Sunday, October 31, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Privileges and Responsibilities

Tip #12
Teach your kids the principle of responsibilities before privileges

We do our homework before we watch TV. We get our chores done before we play. We take care of  (AKA "play with") a younger sibling before we do our own thing. Teaching this principle comes pretty intuitively, but on the other hand it is not always articulated into a child's ears. It can easily sound like Mom is just being a big wet blanket on a kid's fun so take the time to talk about it:
  • "I want to be sure you and we get to play a game of Uno later today like you wanted. Let's go look at the chore chart to see what our responsibilities are so that later we can have our privileges."
  • "Mom, can I watch a TV show?" "You can have that privilege when your responsibilities are taken care of. Is your room clean like I asked?"
This principle can be modeled by mom beautifully, too. As moms, we have a mountain of tasks to accomplish in a day. We can help our kids understand that we can't always drop what we are doing and play dollies because WE have responsibilities, too. Using that same language to describe "the life of a mom" will help them catch the idea all the more. "Let me finish my dinner prep responsibilities and then I can enjoy the privilege of playing, ok?" I have to stop a moment for my own benefit (since these are tips I give myself) and say watch out that YOU DO STOP and actually play that Uno game. You know all too well that a mother's work is never done so don't go using a neglected floor as an excuse to neglect the bigger responsibility of nurturing your children.

When the older kids were younger (like ages 2 and 5) was when I first heard about instilling this principle. It was quite easy for me to come up with a healthy list of responsibilities for the older child but the list of privileges for him was terribly short. It was a good exercise to go through. I had to ask myself if I was being reasonable and balanced. You don't need a one-to-one ratio, but when the only privilege in a day is one 30 minute show but the list of responsibilities is looking more like a wedding registry at Bed Bath and Beyond, it begs the question: could I stand to lighten up a bit on one side or another? What is more, I had to ask myself if I should be looking to increase that 5-year-old's list of privileges to be broader than the 2-year-old's since I asked next to nothing of the younger one but they BOTH got the same reward for their hard work.

Rights verses privileges: Is it a right or a privilege to play alone (for a season, my oldest craved time away from his younger brother)? Is it a right or a privilege to have a room full of toys? Is it a right or a privilege to have mom read to me at night? Is it a right or privilege to join the family for a night out? is it a right or a privilege to have a morning snack? Is playing without adult supervision a right or a privilege? I won't answer the questions because in some homes I think the answers will vary. My point is that it is something to think through.

Teach kids that we work before we play and they will learn a work ethic that will truly be useful all the days of their life.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Food Issues

Tip # 11
Do What You Can to Quell a Picky Appetite

I think everybody ends up with a set of foods that totally grosses them out. For me as a child it was peanut butter (so sorry about that one, Mom!), tomatoes, mushrooms and chili. I think that a short list of refusal foods is reasonable. Don't you? This post could hit some hot buttons so let me say right out of the shoot that we all go through seasons in life where we have to select our battles carefully. When you have multiple preschool children and it is all you can do to make it through the day, this might not be the battle you pick right.this.very.moment.

In our house I have a rather complicated set of parameters that I have to cook around - these parameters involve health concerns for a husband with Crohns and allergy concerns for the baby. You can perhaps appreciate the fact that I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR PICKY EATERS when it comes to the people I regularly cook for. I will gladly short-order cook for any child that visits my house but as for my own kids, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit."

