Recently I visited with our twenty something son. As he walked in, he gave me a big hug and I kissed him on the cheek. As I was preparing for my parenting groups this week I was thinking about that moment. The hug and kiss of my son, who is definitely a young man now, was as sweet ( albeit a bit more scruffy and I was on my tip toes) as the snuggle I would have with him as a baby. Loving touch with your child is at the center of a parent and child bond. The connection between child and parent through touch is undeniable. I am a firm believer in the importance of touch and our children….from birth, to toddler years, preschool, school age, and yes even in the awkward teens. Continuing the physical hugs and kisses are important for your child and you.
Snuggles and touches are natural for most parents with an infant. Infant massage has been proven to provide many benefits for babies. Routine loving massage can help an infant
- Gain weight
- Improve sleep
- Improve their latch for nursing
- Increase bonding
- Improve neurological development
- Improve their immune system
- Decrease teething pain
- Decrease congestion
- Learn body awareness
- Learn that touch is a loving expression
- and the list goes on…..
- Turn off th TV, cell phone and other distractions. This is time to concentrate on your baby alone.
- Warm up the room and your hands.
- Lie your baby on his/her back a warm towel or blanket.
- Use a vegetable based oil. (if you could eat it, then it is OK)
- Make sure you are calm.
- Make eye contact with your baby.
- Ask permission to touch, show your baby your hands.
- Lay your hands on your child lovingly. Often babies prefer touch on legs and feet first.
- Use light gentle touch, but not a tickle touch.
- Move from the center out…upper thigh to foot.
- Give equal treatment to both sides of the body!
- Movements should be slow and relaxed…like a lullaby. Sing while you do it! 🙂
- Start with a short session and watch your baby’s cues. If your baby wiggles away, fusses, looks away, then stop and try again at another time. As your baby becomes accustomed to massage, the length of time may increase. You don’t have to massage your baby’s whole body, just the parts that he or she enjoys!
- Make eye contact with your baby and sing or talk to him–or play music.
- Breath, relax yourself
- Hold one foot in one hand and use the other hand to milk the leg. Squeeze thigh to foot, this is the “milking” motion.
- Roll leg between hands from thigh to ankle, like you are rolling dough or clay.
- Finish with long strokes from thigh to foot.
- Press the sole of your baby’s foot with your thumbs. Massage each toe. Play “this little piggy”.
- Repeat on other leg.
- Follow same process of milking, rolling, and stroking on the arms.
- Press the palm of your baby’s hand with your thumbs. Massage each finger.
- Slide your palm and fingers in a circular motion from the ribs downward. Then move clockwise around the tummy. Smooth the chest like pages in a book.
- If you have used massage for a while, some babies will allow you to massage their face. Massage face with light fingertips stroking across the forehead from the center to the sides. Massage tears ducts. Move down nose and on the sides. Use a circular motion from the temples down the side of the face.
- Massage shoulders and use long strokes down the back and on the bottom.
Remember…the intent of your touch is much more important than your technique! Just relax and enjoy!!
I Love You massage for colic or gas
- Trace the letter “I” on the right side of your baby’s tummy. Start just under his ribs and move down to your baby’s hip.
- Now stroke from left to right on your baby’s lower tummy making the long part of the letter “L”.
- Make a short downward stroke on the right side of your baby’s tummy making the short to complete the “L”.
- Complete the “I love you” by making an upside down “U” starting at your baby’s left hip and circling along the top of the tummy and down the right side.
- Continue these strokes to help calm a gassy tummy.
Massage can continue to some degree all the way through childhood. There were nights that I sat on the side of my children’s bed and massaged an aching tummy or head, and I have massaged sore muscles after a big game or meet. The continued touch with your child will keep you connected in many ways. There were certainly times when I hugged my children in those teen years and I got an eye roll too…but because of those continued “loving touches” through the years, the hugs in the stands of a high school football games, college track meets, quick weekend visits at school, and now when our “adult” (they will always be my kids) kids visit those hugs and kisses continue. Don’t underestimate the value of teaching your child the benefits of touch as an expression of love.
Check out your local hospital for classes on infant massage.
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
It is that time of year when I am doing a bit of grumbling about all the yard work, but also looking forward to getting my perennial beds cleared and blooming, my cut flower bed planted and preparing my vegetable garden for this summer’s crop of tomatoes, beans and of course sunflowers. I definitely am not a Master Gardener, but I have a special place in my heart for gardening and getting a little dirty. I have very fond memories of my Grandfather and his vegetable garden and beautiful roses. I would walk through his garden when I visited and help water and weed. With his garden gloves on and a hat perched on the back of his head, he was a true farmer at heart. He showed me how to eat a fresh tomato right off the vine and how to pinch a peach so the fuzzy skin would pull back and I could eat the sweet inside. I guess my love of gardening started by watching my Grandpa and then my own father take pride in their gardens.
So many of our children have no idea where their fruits and vegetables come from or even what a fresh tomato really tastes like! With the new fruit and vegetable pouches, I sometimes wonder if many toddlers even know what a real vegetable LOOKS like! There are many life lessons that can be taught by simply taking a small plot of land or a small container and growing something with your child! There is no better way to instill a love of nature and to encourage healthy eating than growing a fresh fruit or vegetable as a family.
Children are natural gardeners—they are curious, they learn by doing, and they love to play in the dirt. Gardening is good for families, it gives your family time together outdoors, and time to let your child get dirty for a purpose! Children love to look for worms, love to plant seeds, water, watch plants grow, pick their crop and even try the harvest they have grown. What a great way to get them to try green beans! This helps cultivate their curiosity about nature, the earth and maybe even foster a love of gardening. Children will also love the special time they spend with you. Gardening teaches patience, responsibility and is like having a science lesson without even knowing it! You might even find yourself feeling a little proud and definitely loving the taste of a fresh homegrown tomato!
Tips on gardening with children.
1. Plan a small container garden or a small plot of land that is theirs. Talk about a plant’s need for sun, water, and food. Put the garden in an area that can be seen easily by your child. A plastic storage bin or any other container with holes poked in the bottom for drainage works great for this! Keep it near your back door so your child can see it often. Tomato plants or lettuce can actually be grown in just a bag of topsoil that you open and plant the seedlings in the bag. What could be easier?
2. A “yardstick” garden is plenty big for a child. Take a yardstick and measure a garden that is 3 foot square. A young child can reach all sides of the garden and will take pride in that little plot he can call his own.
3. Gardens do not have to be square. A “pizza” garden can be planted with wedge sections. Put different plants in each wedge. Plant ingredients that would taste good on a pizza! This is a great way to grow an herb garden!
4. Use a little imagination, children will love a sunflower house! Plant large sunflowers in a semi-circle. As they grow, tie the top of them together and your child can have a “secret” hiding place in your garden!
5. Watering and weeding is not as much fun as planning and planting ( I don’t like it as well!). For older preschoolers or school age children, put a gardening calendar in the kitchen or in your child’s bedroom with tasks to be completed. Don’t force it, remember you are instilling a love of gardening! Keeping your child’s portion of the garden small should keep the time necessary to only a few minutes a day. Using a container garden really keeps it easy!
