Perfectly Imperfect (Tips for helping kids cope with failure)

“It’s RUINED!  It’s not right and it’s ruined!”  Dramatic?  Yes.  A regular occurrence for Riley?  Absolutely.  Many toddlers and preschoolers struggle to cope with disappointment and frustration when things don’t go as planned. Riley is an art perfectionist.  She spends a fair amount of time planning out her “projects” before she gets started, and then she works very deliberately to make things just right.  When something (or sometimes someone) causes her to miss a step and things look different than anticipated, she falls apart for a few minutes.   Cue the calming strategies (time to blow up balloons! See last post).  Liam isn’t so concerned about his art (fortunately he still believes that scotch tape can fix everything), but try to mess with his cars and you might end up hearing, “no!  That’s not right!  I like it this way!”  Kids are in hot pursuit of control at this age.  They have so little that they can control:  Their clothes (please tell me you are letting them choose their own outfits by now), maybe what they eat, and what they draw and play.  It’s not much, when you take into consideration that they probably endure a 12-hour day and might or might not take a nap during that time.  They really want things to go their way when they are creating and playing.  Riley has been known to burst into tears when a drop of water accidentally hits her painting, and Liam completely falls apart if someone knocks over the bridge he built from blocks.  They act as if they’ve been wronged (“why did you make me ruin this?”), but the truth is that they’ve just lost control…again.  Sean and I are both perfectionists.  This doesn’t bode well for our children.  When Sean gets off stage he’s generally in an adrenaline induced state of euphoria.  So basically he’s cracking jokes and talking non-stop.  But every once in a while (and by that I mean twice that I’ve seen in 11 years), he emerges in a funk.  Why?  Because he played an incorrect note.  One, singular incorrect note during a 90 minute show can ruin the whole the experience for him.  Similarly, I cringe every time I find a single typo in a post that’s been up for even one hour (chances are it hasn’t even been viewed yet).  Our poor little children have perfectionism in their genes.  The good news is that we are the masters of exaggerated accidents around here (so much so that the kids coined the term “oopsy Daddy” for even the slightest mistake made in plain sight).  We’re hoping to head it off at the pass before they start really putting pressure on themselves.  While perfectionism isn’t a medical problem (and some fellow perfectionists might argue that it leads to a better work ethic), it does cause kids to put undue pressure on themselves.  And the truth is, the world isn’t perfect and neither is anybody in it.  Below are some tips to help you help your kids cope with imperfection:

1. Empathize: Kids love to hear that their parents once felt like them.  The world is an overwhelming place at times; it’s nice to know that someone else has survived the same circumstances.  The logical thought is to want to jump in and help “fix” it when something goes awry.  Sean and I just discussed this very topic last night.  We want to be able to say, “look!  It’s all better now!” when the art project fails in some way.  What she needs to hear is that we understand what she is feeling (loss of control). Riley responds well when I say, “it looks like you’ve really been working hard on this painting, and you didn’t want that water spot there.  I remember when that happened to my painting when I was 4, and it really upset me”.  She almost always responds, “but how did you fix it?” after she dries her tears.  Which brings us to #2:

2. Problem-solve: Keep in mind that that the empathizing portion of events might take a few minutes, and you might need to take a little walk around the house while you tell your child just how well you understand the feeling of wanting that water spot to go away.  Once your child is calm, you can move into problem-solving mode.  Ask your child what she thinks will help first, then offer two suggestions of your own. Often times they can solve the problem independently once they are able to calm down and move forward.  Grab the pom-poms (metaphorically, of course) and praise her as she embarks on her problem-solving strategy of choice! Sometimes they just need to hear that they are capable of “fixing” mistakes, and that sometimes the finished product is even better than they imagined.  It never hurts to cheer them on a little when the chips are down.

