Q&A: Permissive v. Strict

July 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Parenting, Q&A

Note from the editor: It is important to us that TNF expose you to both sides of the coin on parenting issues. Your child may not fit the personality described by one writer but s/he may very well be like another. Each week in this Q & A segment we will juxtapose two parenting philosophies –one as proposed by Julie & Holly (more of an unconditional parenting style), and the other by Joe Newman, who provides a more transactional parenting approach.

Question:

I’m a divorced mother of a 6-year-old. My ex is always giving in to whatever my daughter wants. When she comes back to me I feel like the bad cop because I enforce boundaries. My ex says I’m too strict, and my daughter isn’t so happy with me either. What should I do?

Answer by Holly Kretschmar & Julie Gamberg (Parents and Educators)

You’re in a difficult position and we applaud you for upholding boundaries with your daughter. Maintaining limits is especially important because she’s living in two households, which is potentially destabilizing. You have the opportunity be be a bedrock of stability, but how do you hold your own in the face of her visits to the proverbial candy factory?

Children who are raised by so-called ‘permissive parents’ – ones who avoid conflict and indulge their child’s every desire – may initially appear to be reveling in the freedom. But as kids learn they can push boundaries to potentially unhealthy levels, they lose a sense of security, trust, and safety. Inconsistent (or nonexistent) boundaries can cause kids to develop anxiety because they feel a lack of control over their environment. An overly strict environment prevents kids from exercising their judgment, though, so it’s important to strike a balance. Working through conflict with children in a constructive, positive way is a critical parenting skill that your ex is, apparently, lacking. So your daughter needs you to model compromise and negotiation so she can learn to use these skills in relationships with others.

If your ex continually removes limits in order to bypass conflict with your daughter, he risks sending the message that he would prefer to avoid her negative emotions at all costs. A parent who is afraid to tell his child “no” is telling her that he’s not equipped to handle her frustration, anger, or sadness. It’s important for you, then, to support her through these emotions, comforting her through the inevitable disappointments that life brings, coaching her through complicated feelings and demonstrating that you are there for her. Your unconditional love will pay off in the long run.

Here are some further suggestions:

• Avoid setting limits in reaction to your ex’s permissiveness. It’s important that the limits you set are appropriate, loving, and make sense to your daughter. Be clear with her and yourself about why a limit exists. She won’t think you’re too strict if she understands why you set the limits you do.

• Many of us have inflexible limits (“no running in parking lots”), but don’t be afraid to establish flexible limits as well. For example, you might have a flexible limit around bath time:

Child: I don’t want to take a bath! Daddy doesn’t make me take a bath.

Parent: It’s good to wash the dirt off our bodies.

Child: But I was inside all day today and I’m not dirty!

Parent (applying a flexible limit): You know, that’s a good point – you are pretty clean. Let’s skip it for tonight.

• Empathize sincerely and engage your daughter in problem solving when you hold a limit. For example:

Child: Daddy lets me watch TV before bed. I want to watch TV!

Parent: I know he lets you watch TV and that sounds fun. It must be hard to do things differently here but we don’t watch TV before bed. Can you think of another relaxing thing to do that we can both agree on?

Child: What if we skip bath and read another chapter? Reading relaxes me.

Parent: Sounds great!

Dismissing limits is the easy way out. By avoiding parenting short cuts, you’re investing in your relationship with your daughter and building her sense of confidence and trust in you. The fact that your parenting style differs from your ex’s could be an opportunity for you and your daughter to talk and connect. You might be surprised at how a little transparency can bring you together. By maintaining high standards for her, you’ll be demonstrating that you respect her, which she’ll come to value more than nights of watching Late Night and eating Frosted Flakes.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

When parents are separated and a child is being raised in two different households there is always a tendency to try and compensate for what the other parent is doing wrong or to compensate for the short amount of time you have with your child by being more indulgent than you would otherwise be.

So the first rule is: don’t parent in reaction to what your ex is doing.  Stick with your best instincts and work to create a balanced approach in your relationship with your daughter.  You won’t improve your daughter’s upbringing by either being stricter because your ex is too lenient or by being more lenient because your ex is too strict.  A too-strict relationship with your daughter won’t remedy the too lenient one she has with her father.  It will only mean she has two unbalanced relationships instead of just one.

Next, to the extent that it’s possible, try to unite with your ex in terms of the ways you both parent your daughter.  Try to agree on bedtimes, morning routines, and guidelines about play dates and even the ways you set boundaries and give consequences.  Perhaps you can ask him to suggest a parenting book he likes and then read it to find common ground.

After a discussion or mutual reading, I suggest writing down some points that you think are most important.  Present it to him by letting him know this is just a first step in the two of you being unified and ask him to freely change or add to anything you’ve written.  There is a lot of power in having some basic points written down that you both agree on.

Lastly, the “bad cop” feeling you’re having can be mitigated by doing your best to set boundaries in a compassionate and sympathetic tone.  Parents often feel it necessary to give consequences and enforce boundaries in a tone that tells their child how angry, upset, or disappointed they are.  It’s as though they don’t trust that the consequence or boundary will be enough to change the behavior they don’t like so they need to add an additional emotional motivator.

But the emotionally charged tone when giving a consequence is a form of emotional manipulation that undermines your relationship and the autonomy of your daughter.

I suggest trying to do two things simultaneously: be firm in your setting of boundaries and consequences, and while doing this acknowledge your child’s autonomy, respect her decisions, and keep any judgment of them out of your voice.  Let the boundary do the work of shifting the behaviors –not emotional manipulation.

Here are a couple of examples of how that might sound:

“Yes, I realize your father puts away your toys for you when you’re at his house, and if you can get him to do that for you that’s between the two of you.  But when you’re in my house you need to clean up after yourself before you do anything else.”

“Yes, I realize you hate sitting in timeout.  Timeouts aren’t supposed to be fun. But if you decide to call Mommy “stupid” you’re going to get a timeout.  You’re the only one who can control what you say, not me.  I just control the consequences.”

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists.  During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program.  His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.

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Q&A on Sleeping

June 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

Note from the editor: It is important to us that TNF expose you to both sides of the coin on parenting issues. Your child may not fit the personality described by one writer but s/he may very well be like another. Each week in this Q & A segment we will juxtapose two parenting philosophies –one as proposed by Julie & Holly (more of an unconditional parenting style), and the other by Joe Newman, who provides a more transactional parenting approach.

Question:

My 3-month-old is a terrible sleeper and I’m not sure what to do. She wakes up every couple hours and the only thing that seems to get her back to sleep is nursing her before I put her back in her crib. I’m so exhausted from getting up so many times during the night. Is it too early to begin sleep training?

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

To be honest, this is not my area of expertise.  So I will make this brief and allow you to proceed to Julie and Holly’s answer.

Many parents I know who’ve had similar problems have raved about the book “The Happiest Baby on the Block” by Harvey Karp, M.D. The methods he‘s developed seem compassionate and effective.

And I’ll leave you with some common wisdom from Babycenter.com:

“Typically, by age 3 months or so, babies have started to develop more of a regular sleep/wake pattern and have dropped most of their night feedings. And somewhere between 3 and 6 months, experts say, most babies are ready for sleep training and are capable of sleeping through the night. They’re not talking about eight hours, though — they generally mean a stretch of five or six hours.

Of course, every baby is different: Some may be ready earlier, others later. And some will sleep seven hours or longer at an early age while others won’t do so until they’re much older.

Before starting sleep training, make sure your baby doesn’t have any medical conditions that affect his sleep. Then be flexible about how you apply your chosen program and carefully observe how your baby reacts. If he’s very resistant or you see a change for the worse in his overall mood and behavior, stop and wait a few weeks before trying again.”

Good Luck.

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists.  During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program.  His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.

Answer by Holly Kretschmar & Julie Gamberg (Parents and Educators)

We sympathize. Sleepless nights with a newborn can sabotage our best intentions to be patient parents and leave us desperate for a few consecutive hours of shut-eye.

Yes, three months is too young to begin sleep training. Sleep training advocates recommend starting no earlier than six-months-old, and the risks of sleep training using “cry it out” (a.k.a. “CIO”) methods at any age are under investigation. Several studies cite the damage that this type of sleep training can do to infants, including one conducted by researchers at the Harvard Medical School: “The early stress resulting from separation causes changes in infant brains that makes future adults more susceptible to stress in their lives.” 