6. Child sized garden tools make it easier and more fun. I have seen tools in the dollar area of Target! I know if I had young children, the gardening boots and clogs I have seen would be a must, so cute!! A gardening hat is a necessity, protect yourself and your child from the sun. What is cuter than your toddler gardener in a wide brimmed hat! Don’t forget the sunscreen too.
7. Let your child dig the holes for the seeds or the plants that have been bought. Digging holes is a natural for kids!
8. Encourage your child by planting seeds that mature quickly and are easy for them to handle. Radishes and lettuce are great. They germinate in a couple of days. Bean seeds and sunflower seeds are easy to handle.
9. Be sure to put the seed packet on a stake in the garden to remind them what they have planted and what it will look like. Some discount stores even have little garden stakes that your preschooler could decorate!
10. Children love the unusual. Many vegetables are available in different colors or sizes. Speckled beans, red carrots, miniature cucumbers and pumpkins, purple beans, and grape tomatoes are just a few examples. Try something really unusual by taking a cucumber or pumpkin bloom and placing it inside of a 2 liter bottle. Shade the bottle with leaves from the plant and let the pumpkin or cucumber grow inside the bottle. It is a great “show and tell” item when there is a large cucumber or pumpkin inside the bottle!
11. Add a bird bath to attract birds. Children can be responsible for refilling the bird bath!
12. Think about planting bright colored flowers that are known to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Exploring the garden for butterflies, bugs, worms and caterpillars is great fun!
13. You might want to set a part of the garden for digging all summer. Put your sandbox in the middle of your garden to make your garden kid friendly. There were always a few cars or trucks around in the dirt of our garden.
14. You can have your child make garden stones or markers for the garden. Find larger stones and let them paint designs on the stones. These make great Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gifts for Grandparents!
15. Have your child help build a scarecrow for the garden. This can be a fun activity for late summer especially.
16. Measure the sunflowers that you plant once a week and chart their growth. If you have older children, planting sunflower seeds that mature in about 90 days is a great way to measure the length of summer. When they bloom, it is time to go back to school!
17. Try to grow organically as possible. Mulch is a great way to cut down on weeds which will prevent the need for weed killer and mulch will keep the soil moister during dry spells. Mix compost and/or topsoil into your garden each year to provide nutrients needed for plant growth. By growing without chemicals, your child will be able to eat a tomato right from the vine…there is nothing better!
18. Let your child harvest their own vegetables. There is nothing better than picking your salad fixings for the day! This will encourage your child to eat their vegetables I promise! Your child will love to eat “garden to table”!
19. Keep it fun…start small! Most new gardeners try something too big and then quickly become discouraged with the experience. Just grow one tomato plant and supplement your “garden” with a trip to the Farmer’s Market! We always had enough green beans from our small garden for at least one dinner. The kids would always ask, “Our these our beans?” With a little white lie, our kids ate green beans the whole summer!
There are some great children’s books that can be fun to read with your child as you start your garden:
Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert
Pumpkin Pumpkin by Jeanne Titherington
Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens
This is the Sunflower by Lola M. Schaefer
Whose Garden Is It? by Mary Ann Hoberman
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
Oliver’s Vegetables by Vivian French
Stone Soup by Marcia Brown
Alison’s Zinnia by Anita Lobel
Get a little dirty….plant a few seeds and you will see your child’s excitement grow as the plants grow, and who knows you might just raise a kid that likes his vegetables!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
Ahh there is nothing sweeter than the pitter patter of little toddler feet, unless it is two minutes after putting them in bed or you wake to that sound at 2:00 am! Once toddlers figure out that they can get out of a bed, why not pay Mom and Dad a visit? Going to bed is such a disruption in their life! They would much rather be with you cuddling back to sleep or seeing what fun things you are doing while they are in bed!
It seems harmless enough to bring them back to bed and lie down with them until they sleep or to throw your covers back and let them crawl into bed with you….that is until you wake up with a toddler’s feet in the small of your back or lying on your head! Toddlers need to learn to separate and sleep on their own! It is a life skill for them and makes your evenings and nights so much more restful. So, what is a parent to do when they hear the pitter patter of little feet?
Toddler’s who get up during the middle of the night:
- The key is consistency…the same response EVERY time
- Take your child by the hand and walk quietly back to his or her bedroom.
- Tuck your child back into bed, give a kiss, and say ,“It is night-time, you sleep in your bed. Love you.”
- Walk out, no further discussion. You want your response to be very boring! Your little one has to realize that there is no benefit at all in getting up, not even a long explanation of why she should stay in bed!
- It is likely that your child will return in a few minutes…follow the same routine with no other discussion.
- This may happen many times the first night, and your response should be exactly the same. No yelling, no punishment, no rocking, no cuddling, no crawling in bed with them.
- The second night you may hear the pitter patter of little feet again, follow the same routine. Most likely it will be fewer times.
- Usually by the third or fourth night your child will stay in bed when he or she wakes and self comfort back to sleep, if you are consistent and do not give in! If you give in and rock, cuddle, or allow your child to sleep with you; then you have sent a very confusing message to your child. Your child will think, “If I get up enough, then mommy or daddy will let me sleep with them!”
- There are times when your child is ill or when your child is very scared that you might give in to letting your child sleep with you, but the quicker you go back to this technique, the easier it is for you and your child!
- An alternate response could be to keep a sleeping bag in your room. You can tell your child that if he or she is scared and wants to sleep in your room, they can pull out the sleeping bag and sleep next to your bed. This will give them the opportunity to be close but not in your bed. Some parents have liked this option. Once again, consistency is the key.
Toddlers who get up as soon as you put them in bed:
- Option one is the one above. Continue to walk your child back to bed without much interaction, no cuddling, no rocking, no yelling. Place the child back in bed and leave. This may happen 10 times and with a lot of crying, but if the response is exactly the same each time. Your child will eventually fall asleep on his or her own. This usually takes about 3 nights if you are consistent!
- Option two works well when you have just transitioned from the crib. Sit next to your child’s bed. Do not look at your child or speak to your child. If your child is chattering with you, respond with “It is bed time go to sleep.” No other words or explanations. Place your hand on your child and make no eye contact. Every time your child tries to get up, gently lie them back down. Sit with your hand on your child the first couple of nights. After the first few nights, move your chair to the foot of the bed. Same position, same words if your child is talking, if your child starts to get up, respond with “It is bed time lie down.” Speak very calmly with no other words. The next night move your chair to outside of the door and look into the room. Respond exactly the same way every time your child speaks or tries to get up. This will eventually teach your child to stay in bed and settle to sleep if you are consistent!
- Option three can be used too, there is nothing wrong with putting a gate at your child’s door. If your child tries to climb the gate it is not a safe option. Do not lock your child in their room, this can be a safety issue. The first two options are better learning techniques for your child.