Each of my kids have gone through picky stages - some more resolutely than others. Here are some of the techniques I have used to quell pickiness in the earlier years:
1. Introduce new foods over and over and over again. I introduced my babies probably 20-30 times to the same food (at 20-30 different meals) when there was one they refused. I did not push, but I did not let early refusal mean much.
2. Put only 3 bits of the undesired food on a plate, and then ask them to eat "just two."
3. Take it slow! Place that tiny piece of lettuce on the plate every day at first. Don't require them to eat it, but let them become accustomed to it being there. After a while ask that they just touch it to their tongue (make it a game you play too, even!). After several days of that, ask them to chew up one bite. Nice and slow progression. I use this with veggies, because I see a healthy appetite for veggies as a life-long grow-into-it thing. I want them to actually develop a taste for them, not just "eat them cuz they have to" habit.
4. Offer only healthy options for all meals and snacks so that no matter what they fill up on, you are pleased with it (they did not leave the table with a tummy full of buttered bread).
5. Put only one to two pieces of the food you know they enjoy, plus one or two pieces of the less desired food on their plate. If they ask for seconds of their desired food you can say, "sure, after you eat your chicken you can have another strawberry!"
6. Remember preschooler's tummies fill fast so keep portions really small. If given a plate of food that looks like a ton to them, they will feel quickly overwhelmed. Hopelessness will set in ("I will NEVER be able to eat all this") and they will have a tendency to not even try.
7. Rather than forcing a child to eat something they don't want to eat, give the control over to them saying something like, "No sweetie, you don't have to eat your chicken, but everyone who DOES eat their chicken get to enjoy ice cream for dessert," or "If you want another handful of grapes you can have that, but you need to eat another handful of chicken first. Let me know what you decide."
8. Remember that resolving picky appetites is more like running a marathon. Don't think it will resolve itself in a month. Several months of introduction and reintroduction. Lots and lots of food and phrase repetition.
9. I have chosen to not offer milk at meals. If you do, limit milk to 1-2 Tbsp. After that, its water, baby! (We live in a culture that is habitually dehydrated anyway, so you could look at giving them a thirst for water as a gift not a punishment). The goal with limiting milk intake: nutrition comes from food not drink.
10. Keep snacks between meals healthy and small: 3 carrot sticks or apple slices with water or two crackers.
11. Cut a plate of veggies up before preparing dinner so that when your little ones come nosing around the kitchen looking for something to eat, you have something good to offer them (you would be amazed at what a hungry child is willing to eat when he is truly hungry!). I know one mom who has a veggie-loving, meat-detesting child so maybe a better option for her would be to always have come slices of cold well-seasoned strips of chicken out for this purpose instead.
12. Toddlers are by nature snackers so often times there are no big meals. When they eat like birds, remember its quality not quantity. If all they are going to eat is a few bites here and there, don't offer fishy crackers, you know!?
13. Suppress the temptation to feed convenience foods. You are developing their palate - develop it to prefer healthy, non-processed foods. (Think chicken breasts cut into strips and broiled, rather than breaded chicken nuggets.)

The one pervading thought I have had in my head is this: I did not run into many picky eaters when I visited a Mexican orphanage. It is a lavish thing to be picky, you know? We don't need to be frustrated at our children for becoming picky, but we do them a tremendous service when we subdue it where we can.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Nurture Independence

Tip #10
Nurture independence as much as possible.

As much as I can't wait for my kids to relying upon me less, I catch myself all-too-often shooting myself in the foot, not allowing them to make steps in that direction. They want to try to buckle themselves in their booster but I am in too much of a hurry and do it for them. They want to get themselves a drink of water but I don't want to clean up a water spill so I get it for them. They want to use the apple slicer to cut their own apple but I already know they cannot possibly succeed so I find myself struggling to let them just try before I insist we do it together.

Obviously, taking the time to allow the kids to try things is well worth the time. It would be ridiculous to say otherwise but if that is the case, why do I find I must convince myself of this over and over again? It requires me to slow down, be patient, and watch them struggle even to the point of frustration. That is no small task!

My husband challenged me on this topic earlier this year. He did not appreciate how much the kids expected of me and did not like the way they were treating me (I had not noticed... too busy pouring water and slicing apples, I guess). He made the point that we are raising men and that men need to be given the chance to figure things out, to struggle some, and to ultimately become independent of me. So I took his advice to heart and have been focusing on NOT DOING THINGS FOR MY KIDS THAT THEY THEMSELVES CAN DO. In addition, when I hear them subtly asking for my help without actually asking - like for instance complaining that "I'm thirsty!" rather than asking politely for a drink of water - I use that as another opportunity to nurture independence by asking "How are you going to solve this problem?"

I love putting the thinking back on them. And I love that they are catching on that they are good problem solvers and that there are lots of things they don't actually need me for!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Let NO mean NO

Tip #9: Let your NO mean NO

Piggy-backing on Tip #8, where I encouraged you to use the word no sparingly, I want to be sure to address the other side of the coin: don't say No unless you mean it but when you mean it, be sure to stick to your guns. (Bonus feature: when you have it in mind to make sure you follow through with your No you might find it easier to say Yes more often. Because it can be difficult to enforce a No and even more exhausting to enforce a No you did not have a good reason to give.)

