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Parenting 101


The title is a bit of a misnomer since there is no manual on parenting. Well there are but I can’t say that any one book or person can tell you everything about parenting your own child. Each family is different and every child requires a unique parenting style. Even within one family you could use different techniques for different children. The problem is that we don’t all have several tricks up our sleeves or know what to try next when our usual parenting style isn’t working.

If you are a parent then I’m sure you’ve been in a place of self doubt at some point. We all want to do our best for our children.  When you first held your child in your arms, I’m sure you did not envision sleepless nights, piles of homework, and fights over too much screen time. You probably pictured spending quality time with your child and activities that brought joy to both your lives.


So how does reality start to vary so much from your dreams?  Making the choice in how to response to your child is hard when it’s dinner time and everyone is hungry (including you) and your child starts to have a meltdown.  Instead living the dream you end up trying to keep it all together. Most parents spend a lot of time making sure the needs of everyone are met: do they have food, clean clothes, school work done, etc.  So time for fun becomes lost in the shuffle.  That’s why so many people want a guide tell them what to do. How to get back to the picture of parenting that seems joyful instead of stressful. It’s hard but not as hard as it sounds. It just takes some time and a clear plan on how to get there.

Parenting 101 is just a way of saying where do I start? What’s the first step in bringing joy back into parenting?  Well here is one way of breaking it into manageable steps:

1.  The first step in making the changes you want in your life and the life of your family is really defining what is important to you. If you are struggling with quality time with your loved ones, then that would be the priority.

2. After defining what it is important to you, the next step is coming up with a goal.The goal you come up with must be something that is achievable and works for you. If you set a goal of 3 hours of quality time per day with your children but in reality you only have one hour of time to spend, then your plan will fail.

3. Once you have a goal, you must make a plan on how to get there.  Finding the right person for support is key. That person can help you come up with the plan and make sure that when you run into bumps in the road you have help.

4. Beyond creating a realistic goal and plan you must be given the tools for how to make it succeed. You may come up with a plan but have no idea on how to make it work. This is where that support person comes into play. This person should be someone with experience in that area and an ability to be available to you to provide support along the way.

Using these steps to start making meaningful changes at home will lead to better results. The best result is when you start experiencing more periods of joy in your parenting.


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Toy Time-Out

Putting a toy in time out sounds silly but this is an alternative punishment for children (siblings or friends) who have trouble sharing. If you see continuous arguments over toys then you can explain to the children that if they are not able to come up with a way to get along or share the item then it will have to go to time out. Pick a spot where the toy will be put and a specified amount of time. If the children decide to share then great your job is done. If the children can’t stop fighting over the toy then you can gently explain that the toy is causing too much fighting and needs to be in time out for a while. Take the toy and quietly put it in the time out spot (preferably where the children can’t reach it). Then go about you business. Later take the toy out of time out, but if the children have moved on to a new game or are getting along you can simply add the toy back to the toy bin or other place it is usually kept. If the children want to play with it you can give a short reminder that if the toy causes too much trouble it will have to be put in time out again and the next time it will be for the rest of the day. This approach usually makes children figure out how to share the toy so that it won’t be taken again.

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Positive Parenting

How do you stay positive when your child’s behaviors are driving you crazy? This is a tough question. Every parent knows that they have had a point in their lives when they were pushed to yell, scream, or worse because they were so worn down and did not know what else to do.  The same cycle seems to happen over and over where your child’s emotions and your emotions get out of control. This is something that happens often but doesn’t have to.

If you take a step back and start to look at the cycle of what is triggering you and your child, you will be able to better regulate your own emotions. And you will be able to start teaching your child how to regulate his/her own emotions.  Positive parenting is about looking for ways to change the situation into a more positive one instead of continuing to punish bad behaviors. You have to start looking at the big picture and do a little detective work.

Figuring out what is triggering your child’s bad mood may not be obvious at first but look at the patterns. What time of day does it usually happen, what is your child usually doing, and who is around when it happens? These types of questions help you to get more information about the cycle of behaviors that are happening. Then you can come up with a plan to intervene earlier on before the behaviors are out of control and your child is having a tantrum and you are screaming.

It’s also important to factor in your own triggers so that you know when you are getting overwhelmed. You can get better at taking a break and then talking to your child in a more calm and rational manner. This helps the child understand what behavior you don’t like and takes away the emotional reaction to your mood.

The key to any new approach in parenting is to plan ahead, practice, and allow for mistakes. Be willing to stick with it even if you don’t see results right away. If you have been doing the same type of parenting for years then a new approach won’t change things overnight, but it will change things. Positive approaches are very effective and leave you feeling good about what you are teaching your child.

What is the best way to calm anxiety in children?

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Calming anxiety is not always easy but the first place to start is yourself. Children often pick up on the anxieties of the adults around them.  Children feel uneasy and anxious if the adults around them are anxious, upset, or angry. They often don’t understand what your anxieties are about and generalize it to themselves. This is especially true for very young children who often don’t see themselves as separate from their parents. Any feelings and emotions you display they start to take on as their own.

