Monday, February 28, 2011

Praise vs. Encouragement

You've probably heard about the Tiger Mom. The Chinese mother who wrote about her perspectives on raising your children the 'tough way'.  I was discussing this with a few other moms the other day during a playgroup.  The discussion then lead into how maybe the answer is to just start 'Praising' our children better.

Ah, the whole 'Praise' versus 'Encouragement' argument. Before I became a counselor, I thought 'praise' was a good thing. What's wrong with praising your children, I thought? Then I attended a lecture from one of my graduate school professors who explained the difference between Praising your children vs. Encouraging them.

What is 'Praise' in regards to raising your kids?

Praise is telling your child how wonderful they are, how amazing, fantastic and job well done. Praise is when you tell your kids, "I am so proud of you!' or "Good girl!" They are usually words that evaluate something such as: good, beautiful, fantastic, athletic, etc. It is also more of an extrinsic motivator where a child feels the need to please others to get rewarded and praised, see my previous post about this here.

What is Encouragement?

Encouragement is when you are helping to increase your child's efforts and improvements. It is helping your child succeed and does not place judgment on a child's efforts. It's telling your child their actions are good, and to have them look inside of themselves (intrinsic) to reward themselves vs. looking for a 'treat' or reward (extrinsic).

Encouragement increases self-esteem, increases cooperation instead of competition, teaches them that it's okay not being perfect, and focuses on their efforts and not just the outcome (reward).

What is so bad about 'Praise'?

Some praise is good, as we all want to praise our children, but use it in moderation. Why? Well, the downside of using it too much is that a child learns they need to win affection from parents/teachers/adults, as it teaches children to please others, and they soon learn to expect a reward.

Praise often comes with a judgment such as 'best' at this or 'highest' at that and can encourage more competition. It also can create fear of failure, selfishness, and dependence.  They start to doubt themselves and the person praising them. And it can create little snobs who feel entitled and expect compliments and things to always go their way :)

When we praise our kids too much, with statements such as, "You are the best soccer player out there, you are just like Beckham!" we are making them believe they are valued only for being talented and it makes them not want to try. Or when we say, "you are the smartest kid in your class!" we are making them believe they are valued only for being intelligent, and it makes them not want to really learn.

It's good practice to try to 'encourage' your child more than 'praise' them.

So how do you use more 'Encouragement'?

As play therapists, we always try to put the focus back on the child. We comment on what we see, using descriptions and then we encourage them by 'putting it back on themselves.' For example, "You must be so proud of yourself for doing all of your work so fast." Or "I see how hard you worked at that puzzle, you put all of the pieces together all by yourself."

My favorite book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, also has some good ideas on how to use encouragement or as they call it 'Helpful Praise'. The book states that to encourage your child, there are 2 steps:

1) The parent/teacher/adult describes with appreciation what they see or feel

2) The child is then able to praise themselves

Here is an example of how this works with a preschooler:

Child: "Mommy, is my artwork good?" as she shoves her paper in front of you

Parent: (Don't just respond, "very good!", describe it) "Well, I see you drew circles and circles here, wiggles and wiggles there, dot, dot, dots and a slash!"

Child: "Yeah!"

Parent: "How did you ever think to do this?"

Child: "Because I'm an artist!" And the child smiles widely and runs off to play.

See how amazing that worked? The child then turned it around and praised himself!

When using encouraging statements, keep in mind the following:

-Make sure they are age appropriate so it's not too condescending to a teenager

- Don't use too much excessive enthusiasm, it can create too much pressure or come off as fake

-Don't bring up past mistakes or weaknesses such as "you finally did that the correct way"

In case it's still a little confusing about praise or encouragement, here is a chart comparison of the two:



You are so smart!

You are working so hard on your homework.

You are the best listener when I tell you to pick up your toys!

You sure make an effort to listen to me when I ask you to do something.

You had the highest score in your class on your test! Way to go!

You did very well on your test.  You seem to really enjoy doing well in school!

I am so proud of you.

You are so proud of yourself.

You're the best at cleaning your room.

Your room looks very neat since you straightened your bookshelves.

I'm so proud of your artwork.

I can see how much you enjoy art.  You take time to paint and use so many different colors.

Hopefully this makes sense, and I know, there is still no harm in a little Praise now and then!  I just love saying 'Good Girl' to my little girl and seeing her have the biggest grin on her face!  But practicing more Encouraging words will go a lot further in your child's life and it will really increase their self esteem, cooperation and self worth!

For further reading, here is a good article from Good Morning America, titled, 'Why Praise Can Be Bad for Kids.'
Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snickers Theory

Snickersphoto © 2008 Sudeep Bajpai | more info (via: Wylio)


"Oohhhh, Snickers!" as I quote the character Cher from the movie "Clueless."  That is exactly the reaction children give when they pass by a Snickers bar (or any candy) at the grocery store. Stores just love taunting children at the check out lines with all kinds of chocolate bars and candy. Like we don't have enough to deal with when we go shopping with our children, having to constantly redirect them AWAY from the temptations.

After I posted about 'Temper Tantrums' the other day, I remembered I forgot to include my 'Snickers Theory.' And it definitely deserves its own post.  Because as a parent, you deal with it ALL the time.

What is the Snickers Theory? Well, basically that our kids have learned that it will take asking their parents 'X'  times for something before they get what they want.

Here is how it works:

When children ask us for something they really love, like a Snickers bar in the check-out line, many parents say 'No' or will try some limit setting as in this previous post here.

Then they ask us again, "please, please I really want the candy bar!" and we reply, "I said no" or a form of limit setting such as, "I can see you really want one, but we are not getting a Snickers bar today."

Then it can go on and on, "But I REALLY want one!"

And after hearing them ask us 8 times, we are annoyed so we finally give in. Why do we give in? For many reasons: we're embarrassed in public, we just want them to be quiet, we can't take hearing 'but why?' one more time, etc.

