To Stand or Not to Stand

Seems like our nation’s struggle on the Kaepernick/Nike/NFL/Flag controversy doesn’t belong on a parenting blog site. However, it got me thinking as I’ve been reading and listening to the buzz the last few days and on the anniversary of 9-11, I have decided that it is a parenting maze that has a lot of room for family interaction.

Just for the record, I very clearly separate in my mind the difference between politics and my love of my country. I have ALWAYS stood for the flag, even at parades where I was sitting on the curb or in a lawn chair, no matter who the president was or if I liked him or not. I don’t see the flag as a representation of a particular person, or social conflict. I see it as the one thing that represents our country and the ideals that should give us hope, when we feel like there is none, that it represents our hope of doing better even when we’re struggling as a nation. I’m not sure when the flag turned into the president, or racism or sexism or anti anything. It was supposed to be for the unification of our people, which has and will continue to, change over time. We’re not all going to be on the same side of issues, but we can be on the side of one America, diverse in ideas and people and socialization and we will each give up something and possibly even be devastated at our loss, but there will be an intact base of process, to achieve change, social justice, representation and human rights. It may not look like we want it to look, it may not happen on our time line, but no matter what side of the political fence you are on, no one gets everything they want, but we usually get a compromise.  Change takes time, because it needs to be thought out carefully and carried out carefully. Not everything needs to be changed. We often throw the baby out with the bathwater. So our process is slow. One side screams one thing, the other side screams back. It’s us not the flag. Both sides are represented by the flag. It is a reminder, that we are one nation. Currently we are at war with each other. As I scroll by  the 9-11 reminders and watch the hurricane warnings intensify for Hurricane Florence, I mentally note that these are coming from both sides of the fence. I know, that when Hurricane Florence smashes into our coast, we will be united in thought that it’s devastating. All political parties will start donating, helping, sending food, water etc. And then we will argue and fight about The Red Cross, FEMA and our presidents words. Some of that is good, but let’s pull together and send messages of hope. Fly our flags and have some grace and save the finger pointing and hatred until our infrastructure has a chance to breathe. In the midst of a disaster is not the time to fuel a fire. Don’t like Red Cross? Find another source. Love the Red Cross? Donate. Mad because FEMA ran out of water? Figure out why and help out.  Guess who is running and working for all the entities–local, state and federal? Human beings-flawed, broken, exhausted, scared human beings. I’m sitting from my little room, sheltered, warm, and safe not in the midst of life and death. I can’t finger point and wag at anyone. I will do what I can to help. But I won’t spew hate for fellow humans, I won’t blame a political party. I will support conferences, hearings, debates. I will vote for the change I want. Speak eloquently, specifically, and passionately, but leave the hate behind.

Now what does this all have to do with parenting? Your kids are watching you. They are listening to you. Your behavior is being scrutinized. They hear the tone of your voice. They feel the stress in your body. Fear not. Fear doesn’t help move us forward. The root of almost all anger is fear. When we are fearful, we respond in anger. Sometimes that’s good. Like when we think we’re going to die, we get angry enough to fight back. But sometimes, our anger brings us down back into our fear and it’s a pretty screwed up cycle.  Fear. Anger. Fear Anger. Fear. Anger. We’re stuck and that is what our kids see. What they need to see and hear are calm conversations. Reactions that are not angry outbursts, but rational conversations as to why or why not you feel the way you do. Talk to them about why and what you are doing about it. Point them in the direction of change…voting…writing…calling…your family values. Teach kids, that family members may not all agree, but we can still love one another. “We may not choose to go to Aunt Sally’s party because it’s not a good environment for us, but we still love her and will have her over for a game night.” Don’t cut off family members unless they are truly toxic and will not respect your family. Then, bring out the machete! We need to learn to agree to disagree. “I know you feel differently than I do, and we won’t change each other’s mind, so can we not talk about this anymore and agree to disagree? Because I still really love your lasagna!!” There are things to love about each of us. It’s just really hard sometimes. Your kids need to see that you forgive, love, respect, show kindness and accept your “enemies”, even though you disagree, so that they can trust you with their differences. That will be an important dynamic as you both grow.  And if you do have to cut someone close from your family, make sure, in kid friendly language and without a lot of extra details,  explain to them why you are doing it.

I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind. I want families to be aware of their reactions and actions. We can always argue and do the “Yes, but…” back and forth. But usually, neither of us wants that…I will always stand for the flag, especially if I don’t like our president, our government or our recent statements, because it represents hope to me. A hope that we can vote for a change. Colin can do what he wants. Nike can do what they want. We can respond the way we want. That is what the flag is for. That’s why I’ll stand. People die wearing this flag.  Yes, flawed, broken people that make huge mistakes just like me. Love your people, don’t hate them.

Sorry, Not Sorry


Kindness and compassion are learned, modeled and lived.


I’ve been reading and listening to the new great debate in parenting. Do you “make” a child apologize when they’re not sorry or not? The trend seems to be, no. If they don’t feel it, then you don’t “make” them do it. When you’re old school and have seen lots of social changes over the years impact cultural changes, you begin to form opinions that aren’t popular, because, well, you’re old school and therefore irrelevant. So here I go AGAIN, with an old, outdated concept…teaching your child to apologize, when they don’t feel it. And here’s why.

I will agree, to some extent, it might feel like one is teaching their child to be less than authentic to apologize when they don’t feel it. I get that. However, there are certain social norms that make socialization within a community possible. Basic manners, have been a cornerstone of western civilization for centuries.  One of the first manners we teach our children is the “please” and thank you’s”  Believe me an 18 month old does not “FEEL” like saying “Pease” when trying to get that first cup of milk in the morning. What they FEEL like is saying “Give me that dang cup of milk NOW”!!!  But we dutifully tell them “Say please”. And we should. It is what our polite culture says to indicate something less than a demand and more of a request. It’s commonly understood as polite. We hand our toddler a cup of milk and they greedily grab it and we say “Say thank you.” And they dutifully supply “Tank you” or something akin to that. I have watched several people, who don’t think apologies are necessary, require their child to say please and thank you. Let me just say, they are doing the right thing even though their child doesn’t “feel” it.

And so the next step jets onto the scene. It happens before anyone can see it coming. The 2 year old whacks another 2 year old over the head with the coveted toy. Whoa. Neither one of them feels particularly sorry. They don’t know how to feel that way. It’s not in the natural set of feelings of 2 year olds. The hitter just wants the hit-ee to knock it off. Whether one is taking the toy out of the hand of the other or one of them is toy hoarding, it really doesn’t matter. It’s an opportunity to BEGIN teaching them what to SAY and what to do…feelings will follow. Feelings take time to sort out.

Besides apologies, kids need to learn how to help. I don’t mean take a first aid/cpr class, I mean the simple things like helping friends up off the ground, helping them get adult help,a drink of water, helping them feel better. We are now teaching compassion. As a culture, can we use more compassion? I think so. Most of us want to help. We want to be solutions, but we need to learn how to do that. Apologies are no different. Because saying we’re sorry means we may have been less than what we had hoped to be, we tend to avoid them or we qualify them.  “I’m sorry you feel hurt.” That’s not an apology, that’s an attempt a qualify for us something someone else felt so we don’t have to take responsibility for the result of what we said. Perhaps, if we acknowledge and explain, we would eventually be able to be more authentic. (I know I’m getting wordy here, but bear with me) So what if we said, “I am sorry that my words hurt you. I didn’t mean for that to happen. I was angry (sad, frustrated, scared, confused) and I said things that hurt you and I am sorry. That feels very different and more accurate than “I’m sorry you feel hurt”.

One of the first steps is explaining to kids “This is what we do when we’ve hurt someone either accidentally or on purpose. We tell them we are sorry and ask them how can we help.” It’s not a matter of feeling. It’s a matter of teaching and of understanding why we do it. We also model for them the practice and art of apologies and repentance. The feeling comes with practice and understanding. I also believe that we need to teach kids to actually say “I am sorry.” and not just “Sorry.” Adding the “I” means we take responsibility. Just flippantly saying “Sorry” isn’t really teaching them the true meaning of an apology. If we don’t begin the process, the feelings will not follow. Most feelings come with identifying and understanding.