Again, let your No mean no. Don't let begging, pleading or fit throwing cause you to cave in. I have been addressing this issue in my own family quite often. Little Weston has turned begging into an artform. He does not take no for an answer. He asks again and again. He gets cute. He gets ugly. He flops into a heap a screaming tears. He gives up and then 15 minutes later starts it all over again. I think all my kids did something like this at about Weston's age (nearly 4). It drains the life out of me and sometimes I want to give in just to get him to stop.

Of course I can't do that, now can I?

I am using this "opportunity" to teach him that Mommy's No is what it is: silly to argue with. I whip out this handy phrase (with a smile and sweetness): "Oh, remember? I already answered that question." If that phrase sounds familiar it is because I mentioned it in Tip #4 as well. It's a handy phrase.

But on to my next challenge: the almost 2 year old. Drake has some pretty atrocious eating behaviors right now. I will shamefully admit to two of them because if you have ever eaten a meal with us, you already know about them. No sense hiding them: He stands up in his high chair (just to get a rise out of us) and mommy and daddy in the eye with a sly grin. He also enjoys a food-throwing routine when he does not want it. (And 95% of the time the food makes to to the sink, which has been convenient enough for me so as to mostly ignore the food-throwing behavior...I was going to but it in there anyway, right? (A weak "Drake, don't do THAT," an eye roll and then on to the next thing.) I have been remiss at teaching him all about how No means No (obviously!) when it comes to these two behaviors. (Remember how I said I did not know what I was doing on this parenting journey? Well, proof text right here!)

A Love and Logic podcast I was listening to yesterday taught me about the "Uh-Oh song." I will thy this when we have dining issues, I think.

From a Love and Logic blog, cleverly named Love and Blogic:
. Always adding to my parenting toolbox...because you KNOW I need it!
For Parents of young children: Try the steps of the "Uh Oh Song" for at least TWO WEEKS following these steps exactly. (Before you try this technique the first time wait until a day when you are well rested and have practiced it well in your head)

1.  Instead of making threats or giving warnings say, "Uh Oh, Looks like a little bedroom time!"
2.  Gently carry, lead or guide the child to their bedroom. (Make the room safe ahead of time - remove anything you don't want broken)
3.  Give your child a choice about the door - "Do you want the door shut or open?" If they come out before you say so, make sure the door is shut and stays shut. You may have to wedge it shut or lock it on the outside if you don't want to stand their and hold it shut. (Of course, stay nearby and don't leave the house for safety sake.)
4.  Say, "Feel free to come out when you're acting sweet."

What if they throw a major fit? This may be harder on you then it is on them but keep reminding yourself that in the long term this will give you a happier and more well behaved child. Be careful that you are not angry and that you don't use too many words. Let the consequence do the teaching.

For more great parenting help check out Love and Logic's resources for preschoolers and elementary kids

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Don't Say No

Tip #8 Use the word "no" sparingly

I fall into the trap of using the word "no" too often. Am I the only one?

Can I have a piece of gum? No. Can I have a snack? No. Can I do play dough? No. Will you play a game with me? Not now. Can I keep my light on and read for 5 extra minutes before I go to sleep? No. Can we have grilled cheese for lunch? No. Can I build a fort? No.

There are legitimate reasons for saying no to all of these questions. Absolutely there are. And when the legitimate reason exists, by all means ban, freeze and preclude it. But there exists a list of lousy reasons to say no as well. I pull the "no" card sometimes because I am being lazy or feeling cranky or stressed or because I don't want the inconvenience. Sometimes I say no for absolutely no reason at all, just because I can.

But really, why say no when you could delight your child with a yes? There are so many times during the day when you really do need to say no. So save it for those times, when you have a good reason.

Although it will be an eyesore for a few hours and the blankets will not be folded back to perfection, for heaven's sake, Jenne, LET THEM BUILD ANOTHER FORT!

Friday, October 15, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Supervise them

Tip #7 Playing unsupervised is a privilege to be earned

Don't leave siblings together without your supervision until you can trust that they will treat each other well. Think of all the head bashing and biting that can be averted. Think of the opportunities to teach and train them how to love their brother. Think of the long-term impact on their relationship!

I wrote about this some time ago, here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Parenting Tips Interrupted

It strikes me as ironic that of the 15 parenting tips I have penciled out to add to this blog, none of them is particularly helpful to the parenting situation I find myself in right now. One of my children who honestly has not caused me much grief throughout his life is, well, causing me grief.

