Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Holiday Spirit

The holidays can feel like a lot of hard work when you have children. At least, if you think about all of the preparations as burdens on an already busy schedule.

Shopping, decorating, baking, sending cards, wrapping...whew! Who has time for that?

I know some people who work on these things throughout the year so that the to-do list isn't stuffed into a few weeks. If that works for them and they enjoy it, it's a great idea. Many of us, however, aren't so organized.

Let me make a few suggestions to lighten your load and allow some real holiday spirit to enter your home.

LET GO — Do you really have to send cards? Do you really have to make six kinds of cookies? Do you have to buy gifts for the five helpers in your son's class who you really don't know? No, you don't. If these things don't fill you with joy and excitement, let them go. Think differently. Send out cards to your loved ones on Valentine's Day when they aren't expecting them. Limit your gift list to people who have really made a difference for you this year. Play in the snow with your kids instead of the crazy, messy baking scenario. If your family and friends don't like it, they'll have to work through their disappointment.

DELEGATE — The holidays should be about teamwork. Preparing for guests and events all by yourself is no fun. Plus, what makes you think that you do everything better than anyone else? This year, my kids decorated our Christmas tree. They are 7 and 4 and did a fabulous job. Some ornaments were broken. Some things were on the tree that don't normally go there. But they had a great time and I felt a surge of gratitude. The same thing happened when my husband not only bought a lot of the gifts for our children this year, but he also wrapped them! He used duct tape, but who cares???

GIVE, REALLY GIVE — Feeling overwhelmed with the whole holiday scene, I decided to make a few cookies with my girls on a Saturday and take them over to the local nursing home during coffee hour. It wasn't part of an organized event. I don't have any family at this nursing home. I just thought it would put me in a more positive mood about giving.

I was reminded by this experience that giving from your heart really does give more back to you than you could ever imagine. Passing out cookies, visiting with the residents, watching the smiles on their faces as they watched my girls run around, singing a few carols with some Girl Scouts who were also made my month. My girls had a great time, too.

If you can find one thing this year or next to do with your family that involves giving to others — not out of obligation but from true caring — do it! It's the best thing you can do for your family, yourself and the world.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

My Relationship Smarts

For seven short months, I was a rock star.

Then my fun and passions were dashed by my anxious, controlling husband…or so the story goes.

While each of us must have outlets for relaxation and fun to balance hard work, our choice of outlet should always take into consideration the needs of our families. I am only speaking, of course, to those parents and spouses who believe in raising successful children and maintaining a close and loving relationship — simultaneously. If you have already given up on that ideal: never mind.

If you don’t have children yet and already do a lot of stuff apart from your spouse, listen up.

Okay, if anyone is still reading this, I have a few short and sassy rules to prioritize family and still “have a life.”

•If your spouse is uncomfortable with something you are doing, pay attention!
Don’t discount a spouse’s anxiety or discomfort because you think it’s ridiculous or controlling or not what you believe. If you’re in this for the long haul, take time to discuss the issue and work toward compromise. Maybe hunting or ice fishing for five weekends in a row is not conducive to a happy married life. Your spouse shouldn’t have to “just deal with it.” It’s disrespectful.

•Choose activities and levels of commitment that your spouse can agree to with enthusiasm.
If your husband is uncomfortable with you singing with a rock band in a bar until 2 a.m., maybe you need to find another activity. If scrapbooking won’t be the same as rocking out, your new outlet could be kickboxing. Get creative.

•Do stuff together.
I can’t tell you how important it is to maintain a close relationship with your spouse when you have children. That means spending time together in a fun or romantic setting. Learn the cha cha. Go sledding. Try sushi. Nudge each other out of comfort zones to try new things just like you would if you were dating. Have fun as a couple and with the kids.

•View differences as strengths to build a strong family.
If you live in the moment and your spouse is a planner, appreciate the ways that each strength supports team family. While you teach your children about spontaneity and gratitude for today, your spouse can teach them about setting goals and managing their time.

•Deal with small problems and “what-ifs” before they get bigger — or happen.
Whether you bounced a check, dented the car or have concerns about lack of time or affection from your spouse, communicate those concerns as soon as possible and work on them together. Honesty and openness can be difficult, but is a highly valued emotional need for men and women. If you need to bring in a mediator, do it now for your children’s sake.

•Model a strong partnership to your children.
If you yell, throw things or withdraw from your partner in a conflict, your children will learn to do the same. Think about what a strong and loving partnership should look like. Do your children see this? If not, what can you each do differently to be on the same page with conflict resolution, discipline and decision-making? Build a united front at home to face the many challenges you and your children face in the world.

The sacrifice of leaving the party early or cutting your hunting season short is small compared to the benefits of having someone to come home to who can get you through the tough and good times and still love you with morning breath and prickly armpits. Great marriages demand respect, communication and loving attention.

Go team family! (Oh, and sweetie, can you pick up some razors on your way home?)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Dealing With Houdinis

I have met several Houdinis in my life. I am married to one. This typical stress personality tends to shy away from conflict by shutting down emotionally or leaving the scene of the conflict physically. You may find Houdinis hiding out in the garage or tool shed, the basement or bathroom. When conflict comes their way, they will do anything to get away from it. They will change the subject, tune out, give in easily, or drop out of the relationship with no forwarding address.