One way to start curbing this anxiety is to limit your child’s exposure to adult conversations and outside media like the news. Limiting their exposure can drastically cut back on the things that they worry about. It doesn’t happen over night but over time they become less involved in the adult world and start to worry less about those things that were drifting into their consciousness at too early an age.

For children who are by nature worriers, anxiety sneaks up quickly. Acknowledging their worries is important but don’t let them or yourself dwell on it. Address the worry and move on. Don’t let the child get stuck ruminating on the same topic over and over.  If you know that certain things usually cause anxiety for your child, you can also bring up ideas for how to deal with it ahead of time.  Then later that day when you encounter the situation, you can quickly remind your child of how to cope and move them along.

One last thing to keep in mind: always model for your child how you want them to behave. If you see a big bug and start to scream and yell about it, guess what your child will probably develop a fear of bugs. “Teach by example.”  By tackling your own fears you are helping yourself and your child!

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Parenting in Today’s World

Parenting is hard and there are a lot of things that parents must figure out about their own views on before being able to teach their children about them. Screen Time is a thing that can be very hard to figure out.

I recently read an article by Allison Slater Tate Parenting as a Gen Xer: We’re the first generation of parents in the age of iEverything. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/09/29/parenting-as-a-gen-xer-what-its-like-to-be-the-first-generation-of-parents-in-the-age-of-ieverything/?tid=sm_fb

The article discusses being a parent of children who are immersed in a digital age. As a parent that did not grow up with cell phones, texting, Facebook, and everything digital, it is a new territory trying to determine how to navigate all these gadgets with children. In the article Tate states “On the one hand, resistance is futile: this is my children’s brave new world, and they need to know and understand all the internet highways and byways to live in it. On the other hand, my children don’t have fully-developed frontal lobes yet.”

I would argue the first point Tate makes. Resistance is not futile and letting children spend countless hours in front of a screen is not your only option. At first it may seem that this is the only option because it is everywhere. However; after thinking about this and really deciding what I want for my family and myself, I have determined that there are other options. The other options are not as obvious at first because marketers for digital devices are extremely good. If you look past the marketing and the addictive quality of digital media, you can see that you really don’t need to have constant access to the virtual world.

When I think about the best moments of my day they are never times when I was online or watching television. Children do not have the capacity to make the best decisions and if given the freedom they will spend hours in front of a video game or television. As a parent you have to be the guide and the one who figures out how much is too much. Children who are “deprived” of a cell phone or television do not have a disadvantage over their peers. They are just as capable of learning how to use the gadget just as everyone who grew up without these things is able to use them now. I never had a cell phone, texting, ipad, etc. as a child and I can navigate them like a pro.

So what does restricting screen time at an early age do to the child? It allows them to use their brain. The children without these digital things and media in their lives have to figure out games to play and stories to read and things to do with their peers. They have to be active and get up and run around. A child who is bored is one who can become the most creative. Allowing your child time to figure out how to have fun instead of providing instant entertainment is giving a great gift to your child.

In addition to being more creative and able to find ways to enjoy the world around them (instead of a virtual one), children develop their social skills while interacting with others.   Being able to look at a person and understand how they are feeling is a skill and it needs to be developed. The adults now were not constantly texting and on Facebook so they were given the opportunity to develop real peer relationships. Now their job is managing that media and determining how much is acceptable in their own life. Children today are not given that same opportunity to be in a world without constant screen time unless their parents make it for them.

People are starting to ask what this does to children growing up in a world constantly surrounded by media. Studies are being done to look at this. One article that looks at children and screen time is Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563214003227

The title says it all. Children who are not allowed to have screen time for five days were better at nonverbal emotional cues. This means that allowing your child the freedom to go out and talk face to face with friends instead of being online, allows them to develop better social skills. So after looking at this I determined that being able to be connected with people and nature is much more important than knowing how to use the latest iphone. Once I knew my own beliefs on the subject, restricting screen time was a no brainer. Each time I get a request for more screen time I just think of the wonderful gift I am giving them and all the skills they are developing while they are not sitting in front of a screen.

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Importance of Routine

Why is routine important to our lives and our children’s lives? Routine is what establishes a norm in our lives. For children this is especially important because they need to know what to expect. Children can’t learn and grow if they don’t feel safe in their environment. The first part of establishing this is a familiar routine. This could be reading to them at bedtime, sitting down to eat a meal, or just playing together at a certain time of day. If your child knows that there are rhythms and patterns of the day  s/he can count on s/he will be more willing to explore the outside world and grow as a person. A child who has no structure or routine will often feel insecure and be scared to explore or they might test boundaries to see what is acceptable behavior. Children often develop more extreme behaviors when they are allowed to “push the limits” because they don’t know what to expect. They don’t have a base for what is acceptable and what is off limits. Once established, rhythms help to keep themselves going. You and your child will start to look forward to that special time of the day.  The first part of setting up a daily rhythm is to set aside some time to think about what needs structure in your life and your child’s life. Then find ways to get rid of the distractions during that time of day and focus on a particular routine that you want to establish. Allow yourself enough time to complete the routine (Don’t start reading a book with only two minutes before lights out). Give your child and yourself time to adjust to the new rhythm. Soon you will have a daily rhythm that you and your child feel good about.