So what do our children learn from this?

They learn that it will take asking mom 8 times for a Snickers bar before she gives in to me!  Yes, they now know they can get what they want eventually by asking you 'X' amount of times.  They are so excited they have figured out a way to work us, and have become little conniving experts!

Same goes for when asking for routine things at home. For instance, one day I don't let my baby have my iPhone to play with, but then an hour later I do because I want her to stop crying. She has now learned that if she tries hard enough, she can eventually get what she wants.  If I had been strict and said NO iPhone from day 1 and never gave in, she probably would have learned a long time ago not to try asking for it- AND learned that "when mommy says no, she means no."

So what is a parent to do?  BE CONSISTENT.  As hard as it may be, keep your answer firm when your children ask you for something they can not have or do.  Even if they are asking you 20 times, pleading, whining and crying, stick to your limit.  It may create a lot of tears, public embarrassment and temper tantrums, but it will teach them consistency.

Being consistent also teaches them trust.  That they can trust what you say, and will feel safe with you as a parent- which will go a long way in your relationship with them!

I know, sounds easy enough on paper but hard to practice.  Maybe try it for 1 week as an experiment and see what happens, hopefully it will catch on fast and will only take one try at the next super market outing!  Let me know what works for you and if you've had any success. :)
Tuesday, February 22, 2011


thumbsphoto © 2005 Kat | more info (via: Wylio)

I was standing in line at an area cupcake store and heard this 4 year old behind me with some pretty vast language skills. Well, not so amazing but he was vastly verbal.

His conversation went like this, "mom, I want the white chocolate cupcake, no I mean, I want the dark chocolate one, what is that cupcake, what flavor is that one, mom what is that jar with money in it, can I have some, what is that for, what can we do when we get home, I want to get Daddy something, wow, banana, is that good, I can't decide, that is cool!..." Yes, this conversation all occurred in a total of 1 minute!

Isn't language development amazing? When you really think about it, it really is so fascinating how babies are born into this world with no language skills and then in a matter of a year or two, they are fluent in their native tongue, and then some!  They are like sponges and soak everything up.  What amazes me more are the babies that learn over 3-4 languages in their home.  I wish I could speak Spanish, French, German, in addition to English!

Since my child is now 9 months old, I've been trying to increase her language development, with some tips I remembered studying in undergrad.

And how do you increase a baby's language?

Well, it involves some of the same skills I use as a Play Therapist. A technique called 'tracking.'  When therapists track children in a play therapy session, we basically comment on everything we see them doing. We do it in moderation of course so the child doesn't get annoyed. The point of doing it is to bring awareness to a child's actions and to also let them know we are giving them our 100% attention.

So with babies learning language, we use tracking so they can learn more words. Sounds easy enough, but so many times it's easy to forget.  Our child is playing on the floor next to us, or we are changing their diapers and we are silent, not saying a word as we just watch them play or go about our day.

I try as much as I can to remember to' track' everything I and my baby does, so that she grasps language and words faster.  The more she hears us talking, the more she is going to pick up the language. Of course, I try not to talk in cute little baby talk too often so she doesn't think that's the way we really talk, such as, "we are going to eat cawits today, you love eating your orange cawits!" Or, "You uv puttin your wittle feetsies in your mouth!"

So what does tracking look like?  Here are some examples:

When getting dressed: "now we are going to get dressed. First we need to put your left hand through this your right hand..pull it let's stand up and put your pants leg at a are going to wear red pants today..left leg, now right let's sit down and put on our socks..the yellow and red socks....etc." you get the idea.

When eating: "It's time for lunch..I am going to get your sweet potatoes in your bowl and heat them up...okay, they are ready now, let me get your spoon and your bib...let's put on your bib, over your let's sit down and eat..I am going to scoop up your potatoes with your spoon..getting a little here they come, open your mouth and I will feed you some yummy potatoes..yum, you are licking them off the spoon and using your tongue..etc..

I know, seems a little bit too much, and that it could get old VERY fast, but it really does help them learn more words faster and develop language skills.  You don't have to do it all of the time, but here and there is good.

I know what some of you with older kids are thinking, as much as we are teaching our child to speak, pretty soon she will be so verbal, we will wish she was back at 6 months of age and not talking yet like in the example above.

But helping your child become more verbal is also a good example we set as parents. We can model appropriate social skills when speaking and how to interact, carry a conversation, ask a question, etc.

I can't wait to see how my little angel's language progresses!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Temper Tantrums

'Temper Tampers' as a friend of mine calls them.  I've been meaning to post about this topic for a while now as the issue has come up over and over again with friends, family and now, sadly now my daughter.

It's always a challenging topic too, but I figured I should tackle it today after my daughter had a mini frustration break down. After I pried my car keys from her mouth, she started crying of course, and was so upset you would think the world was ending.

Now, being 9 months old, they are not technically throwing a temper tantrum. They are still learning object permanence at this age, but it is a good time for me to start practicing how to prevent them.

And by the way, to first solve the car key dilemma, I bought her a fabulous set of fake keys at Target, which she just loves.  It's from the brand 'B' and I completely recommend it if you need a good 'real' toy if your child is into grown-up toys like keys, cell phones, etc. They make some pretty real looking alternatives like the ones below. I even had some moms tell me this weekend (after seeing the toy keys in my baby's mouth) that maybe I shouldn't let my baby suck on them since they are dirty. They actually thought they were real car keys!

As I digressed, getting back to Temper Tantrums. I don't think I need to go into a definition here, as EVERYONE knows what a Temper Tantrum is.

In young children, around age 2 (and younger), they still have a hard time communicating and using their words. So when they get frustrated, they throw temper tantrums.

