Monday, March 31, 2014

Picky eaters

Like many parents, I am well-versed in the world of picky eaters. I would characterize both of my kids as pretty significant picky eaters at age 4 1/2, and one of them was even a finicky eater as a newborn. From birth, he never seemed very interested in eating, and when he did decide to eat, he would get distracted easily by any noise or movement. We were constantly worried about his growth, since he was only at the 3rd percentile for weight, which was well below his more hefty identical twin brother. Eventually, he found foods that he actually liked, and his weight percentiles increased. He is still smaller than his twin, but his weight percentiles now hover around the 50th percentile (hooray for average!). Looking back on it now, I think we probably contributed to his finickiness by always being in a state of worry around mealtimes. But, as parents, it seems it is in our job description to be concerned about the nutrition and health of our children. Unfortunately, this often exacerbates picky eating.

Picky eating typically begins at about 18 months of age, just when kids are beginning to want some control and autonomy in their lives. Try as we might, parents simply cannot control what their children eat, and kids quickly learn this fact. So, although I can't promise today's post will improve your child's picky eating, I hope at least it will help you to stay sane during this phase!
  • Relax and don't enter into a power struggle! Force-feeding, bribing, coersion, and yelling are not effective and create negative associations around mealtimes. So, see picky eating for what it is - a phase - and just let it be. 
  • Keep a routine. Instead of grazing all day long, try to stick to three meals and two small snacks per day. If you can, keep these meals and snacks at about the same times every day.
  • Don't be a short-order cook. This is really important. Serve your kids whatever you choose to serve them, and then don't give in and make something else instead. You may want to serve preferred meals for breakfast and lunch, and then challenge their palates for dinner. This may mean they don't actually eat a real dinner, but since you know they ate well all day, just relax and try not to worry about it. 
  • Serve small portions. If you are presenting new or disliked foods, keep the portions small. For instance, just give one spoonful of chili in a bowl, or a tiny slice of pizza on the plate. Not only do you save on wasted foods when they are not eaten, but you don't overwhelm your kids with a huge plate of something new.
  • Separate the foods. Some kids are more likely to try new foods if you present them separately. For instance, when serving hard tacos, you might give your kids a plate with a taco shell, a scoop of meat, a spoonful of tomatoes, some cheese, and a few shreds of lettuce - all separated on the plate. When served this way, they have the option of putting it altogether to make a taco, or just eating the ingredients separately. 
  • Serve one healthy, preferred food with each meal. This is a good way to ensure your kids will eat something (and thus not be hungry and cranky later), and also to keep them engaged at the dinner table. For instance, if I am serving spaghetti and meatballs, I try to also serve garlic bread and salad with the meal, since I know my kids will actually eat those things. 
  • Keep introducing foods. This includes foods your kids don't like, as well as healthful foods they do like. One of my kids loved scrambled eggs as a toddler, and would eat 5 eggs in a single sitting. For whatever reason, I stopped making eggs for a few months, and when I re-introduced them, it was like starting all over and he refused to eat them. Sigh.
  • Try new mediums. Try different forms of foods if your kids refuse an entire food group. One of my kids won't touch cheese in any form - except, that is, for the cheese on Lance cheese snack crackers. (Crackers are a powerful thing for little kids!) Once I knew that he liked them, I made sure to talk to him about the fact that it was cheese that he was enjoying, so that he had a positive association with it. If your kids do not like veggies, try veggie chips or veggie juices. We love V8 Fusion juices because they have lots of veggies but taste like fruit juice. 
  • Expand on preferences. Maybe your kids love peanut butter sandwiches and refuse to eat anything else. No problem! Start experimenting with putting peanut butter on different kinds of bread, then move to bagels, then rice cakes, then apple slices, then a stick of celery. You are then using their preferences to expand what they will eat. 
  • Peer pressure. Even to toddlers and preschoolers, peer pressure is a powerful tool. Your child is more likely to try new foods around friends, siblings, and cousins who are eating those foods. My kids greatly expanded their food repertoires when they started preschool and ate lunch with a group of good eaters!
  • Encourage exploration. If your kids have an extremely limited repertoire, or an aversion to certain textures, it may be difficult to get them to try (i.e., chew and swallow) new foods. So, you may have to start from the beginning. First, encourage your kids to allow new foods on their plates. Then, encourage them to touch the new food with their fingers. Then, move on to sniffing the new food. When this is easy, you can encourage him to taste the new food. Chewing and swallowing is the last step - and this might take several introductions!
  • Praise. As always, be sure to praise your kids for exhibiting wanted behavior. In this case, if your child tries a new food, take notice! You don't have to throw a party, but let them know you are pleased. One of my kids is particularly picky, but the other morning he voluntarily asked to try some of my oatmeal - and he loved it! This was a huge step for him, so I made sure to video chat his dad at work so we could celebrate the experience.
Things to remember:
  • Picky eating is a phase! As long as your pediatrician says your child is healthy and developing well, just give a multivitamin, continue to present healthy foods, and try to relax. 
  • Kids with special needs, such as an autism spectrum disorder, may have more challenging picky eating behaviors. Consider consulting with an occupational therapist in your school or local agency, as they often have great training and insight into treatment for extreme picky eating. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