Sociopaths, narcissists, psychopaths lack many emotions except anger and self indulgence and self importance. They lack the feelings of others.  No one taught them about how to  see feelings in others. This is why we teach and identify feelings. We teach them so that one day they will feel them and acknowledge them.  Most kids feel anger, frustration and even jealousy. They will also express these in less than socially acceptable ways. We can help them identify “I can see that you’re angry, tell me what happened.” We identify the feeling and then we model compassion.

Let’s face it. We all have to do things we don’t want to do. We all have feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, fear and confusion and we are not at our best when we are in the midst of those feelings. Helping kids make amends, accept responsibility for their actions and see the different ways they can affect others will grow them into responsible, caring, compassionate adults. The next time the opportunity presents itself, show your child the gift of apologizing.



And They’re Off!

People say “They grow up so fast!”and you don’t really believe them. They keep you up all night, they need your attention every minute, they drain your bank account, they need school supplies,  the lessons and the laundry! Oh, the laundry! Mountains of it. They’ll never grow up! And before you know it, you’re buying dorm supplies. You thought field trip fees were hefty. Now you’re writing the biggest check you’ve ever written. Pay to the Order Of The University of Grow the Heck Up!! But wait.That can’t be. She was just born yesterday. You just bought him his first box of crayons! It can’t be college already. As a parent it’s the beginning of the end…

I’ve said before we’re not raising kids, we’re raising adults. I know it’s hard to think that way, especially at 2:00 am the day after you get home from the hospital. But raising kids has become a contest of how much we can do for them. We send them to camps, schools, classes and lessons. We have insanely young camps for sports, music and academics. Birthday parties rival weddings. Waiting lists for preschools start before they are born. Not that any of this is wrong, but we forget that being an adult isn’t just about those things. It’s about handling disappointments. It’s about managing a tight budget. It’s about accepting the “no”. It’s about being accountable for your actions. It’s about being truthful. It’s about commitment. It’s about getting back up when life throws you down. And we don’t have camps for those skills. That’s on us.

My niece wrote a piece for her college online magazine. She hits the nail on the head when she advises high school kids:  “College is a time in your life where you need to learn how to fend for yourself, and you can’t do that if your mom is in the bedroom next to yours. Being thrown into situations that you have to handle on your own is part of becoming an adult.”

Helicopter Parenting” creeps up on us. We don’t see it coming. It’s subtle at first. Hardly a thought. It begins benignly by just checking the backpack, checking on the homework, then morphs into packing the backpack, packing the lunch, taking the blame, writing the note to the teacher, “touching up” the diorama or science project, then emailing the professor and finally arranging a make up exam for your college freshman who spent too much time playing World of Warcraft and could not get up for the exam because, after all, the exam was at 8:00 am and the class was normally at 10:00 am and she’s just not used to getting up that early! Seem like a run on sentence? Well actually, it’s a run on Helicopter Parent in full on hover! It’s real. It’s easy to cross that line. You’re spending a lot of money. Of course you need to make sure your student makes it through college. But guess what? Once they start college, you should have already given them the tool box full of tools to get that job done. But sometimes, it’s the wrong tool box for the wrong job. Sometimes, we forgot to put the tools in. Sometimes the tool box won’t open and they bring it to you. Don’t open it. The tools are in there. They can get it open. It just takes perseverance.

Ok. So how do you ready your child for the independent world of adulthood? Start early with self help skills.

The earliest of self help skills comes when they literally pick themselves up off the ground on their own. I watch parents bend over when their toddler topples and right them before giving them a chance to struggle back up on their own. Struggle is our most effective teacher. During a struggle our brain is mapping strategies and sending messages that stick longer. It’s hard to watch our kids struggle. But it’s in those struggles that strength, confidence and and competence occurs. Clearly there are times in which adult intervention must occur, but letting a struggle take place whenever possible is building skills.

By two, your toddler should be beginning to help you pick up toys, clothes off the floor and place into baskets, bins or boxes as they pick them up. During this time, you can also build academic skills like, colors, shapes, letters and numbers. Counting, adding, literacy and concepts like over, under on top, on the bottom. In my post on “Are We Raising Brats?” I outline some toddler chores. They’ll help you get started and move forward, expanding on jobs as the age expands.

Start teaching  your child to dress themselves early. Little things like  getting their jacket or putting on a hat. Letting them attempt dressing, hair combing face washing helps them feel a sense of responsibility. Have a cupboard or drawer in your kitchen which contains items that are safe, but useful for setting the table or helping in the kitchen. If you don’t want them to have free access, put a child proof lock on it and open it as you are getting dinner ready so they can help. Start thinking of skills they can do and finding jobs for them. It does take time, effort and planning. It will help you slow down and enjoy your kids instead of rushing to “just get things done”. And in the big picture, you’re readying them for life away from you. Yep. That’s your job.

By school age, you are setting your expectations, you are praising actual accomplishments and encouraging the things that need attention. They are responsible for getting their own self-packed backpack out the door, their lunch if it’s not packed in the backpack, their important papers and things that are due. (Library books, assignments, show and tell items etc.) If they forget their jacket, they’ll remember it eventually when they’re continually cold. If not, they probably don’t need it. No arguing about it. No rescuing. They have at least 15 minutes of chores daily, homework and if allowed, extra curricular activities (baseball, soccer, ballet, etc.) Make sure they get an hour to an hour and a half of physical activity and “down” time a day. Brain and body do need a rest! And they need to create, move and explore on their own as well.

Middle schoolers need to ramp up the responsibilities! More chores and self reliant skills. Making their own lunches if they haven’t started yet, feeding animals, bathrooms clean and towels off the floor, doing their own laundry if they haven’t started yet. Plus everything they were doing before. Your expectations and  consequences are clear, written down if needed and  you are watching to see if you need to make adjustments of either more or less. Some complaining is expected but discern if it is just because they have other things they want to do instead or if it is too much. If your child has special needs considerations, please be aware of that in both directions. Don’t be too easy on him or expect too much from her. It is a balance.

High school is your last chance to squeeze it all in! They may be going off to college or moving out in 4 years. They need to be doing it all now. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, making their way through airports, phone calls, whatever they are legally allowed to do, they should be getting experience doing it. One thing I didn’t know when I sent my first one off to college was I no longer could help her with school business. I couldn’t pick things up for her, I couldn’t manage financial pieces (except to make a payment of course) I was not legally allowed any information about her at all. So letting them sort out as much as possible will be very helpful for them. If they have jobs, you don’t call in sick for them. You don’t mediate between them and their boss. You can counsel them, you can encourage them, you can help them plan a strategy of how to get through a day, but what you can’t do, is do it for them. There will be isolated times where you may need to get involved, and certainly in high school you are still legally responsible, but those times will be few. Show up to Back -To-School-Night. Show up to plays and concerts. Show up to games. Support and encourage, ask about their grades, let them know what’s expected in their academic world. Don’t assume they know you expect them  to get good grades, lay it out for them. If they’re struggling, don’t get mad, ask them what they might need to do better. Help them see they have support but they need to be part of that process. There will be times as a parent, where you will have to step in, but again, let that be very few. Facilitate, don’t do. And you are not going to like this at all:EAT A MEAL TOGETHER EVERYDAY that you can. EVERYDAY THAT YOU CAN! I know schedules are crazy, but meal time can be huge in the family bonding time. It’s easy during the high school years to let this slide. If eating together was not so important in relationship building, they would not be wanting to go out with their friends to eat. It is important and lends itself to relating, loving and respecting. And teach some table manners while you are at it!! (Another blog post) This doesn’t mean they never get to go out with friends, it just means they need to see it as an important part of the family dynamic. Maybe it’s dinner. Maybe it’s lunches on Saturday and Sunday. Maybe it’s breakfast at 7am each morning. But sitting down and devoting time with each other will build a lasting bond within families. End rant. Stepping off soap box.

As your child heads off to college, you will know their tool box has all the right tools and it opens with ease because you have given them the best of the best. You can trust that they know how to get the job done, and how and when to call in a “sub contractor” or a “specialist” (that’s you!). They know how to problem solve, think critically about  a situation and you have covered all your expectations and the accompanying consequences!! You know they’ll have moments of struggling and you will watch with joy as they figure it all out. And don’t forget, sometimes we have to change the course, reevaluate and recalculate the direction. It’s in the tool box you gave them. Let them use the tools. Maybe it isn’t college they need. Maybe it’s a struggle for a few years at minimum wage, or a detour for a passion. Let them use that tool box to figure it out. Be there to love them through the remodel.

