Monday, October 31, 2011

The Power of A Firm Voice and Conviction In Action

Hello Parenting Enthusiasts,

Do you have a guilty pleasure? I have lots. Like a piece of Lindt Sea Salt Dark Chocolate after dinner. For my husband, one of those guilty pleasures is watching "Supernanny". That Jo Frost sure is a pistol. We've watched a few episodes together and although I don't agree exactly with everything she does or says, I DO agree on her underlying philosophy: parents need to be parents. They need to lead and they need to have their power base. For many parents, the root cause of their disciplinary issues, as illustrated to the extreme on the show, is their lack of a firm voice and conviction in action.

We see it episode after episode, parents who have lost control of their households including their kids. In the instances I've seen, the mom is yelling, pleading, punishing, and yet nothing is improving. She has no authority and the kids don't respect her. She is ineffective. Dad is either absent or over-reacting to the Mom's tactics, adding confusion to the mix. No one is on the same page and it's a big, crazy mess.

Supernanny teaches many things to these families, one of which is how Mom can reclaim her power base. Jo teaches her to speak in a firm, authoritative (not yelling) voice and to follow through with conviction. It's difficult. Many don't have conviction. They're not used to it. It's uncomfortable and oftentimes feel like what Jo is asking them to do is too mean or too drastic. And if they don't believe in what they're doing, the kids won't either. Children can sense that internal conflict and without a parent's firm conviction, they'll revert to doing what they want, which is almost never what you want.

Firm voice. The voice of authority, because, after all, you ARE the authority! I know a mom who is not convinced she deserves the authority. At least that's her unspoken message to her children. It seems whatever she is attempting to get them to do, it's a battle. From the small things, like getting into the car seat, to the big ticket items like holding Mommy's hand in the parking lot, there's rebellion and drama. This mom has no authority with her kids. She doesn't change her voice or her body language to indicate she means business. She doesn't follow through with any of the consequences she throws out. She is ineffective at getting the results she wants. And she wonders why parenting is so difficult all the time. I want to tell her if she changed three things, life would be a whole lot easier. So I'm telling her now, and others like her too.

First, are you focusing enough on the green light behaviors? Are you really engaging with your kids every day and giving them your undivided attention and love? As I mentioned in an earlier post, parenting is 80% proactive and 20% reactive. If you're diligently applying your energy in the good stuff, you'll spend less time in the 'red zone'. Alas, kids will be kids, so here are the final two tips to get you through the red zone.

Second, remember to use vocal variety. The firm voice I alluded to and that Supernanny is looking for from you helps solidify your power base. Develop your parental voice and start seeing results.

Third, conviction in action. This means laying out the consequences for unwanted actions and following through with them, forthwith! Now be cautious about this section; don't be threatening no TV for the rest of the week, if you don't actually intend to remove that TV for the week! I quickly saw the error of my ways when I started making threats before realizing the impact it would have on me, not just my kid. I don't want to make my life any harder, so I have to pick something I'm willing to execute that will also catch the attention of my little monster. Different things speak to different kids, so you'll have to feel your way through this section. Just remember, make it real and make it happen if your monster doesn't change his behavior.

This all seems elementary to some readers, and it seriously is. It is also worth repeating, because in all it's simplicity, it can be the most difficult tactic to master. There's nothing wrong with being a gentle, friendly soul to your kids. Eighty percent of the time, that's exactly what you are! And yet, when things come to a head, you as the parent need to step up and BE A PARENT! Get in touch with your inner authority and get on with being an effective leader for your kids. You owe it to them and to yourself.

Happy Parenting!

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Power of Positive COACHING, in Youth Sports and in Life!

Happy Friday Parenting Enthusiasts,

I am excited to share a link to an article I read in today's NY Times that comments on the current state of parents, coaches and children in youth sports in this nation. My kids are too young to participate right now, AND YET, just like with bullying, I am ever watchful of trends. And what I'm reading about and seeing in the media regarding youth sports is alarming. Far too many kids drop out of sports after middle school, citing it became too competitive, too selective and not much fun. I see what they mean: parents are booing and harassing referees because they're not happy with the play calling. Teams jeer one another, sometimes within their own ranks. In more severe instances, actual fighting breaks out. What messages are we sending our kids with these behaviors? Not good ones, I assure you.

