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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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Best Part, Worst Part

We just started a new little ritual at our dinner table that has turned out to be a great success. I have to caveat this by saying this was TOTALLY not my idea. I stole it from one of my friends who is a mother of 4 and takes care of all of her kids while her husband serves in Afghanistan 10 months out of the year. She is the true definition of Super Mom and much more amazing and innovative than I will ever be.

I am a big fan of everyone sitting around the dinner table and engaging in conversation in that Norman Rockwell-esque "family togetherness" time. I understand that family schedules don't always work out to have this special time every night...parents work late, kids have early bedtimes, soccer, ballet, whatever the case may be. However, AT LEAST 2 nights out of the week should be spent together at a family dinner. And note that this "family time" does not always have to mean sitting for an hour debating world issues. It can just be a 10 minute ritual of all coming together as a family over a pizza.

That being said, we have been doing a family dinner almost every single night, with the exception of some weekend nights when we put the kids to bed and Scott and I enjoy dinner alone. As Brooke as gotten older, she's gotten more into the "eat and run" mentality. She has better things to do, according to her :) So when I heard about Best Part, Worst Part I thought I would give it a try as a means to keep her at the table.

The concept is simple. You just go around the table and everyone tells what the best part of their day was. Then, they tell what the worst part was. Sounds simple and even juvenile, but it has turned out to be a hit!!

Number One, it gets us all talking. It completely gets you out of this conversation,

"So, Brooke how was your day at school?"
"What did you do today?"
"So you just sat in class at stared at the walls all day?"

Now that we do Best Part, Worst Part, I am hearing all sorts of funny stories about what happens at school and what she did all day. MUCH better than, "Nothing."

Number Two, it gets you and your spouse talking! I never know what to ask about Scott's day. Soooo.....what did you do today? Like I would really understand anyway! But by hearing the best part and worst part, it just makes it easier to talk about things that went on during the day.

Number Three, it's great for little ones because you just call it a "game." Let's play Best Part, Worst Part!! Little ones will do almost ANYthing if it's called a "game."

Last, I think it has helped us all be very grateful for what we have. Once we go over the "worst parts," we realize that if someone cutting me off on the freeway or spilling my coffee on my skirt was the WORST part of my day...wow, how lucky am I!?

All in all, this has been a huge hit at dinnertime and Brooke now stays at the table long enough to talk about her day. In fact, a couple of days ago I forgot to "play" the game and Brooke was reminded me, "WAIT!! We have to play Best Part, Worst Part!" I love it!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why Don't You Try That Again?

I think there are two child-traits that annoy me the most...

#1-Whining: Just for the simple fact that it's nails-on-the-chalkboard annoying to me. I don't know a child who doesn't or hasn't whined in their life. Some kids are worse than others and this mostly has to do with how much parents are willing to correct the behavior properly.

#2-Ungratefulness. "Kids today" have so freakin much. It's unreal. I remember having to put clothes on layaway because we couldn't afford to pay the whole $17.99 all at once. After the 2-4 weeks were up and we had saved enough, we went to pick up item. Talk about being grateful! I had never been so happy in my life! Fast-forward 30 years and I find myself buying (or trying really hard NOT to buy) the kids clothes every time I am within a 10 mile radius of Gymboree. The automatic "gratefulness" lesson isn't built into the process these days. We have to teach our kids to be grateful to help them lead a life of thanksgiving rather than believing life always "owes" them something.

The second part of ungratefulness is the appreciation of what others do for you--most notably you parents!! A few months ago Brooke started this whole thing where she would say, "Give me my..." (milk, juice, jacket, etc). I am more than happy to do things for my kids, but I am not a slave. And I am definitely not a slave to someone who is perfectly capable of 1) Getting things herself and 2) Asking politely when needed.

I am very happy to report that I found a simple solution to both #1 and #2 that has almost eliminated both problems completely. Of course, teaching your kids to live a life of intrinsic thankfulness and gratefulness is not something that happens overnight.That is something that you have to teach and practice every day. But I found a solution to cut the immediate whining and impolite/ungrateful behavior--short term.

It was so simple: When whining or ungrateful behavior occurred all I would say was, "Why don't you try that again in 5 minutes?" Then I would set a timer and make her wait for whatever she wanted or was whining about. I find that if you just say, "Stop whining. Say that again in a normal voice" there is really not enough "sting" to change the behavior. All they have to do is repeat what they just said in a normal voice (or appropriately) and they get what they want. That is not a punishment! But making them WAIT, even if just for a few minutes, gives them time to think and doesn't give them the immediate gratification they're looking for. Kids haaaate to wait!!!

Oh, it worked like a charm! After two times, I pretty much had whining and (certain) impolite behaviors nipped in the bud. It was one of those parenting moments where I really wished I could give myself a high-five. Not all parenting "tricks" work. This one sure did! Just remember to stay consistent and use the same phrase every time the behavior occurs. You'll love it!! :)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Church Behavior

Our family has been going to church religiously (tee, hee!) since January of this year. I look back at the timing of our decision--4 year old and a 10 month old in tow--I wonder why we choose THAT particular time. Who knows, maybe it was some sort of "calling" but I couldn't be happier with our decision.

For me, it doesn't really really matter what age your child(ren) are. No time to go to church with kids is ideal, especially when your church doesn't have a nursery--ours doesn't. It's always going to take some work, effort and planning. So if you decide to make church a part of your life, just go for it! Don't keep waiting thinking things will get easier. I look around our church and see people with their 3, 4, 5, 6 kids all lined up in the pew, I see many couples with newborns + toddlers in tow....for crying out loud, I see 95 year olds that look like they're living their last day on earth! Surely, I can manage with two semi-well behaved rascals....right?

The first day we decided to attend church, we spent the whole service (our old church's service was over 2 hours long) wrestling a 20lb wailing little beast. Walking inside, outside, anywhere to keep him away from pretty much everyone in the entire congregation so they wouldn't be annoyed with his antics. I was sweating after the last "amen." And please don't ask me what the pastor preached about. I was just saying prayers that he'd hurry and wrap it up!

Fast-forward to this week. I still have a beast, although he's about 8 lbs heavier now! But now he's able to sit for the entire first half of the Mass--about 30 minutes--without any squirming, wailing or other annoying antics that would lend us evil-eye looks from the parishioners. His age certainly isn't making it any easier--with each passing day, he's becoming more physical and active. So why is he "easier" to handle now than 9 months ago when he wasn't even walking?! The answer? Routine. He's used to it. He knows the drill and he's learned to sit--thank you Blanket Time!

Now the next 30 minutes of church is a different story. That's his breaking point. I believe that at 18 months, 30-40 minutes is about all you can expect your child to sit still without getting restless. I am completely happy with 30 minutes. At about age 3, that time will increase and an hour can be expected. If it seems overwhelming to have a 3 year old sit in one place for an entire hour with no true entertainment except for maybe a semi-decent church choir, I can tell you it is most likely possible--if you want to it be.

I will never forget how completely FLOORED I was when I went to Mass with Brooke's preschool class (3 and 4 year olds) and they were all lined up in the pew, quiet as mice for the entire hour. Did they fidget a little? Yes. Did they look around like they were bored out of their minds? Yes. Did a lot of them have to get up and go potty? Yes. But there was no screaming, no tantrums, no talking...and no one fell asleep! I was in awe of those 38 preschoolers! I was even more in awe of the teachers. How DO they get them to do that??! So don't think it's impossible.

Now you might ask why must your child endure an hour (or less, depending on the age) of sitting around "listening" to something they are not developmentally ready to understand? I will write a whole other blog someday about helping little ones get something beneficial out of church messages, but if nothing else, church teaches them one thing plain and simple: obedience. Much like blanket time. Church is just another setting they get used to staying where they are told. I know this sounds pretty harsh and aren't they supposed to ENJOY church and get something out of it? YES! That's definitely possible when they are about 3. Before that, it's pure and simple obedience. That's what they are getting out of it.

The importance for a child to be able to sit in one place for a long period of time has never been so apparent to me than over the past month as Brooke started Kindergarten. I don't know how much we all remember about Kindergarten back in our day, but I remember nap time, snacks and lots of playing outside with tricycles. A lot has changed. Kids are being asked to sit for long periods of time, even in Kindergarten, writing, listening and participating. After all, they need to be reading at the end of Kindergarten now! Even if kids have had the preschool experience, Kindergarten is a whole different ball game.

