorite Bay Area talk show hosts Armstrong and Getty, "we have become a nation of veal-calves." Since when did we get so SOFT about everything? Take sports, for example. Since when is the one and only focus of school sports to have fun? Sure, run around and have fun but what happened to a little competitive spirit now and then? What about teaching our kids to be "good" losers? What about teaching them to master certain skills though patience, persistence and practice?

This doesn't just apply to sports. Although I agree that self esteem is a huge factor for how kids function mentally and socially, since when did we decide that an exorbitant amount of praise and not correcting our kids' mistakes for fear their so-called self esteem will be hurt, is the right thing to do? If my kid mispronounces a word or uses a word incorrectly, I correct her. I don't say, "No, you stupid idiot it's not RUNNED, it's RAN! God! You're so dumb! How are you ever going to function in society??!" That most likely would be a blow to her self esteem. But I do say, "You mean he RAN, right??" Or something like that. Hopefully she's not scarred for life.

My all time favorite indicator that we have become a nation of softies is when I hear stories about Little League teams that don't keep score or soccer tournaments where "everyone is a winner!" and every kid goes home with a trophy. Sure, that might be OK for 3 or 4 year olds--maybe. But as kids get older, here is the problem: when "everyone is a winner" what motivates kids to work harder? Sure, some kids may have the internal fortitude to be a hard worker, but others may need some pushing. And if you don't like competition, then don't play sports! Sports are BASED on competition. What would it be like to turn on Monday Night Football and have Al Michaels announce the two teams are not keeping score tonight. More than likely, sports fans would tune out.

I can tell you from the front lines at my school that kids these days are lazy. Their parents have become obsessed with making them happy and trying to make life FAIR for them they have forgotten that...you know what...life is NOT FAIR. You will not always get the promotion. You will not always be the prettiest person in your class or smartest person at work. So after being duped into thinking life is fair, these poor kids figure out when thet get into the real world that it's not. And what are they left with? Nothing. They have no idea how to handle disappointment. They are lazy, mad, spoiled and expect everything to be handed to them. If their parents hadn't been so obsessed with making everything happy and fair, they might have had some time to instill some actual FUNCTIONAL values into their child like hard work, patience, persistence, good sportsmanship and manners.

By the sound of this, it may seem as if I am a total hard-ass who just believes kids should sink or swim and not have any fun. That is not the case at all! (And those who know me can safely say I am nowhere near the definition of a "hard ass.") Self esteem is important to us all--everyone likes to feel good about themselves. And of course kids should have FUN--in fact, kids should be having fun 99% of the time. All I am saying is USE SOME COMMON SENSE!!! Yes, praise your child. Praise her every single day. Tell her you love her. Tell her she's the best kid in the whole wide world. Go to the park with her and play ball and don't keep score. On the flip side, within reason--correct your child if they do something wrong. Find a tactful, common sense way to do it. Don't be like a mom I saw at swimming lessons last week who stood at the edge of the pool for a half hour and screamed at her 4 year old for not doing something right. Again, use common sense. Teach your child to be a good sport, teach them to deal with disappointment--whether it's high school football or Candyland. You'll be doing them a huge favor when they are 30 and playing on their company's softball team....they'll know how to handle the situation when they don't get a trophy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What Do You Want for Your Children?

Sometime during your child's life--whether it be when they're still in the womb, a busy toddler or a sleeping angel--you may have thought: What do I want for her in life? What kind of person do I want her to be? I think most parents immediate reaction would be happy and healthy!

Health is one thing that we are not 100% in control of. We can make sure our kids are safe, not let them drink soda out of their bottles or visit McDonald's on a daily basis. We take them to their well-child visits and comfort them when they're sick. Other than that, a lot of health problems are not within your control. So let's just assume health is given. You want your child to be healthy. Duh.

Moving on--happy. Sure, we want our kids to be HAPPY. But that is not attainable at all times, nor is it completely within our control. I guess you could say you want your kid to have a generally happy temperament.....that's fair. But to expect them to be happy at all times is ridiculous. No matter how hard you try, your angel will experience heartache and have emotionally and physically painful things happen to them (breaking bones and getting dumped in 11th grade come to mind). Yep, we'll have to see them through all of the pain and unhappiness. That's just life and it's not always within our control to make sure our kids are happy all the time....although it's a good goal to have.