Researchers found that despite Americans’ fears that children will become dependent, physical contact and reassurance makes children more secure and better able to form adult relationships. Sleep training can exacerbate children’s fear of sleeping, and it can condition parents to ignore their baby’s pleas for help.

Our culture tends to expect babies to conform their behavior to meet their parents’ lifestyle, including ‘sleeping through the night’. Much of parenting requires shifting our expectations; waking every few hours to nurse is normal for the first year of life, and many children don’t sleep without interruption until after 2. Babies have small stomachs and they need regular calories – and perhaps more importantly, comfort – to thrive. An infant can be ‘trained’ to put aside her core needs (for food, comfort, a dry diaper, for example), but this can negatively affect her ability to grow into a confident, secure person. Infants are a bundle of needs – none of them separable from wants. It’s difficult to force anyone to sleep, and in general, it’s more effective to teach children to enjoy sleeping by creating positive sleep associations that will help them sleep soundly for their whole lives (or, until they have children!).

To minimize trips down the hall, we recommend sleeping near your baby. You can try sleeping in the same bed, attaching a ‘side-car’ (three walled) crib to your bed (such as the Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper), or bringing your baby’s crib into your room (encouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics). The majority of the world ‘co-sleeps’; North America, Europe, and Australia are unique in insisting that babies sleep alone. Co-sleeping can also be a boon for working parents who can use the night time to catch up on snuggling. As one parent puts it, “How is it fair that the parents get to sleep together, but not the child?” Although there has been some controversy, studies indicate that if parents follow simple precautions (don’t smoke, drink, or take drugs before co-sleeping, keep infants away from bedding and close any cracks between your bed and the wall), co-sleeping protects against SIDS. [For more on co-sleeping safely, visit the site of Dr. James McKenna, Director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame.] If you’re concerned about your baby rolling off your bed, consider a bumper. Also, some bed-sharing families find it easier to sleep in the children’s room, if it’s large enough, to maintain a private space for parents.

Nursing to sleep is also normal and developmentally appropriate. Don’t worry about establishing a bad habit; children can learn to wean and put themselves to sleep when they’re developmentally ready, just as children learn to walk and talk on their own. If you try nursing lying down, sleeping next to your baby, you’ll find you learn to respond to her stirs before she cries, and before either of you fully wakes. Nursing will help your baby learn that sleep is a natural, comfortable state to enter.

Regardless of whether you make changes to your sleeping arrangements, it’s important to take care of yourself. If you’re home with your baby, we cannot recommend strongly enough that you sleep when your baby sleeps, including during the day. Your baby is probably sleeping at least fourteen hours a day; rest for as many of those hours as you can and you may find the sleep interruptions are more tolerable. If you’re not home, consider sleeping when your baby does in the evening. You may need to make some adjustments, such as buying pre-made (or frozen) meals for dinner so that you can eat quickly and go right to bed.

Finally, if you have a partner, we recommend sharing night waking duties, which could include bottle feeding or simply trading off who wakes with baby in the morning. Alternatively, consider hiring a night nurse or early morning sitter for some temporary relief. Soon, your baby will be sleeping through the night, chattering merrily at you in the morning, and you’ll be grateful for the investment you made in her physical and emotional health. In other words, this too shall pass.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.

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Getting Choices to Work

June 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

Note from the editor: It is important to us that TNF expose you to both sides of the coin on parenting issues. Your child may not fit the personality described by one writer but s/he may very well be like another. Each week in this Q & A segment we will juxtapose two parenting philosophies –one as proposed by Julie & Holly (more of an unconditional parenting style), and the other by Joe Newman, who provides a more transactional parenting approach.

Question:

I’m trying to be a good parent by giving choices to my daughter (age 4), but it’s not working at all and I’m at my wit’s end. What should I do when she refuses to go along with the “giving choices” plan?

 

Answer by Julie Gamberg & Holly Kretschmar (Parents and Educators)

Giving a choice can be an effective tool if it’s done respectfully and gives control to a child who wants to feel powerful. During transitions, such as when you’re headed out the door, leaving the playground, or getting ready for bed, offering a choice to a child can help to diffuse tension by focusing your child’s attention and giving her control over a situation. The key is to communicate the options calmly and kindly, and to remember that offering a choice is not a strategy by itself, but one tool in a toolbox that includes empathy, problem-solving, and maintaining healthy limits.

Below are some tips on using choices:

*Only offer options that you’re comfortable with, such as, “We need to leave the house. Would you like to walk or go in your push car?” If bare feet aren’t an option, don’t ask, “Would you like to wear your sandals or no shoes?”

*Communicate respectfully and allow her to exercise her skills: “We had a fun time playing, but now it’s time to clean up. Which should we do first – pick up the yellow blocks or the green blocks?”

*Describe the choice in terms your child can understand. Use simple language and concepts. Don’t say “Would you like to go up to bed now, or in 5 minutes?” if your child isn’t familiar with a sense of time. You could try: “We need to go to bed soon. Before we go upstairs, would you like to read a story or play ‘put your elephant to sleep’?”

*If necessary, present the less-preferred reality and then offer a choice that makes the request more desirable. For example, “I know you want to stay up and play – you’re having so much fun and it’s hard to stop. But it’s time for bed, so we’re going upstairs now. Would you like to have a piggy back ride or be carried like a sack of potatoes?”

*Avoid framing choices such that your child is punishing herself, such as, “You can choose to finish your dinner now or go to bed right now.”

*Before key transitions, give your daughter plenty of warning. Before leaving the playground, for example, give her warnings at five, three, and one minutes before leaving (if appropriate).  Then, let her know it’s time to go but give her a choice that engages her imagination: “While we’re walking to the car, should we walk like penguins or hippos?”

*Transparency can be a powerful parenting tool; engage your daughter in designing the choice. “It’s so hard to leave. What can we do to make walking to the car more fun?”

*Engage her with empathy: “You love playing with that ukulele! It’s really hard to stop playing. But we have to get ready now. Do you want to put your shoes on by yourself, or would you like me to help you?”

*Be patient. If your child initially balks at the choice, repeat her options calmly.

Giving choices isn’t a panacea, and may not work if your daughter is, say, exhausted and over-stimulated and her core needs aren’t met. Don’t force your child to choose something she doesn’t want to do. You can always say, “Wow, we’re in a tough situation. I’m going to help you put on your shoes and I know that’s not your choice and you’re upset. You want to stay and play. We’ll make sure to find some time to play when we get home. Now we’re going to do shoes.” And then gently and lovingly put on the shoes.

Let us know how it goes.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.


Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

It may be you’ve created a monster by giving your daughter too many open-ended choices (or too many choices at all), and even the impression that she’s entitled to choices. It is also possible that your daughter is challenging the choices you offer in order to see what she can get when she fully asserts her power.

The simplest way to stop this behavior is to make her grateful that she is given any choice at all. The next time you offer her a choice and she refuses to take one, tell her, “In 10 seconds if you haven’t made a choice I’ll make the choice for you…10, 9, 8, 7…” Then make sure you follow through and don’t relent about her having any other option than the one you’ve chosen. She will likely throw a fit and you’ll need to make sure that nothing fun or interesting happens until she has complied with the choice you needed to make for her.

When you’re talking to her about the single option she is now left with, point out that this is a result of her decision, not yours. “I gave you an opportunity to choose and you decided not to choose, so you made the decision to let me choose. Next time you can make a different decision and choose the one you prefer.” If you do this a few times she will quickly realize that choices can quickly disappear if she refuses to cooperate.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s important that you start to have regular times throughout the day when there are no choices at all and times when choices are very limited. There should be consequences for refusing to go along with the rules you set or the choices you offer.

In many cases the choices you offer aren’t really choices so much as ways to clearly communicate to your child what each of you has control and autonomy over. For instance, your child wants to play in the yard with her friend after they’ve come home from another’s birthday party. You’re happy to let her do this, but she’s still wearing her favorite outfit and you need her to change first.

You say to her, “You can play in the yard, but only after you’ve changed out of your dress.”

