Monday, January 31, 2011


What is play?  It is a word that has so many different meanings, but when it comes to children it means 'how children learn.'  Watching my daughter play with her toys is so fascinating. I constantly ask myself, why did she chose that toy? Why does she put it through her fingers? Why does she throw that one and not try to eat it instead?

But while watching my child play, I have to constantly remind myself that she does not need to be entertained by me 24/7. Letting her play by herself is very important to her development.  I don't have to constantly be sitting there with her and giving her my undivided attention. She will learn a lot by self-play, fostering learning, independence and exploration.  Now of course I play with her here and there, singing songs with her, reading stories and interacting with her and her toys, but I make sure it's a balance between both self play and interacting.

The Importance of Play

I know I've mentioned before how important it is for a child to play, as it's how children communicate. It releases energy, anxiety and is a form of expression in therapy. But what I haven't mentioned is how important it is overall in a child's life. I can't even imagine what a child's life would be like without play.

After taking a few classes for my undergrad degree in Child Development, I learned a lot about how children learn through play from the NAEYC (National Association of Education of Young Children) accreditation program for preschools.  Their main belief is that when children explore, experiment, and interact through play, they learn about how the world works.  I loved learning about play and is one of the reasons I became a play therapist.

Here are a few bits of information on play from NAYEC and my Play Therapy resources:

Different types of play:

1) Parallel Play: From infancy, children act on the world around them just for the pleasure of seeing what happens; for example, repeatedly dropping a spoon on the floor or pulling the cat’s tail. But by the time they are toddlers, they need playmates, yet they play with them quite differently from the way older children play together. Place two 18-month-olds with similar toys near each other in the same room, and you'll note that they don't seem to pay much attention to each other- that's parallel play. They somewhat interact with each other, you'll notice that if one picks up a truck, the other is likely to do the same. If the first child looks at that truck and says, "No" (a toddler's favorite word), the second is likely to imitate him and yell, "No!" as well.

2) Symbolic Play: To an infant or a young toddler, a block is a block. If she has more than one, she might stack them or pull them apart. But once she's about 2 years old, she can start using blocks for much more and uses them symbolically. In her eyes they can become a house, a car, or anything else she wants, such as picking up a shell and pretending to drink from it like a cup.

3) Imaginary/Pretend Play: An older toddler or a preschooler can fight dragons or fly to the moon, all without leaving his bedroom. If you want to build a child this age a fort, all you need are some chairs and cardboard boxes.

4) Collaborative Play: Preschoolers progress from solitary and parallel play to collaborative play. By the age of 3-5 children begin to engage in more mature forms of dramatic play, in which they may act out specific roles, interact with one another in their roles, and plan how the play will go.  It's at this stage that your child learns to master important new social skills, such as sharing, taking turns, obeying rules, and negotiating. These are all very difficult behaviors for a young child to learn. After all, at this age, your child believes she is the center of the universe!

So, in short, here is a summary of all the benefits of Play:

-Play is the singular central activity of childhood, occurring at all times and in all places.

-Kids do not need to be taught how to play- it's spontaneous, voluntary and non-goal directed.

-Play is NOT work. There is no goal involved and no external reward!

-Play is an active form of learning. Learning social, cognitive, emotional and physical skills.

-Play is an important vehicle for developing self-regulation as well as for promoting language,
cognition, and social competence

-When playing with peers, children develop skills for seeing something from another's point of view, how to cooperate, share, help and solve problems

-Children express and work out emotional aspects of everyday experiences as well as frightening events, especially through dramatic play

- Play is how children explore and orient themselves to the actual world of things, animals, people and structures

Here are a few ways to stimulate play as a parent:

(For a good detailed list of toys for each age, click here)

-Provide activities and materials that challenge various levels of skills

-Give children the freedom to be messy

-Focus on the process and not the product (the outcome)- no goal or external rewards

-Supply props for dramatic play as well as various art materials for them to express themselves

-Provide games for children to play such as board games, so they can learn rules

-Providing classic unit blocks and other construction materials such as Legos helps kids learn mathematical concepts

-Give them playdates and opportunities to play and interact with other children

-They don't need every toy out there, the best ones are simple and where they can use their imagination the most!

Wow, there sure is a lot to talk about when it comes to play. Hope I didn't overwhelm you all. But if there is anything to take home from learning about play, the most important thing is to let your child be a child and have fun playing!
Friday, January 28, 2011


In working with children and teens in therapy, we use a technique called 'sandtray'. Basically the technique involves having a large wooden box filled with soft sand in the middle of a room, and next to it are shelves lined with every miniature you can think of. There are miniature animals and people, and little versions of household items, cars, food, shapes, transportation pieces, you name it. Here is an example of a Sandtray room that I found from Dr. Bailey, MD's website (a psychiatrist in private practice):

Pretty amazing, huh? (photo from

So, what exactly does this Sandtray stuff do and what is it? Well, there is just something about the soothing properties of sand. When children see it, they can't stop running their hands through it.  Give a child a sandbox and you can bet money that they won't take their hands out of it while you are talking to them.  It stimulates the senses and is a great sensory integration activity.

When a child enters a room like the one above, they are just fascinated and can't wait to start putting their hands in the sand and they start feeling comfortable immediately.

This is when the technique really starts its magic. When we begin, we ask the child to "make a picture in the sand" using any of the toys/miniatures they see on the shelves.  You can also give them specific instructions depending on what is going on with the child, such telling them to "make a picture in the sand about how you felt at school today."

The possibilities are endless. And once they are finished making their picture in the sand, therapists ask them questions about what each figure is doing, what the figure is feeling (even if it's just a bunch of cars in there) and ask a lot of 'what if' questions to help kids problem solve.

Here's another example I found on Dr. Bailey's, MD's website of a child's completed sandtray picture:

As you can see, it can be pretty symbolic.  Sandtray gives the child a different way to express themselves instead of using their words.  There are so many ways of looking at the child's sandtray picture, that it could literally take hours to look at all the different ways their items have come to life.

What does this have to do with being a mom or a parent?

I'm not saying to go out there and get a bunch of miniatures and start doing therapy on your kids.

But, as we know how much children love sand, having a sandbox in your backyard or a small one inside with a lid is a great way for children to use their senses and to express themselves!  It is very soothing for them after a long day at school to come home and play in the sand.

One good thing a parent will love?  It can cause a child to open up like nothing else!  If you have a tough topic to tackle with your child, get out that sandbox out as you lecture them and they will feel much more at ease.  Or if you want them to talk to you and not just turn their shoulder and give you a shrug, the sandbox will relax and soothe them.

