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?

emotion

My favorite word is “overwhelmed” and I use it all the time.

I think it does two things:

It really sums up parenthood

It teaches kids about emotions and empathy

I see parents trying to hide their emotions all the time.  I see mom’s apologizing for crying when there is nothing wrong for using tears as an outlet.  And I am overjoyed that moms do cry in front of each other all the time so that they create solidarity and a support system.

Parenting is hard and even though we try to keep up our appearances that it is easy, it doesn’t work and we need to allow our emotions to show so that we can be there to support each other.

If you are overwhelmed, you are allowed to show it.

When my day feels so long and my children are driving me crazy and one more thing happens the throws me over the edge, I say, “I’m really overwhelmed.”  And then I either try to take some deep breaths or I walk away and take some space (usually in my room for just a minute or two).

Kids then learn all about emotions and empathy when moms show their emotions. 

If you can name what you are feeling and even give some ideas on how to deal with it, then so much the better for everyone.  But don’t hide the feeling.  Don’t apologize for it. Just feel it.

You are allowed to cry.  You are allowed to yell.  You are allowed to feel all of the emotions and in fact, everyone benefits from moms showing emotions so let it all out!

 

 

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!

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.

 

10 tips

Here’s a list of 10 tried and true tips to being a good parent:

  1. Routine

It may not fit your lifestyle if you are used to being more spontaneous and flying by the seat of your pants before you had kids, however it is the number one way to having happier kids.  Doing more or less the same things at more or less the same time of day every day will make your children better sleepers, better eaters and better behaved.

2. Eat dinner together as a family

There is study after study about how eating dinner together as a family insulates your children from many societal ills.  Be sure to use the “no devices at the table” rule or you won’t benefit from the time together.  But this one simple thing will set your child up for life!

3.  Breathe

The best thing I ever heard as a parent is, “breathe in for a count of 5, breathe out for a count of 5”.  Not only does it calm you down, but it is a great model to help your children calm down.

4. Rotate your children’s toys

When your children have fewer toys to play with, they are more engaged and more focused.  Clean up is much, much easier and when they are bored with their toys, the ones in storage will feel like new!  Get some good storage bins (or even plastic bags) and put about half of your kid’s toys away in the garage or a closet.

5. Don’t force your kids to eat

Take all the stress away from food and eating and your children will be better and healthier eaters.  Provide them with three healthy meals a day with fruit for snack in-between meals and as long as there is at least one thing on the plate that they will eat, let them decide how much food they want.  It’s OK if they decide not to eat, or just eat the one thing that they are familiar with.  Have them take one bite of the new food even if it is a tiny bite.  It takes 20 times of trying most foods before children will eat it.

6. Carve out a little time for yourself

If you are burnt out, you won’t be much support for your children.  Taking some time for yourself doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you a good parent.  Whether it is a 5 minute walk around the block, a little meditation in the morning, or watching your favorite show while they are sleeping- just do it!

7. Teach your children problem solving skills

If your children can solve their own problems, then your life will be much easier and your children will have more success in life.  Start by identifying the problem (you both want the same toy) and then help them come up with solutions.  The more creative, the better!

8. Get outside every single day (even and especially on the worst of days)

One of my favorite quotes is “Nature is cheaper than therapy.”  Getting outside is something you can do with or without your children.  When you go outside for even a short time, your whole look on life will improve.  If you have even more time to get a walk around the block or a get out into nature, your outlook on life will increase ten-fold.  And if the weather is super rainy, cold, hot or just uncomfortable, then coming back home will be that much more enjoyable.

9. Get down on the floor (when times are good and when times are bad)

Getting down on the floor does many things:

  • It changes your perspective so that you see things from your kids point of view
  • It moves your body in ways that you aren’t used to and puts you into a mood to have fun
  • If tempers are flaring, it lowers the anxiety level of your children (Seriously. Try this- they immediately calm down)
  • It puts you on the same level as your child which increases connection and decreases power imbalance

10. Give your kiddos a hug every single day

This one is a no-brainer, but somehow I still seem to forget!

 

 

spanking(20)

I realize that not too many people who follow me are ones who spank their children, but even if I’m just preaching to the choir, I still need to preach.

After reading all the news about the recent (and history of) police brutality, I have to speak from a parenting point of view.

Do not spank your children.

What does this have to do with people in a position of power harming other people?

Everything.

I write about discipline all the time and mostly my stance is on finding a balance between setting limits and positive parenting.  It is a confusing topic and parenting is tough, so there is a lot to say about it.   I rarely talk about the exertion of control over your children although it actually is a key part in understanding discipline and teaching positive skills to your children.  So when you look at the continuum of parenting styles, you’ll see authoritative on one side, permissive on the other and unconditional or positive parenting somewhere in the middle.  But what separates one style from another is the amount of control, or the amount of power:Parenting styles (8)

Authoritative parents tend to run on the idea that having complete control over your children helps their behavior.  Parents make the rule and parents enforce the rule.   And what is the most popular way to enforce rules? Spanking.

Most people can agree that this style of parenting stops undesirable behavior mostly in its tracks.  It might make a child upset or cry, but hey, parents can stop that behavior too with enough force.

The underlying, indisputable, persistent message to children with authoritative parenting and spanking is:

It is never OK to hit, unless you are in a position of power or authority.

So with authoritative parenting, children learn what is OK and what is not OK from a parent’s point of view.  This sounds like a good thing which is why so many parents choose to be authoritative.  But they learn other lessons too, that might not be as desirable.  They learn that you can control other people who don’t have as much power through force.  They also learn that this kind of violence is somehow OK.