This type of conflict resolution only leads to more trouble down the road. Houdinis have trouble expressing their true feelings in a situation, which leads to misunderstandings and larger conflicts down the road. Houdinis are often the ones in a marriage who will suppress their feelings with alcohol or drugs or who will one day come to you and say, "I don't love you anymore." It will be huge news to you, but they will say the trouble started long ago. They just didn't fill you in.

You will also see this personality in children. They tend to have fairly flexible and sunny or fearful and cautious temperaments. The flexible kids are hardwired for harmony. They want to please and not rock the boat. But this keeps them from sharing bad feelings and they are more likely to hold grudges. The fearful kids dislike change, which often happens when they share their true feelings. They're more comfortable with the trouble they know than what it could mean to work through a conflict and hope for something better. It could get worse, after all.

How do you keep your Houdini from making a disappearing act?

Acknowledge this personality and think about how you react to conflict. Are you a Houdini? Do you raise your voice like an Old Yeller? Do you stomp and throw things like a Dr. Jekyll? Old Yellers and Dr. Jekylls are quite frightening to Houdinis. Another Houdini is peaceful, but not helpful as you both stew in your own grudges and disappointments.

Stand your ground Houdini. Tame your yelling, Old Yeller. Take a walk, Dr. Jekyll. Then sit down and write a note, send an email or quietly discuss what is bothering you with the goal of finding a solution that works for both of you. It will be hard at first to change the hardwired habit when conflict looms. Recognize the struggle. Breathe. Talk through it even if it feels awkward and hurtful. If the other person needs a break, agree and schedule another time to revisit the issue when it's quiet.

If you can work through this in your adult relationships, you can model better communication with your children. So the next time they have a problem, you are the first one they turn to. That's what we all want as parents, right?

Friday, August 31, 2007

Stress of College Prep

In my role as a communications consultant for businesses, I work with a higher education consultant in Minneapolis. Valerie Broughton founded College Connectors ( after more than 30 years in the education field. She now helps students and their families traverse the increasingly complicated world of college selection and application.

If you don't have children this age yet, you should know that college prep should begin in the sophomore year. As your child gets closer to graduation, you may find that tensions ebb and flow. Your child is beginning the process of breaking away from the family tribe while simultaneously trying to finish high school, write admissions essays, manage peer and love interests, beg for letters of recommendation, maybe work a part-time job, visit colleges and imagine filling the blank slate that is his future.

This can be stressful.

Valerie takes a very practical approach to college preparation, but also takes some of the heat off of parents who are watching their child make this transition. She is a bit of a liaision between the parents and student, too, keeping everyone on task and facilitating productive communication. Here are a few of her tips for the realities of college preparation.

Set Yourself Apart

Given that drop-out rates for college freshman are around 50 percent, a student’s choice of college is just as important as the student’s qualifications for said college. Students who are well-grounded are more attractive to admissions staff than students who just have perfect grades and test scores.

What this means is that students who show passion or interest in a particular area are often seen as more motivated and valuable to colleges than students who seem to be involved all over the place. While standardized testing is the top way that larger colleges establish a “floor” for selection, smaller colleges and large colleges alike heavily weigh the style and tone of admissions essays. It makes sense to devote extra time to this piece and invite several critiques.

Letters of recommendation, special talents, experiences, and a demonstrated love of learning are also highly valued in the student body at small and large colleges alike. If two students have equally impressive grades and test scores, colleges will look for that unique nugget of information that makes they say, “I want to get to know this student better.” Sharing your passions and dreams to how you overcame adversity, let your unique self shine through.

Avoid Senior-itis

The tendency to go overboard on college-prep courses is just as strong and possibly fruitless as coasting in that final year. Students will have a much better chance at more colleges of their choice if they demonstrate solid grades with an upward trend or even lower grades in more rigorous classes. Take a higher-level science or math class, but don’t sacrifice electives that you enjoy such as music or languages. They indicate a depth of talent.

If you are considering a post-secondary option because it supports your maturity and life goals, go for it. Avoid doing it just to save some money. Not all post-secondary coursework is transferable if you decide to attend a different college for your degree. You will have missed out on a genuine high school experience and still have four to five years of study ahead of you.

Get Involved

If you have a passion for animals, the elderly, or stamping out hunger, find an outlet for it in your community. Directed community involvement or volunteering is much more valuable than a list of 20 different activities. Authentic dedication to a cause shows that you are a thoughtful individual and aware of life beyond your own front door.

Involvement can also lead you to your career path. Colleges aren’t concerned that you have declared a solid major, but demonstrating your efforts at career exploration through summer work, job shadowing and career days indicates that you are serious about your future.

Don’t discount the value of leadership opportunities in high school. Leading your section in the band, serving as a sports captain or editing the high school yearbook are all noteworthy achievements. As any Ivy League admissions rep will tell you, there is more to educational achievement than academics.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Stories We Tell

Once there was a beautiful princess who lived in a lovely little town in Minnesota. The problem was that she was trapped by an ugly and angry ogre. This ogre controlled her every move: how she dressed, who she saw, how long she was gone. The ogre was also very critical of how she kept house, her lack of cooking skills and her inability to focus.

One day, the beautiful princess went away to collect her thoughts. When she came back, the ogre had suddenly materialized into a normal man who loved her very much but was afraid that she didn't love him. She realized that she had been living inside of a fairytale — a bad one — for too long. She broke the spell by realizing that the ogre was only real in her story. And in fact, SHE had been an ogre.