Your daughter loves wearing the dress and insists she be able to wear it to play in the yard, “No, I want to wear my dress! I’m not taking it off! I’m wearing it!”

You point out what you control and what she controls, “You don’t have to take off the dress if you don’t want to.” (What she controls) “But if you want to go outside, you need to change out of the dress.” (You control the rules) “So you can choose to change and go outside or wear the dress and play inside.” (She controls her choices).

Choices and limits aren’t important simply because other options can’t be accommodated; rather, children need to experience the frustration of not getting what they want and yielding to the needs of others because these experiences are essential to psychological development.

There is a natural tendency to feel like the more we can give our children, and the easier and more comfortable we can make things for them, the better. Parents who have the luxury of giving their children most of what they want and asking for little in return believe doing this is doing the best thing for their child. But children who are raised this way end up becoming children with very little experience using the psychological muscles of deferred gratification, emotional regulation, and self-discipline. There is a myth that children develop these essential character skills through being talked to and reasoned with – they don’t! They learn them through being required to use them, by exercising and building them.

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.


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Q&A: Getting Him to Brush is a Nightly Battle

May 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

Note from the editor: It is important to us that TNF expose you to both sides of the coin on parenting issues. Your child may not fit the personality described by one writer but s/he may very well be like another. Each week in this Q & A segment we will juxtapose two parenting philosophies –one as proposed by Julie & Holly (more of an unconditional parenting style), and the other by Joe Newman, who provides a more transactional parenting approach.

Question:

We recently brought my toddler son to the dentist for the first time, and she told us that he needed to start brushing at least once a day. Unfortunately, it’s turned our bedtime routine into a battle of wills. My son refuses to open his mouth, and when I insist on sticking the toothbrush in his mouth, he ends up kicking and screaming. I’ve tried using different brushes and toothpastes, but he just flat-out refuses. Bedtime with my son used to be my favorite part of the day, but now it’s a nightmare because the tooth brushing struggle ruins everything else. Can you help?

Answer by Julie Gamberg & Holly Kretschmar (Parents and Educators)

There’s no magic bullet, but there are many tips and tricks that you can choose from to see what works. The start of the tooth brushing routine often coincides with a the beginning of a child’s desire to be autonomous and have more control over his body, so from a developmental standpoint, it’s normal that your son is fighting against your insistence that he clean his teeth. He’s experimenting with asserting independence, which includes what he eats, when and where he pees/poops, and whether he’ll let a foreign object (like a toothbrush) into his mouth. Most likely, your toddler is either still teething or has just endured a painful teething process, so it makes sense that he’s reluctant to let anyone poke and pry in this tender area. Overall, focus on good nutrition, avoid turning the dispute into a power struggle, give your child some control, and use play to make the interaction fun.

Below are some specific ideas to try:

* Give him some control. Let him choose the toothbrush and put on the toothpaste. Let him brush his teeth first – then give you a turn at it, or let him brush your teeth, and then switch.

* Lean on the “cool” factor. Try an electric toothbrush or a lightup timer toothbrush, which flashes for one minute so kids know when they’re done. If you try an electric brush, let your son play with it before putting it in his mouth so he won’t be afraid.

* Use distractions. Show your son movies or photos, letting him hold the camera (or phone).

* Make it playful: Invent a game by going “on safari” – pretend to hunt for animals hiding in your son’s mouth. Or, listen to / make up silly tooth brushing songs. (Raffi has one.)

* Engage him in problem solving with role-play. Encourage your son to brush his toy animals’ teeth, and as you pretend to be his toy, provide some resistance so that your son has to coach his animal through the experience.

* Create social pressure. Watch movies of kids brushing on YouTube. Or, create movies of kids your son knows. Find pictures (online) of kids brushing and tape them to the bathroom mirror. As you brush with your son, make up stories about the kids.

* De-emphasize tooth brushing. Create a poster showing each step in the bedtime routine. Then, during the bedtime routine, ask him to tell you which step comes next.

* Outsource the job. Have a favorite, trusted puppet hold the toothbrush, talk in a silly voice, and brush his teeth. Also, consider bringing your son to a dentist who can talk to him about the importance of brushing.

* Take a shortcut until this phase passes. Consider letting your son take complete control of brushing; if he chomps on a brush for a few minutes, even if it’s during story time, he’ll do some good, and giving him independence should buy you permission to take over when story time is through. Establishing the habit of brushing is the most important element of the routine. You can also try “brushing” with a washcloth until your son is more comfortable with a toothbrush. When you wipe his face after meals, swipe the inside of his mouth too. As a last resort, you can try wiping them while he’s asleep.

Good nutrition is extremely important to dental health, so if you have to press the pause button on brushing for a month, focus your energy on limiting your son’s sugar intake. Then, come back to some of these strategies after a break. It’s important to avoid using physical force during the tooth brushing process, because this will prolong the difficult period. If you keep a positive attitude and communicate firm expectations without engaging in a power struggle, your son will maintain trust in you and pass through this phase more quickly. Toddlers cycle through strong autonomy phases; if you can defuse the tension and help your son feel powerful, he’ll learn to enjoy brushing his teeth.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

The first thing to understand is that the struggle you’re having around your toddler refusing to brush his teeth is ultimately about much more than his teeth.  The psychological transition he’s going through at this stage requires him to challenge you to a test of wills.  If he is to successfully make this transition it is also required that you win this struggle.

He is emerging into an awareness of his independence and separation from you and the anxiety this creates drives him to test his power against yours.  So while there are many approaches that may smooth over, avoid, or negotiate a way around this test of wills, all of these will not only postpone dealing with, but will also exacerbate, the root issue.  Click here to go to my blog that details the psychology of toddlers.

The key is to assert your will in the area you do control while acknowledging his ability to make his own choices.

When it’s time for him to brush his teeth, bring him to the bathroom and let him know that neither of you will leave until he has finished brushing his teeth.

Don’t try to force him to brush.  Rather, let him know he’s in control of certain decisions while you are in control of others.

“I can’t force you to brush your teeth (his control).  But we’re not going to leave the bathroom until you’ve decided to brush (your control).”

“I can help you if you want or you can do it by yourself, but you need to brush your teeth for one-minute (or whatever time your dentist recommends) before we leave the bathroom.”

Then wait and allow boredom to do its work.  There should be no toys available in the bathroom and absolutely nothing to do.  Additionally, you need to be boring as well.  Don’t engage him in conversation or cuddling; rather, allow him to be bored.

You can allow him to have a tantrum so long as he isn’t hitting you or destroying anything. (If he is hitting or destroying you should hold him until he has become calm enough to control himself.)

No matter how upset he becomes, keep your tone as amicable, empathetic, and friendly as possible.

“If you need to have a tantrum, that’s okay, I’ll wait till you’re finished.”

Don’t use yelling, anger, threats, or negotiating to motivate him.  Allow the boredom to motivate.

Resist the urge to try and cajole or convince him to brush his teeth.  Instead wait until he wants to leave and tell him, “I’d love to let you leave, but I can’t let you leave until you’ve finished brushing your teeth.”

Every time your son directs his anger or frustration at you, redirect it to the choice he’s making.

“I can’t make you brush your teeth, but you can’t leave the bathroom until you do.”

In this way you avoid a situation were he feels negated in order for your need to be recognized.

However long this takes, it will take half as long the next night, half of that on the third, and soon he’ll be brushing his teeth without a struggle. Even if this takes an hour or more the first time you will be setting a precedent that will make all your boundary setting easier.  Furthermore, you’ll be relieving the anxiety that lies at the root of these tantrums, helping him to develop self-regulation skills, and facilitating his growth into someone who has the capacity to fully recognize the needs of himself and others.

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators, and specialists.  During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program.  His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.

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[Photo Credit: Ernst Vikne]

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Q&A: Tips for Flying with a Toddler

May 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

Question:

My wife’s family lives far away; mine lives local. Since our two-year-old was born we’ve flown five times and it’s getting to be a nightmare. I don’t know if any of you have travelled with a toddler but we could really use some tips and advice because between the whining and the tantrums and the squirming on the plane I swear that I never want to leave my state again. I’m normally a very nice person. But not when we fly. Help!