3. Talk about imperfection: Newsflash:  We do not live in a perfect world.  It’s ok when things don’t go according to plan.  We were running late for preschool this morning and the kids just wouldn’t get their shoes on.  When I finally got them into the car and turned around to answer a question Liam asked, I got soaked by an open cup of water left in my car.  There was no time to change.  Riley looked at me, concerned, and asked, “Mommy, what will you do about your wet shirt?”  I smiled and said, “wait for it to dry!”  Certainly I have my moments where I’m ready to blow because everything seems to go wrong at exactly the same time, but I try to keep it in check and use it as an opportunity to teach the kids that you just can’t plan for everything.  Instead of making an excuse, talk about the events leading up to a playdate being cancelled at the last minute.  Point out your own moments of imperfection (appropriate to age and ability to understand).

4. Exaggerate small errors: Is there anything funnier than Daddy spilling ice cubes everywhere?  Not in my house.  Sean is the master of, “oops!  What did I do NOW?”  Liam, who fancies himself the comedian of the family, has really picked up on this and loves to exaggerate his own errors now.  Just this morning he misplaced his water cup and then spent a good ten minutes saying, “Mommy, look what I did now.  I put it on the couch!”  It’s much funnier when he says it, I swear.  Take the pressure off of small failures like spills, wet clothes, etc. by laughing at your own similar failures.  The other day I was making waffles for Riley (in state of complete sleep deprivation) and I forgot to spray the waffle iron before putting the batter in.  She looked like she might cry about the sticky waffles until I jumped in with the “oopsy Mommy” routine.  We had a good laugh about those sticky waffles while I made a fresh batch (and yes, I pointed out my problem-solving strategy of spraying the pan this time!). 

5. Talk about practice: Toddlers and preschoolers fail to understand that many things just take practice.  Riley can’t stand that she can’t play the guitar like her Daddy and ice skate like me.  While she loves to watch us excel at things, she is easily frustrated when she can’t just simply copy us and succeed.  We talk a lot about how much Daddy has to practice, even still, to play the guitar as well as he does.  I recently decided to teach myself how to hula-hoop in order to show the kids that some things just take practice (I’ve gotten surprisingly good over time).  I try a little bit each time when we are outside playing.  We laugh when the hoop falls to the ground and discuss the fact that I need to practice more often.  The other day Riley watched me for a few minutes and said, “look Mommy, your practicing is working!  You’re doing it!”  I wouldn’t say that practice always makes perfect, but often practice makes better.

6. Do copycat squiggle drawings: Riley loves this, mostly because she gets to give me directions.  I let her draw a “design” for a few minutes, without peeking.  When she’s finished, I try to copy her design.  It’s nearly impossible to make an exact copy of most of her complicated designs, so I often say things like, “wow, sometimes it’s hard to do it exactly the same way, but I’ll sure try”.  Then I let her tell me where to fill in the gaps, and we switch roles.  I try to really focus on just doing our best.

7. Don’t let them win: At around age 3, kids start to take an interest in games.  While early success makes it more fun, as they start to approach age 4 it’s important to let them come in second place sometimes too.  The truth is, they will start to play games with other kids in preschool and they won’t always have the deck stacked (note:  I have been known to stack the deck to make Candyland move along a little faster…that game is LONG!).  Instead of referring to winning and losing, we cheer when the first person gets to the finish and then wait while the other players get there too.  It’s not about competition at this age; it’s about finishing the game and enjoying the process.

8. Distract: If the feeling of failure is so overwhelming that the tears won’t stop, it’s time to move on for a little while.  Sometimes kids just need a break from what they’re doing.  If I’m knee-deep in something that isn’t going as planned and is becoming frustrating, I walk away from it for a while.  Sometimes kids need to do the same.  They can always try again later, but trying to force them to fix a mistake or just get over it might cause them to feel more overwhelmed by the situation.  Help them choose another activity and give that one a try another day.

9. Revisit: By revisit I don’t mean point out past failures, but it can help to remind little ones that they were able to solve a problem in the past.  I often remind Riley that she once felt like the rock wall at the park was just too hard, but she kept trying and now she can get to the top in seconds.  I tell her my own stories of practicing something to get better and better.  Use their past successes to help them face future difficulties. 

Feeling like you’ve failed is a tough pill to swallow when you’re little.  They have their whole lives to work on things but, like the rest of us, they want things to be perfect the first time.  Try to take perfect out of your home and focus on attempts and small successes instead.  You might find that it helps your child feel more in control, thereby increasing her success.