In order to relate to people and experiences, we often attach meaning and stories to the "what happened." Although what happened was real and may have caused us pain, our stories aren't. When we continue to believe that someone is critical or controlling or irritating or unloving or absent, we keep the story alive. But we slowly kill off the people. Worse, we prevent true love and compassion from entering our lives.

What stories do you tell about your children? Do you have the hyper child? The quiet child? The happy kid? The perfectionist? The athlete? Keeping our children inside stories like Peter Pumpkineater kept his wife does not allow for much freedom of expression. Or it may have the opposite effect of children rebellling against their story. The happy kid goes Goth. The perfectionist starts drinking.

Let's be aware of what we are asking our loved ones to live up to. A story we told ourselves about them has an element of self-fulfilling prophecy, until they can't live up to the story anymore. Everyone deserves the freedom to be themselves in the present. Let's put the past where it belongs and leave the future open to possibility.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Summer Food for Thought

Wow! It's finally summer and I'm getting back to my much neglected blog. Our family has been overwhelmed, to say the least, with activities and obligations in the last three months. End of school, end of soccer, end of piano lessons, end of marching band for my husband...and finally three days to enjoy on the lake with nothing but a tent and blow-up swim toys.

I was impressed with how my daughters handled a very unstructured vacation. There were no televisions, video games or computers, no shopping or organized craft time. There WAS swimming, sand, card games, books, fishing and marshmallows for roasting. We had no place to go and nothing to do. It was fantastic.

It seemed that the best parts of those three days for my girls included swimming and collecting shells, building a fort on their air mattress, eating toasty marshmallows from the fire, and playing UNO with their mom. We each won some games, even my 3-year-old who placed all her cards face up and was quite good at matching the numbers and colors.

Honestly, one afternoon I literally spent more than two hours in a beach chair with a good book as the kids wandered along the beach and ran in and out of the water. Heaven.

This reminded me that we don't need to orchestrate every minute of our children's lives. They will find ways to occupy their time creatively if we offer a positive environment and instill in them a sense of adventure. How do we do this? Get them out into nature. Take them to a park, a zoo, a local farm. Heck, have a picnic in your backyard. Bring along the "Go Fish!" game. Collect leaves and acorns. Go on a bug or frog hunt. Build a birdhouse out of a box. Visit a farmer's market and discuss the various colors and textures. Pick out something "exotic" to eat.

Summer can be what it is meant to be — a relaxing family time — or an extension of craziness from the school year. It's up to you. Other than swimming lessons, my girls are completely free to sleep late, color, swing, play with the neighbor kids, and be kids. That is, after they pick up their rooms!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Focus on Your Relationship

Certain times of the year can create chaos for families. May is one of them. With school wrapping up and workplaces scrambling to complete projects before people take vacation, it can feel very stressful.

May was particularly busy for my family this year. (As you can tell from the lack of posts here!) With one daughter in kindergarten, there were suddenly three people in our house with "agendas." Natalie had piano lessons and soccer practice and school parties and picnics and a recital and more birthday parties than I can recall. We added her schedule to two careers, one of which is in transition from a home-based freelance business to a corporate communications position.

Thank goodness my youngest is out of diapers!

One of the struggles for my husband and me was the feeling that we were two ships passing in the night. I would get home and he would leave for a meeting or to mow the lawn or to exercise. He would get home and I would leave for a meeting or exercise or community activity. I also had a business trip this month that took me away for two days.

We missed each other. And it made us grumpy.

Through the difficult times of raising young children, my husband and I have always tried to make time for each other. I have a strong belief that children benefit the most from parents who get along well...and even like each other! We all have our moments of irritation, but the key to a successful partnership is to prevent apathy from creeping into your home. I've seen too many couples and marriages in my day fall apart because the parents were focused on everything else in their busy lives except each other.

My husband and I try to plan date nights regularly. Usually, we just go out to dinner without the kids. We can focus on each other, enjoy a leisurely meal, and breathe. We also like to talk while in the car. The kids have their needs and opinions during the drive, but we make a point to tell them that "Mommy and Daddy are talking right now."

On the weekends, we also tend to stay in bed a little longer to "check in" while the kids watch cartoons. My husband also calls me from work at least once a day to say hi and talk about evening plans. Dr. Bill Harley of Marriage Builders ( recommends spending at least 15 hours a week of uninterrupted time with your spouse for a happy marriage. This doesn't seem like a lot until you try it in a busy family. But I agree with him.

If we have a problem, my husband and I really try to talk about it. Arguments and misunderstandings are common, but we try to think big picture: we are a team, we will work it out together, we will find a compromise.

I want my children to grow up seeing how a good marriage works and the importance of mutual respect and affection between a man and woman. By modeling in our marriage, I will teach my girls how to stay on equal ground with a man and my husband will teach them how a man should treat a woman.

And as for learning the virtue of patience, it's so much easier when you have a partner who can take the reins when you've had enough! That's what team family is all about...a shoulder to lean on.

I challenge you in your marriage or relationship to model healthy communication and problem solving. Spend some time alone together! Turn off the television. Barter for babysitting with another couple. Sit outside after the kids are asleep and enjoy the quiet. Even if you don't feel like it at first or don't know what to say, I promise that it will do wonders.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Stop and Listen

I've heard from many parents who say that their children have taught them so much about themselves...their capacity for love, gentleness, multi-tasking, patience...and just how little sleep they can get and still function.

