Thursday, March 23, 2017

One Research-Backed Way to Diminish Toddler Tantrums

All I wanted was to walk on the treadmill for maybe...20 minutes. Is that too much to ask?

I had a great plan--I would hop on the treadmill in the basement while my son (age 2 at the time) played with the plethora of toys down there. Easy peasy.

Minute 5 rolled around and the whining began.

"Car on track...ahh." My son couldn't get the little Matchbox car onto the track the right way.
"I'll help you in just a few minutes," I said hoping he would calm down on his own. "Do it myself...urrgh, it won't go," my son continued. I could see the tension building but I decided the push on. I really needed some exercise.

Then I heard it--a loud "clunk." My toddler had thrown the car across the room and it had hit the wall. Crying and fussing ensued. Oops, I had missed the point of no return. We were in full-on tantrum mode.

"Remain calm," I told myself. "He's just frustrated."

I try to calm him but to no avail. He pushed me away. He had to get it out. I told him to take some breaths but that just made him more upset. So I just stood by him and he eventually calmed down but it took a long time.

My "20 minutes on the treadmill" had turned into a half-hour fiasco.

This is Him

I look back at this incident now and I see--this is what being a toddler looks like. He was trying so hard to assert his independence and he is very independent by nature. "I do it myself" is a constant refrain, even now at almost-4 years old.


toddler tantrum

This is Him Learning

Toddlers are often testing limits, but they mostly do it because they are learning. They are learning new skills, new ideas and how they fit in their world.

Combine a strive for independence and limited self-regulation, you have a recipe for many potential high-stress situations. As parents, it's tough to keep a calm attitude.

Well, a recent piece of research should give you a little hope.

Researchers at the Oregon Social Learning Center recently published an article showing that parents who can keep their “cool” when their youngsters test their patience have a better chance of their kids not having behavior problems in the future.

The primary finding of the study showed that children whose parents who have a tendency to over-react and/or are quick to get angry with them, are more likely to have more tantrums and negative behavior at age 2. Is important to note that most children increase in their tantrum-type behavior during this toddler period, but this study clearly showed that children whose parents over-reacted increased in this negative behavior even more than average.

Being the Model I Want Him to See

The good news for parents is that if you can maintain your “cool” while still setting firm boundaries, you are helping your child learn emotion regulation by your example. When a child misbehaves it is often tempting to react quickly out of emotion and not think about the consequences. It is often a struggle to keep your emotions contained, but if you can keep your composure and discipline the child with less intense negative emotion, the child will slowly learn how to regulate their own emotions as well. So take heart parents, we can survive those toddler years without losing our sanity.

One Research-Backed Way to Diminish Toddler Tantrums

Diffuse the Situation

Knowing that my toddler was not intentionally trying to derail my workout was the first step in keeping a calm mindset. Most of the time, these little ones are not trying to "push your buttons" or make you upset on purpose.

  • Knowledge is power: if you understand what is typical for toddler behavior, it makes it easier to take it in stride (at least most of the time). If we know that they act irrationally and have little self-control, that helps us remain in control.

  • The "golden rule" still applies to grownups: it may sound simplistic but the old rule of "treat others how you would like to be treated" still applies to toddler-parent interactions (at least to some degree). We are modeling behavior for our kids with every action. If I yell at my toddler (which we all do from time to time), then we are modeling anger. However, if the other 90% of the time, we model compassion, patience, and self-regulation, they will eventually learn this.
Ultimately, we are teaching our kids how to treat us. It takes years modeling, growth, and maturity, but they will get the hang of it eventually.

In the meantime, hang on for a wild ride, and maybe get that walk on the treadmill while he's napping.

For more help with toddlers...
Lipscomb, S., Leve, L., Shaw, D., Neiderhiser, J., Scaramella, L., Ge, X., Conger, R., Reid, J., & Reiss, D. (2012). Negative emotionality and externalizing problems in toddlerhood: Overreactive parenting as a moderator of genetic influences Development and Psychopathology, 24 (01), 167-179 DOI: 10.1017/S0954579411000757 

Photo credit 

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Lessons Learned from Doing Artwork with Boys {plus some art materials to help}

As most of you know I am boy mom. Two boys and they are, as we say in west Texas (where I was raised), "all boy." All the gender stereotypical descriptors categorize them--loud, rambunctious, messy, active and rarely sit still. I was a bit intimidated when I found out I was having a boy the first time. Will I have anything in common with him? Will I know how to play with him?

As most things in parenting, you learn as you go. I have come to appreciate their spunk, zeal for life, and energy. Ironically, one thing they have taught me more about is a broader view of the role of art in child development. Before actually experiencing a boy, I had visions of doing cool art projects with my kids. Projects where we sat down and worked on things together and had a cute little art piece to show off at the end.

Well, then I actually had a preschool-age boy and reality sunk in. I remember watching the first few days of 3-year-old preschool as my son sat down with the other kids to do their letter tracing and coloring portion of the day. The girls sat nicely and worked diligently tracing letters or painting with watercolors. My son, conversely, sat for approximately 1 minute, did his fastest version of letter tracing (i.e., scribbling) and then was off to play with a puzzle or toy trains.

Wow, I must be doing something wrong, I thought. These girls are all so careful with their handwriting and my son can barely hold pencil. I knew from my child development classes that girls tended to develop fine motor skills sooner than boys, but to see it so starkly in real life was shocking.

Needless to say, our attempts to do art projects at home where met with a similar speediness and lack of focus. However, we still had fun with art materials. Both boys love glue so we would glue anything that would stick--pom poms, shapes, string. We had no real plan or vision for our art, we just did it. We would make Angry Birds characters out of Play-Doh and use them to knock over the cans. Fun!

Then one day, I remember is clearly--my then 4-year-old son really got into coloring. He had finally learned how to maneuver his crayon or marker well enough to make it do what he wanted it to do. He could color inside the lines, he could make the beginnings of drawings. The little connections in his brain just clicked. As it turned out, this was perfect timing because I had just given birth to his little brother. He spent many an afternoon coloring and drawing while I took care of his newborn brother. I printed coloring sheets of his favorite characters faster than you could imagine.

This is when I came to really see the value of art for young kids, but in my case especially boys. For young kids, art is not about results. They often don't buy into the "contrived" version what what the adults want the finished project to look like. They are just exploring colors, textures, and most importantly thoughts.

Have you ever really looked at what your kids draw on any given day and how it relates to what's really going on in their mind. For example, lately my 7 year old is really into Roald Dahl books. So, of course, all his drawings lately have been things like foxes (Fantastic Mr. Fox), fox holes, and maybe even a few elevators (Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator). The artwork is really a perfect expression of his inner world. Now that is cool.

This follows right along with what art experts tell us about the value of art for young children. It can teach many lessons that no other form of expression can teach. Art scholar Elliot Eisner wrote of the classic works on this topic and he puts it best, "The arts help CHILDREN LEARN to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them FEEL, they must reach into their POETIC CAPACITIES to and the words that will do the job."

10 Lessons the Arts Teach

One thing that does help when attempting to do artwork with kids is good materials. Markers, paint, crayons, etc. that work well and don't break right away. We just got some Kwik Stixs, which are new to us, and we are really enjoying them. They are paints but they come in a tube sort of like a glue stick. Given my boys' love of glue sticks, they took to these right away.

Kwik Stix

The best part for parents--they dry in 90 seconds! Brilliant. No more smudgy pictures because your toddler couldn't wait for the paint to dry. Since they are in a tube, there is limited mess and they don't break like crayons. My boys have had great fun with these.

Lessons Learned from Doing Artwork with Boys

Lessons Learned from Doing Artwork with Boys

Lessons Learned from Doing Artwork with Boys

Along with them we also received a few of the Pencil Grip writing tools for handwriting. They are meant to help kids develop proper pencil grip. This development of correct pencil grip is often challenging, especially for boys. My boys tried these out and I think it did help them both (even the 3 year old) have better control of the pen or pencil. If used often, it seems like they would help establish good habits with pencil grip.

Here are a few resources for helping you get started on artwork with your kids:

Tinkerlab: I love Rachelle's work and her whole approach to children's artwork. Her book is full of ideas and we are loving her online class.

Hello Wonderful: another wonderful site for creative projects with kids. Great colors on this site--if you need a little "pick me up," check it out.

Fireflies and Mudpies: great site with a great name. Tons of craft ideas and best for me (and boy moms everywhere) sensory ideas. My kids always love sensory projects.

**This post contains affiliate links. We received products in exchange for an honest review**

Thursday, March 9, 2017

5 Evidenced-Backed Tips to Improve Communication with Your Child

Are you familiar with the 3 basic parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive? Before the media took hold of parenting labels like "free-range parents" or "helicopter parents," these 3 categories formed the basis of much of the psychological research on parenting. 

Sitting in my graduate classroom years ago studying these classifications, I only understood them in theory. This was prior to having kids. Now these 3 styles are a daily reality in my life and my parent friends. In reality, we are probably a bit of each of these on any given day or situation. However, which category we fall into most of the time in interacting with our kids is really what matters in terms of the effects on their well-being.

Let's take a look at how authoritative parenting influences the types of communication we have with our kids. I'm happy to welcome guest writer Sanya Pelini, Ph.D. from Raising Independent Kids. Much like me, she is using her background in education to bring helpful research-based information to parents.


Every teacher knows that failing to install clear guidelines about acceptable and unacceptable behavior from the get-go can signal their doom. Unsurprisingly, disciplining children effectively is an issue that many parents also struggle with. A recent survey by the Pew research Center found that discipline is one of parents’ biggest challenges in raising children. Other surveys have come to the same conclusion.

How to effectively discipline children has attracted much attention ever since the behaviorist school of thought showed that you can teach your child to respond to his/her environment. Subsequently, many studies have focused on how to effectively control behavior.

In the 1960s, Diana Baumrind undertook a study that sought to determine the extent to which parenting styles influence child outcomes. Her findings have withstood the test of time: children raised by authoritative parents have more positive academic, social and psychological outcomes.

5 Evidence-Based Tips to Improve Communication with Your Child

Other studies have come to similar conclusions:

· One study found that children raised by authoritative parents are less likely to drop out of school.
· Another study found that these children are more likely to meet their parents’ expectations.

Authoritative parenting is not authoritarian parenting. It is about finding the right balance between parents’ needs and children’s needs.

While authoritative parents encourage children to express themselves and recognize their need for autonomy, they are also assertive and have high expectations for their children.

What can you learn about communication from the authoritative parenting style?

1)    Set clear expectations. When you think about it, all relationships are based on having clear expectations. The same is true for parent-child relationships. Building a strong relationship requires both you and your child to be aware of expectations and consequences.  
  • ·What is acceptable behavior?
  • ·What is unacceptable behavior?
  • ·What are your priorities when it comes to behavior?
  • ·Is your child aware of these priorities?
Setting clear expectations also means being clear on relevant and age-appropriate consequences and being 100% consistent. As far as possible, consequences should be related to misbehavior and you should always warn your child: 
  • ·If you don’t eat your lunch, you will have nothing else to eat until 4p.m.”
  • ·If I ask you one more time to lower the volume, I’ll take the video game away.”
  • ·If your homework is not done by 5p.m., they’ll be no TV today.”  

 2)    Be democratic. Being democratic means explaining your reasons and your expectations and listening to your children, even when you disagree. It means taking the time to explain why there are negative consequences for specific behavior.

Being democratic also means being ready to negotiate. There is evidence that families in which negotiation is frequently used as a conflict-management tool enjoy closer parent-child relationships. Moreover, children raised in these families are more likely to adopt positive behavior.

Negotiation is a useful tool that can help you avoid power struggles.

For instance, insisting that your children need to participate in household chores might work better if you let them participating in developing a “chore rotation plan”.

 3) Look for the roots of misbehavior. Children don’t always know how to react to their emotions and these can come across as “acting out”. Emotions in children are a very big deal.

Research has shown that encouraging children to practice self-regulation increases their self-efficacy and makes them feel accountable for their own success.

According to Professor Adele Diamond, you can teach your child to develop emotional regulation by encouraging him/her to put feelings into words by speaking out loud. Don’t hesitate to help: “do you feel angry?” “do you feel sad?”

Teaching your child to identify different emotions and the warning signs helps teach him/her to express those emotions in an appropriate manner. It also makes it easier to teach children that they are responsible for their emotions.

Children’s models (friends, siblings, parents, TV personalities, etc.) may also have an impact on how children think and act. There is some evidence that children exposed to television and video violence are more likely to behave aggressively.

4)  Encourage decision-making. Autonomy granting is a key element of parenting. It involves the transfer of decision-making from parents to children through parent-controlled processes, even among young children: will you brush your teeth now or in 5 minutes?”

Some studies have found that the gradual transfer of decision-making to a child is better than premature independence or prolonged dependency. What’s more, children who participate in the decision-making process are more likely to stick to decisions.

A child’s ability to make decisions without parental involvement increases from age 8. This is an opportune time to teach your child about decisions and consequences: “You can do your homework whenever you want but you have to be done by 7 p.m”, “you can play video games for 30 minutes but only after your shower and when your homework is done.”

5)  Use positive reinforcement. There is much evidence that when specific behavior is positively reinforced (praise, gifts, privileges, etc.), that behavior is more likely to be repeated.

What can you do? 
  • ·Focus on the positive. Make it a habit to “catch your child being good”
  • ·To be effective, reinforce immediately after the behavior.
  • ·Do not bribe your child. Positive reinforcement is about rewarding good behavior “you can have one cookie if you play quietly with your brother for 15 minutes” rather than about rewarding misbehavior “you can have a cookie if you go back to bed”. Notice the difference? 

Actionable steps 

· Do you often discipline in reaction to your child’s behavior or are you both aware of the boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed?

· Think about one issue you’re having trouble with. What are you willing to negotiate about? A word of caution: Be clear on your non-negotiables before you attempt negotiation with your child.

· Spend 10 minutes with each of your children before they sleep to talk about emotions. Ask them about the best and the worst part of their day (what made them smile, what made them sad). Ask them how they dealt with it. Tell them about the best and worst part of your day. Tell them how you dealt with the worst part of your day.

· Children are influenced by the company they keep. Hang out with your child and find out more about his/her friends. How well do you really know your child’s friends? What’s he/she watching? Can you describe what his/her favorite programs are about?

Sanya Pelini holds a Ph.D. in Educational research. She transforms research into practical tools and resources on her blog. You can follow her on twitter at @sanyapelini.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Parenting Book That Will Change the Way You Look at Learning

Remember that poster "All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten"? It lists items like: share everything, play fair, and don't take things that aren't yours. As it turns out, these simple lesson for living and learning are based not only in ageless truths, but child development research as well.

In a study of over 700 students from kindergarten (in the early 1990s) until adulthood, researchers found that social skills (like sharing, working well with others, etc.) in kindergarten were one of the best predictors of positive outcomes at the age of 25. These outcomes included things like holding a higher education, full-time job by age 25, and higher paying jobs. In other words, how kindergartners related to the peers, had a greater impact on their life path than IQ or other "academic" factors...and this persisted 20 years later. These "soft skills" as they have come to be called outweighed other prominent factors like gender, family income and race/ethnicity.

We have all probably heard research statistics like this before. We are probably shocked for a moment and then may not think about it again. Consider your child's school? Is it offering your child opportunities to practice and hone these "soft skills" like collaboration, empathy, and communication? Are characteristics like these listed on your child's report card?

In many cases, the answer to these questions would be "no" or at least "not much." We are entering an age in our history where information and those who can manage it, sort it and make sense of it will the dominant feature of our economy and culture.

This is one of the main arguments in a new audio book I'm listening to entitled, Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children.  The authors offer compelling evidence that "soft skills" are crucial to our children's ability to succeed in an information-driven world. Yet, our education system for the most part, is still organized in a model of "content is king." That is the thought that all children need to succeed is the content, the raw knowledge and facts included in reading, writing and arithmetic.

Becoming Brilliant

Becoming Brilliant offers a new perspective on what our children will need to function well and succeed in the future. Instead of focusing on educational models or standards, the authors rely on research in child development and learning to really explore how kids learn and how these processes can be implemented into classrooms and into your home. This is what is so refreshing and to my mind, reliable, about this book. It's not another curriculum standard or arbitrary checklist, it's real research that we parents can use to help our children develop the skills they will need to face the future with confidence.

The authors focus on the "6 Cs": collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence. As you can see, these provide a mix of both knowledge and "soft skills" that will help our children develop into whole people, not just adults that can rattle off facts. Here's a little preview:

If you are like me, however, you want more for your child than just monetary or academic "success." I want my children to be happy, kind, empathetic, well-adjusted adults who care for other people and the larger world around them. I think most parents want that too. The "6 Cs" provide guidance that supports that goal. Embedded in the "6 Cs" are the foundational tools that will help kids in all realms of life, both professional and personal.

I'm excited to delve into this book more and learn what else I can do at home to foster the "6 Cs" in my kids. Want to join me in exploring this book? Like most parents, I do not have a lot of free time to read, but listening to an audio book while cooking dinner or exercising is a realistic goal.

I'm giving away TWO free copies the audio book Becoming Brilliant. Just enter below and 2 names will be drawn at random on Monday March 6 at noon (MST).