You tell me:  How do you help your kids cope with the feeling of failure? 

Calm It Down…(Tips for helping your kids relax)

Even on the very best days, the ones where the kids get along beautifully and we get lots of exercise and eat well, I can usually count on things to go awry during the final hour of the day.  Sean recently sent me a text during this hour to get a grocery list.  I hit back, “milk, fruit, and maybe a lobotomy”.  He immediately hit back, “what happened?”  Nothing happened.  It was 6pm.  The bedtime routine starts at 6pm sharp.  If I am even one minute behind schedule, it’s mayhem.  They start playing “chase”.  Sometimes they move on to “hide the toy” (a favorite of Riley’s in particular).  Often they make non-riding toys into riding toys and zoom around the family room, just barely missing countertops and walls.  It always starts with high-pitched laughter and ends with tears.  During the final countdown (as I refer to it in my head) they are tired, silly, and not as inclined to listen.  If I can get them upstairs and send them to their respective rooms to choose their pajamas right at 6pm, we’re good.  If I’m still furiously finishing the dishes and time escapes me, the fast paced games begin!  I can always count on Sean to be home (provided that he’s not on tour) on Sunday nights, and sometimes Saturdays, but the rest of the time it’s a one-woman show around here.  I’m a well-oiled machine when it comes to the bedtime routine, but there are still nights when the kids attempt to run wild or start picking on each other.  These are the nights when I fall back on my training to calm things down a bit.  If there’s one thing I do well, it’s help kids learn to relax.  Sean once came home early to find us engaged in one of our favorite calm down strategies.  He watched in amazement as the tone of the room went from tears to complete calm in less than two minutes.  Kids get tired at the end of the day.  Tired looks different on every child.  Riley tends to cry more when she’s tired, while Liam starts to laugh uncontrollably at every little thing that happens.  When it gets to that point, it can be hard for kids to calm themselves down.  When Riley is really tired and upset she will say, “I’m having trouble calming myself down right now”.  She recognizes that she doesn’t feel calm, but she doesn’t know how to get there.  I’ve found that a few well-timed strategies can really help her (and Liam) settle down when they start to feel out of control.  Below are some tips to help you help your little ones relax:

1. Feelings Chart: I know, I’ve mentioned this before.  I’ll keep it short this time.  Kids cycle through countless emotions during the day.  It’s hard to keep up.  Often times they’re not sure what they are feeling.  When they learn how to identify their feelings they can start to ask for help.  Check for a “Feelings Chart” and use is daily to help your kids attach faces to feelings.  Click the “Strategies in Action!” tab to see a picture of Liam using our chart.

2. Balloon Blowing: This is our favorite family strategy for calming things down a bit.  I came up with it one night when Sean was on tour and the kids were really missing him and struggling.  It worked immediately and continues to work well every time we use it.  When things start to go awry I stop them and ask, “what kind of balloon do you want to make?” This gives them a chance to refocus on something else while they come up with all sorts of complicated designs.  Then we all take a deep breath in as we hold our hands to our mouths (as if blowing up a balloon), and slowly exhale as we blow up our fancy balloons. Liam is so into it that he added the feature of tying a string around it.  Then we look up and watch them float to the ceiling. Clearly the premise of this strategy is teaching them relaxation breathing (using big, slow breaths helps release pent up tension, both emotionally and physically).  With the added visual, the kids are really able to participate and enjoy the process.  **You can download a video of this in the “Strategies in Action!” tab.

3. Coloring Feelings: Another way to help kids learn to identify feelings is to attach a color to each feeling.  You should let your kids choose, but often red = angry, blue = sad, yellow = happy, green = calm, etc.  This is a strategy to practice at various times, not just when they’re completely frustrated.  Take some time in a calm moment to help them choose the colors to attach to their feelings.  Give them a blank piece of white paper and ask them to color how they feel today.  You will probably get a lot of yellow pages if you only do this during calm moments, but if your child is having a hard day it might help them to release those feelings a little by coloring some blue, black, brown, etc.