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

Sometimes, no matter what you do, or how well you do it, flying with two-year-olds can drive you crazy.  At two years old, children are in the middle of redefining their relationship with their parents; they are in a developmental stage that is characterized by conflict and testing boundaries.  Add to this the inability to move around a plane, the cabin pressure’s effect on their ears, and the strange and unfamiliar environment and it can quickly become an overwhelming experience for a toddler.  And when this happens it’s natural to feel like they’re holding you hostage.  When flying, I’m often more annoyed with the irate passenger who’s complaining to the flight attendant than I am with the parent trying their best to deal with a screaming child.

Having said that, there are a number of things you can do to improve your chances of a good flying experience with your toddler:

“Never do on Game Day what you haven’t done in practice.”

Flying with children is Game Day.  In order to have a chance of controlling your toddler on an airplane you must have first successfully handled those same behaviors at home, in restaurants, and in the car.  Having a toddler you can successfully fly with has more to do with what you do when you’re not flying than what you do when you are flying.

Although you might find certain behaviors and demands acceptable when you’re driving or eating out with your toddler, try to hold them to a standard of behavior that would be acceptable when flying.  This is the practice time and should give you an indication about what you can expect from them when flying.

Use a trip to the restaurant to teach them to stay in a seat for gradually longer periods of time.  Bring toys and games that they can play with without disturbing the other patrons.  Get a sense of how long they can sit and be quietly entertained without needing to get up from the table, then use different strategies to gradually increase this time until they can sit for an entire hour.  This will also give you an idea of what and how much to pack for a long flight.

Prepare them for the flight by talking about it and explaining what’s going to happen and what they should expect.  Have car rides where you pretend that you’re on the plane.  Teach them about each step of the trip then ask them to tell you while they imagine it.  Build anticipation about the trip.

Prepare special items for the trip.

  • Have them choose some special travel games, books or toys that can’t be opened until the plane takes off, then another for after the meal, and perhaps a third for after the movie.  Or if you prefer, you can have surprises that you give them at crucial moments on the flight when they’re especially bored.  Over-prepare! It’s better to have more than you need to keep your toddler engaged than not enough.
  • Bring your toddler’s favorite foods and snacks.  Don’t count on finding foods they’ll like at the airport or on the plane.
  • If you like to limit the time your child spends watching videos or playing games on your laptop, in-flight might be the best time to indulge them with these.

Lastly, consider booking flights that are during your toddler’s normal sleep times.  The easiest flights with a toddler will be the ones they sleep through.

If all this fails and your toddler is still driving you and everyone around a little crazy, consider offering to buy the person next to you a cocktail or a sandwich and tell them how much you appreciate their good-natured tolerance (even if they look irate and not very tolerant).

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.

Answer by Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg (Parents and Educators)

Kids pick up on parents’ stress and react with big, loud emotions, so changing your overall attitude from anxious to relaxed is the most important way to prevent your child’s in-flight melt down. Here are some other, more tactical suggestions:

●      Before travel day, play “plane” with your child. Look at pictures of people in (cramped) planes and then pack a bag, walk onto a pretend airplane, sit close together, wear pretend seat belts, order a beverage, practice being close, read books, and play with small toys.

●      For the real trip, pack a carry-on with extra diapers, extra clothes for your toddler and for yourself (in case she vomits or has a leaky diaper explosion), and a child’s medical kit.

●      On the day of the flight, give your child plenty of exercise. Let him walk to the gate if possible, find the play area in the airport, or jump up and down near the gate. He’ll be calmer if he’s had a chance to use his gross motor skills.

●      Bring new or rarely-played-with toys for novelty. You don’t have to buy toys (though a magnet doodle board is an airplane favorite) – a roll of tape and a tape measure will do; You might also wrap favorites before the trip so your child can burn time unwrapping (although their could be airport check-in regulations preventing this), make puppets from air sick bags, read books together, play peekaboo, play with cups, straws and ice, explore the music stations, or watch movies and play iPad games (if that’s something your family does).

●      Pack plenty of snacks / finger food to keep little fingers busy and energy levels steady. Cooked pasta, small pieces of cheese and crackers and cereal work well.

●      Offer your child fluids or a pacifier on the plane’s ascent and descent to ease ear pressure.

●      Don’t worry if your child doesn’t sleep during the flight. Some children respond to white noise and over-stimulation and conk out. Others can’t relax and are awake through their typical nap time.

●      Make friends with your in-flight neighbors by handing out ear plugs before take off. They’ll appreciate the gesture and will be less likely to roll their eyes if your little one starts to fuss. (But keep the ear plugs away from your child – they’re a choking hazard.)

If your child turns unhappy and starts whining:

●      Is he hungry, tired, or uncomfortable? Can you change the scene (and distract him) by taking him for a walk up the aisle? Giving him a chance to stretch his legs will stave off big feelings that bubble up from feeling powerless.

●      If she’s whining, try not to get frustrated, which can further exacerbate her anxiety. Instead, stay relaxed and compassionate: interpret her need, express empathy, and redirect her attention. For example: “It sounds like you want another straw. It’s fun to play with the straws! We’ll get one as soon as the seat-belt light is off. Do you see the seat-belt light?”

●      Lean on distraction: “Let’s have a treasure hunt. Can you find where I put your baby bear?”

●      Be playful and try to make a game out of every possible moment of stress.

If your child begins crying, screaming, kicking, pounding fists, etc.:

●      Stay relaxed and shower him with compassion. He’s in a foreign, cramped environment – he has plenty to be upset about, and he probably can’t express it verbally, so a small thing may trigger a pent-up response.

●      Don’t expect to reason with your child when she’s upset because she won’t be able to process logic.

●      If he’s open to it, or endangering others or himself, hold your child firmly – arms wrapped from behind can work well.

●      As she cries, mirror her emotions with words: “You’re so mad! You’re so upset! You want to run right now!” Calmly articulating her emotions will help her digest them more quickly and return to herself again.

●      Wait until your child begins to calm down and then stroke his hair, give him a special lovey, soothe him, and find a distraction.

Most kids relish the interaction and special one-on-one attention that a flight allows. Do some pretend flying with your child beforehand, arrive early to set yourselves up for a relaxed flight, and be prepared to let your child surprise you.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools

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[Photo Credit: Meer]

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Q&A: Toddlers and Hitting: My Son Hits and Pushes Other Kids!

April 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

Note from the editor: It is important to us that TNF expose you to both sides of the coin on parenting issues. Your child may not fit the personality described by one writer but s/he may very well be like another. Each week in this Q & A segment we will juxtapose two parenting philosophies –one as proposed by Julie & Holly (more of an unconditional parenting style), and the other by Joe Newman, who provides a more transactional parenting approach.

Question:

My two-year-old son Jack is a hitter, and an occasional pusher. He usually gets physical when he’s fighting with another toddler over a toy, but sometimes it will come out of nowhere. I understand that this is normal behavior for a two-year-old, but it’s still embarrassing, not to mention traumatic for the child who gets hurt. My question is, what is the right way to respond when Jack hits or pushes another child? And is there anything I can do to reduce this impulse in him, or do I just need to wait for him to grow out of it? (You can assume that he’s well-rested and well-fed when these outbursts occur; I know kids are more likely to lash out when they’re tired or hungry.)

Answer by Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg (Parents and Educators)

A hitting/pushing phase is normal for toddlers (particularly preverbal ones), but some strategies -all rooted in thoughtful connection- are more effective than others for keeping the phase as short as possible. Issuing a “time out” is often parents’ first line of defense, but this type of punishment can backfire by increasing a child’s frustration and sense of isolation. Even if time outs appear successful in the short term, they encourage children to disconnect and hide their behavior over time. Furthermore, they don’t help children understand the cause of their behavior, nor do they help them build skills to negotiate social situations. It’s critical to uphold a no-hitting boundary maintained by communicating your expectations and meeting Jack’s emotional needs.

Before social situations:

●      Provide focused, positive attention so he’s grounded.

●      Avoid saying “Don’t cry” or “You’re okay” when Jack is upset, because blocking the emotional release of crying can cause repressed feelings to surface later in physically aggressive acts.

●      Communicate expectations before group play – “We’re going to paint and take turns. Hands are only for gentle touching.”

