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Replacing Timeout with Playtime

If you’ve ever stood in a busy grocery store with a child in the midst of a full on meltdown, you know one universal truth: Children will act out, usually at the most embarrassing moment for you. When you can step back and understand that they are seeking your attention and validation, you can prevent and manage these moments with grace.

Think of all the hours in each day when you expect your children to cooperate and participate in your activities. From house chores and errands to remaining silent while you talk on the phone, and even dining out in restaurants. Are you matching each of these minutes with true connection with them in their world? Playtime is a child’s way of including you on their level and asking you to include them on yours. They don’t know how to negotiate this world as an adult, but they would like to show you what the world looks like to them.

Try the 30/30 rule. For every 30 minutes you need to accomplish something in the grown-up arena, spend 30 minutes on your child’s level playing, talking, reading and connecting. Keep it even and let your child lead the playtime. I promise you will have fewer meltdowns if you can stick with this one rule. (For toddlers, try 10/10. They may not have the attention span to entertain themselves for 30 minutes.)

O. Fred Donaldson, a world-famous specialist in the use of play as an alternative to aggression, violence and abuse, posted this morning on API Speaks on what we don’t understand about playtime with children. A five-year-old boy once told him, “Fred, you know play is when we don’t know that we are different from each other.” I invite you to read this short post Coming Out to Play, where Fred reveals the three patterns of play that he observed in children all over the world. (Here’s a hint: enrolling your child in soccer does not count as playtime.)

Grace and Peace.

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Posted by on October 5, 2011 in From Toddlers to Teens

 

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More Confessions of a Disorganized Mom

(This post originally ran 2 years ago, but it is visited so frequently that I updated and added to it today. Enjoy!)

When my oldest daughter (now age 9) was a baby, my friend asked me what time she normally took a nap. I was clueless. “Whenever she falls asleep,” was my likely answer.

Clients and associates often assume I am the queen of organization. As the creator of such a detailed time-management system like the Baby Love Carebook, how could I be anything but a type-A, Martha Stewart-like mother with all her ducks in a very straight row?

The truth is, I’ve always hated routines.

I’ve always been very laid back and flexible. I like to do things when I feel like it. I’ve never had a designated “laundry day” or “grocery day.” My professional life has always revolved around deadlines and details. I’ve developed my own method of paying attention to the smallest detail in an organized fashion, but waiting until the last minute to get anything accomplished.

Imagine my anxiety as a new mom when I realized that babies don’t enjoy such a leisurely approach to living. In fact, babies can be downright crabby when they are expected to eat at 10 a.m. one day, and 10:30 a.m. the next. Try to put them down for a nap at 1 p.m. some days, 2 p.m. on others and they cry … a lot!

Now that I’m raising three children, I know better. I firmly believe that children are happier with a consistent routine. However, I also know that all children are unique. My oldest daughter loves a big breakfast, my middle girl prefers to wait a few hours in the morning before she will eat anything. It’s up to you as parents to discover and nurture the best routines for your children. If you’re interested in a little research on the subject, read Mom, Could You Pencil Me in for a Nap?

Routines did not come naturally to me, that’s why the Baby Love Carebook was invented. I found it was the only way to keep myself on track. Writing down my baby’s ideal routine gave me more incentive to stick to it. I’m also a visual learner and need to see something in order to remember it. Telling me that the baby ate two hours ago will go in one ear and out the other. Writing down the time will ensure that I retain the information.

And keeping all our information in one place made me more likely to reach out to others for help when I needed a break. You may not think taking a break is all that important, especially if you left your day job to take care of your little ones. Here’s a quick link about the importance of sharing the love of others with your children:Another Attachment: Let Others Bond with Your Children.

Finally, if you’re reading this today on October 2, 2011 (my birthday!) you will be interested to know that Babysteals.com is offering the Baby Love Carebook organizer and Doctor Diary pages for only $19.99. The sale lasts only until 11pm eastern time so steal one quickly!

Grace and Peace.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2011 in From Toddlers to Teens

 

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Telling Your Child About Death

Children learn about death in many ways but they learn about grieving from the people they are closest to.

Just three weeks ago I paced the house, cleaning and straightening. I was nervous about breaking the horrible news that our neighbor and first-grade teacher had died suddenly. My eight-year-old daughter adored this woman and I knew that she would be hurt.

