“It's not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can't tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.”
Joyce Maynard

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Power of Quitting

As the school year winds down, I am faced with the question, “will my child return to the same school next year?”  I am not entirely sure that my son’s current school is meeting his needs. I fear that the strict and rigid nature of the school may be stifling my son; not allowing him to express himself fully, not allowing him to be truly engaged in learning. 

On one hand, I want to try my best to ensure that my child is attending a school that meets his needs.  On the other hand, I don’t want to simply “quit,” or “give up,” just because the going gets tough.
In our culture, quitting often has negative connotations.  We hear things like, “quitters never win, winners never quit.”  We’re supposed to stick things out, no matter how tough it gets. 
But, according to Peter Gray, Ph.D., author and research professor at Boston College, “the freedom to quit is a foundation for democracy, human rights and equality.”  
The author discusses the relationship between divorce and domestic violence.  Among groups of people who have the legal and economic means to divorce, domestic abuse rates are very low.  A person who has the freedom or power to “quit” or “give up” on their marriage, if they so choose, is less likely to be abused or exploited in the relationship.
The same goes for employment.  When a person is legally and economically free to “quit” their job, they are less likely to be exploited at work.  The author states that, “the legal and economic capacity to quit is the force that tends to equalize the relationship between employer and employee.”
The author discusses the idea that in school, children do not have the power to quit and according to the author this carries with it a multitude of implications for our children and our schools (I won’t go into details, but the author is extremely passionate about this topic, read more on his book, Free to Learn.)
I ask myself, what are the goals I have for my child at school?  That he is happy and content, that he feels valued and respected, that he does not feel unfairly judged, that he is excited and engaged in learning, that he is free to express himself, that he lives in accordance with his values, that he is not micro-managed, that his needs and desires are taken into account, and that his little voice is heard.  

As I continue to carefully weigh the benefits and drawbacks of different schools, I am grateful that I have the power and freedom to quit if I so choose.  
Thank you for reading and happy parenting!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What is the Difference Between Discipline and Punishment?

The family rule states that smoothies are not to be enjoyed in the den. Upon entering the den, I find my son staring at the TV, smoothie spilled all over the couch, my son not even aware of the mess he has made.

As a parent, I feel extremely disappointed. My son "knows better" than to drink his smoothie in the den!

According to Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., a research psychologist, Professor of Psychology and author, there are two ways to react to this situation. One is discipline and the other is punishment. So what is the difference according to the author?

DISCIPLINE: The act of correcting  and guiding a child toward more appropriate behavior.

EXAMPLE OF DISCIPLINE:  I feel disappointed that this smoothie spilled on the couch. Do you remember our rule about no smoothies in the den? Can you tell me why you think this might be a good rule? Do you know why we have rules in our family?  How can we prevent this from happening again? The consequence for breaking this rule is that you will clean up the mess and you will lose 1/2 hour of screen time.

PUNISHMENT: The act of making a child feel guilty, deficient or "bad," troublesome, or just plain dumb. In other words, shaming a child.

EXAMPLE OF PUNISHMENT: Are you serious?  How many times have I told you not to drink smoothies in the den? You are always making such a mess around here, I am so sick of cleaning up after you! Go to your room and think about what you did!

The author suggests that discipline is important and necessary in every stage of a child's life, while punishment, on the other hand, leads to shame.

The author states that, "setting limits and using discussion and consequences can help kids manage impulses on their own, develop a gauge for acceptable behavior, and grow into adults who are cooperative and secure in who they are."

On the other hand, the author states that, "using shaming as a form of behavior modification, while obvious or subtle, is ineffective and even destructive."

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What Can I Learn from a Mama Cat?

My neighbor is fostering a mama cat and her two newborn kittens.  This mama cat was brought to the Humane Society in the the midst of her birth process with one kitten stuck in the birth canal.  She endured an emergency c-section and lost one of her babies.

I first met this mama cat the very next day.  All cuddled up in a cozy box with her two babies, purring.  Her abdomen shaved and c-section scar and stitches visible. Her nipples large and swollen.

This mama cat knew instinctively what to do; how to birth and care for her babies, how to nurse them, how to rest in order to recover from the birth.  And, only two days post-partum, she was content and relaxed and purring continuously.