●      Practice “Hands on your head!” Calling this can refocus Jack if he’s aggressive and give you time to intervene. Practice this at home so he learns to respond instantly.

●      Practice “gentle hands”, which is how Jack would have to touch a small pet, a baby, or a flower. If Jack doesn’t know how to control his touch, then stroke Jack gently and say “gentle, like this.” Coach him to do the same.

●      Encourage daily exercise, and engage Jack in contact play- wrestling, pillow fights, etc. A growing body of research supports the importance of playful physical contact with our children. While wrestling, allow your child to take the lead and “overpower” you. Some children hit in order to feel empowered and see another person’s strong reaction, so react dramatically during delineated playtime.This is especially important if your child is the youngest of his siblings (or is a girl).

If you catch him poised to hit:

●      Be Jack’s linguistic and emotional coach. “You’re feeling so frustrated right now! You really want to play with that and you want to ask for it.”

●      Intervene verbally. Say, “No hitting. Hitting hurts.”

●      Intervene physically. Hold Jack’s hands.

●      Provide an outlet for his impulse, such as: “Clap your hands 1-2-3! Now gentle hands.” Hugging and drumming the floor can also keep hands busy.

If he hits another child and there are tears, etc.:

●      Verbally empathize with both children. Hold Jack firmly and be an interpreter, giving voice to Jack’s frustration and to the other child’s hurt. Model how to comfort and apologize but avoid asking Jack to say he’s sorry – it won’t be genuine. “Wow, Jack was so frustrated! Jack wanted the toy. Jack hit his friend. But hands are for gentle touching.” Then to the friend: “Ow! Jack hit you. It really hurts! We’re so sorry.”

●      Consider a symbolic gesture for the hurt child, such as getting water. Involve Jack in getting it while giving him the attention he needs to recalibrate.

●      Hold Jack firmly and rock or hum to him if he’s crying or trying to get away. After he’s calm, decide if it makes sense to continue playing – with increased supervision – or whether to leave the play date/group.

●      If you do leave, don’t say, “We’re leaving because you hit,” which emphasizes the undesired behavior, but rather, “We need to be gentle with our friends. You feel frustrated and your hands aren’t gentle right now. We’ll play with our friends on a day when we can use gentle hands.” This will help reinforce your expectations of Jack and the limits around play, while avoiding language that tempts him to try it again.

Always stay next to a toddler who’s in a hitting stage and respond to every aggressive incident. Responding inconsistently is a hallmark of “permissive parenting”, a style that doesn’t set and maintain clear expectations for a child’s behavior. Investing in Jack’s need for connection and healthy limits will be rewarded as he grows into a self-possessed and emotionally intelligent child.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

First, the solution:

When Jack hits or pushes another child (or adult) you should immediately remove him from the situation and guide him to a nearby spot where you can have him sit quietly next to you for one or two minutes.

While removing him from the situation you should say, “We don’t hit other people” and “When you hit someone you need a timeout.” You can phrase this in a way that’s most natural for you so long as you avoid adding judgment, anger, or yelling (so don’t use “wrong”, “bad”, “naughty” or any other pejorative comment). Then sit next to him and insist that he get quiet before you start his time out. “If you need to cry that’s okay. But I can’t start your time out until you can sit quietly.” So the first time you do this a one-minute time out can take 10 minutes (9 minutes of crying or tantrums and then the one or two quiet minutes).

It’s important that during the time out, or waiting for him to become quiet, you are neither talking nor cuddling with Jack. Otherwise, the time out time can become a reinforcer for the hitting you’re trying to stop. The time out is meant to be boring and frustrating, and conversation and cuddling remove this necessary frustration.

After the time out is over you should ask Jack “Why did you need to take a time out?” or “What did you do to ______ that made you have a time out?” And give him some time to come to the answer himself. This way he becomes a more proactive problem solver.

Now, the explanation:

There are two primary motivations driving a two-year-old’s pushing and hitting. First, emotionally he is trying to understand his own power and his emerging identity in relation to others. Second, intellectually his actions are exploring his environment in a quest to understand what the rules are and how things work.

Emotionally, two-year-old Jack is aware of his own power and needs but not yet aware of the power and needs of others. He enjoys asserting his power but feels anxiety at not fully understanding who’s in control. So while pushing and hitting are natural, they are also a cry for boundaries. He is trying to find out where he and his power end and you and your power begin. Only by coming up against the expressed will of another (mostly you), does he begin to understand others as like himself. Your giving him firm, consistent action consequences will enable him to develop capacities for intimacy (a real awareness of others as equal to himself), will relieve the anxiety he feels because he will feel you’re in control, and will allow him to slowly develop the capacity for self-control and emotional regulation. (For a more in-depth explanation of this stage of development go to my blog A Seismic Shift In Parenting and the succeeding three blogs.)

Intellectually, Jack wants to know what happens when he hits and pushes. Does he get what he wants? Does he get to talk to mom for a few minutes? Does he have to say the words “I’m sorry”? So it’s important that your response sends a clear message to Jack: “Hitting and pushing will not get you what you want. Rather, they will result in you feeling frustrated.” Let the consequence create frustration around his choice as opposed to having your anger, judgment or moralizing create shame or guilt in his assertion of his power. In this way you can coach him into an understanding of the cause and effect nature of his choices and interdependent autonomy.

Lastly, avoid the common mistake of trying to substitute reasoned discussion for real consequences. Your two-year-old is trying to learn the meaning of his actions and your words. If your words aren’t rooted firmly in action then your son will learn that your words aren’t dependable and that he can use them for manipulation. Discussions are fine after the consequence is finished.

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.

[Photo credit: aarongilson]

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Q&A: Healthy Eating, Self Esteem, & Body Image

April 15, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Parenting, Q&A

Beware of bad foods for your child

Question:

My son is 8 and slightly overweight. I am wondering what’s the best way to address it. I have even caught him sneaking food. He is a carb lover (like me) and could eat the equivalent of 3 servings of cereal and a bagel for breakfast. How do I help him to make healthy choices without having it backfire and make the problem worse (like sneaking food)? He has become sensitive about his weight, and I believe he has had kids comment about it at school. I would appreciate any advice or insight you have on this issue.
-Carrie N.
 

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

The first step to changing the way your child eats is to create a home where the healthy foods are convenient, prepared, and abundant while the unhealthy foods are inconvenient, difficult to prepare, and scarce.  Imagine a kitchen where there are several healthy choices prepared and ready to eat.  But if you want cookies then you have to bake them.  If your home has an abundance of unhealthy, convenient snacks around, any efforts you’re making to get your children to eat healthy will be an uphill battle.

Have healthy snacks and foods ready-to-eat and easily available (think cut fruit, veggies and a healthy dip, sliced chicken breast and ketchup, or protein bars).  You could offer to make him a healthy snack but…require he make his own unhealthy one.  Quite often we eat unhealthy snacks because they’re easy to open up and much on.  Think about having a refrigerator/pantry that has lots of healthy options on hand.  (Lately, I’ve had 0% fat Greek yogurt with fresh blueberries and a little honey on hand for my daughter who’s home from college.  It’s like creamy ice cream.)  Initially, your child might not want these things but have them around and eliminate the unhealthy stuff and eventually he’ll try them.

The second step to getting your children to eat healthy foods is to set up firm boundaries and structured choices without any judgment about their decisions.

Let your children know that 95% of the time you’ll be preparing only healthy meals.  If they want the more unhealthy choices they’ll need to prepare them themselves.  Offer them some choices of the healthy foods you’re willing to prepare.

You can make a rule that before he has a snack of his choice he first must finish a healthy snack of your choice.  You could give him a choice of a piece of fruit, veggies, a sandwich, nonfat yogurt or whatever.  By the time he finishes the healthy snack he won’t be able to eat so much of the unhealthy one.  Additionally, he’ll be developing a taste for healthier food.

Ask him to help choose from healthy choices.  Give him multiple choices from healthy foods you choose.

Offer your children structured choices in order to avoid power struggles: “If you want _______ then you need to have ________ first.  If you want to have_______ first/only that’s fine but that would be with your money.”  Or, “You can choose any one of these five (cereals, protein bars, etc.).  You can choose one or I’ll chose.”