How to deal with whining

Like all parents of young children, I have experienced my fair share of whining over the last few years. With identical twins, I sometimes think my boys conspire together to whine in perfect unison. "I want chocolate milk!" "I can't find my favorite hat!" "I don't like chicken!" If I am in a good mood (i.e., I had a full night's sleep) I find that I can handle whining much better. But, on most days, the sound of persistent whining is akin to nails on a chalkboard. To deal with whining, these strategies might help:
  • The first rule of whining is to not give in to whining!! Your child will learn how to always press your buttons to get what he wants.
  • The second rule of whining is to ignore, ignore, ignore. If that is possible in your situation, great - ignoring negative attention-seeking behaviors will teach your child that he needs to find another way to get your attention. But, let's face it, this is not always possible. Perhaps you can't tune it out, or you are stuck in the car with your whiner, or the whining persists. 
  • If ignoring is not possible, you can try using a short phrase such as "I can't understand whining," or "Ooh, whining hurts my ears." Then, you can either attempt to ignore again, or encourage him to use his normal voice.
  • If you are feeling up to it, minor whining can sometimes be deflected with teasing or humor. For instance, if your 3-year-old whines, "I want chocolate milk," you can respond teasingly in the same tone, "Chocolate milk, chocolate milk!" while tickling him. Then, you can encourage him to ask again using his normal voice. You can say something like, "I want to get you some chocolate milk. But, how can you ask using your normal James voice?" Again, it is really important to wait until the request is made in a non-whining tone before fulfilling it - otherwise you are reinforcing whining.
  • In most cases, this is the most effective strategy for whining:
    • Talk to your kids about how whining is no longer allowed. Explain the consequences below.
    • When your child whines, start a short countdown. (The book "1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12" explains this strategy in great detail - I highly recommend it!) 
    • At the first instance of whining, say, "That's a 1." You have already explained this process to your kids, so say no more.
    • If whining continues, say, "That's a 2." Say no more.
    • If whining still continues, say something brief like, "That's a 3. Take a time-out." Lead your child to your designated time-out area. Follow the time-out troubleshooting methods outlined in this post if needed.
    • Following time-out, briefly reiterate that whining is not allowed. 
    • Give specific praise when your child uses a normal voice in situations when he would normally whine. For instance, "I love how you used your normal voice to ask for a cup of water! Here you go!"
Things to remember:
  • Again - don't give in to whining or you will be dealing with it for much longer.
  • Make sure to notice and give praise for the use of a normal tone of voice.
  • As always, stay calm, firm, and consistent!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Go to time-out!