But the best thing about sandtray? It provides an amazing play experience for kids.  Instead of the regular outdoor sandbox, having one indoors that they can put toys inside can provide hours of playtime and a great way for them to express themselves.  If you don't want all of their toys in the sand, you can have a designated toy box for them to play with just for the sandtray.  This can be a special time for them, and believe me, they will constantly ask you for permission to play with their sandbox!  You'd be amazed at how creative they can be too.

Here are some places to purchase supplies:

Here is a great link to buy safe, non-toxic play sand.

If you really want to buy your own miniatures for the sand, I recommend the Counseling Toys website. You can get a set like the one below:

This site sells a lot of sand trays, and the one below is a small tray for 24.99$:

Have you ever used Moon Sand before?  It looks and acts like wet sand but it's dry when you touch it. You can basically mold, squeeze and sculpt with it.  It's a different consistency than regular sand, but it's still fun for kids to mold it.

So there you have it. The long and short of Sandplay!  I would love to hear what kinds of sand play your children enjoy!
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mommy Time-Out

So when the going gets tough, the tough takes a break.

When a mom is a stay at home mom, she is with her child all day and sometimes all night long. A full-time job is an understatement.  So when my mom friend told me today that the minute her husband gets home, she hands the kids over to him and goes for a run (a run to Target that is), I told her I completely understood and she couldn't be more healthy for taking these much needed breaks!  She feels the need to get away for just an hour or less to refresh as a mom.

Being a full-time mom is the best thing ever!  But at times, moms need a little break- a Mommy Time-Out.  I've touched on this briefly before in my De-Stress Post, but I thought this idea needed a whole post dedicated to itself :)

But there are other times when moms are alone and get stressed with a colicky baby, or a temper tantrum 3 year old. When that happens, a mommy time-out is when a mom takes a 5 minute break by herself.  Putting her baby in the crib or bouncy chair, or their 3 year old in front of an activity so she can take a breather.

We are better moms when we can take a break and our children thank us for this.  Breaks can be anything from a quick run to the grocery store, going to the gym to de-stress, a girl's night out, a shopping trip to the mall or staying at home and taking a relaxing bath.

My recent break was getting away for an hour to the local coffee shop with my laptop. I felt so alive and refreshed when I got home. I think it also had to do with the fact that I felt like I was back in college studying at the Mojo Coffeehouse and felt 21 all over again!

But sometimes there are full time moms who have spouses with odd work hours like mine has had lately. And getting home after my child's bedtime can be hard work.  Especially when your little ones are not good sleepers and bedtime is a challenge while going at it solo. When spouses work late, as it happens here and there, make sure to communicate your schedules so that Mom can have time in the morning to have her break.

So go ahead and indulge in your Mommy Time Outs!  Don't let your guilty feelings keep you from taking a break, your family and children will thank you.  Do any of you parents out there have good mommy break suggestions?

(Photo credit from Philly Mom's Time Out)
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Separation Anxiety

This weekend I was blessed with being introduced to the beginnings of Separation Anxiety with my soon to be 9 month old daughter. We were visiting my grandparents and other relatives and everyone saw first hand how she would cry when I left the room or handed her off to another relative.  She kept reaching out for me and crying. I guess some of that could have been Stranger Anxiety as well. But sure enough, we got home and she was still getting upset when I left her for a split second to just go grab a glass of water. Still in earshot and eye shot, but to her, it's as if it is the end of the world!

Where do I begin on the topic of separation anxiety?? How many of you have suffered with this with your children or even with yourself? It starts in infancy and can resurface the first day of school, sleep-overs, going off to camp, high school, and college.  Heck, you may still have it as an adult when you leave your kids :)

The definition of separation anxiety from my textbook is: a wary reaction that infants and toddlers often display when separated from the person (s) to whom they are attached. AND it can be with any caregiver, but for the sake of this post, I am using 'mom' as caregiver.

Separation anxiety starts in the second half of the first year and peaks around 12-20 months of age. Nice. So I have a long way to go. It is supposed to decrease throughout infancy and preschool years.

Attachment Theories

Ah, attachment theories. In college I was part of a research study on 'Attachment' and we re-created the study by Ainsworth called "The Strange Situation." For those psych majors out there, I am sure you remember studying this and the psychologist John Bowlby (who wrote Attachment and Separation). I know, I won't go into technical school textbook stuff here, but I always found attachment stuff so interesting.

Basically in the strange situation study, the researcher found 3 types of attachment with babies and their caregiver: secure, insecure or anxious/avoidant.

In the study they had moms and their babies sitting in a room and the researchers watched how the baby reacted when a 'stranger' came into the room. They then watched how the baby reacted when the mom left the baby alone with the stranger and how the baby reacted when the mom returned to the room. Some babies could have cared less at the changes, some cried when the stranger came in, some cried when the mom left, etc.

If you are thinking, "oh no, does this mean my child is insecurely attached?" because your child is crying too much? Not to worry! During our study, a baby was securely attached if she cried when the mom left the room and was visibly upset by the separation, but greeted the mom happily when she returned. This means you are a responsive caregiver and are consistent in meeting their needs!

It was sad to see some of the babies not care at all when the stranger came in the room, did not cry when the mom left the room and did not notice when the mom came back in. No reaction at all=anxious/avoidant attachment. This is when a parent is impatient with their baby, expresses negative feelings toward them and basically don't like close contact with their babies. And my guess is if you are reading this mom blog, you are probably not in this category at all!

AND these are just theories that psychologists have come up with over the years. So nothing is set in stone here, and there are various theories out there about separation anxiety, not just this one.

So what is Separation Anxiety all about?

The main thing to remember is that it's a milestone that every baby goes through. Just like crawling, walking and talking- all babies go through this separation anxiety phase. It's a part of growing up.  They are learning 'object permanence'  and how things are still there even when they are not in their presence- just like when you take a ball away from your baby- they know it's still there and throw a fit! Same with caregivers. They wonder where the heck their mom went!

The best thing to do?

If it's creating a problem when dropping your child off at school or a daycare, or for stay at home moms?

-be consistent! React the same way each time you leave your child and return- say the same thing when you leave, answer their cries the same way, etc. For instance, each time you leave, give a hug or kiss and each time you return you do the same

-try to pick them up at the same time each day and drop off at the same time= consistency

-tell your child you will be back to get them and follow through on it

-at school, you can tell them something specific like, 'mommy will be back to pick you up after story time'- if they can't tell time, telling them the activity they will finish when they see you again can really help- and of course pick them up when you say you will, or you'll create even more anxiety :)

-answer your baby's cries and cues so they know to trust you- if you do this they will trust that their cries will be answered and not become anxious and wondering if this time mommy will answer me or this time she will ignore me

-some say it's better to leave the room with a sitter or relative and sneak out so your baby/child won't see you. I think this may work here and there, but in the long run will create anxiety because they didn't see you leave and you didn't tell them you were leaving- they wonder "what the heck happened and where did my mom go?" and then they won't trust you anymore

As kids get older, some of them still suffer from separation anxiety and get 'homesick' or afraid to go off to camp, even college! As your child gets older and still seems anxious, it's always a good idea to look at what is going on in the home. If parents are arguing too much, or there is stress at home, kids get anxious and worry when they are away from them.

