reading

So hopefully, at some point you have built story time into your day or into your nighttime routine.  If not, you can start at anytime.  It felt really weird reading to my infants who couldn’t even keep their head up (why in the world would they have interest in a book that they can’t see, hear, understand?!?) But not long after that, they were looking at the pictures, and then right after that they were pointing and now they can talk for hours about each book that we read!

So- here are my top 5 tips for reading bedtime stories to toddlers:

1) Routine- Read in the same place whether it be a bed, chair, couch or book nook.  Also do the same thing before and after the book.  We would put on pajamas, brush teeth, read our book and then go to bed.  When we would be out traveling (or in our car, or on a plane) we would follow that same routine and the boys would go right to sleep no matter where we were since we had a nice routine.

2) Be OK with the same book every night for the next three years.  Not only do kids love repetition but it is imperative for their learning.   They build relationships with their books and reading through repetition.  They also learn about sounds, letters, reading, rhymes and rhythm when you read the same book over and over and over and over and over.

3) Snuggle – Be comfortable.  If your reading space isn’t comfortable and cozy then find some pillows or a place that you really look forward to every night.  If you are reading in bed and it causes you to strain your neck, then get more head support or move to a seated reading space.  If you really look forward to reading each night, then undoubtedly your kids will too.

4) Be silly– Have voices, read fast, then slow, loud then quiet.  Give the story life!

5) Extend the story – Maybe just read a couple of pages and then be open to talking about anything or everything. If they start talking, don’t shush them, follow their lead.  The goal of story time isn’t necessarily finishing the book, but it is connecting, talking, learning more about each other and the world.  The story might be about a fish going to bed and all they want to talk about are the colors of the fish, then talk about the colors.  There will be a million other nights to read about the fish’s story- let tonight be about the colors.

Enjoy reading with your kids- one of life’s simplest joys.

 

twos

Even if you don’t have kids or ever thought of having kids, you have still heard of the “terrible twos” which has now expanded into the “threenager” and the “F- you fours”.    I love all of these descriptions because it really helps parents navigate these ages and it says, “You are not alone.”  “These ages are tough!”

But after spending some time outside of the good ol’ USA, I started to wonder if the “terrible twos” were an American fabrication.

Basically the terrible twos are children exploring independence.  It’s not a bad thing as I explain in this post about independence. But we have interpreted the constant “no’s” as terrible rather than as an opportunity for learning and responsibility.

So what happens in other countries that doesn’t happen in the states? Or vice versa; what doesn’t happen there that does happen here?

Good question.

I think the answer is two-fold:

Parents don’t put up with s#*$t in other countries

In the USA, we want to take such good care of our children, that we let them run the show.  Parents want to support their children, they want to nourish their children and they don’t want to squelch their children.  This desire for their children to bloom can co-exist with setting limits and letting children know what is allowed and what isn’t.  But unfortunately (often due to social media, but also other cultural factors) it manifests itself into never wanting the child to cry or be distressed, so sometimes we as parents backtrack until everyone is happy again.  But this just creates more strife and more terrible behavior.

Parents allow their children independence in other countries

We all grew up with stranger danger and it is so strong that even though it has been proven that most child abductions and child abuse come from people that children already know, we are still scared of the world.  It is OK to give our children some independence.  Even if it takes twice the amount of time, we need to let them put their shoes on.  And they can wear shoes that don’t even match and are on the wrong feet.  We can let them help us cut vegetables without worrying about ending up in the emergency room.  They can climb trees, they can dig holes for our garden, they can choose a cereal box off the grocery shelf.   This is a gift that only you can give them.  They deserve the chance to be more independent and you deserve the respite that it brings when they fuss less.

 

How can we learn from other countries?

Get your little ones a passport and book a flight to learn all the different ways to raise a child.  Then start setting some limits on what behavior is allowed in your family and what behavior isn’t allowed.  Then open the door to your children.  Let them explore the world.

 

 

 

calm

Does it seem like all your toddler does is fly off the handle? Do you feel overwhelmed by your toddler’s behavior?  Or is your child pretty awesome, but still has these moments where you just don’t know what to do?

