Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care


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Trust Comes First

I am often approached by parents looking for advice on disciplining their children. I don’t think I have ever met a parent who didn’t struggle with this task. Parents clearly get that their role is to ensure children know right from wrong. They are responsible for teaching their children how to behave, and to demonstrate for their children that there are clear consequences when they act poorly or make the wrong choice.  Though they are clear about their role and the desired outcome, most parents struggle on how to get there.

When it comes to disciplining your children, trust comes first.

My first piece of advice is that the relationship between a parent and child needs to be built first. Parents often make the mistake of trying to manage their child’s behaviors, yet have not established a trusting relationship with their child. It is critical that the child identify the parent as the person they can count on. Parents who are responsive to the needs of their children are more likely to have children who will respond to them. Children who feel attached to their parent are more likely to want to please the parent.

Attachment begins with infants. Picking up your baby when she cries, cooing back to her while you hold her and holding her while you feed her are three ways to start the bond with your young child. As your child grows this attachment is further nurtured by your emotional responses. Listening to your child, reassuring him when he is frustrated and continuing to soothe and hold your child are ways to nurture that attachment.

My second piece of advice is to “do what you say.” Doing what you say is not limited to discipline. Children need to know that you will follow through. Do not make promises you can’t keep. If you make a commitment to play a game or watch a TV show then it is imperative that you do that. Children who know their parent will “do as they say” are less likely to test limits set by their parent. But this sense of respect is earned. I have heard many parents say that children just need to respect authority, but know that they will respect you as a parent when you have demonstrated behaviors that can be trusted and respected.

Discipline will be more successful once you have established a bond with your child and your child is able to trust your actions. Consequences tend to be more effective when they are clearly connected to the behavior you are addressing. For example, if a child breaks something, then taking toys away may make sense. A child who refuses to get ready for school in the morning has to go to bed earlier and a child who tells a lie needs to learn that lying limits your ability to trust.

Lastly, just know that your style of discipline and the type of discipline children respond to is based upon you and your child. There will be some trial and error, but you will truly see that discipline is easier when a trusting relationship comes first.


Showdown at Sunset

As a young girl, even into my adolescence, I had a hard time getting to sleep at night. I would toss and turn, talk to myself, occasionally draw on my wall with crayons (that always went over well!) and in general did everything I could think of to entertain myself until I could fall asleep.  Sometimes it took an hour. Sometimes three. When I was in high school my mom bought me a small black and white television for my room and even though it only had three stations, apparently it had magical powers because suddenly I was able to fall asleep. To this day, my mom still credits that TV for helping me sleep and saving our relationship!

So it only seems fitting that my daughter has inherited my childhood insomnia. Somewhere I can hear my mom laughing… loudly. I have done my best to establish a nighttime routine for Maddy, but often she is still awake long after the lights have gone out. Our nighttime ritual consists of a bath, a few minutes of Disney Junior, a snack, teeth brushing and finally, story time with Daddy. She may not be tired when these activities are over, but my husband and I are exhausted!

Last night was no exception. We completed our bedtime routine per usual and all seemed to be going well, until around 11:45 p.m.. I heard her soft, sweet voice calling to me asking me to rub her back. My husband and I looked at each other in disbelief. How in the world was she still awake? I’ll admit that my first instinct was anger and frustration. But while that is a natural response, it is neither effective nor productive for me or for helping my daughter sleep. I took a deep breath and then went to her to rub her back.

Within 15 minutes she was finally asleep. Unfortunately, unlike my mom, I have not found a magic pill to help Maddy sleep. There may not be one. The best that I can do is learn how I can help her and lessen the frustration of not being able to sleep. That starts with patience and understanding, two things often in short supply after 10 p.m.!

If all else fails, knowing my mom, that black and white TV is probably still in her attic.


Following Your Children’s Lead

Parenting is one of the most informative on the job training experiences that I have ever had in my life. Each day that I parent I learn something new about my children’s personalities, likes and dislikes. I have a tendency to plan parties or activities that I think are fun and sometimes I forget to consider my children’s interest while planning.

Think you know what's fun for your kids? Think again!

In order to reward my son for academic achievement I placed three incentive choices inside of a hat. I told my son that he could pick one item from the hat each time he had a good report card. His choices were going to Dave & Buster’s, shopping at the mall or going to the movies. Once my son picked all of the incentive items from the hat I was pressured to come up with more ideas.

