If there is one thing that all parents struggle with; it is transitions.

There are two kinds of transition with which we really struggle.  One kind is getting a child to switch gears.  Whether it is transitioning from home to out of the house or leaving the park to go to lunch, this is often a struggle.  The second transition is moving a child from one routine into another routine.  These kinds of transitions are moving from a diaper to no diaper, moving from a family bed to an independent bed or no longer using a bottle.

Parents often feel even more isolated around transitions because they frequently happen at home. It really feels like you are the only one going through this difficulty when actually the opposite is true.  Everyone (and I mean, everyone) goes through a hard time with transitions.

But don’t despair!  There are some things you can do!  For switching gears transitions, there is a very effective tool you can use:

Focus on what is just beyond the transition.

Instead of saying “Get your shoes on. We have to go.  I said Now!”

Say, “Do you want an apple or an orange to eat in the stroller?”

Or, “Do you want to stop at King Soopers or Trader Joes on the way home from school?”

And if the case is leaving the house to go to school (or wherever, it just seems like school is pretty much always the hardest transition): focus either on something good at school or focus on something after school.

Instead of saying, “Stop dilly dallying!  Get ready now!  We have to go!”

Try, “Which friend are you going to play with at school today?” (While you hand them their jacket)

Or, “Which errand do you want to get done this afternoon?” (As you are opening the door)

This can work for leaving the house in the morning or for leaving somewhere fun.  So if you are at the park or a friend’s house, you can talk about the next step rather than the leaving part. “What do you want for dinner tonight?” or “Who should we facetime when we get home?”

I often hear parents bribing their children through transitions.  They say that there is a treat waiting for them in the car.  Or they say that there is something special at home.  There are two reasons for this: 1) it is effective 2) children often forget the bribe through the transition and parents know that.  But there are two reasons that we don’t want to do this.  One is because bribery breaks down relationships and trickery destroys trust.

 

The second type of transition is a much bigger transition.  It is a change of routine such as no longer using a bottle, or no more diapers at night.  This kind of transition feels really hard because you know that there is the other side of the transition, but you just can’t imagine getting through all of the muck and sludge to get there.

But the idea is the same as the first transition;

Focus on the end of the transition in other words: you can do this!

Know that so many parents have gone through this before you and they had just as much difficulty as you are having, but they made it to the other side just as you will.

Change is tough and your kids will resist.  They will cry and they will fuss but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t change your routine.

Let’s say that you have always given your child milk or yogurt or cereal just before bed and you want to take that part of your routine away.  You know in your mind that this is going to be horrible and that they may not sleep as well for a couple of days and that they will be super fussy.  That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go through the transition, it just means that it will be tough.

But focus just beyond the transition and know that they will eventually eat better at dinner, they won’t have a higher risk for cavities and it will overall be a better routine for health.  So know that the outcome will be optimal and be ready for some fussing.  

Transitions are hard, but as they are a big part of life, be there as support for your kiddos and know that everyone is going through the same thing!

 

 

Disappointment and failure are two things that you want your child to avoid at all costs as they are growing up.

Just kidding!

We all know that having a perfect rosy life isn’t possible and probably isn’t the ideal either and yet we try to provide that for our children; to their detriment.

Let’s start with disappointment.

As soon as your children turn two years old (or often just a couple of months before they turn that amazing age) they start to experience disappointment.  They are disappointed that they didn’t get to turn on the light.  They are disappointed that they didn’t get the red cup.  They are disappointed that they can’t eat the chocolate muffin for dinner.   As soon as they fuss and cry to show their disappointment, we want to relieve that discomfort of being disappointed and we give them the chance to turn on the light, we get them the red cup, we get them a muffin and then we become the saviors of the day!  Hooray! Disappointment averted!

However, disappointment is the best and healthiest experience for a young child.

Disappointment teaches resiliency, it teaches them about life, it helps them become an adult.

My husband works with young adults and he often talks to me about how parents can shape children to become functional adults.  He is currently reading Ownership Thinking: How the End Entitlement and Create a Culture of Accountability, Purpose and Profit.  Apparently this is a hot topic in all business as one google search of “Creating Ownership” will give you pages and pages of how to reduce entitlement.  The book talks about how employers should not “rescue” their employees just as a parent shouldn’t “rescue” their children.  

We have the option of creating the next generation of adults who aren’t entitled and who feel empowered.

How do we do that?  Allow our children to experience disappointment and failure.

Failures

Failures are different from disappointment as disappointment is the external world not going your way and failure is when your own actions/ choices/ attempts don’t work as you would have hoped.  As your children grow, they will start to have little failures and then bigger failures.