Here’s my top 5 tips to help calm your toddler.

Control

Toddlers are learning about their world and asserting their independence and the easiest way for them to assert their independence is to throw a fit.  So to help them navigate their world, you can help them to be in more control by giving your children some control.   When you give control, they don’t need to take it by way of a tantrum.  So give your child little bits of control throughout the day, and they will be more calm.  Let them choose which shoes to wear to the park.  Give them control over how many necklaces they want to wear.  Allow them to choose their snack.  Ask them which pajamas they want to wear.  This will lessen the amount of time that they are battling you and will create calmness in the house.

Get outside

Nature is Therapeutic.  If you are feeling at the end of your rope, or if you child is losing it; head outside!  Nature will raise your spirits, it will help you breathe, it will calm your nerves.  Once you are outside, you will probably get some exercise and if you get some exercise you will sleep better and if you sleep better, you will be more calm.  This works for your kiddos too.

Check sleep routines

On of my mantras to my children is “when I’m tired, I get pretty fussy.”  They see this in action as I can be short with them when I am more tired.  The same is true for my kids.  If they are getting fussy, it probably means that I need to move bedtime sooner or get a nap in.  If tiredness is a constant, then looking at how much sleep kids are getting and how the routines are working is a must.

Teaching calming down techniques

It’s hard to calm down if you don’t know how to do it.  So, what are some techniques? The first technique is taking a deep breath.  Teach this technique all the time and do it when everyone is happy and calm.  When is the best time to do that?  Right before dinner or right before bed or during a bath.  Say, “Smell the roses” as you breath in deeply.  Then say, “Blow out the candles” and release your breath.

Another technique is taking space or taking a break.  When children are very little, just a change of scenery will be enough to calm a child down.  Read a book, look outside or go to a different room.  Sometimes they will need more space and will need to be alone for a little while.  Also known as a “time-out”, if children are taught this technique in a calm way, it can be very effective.

Model behavior

I hear over and over again how parents feel bad when they get upset with their children.  But getting upset isn’t a bad thing.  It is totally normal.  It is also a perfect time to model calming down techniques.  You get upset at something.  You yell.  Then you say out loud “I am really upset right now and I need to find a way to calm down!!” (If you can identify your behavior, your children will learn how to do the same.) Then you say (or yell!) “I’m going to take some deep breaths right now and I hope that helps!!!” or “I’m going to take 5 minutes in the bathroom or my bedroom right now and try to calm myself down!!”.  Your child will be staring at you in disbelief but will be watching and learning about how to calm down.

Once you are calmer, you can talk about what worked and what didn’t.  You can also apologize if you did something that you wish you hadn’t.  That is also a great learning experience for children and better in the long run for children than to have parents that never make any mistakes at all.

 

consent

In all this talk about consent with teenagers and young adults, it is important to look at how we teach our young boys.  We should also be teaching our girls about consent, but the two lessons are different.  Here’s what you can do with your little boys:

Boys like to play physically and that is a good thing. Boys like to push boundaries physically and that is also a good thing.  Boys need to know that “stop” means “stop” even when (and especially when) they are toddlers and preschoolers.

I just read this comic strip about consent and I think it is brilliant, but I truly believe that the teaching starts when children are very young.  It starts when they are playing around with their father, brothers, neighbors, friends.

In my household, tickling is a very common thing.  The boys love to tickle and their papa loves to tickle.  When they were answering questions for their Father’s Day presents, the most common response was, “I love it when my papa tickles me.” “My favorite thing about my papa is tickling”.

However, in the midst of a tickling fest, there will often be a “no!”  or a “stop!”.  No matter who is saying the no or the stop, the action has to stop.  This is important for my boys to know and it is also important for my husband to know.  Because this is where it gets tough.  They are having fun, there is momentum to continue, but they also want to stop.  But as soon as anyone says “no” or “stop”, they have to stop.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Everyone is having fun, everyone is laughing and no one really wants it to end, it just got to be too much.   But this is where little boys learn about physical limits, respecting the other person, and being able to stop something that has a lot of momentum.

