parenting: columns

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How do I cut back on my 2.5 year-old’s TV time?
First, take a look at when your child is watching TV.  While it’s good to watch TV with your child to answer questions and know what is being seen, having a favorite dvd or recorded show can provide 20-30 minutes of you time—to check email, read the paper, do something your child can’t be involved with.

Any TV during meals should be cut.  At a neutral  point in the day (when your child is rested, fed, and happy) you can say, “I’ve been thinking about watching TV while we eat—I realize while it can be fun, I’ve been learning that it’s not good for our bodies.  From now on, the TV will be off when we eat.”  Sit with your child during mealtimes and talk about your day (without quizzing—just share your stories).

If your child is used to watching a few shows in a row, or in the morning and afternoon, choose one TV time.  You will probably have to repeat words like, “This is playtime, we have TV time in the morning,” or “This is playtime, we have TV time once a day,” many times, but the message will sink in.  This might be a good time to put some toys that your toddler loves (and perhaps buy a few new ones) in a special box or basket for the playtime that is replacing TV time to ease the transition.

What can I do if I see my child tussling over a toy at the playground?
Sharing toys-- when Push Comes to Shove

The next time you see two children (3 and up) tugging at the same toy, say what you see rather than offer a solution:  “I see Liam and Rose and one car.”  After Liam and Rose say things like, “I got it first,”  “She grabbed it,” etc. state your expectation, “I’m sure you can work out a plan to share the car.”  We want kids to solve things by themselves, and this is structured practice.  If you see it’s not working, you can intervene by removing the object, “I see you aren’t ready to share this now.”  Later, at home, try a role-play of the same scene with your child.  Having the words will bring confidence the next time there is something to be worked out. 

(For children under 3, you can do the same thing but talk them through it, since they don’t have all the words—“I see Tim and Gala and one car.  We can take turns with the car.  Tim, Gala will take a turn with the car and then she’ll give you a turn.  While Gala takes her turn we can go on the slide or on the swing.”)

How do I get my child to stop using the stroller/buggy board?

Buggy boards serve a purpose when you need to get two younger children from one lace to another.  As your children get older, trying hard to find the time to allow your older one to walk is good for everyone.
My husband, who apparently wasn’t paying attention each time I was showing him how the buggy board worked, broke it a month after our older daughter turned 4.  It turned out to be perfect timing because she had basically stopped walking. 

I told her it was broken and that we weren’t getting it fixed.  I stuck to explanations that would help her feel good about herself: “Your body needs to walk,”; “Look at how many blocks we’ve walked!  Do you want to count the ones we have left?” ; “What’s that over there?” ;  “You are so strong!”  It’s best to avoid phrases like, “Strollers are for babies,”; “You’re too big for the stroller,”  ; “Do you see (insert name of any other child walking) in a stroller?” (Kids will think, “I liked being a baby” ; “I can totally fit in the stroller!” ; and “That (insert name) isn’t doing me any favors.” 

And of course you may end up taking a taxi every once and a while.  As my 4 year old said the other day,  “I can hail a taxi, mama, watch!” and she did.

Sometimes I just want my child to behave well so I’m not embarrassed—is that so much to ask?

Yes.  Next question?

Let’s take a moment to feel that embarrassment together—the times when you are “that mom” / “that dad”.  The time when your 3-year-old takes her clothes off when you’ve turned around to put something in the stroller, or your 4-year-old is wailing because you won’t buy ice cream in the middle of January.

Some of our basic moves as parents apply here: acknowledge the feeling and state the expectation/limit; set your child up for maximum success; and make use of the parental ability to “suck it up”.  This translates to: “You want to undress—we undress at home.” “I hear that you are hungry for ice cream, we can have ice cream in the summer.”  Setting up for success means respecting nap times, bed time (a well rested child is a happier child) and letting your child make as many child appropriate choices as possible (deciding between outfits, between simple food choices, etc.).  When it’s time for me to be “that mom” with the screaming baby or frustrated four year old, I take a deep breath, remember that she’s four, and suck it up.

Spring means more playground time-- are you ready?

I’m new at motherhood, I need playground tips, please!
Packing up for the playground:  leave the special toys at home; bring toys you are pretty sure your child can share. Bring nut-free snacks—no reason to have a bag of peanuts you need to keep an eye on.

Be friendly—extend your hand, “Hi, I’m, Celia, Kai’s mom,” or, “How old is he/she?  My daughter just turned two.” Just like kids, some grownups are shy—it may seem like a mom is judging or ignoring you, but she’s probably not (dealing with frosty impolite mom tips, next month).

Honor your child. If she falls and cries, let her know you know it hurts, or she was scared, and let her cycle through the emotions.  At times I’ve asked another parent to refrain from telling my child: “You hardly fell, you’re okay!  Or, “You didn’t want to play with that one anyway—yours is better!” We want our children to feel what they are feeling, and learn how to work through those difficult moments.

We just had a baby and my older child is regressing-- I keep telling him he’s the big boy, but it doesn’t seem to help!
Having a baby is a major shift—here are things you can do to ease the transition. Keep in mind this is a major shift for the entire family—it should feel different, fabulous, and at times, difficult.