Eating is often driven by emotion, not hunger.  The forces that drive overeating and binge eating are often emotional, not logical.  Start by focusing on quality rather than quantity foods.  You help your child develop a healthy relationship with food when you praise them when they eat food that’s good for them.  The first step is to help them find healthy foods they like and encourage them to eat these without worrying about quantity.  In the beginning stages of changing food habits they will still be overeating to feel good so just try to encourage them to eat healthy/healthier foods when they do.

Keep discussions, and setting of boundaries and limits, about food as neutral as possible.  Example, “It’s fine if you want a sweet treat in the afternoon but from now on you need to eat a healthy snack before any unhealthy snack.  If you don’t want a healthy snack that’s okay but if you don’t have a healthy snack first you can’t have the sweet/unhealthy snack.” Or, “I realize you want me to buy those cookies but I’ve decided to limit the number of unhealthy sweets we have in the house.  If it’s really important that you have them you’re welcome to use your allowance to get them for yourself.”

Try not to convince, berate, or lecture about food.  Discussions that bring up shame or guilt about food can lead to binge eating and eating in secret.

Have a conversation about his feelings/concerns about food and his weight/appearance.  This conversation should be primarily you asking your child questions that help him to decide whether his current choices are getting him the resultshe wants.  Let him tell you his concerns, goals, and struggles about eating.  And then ask him to give you input about which healthy foods you buy.  You choose what’s healthy and he chooses which of those foods he likes.

Avoid the emotional backfire of shame and guilt that accompanies sneaking food.  If you catch him sneaking food, set a consequence in a neutral manner.  Example, “Since you decided to go against my rule of having a healthy snack before a sweet one, it just means you had your dessert early tonight.  Maybe you needed to have it now, and that’s fine, it just means you can’t have it later.” Or, “If you sneak food and don’t stick to the rules then the next time I go shopping I won’t get that item.”

Good Luck!    

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, behavior specialists, teachers and administrators in the methods he’s developed.  During the last twenty years he’s been a teacher for 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program.  His book Raising Lions was published in September 2010 and is available at Amazon.com.


Answer by Julie Gamberg and Holly Kretschmar (Parents & Educators)

We’re happy that you’re engaged in your son’s health and self image and recognize his weight as a potentially sensitive issue. Though you asked specifically about your son’s weight, you’ll see below that we’ve taken the opportunity to step back and address the challenge of health more broadly, which we hope will be helpful for whatever stage your son is in.

The good news is that being ‘slightly overweight’, particularly for an 8 year old, is not a health risk in and of itself, and carbohydrates are not inherently problematic (more on that below). Sneaking food, however, and feeling sensitive about weight, are issues that could worsen over time and negatively affect other areas of your son’s life. We have some thoughts about how to help your son build a positive relationship with food (and strengthen his self image) as well as some dietary and fitness suggestions to make sure your whole family is on track. But before we make tactical suggestions, let’s remember that people come in all shapes and sizes, and connecting with your son about feeling ‘chubby’ (if that’s what he feels) is an opportunity to encourage him to embrace his uniqueness and appreciate the diversity of people around him.

Pre-tweens are hard at work forming their identities, exercising their opinions, and forging their first attempts at big decisions on their own. They’re impressionable, and as a parent, it’s important to be careful about the language you use because you can have a profound impact on your son’s self image. Though his body is changing rapidly and may look very different in a few years, labels such as “fat” or “overweight” can stay with him for his whole life, contributing to low self esteem. So, when you talk with your son, avoid talking about weight or dieting and instead focus on nutrition and movement.

Carbohydrates have been vilified by popular diets, but in fact carbohydrates are necessary sources of energy that help process other nutrients. However, some carbs are more nutritious than others. Complex carbohydrates, such as legumes (a protein/carb combination), whole grains, and vegetables, are efficient forms of energy, and fuel growing bodies with necessary calories. Your son does need a variety of nutrients to stay healthy, but as long as he consumes some protein, fruit, and vegetables during a week’s period, he’ll likely get the basic nutrition he needs. (Consult your pediatrician if you’re concerned that he’s not getting necessary nutrients.) Many kids go through stages where they eat one thing, such as only white food or only hot dogs for weeks at a time, and it’s theorized that these urges come from genuine physical needs (for carbs, protein, or perhaps micro-nutrients). We don’t know the particular circumstances of your son’s carb-o-philia, but he could be eating carbohydrates for the emotional comfort that starchy foods provide; he may be ‘carb sensitive’ and eating simple starches may trigger a craving for more; he may be “rebelling” to real or perceived restrictions or judgment about his eating; or he may simply be hungry. In general, an eight-year-old is still making food choices by listening to his body, which is an instinct that should be nurtured. (Many adults are so burdened by social norms and their own negative associations with food that they lose the ability to respond to their body’s cues.) As a parent, you may need to accept your son’s love of carbs in the short term in order to help him establish good habits for the long term.

If your son is sneaking food, his behavior may indicate that he’s starting to eat for reasons beyond physical hunger, or perhaps he’s fearful of your reaction to foods he’s eating. Sneaking food is a warning sign that a child’s sense of self-respect is at risk. To nurture trust between you and support your son’s developing sense of honesty and integrity, think through this problem carefully: Why is he sneaking food? Is his diet overly restricted? Are there foods in the house that he’s not allowed to have (and are therefore overly tempting)? Does he see someone else in the house use food as a reward for behavior? We recommend removing ‘off-limits’ foods from the house, avoiding using food as a reward, and steering clear of too many ‘food rules’ so that your son can learn to exercise his own judgment. Eight-year-olds are learning to make decisions for themselves, still reliant on their parents but also eager to stretch their wings. Too many rules about what and when kids can eat can make off-limits foods more desirable, and they can send a message to kids that their parents don’t trust them, preventing them from learning how to make good decisions. Sometimes when food rules are relaxed kids revel in the sudden freedom and go overboard on junk. But this phase is usually short, and you can use it as an opportunity to ask your son how he feels and if he notices that his energy is less than when he eats nutritious food.

If your son is getting teased at school, he may not be engaging in physical activities with his peers. If so, you could help your son find activities he enjoys and can master. Some athletic programs are set up in such a way that kids who run slower or are less athletic may feel embarrassed, cost their team points, or feel like ‘losers’. Check out the athletic programs he’s involved in. Programs such as the successful Playworks (http://www.playworks.org/) help kids learn to love moving regardless of their athletic ability. If your son doesn’t like his current athletic program, we encourage you to to try and change it, and if that doesn’t work, experiment with different types of movement until you find one that’s a fit for him. From swimming to rollerskating to martial arts, you can help your son find an activity he enjoys.

Protecting your son from shame, guilt and other emotions that foster a negative relationship with food (and his body) requires taking the long view. As your eight-year-old grows taller he may grow leaner and lose the baby fat that he’s carrying now, or he may grow chubbier. What’s important is to model a healthy body image and a positive relationship with food, and create a relaxed but informative food environment at home. If your son sees you eating nutrient-dense foods and hears you talking about the feel-good and body-building benefits of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, he’ll adopt your healthy habits in the long run. Most importantly, help teach your son to be proud of who is he is. As many readers of this site know first hand, it can be challenging to be someone who isn’t accepted as normal in the mainstream, but it’s deeply rewarding to stand up and be yourself, whatever your shape, size, or identity. If your son is going to be a chubby teen and young adult, support him in becoming the most self-confident, grounded, chubby person he can be. At some point, you may need to explain to him that many people are afraid of difference, and that some people behave unkindly out of fear that they won’t fit in. But if he can brave the popularity storm, he will find himself richer for it and he may just turn out to be popular as well.

Below are some tactical ideas for creating a healthy food environment in any family’s home, regardless of their shape or size:

●      Stock your house with healthy food and snacks. Many parents find that their kids are most receptive to cut vegetables, for example, when they’re available as a pre-dinner appetizer. Cut them in cute shapes, if you have the time (or teach your son to cut them), and present them attractively (smiley faces, animals, etc.) as a bonus. Serve them with dips (hummus, yogurt-red pepper, pesto, applesauce, etc.) and ask your son to find his favorite veggie-dip combos.

