Gratitude

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about how to raise a grateful child. Or how to not raise an entitled child.

Is this even possible if you have family that shower them with gifts all of the time?  Is this realistic when their friends get everything they ask for and more?

Does your child whine when they don’t get the toys they want or whine for more?

Does your child expect things to be handed to them even if they aren’t appreciative?

Do you want them to be more mindful about taking care of others?

How can you create gratitude where there is none?

Model it

When you are feeling frustrated and at your worst, think about what you are grateful for and say it out-loud to your kids.

When you feel like the world is against you and nothing is going right, think about what is going right and tell your children.

When your children are being pain in the necks, stop and give them a hug and tell them how grateful you are that they are your children.

Your children will learn that not everything is perfect and that we can still find appreciation in our lives.

Volunteer

Do you ever feel different after you volunteer your time?  Do you feel energized or appreciative?  This will be true for your children too.  They get to do something productive that doesn’t have any concrete results for themselves, it is simply to do something for others.  This will help create empathy which then can translate to not being entitled.

When children are surrounded by people like themselves, then they tend to think that everyone is like that.  So if all of your children’s friends have everything that they need and more, then they might believe that they also should have everything they ask for plus more.

When volunteering, sometimes I say to my children that I help out now because someday, I might be the one needing help which leads me to the next one:

The tables can turn

Without creating anxiety in my children, I tell my children that sometimes we are able to help and sometimes we may need help.  Obviously, we are planning for the future and we don’t expect anything to happen to us but I create hope with my children that if things were to change and for some reason we were to lose our house or we weren’t able to have enough money to buy groceries one week, there are people out there that will help us and we’ll be OK.

But since we are able to buy groceries right now, we’ll buy a couple more groceries and donate them to the food bank just as someone would do that for us if the tables were turned.

One of my kids has a bit more of a tendency towards anxiety and he really does well with this message because it is part of the “We take care of each other” message that I’m constantly teaching and instead of feeling overwhelming to him, it actually feels comforting.

Allowance

When your children are 5 years or older, you can use allowance to help children from becoming too entitled. If your children are asking for more and more things you can tell them that they can use their allowance for whatever they want.  If they get 2 dollars a week then they can buy whatever they want for two dollars and that will drastically reduce the consumption of toys and goods.  If they want something that costs more than 2 dollars then they will have to start saving and stop asking for things.

Travel

Last but not least, you can travel to other countries and to other cultures. This one is a little tricky because going to an all inclusive resort in Mexico probably won’t create gratitude in your child.  It may only say, “Oh look at the have-nots. Aren’t we glad that we are part of the ‘have’s’  instead of the ‘have-nots?'” Don’t set it up as a look at them versus us situation because that can be damaging towards building community and creating understanding.

Instead, try a different approach where you are able to interact with other families on a beach or maybe through a homestay.  Learn about what similarities your families have.  Create a connection where your children can see how other people live and can find happiness through means other than possessions.

Practice Every Day!

Make a gratitude journal.  Ask each other at your family dinner what their favorite part of their day was.  And also ask about their challenges or their failures because being grateful doesn’t always mean being happy!

question

Picture this:

Your toddler just chased after your cat and then full-on hit your cat with her toy.

Or:

Your 4 and a half-year old just went up to his baby sister and pulled her hair.

Or:

You walk in on your 3-year-old twins with everything in the kitchen thrown everywhere.

Your first response?

“Why did you just do that?”

There’s really no point to this question even though we ask it all the time.

“Why did you just do that?”

This question looks to find out the reason behind the behavior, but we already know the reason.  Just look online for toddler behavior and you’ll hear about children throwing their food, hitting their sibling, drawing on the couch.  Why did they do it?  Because they are toddler’s that’s why.  What is the answer that we are looking for when we ask that question?

The reason so many parents ask this question is because they want to start the problem solving process by asking this question.  When we ask, “Why did you do that?!?” we want the child to say, “Well, I hit my sister because we both wanted the same toy, and I figured that I could get the toy if I hit her and she started crying.”  Then, in this ideal world, we say, “So you both wanted the same toy and so you hit your sister, however, hitting is not ok.  What are some other solutions if you both want the same toy?”  Funny enough, I don’t think this scenario has ever actually happened in real life.

Instead of asking this silly question that has no answer; start the problem solving process right away.  What are the steps to problem solving?

First, Identify the problem:

“Uh oh!  Your sister is crying… What is the problem?”

“Did you both want the same toy?  Is that the problem?”

Then, brainstorm some solutions:

“What are some solutions?  You could both take a break from the toy.  We could find a different toy to play with.  Or you can give your sister a turn for two minutes and then you can have a turn with the toy. Or do you have another idea?”

Then, choose a solution:

“Which solution works best for you?”  Depending on your child’s age, you may have to choose for her or you can offer to choose it they are not sure.  I usually choose the worst solution which is putting the toy away.

Finally, see if the problem was solved:

“Did that work?  Did you both get a turn?”

Sometimes the last step is the one that falls apart since toddlers tend to forget things and parents will use that to their advantage, but it is actually really important to follow through and at least check in (“your sister is done with the toy, did you still want your turn?”) because you want to build these skills so that your children are problem solving on their own in a couple of years.

This will drastically improve your children’s behavior as well as create more harmony in the house.

So change your one question from “Why did you just do that?”  To “What is the problem?” for better behavior today!

take care

This is your new mantra:

‘We take care of each other.’