Seriously, I believe that our children or any children who come into our lives can teach us about ourselves — just as our adult relationships help us understand our purpose and talents and weaknesses. The key is to be mindful of what each relationship and experience is trying to teach us.

It is often during conflict or doubt that we learn the most. When we struggle with a child, we must dip into our resources for problem-solving without getting mired in the emotions of the moment. Whether you are arguing with a 3-year-old or a 15-year-old, the view from the outside looks pretty ridiculous. Who is the adult in this picture?

We all want our feelings validated. We need others to acknowledge our joy or pain or confusion, or else we sense a void. Losing that connection to our children can be one of life's most frustrating experiences. We love them so much that it hurts, but we struggle to communicate these feelings when it comes to discipline and guidance. Some of us are too permissive. Some of us are too strict. Some of us are too distracted by our own "stuff."

Simple answers? Sorry. But I will say that the main thing our children want from us is time. We need to slow down long enough and often enough to catch the subtle and not so subtle cues for, "Hey, Mom. Hey, Dad. I need to talk to you about something really important. I want to spend time with you."

When a small child wants to crawl into your lap...When a teen hangs out in the garage around you, watching and not saying much...When a gradeschooler throws his bookbag and storms to his room...When your child wants to talk your ear off about every detail of her day...please stop and listen. Validate their feelings. Keep your stuff and your needs out of it. Wait for them to open up by practicing patience and the kind of love that feels so good that it hurts.

Remember: patience is practiced through empathy, mindfulness, and self-leadership. Put yourself in your child's shoes, stay in the moment, and view parenting as your greatest act of service to the world.

Keep watching for the cues to open communication and spend time throughout your children's lives. They will continue to need you. And you will learn even more about yourself.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Love and Jealousy of Siblings

Lately, my two daughters have shown an overabundance of love towards me. They will fight over who gets to sit by me at a restaurant and will choose to ride with me in my car instead of with their father. My 3-year-old is frightened of going anywhere unless she knows that I'm going along. My 6-year-old wants me to play the same games and read the same stories to her as to her sister.

As much as I Iove the affection and attention, I know that their fondness is not about me. It's about oneupmanship. It's about competition. They are naturally seeking to understand how they rate with each other in the estimation of a loved one.

Don't play the game, parents. It's too easy to fall into comparisons of your children or judgments based on their skills or behavior. Be conscientious of their attempts to compete for your attention and find ways to dole it out with fairness and wisdom.

An easy way to create fairness is to require the kids to take turns. One sits by you this time, the next kid gets his turn, and so on.

Create special one-on-one time with each child. It doesn't have to be the same activity, but involves attention with just them. Take one to a coffee shop to play a board game. Take another fishing. Plan reading time with each. Encourage one-on-one interaction through family chores like inviting one along to the car wash or raking up spring leaves together. Allow the kids to take turns choosing their favorite meal for the month and let them help you prepare it.

If one parent is becoming "the favorite," encourage the kids to do things with the other parent, letting them know that it's important to spend time with both of you to learn different things and have different fun. If you're a single parent, promises of one-on-one time are more challenging, but can be remedied with the help of a trusted friend or grandparent. Even if you have an outing with one child once a month — as simple as running errands together and getting an ice cream — it builds their sense of self and their connection to you as a positive influence.

The sibling rivalry factor will be lifelong, but harmless if you avoid comparisons and acknowledge each child's unique qualities and talents.

As for the favorite parent thing, I quickly learned my place on the love meter when we had lunch with Nana the other day. I sat alone on my side of the booth.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Rescuers and Referees

There are many styles of parenting based on the life experiences and belief systems of parents.

One father wants his son to be masculine, so he puts him into aggressive sports like wrestling and talks to him about "women's work" and "men's work." When he punishes him, it's often with his own hands.

Another father wants to be his son's friend, indulging his interests and desires with toys and activities and money and giving him a long rope for experimentation. He jokes with him about the times he got "wasted" and allows him to bring friends over to party, feeling that it's safer under his own roof. After all, boys will be boys.

You may know parents like this. But between the spectrum of total control over our children's beliefs and actions and 100 percent freedom, there are many shades of gray. Consider two more parenting styles:

THE RESCUER - Also known as helicopter parents, they rush in at the slightest whimper from their child. They handle things for their child to save her from potential embarrassment, ridicule, rejection, disappointment...or any mistakes. They indulge the protective instinct that grew from caring for a helpless newborn, and still view their children as vulnerable even into adulthood. They are well-intentioned...a bit perfectionistic...and can't seem to let go. Their children learn to be helpless and to rely on them for every decision and action they make.

THE REFEREE - Tending toward an authoritarian parenting style, these parents rule the roost and there isn't room for debate. It's their playbook or the bench. They fear giving their kids too much leeway or they'll foul out of the game. Children learn to do things according to what the parents expect and become good followers of authority. But they do not gain the skills to become leaders themselves, able to weigh their options and the potential consequences.

Knowing when to let go and knowing when to protect is every parent's challenge. But just as we teach them to dress themselves and make their own beds, we must also teach them how to make good decisions on their own. Instead of rescuers and referees who believe that we are better judges for our children, we must become mediators and guide our children through problem early as possible.