As they progress through the grades, the sitting and listening part gets even longer, with college being the pinnacle. Think about how many lecture halls you've endured...just sitting....and listening. No, it's not always fun. It's a skill. It's a skill that can be developed from a very young age. Going to church and blanket time are great ways to start developing this skill. Is it easy? Nope! I won't lie. But how many times have I said, who told you parenting was easy???

I have some tips of taking toddlers to church below. With kids 3 and up my expectations are much higher as they are now emotionally and developmentally ready to get something out of church. It's still about obedience, but at age 3+ church needs to become more about the "why" we go to church, too. More on that later.

Here are some tips. Good luck! I'll be saying prayers for you :)

Church Tips of Toddlers (6 months to 3 years)

1. Food/Snacks. Hands down, the biggest savior (no pun intended). Our church has a no eating policy that I choose to disregard because at this age, it's all about distraction. :) And common sense here, please! We were at church the other day and some lady had brought two bags of potato chips for her kids to eat....is there anything louder than a rustling potato chip bag?! Not to mention greasy. I know we all love a greasy hymnal! Really, people!

2. Sit close to the back, for an easy exit. And definitely sit on the aisle!

3. Be consistent. If you just go at Christmas and Easter, don't expect your child to behave. They need routine to get used to things by going each week.

4. Have a church-only bag of 2-3 toys or books. I'm not big on bringing the whole toy box to church. It can be loud, distracting and messy. Just pick a couple of things you know your child will enjoy and pack them into a bag or purse. Let them only play with these things during church or rotate the toys each week so the novelty doesn't wear off.

5. Make the most of the music! Most kids love music. Sing, dance and sway with them during songs.

6. Start with low expectations and work your way up. Just like with blanket time, start with getting your child to sit for 5 minutes. When he's done that, expect 10 minutes, and so on.

7. Try to pick a service that isn't during nap time. This can be hard especially with small churches with only one service, but it always works better when your child is well-rested.

8. Don't get discouraged! It's just like with sleep training--it won't get easier unless you stick with it!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Weekly Lunch & Snack Menu

Here's what we have planned this week. After this week, we're planning on rotating in one hot lunch per week.

Also, I started noticing they have these really delicious "dwarf" apples at the store. They come in red and green and they are about half the size of a regular apple. I love packing these whole and not worrying about cutting up the apple and sprinkling on orange juice to prevent browning. Anything that saves time!

We do water with the snack and she buys milk for lunch.

Weekly Lunch & Snack Menu


Snack: Fresh blueberries & Yogurt
Lunch: Pasta salad (corkscrew pasta, olives, red & green bell peppers tossed with Italian dressing and McCormick Salad Supreme), Hershey's Kiss (gasp!)

Snack: Grapes, goldfish crackers
Lunch: Lunchbox Black Bean Dip (see recipe), pita chips, strawberries

Snack: Unsweetened applesauce
Lunch: Whole wheat crackers layered with cream cheese, sprinkle of shredded cheddar-jack and ham, apple

Snack: Baby Bel cheese, dried cranberries (Craisins)
Lunch: Rice and grilled chicken breast (leftover over from the night before) drizzled with teriyaki sauce, cookie or leftover slice of cake or some other sweet goodie

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lunchbox Black Bean Dip

- 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup mild salsa
- 1 clove garlic, chopped (can substitute a sprinkle of garlic powder)
- 2 tbsp. sour cream
- 2 tbsp. chopped cilantro (optional)
- Salt to taste
- Shredded Monterey jack or cheddar cheese
Mix first 6 ingredients in food processor. Process until smooth. Spoon a few tablespoons of teh dip into a small lunch box container, top with cheese. Pack alongside pita chips of fresh veggies for dipping.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Weekly Lunch & Snack Menu

One thing we'll all have to do at some point, whether it start in preschool or elementary school is begin packing our kid's lunches and/or snacks. Unless of course your child's school is a Food Revolution school and offers healthy, delicious food in the cafeteria every single day (Brookey's does, but she's not quite sold on it yet)! But for most of us, we'll be packing at least a few lunches a week for the kids. When you first start doing this, it's an added step at night and if you're not organized, frankly it can be a bit of a hassle, especially if you have more than one child to pack for! At that point, you'll be tempted to throw a Lunchable in their lunch pail and call it night. I'm sure you know how I feel about that :)

Since I am packing both a lunch and a snack for Brooke almost every day, I decided to provide you, from time to time, with my weekly list of what I'm packing. I just type it up on my computer every Sunday and each night when its lunch-packing time, I just pull up the document and start packing! I'm pretty much brain dead after 6pm, so this is a great help to me :) I won't post the list every single week, because I want to give you new ideas and I don't pack a "new idea" every single day--I repeat a lot!

It's easy to run out of ideas for healthy lunches and snacks, so I hope my lists will help give you some ideas. I keep it SIMPLE. Nothing fancy. I don't use cookie cutters and cut heart and flower sandwiches every day [although I do on special occasions like Valentine's Day!] I don't tend to use off-the-wall ingredients that are hard to find. You won't see a whole lot of sandwiches because Brooke is not really a sandwich type. And frankly, kids get tired of sandwiches very quickly. We buy milk from the school so I don't have to worry about it going bad in her lunch box. She also has a water bottle and drinks water with her snack. Enjoy!

Weekly Lunch & Snack Menu

Snack: Clif Kid Z-Bar (graham cracker flavor), grapes
Lunch: Half of a bean burrito (refried beans and shredded cheese rolled in a whole wheat tortilla), apple slices, cookie

Snack: Cheese cubes, multi-grain crackers, berries
Lunch-Lasagna (leftover from dinner), yogurt, cookie

Snack: Clif Kid Z-Bar (chocolate chip flavor), strawberries
Lunch: "Antipasto Platter"--Multi-grain crackers, string cheese, 2 slices lunch meat (turkey, rolled up), black olives, cucumber slices, grapes

Snack: Cheese cubes, nectarine
Lunch: Quesidilla, apple slices, mini-prezels

Snack: Yogurt, banana
Lunch: Salami and Turkey sandwich on a soft whole wheat roll, Goldfish, berries

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Nap Transitions: Two Naps to One

At some point after your baby (now toddler) turns one, they will begin the process of going from two naps a day (morning & afternoon) to just one nap. As Will approached 16 months, I found myself really looking forward to this. The larger chunk of time in the afternoon is nice and I didn't have to always worry about him being home for naps twice a day.

Some toddlers are ready to drop the morning nap sooner than others. Very rarely are they ready to drop the morning nap before 12 months. Likewise, very rarely are toddlers over 22'ish months still taking a morning nap. Here are some signs that your little one might be ready to drop a nap:

- Trouble falling asleep for the morning nap. This happens because they are now able to stay awake for longer periods of time so they're not tired.

- Morning nap shortens (30-45 minutes), but they still take a good afternoon nap. They can still fall asleep for the morning nap, but they're not tired enough to sleep for a long period of time.

- Morning nap lengthens and afternoon nap shortens. This happened with Will. He was a creature of habit and would always be able to fall asleep for his scheduled 9am nap. But then he'd end up sleeping too much for the morning nap and wasn't tired for his scheduled afternoon nap.

Once you think they're ready (or YOU'RE ready) to drop the morning nap there are a variety of ways you can go about it. The easiest is cold-turkey. When going cold-turkey, you basically split the difference between the morning and afternoon nap, and that will be their new nap time--for the time being. So for instance, if their morning nap was at 9am and their afternoon nap was at 2pm, start with their new nap time being around 11:30. As they get used to this nap time, you can slowly push out, so you get your desired time. For most parents, they like nap time to start around noon or 1pm.

Here are some common "troubleshooting" questions and answers when dropping the AM nap:

I dropped the AM nap, but now my baby is only sleeping 1 1/2 hours for his nap. I thought the nap was supposed to get longer when he went from two naps to one.

This is temporary as your child adjusts to the new sleep schedule. Give it a week or two and it should work itself out. In the meantime, when he wakes (as long as he's not screaming), let him play independently in his crib for a little while, without any stimulation. Then push up his bedtime about an hour so he can make up for the lost sleep time. Gradually, he should lengthen his afternoon nap to somewhere between 2-3 hours.

