Listen Up! (Tips for teaching listening skills)

kids-listening-skills

We cringe when we hear it; we cringe when we catch ourselves saying it, and yet the phrase is oft repeated in Mommyland, “LISTEN TO ME!”  Toddlers and preschoolers are notorious selective listeners.  They do it because they can.  They know there might be a consequence if they don’t follow directions, but they’re willing to take a gamble.  They’re hoping to get by on a cute face and angelic smile.  Sometimes they’re not listening because they are unwilling to stop a certain behavior that they find funny (like jumping on the couch), but often it’s probably more of a case of your child “not hearing” versus “not listening” when engaged in an interesting activity.

A few weeks into preschool Riley’s teacher pulled me aside and asked whether or not I thought Riley had trouble hearing.  If you’ve ever heard my child talk (and talk and talk and talk), it wouldn’t be your first concern.  I used to get a kick out of the fact that my oldest niece always talked exactly like my sister as a preschooler.  Her vocabulary was unmatched.  And then came Riley.

Having spent 3 years and 9 months exclusively with me, she is officially a mini-me.  Her vocabulary is very well developed.  What can I say?  I talk a lot, and she’s often the only person I talk to all day!  Still, when you hear “hearing loss”, you can’t help but freak out a little.  As I talked quickly and in code to Sean all the way home from preschool pick-up that day, we came to the following conclusion:  She wasn’t listening.  Riley is a very creative child.  While most kids her age are more focused on drawing themselves, other people, or pets, Riley spends an inordinate amount of time creating intricate “designs” (her word) and then challenges me to copy them.  It’s nearly impossible to copy them.  When she’s in the creative zone, there’s no stopping her.  She wants to complete a project start to finish without interruption.

Her preschool runs on a fairly set schedule, which means that they make transitions at certain times.  If Riley isn’t finished with her work, the listening skills are out the window.  Like her Mommy, she NEEDS to finish before moving on.  We practiced saying, “can I please have a few more minutes to finish my work?” instead of pretending not to hear, which is her default.  We also spent a fair amount of time working on coping with making the transition even if she isn’t finished.  Rules are rules.

Listening skills are an invaluable part of life.  Children with good listening skills perform better in school, are more successful in social relationships, and have better frustration tolerance (when you can listen to other options, you are less prone to acting out when faced with frustration).  Listening skills should be taught early.  Below are a few tips to get your child on the road to good listening skills:

1. Listen to them: Life is busy.  Most of us are reachable by various means at any time thanks to the ever-evolving world of the Smartphone.  It can be hard to unplug and focus.  If we want our kids to listen to us, we have to listen to them.   Easier said than done.  Sean and I have a checks and balances system going on.  If I’m checking email and tuning out the rest he will say, “Mommy, what do you think?” to bring me back.  If he sneaks his iPhone to the table, I sneak it away from him and put it with the laptops.  There will be times when you have to take an important call or cruise through some email while you are with your kids, but during meals, baths, stories, and playtime keep your focus on them. They won’t always require an overwhelming amount of attention, but right now they do.  Give it to them while you can.

2. Eye Contact: One of the most important skills you can teach your child is making eye contact when talking to others.  Preschoolers and toddlers tend to avert their gaze quickly, often due to constant distractions.  Little kids also have BIG feelings, and if they think that they are in trouble or feel like you are mad at them, or if they tend to feel shy, they are likely to look away.  It’s hard to listen when you’re staring out the window watching the birds or searching the room for an interesting toy.  Cue them often. When Riley is in the zone and I need to tell her something, I look right into her eyes and say, “Riley, I’m sorry to interrupt but I need you to look at me for one minute please”.  Kids respond better to positive requests, so try to avoid commands whenever possible. That said, sometimes they make poor choices and you need to get their attention fast.  The important thing is to teach them to look.

3. Meet them at their level: The world is a big place to toddlers and preschoolers.  It’s much easier for a child to listen, and hear, what an adult is saying when the adult kneels down and meets the child at eye level. This ties in with #1 and #2 as well.  The best way to model appropriate listening skills is to get on your child’s level, make eye contact, and listen to them too.  Many parents instinctively kneel down to greet other children, but some do not.  Meeting them where they are increases their comfort level and encourages them to make eye contact and listen. It feels less threatening.

