All Apologies

There was an interesting article today on Yahoo Shine about 8 things you should not say to your child: http://shine.yahoo.com/team-mom/5-things-parents-shouldnt-kids-171300904.html Just as interesting as the article are all the comments that follow! Some parents endorse the advice, others contribute with additional things not to say (often including awful things that were said to them as children!), and many disparage the article as well as any professional who may be trying to impart parenting advice to others! If you’re not a fan of parenting advice, then why bother reading the article in the first place?!

I'm Sorry!Anyway, one of the most contentious points in the article had to do with not forcing your child to say “I’m sorry” when they do something worthy of an apology (e.g. take a toy from another child).  The author argues that making your child apologize does not teach social skills, and points out that just saying they’re sorry does not automatically help your child understand WHY they are apologizing. She suggests modeling the apropriate response and apologizing for your child (that definitely did not go over well with many readers). 

My feeling about teaching children to apologize is that an apology should always be sincere. I think it’s important to help your child see another person’s perspective so they can see that feelings may have been hurt and understand why an apology would be in order. With young children, saying something like “If somebody took your toy without asking you would feel very upset. Let’s give it back and let her know that we didn’t mean to hurt her feelings.” Sometimes we do want to prompt our children with the exact words that we want them to say – e.g. ask them to say “I’m sorry”.  Other times maybe it is helpful to apologize on our child’s behalf so they can learn how to apologize sincerely. As they get older, we can encourage them to apologize in their own words in a way that shows they really mean it. 

I can remember insisting that my older son apologize to his brother and hearing a rote, robotic “I’m sorry” complete with a glazed over expression and flat tone. It would drive me crazy, and I sometimes tried to insist that he say it again in a way that sounded like he meant it. Just like anyone else though, he had a hard time sounding sincere if he was not feeling sincere. I had more luck trying to help him walk in his brother’s shoes for a moment so he could understand WHY his brother might deserve an apology! Only then, when he truly had empathy for his brother’s perspective, would the apology sound correspondingly genuine!

Girl in time-outSome parents encourage their children to hug and apologize when they have done something wrong. I am not a big fan of this, especially after the child has done something physical to another child such as hit, bite, push, etc. The last thing that other child (or their parent) wants is to have more physical contact from someone who just hurt them! I also think that an immediate consequence such as time-out is essential after a child has been physically aggressive toward another. Hugging and saying I’m sorry could end up being more of a reinforcer for negative behavior than a consequence that says ‘unacceptable’.  I’d rather remove my child from the situation immediately and let them know that we do NOT hit people.  Maybe after an appropriate time-out when everybody has calmed down he could come back and give a verbal apology.

In the end, all children are different and what works well with one kid may not work as well with another. There’s no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer, but it is interesting to hear what people think about it. I’m sorry… I can’t speak for everyone, what is your take on mandatory apologizing?

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Sugar: Sweet Little Killer?

Candy SkullMaybe that sounds a little harsh for a blog claiming to be about positive parenting. What we’re talking about is the breaking news from 60 Minutes this week indicating that aside from the weight gain and cavities that we already associate with too much sugar, scientific research is showing that sugar is actually toxic to our bodies! A TOXIN… as in a harmful substance that can cause profound negative impacts including cancer and heart disease!!  Here is a link to the full article:  http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18560_162-57407294/is-sugar-toxic/

Some parents have been limiting their children’s sugar consumption for years, seeking improved behavioral outcomes or other beneficial effects. Not only are these parents validated by the 60 Minutes report and all of the supporting scientific studies, but many more parents may join their ranks! Here are the highlights and some tips on how to integrate this information inthe context of day-to-day family life:

  • Peanut ButterKids (and all of us!) are eating more sugar than we realize. One can of soda has more sugar than the total recommended amount for an entire day, and it’s in everything from peanut butter to ketchup.
  • Once we start reading labels and becoming aware of how much sugar s in food, especially food that comes in a box or package, then we can moderate the amount of sugar our families consume.
  • The best strategy to reduce excessive amounts of sugar is to cook and eat real food rather than pre-packaged food.
  • The sugar found in fruit is a natural source of sugar that our bodies are used to processing. Fruit also contains fiber and other micro-nutrients, therefore it is okay to eat fruit.
  • Shop the “outer perimeter” of the grocery store where the food is more likely to be in its natural state and less likely to be pre-packaged and full of preservatives including synthetic sugar.
  • Try increasing the amount of vegetables consumed by your family.
  • Teach your children about what foods are good for them, and that too much sugar does bad things to our bodies.