From a fight over toys to a fight over going to the next party, there will be many opportunities to mediate. And like a mediator, we must work on staying emotionally neutral. We are not their friends or their enemies. We are teachers. We are guardians of their character and safety. Rules are created for safety and to navigate a world that won't be as loving or understanding.

When children understand the reasons behind the rules, the rules are easier to follow. When children feel a sense of personal power, within our guidance, they will be more open to communication that outlines the consequences of their decisions. They will feel secure, yet free to choose wisely.

Children live for today. We must help them envision the future, a future that hinges on the decisions they make each day. This includes who they hang out with, how they present themselves to the world, the music they listen to, the activities they take up, the games they play, the goals they set.

I'm not saying that a kid with purple hair is out of control. Parents need to weigh the superficial against their child's goals and character. Is the purple hair an outward expression of their creativity or an expression of a problem? The distinction is obviously important. How we respond — with anger and ultimatums or respect and guidance — is really important.

Sometimes you might feel totally lost as your children grow and change and face hardship before your eyes. But don't give up. They need you.

And when they do, be careful to find out if the situation calls for rescuing, refereeing, mediating — maybe even cheerleading.

"You're smart! You're brave! I know that you can handle it! Gooooo, parents!"

Monday, March 26, 2007

Support for Tweens and Teens

An editorial in my local paper made a legitimate point about the importance of support for parents of tweens and teens. While there are a lot of resources and educational opportunities to learn about raising young children through the primary years — ECFE, parent play groups, magazines — the abundance dries up to a trickle once children hit middle school.

It is almost assumed in our education system and communities that parents should have a handle on parenting by the time their children are 12. But the rules of parenting change drastically at this stage of a child's development. Not only are children experiencing big physical changes, their search for identity apart from their parents really kicks into high gear!

Friends and social structures and how they fit into them become even more important. Parents need to be prepared to respond not only to changes in their child's attitude and mood, but also to new questions and concerns the child may have but doesn't know how to express.

I emphasize communication in my workshops because keeping lines open with a child of any age is critical — and the language has to change as the needs change.

For example, a 15-year-old who is showing a "moody streak" and refusing to do chores or follow established rules could have other troubles brewing under the surface. This child can't be spanked or redirected; the parent needs to be sensitive to a potentially deeper issue. It could be the new friend he has at school who doesn't seem to experience the same limits at home. It could be that he is feeling pressure to succeed but has an overwhelming schedule. It could be that he craves a sense of autonomy, being treated more like the adult he feels that he is. Ask questions to draw him out; avoid snap judgements.

Even at this age, temperament comes into play. If you had a feisty youngster who bounced off walls and physically expressed frustration, your older child may feel that same level of sensitivity and frustration but has been socialized to hide or suppress it...until it boils into a rage at school or home. Find ways with your child to channel this abundance of energy into a sport, music, or a challenging goal like saving for a car. Be wary of signs that your child is handling her frustration with unhealthy choices or the wrong crowd of friends.

If your child has always been more introverted, he may need some quiet time in his room after a long day at school. Introverted or slow-to-adapt children get exhausted by social contact for long periods. They need quiet time to regroup: to read, sew, play a computer game, or listen to the mp3 player.

I also encourage parents of older children to make sit-down family dinners a huge priority at least 3 or 4 times a week. Studies have shown that the incidence of addiction decreases dramatically and a teen's feeling of being able to talk to a parent about serious issues increases. This might mean sacrificing some extracurricular or personal activities for the sake of your family, but avoiding the social pressure to overschedule will pay dividends in the long run.

Get your child involved in the preparation of the family meal as a ritual you can all enjoy. Turn off the television. Play relaxing dinner music. Discuss your day and keep the mood positive to encourage socializing and digestion! If there are important concerns to discuss, schedule a time after dinner to talk with your child or spouse.

As your children mature, think about ways to include them on important family decisions — a job change or caring for a grandparent — to acknowledge that their input is appreciated and respected in team family.

If you have any questions about your tween or teen, I'd love to hear them. Post a comment or email me at

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dealing With Bad Language

Let's face it. We all have our favorite curse words. They might be really nasty ones and they might be ones we've made up to avoid the nasty ones. Regardless, it's embarrassing as our children begin to talk and model us when those curse words are first used...and used appropriately.

Reacting to bad language is an art, I think. For the little toddler who yells "S**t" when he spills his milk, we can either ignore the remark or provide several alternative words... "Oh, shoot, oh darn, oh gosh, oh golly..." as we clean up. What we want to avoid at this point is making a big deal out of the word, laughing or getting angry. The child doesn't know what he is saying; he is simply modeling. Providing alternative words in a sing-song happy voice worked for both of my daughters. They began to use the other words and forgot all about the bad word.

You can begin to reason with children around age 3 about bad words. Once I'm sure what the child has said, I would say, "That is not a nice word. I like this word better." And offer the alternative.

As children get older, they will recognize bad words on their own. When they don't, you could again point out the bad word and ask them what other word they could use instead. Have them solve the problem and choose a word that they prefer. "I like to say, 'Oh, man!' What do you think you could say when something goes wrong?" Don't ignore the word; they need to know at this point that language is a big deal. It creates a first impression. It can show respect or disrespect to others.

