Thursday, October 13, 2016

Connecting with Kids: The Way to Win Their Hearts

When my 7-year-old started kindergarten a couple of years ago, I was struck by how different our interactions became. Being a stay-at-home mom, I was used to having hours of time with him each day. He went to preschool a few mornings a week prior to kindergarten, but even with that, we played together quite a bit. In between me doing chores and cooking meals, we would have an almost ongoing dialog about whatever he was playing. In this role, I always had a sense of what was going on in his mind, what he was working on, what he was interested in (which changed almost hourly).

Going from this to kindergarten where he was gone much of the day was a shock for both of us. Although I asked him questions about school, as many parents know, you don't often get a complete understanding of what went on during the day.

With this feeling of disconnection, sometimes came misbehavior. Have you noticed this with your children too? Especially when they are little, feeling connected to their parents is really crucial to their emotional well-being, which of course influences their behavior.

As I noticed this change with my son, I began to hear similar things from other parents. One of them suggested spending one-on-one time with him each day (or at least a few times a week). With a then one-year-old in the house at the time, this was challenging, but we made it work as often as we could. Soon, I did notice a difference. My older son began to settle down more and listen better to me when I asked him to do things he didn't really enjoy (e.g., chores, homework, etc).

Research tells us that connecting with kids on an individual basis is helpful, not only for managing behavior, but for their emotional development. In these times of one-on-one connection, we can provide some "emotional coaching." That is, help them label and understand their feelings. Then we can help our kids learn to cope with these emotions and even aid in solving problems that may come up at school or with friends.

Fast forward two years later and now that son is a second-grader. He is much more independent and often enjoys playing Legos in his room alone for quite a long time after school. From time to time, however, I will notice him pulling away and becoming kind of moody again. This is my cue that he once again needs some one-on-one time with me. He is now old enough that sometimes he will even tell me he wants me to play with him or he feels like I'm not spending time with him.

I'm always thinking of ways that he and I can reconnect. Being a boy, I'm not always in touch with the activities he's interested in--Minecraft, light saber fights, etc. I try to get involved in his activities but I would much rather be reading books with him or working on a coloring book. That is why when I saw the Connected Hearts Journal, I was excited. Here was an activity we could do together that I think we would both enjoy. Beyond that, I think it will really help us reconnect in a meaningful, but also fun way.

The journal includes questions for parents and kids to answer and think about together. It also gives parents an forum for providing kids with wonderful positive feedback on the great things they have noticed their kids doing. Additionally, there is plenty of space to explore topics of your choice. My son loves to draw (more than writing) so I could see this being popular with him.

Maybe my favorite part is the little section at the bottom of each page. It offers the kids a chance to reveal any secrets they want to share--either in writing or in person. What a great idea! I think many kids tend to hold thoughts or worries inside. This gives them an easy way to share without it being so difficult to bring it up with their parents.

In our fast-paced lives, it is often easy to forget that our kids crave connection with us more than anything. If you notice your child pulling away or acting out in less-than-positive ways, you might try some of these ways of connecting. You might be surprised at how much better it makes both of you feel.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Giving Kids Choices: The Parent's Guide

If you are the parent of a young child you know that choices make up a big part of your parenting vocabulary on a daily basis. All the parenting “advice” out there says to offer your toddlers a choice between two options to help them feel empowered and perhaps prevent some meltdowns. For example, you might say, “Sally, would you like to wear the purple socks or the white socks?” This, of course, is a method to prevent the unheard third option of the child refusing to wear socks at all.

I do this often with my kids and it does work…most of the time. Over the years, however, I have learned that offering choices to my kids can sometimes backfire. They get used to the idea that they have a lot of input into how we will progress through the course of the day. As adults, we know that this does not always work. Sometimes we have to go to the grocery store or the doctor’s office and there is no choice in the matter.

This caused me to wonder if having too many choices can actually be paralyzing to kids. We have all had the experience of going to a shoe store or clothing store and tried to pick out items for our child. If you have your young child with you and give them some input in the choices, you know this can go downhill fast. The thought of getting something new coupled with a dizzying array of choices can cause many kids to meltdown quickly. In our affluent society, there are so many choices of things like clothes and shoes that kids are simply overwhelmed.

This idea came to mind as I was listening to a podcast the other day and it was all about the science of choice. Not something we think of too often. After years of studying how people make choices and how their choices affect their happiness, psychologists have found one thing to be clear—people are actually happier when they have less freedom to change their choice.