And older kids throw them as well.  As we all have either witnessed in public, or have had our own children throw them. It seems  it is more than just getting frustrated, that they are trying to manipulate something or get what they want when things don't go their way :)

First Steps:

The best first step is to watch for the beginning signs of a tantrum, before your child actually throws one. Asking yourself if your child is hungry, tired, etc.  If you are asking your child to do something they don't like, or taking away a toy or a privilege when they are exhausted, then you may get a full blown tantrum instead.

Look for other beginning signs such as whining. Usually whining means a child is tired- except if they have learned to whine to get what they want and is now a learned behavior. That's when you have a whole other issue on your hands- a whining child is not fun and teaching them to 'use your real voice' can be difficult once they learn that they can get what they want by whining. But, that's a whole other post I will save for another time I'm sure.

When are kids are needing a nap or are hungry, and start getting upset, we have to remember it's not their fault and we can't get mad at them for having a tantrum. Especially when we are keeping them up longer than they should be and need a nap.

So the big question is, what the heck do I do when my child throws a temper tantrum?

Well, I think the answer to that question is not a one word answer unfortunately.  Every child is different, and some may react to one method and one to another.  But from my experiences, here are a few that parents say have worked well (the following will work with all ages, even if your child is limited verbally.):

1) First acknowledge their feeling of frustration, so at least they are being 'heard.'

With babies, you can state their obvious frustrations and then remove the object you don't want them to have and hopefully have a replacement object like my play keys above. "I know you really want to play with my keys, but they are not for playing with, you can play with this toy instead."

Babies are usually getting upset because they can't have something they want- something usually dangerous like your knife at the restaurant, your iPhone, or some electrical outlet.  As long as you practice acknowledging their wants/feelings and then telling them what they can have INSTEAD, they will soon learn.

With older kids, use the Limit Setting techniques I've mentioned before, such as 'I can see how mad you are right now, and that you really want that toy, but today we are not picking out a toy.' This example also reminds me of another tip, I'll call it 1.2)

1.2) To prevent meltdowns when going to the grocery store, Walmart, Toys R Us, or other stimulating store: PREPARE your child before you go and let them know that they will NOT be getting a toy, candy, sugar cereal, etc.  That way, they will know what to expect before they go.  Stating, "Today we are going to Walmart to buy some clothes, and I know they have a lot of fun toys and candy there, but today we will not be buying those things."

2) When they are kicking and throwing themselves on the floor, another technique parents use is drawing.  Tell them to "show me how mad you are, draw me a picture of how you feel." And have them continue to keep showing you through this activity until they calm down.  Sounds corny, but it does work!  Or have them punch a pillow or another physical activity that is safe.

3) Another tip from my favorite book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen is using a 'wish list.' When a child is throwing a tantrum in a store in public (and you are super embarassed), take out a pen and write down everything your child says they want and make a 'wish list.'  Parents say that it helps satisfy the child for the moment, and you have a great list when the holidays or birthdays come up!

4) BUT, what do you do when you are in public and they are screaming and the 'wish list' is just not going to work, you ask? Most moms feel the best option is to leave the store. Walk out with your full grocery cart and take them home.  Again, hopefully you could have looked at preventing a melt-down before it gets to this point, but sometimes they come on so fast it's hard to prevent.

And lastly...

5) Ignoring? We've all heard to ignore tantrums. That giving them attention just fuels them to continue the tantrum behaviors.  There's the argument that, "it's pretty hard to throw a temper tantrum when you don't have an audience."  And if there is no audience, then there is no temper tantrum.

Some parents swear by this technique and when a child throws themselves on the floor and scream and cry, then you tell them matter of factly, that when they are done, you will be in the kitchen.  And walk away, making sure of course that they are safe.

Others think it is better to be near your child to let them know that even when they are upset, that the parent is there for them. I think it depends on your child and what works best for them.

But what happens when you ignore them and your child turns blue? That is one of the times when ignoring them may not be the best answer.  Doctors say that usually these spells are normal, but they are still scary!  I would check with your doctor first to rule out anything medically.  But the best way to stop them from turning blue is to prevent a tantrum from reaching that point by using some of the techniques above.

Hope some of this information helps.  I know there is a lot more that goes into solving tantrums, but this is a good start.  There is no easy answer, but sometimes trying new approaches to an old problem can work wonders.  Let me know what has worked best for you!
Thursday, February 17, 2011

Frustration Tolerance

I know what you are thinking with the title to this post. Me having a zero frustration tolerance due to being a new mom, right? Wrong! Ha, sounds like a good post topic but this one has to do with children having a low or high frustration tolerances.

At 9 months of age, I am beginning to think my daughter is teetering on the low frustration tolerance side. What is a frustration tolerance?

The best way I can describe it is asking yourself how a baby or child can handle things that don't go their way. If they just shrug it off and move onto the next game or toy, I would say they have a high frustration tolerance.  If your child loses a game, and has a complete meltdown and starts crying uncontrollably, it would be safe to say your child probably has a low frustration tolerance. Not necessarily a bad thing, just something to note with their personalities.

Take my daughter for example,  when you take away a toy she is not allowed to play with, i.e. my iPhone, she starts crying and throws her head back and wails. Hmm, I am thinking she is on her way to having that low frustration tolerance.

I've noticed this occurring here and there lately, but it was pretty evident today at her baby music class.  The teacher brought out the fun drums with the colored beads inside, and she was banging and playing on it. But when it came time to 'put the drums away,' I had to pry it from her tiny fingers.  She started crying and wanting to arch her back and head back. Of course while this was occurring, I was using my play therapy language with limit setting: "I know you really want to play with the drums, but it's time to put the drums away until next time.  We are going to play with something else fun now!" But she still cried until we moved onto the next music game.

Of course since I don't like labeling kids, I would never mention this term to her so she doesn't start using it as an excuse or attributing something negative to her.  Besides, these attributes are out of our control as parents. Frustration tolerances are completely caused by temperament.