4. Use a calm voice: The best way to get your kids to tune out and stop listening is to raise your voice.  I’ve seen it happen over and over again.  Frustrated parents get down low, grab their kids, and then start yelling.  I know the feeling.  Loud, angry voices tend to scare kids, and scared kids are unable to listen.  Do what you have to do to keep your emotions in check (I’ve been known to run upstairs to “grab a sweatshirt”) and then approach your child with a calm demeanor.  Modeling a calm approach teaches your child that people are better able to listen to them when they use a calm voice.

5. Avoid Sarcasm: We live in a sarcastic world.  I know this because, at times, I’m a part of it.  Sometimes sarcasm is a useful tool.  It can provide a humorous icebreaker.  But sarcasm, by definition, is hurtful.  Toddlers and preschoolers might not understand the subtext of your comment when said sarcastically, but they do understand the tone.  They know that it’s used in frustration.  They know that it hurts.  Use of sarcasm will shut your child down; it will not promote listening. The same goes for rhetorical questions.  “How many times do I have to tell you to…..?” doesn’t correct a behavior.  It just makes a child feel bad, and possibly causes him/her to shut down.

6. Repeat back: Any strategy used in anger is likely to backfire.  In fact, many young kids laugh when their parents become upset.  It’s not that they think you’re funny, it’s that anxiety sometimes manifests as laughter in young children. When asked, by a calm parent, to repeat back a set of directions kids are forced to stop and think about what was said, and ask for clarification if necessary.  Remember, simple rules and explanations are easier to retain and follow.

7. Play listening games: The best way to teach toddlers and preschoolers is to keep things fun.  No one wants to hear a lecture, but especially not the youngest segment of our population.  Joint Story Telling: I’ve used this in the therapeutic environment for years to help kids join and feel more comfortable, but it also works well with young, imaginative minds.  Start a story by making up the first line (“once upon a time” is always a crowd pleaser) then create the story with your child by alternating who says each line.  You have to make eye contact and listen to one another in order to make the story work.  It’s fun, engaging, and helps your child practice active listening skills.  Simon Says: This preschool classic is great for helping your child watch and listen.  They have to pay close attention to Simon’s movements AND listen for the cue, “Simon Says”.  Red Light/Green Light: Do your best stop light impersonation and start the road race!  This fun game also requires looking (for the stop light to face forward) and listening (for the cue, “green light”).  If they fail to stop they start from the beginning again.  What time is it Mr. Tiger?: This lesser known preschool game is great fun for kids.  The goal of the game is to get from the starting line to the tiger’s den.  They ask the question, “what time is it Mr. Tiger?” and then have to listen for the answer, and follow directions (3 o’clock = 3 steps forward).  ***These are all great group games, but can also be played with just 1 or 2 kids as well.

Listening skills can take time and patience to teach, but are incredibly important to your child long term.  Take a deep breath, get down to their level, listen to them, and calmly teach them how to listen.  You’ll be surprised to learn how much they pay attention when you think they’re not listening.

Image credit: Pexels

 

Friend Finder! (Tips for teaching social skills)

