January 31, 2011

Have You Filled a Bucket Today?

Parents want a child who is kind and respectful to others. How many times in the past week have you muttered the words, "Be nice!" The words children use are based on what they hear from other people, especially their parents. What are you saying to your child and how are those words impacting what he or she says to others? Are you modeling kindness?

I believe that children need to be taught how to express kindness on a daily basis. One easy way to teach kindness is to use the concept in the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud.

The premise of the book is that we all carry an invisible bucket that holds our feelings. When our bucket is full, we feel happy; when it's empty, we feel sad. A bucket filler is someone who says or does nice things for other people. By doing this, they are filling other people's buckets and filling their own bucket at the same time. On the other hand, a bucket dipper says or does things to cause other people to feel bad. A bucket dipper empties their own bucket when they say and do mean things.

Since children are visual learners I suggest you give each family member a small bucket. It can be a beach bucket or a small box such as an empty tissue box. Decorate them and add your name. Line them up and each day family members put kinds words and compliments on pieces of paper and drop them into the buckets. Young children who are not yet reading and writing can draw pictures. At the end of the week have a special family time where you empty the buckets and read the nice things that filled your bucket.

Help your child come up with things they can say or do to fill someone's bucket. In no time at all your children will experience the pride and joy of bucket filling!

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Hardest Job in the World

When I was a child I watched the Andy Griffith show, the Brady Bunch and reruns of Leave it to Beaver. Television parents, especially fathers, made parenting look so easy. They were wise and had all the answers. They never seemed to struggle with finding solutions to problems and there was always a happy ending. And it was all accomplished in thirty minutes!

In reality parenting is not that easy. You don’t always have all the answers and quite often it’s simply trial and error. There is not a handbook attached to your child when you bring her home from the hospital and even if there was it could never begin to cover all the various aspects of raising a child.

If you’re struggling with the challenges of parenting keep in mind that you’re learning as you go and that in any given moment you’re doing the best that you can.

January 27, 2011

Junk Food Day

Do your children incessantly beg for junk food? Mine did and I went to extremes to get it to stop.

One morning they stumbled downstairs asking what was for breakfast. I offered cake or ice cream. They looked at me with startled faces.

I explained that today was Junk Food Day and only junk food could be eaten. They happily ate both cake and ice cream, with sprinkles, for breakfast. Their mid-morning snack was candy and lunch was milk and cookies.

Mid afternoon snack time arrived and I offered soda and chips. My daughter asked if she could have carrots. Request denied. Tears flowed as she begged me to not make her eat junk food. I relented.

Junk Food Day never occurred again.

Mission accomplished.

January 26, 2011

Values are Like Viruses

I once read that values are like viruses because they’re caught in the environment within which they reside. That statement had a powerful impact on me as a parent and brought to my attention that you have to begin teaching your child values from the time they are very small.

Children learn from what they hear and observe so the best way to teach values is to set a good example. Albert Schweitzer, French philosopher and physician, suggests that adults teach children in three important ways: “The first is by example. The second is by example. The third is by example.” If your child grows up observing you being dishonest with yourself and others, what do you suppose your child will imitate?

Share with your child a story about how you learned a lesson when you were young. It will help your child better understand the difference between right and wrong. Kids will listen. Explain your reasons for what you say and how you act. This will demonstrate how you use your values to make decisions.

Lead by example every day. The values you share will stay with your children and they will make them their own.

January 25, 2011

FREE Parenting Class, "Taming the Wild Things"

Do you have concerns about your child's behavior? Are you struggling to find discipline methods that work? Parenting coach and child development expert Pam Dyson, in conjunction with MomsLikeMe, is offering a two hour class for parents on taming the wild things. Children often exhibit challenging behaviors when they don't have the skills needed to display more appropriate behaviors. This class will help parents understand why challenging behaviors occur and offer strategies to help you manage those behaviors.

Click HERE for registration information.

Is Your Child's Self Talk Positive or Negative?

Self talk is an internal dialog. It can be positive or negative depending on your outlook on life. What you say to yourself can impact your feelings and your actions. People who practice positive self talk are more confident and successful. People who use negative self talk lack confidence and have low self esteem.

Take a close look at your child’s self talk. Is it positive or negative? A child's self-talk doesn’t just happen. It emerges based on what they hear from other people, especially their parents. What are you saying to your child and how are those words impacting their self talk?

