Viewing entries tagged
being fully present

Present-Tense Parenting

You know one mistake I make as a mom?  I forget to live in the present moment with my kids.  I worry about what’s coming in the future, or I obsess about something from the past.  When I do this, I miss what they are really needing, what they are really communicating, and what is really happening.

Does that ever happen to you? 

When we practice fearful-future parenting or past-preoccupation parenting, we can’t practice present-tense parenting.  We don’t give our kids our best, and we often miss what they really need from us.  When we’re not parenting in the present tense, we end up thinking in rigid ways, like this:

 

Oh no!  My six-year-old is still in pull-ups at night!  What if he never gains control of his bladder?
This is future-tense parenting, and it can cause a lot of unnecessary suffering.  It’s normal to worry about the future—I can identify with that—but the problem is that you’re letting fear get the better of you.  Your son will be able to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, just as he learned to feed and dress himself.  I promise. (Unless something very unusual is going on, he won’t be in pull-ups when you send him off to college.)

When my nine-year-old was sick last week I let her stay home from school and watch movies.  Now she’s sick again. I’ve set up a bad pattern, so I’d better make today less fun.
This is past-tense parenting, and it’s also destructive.  There may be times that you see a genuine pattern that needs to be addressed.  If so, then by all means address it.  But don’t let one event in the past so overshadow what’s happening right now that you end up failing to nurture your daughter when she really needs it.

My mother-in-law says I should let my newborn “cry it out” when he wakes at night.  I don’t want him to develop bad sleep habits, so if I don’t nip it in the bid right now, he’ll be a bad sleeper his whole childhood.
Again, fear-based, future-tense parenting.  Babies aren’t able to manipulate.  They cry to communicate when they need something.  Your job is to meet those needs, right now.  If you worry too much about the future, you’ll deprive your baby of what he needs in this moment:  a mom who will be there for him anytime he tells her that he needs to be fed or held.

My thirteen-year-old forgot to turn in her Spanish homework last week, and now she’s turned in her math homework late.  I’ve got to cancel her dance class, since she needs to spend more time being responsible!
Again, there really is something to be said for nipping a problem in the bud.  But be careful not to overreact to a situation based on limited information.  If your normally responsible middle-schooler makes one mistake, that shouldn’t cloud your judgment about her any time she messes up again. 

My ten-year-old picks on his little sister.  She’s crying now, so her brother must be upsetting her again.
Past-tense parenting.  Even if your son is usually the instigator when sibling conflict arises, that doesn’t mean he’s the culprit every time.  If you march into the room and look at him and say, “What did you do this time?!” before you have all the information, you’re going to risk alienating him and damaging the trust in your relationship.

My seven-year-old cries wolf all the time, pretending to be hurt or sick when she’s not.  I need to teach her that that’s not the way to get my attention.
This one is a tough one for most parents.  After all, you don’t want to reinforce a pattern that makes life harder for you, your daughter, and the whole family.  Still, I always say to err on the side of nurturing too much, rather than too little.  Kids often go through this attention-seeking phase because they have a need for your attention.  And just because you are there for your daughter and connect when she needs (or just asks for) comfort, doesn’t mean that she’s going to seek attention in this way all the time.  In fact, you can’t spoil children by giving them emotional connection.  The more your daughter feels your love and constant affection, she’ll be quicker to move through this phase, and she’ll do so knowing that you’re on her side and have her back.  All because you were able to parent in the present tense.

 

The original version of this article can be viewed at Mom.me.

My Teenager Won’t Hug Me Anymore

A mom wrote me recently, concerned that her fifteen-year-old son was pulling away from her, especially in terms of being affectionate and letting her do things for him.  This is a common occurrence in the lives of parents and kids.  This mother wondered, “How do you provide that same sense of security to your children as they start to break away from you?”  My response offered words of comfort and advice that might prove helpful if you’re experiencing something similar.

 

It’s totally normal.

This is what teenagers do.  What they’re supposed to do.  They pull away so they can figure out who they are without you.  Your child is becoming himself, which is what you want. 

 

This is an important step towards self-exploration.

Your son is creating new attachments to his peers that allow him to become ready to be a "we" with someone else in the future.  This shift in attachment—he’s still attached to you, but in a different way—allows him to take the secure base he has in his relationship with you, and use it as a launching pad to explore who he is apart from his family and in the context of his peers.  This process is a crucial stage in his identity formation. 

 

Find ways to connect, physically.