A few weeks ago I wrote an article about helping your shy child interact with others.  It was met with many thanks, but also a few requests of a different kind:  “What if my kid is the opposite?  How do I stop him from trying to befriend EVERYONE?”  There are always two ends to the spectrum, and for every seemingly shy child on the playground there is another child who follows everyone around until he/she finds a friend.  I recently had dinner with an old friend who has a daughter a few years ahead of mine.  As we chatted about how alarmingly fast the kids have grown we recounted the story of how her daughter used to run up to every other kid on the playground and say,
“Hi! Do you want to play?”  She often faced defeat because preschoolers generally favor a more delicate approach.  My friend once looked up at me and said, “I don’t know how to tell her to do it differently”.  My response?  “At least she’s initiating friendships”.  It’s hard to watch when your child faces rejection from other kids.  It’s also hard to stand back and watch when you know that approaching a different kid, or introducing yourself in a different way might make a big difference.  Riley is really into big girls right now.  She has a hard time understanding that six year old girls don’t necessarily want to play with four year old girls.  I won’t stop her if she really wants to talk to a group of older girls at the park, but I will try to nudge her in a more age appropriate direction.  Developing social interaction skills is a long process.  Just when they start to get the hang of things they move up a grade and somehow the rules change.  It’s a lifelong process, really.  The good thing about the overt child is that he/she is not afraid to try.  The tricky thing is that not everyone is looking for a friend every time they go to the park.  Some kids stick to one close friend, and others prefer to play alone.  Kids work on social interactions skills as part of any preschool program, and even in hour-long classes, but social skills require a lot of work.  The practicing doesn’t end just because they are home for the day.  While shy kids need to work on slowly leaving their comfort zones, overt kids need to learn about timing, choosing wisely, and social boundaries.  Below are some tips to help you help your child achieve social success:

1. Make a checklist: Preschoolers love lists.  Lists fit into their need for predictability in life.  If it’s organized in some way, it makes more sense.  Come up with a social skills checklist that you can review together before you send your child out with other kids.  Keep it simple.  Here is an example:

  • Find a friendly face
  • Smile
  • Say, “Hi my name is…”
  • Offer to share a toy to play together

2. Teach Reading Facial Cues: Preschoolers often struggle to understand how other people are feeling.  In fact, many struggle to identify their own feelings.  By nature, toddlers and younger preschoolers are fairly self-centered.  They have a lot of learning to do; they are often too busy to think about others.  Around four, they start to show more empathy and think about others.  But they still need to learn how to read facial cues.  Facial Cues Collage: Cut a bunch of different faces from magazine photos and have your child glue them onto a paper.  Help your child study the faces to determine how each person might be feeling.  Write the feelings underneath.  Practice in the mirror: Sit in front of a mirror with your child and make various feelings faces together.  Make a game out of it and try to figure out what each face means.  Feelings Chart: Have you bought one yet? Post up a feelings faces chart in the most used room of your house and review it often.  The best time to teach kids about feelings is when they are calm and happy.

3. Polite Behavior: Practice what you preach.  Even kids who don’t have to use any table manners at home instinctively know to use them at school, but try to set some limits about basic manners.  Yes, I know that boys will be boys at times.  Liam is living proof of that.  But that doesn’t mean that a gentle correction is out of line.  Some behaviors are just off-putting to other kids.  Your list might be a bit different, but try to set limits on the following:  Spitting, sticking out the tongue (many kids actually interpret this as “mean”, excessive burping (at least teach them to say, “Excuse me”), grabbing toys without asking, and physical aggression.  As always, please and thank you are always appreciated by others. And remember that politeness starts with you.

4. Teach Boundaries: Some kids struggle with adhering to appropriate physical boundaries because they just don’t understand them.  They honestly don’t know what it means to be “too close” in proximity to someone else.  Preschoolers tend to stick very close in some situations, but when meeting new friends it helps to understand boundaries.  Hula Hoops: The small, preschool size hula-hoops are actually perfect for teaching appropriate physical space.  Have your kids hold hula-hoops around them and then walk toward each other until the hoops touch to show appropriate space.  If you find them getting too close in a situation, “hula-hoop” is an easy clue to remind them to step back.  Knock First: Many kids are so used to going wherever they please in their own homes that they forget to knock on closed doors when on playdates or in other places.  Teach them to knock on a closed door.  Ask First: Grabbing almost always leads to trouble.  No one likes to have a toy taken without any warning.  I wish I didn’t have to teach this skill all day every day, but it’s part of having a 2 year old and a four year old.  Teach them to ask first.  When they forget, return the toy and have your child apologize and then wait for a turn.  Or choose another activity.  Close Walking: Kids really dislike when other kids bump into them.  Some kids just crave tactile input and like to be close to others, but they can be taught to allow appropriate space with others.  Play follow-the-leader, but ask each kid to count to three before starting.