But if everything is going well at home, again sometimes kids just get homesick. Could be their temperament. It does not mean you are a bad parent! We have enough to worry about and how everything we do will affect our kids.  Just continue to be consistent in your caregiving and maybe have your child take things one step at a time. Instead of a 4 week camp, start them off with a 1-2 day camp, build up to 1 week and then in a couple of years, they can try the 4 week camp.

And us parents can be anxious when we take our children to preschool or Kindergarten for the first time! And if we are anxious, kids can totally pick up on this and will get anxious too. So put on a smile and be as courageous as you can when they go off to school and your child will model this. Of course, also give them a huge, big, enormous hug goodbye too, so they know how much they are loved when they go off to school :)

Awh, I am getting anxious just thinking about that first day of school. I need to start practicing my calm reactions now, so when that day comes, I will hopefully be somewhat prepared. How have you coped with your kids going off to school? Any advice on separation anxiety for babies??
Saturday, January 22, 2011

Self Esteem, Girls Edition

(image courtesy of the CW network and wikia here)
While visiting a friend today for a playdate, I saw how well her 6 year old daughter helped her out with little tasks here and there. And I thought to myself, "wow, this little girl is starting to learn to increase her self esteem already!"  Now, although she is definitely already a proud girl with a lot of esteem and loves to call herself a little Diva, self-esteem doesn't really start being a challenge until right around the Junior High grades.

I remember it well. 1st-5th grades, I could have cared less what people thought of me and what I wore. Or if I was a 'cool' kid, 'popular' or a 'nerd.' Developmentally, kids are just not there yet before junior high. That's not to say at the elementary school age that children don't pick on each other, call them names or get bullied. But then came Junior High. There's something about girls and self esteem that comes into play right around that 11-12 year old mark. And it's not pretty.

Okay, before I go any further with this topic, let me address the terms self esteem vs. self respect. The term 'self esteem' has been used for years to mean what most of us consider 'self respect.' Some take 'self esteem' literally to mean vanity and a large ego and 'self respect' to mean proper sense of dignity and self-worth. But going forward in this post I am using the term 'self esteem' to mean self respect, because that is the term we all use and are used to hearing. I am defining 'self esteem' to mean someone with a secure sense of self and self respect.

Now, let me first go into a little text book information to explain a little bit about how kids progress with self esteem.

In psychology and child development, there are stages kids go through socially and cognitively. One of the famous psychologists, Erik Erikson, came up with stages where he believed there were certain tasks at each stage- and you could go one way or the other.

His stages start at infancy with the task of: Trust vs. Mistrust: the main task is 'trusting' your environment, or 'mistrusting.' If your caregivers are inconsistent, your needs are not met, etc then you can end up not trusting the environment.

The next stage is toddler with the task of: autonomy vs. shame/doubt. If a toddler does not develop independence, then he may go on to have low self esteem, and not trust in his abilities to do things on his own, etc.

I won't bore you with all of the stages, but you get the idea. Skipping forward to where the child reaches the preteen/adolescent stage: identity vs. role confusion.  All kids go through trying on different roles- maybe dying their hair black and trying the punk look, or getting into the computer nerd hobbies phase. This is a normal part of development so that they can try on different roles in life. This is when they are all of a sudden taking on new roles such as a student, athlete, boyfriend, sibling all at the same time as handling peer pressure. A lot to handle!  Forming their identities in life is stressful and a very vulnerable time for their self esteem.

Now back to the topic of self esteem in girls. When they reach that age around 11-12, they start comparing themselves to other girls. Puberty hits and they start to wonder if their nose is going to get any bigger? Or if they will always be a part of the itty bitty titty committee. Not to mention this is the age that they start wanting to call boys, flirting begins, and every parent's worst nightmare. Why can't they stay 5 years-old forever?

So to prepare our children for this awkward and not so fun stage, I believe it's important for us parents to start at an early age. And like the example I was going for in the beginning of this post, the goal is to give our children little tiny tasks that they can accomplish with success.

Such as:

-Have your 2 year old walk her used Kleenex over to the trash can and throw it in there, all by herself. Huge task for her, I know, but she will well be on her way to feeling proud of herself for her accomplishment.

-Have your 3 year old put her little plate in the dishwasher while you are doing the dishes.

-Have your 6 year old pour her cereal into her bowl and even pour her own milk. But remember, there has to be room for error too. If they spill, no shaming, just clean it up and try it again. She will be so happy with her success!

-Have your 8 year old help set the table.

Get the idea? (oh, and you can also do this with little boys too)  :)

Also, when they complete tasks, don't forget to tell them how proud they should be of themselves, and to give them positive encouragement.

Beyond giving them tasks they can succeed at, you can also start with the whole body image talk by NOT talking negatively about you and your body. Constantly hearing how fat you are, how you need to workout, how you haven't been to Spin Class in over a week and need to lose weight- all of these seemingly innocent comments can make a girl conscious of these things without realizing it. She will see that you are not happy with your body and start noticing things that are not perfect on her. Gasp! So remember to talk positively and to send the message that we all need to love ourselves regardless of any imperfection!

Whew, tough topic as there is no easy fix or answer, but being prepared is a good start. Has anyone already run into this issue with their daughter(s)?  Any good tips you can give us?
Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Children's Feeling Storybook

So yesterday I blogged about my favorite parenting book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and thought why not talk about my favorite children's book?  Now, I have a ton of favorite cute children's story books like Kiss Goodnight, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Goodnight Moon, etc. but my favorite feeling story book is Today I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis.

There are A LOT of counseling children's books out there and some of the titles are so straightforward it's ridiculously funny: My Dad's in Jail, Teeth Are Not For Biting, Heather Has Two Mommies, Did My First Mommy Love Me?, Daddy Has a New Roomate, etc. And there are a lot of feelings books and other touchy feely books out there, but Today I Feel Silly is just plain cute!

It's a story that talks about all the different feelings you can have and sends the message that all feelings are good feelings, even negative ones like anger.

Here are a few verses from the story:

"Moods are just something that happen each day. Whatever I'm feeling inside is okay!"

"Today I am quiet, my mom understands. She gave me two ice creams and then we held hands."