It’s still possible to be physically close with your son.  Take his cues and respect his journey into adulthood, while still letting him know how much you love him.  At times this may mean a simple pat on the back or the head, or an arm around his shoulder.  But even if it's a bit uncomfortable, try to keep hugging him when you can—even it’s the dreaded “side hug” that can feel so awkward. As much as possible, keep up the affection, and the connection.  You might even see whether he'd be willing to let you climb into bed next to him to read to him or have him read to you.  If not, get the laptop and watch some funny YouTube videos together.  You have to sit super close so you can both see the screen, and the laughter can create a shared moment of joining. 

 

Be thoughtful while also observing boundaries.

Don’t be corny, but come up with gestures that show him thoughtfulness and nurturing without treading on his independence.  Take him a Jamba Juice when you pick him up from school.  Text him about something you’re proud that he’s done.  Challenge him to a game of Ping-Pong.  Take him to dinner and a movie.  And when he's sick, baby him like you used to.   He’ll love it.

 

Sometimes you just can’t win.

One moment he’ll tell you to back off, then the next minute he’s mad that you’re showing attention to his younger sister.  It's very similar to his toddler years, when he’d say, "Me do it," and then get mad that you weren’t helping him.  He's in between two worlds and wants what he feels like he needs—but only when he thinks he needs it.  He wants to be treated like an independent adult, but secretly, he may have times when he just feels like being nurtured like a little kid.  The best thing you can do is to assume he still wants you to nurture him and be a mom, while also communicating that he can tell you to give him space if he feels smothered.

 

Be direct.

Since you’re not a mind-reader, initiate a direct conversation about your uncertainty about how to interact with him.  Talk about your desire to keep nurturing him and doing things for him, while still respecting his space and independence.  Explain that you know how capable he is, then ask for his guidance and advice on this issue.  If nothing else, he'll be aware that you’re trying. 

 

Back off, but be available. 

Self-sufficiency is so important, so you want to encourage it.  But you need to still be sending signals that say, "I'm always here for you if you need me."  Communicate this over and over, both verbally and nonverbally.  Then he’ll know it’s true, whether his actions show it or not.

  

The original version of this article can be viewed at Mom.me.

 

 

Bedtime Battles? A Few Notes and a New Perspective

“Bedtime is not for the faint of anything.”

This phrase comes to me as I finally escape from tonight’s almost two-hour bedtime, which resulted in my 5-year-old getting to sleep an hour-and-a-half too late. 

As I emerge from the dark bedroom and squint my way into the brightly lit hallway, I decide I’d better take some mental notes to avoid having to endure the forever-long bedtime in the future.  The dos and don’ts flood my mind in no particular order.

Note #1:  When reading the last story of the night, don’t use an even moderately suspenseful voice—much less a raspy, old, witchy one.  Bring characters to life with only funny or regular voices.  Otherwise I may have to resort to butt jokes to lighten the mood.  Or, the extra bright nightlight comes on, which then leads to totally insuppressible desires to make the best shadow puppets ever.  One more, Mom!  You GOT to see this one. 

Note #2.  Save time for inevitable shadow puppets. 

Note #3.  Don’t make the butt jokes too funny.  That can lead to uncontrollable giggling that’s eventually transformed into giddy-crazy.

Note #4:  If he makes a big deal about it, just let him wear the stupid boxers to bed.  I can put a pull-up on his sweaty little body once he’s already asleep.  Sure, it’s like trying to put a too-small wetsuit on someone who’s just come out of the ocean, and the whole process is made more difficult when I have to do it while hunched over in the lower bunk, but it still makes things easier overall. 

Note #5.  Put “extra fresh” water in his cup next to his bed.  Do it while he’s brushing his teeth, just before I get to lie down for the first time all day.  That’s much easier than waiting until we’ve already gotten in bed, read, put on our shadow-puppet show, and turned out the light. 

Note #6.  Plan for much, much more time. 

Note #7.  Start much earlier in the evening. 

As I get to my seventh note, I realize I’m making something of a battle plan, like a general preparing for war.  I’m preparing, anticipating obstacles to avoid, and proactively planning for contingencies.

The battle strategies above won’t ensure success, but they make it more likely.  The battle is always won at some point.  He always falls asleep.  Eventually.  But the casualties in the process—lost sleep, future grumpiness, a relationship potentially damaged by a mother who yells “No!  I don’t want to smell your feet!” and so on—can sometimes be ugly.  Plus, even as I come up with new approaches, the enemy continues to evolve as well, becoming smarter and developing new stalling techniques.

And then I get it.  It’s the word “enemy,” as it pops into my mind, that does it.  Gives me pause.  Wakes me up and helps me see the error of my metaphor.

I remind myself that the bedtime “battles” are a thing of the past for my 8- and 11-year-olds, who look forward to reading, and who, despite an inevitable plea for “one more chapter” when we read together, go to sleep without a fight night after night. 