I am trying to drop the AM nap cold-turkey, but my baby gets soooo tired and fussy around 10:00am. I just want to put him to bed!

This is very common. He's tired!! Again, he's trying to adjust to the new schedule. You could do one of two things. Push it out as long as you can (say, 10:30am) and make that his nap time. Then over the next two weeks, as he gets used to that nap time, push it later by 15-30 minute increments every few days until you get to your desired nap time.

The next thing you could do is what I did with Will--plan activities!!! Be sure you are out of the house and active in the morning, especially around the time he is used to taking the morning nap. For us, we did swimming lessons in the morning and we were out of the house from about 10:30-12:00. This helped tremendously, because he wasn't thinking about napping, he was thinking about swimming! So go to a class, the park, to the zoo, for a run in the jogging stroller, whatever it takes to get you guys out of the house and not thinking about sleeping!

Now that my baby is taking one nap, she wakes up in the afternoon earlier than she used to. She's exhausted and ready for bed at 5pm!

When Will was in the process of dropping the AM nap, he went down at 11am and slept until about 1pm...which was way earlier than he was used to waking up in the afternoon. So by 5 or 5:30pm, he was exhausted. Know that nap-dropping is a process that kids have to get used to. Put her to bed at 5:00 or 5:30pm so she can make up for the lost sleep during the day.When we did this with Will, he still slept until his regular wake time in the morning, 6:30. Know this is just temporary.

Remember, just because they are dropping a nap, doesn't mean their sleep-need amounts are necessarily changing. If you toddler has been taking two 1 1/2 hour naps and sleeping 11 hours at night (14 total hours a day), they should still continue to sleep a total of 14 hours a day. You can achieve this by 1) Automatically: On their own, they should lengthen their nap from two 1 1/2 hour naps to one (approx) 3 hour nap or 2) Push up their bedtime.

My baby sleeps really well for her morning nap but refuses to go down for the afternoon nap. Does that mean she's ready to drop a nap?

Most likely, yes. If baby is sleeping like a rock for the morning nap, it's a little more tricky than the converse, where they sleep well in the afternoon and refuse the AM nap. To begin the weaning process, you will need to either do a cold-turkey approach and keep her awake until your desired nap time, or do a slower weaning process.

To do the weaning-style approach, you can still put her down at her regular morning nap time, but you will have to wake her up so her morning nap shortens and she'll still be ready to take her afternoon nap. Wake in 15-30 minute increments every few days, until baby is only sleeping about 30 minutes for the morning nap. For example, if she typically naps for 1 1/2 hours, wake her for a few days at the hour mark. Then the next few days, wake her at the 45 minute mark, etc., until shes only sleeping about 30 minutes.Frankly, this process is a little annoying for me and I feel bad waking a baby after only 30 minutes of sleep. But it's a means to an end. I prefer the method of planning activities and just trying to keep them up longer--the "cold turkey" approach.

Again, keep in mind that nap-dropping is a process. Baby may experience short naps, fussiness, restless sleep and other minor problems during this process. But if your baby has typically been a good napper, these problems should work themselves out in about 1-2 weeks. Be patient!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Chicken Fries!

The vast majority of kids don't argue when you put french fries in front of them. I mean, what's not to like? It's crispy, deep-fried goodness. I think my last requested death-bed meal just might be french fries fried in duck fat. But I digress.....although it is getting progressively better, my 17 month old rarely eats much of anything that's not in french-fry form: oven baked fries and sweet potato fries are a definite fave along with Veggie Straws that come in the Costco jumbo-mega bag.

All those are semi-healthy but lacking in protein and other nutrients...clearly :) So I decided to venture out a create a recipe that incorporated lean protein with the family favorite--fries! And thus, my friends, chicken fries were born. Don't offend me and automatically think of Burger King's chicken fries. YUCK!! MSG, deep-fried nastiness. You know me, semi-healthy is my motto!! :)

Give this a try. I can almost guarantee your little ones will like it...and you might even surprise some others. My very picky hubby commented, "Man, you should sell these!" :-) Brookey commented, "I love these cuz they're like chicken nuggets!" Buddy ate them dipped them in ketchup and then rubbed the ketchup all over his head. Overall, it was a very well-received meal at the Rooneys :)

Chicken Fries

2-boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into pieces OR 1/2-3/4 lb. pre-ground chicken
3/4 cup panko
1 large egg
1/2 cup flour
Oil (enough to coat the bottom of a large skillet)
Salt, pepper, seasoning

- Place chicken breast pieces into a food processor and pulse about 10 times until well-ground. Season with 2 teaspoons of sea salt. Add 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon onion powder OR a few teaspoons of pre-made seasoning such as Montreal.

- Place flour in a shallow dish. Beat egg and place in a separate shallow dish.

- Place panko in a third dish and season with salt/pepper or seasoning.

- With your hands, shape ground chicken into "french-fry"-looking strips. Dip in flour, then egg, then roll in panko. Place on a tray lined with waxed paper. Once you have them rolled in panko you can continue to shape them into more of a fry shape--they're easier to shape at this point. Repeat to make approx. 16-20 "fries."

- Coat the bottom of a skillet with oil (just enough to coat the skillet...this is NOT deep frying)

- Pan-fry chicken fries until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes each side.

- Serve with homemade ranch dip

**You can make these the night before or earlier in the day and just fry them up when you're ready. Just store them in fridge on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Let the Parenting Begin

Brookey is off to Kindergarten tomorrow. It might sound strange, but I feel like this is my last day of "easy" parenting with Miss Brooke. I know, there were the middle of the night feedings, sleepless nights, reflux/vomiting, potty training and everything in between and I'm calling all that EASY??! Well, yes. To me, that is the easy part of parenting. Feeding a baby, cleaning up puke and giving out M&M's to go pee in the potty takes very little brains whatsoever. I'm not saying all of that is not important--it is! And it's extremely hard work! It's labor intensive and physically exhausting. Actually, I am getting sleepy thinking about it...But as I sit here and reflect on those things as distant memories, I can't help to feel like tonight is my rite of passage--tonight I am truly entering parenthood. The part of parenting that takes more than sustaining your kid's basic needs so they can see another day. More than feeding, clothing and putting a roof over their head. As our kids enter the world of school, I feel like a teeny bit of childhood ends and a whole new, exciting world of friendships, social groups, test-taking and homework now begins.

We, as Educated, Common Sense parents always want what is best for our child. We might find ourselves agonizing over decisions like which school to send our kids to, public vs. private, which teachers they'll have or if so-and-so the bratty kid is in their class. Our "helicopter parent" generation wants everything to be just "so" for our kids. But as always, we have to put everything into perspective. As heartbreaking as it is, here are some things that we all need to realize in the midst of our agonizing over our kids and their school success:

- They will fail.
- They will have their hearts broken.
- They will have an awful teacher (or two, or five)
- Someone will dislike them.
- They will be wronged.
- They won't always be treated fairly.
- They will only learn about 25% of what they need to know for life in school. Most of the rest is up to you...and them :)

Might sound pretty pretty depressing at first but don't forget, all of these things happened to us, and unfortunately, will happen to our kids as well. We cannot protect them from everything. There is no perfect school. There are no perfect teachers. There are no perfect kids. There are no perfect parents. These imperfections are things we have to live with and they are all learning experiences. Someone said it more eloquently than I will, but the saying goes something like, "It's not the situation that matters, but rather how you handle the situation that really builds character."

We cannot guarantee our kids will be happy every moment. We can't guarantee they'll have Ms. Smith the seemingly perfect 1st grade teacher. We can't guarantee everyone will like them. We can't ensure that mean kids won't say hurtful things. But what we can do is attempt to teach our children how to handle these situations. We can teach them right from wrong, instill in them a desire to succeed, how to treat others, how to handle adversity, and overall, what Gary Ezzo would say, "Teach them how to be a child who is a joy to be around."