What exactly is a temperament?

Well basically it's a behavior/disposition that someone is born with. Some define it as: characteristics of a baby and how they respond to the environment, such as fearfulness, irritability, emotionality and sociability.

Babies described as easy going vs. fussy or quiet vs outgoing are attributes that can all be caused by temperament. You hear parents all the time saying "I have one child that is so easy and the other throws fits like no tomorrow!" How amazing it is that children in the same family can be so different? Shows how it's something one is born with and not a reflection of 'parenting techniques'.

My sister and I are great examples of this.  I was the quiet and well behaved child (according to my mother) and my sister was the hyper, getting into trouble child.  Both of us came from the same parents and we were both raised the same, but ended up having such different personalities! You can even look at identical twins and see how different their personalities are- amazing how temperaments can be!

As nice as it would be to have children where troubles just roll off their backs and nothing phases them, we can't all be so lucky.  Besides, having a child with a low frustration tolerance gives them a fun personality and character!  It also shows that my child is reacting to her environment. Which is a good thing :)
Monday, February 14, 2011

Unsolicited Advice?

How many of you have had strangers come up to you and tell you how to raise your children? (or maybe even worse, relatives and friends telling you how wrong you are at your parenting strategies?) I'm sure there are stories out there that could stretch 1 million miles long!

But, sometimes it can be a very sweet compliment. For instance, today while shopping at the area grocery store, an older man around 95 years old comes up to my husband and I asking in a strong Italian accent if our daughter is my husband's.

Of course he was joking, and trying to make a point. The point being as he turned to us stating, "if this is your daughter (then something in Italian) then you need to be careful and remember to tell her every day that she is beautiful. That she needs to be reminded of this each and every day! Am I wrong? Please tell me if I am and I will stop." He was so cute and genuine that we agreed with him. Then he smiled, and said, "Have a nice life," and walked away.

Awh, I thought that was very sweet and even sweeter that he thought it was the Dad's job to remind his daughter of this.  Kind of old Fashioned but still nice.  Now since my daughter is still non-verbal and still restrained in the grocery cart with a seat belt, I don't think there is a whole lot to complain about at this point.

But I am waiting for the melt-downs, screaming fits and temper tampers in public and the grimacing stares from strangers that we will no doubt be getting in the future.  Why is it people feel compelled to tell you what you are doing wrong and how to fix it?  So many friends have told me they have melted in tears from the criticism of others in public and from relatives. Unsolicited of course.

You hear it from veteran parents, but then you also hear from the other side. Other people that don't have kids. Much like the title of the book, I Used To Be a Perfect Mom, and Then I Had a Baby. They apparently know first hand what you are doing exactly wrong! And I mean exactly. Because if  "only they would do this..." or "why doesn't she just...". Like it's that simple.

Even with people who know my counseling background, it never fails, I still have to provide some sort of research study and article to prove a point about some particular parenting technique I am using.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and even though some people have good intentions, it can end up being hurtful.

How do you handle it? Well, as much as we would like to go off on these well intentioned people, doing so will only make us more upset.  Or, on the flip side, being sarcastic by saying something like, "Gee, I've never heard of that one before!"can probably guarantee the other party to continue with their wonderful advice.

For intrusive well intentioned family members, saying something along the lines of, "I appreciate your concern, but my husband and I have a different approach to XYZ and are working on it."  Or just a basic counseling response such as, "I hear your concerns and I will take what you have to say into consideration."  There is nothing they can say against that one.

And hopefully it will quiet them down. Now, I know there are a TON of comebacks we are all secretly wishing we could say back to them, but for our sanity we choose to keep our mouths shut. After all, we have enough to deal with and worry about with our own kids than having a family drama start to unfold.

And for the annoying jerk well-intentioned stranger, what do you say when they tell you how to keep your child quiet or what your child needs?  As I would love to just pretend I don't hear them, and start speaking in another language or just try signing to my child so they will hopefully leave me alone (I am tempted to try that one day), a casual "thanks" will hopefully do the trick. Depending on where you are or what is going on, you can just politely say, "excuse me, but I am in a real hurry to leave this store and I need to get going, thank you," can get you out the door fast!

What I used to do and still appreciate when I see a mom struggling in public with her child, is to try to get the child to smile or laugh.  Sometimes a distraction is all that they need.

I've heard some moms say it helps them when strangers try to intervene to help a tantrum child, but others would prefer to be left alone.  Some people can be very sensitive, even if you compliment a parent on a job well done of disciplining their child in public, they can be very thankful to you or just the opposite. They can get pretty annoyed you were even listening in the first place. So if you want to help, just remember it's not always taken politely :)

With that being said, I would love to hear about any stories about unsolicited advice given, and where this has happened to you, or someone you know??

Happy V-Day!

Happy Valentine's Day!!  I don't have any words of wisdom, play therapy techniques or recommendations for today. Just some advice to Love, Love, Love your children with all your heart and remember to give them a ton of hugs and kisses today!

We don't need just one day a year to remember to tell those we care about that we love them.  We should show them we care each and every day.  By our actions and our words.  I know when our kids get older they won't want as many hugs or kisses and they when they start to get in trouble, they will want to make us pull out our hair! But when those days come, hopefully I will remember these sweet precious, innocent days of today when they are young, and it will make everything better :)
Saturday, February 12, 2011

Children's Books

Sometimes a Children's story is just a story, and sometimes it is a story with a hidden meaning.  Of course to children, they are always stories but us parents hope they can get the special lesson that some of them hide.

I recently came across my old Sweet Pickles collection of books. Do you remember those or I am dating myself?  My sister and I loved reading them as each animal had its own story and lesson involved. Check out the link to view all of the titles, like the one below. I loved reading these and they each taught a lesson such as being selfish, dealing with temper tantrums, being sad, etc.