I remind myself that sleep is a process I can’t force on my littlest guy.  He really does control that.  I remind myself that sleep is a separation, and I understand why he wants to make bedtimes last as long as possible.  After all, for these minutes he has my full attention, and we’re a tangle of arms and legs and hugs and hands on faces. 

That doesn’t sound like a battle at all.  That sounds like we’re on the same side.  That sounds like something to look forward to and delight in and that I’ll miss terribly someday. 

I’m not naïve enough to say that future bedtimes won’t be difficult from time to time.  But I’ve come to the awareness that if I change my expectations and plan better and give us enough time on nights when it’s possible, then that means we both win.

 

 

The original version of this article can be viewed at Mom.me.

Is It Really Just a Phase? Five reasons not to freak out

Your three-year-old won’t sit peacefully at the dinner table.  Your five-year-old won’t join in at parties.  Your nine-year-old is still asking to sleep with the light on 

People tell you, “It’s just a phase.”  But is it?

Yes.  Most likely, it is.  Whether we’re talking about sleep, eating, toilet training, homework meltdowns, or anything else, here are five reasons not to freak out about this particular phase in your child’s life.

 

  1. Your child’s brain and body are changing rapidly.
    So rapidly, in fact, that your little one will be practically a new kid in six months or so.  You’ll be amazed at how many of the things she can’t or won’t do now, she’ll be able to do then.  You’ll also wonder why you worried so much.
  2. Life keeps changing.
    Just when you think you have something figured out and you’re on top of your game, something changes. A tooth comes in. A cold comes on. You move. A sibling is born. Transitions and surprises keep us from ever really being in control.  Even human development isn’t predictable and linear; it’s more of a “two steps up, one step back” kind of thing. That means that even if you were able to figure out the “correct answer” for responding to this particular phase, things would turn upside down as soon as you solved the riddle anyway.
  3. You get lots and lots of opportunities.

Don't let fear rule you and lead you to expect things from your child that he’s not developmentally ready for yet. Just because he’s not falling asleep by himself at four, doesn’t mean he never will.  You will have lots of opportunities to help him develop this skill as he gets older. It's rarely too late to teach lessons or introduce skills, so do it at a time when it works best for you and your child. 

 

  1. Right now is all you have to worry about.

You don’t have to be concerned about what your child will be like at 15, or 20.  You really don’t.  So don’t give in to the temptation to worry that this phase will last forever.  Your daughter won’t be biting her friends when she leaves for college.  She won’t have a hard time sitting at a dinner table.  Think in smaller chunks of time. Think about semesters or seasons. Give your child a few months to work through this phase, and know that as long as you’re there loving her, guiding her and providing a consistent presence in her life, she’ll get through it and learn the skills she needs.

 

  1. The struggles are part of the process.
    Believe it or not, you’ll probably miss this phase at some point down the road. Think about how other phases that seemed unbearable passed rather quickly in retrospect. Dr. Berry Brazelton reminds us that as kids grow up, periods of disorganization often precede organization.  That means that kids often go through difficult phases right before they accomplish something new.  So think of the struggles as little bumps in the road on the path to amazing growth and development.

 

 

What Do I Tell My Kids? (A Parent’s Response to the Newtown, Connecticut Tragedy)

I really don’t know what to say.  I’m heartbroken and speechless.

Facts are still coming in, and I'm just beginning to process everything myself.  What we’ve learned is that close to thirty people, including many children, were killed by a gunman this morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

I really don’t know what to say. 

None of us do.

But if we’re parents, we’ve got to decide how to address a horrific event like this with our own kids.  We have to find the words.

The events just took place a few hours ago, so I reserve the right to change my opinion.  But here are my thoughts on a first hearing, based on some questions I’ve already been asked.

 

Should I talk to my kids about what happened?

Usually, I’m in favor of arming children with as much information as possible.  But in this case, if you have young, even school-age, children, I’d be very careful about how much you tell them about what happened in Newtown.  It can be overwhelmingly frightening to a child (or even an adult) to hear that a person has carried a gun into a kindergarten classroom and begun killing kids and their teachers.  If your children haven’t heard about the shooting, I advise you not to open the door to that world.  It’s terrifying.

 

What if my kids have already heard?

If your children hear about the shooting from friends or the news or some other source, then it becomes paramount that you talk with them about what they’ve heard.  In this conversation, aim for four main goals:

Listen.

Begin by asking a few questions.  Find out what your child knows and how they are feeling.  A good question to ask is, “How did you feel when you first heard the news?” or, “What was your first thought?”  Listening is crucial here, because it will allow you to assess where your child is, emotionally, at this moment, and also because it will give you information that should guide the rest of the conversation.