It isn’t easy for my husband either.  He knows that another tickle will get another laugh and he doesn’t want to fun to end.  But “no” means “no” and “stop” means “stop”.  

It may sound like I might be stretching; relating fun wrestling and tickling with little boys to consensual sex with teenagers and adults, but it isn’t a stretch.   If you wait until your son is a teenager to teach about consent, respect and “no” means “no” then you are waiting too long.

 

consent

I’ve been reading a lot lately about teaching consent and how to get the point across to students in college and high school and as young as middle school.  But you can very easily start with toddlers and preschoolers about consent. 

You have to be the model.

It is super duper important that dads and other adult male figures wrestle and rough-play with their boys.  There have been lots of studies on why this is important.  But probably the most important part of the play is communication.  

As soon as your child says “stop” or “no” or shows sign of no longer wanting to continue (whining, frowning, etc) then you stop and say, “You’re done, I’ll stop.”  

Then the hard part is actually stopping.  Your child will turn around and want to wrestle some more and here’s where the teaching and the learning begins.  “No, I could tell a minute ago that you had enough.  We’ll stop for now and if you want to play again later. Let me know.”  And your child is going to say, “I wanna wrestle more!” and again, you are the model.  “That’s good, but you just said, “No” and I’m going to respect that.  Let’s toss a ball or read a book for a bit and then we can see how you are feeling later.”  

This is hard.  It is SO hard because you were both having fun and even though your little one showed a sign of not wanting to continue, they are saying that they do.  And you have to teach them that no means no, that we communicate in many ways and that we are respectful of each other.  

If you are the dad, then you need to do this.  Do this for all our sons and daughters.  If you are the mom, talk about it with the dad and be the voice that says, “He said no, you need to stop.”

It’s funny because I’m always reminding my husband to stop when either child fusses, says no, or shows that they don’t want to continue playing.  But a couple of weeks ago, I was playing with my boys and we were both laughing and though the laughter, one of them yelled, “No!” and I didn’t stop.   Then from across the room, I heard my husband say, “He just said ‘stop!’ You need to stop!”  and I stopped and thanked my husband because sometimes we all need reminders.

There’s a lot of great articles about teaching children about their private parts and being comfortable with saying no or about children and adults asking for permission to hug or touch.  All of these things together are how we build a new culture of respect and consent. 

love

Is your child fussing up a storm right now because you told her that she can’t have the one thing that she wants?  That sounds about right.

And as parents, we need to set limits so we keep telling her no.

And that just makes her fuss more so we want to give in so that the fussing can end.  But here’s what you can say,

You can’t have that one thing that you want, but you can have lots and lots of love.

Tonight was tough because everyone was tired and when papa came to give good night kisses, one of my boys refused.  So we said, that’s ok if you don’t want a kiss and a hug, now it’s time to go to bed.

Ten minutes later, when I was laying with the boys, a quiet voice said, “I want a kiss and hug from papa.”  Who in their right mind would refuse that?  Oh man, how sweet.  So there I was, smack in the middle of every parent’s dilemma.  Do I just give in and let him have this that will help him fall asleep? Or do I hold my ground?

I said,

You can’t have a kiss and hug from papa now, but you can have lots and lots of love from me.

Trust me, this wasn’t the first time that this has happened.

My boys are typical toddlers and they fuss about what they want, then they change their mind and then they fuss some more.  And as parents, we need to set limits but we also want to parent in a positive way.   So as soon as we tell them that they can’t have what they want, they start to fuss.  They start to yell, cry, kick, scream and throw themselves on the ground.  We want to follow through and not let them get whatever they ask for, but we also don’t want to yell, kick and scream back at them.

So we hold our ground, follow through, and still give them all the love that they need.

Let’s say that your child wants the green shirt.  So you give him the green shirt.  Then two seconds later, he spills juice on the green shirt.  This is a recipe for disaster.