So forget happy and healthy for now--we'll do our best on those two things, but let's think about things we may actually have more control over.

I hate it when other writers take your thoughts and succinctly paraphrase them far better than you ever could. Gary Ezzo, author of the Babywise series, does that to me quite a lot. In fact, after I started this blog about common sense parenting, I began reading Childwise and in the Introduction Ezzo writes,"Childwise is filled with helpful strategies that will not make you feel guilty of fearful, but will cause you to think through each [parenting] challenge with that old-fashioned thing called common sense." Darn it!!! So being a common sense parent wasn't all my idea!!!

But I digress....my point is that I am always thinking about, "So what do I want for my kids??? How to I want to raise them?" I pick up Childwise, and there I have it--all written out in three concise bullets. These are unlike "health and happiness," these are more attainable goals and goals that parents can have strong control over, if they choose. See if you agree:

Goals of Parenting

1) Parents want to enjoy their children. Why have kids if you're not going to enjoy them?? You want to try and enjoy them at every stage--even if they are smashing peas onto the TV or slamming doors in your face. Parents need to find a way to control behavior so it makes it possible to enjoy their children.

2) Parents want to raise children who are a joy to be with AND for others to be around: Every parent loves their kid and (should) find it a joy to be around them (at least 90% of the time-missed naptimes and travel meltdowns/blowouts excluded!), but not all others may share a parent's rose-colored glasses. For some parents, their child can do no wrong. So another goal should be: Parents want other people to enjoy their children. It's a lot easier for other people to enjoy your child if they are polite, well-mannered, respectful and well-adjusted. I think "happy" fits in here--people would obviously rather be around a happy, cheerful kid than a whiny brat. It was the biggest compliment when Brookey's daycare teacher would say things like, "She is such a joy to have here!" Sure, she's a joy to ME but that is worthless if she's a pain in the ass to other people.

3) Parents want their children to be well-prepared for life: Parents should want their children to be socially, intellectually and morally ready to handle the outside world when they're not around. And don't think of this in terms of when the kids are 18 and out of the house. This applies the first time they go to the babysitters or their first day of Kindergarten. Skills like manners, moral decision-making, and handling disappointment are good examples of skills we can teach to help our kids be prepared for life.

Parents have control over all three of these goals--for the most part. We attain these goals by instilling good values in our kids--and this means different things in every family. We can control behavior so they're not out of control brats. And we can give them the tools they need to make it in the world...and as Ezzo says, "without GIVING them the world."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Moms: What do you do all day??!!!

Being a mom--and even more so, a stay-at-home mom--is a serious job. Moms--and all parents for that matter--have one of the toughest, but most satisfying jobs on the planet. But parenting is not always a job that gets a whole lot of credit.

I came across this article below which I thought was entertaining. Both stay at home moms and working moms will be able to relate. It's not the most well-written article, but it gets the point across. It was published in the Washington Post in advice-column format by Carolyn Hax. Enjoy!!

The Letter


My best friend has a child.

Her: Exhausted, busy, no time for self, no time for me, etc.

Me (no kids): Wow. Sorry. What'd you do today?

Her: Park, play group . . .

OK. I've done Internet searches; I've talked to parents. I don't get it. What do stay-at-home moms do all day? Please, no lists of library, grocery store, dry cleaners. . . . I do all those things, too, and I don't do them every day. I guess what I'm asking is: What is a typical day, and why don't moms have time for a call or e-mail? I work and am away from home nine hours a day (plus a few late work events), and I manage to get it all done. I'm feeling like the kid is an excuse to relax and enjoy — not a bad thing at all — but if so, why won't my friend tell me the truth? Is this a contest ("My life is so much harder than yours")? What's the deal? I've got friends with and without kids, and all us child-free folks get the same story and have the same questions.

— Tacoma, Wash.

The Response

"Relax and enjoy." You're funny. Or you're lying about having friends with kids. Or you're taking them at their word that they actually have kids, because you haven't personally been in the same room with them. Internet searches?

I keep wavering between giving you a straight answer and giving my forehead some keyboard. To claim you want to understand — while in the same breath implying that the only logical conclusions are that your mom friends are either lying or competing with you — is disingenuous indeed.