Let your child lead the conversation.

Don't give your child more information then they need or already have.  They don’t need pictures drawn for them.  Answer their questions, and show them the respect of taking their inquiries seriously.  But address their concerns and curiosity without delivering extraneous information that will create more confusion and anxiety.

Help your child feel safe.

This is your highest priority right now. Information is important, but contextualize everything so that your child feels safe.  Explain how rare the situation is, and that they have no reason to expect that it would happen at their school.  Promise that you’re always watching over and protecting them.  Let them know they can absolutely count on you and that you will always try to keep them safe.

Be willing to return to the subject, but only if your child needs to.

Later today, or tomorrow, or next week, your child may need to talk more about what happened.  If so, talk more.  But if your child has moved on and isn’t showing any signs of worrying any more about it, then let them move on.  Don’t create anxiety by bringing it up again and again.

 

What do I do if I feel terrified myself?

I know that these types of terrible (but extremely rare) occurrences make us want to pull our children closer, and protect them more. And yes, you should hold your child close tonight and be grateful.  I know I will.  But don't allow your fears and anxieties to rage so much that your child misses out on freedoms and opportunities that produce mastery and competence.  And remember, too, that kids are very perceptive.  Be careful not to communicate so much of your own fear that you make your own anxiety theirs.

 

I feel a deep, deep sadness for the people of Newtown.  Tragedies occur, and far too often, we’re left without any answers.  I wish I had more answers right now, both for myself and to offer you.  All I know to say as we watch from afar, is that we should let this remind us of our responsibilities to our own children:  to listen to them, to protect them, to cherish them, and to communicate to them—as fully as possible—how much we love them.

 

The original version of this article can be viewed at Mom.me.

How to Talk to Your Tween Girl: Keep the connection even after she's done with the kid stuff

I've recently written two articles for mom.me about communicating with tweens.  Here's the one about talking with your pre-teen daughter.

 

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She’s not a teenager yet. But she’s sure not a child anymore, at least in the way she used to be. Just last week her school notebook contained pictures of cute puppies. Now she actually talks about cute boys.

One foot in childhood, one in adolescence. Sometimes sweet and playful, sometimes moody and sensitive. She’s a tween.

How do you talk to her? Here are some suggestions.

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Click here to read the full article.

Click here to read my article about communicating with pre-teen boys.

How to Talk to Your Tween Boy: Stay connected even as he exerts his independence

I have a twelve-year-old son.  Sometimes it's easy to talk with him, but sometimes, it's just not.  Here's an article I wrote about communicating with pre-teens. ----------------------

Attitude. Moodiness. An emerging desire for autonomy. A growing connection to friends that appears to coincide with a decreasing connection to parents. Any of that sound familiar? If you have a son who’s a tween—a 9- to 12-year-old—then chances are at least some of that rings a bell. And most likely, one of the challenges you’re facing at the moment is how to talk to your no-longer-a-child but not-yet-a-teenager son. Here are some suggestions.

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Click here to read the full article at mom.me.

Click here to read my article about communicating with pre-teen girls.

8 Reasons to Be Grateful for Tantrums

Here's a new post on Mom.me.  It begins like this: ---------------

Grateful?  Really?

I know what you’re thinking: "File this one under 'You can’t be serious.'”

But I am serious.

Nobody likes a tantrum: not your little one, and certainly not you. But even though we don’t enjoy our kids’ tantrums, there are plenty of reasons to be grateful for the times when they get the most upset.

For example . . .

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Click here to check out the whole piece.

The Dreaded Potty Talk: Is This a Battle I Should Fight?

Potty talk and childhood go hand-in-hand.  I can’t fully explain why words like “poop,” “butt,” and “wiener” should be so inherently and universally funny to kids, but they obviously are.  How do you decide how big of a deal to make potty talk in your house?  Here are some suggestions:

 

Decide for yourself.

You may have heard that there’s the “correct” way to handle toilet humor.  Maybe your parents had a definite approach.  Maybe they still expect you to follow their lead.  But with your own children, the first thing you need to do is think critically and thoughtfully about how you want to handle this issue (and others) in your family.  Maybe you don’t really have a problem with hearing your kids talk and giggle about pee-pee.  Or, maybe it’s really bothersome to you.  Either way, form your own opinions rather than just following what you’ve heard you should do.

 

Know that it’s normal.

If your kids think “stinky armpit” is a hysterical phrase, then they’re completely normal.  Even if you decide you don’t approve of potty talk, you don’t need to worry that something’s wrong if your children guffaw at body humor.  And admit it:  Isn’t it funny sometimes to you, as well?  I couldn’t help but crack up a bit recently when my boys and my husband were dying laughing about a library book about the planet Uranus.  (Did you know that Uranus is made up of rocks and dust, and that people on Earth can’t see Uranus without a telescope?)