5. Practice: Get ready to play some pretend and practice how to act when meeting new people and making new friends.  Host Pretend Tea Parties: Or whatever kind of event appeals to your child.  Set up the scenario, make the introductions, practice boundaries and physical space, and remember those manners!  Stop frequently to check and see how the guests might be feeling.  Ask your child to think about whether or not any corrections need to be made.  Make Videos: Break out that Flip camera and start capturing those pretend interactions.  Watch the videos back and review your checklists.  Help your child determine whether or not he/she made an appropriate introduction, adhered to boundaries, allowed others a chance to talk, etc.  Structure Playdates: The best practice is always with other kids.  Try some 1:1 playdates with a child who shares very similar interests and structure the time.  Make a list of activities and set a timer.  Check regularly to make sure that your child is allowing appropriate space and sharing appropriately.

6. Books: “Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day” by Jamie Lee Curtis is always a winner when it comes to helping kids learn about different emotions and reading facial cues.  “Hands Are Not For Hitting” by Martine Agassi is one of a series that also includes, “Words Are Not For Hurting”, “Teeth Are Not For Biting”, and others.  These are great books for teaching basic social skills.  They provide helpful alternatives to each negative behavior.

 

Social interaction skills are generally a work in progress for most kids.  There is always something to be learned.  If you focus on a few basics on a daily basis, you can help your child achieve social success at the playground, in preschool, and just about everywhere else.

What strategies do you use to teach social skills?

Get Moving! (Tips for getting exercise…even in bad weather!)

This just in:  It is COLD on the East coast!  I’ve been checking in with my favorite girls (dutifully leaving out the part that it was 74 degrees in El Segundo today), and they are ready to make a run for it.  I know I grew up there, but I’m really not sure how we survived.  I remember being bundled up and sent outside to build snow forts and snowmen (and I remember it being fun), but now just the thought of it makes me shiver.  I’ve said it before but I will say it again:  We are spoiled in Los Angeles.  I took my kids to Connecticut for a week in early December.  Liam didn’t leave the house for the week because he refused to wear a coat (“too puffy”).  Riley was always ready to venture out in her puffy coat only to declare, “I’m cold” a few minutes into each outing.  My kids don’t understand cold, that’s for sure.  I feel for my mommy friends who are cold, cooped up, and ready to hop on the next plane to anywhere.  That said, kids need exercise.  I’ve been on a mission to get my kids moving again after a rather sedentary period that included three weeks of rain and back-to-back episodes of the stomach flu.  It’s amazing how quickly kids can adapt to a sedentary lifestyle.  Liam, a bit of a homebody anyway, often pipes in with “I want to stay home with Mommy” before the plan is even on the table.  Riley would run out the door only to announce, “I’m too tired to walk” before we even hit the sidewalk.  I had to lock the stroller away for a week and just get them moving, even if it meant carrying one or both of them on the return trip.  We needed extreme measures to break a bad habit.  While many pediatricians will probably agree that most toddlers and preschoolers can meet their daily exercise needs just by being themselves, I have seen firsthand how a few illnesses have caused my normally energetic duo to adapt to sticking close to home and playing in a less active manner.  The result?  Cranky, tired kiddos prone to temper tantrums.  The benefits of getting your kids moving are numerous:  Better sleep, fewer tantrums, increased energy, hungrier for healthy foods at mealtimes, possibly fewer colds, and generally happier demeanors.  The question is, how do you get your kids moving for 30-60 minutes daily when you are covered in snow in single digit temperatures or trapped inside due to non-stop rain?  Below are some tips to help you get your kids moving, despite the weather:

1.   Get active with them: The best way to get kids moving is to move along with them.  Don’t just press play on the iPod; start dancing with them.  Play hide and seek.  Use the Mommy and Me yoga DVD that’s been sitting in the TV cabinet all year. When mommy and daddy join in, it’s always more fun.

2.   Educate your kids: Sometimes the best way to get a preschooler to avoid doing something is to tell them that they have to do it because you said so.  That’s not really a reason (not to them anyway).  Preschoolers love to learn.  Prepare a little lesson on the benefits of exercise.  What is exercise?  For a preschooler, exercise includes:  Running, jumping, climbing, riding, spinning, swinging, rolling, etc. Have a little race with them and then ask them to think about how their bodies feel.  Teach them a silly dance number and then ask them to think about how they are feeling when they laugh.  Let them figure out the benefits of moving their bodies.  When it’s time to get moving, give them a simple choice (“do you want to ride your trike or go for a walk?”).  Give them a little control.

