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.


- 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.


**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!!