- Option four is better for older toddlers, at least age two or older. Depending on your child’s temperament, a reward system may be all you need. You can devise a sticker chart and let your child place a sticker on the chart for every night or nap he or she stays in bed. Sometimes toddlers prefer to wear their sticker! A single sticker may work, or you might have an incentive of two or three stickers and then your child is rewarded with a small treat or something fun to do with you. Then move the number of stickers required to get their prize up until you no longer need the incentive.
- Option five is good for three and older. You can give your older toddler or preschooler a “free pass”. Make two “passes” using 3×5 index cards. Let your child help you decorate them. Tell your child that they have two “free passes” to call you and you will come in and see what they need. Once those passes are gone, you will not come into their room and they will not be allowed up without a consequence the next day. Most children will start out using the passes and then quickly start saving at least one “pass” just in case. Eventually you can give your child just one “free pass” to use. Most of the time this breaks them from calling you or getting out of bed. This gives them some control of the situation.
All these techniques will help your toddler learn to fall asleep on his or her own, make the bedtime process much more enjoyable for you and your child, and give you time to have an evening to recharge and get a good night’s sleep without a toddler spread eagle in the middle of your bed! Remember, teaching your child to sleep on his or her own is a necessity! Happy sleeping!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.
Establishing a calming routine before bed is important!
When I brought our oldest Corri home from the hospital, I thought I knew about the sleep patterns of infants. After all, I had the degrees to prove that I was an “educated” Mom! The truth is, nothing can prepare you for the lack of sleep that new parents usually experience. Quickly my plans to reorganize my closets during Corri’s long daytime naps (don’t newborns sleep all the time?) went by the way side. Yes, newborns DO sleep a lot…just in very short intervals. Corri never slept long enough for any reorganization of closets, and when she did sleep I was too tired to reorganize. Oh, the lessons of a new parent!
Sleep is VERY important for our babies, and for you! There are some sleep tips for new parents that will help your baby “learn” to sleep and establish good patterns for the future. I firmly believe that our children are largely sleep deprived because of our busy schedules. Good sleep is essential for healthy children, clear through the teen years! Many of the healthy sleep habits you establish with your young children will result in healthy sleep habits for a lifetime.
The first 3 months of a baby’s life there is no real routine. Anything that you read that tells you that you can establish or “force” routine at this age is mistaken. I do not think that baby sleep training books are valuable at this age, and they can really be destructive to your baby’s establishment of good sleep habits. Your job as a parent during the first year is to help your baby realize that the world is a great place! When your baby cries, you need to respond. Baby will quickly learn to trust you and feel loved. You cannot spoil a newborn! You CAN spoil an older child, but that discussion is for another day!
Newborn sleep patterns are different from adults. They have sleep cycles that are much shorter than ours, and have longer patterns of active sleep rather than deep sleep, especially in the first 3 months. Parents often complain that their infant will “cat nap” . This is a fairly normal pattern during the first 3 months of life. Very young infants do not know how to self soothe either. Those skills develop after the first 3 months also. Here are a few tips that will help establish good sleep habits for the future. Remember, there is light at the end of the tunnel, life will become easier after the first few months.
1. Know your baby’s sleep cues…do not let your baby become over tired.
Most parents in the beginning have a bit of a difficult time learning sleep cues. Newborn babies should not be up longer than an hour and a half to two hours maximum. If your baby becomes overly tired, it is much more difficult for your baby to sleep! Look for your baby to rub at his or her eyes, begin to blank stare and not engage, yawn, and fuss. When you see some cues, take a look at the length of time your baby has been awake. The next time your baby is awake, start the process of putting him or her down for a nap 15 minutes earlier. This way you never miss the window of opportunity, an overstimulated baby does not sleep well. You often will feel like all you have time for is a feeding, a diaper change, a small amount of interaction and then your baby is ready to sleep again!
2. Swaddle your baby.
Newborns until the end of the 4th month have a reflex that causes them to startle. You often will see your baby twitch, grimace, have a sweet sleep grin and jump during the early active sleep pattern. The twitching and jumping or moro reflex as it is called, will wake your baby. If you swaddle using a light blanket or a swaddle sleep sack, your baby will not wake with a startle as often and will feel more secure. Many moms and dads will tell me their baby does not like the swaddle. I encourage you to try it again. Try swaddling your baby before a nursing or feeding, or before you begin to rock your child to calm. Most of the time babies will relax into the swaddle and love it! They look like a cute baby burrito!
3. Try white noise.
Babies heard white noise inside mom’s womb during the entire pregnancy. This sound is very calming to a newborn. My 2nd daughter loved the sound of a blow dryer. She was a fussy baby, and quickly my blow dryer became part of the decor of my family room. Now, there are white noise machines, white noise phone apps, and white noise CDs that parents swear by, a much better look than the blow dryer! White noise can be part of a “switch” that helps soothe a fussy baby. You might even try getting your face down by your baby’s ear and “shsh shsh shsh”, which will work too.
4. Provide day and night light rhythm.
Many newborns get their days and nights mixed up. There is nothing worse than an infant that sleeps well during the day and is up all night! Moms often notice that babies before birth are more active at night too! To help your baby learn the day and night pattern, keep the daytime hours light with normal noise patterns in your home. Light on our eyes helps to cue our bodies to when it is time to be awake and when it is time to be asleep. That is part of the reason we feel so sleepy during the gloom of dark winter days! Stand in front of a window with your baby and expose your baby to natural light. Do not darken the rooms for your baby to nap during the day and keep regular noise in the house. No tip toeing! In the evening, start to dim lights and keep things calm and quiet about an hour before “bedtime”. Then with every nighttime feeding keep the room dark, do not change the diaper unless it is dirty, and do not interact. Just feed your baby and put back to bed. Eventually your baby will learn the difference between day and night and sleep more soundly and longer during the night hours. This pattern of day and night will help older children and adults fall to sleep more easily too!
5. Wake your baby to eat during the day.
Do not let your baby sleep longer than 3 hours during the day. Wake your baby to eat, and unless your doctor advises you differently, never wake a sleeping baby at night! You want your baby to receive most of their nutrition during the waking hours, and less at night.
6. Move with your baby!
Movement will calm a baby to sleep. Rocking, swinging, and wearing your baby will all help lull your little one into a deep sleep pattern. Rocking to sleep is fine in the early months. Many parents have a hard time transitioning from the swing or arms to bed without the baby waking. Do the limp arm test! Remember that babies have a very active sleep pattern before they move into a deep sleep. If you try to transfer when your little one is still grimacing, sleep grinning, or you see rapid eye movement under closed eye lids, most likely your baby will wake quickly. Rock or provide movement until your baby has transitioned from the active sleep pattern to a deep sleep. You will be able to pick up your baby’s arm and feel that it is limp. When you see that, then it is much easier to place your baby in the crib and your baby stay asleep.
7. Use a pacifier.
Babies need to suck many times to sleep soundly. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using a pacifier at sleep as a deterrent to SIDS. Sucking calms a baby. A baby that tends to become over stimulated easily often needs more suck time. I am a big believer in the pacifier or a thumb or finger sucker resulting in a calm baby. We can worry about the habit later!