While there are lots of parenting strategies for discipline, perhaps the most widely used is the time-out. And there is a reason! Time-out models great emotional strategies for your kids (such as using non-violent responses and cooling down when upset), halts the conflict, provides your child a time to reflect on his behavior, removes attention from him, and provides much-needed time to calm down (for both the kids and the parents!). For minor behavior issues (such as whining, nagging, trouble sharing, etc), other parenting strategies can be used - such as ignoring, providing natural consequences, taking away objects/privileges, or other problem-solving strategies. Time-out is most effective for aggression, extreme or intentional destructive behavior, and persistent non-compliance. Here are some basics for correctly using time-out:
  • Choose a time-out location, plus a back-up location with a door. These locations should be safe and as boring as possible. In our house, the time-out location is the foot of the stairs, and the back-up location is the kids' bedroom.
  • You control when time-out begins and ends. 
  • The guideline for time-out is one minute per year of life, so your 3-year-old should be in time-out for 3 minutes. But, if you are away from home, it is OK to shorten this a bit if you need to.
  • Speaking of being away from home - time-outs can be given anywhere, so don’t be afraid to be consistent no matter where you are! Just stay calm, find a safe and quiet place, and keep an eye on him. 
For aggressive behavior:
  • Once children understand that this behavior is not acceptable, there should be no warning. If you give a warning (such as "If you hit your sister again you are going into time-out"), then you are just providing another opportunity to hit! So, say something like, “We do not hit. Hitting hurts. Go into time out to calm down.” 
  • After time out, talk briefly to your child about why he is in time out, and what he could do next time. Keep it short and sweet. 
  • In our house, we encourage our kids to then go and apologize to whomever they hurt (usually, of course, it is the brother!). You can choose whether or not to do this - in our family, we decided that saying sorry after you hurt someone is just as important as learning to say please and thank you and excuse me.  Some parenting experts suggest not to force this issue because they believe that saying sorry may become insincere and a way to get out of the situation. In our family, this has not been the case. I have frequently witnessed my kids saying sorry independently, and they certainly have a healthy sense of right, wrong, and remorse. If the time-outter is not ready after time-out to say sorry, I usually say, “OK, if you’re not ready, you can come out when you are ready.”  Typically, however, he will readily say sorry; we also encourage the brother to say, “It’s ok” so that we are also teaching acceptance of apologies.
For extreme and intentional destructive behavior:
  • This means intentionally throwing or breaking toys/objects. 
  • Once children understand that this behavior is not acceptable, there should be no warning. If your child throws a toy and breaks it, you can't say, "If you do that again, you will go into time-out." That was an extreme and purposeful behavior and needs to be addressed. So, say something like, "We do not throw toys. Go into time-out to calm down.” 
  • After time-out, you can either talk briefly to your child about why he is in time-out, and what he could do next time; or you can just let it go and move on. This depends on your situation, your child’s level of language, and other factors.
For persistent non-compliance: 
  • This means those situations when you feel like a broken record and your child is saying "No!" or giving excuses. (This is assuming you have tried all of the strategies outlined in this post, of course!)
  • Instead of saying the direction over and over, just give a warning such as, “If you do not put away your toys, you will have to go to time-out.” (I think I say this exact sentence at least once a day!) 
  • If he still does not move to clean up, just say, “Ok, go to time out.” 
  • After time-out, be sure to follow through on the original direction (“Now go pick up your toys”) - do not let time-out become a way to avoid the task!
What about kids who refuse to go to time-out?
  • Whatever you do, don't enter into a battle or power struggle. Simply say something like, “You can go to time-out by yourself or I can help you.” 
  • If he still does not go, take his hand and walk him there. 
  • If he flops to the ground and refuses to walk (you know what I mean!), simply pick him up and carry him there. (Hey, we all need some strength training, right?)
What about kids who refuse to stay in time-out?
  • First, give a warning to return to time-out. For us, this is usually something like, "If you can't stay on the stairs, you will have to go to your room." 
  • If he leaves again, lead or carry him to the back-up time-out location. In our house, this is the boys’ bedroom. Keep the door open but stand out of sight. 
  • If he tries to leave this room, give a warning that you will need to close the door if he leaves again. 
  • If he leaves again, close the door. (We have this very cool child-safe lock which keeps the door open a few inches, prevents fingers from getting slammed, and also prevents the child from opening the door.) 
  • Now, time-out in the bedroom is tricky - there are lots of books, clothes, etc. which may get thrown around during a tantrum. But, we don’t have another good option. I handle this in two different ways. 
    • I stand nearby and if I see a book or other object being thrown, I step in and correct it right away, then leave again.
    • If I am not able to stand nearby (such as when I am in the middle of cooking dinner) and I come back to find a huge mess, then the time-outter is responsible for cleaning up the mess before he can leave the room. I make sure to remind him of this prior to the time out. If you truly follow through on this clean up, your child probably won’t make such as mess again. One day, one of my kids went on a rampage through his closet and took every single shirt, jacket, sweater off the hangers and threw them around the room (all in the span of 4-minutes!). It took him about 2 hours to put them all back, but I did not back down - and he never made that mess again.
For children under 3: Some parenting experts believe that time-outs are not effective for kiddos under 3. However, many parents still do use time-out for toddlers. You can decide this based on your situation. We began introducing time-out at around 15-18 months, although obviously we kept it very short and limited the language involved. It worked for us (especially with twins who were often toddler-fighting over toys!) and it taught them that this would be our discipline routine. Over the next few years we continued to use it consistently and it has been very effective.

For older children: If you are just starting to use time-out and your children are older, be prepared for some push-back! Behaviors might get worse before they get better, but continue to be calm, firm, and consistent. You have an advantage with older children - you can sit them down ahead of time to talk about your new expectations and consequences.

Things to remember:
  • If used correctly and consistently, time-out is an easy and effective discipline method. In fact, some children eventually begin to put themselves in time-out. My children actually do this, particularly after wrestling or playing that becomes aggressive. They will say something like, “Sorry! I’m going in time-out,” and will sit on the stairs. I make sure to praise them for taking this step - I see it as a great example of understanding actions and consequences, as well as the beginning of self-regulation.
  • As always, stay calm, firm, and consistent!

Monday, March 17, 2014


Every Friday morning, I take my kids to our local library for Preschool Storytime. It is usually pretty crowded, and since parents are not supposed to sit with the kids on the carpet (so the kids can get some experience in a school-like setting), I just sit in the back with the rest of the moms, dads, and grandparents. Unless I am with a friend, this is usually when I gravitate to mindless activities on my phone...I check email, browse facebook, or play a game. But, this past Friday, my attention was drawn to a little boy and his mother, sitting together at the edge of the carpet. First, I should mention, this is not a typical library storytime. It is a loud, busy time. In fact, the librarian rarely actually reads a book. She tells some stories with felt or magnetics pieces on a board, but mostly she has the kids sing, dance, do fingerplays, and use instruments. It is often quite loud and chaotic, and some kids get upset and cry. On this day, one particular child got really excited from the chaos. He jumped and danced wildly for a few moments with the music, and then returned to his mother. To hit her. He did this repeatedly throughout each song. His mother did not look surprised that this was happening, so I am guessing it was not the first time. She simply moved his hands and tried to re-direct him back to the words of the song or the dance movements, all the while keeping a smile on her face. She was smiling, but it was a tight smile - one that said she was uncomfortable that this was happening in public, and that she did not know what else to do.