Enter, the P.C.A., the Positive Coaching Alliance, an organization working to spread the message that youth sports is about giving young athletes a positive, character-building experience ― not to become major league athletes, but to become “major league people.” They teach that the feedback that most helps young athletes develop their potential is not praise for good performance or criticism for bad performance.  What works best is the "ELM Tree of Mastery", which helps children understand that they control three key variables: their level of Effort, whether they Learn from experiences, and how they respond to Mistakes. The P.C.A. has worked with most major youth sports organizations, reaching hundreds of thousands of coaches with their tools and training. Their goal is to create positive, life-long change in youth sports culture. They have big-hitters backing them such as coaches from championship NBA teams. I liked what they had to say and invite you to read this article and come to your own conclusion.

When the time comes, I want my kids to enjoy sports for the benefits they impart: improving their own game, helping their teammates improve their game, and improving the game as a whole.  P.A.C. contends those same benefits translate into real life by "improving yourself, being a leader who helps others flourish, and working to make society better". I completely agree. That's what I call a 'win-win parenting solution'!

Happy Parenting!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Parenting Tip: No Buts About It

Hello Parenting Enthusiasts!

Today's parenting tip has to do with communication. Earlier I mentioned it is my mission to raise my children in an environment of respect. One form of respect is most certainly how we talk to one another: parent to parent, parent to child, child to child. If you want your kids to grow up knowing how to respect themselves and others, it must be modeled for them (another point I made earlier).

Many years ago I went to a communication workshop designed to help service providers deal with difficult customers. The class was called "Tongue Fu" and was one of the most memorable and helpful workshops I have ever attended. It helped me improve my communication skills not only with my customers, it also helped with my husband, my family - including my in-laws, and now my children. Sam Horn, creator of the Tongue Fu system contends that 'buts' drive wedges between two parties, thus defeating the purpose of communication, which is to bring parties together. I invite you to read more about this on her website, Tongue Fu

Removing 'buts' from conversation fosters collaboration and keeps the energy positive. For example, your son races up to you, so excited about having put on and tied his shoes. The shoes are on the wrong foot. You have three possible responses: You can,

  1. Ignore this fact and simply congratulate the attempt, which is acceptable if your sole intent is to support his efforts;
  2. Say, "That's great, BUT, they're on the wrong foot. Let's switch them around." This is called the 'Yes, but' syndrome which effectively negates the accomplishment BEFORE the but and puts the focus on the problem (after the but). Not what we're looking for in relating to our kids. Or;
  3. Say, "That's great, and yet they seem to be on the wrong foot. Let's switch them around so you'll feel more comfortable." Using 'and yet' instead of 'but' keeps the energy positive, preserves the spirit of the message and is instructional without being critical, a very effective tool indeed!
Practice replacing 'yes, but' with 'and yet' for a while. You'll find your listener is more engaged with you, thus more likely to respond positively to what you are sharing. It may take a while, AND YET, it's worth it.

Happy Parenting!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Happy Toddler, Happy House!

Good morning Parenting Enthusiasts!

Today's blog is a bit longer than usual, and yet, it's chock full of handy tidbits gleaned from one of my favorite parenting books, Dr. Harvey Karp’s, Happiest Toddler on the Block.

If you haven't read it, make this book a part of your permanent collection. It's got more way more stuff than I'm able to include here. This is just to whet your appetite. So, without further ado, here's the summary:

Spend 80% of your time practicing the following:
Activities that encourage ‘green light’ behaviors
  • Feed the Meter - short bursts of positive, focused attention throughout the day
  • Time Ins- just sit and watch your kid; give him a high5, knuckle bump, smile, wink, hug
  • Gossip - let your child overhear you whispering good things about him to someone else
  • Mini Rewards - storytime, special game, tv time, privileges
  • Hand Checks - check marks made on the hand and awarded for desired behaviors; added up and celebrated at the end of day
  • Star Chart - used to accomplish specific goal, like potty training
  • Play the Boob - a classic! Acting the fool gets you a lot of play in my house; often brings a kid back from the brink of ‘red light’ behaviors. Besides, it’s a lot of fun
  • Play - Outside, Arts/ Crafts, Imaginary Play, Creative and Books
Build Confidence
  • Devise win-win scenarios; Kids need wins. This is the focus of my parenting style.
  • Ask for help with stuff - kids love being the authority on matters
  • Offer options - detailed in previous posting, “Mommy, what are my options?”
  • Listen with Respect - at their eye level, quiet, nodding, open body language
  • Praise the Effort not always the Result
  • Playing the Boob again - this, too, makes a kid feel great
Teach Patience
  • Patience Stretching - make it a game: set a timer, make the wait incrementally longer
  • Magic Breathing - never underestimate the power of a few deep breaths
  • Daily Routines are Good - sets expectations; covered in previous posting “I’m Grateful for the Routine
  • Bedtime Sweet Talk, AKA “Gratefuls” also covered in previous posting “I’m Grateful for the Routine
  • Fairy Tales - let your child be the hero in a story he devises, great problem solving tool; makes them feel good too!
  • Catching others being ‘good’
  • Role Playing
The other 20% of your time.
Caution Actions, or ‘yellow light’ behavior solutions
  • Clap-Growl Warnings - Non-verbal, startling action, usually interrupts unwanted behavior
  • Polite Ignoring - most kids HATE being ignored. Withdrawing your attention for a spell can help unwanted behavior disappear.
Violation Actions, or ‘red light’ behavior solutions
  • Time Out: temporary deprivation of freedom and attention (p 191)
  • Privileges withdrawn
As I mentioned earlier, this is only a summary of information available in Dr. Karp's book. To learn more, get his book and check out his website. Both are loaded with great examples to help you create 'win-win' parenting solutions!
Happy Parenting!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Mommy's Big Mad: A Handy Teaching Tool

Dear Parenting Enthusiast,

As much of a surprise as this may come to my friends and family, (HA!) I am not perfect. Far from it. And although I've come a long way Baby, I'm still capable of having myself a most righteous and undignified tantrum. They're not as bad as they once were (Amen) and yet they still happen. Hey! I'm human and subject to the frailties and mood swings of said species. In other words, I can still have a "big mad".

That's what we call meltdowns or tantrums in our house. Big Mads. I got that term from my sister, whose kids are older now and not prone to them as much (let's hope). And even though it would be nice if Mommy could maintain her cool through thick and thin, through freshly bathed M2 running naked, climbing up on the dining room table and commencing with dumping an entire glass of milk all over herself and the table, whilst M1 chants and hollers, I sometimes fall short of the mark. Perhaps I was experiencing low-blood sugar or lack of sleep. Whatever the case, we all have meltdowns, just like our kids. Rather than ignore them (not cool), or feel guilty for having them (not productive), I have decided that they make for a fine teaching tool.

Example: as mentioned earlier, M2 is drenched in milk, M1 is hollering and Mommy is ticked. Really ticked. She has been running ragged all day, was thinking she was at the end of this long road, what with the bath time being done and the bedtime just around the corner- and then this! She snaps. 

"DAMMIT!" I yell as I race for the nearest Norwex washcloth (the best thing EVER). "G-O-D DAMMIT!" Yup, I've snapped. Now I'm stomping around, grumbling not-so-quiet-or-nice-things under my breath and basically scaring the bejeezus out of the kids. M1 takes off for his room. M2 just stands and cries. I've lost control of myself. Their reactions snap me out of it. I step back, take two or three deep breaths, re-center myself and come back to the job of cleaning (and now calming) the little offender. M1 reappears and watches silently. I finish wiping up, diaper M2 and am ready to address them.

"Mommy had a big mad" I say. "I am sorry I yelled and said bad words and scared you. Will you forgive me?" I look each child in the eyes and wait. Yes, says M1, and he runs off to get some toys for me to play with him. M2 just hugs me and babbles her forgiveness. All is well once more.

Everyone has a big mad once in a while. The key is to make corrections, fix the damage and most importantly CALL YOUR FOUL.  Your kids deserve the respect of an apology. If you wrong them, say "I'm sorry". It's good manners and good modeling. And, it's what you would want if things were reversed. Not that you'd be standing stark naked on your dining room table, awash in skim milk, but hey...