Researchers conducted a study in which photography students were told, after working for months on their photographs, that they could only pick one to take home and one to leave at the school. One group was told that they could switch the one they took home at any time. Another group was told their choice was final—they could not switch which photo they took home and which they left. What the researchers found was that the group who had to make an irrevocable choice were actually happier with their choice months later.

Why is this? Psychologist think that it is because we rationalize the choice we make when we know it is final. On the other hand, if we have in the back of our minds that we can switch our choice, we always doubt whether we made the right one.

It seems counterintuitive but I think there is a kernel of truth in this that can help us with parenting young children too. Choices are good, but they must also have boundaries attached to them. Young children do need to feel empowered to choose, but the choices must be limited in some way. Given too many choices, young children go from feeling empowered to feeling out of control.

To my mind, this is the essence of authoritative parenting. Children are given choices, at the right developmentally appropriate time and within certain boundaries. As children grow, authoritative parents provide increasing chances for kids to test their decision-making skills, but the parents are always there to provide the firm boundary beyond which the child cannot go. It’s no surprise that authoritative parenting is what in research is associated with the best outcomes for kids.

Authoritative parents provide some choices, but the choices are limited based on what is best for the child at a certain age. For example, they may allow an older child the choice to walk to a neighborhood park or a neighbor friend’s house, but they may not leave the neighborhood to go anywhere else. This gives the child some sense of empowerment, but firm boundaries on what the expected behavior will be. If the boundaries are crossed, then the opportunity to make choices goes away and the child stays at home.

Sometimes psychology seems like common sense, but other times the research conducted in labs actually reveals something that is counterintuitive, but that can really help us in our daily lives. This research on choice really helps us understand that for both kids and adults choices can be good, but certain boundaries on them can actually be helpful.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Diaper Need Awareness Week

Imagine with me for a moment that you are a mom with an infant. You are working one (or possibly two) jobs to try to make ends meet. Your infant has to go to a child care facility so you can work. Even with all this working, you need government assistance (Food Stamps) to keep food on the table. You go to the store to get some groceries and diapers. At checkout you realize that the government assistance vouchers do not cover diapers--what do you do? Buy food for your child or diapers? Without a day's worth of diapers your child cannot attend child care. If she doesn't go to child care, you cannot go to work.

This is not an unrealistic scenario from another country. Situations like this happen in the United States every week. In our country 1 in 3 moms report experiencing diaper need. This may seem like a simple issue but it really affects the health, education, and well-being of the baby and his/her whole family. In most places, without a week's worth of disposable diapers, babies cannot attend a child care facility. If they cannot go to child care, a whole line of negative consequences follows. By missing out on early childhood education, they are missing out on opportunities to be better prepared for preschool and kindergarten. Futhermore, if babies cannot attend child care, then many times their parents cannot work. Without work, they cannot even have a chance to lift themselves out of poverty.

There are many ways we can help prevent diaper need in this country:

- donate diapers to your local diaper bank, pregnancy center or food pantry on a regular basis (babies go through 6-10 diapers a day)

- share the #diaperneed hashtag in your social media interactions. This is an issue that needs more attention and something that many people probably had not thought about.

- host a diaper drive in your church, moms group, play group, school, etc.

- volunteer at a local diaper bank (go to to find one in your city)

Let's help babies have a good start in life and in education.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

21 Parenting Blogs to Keep You Inspired, Informed and Sane

Let's face it--parenting is hard at times. Parenthood is the only "job" which involves no formal training, very little background knowledge (for most of us) and the "outcome" involves the people we value most (our kids).

But I've also learned that parenting cannot really be equated to a job, either. It is a relationship, as unique and special as your relationship with your spouse or best friend. As with any long-term relationship, it can have its ups and downs. Add to that the fact that children are under-developed in their "relationship skills."

All this is to say that to thrive in parenthood you need a tribe--fellow parents who have gone down the road you are traveling and can point out the bumps in the road or at least sit by you and help you buckle your seat belt.

Since I am a blogger, I have found support and encouragement from other bloggers along this parenting journey. Today I'm sharing some of my favorite parenting blogs that offer real, concrete, parenthood-is-messy-but-worth-it articles and advice.

General Parenting Resources and Thoughtful Commentary
These blogs offer thought-provoking articles and useful hands-on tips. As a bonus, many are also based in research, which I always appreciate.

- Nuture and Thrive: research-based positive parenting ideas from a developmental psychologist. You can't beat that. Great, thoughtful articles.

- Not Just Cute: Amanda is a scholar after my own heart--trying to bring research into the lives of the people who really need it. I even love the name of her blog. She says childhood is not just cute, it is powerful and priceless. I couldn't agree more.

- Modern Parents, Messy Kids: if you're looking for a "one-stop shop" for all your daily parenting needs, this is it. This blog covers the nitty-gritty of parenting--organization, recipes, parenting articles, gift guides.

- Janet Lansbury: if you are not familiar with RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) then check out Janet's site. It focuses on a thoughtful, insightful parenting approach that focuses on seeing the infant as a whole person from the start.

- Regarding Baby: another wonderful RIE site hosted by Lisa Sunbury, an early childhood educator. Her writings will give you insight into focusing on your parenting relationship and slowing down to understand your child.

- The (Reformed) Idealist Mom: as the title implies, Kelly describes herself as a reformed perfectionist. If you are ready to ditch the idealized notion of parenthood and be real, this is a good place to start. Kelly offers real-life ways to reconnect with your kids.

- Science of Mom: if you ever wonder if some article or post you read about a parenting hot topic is based on any science at all, you should check this site first. Alice is the best at searching out the real science behind common parenting issues.

- Gooey Brains: it sounds funny but it's true--kids brains are gooey. This site offers wonderful resources for helping us understand how we can shape those gooey brains in the right direction.

- Military Wife and Mom: although we are not a military family, I keep seeing Lauren's posts in my social media feed and I love all that I've read. Practical insight into positive parenting ideas that help us get through dinner time, chores, and homework with our sanity intact.

Specific Aspects of Child Development (physical, cognitive, social)
These blogs focus more closely on specific areas such as physical, emotional or cognitive development

- The Inspired Treehouse: run by two pediatric physical therapists, this site offers a wealth of ideas and activities that can help parents understand their child's physical, cognitive and emotional development

- Hey Sigmund: if you need help understanding your child's emotional needs, this is where to start. This site discusses a lot about children's emotional life including anxiety and stress. It's a wonderful resource for understanding our own mental health too.

- Mama OT: another great site who's goal is to share knowledge of occupational therapy with the rest of us. Great information for understand all children's development, including playful learning activities, fine and gross motor skill development.

Education/Learning Activities for Kids
Even if you are not a homeschooling family, these blogs offer learning ideas to enrich your child's education. As parents we are still the first and best teachers of our kids.

- Brain Power Boy: I am a mom to boys so I am biased to sites like this. This is great if you have boys (like mine) who don't usually go for the typical crafts and activities offered on other sites. Sheila has some great insight into the mind of young boys.

- What We Do All Day: if you are a stay-at-home parent, you have probably gotten this question, "what do you do all day?" Well, this is the site for you. Wonderful book recommendations, real hands-on activities that are meaningful and not just fluff.

- Imagination Soup: if I'm looking for any resources related to kids' literacy, book recommendations, or gift ideas, this is my go-to site.

- Totschooling: if you are like me and spend most of your days with a toddler or preschooler, you know that you often need some activities to keep their little hands busy. This site has loads of cool printables (mostly free!) that you can easily prepare for the kids to do.

- No Time for Flashcards: we all know that play is the best learning activity for little ones. This site is awesome at giving us ideas for crafts and learning activities.

- Seeme and Liz: do you see the theme of play being big on this list? This site continues that theme. Great playful learning ideas and resources, especially for the young crowd.

Kids' Nutrition and Healthy Eating
Getting kids to eat something besides chicken nuggets and mac and cheese is often a struggle. These sites offer hope to us that there are healthy options that kids will actually eat.

Super Healthy Kids: I have found tons of good recipes on this site. They also have meal plans and cool healthy eating plates to help kids learn what they should eat to keep their bodies healthy.

- 100 Days of Real Food: another go-to site for me. If you need to expand your child's lunchbox menu, there are a lot of great ideas here. Plus, Lisa just came out with a cookbook so you can have all your favorites in one spot.

- Weelicious: this site hardly needs an introduction since it's been featured in magazines and television. Wonderful kid-friendly food ideas, even for the babies and toddlers.