It even has a little feelings wheel at the end where you can pick the feeling your child feels at the moment! And, the best part about it is that it doesn't feel like a forced book to get your kids to talk about feelings. But it is a great way to get them to start thinking about using feeling words and introducing them without hearing, "Mom, I don't want to talk about it!" :)
Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Best Book Ever

A friend of mine (another mom) asked me today for a recommendation for a good book on disciplining her kids, and I just love it when I get that request! Why? Because I love the answer: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk (photo courtesy of

This book is and has been my saving grace, my go-to book and the bible of play therapy. It just about sums up how to be a great parent, which will lead to happy kids!

What ages is it for? Well, it's a good start for parents that can be applied at the toddler stage all the way up to teenagers, and hey, I even use them on my husband too!  Yes, it works with adults because we all know, when someone is empathic and understanding to you (which the book teaches) you feel so much more understood and communicate better!  I have even started using the tips in here early with my non-verbal child so that we can get a running start and is good practice for us too.

Let me explain how it became the best parenting book of all time. The authors are 2 women who took a parent guidance class back in the 1970's from a famous psychologist, Dr. Haim Ginott, PhD and then took his principles and their every day experiences with their children, and created this step-by-step book. It's a classic because it's real moms with real stories, not just some research study on how to get kids to listen.  It's filled with cartoons and really easy to read guidelines in it- definitely NOT a boring textbook.

I love the first few sentences of the book in Chapter 1:

"I was a wonderful parent before I had children. I was an expert on why everyone else was having problems with theirs. Then I had three of my own."  "Living with real children can be humbling and every morning I would tell myself, 'Today is going to be different,' but every morning was a variation of the day before: 'He punched me', or 'this oatmeal looks like throw-up'..'you gave me more than her', etc.

And they go on to explain how they then decided to take a parenting class and it changed their relationships for the better with their kids.

Now, I read this book way before I had kids but was so glad that I did. It helped me empathize more with my parent clients and I used the book's techniques with them to help them with their children at home. I would assign them to read each chapter a week at a time and then I would go over it with them so they could apply all of the suggestions to their own situations at home.  We always got such great results with it, that I could not wait to use it when I had kids of my own.

To give you an idea of what the book has to offer, here are the chapters:

  1. Helping Children Deal With Their Feelings

  2. Engaging Cooperation

  3. Alternatives to Punishment

  4. Encouraging Autonomy

  5. Praise

  6. Freeing Children from Playing Roles

  7. Putting It All Together

So, not to bore you with step by step instructions and details about the book, I figured a few pictures from it will give you a better idea of what it teaches.

Here is an example from the first chapter of what not to do in a meltdown episode (and no, the book is not all cartoons):

And here is what the book teaches you to do instead (to avoid meltdowns and temper tantrums):

See how different the outcomes were above? Now, there are a lot of different techniques and tips in the whole book, but this first chapter starts with the basics such as identifying feelings, etc. The limit setting tips are a lot like the Limit Setting ones I gave in a previous post: listen first, acknowledge the wish or feeling, give the feeling a name and then grant them their wish in fantasy. Sounds basic and even corny but it completely works!

Here is an example for older kids when they disobey. In this example, the child was not coming home  on time from playing outside (you can use this for an older teen who misses a curfew too):

Parent: "I've been thinking that it's probably not easy for you to leave your friends when you are having fun."

Kid: "Yeah"

Parent: " On the other hand, I worry when you're late. Let's put our heads together and see if we can come up with some ideas that would be good for both of us. Let's write down all of our ideas together."

Kid:  "I'll come home at 6:30 and you won't worry."

Parent: "I'll write that down..what else?"

and they both write down their ideas on the list

Parent: "Now let's look at our list and see what we want to cross out and what we want to keep."

Kid: "Cross out where you pick me up."

And they both come up with a reasonable solution.

Sounds too good to be true I know, but it really does work! Imagine how you felt as a teen when you were grounded or sent to your room for something you did and how your parents 'just didn't understand!' But if they had come to you and said, "okay, so it looks like you keep getting in trouble and instead of grounding you all the time, I want you to write down a few ideas that you think we should consider, and I'll do the same and we can come up with a good solution together!"

You would have probably thought some had alien had taken over your parent's body, but how nice it would have been to hear something like that? I know I would have complied a lot more if I felt it was fair and I had some sort of say.

Okay, I could go on and on about this book, but hopefully you get the idea- it's amazing and no, I do not get any sort of payment for recommending this :) I've seen copies of it before in half price book stores or you can order it online here.

The author's website also has a lot of tips and information on how to order DVDs and tutorial information.

Have any of you read this book before and had any success?
Sunday, January 16, 2011

Feeding Kids

Have you ever been feeding your young child and they get upset, so you give them more food in hopes they quiet down? Your child is screaming crying at the grocery store, so you give them a candy bar and they miraculously become perfect angels.  Especially the non-verbal baby- they start crying for some reason so you just give them more food because you think it will stop them from getting upset.

Or have you ever used food as a reward? Maybe your child is mad they have to do something, so you promise them you will buy them candy if they behave well, and they immediately jump up and down for joy!

These are all examples of how we train children to use food as comfort or reward. Is there anything wrong with this? Well, with the outbreak of childhood obesity and eating disorders, it definitely is worth taking a look.

So many of us turn to food for comfort as adults. When you feel bad, who doesn't want an ice cream sundae to cheer you up? Or a huge cheesy burrito?  By trying to give our children more food when they are visibly crying, fussing and whining, does that create a pattern of emotional eating?

It can turn into overeating habits, or restricted eating. Eating disorders are often time the result of control, and if a child has no control they use food to gain it back. A parent can control their child as much as they want, but food is the one thing a child can gain control of- a parent can't technically force food down a child's throat- it is up to a child. I'm not going to go into eating disorders in detail here, but you get the idea.

As a child counselor, I use behavior charts and behavior modification for children to curb certain behaviors and to help kids with ADHD. When I work with parents on the reward systems to use at home, I tell them to not use food as a reward if possible. No trips to McDonalds or a chocolate cupcake. Tangible items like stickers or trinkets are better rewards. If you use food as a reward, then kids will learn to associate food with reward/punishment and can set up a pattern of this into adulthood.

So when your baby is whining and we shove food in their mouths, are they getting the message "here, eat more, it will make you feel better?"

Assuming a baby has already eaten their meal, what could we do next time, considering they can't talk yet? Maybe ask ourselves if they are tired, put them down for a nap. Or if they are full or bored from eating, are they ready to play instead?

I know when you are at home and the phone is ringing, you have clothes to fold and your child all of sudden has a meltdown- it's easy for you to just give them a snack bar in hopes they calm down long enough so you can finish your chores.  It is sometimes hard to take the time to wonder what is going on with them and calm them down with limit setting and behavior modification. But quick solutions to problems (food rewards), are not really solving the issue at hand (unless of course they really are hungry).