4. Color Breathing: This is another variation of relaxation breathing.  Once your child has learned to associate colors with feelings you can help them use those colors in times of frustration.  Cue your child to slowly take in a long yellow breath and release the red while they exhale.  Prompt them to fill their bodies with yellow air in order to get the red, angry air out.

5. Cognitive Restructuring: I know these are big words for little kids, but it’s actually fairly simple.  Often something as small as a picture not coming out as planned can send a little one into a tailspin.  Riley spends quite a bit of time mapping out her “projects” before she gets to work, and she gets upset if Liam accidentally causes her to make a mark that she didn’t intend to make.  When you strip away the psychological explanation, the basic principle of cognitive restructuring is replacing a negative thought with a positive (recall Jack Handy from SNL).  When Riley starts to get upset and yell, “it’s ruined”, I will sometimes cue her by saying, “who always loves your art work?”  “Mommy and Daddy always love my art work.”  She doesn’t always say it enthusiastically, but it does sink in.  Similarly, when she gets frustrated because she can’t accomplish something quickly and starts to yell, “I just can’t do it” I will remind her to flip it and say “I can do it if I calm down and try again”.  This strategy is not always appropriate and can be hard to grasp.  Sometimes little ones just have bad days and need their parents to help out.  But it can help with small frustrations.

6. Relaxing Story Walk: Riley and I end every day with what we now call a “relaxing story walk”.  This is a variation of guided imagery, which works very well with young kids.  Each night as she settles into bed I ask her to pick a location for our walk.  We start the story by taking two deep breaths as I say, “tonight Mommy and Riley are walking to…”  We stop for deep breaths regularly along the way.  We often go through a garden, rainforest, or to the beach, although we’ve been as far as China, through Candyland, and to Daddy’s studio.  We stop to smell flowers, collect pretty shells and stones, and eat a snack.  She keeps her eyes closed during the story and gets to describe the colors she sees and objects she collects along the way.  **Note:  As Sean learned the hard way, the adult has to remain in charge of the story!  If you give them too many opportunities, they will get excited and take over the story.

7. Squeeze Ball and Stretching: Preschoolers love to learn about how their bodies work.  Many adults have trouble recognizing the physical symptoms of frustration and thus miss the cues to slow down or use a different strategy.  We can teach preschoolers the physical signs of stress and frustration by teaching them about their muscles.  A squeeze ball (which you can find at Target) can be used to teach kids to tighten and relax their arm and hand muscles.  When we are under stress, we often tighten our muscles but forget to relax them.  Using a squeeze ball helps them practice this and shows them how it feels to release the stress in their muscles.  Stretching out our legs can also help relieve stress stored up in our leg muscles, and teaching them to gently stretch their necks from side to side can relieve pressure in that area.  There’s a lot to be said for yoga, and many kids love to do it.  Look into classes or grab a mommy and me yoga DVD and start stretching!

8. Books: “My Many Colored Days” by Dr. Seuss is a great book for helping kids attach colors to feelings.  “Ready, Set, Relax” by Jeffry Allen, M.Ed. and Roger Klein, Psy.D is a great tool for teaching progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery.  It is intended for elementary aged kids, but I have used it with teens and also with younger kids by shortening some of the scripts.  Teaching your kids how to use their muscles to relax their bodies is invaluable.


Helping kids learn to calm themselves down is a process.  Some days they will head off to their rooms to look at books and play with toys and calm themselves down independently, while other days they might need extra hugs and kisses.  Be patient and try to introduce them to a few new strategies to help them learn to help themselves.

How do you help your kids relax?

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”

Avoiding the Weather? (Tips for getting crafty!)