I learned of the death after dinner, but knew that the end of a long day was the wrong time to tell her. We were still uncertain about the cause of death and hoped that morning would bring more information.

After breakfast and some play time with her sisters, I found a chance to tell her alone. Random bits of advice and knowledge had swirled around in my head all morning.

Years ago, I heard a child psychologist tell parents that bad news should be delivered to children during the first ten seconds of your conversation. Children often get lost if you spend too much time trying to soften the blow.

Remembering this, I held her hands and told her that I had something hard to tell her. She was sitting across from me on my bed. I watched her head drop and her tiny heart break with the horrible words, “Mrs. Apolzan died this weekend.”

With just the slightest movement of my hands, she fell into my arms so we could cry together. Over the next few days, I answered all of her questions as patiently and honestly as I could. We allowed her to cry, to be sad, but also to forget all about it and just play.

She attended a painfully sad memorial service with me at her request and we talked about different customs regarding death, funerals and burial options. She is a very inquisitive child and the extra information seemed to help her to sort out her feelings.

Death is painful only to the living. I did not want to write about it. Looking back now, I realize I simply did not want to live it. I certainly did not want to be the one to inflict the heartache of death upon my child.

But I’m a mother.

I could never let someone else deliver such a crushing blow. My only real choice was to catch her, to hold her and to love her while she learned this painful lesson of life.

Grace and peace.

We loved you, Mrs. Apolzan, and we will always be grateful for our opportunity to know you.

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2011 in From Toddlers to Teens

 

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If Mama’s Not Happy, Nobody’s Happy: Proven

photo by Michal Marcol

What I’ve learned in 9 years of mothering is that you can’t learn how to take care of your children until you’ve learned to take care of yourself. I’m often categorized as a baby blogger, baby merchant or other kind of “baby person.” In reality, my blog and the Baby Love Carebook are mother-focused products.

A recent study confirms the correlation between depressed mothers and depressed children. The results are startling, considering that nearly 400,000 babies are born to depressed mothers each year in the United States.

Nearly half of the children with depressed mothers will develop depression.

And did you know that the average age of the onset of depression is 34; peak childbearing years? All these facts and study references were published recently in the Wall Street Journal. I encourage you to read the full article by Martha Beck.

And an interesting side note: the most severe consequence of depression happens during the first year of a child’s life because they will not form the necessary attachment to Mom.

The bottom line is that children fare better when Mom gets help as early as possible. So the good news is that this is not a hereditary condition as most people assume; it is environmental. It can be corrected and prevented by teaching your children how to regulate their own emotions.

My retail slogan is Journal. Organizer. Encouragement for Moms. My goal from the very conception of my business was to help new mothers navigate the more difficult day-to-day struggles of caring for a fussy baby. In fact, my About page spells out my mission:

As the mother of three small children, my goal is to help other new parents feel empowered and to instill in them the confidence to care for their babies in a loving, positive way that respects the uniqueness of all children.

If you or a new mom in your life is struggling or seems depressed, the first step is to recognize the problem and to realize it’s not at all uncommon. In fact, lack of sleep is the leading cause of post-partum depression and can be corrected easily and without drugs.

The second step during the baby years is to establish a consistent routine and really pay attention to baby’s cues. When a new mom feels more in control and not at the mercy of her baby, she is better able to experience joy and fight off the feelings of seclusion and depression.

The most common keywords that lead to this blog are “sample routine for xx month baby”. New moms are searching for the magic formula to get through their days and nights. Here’s the real secret: it’s different for everyone.

And from May 25-29, 2011, discovering this magic formula will be even easier. Sign up for Totsy today or tomorrow to view our half price sale of the Baby Love Carebook. This offer is limited to these five days and we have a limited supply of books so I encourage you to make your purchase early. You can opt out of the Totsy emails at any time.

Grace and peace.

 

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Another Attachment: Let Others Bond with Your Children

As we spend time with various family and friends over spring break, I thought I would share an old post about loosening up your strings a little. As I watch my three little ones run to greet their father, grandparents and friends, it’s a nice reminder that these relationships started when they were babies. Enjoy.

Giving Dad some room to make mistakes and take on the mundane chores of childcare really strengthened their bond.