I probably don’t have to go into describing the following scene which then gives you three choices:

  1. You can clean the juice off the shirt, run it through the dryer, and move on with your day
  2. You can take the shirt, prepare for the tantrum storm, deal with the tantrum in whatever way you can for that day or
  3. You can take the shirt and give a big hug with lots of kisses and snuggles (which probably won’t be taken) and say:

You can’t have that shirt, but you can have lots of love and hugs from mama.

I’ve been talking a lot lately about positive parenting and time outs and this is where we set limits and clear and consistent boundaries in a positive way.

 

sleep 2

If you have a child, or even just know a child, you have probably heard all of the advice for helping your child sleep.  From Ferber to bed-sharing, there is a wide spectrum of philosophies.  Your head is probably spinning from all of the information, so I’m going to break it down for you.

 

the-sleep-spectrum

The crazy thing is, that contrary to the comment sections on blog posts, your children will be just fine no matter which of these methods you choose.  It really comes down to your family and how everyone will get the best sleep.

You may have heard that having your child cry-it-out could be traumatizing for your children, but the reality is that all children cry and get upset. And as you can see in the info-graphic above, if you stop your child from nursing or sleeping with you (no matter where you fall on the spectrum), then you will illicit some tears.   It should also be known that the statement about traumatizing children is based one study that was done with a small sample and in a sleep laboratory.  There is another study that looks at children 5 years later whose parents used different cry-it-out techniques and who show “no lasting harm”.  Until many, many studies that are longitudinal and have a large sample size have been done, you can rest assured that your child will be fine if you allow them to cry it out.

That doesn’t mean that you should, though.  If if doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it.

You may have also heard that if you allow your children to nurse on demand and share a bed, then they might be smothered or they may continue nursing and bed-sharing until they are eleven years old.  The SIDS fear has been blown out of proportion because many people mistake co-sleeping for bed-sharing and they are not the same.  Very young infants are safer if they are in a bassinet or co-sleeper and not in the same bed. However, there are many studies that show the benefits of co-sleeping and bed-sharing as the infant gets older and as long as the parents follow safe guidelines.   So if you are not drinking alcohol or smoking and you are enjoying the night nursing and toddler bed-sharing, then you by all means, co-sleep and breastfeed for as long as you want.

That doesn’t mean that you should, though.  If it doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it.

The one thing that we know for sure is that sleep deprivation is a real thing and it isn’t OK.  It can cause depression, memory loss, grumpiness, the breakdown of marriage, not taking care of your self or your children among other things.  So if you are experiencing extreme sleep deprivation then you should do something!  

Here are some tips that help no matter where you find yourself on the spectrum:

1. Mom needs at least 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep

This is where dad or another care giver comes in.  If you are exclusively nursing, start introducing a bottle once nursing is established so that you can pump and dad can take care of feedings during those five hours.  This means that mom goes to bed when baby goes to bed and for the next 5 hours, mom sleeps in another room and has earplugs in while dad feeds, rocks, carries, soothes baby.  Once the 5 hours are up, dad has the rest of the night and mom takes over with the feedings.   

2. Routine

Once the baby is 3-4 months old, a routine can start to take shape.  Routines are really the cornerstone for good sleep habits.  With a routine, many children don’t need any sleep help, they simply fall asleep on their own due to the consistency and comfort of knowing what’s going to happen next.  Of course, many more infants, babies and toddlers need more help than just a routine.

3. The “French Pause”

This was made famous by Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing Up Bebe, where she talks about how the french culture always waits a minute or two before they rush to the baby’s side.   This allows the parent to determine what kind of fuss they are experiencing and often allows the child to settle themselves.  

4. Sleep associations

Newborns are always going to fall asleep nursing or drinking from the bottle so that is always everyone’s first sleep association.  But you can start to build in other sleep associations that go alongside nursing if you eventually want more independent sleeping.  White noise, music, essential oils, a special toy or lovey, or a certain kind of light are all good things to do while your child falls asleep so that you can remove one association and keep another to help them achieve independent sleep. 