Happy parenting!



It’s My Way Or The Highway!

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No. Not now. Please dear Lord, not now. You see it coming. The shifting of the weight from foot to foot which escalates into a rapid stomping movement. The begging. The high pitched PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE. The litany of promises. “I’ll be good now” she says. “I’ll eat all my dinner” he moans. Inside your head you start the justification process. It’s only a dollar. Maybe he will be good now. I have to stop this. That iron clad resolve to not give in is becoming nothing but a waning memory. The battle has begun and it’s your job to win. But where is your arsenal, your bag of tricks, your tool box? You need an M-1A2  Abrams main battle tank right now. And you got…NOTHIN’!

But “Whyyyyyyyyy” you moan. Why do I have to go through all of this. Why can’t I just buy the blasted pack of gum at the check out every time? It’s only a dollar to buy that peace! That feeling of satisfaction and joy is an illusion. Why, you ask? Because that cheap piece of peace will morph into some  very expensive behaviors if left unchecked, untrained and unattended. It’s not always the buying of things, but the “allowed” behaviors that slowly invade their way of life which threatens to destroy the real peace and fulfillment of life. Our children deserve to have the necessary skills to weather any storm that life throws at them. Fixing everything, frosting over life’s disappointments, and hovering over their every  moment does not propel them into a solid, functional future. It holds them back and weighs them down. It’s never the intention of parents to do that. It’s just what happens when we aren’t allowed to fail, struggle and fight our way out of situations in appropriate societal conventions. With the right tools, we can raise some pretty awesome adults. Not perfect, not without life struggles, but at least they will have a fighting chance to punch their way out of that situation appropriately.

I think most parents mean well. In fact, most parents give in to tantrums because they don’t want their child to be upset, mad or sad. And possibly because they are mortified that this peacock display of will is visible to the entire grocery story world at the whim of their 25 lb dictator. How did this even happen? How did we get here? It’s pretty easy really. It happens quite normally during the ins and outs of a mundane day. Simply put, one time you said “No”and then “Yes”. It’s that simple. “No you can’t have that cookie.” Then 10 seconds later “Ok, fine then. You can have it.” Quick fix, no tantrum, it was just a cookie and there really wasn’t a reason to not give it to her. Now she’s 4 and it’s grown. Grown into a giant, stress inducing, life crippling, family nightmare. You know you need to do something, but you just don’t know what.

Like anything worthwhile, it takes time. But with a few adjustments in your responses and practices you can get a little progress immediately. Children tantrum because they don’t know how to communicate any other way. It starts in infancy. Crying brings our caregiver. We get fed, changed, picked up, carried around, stroller pushed etc.. As they grow and acquire language we need to equip them with other ways of communication, coping, expressing and understanding (receiving/receptive language). We, as adults, need to be aware that our communication also needs to change. We don’t just “do” anymore, we communicate via language (and occasionally facial expressions). We begin to teach more acceptable forms of behaviors and what our expectations are. These initial stages can be trying and exhausting, but again, it’s a process. Even if you could provide EVERYTHING your child wants, should you?

It’s never too late to start to make the changes. It is important, however, to realize  the older the child, the more established their responses are (go-to moves) and how low your credibility is with them. They perceive you as a step by step process to go through to get what THEY want. They know you will say “No” first and then the series of behavior that follows is their process. You are their obstacle and they will conquer the course in 3 easy steps. If you have teenagers that are still doing this, it looks much worse. It usually includes yelling, punching things, the stomping is even more unattractive. They may be doing it in front of peers and family. They are strutting their stuff and your “No” will have no authority behind it.It’s not even a blip on the radar.

Step one for all ages: NO ARGUING. None. No BARGAINING. None. NO RENEGING. None.  All of these lead to their return to control. Arguing only leads to swaying you to their side. That is their goal. Win you over. And for however long this has been going on, they have accomplished their goal through this practice. It will take time for them to believe you. Bargaining is a tool accomplished negotiators use to seal the deal. We parents do not bargain. Not when we are establishing our new found parental rights. Reneging is serves to alert your opponent to their victory. You can be overcome. Battle over. They won. It reinforces the wrong message.

Step two for all ages: Prepare your child(ren) for the new Sheriff. Sit them down in a non threatening environment and lay out your expectations and your new way of doing business. If you have a partner, this should all be discussed, agreed upon and you both should be portraying a unified front. If you have an adversarial relationship in a co-parent situation, you can only establish your rules in your home and presence. You need to let your children know these are new expectations in THIS home.

  • If a store is a trigger, let them know ahead of time there will be no treats or toys any longer as a normal part of our trip. We are buying food/ supplies for… and that is all. After some really great trips with no asking or fits, you can allow them to pick out something like a box of cereal or lunch item that you would be buying anyway. Reiterate that this is a privilege and this won’t happen all of the time. Give them some narrowed choices that you are comfortable with otherwise you may get sugar coated cereal that you really don’t want but because you didn’t frame it with that you are stuck with it this time.
  • If mealtime is a trigger (see my Picky, Picky, Picky blog post for more ideas) let them know that there will no longer be any fits about eating their dinner. They can choose to eat or choose to be done, but no longer are there multiple meals or fits about what is served.
  • If bedtime is a trigger:Make sure you have a good bedtime routine. Once in bed, we stay in bed. Make the transition nice, comfy and cozy. Do the one last drink, one last pee before getting in bed. Let them turn out the lights after the last story etc. AND establish how many stories/books/songs etc.. before the lights out. This can all be a total of 10 minutes or 30 minutes but stick to the “routine”. My girls had a “bath, book, bed” routine for years. Eventually, they just did it all on their own.

You get the picture here. Communicate. Remind them daily or as each event is about to occur. Let them ask questions. Let them know that you realize you should have been doing this a long time ago so now you are. You are making things better for them even if they don’t understand it now, they will.

Step three for all ages: Plan ahead. Figure out what “consequence” will occur or what your response will be if the no longer acceptable behavior begins. If you feel like your child will need a consequence for their behavior, then address those in the family meeting. “If you throw a fit in a store/at bedtime/ at the table then x will happen.” You know your child best and whether or not they will need something and what that could be. Make the punishment fit the crime and for Pete’s sake, make it reasonable enough to follow through with! If you plan ahead, you won’t be caught screaming the unreasonable! If you follow me for long, you’ll see me state that over and over!

Step four for all ages: Enforce! The moment of truth has arrived! It’s time to take the weekly trip to (insert store of choice) and you have armed, equipped and reinforced your charges! Leaving the car you say “Thank you for following our  new rules while we are inside.” That is pretty much it. Stay positive, stay even and be swift! Don’t make this a leisurely trip to buy a dress for you, but accomplish your goal and move on! If/when a old habit begins to rear it’s predictable head, gently remind them. “Not this trip, remember?”. Keep moving.  No emotion. Just very matter of fact. No further explanation, no exploration of feelings, just on to the next aisle! If the tantrum occurs anyway. Execute your plan. “Oh this behavior will mean, no TV tonight.” No anger on your part. Nothing to be mad about. Let the world watch. Let them see you not engage.  Let them see that tantrum subside on it’s own as you patiently stand, not watching, just waiting.

  • Toddlers will most likely be in a cart flailing their arms and arching their backs. Keep walking. Minimal talking and it should only be assurance.  “I know you’re angry. I understand. You will be ok” That’s it. Keep going. It’s ok for you too! The first few trips when training a toddler can be trying and rough! They don’t quite have the receptive language down but they will understand your calmness and resolve.
  • I never gave my kids treats to eat in the stores from the stores. I don’t think it’s appropriate for them to eat while shopping (I’m old and have this instilled sense of polite behavior to not eat in front of others unless it’s a shared meal! And I may be a bit of a germ-o-phobe!) especially if we open a package of cookies or crackers from the shelf with the intent to buy. It’s a hard concept for kids, even school age, to understand and may result in their thinking it’s ok to do and not actually pay for it. They don’t make the connection that you’re paying for it as you go through the line. I always fed my kids before we went in. If it was a day of shopping we’d stop for lunch and snacks before going in. But everyone has their own inner voice on this so just some food for thought! (pun intended) Toddlers however may need a snack that you provide from their diaper or bored/busy bag.
  • Try to remember not to venture into that “last” store if everyone is tired, crabby and hungry. Sometimes the fit is invited by our effort to power through one more store. Take an honest inventory of each child you’re carting along and do a reality check. If you get that “I probably shouldn’t do this” feeling. Stop. It probably isn’t worth it for anyone. Especially you.