This isn’t just for parents with more than one child because parents of only children can benefit from this phrase as well.

Wondering how to keep your kids from hitting each other?

We take care of each other

Wondering how to get your child to help with the dishes?

We take care of each other

Wondering how to have less squabbling?

We take care of each other

So here it is in practice:

It’s morning. Your kids ask what papa is making for breakfast. “Papa’s taking good care of us and making eggs and toast for breakfast”.  As you are getting ready for work and they need your attention you say, “I can’t right now because I’m getting ready for work. I work so that I can take care of you and provide food for all of us.” Your child goes over to pet the cat, “You take such good care of Felix.” Then one child grabs another child’s toy. “Uh oh, did you want a turn with the toy? Let’s take good care of each other and ask for the toy instead of grabbing it. Say, ‘Can I have a turn after you?'”

So on and so forth.

Why would we do this?

Families are units.

Families are important.

Families take care of each other.

If we keep this as a mantra, then the children realize that their siblings aren’t their worst enemies, but rather someone on whom they can rely. 

What you hear becomes your inner voice.  When children hear that they are a valuable part of a unit or a pod, then they feel more secure and become more responsible.

So then this translates into chores and keeping the house nice. 

Children should never be paid for chores (chores and allowance can start at the same time, but one is not dependent on the other). Children do chores for the same reason adults do chores.  To take care of each other.  My husband helps with the laundry so that we all have clean clothes.  He is taking care of us.  I make dinner so that we are all taken care of.  My children bring in a bag of groceries from the car because we all take care of each other. 

What do you do when your child grumbles? “I don’t wanna” or even just “NO!”

Bring it back around to taking care of each other, and say, “I would love to put away the utensils for you and then you can make dinner for me.”  They will end up choosing the easier job (until they don’t!!!) and then you get them to make dinner for you.  I would be lying if I said I never had toast for dinner.  

Because toast is what they made.

2013-10-22 07.58.58

Problem solving skills are useful for a variety of reasons and can be brought out in any situation.  If bedtime isn’t working for you, your spouse, your children or your neighbor upstairs, then bring out your problem solving skills!

First: what are the steps to problem solving?

  1. Name the problem
  2. Come up with some solutions
  3. Try those solutions
  4. If they worked, you’re all good- if they didn’t work, go back to number 2

OK, so, what’s the problem?

The kids whine and keep asking for things and bedtime takes forever?  Or, they go to bed just fine but an hour or two later, they are up and in our bed and won’t fall asleep? Or, I have to lay with them for hours and hours thinking about all the work I need to do? Or just before bed they start jumping and yelling and playing and throwing things?

Let’s pick one:

The problem is that bedtime takes forever.

We start the bedtime routine at 7 and the kids are finally asleep at 9 or 10 at night.

So now let’s go to step 2: find some solutions.

First talk with your partner to see what ideas you each have and what each person is comfortable doing and then take the problem to the whole family.  If you have kids over a year or a year and a half, they can participate.  If they are younger than that, then they can’t give input but they can still hear the verdict.  An infant who is told what their bedtime routine is does better than one who has no idea.  True story.

So, the whole family is sitting around the dinner table, and you say, “We have a problem.  Bedtime isn’t working.  We need to come up with some ideas to make bedtime more enjoyable for everyone.”  Then start asking for some ideas.  No idea is a bad idea.  One idea is to move bedtime to 9 or 10 pm since I met with one sleep expert who gave out that idea and it works for some people.  Another idea is to move bedtime to 6:30 since many children get over-tired and become hyperactive just to stay awake and then they have difficultly falling asleep.  This also works well for many families.  Ask your children what they think.  Would a picture schedule help?  Would cutting out chocolate help?  Let’s try it.  What do you think about having a timer during bath time so it doesn’t go on forever?  Maybe we could all lay together in one bed and then one child switches to their own bed so that I don’t spend two hours laying in each bed every night.  Idea after idea after idea.

Then try the ideas. Not too many changes all at once.  Depending on the age of your children, you can choose one or two changes and try those for a couple weeks up to a month before revisiting and seeing if the new idea works.  

If it works, then great!  If it doesn’t work, that’s OK- back to the problem solving table!

You don’t have to be stuck in the spot that you are in.  Changes can happen and although there might be some tears with the changes, you can be there to support your children through the different routine.

Finally, set up a plan for when things don’t go the way they should.

Let’s say that you talk with your family and you make a picture schedule with dinner, bath, pajamas, brush teeth, story and bed.  Then make a plan for what happens when we get off-track.  Listen to ideas from your children.  Then add in your own idea of losing one of the stories.  “We don’t have enough time to read a book since we had a big problem when it was time to put on pajamas”.  Or maybe you have another idea when things aren’t going well.  At any rate, have a consequence for that boundary so that you can all stay on track for a reasonable bedtime.

It may take a couple of weeks for the changes to show up so don’t get discouraged if you don’t see anything right away but know that a more peaceful bedtime routine is just around the corner!

 

Have you seen this video about failure?

It changes your whole perspective on how to deal with failing.  We have been asking our kids about their failures for about a year now and the other day one of my boys fell pretty hard on his bike when he was trying something new.  After crying for a minute or two, he looked up at me and said, “Mama, that was my failure for today!”

 

What was your failure today?

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.

 

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.

 

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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.