When our children are crying and acting out, instead of giving them food to quiet them what could we do? We can be little sleuths and figure out that maybe they are tired or bored or, if they are truly upset about something, try to take the time to figure out the underlying cause instead of quickly shoving them some Goldfish.

Maybe say, "It looks like you were mad at your toy car when you threw it across the room, but toys are not for throwing. If you want to throw something, you can throw a ball outside." (See the Limit Setting post here)  Or after a meltdown and you can tell it's nap time say, "It looks like it's quiet time now, so let's go get ready to take a nap," and so forth.

What do you think of giving food as a reward or to quiet down a fussy child/baby? Are there certain times you think it's okay and not okay? What has worked for you?
Friday, January 14, 2011

Gender Stereotypes

Yesterday was my daughter's 8 month birthday!  I am amazed at how much she has grown developmentally in such a short amount of time. It's fun to watch all of the things I learned in Child Development classes unfold in front of me with my own daughter, like Object Permanence (they learn that something still exists even if you take it away from them), separation anxiety and the term 'gender stereotyping'. So to celebrate her 8 month birthday, we dressed her up to celebrate the day in a little pink tutu and onesie with a pink bow.

Her pinkness was definite gender stereotyping: when you attribute colors, toys, roles and personality traits to gender. Just like how we all dress our babies in blue if they are boys and pink if they are girls. We mostly do it because we hate hearing, "what a cute boy" when our little girl is dressed in red.

Gender stereotyping is not necessarily a bad thing or a good thing. My husband would think there is nothing wrong with the brown monkey sleeper onesie he bought her (or secretly is just tired of seeing pink everywhere :).

Giving your little boy trucks, a tool belt and Bob the Builder toys vs. giving your little girl a kitchen, dolls, and princess gear are all examples of gender stereotyping. But sometimes boys want to act out their mom in the kitchen and may want to put on an apron and pretend he is making cookies or they may want to play with their sister's doll because he is learning how to be a nurturer. This is called 'dramatic play' and most preschools your child attends encourage all types of dramatic play at a young age.

But why can't boys be in the kitchen? Your son could be the next Bobby Flay or Iron Chef. Why is it that grown men think it's more acceptable to grill than bake cookies- like dealing with fire is a man's job from back in the caveman days?

And what if your daughter wants to pretend to be like her daddy and play with his toolbox? It may be a good thing for a girl to learn how to use a hammer, screwdriver and nails correctly so she can be self sufficient when she grows up.

But back to the point, it is healthy and a normal part of development for children to want to try on different roles.  But as a parent, it's your child and your choice how to raise them and you have to allow what is comfortable in your home. And this topic is something you will encounter time and again as a parent. Just like if you were thinking your daughter was going to grow up to be a ballerina and she decides she wants to be a police officer instead- I know, a very generic example, but you get the idea.

As a parent, the best thing we can do is be supportive of our children and hopefully not get too upset with gender stereotype extremes. The best example I can think of to compare to is when we potty train our little ones- we don't want to shame them for having a foul odored poopy diaper.  It's just a part of growing up.

What are your experiences with gender stereotyping? I am sure there are some pretty funny stories out there!
Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

(photo from

As I was watching the TV show, The Bachelor tonight- I know, not the best show on television but after a long day, it's nice to turn something on the television that doesn't require you to think or concentrate and of course I fast forward most of the drama, but it's still pretty entertaining and funny at times-I ran across a statement one of the contestants made that had me cringing.

I was watching all of the girls flirt and try to win the bachelor's affection for a rose when one of the finalists attempted to call her 5 year old daughter back home. The mom was very emotional talking to her little girl as she had not seen her in a few weeks and told her she saw a recent picture of her in her cheerleader outfit and proclaimed,  'You were the prettiest cheerleader there!" Cringe.

First, what are 5 year olds cheerleading about?

Secondly, this poor mom is already starting this little girl off to be competitive with her other cheer leading friends and I can just see her on her way to the next Toddler and Tiara's episode.

There is nothing wrong with telling our children they are pretty.  I tell my baby she is beautiful every day. But we have to balance it out here and there. We have to make sure our children are intrinsically motivated more than extrinsically. What does that mean? Well, let me give you the definition of both.

Intrinsic motivation means that someone is motivated from the inside. Much like we tell children "it's more important what's on the inside than on the outside." A good goal is to make sure our youth want to excel in school because they have a drive and desire to do well, not because it will please their mom or dad. We want our child to make a soccer goal because they are good at their skills and want to do well for the team, not because they will get a reward afterwords.

Extrinsic motivation is when a person is motivated to do something by something on the 'outside'. As an adult that is motivated extrinsically, they choose to drive a luxury car, own nice clothes and a 4 carat ring because they want to look good in front of others and win their approval. Or a girl who wears more make-up because she wants people to notice her. Will she grow up learning that looks is how to succeed in life?

An adult who keeps their yard maintained because they want to make sure it stays green, and enjoys gardening is intrinsically motivated vs an adult who hires a landscaper to make sure their yard is the best looking in the neighborhood.

In play therapy, counselors attempt to teach children to be more intrinsically motivated by telling them "how pleased they must be with themselves" when they finish an art project vs "I love how pretty your picture is." We don't want them to paint a picture so we will "love" it. We want them to accomplish something because they did something themselves. Make sense?

We also want to make sure we are not constantly telling a child "I am so proud of you" because hearing that over and over can also increase extrinsic motivation. The goal is not for them to learn to succeed to make their parents happy, but that they are proud of themselves. As an alternative, you can say, "You must be so proud of yourself."

So yes, I will continue to compliment my daughter here and there extrinsically, but will attempt as much as possible to make an effort to make sure she is more intrinsically motivated.

Intrinsic motivation increases a child's self esteem, boosts their confidence and teaches them about life, and the old saying "If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything."

So what should the Bachelor contestant have told her daughter? She could have said, "I saw the picture you sent in your cheer leading outfit! You must be so proud of yourself working so hard at being a cheerleader. You look like you are having so much fun." and if needed she could have added, "And you looked so cute in your outfit too! I can't wait to see you!" See? Mostly intrinsic and a little extrinsic comment at the end.
Monday, January 10, 2011

The A, B, C's of Limit Setting

Even though my daughter can't talk yet- I have just started talking to her in 'play therapy' language. I figured it was good practice and why not start when she is young, right?

The extent of our conversations, now don't laugh at me, is 'I know you want to put that iPhone in your mouth, but it is not for eating.' She has no clue what I am talking about, but it's good practice for me, and good practice for her to start hearing it now. I don't want to wait too long and hear the 'why are you talking so funny mommy?' when she is 3 or 4.