8. Establish a sleep routine.
The earlier your baby connects routine with sleep the better. Do the same thing every time you put your baby to bed and quickly your child will connect those activities with sleep. This pattern will develop good sleep patterns all the way to adulthood! So, plan the feeding, bathing, massage, rocking, singing, reading pattern that works for you! Keep the routine simple and repeatable. The bedtime or nap time routine should not be longer than about 20 minutes. You can establish a bedtime for your baby even though you know you will be up again! Just treat every feeding after “bedtime” as a night-time feeding. Children in general are wired early to bed early to rise! Have an early bedtime for a good sleeper and for you to have an evening of “adult time”.
9. Do not let your baby “cry it out” until after 6 months.
The first 6 months parents need to respond to a crying baby at night. After 6 months, most babies are developmentally ready to sleep a stretch through the night. When you are emotionally ready and after your baby is at least 6 months old, you can do the “baby shuffle” and check on your baby every 5 to 10 minutes without picking your baby up. Comfort your baby with a “shh” go to sleep, a pat and then leave. The first night you may be “shuffling” in and out of the nursery for an hour or more. The 2nd night will be shorter and usually by the 3rd or 4th night your baby will comfort to sleep on his or her own. You must be consistent and not give in. Soon you will put a drowsy baby to bed and your baby will be able to fall asleep without your assistance!
10. Even with doing all the “right things” babies have sleep disturbances.
Children will have periods of sleep disturbances through all developmental stages. With each new skill a baby learns, example rolling over, there will often be a sleep pattern disturbance. Babies like to practice at night! There is also teething, separation anxiety, illness….many reasons you will see disturbances even when you are doing all the right things in establishing good sleep patterns. Always go back to the basics each time. Good sleep is essential! Teaching healthy sleep patterns is a huge gift to your child, and you!
Soon you will be getting longer stretches of sleep….until those darn teen years creep up and you find yourself waiting up for your child! That is another issue another day! 🙂
I love these sleep resources:
Sleep What Every Parent Needs to Know
American Academy of Pediatrics Rachel Y. Moon, MD, FAAP Editor in Chief
The No-Cry Sleep Solution
The Happiest Baby on the Block
Dr. Harvey Karp
Paul M Fleiss, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P
What is in your discipline bag of tricks?
It was 7:30 am and my day was in full swing. I was chasing a two year old trying to get him dressed again. It is barely an hour into the day and I felt like I was on the verge of yelling and a time out before breakfast just didn’t seem right. Sound familiar? I am a big believer that spanking and yelling are not the best choices for discipline. I have taught 1,2,3 Magic for years….but sometimes you just need something else. Discipline is a parenting must. Children need guidelines, boundaries, expectations, consistency and consequences. I think parents really need a “bag of discipline tricks” to parent effectively. These “tricks” can help prevent physical punishment, increase cooperation, take away some of the No’s in your child’s life and quite honestly maybe bring a smile to you both. Here are a few “tricks” to keep in your repertoire….share a few of your own too!
This is my favorite discipline technique which is very effective when used consistently and according to the rules. Do not use it for everything….save it for behaviors you want to eliminate quickly.
- Remove your child from the conflict and give attention.
I know I always say that we should never give attention to a negative behavior, but if a child is acting inappropriately sometimes simply removing him from the conflict gently and bringing him to another activity of cooperation is effective. Example…You see your child grabbing toys from others and becoming aggressive, you walk up and take him by the hand and say “Come with me I need help getting snack ready.” You have just removed him from the behavior that is inappropriate, not used the word NO, and given positive attention for the cooperative activity. Usually works!
- Change your requests from “go” to “come”.
If you are trying to get your child to do something, approach from a cooperative view-point. Instead of “Go put your coat on.” Try “Come with me to put your coat on.” The tone totally changes and cooperation increases!
- Turn your no to a yes.
Telling a child “no” to a request will often result in a meltdown. When possible, change that “no” to “yes”. Example “I know you want to go outside, we can’t now but yes, we will after lunch.” “Let’s play with the water here in the sink, not the water in the dog’s bowl.” “Leave your shoes on now, we will take them off at home!”
- Try using the “not for” phrase.
“Hands are not for hitting they are for patting and loving.” “Trucks are not for throwing, they are for pushing.” “Food is not for throwing it is for eating.” Soon you may hear your child repeating those phrases to keep himself from the activity!
Nothing like a little humor to diffuse a situation! Try putting that jacket on your child’s leg, or hopping to bed, or singing a silly song. Once you both are smiling cooperation increases.
- Think Like A Toddler.
Why did your child just dump the dog food out again….or throw the ball in the house again…or dump a box of cereal out and stomp on them…??? Yelling “STOP WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” just doesn’t work. A young child doesn’t think about why he is dumping dog food or stomping on cereal, he is thinking this is so fun! When you think like a child you will have more patience and will react a little calmer. Tell your child that the activity looks like so much fun…redirect to something appropriate and have them help you clean up! (as much as a 2 or 3 year old can!)
- Behavior charts and rewards.
Time In is as important as Time Out. What does that mean? Reward your child throughout the day with positive words, stickers, hugs, stories or other positive reinforcements for behavior you like. That positive attention increases that behavior and then allows your child to really FEEL the removal of that positive attention if you give a Time Out for unacceptable behavior. Sticker charts work well at age 2 and older. Younger toddlers…and even older children will often just love a sticker to wear or a stamp on their hand for positive behaviors. If you have ever been to a Gymboree class you know how important that stamp on the hand is! Get creative! I heard of a Mom sending her child to bed with a brown bag every night. If he did not get up, there was something in it in the morning! Ignore unacceptable or annoying behavior when you can and reinforce the positive. Rewards should not always be bought…rewards of time make the most impact.
- Use consistent words to help your child.
“No touch”, “Kind words”, “Good choices”, “Gentle touch”, “Walking feet”….think of a few of your own. The more often your child hears the same consistent phrase, the more likely he will comply with the behavior. A reminder that results in cooperation is better than a punishment after the fact.
- Substitute appropriate behavior.
“Let’s climb on the couch cushions not on the table.” “Let’s throw the ball, not the truck.” “Let’s sing a loud song instead of scream.” Simply saying “no” without an alternative will often result in a meltdown or defiance. Give an alternative to the behavior you don’t want, and make it a similar activity to gain cooperation. Often your child is working on a skill like climbing or throwing!
- Try playing a game to get your child to cooperate.
“Let’s play a pretend game when you get dressed. It is all pretend, but if you do what I say you will get to wear a sticker! Are you ready? OK, Connor let’s pretend….Put your shirt on please.” If he does it you respond, “Wow I can’t believe you could put your shirt on! Are you sure you haven’t played this game before?” Give a big hug and a sticker. Because it is a “game” your little one will be excited about trying it out. Soon it will become merely cooperation.
- Intervene early.
You know your child and their behavior. If you see the unacceptable behavior beginning….redirect early. Don’t let the hit, bite, or shove actually happen. As your child becomes aggressive step in and redirect.
- Be assertive but also a cheer leader.