When children hear words of encouragement they learn to respect themselves. “You followed directions.” “You figured that out.” “You stayed calm.” These are examples of what you can tell your child to encourage their self talk to be positive.

“You never do anything right.” “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” “You’re so clumsy.” These words are full of criticism and blame. Children who hear them feel worthless and their self talk will reflect negativity.

Parents need to make a conscious effort to encourage positive self talk in their children. I encourage you to pay close attention to what you say to your child over the next few days. Are your comments mostly negative? If so, find a way to turn those negative comments into positive ones. It can be as simple as “catching your child being good” and telling him you noticed. The more you’re aware of what you say to your child the more positive your comments will become. When you incorporate positive comments into your daily routine, it can make big changes in your life and in the self talk of your child.

January 20, 2011

Thirty Second Burst of Attention

Children want and need attention and they will do anything to get it. Quite often they’re most in need of attention when you’re in the middle of something important.

Dr. Garry Landreth is known for his writing and work in promoting play therapy. He suggests that when a child needs your attention you stop what you're doing and give him a "Thirty Second Burst of Attention."

Let’s say you’re on the phone with your friend Brenda and your son approached you saying “Mom, Mom, Mom!” He’s tugging on your pants leg and jumping up and down. Your usual reaction is probably shaking your head at him while mouthing the words, “Not now! I’m busy! Go play!” What if instead you said, "Excuse me for thirty seconds, Brenda.” You put down the phone, got down on your son's level and said, "I have thirty seconds to listen. What do you need to tell me?" As he shares with you his enthusiasm over the dead bug he found, nod your head to communicate that you’re listening and that you care about what he is saying. At the end of thirty seconds you should say, "John, thanks for sharing that with me. Now I'm going to finish my conversation with Brenda."

Your child’s need for attention would have been satisfied in thirty seconds. Thirty seconds! That’s not too much of a hardship on your time is it?

When I suggest this technique to parents they usually ask me, “Are you just supposed to do one 30-second burst? What if they keep bugging you?” Gently tell them you need to finish what you were doing. Remind them that you listened to them, and when you are finished with your current task, you can spend time with them again. As a general rule of thumb, when you give a child undivided attention, even as little as thirty seconds, it will meet their immediate need for attention. Try it and let me know how it works for you.

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January 19, 2011

Are You an Active Listener?

Often when your child is talking to you, you don't listen attentively. You might be multi-tasking, distracted or thinking about something else. An important skill for parents to learn is "active listening."

When you listen actively, you send your child the message that they are important enough to have your full, undivided attention. Problems can be solved and perhaps even be prevented if you take the time to use active listening.

How to actively listen:
 Stop what you are doing
 Get down on your child’s level and make eye contact
 Give your child your full attention
 Listen to what is said
 Comment on what you think you heard

Active listening focuses on what your child is saying. It does not mean you agree with, but rather understand, what they are saying. It will validate what your child is feeling and will strengthen your parent-child relationship.

January 18, 2011

Morning and Bedtime Routines that Work

I was a guest this morning on Great Day St. Louis where I gave tips for making bedtime and morning routines easier.

January 16, 2011

Effective Parenting Includes Consequences and Consistency

When you discipline your child it’s important to be consistent. Consistency shows your child that you are in charge and that you’re serious. Discipline is not effective unless it’s done consistently.

In order to be consistent you need to have a plan. Without a plan you will simply react when your child misbehaves. Yelling, threatening and not following through with consequences are not effective when it comes to parenting.

With a plan, you will be responding instead of reacting and your discipline will be more effective. Your plan should include consequences. Consequences enforce the rules, make a child accountable for his actions and help the child learn and change. A consequence needs to be related to the behavior and must outweigh the pleasure of the disobedient act.

For example, a seven year old is tormenting his sister. The parent says, "If can can't be nice to your sister I'll cancel your play date this afternoon with Brain." This gives your child a choice. He can stop the tormenting and have his play date or he can continue the tormenting and lose his play date. If your child continues to torment his sister you must follow through by saying, "Since you are not treating others kindly, I’m canceling your play date with Brian this afternoon.”

Consequences will probably need to be different for each of your children. You have to take into account their age and developmental level. Once you find a consequence that works you can almost guarantee that after a period of time it will no longer be effective and you will have to find another one. Consequences will also need to be altered as your child gets older.

Sit down with your child and discuss the rules and expectations. Children will follow a rule better if you have explained why you have the rule. Spell them out and stick with them. You may even want to put it into a contract that both of you sign.