Provide alternative ways to express frustration: “I’m mad at him.” “I don’t like that game.” "She isn't being nice to me."

Work on communication skills every day. Read with your children. Practice enunciation of letters. Explain the meaning of new words you use and spell them. Encourage a frustrated child to use words to express his feelings. Model respectful language by asking for assistance from children rather than demanding it. Say “please” and “thank you” and “good morning.” Think about how you want people to talk to you and practice that level of communication with your children. Remember, they are great copycats.

The other day, I used one of my favorite child-friendly expressions for surprise: Holy Buckets! My daughter Natalie, who is 6, said "Mommy, that is not a nice word." I told her that it was actually okay to say that, and we proceeded to create a game out of other silly expressions...Holy Moly! Holy Cow! Holy Boots!

We were having fun with language, but not at the expense of each other.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Spanking Etiquette

One of the biggest controversies among parents is corporal punishment, also known as spanking. I’ve talked to moms who recall their encounters with their father’s belt, a wooden spoon, or an open hand to the face. They usually make light of it, that it only hurt their pride. They even say that it helped them know when they had pushed a parent too far. It was their boundary between independence and dependence.

When I ask them if they spank their own children, they turn serious. The ones who admit it tend to qualify it by saying it’s very infrequent. Or they explain how they spank— to avoid any impression that they are beating their children to a pulp. The ones who don’t spank, or don’t admit to it, offer alternatives such as time-outs, time-ins, or sending their children to another part of the they don't beat them to a pulp.

What is the role of spanking, aside from an idle threat when our children are driving us crazy? I believe that we should have as many tools as possible in our parenting kit. Spanking can be effective, but I qualify that statement by saying that not all parents or caretakers are up to the responsibility. Here are my guidelines, and they have proven effective with my own children. (Yes, I have spanked them.)

•SPANKING IS A LAST RESORT. It is never the first choice in a parent’s toolkit. It is best used sparingly, and only to correct clearly willful behavior or behavior that poses a risk to the child’s safety. When reasoning and diversion and choices have not ensured the child’s change of behavior, one sharp open-handed slap on the fanny can be the catalyst for change. Willful behavior that threatens the child’s safety (or another child) includes running into the street, repetitive climbing in unsafe areas, crawling under a vehicle, throwing toys, or playing with matches.

•SPANKING REQUIRES THOUGHT. You have to understand your child and her motives before choosing to spank. If your child is developmentally delayed, she might not know that running into the street is dangerous. But if your child is obviously looking for you and watching your reaction as she runs toward the street, it can be a sign that she is testing her limits. Making a conscious choice to correct this behavior must be done with thought and calmness before the behavior occurs again. If you are already angry, then you aren’t thinking and you can’t spank.

•SPANKING IS SURPRISING. This discipline tool must catch a child off guard. The element of surprise is what creates the mental shift for your child. After rescuing your child from running into the street or stopping him from throwing a toy at another child, you should calmly bend down without engaging him and deliver the spank, followed by a sharp, “No!” If the child is older than 3, you may also explain why you spanked him. “Throwing toys is a hurting choice,” you might say, or “When you run into the street, then cars could run over you.” Your explanation can be delivered in a stern, but not angry voice so the child focuses on your words.

If the child is crying after getting a proper spanking, it has been a good learning experience. His feelings are hurt, but not his body. From this point on, the threat of a spanking can sometimes be all that is required to improve behavior. If you spank regularly, however, you probably already know that this tool is broken.

Please send me your thoughts on spanking by commenting on this post. And comment on other posts to be eligible for a quarterly drawing of fun stuff from Femail Creations!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Patient Parent Top Picks

Each month, my blog will post some interesting resources that I've discovered in the area of patient parenting, inspiration, and personal success. Here are my recommendations for February:

Brain, Child Magazine
This magazine is full of new research and ideas on promoting your child's physical and intellectual development. Mothers debate current events as they apply to their own experiences and submit their favorite songs with new lyrics. It's fun and insightful. You can get four issues for $19.95 by going to or calling (888) 304-6667.

"This Year, I Will..."
A book about breaking habits and keeping resolutions. M.J. Ryan, author of "The Power of Patience" and "The Happiness Makeover" offers a book with stories and wisdom on creating new positive habits and moving toward a more fulfilling and healthy life. I found some great "instant gratification" ideas in this book without a lot of reading. I learned that I am doing some good things already, like creating focus by naming the year. See page 73. I also have to recommend "This Year I Will..." because one of my stories is in it. Check out my "Old Yeller" story on page 58. You can find out if you're really ready to make a change by taking M.J. Ryan's quiz at
Need a break? Let the kids go nuts with sticker books. This site is the best for birthday gift ideas or to give your children something to look forward to in the mail. For only $10 you can join a Preschooler sticker of the month club and get monthly mailings of hundreds of stickers with familiar characters, birthday stickers and holiday stickers. It's really fun to see what will show up next. They also have sticker packs for teachers, just girls, just boys, teens and scrapbooking. The customer service is really great, too. Just go to and check it out.

If you have other parenting resources to share, post a comment or email me at

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A Test of Patience

On Tuesday this week I experienced one of the ultimate tests of patience...getting stuck in traffic. But this wasn't any normal traffic jam. This traffic was the result of billowy clouds of snow that whipped up like smoke to blind drivers, and sheets of packed snow that reduced speeds to 2 miles per hour.