So, since it's validation you seem to want, the real answer is what you get. In list form. When you have young kids, your typical day is: constant attention, from getting them out of bed, fed, clean, dressed; to keeping them out of harm's way; to answering their coos, cries and questions; to having two arms and carrying one kid, one set of car keys and supplies for even the quickest trips, including the latest-to-be-declared-essential piece of molded plastic gear; to keeping them from unshelving books at the library; to enforcing rest times; to staying one step ahead of them lest they get too hungry, tired or bored, any one of which produces the kind of checkout-line screaming that gets the checkout line shaking its head.

It's needing 45 minutes to do what takes others 15.

It's constant vigilance, constant touch, constant use of your voice, constant relegation of your needs to the second tier.

It's constant scrutiny and second-guessing from family members and friends, well-meaning and otherwise. It's resisting the constant temptation to seek short-term relief at everyone's long-term expense.

It's doing all this while concurrently teaching virtually everything — language, manners, safety, resourcefulness, discipline, curiosity, creativity, empathy. Everything.

It's also a choice, yes. And a joy. But if you spent all day, every day, with this brand of joy — and then when you got your first 10 minutes to yourself, you wanted to be alone with your thoughts instead of calling a good friend — a good friend wouldn't judge you, complain about you to mutual friends or marvel at how much more productively she uses her time.

Either make a sincere effort to understand, or keep your snit to yourself.

-Carolyn Hax

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Recipe of the Week: It's a Fiesta!

I am always looking for new, healthy recipe ideas that will satisfy me, my somewhat picky husband and a my 3 year old. I am never afraid to experiment or try a new recipe. Through lots and lots of trial and error, I have found many recipes that are "keepers" and are archived in my family recipe book. I will try and post a new healthy, family-friendly recipe each week. As you try them, feel free to let me know how your family liked them--especially the little ones!



Homemade Low-Fat Tortilla Chips and Guacamole in the Bag

Oven Baked, Low Fat Tortilla Chips
Since we have been making these chips, we can never go back to the store brand tortilla chips. They have 7 grams less fat than regular tortilla chips per serving and A LOT less sodium if you go easy on the salt.

20 small corn tortillas
Olive oil spray
Sea Salt

- Preheat oven to 375
- Spray baking sheets with olive oil spray
- Cut tortillas in triangles (quarters)
- Arrange tortillas in an even layer on baking sheets. Spray with olive oil spray and sprinkle with sea salt.
- Bake at 375 about 10-15 minutes until golden brown and crispy.
- Chips can be made ahead and stored a week or more in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag.

Guacamole in the Bag
** I know this one is kid friendly because Brooke would eat the whole bowl if we let her!

- 2 ripe avocados
- Juice of half a lime
- 2 tablespoons minced cilantro (or to taste)
- 2-4 tablespoons of canned, diced tomatoes, well drained (i know, canned tomatoes sounds weird but it really works! Of course you can use fresh, too)
- 1 teaspoon of sea salt (or to taste)
- 1-2 teaspoons store-bought guac mix

- Combine all ingredients in a large Ziploc bag; seal.
- Mash together with your hands until completely combined and desired consistency; transfer to serving bowl; taste;reseason
- Refrigerate about an hour to allow flavors to marry or serve immediately with your homemade chips!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Being a P.C. Parent

It's not what you think. I don't care whether you're Politically Correct or not. I highly doubt that type of "PC" has any affect on your parenting abilities. The "PC" I am referring to is a reference in The Baby Whisperer series that stands for Patience and Consciousness--two skills that are absolutely essential to good parenting.

Patience: If you're a mom of a child of ANY age--from 4 weeks to 4,000 weeks, you understand that parenting demands patience. Some people, Pre-School and Kindergarten teachers in particular, are born with patience. They could have a classroom full of kids--some kids have decided it would be fun to paint each other green over at the art station, in the class library area two kids are screaming over a book, another kid just spilled an 1,000 piece puzzle, Susie is whining she has to go to the bathroom--and still this teacher is smiling and calmly speaking with a parent telling her that yes, Johnny is doing just GREAT in her class. Nothing ruffles her feathers. For the other 99% of us--patience is a learned skill.