Yes, play therapy is a strange language. In case I have not mentioned before, Play Therapy 'talk' may sound foreign to you at first when using it, but once you get the hang of it, it will be second nature to you.  Your child may look at you funny when you start stating these limits, but keep using them.

Limit setting is required as a parent. Children rely on us to tell them what they can and can't do. When children have limits, they feel safe! They have boundaries.  They know what is expected of them. Without limits, children will act out, can become aggressive, hyper, and you will start hearing from others that, "Your child is out of control" :)

Limits help teach self-control and with this method they learn all feelings are accepted, positive and negative ones, and that in turn makes them more likely to comply.

The best thing about the ACT Play Therapy limit setting is that your child is not constantly hearing "No!", "Don't" and "Can't". They hear what they are not supposed to do and are told what they can do instead. If you go to my Cookie and Choices post, you can read about alternatives and choice giving too.

I will save parenting styles for another post, but these techniques fall in the middle: not too permissive and not too strict. Permissiveness does not mean acceptance of all behaviors.

So, here are the basics to Play Therapy's Limit Setting that we use in the playrooms and what we teach parents to use at home. We call it the ACT Method : Acknowledge the feeling, Communicate the Limit and Target alternatives.

1. A: Identify and acknowledge the feeling, wish or desire

Example: "I can see how mad you are"  or "You look very frustrated" or "I know you really want to color on the walls"

2. C: Communicate the Limit

Example: "But the table is not for kicking" or "The walls are not for painting on"

3. T: Target the alternative/redirection

Example: "You can hit the pillow if you need to" or "The paper is for coloring on"

Here is an example from A,C to T:

"Sam, I know you really want to color on the wall, but the walls are not for coloring on, you can color on the paper here if you want to."

If it is an emergency and your child is about to paint your kitchen wall and you don't have time to do A and C- quickly state the limit: 'Walls are not for painting on!" and then go back to A and C: I know how fun it would be to do that, but paper is for coloring on and not our walls."

If your child does not listen to you, here is step 4: Give a final choice

Run through 1, 2 and 3 again and after 3, state "If you choose to do ____ again, then you chose not to ____ for the rest of today."

An example from above would be: "If you chose to paint on the walls again, then you chose to put up the paints for the rest of today." (or if your child is really young and that is too long of a day you can tell them they have to put them up until after lunch).

Here is another example:

"Sara I can see you are really angry at your sister and want to hit the TV, but the TV is not for hitting. If you want to hit something, you can hit this pillow...I can see you are still very angry and want to hit the TV, but again, the TV is NOT for hitting. IF you chose to hit the TV again, you chose not to watch it for the rest of today."

AND then if you have to set that final limit, FOLLOW-THROUGH and set that final limit. Yes, your child may throw a temper tantrum but that is okay- it's all a learning experience.  Kids will test limits and it is up to the parents to teach them.


We use a lot of limit setting shortcuts in play therapy and I have started using a lot of them lately with my daughter. Let's face it, we can't always be perfect and use the ACT in order or have time or it may not be needed. Once you have used the ACT method and your child understands, you can abbreviate limits and say in my case: "that shoe is not for eating,"  or "that slide is not for standing on, they are for sitting on" or "toys are not for throwing." It's kind of like a reminder to them.

Let me know what you think and if you have tried these yet. Would love to hear your child's responses, and your child's response to your new language!
Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mom De-Stress

Today was our first Snow of the season! It was so nice not to go anywhere and rush around town. We stayed in the entire day and relaxed.

Sure, I had a bunch of errands I could have run, but we put them off until another day. It made me realize how much everyone is always rushing around to do things and don't 'stop enough to smell the flowers.' Being a Mom or Dad Parent is the hardest job you will ever have. And with that being said, it is the most stressful! You have to take time to yourself to de-stress, or you will not be a good parent, spouse or partner.

Taking on too much as a parent can be overwhelming and can lead to resentment to your child and your partner, boss, etc. As a counselor, I was always taught that if you do too much, then the 'helping will start to hurt.' So all of our efforts at counseling others can start to hurt ourselves if we don't avoid burnout.  Parents need to help prevent burnout as well.

And, when our kids sense we are stressed, they get stressed too. What can you do to de-stress yourself?

When it comes to taking care of your kids, I've learned a few tips from other parents and the counseling world:

1. Learn to say 'No.' Do not take on more tasks, chores, parties, events, etc than you can handle. Your life is no longer what it was before you had kids. You can not possibly be a social butterfly and be a parent at the same time. No over-committing!

2. Don't sweat all the housework- leave some things undone for the next day! You need to take care of yourself and spend time with your child. If you are a working parent, make sure the household chores are agreed upon as much as possible if you have a partner. You don't want to do too much after a long day at work- you want to spend it with your kids. Either get a maid to come and clean so you don't have to do housework all night long after a day at work, or make sure you and your partner have agreed what chores to do. Single parents that are working have it harder.  Having friends or family come over on the weekends that can help babysit so you can manage your house.

3. For older kids, it helps for them to have certain chores and will take some stress off of you as the parent. Kids doing chores helps boost kid's self-esteem if they have responsibilities too.

4. Tell yourself you are not perfect and will make mistakes!

5. Take a nice relaxing bath once a week, if not every day! Schedule this on your calendar so you make sure you have time for it when your child goes to bed or in the mornings. Also you can schedule your favorite de-stress activity if you don't take baths such as a pedicure, massage or a Starbucks outing.

6. Take a nap when your child naps. Sure, you may not get those chores done, but they can always wait!

7. Make sure if you are married, to take turns spending time alone without kids. If you are a stay at home mom or dad, when your partner comes home, go out and run an errand alone. Go to the gym, or just run to the area Walgreens if you have to. (Also, if you have a newborn,  allow yourself to get out for at least an hour a day without your baby). If you can't leave, then take that bath, go to your room and read a book or magazine alone).  Going 3 days in a row without a break is enough to send anyone into stressmode!

8. Again, tell yourself you are not perfect and will make mistakes!

9. Arrange family or friends to babysit even if it's for a couple of hours for a quick dinner or date night. If you are a stay at home mom, have a friend/family come over for a Moms Day Out once a week or once a month if possible. If your child is older, plan a child-free vacation. If you have a young baby, take a baby vacation! Even if it's just 1 night away at an area hotel. But only when you feel comfortable and ready to leave your young child with someone you trust. You don't want to be away and constantly worrying- that is not the goal :)

10. When you are feeling you are about to explode, tell your young child you will be right back and put them in a contained area if they are supervised or if they are older, have them watch a movie. For babies, you can put them in their crib- these are safe places where they can't hurt themselves. And take a Mommy or Daddy Time-Out! Make yourself some hot chocolate, a cup of coffee or go make a quick phone call to a friend to de-stress. Some argue that TV should not be a babysitter, but when you are on the verge of a meltdown, I think it is a lifesaver for you and your child!