It might start with a lego set that breaks. Or maybe it is a lunch that was forgotten.  It might then be a bad grade or forgetting to do homework until the night before.  These are all little failures that are important for your child to experience.  These are tears that need to fall.

You can be there for your child to give them a hug and, but you can’t fix the failure.  Failures are how children learn and grow.  Failures are how children become adults.

So don’t avoid these two parts of your children’s lives.  Raise your children to become adults!

The shift from having a social life and being flexible before you had children can be a jolt when you think about putting your baby to sleep around the same (early!!) time every night. Is it worth it? Can’t you be the cool parents who have a baby and still have a life? Well, Let’s look into this a bit more.

We know that sleep is awesome for kids and especially for parents. But we’re not always sure why or how to get there.

Sleep is key to harmony in families and a new study just found that it also affects how children function at school (even many years later).

This article in the Wall Street Journal talks about the toddler and preschool years which are often the hardest to be consistent.  But those years are when the brain is developing and enormous rates and needs the consistent sleep.


It is hard as a parent to forgo some of our old habits (happy hour, evening hikes, dinner at a friend’s house) but when we know the importance of a consistent bedtime, it will be easier to make those changes.

If you start today with a consistent bedtime, you will also see an immediate change in behavior.  Children who are tired are much more cranky, defiant and difficult than children who are less tired.  

Children who have consistent bedtimes also go to bed easier and quicker than children with an uneven routine. 

So you know that things will get easier (albeit less social) when your children go to bed almost the same time each night, but we now also know that it will help academically down the road due to healthy brain development.

So back to the new non-existent social life: it is gone forever?  No.

Once you have a consistent bedtime set up, you can stick to the schedule about 90% of the time and through fate into the wind about 10% of the time and your child will still benefit from having a consistent schedule.  This will actually make traveling easier and will make those couple of times that you are spontaneous easier because your children will just fall into your schedule whether you are on a train, in a car, on a plane or off too far. 

So how important is a consistent bedtime?  Very important!

 

I just read another article discussing co-sleeping versus sleep training and after reading the scathing comments afterwards it really feels like parenting is becoming as polarizing as politics.

There are families where co-sleeping is definitely the right decisions  and there are families where sleep training is definitely the right decision and there are even many families who have done both depending on the child or the situation.

There is only one thing that all of these families need to be thinking about with their children and that is one things is sleep associations.

So it doesn’t really matter which style you choose, just make sure that you think about what sleep associations your child is making and just be aware of how they are falling asleep.

What is a sleep association?  A sleep association is something outside of the child that helps the child fall asleep.

Common sleep associations are:

Darkened space

Rocking motion

Snuggling

Sucking

White noise

Lovey

Routine

Music

These are all things that help a child fall asleep no matter whether you are co-sleeping or sleep training.

So as your child gets older, you will want to look at what sleep associations your child relies most heavily on.

  • If your child will only fall asleep while rocking and with white noise (i.e. in the car), and you know that your child won’t be able to rock if they are in a bed or a crib, then know what white noise is a must and that you will need to add in another sleep association once you take away the rocking.
  • If your child will only fall asleep while sucking (bottle or breast) and you know that they will need to wean from the bottle or the breast soon, then you can look at other associations to replace the sucking.  Or just can introduce the pacifier or thumb-sucking to replace the other sucking.

When we talk about sleep associations, someone might interpret that having sleep associations is a negative thing.  But it isn’t.  They are essential.  They are how we learn to sleep.  So this doesn’t mean that you never nurse your child to sleep as an infant because they will always associate nursing with sleeping because that isn’t true.   Infants nurse to sleep.  And as they grow, they learn new associations.  All of these are positive things and all are used to fit the child, the family and the situation.

Speaking of situations, they change.  You may have a child who co-sleeps wonderfully with you in the family bed.  You are happy, your husband is happy and your child is happy.  However, you soon find out that you are pregnant and you realize that you will need to move your child to their own bed.   This is a common scenario and a very stress-inducing one at that.  Your child knows that snuggling with you and either breast-feeding or drinking a bottle in your bed means that it is time to sleep.  So those two sleep associations (sucking and cuddling) mean sleep.

But now you need to move your toddler into their own room.  Set up the room with new sleep associations.  Maybe get a noise machine and black out curtains.  If you have a rocker, use that in the new room.  See if your child attaches to a lovey.  All of these are possible new sleep associations that will replace the cuddling and sucking associations.  If you have the time, only remove one sleep association at a time.  So if you are breast-feeding, you can continue to do that while moving your child into their new room.  It will mean that you will need to come to the room to feed which initially be less sleep (stick to it; you can do it!!) but more sleep in the long run.  Once your little one is settled in the new room, then you will remove breastfeeding as a sleep association.  You will need to keep your little one awake and make sure they go down drowsy but awake.  Then you can be there to shush, sing, pat their tummy, etc., until they fall asleep.  Sounds easier on paper than in real life but again, this isn’t forever.