A few things you can do

  • Read and re-read the picture books about having a baby.  My favorites: Hello Baby, by Lizzy Rockwell; the Joanna Cole books (When You Were Inside Mommy; I’m A Big Sister/Brother; The New Baby At Your House)
  • Prepare a “nursing” or “feeding” basket of toys/books that your child can play with and you can read from only when you are feeding the newborn.

A few things you can say
It’s different now that we have the baby—now our family is mom, dad, Lily, and Ethan.
Sometimes it’s hard to have a brother.
People get very excited when they see babies—don’t they!

As always less can be more

When you say something to your child, pause, and give it time.  You may be surprised what he comes up with, and how long it might take.

Even if your child can’t speak, you can name the emotion she might be feeling

You’re upset—I said we were going to the park and we haven’t left yet.
You’re frustrated—you built that tower and Clara knocked it down.
Look at that smile, it feels good when your brother holds your hand!
Try to avoid
Telling your child he is “The big boy” and “shouldn’t do/want x, y, or z” When a new baby comes on the scene and you are only a year or two away from that stage yourself, regression is natural, you don't want to be told you can't do it-- that's almost a set up!
Saying, “She’s your sister, you have to love her!”

Sometimes I tell my child something and then wish I hadn’t.  I keep hearing it’s important to be consistent, but what if I change my mind?

Consistency is somewhat overrated.  If you made a bad decision you need to be able to change your mind. We need our children to change their minds when they make poor decisions.  This is yet another behavior we need to model.

If you say something you wish you hadn’t, keep it simple. 
“Yesterday I said we weren’t going to have a playdate because you were grabbing.  We don’t grab from our friends.  Let’s go on the playdate and practice.”
“The other day I said no TV—I was feeling frustrated. We both need a break now—watch one show.”

The next challenge is to eliminate bargaining from your interactions.  To raise children who will do things for themselves, we have to show them the value in doing something because it’s what needs to be done.  (Not to say that we all don’t strike a bargain or two when really pressed.)  As an everyday habit, it will backfire.
My four year old says things like, “I hate you!” or “I wish you’d go away!”  How do I deal with this?
First, we know that the temptation here is to address the behavior.  Take a breath and let go of that for the moment.  Children love their parents, so these words are testing words— If I say this, what will happen?  And the answer is, you’re still the loving parent—nothing drastic will happen.  In the moment, let your child know that you hear the words, “I can hear that you’re upset with me,” is a possible line.  You can follow by naming the emotion your child is feeling (which is a helpful skill) by saying, “You’re angry,” or “You’re disappointed because we didn’t have ice cream,” etc.  

At another time, when everything is calm, you can talk with your child about the words she was choosing, if you wish.  “The other day when you were upset you used words that hurt my feelings,” lets your child know how the words made you feel.  If it’s a pattern and you want to talk about it, be clear and simple.  If you don’t feel the need to address it, that’s fine too— working to name emotions will make it easier in the future for your child to be upset without making such rash statements.

Say what you mean and mean what you say.
When you hear a parent or caregiver saying “I’m leaving now—are you coming or not?”  you know the adult isn’t going to leave, and while the toddler probably knows this too, he or she might not be entirely sure.  Adults can use very convincing tones of voice when they are fed up.    Words like, “I’m going,” or, “Stop hanging all over me and go play” can sound harsh to kids.  The message they get is, I’m not always wanted. Children who hear words like this can lose confidence, and in turn, become more clingy or testing in the future.  Saying things like, “We need to leave-- I can’t leave without you,” and “I see you need some mom/dad time now” make it clear to your child that you are there for them.

Mornings are always a scramble in our house.  How do we make them sunny side up?
Morning routines need to work for everyone, so depending upon the age of your child(ren) you can either have a family meeting or do a real assessment of what they like in the morning.  Combine that with what must be accomplished, and post a schedule.  If you have a child who likes to play a bit before school, you might make a “toys for the morning basket”.  If you have a child who has trouble getting up—keep it simple—bathroom, breakfast, get dressed (or some variation).  Almost everyone can benefit from choosing clothes the night before, even adults.  Use language that empowers your child like asking, “What’s next?” 

For a child who can’t read well yet, take a hint from the pre-school classroom and make a 
“picture clock”—pictures in order of things to do in the morning.  For another child, words and pictures are nice.  For all ages you can make it together:  print out pictures of things you actually have—I have tiny pictures of shoes, clothes, lunch bag, etc. that are the exact ones we own—the internet makes this very possible.  You can also invest in egg timers, the kind with sand—this is very concrete:  “In three minutes breakfast will be over.  We can see that brushing teeth is next!”

If your child does have trouble waking in the morning, or isn’t getting enough rest, this is a good time to look at sleep habits. 
They are not written in stone, even with a school age child.  Research shows that a typical three year old should be getting at least 12 hours of sleep (around 10 and a half at night and one nap), a four year old should be getting around 11 and half hours at night with no nap, and a nine year old still needs 10 hours.   If your child isn’t sleeping this much, he or she probably should be-- but it takes work!  True blackout curtains help in the summer and the winter—blocking out light at bedtime or at wakeup.  The easiest first step: subtract the amount of night hours your child should be getting from her usual wake up time, and make that her bedtime.


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