I recently heard the quote, "With kids, the days are long but the years are short." If you take a step back from the daily hustle and bustle of parenting, it seems like days are weeks and weeks are years. I remember when I was in the midst of potty training Brooke. I was hunched over her potty chair begging her to poop and she simply refused. I remember being in TEARS thinking my kid is NEVER, EVER going to poop in the potty, convinced she'd be going to go to middle school with Pull Ups. Then a few days later, she pooped and I realized I had technically only been trying to potty train her for a little over a WEEK!! Why did it seem like 5 years??! And when you're in the heat of taking care of a newborn, why does it seem like it's taking a YEAR for them to sleep through the night when really, it's a few months or less??? Patience, my friend. This too shall pass.

When your kids get a little older, patience takes on a whole new meaning. Ever tried to leave the house with a 3 year old? Putting on shoes "by herself"=3 minutes. Going pee "by herself"=3 minutes. Get a drink or snack "by herself"=4 minutes. 10 minutes later you can FINALLY leave but then you realize that YOU have to pee and get a snack! Of course, you could do all of this for her-put on her shoes, take her to the potty and grab a snack in under a minute--and sometimes that is what you HAVE to do. But the majority of the time, kids should learn to do things for themselves. That's how they learn. They'll never learn to put their shoes on the right feet if you are constantly doing it for them. It's important for us to take a step back and not be in such a rush to rescue our kids at every moment. Our job as parents is to effectively guide our children, not to specifically show them the way every single time. Our lack of patience often gets in the way of everyday learning opportunities for our kids.

Consciousness: The word conscious is defined as "being aware of one's existence, thoughts and surroundings." As parents, we need to become extremely conscious of our little one's existence, thoughts and surroundings. That may seem like a no-brainer, but is it?

How well do you tune into your baby? Have you learned her cries, her quirks, what sets her off? What's her overall style? Content? Grumpy? Easygoing? Feisty? Touchy? Active? It's important to know our kids as who they ARE, not who we want them to be. Learn WHO your child is and appreciate, accept and nurture it. Learning this takes time and a heightened sense of awareness--something that cannot be accomplished if you're just going through the motions everyday. Slow down. OBSERVE. LISTEN to your kids. From the moment they come into the world, if you pay close attention they will tell you something about their personality every single day.

Being a conscious parent also means being aware of what you say and do with your child. How do you speak to your child? Is your tone generally that of respect? Or are you constantly trying to fix, criticize or correct your child? Do you take time to actually sit and talk with your child or are most of your days so busy you only have time "go through the motions" of school, soccer, dinner, homework, bath and bed? How much do you talk to your child? How much do you listen? How consistent are you with your child? Is his bedtime 7pm one day and 10pm the next? Do you give into his whining one day but not the other? Do you put him in timeout for talking back to you one day but let it slide the next?

The more you are aware of what you do as a parent, the better you will be able to troubleshoot various problems throughout your child's life. A (teeny) tiny part of me wishes I had an invisible camera crew around to record my interactions with my kids. I don't want to end up like the Gosslins, though so I guess I'll pass on the camera crew. I do however, try to reflect on my parenting everyday. I am my biggest critic. That's how we learn and get better at something. After all, none of us were born perfect parents. And none of us were born knowing how to BE a parent.

Our kids need our patience and their need us to be tuned into them (conscious). Both take practice but both can make us happier parents which in turn, make for happier kids.

Friday, July 3, 2009

"Start As You Mean to Go On," Accidental Parenting & The Baby Whisperer


There are a zillion books on parenting out there. Most of these books are targeted to first time, clueless moms who will believe anything they read. Unfortunately, the first "go to" book most moms read after having their baby is What to Expect the First Year. After thoroughly being stressed out by What to Expect When You're Expecting, moms somehow take another blow by using What to Expect the First Year as their mini-Bible for that precious first year.

HOGG-wash, I say! Tracy Hogg, that is. She is dubbed "The Baby Whisperer" and her book, The Baby Whisperer Solves all of Your Problems has been my go-to book for Baby #2. I will present lots of her wisdom in my blogs. For those of you who are not familar with Tracy Hogg, she's a very witty, non-nonsense, yet compassionate Brit who wrote several New York Times best selling Baby Whisperer books before passing away from melanoma in 2004. Hogg advocates putting your baby on a structured, flexible routine from Day 1. Hogg states, "It is not a schedule because you cannot always fit a baby into a clock. A routine gives the day structure and makes family life consistent, which is important because all of us, children and adults, babies and toddlers, thrive on predictability. Everyone benefits." Essentially, Hogg is on the same page as Ezzo's Babywise philosphy however, Hogg presents a kinder, gentler version of Babywise.

