Time Stood Still

“We trudged back into the house, our mittens hanging from their clips; the ones intended to keep us organized.  The mittens we were supposed to wear at all times, to heed frostbite warnings that blared from the television each night.  The mittens that were wool, and therefore stuck to the snow, making it impossible to craft the perfect snowball.  We abandoned them every single time.  We would take our chances, thank you very much.

We peeled off the snow day armor as quickly as possible, ignoring the faint request coming from behind the kitchen door, “wipe your feet, hang up your jackets, put your hats and mittens by the radiator.”  Instead we threw them in a soggy heap by the washing machine and made a run for it, racing to be the first to open the kitchen door.  The one that stood between the finished product and us.

We were immediately accosted by the telltale scents of the holiday season:  Gingerbread men, fresh from the oven, hot chocolate piled high with fresh whipped cream, and beef stew slowly simmering on the stove.  Beef, carrots, celery, and potatoes cooked until they practically fell apart.  “Yuck”, we whispered in hushed tones, “we will never make our kids eat that when we grow up.  NEVER.”  A statement that would prove almost true in years to come. Almost…”

Please stop by moonfrye to finish reading “Time Stood Still” and find out when my life came full circle.

“Daddy Time” Mommy Moment Post


Mommy Moment

This week on Mommy Moment I explore the differences in the ways that moms and dads play with their kids, and how that helps kids learn and grow.  Please stop by and check it out!

“Daddy Time”

Coming tomorrow…helping children develop a healthy body image.

“Mom-Esteem”: How Do You Rate Yours?

**It’s mom week at Practical Parenting!  Today I’m tackling the way we feel about ourselves as moms, and Friday I will provide tips for improving our “mom-esteem”.

Self-esteem.  Some people spend a lifetime working on it.  The Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition, defines self-esteem as:  (n.) respect for, or a favorable impression of, oneself.  I have counseled many children, and their parents, through periods of low self-esteem.  Recognizing your own unique greatness can be a difficult task.

People struggle with self-esteem for a variety of reasons.  Some internalize their feelings and feel compelled to compare themselves to others on a regular basis.  Others feel like they just can’t seem to catch a break and that life is out to get them.  Many have been the targets of bullies, either within their families or in the outside world.  Loss, traumatic experiences, medical conditions, and various disabilities can all cause people to question their self-worth.  There’s generally a trigger (or a series of triggers) that requires some working through in order to raise self-esteem.

Having spent the past four years at home with my kids (with a little work on the side), I’ve seen (and felt) how moms are on a constant ride on the emotional roller coaster.  It’s hard work being a mom.  In fact, I’ve come up my own term for how moms feel about themselves:  “Mom-esteem”. I would define mom-esteem as (n.) respect for, or feeling good about, the choices one makes as a mom.

When you’re raising kids, some days are great, some are ok, and some are downright difficult.  You never know what you’re going to get.  And at the end of the day, moms have to find a way to decompress and cope with whatever was sent their way that day.  On a good day, it’s easy.  On a difficult day, your mom-esteem can really plummet.

Trying to rely on the theory that you can’t control everything and it’s not always your fault is easier said than done.  While this is certainly true, moms are conditioned to feel like they need to be able to handle everything.  Moms are the ones who keep everyone healthy, well fed, and, above all else, happy.  Moms are running things from the control tower.  When something isn’t right, or a day is really difficult, it’s the mom who is left to internalize the resulting emotions.

Then there are the external factors.  The moms who insist on sharing their greatness at the park.  The moms who allegedly never let their kids have any sugar and cook everything from scratch every night using only organic ingredients (my two year old currently lives on bagels, yogurt, and fruit.  Does that make me a failure?).  The moms with impeccably dressed children with clean faces and perfectly coiffed hair.  The moms who found the perfect preschool with the perfect teachers and the perfect play yard.

Not long ago I was at the grocery store with both kids.  They were on foot, “helping” me pick out the groceries.  I’m sure it’s a familiar scenario:  Two items in, one back out.  It takes three times as long to shop this way, but the kids have a little more fun.  If I have to do it, I might as well make it fun.  The check out line is always the hard part.  They compete to see who can put the most items on the belt.  It gets a little hard to control.  And that’s when an elderly shopper shot me a dirty look and commented, “it would be easier if those kids were in a cart, you know”.  My defenses went up.  I bit my tongue (respect your elders) and feigned a smile to avoid a sarcastic reply.  But she got me.  When my defenses are up, my mom-esteem is down.  I tell myself to ignore the people passing judgment, but that can be hard to do.