Boy with bowl of vegetablesThe tricky part is implementing changes like these with children who already have a taste for pop tarts, soda, and all kinds of other sugar-laden food! We may not want to be the meanie who won’t allow a drop of sugar to pass their lips, but we also want our kids to learn good eating habits and a healthy lifestyle. It’s helpful for our children to understand the impact of too much sugar in their diet so they can accept the parameters we put in place, such as soda only on special occasions. 

Balance is key. The bottom line is that we need to be educated, make informed decisions, and teach our children to do the same. How do you feel about the 60 Minutes report? Will you try to decrease the amount of sugar that your child consumes? What practical tips do you have to do this?

More on sugar and kids: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504803_162-57407203-10391709/sugar-and-kids-the-toxic-truth/?tag=contentMain;contentBody

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We Are What We Think!

Super Mom

Super Mom

Hopefully we all know that great feeling of confidence when we believe in ourselves and our ability to do something well. Unfortunately, at times we experience the other side of that coin when negative thoughts settle in and lead to a frustrated, defeated attitude. “I can’t do this.” “It’s my fault.” Whatever the mantra, we must take a breath and get it out of our head. By focusing on something positive and thinking about our successes rather than our failures, we can claw our way back to the sunny side, get back on that horse, and carry on!

Thumbs Up!

Yes I Can!

Kids are no different. As parents, we play an important role in the development of that little voice in their head! If we want our children to believe that they can do something, we must tell them. If we want them to see themselves as kind and caring, we must tell them. Every chance we get! What we tell children as they grow and develop can sink into their very being and influence what they believe about themselves. In turn, what they believe about themselves will influence how they behave and the choices that they make.

When our children misbehave, it’s important to show disapproval and correct them, but we can do this while instilling a positive value. For example, a firm “No, we do NOT say that to our friends!” can be followed up with “You are a good friend, and good friends treat each other  with respect.”

In addition to building strong relationships, we want our children to develp the adaptive skills that will help them get through life, such as good communication and effective problem solving. By demonstrating these skills ourselves and encouraging our children to do the same, we can help foster these qualities in them. A preschooler who is told “You are a good problem-solver, help me figure out what we should do?!” will not only have a chance to practice the problem solving process, he or she will also begin to internalize it. They will start seeing themselves as someone who is good at solving problems and not giving up! Believing is at LEAST half the battle…

Brothers

Brotherly Love

One of my favorite things to tell our boys is “You are a wonderful brother!” I tell them individually and I tell them together. I find the opportunity to tell them when they’re getting along, helping each other, or just having a laugh together. Despite the three and a half years between them, they have developed a strong, wonderful bond that I just know will last a lifetime!

What kinds of messages do you convey to your children? Please share with us your favorites!

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The Ticking Time-Bomb

Boy scowling

Ready for Meltdown

Sometimes it seems like we’re not just parents, we’re members of a very skilled bomb squad… one little crossed wire or “No, you may not” and BOOM, the whole situation could explode! We want our children to learn how to gracefully accept the answer “no”, yet in any given situation we may be reluctant to throw it out there and trigger some big meltdown. Maybe it’s because we’re in a public location, or perhaps we’re just tired and not up for a battle at that moment. Whatever the reason, we’re prone to caving in just to diffuse a situation and keep the peace.  Like it or not, we have all been known to say no, then let the whining and crying persuade us into changing our mind!

When we’re at the top of our game (or in the neighborhood grocery store) it’s possible to cunningly use strategies like the “No Disguised As A Yes” tactic. This is when you respond with something like “Yes, you may have a lollipop after you sit nicely in the shopping cart.” You’re saying yes, but you actually mean no. (At least, no not now… maybe later). This delayed yes is a great way to gain some leverage if you want your little one to do something like clean up or use the potty. You have something they want… they can have it AFTER they do whatever it is you ask them to do. This is also a great way to teach your child to be a good listener because you are reinforcing them for following directions.

Another strategy is to plead the 5th and say nothing. Better to silently take a moment to consider your options than to say an automatic no that you later recant for a yes. This only teaches your child that no doesn’t mean no, it could very likely mean yes if she whines enough!

Temper Tantrum

Detonation!

When it comes down to it though, it’s good to face our fears and tell our children a firm “no” so they learn to accept it. With safety issues, no is always non-negotiable. With situations NOT involving imminent peril, I always prefer to pick my battles in the privacy of our own home or car if possible. It’s just much easier to endure the inevitable meltdowns and deal with the situation on my own terms.