Don’t be wishy-washy and ask “Would you want to pick up the toys?” or “I am thinking it might be time to pick up and leave.” Be assertive and tell your child what is going to happen so there is no question on who is in charge, then be cheerful and firm on what will happen next. Cheer your child on as they begin to cooperate. Giving the impression that there is a choice or a chance to negotiate when there isn’t always results in conflict.
- Redirect physically.
A child may need to be physically moved from an area to redirect. Sometimes your words will not work. A child who is becoming aggressive should be carried or walked to another activity quickly.
- Praise ten times more than you correct.
Yep, you heard me correctly. Praise effort and not outcome and praise a lot. That is what a Time In is. Time Out removes your attention….the rest of the day should be a Time IN. Time Outs will not work if your child doesn’t feel the difference of the removal of your attention.
- Calm Down Bottles.
Another tool to help your child learn to “flip the switch” to calm down on his own. That is the skill we want all of our children to develop!
- Have an older child determine his or her punishment.
An older preschooler, school age children and teens are very good at deciding what the consequence for their unacceptable behavior should be. Often they are tougher on themselves than you would be. The consequences they decide usually make sense and are remembered.
- Start over….over and over again.
Rewind. This was one of my favorite tools. If your child is just starting off on the wrong foot, or you see a behavior that is inappropriate and can be fixed immediately; simply turn your child in a circle and make a “rewind” sound and let your child try again. I love the second chance to make things right. Sometimes my husband will actually do this to me in the morning if I am grumpy before that morning coffee kicks in!
So, those are a few tricks to put in that discipline bag. Be sure you are taking care of yourself, because we all know that we aren’t able to tap into our patience or discipline approach if we are on empty ourselves. You and your child deserve parents who “fill themselves up” so they are at their best. As time goes on, you will find the discipline approaches that work the best for each of your children. No child’s day should be filled with more “no” than “yes”, more boundary setting than free play, or more tears than smiles. We all will have bad days, but the good moments should outnumber the difficult. Remember, the purpose of boundary setting and discipline is to teach….not to upset your child.
There are some discipline techniques that just don’t work as well as others!
I can remember sometimes simply reacting to a behavior of one of my kids, but not really using a discipline approach. The result was never very effective. Some typical reactions just don’t work, or result in other issues later. Here are some of the most common “discipline reactions” that are usually not very effective:
- “If you don’t hurry we’ll leave you here.”
Threats teach children not to take their parents seriously. Give a child a consequence that you know you will follow through with and makes sense. Your child knows that you will not leave them at home alone. It is an empty threat, one that you will not follow through with. Think twice, do what you will say! A better choice if you have a child that is dawdling would be:
“If you don’t hurry we will not have time to play at the park on the way home from the store.”
Logical consequence and something you can follow through with. So, those times I grounded a child for life….hmmmm
- “No dessert unless you clean your plate.”
Do not use food as a punishment. “No dessert unless you eat your broccoli” can result in two things. Number one, you have told your child that dessert is better than broccoli…now in your opinion that may be true, 🙂 but you want your child to think that nutritious food is on the same level as desserts! Number two, children learn very quickly to negotiate and then parents usually back down.
“If I take one bit can I have dessert?”
“No take two.”
“How about one and a half?”
Child cries and whines. Parent responds by giving in. Soon a child figures out that negotiation works and everything becomes a negotiation and is exhausting!
- “What a good boy you are!”
Complimenting your child is wonderful. We want to encourage behavior we like, but be specific as to why your child is good.
“You have been so good in the grocery store, I like how you sat in the grocery cart without trying to stand up!”
This type of statement lets your child know what kind of behavior you expect and like, blanket praise does not work as well.
- “If you loved me, you wouldn’t do that.”
Never connect behavior to love. Your child loves you and you love your child unconditionally. Do not try to control behavior by using guilt. Give your child a reason to behave the way you would like.
“It would be such a big help if you picked up your toys out of the kitchen so I can make us dinner.”
“Help me put your shoes on so we can get to the store and buy food for lunch, what is your favorite for lunch?”
- “If you don’t behave I’m going to call your father or mother or grandparent or Santa….”
This undermines your authority. It is risky to show that you have no recourse other than to tell dad or another person. You are the parent, don’t give your authority to someone else! Besides, what can Santa do??
- “Why did you do that?” or “What is wrong with you?”
Children don’t know why they behave wrong or can’t articulate a reason. Asking won’t help them find a reason. You can walk your child through the problem and help them find a reason for their behavior, describe the emotion your child is feeling, but asking why doesn’t work. A child really doesn’t know why he or she just squirted all the lotion from the bottle out on the floor! Asking only frustrates you!
- “Why can’t you be more like your sister or friend?”
Comparison is damaging. Children should never feel like they need to compete for parental love. Comparing siblings results in an increase in sibling rivalry and can damage the relationship between sisters and brothers. Your child is unique! I believe that rules in a home should be the same for all your children, but your discipline approach to each child may be slightly different depending on the temperament of the child. Remember each child has special gifts and special challenges…your role as a parent is to embrace both.
- “You are naughty!!”
You want to send the message that the behavior is bad—not the child. Parents need to make it clear that they believe their kids are good at heart.
“Why did a kind kid like you say something so mean to your friend?” “This is not like you behaving this way…”
Your child is not bad, the behavior is.
- “If you behave, I’ll buy you a toy.”
Bribes won’t win you anything and makes it just plain expensive to get out of the grocery store every week if you are buying something in the check out lane! If a parent uses bribes you may end up having to buy good behavior on an ongoing basis. Reward charts do work, but reward charts are a temporary incentive and the best rewards are your time or a special activity not an item that is bought. The toy you buy brings temporary excitement, your time tends to be a more lasting reward. Continual bribing molds a child into an externally motivated child, as parents we would rather have a child develop internal motivation for good behavior.
There were certainly times when I did not discipline in the most effective way! We all react out of anger and frustration at times. I can remember thinking, “Did I just say that?” The key is using effective discipline MOST of the time, and not beating yourself up when you are not effective. Remember too, there is a great lesson to your child when you apologize for not handling a situation well.
“I did not like the way you treated your sister a few minutes ago, but Mommy should not have said what she did. I am sorry.”
We are parents, we are not perfect, but having an effective discipline plan and not simply reacting with emotion to an inappropriate behavior by your child is important! Tomorrow….the plan!
Our daughter Kelsey loving her solid foods! She was needing a dunk in the tub after this meal!
I can remember the excitement of introducing the kids to their first tastes of “real food”. The camera was ready, they were sitting up and eager, and that first bite often resulted in the funniest look as they had that first taste.
I know that starting solid foods often comes along with many questions. What food is first? What about allergies? How much? When? And the list goes on and on. To be honest, there are not many hard and fast “rules” that come with starting your little one on solids. As with many issue of parenting, you may see many different suggestions and contradictory information which can increase your anxiety. Like many of my parenting tips, I start by saying “Relax!” There really is not a “wrong” way to do this! So get your cameras ready….the introduction to solid food is a milestone for every parent and baby, and is darn cute too!
The American Academy of Pediatrics tells parents that solid foods should be introduced between 4 and 6 months of age. At any point between 4 and 6 months, it is just fine! More important than age, we like to see that the baby is developmentally ready for solids.