Happy Parenting!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It Takes a Village

Hello Parenting Enthusiasts!

A long time ago, when I was barely contemplating starting a family, my uncle Benj shared this gem with me. He said, "Di, it takes a village." Actually, I think he really said it takes a whole damn village, but you get the gist. And he's right. Damn right. I would not be the confident, happy parent I am today if I hadn't paid heed to my sage Uncle Benj's words and gone out to find my village.

I write today to endorse some of these villages: MOMS Club, Dads ClubECFE, Let's Talk Kids, community education. These types of organizations make it possible for a parent to get all kinds of support, valuable information and to feel heard. They're even great places to share a laugh or two, because when living with smalls, those are in no short supply.

When I started out, I was a S.A.H.M. (stay at home mom), who knew I needed outside support for my own safety and sanity. I joined the local MOMS Club (Moms Offering Moms Support) and quickly developed friendships with other moms in my neighborhood. When one recommended I attend an ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) class, I enrolled in a low cost, 14 week "baby and me" course. It was amazing. Between the outings with the other moms in my club and the parents and educators in the classroom, I was meeting and learning and laughing my way through parenting. Did it make all my problems disappear? No, Silly, of course not! And yet, it DID make me feel able to manage those challenges, so things weren't as scary anymore. Win-win!

Listen up! This is very important, because, although you can get a rich supply of information and yes, even some support, from the world wide web (my blog included!), there is simply NOTHING like having face to face, human contact with another person to help make the world a little more sane and a little less scary.

So if you haven't already done so, get out there and find your village. It makes parenting, whether it's the 'at-home' or 'working mom' variety, so much nicer and lots more fun.

Happy Parenting!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Some Days, Life is Just a Draw

Dear Parenting Enthusiasts,

As you've already gathered, my whole objective with this blog, and in life, is to achieve win-win solutions, as a parent, as a fellow human on this planet. It's a lofty goal some days, and on those days, it's best just to call it a draw. Let me explain.

Last Friday night, the family plan was to ride the chair lift at the local ski resort to enjoy the fall colors from above. It's a once-a-year event, replete with musicians, food, educational areas and glow sticks. We've gone every year since I learned of this awesome event's existence. Well, earlier that day, M1 was up AGAIN at the crack of spanking dawn, so I made him walk the dog with me. We wore reflective vests, so that made it more compelling. We skipped and jumped and ran. I later learned that M1 did not nap at daycare- he never does, nor did he fall asleep in the car on the way to the ski slope, which he often does. NOT GOOD.

Things were going fine until M1 fell and hit his hip on one of the rocks on the fire trails. Then, it was a fast descent into madness from which there was no recovery. Remember my earlier observations about food and rest? Well, he had food but no rest. The kid was exhausted. Both Dad and I took turns trying to turn the ship around. We had a variety of techniques at our disposal.   We used everything in the S.O.S. toolkit and then some. It was no use. He was not coming back and that was the hard luck truth. The only thing left to do was leave. Which we did. It was a loud, long, sad retreat. It was fraught with drama and punctuated with wails and screams. We soldiered on, eyes forward, shoulders squared. There was one point, when Dad had to stop for a moment, that there was quiet. M1 had recovered some of his senses and was speaking coherently, a moment I treasured. We managed to get to the car without incident. I fully expected him to fall asleep on the 40 minute ride home, and yet he didn't. At least he was no longer crying. Just not sleeping. We ran through the bedtime routine and sent him off to dream land. At least THAT went well. And he slept until 7 Saturday morning. So there was no lasting effect.

As Kenny Rogers once crooned, "You gotta know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em". That much is true with kids too. That Friday night, we folded. It was the right thing to do, because some days, life is just a draw.

And that's OK. Happy Parenting!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The 80-20 Rule Applied to Parenting

Hello Parenting Enthusiasts!

Have you heard of the 80-20 rule? This is usually applied in other life categories such as nutrition: “eat right 80% of the time, splurge 20% and you’ll be fine”. Same goes for child rearing. Spend 80% of your time encouraging green light behaviors and, theoretically, you’ll only spend 20% in the yellow and red light zones. In keeping with the 80-20 rule,  I’m going to spend 80% of my time focusing on ways we can encourage, teach and model good things with our kiddos and 20% suggesting coping strategies for when things go wrong.