Just like many other things, accepting “no” and handling disappointment is a skill that children can learn and that we need to teach them. How do any of us learn a skill? Through practice. Make a conscious decision to practice each day with your child, and then find an opportunity to say no once or twice and follow through with it, despite whatever tears and rage may follow. It’s like letting the bomb go off in a controlled environment!  In the end it will be worth it to teach your child that sometimes the answer is no, and that you mean what you say. Our children will not be permanently scarred by crying hysterically because they can’t have that third lollipop. We might be temporarily shaken by it… but the Mom Squad is resilient and we’re always there to pick up the pieces and carry on!

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Great Expectations!

There’s sometimes a moment right before your little one is about to misbehave, when the two of you lock eyes with each other. So much is said in those few seconds without a single word spoken out loud! That [cute] little bugger knows exactly what you want him to do, but is he going to do it? If he doesn’t, what are you going to do about it? Whatever he’s thinking in that moment, you’re most likely using it to contemplate your options if he chooses not to listen!
Mom and son staring each other down

Mom Son Standoff

I challenge you to notice when you are in that moment and think about your expectations. What do you think your child will do? If you are expecting a poor outcome, then try to re-frame your thinking in order to expect a more positive ending!

I plan to try this with my 6-year-old who has been having major meltdowns lately any time I ask him to stop playing and do something. I’m guessing the hardest part will be actually believing in a positive resolution… given our recent track record! Sometimes it helps if I approach the situation differently, because then I’m able to envision a different, more positive outcome!

Given the name of this post, I couldn’t resist sharing video links for a trailer of the recent BBC adaptation of the Classic Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations, a trailer for the 1998 Great Expectations film interpretation with Ethan Hawke and Gwenyth Paltrow that I love, AND a pretty good song by New Jersey band Gaslight Anthem called Great Expectations!

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Volunteering With Kids

A good friend recently asked how to go about volunteering in the community with her kids. Because of our busy lives and hectic schedules, it can be difficult to fit in something new. When we’re not working, we find time to do things that we value, whether it’s sports, music lessons, girl scouts, or just getting together with family and friends. If we value giving back to the community and teaching our children to be kind, good citizens who appreciate their blessings, then we may choose to set aside quality time to volunteer with our kids! Here are some ideas:

  • Find three options for volunteering in the community and let your child choose which one you’ll do together. Animal shelters, nursing homes, and food kitchens are often looking for volunteers. Check out Volunteer Match to locate volunteer opportunities in your area.
  • Plan to volunteer with friends! We sign our kids up for sports or other activities with their friends because it’s motivating for them (plus we can carpool!). Why not schedule a monthly volunteer time with friends to make it fun and motivating?!
  • Kids love earning money! Help your little entrepreneur choose a charitable cause that they can raise money for by donating partial proceeds from their lemonade stand! Or set up a weekly allowance for your child and teach them to save some of it, spend some of it, and donate some of it to a charity of their choice. If possible bring your child to make their donations in person so they can see what an impact it has!

Kids selling apple cider for good cause!

Apple Cider for a Cure! Kids in our neighborhood had a Hot Apple Cider Sale where they donated 50% of their proceeds to Aim For A Cure, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure for Huntington's Disease!

  • Plan a volunteer vacation for your family! There are many opportunities to help a community in need or make a difference for the environment. Whether you have a few days or a few weeks, Volunteer Guide can help you learn more about and plan a volunteer vacation with your children. Although most volunteer vacations actually cost you money, part or all of your travel expenses are tax deductible for U.S. residents.
  • Rather than exchange holiday gifts with friends, plan to make a donation together! For example, set aside a day to make a Toys for Tots donation and have hot chocolate together afterward, or visit Save the Children for opportunities to buy a goat or help educate a young girl!

As Betty Reese so insightfully put it, “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito!”.  I think it applies not only to volunteering, but also to our day-to-day interactions with our kids! How do you spend quality time giving back with your children?

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Welcome

I am a mom, educational/school psychologist, and parenting consultant. I love children and bringing out the best in them! I also love owls – for me they signify a special connection to my own mom! This blog is all about finding positive ways to bring out the best in ourselves as parents, so we can enjoy our children and help them grow up as happy, healthy, and well-adjusted as possible! It’s also about doing things as a family to teach our children about being socially responsible and ecologically friendly!

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