 

Emphasize what's really important.  

Think about what actually matters to you.  Do you find the word “butt-head” patently offensive, or is the problem that it’s hard to use it in a kind and respectful way?  In my own home, with my kids, our rule is that all speech needs to be respectful.  I don’t happen to mind potty words if my kids are being silly or playful.  It can get annoying, sure, but I don’t necessarily see those words as worse than other childish phrases and songs  But words that hurt someone’s feelings or show disrespect—whether they have anything to do with the body or the bathroom or not—are off-limits.

 

Talk about why words matter.

Help your kids understand that they should consider the words they use not because certain words are inherently bad, but because words are powerful.  They can hurt, or heal, or please, or build up, or tear down.  Explain that you have a reason for teaching them about the terms they choose.

 

Don’t demonize the words.

You may decide that you don’t want to hear potty language.  Even (and especially) if you don’t, it’s probably not a good strategy to outlaw them completely.  Making them taboo will only increase their power.  So instead, explain to your kids, in a matter-of-fact tone, that "potty words are for the bathroom, so it's totally fine to talk about poopy butts, but go talk about them in the bathroom."

 

Set boundaries when you need to.

Even if you don’t mind some giggling about bathroom humor, the chances are that you’ll get tired of it at some point.  You don’t have to listen to jokes about bodily functions 24-7, any more than you have to listen to the playlist of kids songs any time you’re in the car. 

 

Redirect.

When you do want to set boundaries, a good way to address the issue without banning the words and thus giving them more power, is simply to lead your kids in a different direction.  When they say “butt,” you say “earlobe.”  Find other body parts (“nose hair”) and silly phrases (“shamma-lamma-ding-dong”) that can incrementally lead the conversation elsewhere.  Or, simply offer a completely different activity that can give them positive attention in another domain:  "Let's get out the frisbee!"

 

Be respectful of others’ wishes.

If you have no problem with your kids using potty talk, it’s still important to talk to them about how other families might have different rules about what’s OK to say.  Make sure your children know that certain words are fine to say at home, but that they may not be appropriate at school or at some friends' homes.  It’s actually good for kids to figure out that there are different rules in different contexts.  

 

Prioritize the relationship.

However you decide to respond to the potty talk, make sure that your relationship with your children remains the central focus.  When you laugh with them, when you explain your reasoning, and even when you set boundaries, make it all a part of a loving relationship where, regardless of how you might feel about your children and the way they are talking, you love and approve of who they are, without reservation. 

 

The original version of this article can be viewed at Mom.me.

Turn the Page on Conflict

I have a new article up at Mom.me where I talk about what to do when you have trouble letting go after you've had conflict with your child.  It starts like this: --------------

It was a typical morning before school, and we were on schedule. Until things began unraveling when I told my 8-year-old son he was pouring too much salt on his eggs. (We’re not talking a sprinkle or a light dusting. He could’ve cured a ham.)

For whatever reason, my criticism pushed an ugly button with my son, and he stormed out of the room. For the rest of our time before school, he unleashed an increasingly mean-spirited verbal assault that eventually escalated to his saying, “Mom, you are so mean. If I should evencall you a mom.”

Looking back now, I can see the humor in this line. But after the barrage of attacks, I had a hard time letting go of my anger toward my son. When I picked him up from school that afternoon, he was happy and had forgotten about the whole thing. Clearly, he hadn’t been ruminating on our conflict all day. He said, in a cheerful voice, “Can we go get some ice cream?” But I didn’t feel like taking him to get an ice cream. I was still hurt and mad.

Can you identify? Your child rages, maybe throws some verbal missiles your way, deliberately trying to hurt your feelings. Then he calms down. Moves on. All seems well from his point of view. But what if you’re not ready to turn the page?

When you fight with your sister or your spouse, you often end the conflict with apologies, new insight and deeper understanding, and then feel ready to move on. But most kids don’t consistently do this without prompting, so we’re frequently left to do some internal repair work on our own.

How can we move on? How can we let it go?

Here are five tips to help you turn the page.

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Read the rest of the piece here.

Ten Bites of a Quesadilla: Transforming Moments through Creative Discipline

Creativity allows us to transform a battle and a disconnection into an opportunity to bond, to play, to teach, and even to develop the higher parts of our kids’ brains. I don’t always achieve this lofty goal, but when I’m able to, I’m reminded of just how powerful it can be when we use our creativity to transform the moments we’re given.