It won’t stop raining in Los Angeles.  Having just returned from New York a few days ago, I know I can’t complain.  It’s COLD there!  So cold that I’m quite sure that if I actually lived there, I would probably never leave my house.  I’m not sure how I managed to survive growing up in Connecticut; that must have been some former version of me who no longer exists!  The point is…the weather outside is frightful.  No going to the park today.  It seems like a good time to stop giving advice and start getting crafty!  A while back I asked my readers to share a favorite winter craft.  Ask and you shall receive!  I’m glad I waited a few weeks to write this post; it looks like the rain will continue until next Wednesday.  With preschool vacation official as of 12pm today, I need some good ideas to keep my energetic little ones occupied in between visits to the trampoline in the garage!  I hope you enjoy these crafts too, and keep sharing your ideas.  Parenting in the winter…we’re all in this together!  Enjoy your holidays!  Tips for getting crafty:
1.Paper Mittens:  Draw a large mitten onto 8.5 X 11 paper (2 per child), you can also find a template online to print -Decorate any way you like: paint, crayons, stickers, glue on items etc. -Cut out the mitten (or pre-cut for younger children not used to scissors) -Use a Hole punch to create holes around the perimeter of the mitten, spaced approx 1/2 in apart (older children have fun drawing circles prior to punching) -Use a thick yarn (tape the end for easy handling) and weave through the holes to lace the two sides together *You can finish the craft by reading “The Mitten” by Jan Brett
2.Pasta Snowflakes:  Take a piece of colored paper and draw a large X in the middle.  Then draw one more line through the middle of the X.  Give your child glue and some uncooked pasta and have them glue the pasta along the lines.  Then give them some white paint and have them paint over the pasta.  Give them some silver glitter to shake over the snowflake to add a little sparkle!  Note:  For younger kids you can just glue cotton balls and make a fluffy snowflake.
3.Winter Wreaths:  Cut out the center of a sturdy white paper plate.  Have your child paint the “wreath” with various shades of green.  Head outside and collect pine needles, pinecones, and little berries (as long as they aren’t too “smushy”!) to glue onto the wreath.  Add sparkles and bows leftover from present wrapping!
4.Cotton Ball Snowmen:  Trace three circles (or help your child trace, different sized drinking cups work well) to create the outline of a snowman.  Provide glue and cotton balls to fill in the snowman.  Head outside to grab some twigs for arms and small stones for eyes.  Use those old buttons in your sock drawer to decorate and some felt to make a scarf and hat.
5.Marshmallow Snowmen:  Have your child trace a snowman on a piece of paper.  Then have them lick the marshmallows and stick them on the paper (I haven’t tried this one yet but am being told that it works!).  A reader sent in this craft but I also found it at, so it must work!  They have some other fun craft ideas there too.
6.Preschool Express:  Check out this site.  They have great arts and crafts ideas along with other fun preschool ideas!
7.Camp In:  Make a tent or cave inside.  Preschoolers love to build things!  Get out the extra sheets and make your play space into a camping experience!  We like to make caves and then go on “animal rescues” (Thanks, Diego!).  Large letter clips (like the ones you probably snagged from your office at some point) are great for clipping sheets onto couch cushions and pillows so that the structure stays in place.  And always remember the flashlights!  Tip for making it even more realistic:  You can make S’Mores and hot chocolate in the microwave and tell stories (or read books) around the flashlight fire!
The great part about winter is that it’s a great excuse to finish everything off with some hot chocolate while snuggling up and reading together.  We have a lot of “favorite” books around here, but my all-time favorite winter story right now is “Snowmen At Night” by Caralyn Buehner.  The story is cute and the illustrations (by her husband Mark) are super fun.  Enjoy!

Good manners are headed your way! (Tips for teaching manners)