How do we do that?? I have a few ideas on things but really, this is all just the beginning for me--actually raising and child and not just sustaining their basic needs. Hmmmm...those middle of the night feedings aren't sounding half bad now.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sweet Potato Fries

Another kid-tested recipe! Actually, Will-Tested. You have no idea how ecstatic it makes me when that child actually eats something. With this recipe, he ate at least a whole sweet potato in one sitting. Of course, it had to be in french fry form. What kid won't devour a fry?? I am beginning to think I need to work on some other "fry" recipes....chicken fries, tofu fries, green bean fries??! Stayed tuned! :)

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

2-medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1/4" strips
1-tablespoon olive oil
1-tablespoon salt
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400. Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Cut sweet potatoes into quarter inch strips. Put strips into a large bowl and toss with olive oil and salt.

Spread sweet potatoes in an even layer on sprayed cookie sheet. Generously spray the tops with cooking spray (this is a key step to ensure them are crispy on the outside).

Bake at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, flipping once. Fries should be slightly browned, slightly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Serve with ketchup...of course!!!!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Parent Now, Friend Later

Gary Ezzo's book Childwise: Parenting your child from 3 to 7 years outlines several guidelines or "principles" to parenting children in this age group. Each one of these principles is outstanding, however one of my favorite is Principle #2: Use the strength of your leadership early on and the strength of your relationship later.

Young children, especially those under 2 are almost solely led by the power of your authority. You are the one who dictates what they'll eat, what they'll wear, how long they'll stay on the blanket, how long their bath will be and so forth. Children at this age simply do not have the cognitive reasoning skills to make solid decisions at this age.

As children get older, you may begin to give them more "freedoms" and decision making authority if they have demonstrated they are ready to do this. For instance, you may let them choose their own clothes because you have taught them to make logical choices in this area--you can't wear a sundress when it's 25 degrees and snowing.

As children get older, it should be our goal to parent by the power of our influence, rather than by the power of our authority. I think we all know teenagers, or we can remember from our own teenage years, that parent screaming and yelling at you [aka: trying to assert their authority]. And this produces what from a teenager? Eye rolling? Extreme frustration? Profanity? Depleted sense of self worth? All of the above?

Ezzo puts the stages of parenting into a "sports" metaphor which made it very clear to understand, although note that I have changed his analogies slightly...

Phase 1: "Leadership"
Birth to age 6
This is the time when you assert your authoritative (not permissive, not authoritarian) role as a parent. You set clear limits and and have fair, logical consequences. You set boundaries. This is the point where you need to let your child know that YOU run the show. You child cannot control you.

To put it in a sports analogy, pretend this is the phase where a player comes to you knowing NOTHING about the game. It is your job to teach them the basics. But if you can't control the child, will you be able to teach? Will they be able to learn?

If you have this phase down, it plants the seeds for future success throughout the other phases.

Phase 2: "Coaching"
Age 7 to 12

Ok, so the kid knows the basics of the game now. They know they're supposed to hike the ball and try to get it into the endzone. They know they're not supposed to use their hands in soccer. Heck, given the great coach/leader you are, you might have even taught them some fancy plays like a Hail Mary or Statue of Liberty. Now it's your job to continue their finesse, continue to run plays, train in the weightroom--and pulling them aside at certain times when they do something wrong and help led them in the right direction again. You're not teaching them the entire game--you already did that. They get it. Your role is now slowly moving from more of a teacher of the game to a coach. They still have a lot to learn, they still need your coaching. That's OK. You're still on the practice field.

Phase 3: "Game Time!"
Age 13-19

Yep, we hit the dreaded teenage years. This is game night. Your child is now officially in the game and your role is the coach. Now as a coach on the sidelines, you can still call plays, still huddle during timeouts and give a few pointers. But you can't stop the game and say, "You know Billy, you are supposed to try and hit the ball when you step up to homeplate. Then you try to run around the bases." By game time, I would hope to God that you had already taught your kids the basics!! The training period has passed and here is the scary part: this is the time when you see how good of a job you did training and coaching.

Ever hear an interview of a losing head coach who says, "We were just out-coached?" You can't let this happen to you. We can't fail our kids in the leadership and coaching phases, because once it's game time (age 13+), there is not a whole lot we can do completely change a "player." Ezzo says, "How well you coach your children will determine how well they run the plays of life."

Each of these phases rests upon on another. Your child will not accept your coaching if you didn't do a good job as a trainer (setting limits, establishing authority). They will only listen to your coaching if you established yourself as a leader (a parent, not a friend). And most important, they will only play well and make good decisions in the game of life if you were a good coach and leader.

Do you see how that works? Do you see how if a good foundation is not set from the beginning, yelling, screaming and lecturing your teenager will never work? A child has to be open and willing to accept your coaching on game day. You do this by establishing yourself as a good coach. This is not to say that your teenager will always respect you and listen to what you have to say (not to mention, LIKE what you have to say!). But you will get much further with your kids down the road if a solid foundation is established.

Before I forget, here's the last and best phase, in my opinion...

Phase 4: Friendship

A few years (maybe more!!) down the road the player comes back to visit his coach. They sit down, have a cup of coffee and they two begin their new relationship. No longer as player and coach, but as friends. This is the end goal, I think, and every parent's hope. To sit down with their grown children someday and have a true friendship and closeness with them. I think too many parents want to rush this step much, much too early. I like how Ezzo's puts it: "Too many parents try to cash in on this friendship early...but with so many things, if we spend it now, we may not have it later."

Monday, August 9, 2010

Healthy Cupcakes?

I am no Betty Crocker. But with a little help, I can scrape by and bake something my family will (usually) eat. In this recipe, I used a store-bought cake mix. Store bought cake mix is not the healthiest thing you can eat, I will admit that. It has additives (but no MSG!!) but usually they compose 1% or less of the ingredients. So it's not horrible. The sugar content is not awful--about 11 grams/cupcake. And if you choose to use the mix and doctor it up as I have, you get a balance of super healthy ingredients to cancel out the sugar and additives. It's all about balance!!

You'll notice there is tofu, yes, tofu in the mix that takes the place of 2 eggs. Flax seed is also added to take the place of oil. In fact, flax seed can be used in place of oil in most recipes. The rule of thumb is 3 tablespoons of flax seed = 1 tablespoon of oil. Flax is a good source of fiber as well as OMEGA-3 oils.


Healthy Cupcakes
1-Boxed Cake Mix (I used Betty Crocker Strawberry--Brookey's pick!)
1- Egg
1/2-package silken tofu (about 7 oz)
1/3-cup ground (or milled) flax seed
1/2-cup water

Preheat oven to 350. Line cupcake pan with paper liners. Beat cake mix, egg, tofu and flax with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Add water and beat on high another 2 minutes until well mixed. Fill cupcakes holders until 2/3 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes until done. Serve plain for with cream cheese frosting (recipe below).

Cream Cheese Frosting
1-package low fat cream cheese
1/2-cup powdered sugar
1-tablespoon milk
1-teaspoon vanilla
Food coloring (optional)

Let cream cheese soften to room temperature. Beat cream cheese, sugar, milk and vanilla with an electric beater until smooth and creamy. Add a few drops of food coloring for fun!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Chemical-Free Ranch-Herb Dip

Before I give you this recipe, I have to warn you about how I write recipes. I am visual, not mathematical. I don't like measurements. That's why baking is extremely tough for me! I'm more of a person who mixes a bunch of yummy stuff together...then tastes, adjusts, tastes, adjusts... until it's perfect to my liking.

I expect you to do the same when making this Ranch-Herb dip. Add more of the herbs you like, use less of what you don't like. Play with the flavors until it's perfect for you and your family.

Some notes
- Garlic: Raw garlic goes a loooong way in this recipe. I put in one clove when I made it once and Brooke pronounced the dip, "disgusting." It's delicious to a garlic-lover like me, but for kids, you might need to tone it down. You can substitute a sprinkle of garlic powder instead.

- The recipe below is for Ranch-Herb dip. You can easily thin it out and making it into a dressing by adding buttermilk or regular milk in at the very end.

- This recipe does not taste like Hidden Valley Ranch from the bottle. Sorry!!! My quest in finding alternatives to MSG'ed food doesn't always mean it will taste exactly like the "real thing." My goal is to provide healthy alternatives that are fresh & delicious. :) If you have ever had the BBQ Chicken Salad from California Pizza Kitchen, the dip tastes along the lines of that dressing.