How did this mama cat know all of this? Do they now have doulas and prenatal classes for cats? Do they have special lactation consultants for cats?  Do they sell cat breast pumps?  

This mama cat made it look so easy.   

As a human, a mammal, birth and caring for a newborn is hardwired into every cell in our being.

How can women connect with these instincts as new moms?

1.  Stay home.  
2.  Maintain a quiet, calm and cozy home environment. 
3.  Limit visitors and turn off the TV.
4.  Rest, rest, and rest.  
5.  Keep baby very close, skin to skin.
6.  Try to "turn off" the mental chatter in the brain. 
7.  Breathe.
8.  Trust in your natural instincts as a woman and mother.

“In the sheltered simplicity of the first days after a baby is born, one sees again the magical closed circle, the miraculous sense of two people existing only for each other, the tranquil sky reflected on the face of the mother nursing her child.”
—–Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift of the Sea

Thanks for reading and happy parenting.

Friday, February 1, 2013

I Was Wrong

My son attends a Chinese immersion school. We have had a rough 2nd grade. The message from his teacher this fall and winter has been that he writes his characters too sloppily, he doesn’t try hard enough and he does his work too quickly.
homework pre and post christmas break

I was distraught by this negative feedback of my “perfect” only child. In my eyes, my son WAS trying his best, he just “couldn’t” write the characters very neatly, he “couldn’t” do his homework any more accurately or carefully. In my mind, I had decided, that this was just the way he was, and by golly, I loved him just the same. After all, we are all different, we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, right? I was resigned to the fact that my little boy was doing his very best and his very best was fine by me.

I was wrong.

Against my best judgement, his teacher kept pushing him. Day after day, she corrected every assignment he did, she made him erase and re-write his errors until they were perfect. She kept him in for recess. Finally, after Christmas break, something changed. He started completing his work more slowly and carefully (at least most of the time). He began to take pride in his assignments and his accomplishments. I was recently very surprised to overhear him in a conversation with a neighbor, speaking so fondly and lovingly of his “super strict” teacher.

My son’s teacher believed in him more than I did! She knew he could do better, and she held him up to very high expectations.

Maybe my touch feely, lovey dubby, you are perfect just the way you are attitude isn’t all its cracked up to be. In fact, maybe sometimes it is the easy way out. I know this isn’t all black and white, but it gives me a lot to think about.

Thank you Huang Laoshi for believing in my son and teaching me a very important lesson.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Sunday, September 23, 2012

"Mom, kids at school are teasing me!"

My son recently came home from school and told me that the kids in reading class were teasing him because he was the lowest reader at the table.

Instantly, my head filled questions; "What? How?  Did the teacher know?  What did the teacher do?  Who were these kids?  Should I call the principal? Did you cry?"

In her article, I Had No One to Play With At Recess, Carrie Goldman, author and blogger, discusses some strategies in dealing with these heart wrenching and painful social situations.

According to the author, asking prying questions, like the ones that instantly came to me, makes the child feel like there is something wrong with him or her.  It is better instead, to focus the conversation on ways to make the situation better.

Here is an example.

"Oh, I am sorry to hear that.  What did you do when the kids were teasing you?"

"I just ignored them."

"Sometimes that is a good way to handle this kind of situation.  Sometimes if the kids don't get a reaction they will stop."

"Yeah, they stopped.  And, my friend Justin stood up for me."

"Good.  You must have felt really happy to have your good friend Justin at your table!  What was your favorite part of reading class?"

"We played word bingo in our small group and it was really fun!"

According to the author, "it is much better to ask questions that allow the child to tell a story of strength and solutions rather than lead the child to tell a story of victimization."  

As parents, we tend to over react and feel the need to "get to the bottom" of a situation or "fix" a situation.  Often times, all we need to do is take a deep breath and focus on the positive.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting! 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Facing Adversity; Back to School

Copyright Reflective Rearing
My son recently started 2nd grade.  It was, and still is, a difficult transition.  We have endured tears, low confidence, and anxiety.  As a parent, we never want to see our children hurting or experiencing difficult times. However, I believe there is good that can come from working through difficult times with our children.  It is important for children to experience some adversity when they are young, so we can teach them and guide them through the process of "getting through it," and help them to develop a sense of resiliency.