11.  Schedule girl or guys night outs once a month if possible. Date nights are great, but we all need some time away with the girls or boys!

12. Practice good bedtime routines, so your child isn't cranky in the mornings or weekends plus, it makes your evenings easier! If your child goes to bed at 8pm every night, it is much easier to plan things. Of course, sometimes things change if your child is sick, etc. so you have to be somewhat flexible.

13. Keep a family calendar of activities so everyone can see what is going on for the month.

14. Don't be afraid to ask for help. You can't do it all by yourself, and the sooner you ask for help, the easier it will be on you! Ask for help from your spouse, family, and friends. Even if it's a little chore such as folding clothes to scrubbing the baseboards. It even pays to learn to ask for help from the person walking in front of you at the mall, so they can hold the door for you and your kids! It doesn't hurt to ask a stranger :)

15. Practice good morning routines. Take turns with your spouse for sleeping in and the other gets up with the kids on the weekends. On school days, have good routines and set out things the night before so the next morning is not a rush. But allow for flexibility- sometimes things won't go according to plan and it's O.K.! Mornings can be the most stressful, so make sure you have established somewhat of a good routine.

16. Laugh out loud at least once day!!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mom Groupon

So, this is definitely not a counseling related post today, but since my blog is also about motherhood, I had to share this new site that caters to moms across the United States. A friend of mine told me about this recently, and as my daughter and I were out running errands today and looking for good shopping deals, I remembered it and can't wait for it to start in Dallas!  It's a lot like Groupon but geared towards moms and women called Juice in the City. Just click here and you can sign up to get daily deals. It's like Daily Candy meets Groupon!

It was founded by 2 moms in San Francisco earlier this year and aims to bring moms what they really want: insanely good deals on fun things to do.  Each day Juice in the City features something great for local moms and women at an incredible price. Sounds like a great deal to me, especially when it comes to helping out moms!

Friday, January 7, 2011


Call me crazy, but I drove 23 miles, about 30 minutes, to attend an information session at a Pediatrician's office to consider switching docs! Her name is Deborah Bain, MD at Healthy Kids Pediatrics in Frisco, TX. Why on earth would I drive so far when my pediatrician is about 10 minutes away? Well, this office proclaims the following:

Healthy Kids Pediatrics is an integrative, holistic pediatric practice, utilizing alternative and traditional approaches to medical care.

Oh, and I guess I should add a little disclaimer here before I go into my blog post:

My post are my opinions only and I hope I don't offend anyone at alll! I think that everyone has a reason for what they do and what they choose as a parent- we all have come to conclusions about things from our own experiences and some parent would never think twice about this kind of stuff, but others do.

Okay, now back to my original reasoning behind the post. I had wanted my daughter to go to this doctor when she was born but the drive out there was too much for me to handle with a newborn who goes frequently. But now that she is older, I am considering the change. I know, I am nuts!!

Here is a little video clip of Dr. Bain speaking:

For those that do not know me well, here is the reason I am going all granola here. First off, I had my daughter at a Birthing Center called the Birth and Women's Center of Dallas because I was not wanting any medications and if possible, a drug free birth. I was lucky enough to have one and would do it all over again. It was quick, painful but quick- they said it was quicker because I didn't have an epidural. Now again, not that epidurals are bad- so why did I want something pain free for something that is super painful? Well, here are a few pieces of information about me and why I am into 'alternative' approaches to medical care:

1. My parents raised me on homemade baby food, whole wheat breads, no sugar cereals, etc. I had never even tried white bread until I went to college- as a kid I just assumed everyone ate like me and didn't know better. I was raised in the 70's and early 80's so maybe that had something to do with it :)

2. Never having any fears of anything 'medical' related, I was due for some vaccinations when I turned 18, and made the last trip to my pediatrician's office. I had a good pain tolerance and was not afraid at the least to get my 4 shots. Except when they had me sign this waiver for the Hep B shot that said 1 in 1,000,000 would die from this vaccine, 1 in 1000 would develop seizures, etc. What? I had never signed a waiver before in my life and was kind of nervous but my mom persuaded me anyway, what harm would come of that?

Well, the nurse came in, gave me shot #1 in my left arm, shot # 2 in my left leg, shot #3 in my right leg and shot # 4 in my right arm. I felt great! She left the room and then came back in to do my vitals or something and all of a sudden, I felt sooo sick to my stomach- the biggest onset of nausea I had ever had in my life and told the nurse almost screaming that I felt so sick, and I leaned back and next thing you knew, I had 5 people standing over me! I thought I had died and come back to life :)

Apparently I had fainted and had a seizure and was out for over 10 minutes! I still felt horribly sick and my hearing was gone, so the doctor elevated my feet and my hearing came back. They rushed me to the neurological unit and I had an EEG done to make sure my brain was okay and I had not developed some serious Epileptic disorder. I was still so nauseated I had the shakes. They luckily did not find anything, but I went home scared to death and vowed to never have another shot again.

So, from that point on, I was afraid of any Hep vaccine but since I worked with children, was okay with the TB shot and the flu mist. But as I got older, I became afraid of all needles, including blood work. I wanted to run the other direction!

As you can imagine then, me having a baby in the hospital strapped up to machines, IV's and epidurals was just not for me. Plus I figured that having a baby was a natural experience, was not a medical emergency and wanted something more like a home birth but in a medical setting- so the birth center was best for me.

3. I have always thought that there are natural cures out there- that our wonderful Earth has to have some plants, trees, nuts, etc growing on it to cure the diseases that plague it.  Homeopathic medicine believes in treating the whole person and not just the disease or symptom.

4. The scare out there that food colorings, preservations, nitrates and artificial ingredients in our food, cosmetics, etc could be harmful healthwise to us, and cause behavior problems in children has me nervous.  I mean, why would I want to eat artificial cheese? I just bought some shredded cheddar at the store and it said artificial flavor and food coloring added. What ever happened to real cheese?

5. Lastly, I always think when things get tough and you can't figure out an answer, to go the natural route. What would our ancestors do? Breastfeeding, no growth hormone milk, no antibiotics chicken, all seem natural to me. Why would I want to eat something that has growth hormones and additives? Same goes for medical treatment.

So, that is why I made the drive out to Frisco, TX. I loved hearing this doctor say that the most common reason sick babies and kids see her are for ear infections and colds and recommends first trying to drain the ears to see what is causing the fluid in the first place instead of quickly putting in tubes. And has natural remedies such as grapeseed oil, etc to try out first and she doesn't always rush to giving antibiotics.