Always thank your children for their good behavior, especially at the beginning. They will want to feel like they’re doing the right thing. I used to randomly reward them with an unexpected treat. Words of praise and affirmation are also helpful for a child.

A word about children with Special Needs. Things will be different for them. You will have to take into account a variety of things and use different techniques. Most Special Education teachers and services have resources to help you navigate. Sometimes these are not tantrums but an honest reaction to very painful stimuli that the rest of the typical world has no trouble with. Lights, sounds, noise levels, textures, crowds can all trigger a reaction which may look like a tantrum but is actually a reaction to pain, confusion and over stimulation of one or more of the senses. Typical people and children need to be sensitive to those learning to adjust to things we can’t feel or sense.

Don’t give up after one try. Keep the expectations and standards of behavior up. Evaluate your successes and failures. Educators know that failure is necessary for learning and growth. Remember these changes will take time. Though I have concentrated on store tantrums, you may also experience them in restaurants, libraries, schools, home and just about anywhere children may want to do or get something. The process is pretty much the same.  Use very little interaction, keep calm and cool, communicate ahead of time. Mid tantrum is not the time.

A quick story for your amusement. My oldest daughter was always extremely social. She loved visiting people, she loved having visitors and everyone was her friend. During some long deployments of their father, I would frequently visit other wives with children. We’d meet for dinner at someones house and the kids could play and we wives could have an adult “play-date”. A win-win! It became increasingly difficult to get my oldest to leave. She was 3 1/2 and very verbal and articulate. “No” was a common answer when I’d give them the 5 minute warning…One evening it was particularly bad. It was time to go and instead of the usual whining and complaining, I got a full blow tantrum I had not seen since she was a toddler. I was mortified as the other wives began to look away and laugh. It was an epic scene. Much thrashing and screaming and tearless wails. I picked her up. Put her in her car seat while this grew in decibals. I waved good bye as the preschooler kicked and twisted about in her seat, screaming unintelligible words. and making what I am sure were prehistoric type guteral noises. She finally gave up as we exited the post gates. When she was only quietly sobbing I said “This will never happen again. You will not do this again when we leave someone’s home. If you do, we will not go again for a very long time. You can not stay and live with others. If we go to visit, we must at some point go home. If you can’t leave nicely and politely, then we can no longer go visit.” She wanted to argue. I said nothing and continued the 15 minute drive home. She finally stopped. I put her to bed, told her I loved her and turned out the light. A week later we were invited back. I ran down the list of expectations, described the behavior I wanted to see and reminded her as we walked in. “Yes, Mommy, I will leave nicely tonight.” Phew. Good. Yet…at the 5 minute clean up warning it began again. Ended the same way with me carrying her out while her 18 month old sister walked nicely, paci in mouth and blanky over the shoulder. I said nothing the whole way home. She yelled and made those pterodactyl noises. Off to bed she goes but stops at the door of her room and says “Mommy, I didn’t leave nicely.” “No you did not. So now the next time we are invited I have to say no or I will get a babysitter and Becca and I will go.” I ended up going with the babysitter option. We usually did this twice a week or so. I had lots of  time to show her I meant business. We got another invite shortly after the babysitter episode. I told her we would try it again, reiterated the expectations, reminded her again as we walked in. I waited all night with bated breath hoping against hope she “got it” this time. And hallelujah she did!! She just needed to know I was serious. I was willing keep after it until I had the desired results. I knew it would take time but I also knew it would be worth it! And it was.



Picky, Picky, Picky—

Picky eaters. We all know the type. Especially adults. Nothing is more frustrating than hanging with your friends, deciding it’s time to eat and one of them is “picky”. Dozens of restaurant names are thrown out and nary a one will do. You end up at Denny’s because they can get a milkshake and fries! How does this happen? Well…with only a few exceptions, they are trained this way.

Most of us have our likes and dislikes. We have our favorites and we have foods we’ll gladly eat if we’re hungry or at the home of a friend. But when  we have more foods we don’t like, than we do like, that  becomes a problem. The same is true of children.

I have a good friend who at one time thought she was a picky eater. Then she (or I think her adult son) described it better as a “simple” eater. She doesn’t like a lot of creativity with her food, just simply food. I am not talking about that. This friend goes anywhere to eat and will find foods she is comfortable with and eat them. Not everyone is going to be adventurous in food.

Some children have texture issues, special needs or dietary restrictions. These are different eating issues than just being picky. Each of these can create some picky eaters as well, but there is a reason behind the picky-ness.

A friend once exclaimed to me ” I am SO tired of fixing multiple dinners. No one in my family will eat the same thing.” This concept is foreign to me. “WHAT???? You fix multiple dinners?? Why?” And the litany of reasons began. Once you begin that process, you’re in for a long battle and a lot of dishes and time.

Gratefully, I had a “One meal for all” mom. There was always something we could eat on our plate, even if it wasn’t our favorite. If we didn’t eat it, then, we were hungry till the next meal. I learned to eat enough to not be hungry. My parents didn’t fuss over whether or not I was getting enough to eat.

So, what should we do with the “picky” eater? Are they doomed to a diet of Chicken Nuggets and Mac ‘n’ cheese? Let’s hope not. Your child’s diet is important, but so are  eating habits and their relationship with food. Food should not be a battle to be won and it should not be a tool in the arsenal of control.

Frequently, children are more in a “habit” than actually being picky. They know they like certain foods and stick with those few things they know. So how do we get them out of that 5 food habit and into more of a variety of tastes and textures? Like anything else you do when you want to accomplish a goal, involve those you are trying to win over. So if you have a picky toddler you can start by having them pick a few things out to put on their plate. These are things that you set out and they can pick from. For example, pick a few fruits to chose from. “Tonight do you want berries or banana with your dinner?” And everyone gets some of that on their plate. A young toothless toddler is going to be limited simply by their inability to chew so look for things easy to gum.

  • Cut meat into almost ground consistency but get them used to a few bites of meat. Try different types of meats and talk about each one.
  • For toddlers and preschoolers keep the volume low. They can be overwhelmed by too much food on a plate and it can seem impossible to finish. They are doomed before they start. Physically this age group is small. Their stomachs are not that big so for a toddler begin with smaller amounts and if they still seem hungry you can try more.
  • By the time a child is 2.5- 3 years old, they should be eating off a plate, using  utensils and having the same meal as everyone else. They should be feeding themselves.
  • Limit snacks to healthy protein types of food. Cheese sticks, hummus and veggies, a high quality yogurt or some fruit and cheese. Make sure you leave at least 2 hours between a snack and a meal otherwise, the meal may be a flop.
  • Limit milk and fruit juice between meals. These can cut an appetite very quickly.
  • Toddlers should have a small bite of whatever you are eating on their tray/plate. They should whenever possible be at a table with the adults and other children in the family. Pull a high chair up close.
  • Preschoolers can help choose meals. Well guided and narrowed choices can involve them in the process. If battles have been well established and of long duration then this can be a slow process. It may look something like this: “Sally, you can pick which casserole (or meat) we will have for dinner tonight. Would you like Spaghetti or my Chicken Bake?” Of course you will know that she will like at least one of these, and she can help you prepare the meal in accordance with her skills and abilities. (get the chicken from the refrigerator, pour the water into the pan, etc) You can then fix whatever else you want to go with it and put that on the plate as well. You should be able to see at least some things on her plate that she will eat. It may be that your picky eater chooses chicken nuggets, or hot dogs, or quesadillas. That can be fine, but everyone has them on the plate. The next night another family member chooses. On your night or your partners night, a more adventurous food can be picked and tried.
  • I am not a big fan of keeping the left over dinner for the next meal or for later. We’re trying to teach our children to eat and be a family. If they CHOSE not to eat, then they will have to wait until the next meal. It’s ok if they don’t like some of the things, but they need to eat something. You can even tell them. “You can either eat this or this. Which do you chose?” So if they are refusing the spaghetti and especially if they chose it, then they need to eat something else on the plate of which something is a food you know they will eat.
  • Don’t get into an argument. Arguing is like pouring gasoline onto a roaring fire. If they choose not to eat, then they can be excused to clear their place. No one needs to be mad, bribed or punished. It’s over. Life goes on. But no food. For a toddler or a preschooler, no desert should be available if they didn’t eat their nutritious food. If bedtime rolls around and they are “starving to death” you can choose to give a 2-5 year old a healthy nutritious snack (not cheddar flavored fish shaped crackers, cheez crackers or fruit snacks) like a small glass of milk and 1/2 a piece of fruit. You may also choose to let them go to bed hungry. It will be the only night that they do. Breakfast will be a breeze. Now if they’re sick, or this happens rarely, use your judgement but when you are first putting down your foot, stick with it.
  • Introduce them to new and diverse foods. Try new restaurants and don’t always order off the kids menu. Order a couple of adult meals and ask for small plates for the kids.
  • Older kids can help plan a menu for the week and do some of the cooking as is appropriate. They can go to the store and help you shop. Lessons in balance eating and simple nutrition can happen during these times. By later elementary and middle school, you should have a sous chef somewhere in the home. Culinary classes for high schoolers are an excellent option.
  • Use your imagination to involve your children.
  • It takes 10-20 tries for children to decide they like a food. Keep offering a turned down food. You just never know!!