Between 6:30 a.m. and 8:15 a.m., I had managed to drive only about 45 miles. By the time I considered turning around, traffic was backed up both ways. I kept thinking to myself that traffic would open up. I wondered if I could have taken a better route. I realized that I would soon need to pee.

We hear a lot these days about road rage. In fact, a driver in the Twin Cities recently shot a man in another vehicle after both drivers had careened through traffic, angry about who knows what, trying to drive each other off the road. At a mall a couple of weeks ago, I witnessed a more typical example of road rage when my husband was trying to turn into the parking lot and another driver raced up to the intersection and cut past him from the opposite corner, shouting and gesturing at us as he drove by. I waved and smiled. My husband gunned the engine as though to rear-end him.


So there I was, stuck in traffic yesterday and thinking that this was an ultimate test of patience. What could I do? I couldn't blink myself out of there. But I did have a choice. I could fume and worry about the precious daylight I was burning. I could beat myself up for ever leaving the house. I could direct my anger at the giant truck that was blocking my view.

I would have made one or all of these choices in the past. In the short run, it would have helped me vent frustration and take back some sense of control. But in the long run?

In the long run I would have finally arrived at work angry and exhausted from all that negative energy. I would have difficulty focusing and getting down to work. I would affect the people around me with my no-good very bad mood.

This last piece is something that road ragers fail to recognize in their quest to get even or save face or show how tough and important they are. Everything they do affects other people. Did these drivers realize that other people were on the road that day? Did they think that their reckless behavior could have killed an innocent person? And where did the anger leave them? Hospitalized. On the run from police.

When we dehumanize others, we justify violence and lose a piece of our souls. Instead of viewing the cars on the road as barriers to our self-important egos, we need to remember that there are people in there just trying to live their lives, to earn a living, to arrive safely to people they care about. They are just like us.

Sitting in my car yesterday, I thought of those people around me. We were all stuck. We all had somewhere to go. Turning up the talk radio, I continued to shuffle along, enjoying the break in the action and feeling grateful that my car was reliable and warm.

In the long run? I made the best of a crummy situation. I wrote a blog about it that may help others be more patient.

Blessings to your next journey and test of patience.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Love Thy Self

I used to wake up most mornings and drag myself out of bed grudgingly. It was too early. My husband kept me awake with his snoring. I had too much work and too little time to sleep.

These were my excuses. The sad fact was that I was depressed and didn't know it.

Depression can take many forms. It can make you feel like crawling back into bed and never coming out. It can make you angry at the slightest inconvenience or noise. It can feel like PMS.

Various statistics report that anywhere from 17 million to 30 million people are diagnosed with depression each year. Most point to drug therapy as the answer, but as my angry liver post explained it can also be caused by your diet.

You can read over that post to see what I mean. But since I've been feeling better, mornings aren't so horrible anymore. In fact, I have some tips for you on starting the day off right.

•Smile at Yourself. Give yourself a big toothy smile in the mirror, first thing each morning. Even if you don't feel like it, your brain doesn't know it. You can fool yourself into feeling better.

•Bless Yourself. Instead of letting that lame old tape run through your head of all your flaws and should do's, fight back with a compliment or a blessing. Tell yourself that you have beautiful skin if you frequently search for blemishes. Stretch your hands high over your head and bring them down into a prayer stance. Bow your head and wish yourself well. During a recent outing with my family, I saw a man who had suffered burns on his face and I thought, "Skin is remarkable. I have beautiful skin."

•Get Up Earlier Than the Children. It's so nice to have a few moments to yourself in the quiet before the bustle begins. When it's warm, I like to go out on my deck and get a breath of fresh air. I also like to tiptoe into my children's bedrooms and watch them sleeping. In the winter, a hot bath also feels really good. In order to get up early, I challenge all parents to get to bed by 9 p.m. at least one night a week. This is a reasonable goal.

•Make Your Bed. There is nothing better than seeing a tidy room when you've had a chaotic day. Your bedroom can be one room that feels tranquil and orderly. Try to keep the clothes picked up and your bed in order so it's easy to crawl back in at night.

•Speak Softly. Nobody likes a rude awakening in the morning. Rudeness like flipping on the lights and yelling sets up the potential for your children to dish the same behavior back at you. Instead, sit on the edge of the bed, pat your children gently on the back and wake them up with a cheerful voice. They might not get up right away, but gentle persistence pays off even if you have to sit them up or start singing the "Good Morning" song from "Singin' in the Rain."

Being annoying is far better than being a bully. And being silly is a good start to the day.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Learning from Others

I taught a two-hour class this month on the topic of patience and responsibility to a group of child care providers, most of them in-home providers. It was toward the end of the week and I could tell that many of the women in the group were worn out and more prepared to sit back and listen than participate.

So I was pleasantly surprised when, into the second hour, some of them began to open up about their experiences and share their methods for handling feisty children.

Feisty children are those children who tend to test our patience with their larger-than-life reactions, their energy and craving for attention. Although they can feel like the worst kids when you are trying to fulfill the needs of a group of children, I try to emphasize to parents and childcare providers that feisty children can be great leaders if their energy is channeled appropriately.