I was gone for less than a minute.  I simply ran upstairs to put the clothes in the dryer.  I literally yanked everything from the washer, shoved it the in the dryer, and pressed start.  45 seconds later I returned to the family room to hear the following transaction:  “No Liam it goes over there.”  “No YaYa, this semi-truck go to the car wash.”  “NO LIAM! STOP!”  “No thank you YaYa!  NO THANK YOU!”  “MOMMY!  He’s not doing what I want and it’s FRUSTRATING me!” Right words, wrong voice tone.  Good manners are always a work in progress around here.  Sound familiar?  Despite the yelling, they each did something right, and that’s the important thing.  Liam remembered to say “no thank you” instead of just screaming “no” when the truck was being pulled from his hands.  It took her a couple of minutes to get there, but Riley verbalized her feelings instead of resorting to hitting or just melting down completely.  There are moments when I want to remove every toy from the house so that there’s nothing left to argue about.  I suspect they would find something anyway.  In this moment, I chose to focus on the positive and help them resolve the conflict.  I praised Liam for using his friendly words, and Riley for sharing her feelings and seeking help.  Then we sat down on the play mat and created a new game together.  All quiet on the western front, for a minute anyway.  We can’t always be there to see who had what toy first.  We can’t always jump off the phone because a preschooler has a question or a toddler needs a snack.  And sometimes we actually have to get the laundry done.  I hear a lot of talk about “demanding” good manners and that children are allegedly less respectful today than in previous generations.  I’m not sure that’s entirely true.  I can conjure up some grade school memories involving ill-mannered kids and disrespect.  Manners are important.  Kindness, consideration, honesty, mutual respect, and gratitude are all building blocks for developing appropriate social interaction skills.  The good news is that good manners are easy to teach.  The bad news is that it requires near constant repetition!  The best piece of advice I can give you is to remove the word “demand” from your vocabulary.  When was the last time someone demanded something from you and you actually wanted to do it?  Probably never.  Try to keep it fun or, at the very least, easy.  Below are some tips for keeping the good manners flowing:
1.Set the rules:  Kids need rules.  This is not new information, I’m sure.  More importantly, kids need rules that they can understand and remember.  And they need frequent reminders of the rules.  Riley is the master of louder is better.  She talks a lot.  And when she feels like she’s not being heard she keeps hitting the volume until someone responds in some way, no matter the response.  This is usually a good time to refer her to the rules.  “Riley, one of the rules in our house is that we don’t yell at each other.  Should we double check our list and then try a different way?”  Our “house rules” are posted (with a picture of the rule in action by each rule) in the kitchen at eye level (for them, not us.  Not that my husband and I are immune from refreshers every once in a while!).  The rules are simple, yet they require regular repetition.  It’s ok. I expect it.  Next to the rules is a list of “house fun stuff” that we developed together.  So when we check to make sure that, indeed, there is no yelling in the house, we might switch gears and give dancing a try.  Ah, the art of distraction!  Sometimes kids have to hear “no”.  They don’t always act appropriately.  Particularly in times of frustration.  But when you follow a negative with a positive, it leaves them feeling good about something they just learned.
2.Teach identification of feelings:  Kids are on a constant ride through the world of feelings each day, yet many never learn to label what they’re feeling.  Start early.  When they can label the feeling they can work toward understanding it.  When they understand it, they can work toward coping with it.  Get on Amazon and buy a feelings faces poster.  Put it in the most high traffic room in the house.  Use it.  Don’t expect them to use it on their own.  Use it when they’re happy, use it when they’re sad, use it every chance you get.  Teach them to put a feeling with a face.  Talk about what it might feel like physically when they are angry (clenched teeth or fists, breathing fast), sad, or even happy.  Help them understand.  Teach them to use “I” statements.  When Liam grabs a toy and Riley gets upset I step in and get the toy and then have her say “Liam I feel mad when you take my toys”.  Liam is then asked to say, “I’m sorry”.  It sounds basic, I know, but can easily be forgotten in the heat of the moment.  These are the moments where we really need to step in and teach.  I often have parents say to me that my kids are really good at sharing their feelings.  I feel like a cheater.  I’m a therapist.  What would it say about me if my kids couldn’t identify their feelings?!