The key points to remember are:

  1. Remain strong. Don’t argue. Your word is now sacred and respected. Keep it that way!
  2. No bribing or shaming.
  3. No hours of sitting at the table. Meals should not take more than 45 minutes to eat. They don’t have to get down and leave the table immediately. At the age of 4 they can be trained to sit for a few minutes. Sometimes hunger returns or they realize you really do mean you won’t get them a bowl of cereal and they’ll choose to eat their spinach souffle.
  4. No anger. It is what it is and they either ate enough or not!
  5. Television/video/pads/tablets/electronic media of any kind is off. Phones for the grown ups are PUT AWAY!
  6. Set a nice table and light candles once in awhile. They will love it!
  7. Involve them. Communicate with them. State your expectation! They can’t follow it if you don’t let them know what it is!!!

Think about all the fun things you can do around food. Help them see all the different choices available. Older kids can help you go on websites and search recipes, you can give cook books as gifts, even children’s cook books. If they are studying a country in school, look for foods from that country. If you hear about another country in church, or on the news or anywhere, help them find a way to incorporate the food into a meal. It can open up a whole new world for you all!

Bon Appetit!photo 2 (8)



Are We Raising Brats?

May-October 11 2015 207I don’t like conflict and I tend to stay away from it. I live in a world of gray. I can see multiple sides of a topic, even controversial ones. But I am about to step out of this comfortable gray world and tackle a topic not normally discussed. A cultural shift over the last 60 years (Gah, am I that old???) that, in my opinion, may be having a negative effect on our society.

Children are not all that and a bag of chips. There. I said it. Me, a child proponent, an advocate, a teacher, voice for the mini humans just said, “They are not all that.” They are not more important than anything else on the planet. They are not superior to anything or anyone. They are not deserving of every gift one can bestow. They are however, worth more than we GIVE them.

When I was a child waaaaaaaay back in the 1960’s, a birthday party with cake and ice cream in someone’s home was a thrill. We only had, maybe, one amusement park which was Disneyland. There was no such thing as “Season Passes” and we did not go every year. Family homes only had one TV if they had one at all. My mom, and most others, only fixed 1 dinner and you either ate it, or you were hungry till breakfast! We rarely went out to dinner unless my grandparents were treating us. We had enough toys to be content, yet not enough for a “Playroom”. We rode bikes and skateboards and roller skated with a skate key through the neighborhood. Our friends mom’s scolded us when we were inappropriate and we said “Yes, mam.”  I had chores to do. I had expectations, I had consequences for my behaviors and I always felt loved. It was glorious.

Today, things are different. Many of us can give our children almost everything. We also have a desire to give them everything that other kids have, or do the same thing as all of our friends, like multiple trips to Hawaii and Disneyland. Preschoolers have iPads, iPods, there own TV’s in their rooms. Elementary students have all of that and laptops,smart phones with unlimited data, game subscriptions and thousands of dollars worth of sports activities and gear. NONE OF THIS IS WRONG! But, I will submit, that we may do too much and require too little, which elevates them, in their minds, and subsequently our own minds, to a status that is unrealistic to maintain and live in. In our efforts to make them the center of our world, to make sure they are always happy, we may inadvertently create for them an adult life that is the exact opposite.

Here’s what I mean. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know, we’re often not satisfied with many parts of our lives. This dissatisfied feeling, motivates us to improve or change things. This isn’t bad, in fact, conceptually it is what drives us to develop the bigger and better things that we have come to rely on like…cars, homes, air conditioning, solar, medicine and technology. Again, not bad, but coupled with our nature to survive, we get a skewed idea of what survival is! Honestly, without my laptop and smart phone, I think I would die!! Though admittedly, a recent camping experience with no cell service or internet connection, proved to be a delight! But on a daily basis, I am not sure I could do my job as well or be connected to family and friends as well with out them. So go technology!

We want to improve our standard of living, so we buy more things. We may work harder and we may change jobs to get more money. We need it, right? After all, we need some more things. The kids need some more soccer gear, or more dance shoes, lessons have gone up and we need that new boat for the weekends after soccer season. So the $150k a year job isn’t cutting it and we need to make some changes. I get it. It’s all for the kids. We don’t want to tell them no because they deserve to be happy. No usually means pouting, sadness, moping, even tantrums and full on strikes.

I can hear your “but’s” now. I won’t argue with you. You can give them all of that. You can take them places and make them King for a day on their birthday. We all want our kids to feel special and they should. To a point. But balance all of their gifts with responsibility. With all privilege comes responsibility. And the right responsibility can make kids feel proud, confident, competent and secure. This lasts much longer and serves them much better than a 50″ flat screen.

In my opinion, my girls had a lot. Certainly nowhere near what their peer group had, but plenty. They always had responsibilities as well. We had expectations and those needed to be met to maintain the privileges they enjoyed. There were times when things had to be revoked, suspended or thrown away. What happens to our prized possessions when they are over indulged is they get an over inflated sense of themselves and their importance in the family and the community. This can be quite stressful and very confusing, especially for the small child. As they grow, they expect more and more and can be come quite demanding. This frequently bleeds over into their classrooms and teams. Teachers and coaches can not always be so accommodating.

This comes back to my Parenting Plan concept. What are your plans for the kind of children you want to raise? Then, how are you going to do it? Giving in to their whimsical wants and desires, becomes draining on everyone. When the foot stomping starts it seems best at the time to give in, yet in the long run, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of demands and blackmail. That’s what tantrums are. The first attempts at blackmail! Just think about it. They start the melt down for something, which is the same as saying “I’m going to embarrass you and stress you out unless I get what I want” and so our initial response is “Ok, here, take the darned candy, or $2.00 toy!” Avoiding that is another blog post though!

Is it more important for your child to be successful on the soccer field or classroom or is it more important for them to be kind, compassionate community members? As a parent you may need to explore this. I don’t think it’s a one or the other prioritization. The two can and should co-exist, but we as parents need to both model and communicate the importance of kindness and compassion and the art of putting others first. It will help them gain a tremendous feeling of appropriate self worth.

So how do we raise kind, compassionate, strong, confident, smart children into the adult of the same character? I believe there are a multitude of ways. I am not suggesting that parents deprive their children of Disneyland trips, electronics and birthday parties extraordinaire. But I am suggesting, that you balance it all with old fashioned, simple play, service and activities that do not put them first.

Children should have chores as young as 2. They are gaining physical and cognitive skills daily and usually love to help. Giving them appropriate ways to do this will both build skills and give them a sense of belonging to something bigger. It helps them begin to recognize that other people are important in their world and feel a sense of worth and value of their own in a healthy way.

Look at what your 2 year old child does every day. They walk, they pick things up, they take things out, they feed themselves, they carry things around. No matter what age they are, they all “do” things everyday. You just need to look at chores that need to be done, assign them, facilitate (but don’t do) them, hold them accountable and thank them for their help.Here are some common appropriate 2-3 year old chores.