I better come clean: I am causing him an equal amount of grief, I think. Okay, more grief.

His sudden scatter-brained mind has turned my responsible child into Mr. Unreliable. This ordinarily obedient one is pushing limits - not direct defiance, just delaying or being silly a moment too long or not attending to my voice. The one child that I count on to NOT need much discipline now needs guidance of some sort or another. Further complicating matters are the struggles he is having with homework. He toils over that dumb weekly packet! His attempts at perfectionism drag homework out sooooo long. He has come to that place in his education where he has concluded that school is not actually fun but rather is just a bunch of hard work. And all I can think to do is raise my voice or tell him to hurry or lecture, lecture, lecture!

All that to say, I am clueless. Clueless and frustrated. And at the end of the day, I know two things: first, I know that if I continue in the way I am behaving toward him it will be certain disaster for his heart and our relationship. The second thing I know is that I don't know what to do instead.

And so this interruption in Parenting Tips is an admission. I don't know what I am doing any more than anyone else does. I have learned a boat load about parenting all along this journey but its the tip of an iceberg, a drop in the bucket. When it comes to days like today (and yesterday, and the day before), I end the day with a pit in my stomach knowing that I messed up again. Even worse, I knew better and lost my self-control anyway. I do what I do not want to do and don't do what I ought. At the end of the day I want to wake my sunny little boy up and ask for forgiveness just one more time. At the end of the day I am begging my Savior for forgiveness and wisdom and strength.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1John 1:9)

Purify me from this unrighteousness! Please, Lord. Please. Give me a heart like Yours. Give me a gracious spirit. Fill my mind with Your creativity as I encounter these situations over and over again. Be merciful to our family in this season.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Let them wiggle!

Tip #6 Let Wiggly kids WIGGLE!

Of those four wonderful boys of yours, Jenne, you have two major wigglers! Don't be fooled into thinking that wiggling necessarily means his ears are turned off. You know better - sometimes when you demand stillness, THAT IS WHEN THE EARS ARE THE MOST CLOSED!

So I say, let the wiggly kid wiggle. He can learn to be polite and look in the eyes of a grown up who has spoken a word to him, but when it comes to about 85% of communication, a wiggly bottom is just fine.

I laugh at myself sometimes when I need my 6-year-old wigglebottom to listen and I insist he hold still and LOOK IN MY EYES. I see what immediately happens: his big browns get bigger and browner and he is focused - FOCUSED - on I can almost hear his internal dialogue: look in her eyes lookinhereyes lookinhereyes lookinhereyes lookinhereyes lookinhereye slookinhereyes lookinhereyes. Yeah. He's not listening. He is too busy trying his best to attend to the demand. I have shot myself in the foot.

No wiggle, low brain function so it seems.

And at church, when wigglebottom appears, don't get all caught up in stillness. I mean, don't go crazy or anything, but remember he hears better when he can swing his legs.

I have a friend, a homeschooling mom, and she has her wigglebottom practice math facts while on a trampoline. Brilliant, I tell you!

And lastly, wiggle with him. Its good exercise.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Bedtime expectations

Tip#5 Set and stick to bedtime routines and expectations

Bedtime is a blessing and a curse sometimes. So, Jenne, remember to establish bedtime routines and stick to them as best you can. Oh, but more important: explain the expectations to your sweet soon-to-be-snoring child. This is especially important with the three and four year olds who are no longer in cribs and have a long list of reasons to make their bedtime extend dangerously close to Mommy's bedtime.

With that wonderful almost-three-year-old, I do the typical: Jammies on, go potty, brush teeth, read books in bed...oh and then one last sip of water, and a kiss and mommy whispers this week's memory verse in his ear. We smile. I do a "nosy-nosy," he kisses both my cheeks. I kiss both his cheeks. I take time to enjoy him and let him know he is precious to me.

Then before the light goes out, the expectations are set: "When I turn this light out it will be the last time I hear your voice, right? What does bedtime look like? Your head is on your pillow, right? And your mouth is quiet, right? And your body is still, right? Right! And what happens if I need to come in after this? Yup. Mommy has to spank you. That will be sad, huh. Sure hope we don't need to do that. But don't worry, I will if I need to. Love you and goodnight, sweetie!"

And then I follow through, just like I said I would. Because being a mom means doing just that!