The first bit of wisdom Hogg presents is her theory that often parents who are struggling with the three main "parenting problems" (sleeping, eating and behavior) have often fallen into "accidental parenting"--which is simply parents starting bad habits that they later have to break. I don't care what any of the What to Expect books tell you about not being able to "spoil" a baby under three months--it's definitely possible and I am living proof! Brooke came out of the womb feisty--unlike Will, she was not a baby who was born "knowing how to sleep." For three months Scott and I held, rocked and bounced her to sleep for nearly every nap and bedtime. For the first six weeks, I was OK with this. After all, wasn't I supposed to hold and comfort my baby whenever she needed me? Around six weeks I had a nervous breakdown because I was so tired of this "cajoling to sleep" routine and by three months, my back hurt so much from carrying a 98th percentile baby that I could hardly get out of bed. But I guess she wasn't spoiled??? HA!!! Perhaps "spoiled" is not the right word, but she had definitely gotten used to her sleep routine that involved Scott and I aiding her sleep every single time. It wasn't her fault--although our intentions were good, we never taught her to fall asleep on her own.

Hogg uses a great phrase, "Start as you mean to go on." Simply put, don't create bad habits that you will have to break later. Just start with what you want. If you want your child to fall asleep on her own without you holding her, teach her to do this from Day 1 (there are various ways, not just Cry It Out). If you don't want your child to become dependent on a pacifier, don't stick it in her mouth every time she makes a peep. Although many "habits" can be broken much easier at three months than say, nine months, why even START a habit you'll have to fix later? Accidental parenting is the root of many problems parents face. Here are the two main ways well-meaning parents can unknowingly become an accidental parent:

1) Being inconsistent/changing the rules: One day, you allow your child to eat on the couch, the next day you yell at her for spilling her Cheerios all over the furniture and tell her to quit eating on the couch. You're mad, she's confused and frustrated. Or your child intentionally throws food off her highchair and says "uh oh!" You laugh because it it is sooooo cute for a 10 month old!! Believe me, I have numerous videos of me laughing hysterically as Brooke throws green beans, sippy cups and Cheerios off her highchair saying "uh oh!" However, when that same child is 2 years old, it's not so cute...just a lot of cleaning up!! As Hogg says, "Start as you mean to go on." Before you laugh at food flying off the highchair, think 6 months into the future and try to imagine your reaction. If you still think you'll be laughing, then that's fine. If not, set limits now and stick to them (just get a video of the incident so you can laugh later).

2) Keep providing Band-Aids: When parents are faced with a new problem, they often resort to a "quick fix" or Band-Aid solution. Baby is crying hysterically, mom and dad are both exhausted. They feel they can't make her stop crying so mom and dad take baby to bed with them so they can all get some rest. Understandable. However, a month later mom and dad are frantic wondering why baby "hates her crib" or "will never sleep." Sure, in the short run taking your baby to bed and getting her to sleep is FAR easier than researching a sleep method and sticking to it for days, weeks or months. But remember, before providing a Band-Aid, think six months into the future...and make your choice. This definitely applies to older children as well. Think grocery store...kid screaming...mom buys him the candy bar he's screaming for...screaming stops. Six months down the road, the harmless candy bar becomes a toy truck, then a brand new bike..then God knows what. You get my drift. Spoiled brat in the making.

Accidental parenting is something we probably all have done or will do at some point in our parenting lives. Lord knows I have...and there is not doubt in my mind that I will do it again. In order to prevent it, we as parents have to become "PC", according to The Baby Whisperer (it's not what you think!) But more about becoming a "PC parent" in the next blog.

In the meantime, I am going to START the long weekend with a glass of wine...because that's how I mean to GO ON for the next three days! :-) Happy 4th everyone!!!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Manners


Ah, if only kids were born with good manners...i think I would be a lot less tired. When Brooke turned 3 I really started working with her on certain manners I felt were pivotal in life. Now that I reflect back on it , I should have started much earlier--like 12 months! Sure, I have always encouraged her to say "please" and "thank you" at a young age, but there was definitely more I could have been doing.