During my first few months caring for our very fussy first-born daughter, my exhaustion had reached its peak. My husband urged me to use the breast pump that sat unopened on the counter. He was able to take the first late night feeding on weekends, allowing me to get four to five hours of uninterrupted sleep — something I desperately needed. Just as important, my husband was able to bond with our daughter in a new way. After a long week at work, he savored these late night feedings alone with his baby girl.

What is Attachment Parenting?

I’m a contributing blogger for Attachment Parenting International’s blog; API Speaks: The Voice for Gentle Parents Everywhere. They advocate eight principles of parenting that promote healthy connections with your children, helping them to become confident, compassionate adults. Read the summary of the eight principles to get the general idea.

The principle I choose to write about most often is “Strive for Balance.” One of the easiest ways to achieve balance as a mother is to let others lighten your burden so you can take a break. If you are constantly worried that no one else is capable of caring for your child (even your spouse), or you are afraid to ask for help, your child has no opportunity to form an attachment to anyone else.

Are you allowing others to bond with your child?

Mothers and fathers (and grandparents) have very different ways of holding, playing and interacting with their babies. Research shows that babies recognize and thrive on these differences. Do you constantly correct others on the proper way to hold, feed or comfort your baby or do you let them develop their own technique? It’s great to let others know what your child prefers, but hovering and immediately taking over once a baby cries is not really the best answer.

If you’re caring for an infant or young toddler, this is the week to work on loosening your strings a little. You won’t be giving up the connection that you have with your child, but allowing someone you love to form a stronger bond. Whether it’s your spouse, a grandparent or a trusted friend; let them spend time with your child without you swooping in for the rescue.

Give yourself some time off and let your child understand that there is a whole village of loved ones to whom they can turn. You will see over time how relaxed and joyful a child can be when they form loving connections with the people around you. (And trust me, you will feel the same relaxation and joy knowing that your community of support is loved by your child.)

Grace and Peace.

 

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Battle Hymn of the Chicken Mama

According to the Chinese zodiac, I was born in the year of the rooster, but I prefer to think of myself as a chicken. I couldn’t help musing recently at how I would measure up in the much talked-about book about Chinese parenting, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. I have not read the book, and while she writes with style and wit, I have no desire to read it. If you have not heard all the hoopla, I encourage you to read the response from her daughter, who admits that her mother is not quite as ferocious as the book implies.

As a mother raising three daughters in the United States, I have no problem being a chicken. Persons born in a rooster year are characterized as sharp, practical and tenacious. We are also hard-working, eccentric, a bit show-offish, loyal, charming and we really hate any viewpoint that disagrees with our own. Hence, many roosters own our own businesses or pursue careers in art or entertainment or you know, blogging. We like to be noticed, and probably care about our hair just a tad too much. I am totally a chicken.

But a Chicken Mama has a different code of ethics and expectations. Much like a Tiger Mother, we are very proud of our flock, and do not care to hear anything (at all) negative about them. However, when my daughter brings home anything less than an “A”, we assume rightly that she has a slight learning disability, was placed on the wrong side of the classroom, or simply failed to properly learn the material because of faulty teaching.

And, also like the Tiger Mother, this Chicken Mama does not allow TV (on week nights), we do not subscribe to cable television nor do we own video games. Personally, I am not a fan of play dates, but I do give in on a case-by-case basis. (Mostly to moms who are artsy or eccentric like me.)

As for musical prodigies, I have a much different stance. I spent about 5 minutes researching the Suzuki method when my firstborn was in preschool, and nearly fell off my nest when I realized how much of my own time would be spent teaching the piano or violin. Forget about it. Our piano teacher’s primary qualification is that she has a car and comes to our house. My eight-year-old is musically gifted, that’s for sure, but hates to practice. I set a timer when necessary, and we get about 30 good minutes of practice each night.

Will she ever play Carnegie Hall? I really don’t care, but if it’s important to her she will make it happen on her own and not by my constant pecking. I will completely support and encourage her, but I won’t be the one who pushes her in the direction of my own dreams.

As for defiance or unruly behavior at home, I also take a much different approach. As a Tiger Mother, Amy Chua once (or more often) called her daughter “garbage” when the girl acted disrespectfully. I’m not into shaming or name-calling to get my children to obey. I do not see the value in this. My children are expected to act respectfully and are often complimented on their good behavior. I have many strategies that make this happen; most importantly my children feel loved, respected and confident. We model respect in our actions, as opposed to the ranting, screaming, hair-pulling tactics given by Ms. Chua.