Just the other morning, my son said to me, "Mom, this is a really tough time in my life right now."  I said to him, "Yes, you are exactly right, in our lives, there are good times and bad, you are going through a bad time right now, but it will get better, and we are working on making it better."

Our children need to know that it is OK to feel down and sad.  Feelings, both good and bad, are part of life.  We need to encourage our children to express their feelings and accept and embrace the ups and downs of life.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Do Newborns Have Feelings?

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
According to Dr. Paul Holinger, author of What Babies Say Before They Can Talk: The Nine Signals Infants Use To Express Their Feelings, "We used to think infants were passive blobs, just eating, sleeping, and pooping as they grew up. We could not have been more wrong."

Current research shows that babies are able to relate to their caregivers and surroundings immediately after birth. Babies are programmed for social interaction.

The author discusses how infants express their feelings, "through facial expressions, bodily movements, and vocalizations. Babies can express these built-in feelings from day one: interest, enjoyment, surprise, distress, anger, fear and shame. They can clearly communicate with their caregivers and the rest of the environment very early on."

According to the author, babies also have a rather mature visual-motor system. They use their eyes and gaze as a way to relate. Babies can look directly into the eyes of the caregivers or they can shut their eyes or avert their gaze. In this way, they can either welcome contact with caregivers, by making direct eye contact, or they can reject contact, by not making eye contact.

Infants are social beings from the moment they are born. They are sensitive and have feelings.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!

Monday, June 4, 2012

My Kid Swears

Yesterday, I told my son that he had to clean his room before he could go outside to play.  He responded by saying, "bull shit," and with just the right inflection and a little smirk and twinkle in his eye.

My son is very interested in swear words.  He tries to use them in context, and sometimes he does so quite well!  As parents, what should we know about dealing with our children and swearing?

1.  Swear words are a way for some people to express emotions.  It is better to discuss the idea of appropriate vs. inappropriate use of words, rather than good vs. bad words.  We need to discuss with our children when it may be appropriate to use an offensive word and when it may not be appropriate.

2.  Not everyone's on the same page about what constitutes offensive language.  The boundaries of what's acceptable vary from community to community and family to family.  It is important for children to understand this and learn to be sensitive to these differences.

3.  When an offensive word is directed towards another person this is a serious aggressive behavior and must be addressed.

4.  As parents, we shouldn't feel the need to control the words children choose to use with their friends.  For many children, part of growing up is experimenting with swear words.

Children need to learn how to adjust their behavior to specific situations. This is a learned skill and takes practice.  Just as adults act and speak differently when they are with friends compared to when they are at work, children also need to learn and practice how to adjust their behavior. We can help and guide our children as they understand how to do this.  And, they will make mistakes, but these mistakes can be good learning opportunities. Simply telling a child, "you can't say bad words," is not always the best way to deal with swear words.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Child is Stressed Out!

As parents we can't protect our kids from stress, but we can help them develop healthy ways to cope with stress.  Here are some ideas on how how help when a child is feeling stressed out.

1. Notice out loud.  Tell the child when you notice that something's bothering him or her. "It seems like you're still angry about what happened today."  This shouldn't sound like an accusation or put the child on the spot, it is just a casual observation, letting the child know that you are interested in hearing more about the child's feelings.

2. Listen.  Ask the child to tell you what they are feeling.  Listen attentively and calmly - with interest, patience and openness.  Avoid the urged to judge, blame, lecture, or say what you think your child should have done.  It is important to let your child's feelings and concerns be heard.  Ask questions to try to get the whole story.

3. Comment briefly on the feelings you think the child was experiencing. For example, you might say, "that must have been really upsetting," or "that must have seemed really unfair to you."  Doing this shows that you understand what your child felt and that you care.  When we help a child to label feelings, the child develops the tools to communicate and develop emotional awareness.

4. Ensure child that is is OK and normal to feel this way. Humans experience a wide array of emotions and this is part of being alive.  Letting emotions out and talking about feelings is what helps us feel better.

5. Move on.  Sometimes just talking, being heard and feeling understood is all that is needed to help a child's stress melt away.  Don't give the problem more attention than it deserves.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!

Friday, June 1, 2012

When Did My Baby Grow Up?

