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.

 

 

 

defiant

As very young children get older, they start to become more independent.  But there are two things working against that independence.

1) They don’t fully understand all the implications of independence, (i.e. responsibility, safety and sometimes independence is scary)


2) We aren’t always ready to give them independence because they are still our babies.


Because of these two obstacles, independence often takes the form of defiance. 


My two-year old (almost three-year old) boys are dabbling in defiance.  I am slowly giving them more independence-

  • They can get in and out of bed by themselves
  • They can wash their hands by themselves
  • They can get dressed by themselves
  • They can prepare some of their food by themselves

But really, they don’t have that much independence yet and as they grow older, they will request more.

How do they do this?

By asserting themselves.


This comes across as being defiant.  But a child who has opportunities throughout the day to be independent will be less defiant.


How does this work?  Well, this goes hand in hand with the “giving-children-more-opportunities-for-risk” post.  


It is hard to allow children to fail, fall, hurt, cry, or fumble but we need to give our children those opportunities and it will help with the defiance we see in young children as well as the defiance we see in teenagers. 


We have scares, and like many parents, we have them often.  But instead of shielding and sheltering my children more, I love feeling the confidence of a child who just learned that it is not OK to play behind a truck.  So that if he ever finds himself in a place behind a truck that is starting, he will get out of there and not wait for someone to come get him.

A child who is acting defiant is a child who needs more independence.

What does this look like and what can parents do?

Let’s say you are getting ready for bed and your child starts acting up.

“NOooo!”

or

“I don’t like those pajamas!”

or however it manifests in your household.

These are all signs of defiance that could be turned into independence.

Your child can take control over what pajamas they want to wear.  They can have control over who brushes their teeth.  And of course they have the independence to choose what book to read.

These are all easy ways to give our children more independence that they are craving.

They are asserting themselves as individuals and we need to give them that opportunity.

Here’s another thought:

If we give children more opportunities to assert their Independence throughout the day, will they ultimately be less defiant?

Try it tomorrow and see what happens.

 

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Have you ever yelled at your children?  Have your children gotten angry and screamed at you or threw things?  You may feel like your family is the only family that ever gets angry, but the truth is that everyone feels anger and that feeling angry is perfectly OK.  But what do we do when we feel angry, or after we feel angry?  We weren’t really ever taught how to deal with it, so it is important that we teach our own kids about this unique emotion.

A lot of parents shy away from showing or talking about strong emotions.  We were brought up to think that emotions should be hidden.  But teaching empathy and talking about our emotions is the healthiest way to take care of our minds and bodies.

So we are going to get angry.  And our children are going to get angry.  And that is perfectly OK.  But we also talk about it and read about it.

My favorite book about anger is When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry… By Molly Bang

Here’s why:

It’s the classic kid problem.  Both kids want the same thing.  How often does this happen?  Every. Single. Day. About a hundred times.   The classic kid response to this classic kid problem?  Anger. 

The description of anger is dead on.  She is like a volcano, she is like a tiger.  She wants to roar.  She feels like she is going to explode.  That is exactly how I feel.

How she deals with it.  She runs. She leaves.  She doesn’t hurt anyone. She breathes.  She cries.  She stops and she starts coming back through awareness of her surroundings.  It’s like Buddha wrote this book.  It is so sweet. 

Connection to nature. Being outdoors.  I heard someone say once that it is impossible to be angry while looking at a rainbow.  Sometimes just getting outside will help with our emotions and this is exactly what Sophie does. 

It’s an example of a perfect time out.  Time outs are effective when they are used as a calming down strategy.  The strategy is talked about before the child gets angry and is modeled by the parent.  So when I get angry, I say, “I’m going to take some space like Sophie and take some deep breaths.”  Then later, I can talk about how I calmed myself down and read the book again with my children.  When they get really angry, I can offer, “Do you want to take some time like Sophie?  Do you want to go outside by the tree like Sophie?”

Kids really relate to this book and it is perfect for teaching children about anger, emotions and empathy.

 

 

 

family dinner

I was talking with my husband about kids last night and how difficult it is to raise children with drugs, media, violence, diseases, addiction and all the other bad things out there in the world.  We were starting to feel a bit depressed when I remembered that there is one thing that you can do to guard your children against all that.

The Family Dinner

Here are the top 5 reasons why you need to have a family dinner with your children this week:

1) Connection

When you sit down at a dinner table, all facing each other, there will be conversation, questions, and connection.  You will build memories, vocabularies, world knowledge and just know more about each other.  This connection will be with your family through the thick and thin.