5. Make sure your child doesn’t get overtired

An overtired child is a child who will never go to sleep.  They become hyperactive to keep themselves awake.  They go and go and go until they crash.  This is not a healthy situation for anyone.  Keep a lookout for signs of tiredness and use them to your advantage.  When you see yawns, droopy eyelids, decreased activity, or even some crankiness, it is time to put your child to sleep.  If you can, start the process before this happens so that once they are showing signs, you are right on schedule.

6. Have an active day and get outside

Be sure to get your children outside at least once per day.  It helps regulate their bodies and helps with night sleep.  The more active children are during the day, the better they will sleep at night.  This doesn’t necessarily mean keeping them from napping since sleep begets sleep, but it does mean to have a fun and active day!

 

 

 

calm

Most parents are wondering what to do when their child is having a tantrum, or what to do when they are hitting.   But a lot of parenting challenges can be resolved when everyone is calm.

Sometimes we don’t take advantage of this time because we might forget. But even more often, we don’t want to “rock the boat” when things are good.  We don’t want to lose the good part by bringing up the bad part.

But don’t be afraid!

There are a lot of things you can do when things are calm to help the times that aren’t calm.

Each situation is a little bit different on how to handle the behavior, but here are ten things you can do when everyone is in a good mood:

1) Teach calming down strategies

The best strategy for calming down is to take a deep breath.  It works for kids, it works for adults.  Young children love imagery so you can say, “Smell the flowers. Blow out the candle.”  You may not think that you have to practice, but when everyone is in the heat of the moment, breathing deeper is a lot harder than you’d think.  If you are eating dinner together, you can start the meal with two deep breaths.  That helps your daily practice, as well as setting the stage for a nice meal.  Another strategy for calming down is taking space.  You can talk to your kids about taking space and how it helps calm you down and then actually act it out.  Pretend that you are upset and then go into your room.  Come out a minute later much calmer and talk about how taking space helped.

2) Read a book together

There are many great anger and tantrum books out there that you can read with your children, but the best book that you can use to help your child is one that you wrote about your situation.  Does your child always get upset about their little brother? Write a book about it with real pictures!  Does your child throw things all the time?  Write a book about it!  Then you can discuss the book and the behavior with your child when everyone is calm.

3) Make a plan about a certain behavior

This one is so important.  Don’t wait until the behavior happens to make a plan.  Make a plan in the morning or evening when everyone is calm.  Start by mentioning the unwanted behavior.  “Do you remember what a tough time we had going to bed last night?  You were fussing about not getting enough water (stories/hugs/potty trips/etc). Let’s make a plan so that it doesn’t happen again tonight.”  Then after you mention the problem, you can start coming up with ideas on how to do things differently this time.  Also come up with a plan if things don’t go well again.

4) Talk about how much we take care of each other

Make this part of your daily routine.  Whenever you see someone helping out, mention it.  “I’m taking care of you guys by making breakfast.  You are taking good care of your kitty by being gentle.  Papa takes good care of us by working so hard.  Thank you for taking good care of your toys.  Your hug just made me feel so good- you take good care of me.”  Being part of a family means taking care of each other and it is good to point out each time it happens.

5) Solve a problem

Solving problems can be fun and when you practice the steps of problem solving, you make it easier to problem solve when times are rough.  First, name the problem “What is the problem?  Our spice drawer is really messy.  What are some solutions?  We could organize all the spices; we could build a spice rack; we could move them to a bigger drawer.  What do you guys think?”

top-ten-things-to-do-when-everyone-is-calm (1)

 

6) Let them overhear about what a good listener/ good problem solver/ good helper they are

My favorite quote is “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice“.  So if a child hears that they are “crazy monsters”, then they will become a crazy monster.  If a child hears that they are a “good helper”  then they become a good helper.

7) Let them see you handle a conflict/ calm down

Modeling behavior is the best way to teach behavior and if you are a parent, chances are, you have gotten angry, upset or overwhelmed recently.  This gives you the perfect situation for modeling how to get out of that mood and it is by calming our bodies.  Once you are upset, talk about it. “I’m really upset right now. I’m going to take some deep breaths to help me calm down.  *breathe in*  *breathe out*  (pause) OK, I’m feeling a little bit more calm now.”