Finding consequences that work requires a lot of time and thought on your part. The investment will result in effective, fair discipline that will be crucial to your child’s growth.

January 14, 2011

Puppets are a Great Way to Teach Young Children About Feelings

It's important for children to be able to recognize and name feelings. Young children are usually able to understand four basic feelings of Happy, Sad, Mad and Scared.

Stick puppets are a fun way to help your child learn to identify their feelings.

Draw these feeling faces on paper circles or have your child draw them. Better yet, draw them together. Attach them to a craft stick using tape.

Now it's time for the feelings puppet show to begin! Stand a two-pocket folder on its end for a puppet stage. Take turns with your child telling a story using the feeling puppets. Ideas for a story might be, "Grandpa and Grandma are coming for a visit," "My favorite toy is lost," "Mom won't let me have a cookie." or "It's dark in my room."

At the end of each story discuss with your child ways to cope with each feeling. "When you're feeling mad you can take three deeps breaths." "When sad you can sing a song to feel happy."

When the show is over the puppets can be stored in the pockets until it's time for the next feelings puppet show.

January 13, 2011

Is Your Child a Screamer?

Have you tried numerous ways to get your child to stop screaming? I suggest you offer your child an appropriate way to release the need to scream. Have them help you make a "SCREAM Box." It's easy to make and can be used whenever your child feels the "need to scream".

Fill a cereal box with crumpled newspaper or grocery bags. Stuff more newspaper halfway up a paper towel tube. The newspaper muffles the screaming. Cut a hole in one of the top flaps big enough for the paper towel tube to fit through. Tape the box closed with the tube half way out of the box. Cover the box with paper and decorate it with words or pictures.

Put the tube up to your mouth and "LET IT OUT!" Children and even parents can release pent up anger by screaming into this box. Make one today because sometimes you just have to scream.

January 12, 2011

Safe Ways for Children to Express Anger

Anger is the most misunderstood of all emotions. We have a tendency to think of anger as something we would rather not experience especially when it comes to children. When parents see their child exhibiting anger they usually want it to stop and they want it to stop immediately.
Anger in and of itself isn’t bad. It’s what you do with the anger that can be a problem. Children aren’t born with the ability to know how to express their anger appropriately. Parents need to teach their children what to do with those angry feelings.
Children, like adults, need an outlet for their anger. Anger that’s not expressed is bottled up inside and eventually gets to the point where the child explodes in unhealthy ways. Here are some suggestions for ways children can release their anger in appropriate ways.

Punch a pillow

Stomp on an empty egg carton

Punch play dough

Rip up newspaper

Squeeze a towel

Run or do another physical activity

Select one or more of these and practice them with your child when he’s not angry. Introducing any of these suggestions during a rage of anger won’t be very successful. Tell him that when you see him getting angry you will remind him of what he’s supposed to do. You’ll have to remind him numerous times until it eventually becomes an automatic response on his part.

Dealing with an angry child is challenging. Teaching your children appropriate ways to release their anger can make things a little easier.

January 11, 2011

SPD Foundation Needs Research Participants

From The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation Research Team;

Are you a parent of a child who is 5 years or older and has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), or is typically developing? WE NEED YOUR VOICE! It would only require 1 hour of your valuable time to provide us with desperately needed data.

The Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, is collecting data comparing behavioral characteristics of sensory processing in children with ASD, SPD, and typically developing children. This data will be critical to understanding the similarities and differences between the two clinical groups.

You may know that SPD has not yet received diagnostic recognition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which is the standard diagnostic tool used by mental health professionals worldwide. Since the year 2000, the SPD Foundation has spearheaded an intense campaign for recognition of SPD in the revised DSM-5, which will be published in 2013. Research differentiating SPD from other diagnoses is a crucial step.

YOU can help just by completing our 1-hour online research study. You can do this in the comfort of your own home at any time, day or night.

SPD Foundation

Power Play

I love to watch children play. As a play therapist, play is an integral part of my work. I'm always searching for toys to add to my play therapy room, so it's not unusual to find me wandering the toy aisles at the local discount department store.

On a recent toy shopping excursion, I found myself drawn to the superhero aisle. From the top shelf to the bottom shelf, from Superman to Spiderman, they were all represented. There were superhero action figures, sports balls, board games, battery-powered toys and costumes. In the electronics department were several superhero movies. The clothing department featured children's T-shirts, shoes, pajamas and even underwear containing images of superheroes.

