Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Pick Your Battles

We were about to go out this afternoon so I told my kids to put their shoes on and get ready to go. Four-year-old Eliana asked if she could keep her Tinkerbell costume on for our outing. Two-year-old Ami refused to wear his shoes. "Elmo slippers," he insisted. I smiled at my crazy kids, helped Ami put his slippers on, and shooed them out the door.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. You have to pick your battles. This is true with your kids, with your spouse, with your boss, with whomever.

Whether you want to "battle" with your kids on a particular subject depends on a number of things:

• How major/minor is the issue? (Hitting - Battle. Shoes on the couch - Up to you.)

• How many other things are you working on ingraining in your child simultaneously? A kid can work on learning approximately three different lessons at any given time. If you're working on teaching her not to lie and to look both ways before crossing the street, do you want to make speaking with an indoor voice your third issue or reserve that slot for something more important that might come up? Believe me, they'll be yelling next week too. You're not going to miss your chance. You WILL have an opportunity to teach them about indoor voices!

• What else is going on in the immediate environment? Did your child miss her nap? Is the baby crying to be fed? Are you stressed to get out the door and get to work on time? Is your daughter starving because you haven't gotten dinner on the table yet? Did she have a hard day in which she failed a test, was teased or bullied, or fell in the mud? Did YOU have a rough day in which you messed up a work assignment, had a flat tire, or argued with your spouse? Is it bedtime and you don't want to spend an hour arguing when it's time for the kids to start winding down? Your child's mood and emotional state, your own mood and emotional state, and whatever else is going on in your household at the moment is going to have an impact on her behavior as well as on your decision about whether or not to fight this battle right now.

Remember, anything that is an issue or a lesson your kids really need to learn is going to manifest itself over and over again. You will have plenty of opportunities to deal with the issue in the future, especially if your kids are young. Not only do your kids' immediate needs (food, sleep) need to come first, but any lesson you try to impart to them isn't going to sink in anyway if they're hungry/tired/upset.

Now I'll be honest. Sometimes I do tell Eliana an outfit she's chosen doesn't match. (And she has gotten to the point now that she will often ask me whether it matches.) But I know that not only is arguing over what she wears a waste of time and energy that I should be saving for the real issues, but letting her pick her own outfit also boosts her independence and self-confidence.

So let your kids pick out their own outfits sometimes. Even if you're not in a rush to get out the door. And even if you know you're going to get some funny looks because your toddler is walking around in Elmo slippers!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?

Q: My kids refuse to sleep in their beds. How can I get them out of mine?

A: Co-sleeping is a heated topic, and there's no right or wrong - only what's right or wrong for your family. If no one's getting any sleep, if it's causing discord between Mom and Dad, or if for whatever reason you want your kids out of your bed, then it's not working for your family. If that's the case, consistency is the key to getting your kids out of your bed for good.

First of all, tell them in no uncertain terms that sleeping in Mommy and Daddy's bed is not happening anymore. You love them very much. Don't follow this with a "but." The "B" word negates the entire first half of the sentence - any time you use it. Tell your kids they're big boys and girls. They are to sleep in their beds, you will sleep in your bed, and you'll spend lots of time together during daylight hours. Nighttime is not for spending time together - it's for sleeping.

Do they have a fear of something in particular? If so, address it. Do they need a nightlight? Do they need the door left open a crack? Do they need you to yell, "Monsters, monsters, stay away!" into the closet and check under the bed for the boogeyman before you leave? These are all acceptable ways to resolve children's fears. (Don't tell your kids that there's no such thing as monsters. They're not going to believe you, they're just going to think you're not on their side. Instead, come up with a way to keep the monsters away.)

Maybe your kids feel that they're not getting to spend enough quality time with you during the day and are trying to make up for it at night. If this is the case you're going to have to make more time for them. This can just be an extra 15 minutes a day. Fifteen minutes amounts to a few extra stories, a quick arts and crafts project, or a game of catch. It's quality here, not quantity. These few minutes can make a huge difference in your relationship with your kids. I highly recommend finding the time, even if your kids don't have sleep problems or security issues!

Once all underlying issues have been addressed, this is what you need to do:

Let's say your kids go to sleep fine in their own beds, but creep into your bed in the middle of the night.

I know you're tired and it's easier to just scootch over and let them in, but if you ever want this to stop, you need to get up and take them back to their beds. Do this as many times as it takes. It might happen 10 times in one night, but don't give in. If you give in once, they'll learn that all they have to do is keep trying and eventually they'll wear you down. I promise you, if you do it 10 times in one night, the next night (or maybe the night after) it'll only be seven or eight times, and after about a week they won't be coming to your bed anymore. It's just not worth their time and energy if they see it's not going to get them anywhere.