8) Eat a meal together without devices

The best way to deal with conflicts present and future is to eat a meal together without devices.  Eating a family dinner is one of the best things you can do to help your child’s behavior.  It is the perfect time to bring up situations in a non-threatening way and you can find solutions to help solve future problems.

9) Look at how much sleep your kids are getting

A tired kid is a cranky kid.  Compare your child’s sleep with how much sleep they should be getting.

10) Have a tickle fest!

Have fun together as a family.  Kids are a riot.  Enjoy them as much as you can and you will release a lot of stress and find yourself enjoying each other a lot more!

screen free

This is one of those things that just happens.  Before we have kids we really want to be the parents that don’t give their child a screen to calm them down or entertain them, and then real life happens and it is a lot harder than we ever thought it would be.

But here’s the thing, giving our children an unplugged childhood is a gift that only we can give them.  They can’t choose it for themselves and if we think about our childhoods, we remember all the times we were outside, exploring, playing,and we realize that our parents were never in this quandary.  This problem is ours and all ours. It is up to us to do this for our children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children remain screen free for the first two years of their life.  This is a huge developmental period and should be filled with interactions and hands on activities.  After the first two years, you can start adding in videos or games but the time should still be limited and not during family time.

So here are five things you can do to ultimately make your life easier (yes! it is actually much much easier in the long run to be screen free or screen limited) and to give your children the gift of an unplugged childhood.

1) Make a plan

Without a plan, you won’t be able to keep your children screen free or screen limited.  Talk with your spouse ahead of time so that you don’t find yourself in a situation where you have to give your child a screen.  

2) Carry stickers and fruit chews with you everywhere

Having an arsenal of non-screen distractions will help you keep the screen from appearing in front of your child.  Buy some cheap stickers online or at a craft store and bring them with you everywhere.  When a situation comes up where your child is bored, give them some stickers instead of a screen.

The time that I was most wanting to use a screen to reign in my children was when they were screaming.  Either because they were hurt, tired, hungry or just screaming because they were kids, I didn’t know what to do.  Turns out, fruit chews worked really well.  If they were sucking on something sweet (that isn’t a choking hazard and is mildly healthy) then they couldn’t cry.  Worked like a charm.

3) Have the option to leave

This one is super important.  We often don’t get out of the house enough, or we are so excited to see our friends, that we don’t leave open the possibility to leave the situation.  If we can’t leave, then we have to give the child something to do for distraction.

If you can leave when your child can’t sit still or stop screaming, then you are dealing with the situation without giving them a screen.  This may sound drastic, but it isn’t every time that you have to leave.  

Two situations where you might not be able to leave are when you are in a car or on an airplane.  For the car situation, I try to find places where we can get out and walk and get some fresh air, food and exercise and that takes care of that problem.  And for an airplane, I use the old-fashioned techniques that our parent’s used: lots of interesting toys, stickers, games and just walking up and down the aisle.

4) Have a “no-devices-at-the-table” rule

This one is also super important.  If you carve out part of your day where there aren’t screens, then you won’t fall into the trap of giving your child a screen for distraction.  Dinner time is one of the most important times of the day for a family to get together and even if your little one isn’t a part of the conversation, they are watching, observing, learning and listening.  They see how adults interact and they hear stories about the world.  Eventually, they will sit and converse with you (if you don’t give them a screen) so the hard part is now- the benefit (which is huge) comes later. 

5) Go outside at least once per day

This last one doesn’t seem at all related but it really is.  One of the reasons that we turn the screen on is because we are all tapped out of energy and we can’t muster anything else.  But if we open the door and get outside for even a couple of minutes (I know how hard that it when it is 3 degrees below zero, but those are the most important days to get outside) you will feel refreshed and refueled without turning to a screen.

Logo for Suzie (1)

You want to be more of a positive parent, but you still don’t want your child to get away with everything.  So what do you do?  Basically, all the same things, just take away the anger.  This can really only be a video post since I’m suggesting that you do everything you do as a parent the same as you do now, but without the anger and since you can’t show much emotion writing, it may be hard to explain: