Perfect Parenting Questions and Answers
Make a commitment
To create or maintain a strong marriage, you will have to take the first critical step: You must be willing to put time, effort and thought into your marriage. When I made this statement during a lecture, one woman spoke up. She had a quiet voice, but she spoke with determination, “Elizabeth, I hear you, and I know what you say is right. But I have three preschoolers! I work part time, do all my own housework, cooking, and laundry. I just don’t have any more energy at the end of the day to ‘work’ on my marriage.”
I noticed that several other women in the room were nodding their heads as she spoke and they waited for my response. “I certainly understand! I have four children and my own business, I know how busy life can be. But let me ask you one vital question: How would you like to have three preschoolers, work part time, do your own housework, cooking, and laundry, and do it all as a single mother? Because if you take care of everything else, and neglect your marriage, that’s what could happen.”
Suddenly, every mother who nodded a minute ago was looking at me with wide eyes. The thought that their marriages, which were at the very bottom of their priority lists, could be in jeopardy hit them very hard. I noticed that I now had the complete attention of several of the fathers who earlier had seemed lost in their own thoughts.
Let’s take another look at the commitment statement mentioned earlier. You must be willing to put time, effort and thought into your marriage. The ideas that follow will help you follow through on this commitment and will put new life and meaning into your marriage. A wonderful thing may happen: You may fall in love with your spouse all over again. In addition, your children will greatly benefit from your stronger relationship. Children feel secure when they know that Mom and Dad love each other — particularly in today’s world, where 50 percent of marriages end in divorce; half of your children’s friends have gone, or are going through, a divorce. Or maybe it’s your kids who have survived a divorce and are now living in a new family arrangement. Your children need daily proof that their family life is stable and predictable. When you make a commitment to your marriage, your children will feel the difference. No, they won’t suffer from neglect! They’ll blossom when your marriage — and their homelife — are thriving.
SO HERE’S MY CHALLENGE TO YOU. READ THE FOLLOWING SUGGESTIONS AND APPLY THEM IN YOUR MARRIAGE FOR THE NEXT 30 DAYS. THEN EVALUATE YOUR MARRIAGE, AND I GUARANTEE YOU’LL BOTH BE HAPPIER.
Look for the good, overlook the bad
You married this person for many good reasons. Your partner has many wonderful qualities. Your first step in adding sizzle to your marriage is to look for the good and overlook the bad.
Make it a habit to ignore the little annoying things
– dirty socks on the floor, a day-old coffee cup on the counter, worn out flannel pajamas, an inelegant burp at the dinner table – and choose instead to search for those things that make you smile: the way he rolls on the floor with the baby; the fact that she made your favorite cookies, the peace in knowing someone so well that you can wear your worn out flannels or burp at the table.
Give two compliments every day
Now that you’ve committed to seeing the good in your partner, it’s time to say it! This is a golden key to your mate’s heart. Our world is so full of negative input, and we so rarely get compliments from other people. When we do get a compliment, it not only makes us feel great about ourselves, it actually makes us feel great about the person giving the compliment! Think about it! When your honey says, “You’re the best. I’m so glad I married you.” It not only makes you feel loved, it makes you feel more loving.
Compliments are easy to give and they’re free.
Compliments are powerful; you just have to make the effort to say them. Anything works: “Dinner was great, you make my favorite sauce.” “Thanks for picking up the cleaning. It was very thoughtful, you saved me a trip.” “That sweater looks great on you.”
That may sound funny to you, but think about it. How many times do you see — or experience — partners treating each other in impolite, harsh ways that they’d never even treat a friend? Sometimes we take our partners for granted and unintentionally display rudeness. As the saying goes, if you have a choice between being right and being nice, just choose to be nice. Or to put this in the wise words of Bambi’s friend Thumper, the bunny rabbit, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”
Pick your battles
How often have you heard this advice in relation to parenting? This is great advice for childrearing — and it’s great advice to follow in your marriage as well. In any human relationship there will be disagreement and conflict. The key here is to decide which issues are worth pursuing and which are better off ignored. By doing this, you’ll find much less negative energy between you. From now on, anytime you feel annoyed, take a minute to examine the issue at hand, and ask yourself a few questions. “How important is this?” “Is this worth picking a fight over?” “What would be the benefit of choosing this battle versus letting it go?”
The 60-second cuddle
You can often identify a newly married couple just by how much they touch each other — holding hands, sitting close, touching arms, kissing — just as you can spot an “oldly-married” couple by how little they touch. Mothers, in particular, often have less need for physical contact with their partners because their babies and young children provide so much opportunity for touch and cuddling that day’s end finds them “touched fulfilled”. So here’s a simple reminder: make the effort to touch your spouse more often. A pat, a hug, a kiss, a shoulder massage – the good feeling it produces for both of you far outweighs the effort.
Here’s the deal
Whenever you’ve been apart make it a rule that you will take just 60 seconds to cuddle, touch and connect. This can be addictive! If you follow this advice soon you’ll find yourselves touching each other more often, and increasing the romantic aspect of your relationship.
Spend more time talking to and listening to your partner
I don’t mean, “Remember to pick up Jimmy’s soccer uniform.” Or “I have a PTA meeting tonight.” Rather, get into the habit of sharing your thoughts about what you read in the paper, what you watch on TV, your hopes, your dreams, your concerns. Take a special interest in those things that your spouse is interested in and ask questions. And then listen to the answers.
Spend time with your spouse
It can be very difficult for your marriage to thrive if you spend all your time being “Mommy” and “Daddy.” You need to spend regular time as “Husband” and “Wife.” This doesn’t mean you have to take a two-week vacation in Hawaii (although that might be nice, too!). Just take small daily snippets of time when you can enjoy uninterrupted conversation, or even just quiet companionship, without a baby on your hip, a child tugging your shirtsleeve or a teenager begging for the car keys. A daily morning walk around the block or a shared cup of tea after all the children are in bed might work wonders to reconnect you to each other. And yes, it’s quite fine to talk about your children when you’re spending your time together, because, after all, your children are one of the most important connections you have in your relationship.
Spend more time on your turf. When possible, meet at your home. Let all the kids know exactly what your expectations are. In other words, “My house, my rules.” Be kind and friendly, but firm. “Hugo, in this house, we don’t jump on the sofa.” Often, the kids who misbehave at home will behave correctly when given rules to follow at your house.
Stick to the current problem. Don’t try to raise other people’s kids. Focus on the specific issue at hand. Find a solution to the problem only to the extent necessary to make things run smoothly where your children or your property are involved.
Don’t stew and mumble. It’s easy to gripe and complain about a kid’s behavior. It doesn’t solve anything. Instead, avoid accusing or blaming. Simply state the problem and suggest solutions. Once you have a plan, calmly follow through.
Let them handle it. Memorize this line: “They’re not my kids.” Allow the parents to deal with the misbehavior (or not deal with it, as the case may be). Step in only to protect your kids or your property.
Visit without the kids. Do you enjoy the parents, but dread time spent with their kids? Arrange for more visits to occur when the kids are in school or otherwise occupied. Or partake in adult-oriented activities for which the kids will need to be left home with a babysitter.
Pick your battles. Ignore the petty stuff, focus on the important things, and be thankful your own children are well behaved.
Think about it:
You’re right to be concerned. Reading is the key to success in all school subjects. With a bit of creativity you can help your child enjoy reading more, and spend more time doing it!
Make it fun:
Purchase or borrow a stack of “fun” books. Choose books that will be relatively easy for your child to read, in other words, those that are slightly below his level of reading ability. Choose topics based on your child’s interests: baseball, horses, sleepover parties, wild animals, insects, etc. Pick a mystery, a joke book, books about current movie stars or athletes, even comic books. Don’t comment about the books; simply leave them lying on the table where your child is sure to see them. To become a great reader, a child needs lots of practice. If you can find the types of books your child will be interested in reading, he’ll get the pure practice he needs to make other, more complex, reading easier.
Let him browse the library:
Allow your child to get his own library card. Take him to the library and teach him how to use the computers and the wide variety of resources available. Many libraries offer classes to teach kids how to use the resources. Make a routine visit to the library, and make sure you go when you’re not rushed, so he can take time to explore.
Pick the right computer games:
Take advantage of your child’s love of computer games to purchase those that require a lot of reading to play the game. Avoid those that are simply computerized video games.
Encourage bed-time reading:
Buy your child a bedside reading lamp, or a tiny book light. Tell him that from now on, he must be in bed by a specific time (say 8:30) and that he can either sleep or read. Most kids will do anything rather than go to sleep, so there’s a chance you’ll create a new bedtime reading habit.
Have reading material available:
Many children will read when they are sitting alone having a snack, or if they have a few minutes of unplanned free time. Put a box of books and magazines near the kitchen table so that reading material is accessible.
Read to your child.
Often, once children learn to read independently, parents stop reading to them. This change of routine causes great sadness to a child who has come to love falling asleep as you read. Even a teenager will enjoy being read to if you pick books that pique his interest. Select books together, and make sure they’re ones you enjoy as well, so your enjoyment will come through as you read to them.
Check it out:
Some children don’t like to read because they have poor eyesight or an undetected learning disability. Look for signs that there is a problem. Does your child rub his eyes after reading? Complain of a headache? Become easily frustrated or angry while trying to read? If you notice any of these problems, make an appointment with your pediatrician to have your child’s health checked out, or with an optometrist for a complete eye exam.
Assume the best.
Most children adjust quickly to a move, especially when the parents plan in advance. Use these ideas to make this move easier for your child, and consequently, for yourself!
Plan a visit
If possible, visit the new home, the new neighborhood, and the new school a few times. When your child has a clear image of where you’re headed, she’ll be more comfortable. If you’re moving out of state, and if you visit the new city, take plenty of pictures. Visit or write the local chamber of commerce or ask your real estate agent to do this for you. Obtain brochures and information that you can peruse with your child. Gather information or call for brochures from the local zoo, amusement park, water-play park, public swimming pool, theaters, youth groups, or any other sites your child might like. It’s especially important to find out about those things that your child is most interested in. For example, if your child loves to roller blade, find out where she can do this, if she loves horses, find out about the local stables. Plan to visit a few of these places soon after your move.
Pack your child’s bedroom last, and unpack it first.
Don’t use this time to “spring clean” your child’s bedroom or toss old toys. Kids tend to panic if they get to the new home and can’t find any of their old, familiar junk. Children adjust easier if they find their familiar belongings at the new home. If possible, put the room together right away including pictures on the wall. Your child will then have a haven in the middle of all the chaos. (You can hide there, too, if you want!) Arrange your child’s room in the same way as it was at your old home, so it will be familiar. If your children are old enough and interested, allow them to help unpack and arrange their bedroom. Relax a few standard rules, for example, let her put posters up on her walls, build a fort over her bed, or set up her train set around the borders of the bedroom.
Avoid moving day distress
If possible let your child spend the actual moving day with a relative or friend. May kids find it difficult to see everything pulled from the house and loaded onto a truck. Reassure your child that everything inside your home is going to be moved to the new one. Young children seem to have a hard time understanding this. It may help to walk around the house and talk about what you are taking with you: the refrigerator, the sofa, and the lamps.
Create a “first things” box:
Let your child have a box or suitcase with all her most important things as a “carry on” instead of packing these things in boxes. It can lend a real feeling of security for her to have her favorite toys and clothes with her.
Stay positive and upbeat.
Your child will pick up on your attitude. If you are stressed and fearful that your child will have a hard time with the move, she just may follow your lead. Often, parents become so busy and stressed during a move that they don’t realize how short-tempered they are with their children. Try to be sensitive to your child’s confused emotions right now. Focus on the good aspects of the move. If you find that you just can’t be Pollyanna right now, be kind to your child and let her spend some extra time at a family member or friend’s house.
Think about it:
Every time you walk by the bedroom, the mess annoys you. You grumble and mumble until finally you reach the boiling point, and explode in anger. When you finally put your foot down, you discover that you and your child have vastly different definitions of “clean.” While you envision an immaculate and orderly room, your child may be perfectly happy as long as she can find her way to the bed without a road map. You obviously have conflicting goals. Try to find a long-term solution that works for both of you.
When the bedroom has reached the point of a national disaster, the mess is overwhelming for your child. At this point, you may have to grit your teeth and help with the initial cleanup. Use plenty of boxes, baskets, or tubs to sort your child’s clothes and belongings. Label each container clearly (socks, books, school work, etc.). What happens next is most important. Initiate a daily cleanup time to prevent the buildup of another mess. Inspect every day after cleanup time. At that point use “Grandma’s Rule”: “As soon as your room is clean you may go out to play.” This rule is also known as the “When/Then” approach, “When you have cleaned your bedroom, then you may turn on the computer.”
Sit down with your child and develop a bedroom-cleaning contract. Work together to define what constitutes a “clean room” in very specific terms: clothes in dresser and closet (either hanging or folded), books in bookcase, stuffed animals on top bunk, etc. You might even consider allowing a “messy corner” where she can toss things temporarily. Just make sure the corner is clearly sectioned off, such as a section of the closet. Once you’ve agreed on the terms for a “clean room,” choose a specific day of the week for cleaning. One schedule that works well for many families is to require a clean room Saturday prior to any activities or play time. Include a specific plan for what will happen if the room is not clean by the scheduled time. Write up the contract and have everyone sign the agreement. Post it and follow though.
If you’ve reached the end of your rope, and you’re really brave, pick a time when your child is away from home to do a more-than-thorough cleaning. Using baskets and shelves, neatly arrange the necessities and most favorite toys. Pack 90% of the stuff that litters the floor into small boxes. Store the boxes in the garage or attic. Display your child’s beautifully clean room and let her know she can earn back one box at a time at the end of each week that the room is kept clean. You can expect an outburst of hysterics, but stick to your guns. (If a school supply or a favorite toy is boxed by mistake, it would be okay to rescue it.)
Invest a weekend to clean and rearrange the bedroom. If possible, hang new curtains or cover the bed with a new bedspread. Pull a dresser out of the attic, or search a second-hand store for a new piece of furniture for her room. Let your child paint it however she’d like. Allow her to customize the walls with pictures or posters. Often, a fresh, new outlook like this will encourage a child to keep her “new” room neat and clean.
If your child is age ten or older, and a basically responsible kid, it’s okay to turn her bedroom over to her as practice for her first apartment experience. (Take a security deposit, if you feel you must.) Outline the basic rules, such as: how often the bed linens must be changed, how often the floor must be vacuumed, and what type of food is allowed in the room. Once the basic rules are agreed to, give your child the responsibility to care for her room, her way. You can pile any of her laundry or stray belongings by her door each day. Let her know that as long as the basic rules are followed, she’ll be in charge of her own room. (And if you can’t stand looking at the clutter, shut the door)
Think about it:
Don’t immediately assume there’s a problem. Many children complain at the start of a new year because the teacher is making them work after a summer of leisure, or because they’ve overheard negative comments about the teacher. Give the relationship some time and encourage your child to focus on his friends and schoolwork and let the relationship with the teacher develop. Let your child know that if he’s polite and a good listener, he can make the best of the situation.
Solution #1: Present the attitude that it’s normal for people to have differences, and that differences can usually be worked out, and that it’s more productive to try to make things work than to complain about them. Don’t make negative comments about the teacher to your child, since this just validates your child’s complaints and takes away any incentive to work on the relationship. Ask helpful questions to determine the reason your child dislikes his teacher. It may be a specific issue, or a general personality clash. Through discussion with your child, you can often pinpoint the real problem and can then try to find a solution.
Solution #2: Get involved at school so that you can spend some time in the classroom, even for a short period of time. Having a first-hand look can often give you some valuable information about the teacher and her relationship with your child.
Solution #3: If there is a specific problem, don’t rush in to fix it without thinking it through and having a plan. First, outline the reasons you feel there is a problem and describe the situations that have occurred. Next, try to come up with some possible solutions. Set an appointment with the teacher and present the information in a calm, non-accusatory manner.
Solution #4: If you have tried working with your child, and met with the teacher, and the problem still exists, it may be time to reach for more help. First, understand that if the problem is a minor one, you can make it worse by focusing on it. (Making a mountain out of a molehill!) If you feel that the problem is interfering with your child’s schoolwork, or is affecting his emotional development, those are good reasons to seek help. Schools respond best if you move up the hierarchy, in other words, don’t approach the district superintendent unless you’ve worked with the teacher, the school counselor and principal with no positive results. Use the steps outlined in Solution #3 as you approach each person for help.
NOTE: Move your child to a new classroom, or a new school, only as a last resort. Doing so could send a message to your child that he is not capable of solving problems, or that something is wrong with him. It also may teach your child to run away from problems. If the problem is so severe that you have no choice but to move your child, write a specific letter of complaint to the district superintendent so that any other children will be spared the same problem.
Think about it:
By observing your child, asking subtle questions, and talking with the teacher, you may be able to determine the reasons for this behavior.
There are a variety of typical reasons for a child not wanting to attend school. It may be that a school yard bully is picking on your child. Maybe she doesn’t have any friends, or she is having a difficult time with a specific project or subject, or has a personality conflict with the teacher. If your child is reluctant to talk, use the safety of the “some-kids” comment and take your best guess about what you think the problem might be, “Some kids are afraid they might get lost in such a big school building. How do you feel about finding your way around?”
Once you have pinpointed the problem, you can acknowledge and validate her feelings. Then problem solve with your child to find an acceptable solution.
Solution #1: Make an appointment with a pediatrician for a check up. Poor eyesight, a hearing problem, or other hard-to-detect learning disabilities can make school a very unpleasant place for a child. A check-up can pinpoint or rule out a physical problem.
Solution #2: Don’t encourage your child’s anxieties by overprotecting him. Saying things like, “I’m just a phone call away if you need me” or “The teacher or principal is there to help you with any problems” can confirm a child’s fears. She may think, “if my parents are worried, then I should be, too.” Instead, have a relaxed, supportive attitude. Convey the message that all children go to school, and it’s a normal routine part of life. Make school more fun by participating in school events and showing great interest in your child’s schoolwork and activities.
Solution #3: Help your child overcome her fearful emotions by letting her rehearse or practice for the situations she finds daunting. If she has a hard time speaking out in class, practice having her raise her hand and ask a question at the dinner table. When she does, say something like, “That’s a very good question!” If she is struggling with making friends teach her a few opening lines, such as, “Hi, my name’s Heather. Want to play catch?” If she’s afraid she might get lost in the hallways, visit the school after hours and walk around together, letting her point out her classroom, the art room, the gym, and the cafeteria.
Solution #4: If your child is having trouble with the teacher, have a discussion with her to clarify exactly what the problems are. If the problem is a very specific one (“She never calls on me”), problem solve with your child about how to find a solution. It may help if you assist your child in rehearsing the exact words she can say to the teacher, such as: “I would like to answer more questions in class. Could you please call on me more often?” If the problem is more complicated, set an appointment with the teacher. If you find the teacher is not helpful, talk with the principal or school counselor.
Solution #5: Have specific rules for staying home from school. For example, a fever of 100 degrees, vomiting, etc. Establish strict sick day rules. A healthy child who must stay in bed all day and forgo any evening activities will often “recover” quickly.
Solution #6: For a low-intensity, whining complaint about having to go to school, simply respond, “It’s the law. All kids have to go to school.”
NOTE: If your child appears to have extreme fears about going to school, it’s important that you talk with a professional. Call the school for a recommendation.
Think about it:
Children easily pick up on a parent’s ambivalence about going to work. If you have mixed feelings about leaving your child and going off to work, it’s very possible your child is picking up on those feelings. If you’re leaving your child with a competent caregiver, it’s perfectly okay for you to go to work. As a matter of fact, some people are better parents because of the break that going to work provides them.
Reconcile your own feelings so that you can start leaving for the day with a confident, cheerful attitude.
Convey a positive attitude: Don’t get upset and apologize for leaving your child. Try to convey to your child a calm confidence about the situation. Leave for the day with a wave and a smile on your face. Let your parting comments be positive, “You can show me what you paint with your new paint set when I get home. I’ll be looking forward to it. Have a great day!”
Don’t prolong your leaving: Keep your good-bye brief. Have a routine for leaving. Use the same sequence each time you leave. For young children, this routine might include pretending to give your child a “little tiny Mommy” to put in his pocket, and taking an imaginary mini-version of your child to put in your pocket. Some kids enjoy being your “helper” and buttoning your coat, carrying your briefcase to the door, or unlocking your car. They can then send you on your way, which puts them in more of a position of control over the situation.
Take away the mystery: Let your child visit your place of work so he can see where you will be during the day. Allow him to sit in your seat, use your phone or computer, and meet the people you spend your time with. Then, let him check in with you, if possible, at a specific time of the day. You can then explain where you are, and what you’re doing, and he’ll have a mental picture of your workplace. Many children feel better about letting you leave after this experience.
Let him know you understand: Acknowledge his feelings, and help him understand them. But equally important, reassure him and help him deal with the feelings and learn to get by them. “I know you miss Mommy when I go to work. I miss you too. That’s become we love each other and like to be together. I do need to go to work every day. I like my work. You have lots of things to do when I’m gone. You can tell me all about your day when I get home.”
Think about it: If you found the kids eating candy before dinner, or playing with a baseball in the house, you’d handle the situation easily. If, however, they were eating candy or playing ball with their clothes off, you’d suddenly feel confused and concerned. That’s because you’re viewing the situation from an adult point of view. Most times, childhood nudity and mutual curiosity is normal and natural. You just need to teach kids what’s appropriate and what’s not.
Say calm: If you actually walk into a room and catch children playing with their clothes off, it’s best if you can remain calm. Make a statement such as, “It is not appropriate to play with your clothes off.” Help them get dressed and find an activity to get involved in. Later, at a quiet time, have a brief conversation with your child about what is and is not appropriate. Teach that they must always keep their private areas (bathing suit areas) covered. If this happens with the same two children more than once, don’t let them play together unsupervised. (Don’t make a major announcement, just monitor their time together.)
Teaching time: Take the situation as a cue that your child is ready for more sex education. Spend a brief amount of time answering any of your child’s questions. Let your child’s interest and questions lead the discussion and don’t overwhelm your child with too much information. Give straightforward answers in accurate, but simple terms. Address the issue of appropriate versus inappropriate touching so your child will learn how to be respectful of his own and others privacy.
Read about it: Purchase a book about sexuality and development. Read it yourself, first, because there’s lots of stuff you may have forgotten, and some things you may not even know! Share it with your child at an appropriate time. Let your child know that you’re available to answer any questions. Two outstanding books for this purpose are: My Body, My Self for Girls and My Body, My Self for Boys both by Lynda Madaras. (Newmarket Press, NY, 1993)
Are they mimicking something they’ve seen? Take a serious look at what television shows or movies your child has been watching. Children model the behavior they see, even if they don’t understand it, so be careful what images they are being exposed to.
Take note: Excessive interest in sexual topics, or repeated occurrences of sexual play, may be a warning sign of other problems. There may also be cause for concern if one of the children is several years older than the other. Discuss your observations with a pediatrician, school counselor or family therapist.’
Think about it: As annoying as your child’s lack of manners can be, resist the urge to reprimand him in front of other people. I’ve seen many parents do this. In a misguided effort to teach manners, they display some of the worse manners I’ve seen!
Teach them what to do: Many children are not aware of their bad manners and must be taught not only what not to do, but what to do instead. For example, if a friend of yours speaks to your child, who looks down at his sneakers and ignores the comment, it’s typically embarrassment and ignorance on the child’s part that’s causing the behavior. After the person leaves, make a brief comment to your child, “Casey, if an adult talks to you, it’s polite to look him in the eye and say something back. When Mr. Nagamine commented on your new shoes, you could have said, ‘Thank you, they’re new.’ People like it when you answer them like that.”
Correct privately: If your child is acting in a rude way, lead him away from other people and quietly and briefly correct him. Give him a smile and a hug to show him that you love him. That way you can send him back into the situation prepared to change for the better.
Have clear expectations: In advance of a social situation, brief your child on what manners will be expected of him. Younger children can benefit from a role-play at home previewing what they might expect.
Give lots of praise: Praise your child for using good manners. Believe it or not, children often feel embarrassed when they socialize with adults and use good manners. Since they have heard adults say things like, “Fine thank you, and you?” they feel like an impostor when they say it themselves!
Think about it: Ironically, this problem is one that gets better with practice, but the experience is so painful that the sessions end up being too far apart to be of value. With a specific game plan, you can increase the odds that your children will behave appropriately in a restaurant.
Teach them:If you are very casual about mealtime manners at home, don’t expect your kids to miraculously develop table manners just because you happen to be sitting in a restaurant. Practice appropriate restaurant manners at home. On a daily basis, require good manners. Next, on a regular schedule, maybe once a month, have a “formal family dinner.” Actually use the good china that warms the shelf in your cabinet; cover the table with a tablecloth, and light some candles. Allow your children to help plan the menu and let them make a centerpiece for the table. Formal meals are likely to become a wonderful family tradition.
Choose wisely: Don’t choose a restaurant based on its menu, but rather on its level of child-friendliness. What’s important? The availability of a children’s menu that includes food your kids will actually eat. The absence of a long wait for a table. Booster seats or high chairs. Private booths or eating nooks as opposed to one large open room.
Be specific: Review your expectations for behavior before you enter the restaurant. Be very specific and leave no stone unturned. A sample list of “restaurant rules” might be: Sit in your seat. Use a quiet inside voice. Use your silverware, not your fingers. Have nice conversation, no bickering. If you don’t like something, keep your comments to yourself and fill up on something else. If you have to use the restroom, ask me privately and I’ll take you.
Feed ‘em quick: If your kids are starving, they will get quite anxious waiting for their meals to arrive. Consider an appetizer that can be served quickly so that the kids can settle in.
Time out: If a child’s behavior gets out of hand, take her to the restroom or out to the car for a time out. Make sure she understands that this is happening because she is not following the rules, not as a fun diversion to sitting at the table! During this time out, discuss proper behavior with her and take her back to her seat with a clear understanding of what is expected. (Remember that it can be tough for a little one to sit quietly for a long period of time!) If she continues to misbehave after your time-out-chat, don’t be afraid to leave the restaurant. Don’t stay and suffer. If possible, hire a babysitter for that night, or another night soon afterward, and go to dinner without her. Leaving her behind with a sitter will speak volumes about expected behavior.
Think about it: If your child knows that the worse consequence for not coming when called is that he has to listen to your repeated yodels, he may decide that you’re easy to ignore. He may have learned that he doesn’t have to take your calls seriously until your face is bright red, the veins are sticking out on your neck, and you bellow his middle name. This means, you need to change your behavior to get him to change his.
Do this: Children learn through experience. When you repeatedly call, but he doesn’t show up until he’s ready, you’re actually teaching him to ignore you. Follow this procedure: Visually locate your child. Call once. Wait three minutes. Go to your child, take him by the hand, say, “When I call, I expect you to come.” Then lead him to the desired location. If you do this once or twice in front of his friends, I guarantee he’ll change his ways.
What are you modeling? Watch how the adults in your family call to each other and respond when someone calls them. Does the caller yell from two rooms away? Does the callee mumble, “in a minute” and then have to be reminded several times before responding? These are the models for your child’s behavior. Change the ways you respond to each other. Children learn what they live!
Understand your child: Making a transition from one activity to another can be difficult for many children. Instead of calling, “Come here now!” try giving two warnings first, “Willard, you’ll need to come in five minutes.” A few minutes later, “Willard, two minutes.” Then,”Willard, please come in now.” At this point, wait a minute, and if he doesn’t respond go to him and take him by the hand saying, “When I call I expect you to come.”
Let him KNOW you understand: Acknowledge your child’s desire to continue playing, followed by a firm statement and an action that promotes compliance, “I bet you wish you could stay in the pool forever, but it’s time to go now. Here’s your towel.”
Save your voice: Use a dinner bell or timer to call your child. Tell him that when he hears the bell, he needs to come before you count to fifty. After a few practice runs you can create a consequence for not coming in response to the bell, such as skipping desert – just let your child know the specifics in advance as fair warning!
The questions to ask yourself
The key to making this decision is to ask the right questions, and to take the time to search your soul and figure out the answers. There are no “right” answers here, because we are all very different human beings.
Why do I want another child?
Reasons may run the gamut from wanting a sibling for your child, to simply loving to raise children. Consider what you know of yourself, your view of family life, your own upbringing – the countless reasons of the heart. If it’s the amazing experiences of pregnancy and childbirth you miss, remember that your commitment only begins with these and continues long after the baby’s arrival. If you’re considering another child due to pressure from your parents, in-laws, other relations or friends, tune their voices out for a bit and listen only to those of yourself and your mate. This decision must come from the two people who know your situation best, and who will have to live the day-to-day realities of another child.
How will another baby change our economic position? Are we willing to make that change?
You’ll note that the question is not, “Can we afford another baby?” The issue runs deeper than that, because many families are more than willing to make the necessary financial compromises. You need to be realistic: Adding a child does add expenses. But “economics” addresses resources beyond the strictly financial. You also need to consider your time, your patience, and your attention – all essentials that will have to be divvied up among more than one child. Most people find that there’s plenty to go around because of one related, easily renewable resource: love.
How will life change, and are we ready for that change?
Since you already have a baby, you know how much time a new baby demands in his first few years. A second (or third or ninth) is no different and will tug at your hours along with his siblings. While you shouldn’t base a major life decision on the next 24 months, you do need to remember that one year follows another: each year builds on the one previous. So make a realistic assessment of how this will change your lives both now and in the future that follows.
How will a new baby affect the lives of your other children?
Babies have an effect on the whole house, not just mom and dad. How a new sibling will affect the child you do have isn’t a reason to have (or not have) more children, but the unique characteristics of the child you already have should factor in to your decision.
Are you and your partner on the same page?
The two of you must discuss your thoughts about another baby and come to an agreement, one way or the other, that both can be happy with.
Is this a question of when?
Perhaps you know that you want another child, but you’re not certain if now is the right time. Here are some points to consider:
The impact of pregnancy.
Studies demonstrate that waiting at least 18 months between pregnancies gives you the best odds for a healthy pregnancy, delivery and baby. This isn’t a guarantee, of course, and many women who have babies 10 months apart have normal pregnancies and healthy babies. Generally speaking, however, ample time between pregnancies gives your body a chance to recover fully.
The waiting time for adoption.
Depending on the situation under which you adopt, a long period may elapse between when you first make your decision and when your new baby actually joins your family.