Homemade Ranch-Herb Dip
1 cup low-fat mayo
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
Salt (to taste)
1 splash of Worcestershire Sauce
1 clove garlic (optional, can substitute w/a little garlic power)

The Herbs (use measurements as guidelines only)
1/4 cup of flat leaf parsley (roughly chopped)
1/4 cup chives or scallions (roughly chopped)
3 tablespoons of basil leaves (roughly chopped)

Put all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Refrigerate for one hour or more to allow the flavors to marry. Serve! It's SUPER the next day!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Fresh & Healthy

I find trying to cook fresh, healthy meals for my family extremely fun. To me, it's a challenge! Anyone can pop a frozen meal into the oven or order pizza, but it takes time, patience and effort to make healthful meals (that your kids will actually EAT, that is!). But isn't that what parenting is all about: time, patience and effort? I think we could all use those three things at any point in time when raising our kids!

I don't consider myself a health nut, by any means. If the kids are at a birthday party, I don't ration cake intake or freak out if their goody bag is filled with candy. We have Pizza Fridays and sometimes when Daddy is out of town, we'll even have ice cream for dinner! And when we go on vacation--forget about it! I just can't stress about every single morsel of food my kids take in, at every moment of their lives--that wouldn't be very educated, common sense-ical, now would it? But what I can do--for the vast majority of time when we're home and on our regular schedule-- is ensure what my family eats is as fresh and healthy as possible.

But what does "fresh" mean? Fresh cooking, to me, simply means that when you look at your grocery cart (if you do 1-2 big shopping trips each week), at least 25% of what's in there should be from the produce section. Fresh fruit, veggies, herbs. If you don't plan healthy meals ahead or have some healthy meal ideas in mind when you enter the store, you will never hit the 25% mark. It much easier to load up on processed and canned foods. Fresh cooking also means meals are, for the most part, prepared from natural--not processed--ingredients.

Believe me, I like a quick and easy meal as well as any other parent in town. My time is precious. However, if you do any label reading at all on packaged foods (frozen lasagna, for instance) you realize that you are eating more "chemicals" you can't pronounce rather than real, actual food. Now, whether are not all these "chemicals" or additives will really "kill you" or to the extent to which they are unhealthy, I will leave up to the scientists and dieticians. I just use my educated, common sense that tells me it's a much better idea to feed my family real food vs. foods laden with additives.Food companies can't develop a good enough flavor with regular ingredients, so they have to use a chemical to make or "enhance" their product. That's weak.

Since MSG (Monosodium glutamate) is my personal villian, I've been reading labels a lot more in an attempt to knock it out of our diet. Once you start reading labels, you will be shocked at what foods have MSG! Here are some...just to name a few...

Breakfast Sausage (Jimmy Dean and others)
Chick Fil a Sandwiches (my fave!)
Most any "flavored" potato chip (i.e BBQ, Sour Cream and Onion)
Knorr's Powdered Vegetable Soup Mix (Spinach Dip STAPLE! Hello!)
Onion Soup/Dip Mix
Ramen Noodles
Ranch Dressing (ARG!!! I was so mad--Brookey LOVES Ranch!)
Most Canned Soups

For the most part, my kids have tried pretty much all of the above "food" items....and love them. Rightly so!! They are yummy! I would have never gotten through college without my $2.49 case of Top Ramen! But the list above is not "food"--basically it's chemicals, passed off as food.

I have been taking it upon myself to find healthy, fresh alternatives for some of these most-loved items. The first one I tackled was Ranch dressing since it's a family favorite. I will post my version of "Ranch" in the next post. Until then, start reading labels...remember, LESS ingredients=less chemicals=a much more fresh & healthy diet for your family!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The 45 Minute Intruder

I have read many online message boards and have spoken to many new parents who all have a very similar complaint, "Why won't my baby nap for more than 45 minutes??"

Remember, the body's natural sleep cycle is 45 minutes. Every 45 minutes, we "wake up" and transition into a deeper sleep state. This obviously isn't noticeable to you and I most of the time, or that would make for pretty horrible nighttime sleep! But to a baby who is just learning to sleep outside the womb, once they wake up at this 45 minute mark, they may or may not have the skills to fall back to sleep.

If you have established a flexible Babywise-like routine and baby has been napping well (at least 1-1.5 hours minimum), there are a couple of reasons baby may wake at the 45 minute mark. These reasons can include:

1) Growth spurts. Once your baby is on a flexible routine and napping well, you will definitely notice when a growth spurt comes along. The "biggest," most problematic ones seem to occur around 7-8 weeks and then again at 4 months. What happens is baby "wakes" at their 45 minute transition, realize they are starving to death, so they'll start to cry!

Solution: Feed baby! Babywise states that you always feed a hungry baby, even if it has not been 3 hours (or whatever you determine your feeding routine to be). Ensure baby takes a full-feeding. If he doesn't, there may be other reasons baby is waking. When baby wakes at 45 minutes, I would always try feeding first. If they don't take a full feeding, I know I need to troubleshoot elsewhere.

2) Fussy Period: Some babies go through a "fussy period." With Brooke we called it "cranky time." This usually crops up around 6 weeks and lasts a month or less. During this period, there could be several issues, but most of the time babies are just going through growing pains or nursing issues. It's not necessarily "colic" like everyone likes to label it. During the fussy period, baby will go through a rough sleep period.

Solution: Hang in there. Hold and comfort baby. Try using a swing or bouncy seat to help calm baby. Check your milk supply if you're nursing. Also, keep a log of foods you're eating to see if something may not be agreeing with baby. For instance, dairy, spicy foods, etc.

3) Noise: Some babies are light sleepers and sensitive to noise. Around 45 minutes is when we "wake" and go through a very light sleep state. We are most vulnerable to noise at this point. So baby is sleeping away and then goes through the 45 minute transition. At the same time, big sister decides this is the perfect moment to scream at the dog in the next room.....for a light sleeper, this will be a ruined nap. When I was first sleep training Will, who is a very light sleeper, I remember always telling Brooke to be super quiet around the 45 minute mark!!

If you haven't established a routine for baby, and baby has never slept for over an hour at a time, here is the problem:

4) Inadequate Sleep Skills: For the vast majority of moms (especially those whose babies are not on a flexible routine), this is the main reason for the 45 minute intruder. If babies are not taught early to soothe themselves back to sleep, the 45 minute intruder will most likely be with you for a very long time. Let me tell you, that you might love staring into your precious baby's eyes and seeing her coo 24 hours a day when they are about 8 weeks old, but when they're entering Terrible 2's, believe me, you are going to want more than a 45 minute nap out of them!! :) We've already talked about the importance of sleep for children. 45 minutes of napping per day is no where near adequate for a child until they are at least 4!

Solution: Sleep training--if your baby isn't a "natural sleeper," you need to ensure he becomes one. This can be done in a variety of ways including the 4-S Routine and of course the notorious CIO (Cry It Out). Cry It Out really sounds a lot worse than it really is! More to come on that :)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Now Eat This!

I have my first picky eater on my hands. Actually, "picky" is not the word. My little one, Will--won't eat a thing. This is the complete opposite of his big sister who has always been a good, 99th percentile-for-weight-eater! From birth, she would basically eat whatever I put in front of her. I didn't really have to get "creative" with her food. With Will, I need to start getting creative to ensure he stays his plump little self. The recipe below is one of my first successes with him. Also, some notes as I endure this "self-imposed fasting" by my little one:

1) The vast majority of kids go through phases of hearty eating and virtual non-eating. Although these phases may seem to last years, they really tend to last a few months or so.

2) I offer healthy foods at every meal, even if I am sure he won't touch it. It is important for them to see that something other than cheese and Goldfish (in Will's case!) exists in the world. Will usually won't touch anything I offer, so I bag it up and offer it again at the next meal. One time out of 100, he will try something new. For instance, yesterday he tried a big hunk of apple after refusing it 20 times previously.

3) Once you find something they really like, don't go out to Costco and buy the 4,000 pack of whatever the food is. They go through phases. Today it might be cheese, tomorrow Goldfish, the next day sugar snap peas. You never know. Not to mention if you ate only one thing for 200 days straight, you might get a little tired of it.

4) Once you find something they like don't offer it at every meal, every day. They might reach burn out quickly and you'll be back to square one. With the "smoothie" below, I am offering it to Will every other day so he doens't get bored of it.