If your kids won't even go to sleep in their own beds and insist on going straight to your room at bedtime, here's what do to:

Put your child to bed in her bed. Sit on the bed with her for a few minutes (quietly - don't get her into another habit like singing her songs or rubbing her back, unless you want to keep doing this every night forever. Which is fine, if you want to do it every night. Just be aware that if you start in with something like this, it will become another routine that your child won't want to let go of). If you pray with your children every night, this is a good time to do it. If your child is the type that falls asleep very quickly, it's fine to sit with her until she falls asleep. If not, choose an amount of time and then say good night and leave the room. Do this every night for a week.

After a week, when you put her to bed, sit on a chair right next to her bed. (Make up an excuse if you have to - your back hurts or there's not enough room for both of you on the bed.) Sit there for a few minutes for several nights to a week. Then move the chair a foot or two away from the bed, towards the door. Sit there for a few nights. Continue moving the chair until it's outside the bedroom door.

You did it! You're free!

P.S. It's perfectly OK to reinforce good nights slept in their own beds with stickers on a sticker chart in the morning if you know this will help motivate your kids!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

How (Not) to Praise Your Kids

This post is dedicated to Ava Josephine Jerrick, who passed away one month ago today. Ava, I know your Mama would be praising the heck out of you if you were here right now.

I hesitate to ever say there's a "right" or wrong" way to parent. But there has been research in the last few years on, of all things, how to praise your children.

One would think that praising your children is good and not praising them is bad. Period.



According to psychologists, when you praise your child, you're supposed to focus on his effort, rather than on his accomplishments. This seems counter-intuitive. After all, if your child scored three goals in the soccer match or got an A on his essay, shouldn't you focus on how well he did?

Apparently, you shouldn't. Instead, focus on how much he practiced and how hard he played, or how much time he spent in the library researching that essay even though you know he'd rather have been doing something else.

Why is this so crucial? For several reasons.

First of all, your child can't always control how well he's going to do something. For example, some kids are just uncoordinated. They're not going to score that many goals in a soccer match, if they score any at all. (Whether uncoordinated children should be playing soccer is another question. Personally, if they enjoy it I think they should go for it. Only if they feel discouraged and out of place should they be encouraged to find an activity that is more suited to their abilities).

If you focus on the quantity of your child's achievements, i.e. number of goals or grade on an essay, you're focusing on his ability or skill level. Granted, sometimes kids can improve by practicing harder or studying more. But sometimes that B or C really is the best they can do. They shouldn't feel bad for doing their best! They should be praised for how hard they tried, not for the outcome.

Secondly, it's hard to believe, but praise for your child's accomplishments can actually have negative effects. If your child sees that what's important to you is how well he does, this can affect not only how hard he tries but also his self-esteem and in fact his entire outlook on how the world works. If he thinks the only thing that matters is skill level - coordination, intelligence, artistic ability, or any other - he might decide there's no point in trying to do something that could be a great experience or a crucial part of his development because he just doesn't believe he has the skills to succeed. For example, if you're always praising him when he gets As on his English homework and he comes home with a C in math, he may well decide "I'm no good at math so I might as well not waste my time. I'll just focus on the subjects I'm good at." This will become a self-fulfilling prophecy: if he doesn't make an effort to study math, he will in fact fail at it, which will only reinforce his attitude. On the other hand, if you praise him when he studies hard, no matter what the end result, he'll get the message that the most important thing is effort. This way he'll continue to work hard and may just get a B or even an A the next time. So in effect, praising him only on his accomplishments may actually end up sabotaging him.

Praising our children for their efforts is crucial not only to our kids' self-esteem but to teaching them that in order to succeed in life they need to try hard and can't give up.

My kids are young, but I have to try to catch myself and not only praise four-year-old Eliana when she draws a picture that actually looks like a person or a rainbow, but also when she draws a picture that I can't recognize (and don't even know which end is up). After all, she spends a long time on her drawings and she is working on valuable skills like patience, concentration, and fine motor development, no matter what she's drawing. The other day she tried to write "Mommy" for the first time. She started with a "W." The first thing I did was say "Wow, Eliana, that's amazing! I can't believe you did that all by yourself." (The second thing I did was teach her the difference between a "W" and an "M.")

But I guess I should have said something like "I'm so proud of you for working on your writing! You're trying really hard," rather than the more specific "You're writing really beautifully." I'm not exactly sure how this whole thing works, but I'm going to try to be more conscious of it in the future.

Praising our kids for their efforts rather than their accomplishments is a really difficult rule to remember. But no one ever said parenting was easy.