3.Model:  Performer or not, you are always on the stage!  Just today my husband asked me a question about a new cereal I bought at Whole Foods.  Two seconds after he stopped talking Riley piped in that she was “hungry for something new”.  She was allegedly watching Max & Ruby at the time.  The reality is, she was listening in just in case something interesting was happening!  An old friend just told me a story about someone who swears so regularly in front of a preschooler that that preschooler recently decided to try out the same language at school.  The parent was shocked and mortified.  Don’t be.  If you say it, they will say it.  The unspoken rules of society (and the explicit rules of most schools) dictate that it’s not appropriate to speak that way to other people.  Remove bad language from your vocabulary.  Always remember your “please” and “thank you”.  Share often and point it out every time.  Sit at the table the way you would like your kids to sit.  If you have your feet on the table, chances are they will too.  And, if you only take one thing away from this post, please avoid sarcasm.  Kids don’t understand sarcasm.  They understand voice tone.  They know when you’re mad.  But they don’t understand sarcasm.  It just feels mean.  Please, please, please save it for another time.
4.Teach kindness and consideration:  Sharing is one of the most difficult lessons to learn, and yet it’s one of the most important.  Whether we are at the park or at home, we are always working on sharing and taking turns.  In our house we each have “special toys” that we put away for play dates or parties.  Other than that we share everything.  Sometimes there are tears (Liam), and sometimes long faces (Riley) but we always take turns and share our toys.  Kindness doesn’t end there.  Friendly words should be used all of the time.  Teach your kids the appropriate time to use please and thank you, you’re welcome, excuse me, and I’m sorry.  And cue them every time.  Eventually it will just come to them naturally.  Encourage them to hold the door for someone else, or help if a friend drops a toy.  Help your friends clean up their toys before you leave to go home.  When they see another child crying help them consider why that child might be sad and what they can do to help.  Riley is fond of bringing Liam his favorite car when he gets sad.  And Liam brings her a stuffed animal.  Empathy is one of the greatest skills we can teach our children.  Start now.
5.Discuss differences:  Kids are naturally curious, and sometimes that curiosity results in staring at people who appear different from them.  After filling out paperwork during a recent ER visit I turned to find Riley staring at an elderly man in a wheelchair.  I didn’t tell her to stop staring or lead her away.  I sat her on my lap and said, “Are you wondering why that man has a chair with wheels?  Sometimes when people need help walking because their legs are tired or sore, they use a chair with wheels to help them get around so that they can rest their legs”.  Satisfied, she turned her attention back to her DVD player.  Sometimes an explanation is all it takes.
6.Teach honesty:  Right on cue (she turns four in a few weeks), Riley has learned the art of the white lie.  “Did you wash your hands?”  “Yes.”  No.  As it turned out, she wanted to use a wet wipe instead of washing her hands because she was afraid she might get her favorite dress wet.  “It’s always better to tell Mommy the truth.  The truth means the right story.  That way I know exactly what happened or what you really need.  Like a wet wipe.”  Of course, it’s not always that easy and it requires repetition.  After a few rounds of excessive praise for giving an honest answer, however, we are all about the truth for right now!
7.Focus on gratitude:  People often ask me how much is too much.  What constitutes spoiling?  While kids can get by on a few toys and a great imagination, it’s not how much they have that matters.  Teaching your child to be thankful for what they have, and that the best part of a gift is that someone special thought of them is the most important lesson here.  They might not be able to write a thank you note yet, but you can and they can decorate with stickers and crayons.  When it comes time to get a gift for a friend involve your child in the process.  Bring them to the toy store and let them do the thinking.  At the end of the day, it is the thought that counts.  Please teach this very important lesson.
8.Teach altruism:  Children who learn to look out for the well being of others at a young age are likely to continue to help others as they grow.  I’m not saying that you should sit down and explain homelessness to a three year old.  That would not be appropriate and would likely result in nightmares or worries for your child.  But you can teach young children that it’s nice to share with others.  Riley passes along her clothes to two of her friends, and gets excited to receive clothes from her cousins.  Liam sends his things along to “Baby James” on the East coast.  This weekend Riley and I talked about sharing some toys that we don’t use as much anymore with some kids who might need extra toys for Christmas.  “Toys for Tots” is an excellent opportunity for children to pick out a couple of toys to send to other kids for the holidays.  Not long ago a couple of 7-year-old girls in our neighborhood held a bake sale to raise money for Haiti.  Their mothers told me that they came up with the idea independently.  Start young and they will continue to want to help as they grow.
9.Books:  “Madeline Says Merci” by John Bemelmans Marciano, “Do Unto Otters” by Laurie Keller, and “The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners” by Stan and Jan Berenstain are great books that address manners while keeping it fun.
Model always.  Repeat often.  Praise regularly.  And enjoy the good manners that come your way!