Why We Should NOT Ignore a Tantrum -- or -- Where NPR’s Health Blog Missed the Boat

Several people have asked me recently about Shankar Vendantam’s post on NPR’s Health Blog, where he writes about a subject I’ve discussed a good bit: tantrums. In Vendantam’s article, he discusses a recent study that appeared in the journal Emotion, where scientists examined different toddler sounds that typify a tantrum. A couple of objections kept nagging at me when I read Vendantam’s post about Green and Potegal’s science explaining “what’s behind a temper tantrum.” Specifically, I kept wanting to hear less about how parents can “get a tantrum to end as soon as possible” (though I totally understand this desire and have felt this way during many of my own children’s tantrums), and more about how parents can be emotionally responsive and present when their kids are upset. In other words, I wanted a tantrum to be presented not only as an unpleasant experience that parents can learn to manage for their own benefit, but instead as another opportunity to make a child feel safe and loved, which would offer the added benefit that she’ll learn to better express her feelings, and reign those emotions in more quickly and appropriately in the future.

A Different Take on Spoiling

The other day a reporter asked me to respond to a few questions about spoiling, and what it means for our kids. With the holidays coming up, this seems like a pretty timely subject. Here’s how I answered the reporter’s questions about what spoiling is, and just as importantly, what it’s not. WHAT IS SPOILING? DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH MONEY SPENT? TIME? NEVER SAYING NO? ALL OF THE ABOVE?

Let’s start with what spoiling is not: Spoiling is NOT about how much love and time and attention you give your kids. You can’t spoil your children by giving them too much of yourself. In the same way, you can’t spoil a baby by holding her too much or responding to her needs each time she expresses them.

SO HOW DO WE SPOIL OUR KIDS?

Beyond “How was your day?” – Getting Your Kids to Talk After School

It’s a classic parenting dilemma, isn’t it?  How do we get our kids to talk to us? The conversation itself is even more cliché:

--How was your day?

--Fine.

--Anything interesting happen?

--Not really.

A few years ago I found myself almost literally wincing as I heard myself ask my six-year-old the “How was your day?” question as he got into the car at the pick-up circle.  It’s not that it’s a bad question, it’s just that I knew it wouldn’t encourage him to talk to me.

So why was I even asking the question?  Wasn’t there something else I could do or say or ask that might get him to offer some of the mundane morsels I hungered for when I’d been away from him for six hours while he was at school?

I realized I needed to be more creative when it came to drawing out meaty details about my kids’ school lives.  What I eventually came up with was a guessing game.

When I picked up my young son from school, I started asking him, “Tell me two things that really happened today, and one thing that didn’t.  Then I’ll guess which two are true.”

The game may lack a certain amount of challenge for you—especially when your choices include “Ms. Derrick read us a story,” “Me and Ryan spied on the girls,” and “Captain Hook captured me and fed me to the alligator”—but it can quickly become a fun game that kids look forward to.  It will not only open up their lives to you, since you get to hear about what they remember from school each day, but it can also help them get used to thinking back and reflecting on the events of their days.

Sometimes, with younger kids, you may have to adjust the game a bit.  My husband tried the guessing game with my four-year-old after preschool one day, and the best my son could come up with was, “One boy pooped in his pants, and two boys didn’t poop in their pants.”  (The answer, in case you’re stumped, was that no one pooped in their pants that particular day.)

So Scott shifted the game a bit, and made it a true-false game.  Their conversation went something like this:

--True or false:  You played with someone today.

--True.

--True or false:  A new friend.

--True.

--True or false:  The new friend is a girl.

--False.

--True or false:  The boy’s name is Horatio.

--False.

And so on.  After my husband made some headway with this discussion, he started in on activities from the school day.  “True or false:  You played on the swings today.

My young son had a great time playing the game (not to mention learning the word “false,” which he didn’t previously know), and Scott got to hear much more about the school day than he otherwise would have.

For older kids, you can just ask more specific questions, like “who did you eat lunch with today?” or “What was the hardest subject today?” or “Quiz me on a fact you learned in school today that you think I won’t be able to get right.”  And sometimes you can get them warmed up to talk by starting the conversation by telling something about your day or something you’re thinking about.

You may have one of those kids who’s eager to talk when you pick them up, and they’ll just launch into a full-blown description of their day as soon as they see you.  If not, be creative.  For most of us, it’s not that our kids don’t want to talk to us.  Sometimes they are just in the moment and can’t really remember the details immediately without some prompting.  Other times, they’ve been talking or interacting all day and they’re just tired.   Don’t force it.