This is a common issue for a lot of parents! Young children are often unable to control their impulses, whether due to over-excitement or anger, and it can also be difficult for them to access words in the moment in order to express their feelings. So they use their bodies against you, or against other children. They may hit, kick, push, pinch, or bite. It is our job, as parents, to model and shape appropriate behavior. The earlier you are able to deal with this behavior, the better. (But, don’t worry if your child is older - there is still a lot you can do. Just start with the first steps.)

First - decide how you are going to handle the situation, and then be consistent. At home, at a playdate, in a grocery store, or at the library - your response should be the same. Children will test your limits, and they need consistent responses. Here are some suggestions:

If your child uses her body against you:
Children 1-3 years old:
  • This is the time to teach appropriate behavior. Firmly hold her hands/feet away from you. With a firm expression, say something like, “We don’t hit mommy. Hitting hurts!” Redirect her to another activity. Remember to praise her for playing nicely!
  • If she continues or escalates, move her to another area to sit until she calms down. Depending on her age and other circumstances, you may want to sit with her or choose to provide a time-out by herself to calm down.

Children 3+ years old:
  • Older children should know that this is inappropriate behavior. If you know that your child understands this, firmly say something like, “No Sarah, do not hit me,” and lead her to a time-out (or cool-down, time-away, or whatever you call it in your family). Whatever you call it, everyone needs some space alone to calm down and think. Time-outs can be given even away from home, so don’t be afraid to be consistent no matter where you are. (Look for an upcoming post about time-outs!) Following time-out, talk to your child briefly about why she was in time-out and what she could do differently next time. For instance, you can say, "Sarah, you are in time-out for hitting mommy. We don't hit people. Next time you feel mad, you can say, 'I am mad!' or you can hit a pillow." Keep it short and sweet - you don't want to give too much attention to this behavior, or it may become reinforcing. Just redirect her to another activity, and move on. However, if you catch her using appropriate behavior when she is upset, be sure to give lots of attention!
  • If she continues or escalates, respond as you did before (i.e., say no, give time-out), but following the time-out, move her to another area to “get it out” of her system. You can encourage her to kick a ball or the floor, push the wall, or hit the couch. Talk about how it hurts to do these things to people, but that it does not hurt the floor, walls, or furniture.* This may have been a good strategy for the mother and son in the library storytime example above. He was over-stimulated by the environment, and although his mother tried to redirect him to the appropriate behavior (singing and dancing), she did not ever address the inappropriate behavior. Further, she may actually have been reinforcing his hitting by smiling - we can communicate a lot with our facial expressions!

If your child uses her body against other children:
Children 1-3 years old:
  • This is the time to teach appropriate behavior. Go to her right away and say something like, “We don’t hit!” Make sure the other child is okay, and redirect your child to do something else. If you saw the trigger for the behavior, such as trouble sharing toys, you can help your child share. Be sure to praise her for playing nicely with her friends.
  • If she continues or escalates, move her to another area to sit until she calms down. When she is calm, you can decide to help her play with the other child again, or you can redirect her to a solo activity for awhile.

Children 3+ years old: 
  • Older children should know that this is inappropriate behavior. If you know that your child understands this, say something like, “No Sarah, we do not hit our friends,” and lead her to a time-out. Since you are with others, be sure to avoid embarrassing your child unduly. Following time-out, talk to your child briefly about why she was in time-out and what she could do differently next time. Then, redirect her to another activity or help her to play with the peer again.
  • If this behavior happens frequently in certain situations (such as at play dates), talk to your child about the rules prior to entering those situations. Be sure to praise your child for playing nicely with her friends, particularly in situations where she would normally use her body.
  • If she continues or escalates, respond as you did before (i.e., say no, give time-out), but following the time-out, move her to another area to “get it out” of her system. You can encourage her to kick a ball or the floor, push the wall, or hit the couch. Talk about how it hurts to do these things to people, but that it does not hurt the floor, walls, or furniture.* If she seems to have it out of her system, you can decide to help her play with the other child again, or you can redirect her to a solo activity for awhile.

Things to remember:
  • Everyone goes through this! All kids have to learn how to deal with their feelings. It is our job to teach them.
  • Stay calm and firm, but try not to respond with yelling or hitting. Although you may feel angry or frustrated, we can’t teach kids not to use aggression by using aggression with them. If you need your own time-out to calm down, take it!
  • Be consistent! Your child will be confused if you only sometimes provide a consequence for aggression.

If you have tried the above strategies consistently, but still have a significant problem with your child showing aggressive behavior toward you or others, whether as the result of over-stimulation or anger, you may want to consider reaching out to a behavioral professional for more help. Feel free to email me through the "Contact Me" section on the right for more information.

* This is a strategy found in "I Brake for Meltdowns" by Michelle Nicholasen and Barbara O'Neal. I highly recommend this book and often reference it and utilize their strategies!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I don't have time for everything!

As parents, we are spread pretty thin between our kids, spouses, jobs, extended family, friends, pets, homes, and more. There is no way to be 100% at everything, so just let that go now. But, I have found that if you think about things a little differently, and use time efficiently, you can get more done during the day.
  • Cleaning. When I worked full-time, I could never find time to clean the house during the week, and so I spent a large portion of Saturday or Sunday catching up on housecleaning tasks, rather than relaxing with my family like I should have been doing! So, I decided to make a schedule for the week so that I did one small cleaning job per day. Here is an example of a schedule I have used: Sunday-mop; Monday-clean upstairs bathroom; Tuesday-clean the kitchen; Wednesday-vaccuum downstairs; Thursday-clean downstairs bathroom; Friday-dust; Saturday-vacuum upstairs.
  • Dog-walking. We have two dogs, and although they got regular exercise pre-kids, that regimen fell to the wayside post-kids. Now, I don't necessarily fit in an isolated "walk-the-dog" time, but instead I just take the dogs with me while I do something else. For instance, when I need to get the mail (our mailbox is down the block), I take the dog. If I need to walk the kids to the bus stop, I take the dog. If we're headed to the neighborhood playground, we take a dog along for the fun. This definitely doesn't amount to the long walks they got before the kids were born, but it is better than nothing!
  • No kids! I have exactly 4 hours during the week that I am sans-kids (while they are in preschool). So, during that time, I try to do something that is hard to do with kids around - mostly, I work on this blog, run quick errands, or meet a friend for a long walk (that the kids would whine through).
  • Bath. When my twins were babies and toddlers, I used bath time as a really concentrated time to play and talk to them (since I worked during the day). Now that they are older, I use bath time as a time for them to get clean and for me to do something else! There is a lot you can do while still supervising the kiddos in the water. I often save a basket of laundry to fold during bath time, but lacking that I also catch up on email or fit in some exercises - squats, lunges, crunches, and push-ups can easily be done during bath time! If I am feeling particularly indulgent, I will read a book I am currently obsessing over.
  • Exercise. I used to exercise pretty regularly, and even ran a half-marathon before I had kids. Once I had kids, I had trouble finding the time or energy to exercise, particularly when I was working full-time. So, I tried to build it in to my day. Instead of taking the elevator or escalator, I make a conscious decision to take the stairs. When shopping, I don't search for a space up front - not only do you save time looking for parking, but you will also have to walk a little distance from the car to the store (and back). When I have to pick up a toys left around the house, I try to do a lunge (that amounts to about 1,000 lunges per day in my house...). When putting laundry into the dryer, I do a squat instead of bending down. These last two were actually recommendations from my physical therapist, who I had to see after I got pretty bad sciatica from so much bending!  So, lunging and squatting saves my back and works my legs!
  • Cooking. Who can find time or energy to cook a delicious edible dinner everyday? Not me. So, be efficient with the time that you do have.
    • If large batch cooking doesn’t work for you, try cooking two meals at once on a weeknight when you do find time - your oven is on anyway, so throw in some baked chicken and some meatballs at the same time!  Make sure to make enough so there are leftovers for another night.  This cookbook has some easy (believe me, I need easy!) recipes for weeknight cooking.
    • CrockPot can be a lifesaver for weeknight meals, particularly if you work outside of the home. This cookbook has 1400 recipes to try!
    • If you are able to find a long block of time on the weekend, prepare large batch meals to freeze for the week or month. (Bonus if you can do this with a friend to make it a social time!)  
Do you have any other tips for using time efficiently?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Planning ahead

"I didn't have time to..."  "I totally forgot..."  "I wish I brought..."  As parents, we have all said one (or all) of these things in the recent past!  If we take a few minutes to plan ahead, we can reduce a lot of stress.  Here are some simple tricks for the most common times when we often fail to plan ahead - outings and mornings.

Outings:  Ever been 45 minutes from home and had to turn around and go back because your toddler fell in a huge mud puddle and you didn't have a change of clothes?  Yeah.  Me too.
  • If your little ones are still in diapers, keep that diaper bag stocked with essentials:
    • diapers 
    • wipes
    • hand sanitizer
    • sustenance: snacks (for you and kids) and water
    • formula/breastmilk, bottle
    • plastic bag
    • sunscreen
    • change of clothes
    • anything else that you find you always need on an outing  
  • If you no longer use a diaper bag, hooray for you!  But, keep some essentials in a bag or in the car anyway.  This is what is always in my car on an outing:
    • wipes (still useful even if your kids are out of diapers!!)
    • hand sanitizer
    • chapstick
    • gum
    • change of clothes for the kids, including some socks and shoes
    • spare shirt for me
    • plastic bag
    • first aid kit
    • tissues
    • water bottles
    • small snack
Mornings:  Mornings are often the most stressful time of day for parents - you're trying to get to work AND get the kids off to daycare or school.  
  • Wake up 15 minutes earlier if you can never seem to get out of the house on time.  
  • Do as much as possible the night before - take showers, pick out clothes, make lunches, pack backpacks and your briefcase.
  • Try creating a written schedule or checklist to make the morning routine expectations more explicit for your kids (see this post for an example we have used in the past).
  • Have some fast, portable breakfast foods on hand that can be eaten quickly (and even in the car if needed):
    • Cheerios or other cereal in a ziploc bag or toddler snack cup
    • granola bars
    • cereal bars
    • bananas, orange slices, other fruit
    • hard-boiled eggs
    • cheese sticks
    • yogurt tubes
    • smoothie drinks
Do you have other tricks for planning ahead?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I need a routine!

Up until recently, I worked outside of the home full-time. Like a lot of working moms (64.4% of American mothers work outside of the home according to recent data), I was constantly exhausted and didn’t feel that I was doing any of my “jobs” (employee, mom, wife, friend, housekeeper, cook, dog-walker, etc.) well. I found that a schedule really helped me to be more productive at work and at home. Then, when I decided to stay home with my kids (thanks to a cross-country relocation, the exorbitant price of child care in our new area, and the desire for a career change) I found that although I had more "time," I was busier than ever and I still needed a schedule in order to feel productive - and sane!

Whether you stay home with your kids or work outside of the home, having some sort of a routine will help you to stay sane in the midst of your crazy life. This is also - and especially - true for kids! Make up a daily schedule that works for you and the kids, and try to stick with it, although it may be different on different days.  Here is an example of our typical Friday schedule:

Break of dawn
Wake up way too early
Breakfast/Mom drinks too much coffee
Boys play/Mom works
Mom does workout video/Boys jump around in the way
Boys get dressed/Mom showers
Library storytime
Preschool/Mom works at coffee shop
Play time outside
Boys watch a show/Mom cooks dinner
Bedtime routine - bath, pajamas, read stories
Bedtime/Mom & Dad relax!

Although we no longer write out our schedule, you might want to write yours to start out. When my kids were younger, I found that they needed to actually see the schedule so that it was more concrete. You can simply use a dry erase board for this, or you can get a little fancier with a printed schedule including pictures (just search for and download some from Google Images). Here is an example of one that I used to make our morning routine go more smoothly a few years ago:

If you have some extra cash, you can even purchase a pre-made schedule like this.

For kids with special needs, a simpler schedule might work best - like this one, which uses a system called Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS).

Use whatever works for you, but remember to keep it simple!  Happy scheduling!

Friday, March 7, 2014

My child will not listen!

As parents, few things can make us feel quite as crazy as a child who will not listen to us. Maybe he yells “no!” back at you, or just ignores you altogether. A mother of a 3-year-old girl recently asked me how to encourage her daughter to listen better. This mom described particular issues around getting her daughter to follow directions (such as “Go brush your teeth” or “Pick up your toys”) and to stop unwanted behavior (such as pinching her mother). This mom said, “I don’t want her to be a robot and do everything she is told to do.  But sometimes I get to my wits end about it. So at the point when I am trying to be cool, calm, and collected, I raise my voice.  And I hate raising my voice.  I don’t think it’s effective.” I think all parents feel this way! And while it’s OK to sometimes lose your cool (after all, you are human!) there are lots of ways to encourage your child to listen to you so you don’t have to yell.

  • Give warning of upcoming transitions. Kids like to know what’s happening next, and some of what we see as “not listening” may be difficulty making an abrupt transition. So, if you know it is almost time for a transition - like cleaning up, taking a bath, leaving a play date - just give your kids some warning. I usually say something like, “Guys, in five minutes, we’re going to leave,” and then in a few minutes (if I remember), “OK, we’re leaving in one minute.” Young kids don’t really have a concept of time, so these don't have to be accurate estimations, but just giving one or two warnings will help with their willingness to make transitions.
  • Don’t ask for permission. When you give a direction, make sure you are telling and not asking! For instance, if you say something like, "Honey, do you want to wash your hands for dinner?" be prepared for an emphatic "No!" It is most common for parents to add an innocent "OK?" on the end of a direction (such as "It's time for bath, OK?"). Like they say, don't ask the question if you don't want the answer!
  • Use humor and fun. Young kids are more likely to participate in an activity if it is light and fun - and this includes chores. If your daughter won't clean up her toys, lighten the activity by putting on her dress-up clothes and saying, "OK, if you don't want to clean up, I guess these are mine now!" Or, make clean-up into a game by having a race to see who can clean up first, or by pretending to be pirates collecting treasure (toys). 
  • Distract and entice. If you know a transition is going to be an issue, try to distract your child with something cool that is coming up next. For instance, "Let's go listen to your favorite song in the car!" or "It's time to read our new library book for bedtime!"
  • Give choices. Sometimes what we're asking kids to do is simply not fun, and there is no way to entice them (or you simply don't have the time or energy to do so). In those cases, it is helpful to give simple choices so your child still feels like he has some power in the situation. For instance, "It's time to put on our shoes. Do you want to wear the blue ones or the red ones today?" or "It's time to put on our shoes. Do you want to put them on yourself or do you want me to do it?"
  • Give structure. Sometimes the job we are asking our kids to do is a little overwhelming to them. Providing a little structure may help. For instance, you can set a timer, give a specific box or bin to put toys in, or set out her toothbrush with the toothpaste already on it. 
  • Keep on moving. For instance, one of my sons often refuses to get undressed and ready for bath time. Instead of constantly nagging him, or forcing him to get in, I simply keep moving through the bath time routine with his brother, and say, "OK buddy, if you miss bath time, you will have to take a shower instead." Since he doesn't love to take showers, this usually works and he gets in the bath of his own accord.  