2) Screen-free

An important part of the family dinner is to turn off all screens.  Not only does this set a precedent for how to eat with others, it will carve out an automatic screen-free time where everyone can be in the present and not connected to something else.  

 

If there is just one change that you make to create a stronger family, more resilient kids and a better world (corny, I know, but it’s true) then have at least one family dinner this week!

 

3) Nutrition and picky eaters

Do you have picky eaters?  Family dinner is one of the many ways that you can help them, but the most important thing to remember, is no pressure.  When food is presented in an attractive way, everyone is eating it and everyone is happy and comfortable, children are more likely to try it.  That doesn’t mean that they will eat it, or like it, but if a child just tries a bite of food, science shows that after 20 tries, they will like the food.  So don’t pressure them, just enjoy the food yourself and over the years, your children will be less picky.

4) Family stories

One of my favorite New York Times article talks about how children who have more of a foundation can weather trauma better.  So if they have heard more stories about their family and know more details about their parents and their lives, then they have more tools in their toolbox when things get rough.

5) Routine

With routine, you build trust and create rituals that will ultimately build a foundation on which your child can grow.  One of my favorite routines is to have everyone take a deep breath before everyone starts eating (or once everyone is sitting at the table).  “In through your nose” *breathe* “Out through your mouth” *breathe* “Smell the flowers” *breathe* “blow out the candle”.  This daily exercise will not only help you as a parent to relax and ground yourself, but it also teaches your child essential calming skills.

outside

The days are getting longer and all I can think about is getting outside with the family.

Here in Colorado we have 13 National Parks and they are a great place to start your spring and summertime adventures.  On May 21, the National Park Trust is hosting a Kids to Parks Day to get your kids excited about what theses parks have to offer. Why do we want to get kids into our National Parks?  They are some of the most amazing parts of Colorado (Rocky Mountain National Park, Sand Dunes National Park), they have interesting history (Bent’s Old Fort, Mesa Verde) and they are great for everyone in the family.

At the end of the post, I have information about a National Parks Giveaway!

Here’s 5 reasons why it is so important to do that:

1. The outdoors are screen free!

Are you attempting to keep your child screen-free or limit the amount of screen time?  Well, the easiest way to do that is to get outside!  Every day and every weekend that you plan to be outside, you can also plan to never hear, “Can we watch that video?” or “Mama, phone!”

2. Good exercise and better mental health

Getting outside pretty much guarantees exercise and good exercise guarantees fewer tantrums, better mental health and happier families. If you head to Mesa Verde National Park, you will be climbing ladders, and if your choice is Sand Dunes National Park, you might be sand boarding or just a simple trek to Colorado National Monument and you could be hiking or biking.  Live longer and happier by just getting outside.

3. Awareness of our world

It is crazy that most people can name TV characters, sports team stats, and the names of famous people’s babies and yet they don’t know any names of birds, trees or flowers.  Getting your children outside will balance that out.  It doesn’t mean that they can’t be aware of social media or what is happening in our government, it just means also being able to recognize the song of a robin.  Just being outside a couple days a week will give your children an awareness that can be invaluable to their life.

4. Learn new skills

Depending on your kids’ ages, you can learn lots of new skills in the outdoors from map reading, to fishing, to climbing, to learning about different plants and animals.   Our boys each have an animal tracks book and a flower book to bring along on our hikes.  The National Parks Trust also has a great booklet you can print before heading out with lots of activities.

5. Nature

This one parallels #2 and includes one of my favorite quotes: “Nature; cheaper than therapy”.  Being in nature is good for mental health and when children learn to appreciate nature at a young age, lots of great things happen.  They will be healthier adults, they will be more likely to advocate for conservation, and they will have more awareness of their environment.

So start planning on which National Park you will visit this May 21 and join the almost 73,000 other people who are pledging to take their kid to a National Park!

Leave a comment below about your plans to visit a National Park and you could win a Buddy Bison stuffed animal and two books (Kid’s National Parks Guide and Buddy Bison’s Yellowstone Adventure) to accompany you and your children on your trip!   This set of books values at $25 and is a great way to make life-literacy connections. Winners will be chosen at random by May 21, 2016.  This giveaway is sponsored by The National Parks Trust and Kids to Parks 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?”

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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!

empathy

(The most important thing you can do, by the way, is eat a family dinner together).

Often my posts are about changes you can make when working with your children to help create a better life for you and them.  But today, I’m going to talk a little bit behind the scenes with some “why’s” behind what we do.