I am borrowing the terms ‘green, yellow and red light’ from Dr Harvey Karp, author of “Happiest Toddler on the Block”, a book I’ve read several times and am happy to summarize in a later post. He alludes to this same 80-20 concept, spending a great deal of the book illustrating the benefits of fostering positive strokes and only the last few chapters on dealing with your Monsters. At first reading, I thought this was a rip off. After all, it was from my desperation dealing with my Monsters that I originally read the book in the first place. And then it hit me. He’s talking all about this green light stuff BECAUSE if we do this consistently enough, much of the ickier stuff will actually disappear on its own. It’s laying the groundwork for improved behavior. Since I implemented several of his strategies, things have improved at our house ten-fold. Like any kind of training though, it takes the 3 P’s: patience, praise and practice.

So, I will offer those Melt-Down Mitigating Moments for when you’re IN the moment. I just ask that you spend as much time, or more, endeavoring to master the green light stuff as well. It pays off in the long run.

Happy Parenting!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mommy, What Are My Options?

Hello Parenting Enthusiasts!

Oh yes, the infamous OPTIONS question. I get this one a lot, which is good because it shows that my son is listening and the system is working.

The system to which I am referring is a fundamental toddler negotiating tool. If you haven't already added it to your S.O.S. toolkit, here's why you'll want to.

The 'option' empowers a child to think for himself, to make a choice and to live by the consequences of that choice.

The other day my son wanted to play with the new Legos Grandma had brought to the house. That's cool, AFTER he puts away the toys that he'd been playing with previously. As I'm sure is the case in many households, behind potty training and eating vegetables, keeping the living areas clutter free is one of the toughest challenges I face. By giving him the option between picking up the old toys to make room for the new and not picking up and not playing with the Legos, I put his happiness square on his shoulders. He is in charge of what happens next. He has a choice. Interestingly, he chose NOT to clean up and instead opted for something else in an entirely different area of the house. So the living room is still in need of cleaning, AND YET, he's not complaining about the Legos. Partial win-win. Moving on...

Having options or choices is liberating for both parent and child. The parent isn't fully responsible for the children's happiness every waking moment, and the child gets to exercise power over themselves. Win-Win.

My kids' days are filled with options, from morning til night. Some are designed to create happiness, others to make things less bad. An example of the first is to let the child decide which favorite book to read or TV show to watch during free time. The second option, designed to make things less bad, is the option that can really help create win-win solutions. The following situation is a common one. Monster 1 does not want to get in the car and Mommy is close to running late. M1's options are to walk like a big boy under his own power to the car, or Mommy will give him a piggyback ride. Either way, he's getting into that car, which is the goal. The choice is his to make. If he chooses not to choose one of those options, we've jumped into the red light behavior category and different tactics need to be employed. (I'm still drafting this post, thanks for your patience). We'll just assume that my monster made one of the choices given, or made up one of his own - like skipping out to the car, which resulted in the goal being met.  

Whatever the case, offering an option mitigated the need for more drastic action and gave everyone a sense of control. Again, win-win parenting. So, if you haven't already adopted options into your parenting style, give it a try. Remember to keep it simple. No more than a couple of choices is the recommendation. Design the options so that both parties somehow benefit and then have fun listening to your kids ask teachers, caregivers and others to tell them their options. It's priceless, really!

Happy Parenting!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Parenting at 5 am: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Hello Parenting Enthusiasts!

This morning, for the second day in a row, M1 has been waking up at 5 am. This is in spite of the fact that a) that's not how we roll and; b) his bedtime hasn't changed. I have no idea what's prompting this behavior and I'm irritated. I know it's just a phase, I know it won't last forever, and yet, I'm irked. I was going to go to the gym- I had plans, man. And now this. So, what to do?

First, try to get that kid back to sleep. This tactic worked yesterday. I refreshed his water, re-tucked him in bed, said another round of gratefuls, kisses, hugs..the works. And he went back down. Not for long, but enough that I didn't want to kill him anymore. That's something.

