Having a fearful and worrying kind of day.
I have a loved one visiting doctors, catching up on scary diagnoses.
I have an almost 11 year old visiting the middle school that she will attend next year (Mom, is this shirt ok?)
I have a 7 year old on the Metro, headed downtown to DC for a field trip.
I have a 4 year old in a school bus, in the rain, ALSO headed downtown for a field trip.
My worry was emanating off of me like waves this morning, every move touched with its own anxiety.
“Mom, what is wrong with you?” my middle asks.
I stand up, sigh, and smile.
“Ah, well. You know…getting ahead of myself, Louise. Getting ahead of myself.”
Isn’t that what the worry is?
Sometimes fear is right on the money: “That alley is dark and I am alone and I should go down another street.”
Often, fear is whispering about things that will probably never happen: “Buses crashing, metros bombed, mean big middle school kids, cancer everywhere…”
The thing is, it COULD happen.
I know a woman who works with a man. A father.
Yesterday, a plane fell on his house and his wife and two out of three of his children are dead.
It is him and his one remaining child now.
He went to work, like you and me.
And now, almost his entire family is gone.
All that worrying I do?
It HAPPENED TO HIM.
Because I cannot do both.
You cannot LIVE in this life…see what is front of you, love your people, smooch your dog, see the bright pink jacket, and smile at your neighbor…you cannot do these things if you are kidnapped by worry.
To honor this man and lost family, I am going to be right HERE.
Do I have concerns? Yes, I am not a robot.
But I can see them, acknowledge them, and KEEP LIVING.
How many times have you said that to your children? Once, twice, hundreds of times?
Children join us in our beds during times of real need. Maybe your young one was really sick for a couple days and needed extra love; maybe there has been a change in the family (new sibling, new move, new school, etc.), and the child has been feeling nervous and needing attention. Maybe there have been nightmares, or their imaginations have gotten the better of them. All you know that is that it has been a month, you are being kicked in the ribs every night and don’t sleep for more than an hour straight. And forget about intimacy with your partner!
And beyond the sleeping hardships, you have the nighttime drama. You bathe them, you read to them, you snuggle, you tuck them in and POP. There they are! In the hallway. In the family room. In the kitchen. Needing “one more drink” or “one more hug” or “It’s too dark” or “I think I see something” or “If you get into bed with me, then I will sleep…”
Hours and hours pass, and your anger increases. You have things to do. And more than that, you desperately want to be ALONE. Your jaw clenches, your hand may grasp their upper arm a little too tightly; you may begin to threaten. You yell. You really yell. The child cries. The baby wakes up. The night has gone to pot. Meanwhile, your partner is hiding somewhere in the house.
Or, rather than yell, your anger gives way to desperation and hopelessness. You give up and get into bed with the child, or allow them to come in with you. You stare at the ceiling, wondering, “Will I ever be a normal adult again?”
Oh, I’ve been there.
What are you supposed to do?
You know the quote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players.” You, my friend, are involved in some pretty serious theater, and you are performing with a professional! In order to exit this drama gracefully, you need to decide to do something different.
Firstly, you need a plan. When I work with my clients, I customize each bedtime routine for what works for them, but most plans have the same key elements:
1) You solve the problem at another hour (that is nowhere close to bedtime). Tell the child he or she will be sleeping in their own bed, and that you are going to help them to do it! You will create a bedtime chart, and this can become a fun and creative activity between parent and child! Display the chart where the child can see it, and let them know we are going to stick to it!
2) You increase the special one-on-one time, but NOT DURING BEDTIME. During the day, after you come home from work, in the mornings: start spending some one-on-one time with your child. As this becomes more and more of a habit, your child trusts that you are available and will start to go to bed more smoothly. When a child receives positive attention for positive behaviors, those behaviors are likely to repeat. When the child receives attention for popping out of bed, whining, crying, begging and threatening, THOSE behaviors are likely to repeat. So, fill that attention cup up when the time is right!
3) Get ready for the nighttime. Have your partner on board and ready to help. Mentally, you need to get ready for a potentially long night. Keep calm, do your routine chart, and then keep putting lovely child into bed. Don’t talk, don’t make too much eye contact and don’t interact too much. Bigger don’ts? Don’t huff around, don’t become angry, don’t eye-roll and don’t glare. So, yes you need to be calm. This is why you need your partner to step in; you are going to need a break. The first thing in the AM, you go into their bedroom and say, “YOU DID IT! YOU SLEPT IN YOUR BED!” There is lots of love and hugs and celebration.
4) BUT! This could be hard. You may quit. You may give up. You may have to start again the next night. IT IS OKAY. Really. Life is short; you don’t have to choose this battle if you are not ready. If it is causing MORE fights, more drama and more strife, then STOP. Your child WILL sleep in his own bed, one day. Of this, I am certain. Do you have the right to your personal boundaries, to a childless night, to your own bed? Yes. But please do not sacrifice your relationship with your child to establish that boundary. Love, patience and repetition…keep it up and your child will sleep in their own bed.
Photo Source (top right): Thinkstock/Pixland
With summer fast approaching, a chief complaint among many parents is worrying about boredom!
“My children are always complaining about how bored they are! We have millions of toys and activities, but if our children have 15 minutes free minutes, they are lost. I am dreading summer!”
As a parent coach with young kids myself, I know it can be tough to allow your children to be bored. And I also know that the answer is as simple and as it is difficult.
You have to allow your child to be bored.
But how? “How do I allow my child to be bored?” you ask. Well, you just do. You have to not get sucked into the whining and complaining. You have to not get sucked into, “All of my toys are stupid” or “I have plaaaaayed that game a hundred times, mooooom.”
To begin, start small with allowing boredom!
“You have time between 1-3 PM to find something to do. I can give your one or two ideas. Let me know.”
Then you have to hold on for dear life. Your child is going to follow you around, whining, crying, and muttering about his or her extreme boredom. As the parent, you will have thoughts like, “This child has everything, how can he possibly be bored?” Or, “I work and work and work and still, these children are sucking me dry. I NEED A BREAK.” Or “I never bothered my parents like this when I was younger.”
As these thoughts cycle in and out, you must simply breathe. Rest-assured that as you weather this storm, the child will eventually tire and find something to do. The more you have interfered in the past, the longer this process may take, but it is worth it. Why?
When children are bored, their creative juices start to flow again. The BBC recently published an article citing the importance of the boredom-creativity link.
“The academic, who has previously studied the impact of television and videos on children’s writing, said: “When children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. The time they spend on these things has increased.
“But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them.”
It is this sort of thing that stimulates the imagination, she said, while the screen “tends to short circuit that process and the development of creative capacity’.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21895704
The irony is that the more we don’t allow our children to be bored, the more accustomed they become to being entertained. The more entertained the children are, the deeper the brain habits are ingrained. Their young brains are literally conditioned to constant entertainment, whether it is from a parent or caregiver or technology!
Look at this summer as an opportunity to break your children from this cycle! Go on technology fasts and, while I love enrichment activities, think of holding a firm boundary on only one or two.
Stay strong, don’t give into the whining, and watch what happens. Creativity will bloom before you know it!
So, your sweet little one is turning two!
You have been through the ringer with feeding and crawling and learning to walk…and CONGRATS! You have a sweet two year old. Everyone says, “terrible two’s,” and many parents can dread this stage, but I think it is an amazing time of growth, excitement, sweetness, and fun!
So, what do you need to know about your two year old to make this stage easier?
I had been in a nail salon (run-of-the-mill, nothing too high-end), and there were a slew of little girls in there. Most of them were whining, some of them were sitting happily with their mothers, a couple were staring into iPhones, playing a game while their mother stole a couple of quiet moments.
I glanced down at my Us Weekly, acutely aware that the cover was embarrassing and the content was even worse. It was, I confess, a guilty pleasure, and I could feel the seven year old next to me stealing glances at it. I sighed and felt annoyed. I had hired a babysitter, had taken the time to get my nails done, and I felt as if I were in a little girl’s daycare. A little nail daycare.
I hate starting thoughts with, “When I was younger…” I know that it is a lazy way to make people feel badly; an eyebrow-arched way of making people feel stupid and out-of-step. But I had the thought anyway:
“When I was younger, going to the salon was a special experience and often a turning point for young women becoming teens. Why are these mothers bringing four, five, six years olds here? How is anything special? Earned? Appreciated? And what about the chemicals? The importance placed on beauty?”
Some moms on my Facebook page felt attacked by my assertion that little girls should not be getting their nails done in salons. I get it. They do this special thing with their daughters and were feeling good about it. They were having a nice afternoon, sharing a moment, and I come along and pooh-pooh it. They felt defensive; defensive of their hard work during the week, their decisions to do the best they can, their decisions to have fun and connect to their girls, to get that sparkle in the eye.
I get it. I do. I love getting that sparkle; I love making my girls happy.
And I am not changing my mind.
Little girls should not regularly be in salons, getting manicures and pedicures. Fully acknowledging that I don’t think you are a bad mom if you do this, nor do I think (at least, I hope) that you are growing an intolerable brat, allow me to offer some reasons why I think little girls should stay out of the salons:
1) CONNECTION. When it comes to little girls, you don’t need strangers and salons to connect. Setting up a mini-salon at home, giving each other hand and foot massages, picking from some colors at home, chatting, listening to music, having a bit of tea, some snacks…this is more connective for little girls. Why? Young children want, nay CRAVE, your undivided attention and in case you haven’t noticed, undivided attention is in short supply these days. What with our i-devices chirping at us, crazy work hours, over-scheduled days and sleepless nights, sitting and quietly doing your nails with your daughter is nothing short of a miracle.
When your eyes meet hers, her young brains light up with that special attention. The brain releases oxytocin (the love chemical), and this chemical continues to attach the both of you to each other more deeply. This love chemical helps your daughter feel physically and emotionally close to you, which also affects her behaviors. Your daughter feels safe and wanted by you, so her behavior becomes more relaxed, easier, calmer, more settled.
Her brain does not release oxytocin with the nail technician. Why? Your daughter is not attached to her, nor does she want to be attached to her. Your young daughter wants you.
“Oh,” you think, “I cannot do that in my house. Too many other kids, too many other things to do.” Well, pack it up and go the backyard or the park. If you can sit in a salon, you can do this. If you bristle at the thought of doing this, if you feel angry, put-out, exhausted, and like you may to punch me in the face, let me lovingly and gently suggest the second reason why I think little girls should not be salons:
2) SELF-CARE. I think mothers should have an hour to themselves to get their nails done, for Pete’s sake. I don’t buy this, “It’s relaxing for me and fun for her!” bit. Fun for your daughter, yes. Relaxing for you? No. Mothers deserve and need to sit alone, be taken of, and have their darn feet rubbed! ALONE.
So you work out of the home. So what? An hour away from your family is not going to kill anyone.
So, your child wants to be with you? Of course she does. So, go do something with her and then take care of yourself.
I am watching mothers cram it all in, and it is not fair to these mothers. It is too much. If you want your nails done, go get them done. If you feel guilty, ask yourself why and begin there. If, though, you cannot allow yourself a moment of relaxation, you have to take a look at that. And if you say, “I have no time, I don’t have help, I have to bring her,” take a look at your excuses and say, “Why am I okay with putting myself last?”
3) LITTLE GIRLS and BEAUTY. I don’t think one manicure in a salon, one make-up experience, (one of anything!) creates a parenting problem. My own daughters have celebrated birthdays in salons, gotten their nails done for wedding parties, prettied-up and modeled in the mirror. I don’t think that that experience “grows them up” too fast, nor does it make them overly body aware, ruining their self-esteem, etc. I do think that regular exposure to this type to activity could lend itself to a lifestyle that grows children up, too quickly.
Coffee drinks, being given expensive technology, clothing, watching movies and shows that are developmentally inappropriate; it is easy to allow our young daughters to become in charge and take the “lead” when it comes to beauty and appearance. Mothers are important role models when it comes to health and beauty, and there is an unhealthy relationship of equality when everyone is sitting in the pedicure chairs. I think it is our job to set the expectations and keep our eye on the larger picture. Again, one manicure does not a brat make, but mothers need to be watchful of who is leading the way and setting the beauty bar in the relationship
4) EARNING THE REWARD. As unpopular as this may sound, my daughters have not earned the treat it is to get their nails done. My daughters can learn that there are places that just belong to hard-working women. A place where we can open our US Weekly, our novels, surf the net, close our eyes, and let go. My young daughters should not be there. One day, they will.
They will have worked a long day. Maybe they had folded the laundry, cleaned the dishes, wiped the butts, vacuumed under the table, ran the meeting at work, cooked the dinner, had sex with their partners, ran the three miles, and then! Then, they will want to sit and have their nails done. Alone.
Yes, I know, that in the pantheon of issues that truly plague childhood and threaten children, nail salons hardly rank. Yet, I would argue that, like hiring private tutors for children who don’t need it, like pushing kids into activities they don’t love and possess no skill, like giving children iPhones at three and iPads at four years of age, having young girls in nail salons depicts a change in our culture and parenting. As parents of young children, we cannot toss off that this is other parents’ issues, other parents’ shortcomings, other parents’ worries. I want us to simply think about these decisions, look at where it is leading our children, and proactively decide how we feel about that.
I have a good friend, Chrisy. She was my first parent educator at PEP (the Parent Encouragement Program), and it is not hyperbole to say that she changed my life. Not only is she an excellent parent educator, she is also a loving and great mom to three children. And since two of her children are older than mine, I often look to her for guidance and reassurance.
She has given me so many valuable nuggets of wisdom to me over the years, and one of these valuable nuggets came at a crucial time.
My eldest child was six and a half, and the eye-rolling, sighing, and outright sassiness and rudeness was beginning to pick up speed. My formerly respectful, sweet, even-tempered, and compliant girl was turning into a teenager before my eyes.
I was telling Chrisy about the burgeoning sassiness with exasperation and fatigue. She looked me in the eye and told me “Nip it in the bud.” “What does mean?” I asked her.
“Don’t wait and chalk it up to normal developmental stuff. She is not four years old anymore.”
I was allowing it to slide and I was trying to wait it out. I was hopefully (and lazily) thinking it would get better. What was happening was a habit of her disrespectful behavior and my anger….the cycle was going round and round.
So, what exactly does “nip it in the bud” mean when a parent educator says it to another parent educator?
Here are a couple of steps to consider:
1) Everything must be grounded in love and empathy. This is an attitude switch from “this child is trying to make me angry,” to “this child wants my attention and her misbehavior is working.” Love and empathy are the foundations that allow you to do this hard work. If you are too angry, you cannot complete these steps. It will turn into punishment and shame, hence making everything worse.
2) You call a meeting with your older child. In this meeting, you let him know that you have noticed these behaviors and that they are increasing in frequency and duration. You emphasize that this is not okay in your family; this is not how people speak to one another. You say, “from the now on, if you speak to me like this, we will leave wherever we are. I will not warn you or lecture you. We will simply leave.”
3) When it the rudeness happens (and it will), you must must must must stick to your word and leave. If you do not leave, you are teaching your child that your words and intentions have no meaning behind them. The child will be left feeling in charge (which, truly, is an awful feeling for the child).
4) As important as leaving is doing it kindly and quietly. No whisper-yelling, no spanking, no “what did I tell you was going to happen?” No “you are embarrassing me and this whole family!” Just usher the child away, looking straight ahead. The child will beg for another chance…stay silent. The child may try to hit you…keep yourself safe and keep going. The child may cry and really start to scream…keep going. Don’t negotiate. Don’t give in and don’t shame the child. As the parent, remember to breath and keep your focus. This will be extraordinarily difficult at first, but repetition will bring ease.
5) Finally, after the child calms down and you feel relaxed and positive, hug them. Tell them you love them. DO NOT LECTURE. If the child cries or says sorry, say, “I forgive you and I know it will be better next time.” You may not feel confident when you say this, but say it anyway. You have to be the person who believes that it can be better; your child needs you to do this.
6) Congratulate yourself for doing this hard work. You will be emotionally and physically exhausted, but you held your boundary kindly and firmly. This is the work of parenting, and you will be rewarded (just not when you think!) Plan something fun and kind to yourself while you are doing this kind of work; you’ve earned it.
His name? Mr. Nobody. His favorite activity? Smoking…really. Neither my husband nor I smoked, and Sophia did not spend much time around people who did smoke. Disturbing, right?
For months, we watched my daughter sit and wait. “Sophia, what are you doing?” we would ask. “Mr. Nobody is on a smoke break…he is coming back soon.” My husband and I would smile and nod then turn around and look at each other in horror. Our daughter had willingly created a friend who smoked, and even worse, he wouldn’t play with her. Ugh.
I decided to take a “wait and see” approach (more on this later), and after a couple of weeks, Sophia dumped Mr. Nobody, and we moved on to bigger and better imaginary friends.
So, what’s the story with these imaginary friends? Some parents worry (kids can become very attached, creating elaborate plans and scenarios that involve their fictional buddy), some parents lose their patience (ever not been able to leave the house for an appointment unless the plastic pork chop was found?) and some parents totally buy in and support the fantasy full-tilt.
So, let’s break it down with a quick Q & A, shall we?
Q: Are imaginary friends normal? And at what age do most kids create an imaginary friend?
A: Not only is it normal, but imaginary friends are also the signs of a healthy and developing brain. This creativity is only the beginning of what our children can do with their brains! Imaginary friends can begin as early as three years of age and last until well into elementary school, seven or eight years of age. There even seems to be some scientific correlation between imaginary friends, later ages and the fiction-writer’s brain! Cool, right?
Q: My child has odd imaginary friends, like pieces of plastic foods or a Lego man who has no arms. Is this okay?
A: Yes! When the object becomes an active part of imaginative play and is not needed simply for sleep or comfort (a lovey), your child has applied their wonderful imagination to it…and it is a very important object now! Your child may ask the object about its opinion and thoughts on things like meals, clothing choices, etc., and the object may hate apples. This is normal…if not sometimes irritating. These same “opinions” can also be applied to the friend whom we cannot see!
Photo Source: Thinkstock/Hemera
Q: I feel like our imaginary friend is hijacking our family! The friend has to sit in a certain seat at the table, needs a booster seat in the car and is demanding his own book at bedtime. To what extent do I need to keep this up? When is enough, ENOUGH?
A: I tell parents to pick their battles on this front. Firstly, unless your instinct is telling you that there is something amiss about the imaginary friend, just accept it. Secondly, recognize that this is a phase and will pass. In fact, if you allow yourself to have some fun with it, it is a great phase (unlike tantrums). If you feel as if your child is manipulating the family dynamics with the friend, simply say, “I am willing to read you eachthis book, and then you are going to have to share another book with your friend.” Or try something like, “I am willing to put this chair next to you, and you are going to have to share your dinner with your friend. I am not creating another plate.” Whatever you do, don’t make a big fuss over your boundaries. State them, in the simplest and easiest-to-understand terms, and leave it at that. And when in doubt, meet creativity with creativity! Serve the friend an imaginary meal and ask your child if he sees the green pizza, covered with yellow beans and pink pepperoni!
Q: What if my child argues with her imaginary friend? What do I do?
A: Ah, yes…the disagreeable imaginary friend. Back to Sophia and Mr. Nobody…I started to notice that she was waiting for him and he was being quite rude. It was an interesting opportunity to talk about friendships and create some solutions. I asked her, “What would you do if your friend did this at school? What are some other toys we can play with?” I started to move her away from the waiting and towardproactive behaviors. Likewise, you can use imaginary friends to model some great behaviors, like sharing and asking questions about feelings. I also love to have imaginary friends teach use more about etiquette (nothing worse than a friend who doesn’t say please or thank you, or will not pass the ball!)
So, embrace the imaginary friend! It is relatively harmless, fun and above all, normal. Hopefully, your imaginary friend isn’t a rude smoker…
For more info, go to these websites:
Photo Source: (upper right) Thinkstock/iStockphoto
While 6 PM is often a tough hour for many small children, there are some easy steps every parent can take to have dinner go from frenzied to fun.
1) Recognize that kids don’t typically have much of an appetite for dinner. They have front-loaded their calories (which is good), and are not interested in your meatloaf at 6 PM. It isn’t personal. The less personally you take the misbehavior, the more calm you will be as a parent.
2) Have the children help you meal-plan. They can pick a protein, a carbohydrate and a veggie and create a dinner one night a week, or more! The more invested the child is in the food, the more likely they are to eat it.
3) And speaking of planning, have the children help you make the dinner. Tearing and washing lettuce, stirring, mashing…these are all tasks children can perform, from even very young ages. The sense of pride a child has when they have contributed works meal-time miracles!
4) Keep the focus on the family and chatting, not the food. Ask each other interesting questions (“If you were a color, which one would you be?” or “If you had to live in one room in the house, which one?” or “Which super-power would you want and why?”) Questions like this spur interesting conversations (“What did you do in school today?” is not an interesting question!)
5) Do not count “bites.” “Three more bites of peas,” is food-policing and, unless your child has medical issues, this is not a way to spend a meal. Notice when your child tries something: “I see you tried your peas! Delicious, right?” Encouraging the behavior you want to see will get you further, especially in the long run.
6) Do not offer dessert as a reward for “finishing dinner.” This makes children sweets-obsessed and turns you into the food police again. A good policy? Dessert is offered Friday and Saturday nights and the children can eat it whenever they want during the meal. Take the power away from the dessert by simply giving it to them early and twice a week. Otherwise, no sweets during the week.
7) Most importantly, remember that dinner is a time for the whole family to come together, share, laugh and simply enjoy each other. As parents, try not to get mired down in the food choices and number of bites. Stay positive, stay smiling and truly try to enjoy their company. You will be surprised how quickly the children will follow your lead!
Photo Sources: Thinkstock/iStockphoto (upper right) and Thinkstock/Photodisc (bottom)
Imagine you are with extended family, out to a special dinner. Or there is a group play date at the park with lots of parents around. There’s a birthday party where tons of family and friends gather. Either way, you’re in a very public place and your child has decided to have a meltdown — in a big way. Hitting, screaming, throwing things, it isn’t pretty.
A public tantrum is one of the most embarrassing events for parents. What can be annoying and irritating at home is gut-wrenching and horrifying in public. As parents, we start to feel instantly judged by others.
No one else’s children are behaving this way. Everyone is waiting for me to do something here. I look like I am not in control of my own child.
It is this pressure, this embarrassment, this shame that makes it very difficult to parent well in these moments.
Our brains are screaming: This is unacceptable. I must punish this child. This child must learn a lesson.
It is in these public moments that you can only do two things:
1) Get out of the public eye.
With the situation going from bad to worse, the only thing you can do is get out of dodge. If you can go home, go home. If you must stay in the vicinity, then go to the car. If you don’t have a car, go for a walk. Just get out! As soon as you leave, your temperature will start to go down and you are less likely to have your own tantrum. When the eyes are off of you and the child, you can start to breathe, calm yourself, and start to be a positive presence for the child.
2) No punishments, lectures, threats, and as little physical contact as possible
Your child’s brain has short-circuited. When they are in a full-blown tantrum, language is not getting through to them. No lessons will be learned, nothing will be reversed, and the best you can do is to wait the tantrum out. As well as the child not being able to listen and receive, you are not usually in a loving and calm place to speak or act. When you feel publically humiliated, you are more likely to lash out, feeling shame and hurt. Sometimes as parents, we simply need to wait.
Parents often ask me whether they should stay near the child or go into another room. Some children need for the parent to just sit on the sidewalk and wait. Some children want the parent to hold them and hug them. If walking away from a child sends them further into the tantrum, then stay close. If you feel like staying close is making it worse, give them space. You know your child best, so do what is best for them and for you. And as always, if simply being near them makes you feel angrier and possibly violent, then find a safe way to get away from your child.
When this public tantrum has passed (and you have sufficiently cooled down), you can look back at the incident more objectively. Was your child getting sick? Were they hungry? Was it naptime? Were they bored? When you are out again, how can you change the course? Or was it simply a young child being…a young child? Children throw tantrums.
It is that time of year again! School is starting to wrap up and as a parent, you may find yourself wanting to give the teachers something special. But before you make your best cookies or fudge, let’s think about what the teachers really want or need!
I am a parent coach now, but I spent almost six years as a teacher. I have seen gifts come and go, and here is truth: I was grateful for every single gift. Yes, even the “World’s Best Teacher” mugs. Yet, looking back (and seeing my childrens’ teachers now), I know that some gifts aboslutely stand out. So, here is a short list of some great gift ideas (and a couple of gifting no-no’s!)
Whatever you give, be sure to include a personal note and give a big hug (if the teacher is the hugging type!)