●      Model healthy eating, so healthy food behavior seems normal.

●      Talk to your son about energy-giving (nutritious) foods and energy-sapping (junk) foods. Encourage him to notice the difference in how he feels when he eats different foods. Most kids are fascinated by the fact that food ‘works’ inside their bodies – that beans build muscles and yogurt makes their bones strong, for example – and that some foods supply more lasting energy than others.

●      Model and talk about moderation. Show your son that if he’s eaten the ‘good stuff’ first, less nutritious foods are fine in small amounts. And, even moderation in moderation is fine; a second helping of pie on Thanksgiving just might be a human right, and occasional, unabashed enjoyment of food for deliciousness’ sake can be a natural part of a sustainable diet.

●      Involve your son in every part of the food process if possible – growing, buying, prepping, clean-up – so that he learns to value good quality food. Grow some herbs or, even better, vegetables. Take him shopping and let him choose his favorite vegetable, for example.

●      Visit your local farmers’ market, regularly if possible, and get to know the farmers who provide your food. Some farms host family volunteer days, another way to connect your son to the source of his food.

●      Engage him in cooking. Cooking with kids helps them appreciate food, and builds their skills so that someday, they can make their own meals instead of relying on fast food. Many kids get excited about specific implements, such as the peeler, the grater, the steamer, or the salad spinner.

●      Make gradual changes. No kid wants to see her beloved sugar cereal and white flour bagel replaced suddenly with a quinoa flake porridge and sprouted whole grain bagel. You may want to introduce complex carbs or protein at breakfast, but make the changes slowly (mixing a healthy cereal with a less healthy one, for example). Avoid pushing specific foods, which can increase resistance; don’t treat the changes as a punishment, and back off a bit if you meet a lot of resistance.

For all of us, health is a lifelong challenge, and often, awareness is the secret to physical health. Knowledge about nutrition, fostering a love of movement, and having a positive body image are the foundation of sustainable health. Try some new things, take it slowly, and let us know how it goes.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.

 


 

[Photo Credit: Flickr member Alysssla]

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Q&A: My Toddler Won’t Share!


April 1, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

Little girl not sharing

Question:
My 18-month-old-son “shares” by handing me something and then snatching it back. What kind of kid am I raising? Are there proven ways to teach a child to share?

Answer by Julie Gamberg and Holly Kretschmar (Parents & Educators)

The behavior you describe –let’s call it “playing backsies” –is absolutely normal, developmentally appropriate behavior for your toddler. It’s admirable that you’re concerned about him growing up to be a considerate kid, but don’t push the concept of sharing yet. There’s a danger of sabotaging your best intentions by pushing your child too early.  To avoid making him resentful and nervous about boundaries, let him experiment with the concept of giving and taking.  He’ll learn from your reactions and you’ll avoid pushing him into behavior he’s not ready for.

To help your son make strides towards the next level of sharing, narrate his behavior, to help him develop language for–and ultimately the concept of–his actions. For example, you might say, “Thanks for giving me your ducky! I know you love your ducky. OK, now you want your ducky just for you. Thanks for sharing!” You can also model the behavior you’d like to see, and as before, narrate it to him so that he develops an understanding of what sharing means. You could try saying “Daddy’s reading this book right now. I see you want to share it. I’d be happy to give you a turn. When you’re done looking at it, I’d like to read it again.  Thanks–it was fun to share my book with you.” Focusing on turn taking is a concrete way to illustrate the abstract concept of sharing. Over time, as your son learns from your reactions and sees you modeling sharing behavior, he’ll understand the good feeling and social rewards that come from giving.

Children change so quickly so if you can, do some speed reading every six months or so (we know parents only have minutes to spare for reading) about your son’s developmental level. This will help keep your expectations in check with what he’s capable of and, most importantly, so you know you’re doing nothing wrong in these scenarios. Although they’re somewhat dated and we don’t always agree with their parenting philosophy, we still find the series by Dr. Ames and Dr. Ilg, called “Your One-Year-Old”, “Your Two-Year-Old,” etc., useful for understanding a child’s development. It sounds like you have a healthy, well-adjusted child who enjoys interacting with you and seems to be on track developmentally. Congratulations!

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.

 

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

I think there are actually two questions here.  The first is how to best handle the giving and snatching away your son seems to enjoy right now, which I think has little to do with sharing and more to do with exploring his power.  The second is the broader question about how to raise children who are generous and can share with others.

1st – The giving and snatching away

I don’t think this is in any way a sign of your son’s inability to share properly.  He is playing with and learning about the things that are most fascinating him right now (power, control, connection, and independence.)  Think of this as an opportunity to begin to teach him about his own power and autonomy while gently developing his ability to respect the power and autonomy of others.

An 18-month-old is in the beginning of the stage called the rapprochement or omnipotence (this stage typically begins at around 14 months and last till 3 or 4 years).  He has realized that he has power and is separate from you so he’s trying to understand your power and who’s in control.

In the beginning of the rapprochement phase a child is moving from an unconditional relationship and an omnipotent identity (he’s the only one with power) into an understanding of transactional relationships and an interdependent identity (both you and he have power).  What better way to exercise his feelings of omnipotence and test the waters of transactional relations than by trying to control giving and taking things?

Here are some practical suggestions:

The next time your son “gives you something” you can ask him, “Is this the game where you take it away from me or is this real giving that I can keep?”  If he seems unsure or confused tell him, “It’s okay if you want to play the give and take away game.  I just need to know if we’re playing the game or if it’s real.”   Don’t accept what he’s giving you until he tells you “game” or “real”.

If your son chooses “real giving” and then tries to snatch the thing away you should not allow him to take it and instead say to him, “Since you really gave it to me you’ll need to ask my permission if you want it back.”  Insist that he asks you nicely without tantruming or screaming.  In the weeks that follow you can begin to add a delay in returning the item perhaps saying, “Well I’m not done playing with it.  I will give it back when I’m finished.

If your son chooses “the game” then you can accept the item and allow him to snatch it from your hands a moment later.  You can even feign being mad or upset.  He will likely find your reaction funny or fascinating.  He may then give the item back to you in order to see the change in your expression.  In this way your son has a chance to act out the drama of his feelings of omnipotence and explore the power of giving and taking as a “game” within his safe relationship with you.

Once you’ve established the pattern of him telling you “real” or “game” when he gives you things then you should start to have times when you tell him, “I don’t want to play the game right now.  You can really give it to me, but I don’t want to play the give and take away game.”  Gradually you can increase the moments when you’re willing to play the give and snatch away game until you’re only willing to have him really give you things (this can be over several weeks or several months, it’s up to you.)

All these exchanges are rehearsals for your son’s successful relationships with peers and other adults.  Slowly he’ll learn the transactional nature of relationships and how to effectively choose what he wants while understanding the needs of others.  He’ll gradually be developing his abilities for self-regulation, deferred gratification and respectful social interaction.

2nd – Teaching children to share

I think it’s important that we don’t force our children to share.

Having said that, I think there are several things we can do to raise compassionate, independent-thinking, generous children who will most likely share with others.

Model sharing – let your children see you share with them and others, not because you’re “being good” but because you enjoy it.

Respect the child’s autonomy and right to make their own decisionsdon’t tell your son that he should be wanting to share, that sharing is right and not sharing is wrong, or that you only approve of him when he shares.  When children are told what they should be feeling (love, empathy, compassion, a desire to share) and they don’t yet have those feelings, what is actually created is shame and guilt in the child because they don’t feel what they’re supposed to.  Acknowledge his power to choose not to share.  The less a child is forced, coerced or manipulated into sharing the more likely they are to develop an intrinsic, and joyful, motivation to share.

Don’t protect your children from the natural consequences of their decisions – Just because you support your child’s right to choose not to share doesn’t mean there won’t be times when refusing to share leads to an unwanted consequence.  For instance, you may have a rule that when a friend comes over he must take out one toy he’s willing to share for each toy he isn’t willing to share.  He may choose not to share at all but that also means he can’t bring out any toys when his friend is over.  Or you can have him help you create a box of “share toys” for his friends to use when they come over.  There can be places when he doesn’t have to share at all (home with sister), and other places where if he wants to stay he must be willing to share (public park.)