What is it about a superhero that children find so appealing? Perhaps it's the extraordinary power of a superhero or the fact that superheroes triumph over villains. Maybe it's the distinctive costumes they wear. No matter which of those characteristics attract a child's attention, children will imitate superheroes.

Children also will imitate their parents. Realizing your child is watching you and imitating you can lead you to a greater awareness of the behaviors you are modeling. That awareness can lead to intentional behaviors. I wonder what might transpire if a parent intentionally strived to become their child's superhero?

Yes, I know parents are busy, but if Clark Kent finds the time to sneak away from his daily commitments and transform into Superman, surely parents can take 15 minutes out of their day to don a costume, assume extraordinary powers and engage their child in some superhero play.

Imagine the adventures that await you. Together you and your child can invent your own superhero names and create an insignia. The next time your child is facing a challenge, grab your capes (it can be as simple as blankets tied around your necks), put your hands on your hips, jut out your chests and morph into your superhero persona.

Imagine you are soaring above the challenge. Encourage your child to come up with a solution to his problem by using his super powers. By letting him assume the responsibility for making a decision, he will begin to feel powerful. A child who feels powerful will find the courage to face a challenging situation, and his problem will feel less daunting.

I know what some parents are thinking. You're concerned that once your child starts leaping around the house pretending to be a superhero, things will get out of hand, furniture will be broken and maybe a trip to the emergency room will be necessary.

Allow me to lessen your fear. When you're participating in the play, you can direct it and set the rules. If your child becomes overly aggressive, you can stop the play. By engaging your child in superhero play, you will be teaching him the importance of boundaries, cooperative play and of working together to solve problems.

Superhero play also will encourage creativity in your child. Make your own costumes and props. An empty cardboard box could become your fortress or your cave. Write a superhero story with your child in which the two of you are the main characters. Your superhero characters not only could be powerful, they also could possess traits of being kind and helpful.

Illustrate your story using photos of you and your child in your superhero costumes. Go a step further and use a video camera to film a superhero movie starring you and your child. Make some popcorn and invite other family members to movie premiere night.

Children need heroes in their lives. What parent wouldn't want to be their child's superhero? I think it's something certainly worth donning a cape for.

January 10, 2011

Helping Children with ADHD Focus

When a child has been diagnosed with ADHD parents have so many questions. Should I medicate my child? Would therapy be helpful? Do we need a combination of medication and therapy? It’s important to keep in mind that medications do not cure ADHD. Rather, they control the symptoms for as long as they are taken. Medications can help a child pay attention and complete schoolwork. It is not clear, however, whether medications can help children learn or improve their academic skills.

Behavioral therapy, counseling, and practical support can help children with ADHD and their families to better cope with everyday problems.

Playing strategy games such as chess, checkers, Jenga, can be helpful as you have to take your time and focus in order to play the game. I give these types of games as assignments for parents and children to do together at home. The more you do them the more it teaches focusing and slowing down. Doing things in slow motion, like sports replays, can also be helpful.

A lot of the children with ADHD that I've worked with have had great success with martial arts. It not only helps them focus it helps build their confidence.

When a child feels like their brain is racing, it can be helpful to do something physical. Jumping jacks or running can get their excess energy out. Include these types of physical breaks during homework time. Some children can't sit still on a chair but when you replace that chair with an exercise ball they can repetitively bounce and still be able to focus on their homework.

It's a matter of finding things your child would enjoy doing and implementing them into your daily routine.

If your family could use some support with learning how to cope with the everyday problems that accompany ADHD I can help. I’ll sit down with you and together we will put together a list of practical strategies you can easily implement at home to help your child learn how to focus.

January 6, 2011

“Use Your Words!”

How often have you said that to your child when she was crying or whining or when she pushed her little brother because she was angry at him? What was the result? Did she shift gears and go into a verbal explanation of what she needed or why she was upset? Probably not and it’s probably because she didn’t know what words you wanted her to use.

As parents we’re quick to tell our children, “Use your words” but we’ve probably not taken the time to teach them exactly what words we want them to use. Sometimes it’s a matter of us modeling those words for our child. Think about what your child sees when you’re upset. Does she see you throwing something or yelling or does she see and hear you using your words?

Put your own emotions into words and your child will pick up on what words you want him to use. Find opportunities to work with your child to find the right words to describe emotions and how to communicate those emotions. Point out how other people are feeling. Use characters in books or a TV show.