What to do if things go wrong:

  • Do it yourself. This is especially necessary when you are in a hurry and don't have time for a battle - such as dressing for school in the morning. If I am in this situation, I change the scenario a bit to ensure that my kids are not being reinforced for the behavior - for instance, I might say, "OK, but if I have to put your clothes on for you, then I am going to choose this shirt instead." Be sure that you doing the unwanted task does not simply allow your child to consistently avoid it. I make sure to talk to my son at a later time about how he is a big kid and can get dressed all by himself, and how I expect him to do it next time. (Then, I make sure to start the morning routine earlier tomorrow!)
  • Think about how to prevent issues next time.  For instance, if your daughter will not clean up her bedroom, create a specific rule about when she is expected to clean up - and stick to it. If she still refuses, perhaps it is time to remove some of the extraneous stuff that always seems to just end up being thrown around. I have a whole closet of toys and games that have been removed from our playroom for that very reason!  (Kids don't need every toy and book and game out in plain sight all the time, so you can also choose to just keep a few things out on a rotating basis.)

Things to remember:

  • Be realistic.  Be sure that your child is capable of doing the task you are asking of him, or of following the direction you are giving! If you are unsure, break it down into simpler parts.
  • Be consistent. If you want your child to clean up her room every night, then be sure to enforce this rule every night!
  • Stay calm. While it is frustrating when your child will not listen, it does not help things to get outwardly frustrated at him. Take those deep breaths, count to 10, whatever will make you calm!
  • Praise them for listening. When you notice your child following a direction, be sure to point it out with praise, high-fives, or hugs!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Running errands - part two

So, you're running errands with your kids, and you've done everything right - you planned ahead, laid down the rules, and provided ample distractions.  But, despite your best efforts, kids are kids and sometimes things go wrong.  I still shudder when I drive by my local post office thanks to a particularly hairy experience.  Here are the most common issues I hear of regarding running errands with kids, and my tips to address them:
  • Running away from you. This includes running into the parking lot or running away in a store. When this happens, it is important to express that this behavior is not okay and is very dangerous so they understand the seriousness of the situation. (This will probably be easy to express since you’ll likely be feeling really scared and/or angry.) If this behavior happens frequently, sit down with your kids prior to the trip and explain that you now have a zero tolerance policy about running away, explain what the consequences will be, and then follow through on them. Natural consequences given calmly and matter-of-factly are most effective (as opposed to our likely inclination to yell). For instance, if he can’t be safe on his own, John will need to sit in the stroller or shopping cart until he is able to be safe. If this does not work or is not possible in the situation, another option is to immediately get back in the car and go home. If the behavior keeps occurring, and is truly dangerous, you may need to consider waiting until John can be safe to take him on errands. Lastly, and very importantly, notice when your kids do follow the rules. Give specific praise (“Great job holding my hand in the parking lot Ben!”), a high five, a hug, or a sticker to him when he does show safe behavior. A trip to a favorite location (i.e., playground) could also be used as a reinforcement if the rules are followed all day or week.
  • Refusing to stay in the shopping cart. This is understandable for young children, particularly on long errands - it is really hard for them to stay seated for a long period of time. If you have tried different distractions to no avail, it may be time to get creative. Tell her that you will let her down, but give some rules. For instance, you can tell her to walk next to the cart while holding on to the side. This small bit of activity might be enough for her. If this doesn’t work, or if you have older kids, involve her in the shopping. Ask her to find certain items, such as a blue box or the picture of a tiger. Lastly, you should finish up as soon as possible, and give her a warning that she will need to sit in the cart again when you check out and walk to the car.
  • Throwing a tantrum. Ah, the public tantrum. We have all witnessed one, whether from your own kid or someone else’s, and they are no fun. But, just the fact that we have all seen one should tell you - they happen to every parent at some point. Young kids have tantrums, it’s just a fact of life. However, a tantrum in a public place adds a whole other layer of stress to mom and dad since you are feeling every eye in the place on you. Just keep calm, you can handle this! When you see a tantrum beginning, you can try to distract your child to de-escalate her mood - show her a cool item on a nearby shelf, make a funny face, play peek-a-boo, or give her a job (for instance, ask her to help you put items on the conveyer belt). If distraction does not work and the tantrum still occurs, leave your cart off to the side somewhere and bring the kids outside to the car or to a bench. If she can calm down (and you still have the energy), first talk to her about the rules, and then go in and try again. If she cannot calm down, call it a day and head back home. Above all else - resist the temptation to give in to the tantrum. Do not give her that coveted toy, or that piece of candy. Although it may stop that particular tantrum, you have just bought yourself many more. Kids are smart, and yours just learned how to get what she wants. If your child frequently has tantrums in public, take a step back and look at what seems to be prompting them. Then, you can try to prevent them before they occur. For instance, does your child always seem to throw tantrums after you say no to a toy or snack? Make sure she knows before entering the store that you will not be buying a treat today, and then talk about what you will be buying. You can offer a different reinforcement if she follows the rules, such as a sticker.   