Why should I wait until my baby is 4 to 6 months old?
Ideally, breast milk or formula should be the main nutrition for a baby’s first 4 to 6 months. The foods that you introduce after that are really just supplemental to the nutrients in the breast milk and formula. Solids are really an education in taste and texture for the first year of life. Breast milk or formula is the core of your baby’s diet for the first full year providing at least 75% of your baby’s calories. After a year, your baby will start to meet more and more of their nutritional needs through solid foods. By age 3, a child should only be getting about 10-20% of their calories from milk, and the rest from solid foods.
Isn’t this different from when I grew up?
Maybe. The school of thought regarding solids has changed over the years. In the 1920’s, solid foods were seldom offered to babies before a year. During the 1960’s and 1970’s solid foods often were fed to infants in the first three months. There are pictures of me being fed rice cereal at just a few weeks of age. (I AM pretty old!) Moms were often told then that the cereal would help a young infant sleep through the night. I promise it doesn’t! Slowly, we have come almost full circle with the recommendation now to wait until your baby is at least 4 months old.
Why do we wait now?
We have learned that babies are just not developmentally ready for solids. More important than actual age is your baby’s development.
- Before 4 months of age, a baby’s digestive system is too immature for solids.
- Before 4 months of age, a baby’s throat muscles are not developed for swallowing solids and there is a tongue thrust…food that is placed in the mouth is pushed back out with his tongue. Most babies no longer have this tongue thrust by 6 months.
- Before 4 months of age, your baby has no ability to tell you that he is full. Until around 4 to 5 months, babies will not turn their head to refuse food.
- Before 4 months of age, solid foods will result in your baby taking less breast milk or formula that has the correct amount of nutrients and fat for growth.
- Solids should be introduced no later than 6 months. Waiting too long for the introduction of solids can result in a delay in your baby’s eating and chewing skills, and recent studies now show that waiting longer than 6 months of age may actually increase food allergies.
What are some signs that might show my baby is developmentally ready for solids?
- Your baby is between 4 and 6 months in age.
- Your baby has at least doubled his birth weight.
- Your baby can sit with support.
- Your baby has good head and neck control and is able to turn his head to refuse food.
- Your baby’s tongue thrust reflex is diminishing.
- Your baby is breast-feeding more than 8 to 10 times a day and still wants more or your baby is taking 32 to 36 ounces of formula and wants more.
- Your baby is reaching for your food, or shows an interest when you are eating.
What food should be first?
Traditionally babies have been started on an iron fortified, easily digested cereal, like rice. This is because at 6 months of age, a baby’s natural iron stores from Mom are beginning to diminish. So, most parents start with some type of cereal, often rice. Other than the iron, there is not much nutrition in the rice cereal. I feel that a white rice cereal is not the best choice for a first food….there really is no hard and fast rule regarding what food you should start first. There are many good options such as:
- Sweet potato
- Strained meats
- Whole milk yogurt if a baby is 6 months of age or older
First foods should be single ingredients. Foods should be introduced one at a time with a couple of days in between each new food so if there is any type of reaction you will know which food is likely the culprit!
Some will suggest that a parent introduce vegetables before fruits so the baby does not taste the sweet food first. I don’t feel this is necessary. Babies who are breast-fed have tasted sweet…breast milk is sweet! No matter if a parent introduces fruits or vegetables first, babies will always prefer the sweeter taste. So, it really doesn’t matter! Introduce a vegetable, then a fruit, then a meat….whatever works for you and your child!
How do I start?
- Start with 1 to 2 tablespoons of a single ingredient pureed food. It should be a liquid consistency in the beginning. Your goal is not to fill up your child’s tummy, but to expose him to the new taste and texture. Be careful not to substitute food for breast milk or formula. During the first year babies should still have 4-6 breast feedings or 24-36 ounces of formula in 24 hours. If milk consumption drops, you may be feeding too many solids.
- Use your finger as the first spoon and have your baby suck the food off your finger. You then can move to a rubber coated spoon.
- Offer the first meal when you are not in a hurry and your baby is not overly tired or too hungry. I suggest you nurse or bottle feed first, and then an hour later try the solids.
- Always offer the new food in the morning so if your baby would have any kind of reaction or upset tummy, it doesn’t happen at night!
- Watch your facial expressions. Babies learn what foods you like and don’t like! Everything should be yummy!
- If your baby makes a face or gags with the new taste or texture, it does not mean that he doesn’t like the food. It takes at least 10 to 15 introductions of a food before a baby can develop a like or dislike! We want our babies to have a wide taste pallet! Don’t limit your baby to only the foods you like, especially if you are picky!
- Watch carefully to see when your baby has had enough. A baby may turn his head, close his mouth, bat the spoon away, or become fussy. Do not force food. Remember, the majority of your baby’s calories should be coming from breast milk or formula.
- It makes no difference to a baby if he gets green beans for breakfast! There is no right or wrong food for each meal.
- Start with one meal a day and then move to twice a day. By 9 months of age, most babies are enjoying solid foods and are eating 3 meals a day.
- There should be “dinner and a show!” Babies like smiles, airplane spoons, songs, and fun with the meal. Enjoy it!
Tips for making mealtime easier?
- Show your baby how you take a bite and enjoy your food. This may encourage a reluctant eater.
- Use the upper lip to sweep food off the spoon.
- Dress yourself and your baby in clothes that won’t be hurt by a messy eater! Many times I stripped my little ones down and sometimes a bath was necessary after the meal! Babies are messy eaters….no way to get around that!
- Use suction cup bottomed bowels. Keep your baby’s hands busy, give him a spoon to hold too!
- No pressure. It is O.K. if your baby misses a meal. If your baby is fighting the solid foods, skip a meal or two and then try again. Remember, solids are mainly an education to taste and texture. Your baby should be receiving most of his nutrition from breast milk or formula.
What about water and juice?
Babies do not need any other liquid besides breast milk or formula for the first 4 to 6 months. This means no juice or water. Once solid foods are introduced, a baby should be introduced to a cup. Water may be given in a cup with a meal. Your baby will probably just take a few sips. Juice is not recommended for the first year. Juice provides very little nutritional value and has a lot of empty calories.
What about allergies?
Some health care providers may suggest waiting to start foods like eggs, fish, or peanut butter until your baby is older because of the risk of food allergies. Studies have shown that avoidance of foods does not prevent the allergy and may actually increase the incidence of food allergies. In January of 2010, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines recommending that foods should not be avoided unless there was a significant family history of food allergies. Check with your health care provider regarding his or her suggestions about these foods.
One food that should be avoided until after the first birthday is honey. Honey carries the risk of your baby developing botulism. This does not include honey that is in foods like crackers or cereal, only pure honey.
How will I know if my baby is allergic to a food?
If your baby has vomiting, diarrhea, a new diaper rash or skin rash including hives, or develops wheezing, then this could be a food allergy. If your baby has gas, or a tummy ache it may just be a food intolerance. If you think your baby has had an allergic response or an intolerance, you should stop giving the food to your baby. You might try the food again in a couple of months if the reaction was mild and your baby may do just fine. If there was a more severe reaction like vomiting, hives, or wheezing talk to your health care provider before giving the food again.