To me, manners, etiquette and overall people skills can take you a long way in life. In fact, being "book smart" and having a high IQ score doesn't necessarily ensure success in life. We all can think of someone that we knew who was extremely book smart but couldn't carry on a decent conversation to save their lives. These people flock to UC Berkeley, by the way--just talkin' from experience! :-)

It's never too early to start teaching good etiquette. The following five etiquette items are what I feel are the most important to teach young children for success later in life. Although some of these things may seem elementary, believe it or not it is RARE, very RARE to find these traits in young children. Believe me, at the school where I teach (elementary grades K-5) I might get ONE "please" or "thank you" a day. Most parents seem to want their kids to excel academically or in sports. However, parents can REALLY put their kids ten steps above the pack by teaching them some social skills...which will endure long after they blow out their knees and can no longer play basketball.

Top Etiquette Items

1) Please, thank you, excuse me and bless you: This is a basic life skill. How awesome would it be if your 2 year old to heard a stranger sneeze and followed it up with "bless you!" It would certainly take the stranger by surprise! Or if your 3 year old was in line at the grocery store and accidentally bumped the person in front, only to follow up with, "Excuse me." People are not used to hearing children be so polite. In fact, I don't think people are used to hearing ADULTS be so polite!

2) Interrupting: If there is one "kid" pet peeve of mine, it's interrupting. Ever tried having a conversation with a friend and her cute, but annoying two year old keeps wailing "Moooommmmeeee!", hovering around incessantly pining for Mom's attention? It's enough to drive you nuts, especially when it's your own kid! Although I don't want to restrict my child from talking and expressing herself, children need to learn how to restrain themselves in certain situations. This skill may be one of your toddlers first lessons in self-control.

Unfortunately, I put up with Brooke doing this far too long. I guess I didn't know how to put a stop to it until I read a great tip in the "Babywise" series. This is what I am doing (with success!). First, I waited until she performed the dreaded deed of interrupting--nothing like a teaching IN the moment. Then I explained to her that Mommy and Daddy were talking and it wasn't OK to interrupt when two people are talking. I told her I was still really interested in what she had to say, so if she had something to say, she needed to raise her hand (LIFE skills, my friends!). When she raises her hand, I acknowledge her by nodding or putting my hand on hers--just so she knows that I see her. She's allowed to speak when I say, "Ok, what do you have to say?" Although Brooke is FAR from mastering "interruption etiquette" as I call it, (she's a MAJOR chatterbox) I have definitely seen progress. It's so cute to see her wildly raising her hand out of the corner of my eye when Scott and I are talking.

3) Table manners: When Brooke turned 3, we began having dinner in the formal dining room each evening. I firmly believe it sitting down to dinner each night, saying grace and having good conversation. We're all busy, but this is one time during the day we can all come together. Below are the "rules" I have put in place for Brooke. Consequences are one warning and if it happens again, she gets down from the table and her dinnertime is over, no exceptions:

- We don't start eating until everyone has their food.
- Ask to be excused from the table.
- No playing with food.

4) Introducing yourself, hand shaking: Yes, I am trying to teach my 3 year old the beauty of a good, solid handshake when meeting adults she doesn't know. Followed with, "Hi, my name is Brooke." We've been role-playing at home (3 year olds--they LOVE "pretend!!") and she had a chance to test her skills at a recent party we went to. She did beautifully with the first two people and then shriveled back to her old shy ways. But we're still working on it--there is definite progress!

5) Addressing adults: I don't allow Brooke to call any adult non-family member by their first name. She doesn't call my friends "Traci" or "Jean." She calls them Mrs. Golis and Mrs. Jordan. This is one of the first steps you can take to teach kids respect for adults. Because you know, "kids these days..." they have no respect for their elders!!

Keep in mind, Brooke is 3 1/2 and she has not completely mastered any of these except (maybe) "thank you" and #5. But never underestimate what your little one can do. Don't fall for the excuse, "they're too young to be expected to do that." Demand high expectations and they will reap the benefits for a lifetime.

PS--As for the nose-picking....I choose my battles!!! There is only so much one person can do :-)