Today I attended my son's academic performance, the culmination of the First grade. As I watched him sing and dance, I couldn't help but get emotional. The time goes by much too fast.

Copyright Reflective Rearing
When Did My Baby Grow Up?
Anne DeNucci-Lushine

I watch you with your friends, laughing, playing,
You hardly need me anymore.
I remember when I first learned you were growing inside me,
So young, so new, so much to learn and experience, so very, very happy.
You came into my life as a part of me,
Now, you are your own.
Changing, growing,
I miss you as my baby,
So proud of the young man you are becoming,
I love you as my son...forever and ever.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Instilling Fear and Phobia in Our Children

In his Article, Don't Call Me When You Get There! An argument against a common practice among family members, Fredric Neuman, M.D., Director of an Anxiety and Phobia Treatment Center, discusses the idea of phobias being passed down from one generation to the next.  According to the author, most phobias and fears come in some way from over-protective parents.  It is important that we allow our children to experience the world in a way which will not make them afraid of choking when eating too fast, or getting overheated, or swimming after eating a snack, or getting kidnapped out of the bedroom window, or any of a thousand other exaggerated and pointless concerns.


The author discusses the common practice of parents who tell their children to "call me as soon as you get there."  According to the author, the young person construes this remark in the following way: my parent is worried that I may die and needs to be reassured that I am still alive.  For children, especially those who are inclined to worry, this can cause fear and anxiety. 

According to the author, when we send our children off, it is better to say, "Have a great time!  And, when you get a chance, give me a call to tell me how things are going."

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Friday, May 25, 2012

Reclaim Your Weekend

What do you have scheduled for this weekend?  Social obligations, birthday parties, work, kids' activities?  Does it feel like the weekend is anything but restful family time?  I suggest that as families, we...... 

Given our busy schedules, the weekend is often the only time we have to spend together as a family.  This is extremely precious time.  How can we make the most of weekend family time?

1.  Schedule family nap time, or at least quiet time in bed, for one hour each weekend day.

2.  Attend no more than one event per weekend day.  Don't feel obligated or guilted into attending everything.  Simply say, "sorry, we can't make it."  Honor the importance of family time.

3.  Be very selective about social obligations.  Only commit to the most important.

4.  Cut down or cut out kids' weekend activities.

5.  Set aside unscheduled family time to just "hang out at home," and enjoy one another's company.  We are in the habit of always "doing" it is important to have time for simply "being."

Wishing you all relaxing, restful and peaceful family time this weekend.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Fostering Spirituality in Children

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net
According to Robert Coles (1990), "A child's spirituality emerges from their desire to know, not just what but why." His research suggests that by the age of five, children pose questions about the meaning of life and formulate theories. Regardless of a their ability, experience or culture, a child will wonder about philosophical and theological questions. "It is spirituality that affirms a child's humanity. Parents have a duty to foster a child's spiritual wondering."

Kieran Egan, a champion on the development of the imagination, has outlined five components that promote the development of spirituality.

1. Encourage children to question their conventional beliefs about the world and experience.

2. Introduce children to the various ways people have struggled to make vivid a range of intense human experience.

3. Introduce children to scholarly virtues; such as precision, caution, careful and intense observation, and delight in discovery.

4. Encourage children to feel the pleasure of self-sacrifice for the good of others.

5. Engage children in discovering the past and how it shaped the present.

As parents we must take time to listen to and engage in conversations with our children about these big ideas that are important to them. We need to foster a sense of connection and compassion with other human beings and with the Earth. We have a great opportunity to help our children develop a sense of spirituality and compassion, which will make our world a better and more peaceful place.

Speaking at an interfaith vigil in 2004, Paul Casey stated:

"We've got to hold on to and encourage each other with the moral imagination, that capacity which lets us listen to and sympathize with those who are suffering, lets us live with their reality, not to appropriate their lives for our own, but to know others as like us, to see in them our siblings, children and spouses. The moral imagination teaches us to grant other human beings their humanity, and to act from that knowledge."