For example, a child who is "bossy" can be guided by putting her in charge of a project or duty. She can be the line leader or the snack helper or be in charge of making sure the shoes are lined up and coats put away. It is also important to model good behavior to these children because they look to adults to deal with their low frustration tolerance and high sensitivity.

Be aware of your reactions to stressful situations. The bigger their meltdown, the calmer you need to become. Take a breath, think, and speak softly.

A child who has a meltdown or cries at the slightest frustration can be encouraged when adults acknowledge their helpfulness, their intelligence, or their accomplishment when they have persisted at a difficult task. "Try, try again. I know you can do it. You are so smart. I really appreciate your help on this."

As the providers began to open up, they shared some great ideas. One provider started her day with one child by requesting a hug while the parent was still there. "I really need a hug so my day goes well," she told him. She said it is really improving the child's behavior to have that positive physical contact right away in the morning.

Another provider practices a lot of time-ins by giving children lap time and having them help her. Sometimes she'll have a few children on her lap, she says, but they love it and seem to get along better through the day.

A provider with sons said that she requires them to say something nice about each other when they are fighting to diffuse tension and encourage empathy. What a great way to build positive communication in your home!

I encourage parents and childcare providers to find others who share their challenges and stage of life in order to gain new insight and ideas on patience and discipline. Sometimes it just helps to feel like you're not alone. And that next idea could be the perfect thing to help a feisty child soar to new heights (not literally, of course. I don't advocate soaring in the house.)

Seriously, from a mom who has her own feisty child, take a second look at those challenging children. They have beautiful gifts to share with someone who believes in them.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Art of Doing Nothing

You have permission to nap more often. This is the mantra of SARK, an author who has made napping into an art form.

I interviewed her once when she was planning an appearance in Minnesota. She said that she pays close attention to her body rhythms. When she feels like working, she works. When she needs rest, she rests. That could mean working at 2 a.m. and going back to bed at 10 a.m.

When was the last time you had a nap? I used to think that napping was for other people. It seemed like such a waste of time. I had a job, two children, a husband, a house. Who could think of napping?

I didn't even nap when my children were infants. That was my productive time to work on the computer or clean up the kitchen from breakfast and lunch. Even as I read or rocked my babies, my mind was often thinking of my to-do list.

Now my babies are 6 and 3. I miss the rocking.

Take it from a multi-tasking overachiever. The art of doing nothing is well worth learning. New research is proving that multi-tasking is actually less productive than focusing on one chore at a time. When we multi-task, our brains still need to pause and re-focus, which leads to those times when we stop in the middle of a room and wonder what we're doing there.

Patience requires us to slow down, to be mindful of the situation before responding. It also allows our brains to move from beta "fight or flight" mode to soothing alpha waves. When we sit down for dinner. When we read a book to our children. When we take a bath instead of a shower, without worrying about what isn't getting done, we allow our bodies and minds to regroup. Alpha brainwaves are associated with higher learning. When we slow down to handle a task or to parent our children, we have a better chance of avoiding the same mistakes.

We are also happier. Too much time in beta makes us feel stressed, frazzled, even insane.

If you are used to handling it all in your house, learning to do nothing will feel very first. It will also take some cooperation from your family members. They will think you are sick if you suddenly sit down to read or take a nap. You will need to explain to them that you need some quiet time. Tell them that they are free to join you as long as they are also quiet.

Lately, my husband and I have taken turns having naps on Sunday afternoons. He handles the needs of the kids and the dog while I enjoy the delicious luxury of crawling back to my bed and reading until I doze off. If you are a single parent, I suggest swapping kids with a friend to allow each of you the luxury of doing nothing. It will feel like a waste of time at first, but as you get into the habit you find that you are more productive and refreshed than you have felt in a long time.

Don't you deserve one or two hours a week of sanity time? Yes. Yes. Yes!

Allow yourself this time. It costs nothing. But the costs to your health and happiness without it are too high.

La dolce vida, my friends.

Monday, January 1, 2007

New Year Parenting Resolutions

Happy New Year! I'm wrapping up my holiday break today and am ready for a highly productive 2007. I wanted to share some interesting observations from my holiday.

•When adults wind down from a busy schedule, they may pick on each other about things that otherwise don't seem to bother them. For example, a pile of holiday wrapping paper and ribbon in the laundry room. Or an empty bowl of cereal left on the counter.

•After all the presents are unwrapped and tossed around and a few broken, children will begin to whine and fight with each other again.

•The best gifts cost nothing. My favorites this year included seeing my daughters in angel and sheep costumes, singing "Get Ready for the Baby;" a fairy quest in the snowy woods at a birthday party, and trying to figure out what kind of holiday word was duct-taped to my back at a friend's Christmas party.

You may have experienced some of this yourself. If so, I challenge you to include in your resolutions a little less focus on the material and a little more focus on the spiritual, as in feeding your spirit and the spirits of those you love. It starts with little things, like stopping to listen to your child finish a sentence or story and responding to show you heard her. It means greeting your family members with "Good Morning!" even if you're really tired. It means cutting out the cuss words even when you're really angry. It means thanking your children when they help around the house.

My daughter recently wrote a cinquain poem about me, and it helped me understand how she sees me in relation to her life.

Helpful, Loving
Working, Working, Working
Taking Kids Fun Places

The line about working did make me pause, but again if this is how I'm remembered in this wonderful life, I can't complain.

Ask your children sometime to describe you. Their answers may surprise you.