I think with the rise of Autism and Aspergers and sensory integration disorders, it has parents scared and wondering how to prevent this. Is it the vaccines with the high aluminum rates in them? They say aluminum causes Alzheimers so why not. Is it all the medications that could be a threat to our children's developing brains? Or the food additives and preservatives? Why are there so many peanut allergies all of a sudden? Why are there so many ADHD cases now? ADHD is caused by low activity in the frontal lobe portion of the brain, which could be hereditary or it could be from something in our environment.

Here is another video clip from Dr Deborah Bain, MD discussing fast food dangers.

It makes you wonder and I feel like I would at least like to try something natural first, before I go the other direction.  So the debate is still out there as to switching doctors or not. My current pediatrician is okay. She is very smart, knows everything there is to know about children and babies, but at times I feels gives me very quick generic advice that every doctor could give- for sleep? "Cry it out"; for vaccines, "there is no concern"; for solid foods, "start at 4 months but you should really start at 6 if you can wait", etc.

There are no 2 children alike, so there should not be the same answer for every child either. I like how Dr. Bain stated that she never gives 4 shots to a child at once, that she may give 1, 2 or none, depending on the child. That is what I like to hear, "it all depends on the child." Your child's doctor is there for you every step of the way from babyhood, toddler hood, puberty, dealing with behavior problems, social problems, etc. You need someone who will treat your child individually and on a child by child basis.

Have any parents out there had experiences with homeopathic M.D.'s?  Any concerns with your pediatrician? What has worked best for you?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

14 Tips before you have kids

So I stole these tips from an internet post. I know, it's not my writing or even my tips, and it's not counseling related at all. I wish I could credit for them though! But I've posted several serious posts lately and I need a laugh.  I was laughing out loud so hard when I read this, maybe I was severely sleep deprived at the time but it seriously caused me to have a side stitch and my husband wondered why I was crying I was laughing so hard!



For those of you this is too late for - take heart, someone understands your plight!!!

Test 1:

Women: to prepare for maternity,

Put on a dressing gown and stick a beanbag down the front. Leave it there for 9 months. After 9 months remove only 5% of the beans.

Men: to prepare for paternity, go to a local chemist, tip the contents of your wallet onto the counter and tell the pharmacist to help himself. Then go to the supermarket. Arrange to have your salary paid directly to their head office. Go home. Pick up the newspaper and read it for the last time.

Test 2:

Find a couple who are already parents and berate them about their methods of discipline, lack of patience, appallingly low tolerance levels and how they have allowed their children to run wild. Suggest ways in which they might improve their child's sleeping habits, toilet training, table manners and overall behavior. Enjoy it. It will be the last time in your life that you will have all the answers.

Test 3:

To discover how the nights will feel:

1. Walk around the living room from 5pm to 10pm carrying a wet bag weighing approximately 6 - 16lbs, with a radio turned to static (or some other obnoxious sound) playing loudly.

2. At 10pm, put the bag down, set the alarm for midnight and go to sleep.

3. Get up at 12pm and walk the bag around the living room until 1am.

4.Set the alarm for 3am.

5. As you can't get back to sleep, get up at 2am and make a cup of tea.

6.Go to bed at 2.45am.

7. Get up again at 3am when the alarm goes off.

8. Sing songs in the dark until 4am.

9. Put the alarm on for 5am. Get up when it goes off.

10. Make breakfast. Keep this up for 5 years.


Test 4:

Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems:

1. Buy a live octopus and a string bag.

2. Attempt to put the octopus into the string bag so that no arms hang out.

3. Time allowed for this: 5 minutes.

Test 5:

Forget the BMW and buy a practical 5 door wagon. And don't think that you can leave it out on the driveway spotless and shining. Family cars don't look like that.

1. Buy a chocolate ice cream cone and put it in the glove compartment.

2. Leave it there.

3. Get a coin. Insert it into the cd player.

4. Take a box of chocolate biscuits; mash them into the back seat.

5. Run a garden rake along both sides of the car.

Test 6:

Getting ready to go out for a walk

1. Wait

2. Go out the front door

3. Come back in again

4. Go out

5. Come back in again

6. Go out again

7. Walk down the front path

8. Walk back up it

9. Walk down it again

10. Walk very slowly down the road for five minutes.

11. Stop, inspect minutely and ask at least 6 questions about every piece of used chewing gum, dirty tissue and dead insect along the way.

12. Retrace your steps

13. Scream that you have had as much as you can stand until the neighbours come out and stare at you.

14. Give up and go back into the house.

15. You are now just about ready to try taking a small child for a walk.

Test 7:

Repeat everything you say at least 5 times.

Test 8:

Go to the local supermarket. Take with you the nearest thing you can find to a pre-school child. A full-grown goat is excellent. If you intend to have more than one child take more than one goat. Buy your weeks groceries without letting the goat(s) out of your sight. Pay for everything the goat eats or destroys. Until you can easily accomplish this do not even contemplate having children.

Test 9:

1. Hollow out a melon

2. Make a small hole in the side

3. Suspend the melon from the ceiling and swing it side to side

4. Now get a bowl of soggycornflakes and attempt to spoon them into the swaying melon while pretending to be an aeroplane.

5. Continue until half the cornflakes are gone.

6. Tip the rest into your lap, making sure that lots of it falls on the floor.

7. You are now ready to feed a 12-month old child.

Test 10:

Learn the names of every character from the Wiggles, Thomas the Tank Engine and Disney. Watch nothing else on television for at least 5 years.

Test 11:

Can you stand the mess children make? To find out:

1. Smear peanut butter onto the sofa and jam onto the curtains

2. Hide a fish behind the stereo and leave it there all summer.

3. Stick your fingers in the flower beds and then rub them on clean walls.

4. Cover the stains with crayon.

5. How does that look?

Test 12:

Make a recording of someone shouting 'Mommy' repeatedly.

Important: no more than a 4 second delay between each Mommy - occasional crescendo to the level of a supersonic jet if required.

Play this tape in your car, everywhere you go for the next 4 years.

You are now ready to take a long trip with a toddler.

Test 13:

Start talking to an adult of your choice. Have someone else continually tug on your shirt hem or shirt sleeve while playing the Mommy tape listed above.

You are now ready to have a conversation with an adult while there's a child in the room.

Test 14:

Put on your finest work attire. Pick a day on which you have an important meeting. Now:

1. Take a cup of cream and add 1 cup of lemon juice

2. Stir

3. Dump half of it on your shirt

4. Saturate a towel with the other half of the mixture

5. Attempt to clean your shirt with the same saturated towel

6. Do not change, you have no time.

7. Go directly to work

You are now ready to have kids....