So one day when I picked him up after school I said, “Okay, Joe, you name the place and we will go.” I started rambling off ideas that I thought would be fun, most of them related to my own personal interests and not necessarily his interests. He said, “Mom, can’t we just go to the pet store?” Because animals aren’t exactly my favorite thing I was very hesitant to go along with his choice, but go along with it I did.

And we had an amazing time. My son selected three puppies to play with, held a bird and escorted me up and down each aisle explaining tons of details about each item in store. We spent almost two hours in there! During the time with my son I learned so much from him and gained meaningful insight about the things that make him happy.

After our wonderful trip to the pet store I realized that the choices inside the reward hat were some of my favorite things, not his. I am so glad I decided to follow his lead that day. In the future when I plan activities for my children I will be sure to put their interest firsts. I thought if I did not spend any money we could not have a good time, boy was I wrong. When I followed his lead I learned so much (and saved some money, too).


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Slow Down and Smell the Poinsettias

The holiday season can be downright stressful. There never seems to be enough time or money to do all the things you want to do for and with your family. So often as parents we place undue pressure on ourselves to create the perfect holiday experience for our children and families. The perfect presents, the perfect decorations, the perfect dinner… it can all be perfectly maddening.

Don't get caught up pursuing perfection this holiday season!

Last week in pursuit of this perfection, I worked for hours looking for and hanging decorations.  I literally spent an entire day doing nothing but. Several times during the day my daughter asked me if I would play with her, and each time I said, “Not now, I’m busy. When I’m finished.”

When I finally sat down to relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor, my daughter sat down next to me and asked if I would play with her. I immediately told her I was too tired.  Then I saw the disappointment on her face.  She’d been waiting all day to spend time with me and I had let her down.

It was an “A-ha” moment for me.  It’s definitely a work in progress, but I am trying to do my best to slow down and be intentional about how I spend my time this holiday season. When I start to feel overwhelmed I have decided to just BREATHE

B:  I will do my best to BE in the moment and not worry.
R:  I will REMEMBER to be grateful for my family.
E:  I will EXTEND kindness to everyone I encounter.
A:  I will ACCEPT help from others.
T:  I will take a TIME-OUT when I become overwhelmed.
H:  I will extend a hand of HELP to someone who is need.
E:  I will EXHALE – it’s going to be ok!

Here’s hoping you are able to do the same!


Roots and Wings

“If I could give you just two things, one would be roots, the other, wings.”

It seems like just yesterday my children were babies, toddlers and preschoolers who needed me to comfort them and be their playmate. But now they’re young adults, teenagers, and I’m sad because it feels like they’re outgrowing me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy that they’re independent and confident, that they feel loved and accepted,  but if I could go back in time, I would cherish each minute I spent cuddling, bathing, reading books and spending more individual time with each of them.

Children grow up in a flash.  Cherish them!

I wish I had cuddled with Jared more at bedtime when he had asked me to, that I had played  checkers with Jansen more and read more to Gabrielle. But when I put my kids to bed at night all I wanted to do was unwind. I wish I would’ve slowed down with them, just took a breath and allowed myself to be still in the moment when they were snuggled on my lap and not so caught up in my own personal stressors. My hope is, in spite of my regrets, that my children have felt nurtured , loved and cherished.

Gabrielle, who turns 22 in May, will be leaving high school in May, too. My husband and I are currently searching for adult day programs for her. It seems like just yesterday she wanted nothing more than to sit in my lap and read books, but now she wants to go all the time, be out with her friends, live her own life.

Her brothers are just as busy as she is. Jared, once a pudgy, wide-eyed curious little boy is now a caring young man ready to embark on adulthood. He’s headed to college next fall, and at the start of this year’s football season a video of he and his teammates as toddlers growing into young men made me realize I’ll never see him in this element again. I won’t connect with the other families whose sons have been playing football, soccer and baseball with him all throughout school.

And Jansen, my youngest at 13, has his first “girlfriend.” They’ve gone on dates to the movies or bowling. No longer am I the only woman in his life.