If your child has siblings use their interactions to teach what words to use. For example, when your son hits his little sister because she knocked down his block tower, tell him what you want to hear. Say, “It really made you mad when she knocked that tower down but you can’t hit your sister. You need to tell her that it makes you angry.” Have your child repeat the words so he will grow used to what it is he needs to say.

In order to teach your children how to use their words you need to be specific about what you want your children to say. You need to model the exact words repeatedly and find ways for your child to practice using them.

January 5, 2011

Speaking Engagements

I'm facilitating a training this afternoon on play therapy skills for Parent Educators at the Rockwood Parents as Teachers program. I'll be sharing the basic tenants of play therapy and ways to incorporate play skills and therapeutic language into working with children.

Would you like me to speak at your next event? I'm a frequent speaker at parenting events, moms groups and educational programs. My topics include but are not limited to "Managing Challenging Behaviors in Young Children," "Positive Discipline" and "Helping Siblings Get Along."

Contact me regarding availability.

January 3, 2011

Make Time For Your Children

"Children spell love... T-I-M-E." ~ Dr. Anthony P. Witham

A new 2011 calendar is hanging in your kitchen. You’ve penciled in birthdays, dental appointments and PTO meetings. Have you penciled in time for your children? It’s difficult to juggle family life with work and other obligations but if you don’t schedule one-on-one time with your children it’s probably not going to happen.

Children know that if something is written on the calendar it’s important.
Scheduling one-on-one time with your child tells her you value spending time with her. Enlist your child’s help in selecting which day and time each week will be set aside for your special time. An hour is a fair amount of time but even 30 minutes should satisfy most children. If you have more than one child you need to schedule a time for each child. If you’re a two parent home each parent needs to schedule their own special time.

Establish some ground rules for your special time:

• No distractions are allowed. Turn off the TV, put down the video games and set aside the lap top and cell phone.

• The time together needs to be interactive. Bake cookies, play a board game, put together a puzzle or assemble a craft. When the weather permits play outside with your child.

• Special time should not involve spending money on things such as movie tickets, toys or shopping. These types of events should only occur on an occasional basis or you will undermine the purpose of one-on-one time which is enjoying each others company.

Children like spending time with their parents. Once you establish a regular schedule you will find yourself looking forward to that weekly special time. One-on-one time with your child can foster a stronger relationship because it allows you to focus on your child's individual needs and interests. Those special moments create wonderful memories that both you and your child will forever remember.

January 1, 2011

A New Parenting Approach for the New Year

Does your list of resolutions for the new year include changing the way you parent? Based on the concerns parents bring to me I'm guessing your list might include following through on consequences, establishing a consistent bedtime routine and no longer yelling at your children.

In my opinion that's a lot of changes. If you attempt to make them all at once you're not going to be successful. You'll feel frustrated and overwhelmed and you'll give up. Focus on small changes.

Make a list the changes you want to make in order of urgency or importance. Select one item from that list and develop a step by step approach on how you will achieve it.

For example, let's say you decide that a consistent bedtime routine is number one on your list. With the help of your child write down the tasks that need to be done at bedtime and how long it takes to complete each one. For preschoolers limit the number of tasks to 4-5 so they won't feel overwhelmed. Older children can handle 6-8 tasks.

Take a photo of your child doing each task (brushing teeth, putting on pajamas, bedtime story, lights out). Print them out and together with your child create a chart. Hang it where it's easy for your child to see. It will take time and practice and some help from you to get your child into the habit of following the chart.

At first your child will enjoy the novelty of the chart but after awhile he might become bored with it. It's up to you to motivate your child by praising him when he follows through with his bedtime routine and completes some of the things on his own or with little assistance from you. You may even want to establish a small reward if he can follow the chart successfully for a week. The reward should be simple and inexpensive yet something your child would be motivated to work toward such as an extra bedtime story or five more minutes of snuggle time with you.

Stick with the chart and in 2-3 weeks you should start noticing a less stressful bedtime. Keep in mind that change is never easy. At first you may feel less than successful. Don't be discouraged and don't give up because success lies in the trying.

Some parents need support and encouragement when they're making parenting changes. Enlisting the help of a parent coach is a valuable investment. During the month of January I am offering a Parent Coaching session at a reduced rate of $25.00 off the regular fee.

The session can be conducted by phone or in person at a time that's convenient for you. I will work collaboratively with you to find solutions to your most challenging parenting problems.

Just mention this blog when you contact me for your reduced fee. Limited to one parent coaching session. Offer expires 01/31/2011