The recipe below incorporates tofu, which is one of the healthiest things you can eat. It's packed with protein, calcium and even some iron. The protein is key if you have a self-imposed, non-meat eater like Will!!

Strawberry-Banana "Smoothie"

1-basket of fresh strawberries (frozen, thawed works too)**
1-ripe banana
1/2 cup silken tofu (NOT the kind for stir fries!!)
About 3/4 cup of milk (to desired thickness)
Pinch of sugar (optional)

**You can use any berry or combination of berries

Blend together in a blender and voila! Something they'll eat/drink :) Even though it's a drink, I feel pretty good about giving this to Will because it's fresh fruit, protein, milk and not too much sugar. Definitely more nutritional value than Goldfish crackers!!

He approves! :)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Rock Creatures

Brooke loved this activity. It's easy and it gets the kids out of the house for a little bit!

Materials Needed
- Various rocks of different shapes/sizes
- Washable paint in various colors
- Paint brushes
- Glue
- Random craft items to decorate rocks (googly eyes, feathers, yarn, stickers, buttons, glitter, etc)
- Sharpie markers for drawing faces, etc (optional)

Age Range Recommendation
18+ Months (although younger ones can definitely help out!)

- Go outside and collect rocks of various shapes and sizes.
- Set up an area covered with newspaper or a towel with paint the crafting supplies listed above.
- Paint rocks different colors; allow to dry.
- Decorate painted rocks with craft items. You can make animals, faces or even just stick stickers all over them!

The both loved collecting rocks!

Busy Painting

Brookey's "Rock Lady"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Blanket Time Update

Blanket time (BT) is still going well for Will. He is now up to 15 minutes and I have decided that is a good amount of time for him to play independently. It's an amount of time that's long enough so it's not too "easy" for him [because I still want to teach obedience] but also not too long where it's just plain mean! We do blanket time each weekday morning after breakfast. He has his tummy full and his big sis in generally not up yet, so the house is calm and quiet.

The wonderful thing about blanket time is that I have found it's effects spilling over to other situations. By now, Will knows he can't leave the blanket during BT. However, he will continue to test me almost every time, as most toddlers like to do! All I have to do is tell him in a slightly firm voice that he needs to stay on the blanket. He sits back down. I notice this obedience has helped in situations when we are outside, for instance. If I tell him to stop walking, he will [most of the time!!] look back at me and stop walking. Or if I tell him not to touch something, he will acknowledge what I said and stop touching [usually!].

But by far, the best situation BT has helped is when we did swimming lessons these past few weeks. We always arrived at lessons 10-15 minutes before class started. Brooke immediately went into the little kiddie pool and play around before class. Buddy didn't care for the kiddie pool so we had about 10-15 minutes to kill--time that preferably that didn't entail me chasing him all over the swimming complex hoping he wouldn't dive into one of the pools. The answer: A "modified" BT! I put down his towel and said (just like I do at BT), "Stay on the blanket, please!" When I did that, I never once had to chase him around the pool. He just sat there happily playing with my phone or eating his snacks. He completely understood that his "barrier" was the towel, just as the blanket is at home.

I have been very excited to see that BT has been paying off in other areas. This is not to say that I have a perfect, obedient angel! What a joke!! He's 16 months old--get real. But I do see that when I devote time and energy into doing BT daily, that I reap the rewards in other areas.

Here he is doing "Towel Time" at swimming lessons, waiting for his sister:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Splatter & Shake Paintings

This activity was slightly messy (especially when a certain 15 month old got a hold of a paint container and opened it), but very fun. Both Preschooler and Pretoddler enjoyed it.

Materials Needed
- Empty coffee canister(s) or any cylinder-shaped container
- Different colors of (washable) paint (i.e. poster paint)
- Paper
- Various small items to make the splatters. We used different beads and rice. You could also use dried beans, marbles, rocks, paper clips, coins.

Age Range Recommendations
- 12 months +

- Put the paper on the inside of the coffee can (you might have to cut it a little to fit)
- Put a small amount of paint in the can. One or two colors works best.
- Drop in a few of the small objects and close the lid.
- Shake, shake, shake the can!! (Will liked this part best!)
- Take off the lid and check out your design! You may want to add more paint or more objects. Masterpiece!!

The above "painting" is Will's. Below is Brooke's. It doesn't really matter the age, all the paintings turn out cute!!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Down and Dirty

I've learned quite a few things in the past 4 years working with kids as a teacher and as a mom. Most likely, we all learn things from kids every single day. There's nothing like a 3 year old to put life into perspective for us. As adults, we laugh about 15 times a day. Preschoolers laugh on average three hundred times a day! Life is just one big bowl of cherries to them. I can stick my tongue out at Brooke and she will laugh her head off. Just say the word "fart" and you'll have a 4 year old rolling with laughter. That is because life is just FUN for them. They have no stresses, no worries except when they'll go to the park or the pool again or if they're having hot dogs for dinner.

When dealing with our kids, we really need to put our stresses, worries, insecurities aside and get down on their level--which is pure happiness. I have learned the more I am a "kid" with my kids--and this goes for my students at school and my own kids--the more fun I have AND the more fun they have. Of course, there are times when parenting is serious business and you need to act like the adult. We as Educated, Common Sense parents know when those moments are. But sometimes we forget when those moments aren't.

For instance, at the park, sitting there and watching Brooke and Will play around is amusing and interesting. It's also slightly boring. If I sit there and watch, I am usually ready to go in about 10 minutes. But the other day, I got "down and dirty" with them. I took off my shoes, got into the sand and water, got a little messy and it was soooo much more fun than sitting there observing. Now this was a little outside my comfort zone, I have to say. But wow--what a difference it made in my trip to the park! It was just so much more fun.

I've noticed this in teaching, as well. I try to get directly involved with fun projects with the kids instead of watching and directing. Whether you're a teacher or a mom, it just makes your job so much more fun when you're on their level. I understand this may be outside some people's comfort zones. I can definitely hear some moms saying "That's just not my thing." Frankly, I didn't really think it was my thing, either...until I did it. Think about which would have the potential to make you laugh more? Watching....? ...or doing?

So let them paint your face. Take off your shoes and sit in the sandbox with them. Let them smear you with pudding. The years they'll want to do this with you are precious--and they'll be gone before we know it.

My favorite ways to get "down" with my kids

1. In the sandbox. I roll up my pants, take off my shoes and participate in their fun.

2. At the pool. It's nice tanning and a watching Brooke swim with her floaties. But it's much more FUN to get in and have a splashing contest!

3. Rolling around on the floor with Will and tickling him until he screams with laughter.

4. Playing "make up artist" with Brooke. I let her do my makeup. Of course it always turns out fabulous! :-)

5. Cooking. This is my all time favorite. I have really tried to let the control-freakish side of me go and let the mess just happen. They'll never learn how to break an egg if we never let them practice! Believe me, talk about waaaay outside my comfort zone!!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Baby Style

All babies have a certain temperament. Some call it nature. Some call in genetics or personality. I like to call it style. When you hear people say, "every baby is different," they aren't kidding. Figuring out who that unique individual you are holding in your arms can take...oh, a lifetime!

But for the sake of figuring out your baby when they are still a baby, they will generally fall into one or two major categories that Tracy Hogg lists in The Baby Whisperer.

Knowing your baby's style is key in developing a bond with your baby and figuring out the best way to handle certain situations, including sleep training. I will outline those situations in an upcoming post. For now, read the descriptions below. What "style" is your little one? When deciding, you are looking for the dominant behavior of your baby. Most babies have a combination of all of these at some point, but keep in mind what your baby is like most of the time. You might find your baby is a cross between two styles.

Baby Styles

1. Angel: Easily adapts to situations. Rarely cries, easy-going and even-tempered. Meltdowns are rare. Good sleeper--might just need a hug and kiss and falls asleep on her own. Smiles a lot. Hard to read "sleepy cues"--often doesn't show signs of being tired.

What Parents Say About Angel Babies: This is too good to be true. When does it end?

2. Textbook: Reaches every milestone like clockwork. The Book says smiling by 6 weeks--check! Sleeping through the night at 12 weeks-check! Sits alone at 7 months--check! Babies like these are very predictable making it easy for parents to read their cues. A textbook baby might have some cranky spells, but they are generally easy to calm and reassure. Can get irritable when his schedule changes, but adjusts fairly quickly. Generally easy going.