Although my children have outgrown me as mom the chauffeur and cook, being their mother now means new, different-but-good things. Our relationship has changed, but our feelings for each other haven’t. My prayer is I have given each of my children a strong foundation, that they have strong roots and broad wings to support them in being the best human beings they can be and to make a positive difference in this world.


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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

So often we address our youngsters with warnings about their behaviors: Watch what you are doing. Use your manners. Play nice. It is our responsibility to make sure they learn how to navigate themselves in the world. We have learned from our own experiences that others make judgments based upon the actions they observe, so we want our children to be careful and learn from a young age that actions speak louder than words.

And though we tend to heap this advice on our children, I often wonder if we really get it. We are so busy using the words to get the messages across to our children that we often forget that it is our actions that really make the difference.

Parents often give children advice that they don't follow themselves! Remember that how you act is going to teach your child more than what you say.

This past weekend I watched as an entire row of football fans became enthralled with a 5-year old boy who was “learning the ropes.” The boy, who was clearly a Bengals football fan, was with his father. During the first offensive series he was in awe of the fans around him who cheered and gleefully exchanged “high-fives” as the Bengals moved the ball down field. When the Bengals’ defense took the field the noise around him grew as fans stood up, loudly chanted and banged their seats. At first he looked shocked, his eyes grew wider but than a smile grew across his face when again the “high-fives” were exchanged amongst the fans. Now his hand flew up in the air as he reached for a “high-five” from, me, the strange woman behind him who only seconds before was bounding on her seat and yelling at the top of her lungs.

As the game continued he grew more and more confident in his actions. He mimicked the gestures during the fight song; he reached all around for high-fives and banged on his seat when the defense took the field. Women and men behind him, next to him and in front of him smiled as he “took on” the actions of a Bengals fan. And it was simply our actions that made this impact. No one talked to him and explained why you make noise when the defense is on the field. No one corrected him or reminded him to chant defense. He simply watched, made some observations and mimicked what was going on around him.

And we know this happens all the time. We know our children are watching and yet we often act poorly. We think teaching is about words when we can teach our children so much more through our behaviors. Children learn how to express feelings, deal with frustration, solve problems and socialize with others by watching our actions. It is what we do and how we do it that makes the difference.

This past weekend a group of adults had a great time teaching a new fan the ropes. I sure hope his father was happy with what his son learned at the game!


Is your parenting style influencing your child’s eating habits?

For her bedtime story recently, my daughter chose a book about eating too much junk food. It really made me think about my role in preventing obesity in my children. It also forced me to recall my personal childhood choices when it came to eating meals and snacks. I am using the term “choices” lightly, because I really did not have any say.

Parents have a responsibility to their children when it comes to how and what they eat.

When I was growing up we had three solid meals per day. Desserts were only served on special occasions. My family was very adamant about children eating all their food, especially fruits and vegetables. Most of our meals were chased by a tall glass of milk or water. During trips to the grocery store my grandmother only purchased items that were on her list, and the list usually consisted of items that were going to be used solely to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But  my flexible parenting style has led to an à la carte menu selection for my children when it comes time for meals and snacks. My children and I not only have three meals per day, we often indulge in at least two to three snacks per day (bedtime snack is non-negotiable with my children). I do not force my children to eat all of their food. Needless to say, when I am preparing meals I make various side items because I know there are some foods that my children will not eat. My son has appointed himself as the official “family drink server,” and he typically pours mostly juice and pop. When we go to the grocery store I am lucky to have room in the cart for items that were initially on my list because of all of the yummy snacks and items from wonderful food displays filling up my shopping cart.

When I was younger, obesity in young children was not a major issue. I feel that most children in my community did not snack because they were forced to eat everything on their plate or simply because snack food was not as readily available. Historically, parents were very strict about eating fruits and vegetables. Children were forced to sit at the table from sun up to sun down until they swallowed every fruit/veggie that was on their plate. I am not saying that the latter eating habits enforced by parents were right, however meal time, snacking and the “choices” children could make about the foods they consumed were totally different. How can we find a happy medium between then and now?

I am so glad that my daughter selected the book about junk food as a bedtime story. While I definitely understand the importance of healthy eating, I have been reminded about how my parenting choices can and will have an everlasting impact on my children’s eating habits (and how much I can do to make sure that’s a positive impact). In order to take a detour from my children’s trip to obesity, I may need to revisit some of my grandma’s meal time and shopping traditions.