I also remember loving my Richard Scarry manners book, and the funny thing was that at the time, I had no idea my parents were trying to have me learn 'manners'. I thought it was just a fun and silly storybook!

There are a bunch of children's books out there that have morales and lessons for children. In fact, most books do have a morale of a story. Even night time books like Goodnight Moon, send the message to babies and children that it's time to go to sleep.

When your child reaches a certain age, it's good to read them stories and then talk about the messages they have at the end.  Such as reading Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good Very Bad Day. It teaches children that everyone has bad days, but in the end, it's not so bad after all.  You can read the story to your child and then tailor it to something going on in their lives or to help teach them about life. "Sometimes kids have bad days just like Alexander did, but remember that even though it seems like the end of the world, things do get better!"

I have a TON of favorite childrens books! There are obviously classics like The Ugly Duckling, Cinderella, etc. and I may end up having more and more posts on books, but for right now, I am posting my faves that teach good lessons.

Here are some of my favorites and the messages they teach:

1. Dealing with things that don't go our way: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. See above. Love this one and still quote it myself when I am having a bad day :). You can order at Amazon here (photo from Amazon).

2. Being picked on/made fun of: Chrysanthemum (from below). A sweet story of a girl names Chrysanthemum who gets picked on in school because of her name, but in the end becomes proud of her name and her self esteem increases. (photo credit from Amazon)

2. Teaching non-fighting/pacifism: The Story of Ferdinand. You can purchase from Amazon here (photo credited to A story of a bull in Spain who chooses picking flowers vs. being in a bull fight. (photo credit from Amazon)

3. Separation Anxiety: Llama Llama Red Pajama at Amazon here. A cute story of a baby Llama who cries out for his mom at night, but learns that even if his mom is not right there, she is close by and still loves him. (photo credit from Amazon)

4. Imagination and dramatic play: Where the Wild Things Are at Amazon here. A classic story about a boy who gets sent to his room and creates a wild imaginative play land. (photo credit from Amazon)

5. Teaches the gift of giving: The Giving Tree at Amazon here.  A story, kind of sad, about a boy that receives gifts from a tree and how generous the tree is and how sometimes people can be selfish, but in the end teaches unconditional love. (photo credit from Amazon)

6.  ADHD and inattention: If You Give a Mouse A Cookie at Amazon here.  This is a great story about a mouse that asks for one thing after another and is a great cause and effect story that you can teach about ADHD symptoms.(photo credit from Amazon)

7. A story about unconditional love: The Velveteen Rabbit at Amazon here. This one reminds me of Toy Story and the love a boy has for a toy and a lesson about beauty and real, unconditional love. (photo credit from Amazon)

8. Sleep/nightime book: This doesn't really teach a lesson but is my favorite story to read to kids at night! Kiss Good Night (order at Amazon here). The story of Sam the bear and his mom tucking him into bed at night, and remembering the best good night routine is giving the good night kiss, "and she bent way down kissing once, twice and then twice more!" (photo credit from Amazon)

9. Anger/temper tantrums: When Sophie Gets Angry (at Amazon here) is a story about a girl named Sophie and teaches how every kid gets mad, and how to release your anger in a good way. It teaches a good message that anger is OK! as long as the behaviors involved are not hurtful. (photo credit from Amazon)

10. Teaches caring: Pierre (at Amazon here). Not my favorite book out there, but I love the cute illustrations and the constant "I don't care, said Pierre" lines. It also teaches the art of kindness. (photo credit from Amazon)
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Locking in Rooms?

As I was devouring chocolate at my neighborhood early childhood PTA Chocolate party last night, my ears perked up as I heard other moms talking about locking their kids in their rooms at night.  Oh my, I thought!  Is that the next thing I am going to have to be dealing with?  Why is night time so hard for children and the parents? I just wanted to enjoy my 2000 calorie chocolate splurge, and not have to stress about any more future sleep issues :)

As I could not help listening to their stories, these moms were discussing how they have turned the locks around so that you lock it from the outside, not the inside of their child's room. They insist it is for their child's safety, so they are not roaming the house at night or getting hurt while going to the bathroom. Hmm, well, then how does your child tell you they need to go to the bathroom? I was a little confused so I asked them what they meant.

Apparently, their toddlers had reached the point where they could climb out of their cribs and would run out of the room and into their parent's rooms. They had installed the crib canopy already but they still had figured out how to escape. They now had a big toddler bed, but they still would climb out and run out to the parent's room.

I started thinking back on my childhood and remembered that I stayed in my bed just fine, unless I had a nightmare or there was a thunderstorm, or I was sick.  So why were these kids escaping each night?  And I remembered that all of the children I used to babysit always stayed in their beds asleep, never getting out. But apparently, these veteran moms told me it happens early in the morning hours.

Well, how about just putting a baby gate in their room?  I am guessing it is like having to do the cry it out approach all over again. You make them stay in their room and cry until they fall asleep.  Poor little things, I thought! What happens if they truly are sick or need something?  Do you lock your door as a parent? Or do you just put up a baby gate in their room?

Something I always told parents whose children I counseled and had sleep issues, was that you can't make a child go to sleep. But you can insist they stay in their bed, or in their room.

From my days as a nanny, I would tell kids, "it's time to go to sleep, and if you don't sleep in your bed, you can sleep on the floor, or in your chair, but you have to stay in your room." Or when the child was fighting going to sleep, I used to tell them, "whatever you do, don't fall asleep!" It worked well for the most part. Reverse psychology.

I am hoping these little techniques will work well for me!  Here's crossing my fingers we don't go down a locking the door path. Thank goodness the subject changed over to the Dallas Superbowl, and I could take a breath of relief of not hearing more horror stories.