Empathy is really such a cornerstone concept because it is super important for parents to have with their children and even more important skill for children to learn.

What is empathy?  My husband said that it is knowing how other people feel.  That in itself is correct, but it is so much more than that.

Empathy is understanding other people’s feelings and what is happening behind the feeling.

Empathy is putting yourself in other people’s shoes.

Let’s first talk about empathy, sympathy and compassion.

Empathy is understanding where someone is coming from.  It is the why behind the actions or behavior.

Sympathy is either feeling the same emotion or being able to feel the same emotion.

Compassion is wanting to help someone who is in need.

All three of these are very important but the one that gets forgotten the most is empathy.

Here are some examples:

With the war in Syria, we have empathy for the refugees. We understand why they are leaving their country.  We probably won’t be able to sympathize with them, unless we ourselves have had to leave our country under duress.  We will most likely have compassion for them and want to help.

However, we may also have empathy for the countries who are not taking in the refugees.  Why are they not helping?  If we look at the “why” behind their behavior we might read that they don’t feel like they have the resources to take in all the refugees.  They might even be afraid of what the future will look like with so many people who don’t have jobs or who speak the language.  If we look at the why’s behind their behavior, we might have empathy for these countries. Even though I may not agree with these countries, I can understand where they are coming from. I myself wouldn’t have sympathy for these countries because I believe that I would feel differently. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we have compassion for these countries.   If they are refusing entry to the refugees, they don’t deserve any compassion for their actions.

So the three are intertwined but can also be very separate.  When empathy becomes the most difficult, but most important, is when we see behavior that is undesirable.  In the first example, pretty much everyone would have empathy for the refugees, but in the second example, it is a bit more difficult to have empathy for countries refusing refugees entry.  We have to dig deep to find some empathy and figure out where the behavior is coming from.

When we have empathy for our children, our conflicts de-escalate, our connection builds and we can solve problems without all the fussing and fighting that often happens with people don’t get their way.

If your child doesn’t get a toy that they want, you can empathize with that.  They wanted something, they didn’t get it.  That sucks.  It sucks for us adults as well when we wanted a poppy seed bagel and we get to the bagel shop and they are all out.  We can empathize.  “You are bummed because you didn’t get that toy that you wanted.”  We can sympathize, “I feel the same way when I don’t get something I want.”  We can have compassion, “Would you like a hug?”

We also need to have tons of empathy when we are giving consequences.  We may be angry with our children when their behavior is unacceptable, but it is wiser and more effective to give consequences with a big ol’ dose of empathy.  Let’s say your one child has just smacked your other child after a particularly trying morning.  

Without empathy:

You can pick him up angrily and bring him into his room and say, “Don’t ever do that again!”

With empathy:

You can stop, say, “Uh oh.  I can’t allow you to hit anyone.  I know you wanted that toy, but you will have to go somewhere where everyone will be safe.” and carry him gently into his room.

 

And equally important as empathizing with our children is teaching them empathy.

How do we teach empathy?

First, we are empathetic with our children.  Then, we teach them problem solving skills which include looking at other solutions (seeing where the other child is coming from).  Thirdly, we talk about the why’s behind behavior.

For really young children, we can just point out the “why” behind the situation:

Without empathy:

“Stop fussing! You both need to share!”

With empathy:

“Look, Eliza wants a turn with the toy, too.”

Without empathy:

“Ugh, that child is so whiny.”

With empathy:

“Let’s give some of our snack to Melissa, I think she might be hungry.”

And for older children, it can be much more of a discussion:

Is someone bothering your child (a sibling or a child at school)? You can start the discussion with, “What do you think is going on?”   “Do you think that the other child wants what you have?”  “Do you think they might be lonely?”

When you look at the why’s behind the situation and help your child look at why someone is acting someway, then you are teaching them all about empathy.

 

Why does all this matter?

Just like blueberries are one of those super-foods, empathy is one of those super skills.  Children and adults who have empathy end up having more friends, getting better jobs, are better bosses, have better relationships and so on.   There is one caveat, however and that is that there is a study that says that the most powerful people in the world have less empathy than other people.  So if you want your child to be a ruler and be able to get power with any means necessary, then don’t teach her empathy.  But if you want her to be successful and happy, then use empathy yourself with your children and teach them how to be empathetic as well.

 

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.

How to deal with a 2 year old (3)

Here is an info-graphic that you can refer to, or print up which gives a summary of how to work with your child’s behavior.  It includes minor transgressions, common behavior issues as well as more major safety issues.