Friday, October 8, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Don't Argue

Tip #4 ...
Don't give in to the temptation to argue or have the last word with your child.

Kids invite us to argue with them all day long. The type of argument I find myself in most often comes when a child asks over and over again to have or do something. I have already given them the answer: "No, you can't have a cookie right now" or "We are not going to the Library today." Yet they do not take no for an answer and ask again and again and again.

So I have begun training my 3 year old that I answer questions once (grace is gladly given if you simply have a bad memory!). I use a sweet voice when I am training, trying hard to not be sarcastic or show frustration/impatience and I say, "Oh, I already answered that question, huh?" and they ask again and I say, "Mommy gave you the answer to that question already. Do you remember what mommy said?... that's right! Good memory!" and they ask again and I might say, "I have heard that question already. Do you have any OTHER questions for me?" I try to rephrase the same basic point again and again, CAREFUL to not accept the invitation to answer the question again. To accept this invitation is to enter into an argument!

Kids invite us into arguments all the time but we might not realize that we mothers send out invitations, too. One way we invite arguments with our children is that we hang around to make sure they actually do as we have asked them. As Diane Moore once said, be sure you keep yourself as far away from the lawyer's table as possible. A lawyer makes a case for his side of the story and then sits down, ready to hear the rebuttal. A judge, on the other hand, says his peace, drops the gavel and then leaves. Even if you felt like arguing the decision, you can't because he has already left the room. 

So, Mom, ask your child to clean his room, "I'll see you in 20 minutes. That gives you plenty of time to get the job done right." AND THEN LEAVE. Don't stand over then waiting to see if they obey and harping on them the whole time. Just leave. And then come back ofter 20 minutes just like you promised and congratulate them on a job well done, or dole out the appropriate consequences for the disobedience.

Another reminder I give myself is to use those wonderful Love and Logic phrases when kids are really upset with us. They suggest using short simple phrases with as little energy and emotion as possible that give you something to say that will not escalate the argument. Like when a kid yells furiously at you, "But Mom!! That's not fair!" You can stay away from Lawyer-land by saying things like, "Probably so," "I don't know" and "I guess."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Be the boss the first time

Train your child to obey your words the first time.

Here are several posts to remind you how on earth to do this:
Teaching only obedience
Crack Down
Would you please just obey me?!
Helpful reference: Raising Godly Tomatoes. Whole book is online. Don't be totally spoon fed though: be a thinker as you read it.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Be the boss early

Tip #2
Introduce your authority over your child early.

I read somewhere that "waiting until the ripe old age of 2 or 3 is too long to wait." I have found great success in a child knowing what "no" means before they can run away from me. And before 16-18 months - before their will really kicks in - is the perfect time to train them to respond appropriately.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

15 Parenting Tips I Give Myself: Be excited!

Tip #1
Be excited about what excites your child.

When your child raises up his chubby little arm pointing to the light above for the ump-teenth time that day, delight with him. He is thrilled with so many things in this moment! The light is cool, but even more, HE KNOWS WHAT TO CALL IT! And he can USE THE WORD ALL BY HIMSELF! Be boisterous in your response back to him, "Yes!! LIGHT!!"

When the chatterbox in the backseat has been talking non-stop since you buckled in, let your voice communicate delight. Be thankful that he wants to share every thought WITH YOU more than anyone else. And if you must quiet him, do it with grace: "I LOVE hearing all about this, but can I stop you for a moment? It's time to order my coffee and I need a moment to think first."

When the distracted one wants to tell you something RIGHT NOW, even though you just asked him to go clean his room, pause a moment and listen and enjoy his thoughts. He knows just as well as you that this thought will be fleeting and if you make him go clean his room first and THEN tell you all about it, there is no chance he will remember what was in his head 15 minutes prior.

Matching the excitement of your kids is good, but it is also so helpful to kids to mirror other emotions as well. So when he is frustrated that he STILL can't tie his shoes and he pounds his fists on the floor, don't get mad at his anger. Instead be frustrated alongside him, "ARRG!! Tying shoes is SO HARD!" And when little brother hits bigger brother for the 100th time and he falls on the floor crying - not because he is hurt physically but because it is SO HARD TO PLAY WITH A TWO YEAR OLD - be sad with him! There is nothing more soothing than having someone to share your strong emotions with! Be that for your kids sometimes!