January 30, 2012

Top Mistakes to Avoid with Your Kids

Parenting effectively involves a lot of trial and error. It's not always easy to know what to do in various situations. From time to time you’re going to make mistakes. That's inevitable.  In my work as a parenting coach I see the same mistakes being repeated over and over. Let’s take a closer look at the top three mistakes parents make and how you can correct them.

1. Dismissing your child's feelings

"You've been mad long enough." "It's silly to feel that way." "You're too sensitive." Ever say those things to your child? When you do you're dismissing your child's feelings and your child doesn't feel heard or understood. Think about it this way. If you called a friend and shared that you'd had a terrible day (a flat tire, a sick pet, the washing machine stopped working) and your friend said, "Get over it. You’re making too big of a deal out of this,” how would you feel? Brushed aside, dismissed? Chances are your child feels the same way if you dismiss what he or she is feeling. Try saying something like, "That sounds really frustrating," or "I can see why you're mad," the next time your child is expressing an emotion. I can almost guarantee your child will react differently once they feel heard and understood.

2. Not following through on consequences

There’s only thing worse than not having rules and consequences is not enforcing consequences. Do you threaten your child but never follow through? Are your consequences so unreasonable that you simply can't follow through with them? Let's say your child leaves his bike in the driveway. You tell him three times to put his bike in the garage and he simply ignores you. You're frustrated so you resort to this threat, "If you don't put your bike in the garage I'm going to throw it in the trash!" Your child continues to ignore you. Why? Because he knows you'd never throw his bike in the trash. This would be a more appropriate consequence, "If you don't put your bike in the garage you won't be allowed to ride it for a week." This is a more reasonable consequence and you've now given your child a choice. He can choose to put the bike in the garage or he can choose to lose it for a week. It’s his choice. Just make sure you follow through if he decides not to put his bike in the garage.

3. Over-explaining things

If you tell your child ten times to put his pajamas on and he doesn't respond what makes you think the eleventh time will do the trick? Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Are you using too many words? Many children tune you out when you ramble on and on and on. Be matter of fact and state only what needs to be said. What is the age of the child to which you're explaining things? If your child is a preschooler he's not developmentally able to be rational. The cognitive ability to be rational doesn't begin to emerge until the age of seven so use as few words as possible. Over-explaining often turns into a verbal tug-of-war and the next thing you know you and your child are arguing and the original subject matter is forgotten. It takes two to argue so if you remove yourself from the argument it can't continue.

Side Note:

Not recognizing your parenting mistakes is almost as big a problem as not trying to fix them. Is what you are doing working? If not, then you probably need some new tools in your parenting tool box.

January 23, 2012

Prevent Morning Meltdowns with a Breakfast Menu

I was a guest this morning on Great Day St. Louis with a tool parents can use to make breakfast time more manageable.

January 19, 2012

Noticing Changes in Your Five-Year-Old?

Is she clingy and doesn't want to be separated from you?

Are you seeing regressive behaviors such as toileting accidents or more crying?

Has he told you he wants to stay at preschool and not go to kindergarten?

Before I became a child therapist I taught Pre-K and each school year, around the end of January or early February, parents would come to me wondering why their child was exhibiting these regressive behaviors and seeking advice on what to do about them.  Even now, as a child therapist, parents express the same concerns this time of year about their five year olds.

I validate parents concerns and the frustration they’re feeling and then I ask one simple question. “Have you recently registered your five year old for kindergarten?”  The answer is usually "Yes!"

Going to kindergarten is a big transition for a five year old. Everyone is telling them how grown up they are and talking non-stop about how great it will be to go to kindergarten. The child feels torn. They're excited to be growing up but they're also anxious and apprehensive about leaving preschool and all the familiarities they're grown accustomed to.

It's a big step for a five year old and as parents you can help make that transition less stressful. When you see the above mentioned behaviors take a few minutes to give your child an extra hug and ask them if they're feeling sad or scared about leaving preschool and going to kindergarten. Validate what they’re feeling and offer helpful suggestions such as driving by the new school and taking a photo of them standing in front of it. 
 Spend some time on the school playground on the weekend or at the end of the school day. Mark on the calendar the day your child will be going to the school for a visit or kindergarten screening. Don’t forget to locate the school restroom during the visit because that’s a big concern for a soon to be kindergartener.

I encourage parents to put less emphasis on growing up and more on making the transition to kindergarten easier. It will help your child feel less anxious and the regressive behaviors will gradually disappear.

January 12, 2012

Attention Seeking Child? Try a 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.

January 3, 2012

Mornings Don't Have To Be Hectic

Everyone can relate to the morning rush. Getting your children up and dressed can sometimes be a challenge. Then there's breakfast. Do you sometimes feel like a short order cook because your children can't decide what they want to eat? Do you sometimes feel they're not eating a healthy breakfast on a regular basis?

I have a great suggestion for making breakfast easier and more healthy and it begins with making a breakfast menu. Enlist the help of your child to make the menu. Choices can include eggs, toast, cereal, yogurt, pancakes, french toast, waffles and fruit. Allow for choices each day and a choice of a drink. This puts you in charge of what food is offered at breakfast and it gives your child  the power of choice.

You can create your breakfast menu several different ways. 

I copied days of the week onto card stock and laminated it using self-sealing lamination sheets (available at office supply stores). You could also use clear Contact paper which can be found in the kitchen aisle of discount stores. The food pictures I found by doing an internet image search. You may want to take photos of the actual foods or your children could draw pictures of them. For this particular menu I added self adhesive Velcro dots to the back of the food pictures so the menu could easily be adjusted from week to week.  
This menu was made the same way but doesn't have the option of changing the menu from week to week.
These two menus were created using note card sized card stock. I adhered the food pictures to both using double-stick tape. The green backed menu isn't laminated as each days menu is displayed in an acrylic photo frame. The second menu utilizes 3 x 5 note cards. I covered them with clear Contact paper, punched holes in the top two corners and looped them together with book rings I found at an office supply store.

Each morning at breakfast children can point to their choice or if you've laminated them they can circle their choice with a washable marker. Young children who are not yet reading can easily make a choice by looking at the photos. With older children you may opt to include the words of the foods in addition to the pictures to encourage sight word recognition. 

Children get very excited about making and using these breakfast menus and parents can relax knowing their children are eating a healthy breakfast and there's no longer a morning battle over food choices. 

January 1, 2012

It's a NEW Year!

The holidays are behind us and the kids will soon be back in school. Did you make any resolutions for the new year and if so do they involve parenting?

The beginning of a new year is a good time to evaluate your parenting skills. What presented the biggest challenges to you during the past year when it came to being a parent? What frustrates you the most about your parenting?

Select one of those challenges, I suggest the one that occurs most frequently, and make it a goal to find some new ways to deal with this challenge.

That might involve reading a topical book (I can suggest some, simply post a comment or send me an email) taking a parenting class, working with a parenting coach or asking trusted  friends and neighbors with children how they have successfully dealt with similar challenges.

Once you have some new insights, set simple goals for achieving results. If you try to make too many changes all at once you may become frustrated and give up. Once you have a plan in place it's time to practice, practice, practice your new skill. With a little perseverance and a lot of patience you will be able to make 2012 a year of better parenting.