It’s OK that they have a little piece of life away from you that’s all their own.  And it’s good practice for you to start getting used to their independence and not sharing every detail of their life with you since later on, they probably won’t be calling you from work each day to tell you who they ate lunch with or what the boss thought of their big presentation.

 

The Whole-Brain Child: The Opening Pages

The moments you are just trying to survive are actually opportunities to help your child thrive. At times you may feel that the loving, important moments (like having a meaningful conversation about compassion or character) are separate from the parenting challenges (like fighting another homework battle or dealing with another melt-down.) But they are not separate at all. When your child is disrespectful and talks back to you; when you are asked to come in for a meeting with the principal; when you find crayon scribbles all over your wall: these are survival moments, no question about it. But at the same time, they are opportunities—even gifts—because a “Survive Moment” is also a “Thrive Moment,” where the important, meaningful work of parenting takes place.

Surfing the Waves of an Emotional Tsunami: When Your Kid’s Upset, Connect and Redirect

Logic will do no good in a case like this until a child's right brain is responded to. You probably already know that your brain is divided into two hemispheres. The left side of your brain is logical and verbal, while the right side is emotional and nonverbal. That means that if we were ruled only by the left side of our brain, it would be as if we were living in an emotional drought, not paying attention to our feelings at all. Or, in contrast, if we were completely “right-brained,” we’d be all about emotion and ignore the logical parts of ourselves. Instead of an emotional drought, we’d be drowning in an emotional tsunami.

Clearly, we function best when the two hemispheres of our brain work together, so that our logic and our emotions are both valued as important parts of ourselves and we are emotionally balanced. Then we can give words to our emotional experiences, and make sense of them logically.

Increase the Family Fun Factor: Making a Point to Enjoy One Another

Do you ever feel like you’re spending most of your time disciplining your kids and carting them from one activity to the next, and not enough time just enjoying being with them? If you do, you’re not alone; most of us feel this from time to time. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to just have fun as a family. Yet we are hardwired for play and exploration as well as for joining with one another. In fact, “playful parenting” is one of the best ways to prepare your children for relationships and encourage them to connect with others. That’s because it gives them positive experiences being with the people they spend the most time with: their parents. Of course children need structure and boundaries and to be held accountable for their behavior, but even as you maintain your authority, don’t forget to have fun with your kids. Play games. Tell jokes. Be silly. Take an interest in what they care about. The more they enjoy the time they spend with you and the rest of the family, the more they’ll value relationships and desire more positive and healthy relational experiences in the future.

Is Over-Scheduling Really a Problem for Kids?

People talk a lot about the dangers of the over-scheduled child.  Kids doing too many activities become tired and grumpy.  They don’t have time to spend with their family.  They get burned out and begin to dislike whatever activity the parent was hoping they would embrace.  They don’t have time to just play and be kids. Before I had my own children, all of this made sense to me.  That’s why I decided that my kids would participate in only one activity at a time.  If they wanted to take a dance class, that’s all they’d do until the class was over.  If they wanted to play a sport, they wouldn’t be involved in anything else until the end of the season.  I wasn’t going to have my kids dealing with all the problems facing over-scheduled children.

That was before I had kids of my own.

Then my first son came along, and I was giddy with all the opportunities available to him, and all of his many different interests, all of which increased with each passing year.  Especially once he entered elementary school, I quickly came to see that my one-activity-at-a-time commitment was going to be tested.  My husband and I wanted him to learn piano.  He wanted to be involved in Cub Scouts with his friends from school.  Plus, it was immediately apparent that his passion was athletics.  He wanted to play every sport in season.

Piano.  Scouts.  Sports.  Add in playdates, homework, family outings, and “unstructured play time,” and how were we supposed to fit all of that in?  And he was just our first child!  We now have three, all with their own opportunities and passions.

These days, as my oldest approaches adolescence, I still believe that over-scheduling kids really is a legitimate concern.  Children can become anxious and pressured and miss out on the benefits of boredom, down time, and the freedom of childhood.  But I no longer believe that all kids shouldn’t participate in multiple activities.  My kids are involved in all kinds of things, and sometimes I do worry that they’re doing too much.

But having spent a few years trying to strike a healthy balance in terms of my kids’ activities, I now believe that “over-scheduled” can be extremely variable from one child to the next.  And one family to the next.  Most kids love to be active, and as long as it’s healthy to do so, we want to feed their passions and take advantage of good opportunities, even if it means a tighter schedule for the family.