Tears, Tantrums, and Whining…Oh My! (Tips for structuring your day to keep the tears away)


As both a mom and a psychotherapist, I know the importance of structure.When kids know what to expect each day, they have less to worry about.When they follow a routine, they don’t have to wonder what comes next.When they get sufficient sleep and eat at regular intervals they are less likely to have temper tantrums, become easily frustrated, and are more successful both in school and in social settings.There will always be slight changes in routines:Birthday parties, play groups, vacations, etc.There will always be a few temper tantrums and tears for seemingly no reason, that’s part of the difficult job of growing up.But if you develop a routine that works for your family and stick to it as much as possible, even when you’re on vacation, you might find that your children will appear more calm and happy, get frustrated a little less, and sleep a little better.
There are people who would say that my refusal to skip a nap to attend a birthday party is a little too much.I can take it.I would rather have a well-slept, happy two-year old child than one who will spend the day feeling cranky and most definitely suffer a sleep terror that night. Below are some tips to structure your days (believe me, I know the routine can get boring for the parent, but isn’t the end result worth it?) to keep the tears away:
1.Wake-Up/Bedtime Checklists:Toddlers and preschoolers love lists. My daughter is constantly creating shopping lists for me. Simple checklists (including pictures for each task) for the morning (ex:wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, use the potty) and bedtime (ex:take a bath, put on pajamas, brush teeth, use the potty, read stories, hugs & kisses, lights out) help them know what to expect.It also gives them some responsibility and control over their routines.They can run to check the list and then complete each task along the way.Post them on the bedroom door at eye level. It’s a great way to start and end the day.
2.Eating/Snacking:We’ve all heard it hundreds of times, but do we always remember to do it? It’s important to give your child their meals and snacks at the same time (or at least as close to the same time as possible) each day.This is even recommended for adults.When you don’t refuel your body regularly, your blood sugar can crash.The result?Crankiness, tears, and frustration.Keep snacks and water on hand in your purse and your car so that you never leave home without them.They don’t always remember to tell us they’re hungry, we have to remember for them.
3.Downtime vs. Over-scheduling:Toddlers and preschoolers love their classes.They love gym, music, art, and just about everything else that you might find.But the truth is, they don’t need all of these activities.Many kids are over-scheduled these days, which results in exhaustion.Your child won’t be any less intelligent because he/she only took art and music and skipped gym.Find a couple of classes that he/she likes and stick to that.Change it up every few months if you like, but don’t keep adding on extras.If you have a child in preschool, he/she will need even fewer outside classes.And remember, kids also love their downtime.Toddlers and preschoolers are constantly learning and processing new information.It’s exhausting.They need to decompress.Whether or not they nap mid-day, they can have a quiet time where they engage in quiet activities of their choosing and just slow things down for a couple of hours.It will help them get through the remainder of the day.It will also help increase their feelings of success and improve their self-esteem.
4.Responsibility:It won’t be long before you have older children complaining about chores.But right now you have toddlers and preschoolers who love to help AND to be praised for the amount of helping they do.Let them help!Setting and clearing the table are met with cheers in my house, and cleaning up the toys is always enjoyable when it includes a dump truck or shopping cart.“Look Mommy!I put my dishes in the sink!” is music to my ears, and my daughter genuinely feels pride in her ability to be helpful.Not to be outdone, baby brother is right behind her.Consider installing a small coat rack somewhere for little hands to reach.They love being able to choose and put away their own outerwear as well.
5.Weekends:It’s easy to let the routine slip on the weekends.You might be over-booked with birthdays and other activities.Or maybe you just want to cram in as much family time as possible during those two very short days.Don’t fall victim to the loss of routine.You don’t have to say yes to every party.In fact, it’s good for kids to learn that sometimes we have to make choices that work for us.They can still pick out a present and make a card for their friend.Friendship isn’t about birthday parties alone!
6.Keep it Positive:Kids love their routines, and they love to be praised along the way.Everyone has a bad day. Children learn what we teach them.We are modeling behavior all day long whether we like it or not.Start the day with a huge smile (even if it starts at the ungodly hour of 5:30am) and offer lots of praise along the way.Your children will thank you in hugs, kisses, and big smiles.I promise.
Children don’t know how to ask for more structure.They know how to whine, cry, and, if all else fails, throw a temper tantrum.Take the guesswork out of it for them by setting their routines for them.And, by all means, enjoy the resulting sense of calm!