What Parents Say About Textbook Babies: Low maintenance baby. Give him what he wants, he's happy. Life is good.

3.Touchy: Sometimes cries for no reason. Often sensitive to light, noise, temperature. Light sleepers. Temperamental; you will sometimes see that "fight or flight" reaction kick in when they are experiencing something new, unknown or undesired. Prefers mellow, quiet situations--doesn't like chaos. Cautious. Touchy babies need very patient and understanding parents who will recognize their "Baby Style" and try to work through it.

What Parents Say About Touchy Babies: I'm exhausted. The slightest things set her off. Cry baby.

4. Spirited: As a baby, spirited children are usually the most demanding. One wail or scream and Mom knows he means business! These babies actually love stimulation, don't mind noise and chaos. Baby just seems energetic. People will describe baby saying, "Wow! He's so alert and active!" Always on the move, loves touching and feeling things, even as a very young baby. Spirited babies tend not to be great sleepers. They like action! Spirited babies take lots and lots of work to sleep train. These babies generally need less sleep than other babies.

What Parents Say About Spirited Babies: He's a handful. He needs everything NOW. He freaks when I don't feed him fast enough. Relentless crying sometimes! Meltdowns! I sometimes feel like I don't have the energy to deal with him!

5. Grumpy: Irritable baby. Doesn't really sleep well, never seems really content. Hates being swaddled. Cries and cries when doing something undesired (i.e swaddling, diaper changing). These babies do very well on a routine...but are very pissed when they're off it!

What Parents Say About Grumpy Babies: Dang--he's mad!!! It's his way or the highway! Look at him turn red! Why doesn't he smile more?! Look out--here comes another meltdown!

Now keep in mind, every baby at some point has been angel, textbook, spirited, touchy or grumpy baby. Some babies will show some traits I listed in all of the categories. However, you have to look at the overall baby. What is she most like, most of the time?

...so...what's your Baby Style?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Homemade Face Painting

Brookey has gotten her face painted a dozen or so times at birthday parties, fairs, carnivals, etc. She ALWAYS loves it, so why not do it at home?! It costs virtually nothing, since most of the materials you probably have on hand. Have fun painting your little one! And let them have a chance to paint YOU, too...don't worry, the "paint" is washable with soap and water!!

Homemade Face Paint Recipe

Bowl or small container(s)
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 face cream/cold cream/heavy lotion (white--i used Aveeno Baby Lotion)
1/2 teaspoon water
Food coloring
Small paintbrushes

Mix cornstarch and cream together until smooth. Add water and stir. Add food coloring one drop at a time until you get the desired color. Apply with small paintbrushes and wash off with soap and water. You can store the "paint" in small containers or jars. Baby food jars or those Gerber baby food containers work well. I have to tell you that I got a: "You're the best mom ever!" with this activity. Let that be your motivation! ENJOY!

Friday, July 2, 2010

More Newborn Sleep Help: The Sleep Window and Rituals

The Baby Whisperer outlines several variables on why a baby may not be sleeping "well." One of them is "lack of an inadequate sleep ritual." Some tip-offs may include:

1) Baby doesn't settle down to sleep easily.

2) Baby falls asleep but then is suddenly awake, ten minutes to a half hour later.

In order for baby to have a peaceful sleep you need to help her get there. You do this two ways. First, you need to recognize and figure out your baby's "sleep window." You also have to have a good sleep routine in place.

The Sleep Window
You need to learn when baby is ready to go to sleep. Ask yourself, "Do I know what my baby looks like when she's tired?" If you miss a baby's sleep window, it's MUCH harder to get them to sleep. When Will was under 5 months he had a VERY delicate sleep window. If I missed it by more than 15 minutes, it was extremely hard to get him settled down for a nap because at this point, he was overtired.

There are a couple of things you can do to figure out what the "window" is. First, look for "sleepy cues." Sleepy cues a young baby can give can be: yawn, fidget, fuss, squeak, turn their head away from you or a toy, burrow his head in your neck when you're carrying him or....nothing at all! Some babies just don't give good sleep cues. Particularly "textbook" or "angel" babies--they just always seem content. So if you have a baby that is not giving you the signs, you are going to have to figure it out on your own. Below I have outlined average, possible "optimal waketimes" for each age range. Note that your child may vary up or down 30 minutes or so. But this will give you a good idea of where you should start:

Optimal Waketimes (note: the time indicated includes a full feeding)

0-4 Weeks: 30-60 minutes

4-6 Weeks: 45-60 minutes

6-8 Weeks: 60 minutes

8-12 Weeks: 60-75 minutes

3-4 Months: 60-90 minutes

4-5 Months: 90-120 minutes

5-6 Months: 120 minutes

6-12 Months: 120-180 minutes

As I mentioned before, these times will vary from baby to baby. Especially as they get older (6+ months). This gives you a good starting point. Remember, when baby is having a hard time going to sleep or staying asleep, first try cutting back their waketime. I used 10-15 minute increments when finding Will's optimal waketime. It does take some trial and error, but it is so worth doing!

So now you know when baby is tired. That is half the battle. But you're not done yet!! Next, you need a solid sleep ritual or routine that you are going to use every time you put baby down for bed or for a nap. I love The Baby Whisperer's 4 S routine. I did this consistently with Will and even my husband says, "that stuff really works!" Here's what you do:

The 4-S Routine

1. Set the Stage: Whether its bedtime or naptime you need to prepare baby for sleep. You simply remove them from any stimulation. Go into their quiet room, draw the curtains, walk around a little. I used to carry Will around in his room for a minute or so and we would say "goodnight" to everything.

2. Swaddling: I can do a whole post of the importance of the swaddle but for now I will just tell you it's necessary. This is another way we help remove stimulation from baby and promote sleep. Don't bother with the Swaddle Me. I found that thing worthless!! You need a good, TIGHT swaddle. I used The Miracle Blanket with Will and it was awesome. It's lightweight and long--it's easy to get a good, tight swaddle. He wasn't able to bust out completely until about 5 months. Swaddling--it's important. Do it every time baby sleeps.

3. Sitting: I love this one!! After baby is swaddled, you sit quietly with him, upright (his face in your shoulder/neck). You don't move. You don't rock or jiggle him. You don't pace around. I know, that is what our instinct tells us--to pace, jiggle and rock! You should have seen my pacing and jiggling with Brooke! I was an expert! All of this stimulates baby--it doesn't calm him down. So just sit still. You do this for about five minutes. I have to say, 5 minutes of just sitting seems like an eternity. Especially if you have another child in the house! But try your best. I learned to love this sit time because it gave me a break! It's so awesome--after a few minutes, you can actually feel their little bodies relax. The Baby Whisperer book said that would happen, but I didn't believe it! But yep, almost every time, I could feel Will's body relax. As soon as I felt that, I knew it was time to put him down in his crib. He was still awake, but headed towards sleep.

After this, put him down (awake) in his crib. Tell him "night-night" and leave the room. Allow him to settle himself to sleep.

4. Shhh-Pat: So he's not asleep yet, huh? He screamed his head off when you put him down? Time to move on to the 4th S--Shh-Pat. Note--once your baby is accustomed to this sleep routine (it does take some time)--you won't have to do the 4th S very often! This step is critical if your baby is not going to sleep. It is a sleep training tool to use so you don't get into Accidental Parenting. It's also kinder and gentler than the Cry It Out (CIO) version of sleep training, for those people who don't believe it CIO. Shh-Pat should be used on babies up to 4 months. After 4 months, I personally recommend incremental CIO.

Here's how shh-pat works. You don't pick up your baby. You simply whisper "shh, shh, shh" into their ear while at the same time, patting their back. Did you know that babies under 3-4 months cannot hold more than 2 "thoughts" in their mind at once? This technique works because they are concentrating on the shh and the patting, so they can can't continue to cry. Eventually, baby will stop crying and concentrate on the shh'ing and the patting. Sometimes this happens right away, sometimes it takes 20+ minutes. If it doesn't work after 10 minutes or so, you can also pick baby up and do the same thing holding her. When you feel her relax, put her down.