  1. Pick up toys
  2. Stack up books on a shelf or in a basket
  3. Throw their dirty laundry in the hamper
  4. Carry their plate, cup, bowl to the sink
  5. Help an older child or adult load the dishwasher (sort utensils into the correct sections)
  6. Help set the table by putting napkins on, place mats on, and carrying any plastic items to the table
  7. Fold washcloths
  8. Put their own clothes in the right drawers or bins
  9. Throw garbage into the garbage can

You get the idea! You can look at things and see how they can help. Make a chore chart or list and let them put stickers on completed tasks. Let them help, but HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE. It’s part of being in a family and part of being in a community. Start young and build with each skill development.

How do kids learn to serve others? We teach them by our example. Bring them with you when you serve whenever you can. Hopefully, service is a part of your family life too. If not, think about ways you can be a part of your community. It can be something simple like taking food to a local food closet on a regular basis. Maybe you donate clothing regularly to the local charity. Whatever you do, talk to your children about it, about why you are doing it and bring them with you, even if it is boring. If they can help, let them. As they grow encourage them to find their own ways of giving. If you regularly attend a church, temple or other religious group, you may find ways to serve there. If you don’t most communities have organizations that look for people to volunteer. Help them develop their own passion for others and feed it.

When I was a kid, my dad hired a young teen to help in our yard. He was in need of helping his family and so this was one way he could do it. I remember him coming on a regular basis after school to haul things into piles, rake, trim etc. We had a large yard and my dad had his own business and it was time consuming. This young man worked hard. I remember one particular day him ringing our doorbell and having his younger brother with him. He was showing my parents what he had bought with his money. He had bought his brother new clothes and shoes. This has stayed with me forever. I was so impressed that this teenager bought clothes for his brother to help his family and not a new record album or tickets to a concert. I learned a lot from this symbiotic relationship. My dad hired someone who needed to work and this someone served his family by buying necessary items. He was also very proud that he was able to do this for his family. Service can be done in many ways. Watch for the moment then seize it!

Giving your children everything, taking them everywhere and praising them for every little thing will not bring value or satisfaction to their lives. There will be a sense of emptiness when it’s all done.   A sense of purpose with value and worth will give them much more to grow and nurture. It may keep them grounded and focused in away that allows them to be all that they were meant to be. Doing purposeful, worthwhile things together will bond you together. Yes, take the great vacation. Have a birthday party, buy special gifts if that is what you like to do, but balance it with responsibility, respect, and service to others so your children can enjoy a life well lived. They deserve it.

How Much Do You Love Your Child?


You never let me do anything! If you loved me…

I tend not to be controversial. My world is gray. I don’t like conflict, but I will stand up for myself (most of the time) and those I love and adore. So I am about to embark on a thin sheet of ice. How much do you love your children? Enough to be unpopular? Enough to say no? Enough to let them fail?

30 years ago when I became pregnant with my first child things were relatively simple compared to today. My friends gave me a baby shower. I was able to buy a few “necessities”, like a stroller, a crib and a swing. We didn’t have the option of knowing whether or not we would have a girl or a boy. We waited until the moment the child exited our body and entered the world. Then we knew. The doctors would say first “It’s a girl/boy”. The big surprise was over. Then came the health report. Clothes, sheets and blankets were bought in neutral colors; yellow & green were most popular. You bought only a few things to get you started in size 0-3 months or  newborn. I bought some white things as well so I could bleach them!! Not so anymore…

Now we do it BIG! We know the gender and way  more than we did in days of yore. We have giant “Gender Reveal” events. We have so many more choices to celebrate the coming of a new human into the world. We have “motifs” to choose from, colors from a spectrum never known before, services galore, and car seats that would survive a space shuttle landing. When a child is born, you can almost hear the herald from a royal palace. Birth announcements come, not hand written as in my day, but printed in luxurious colors, papers and designs. Professional photo’s taken at great expense in amazing settings. One day, I am sure people will publish their own run of a magazine which chronicles the life of their newborn treasure from conception through birth and beyond! Digitally, it’s pretty close to being done now!

None of this is bad. It’s all done in the celebration of a new life. It is exciting, this anticipation of a child. It’s scary and confusing and stressful. My biggest concern about bringing a child into this world was keeping it alive! Next, I just wanted my kids to be creative, polite, respectful, compassionate and well loved people. How I did that, needed planning. Those qualities don’t just appear, they’re created, nurtured and modeled. So here comes my first step onto the thin ice.

We may well be creating a generation of entitled, self centered, indulged humans and we do so out of love and with no intention of doing so. Our children are the most valuable piece in our lives. Most parents would rather die than have any harm come to their children. If they get sick, we would gladly trade places with them. When we see them having trouble with friends, we swoop in and smooth things over. Our “Mama Bear” instincts kick into high gear. Problems at school? We’re there. They come home with a tale of woe and we’re ready to do a few rounds with the teacher or that slacker parent who doesn’t raise their kid properly. We love our children and we’re their advocate! And we’re going to show them!  We buy them all the gizmo’s and gadgets. All the cool electronics. They need their own TV and phone by 3rd grade or maybe even earlier. And we do it because we can. We can afford it. It’s accessible and it’s ours in an instant. Or with overnight shipping…free with Amazon Prime. One click.  One stinkin’ click.

The problem is we don’t give them the opportunity to manage their own life problems. We try to buy, fight and excuse their way out of problems. We even take the blame. It becomes a cycle that truly lasts our lifetime. I know people in their 80’s still supporting their adult children in some way or another because the child feels it’s their parents duty or they simply can’t pull adulthood all the way together. Kids don’t love their parents because we give them everything, they love us because we love them. We teach them, we make them accountable, we notice them, we discipline them, we encourage them, because we help them be successful by giving them skills not by giving them a life. We create a relationship with them, not a store of excuses, gifts or money. They love us because we let them struggle until they succeed on their own and then we cheer them on to more greatness and confidence.

Watching your child struggle is difficult. Sometimes painful. But struggle and failure aren’t bad words. Our culture makes us feel that way, but they are the best forms of teaching. We humans tend to look at failing as an end instead of a new beginning. Taking the failure, examining it, critiquing it, evaluating it and reformulating it is how we move to success. Instead, we get hung up on how it didn’t work, instead of where it stopped working and tweaking it from there. Why? Because, we have lost the word “tenacity” in our parenting vocabulary. We are in too big of a hurry to smooth something over, rename it, fix it or throw it away instead of sticking to it. I see parents everyday fixing things for their child. Things that the child should be encouraged through, are getting fixed. No struggle, no failure and look how good she feels. But not really. Some kids feel defeated, because they never accomplished “it”. You did.

How do we make the change? Create an environment where children have lots of opportunities to work. Chores, help, expectations and self reliant opportunities are abundant on a daily basis. Create family chore times, make self help skills a priority–the 3 year old dresses themselves, the school age child combs their hair, makes their own breakfast and cleans up their dishes. The teenage child makes their own lunch daily, they clean up and keep clean bathrooms, empty trash cans,  does dishes, does laundry etc. You see how it goes–,  “force” your children to have family dinners the majority of the evenings and you make it a priority as well. Take trips together, go to movies together and hangout together without screens. Cards, board games and interactive games gives each one a special spot in the family. Everyone gives up something and the relationships and feelings of worth begin to form. There may not be happy faces all the time, but that’s OK. Learning to deal with feelings in a healthy way, is part of growing up. We really shouldn’t avoid it.

Nothing,  and I mean NOTHING happens quickly when we’re reestablishing habits, expectations or forming humans. Slowly, TENACIOUSLY and lovingly move from fixer to enabler of skills. Give yourself time, communicate with spouses, partners and grandparents. Anyone who helps raise or nurture your children should be informed of how things are changing and why. Spouses and partners should be an integral part of the decision to change. Without your allies on board, it will be a much harder and potentially damaging road.

Communicate, plan, commit. Make a change in the notion of “my kid needs stuff and I need to make his life easier than anyone else’s life  by doing everything for him, fixing her problems and making them dependent on me forever” to “I am developing a human into a self reliant, team player, (and yes those two can coexist nicely) problem solver, family lover, awesomely confident human, thinker, friend, and future participant in the human race.” Your kids and your culture will love you for it!