3.   Capture their imagination: Pirate Adventure: Build a “pirate ship” out of toys and go on a “pirate adventure” (rowing required).  Fill an old shoebox with stickers and other small treats and “bury” it in the house.  Draw out a treasure map (X marks the spot!) and send them running.  Add an arts and crafts element by having them paint flags for the pirate ship.  And don’t forget bandanas for dress up!  Treasure Hunt: Hide a small treat for each player somewhere in the house.  Using different colored sticky notes for each kid, number them one through six.  On the back of each note write, “find clue #2 (or whatever # comes next) on ______ (insert location here)”.  This was very popular in my house during the rain.  The kids were zooming around finding each clue and screaming with delight as they found each one!  Obviously, clue number 6 has the treat hidden beneath it.  Ice Skating: Tape paper plates to their feet and send them “skating” around the room!  Adult supervision is a must!  Royal Ball: Break out those princess dresses, make some “fancy” snacks, send “invitations” to each family member, and put on the music.  Dancing required!

4.   Other indoor activities: Santa brought Riley a great Hopscotch Mat from Lakeshore Learning.  It is a non-slip hopscotch carpet that comes with two beanbags.  Great for throwing, jumping, and counting!  Hula-hoops can be used in the traditional manner (lots of spinning fun) or lined up along the floor for jumping on “lily pads” or in “puddles”.  Musical chairs is easy and fun for playgroups.  You’ll be surprised how quickly they start moving when the chairs disappear!  Follow the leader is always a winner.  Model ways to make it fun by leading first and including lots of jumps, spins, and rolls.  Just make sure to switch up the leader every few minutes to keep it interesting.  Obstacle course might destroy your house, but also provide lots of fun.  Time to get down those couch cushions, set up roadblocks, hang sheets to run through (or under), and watch them work their way through the course while using different muscles to tackle each task.  More importantly, enjoy the squeals and smiles that go along with it!  Limbo is always a crowd pleaser around here.  Google the lyrics, break out the broom, and have a limbo party!  Skip the rules, it’s more fun to watch them find creative ways to get under that stick!  Scavenger Hunt: Hide small items around the house (it’s as easy as spoons, stuffed animals, shoes, etc.) and give them a picture list (if you plan ahead, clip art has pictures of everything) and a paper bag and send them off to collect the goods!  Award everyone with a sticker.  Who needs a meltdown when you can’t leave the house?!

5.   Outdoor activities: Trikes, bikes, plasma cars, jump ropes, hula-hoops, scooters, swings, running, jumping, walking, etc. all provide much needed movement for little ones.  And in the words of my four year old daughter, “this fresh air feels so good in my lungs!”  (Ok, maybe I took the education part a little too far!)  Incidentally, playgrounds are like ready made obstacle courses.  Chart the course and send them running!

6.   Classes: Organized classes can be expensive, but they are also a great way for little ones to work on social skills while getting some exercise in.  Check out your local YMCA or Department of Recreation to see what’s available.  I can’t say enough good things about Gymboree Play & Music.  Both have my kids have been enrolled on and off. Liam really enjoyed the baby gym classes, while Riley has taken everything from baby gym to sports, art, and even their preschool alternative program (which really helped prepare her for preschool).  Of all of the programs we’ve tried, Gymboree has consistently been the best.  My Gym also has great gym programs for little ones.  And swimming is always a winner around here.  Try to gauge what kids of activities your child seems to gravitate toward and take it from there.  One class is plenty.  There is no need to load your child up with everything at once.

7.   Model good habits: Whether you’re factoring in a brisk walk or jog, gym time, or some much needed time on the elliptical (or machine of choice, naturally) show your kids that exercise is important to you too.  Much like modeling healthy eating habits, modeling the importance of a little exercise helps your kids see that you are not just talking the talk.  And more importantly, that you are committed to your own health as well.