I will tell you that 20 minutes of shh-patting, hunched over a crib feels like 20 hours. No joke. But believe me when I tell you: It works and it's worth it. Teaching your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep is one of the single most important things you can teach them at this age.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Sleep Deprivation Cure

When you're having a conversation with someone who has recently had a baby, the topic somehow always comes around to one thing: sleep. "Is she a good sleeper?", "Is he sleeping through the night yet?", "How much sleep are you getting?" It's inevitable. Babies and sleep go hand in hand.

Adjusting to a new baby is no easy task--yes, you'll be tired. However, after the first couple of months, moms and dads shouldn't have to be completely sleep deprived. According to Babywise, of babies on a parent-directed flexible routine, about 75% of them were sleeping through the night at 7-9 weeks. 96% of them were sleeping through the night at 12 weeks. This goes for breast and formula fed babies. To non-Babywise readers, this is a sheer and utter **miracle**. To Babywise people like myself, I was stressing when Will wasn't sleeping through at 9 weeks! (He slept through at 10 weeks from 10pm-6am).

What's the secret? A parent-led flexible routine. I don't really like to call it a "schedule" because you really can't fit a baby into an exact schedule. But it is a routine/semi-schedule that you direct based on your baby's cues. Most people who are not informed about this type of system, think it's some Nazi-style schedule where you only feed baby at a certain time each day and the baby spends hours in his crib "Crying It Out." After all, demand-feeding baby is currently the "in" thing. I can post Babywise Misunderstandings in another post. This post is how to get some sleep!!

Whether you go by the Babywise book or the Baby Whisperer, they are both the same concept. I like The Baby Whisperer because it has a cute acronym: E.A.S.Y.

Y=You time!

The vast majority of new parents switch the A and S and end up feeding (the E) the baby right before they sleep. Remember my post on Accidental Parenting? Start as you mean to go on--you don't want baby to associate eating with sleeping...otherwise you'll be nursing to sleep when they're a year old! I love you, but no thanks.

I pulled one of Will's sample schedules (yes, REAL LIFE!) from when he was about 12 weeks:

E: 6:00am: Wake up, eat, diaper change

A: Playmat or bouncy seat

S: 7:00am: Nap

Y: This is when I would shower, have coffee, get ready

E: 9:00am: Wake up, eat

A: Playmat, bouncy seat, whatever else a 3 month old does!

S: 10:00am: Nap

Y: Me time! (actually, Brooke-time)

I would repeat this routine until about 6:30pm and that was technically "bedtime." Scott and I would wake him at 10pm (The Baby Whisperer calls this the "Dream Feed." I call it "topping them off!") and do a diaper change and feeding before we went to bed and he slept solidly until about 6am the next morning. Some things to note:

- He was never awake for more than about an hour to an hour and a half at this age

- During the day, I never fed him right before he went to sleep (the exception is the bottle right before bed and the Dream Feed)

- At three months, he was taking (3) 1.5 hour naps--his last afternoon nap was a catnap (45'ish min). Sometimes he would take this catnap, sometimes not.

- "Bedtime" should be roughly 12 hours from their wakeup time. Will was an early riser (still is!), so his bedtime was also early (still is!). If baby wakes at 8am, then shoot for their bedtime being 8pm. Don't forget to top them off! :-)

- Pick a waketime time in the morning and stick with it. If baby naturally wakes at 6am, you can make that their wakeup time for the day or feed them and put them right back to bed and wake them later. Remember, when ever you decide their wakeup time is, that is when you start E.A.S.Y.

- Around 6 months or so, they'll end up dropping the last 1-2 "naps" of the day and just going to two longer naps.

So that is the E.A.S.Y./parent-directed routine in a nutshell. It goes against the popular belief that you should never wake a sleeping baby. In Will's case, the kid was ALWAYS sleeping during the day. He would hardly wake up during the day, even to eat! Therefore, he liked to "play" at night. Waking him for feedings during the day helped him distinguish his days and nights (days are for eating, nights are not!). It also ensured he was getting enough to eat during the day, so he wasn't waking at night to eat (or play!). For most of us, that type of routine works much better with our adult schedules :-)

Monday, June 28, 2010

4th of July Activity: Red, White and Blue Chain

I never used to be so "in" to holidays. I know people have heard me say "I hate Christmas." This was all before I was a teacher and a mom. Now that I am both of those, it has really forced me to step up my holiday celebrating! Now I'm looking for every little holiday and celebrate and do activities around. Kids just eat this stuff up...and they usually learn a little something, too.

4th of July is right around the corner! Here is an activity Brooke and I did last week--a Red, White and Blue 4th of July "words" chain. Here's what we did:

1. We read a couple of 4th of July books that talked about what the holiday was all about. The two books we read were: Hooray for the 4th of July and 4th of July Mice.

2. I drew lines on red, white and blue construction paper about 1.5 inches apart and had Brooke cut them out (cutting a straight line is a great preschool/pre-K skill!).

3. We brainstormed words that had to do with the 4th of July that we had read about or talked about. For example: fireworks, birthday, USA, flag. We took turns writing these words on each of the strips of paper. If your child is younger, you can write them. Brooke thought of the words herself, but if your child is younger, I would have them start by trying to name some of the objects on the pages of the books (flag, fireworks, food).

4. We put the strips into a chain using a glue stick. Ta-Da! Your 4th of July chain!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Things I Never Knew About Naps: The First Year

I was looking back at Brooke's old "schedules" last week and frankly, I was appalled. At 3 months she was taking three 45 minute naps a day. That was it!!! This is before I knew anything about BabyWise or sleep training or anything--and it showed. Brooke wasn't a good sleeper until she was about six months old.

The more I talk to moms and read non-Babywise message boards and things like that, the more I realize that 45 minute naps in the first year are commonplace. Very few moms know any better! But we as Educated, Common Sense Parents need to be informed and spread the word!

Once I discovered the books Babywise, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and The Baby Whisperer and put their principles into action with Will, I was kicking myself for not knowing about all of this sooner! It was so simple!! So today I'll post my top Things I Never Knew About Naps...so hopefully others won't fall until my trap of foolishness.

Tops Things I Never Knew About Naps

1. Nap Length:
A "good" nap in the first year is between 1.5 and 2.5 hours, give or take. Some babies have more or less sleep needs but naps should be more than 45 minutes (unless a growth spurt is happening, more about that later).

2. The Sleep Cycle: We all go through a sleep cycles every 45 minutes. Every 45 minutes our bodies "wake up" and readjust. For most of us, we don't even notice this transition. For babies, they will often cry, groan, roll over, move about and possibly even sit up and seem like they are waking up. If a newborn of young baby doesn't know how to put themselves back to sleep, they'll cry until Mom or Dad comes and rescues them--nap ruined! The exception to this is when young babies are going through a growth spurt and need to eat more often. In this case, babies will wake up at the 45 minute transition and realize they're hungry!

3. Overtiredness: Babies under 2 months need a lot of sleep. 15-20 hours or more! For most babies, this comes naturally. However, some babies appear to be more "alert" and awake than others...but don't let this fool you. These babies still need their rest! According to Babywise during the first 2 months, babies should be awake no more than about 45 minutes at a time. This includes feeding and a diaper change. As baby gets older (up to about six months), waketime can increase to about 1.5 hours. This isn't a lot of waketime and you'd be shocked at how many people keep a 6 month old up 3, 4 or 5 hours at a time! These are moms who usually complain their baby doesn't nap well. Yes, this was me.

When baby isn't napping well, the first thing to try is cutting back their awake time. With Will, that always did the trick. That is the opposite of what most people would think. Most people would say they are not sleeping well because they're not tired enough. Not so with babies! Some babies don't show signs of sleepiness. I can't tell you how many times I would put Will down for his "scheduled" nap and my parents would say, "He doesn't seem tired at all!" Five minutes later he was fast asleep. Figuring out the ideal waketime can be tricky and takes some trial and error, but it's definitely worth knowing.

4. Overstimulation: Watching TV, playing with loud toys, crowds and loud noises right before a nap can be overstimulating to a young baby. It's important to choose a short and sweet nap/settle-down routine when your baby is young and stick to it. I used Tracy Hogg's (The Baby Whisperer) 4-S routine with Will. I will post on the 4-S routine soon. Baby will know what to expect every time he goes down and this routine will be his signal to settle down and sleep.

Part of being a parent is recognizing your mistakes and fixing them. I was a MUCH more happy, well-rested mom with Will!!