The age gap issue.
How far apart in age should your children be? No perfect answer there either… I’ve experienced both sides of the issue: My first three children are all two years apart, and then there was an eight-year gap before my fourth child arrived. I can clearly see that both situations have advantages. The bottom line is that the personalities of your children and your family patterns will have more to do with their short- and long-term relationships than anything as simple as the number of months or years that separate their birthdays.
The biological clock and fertility issues.
In today’s world, many couples are starting their families later in life. If pregnancy is your route to your next baby, you’ll certainly want to investigate the factors involved in conception. While women can have babies in their forties (my son Coleton arrived when I was 41), fertility rates drop dramatically after the age of 35. Achieving pregnancy (and finally meeting that new family addition) may take longer than you expect.
What’s in your heart?
If you’ve thoroughly examined all the issues involved in adding another baby to your family, and your heart and soul continue to have an empty spot that craves another child (or conversely, the doubt and fear are overwhelming), then perhaps you already have your answer.
Think about it: Before the baby entered your family, your toddler was told he’d have a wonderful little brother to play with, and how much fun it would be. Then the little brother is born and your toddler is thinking, “Are you kidding me? This squirming, crying, red-faced lump that takes up all your time and attention is supposed to be FUN?” He then “plays” with the baby in the only ways he knows how. He plays catch. You yell at him for throwing toys at the baby. He plays hide-and-seek. You screech that he’s trying to suffocate the baby with the blanket. He gives the kid a hug, and you explode in fury. Is it any wonder that your toddler is confused?
Teach: Your first goal is to protect the baby. Your second, to teach your older child how to interact with his new sibling in proper ways. You can teach your toddler how to play with the baby in the same way you teach him anything else. Talk to him, demonstrate, guide and encourage. Until you feel confident that you’ve achieved your second goal, however, do not leave the children alone together. Yes, I know. It isn’t convenient. But it is necessary, maybe even critical.
Hover: Whenever the children are together, “hover” close by. If you see your child about to get rough, pick up the baby and distract the older sibling with a song, a toy, an activity or a snack. This action protects the baby while helping you avoid a constant string of “Nos,” which may actually encourage the aggressive behavior.
Teach soft touches: Teach the older sibling how to give the baby a back rub. Tell how this kind of touching calms the baby, and praise the older child for a job well done. This lesson teaches the child how to be physical with the baby in a positive way.
Act quickly: Every time you see your child hit, act quickly. Firmly announce, “No hitting, time out.” Place the child in a time-out chair or room with the statement, “You can come out when you can keep your hands to yourself.”
Praise: Whenever you see the older child touching the baby gently, make a positive comment. Make a big fuss about the important “older brother.” Hug and kiss your older child and tell him how proud you are.
Watch your words: Don’t blame everything on the baby. “We can’t go to the park; the baby’s sleeping.” “Be quiet, you’ll wake the baby.” “After I change the baby I’ll help you.” At this point, your child would just as soon sell the baby. Instead, use alternate excuses. “My hands are busy now.” “We’ll go after lunch.” “I’ll help you in three minutes.”
Give extra love: Increase your little demonstrations of love for your child. Say extra I love yous, increase your daily dose of hugs, find time to read a book or play a game. Temporary regressions or behavior problems are normal, and can be eased with an extra dose of time and attention.
Get ’em involved: Teach the older sibling how to be helpful with the baby or how to entertain the baby. Let the older sibling open the baby gifts and use the camera to take pictures of the baby. Teach him how to put the baby’s socks on. Let him sprinkle the powder. Praise and encourage whenever possible.
Make each feel special: Avoid comparing siblings, even about seemingly innocent topics such as birth weight, when each first crawled or walked, or who had more hair! Children can interpret these comments as criticisms.
Your friend has obviously had some experience with toddlers, and she knows that biting a playmate is common in this age group (perhaps her daughter has already been on the other side of the action.) Toddlers don’t have the words to describe their emotions, they don’t quite know how to control their feelings, and they don’t have any concept of hurting another person. When a toddler bites a friend, it most likely isn’t an act of aggression: It is simply an immature way of trying to get a point across, experimentation with cause and effect, or playfulness gone awry.
What not to do about biting
Many parents respond emotionally when their toddler uses his teeth on another human being; their immediate response is anger, followed by punishment. This is because we view the act from an adult perspective. However, if we can understand that a toddler bite is most likely a responsive reflex, we can avoid responding in the following typical, yet unnecessary and ineffective ways:
Don’t bite your child back to “show him how it feels.” He isn’t purposefully hurting his playmate. He doesn’t understand that what he did is wrong, so by responding with the same action you may actually be reinforcing that this is an acceptable behavior, or confusing him entirely.
Don’t assume that your child is willfully misbehaving. The ways that you’ll treat these behaviors in an older child, who understands that biting is wrong, will be different than how you will approach this with a toddler.
Don’t yell at your toddler. This will do nothing more than scare her; it won’t teach her anything about what she’s just done.
What to do about biting
When you understand that your child’s actions are normal, and that they aren’t intentional misbehavior, you will be able to take the right steps to teach her how to communicate her anger and frustration. This takes time, and she’ll need more than one lesson. Here’s how to teach your child not to bite:
Watch and intercept
As you become familiar with your toddler’s actions, you may be able to stop a bite even before it even occurs. If you see that your child is getting frustrated or angry – perhaps in the middle of a tussle over a toy – step in and redirect her attention to something else.
Immediately after your toddler bites another child, look her in the eye and tell her in one or two short sentences what you want her to know, such as, “Biting hurts. We don’t bite. Give Emmy a hug now. That will make her feel better.” Then, give your child a few hints on how she should handle her frustration next time; “If you want a toy, you can ask for it or come to Mommy for help.”
Avoid playful biting
Nibbling your little one’s toes or playfully nipping his fingers sends a mixed message to your child. A little one won’t understand when biting another person is okay and when it’s not, nor is she able to judge the pressure she’s putting into the bite. As she gets a little older, she will start to understand that some things can be done carefully and gently in play, but not in anger. This takes a little more maturity to understand ¾ more than you can expect your toddler to have at her young age.