What about homemade baby food?
Some parents choose to make baby food. To be honest, if you are waiting to start solids until your baby is 6 months old, your little one will not eat true puree food for very long. Most babies will start finger foods at about 8 months and are eating mostly table food by 11 months of age. It is not terribly difficult or time-consuming to make baby food. You may choose to make all of your own, or use some store-bought and some homemade. Your baby will also do just fine if you choose to use all store-bought. Here are some tips for making your own.
- You will need something to grind or puree food. You might use a blender, food processor or simply a fork as your little one gets used to texture.
- You will need storage containers like ice-cube trays or something similar. There are trays made just for baby food, but ice-cube trays will work just the same.
- Choose fruits and vegetables that are in season and fresh, or frozen for the best nutritional value.
- Wash your hands well.
- Wash the fruit and vegetables well!
- Bake, boil, or steam the vegetables or fruit. You then can mash or puree using water or breast milk/formula. If you boil the vegetables/fruit, use the leftover liquid to mash the food to prevent loss of nutrients in the water.
- Peel and pit fruits and vegetables and strain if necessary.
- You can use seasoning! Babies like flavor! Try to stay away from salt.
- Remove skin and trim fat from meat. You can puree cooked meat, or grind it, or simply cut it up into very small pieces for an older baby.
- Freeze the food in ice-cube trays. Remove the cubes of food and store in labeled freezer bags. One cube is about 1 ounce of food.
- When ready, thaw the amount you will use. If your baby does not eat all the food prepared in the dish, it must be thrown out, it cannot be saved.
- Use caution heating with a microwave. Microwaves can cause hot spots..be sure to stir and test the food.
There are many books with tips and recipes for making baby food. Some of my favorites include:
Super Baby Food By: RuthYaron
Baby Bites By: Bridget Swinney
Top 100 Baby Purees: 100 Quick and Easy Meals for a Healthy and Happy Baby By: Annabel Karmel
So, the introduction of solids really should not make you anxious, it should be exciting and fun! Enjoy this milestone for you and your baby! Your baby’s first taste of solid food only happens once! Don’t over think the process. Get ready for dinner and a show!
Our daughter, Kaitlyn, the picture of toddler pickiness!
Why is it that we parents worry so much about how much our child is eating? I can remember thinking that how well Kaitlyn ate that day, determined how well I had parented. Not true! Children under the age of one usually nurse or formula feed well, and are eager for the introduction of solid foods. But seemingly over night, our toddlers start to have an opinion about what we feed them! I can remember being very frustrated because I was providing her with this wonderfully healthy meal, and often all she wanted was bananas! To make it more confusing, the next day she may have thrown all those bananas off her tray! My darling daughter was a typical toddler, and with toddlers, meals are often a challenge. Why?
1.Toddlers have slowed down in growth.
The first year of life a child grows very quickly, between birth and a year most children triple their birth weight! A toddler grows much more slowly and seems less hungry.
2. Eating interrupts a toddler’s activity.
Toddlers are busy…any parent can tell you that. Sitting for any length of time just isn’t on the toddler’s agenda!
3. You can’t force a toddler to eat.
A parent’s job is to present a toddler with a wide taste pallet of healthy foods every day. It is up to the child to eat them! The more you force, the more most toddlers turn up their noses. A healthy child offered healthy food will NOT starve themself! A parent’s job is to provide a toddler’s job is to decide!
4. Toddlers usually eat one good meal a day.
Often toddlers will eat a good breakfast, an OK lunch and pick at dinner. Toddlers only need about 40 calories an inch. (Now don’t get that calculator out for your child!) Most will only need about 1000 to 1200 calories a day. By dinner, many toddlers have eaten their required calories for the day!
5. Toddlers like to binge on one food.
Food jags are common in toddlers. One day you can’t fill them up on green beans, and then two days later it is bananas. Some days a toddler may eat only fruit, the next day they may fill up on protein. What a toddler eats over a week is a better picture of their diet intake.
So what is a parent to do….
- Offer food frequently! Toddlers need 3 meals and at least 2 snacks offered each day. Toddlers behave better when they are eating frequently. Their tummies are small and temper tantrums increase when blood sugars are low. Try planning snacks from at least 2 food groups 2 to 3 times a day.
- Dip it! Toddlers like to dip everything. It is fun, and it is messy…two essentials for toddler eating! Humus, yogurt, cottage cheese, guacamole, melted cheese, salsa, peanut butter and even ranch dressing are some essential dips for toddlers.
- Hide it! Hide the broccoli under cheese sauce, shred the veggies and mix them in humus or cream cheese and spread on a tortilla and cut into pin wheels, puree veggies and add them to pasta sauce, lasagna, meatloaf. Make “orange ” pancakes with sweet potato puree or carrot puree and a dash of cinnamon. Get sneaky! When you hide vegetables, make sure you include some on your child’s plate so they learn what a balanced diet looks like.
- Be creative! Kids like fun. Make faces on sandwiches, use cookie cutters and cut shapes in pancakes and bread, make shish-ka-bobs with fruit and pretzel sticks, make party bananas with sprinkles, serve fruit and yogurt in an ice cream cone, try smoothies….
- Remember the toddler serving size! A serving size is a tablespoon per year. One serving of vegetables for a 2-year-old is two tablespoons! Many times we are trying to serve our toddlers adult size portions! The American Academy of Pediatrics has a great “sample” daily meal plan. Take a look!
- Don’t let your toddler “drink” his calories. A toddler should only have 16 to a maximum of 20 ounces of milk a day. That is much less than the 28 to 32 ounces most were drinking before becoming toddlers! If your child drinks too much cow’s milk, he will not eat solid food calories! Too much milk provides too little iron and other needed nutrients! Juice should be limited to only 4 to 6 ounces a day, better to have the whole fruit than just the juice!
- Let your child “shop” for food. Give your child a few dollars and let them “shop” in the produce section. Your child will be more likely to eat the food he or she “buys”! You might learn to cook and eat a new fruit or vegetable too….you never know what your child may pick out! (this is how I learned to fix spaghetti squash!)
- Let your child “help” prepare food. A child who watches a parent make dinner and “helps” will often be more likely to eat! Let your child have a few choices, control is important for toddlers.
- Let your child be messy. Toddlers explore food with their mouths, taste buds, and hands. They smash food, throw food, spread food, “paint” with food and generally need a bath after most meals. You must allow your toddler to feed himself. You must introduce spoons and forks, and be patient with the fact that it takes time and messes to learn how to use them!
- Don’t battle…try a “No thank you bite”. Toddlers have opinions, and sometimes they are very strong! The more battle there is in a meal, the more likely you will lose! Offer healthy foods and a variety of foods. If your toddler refuses to try something, introduce a “no thank you bite”. One bite and then he can refuse more. You might even ask your child to “kiss” the food, not even take a bite. This may provide just a small enough taste to convince your child to take a bite! Remember, it takes 15 to 20 introductions to a food before your child will develop a definite like or dislike!
