This question was asked last week and I had to smile because it is the best question I have ever heard.  

I feel like this question sums up parenting in a nutshell. 

What is the line between holding a limit and being firm versus letting things go and not stressing about everything?

Unfortunately for all of us, there is no answer.  That is parenting.  That is the fine dance of following through but also being there for your child.

There are essentially two rules in parenting- don’t stress over everything and be consistent.  Unfortunately those two rules cancel each other out.  If you aren’t stressing about every little thing, then you’re probably aren’t following through with things.  AND if you are being consistent and following through with every infraction, then you aren’t letting anything go and there is probably a lot of strife in your house.  

SO… maybe we can make a new rule:

Hold the line maybe about 80% of the time and let things go maybe 20% of the time.

Notice how I used maybe twice.  That is because you’ll have to play it by ear.  But in order to build the consistency that your child craves; the consistency that will help them feel safe and will help with behavior; you need to hold the line even when you don’t want to.  But at the same time, remember that that you can let things go too.  

You will probably want to have a list of when to follow through and when to let go but unfortunately that doesn’t exist.  So what could the rubric for deciding what to do look like?  Well, maybe it comes down to maintaining sanity.  Now I’m not saying give in for the sake of sanity because then we would be giving in every single time to save our own sanity.   

Let’s say it is close to bedtime. You have had 15 meltdowns during the day and you have held strong for all of them.  You can just let this last one go and have a good last ten minutes of the day even though the rest of the day was rough. Let the last one go.  Let it go. 

Parenting is an art.  There may be a ton of books out there that act like manuals but after you read all of those manuals, you will need to use your skills to make last minute decisions.  And not all of your decisions will be the right ones.  Many of them will be the wrong decision and that is part of parenting too.  

Parenting is the ultimate test of holding the line and letting things go.

Every day feels like a power struggle.  Every day, you tell your kid to do something and no matter what, they refuse.  They scream.  They tantrum.

This is a common scenario.  You won’t see it happen in other families because it usually happens at home so you feel like you are the only one going through this, but in reality, this is happening in homes across the country. 

You can’t get rid of power struggles completely but you can have fewer.

Let’s start here: Power struggles are born from a place where either the parent has too much power or the child has too much power. 

Ok.  Let’s break that down.  

Power struggles are born from a place where either the parent has too much power or the kid has too much power. 

The parent having too much power is when an order or directive is given.  A common one is “Eat your dinner.”  There is no input from the child on how hungry they are, what kind of food they have already eaten this week, what kind of food they prefer, how they are feeling, when they last ate, etc. 

The kid having too much power is when they tell the parents that they only want this certain kind of food.  But they don’t want it touching other food, they don’t like the texture this time, they don’t want it on the red plate, they only want the one part and not the other part, etc.  

balance of power is where a parent makes a boundary with input from the child. 

So the parent would make the same food for the whole family with at least one item that they know the child has liked in the past and then the child has the input of what they eat from that plate.   But just because you have a balance of power in this situation, it doesn’t mean that you will get rid of the power struggle. 

If the child has gotten their way in the past by screaming longer and tantruming more, then they will try that strategy again to see if they can get the upper hand.

So the child will keep making demands about the meal and the food and the parent will hold the boundary and not give in.  The child will cry and scream and tantrum and if the parent is consistent, then the child will start to feel more secure, they will know what to expect and the power struggles will slowly start to go away.

Kids need consistency.  Kids need security.  Kids need to know what is going to happen.

So after a period of time where you have found the balance of power and you have been consistent on your part of holding the line while asking for input, the child will approach these difficult situations (taking a bath, mealtimes, bedtime) with the security of knowing exactly what is going to happen.  

It will get better.

Things will improve.  

But it WILL get worse before it gets better.

I was saying this to a couple of parents just about a month ago.  Not about a virus but about behavior and sleeping.  

“Things will improve, but they will get worse first.”

Those were my parenting words but they now they have a new meaning as well.  But we can learn from the parallels.  We can be OK with the getting worse part.  We can breath into the difficulty and know that it won’t last forever.

So if your child isn’t getting good sleep and you know that putting a stricter routine into place is actually going to make the behavior worse. You are correct! But don’t let that stop you!  It will get worse, but then it will get better.

If you know that staying at home and not getting a fun coffee or visiting the park will make the whole pandemic shorter and fewer deaths- then do the hard part now because it will get better and it will get better faster, the more work we put in now.  

Do the hard part now, knowing that it will get better faster, the more work we put in now.

I know this is hard.  Parenting is hard and your children will learn so much from this experience.  They will learn that we sometimes do things for our community and not for ourselves.  And that we take care of each other and that we can do hard things

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 to End Entitlement and Create a Culture of Accountability, Purpose and Profit by Brad Hams.  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.