8.   Limit the TV: I know, in a blizzard it’s nearly impossible.  But the American Academy of Pediatrics would want me to tell you that 1-2 hours of “quality” programming a day is plenty for kids ages 2 and up.  Try to stick to the “educational” shows to make it count.  But don’t beat yourself up when they’re horribly sick and you let them watch more…some days are better than others!

Exercise:  It’s good for the body and it’s good for the psyche.  So find your fun activity of choice and get moving…it will break the winter blues for you too!

What creative strategies have you devised to get your family moving?  Please comment and share your tips!

To read more about the role exercise plays in keeping kids happy, please check out my Mommy Moment article from last week, “Exercise Your Soul”  http://www.mommymoment.ca/2011/01/exercise-your-soul.html

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!

 

Sibling Warfare (Tips for helping older siblings survive the transition)

When a new sibling arrives on the scene it can be a big upheaval for the “big” brother or sister.A world that was formerly theirs alone now requires near constant sharing.While more flexible children might handle the transition a little better, a child who already struggles with transitions is likely to have a more difficult time adjusting to life with a new baby.

There is a lot of anticipation prior to the arrival of a new baby.Mommy looks drastically different, friends and strangers start questioning your child about his/her excitement regarding the pending arrival, a new nursery magically appears.Change is in the air and children are often coached to say that they can’t wait to meet the baby.They take on a role that they don’t necessarily want.This can all come crashing down after the new baby actually comes home.

The good news is that your older child is growing and learning too, and will learn to adjust to the new sibling.The bad news is that with every new stage of development for the infant come new sources of jealousy for the older sibling.Hang tight, it’s time limited (although it sometimes feels like forever).Below are some tips to help your older child (and you) survive the transition:

1.Expect Regression:Whether your older sibling is a toddler or a preschooler, there will be some areas of regression.Suddenly your perfectly potty trained four year old is peeing all over the house or your two year old is demanding bottles.It happens.Prepare yourself.This is not the time for discipline.When she “forgets” to use the potty for the fourth time in a row take a deep breath, grab some clean clothes, give her a hug and say, “accidents happen.I will try to give you extra reminders next time.I know you can do it.”Try to avoid making a big deal out of pacifiers and bottles.They will get bored and want to get back to their usual routine soon enough.What they really want is some extra cuddle time and empathy.Sharing Mommy and loving this new baby is a tough job!
2.Expect Aggression:Even the most gentle toddler or preschooler is bound to take aim at a new baby at some point. Identifying and verbalizing needs and feelings is no easy task.Many adults continue to struggle with this.We simply can’t expect little ones to learn everything at once.I mentioned investing in a “feelings faces” poster in a previous post.If you have a new baby around, this is a must.The best way to reduce aggression is to teach your older child to identify his/her feelings so that they can use their words instead of their actions.Zero tolerance is generally the best policy regarding aggression, but that doesn’t mean yelling and taking away toys.After you’ve moved the baby out of the line of fire, get down on your older child’s level and speak in words that they can understand.If he/she is under three a simple “no hit” followed by a redirect to a different activity away from the baby should suffice.Over three?“The rule in this house is that there is no hitting”, followed by an apology should do the trick (it doesn’t matter that the baby doesn’t understand.What’s important is teaching your child the right thing to do after you hurt someone.)Repeated aggression?Giving your child a break in his/her room or another safe spot can be a good thing as long as you keep it positive (more on using “time outs” – or not -another week) and brief.Remember, they are feeling frustrated and overwhelmed and need your help.
3.Provide “Important Jobs”:Toddlers and preschoolers love to be helpful.Sometimes the best way to fend off regression and aggression is to keep the older sibling interested by helping them realize how important they are.Put your older child in charge of fetching rattles, picking clothes (again, don’t fret the outfits…enjoy the calm the mismatched ensemble brings!), choosing stories, or even “babysitting” (clearly the baby needs to be secure and out of reach).It helps them feel like they have some control over this overwhelming turn of events.
4.Arrange Special Time:Sometimes the older sibling needs a little TLC.Take them out for lunch alone.Skip the laundry and spend the baby’s naptime reading and creating art projects TOGETHER.Bake, do some gardening, play dress up.The chores will get done eventually, but your child needs your attention now.Create a “special box”.Fill a small box with toys that your older child will love.Put it in a safe place in your room.Find a thirty-minute window of time (hopefully at the same time each week) where you can have someone watch the baby, shut off the phone, leave the cell phone in another room and just play with your older child.Let him/her choose the toys from the special box and run the show.Put any other anxiety or to-do lists aside and just be with your child.He/she will really come to look forward to this special time each week.Have your partner create another box and do the same.
5.Empathize with your child:Do you remember when you had to deal with sibling issues growing up?Or yesterday? It’s not easy, especially when you are small and can’t quite make sense of the whole transition.Label their feelings.Share stories from your childhood (within reason, of course.Try to skip the ones about being beaten up by a big brother).Tell them that you know how it feels and it’s ok to feel that way.Allow them be sad, frustrated, impatient.Give them the green light to share their emotions. 
6.Avoid “big girl/big boy” talk:Nothing causes a child to regress faster than an adult looking them in the eye and saying, “you’re a big girl now, you don’t have accidents (or fill in the blank)”.Toddlers and preschoolers are dealing with constant change and shifting emotions.Some days they want to be in control of everything, other days they want to be carried around all day.They know how old they are.Let them go through the process at their own pace.“Big boy/big girl” talk places unnecessary pressure on them to act a certain way and generally backfires in the end anyway.Just let them be.Growing up is hard.
7.Books:“A Pocket Full of Kisses” by Audrey Penn is a must read.It follows Chester the raccoon along his journey to accepting that his mother has enough love for him and his brother.“The New Baby” by Mercer Mayer is a cute story about learning how to have fun with a new baby.“The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby” has brother bear growing out of his small bed just in time for a new addition to the family. “I’m A Big Sister” by Joanna Cole continues to be a big hit with Riley.The list goes on, but those should get you started.
Welcoming a new addition can be overwhelming for everyone involved.Find ways to decompress on your own (read, exercise, have a girls night out, start a blog!) so that you can be present to handle the frustration for your little ones.The good news is that they WILL start playing together and sharing…you just have to be consistent along the way!Hang in there…the light at the end of the tunnel is approaching faster than you think.And pat yourself on the back just for getting through the day…it’s no easy feat depending on your circumstances!

 

Sleep Tight! (Tips for ending the bedtime battles!)