Remember, a parent’s job is to PROVIDE healthy meals and snacks….a toddler’s job is to DECIDE what he or she will eat that day. If left alone, toddlers will usually balance their own diet if we just provide good choices. Relax….
Comparisons steal your joy and contentment as a Mom!
I caught myself doing it again this morning….thinking “Why can’t I be more like “so and so” who always has time to…..” As I said this to myself, I could feel the negativity creep into my morning, the joy being sucked out of my morning cup of coffee. The fact is…when we compare ourselves to someone else, or wish we could trade places, all we are doing is stealing the joy we have in OUR life. If we “switched” into someone else’s “perfect life” we would also have their “imperfect” challenges which may be very different from ours! Comparison only leads to anxiety and discontent. We must choose to be intentional and purposeful in our life so that we can make the most of where we are instead of wishing we were at some other stage in life or in a different situation.
Comparisons tend to creep into many aspects of our lives…she is more fit, she cooks more than I do, her TV screen doesn’t have fingerprints, her child is rolling over already, her son is speaking in full sentences, her husband pitches in more and the list goes on…..All these comparisons bring unnecessary stress and discontent into our lives. Wondering why your friend’s 11 month old is toddling about and your 13 month old is still holding on to the coffee table steals your moment of joy when your child grins at you. Here are a few reasons to stay away from comparisons:
- A child who is developing at a “normal” rate (remember there is a wide range of normal) is perfect! A child who is developing a bit quicker is not more likely to be successful than your child! Relax and enjoy.
- What works for one Mom may not work for you and your child, no matter how wonderful it seems. Relax and trust what works for you and your family.
- Working outside the home, working inside the home, childcare, breastfeeding, formula feeding, organic food…all these are personal decisions. If you are content and your child is happy and developing well, ignore the chatter or arguments. You don’t know their whole story and they don’t know yours. Relax and trust your choices for your family.
- No one is as perfect as they seem on Pinterest! Pinterest fails are more common than Pinterest perfection. Relax and enjoy, children don’t need the perfect birthday party decorations to have fun!
If we keep telling ourselves that we are exactly where we are supposed to be…our children will grow up knowing that the life you have at this moment is full of challenge at times, but also so full of joy if we choose to see it. What a better lesson than an example of continuous discontent! The simple joy of my quiet morning cup of coffee is much better than wondering if I should be doing or accomplishing something else. Once again, I have vowed this morning not to let comparisons steal my joy and contentment today.
Our “traditional” Christmas tree. A little more “perfectly” decorated than years past….there are ornaments even on the bottom of the tree now!
If we are smart we listen to our children when they say “That is how we always do it!” or “That is what we always do!” even when we have only done it that way one other time. Your child is not just talking about the good time he had, but the fact that it meant something to him and he thinks to you too. One of my favorite quotes is from the book The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “We live not by things, but the meaning of things.” It is not what you do or eat that is important, it is the meaning and feeling that comes with what you are doing that is so important to your child.
There are 3 important “pillars” in a family, our family values, our family norms, and our family rituals and traditions. If we don’t take time to develop each of these pillars….we usually will run on a “default” mode of doing what is easy at the time. Being intentional as a family is very important.
Values… what is most important to your family. Values are what you want as a parent to pass to your children. For some these values may center around Religion, or the value of education, or the value of respect and kindness, or the value of taking care of our earth. In order for a value to become engrained in your child there must be norms or “rules and rituals” that follow these values. If Religion is a value, your family will attend church together, participate in family prayer, and become involved in activities which reflect your beliefs. If education is a value, your family might read together, limit screen time and have rules regarding homework and effort in school. If kindness and respect are values, your family may have norms or rules about conflict resolution, sharing, and rules around words that are spoken.
Traditions and rituals are very intentional. These are family activities that have a purpose or meaning behind them and support your family values. Some are simply daily rituals, like bedtime routines and family dinners. Some are weekly rituals like Friday pizza nights or movie nights. Some occur with the season or with family milestones like the traditions of the holidays or 1st day of school pictures. The daily, weekly, and seasonal rituals and traditions tell your child what is important to your family.
Creating your own special rituals and traditions now and repeating them throughout your child’s life will help during periods of stress in a family. Faithfully repeating these rituals and traditions helps a child feel secure, provides stability, and a sense of pride and belonging to your family. Even during a family crises, the fact that a bedtime ritual or a Christmas celebration looks somewhat the same brings a sense of security and stability to a child.
Four reasons tradition is important to a family:
1. Traditions help make life predictable. Rituals that are followed daily, weekly, and yearly such as family dinners, nightly stories, spring picnics; holiday songs etc. helps make children feel secure. Their world is often unpredictable—keeping things predictable at home gives security.
2. Traditions give families a time to connect. Sometimes we can feel unconnected when we get busy. Family meals, stories, game nights etc. help us reconnect and start talking. Soon we know what is going on in our children’s lives.
3. Family traditions teach children family values. Service work, religious ceremonies, concern for the environment and many other values can be established through family traditions and rituals. These are values that when they are reinforced with traditional activities, your child will bring them with him to adulthood.
4. Traditions form a family identity. Build a family group for your child to feel connected to and this will often prevent them from trying to find other less suitable groups to identify with. A child’s family is a huge piece of their identity.
Traditions and rituals can be very simple…it is the act of repeating them, allowing them to change with your family’s “season in life” and keeping them fun that is the key. If something is not fun anymore, then let it go!
Don’t get hung up on creating the perfect rituals, let them happen naturally based on what your family enjoys. Many rituals and traditions just happen. The wonderful thing about becoming your own family is that you have the opportunity to create your own traditions and rituals from scratch. Some you will come up with on your own, some you will borrow, and some you will discard from your past, but the traditions you repeat will become part of who your unique family is.
Some suggestions to try during the holiday season:
- Take a drive in pajamas to see the holiday lights.
- Take a hike in a local park and find some natural decorations for your tree or to make other holiday decorations.
- Make a homemade Christmas tree ornament. Date it, and each year you will add to the collection.
- Bake Christmas cookies or Hanukkah treats and share with friends and neighbors.
- Draw Secret Santas in the family. Each Secret Santa will complete a kind deed for the family member he or she drew.
- Have a traditional Christmas breakfast, or Christmas Eve dinner.
- Attend religious services together.
- Lay a piece of straw in the Baby Jesus’ bed each day if a child has done a good deed.
- Read a holiday story each night.
- Have a traditional Advent wreath or Advent calendar.
- Have a Christmas countdown chain. Make a construction paper chain and tear one link off each day until Christmas. Write an activity on each chain link that you will do that day.
- Camp out under your Christmas tree one night.
- Go caroling.
- Make a birthday cake for Jesus.
- String popcorn for your tree.
And the list can go on and on….share some of your favorite traditions and rituals!
Remember, family tradition endears your child to your family and establishes an everlasting family bond. The celebration, the meal, and the activities do not need to be perfect, the perfection comes from a celebration steeped in tradition and full of fun memories that draw a family together….that is perfection…