These mom stories are enough to scare you and I know they are hurdles I will be facing before long.  Ah, the joys of night time parenting.

With these sleep stories being enough to depress me, I figured I needed a little chuckle, so I am including a picture of my daughter below, just to have a little laugh.  Yes, it is my daughter's rear end view, but just love the cute little jeans she is modeling!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Family Finance Fitness

(photo courtesy of

Creating a family budget has been a goal of mine for the past few months. Mostly due to the fact that my husband and I went from 2 incomes to 1 and from 2 to 3 people this year!  Finances can cause soo much stress in a family and relationships.  It is a daily struggle for most and planning your finances is almost like a full time job.

Today it all came to a head and I had the hardest struggle in trying to decrease my bills: I canceled my home phone. Land line that is.  I know most of you out there probably got rid of yours a long time ago and have just been using your cell phones and rolling your eyes at me. But I have had a land line since I was born, seriously.  And I've loved keeping it as I only give my cell phone number out to people I know and enjoyed being able to hand out my land line number to unknown people, online vendors, salesmen, etc.  Plus, it was nice to have a line that never had dropped calls and had great reception.

But in all seriousness, I knew I had to cut costs and could live without one. I couldn't live without my electricity, gas or water as necessities, but I realized that a home phone was easy to give up.

I ran through all of my other bills and decreased my cable bill and internet by calling the company to see what specials they had to offer.  I then decided to cut back on little things like washing our own cars and vacuuming them instead of spending the extra cash on that.  We also are going to start cutting coupons, and planning our meals for the week and not aimlessly shopping as we go up and down the grocery store aisles.

One of my friends (Thank you Kim) told me about Dave Ramsey's book Total Money Makeover to help get us on a budget. I read the entire book a month ago, but felt overwhelmed at tackling our budget. After all, it means going through all of your bank statements and admitting to overspending as well as allotting every penny you earn to a category. It felt like a huge ordeal, but I finally forced myself to do it last night, and I am SO happy we did.

For those that do not know his method, it involves setting up categories of spending such as utilities, food, pets, children, clothing, toiletries, gifts, etc. and filling in how much you spend on each a month. Then you put your income at the bottom, add up the categories and see if it matches up or not.

Sounds like a regular budget right? The difference is that you have to put your income in every category and no money is left over. So if you are foreseeing buying a sofa next year, then you need to put money in that category.  You will also put money in a savings or emergency fund category, as well as any other future spending. Every dollar you earn is put into a category.

And, the other main difference of Dave's strategy is to use the 'envelope' method for certain categories. These are categories such as food, restaurants, entertainment, clothing, gasoline and repairs, toiletries, cosmetics, hair care, cleaners and babysitters.  You put the amount of cash for the category you have allotted for the month in an envelope. And you withdraw from that 'account'. For example, if you have 150$ in your restaurant category then you put that much cash in a labeled envelope and once that cash is gone, it is gone!

The Envelope System definitely makes you accountable and shows you first hand how much you are spending. Oh, and you are not allowed to take from one envelope to the next.  If you don't use all the cash that month, then you will have more for the next one. You can always move your budget around, but it really helps you curb your spending.  When you feel the cash in your hands, it makes you more responsible. Everyone can swipe a card and get into debt, but you can't swipe away your cash and have more instantly appear.

Planning a family budget makes me feel much more liberated and free. Even though we are counting our pennies, it helps to finally have a goal and boundaries.  When people live in the unknown, it can cause a lot of anxiety.  If you spend money and cross your fingers things will work out well and do not plan for things, then this is when you start having problems sleeping at night and waking up worrying about how you will afford a mortgage, tuitions, and credit card debt.  Especially during the recession times and the stress that comes from that alone!

To have a happy family, it's important to plan for your budget as well as COMMUNICATE it well with your spouse.  If you need to move the budget around once, then both spouses have to agree on it which means talking through the issue.  So many couples argue over finances and at times it can fuel arguments in other areas (displacing your anger).  It's a good idea to consider seeing a Financial Counselor if needed and even a mental health counselor if it is causing marital problems.

But hopefully we will all not need to go down that path! I am so excited to start using this new plan. Has anyone else had good experience with the Dave Ramsey makeover? Or any other budget tips?
Friday, February 4, 2011

Snow Day Activities

After all of the crazy winter weather this country is having (is there a state that does NOT have snow?), I figured a post about getting cabin fever was long overdue!

Besides the old standby activities for winter weather: building snowmen, sledding, snowball fights, roasting s'mores, baking goodies, what else is there to do?  Whatever they did before TV, video games and Apple products!  If you and your kids are climbing the walls, here are a few different activities you can do at home when it's too dangerous to get out there and drive. I got some of these ideas from my friends, and family while others are some that I've grown to love doing over the years!

For babies, toddlers and preschoolers:

1. Set up your own sensory table: Get a rubbermaid container and fill with water or sand and have them move their toys around in it. Just make sure they don't eat the sand if they are babies.

2. A good idea for babies too is to set them in their highchair so they are contained and put a variety of food supplies on it to play with: Pudding, cool whip, any mushy food like bananas, avocado, etc. and let them be little artists

3. Make your own bubbles or homemade play dough!  Half the fun is making it.  As long as you have cream of tartar on hand for the play dough, it's so easy to make.

4. Boardgames such as Candyland, Chutes and Ladders are fun ways to have the whole family engage in an activity.

5. Block activity building for families to build something together like a Castle, a town or racetrack

6.  Make snowflakes out of paper. Remember doing this in school?

7. Decorate valentines and make heart shapes out of construction paper and decorate with glitter and glue

8. Moon Sand! Need I say more?

9.  Have them put on a puppet show and if you don't have any puppets make some! Just get some white old tube socks and paint them or decorate with markers and glue.