Bedtime issues are the most common complaint among parents of toddlers and preschoolers, and for good reason.  We think that once we get through the infant sleep training, we are in the clear.  Not so much.  Toddlers and preschoolers are constantly learning new information, and with that come new fears and new sources of over-stimulation.  There are several great books on sleep issues, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child” by Marc Weissbluth being one of the most popular.  I will say that many “sleep trainers” might disagree with my tips.  My tendency to focus on the psychological means that I’m not necessarily of the “let them cry” mentality.  That said, I often find myself helping people with this very topic, and a few simple strategies seem to work for many kids.  The important thing to remember is that every child is different.  Some strategies might work really well for you, while others fall flat.  That’s ok, you just need to find what works for your child.  The second most important thing to remember is CONSISTENCY!  You can’t expect an overnight miracle.  Below are some tips to help you ease your child into sleep, and make it through the night!
1.Bedtime Routine:  I know. I’m a broken record with the routine thing!  But only because it works!  Children who know the order of operations when it comes to going to sleep tend to have fewer problems going down.  Here’s how it goes around here:  Milk while watching Dora after dinner, upstairs for a bath, pajama time, story time (two each), “bed chats” (children often need special time to process what they learned each day.  Liam especially loves making a list of who loves him), hugs and kisses (my daughter requires three hugs and three kisses each night!), and lights out.  A checklist taped to the door (with pictures!) often helps them feel like they are in control of their bedtime routine.  Your specific routine is not what matters, it’s that you do it at the same time and in the same order each night.  People often ask if a bath each night is necessary.  While I don’t think that it’s technically “necessary”, it is a calming part of the routine.
2.Avoid Over-stimulation:  Kids tend to be over scheduled these days.  They have a lot going on each day, which means processing new information and just getting worn out.  In general, toddlers need about 11 hours of sleep per night in addition to their naps.  Preschoolers (who have dropped the nap) need 11-12 twelve hours of sleep per night.  Consider an early bedtime.  If a child starts the day around 6:30 or 7am, try getting them down as close to 7pm as possible.  Staying up later does NOT mean they will sleep later in the morning.  In fact, it’s often the opposite when kids get exhausted.  And cut down on a few activities if over scheduling seems to be a problem. One to two class in addition to school is plenty for a preschooler.
3.Fears:  Toddlers and preschoolers begin to develop specific fears (generally between ages 2-3) because they are bombarded with new information.  Dogs, monsters, ghosts, and the dark are common fears.  Some kids suddenly feel less comfortable swinging high or zooming down the slide.  All normal and time limited, but please don’t ignore them.  A little bit of empathy goes a long way. Nightmares are often the result of new fears, and feeling alone and scared in the dark causes many bedtime complaints.  Try a “worry box”:  Have your child decorate an old shoe box however they choose.  Block out 5-10 minutes at night to devote to the worry box.  Explain that this is a place for your child to put his/her worries each night, and that YOU will take care of the worries.  He/she might want to visit the worries again tomorrow, but you will take care of them at night.  Have your child list his/her worries from that day and write each one on a slip of paper.  Then have your child put the worries in a slot at the top of the box and put them away for the night.  Sometimes it helps them feel like they have some control over their worries just to get rid of them each day.  End your chat by asking your child to name two fun things that happened that day.
4.Nightmares:  Nightmares are generally related to something new encountered during the day.  Be careful what you read to them and let them watch (am I the only one who thinks pirates are kind of creepy?).  I learned the hard way that even a favorite curious monkey sometimes has scary adventures, “Mommy, that shadow is SCARING me!”  Preview everything.  I hear a lot about monster/ghost sprays or “keep out” signs for the bedroom door.  Tread carefully.  Monsters and ghosts are not real.  Providing a spray or a sign to prevent them tells your child that they might be real.  Sesame Street has been in the business of making monsters friendly for many years, use this to your advantage.  And when they still fear monsters and ghosts in the night say something like, “I know there are stories and shows about monsters and ghosts and those can feel very scary, but they are just pretend.  I am here to keep you safe.”
5.Comfort Objects:  Some kids attach themselves to a comfort object early on and can’t leave home without it.  My son is so attached to his giraffe “lovey” that we actually have four!  My daughter never had a blanket or lovey that she needed.  When she started to have sleep issues with Sean on the road I offered her one of my sweatshirts to keep in her bed.  She picked the one that she wanted and sleeps with it every night to remember that Mommy is always close.  Sometimes it can be that simple. A few strategies that might also work include:  Continuous music playing (on a low volume, we like “Bedtime with the Beatles”), a white noise machine, more than one night light, the closet light on with the door shut, leaving the bedroom door open while the child falls asleep, and “check-ins” every five minutes.
6.Reward Charts:  Sticker charts can be very powerful tools.  The trick is to keep it simple. I have had parents explain very complex charts involving rewards and consequences that even I couldn’t understand.  Choose one behavior such as “went to bed on her own” or “stayed in her bed all night”.  If they earn it, give them a sticker.  If not, stay positive and say, “that’s ok, we’ll try again tonight”.  Remember, it’s a process.  Every three to five stickers give a larger prize, such as a new book.
Give it time.  Sleep issues feel impossible because it means that you are not getting any sleep either.  Believe me, I know how long a day can feel when you’re running on empty for the third consecutive week.  These strategies can take time.  If you remain consistent you will probably find that they do work over time.  And, in the meantime, get yourself to bed early!  
The most important thing to do is to find the emotional block.  Your child might ask for water, but chances are she needs something else.  Uncover the clues and better sleep is just around the corner.


p.s. I should add that the sleep/wake clocks that are yellow at night and turn green when it’s time to get up can work wonders for kids ages 3 and up.