Your goal: remove sleep associations that are more work with sleep associations that are less work as the child gets older.  This is a process that you may have to do over and over.  Change is inevitable.

With each change, your child may protest and they may be tears.  But don’t fear change. It’s ok if they cry.  You will be there to support them through the change.

 

I’m going to cut to the chase and give you the three steps to better behavior right now.  Before you do any thing (go to the grocery store, get ready for bed, go to a friend’s house, etc) tell your kids:

  1. What it is going to look like
  2. What are the expectations
  3. What will happen if they don’t do what they are supposed to do

 

Ok, now that you know the 3 magic steps, let me walk you through some situations and why these 3 steps are so important!

Kids thrive on routine because they know what is coming next.  If you always get dressed right after breakfast, then kids often run to the clothes dresser right after breakfast because they know what is coming.  They know what to expect.  So just take this same idea out into the world.

Are you going to the library?  Tell your kids.  Are you going to let them check out 55 books.  Tell them that they get 55 books.  Do they get to play on the computer for 20 minutes.  Let them know.  Do you only have space in your bag for 6 books?  Then tell them they only get 6 books.  Do you have time to play at the park afterwards or will your parking limit run out of time and you’ll have to head home?  Let them know ahead of time.

Where else could you use this technique?  The store, the doctor, grandma’s house, running errands, a playdate, going out to dinner, flying on a plane, road trip up to the mountains, getting ready in the morning.  The possibilities are endless.

A lot of parents don’t tell children what is going to happen ahead of time with things that are unpleasant like going to the doctor or dropping them off somewhere.  But we need to build trust with children and we do that by preparing them for the good and the bad.   Before we go to the doctor, I tell them whether they are getting shots or not and then we talk about what we’ll do after the shot (go get ice cream or go to the park).   This way they know what to expect and they are actually less nervous than they would be if they were guessing the whole time (Is this the place that hurts?  What’s going to happen? Am I going to be safe?!?)

The second part is to let them know what the expectations are.  This is true for adults as well. I mean, we all like surprises now and then, but what if you signed up for a hiking trip and then found out that it was a hard-core rock-climbing trip or maybe the hiking trip was actually walking a 1/4 mile.  Both of those would be difficult to deal with because your expectations were totally different than what was presented.  So if you are going to a friend’s house and they don’t mind if the kids jump on the couch, let your kids know.  But if there are going to be fancy tables and maybe even a glass vase somewhere in the living room, tell your kids ahead of time, “no running around AT All at our friends house. We can run outside afterwards, but no running while we are there.”   

I once met up with some college friends and their toddlers at a fancy hotel room that an out-of-town friend had booked.  One of the friends walked it and said, “oh jeez, this place is nice, too bad my kid is totally going to tear it apart.”  So the kid looked up at his mom right after she said that and subsequently began to tear the room apart.  That was her expectation for what he was going to do and so he fulfilled that expectation like any kid would.

This works for bedtime too.  If bedtime isn’t what you were hoping it would be and it is a mess of emotions, push-back, fussing and headache, then make a plan of what bedtime should be.  Find a picture schedule online and use the parts that work for you.  Add in other parts and take out what won’t work.  Then let your kids know.  Talk to them about what they need to do.  Do you help them with their pajamas but they need to brush their own teeth?  Let them know what the expectations are.

Finally, let kids know what will happen if they do or don’t do what is expected of them.

On long days with lots of errands or chores, I list the things that need to be done and then the last thing is something enjoyable, something outside, something relaxing or energy releasing.  This way, kids have something to look forward to and know that they need to hold it together for such and such amount of time before they can release it all.  And if there are issues, problems, etc, then the errands stop and everyone heads home.  Now they can still run around at home, you can still take some space in your room if it was really bad, but the last stop at the park didn’t get added into the mix if the kids just couldn’t handle everything.  And it’s ok.  Your kids won’t always be able to run 3 errands in a row.  They won’t always be able to sit while they eat at a restaurant.  And if they can’t sit, then it means it is time to go home, maybe time to go to bed.

Time to start again new tomorrow.

And the next time, let them know ahead of time and chances are, they’ll be able to do it.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

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 constant, then look at how much sleep kids are getting over all and then get some good sleep routines in place.

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.

 

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.

 

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.