Thanks Mom and Dad! Now I can do it all by myself!

To Sign or Not To Sign; Teaching Infants to Sign

You’ve been there. The screaming, wailing, chin wobbling squall that permeates to your bones. You’ve changed the diaper, you’ve fed them, burped them, rocked them. Now what do you do? Oh how you wish they could talk to you! But you’re not going to get words quite yet!

There are lots of opinions out there about  whether or not to teach signing to your infant or toddler. Some extol the virtues, others find it another stress which they find discouraging.  So how do you decide to teach signing or not?

Read everything you can on the subject. Make sure you read both positive and negative experiences. It’s difficult as a parent to try to do everything everyone thinks you should. There are so many alternatives to traditional parenting and it can be daunting to try to sort it all out. From what I have read and from people who used sign language it can be very helpful. Children naturally learn by mimicking so learning signs may come easily. However, there are some who feel it was stressful and that their infant didn’t really pick it up. It is definitely very personal.

One note of caution, as a teacher, I am all about language with and for young children. In using signing, remember to continue to use verbal language along with it. There have been some reports of speech delays because both parent and child learned to rely on the signs and not the sounds. The signing should not replace verbalization, but be learned simultaneously.  Not everyone your child is with will know how to sign,  so make sure you let others know what signs you use for what words.

Most signs I have encountered are for: all done, more, please, thank you, medicine, up and down, help. In my experience infants develop their own movements for  many things. My 5 month old granddaughter usually turns her head and quits opening her mouth when she is done with her carrots, though she frequently “wears” her carrots as well as eats them! That is our sign that she likes them! Her mother knows when she’s done nursing by various behaviors. Teething is accompanied by drooling and biting down. So we become adept at reading the behaviors, actions or movements in our children. These are our informal signs.

Consistency is key to teaching any skill. Staying with it, using it all the time and being committed to scheduled or planned time to work on it will have the greatest impact on its’ success. Find a well recommended book or program and follow it if this is something you feel compelled to do. But, if you don’t feel like it’s for you or your family, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! It should not be something that causes stress either with you or your infant. This is not an indication of whether or not your child is “smart” or “gifted” or anything else you have been told. It’s simply a way that some have found helpful for communicating.

Whatever you decide to do, remember to include lots of language, activity and love. It should not be stressing anyone and it should be fun and rewarding. Continue to read with your child, sing, move and play; with or without signs!

Separating From The Anxiety

The door swings open, I hear the Momma say “One big hug and kiss and in you go.” Several hugs and kisses later her 3 year old was no more ready to let go of her than he was to fly to the moon. I walk over to greet the young boy and am greeted with his screams. We have had several mornings like this before, but not every morning! Mom begins to peel  him off and I begin the catch and release process, reeling him in one limb at a time. I shut the door behind me, and hold it closed. He’s still crying. Not out of fear but anger. “MY MOMMY DIDN’T GIVE ME 1 MORE HUG AND KISS!”  he screams. By now everyone else is looking at him. “She did,” I say. “She gave you 3 or 4 more” “Oh.” was his reply. Now his friends have gathered round watching the show. I walk him over to the area he seems to enjoy most while he’s hanging on me as I try to navigate floor activities and the audience he has collected. I bend over and pick him up (not a small child by any stretch) His solid frame relaxes on me while he wraps his legs around my waist. He has stopped the show and is simply enjoying the time spent on compacting my spinal cord and surveying his choices. This is a way different scenario than 6 weeks ago. The first day was 10 times worse. I had to call in reinforcements. I was kicked, punched, pinched and scratched. All in a days work. I had to lean on the door to keep him inside. It took 3 of us to manage the scene. Someone to attend the door, someone to keep him corralled and someone to supervise and protect the other students. He calmed down and we began our process to integrate him into play. Watching Mom, it was clear to any Early Childhood Educator that this boy had mastered the fine art of parental control. Mom was a wreck. She has 2 older children in their teens. This boy was running the show. Today, I simply put him down and asked him to chose where he would like to start. Off he went. He has learned that here, there are teachers and he does not have to control anything but his hands and feet! He had a pretty good rest of the day. This is no longer separation anxiety, but separation issues. His need for controlling an out of control situation is greater than his coping mechanism.  So how do you teach coping? Lets figure it out!

This post is inspired by a young friend who is struggling with the first bout of separation anxiety with her 1+ year old. None of us wants to put our children into childcare for hours a day,but the reality is it sometimes has to be done. Kids go through different kinds of fear based anxiety at different ages. The above scenario, started as separation anxiety and has developed into it’s own brand of control and conquer! We really don’t want to see that happen.

Separation anxiety happens when children, generally between the ages of 6 months through about 3 or 4 years old become aware that someone other than those they know  has them or takes them away. Some babies develop it earlier, others later. Some go through it quickly and easily and some carry on with it for years. Lots of different things affect separation anxiety. Those with special needs, may have it to a greater or lesser degree depending on cognitive, emotional, sensory and physical processes. Each child is different as is each family and parent. But there are some strategies and “tricks” to try to help transition through this phase.

First, we need to decide we want to provide skills and tools to get our babies through this. It is so tempting to try to avoid the situations. I have watched and heard people say “His/her separation anxiety is too great so I can’t go anywhere.” Most of the time, this is not true. But it feels horrible to leave your screaming child. Absolutely horrible. But the more you do it with trusted and capable people, the easier it will become.

Because you know that I am a HUGE fan of communication, you will not be surprised when I say “Talk to your baby ahead of any stranger situation. Yes, even babies. Though they may not understand your words, they may understand your soothing tone as you approach a possible situation. Older children should be prepared as far ahead of time as possible. You need to feel supreme confidence because you will then impart that confidence to them. In turn, they will feel secure that you are leaving them with people you trust.

Here are some beginning things to try. Remember, it’s all about giving them skills and appropriate control.


  • Have the sitter come over several times to meet your baby or toddler before you leave them alone.  Pay them as a “mothers helper” but you are around and not leaving them alone yet. (yes it takes planning) This helps them become friends and not strangers as well as letting the sitter learn your house, rules and emergency procedures. You hold your baby as you all tour the house. Toddlers can lead the tour! “Show them your room, Sally.” or have them make something for your “visitor”. Visitors are way more fun than a babysitter!
  • Have your toddler or preschooler make a picture or buy a small gift to give the ‘visitor” when they get there. Get them excited about having company come over.
  • If you can’t afford to pay the sitter for the initial visit, fix them lunch/dinner and eat together. More time to get to know one another.
  • Let your toddler or preschooler know that it’s “Visitor night” or “Babysitter night!” Or you can do a count down on a calendar if your child likes charts and visual aids. Bake cookies and make a favorite dinner. Maybe babysitter nights you can have food you wouldn’t normally give them for fun…like Chicken Nuggets or Hot dogs! My mom would open a can of Spaghetti O’s and we would have bread and salad with it! We loved it! Sometimes we would get T.V. dinners! Anything to lessen the anxiety and emphasize the fun! There isn’t a lot you can do in this way with infants. But you can try to arrange more visits so that the infant is familiar with the sitter.


  • Infants and toddlers need to feel secure. Wherever you leave them, make sure you are extremely comfortable with the caregiver or team.
  • Tour the home or childcare center. Make sure they are licensed. Most licensing agencies have online access to a childcare center, home or school and the history of their violations. Just because they have a violation doesn’t mean they are a bad place to have your child. Sometimes it’s just a paperwork problem or a bad employee that has been let go. But do check and talk to the providers.
  • Bring the child with you if possible. Even a toddler or infant. Make sure, they are under your control the whole time you visit. Be respectful of the environment and the rules. If they are licensed, they have lots of rules they need to follow. Watch how staff interacts with the children in their care.  Once you decide on a place, ask if you can bring the child in for a few minutes prior to starting school to meet the teacher and see his/her classroom. If it is a daycare home, ask if you can visit with your child while you are with them prior to starting.
  • Some infants can be distracted by activities and make the process a little easier. By the time they are 1-2 years it is far better to talk to them, say good bye and reassure them you will be back. Some kids like to wave good bye out a window, yet for others it’s too emotional. You will have to try and see what works for your baby or child.
  • On the first day, make the morning special. Have them bring something to their teacher/childcare provider. It can be something simple like you did for the babysitter. A flower from your yard, a picture, a card, a Dollar Store item they picked out. Toddlers can simply bring a diaper, cup, bottle etc., anything they may want or need for the day. It gives them a “job”. Kids need that. It makes them feel helpful and important to you.
  • For Preschool and Toddler ages, make sure that whatever you are doing before school is not something super fun! Many a preschooler has screamed all the way to school, not because he’s terrified or has separation anxiety but because he’s mad that you turned off that TV show he was sucked into, took away that iPad, turned off the DVD or Wii game. They will hate school, hate their friends and hate their teacher not because they actually hate them, but because you interrupted their activity. My rule was none of the above before school. I also gave them plenty of transition time if they were engaged in a fun activity before school. Never TV! If they finished getting ready before we needed to head to the bus stop, then they had only a couple of choices. They also knew that when I said “Time to go” that there was no arguing. It was time to go or that privilege would disappear. But you need to find what works for you. It’s just a caution to make sure you understand the response. I know I will cover this topic ad nauseum later.