10.  Take your child outside with a box of water colors, or larger bottles of tempra paint and some brushes. Show them how to pack snow into a smooth surface, and let them paint. It is a different experience from painting on paper and mistakes are easily "erased" – just pile fresh snow on top.

11. Have a dance party! Just dim the lights, get out some fun dance CD's and let your little ones dance. For babies, my child loves to dance in my arms or just loves to giggle hysterically when I dance in front of her (maybe she is laughing at my bad dance moves:).

School aged kids, teens: School age kids will enjoy some of the activities above too

1. Boardgames for the whole family such as LIFE, Jenga, checkers, chess, Clue, and Apples to Apples.

2. Building a card house

3. Watch a family movie, but then better yet, make some Origami out of your Netflix wrapper! I found this idea online:

4. Make a scavenger hunt for them with odds and ends around the house. Or have the kids make one for each other

5. Besides having fun baking cookies, you can have them make pretzel creations by lining up stick pretzels and using peanut butter as glue

6. Make snow cream. I have never done this myself but have heard a lot of kids love this stuff!

7. Create your own fort indoors with cardboard boxes

8.  Design your own crossword puzzles and mazes. This will keep them occupied for hours!


1. I know it's pretty obvious but what better time to start spring cleaning, organize your kitchen, closet and garage, finances, etc. Wow, never thought you'd have the free time huh?

2. Crank out all the On Demand TV you've been wanting to get caught up on, Dexter, Mad Men and old Lost episodes and then see the link above to make origami out of netflix wrappers. Yes you heard me correctly, there is a website dedicated to this!

3. Start cooking! All of those cookbooks that you've collected, or recipes you've cut out and never made. Now is the time you can pull them out and finally make that coq au vin, a souffle or some other ridiculously long and complicated recipe.

4. Have your own spa day with homemade masks, mani and pedis. You can do this with your little girls too.

I know there are endless possibilities, so hopefully this is a start.  What are your favorite snow day activities?
Thursday, February 3, 2011

Crying it Out

For parents, specifically moms, we all know too well the term, "Cry It Out."  It means letting our little ones cry to put them to sleep.  For some, it's easier to accomplish and for others, it's a complete nightmare!  I have been battling this debate for the past few months but this week, it finally came down to intervention time.

I know I've talked about sleep before, but realize that this topic comes up time and time again. Obviously sleep issues affect every new family, that is why there are 3 shelves of sleep books at the book store!

I've heard from other moms that sleep problems just don't end in infancy. That their 3 year old who slept well through the night, is now waking up at midnight because they are scared to go to the bathroom as they are being potty trained.  Or, when they turned 5, they started sleep walking.  That being a parent, means never getting 8 hours of sleep again. Oh, wonderful :)  I guess that's why I see sleep aide commercials on TV all the time, for the millions of adults that STILL suffer from lack of sleep.

So, back to the 'cry it out' issue of sleep. It definitely came up for me this week again!  I have been struggling with lack of sleep with my almost 9 month old daughter for awhile; well, since she was born.

My past experience with all of the kids I used to work with as clients, or babysit and nannied over the years, some were lucky to have babies that slept through the night peacefully early on. They would put their baby in their crib, and they would miraculously fall asleep quickly, no whimper and stay asleep for 8-10 hours!  But for most, their babies did not know how to fall asleep on their own, they needed to be rocked, fed, cradled or cuddled next to them in bed. They had to finally succumb to the Dr. Ferber method (aka Ferberize) or the old fashioned 'cry it out' until they fell asleep.

It seems like there are really only a few options to help solve baby's sleep issues. No miraculous cure unfortunately.  Here is a short summary for each:

The Ferberize method is where you put your baby/child in their bed, or crib drowsy and let them cry for 5 minutes, then go back in and soothe them by not picking them up, then leave, let them cry 10 minutes, then go back in, soothe, then let them cry 15 minutes, etc. until they fall asleep.

The old fashioned cry it out method is where you put them in the crib/bed partially awake and let them cry until they fall asleep, vomit or just plain give up.

There's also the No-Cry Sleep method where you let them be soothed by being rocked, nursed, bottle fed, or held but don't let them fall asleep, have them cry for a few seconds, then let them be soothed again, pull away, cry, soothe again, etc.  There is a book titled No-Cry but it is also the theory behind the famous Dr. Sears.  I would have loved, loved to have done this method, and tried it, but it just did not work for us.

So, after I tried the No-Cry method without success, my baby was waking up more and more as the months went on, and NOTHING was working. I was in desperate search for another answer. I just couldn't let my poor baby cry at 4 months as the doctor suggested, she was just too young and had that piercing newborn cry.  I was just. not. ready.

This is where I have to say that you have to do what works for you when you are ready!  If your child is not sleeping well and your doctor tells you to let your baby cry it out and you aren't ready. Don't do it.  You have to do it when you are ready. It may be at 6 months, 8, 12 or 36.

So this week, I reached a point where I knew I had to do something for my baby's sake and my own.  She was waking up every 30 minutes to an hour and then when 12am came, she was refusing to sleep in her crib at all and wanted to only lay next to me in my bed.

I was not getting any sleep so I was a cranky mom, but worse was what my doctor had told me when I called her for advice: "That if you don't solve it now, then when she becomes verbal and can walk, she will be standing up in her crib screaming, 'Mommy, come and get me' or worse, climbing out, and running to your room every minute." Wow, that sounded like a nightmare to me, and I used to have clients that had the same problem and would have to lock their doors. I did not want to go down that path.

I know there are the Co-Sleepers out there and believe me, I love having my little girl next to me as I feel like she is bonding with me and getting a lot of nurturing.  But I also know the importance of boundaries and did not want those lines to be blurry when she was 5 years old.

So, I re-read all of my sleep books and the ones I had used as a counselor, and found the best method.  A softer Ferber method book called The Sleep Easy Solution, where you let them cry but go in often to soothe them, as well as give them a little security object. It was written by therapists and moms, not scientists, so they know from experience what works.