That being said, though, here are some questions to ask yourself if you’re worried your child might be a doing a bit too much:

  • Does my child seem tired or grumpy a lot of the time?
  • Does my child show signs of being under pressure or anxious?  Is my child stressed out?
  • Is my child so busy that he or she doesn’t have unstructured time for playing, being bored, having family time, and being creative?
  • Is my child’s schedule so full that he or she doesn’t have time to just hang out with friends?
  • Are there so many activities happening that we’re too busy to eat dinner together regularly?  (You don’t have to eat every meal together, but if you’re rarely eating together, that’s a concern.)
  • Are you yourself so busy and stressed getting your kids to all their activities that a majority of your interactions with your children are reactive and impatient?

Answering “yes” to any of one of these questions should give you pause.  If you said yes more than once, then I’d recommend that you give some serious thought to whether your child is signed up for too many activities.

Notice that I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t have to do things they don’t enjoy.  You may decide that a foreign language or music class or math tutoring is something that will pay off and is in their best interest.  But, do look overall at how much your child is enjoying their days and weeks, and the emotional, physical, and mental toll that their activities take on their sleep, friendships, and happiness.  Think about how stressed you feel when you have too much on your plate, and consider things from your child’s point of view.

Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to figure out everything all at once.  Just think about one season at a time.  If the summer is coming up, then just decide about summer activities.  You can reassess when it’s time to think about the fall, then again in the winter.  Assess each new season for each child.

Here’s what it comes down to:  Is your child happy and thriving and enjoying life without a lot of stress?  If so, don’t worry too much about whether she’s over-scheduled.  If you don’t observe the above signs of over-scheduling, then most likely, she’s simply active, growing, and happy.

Does Your Discipline Ever Move From Consistent to Rigid?

There’s no question about it:  consistency is crucial when it comes to raising and disciplining our children.  Many parents I see in my office realize that they need to work on being more consistent – with bedtimes, limiting junk food, or just in general – when they interact with their kids.  But there are others who have placed such a high priority on consistency that it’s moved into a rigidity that’s not good for their kids, themselves, or their relationship. Let’s begin by getting clear on the difference between the two terms.  Consistency means working from a reliable and coherent philosophy so that our kids know what we expect of them, and what they should expect from us.  Rigidity, on the other hand, means maintaining an unswerving devotion to rules we’ve set up, sometimes without having even thought them through.  As parents, we want to be consistent, but not rigid.

Kids definitely need consistency from their parents.  They need to know what the rules are, and how we will respond if they break (or even bend) those rules.  Your reliability teaches them about cause and effect, and about what to expect in their world.  More than that, it helps them feel safe; they know they can count on you to be constant and steady, even when their internal or external worlds are chaotic.  In this way, we provide them with safe containment when they’re exploding because they want an extra scoop of ice cream.

So how do we maintain consistency without crossing over to rigidity?  Well, let’s start by acknowledging that there are some non-negotiables.  For instance, under no circumstances can you let your toddler run through a busy parking lot, or your older child swim without supervision or get into a car with a driver who’s been drinking.

However, this doesn’t mean you can’t ever make exceptions, or even turn a blind eye from time to time when your child misbehaves.  For instance, if you have a rule about no toys in a restaurant, but your four-year-old has just received a new puzzle game that he’ll play with quietly while you have dinner with another couple, that might be a good time to make an exception to your rule.  Or if your daughter has promised that she’ll finish her homework before dinner, but her grandparents show up to take her on an outing, you might negotiate a new deal with her.

The goal, in other words, is to maintain a consistent-but-flexible approach with your kids, so that they know what to expect from you, but they also know that at times, you will be thoughtfully considering all the factors involved.

The biggest deciding factor when it comes to discipline is what you’re hoping to accomplish with your child.  Remember, the point of discipline is to teach, not to give consequences.  If consequences help you teach the lesson you’re wanting to teach, then great.  But don’t be rigid on this, applying the same consequence to all infractions.  Look for other ways to accomplish your goal, and to effectively teach what you want your kids to learn.

For example, try a “do-over.”  Instead of immediately offering a punishment for speaking to you disrespectfully, say something like, “There’s a much more respectful way to talk to each other.  I want you to try that again. You can tell me how you’re feeling, but use respectful words and tone.”  Do-overs allow a child a second chance to handle a situation well.  It gives them practice doing the right thing.  And that’s often much more beneficial than a time-out.

Or, if you do decide to go the consequences route, be creative.  Saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t fix the broken Buzz Lightyear nightlight that was thrown in anger.  An apology note and using allowance money to buy a new nightlight might teach more.  Try asking them to brainstorm with you:  “What can you do to make it right?”

The point is that in your efforts to be consistent, remain flexible to other alternatives.  Kids need to learn about right and wrong.  But as an adult, sometimes you need to be able to see the gray areas, and not just the black and white.  Make decisions based not on an arbitrary rule you’ve previously set down, but on what’s best for your kids and your family.