Discuss and reflect with them about their choices and the outcomes – When natural consequences occur because of his decision not to share (you have to talk him home from the park because he refused to allow others to use the swing, or his friend became upset because he wouldn’t share his toy) discuss and reflect with him about what happened and whether he’s happy with the outcome.  “Why was Alex mad at you?” “Do you like it when he’s mad at you?” “Are you happy about how things turned out?”  “What could you do instead to get a better outcome?”

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, behavior specialists, teachers and administrators in the methods he’s developed.  During the last twenty years he’s been a teacher for 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program.  His book Raising Lions was published in September 2010 and is available at Amazon.com.

You can email them with questions at parentingadvice@thenextfamily.com

 

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Q&A: I Hate the Word “Hate”

March 25, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

By: Holly Kretschmar & Julie Gamberg

Hate cupcake

Q:
My seven-year-old son doesn’t curse, but he does use language I don’t like. For example, he “hates” people and things, like some kids at school, a teacher, reading, and pretty much all vegetables. I feel like “hate” is an extreme word and it’s creating a bad atmosphere at home. I’m trying not to have a rule against every little thing, and we already have a rule against cursing, but I’m thinking maybe I should just make “hate” (and a few others) a curse word, too. I’m curious as to what you think I should do.

A:
We admire the fact that you’re handling this issue so thoughtfully. And we think your instinct to avoid having too many rules is a good one; A house full of rules teaches kids obedience but obedience only – it doesn’t allow them to practice their own judgment. That said, we all have trigger words that get under our skin, and we understand how the use of a heavy, negative word can grate on your ears.

Because you have a son, it’s particularly important to help him express a range of feelings. Boys in our culture are often allowed to express angry, aggressive feelings such as hate, but aren’t given space for other feelings, such as fear and sadness. Honing in on sadness, disappointment, fear and loneliness will help a boy avoid suppressing these emotions. The goal should be teaching kids – and especially boys – to be ‘emotionally intelligent’; The latest research shows that ‘EQ’ is critical to overall success in life.

You know your own child best; the most important thing is to help him express whatever feelings are buried under the catchall “hate”. Try to help him express himself with more accuracy and subtlety. Wait until your son says he “hates” something that you suspect he actually has complex feelings about, such as a teacher or a classmate (let’s skip vegetables for this conversation). Then, assuming you have time to talk with him, begin by re-framing his sentence, using a more appropriate word than hate. For example, “OK, it sounds like you’re having a really hard time with your reading tutor.” Listen with curiosity and a lack of judgment about his issues. Reflect back what you hear, each time trying to pinpoint the feelings that your son is experiencing, moving from the general “hate” to a more specific language. Is he scared of being ridiculed at reading time? Angry about perceived unfairness? Bored or frustrated?

The conversation might look something like this:

Son: I hate my reading teacher!

Parent: OK, it sounds like you’re having a really hard time with Ms. Murphy.

Son: She’s so mean! And she yells!

Parent: That sounds kind of scary (you’re taking a guess here).

Son: Yeah, I guess. But she’s not allowed to hit us. It’s against the law.

Parent: So when she yells it almost feels like she wants to hit you – it’s that scary!

Son: Plus none of my friends has to go see her.

Parent: Oh, so it sounds like you feel lonely. Or maybe embarrassed?

Son: Maybe, yeah.

And so on, helping your son to identify his specific emotions. At the end of the conversation, articulate his feelings in a sentence that encompasses what he’s experiencing. In this way, the discussion becomes an education about the words we use to describe feelings, and helps him learn that when he has a strong reaction to something, he may be feeling many things at once. Helping your son name his emotions will help him navigate relationships in his life now, but even more so later, in the workplace, with potential partners, and as a parent himself.

Finally, if you find that certain words get under your skin and make you upset or angry (in a previous post we talked about how tweens can aggravate parents’ nerves), make sure to take a deep breath and remind yourself that your son is in the midst of a developmental explosion. He’s moving from little kid to big kid and learning so much so quickly right now. You will be a wonderful guide for him if you can ground yourself before having these conversations.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.

You can email them with questions at parentingadvice@thenextfamily.com

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[Photo Credit: kayepants]

 

 

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Q&A: Aaack! Getting Out the Door in the Morning

March 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Parenting, Q&A

By: Holly Kretschmar & Julie Gamberg

sleeping kids

Q:
I hate mornings at my house. I’m a single mom and I dread getting my two kids out the door for preschool before I have to go to work. They dawdle while they’re eating breakfast, it’s a struggle to get them to brush their teeth, and when it’s time to get dressed, they fight over every last piece of clothing. One day they’ll wear their clothes, but not their shoes. One will get dressed and the other won’t. Mostly they just want to play, and they say they’ll put on their shirt after this “one more thing.” It’s stressful and I feel like I’ve tried EVERYTHING! We have a set routine every morning, and we start early. I’m really at my wit’s ends. Help!

A:
We feel your pain. Getting out the door in the mornings is stressful for most families with young children. We’ll share some specific ideas for moving things along, but in general, we’ve found that if you take a deep breath and let go of some anxiety, you might find your children relaxing and cooperating more easily. When children are worried about your emotional state, they’re less able to focus on the task at hand and can react to tension with resistance. Try to keep the big picture in mind, reminding yourself that your goal is a strong relationship with your kids, and that being a few minutes late to preschool is not (usually) a serious offense.

Although this might sound counter-intuitive, we suggest building some time to connect into your morning. Nurturing your connection with your kids will ground all three of you and will help them respond to your requests. Just after your kids wake-up, focus on eye contact and cuddling. Some playful wrestling can burn off energy and help the kids focus once it’s time for breakfast and getting dressed. Build on the trust that’s been established to get everyone through the routine and out the door.

We also have some concrete suggestions for you to try:

●      Mentally rehearse the routine by talking it through with your kids the night before. Ask them to tell you the steps so they’re prepared. Or, help your kids engage in role play by playing ‘getting ready for school’, so that they can practice the sequence of events with dolls or animals.

●      Dress your kids at night. In some families, children put on clean clothes after their bath and wear them to bed. Alternatively, your kids could dress in the back seat while you’re parked in the preschool parking lot. In cold weather, the kids can wear clothes over their pajamas.

●      Try the five finger rule. Each finger represents one thing that needs to be done before leaving. Such as: Forefinger goes potty; middle finger gets dressed; ring finger eats breakfast; pinkie brushes teeth; thumb uses the potty again.

●      Make up a song about going out the door. This is the song the whole family sings as you are heading toward the door. Pick a tune you know and make up silly words, such as,“I’m putting on my socks-socks, I’m glad there are no rocks-rocks in my shoes! I’m putting on my shoes-shoes, now I have to choose-choose one big HAT!” And everyone jumps up and down three times at the word “hat.”

●      Try animal or vehicle play – See if your kids want to select a “fast” animal or vehicle that they would like to impersonate for the morning routine, such as a jack rabbit or a race car. Consider making a simple pair of ears or a tail that the kids can wear during the morning sprint.

●      Get crafty and create a fun way for your kids to keep track of what they need to do in the morning: Paste photos of each morning task on pieces of cardboard and string them like lights. Or, put them in envelopes that you’ve glued onto poster board. When a task is completed, your child can move its photo from one side of the string to another, or from the row of ‘undone’ envelopes to the special row of ‘done’ envelopes. This activity might seem daunting, but it can be extremely effective at helping kids realize that a routine is comprised of bite-sized steps.

●      Model your desired behavior and let your kids see you eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, packing up your own things the night before, etc.

You may find that some of these tools work on some days and not on others. Experiment with different tricks to keep your kids focused. Also, it’s worth taking a step back and asking if there are any ways to relieve the time pressure so that you can all enjoy each other more. Many preschools understand “toddler time” and don’t mind if parents drop off late. Is it possible to shift things so that you can arrive at work later than you have been? As adults, we’re often programmed to rush, but slowing down is an opportunity to experience the world from your kids’ perspective. Often, taking an extra minute to value connection saves time in the long run because we avoid big explosions. Also, by sidestepping bribes and punishments, you are laying the groundwork for your kids to become comfortable and friendly collaborators in your routine as they get older.

Let us know how it goes!

[Photo Credit: swan-t]

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