The book said that babies need to cry a little to let out frustrations and it helps them soothe themselves.  I knew all to well about letting out anxiety as that is one of the goals of play therapy. So I was on board for a little crying, but if it got too bad, I was going to abort and try again the next night.

I was scared to let her cry too much as I did not want my baby to learn that only way of communicating-crying- was not going to be answered.

So 2 nights ago we attempted the 'solution.' We started with her regular pre-sleep routine, getting on her nightgown, giving a little baby massage, and reading bedtime stories. Then I rocked her in my arms for a few minutes until she got drowsy, and gave her her little security object/blankie that I had been wearing next to my skin (to have my scent on it). Then, I placed her in her crib and told her I loved her, that it was time to go to sleep and left the room.

Wow, it was the hardest thing to hear her cry as I was walking away! But I knew it would help her in the long run. So my husband and I timed it, wrote down what we did in the sleep journal and watched on the video monitor.

The LONGEST 5 minutes of my life!  I was flipping the TV channels, surfing the internet, paced and ate chocolate.  I highly recommend the chocolate!

While hearing her cry, I knew her cry was more of an angry one and not a pain, hunger or anxious cry. This is why I knew I waited at the right time to do this at 8 months because at 4 months, her still newborn sounding cry would have killed me to hear and I would've run back in and swept her up in my arms!

After the first 5 minutes, my husband went in and talked to her, soothed her, but didn't pick her up and then left and we waited 7 minutes. But during those 7 minutes, she stopped crying here and there and was starting to soothe herself with her blanket!

Wow, this was working faster than I thought. Then after not crying for 6 out of the 7 minutes, she cried for another minute then stopped for 12 minutes and was out! Cold asleep! I was in shock! I am using a lot of exclamation points here as there is no other way to describe the shock of how fast it worked!

I was expecting an hour of crying, my husband holding me back at the door to prevent me from picking her up, and screaming from my daughter's lungs. But it was almost as if she needed this and thanked me for it.

The rest of the night went well for her, and slept peacefully without her usual every 30 minute wake-ups. We are still working on extinction of 2 breastfeedings in the middle of the night, but so far so good!  The book is good about helping get rid of night feedings that aren't necessary.

And her naps, which used to take me forever to get her down, have been so effortless the past few days! It's as if she looks forward to me putting her in her crib as she instantly goes right to sleep. It's like I have a new baby- a non sleep deprived one!

So, after finally getting this sleep issue resolved, as I know more may creep up over the years, I have finally come to realize you have to do what works for you and your parenting style and your child. Each child does have a different temperament and you have to pay attention to that.  High need babies may need more of the No-Cry Method.  If the only thing that will work with your child is the die hard cry it out, and it fits their need- then go for it.

Whew, it was quite a night.  So what has worked for you??  Anyone used a method with success?
Tuesday, February 1, 2011


With our city closed down due to an ice storm today, we had a nice family day spent indoors.  Lots of hot chocolate, fires roasting and cuddling time with my sweet little girl and my husband.  It gave me a chance to not be in a rush to run some sort of errand and really focus on playing with my daughter (and getting some much needed housework done.)

But I think since my little one is really moving and rolling around more, she is a lot more active and was getting cabin fever, aka getting fussy. I was beginning to use some of my play therapy limit setting techniques as practice, such as "that is not for eating," and "we sit down when we eat" and it reminded me about starting to use the whole 'Positive' approach to discipline, relationships and life.

What is the 'Positive' approach? Basically, it means noticing the positives and commenting on them when you see them. Sounds easy enough right? But in reality, most of us don't use it. It's a technique that a lot of therapists use and it's also mentioned in my favorite book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.

(photo credited from
Here is why using Positive Comments works: Kids constantly get attention when they act out and will continue to act out and test limits because us adults are reinforcing that negative behavior.  This is called negative attention or negative reinforcement.

A child throws his toy and his parent gets mad, scolds him and he gets punished.  A young girl that says "No" when her mom asks her to pick up her toys and the mom's voice raises and she drops what she is doing to discipline her child.  These children are learning: 'wow, when I act out, my mom or dad drops everything and I get their undivided attention!'

So how to turn the negative into positives? Basically it involves 'catching your child being good.'

Every time you see just the littlest positive thing, comment on it and give it your undivided attention. When your daughter throws her trash away, tell her 'wow, thank you so much for throwing your trash away all by yourself!' and give her as much attention as possible for that. Compliment her sharing, listening skills, not interrupting, obeying you, playing with her toys and not throwing them, etc. Raise your voice enthusiastically and get all excited about your child's good behaviors, just as you would when she is breaking a limit.

And on the flip side, it means not giving as much attention to the negative behaviors.  If your child misbehaves, just give it a brief acknowledgment and set the limit and give as little attention to it as possible. Even if you think your child needs a big ordeal over hitting their brother. It definitely takes some practice, but after awhile, they will learn that their parent is happiest when they behave well and they get a lot of attention.

After giving less attention to negative behaviors, they will start listening to your limit setting and follow through more. Maybe that's why when my parents used to give me that 'look', that was all it took for me to stop misbehaving. It was just a quick little look: no loud yelling, no arguing, just a look and we would behave instantly!

This technique is great to also use with your spouse, co-workers, and family.  Seriously.  My husband used it on me tonight after I made us dinner by saying, 'that you so much for making dinner, I really appreciate your hard work.'  He has no idea he used a discipline technique, but it will sure influence me to want to make dinner again :)

If it can make you feel good as an adult to hear positive commentary, you can imagine how much of a smile your child will have when we compliment their actions! No one wants to constantly hear nagging and complaining all day long, same goes for kids.  The more positives, the happier everyone will be!