I am not a scientist, and I’ve only thought for about 5 minutes of actually getting a PhD, but if I were to do a dissertation, it would be on how many people who are in position of power and have abused that power were spanked as a child.

I don’t know how accurate the data would be since I was spanked as a child and I don’t go around asserting myself through force, but I do think that there is a relationship there.

So instead of requesting obedience through complete control and hitting your child, you can send them another message of working together to solve problems by giving the children some control.   Some food for thought…

positive

A lot of families are turning to positive parenting these days because they want to leave the yelling, screaming and anger that can happen with parenting in the past.

But what ends up sometimes happening with positive parenting is that the parents become permissive parents.

Positive parenting is still strict parenting.

It is loving parenting, but it is not permissive parenting.

Let me explain:

Parenting is a confusing world to navigate.  Most of us are on board that we no longer hit or spank our children.  And everyone would love to never yell or be angry with our children.  But the in-between section is gray, nebulous and full of indecision.

But you don’t want to be indecisive and your children don’t want you to be indecisive either.

So you have to come up with a plan.  And the first place that parents look for advice is on the internet.  This is great because the internet has so much information, and this is overwhelming because the internet has so much information.

I often find articles that say, “time-outs are bad”, and “consequences are bad”.  I read these articles and they make me want to hug my children all the time.  But then I scour them for exactly what I’m supposed to do when my whole family is losing it.  They give advice like: get close to your children, or give them space, or talk them through their emotions.

I’m sure that this works for some families and it is probably the ideal way to raise your children, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me and I’ve spoken with many parents who also struggle with this type of positive parenting.  I’ve only seen it confuse children because they don’t know what the expectations and limits are.

What does work for children is setting limits in a loving way.

So let’s make a plan.  You set a limit that says, “We do not hit people.”  You talk it over with your child and say, “We take care of each other, we do not hit people.”  Then you let them know ahead of time what the consequence will be.  “If you are hitting, that is not safe and you will need to spend time in your room where you and everyone else will be safe. Then when you are calm, you can join us again.”

Then, when your child hits someone, you pick up your child and bring them to their room (or pack n play, or safe space where they can calm down) while you calmly say something like, “We take care of each other.  We do not hit. I need you to be safe.  You can join us again when you are calm and safe.”

In this manner, you weren’t punitive, you weren’t aggressive, you weren’t angry.  You were loving and you set a limit.  This is important for children because children who don’t have limits have to keep pushing and questioning boundaries until they do know what the limit is.   So you can set a limit, have a consequence and even give a time-out in a positive way.

Now your child will probably want to leave the time-out almost immediately. That’s OK by me.  If they are truly calm and they are safe, then they can follow you back out.  If they are thrashing and screaming, then they need more time.

I read all the time that isolating a child when their behavior is unacceptable is damaging for the child.  So, I have to ask myself what do I do when I am overwhelmed?  Yes, sometimes I like a good hug, but most of the time I just need a minute to myself.  So what do I do when I’m losing it?  I go into my room, or I go outside for a minute.  I give myself a “time-out” and that’s not damaging to me.  It helps me calm down.  And that is what we are teaching our kids to do when we do it in a calm way.

So the next time your child reaches a limit and you are giving a consequence,  you can give them a hug while you do it.  Say, “As soon as you are calm and can be safe, we would love to have you join us.”  Hug and consequence.

That is positive parenting.

 

lost

Perhaps some people will disagree with me since learning to live a more mindful life is to not lose your stuff all the time (which is partially true), but if you have young children, I don’t know how you can get through a day without either you or them losing their s*$t.

So in my life, it isn’t about whether you lose you s#%t, it is about how you can calm down afterwards.

Part of our job as parents is to teach children how to control their emotions.  Toddlers can lose their stuff over just about anything.  We often think that we have failed when our children lose their s#*$&, but we haven’t; it is totally normal.  Our job isn’t to keep them from going off the deep end, it is teaching them how to come back.

As parents. we too, are often pushed to the emotional edge with our toddlers and we need to practice working on our own emotions.   Lots of parents practice “not-yelling” at their children and although I succeed at not-yelling the majority of the time, there are times when I lose it and I yell.  Loud.

That’s OK.  Just like it is OK for your little one to go off.

This is a great teaching moment for everyone.  Once you lose it, how do you calm down?

Do you:

  • Leave the room?
  • Take some deep breaths?
  • Ask for a hug?
  • Go outside for a minute?
  • Go for a walk?

These are all acceptable ways to deal with losing your s#$t and it is perfectly acceptable to talk about it with your children.  In fact, it is encouraged that you process what happened to you with your children so that they can learn how to deal with their s%$t.

This is how children learn to calm down, by watching their parents lose their s#$t and then calming down themselves and talking about it afterwards.

“I was pretty upset this morning wasn’t I?” (This is you talking to your toddler not the other way around, although wouldn’t that be pretty awesome?!?)

“I felt overwhelmed by all the things that needed to happen in a pretty short amount of time and I got upset and I yelled.”

“But then, once we were all in the car, I took some deep breaths and I was able to calm down.”

 

This is part of the problem solving process, identifying the problem (I lost it) and then finding solutions (taking some time, breathing deeply, getting a hug).  This is also part of the process of self-care.  Acknowledging that it is OK to lose it and then taking steps to bring your emotions back into balance.

We can’t expect our children to not get upset and we can’t expect ourselves to never get upset.  So when it does happen, it is really important that we have the tools to be able to calm down and that we can pass those tools on to our children.