Things to remember:
  • Even the best laid plan may not work, especially when it comes to kids.  All you can do is to prepare as much as possible, and then deal with things as they come.
  • Taking deep breaths and counting to ten really does help.  (And so does that glass of wine after bedtime…)
  • Remember that taking kids on errands gets much easier as they get older, as long as there are consistent rules.
  • Stay calm, firm, and consistent!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Running errands - part one

There is a reason that all moms will tell you the same thing - a solo trip to Target feels like a mini-vacation. This is because it is simply hard to run errands with kids in tow. If you have an infant, you are lugging a diaper bag and infant carrier, trying to console a crying baby with strangers staring at you, searching for a discrete place to nurse, or looking for a clean place to change a blow-out diaper. If you have older children, you are fighting to keep them in the shopping cart or from running away from you, searching for a potty because he needs it NOW, or listening to a steady stream of whining about needing a toy or snack. Because of all of these things, my advice is to run errands by yourself. Totally do-able, right? Right? Well, if you absolutely need to run errands with your kids, here are some tips.

  • Plan ahead. This is almost always going to be one of my suggestions! First, make sure to plan errands when everyone is rested and fed - don’t attempt errands during your infant’s meal time, or when your toddler skipped his nap, or even when your own blood sugar is low. Everyone is happier and less crazy with sleep and food! Bonus points if you can expend some of your kids’ energy before the trip (i.e., walk, bike ride, etc). Then, make sure you have essentials before you leave the house - you don’t want to be stuck without a diaper, for example. Also, bring activities and snacks to keep the kids happy during the errands. Last, make a list of what you need to do or buy (so you don’t have to trek out later in the day too!), and keep things as brief as possible.  
  • Lay down the rules. This one is for older children who can understand rules. Prior to leaving the car to enter the store, tell your children what the rules are. (You would be surprised...or maybe many parents don’t think to actually explicitly tell their kids what the rules are.) Try to frame it as “do (this)” rather than always saying “don’t do (this).” For instance, I tell my kids, “The rule for the store is that you have quiet voices, gentle hands, and calm bodies.” I chose these rules specifically for our situation, so you might have different rules. I have twin boys, and they love to talk loudly (read: yell) and play roughly (read: wrestle or hit) together, even when in a shopping cart. So, when I thought about what I wanted them to do instead, these were the rules I created. I have said it so many times that now I just ask, “What is the rule for the store?” and they can tell me. Remember, young children will need reminders in the store. Lastly, be sure to praise them when they are following the rules!
  • Distract. We can’t expect young children to sit quietly in a shopping cart without anything to do. So, have a bag of tricks. For infants, simply talking about what you’re doing may be enough to distract them. You can also provide a snack, teether, textured book, or rattle toy. For older kids, a favorite (quiet) toy or book are good options for some kids, but don’t expect that to last too long. Snacks are awesome for shopping - try putting small foods (like raisins, goldfish, or Cheerios) into toddler snack cups like these since this will buy you more time on the errand. Lollipops also work well, either to keep them occupied or as a reward for great behavior on the errand. When used to occupy time, I tell my kids, “Eat lollipops with your tongue, not with your teeth,” so they aren’t gone in three seconds. You can find organic varieties if you are so inclined - we have used these. For some situations, don’t be afraid to break out the tablet or smartphone. Before my kids were old enough to go to the IKEA play room, we plopped them in the cart with the iPad. If you’ve ever been to IKEA, you know it takes forever to go through from start to finish, and this can be torture with cranky, bored children. All of the other parents we passed looked at our calm shopping cart longingly, and my husband and I left the store with our purchases and our sanity. That being said - I try to use screens as distractors on rare occasions, most notably because the novelty can wear off if they are overused, and then you’re back at square one.
Next up: What to do if things go wrong!


Welcome to the first post on Sane With Kids!  I am going to start this blog with a confession.  My kids drive me crazy.  Don’t get me wrong - they are awesome, adorable, smart, sweet, funny kids.  I truly love them more than life itself.  But, they are kids.  They fight with each other, they whine, they throw things, they break things, they refuse to eat what I cook, and I feel like I am constantly wiping boogers and poop.  All day.  Every day.

Here are some general strategies for all parents to stay sane - look for more comprehensive articles on specific topics in the days and weeks to come:

  • Take a step back.  This is the most important step toward sanity!  Look at what causes the most stress in your day, and address that first.  Even a small change can make a big difference.
  • Plan ahead.  Sorry if you’re not a planner, mama - you have to be to stay sane!
  • Find a routine.  Everyone does better when they know what to expect. Create a daily schedule that works for you and the kids, and try to stick with it.
  • Be efficient with your time.  If you’re like me, you probably feel like you don’t have time to do everything you need to do everyday.  So, be efficient with the time that you do have.
  • Remove unnecessary stressors.  Look at what causes stress during your day, and see what you can remove. (And, no, this does not mean the kids.)  
  • Encourage older kids to be independent.  This is especially important if you also have younger children - you only have so many hands!  Once you know your child can do something for him/herself, let them do it!
  • Work together.  If you have a spouse, partner, or grandparent - wonderful!  Ask for and accept their help.
  • Take care of yourself.  Find time for yourself everyday, even if it is just for 5 minutes (hopefully it is longer!).
  • Relax.  I know that I am definitely not a supermom, and you probably aren’t either if you're reading this site!  So, accept that you can’t do it all, and prioritize what you can do.  And, at the end of the day, have that all important glass of wine.