Another time I picked up Riley at school to have a teacher make a comment about her hearing (while I was signing her out and Liam was running toward the parking lot unattended).  Hearing loss?  Impossible.  It never occurred to me.  I speed dialed Sean and then my sister, and then spent the rest of the day sneaking up on her to check her hearing.  She later passed the hearing screening with flying colors.  Low mom-esteem.  One questionable comment and I immediately assume that I’ve failed my child in some way.

And then there are the endless comparisons.  The race for developmental milestones.  Did you potty train him yet?  Does she get herself dressed in the morning?  Do they sleep through night?  Can she write her name?  Does he know his letters?  These are the conversations I quietly walk away from.  Sometimes even a compliment seems like an accusation, “wow.  He really talks in complete sentences at a young age”.  The subtext is there.  This conversation won’t end until the other mom is back on top.  It can really cause the mom-esteem to take a hit.

Forget about a public temper tantrum.  It can take a week to come back from one of those.  A few disapproving stares and the mom-esteem is almost non-existent.  I’ve learned to grin and move on, but I’ve had some experiences where I ended up emotionally exhausted after coping with the tantrum, the exhausted child, and the input from the passersby.  It’s hard to tune it out every time.

Do I need to mention the constant feedback and unsolicited advice from older (who might think they are wiser) family members?  They always seem to remember having done it just right.  Did they really?  Was their mom-esteem always a perfect ten?  It’s doubtful.

Great days are amazing.  You end the day feeling very connected to your children. You had fun.  They had fun.  Everyone ate something green and lots of fruit.  The stars were aligned.  Your mom-esteem is at an all-time high.

But the bad days are horrible.  The kids are tired, cranky, sick, and picking on each other every time you attempt to make a meal or clean a dish left in the sink.  The house is a mess.  The laundry still isn’t done.  You end the day in a state of complete emotional exhaustion.  You question whether or not you raised your voice just a little, and what impact that had on your child.  You wonder if that trip to the germy indoor play space caused the colds.  You might even start to envy someone who seems to have an “easier” time with this motherhood thing.  Your mom-esteem ceases to exist.  So you break out the chocolate and ice cream, because what else can you do?

The truth is that we all have hard days.  I’ve been told that I make it look easy.  More than once.  It’s not always easy.  Some people spend years working on their self-esteem, but from the minute your first child is born, you will likely spend the rest of your life working on your mom-esteem.

And you know those moms with the perfect kids who only eat organic everything?  Let me let you in on a little secret:  They struggle with their mom-esteem too.  Why else would they feel compelled to share their stats with unsuspecting strangers at the park instead of just enjoying their kids?  They strive to feel good too.

What causes shifts in your mom-esteem?  How do you cope with difficult days?

**Please remember to check back Friday for “Tips on Raising your Mom-Esteem”, and look for my weekly article at Mommy Moment on Thursday, where I will be talking about mom stress.

A Rock Star Wife (Guest Post for Scary Mommy)

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Hey old friends and new readers!

Today I took a break from parenting advice to guest post over at Scary Mommy. I decided to talk about life with a rock & roll husband instead. Please take a look around while you’re there. Scary Mommy is a great place to be! Back to the regularly scheduled parenting advice tomorrow…

http://www.scarymommy.com/a-rock-star-wife/

Thanks, as always, for spending some time at Practical Parenting. I truly appreciate the kind comments and support.

Katie

Fun Times Ahead! (Tips for planning the perfect playdate)

At around age 2, toddlers are ready to start having short playdates with other toddlers. Although parallel play (playing next to each other, with or without similar toys) occurs until about 3-3 1/2, toddlers can still get a lot out of a playdate. They start to develop a sense of self by comparing themselves and their families to their friends and their friends’ families. Playdates can also boost their communication skills as they learn to communicate with a peer by passing toys back and forth, pointing, and gesturing. This is where they start to learn the basics of sharing (especially for firstborn children) and have a lot of fun! We love playdates around here. Sometimes we plan in advance which gives me time to have a vague idea of what we might do and think of some structured activities in case we need to trouble shoot at some point. Often times we host the last minute impromptu neighborhood playdates, which are completely unstructured and sometimes even a bit crazy but just as much fun. Liam is still young enough that he doesn’t really care who comes to play, but Riley just recently reached the stage where she is very specific about who she wants to invite (although it should be noted that she eagerly plays with ANYONE at the park). At four, she is really starting to get the hang of this friendship thing. The good news is that most of her friends have a younger sibling close enough in age to Liam to make it a double playdate. This is also nice because mixing ages can actually help kids learn different ways to interact. For instance, two year olds don’t share as well as four year olds, so the older kids have to work on patience while they wait a turn. The bad news is that 2 year olds don’t do quite as well with the completely unstructured playdates as four year olds, so I often find myself playing referee when I haven’t had time to plan. It got me thinking that a quick checklist to run through prior to a playdate (even an impromptu one) might be useful. If I take a quick minute to scan the room and remove toys that are hard to share, for instance, it might avoid a few tears. If I have some fruit cut up in advance or string cheese at the ready, I can easily give them a little snack break if hunger starts to set in. Sometimes when I have a group over last minute, I simply forget to cover the basics. Life is busy. It happens. Below are some tips to help you plan the perfect playdate (well, let’s go for close to perfect!) every time:

1. Consider timing: I have a hard time saying no, so I often agree to playdates even when I know it’s getting a little late for my kids. Try to have playdates when your kids are well rested and well fed. We know that exhaustion and hunger lead to meltdowns. Why risk it? I’m working on this one. Length of time is also important. For toddlers, an hour is plenty. Preschoolers can usually handle 1 to 1 ½ hours.
2. Prep the house: Call me crazy, but I believe in special toys. Yes, kids need to learn and hopefully master the art of sharing. But does that mean they need to share everything with everyone who comes through the house? I always give Riley a minute to decide which toys she wants me to remove. I’ve recently started to do the same with Liam. When we go to a friend’s house I prompt them to ask if they can use toys that aren’t already out for playing. Respect is a two way street. Put out some toys that are easy to share. It’s great to let them explore and decide what to do, but it can also help make sharing a little easier with things like blocks, Legos, and games (for preschoolers) out and ready for play.
3. Prepare a snack: Depending on the timing of your playdate, you might not need a snack at all. But sometimes it can help to take a little water break. It gives the kids a minute to settle down and switch gears a little. If you do provide a snack make sure to double check with the other parent just in case (Riley has a tree nut allergy and my nephew is allergic to peanuts). It’s best to stick to fruit, string cheese (provided dairy is ok), or something like pretzels or crackers. Just remember to ask first!
4. Step back: Try to step back a little and let your child decide what to do. It’s fun to explore the options before settling in to play. If sharing becomes a problem, give them a minute to work it out before helping. With younger kids it can be helpful to use a timer for sharing toys. That way they know that when the timer rings their turn is up. Preschoolers sometimes need help deciding what to play. Prompt them to work out a plan that leaves them both happy (cars for 10 minutes, Candyland after).
5. Add a little structure later: While it’s great to let kids play on their own terms, it can be helpful to provide an activity later in the playdate. If you start to sense that the kids are getting restless, shift gears. Dress up, arts and crafts, music and dancing, and homemade play doh are all great for keeping kids interested while having fun. I once bought these great people-making kits at Michael’s that are always a great playdate saver. You’ll know when it’s time to step in, I promise!
6. Know when to call it: I’m the first to admit that sometimes I really enjoy catching up with my own friends, which can make it difficult to end a playdate in a timely manner. But keeping a tired, cranky kid around other kids isn’t doing anyone any favors! Look for signs of fatigue and leave when your child is ready. Liam times out pretty quickly. He just gets over-stimulated and needs time to play alone. Consequently, we tend to keep playdates short!
7. Factor in clean up time: Learning to clean up after themselves, whether in their own home or someone else’s, is an important skill. It teaches responsibility. Sing one of those clean up songs that we all love so much and ask each child to put away three things. Make it a race or a game. Just make sure they do it!

Much like most other things in life, playdates are rarely perfect…but they can be a lot of fun. Run through your checklist, prep a little, and sit back and watch them play!

You tell me: What strategies would you add to the list?

In Defense of Praise (Tips for increasing your child’s self-esteem)