What to do if they still scream and cry:

  • Make the decision ahead of time to “love them and leave them”. Don’t hesitate and don’t keep coming back for  “one more”.  Don’t hang out and chat too long with the teacher or care provider. Try to think of it like a band aid. If you slowly pull it off, it’s that much more agonizing. If you rip it off, it’s done. Show your child confidence even if you don’t feel it. Remember you have done research, you have your plan and you have communicated it to and with your child.
  • Let them cry. Let your professional staff that you questioned and researched do their job. In my 30+ years of teaching experience, I know that most crying stops within 5 minutes or less. Sometimes, it can go on for 15 minutes, but usually, it’s done very quickly. A good staff or provider will engage them, or know to let them move in when they are ready.
  • Call the provider a couple of hours later to check on them. You’ll feel better!
  • Keep trying! Sometimes the child cries because they just need to cry it out. Continue to happily drop them off. Older children, may need you to restate your expectation about going into school. But always, always praise them for a good drop off.
  • If at anytime, your gut tells you there is something wrong with your childcare situation, listen to it. Talk to your provider/teacher/director. Verbalize your concerns. If you don’t feel comfortable with their response, look for alternative care. Even if it’s all fine, you won’t be happy until your gut feels happy! It just might not be a good fit. Try also to remember, your provider has other kids to look after as well. Unless you pay a nanny for one on one care, you need to accept you are sharing care with others.

I would also recommend, not sending toys or stuffed animals to a center. Check with your in home daycare provider about their home rules, but frequently it’s just another stress for everyone. Especially if it’s lost, forgotten or damaged.

A word of caution about shyness.  You may have a child who is shy. That does not mean they cannot successfully be integrated into school, church, play groups, daycare or parties. My number 1 rule is: Don’t tell everyone they are shy in front of them. It will become an excuse for everything and they will use it as something to hold them back. They may well be shy, but that does not mean they should be in the back row with their head down. Again, skills. Skills, skills, skills!!! Confidence and support will propel them far ahead into well adjusted land! It doesn’t seem to matter much how well your 8th grader does trig, but how well they cope with the multitude of demands and stress that has some how engulfed our youth.

On a personal note, I had the immense privilege of being with my almost 5 month old grandchild the last few days. She does not have separation anxiety yet, but may. My daughter and son in law are diligent about providing her with rich, varied and many experiences. She goes to many people at this point and seems to be happy as long as you are moving! She comes from a long line of movers and shakers!! Her mom moved constantly until she was…an exhausted mom! Her dad, still moves and shakes everywhere! Both sets of grandparents love to engage in a variety of activities, so it is of no surprise that she wiggles and squirms all but a few hours a day! Because they live a long ways away, I will not be able to see her daily or even weekly or monthly. Technology is amazing and hopefully that will be helpful. Facetime and Skype are wonderful ways to keep family ties strong over the miles.

Keep up the great work! You are growing adults one little step at a time. Confident, compassionate, creative adults. Enjoy every minute of this process even though it may seem very difficult as you go through it. If I could do it over again, I would worry less, trust more and be grateful for the small things that I missed because I was trying too hard.


One of the worst things that can happen in a tank, and I said “one” of the worst things, is to have the communications go down. During exercises my girls father would complain about the radios, the headsets and the whole commo section. Firing commands, positions and directions were given over radio “back in the day”. When something went wrong anywhere things just went down hill quickly. Most of us have played the game “Telephone” at some point in our childhood where one person starts the game by whispering a sentence in the ear of another person. One whisper and the sentence must be passed on to the next player. By the end of the line, the original sentence is has been so mutilated it’s nowhere near what was meant. Usually hysterical laughter breaks out, but it’s a game so of course it’s funny. However it does illustrate how important clear communication is in order to get the right meaning.  Communication comes in many forms. Facial expressions, voice intonation, written words, verbal words, and body language are part of expressive language. Receptive language is interacting with those forms. We still use most of those forms when we hear, see, speak or read what is expressed to us. You can use all of the expressive forms while receiving them. How many disagreements occur between people that are simply facial expressions? A lot! One only needs to be married or coupled with another person to develop the “look”. You can tell by the look on your partner’s face what they may be feeling. And with your hands on your hips, you return the glare. Then the body language proceeds to follow and you’re leaning forward closer with your own “I am so not happy” face! It is no different with kids. They will use all forms of communication. And they start really early. Our job? Interacting with the newborn right away. We can’t expect communication with them or from them if we don’t develop it, nurture it and encourage it. How? You might ask. It just so happens I have some ideas for that! The newborn can express more than one might think. We all know about the crying! They cry for everything. It’s communication! They let us know something is not right and we go through the process. Hungry? Diaper change? Too hot? Too cold? Gas? We respond by checking everything we can think of. Hopefully we talk to them as they communicate with us. What else can we do? We want our children to respond to us. At some point, it will be necessary for them to listen to us and do what we ask. It’s a matter of health and safety. Anyone communicating with an infant or a toddler can not rely on words. We have to rely on sounds, facial expressions and body language. We don’t always know what that “gooogaaadaaa” means, but we do know by their face, their vocal intonations and body movements whether or not they are content or distressed. You are communicating already! Here are some things to help develop verbal skills, eye development, security, physical development and most importantly a loving relationship with your newborn through toddler age:

  • Always talk to your newborn. From moment one. Change your voice range. Make facial expressions. Do you feel silly? Good. You’re doing it right! As they grow speak clearly. It’s always fun to do a little baby talk but refrain from it being your main mode of conversation. Infants and toddlers are mimicking sounds and facial expressions. You want them, as much as possible, to learn the right way to say words.  There will always be some family words or words that they just can’t quite pronounce properly, but you don’t want them to continue on indefinitely mispronouncing words.
  • Talk to them during diaper changes, while cooking or cleaning. Sing songs, move their arms and legs. Hold them in front of mirrors. Talk.
  • READ to them. Yes, read to newborns. Show them pictures. As they get older, identify pictures, count things, hold the pictures up so they can see them. Somewhere on this blog should be a picture of my daughter reading to my granddaughter who is  about 3 weeks old in the picture! If not, rest assured, she did, in fact, read to her!
  • Interact with their sounds. Repeat them and answer them!
  • Use books with textures, colors and high contrast like black and white.
  • As infants grow into toddlers, sitting still isn’t usually a toddlers strength. You can tell a story as you walk places, as they play, while in the car and while you push them on swings.
  • Find place mats with interesting pictures on them. Tell a different story each week about the plant, colors, animals or whatever else is on the place mat. My daughter (the one in the picture) told stories to my then 3 year old niece as we traveled as a family of 12 through Scotland, based off of the place mats, the flowers, vases, tablecloths. We were all enthralled with her stories, but my niece sat quietly through dinner listening with great interest. Unfortunately, her cousin almost starved to death telling stories!

There are numerous more ideas I have pinging around in my brain, but I might save that for another post. You get the idea however. You are accomplishing many things by verbally interacting with your newborn through toddler aged child. They are learning to listen, speak and comprehend. They are learning eye-hand coordination, they are learning to visually track, they are learning while moving and playing. They are learning to listen to YOU, study YOU, connect with YOU! You are building a “team”!  Start early, and keep it going! Aunties, Uncles, and Grandparents can also jump on this train.

Someday, you are really going to want your child to listen to you. Someday.