As for our typical home environment; Western Chickens are very proud of our nests. Our homes are fun, organized and filled with laughter. Chores are required, meals are always taken around the dinner table and homework must be completed the moment the kids step off the bus. When my three little chicks get out of line or have trouble controlling their behavior, I resort to a much different sort of Battle Hymn. We crank up Keith Urban and dance it out. Nothing lifts a mood like a guitar-heavy country lick, especially when the artist looks so fine. Give it a try, it will raise your spirits, or at least your heart rate.

I suppose I could crush them into submission by calling them names; but this German/Irish/Native American so-called Western Chicken Mama would much rather teach my little birds to fly.

Grace, Peace and a bit of humor.

(And thanks again to Totsy. Last week’s sale of the Baby Love Carebook was ridiculously successful!)

 

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Five Ways to Ask For (and Receive) Help

This week has brought to the forefront my need for assistance. I rely heavily upon my husband for so many things that when he is absent my world gets turned upside down. I’ve been in a partnership (a wonderfully enriching and fulfilling partnership) for so long that I feel lost when faced with a crisis alone.

I’ve also noticed in the past 16 years how my independence has declined drastically. I used to be fearless and completely self-sufficient. So, while I’ve struggled to get back some of my fearless nature, I also relish being secure enough to ask for help. Hopefully, you will learn the value of dependence now that you are a parent.

I wrote a little about the importance of giving and receiving recently in the post about 29 Gifts. It brought up the bigger issue for me of being truly receptive to the gifts of others. Learning to ask for help is a difficult lesson for many people, myself included. If you’re in the first few months or years of motherhood, asking and receiving will become essential.

During your first few weeks as a new mom, you may get offers of help from many different sources. It’s tempting to politely say no simply because it’s easier than coming up with a task for them. Get into the habit of saying “YES” to offers of help, because the offers may stop just when you need them most. (And let me tell you, they stop all together once you’re the mother of three or more children!)

Five specific things you can ask for:

  1. Invite someone to visit for an hour or two. During this time you can shower, take a long nap or just spend a little time in the sunshine by yourself. Or, you can relish the company of another adult.
  2. Request help with some household chores. Maybe you would like for someone to vacuum your house or do a load of laundry. Just ask. I promise that someone loves you enough to do this small act of kindness for you. When I was enormously pregnant with our third child, I sheepishly asked my mother-in-law to mop our filthy floors in the house we had just purchased. She was happy to do it. All she wanted to know was what I needed help with.
  3. Ask for a meal. Don’t beat around the bush, either. Vague statements like “I wish someone would cook for me” may come off the wrong way. But if someone close to you asks what they can do for you, ask for a meal. Some of our friends have brought over gourmet dinners they made themselves, while others picked up our favorite carryout foods.
  4. Ask for advice. Oh, I know. Becoming a mother makes you a target for unsolicited advice. But, when you have a moment alone or on the phone with a more experienced mom, ask her about something you’re struggling with. You just may be surprised to learn a new technique or be comforted in knowing that they struggled, too. When my firstborn was a few weeks old and refused to nap in her bed or anywhere else but my shoulder, my mom commented that it was easier when we were babies because my brother, sister and I all slept on our stomachs. That idea is so taboo now that it never occurred to me. I ended up propping my daughter on her side and she suddenly started napping on her own.
  5. Ask for prayers. A few years ago, I would have rolled my eyes at this. Now, I have a deeper understanding of the power of prayer. Whatever your world view may be, there is strength in numbers, and the more prayers offered up for you, the better. I am Christian, and my good friend is Jewish. We often exchange prayers for each other or celebrate the Sabbath together. For us, we find peace and comfort in honoring our similarities.

As I write this, my two-year-old has spiked another fever and is complaining of her first earache. She is sleeping on my lap while I balance the keyboard precariously on one knee. My husband is stuck in an airport for the third straight day and the roads are an icy mess, making the possibility of school a long shot again tomorrow.

But, my neighbors graciously offered to bring us lunch and the older girls are doing a pretty good job of cleaning up the toys. So, while I’m always open to advice and comments from my readers, I would probably benefit more from a few prayers today. Please?

Grace and peace.

 
 

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