So when we had a repeat performance this morning, I tried it again. Dangit, no luck. He kept saying over and over that he wanted to watch Blue's Clues. When I gently reminded him it was still night-time and not good-morning time (I even pulled the curtain back to make a point--something I wouldn't be able to do in the summer at 5 am!), he just fussed and whined and made a stink. Now I am awake and peeved. I interrupt his diatribe to remind him that TV watching is not an option and if he's not tired he could go play downstairs or look at a book or whatever... as long as it's quiet and not disruptive to the rest of us. More whining, more fussing. We're at threat level orange now folks. Every minute I spend dealing with this is just that much more confirmation I am not getting back to sleep again today. This does not make me happy. I am not my best self at the moment, I'm hardly even trying to be. It's just so dang early! 

So we're at an impasse. The only thing he wants is Blue's Clues. The only thing I want is my bed. It would be so easy to cave, to give him that dang show so I can go back to sleep. AND YET I do not. That would set a precedent that I do not want. I want to turn this over to his father, and let HIM set the precedent because I know that man will cave. He is not at his best at this hour- far from it. He will give the boy what he wants. But that's not an option. I choose instead to lay it out for him. Son, I'm going back to bed. Whatever you decide to to, do it quietly. I exit the room, leave the door open, enter my room, leaving that door open as well, and go back to bed. 

Wait for it. Yes, here they come. Here come the tears. The crying. It follows me to the doorway of my boudoir. It wails, and yet, does not enter. Standing there, plaintively, wordlessly making his case through sound. I quickly explain to my now-awake husband what is in play here. He groans and rolls over. I stand my ground by lying in my bed. The crying crescendos and then he drops to the floor. Sobbing, yet quieter. Another few moments pass. Coughing, sobbing and yet less still. Finally, quiet. He is asleep. On the floor. In the hallway. The dog steps over him to come rest his head on my bed, his eyes inquiring. Just lay down and roll with it I tell him. He does. 

Miracle of miracles, M2 does not wake through all of this. All is quiet once more, a scant two minutes before my alarm is to sound, so that I can go to the gym. Screw the gym. I gingerly make my way to the clock, turning the alarm into the off position. I am done. With all of this.

For now.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Random Parenting Tip: What To Do When Naughty Older Children Are At The Park

Good morning Parenting Enthusiasts!

This gem comes from a fellow ECFE mom I was lucky enough to befriend outside of class.

Have you ever been at the park with your smalls, only to be driven off by the unwanted actions of older, unaccompanied kids? We've all been there. You schlep your brood and all their accouterments to the park, only to find the top of the slide occupied by 14 year olds, trying out all the salty language you know (hope) they don't get to use at home and generally not behaving in a manner befitting your young audience. What to do?

As I will mention over and over again, you have OPTIONS

First, you could turn around, pack up your stuff and (by now), screaming kids, and leave. Not an attractive idea as you will no doubt have mutiny among your ranks. Next please.

Second, you could politely and firmly request they refrain from such behavior and hope that they stop. Be prepared for some kind of confrontation though, it's not unheard of and can sometimes turn ugly. Not the win-win option for me.

Third, you can call 911. A bit of an over-reaction really, if all they are doing it loitering and talking snappy. If they are engaging in dangerous or illegal behavior, though, get outta there and call 911 from the car. No kidding.

Since chances are the kids are just being a bit like, well, teens, so I'm going with option four to solve this dilemma, which is thus:

Go up to the group, as cheerful and upbeat as can be and...wait for it.... TALK TO THEM! Ask them about the day they're having. Smile and compliment them on their shoes. Be nice, be sincere and be respectful. Engage them in conversation. If you do this, one of two things is usually going to happen. Either they will 1) respond in kind and generally clean up their behavior; or 2) they'll split. Regardless, your problem is solved. No harm, no foul. Win-Win!

I have employed this technique at least two times now and both times the kids changed up into decent kids again. No awkwardness, no hard feelings. Sure, it was a bit uncomfortable for me the first time, and yet, the results were so amazing, it was worth it! Honestly, give this a try.

Simple Genius! Thanks Michele!

Happy Parenting!