Give more attention to the injured child
Typically, we put all our energy into correcting the biter’s actions and we don’t give the child who was bitten any consolation. Soothing the child who was bitten can show your child that his actions caused another child fear or pain. You can even encourage your child to help sooth his friend.
The repeat offender
If you’ve gone though the above steps, and then your child bites again, you can respond with a little more intensity. If you catch him in the act, immediately go to him. Take him by the shoulders, look him in the eye, and firmly announce, “No biting: time-out.” Direct him to a chair and have him sit for a minute or two. It doesn’t take very long for your message to sink in. (And, with a toddler, a longer time-out can dilute the message as he may actually forget why he’s sitting there!)
If you miss the action, but are told about it later, you can have a talk with your child about what happened. Limit yourself to a few brief, specific comments, as a lengthy lecture is almost never effective. A child who bites a playmate more than once may need more guidance on how to handle frustration and anger. Reading toddler books on the topic, role-playing, and demonstration of appropriate actions can all help your child learn how to respond to his own emotions in socially appropriate ways.
Although the risk of injury from a toddler’s bite is small, it’s good to know what to do in case of a bite that breaks through the skin:
- Calm and reassure the child who was bitten.
- Wash your hands with soap and water.
- Wash the wound with mild soap and water .
- Cover the injury with a bandage.
- If the bite is actively bleeding, control the bleeding by applying direct pressure with a clean, dry cloth.
- Call your pediatrician for advice.
Think about it: It takes two to argue. Your child cannot “argue” by himself. That’s called “mumbling.”
Say it once: Practice stating your case, then being quiet. Ignore your child’s argumentative comments, and walk away if you must. Let your child get used to your word being final.
Let ’em complain a bit: As long as it’s respectful, sometimes let your child have the last word. Often a statement, such as, “Why do I have to do it?” neither requires nor deserves an answer. Often, a child’s mutterings really mean, “I’ll do it ‘cus I have to, but I don’t like it.”
Set rules for debating: Some children really do enjoy debating an issue. If your child is like this, set ground rules for when and how issues can be debated. For instance: no raising of voices, no name calling, quiet listening to the other person’s point of view. This behavior provides excellent practice for learning how to negotiate in life. In addition, your child must understand that some things cannot be argued — that there are some things the parents must decide. Have a standard reply for when an issue cannot be debated, such as, “This is not open for discussion.”
Offer choices: Get in the habit of offering your child choices, instead of issuing commands. Children who are argumentative will have less opportunity to practice the skill if you offer a choice. For example, instead of saying,
Do your homework, right now, offer a choice, such as,
“What would you like to do first: your homework or the dishes?”
If the response is, “Neither,” you can smile sweetly and say,
“That wasn’t one of the choices. Homework or dishes?”
Think about it: Backtalk is addictive, so it must be handled as a serious offense. A child who talks rudely to a parent once or twice and gets away with it will continue the behavior, and it will progressively get worse. Most children will attempt backtalk at some point. When a parent responds calmly and with authority, the behavior will stop.
Announce your expectations: If a child has developed a habit of backtalk, it will take firm action to stop the behavior. Have a meeting with your child to announce that backtalk will no longer be tolerated. Decide on a series of consequences that will occur each time backtalk occurs. Consequences may involve losing a privilege, such as telephone use, television watching, or visits with friends. They may be an additional chore, or an earlier bedtime. Then announce the sequence in which the consequences will occur. “When you talk back in a disrespectful way, you will lose your telephone privileges for the day. The second offense will cause you to lose your TV show for the night. The third will…” Each day will start with a clean slate. After the meeting, calmly and firmly follow through.
Don’t empower it: Whenever a child talks back, immediately stop the conversation and walk out of the room or walk away from the child. If the child follows you, calmly and firmly announce that you will not tolerate disrespect, then pointedly ignore the child. Later, when you have calmed down, let your child know what the consequence will be for the backtalk.
Use a quarter-board: Tape your child’s allowance, in quarters, to a piece of cardboard. Tell your child that each time he talks back to you, he will lose a quarter from his allowance as a fine. He’ll get what’s left at the end of the week. If your child uses up all the quarters, add a chore or eliminate a privilege for each offense (or continue taking quarters from the next week). Start fresh with each new week. This series of events is meant to be a temporary training situation. When the problem seems under control, let your child know that you appreciate his efforts to control the backtalk, and that you’ll no longer be charging the fine. However, make it clear that if the behavior ever becomes a problem again, you’d be happy to head to the bank for a roll of quarters.
Teach: If a normally respectful child makes a disrespectful comment, look him in the eye and make a serious, firm comment such as, “That is backtalk and is not allowed in this family.” Continue the conversation as if the backtalk did not occur, expecting the child to comply with your request. Do not empower the backtalk by arguing over the issue that triggered it.
Choose the right chores: Choose age appropriate jobs for children based on their physical and mental abilities. Most parents underestimate their children’s abilities in this area. Keep in mind that a child who has mastered a complicated computer game can easily run the dishwasher! Preschoolers can handle one or two simple daily jobs. Older children can manage two or three daily jobs along with one or two weekly jobs. (See the suggested list at the end of this article.)
Take time for training: Don’t assume that since your child has seen you do the task that she can do it herself. Be very specific in your instruction and demonstrate step-by-step as your child watches. The next step is to let your child help you, followed by your child doing the chore as you supervise. At the point you feel that your child has mastered the job she can take over responsibility for it.
Write it down: Children need a visual daily reminder to keep them on track doing chores. (This compares to your need for a daily planner sheet or to-do list.) A chore chart on which a child can make daily check marks is one helpful technique. An alternative is to use a pegboard made for hanging keys as a holder for tags that list a daily chore on each one. A child can flip the tags over as she completes each daily chore. At the end of the day, a parent can check for any open tags and have the child finish up before getting ready for bed.
First things first: Use the “when/then” technique. As an example, “When the pets are fed, then you may have your dinner.” As a quiet reminder, the child’s dinner plate can be left upside down, which means: “Run and feed the pets, then you can eat!” Other when/then routine suggestions are: “When your homework is done, then you can play outside.” “When your pajamas are on and teeth brushed, then we will read a book.” What makes this idea work best is when you follow the when/then rule every day.