There’s a lot of chatter out there about the potential pitfalls of praising our children “too much”. Some are seeking specifics. “When and how often should I praise my child?” Others are weighing in on what they consider to be “the best” parenting style. The truth is, we all have our own style when it comes to parenting. Children are individuals. They have different personalities, strengths, weaknesses, interests, etc. One of the most amazing things about being a parent is that we get to watch these seemingly helpless little beings grow into wonderful children with great ideas and non-stop energy to burn. Sure, we can shame them into following a specific set of standards and, most of the time, they will fall in line like good little soldiers. Why we would we want to? Self-esteem is what helps kids have the confidence to try new things, make new social connections, and take healthy risks. Feeling a sense of belonging enables kids to reach out to other kids in their age group at the park. Feeling capable causes them to try that puzzle independently or zoom down that giant tunnel slide at a new park. Everyday we have a chance to show our kids that we think their ideas are worthwhile just by listening and making eye contact. By showing genuine interest and praising their efforts (not just success) we are helping to build resiliency in our children. There will come a time when they won’t be successful and we won’t be there to pick them up and reset them. But if we praise them and help build their self-confidence along the way, we are leading them down the path toward a lifetime of self-confidence. Children who have high self-esteem aren’t as negatively affected by small “failures” as children who have low self-esteem. They are more resilient and better able to pick themselves up and try again. Riley loves to make new friends at the park. She’s just reached the stage where she eyes another girl and whispers that she would like to play with her. Just yesterday she saw a group of older girls playing and whispered that she wanted to meet them. We did a quick recap of how to make an introduction: “Hi, my name is Riley. What is your name?” and off she went. As it turned out, this particular gaggle of six year old girls weren’t really interested in playing with a four year old. Not all that surprising. Riley looked back at me, defeated. I gave her a big smile and said, “Riley, you did a great job introducing yourself! I’m so proud of you. Let’s see if anyone else might want to play.” Her smile returned and we headed for the swings. I suppose I could have told her to suck it up (or something even less friendly, I overhear some real winning statements at times), but what good would that do? She made a great effort, and that seemed worthy of praise. You know your children better than anyone, so your instinct will tell you when to jump in and praise and when to step back and let them work things out independently. But I think that, as parents, we can all help our children develop a positive self-concept if we are willing to shower them with praise and love regularly. Below are some tips to help you give your child the gift of high self-esteem:

1. Give love: This sounds like a simple one, but sometimes saying, “I love you” is something that we take for granted. Why not tell them how you feel? What’s the downside? I didn’t grow up in an “I love you” kind of family (that’s not to say that love wasn’t shown, it just wasn’t verbalized), but I’m enjoying raising one. I tell them every chance I get. Teaching your kids that you love them no matter what they do is a very important lesson. Riley was frustrated with Liam the other night. She’s actually fairly patient with him, but sometimes he just won’t take no for an answer. In grabbing a toy back from him she accidentally knocked him down and he bumped his head. I redirected her and took him to my room to calm down. She later started to tear up and said, “I’m worried you’re mad at me”. I took the opportunity to sit her on my lap and say, “Riley, Mommy always loves you, no matter what choices you make. But you do have to follow the rules.” Satisfied, she dried her tears and walked away. It’s hard being little. Sometimes they need reminders that they are loved, no matter the circumstances.
2. Praise often: Everybody loves to be encouraged. My day can completely turn around just by getting an encouraging text from my husband! When you praise a good effort made by your child you show him/her that you are proud. This increases your child’s self-esteem, thereby enabling him/her to keep trying. Try to be specific with your praise. Saying “good job” is ambiguous. Saying, “you did a great job sharing your toys with your friend” shows that you are paying attention and encourages your child to repeat that positive behavior.
3. Be a good listener: We’re all busy these days. Whether it’s work, lots of kids, volunteering, etc. life is just busy. Sometimes that means not taking the time to really listen. Since starting this blog and writing for others I am finding that I have to shut off my computer and put my phone out of reach so that I can really listen to my kids. When you stop what you’re doing to make eye contact and really listen to your child, you show him/her that you value what he/she has to say. When you use active listening by asking follow up questions, you teach your child how to communicate. And when they come to you feeling happy, sad, frustrated, etc. use the opportunity to label their feelings and help them learn to identify their own emotions. Listening to your child helps your child feel valued and teaches him/her how to listen to others.
4. Encourage (safe) risk-taking: The fact is that to be successful, you have to be willing to take a risk. Taking risks, of course, lends itself to the possibility of failure. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. Encourage your child to take a ride down that slide he’s been eyeing at the park, ride the bike, make a friend at the park, try a new food, etc. Let them know that you think they can do it and will be there to cheer them on. He might fall off the bike a few times, but you can always be there to help him feel better and praise his efforts. The lesson here is that just giving it a try is the first step toward success. Riley was playing her guitar the other day when she threw it down and said, “I can’t do it like daddy!” We had a chat about how daddy has spent his whole life practicing his bass, and that he does it for a job. But when he started, it was just for fun. And when he realized that he could make a career out of it, he had to practice a lot along the way. He still does.
5. Teach rules: Knowing that rules exist increases the feeling of stability for your child. Despite their tendency to test limits and break rules often, they actually take comfort in knowing that you will follow through on that time out (or other consequence). Have a few established rules in your house and stick to them.
6. Focus on strengths: Try to notice the individual strengths in each of your children, and avoid comparison. Children develop at their own pace; it’s not a race. Telling one child that his brother is capable of something so he should be too only serves to make that child feel like a failure. Avoiding labels (“athlete”, “musician”, etc.) is also a good strategy. Chances are that your child will go through stages; they don’t have to be pigeon holed into athletics just because they can hit a ball. Let them explore various interests and choose their own path. Riley recently learned to say things like “I’m the winner” or “I’m the best” from a particularly competitive friend. We try to avoid this in our house. We try to praise them for their individual strengths and play for fun. We are currently playing a lot of games to work on playing for fun, not for winning. As someone who spent many years playing to win, I can promise you that it’s not actually all that much fun. In fact, it’s kind of stressful.
7. Arrange special time: I know I talk about this a lot. I have a husband who keeps crazy work hours, and sometimes travels a lot, so it’s hard for me to carve out individual time for each kid. I’m always working on it. Giving your child your undivided attention helps him/her know that you think he/she is important. It’s also a great way to connect and really listen. Riley and I went for a long walk and to the park yesterday while Liam and daddy napped. We talked about everything and had 1 ½ hours of uninterrupted playtime. We both returned happy and refreshed. Special time is important for both of you.
8. Work on your own self-esteem: I struggled with low self-esteem from my childhood clear on through college. As a result, I was sometimes afraid to initiate friendships and focused instead on trying to be the best at everything. It took a lot of work to improve my self-esteem, and it’s a pattern I most certainly don’t want my kids to repeat. We are always modeling behavior for our children. If your child sees you beating yourself up over small things, they are likely to repeat that. If all they see is competition and trying to win at all costs, they will probably head down that path. Try to keep your own feelings in check and show them that you feel good about your own efforts in various areas of your life.

High self-esteem is the greatest gift you can give your child. Starting them off on the road to self-confidence can help them live a lifetime of happiness and success. With the risk of labeling myself an “over-praiser”, I say take the time to cheer your kids on, love them out loud, and really listen to them. They will thank you later.

What do you think? Are we giving our children “too much praise?”

New Year, new home? (Tips for moving with kids)

Moving.  It’s difficult on a nice sunny day with minimal boxes, no kids, and just a few pieces of furniture.  But add in kids, years worth of stuff (regardless of how necessary it is), and possibly a pet or two and it can quickly become a nightmare.  We moved into this house when Riley was just thirteen months old.  You would think it would make for an easy transition.  It didn’t.  Due to Sean’s workaholic nature combined with the music industry’s insistence on working until all hours of the night, I would spend my days re-packing what Riley unpacked, and my nights packing the rest.  When Sean rolled in around 2am each night he packed for another hour before crashing out for a few.  This went on for a good two weeks straight, and even then we didn’t get it all done by moving day.  We planned ahead to the extent that we could.  We had Riley’s room painted exactly the same color and set up the furniture in roughly the same pattern.  She cried for five nights straight.  And did I mention that it poured on moving day?  Riley took her nap in the car in the Whole Foods parking lot while Sean desperately tried to get her room together.  It was a tough move, for sure.  And that was just one blissfully unaware baby moving a few miles to the next town over.  We’re never moving again!  You can only imagine how complicated moving can be when there are older (and more) kids involved, the move is out of state (or maybe even across or out of the country), and some or all parties involved are not all that psyched about moving anyway.  All kids react to change differently but in general, moving entails a major emotional transition.  Babies and toddlers need time to adjust to new surroundings.  Preschoolers and young elementary aged children often develop mild anxiety about social change and veering from a well-developed routine.  Older elementary and middle school students tend to feel uprooted from their school, extra curricular activities, and friendships.  And high school students can be expected to exhibit anger and frustration.  Wouldn’t you?  Developing friendships is hard work.  It starts in preschool, and really doesn’t end.  To date my closest friendship remains the one that started in the sandbox (well, figuratively speaking).  We send our kids to school to learn and grow.  But they are the ones doing the work.  They are listening, learning, seeking help, and juggling social relationships for at least six hours a day.  It’s exhausting.  It’s a huge investment.  To be pulled away from that because the family needs to move for one reason or another isn’t ever easy.  As I said before, it’s a major emotional transition at any age.  So how can you help your children cope with a move?  Below are some tips to help ease the transition (just try to keep in mind that moving day is almost never perfect, no matter how much planning you put into it):
Moving with babies and toddlers/preschoolers:
1.   Keep it simple:  Provide a clear, simple explanation.  They don’t need to know, nor can they understand, the pros and cons list developed in order to make this decision.  They just need to know that your family is moving to a new home, and that you will still be able to take care of their needs during the move.  Allow them to ask questions, and provide clear answers.  They are likely to be concerned about toys and other belongings, the nearest park, and friends.
2.   Pay a visit:  If you are moving nearby, try to pay a visit to the new home and explore the neighborhood.  Point out the parks, schools, and other play places.  If you can get into the house, move toys over slowly.  If you are moving far away, get as many pictures as possible and use Google Earth to find parks and schools. 
3.   Be consistent:  In the 0-4 age range, it’s best to keep the new room as similar to the old room as possible.  Use the same paint color, arrange the furniture in the same way, and put up the same decorations.  Make it feel like home.  You will still need to expect some fear/transition issues.  It can be hard to sleep in a new place, especially after a big move that has likely taken up much of your time lately.  Be patient.  And by all means, KEEP THE SAME ROUTINE!
4.   Provide reassurance:  In this age group, repetition is the name of the game.  You can expect them to be afraid that you are getting rid of their toys and/or that some toys or family members might get left behind.  Reassure them that you are all going together, and that the toys are being packed to go to the new house.  Leave out a practice box where they can put the toys in and take them out.  Let them “help”.  You will be up late repacking other stuff anyway, what’s an extra box? 
5.   Forget the milestones:  Now is NOT the time to start potty training, taking away bottles and pacifiers, or moving into a big bed.  Make the move, give it at least 6 weeks to get settled, and then move forward on developmental tasks.  Newly potty trained?  Expect accidents.  New to a big bed?  Be prepared for sleep issues (see “Sleep Tight” post for tips on helping them get to sleep).
Moving with elementary and middle school age kids (5-12):
1.   Allow some control:  Let them decorate and arrange the new bedroom.  Giving them some choices about their new environment will help them get settled.  Don’t like the paint choice?  You can change it someday, but for now they need to feel comfortable.  A bedroom is your child’s safe place.  You want it to be somewhere that they feel comfortable spending time.  Designing their own rooms will help them stay positive about the move.
2.   Reach out to the school:  Talk to teachers and Administrators at the new schools long before you go.  Tell them a little about your child so that they will know what to expect and possibly help match them up with other kids.  Ask for help.  When Riley started her preschool Sean was still touring with John Mayer.  I pulled the teachers aside during the orientation to discuss her pattern of behavior when he tours.  They were grateful for the heads up and very attentive to her during the transition.  Try to visit the school during off hours so your child can look around without enduring the stares of curious students.
3.   Enroll early:  Whether your child is athletic or artsy, find classes or teams that interest them and get them enrolled before you move.  Ask them for input and let them see what’s available in the new neighborhood.  Extra curricular activities help kids feel grounded, and provide an instant social scene.  This is a priority when uprooting your kids.
4.   Help them stay in touch:  Make a plan for how they will stay in touch with friends once they move.  It’s very difficult to leave childhood friends behind.  Talk about this openly and often.  But stay focused on them.  This is not the time to tell them how much you will miss your friends.  You need to be the strong one now.  Make a bunch of self-addressed, stamped post cards for them to give to their friends so that they will get some notes from their friends when they get to the new house.  Help older kids to send email (monitored back to your account, of course) to feel connected.  Keep the goodbyes simple.  Big parties are likely to be overwhelming at this age.
5.   Expect emotional outbursts:  Kids in this age range are likely to feel many emotions, with a heavy focus on anger, sadness, and loneliness.  Be there for them.  Listen to their concerns.  Check in often.  Hug them every chance you get.  Stay positive without downplaying the difficulty of the move.
Moving with high schoolers (yikes):
1.   Allow some control:  Let them decorate and arrange the new bedroom.  Giving them some choices about their new environment will help them get settled.  Don’t like the paint choice?  You can change it someday, but for now they need to feel comfortable.  They will probably be spending a lot of time there as they transition.  It only needs to look and feel good to them.
2.   Meet with teachers:  Try to catch ten minutes with each teacher (or arrange a group meeting) to discuss strengths, weaknesses, areas of interests, and strategies that work.  Most high school teachers will expect the transition to take a good six weeks or so.  Let them help you along the way.  They are the experts in this area.
3.   Keep in touch with old teachers:  Many high schools students come to favor a certain teacher or administrator.  Help your child stay in touch with that person via email.  They will need a lot of support during this transition, and a favorite teacher can be an invaluable resource when it comes to helping your child stay positive.
4.   Know what’s available:  Find out what sports and activities are available before you move so that your child can decide where to begin finding new friends.  Have a drummer on your hands but the new school doesn’t have a band?  Find the nearest music store and get him involved in a band outside of school.  Don’t allow the move to change everything that your child is accustomed to.  Go the extra mile to make sure that they will have the activities that they need to feel positive about themselves and their new surroundings. 
5.   Stay connected:  Find a way to make sure that your child can attend that prom or homecoming dance they’ve been looking forward to at their old school.  Make specific plans to pay visits to old friends or family members.  Keep asking them how they are feeling about the move, no matter how many times they tell you to go away (or something less pleasant).  Throw a going away party.  Take lots of pictures, even when they tell you to stop.
6.   Expect anger:  A move during high school can be very disruptive to your kids.  They have worked hard to form relationships with teachers and build long-term friendships.  They will be angry.  They will yell.  They will retreat to their rooms, blast music you can’t stand, and rely on sarcasm.  Tell them that you understand.  Don’t take it personally.  Help them plan for the future and find ways to stay in touch with the past.  It can be useful to talk about thinking about a move as practice for a transition to college, but don’t expect it to be a quick fix.  Be there for them.
For parents:
1.   Watch what you say:  Like or not, you are constantly providing cues about your attitude toward the move.  Stay positive in the presence of your kids.  They are ALWAYS listening…even when you think you are just whispering with another mom during a play date.  Make sure you have support so that you can call your friends and vent when the kids are asleep.  But by day, focus on the positive.
2.   Family to-do list:  Hold regular family meetings as you prepare to move so that you have a certain time to check in about how everyone is feeling.  Attendance is mandatory.  Try to make it fun.  Play family games.  Stroll down memory lane.  Let the kids get involved in planning the moving to-do list.  Let the three year old add, “pack my toys and sippy cups” to the list and then let him/her cross it off when the task is complete.  All jobs are important!
3.   Stress relief:  Make sure you are taking care of you.  Have a ladies night, throw in some date nights, watch movies and read good books.  You are no good to your kids if you exist in a state of complete stress.  Find small ways to decompress so that you can continue to help your family through the move.
4.   Talk about your feelings:  Moving is just as much of an emotional transition for adults as it is for kids.  Keep the lines of communication open with your partner in order to avoid the build up of negative feelings and resentment that can accompany stressful situations. 
Moving is stressful no matter the circumstances.  But it can also be a wonderful family experience that can result in better times ahead.  Stay positive but be prepared for the stress.  Give your kids 6-8 weeks to transition before you start to worry.  If your child is not him/herself a few months in, seek some help.  Try to remember that you will get to the other side.  Before you know it you will be feeling settled and making the following statement, “we will NEVER do this again!”  Good luck and Happy New Year!

Holiday Stress? (Tips for keeping mommies calm!)

 

It’s crunch time.For some of you, Hanukah is becoming a distant memory and you are focused on the day-to-day task of keeping your little ones entertained during “vacation” (also known as the worst time ever to go to an indoor playground or any other warm play place).For others, you are gearing up for Christmas.You are in the middle of the last desperate mall runs (did I really get presents for everyone?), never-ending grocery lists, and up to your ears in wrapping gifts that will be torn apart within seconds.Hint:skip the fancy bows until they become teens!No matter which category sounds like you, it all adds up to stress.We always want the holidays to look like the perfect holiday card.We want a little snow, but not too much, a nice steaming mug of hot cider, and family gathered by the fire to catch up and maybe sing a few carols.The truth is that it’s never that easy.Or pretty.It takes a lot of work to play Santa (this Santa, for one, is ready to make a run for it) or plan eight nights of celebration.And then the schools let the kids out and many (if not all) classes go onhiatus for a couple of weeks.What’s a mom (or dad) to do?A few weeks ago I was focused on helping the kids with holiday overload.Now it’s time to focus on the parents who have to hold it all together.The fact is that families are complicated.You can’t expect everyone to get along all of the time, and different people have different needs.Sometimes the need to strive for holiday perfection can increase your stress level, which then increases the stress for your kids.Kids pick up on stress.It makes them anxious.They respond by either crying a lot or acting out.Both options then result in more caretaker stress.My husband suffered a terrible case of food poisoning last weekend.He could hardly leave his bed.While Liam was blissfully unaware, Riley’s stress increased with each passing hour that daddy spent in bed.She cried more than usual, and constantly asked where he was and why he couldn’t play.There are only so many times you can answer, “daddy will feel better soon.He just needs his rest” before you’re ready to run away.I’ve been drinking a lot of tea to keep my own stress to a minimum.My Nana raised me to believe that a nice cup of tea can cure just about anything.It’s always my first line of defense when I feel stress creeping in.At the end of the day, parents need to de-stress too so that we can be at our best to help our kids with their everyday needs.Below are some tips for keeping your own stress to a minimum:
1.Know your triggers:We’ve been cooped up for weeks.First on the East coast, when the temperature wouldn’t climb higher than 27, and then back home in LA because the rain just won’t let up.I’m blessed with space and toys, and yet we’re all starting to lose it.We went to the mall for an hour just to run around somewhere else.We’ve also had a bad run of illnesses since late October, which results in sleep deprivation.When I’m tired I don’t eat.When I don’t eat I get cranky.A steady stream of caffeine can only get you so far.Having identified my biggest triggers, I am making an effort to get to bed earlier and snack regularly.I’m no good to my kids if I feel like I’m ready to blow at any given moment.I’m decidedly less stressed already just by tuning into my own needs.Know your triggers.It works.
2.Ask for help:I’m not great when it comes to asking for help.I tend to be the one who provides help instead.Sometimes to my own detriment.Here’s the best tip I can give you:Your husband doesn’t want to do the dishes.He doesn’t want to do the laundry, clean the bathroom, or take out the trash either.Do you?I’m always amused when friends talk about how little their husbands will help with domestic chores unless they are asked.We don’t want to do the chores either…why would they?!This always reminds me of that scene in “The Break-Up” where Jennifer looks at Vince and says, “I want you to WANT to do the dishes” and he replies, “why would anyone WANT to do the dishes”.That doesn’t mean they get a free pass.We are all working hard, whether at a job or parenting or both.We all need to pitch in.Ask them to help you so that you’re not constantly thinking about what you need to do next.
3.Make a list:I love lists.Who doesn’t?Keep a list for gift buying, party planning (if you are one of those brave people throwing a holiday party), gift-wrapping, holiday cards, food preparation, etc.Revise it as you get things done so that you can see the list getting smaller.And, again. Refer back to #2 and ASK FOR HELP (he’s better at wrapping presents than he’s leading you to believe…which brings us to #4).
4.Ditch perfection:Are we really still holding onto this unattainable title?Perfection is in the eye of the beholder.Which means that if you are constantly competing against yourself, you will probably never win.Holiday time is about enjoying time with your family.Don’t worry about throwing the perfect party while wearing the perfect dress. You will never be able to buy all of the right gifts.You can only do your best and try to enjoy the season along the way.Focus on enjoying the little moments.Capture that look of wonder when your four year old first finds the gifts under the tree.Burn a copy of it in the back of your brain and think about that when the caterer mixes up your order or red wine is spilled on the carpet.Perfect is simplicity.Perfect is hot chocolate and laughter by the fire.Or whatever makes you happy….
5.Make time for friends:Studies show that women who maintain long term friendships cope better with stress and illness over time.Make a friend date this holiday season.Enjoy the good memories and have some child free time where you can just enjoy your friendships.But try to stay positive.A new study in Hormones and Behavior (“62 Ways to feel better fast”, Self Magazine, January 2011) shows that when two female friends focus on negative emotions they both have a surge in stress hormones, like cortisol.It’s ok to talk about problems, just try to focus on thinking about coping strategies and ways to make things better.
6.Plan a date night:With so much focus on the kids over the holidays, it’s easy to put your marriage on the back burner.Try to stay focused on each other (after all, your marriage is what started this family) and find time to be together.Whether you hire a babysitter and head out for the night or cook a romantic dinner at home, take some time to really talk, listen, and enjoy the spirit of this magical time of year.
7.Get a massage:I can’t imagine a world that doesn’t include Burke Williams Day Spa.Hint:The Torrance location is really new and beautiful and much less of a scene than some of the others.But most of you don’t live in LA.I love everything from the smell of the products to plush robes right down to the cucumber slices in the water.Any stress I might be harboring dissipates the minute I walk through the front door.Find a place where you can check out for 90 minutes with a relaxing massage and some quiet time.You don’t have to pay the big bucks either.There are many massage schools around where you can get a great massage at a fraction of the price.Can’t find the time?At least sneak in a pedicure.You deserve it!Now is the time for pampering.
8.Stick to your routine:Kids get stressed out and start to have meltdowns when they stray too far from their routines.It’s easy to get off track when school is out and you are in holiday preparation mode (yesterday I was in my pajamas until 11am and almost missed snack and lunch…yikes!).Try to be aware of their normal eating and sleeping routines to avoid meltdowns.Holidays are important, but your kids are more important.Help them have fun by keeping them well slept and well fed.
9.Unplug:Take a break from the email checking, texting, Facebooking, and Tweeting and just get on the floor and play with your kids.Enjoy the world from their perspective for a change, where running with a dump truck is super fun and an animal rescue is the most important task of the day.You’ll thank me later.
On that note, I am unplugging until after Christmas.Time to bake, play, and be Merry!If you’ve already celebrated the holiday season, enjoy some quiet time as a family.If you are waiting for a visit from the big man in the red suit…MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Thanks again for reading along and leaving comments.You inspire me each day!