Be specific: Be very specific in your instructions. As an example, “clean your room” is vague and can be interpreted in any number of ways. Instead, be explicit by saying, “Put your clothes in the closet, books on the shelf, dishes in the kitchen and toys in the toy box.”
Bonus Day! Once in a while, just for fun, have a “Coin Collection Day.” Prior to having your child complete her chores, hide pennies, nickels, or dimes around the house under the items that need to be cleaned. When all the chores are done to your satisfaction, the child gets to keep the bonus!
Chore list ideas: What follows is a list of ideas from which you can choose a few chores for your child. The idea is not to turn your child into Cinderella! Simply review the list, consider your child’s age, ability, and personality, and select chores appropriate for your child. Preschoolers can handle one or two simple jobs. As children get older and more capable they can handle a larger quantity of jobs, as well as those that are more complex.
Ages 2 to 3: Put toys away, fill pet’s food dish, put clothes in hamper, wipe up spills, dust, pile books or magazines, choose clothes and dress self.
Ages 4 to 5: Above plus, make own bed, empty wastebaskets, bring in mail or newspaper, clear table, pull weeds, use hand-held vacuum to pick up crumbs, water flowers, unload utensils from dishwasher, wash plastic dishes at sink, fix bowl of cereal.
Ages 6 to 7: Above plus, sort laundry, sweep floors, handle personal hygiene, set and clear table, help make and pack lunch, weed, rake leaves, keep bedroom tidy, pour own drinks, answer telephone.
Ages 8 to 9: Above plus, load dishwasher, put away groceries, vacuum, help make dinner, make own snacks, wash table after meals, put away own laundry, sew buttons, run own bath, make own breakfast, peel vegetables, cook simple food (such as toast), mop floor, take pet for a walk, pack own suitcase
Ages 10 and up: Above, plus unload dishwasher, fold laundry, clean bathroom, wash windows, wash car, cook simple meal with supervision, iron clothes, do laundry, baby-sit younger siblings (with adult in the home), mow lawn, clean kitchen, clean oven, change bed, make cookies or cake from box mix, plan birthday party, have neighborhood job — such as pet care or yard work, or have a paper route.
Think about it: Talk about fingernails on a blackboard! Whining has got to be the ultimate in annoying childhood behavior. Because a whining child sounds worse than a frenzied siren alarm we tend to do anything to make it stop. Thus our little whiner discovers a great way to get our undivided attention.
NEVER EVER respond to or give in to a whining request. Make an announcement: “When you use your normal voice I will listen to you.” Then turn your back to the whining child and make it obvious you are ignoring her by singing or reading a book out loud held in front of your face. If the child continues to whine, repeat the same sequence without engaging the child any further. (Pleading or discussing will only increase the whining.)
Help by modeling: Help your child by modeling what it is you want to hear, “I can’t understand you when you use a whining voice, please say, “Mommy, may I please have a drink.”
Create an incentive: Put a jar on the kitchen counter. Put ten nickels in it. Tell your child that every time she whines or fusses you will take a nickel out of the jar. Any nickels left over at bedtime will be hers to keep as a reward for remembering to use her “big girl voice.”
Teach: Often children aren’t really aware they are whining. Have a discussion about whining and demonstrate what it sounds like. (Put on a good show!) Tell your child you want to help her remember not to whine, so every time she does you are going to put your fingers in your ears and say “yuck!” and make a funny face. That will be her signal to find her regular voice.
Time it: Tell your child that you’re going to set the timer for three minutes. She can fuss for three minutes and then she must stop. Some children will complain, ” that’s not enough time!” Then ask, “How much is enough, four or five minutes?” Typically, of course, five will be chosen. Make big production of setting the timer for five minutes, and announce that she must stop when the timer rings. Most kids will stop before the timer rings. If your persistent whiner doesn’t stop after five minutes, you can put her in time out, or put yourself in time out, until the fussing ends.
Make sure you aren’t giving whining lessons. Such as, “Will Youuu Pleeeze Stop Whyyy Niingg! It’s driving me Craaazeee!”
Praise! Praise your child’s attempts at using a regular voice. “Ariel, I really enjoy hearing your pleasant voice!” Try to say “yes” to a request made in a regular, polite voice.
For example, if your child normally whines about having a cookie after lunch, and today she asks pleasantly, try to give her at least a piece of a cookie to reward her for her appropriate manners. Make sure you tell her that’s why you said okay, “Yes, you may have a cookie. I’m saying yes because you asked in such a nice voice and you didn’t whine about it. Lucky you!”
Think about it: It’s a simple equation. Take lots of exciting TV commercials and add a peek at a friend’s prized possessions. Multiply the result by attractive store displays. Sprinkle liberally with a child’s natural desires and the result is: THE GIMMEES. It’s a hard lesson, but kids can learn to enjoy viewing the finer things in life without demanding that they have a piece of every pie they see.
Give the shopping list of the day: Let your child know in advance what you will or will not be buying that day. For example, “We’re going to the mall to buy gifts for Nathan and Julia. We may get socks as well, but that’s all we’ll be purchasing for ourselves today.” When your child makes a request for a sweatshirt, simply remind him, “That’s a great shirt, but remember, we’re here to buy gifts today.”
Accept their wishes: Acknowledge your child’s desire for nice things, “Wow! That is an amazing game. It looks like fun.” Follow this with a statement of why you’ll not be buying it, without sounding reproving, such as, “We’re only buying groceries today.” Or “We’re here to buy a gift for your cousin Oishi today.”
Santa’s list:Create a “wish list” for your child and keep it in your wallet. Whenever your child says, “I want this” make a comment such as, “Do you prefer the blue one or the rainbow colored one?” Then pull out the list and add the item saying, “I’ll add this to your wish list.”
Play pretend: Validate your child’s wish for new things by using a fantasy statement, “Wouldn’t it be great if the owner of this store told us we could fill up our cart with anything we wanted for free!” What typically ensues is a fun game of make believe.
Teaching, too: Don’t ever say, “We can’t afford it.” The message is that if you could you’d buy those two-hundred-dollar shoes! Instead make a comment that can teach your child something about making money decisions, such as, “Those are pretty, but we choose not to spend $200 on a pair of shoes when we can find ones we like for thirty dollars.”
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Excerpted with permission by McGraw-Hill Publishing from Perfect Parenting (McGraw-Hill 1998).
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