Children's spirituality: an essential element in thinking and learning in new times  This book chapter is published as Vialle, W, Walton, R and Woodcock, S, Children's spiriruality: grappling with student ethics in postgraduate workbased degrees, in Kell, P, Vialle, W, Konza, D and Vogl, G (eds), Learning and the learner: exploring learning for new times, University of Wollongong, 2008, 236p.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Marriage Equality Important for Children

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Abbie Goldberg, Ph. D., an associate professor in the department of psychology at Clark University, discusses how marriage inequality affects children of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) parents, in her article, Marriage Matters, Say Kids of Gay Parents.

Dr. Goldberg has found in her research, that young adults with LGB parents believe that their lives would have been quite different had their parents been allowed to marry. "They felt that marriage equality would push others - teachers, peers, etc. - to recognize their parents' relationship as real, and possibly, eventually decrease the stigma to which the children were exposed."

One young man with same-sex parents shared this with the author, "The cultural, legal status of same-sex couples impacts the family narratives of same-sex families - how others treat us, and see us, and also how we see ourselves in relation to the larger culture, whether we see ourselves as accepted or outsiders."

According to the author, "Regardless of what we as individual members of US society think about marriage in general, the current reality is that denying same-sex couples the right to marry places undue stress on families and children."

I am deeply saddened that as a society we deny some children the right to have married parents; especially when this decision is made in the name of "family values" and/or christianity.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Monday, May 21, 2012

Happy Marriages Make Happy Children

Using Your Marriage to Create Healthy Kids
According to Havrille Hendrix, Ph.D., in his article, Good Marriages Make Happy Children, The best way to raise a healthy family is by raising a healthy marriage.

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Steps to using a marriage to create healthy children.

 Prioritize your relationship with your partner. 
This will provide your children with a secure environment and a healthy model of marriage.

 Express praise, affection, and appreciation for each other in the presence of your children.
They will experience the benefits of a warm environment and learn relationship skills.

Comfort each other in times of stress, and let your children witness these acts of loving solace.
Let them comfort you also.

 Give each other gifts that you have chosen with care. 
Take the children with you to pick them out. Also accept gifts from your children. They will learn to give and receive.

 Show your full range of feelings, and let your children see how you work them out.
Exhibit pleasure and excitement; have fun with each other; belly laugh together. Be angry with each other, work through the anger, and return to a bonded state. Your children will learn that all feelings are OK-that anger, especially, can be handled constructively.

 While talking together, particularly in times of conflict, take turns reflecting back to each other what you hear. Do the same with your children. They will learn good communication skills.

Solve problems with each other, and let your kids in on the process. 
They will learn the art of problem solving and the notion that problems can be solved.

 Talk to each other about social values and political views, and engage your children in the conversation.

 Do not do anything with or to each other that you do not want your children to learn.
They will model your behavior in the future.

 Remember, your marriage is a conduit to future generations.

Copyright Harville Hendrix, 1993.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mothers - Unfairly Condemned and Judged

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net
We, as a society, are very quick to judge and condemn mothers.

First we condemn mothers whom we perceive to put their own needs above their children's needs; the mom who works outside of the home and attends social outings while her children are in daycare.

Then, at the same time, we condemn mothers whom we perceive to put their children's needs above their own needs; the mom who doesn't work outside of the home, who breastfeeds her toddlers and shares her bed with her children.

How is a mother to win?  She is dammed if she does, dammed if she doesn't.

It is sad, and sexist and downright infuriating how mothers, and all women for that matter, are unfairly judged in our society.  Maybe we, as a society, should just mind our own business and let each woman do what is right for her and her children and her family.

OK - so can you tell I am somewhat fired-up about this topic?  And, yes this post is in response to the Time Magazine cover article, "Are You Mom Enough?"

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Monday, May 14, 2012

My Baby is Not on a Schedule

Sleeping all day and awake and nursing all night, then up all day and sleeping all night; spitting up all day, then not spitting up anymore; big burps and tummy aches one day, no tummy aches the next; nursing every half hour one day, nursing every 3 hours the next day...what is going on?

Copyright Reflective Rearing
My nephew Lou Lawrence.
This is the life of a newborn.  There is no routine, no pattern to speak of.  Our babies are growing so rapidly, millions of neurons are being formed in their little brains and they are gaining about one ounce of weight per day.  Their bones, ligaments and organs are stretching and growing by the hour.  They are continually having growth spurts.

For the first 3 months or so with a baby, the routine is NO ROUTINE!  Each day is different.  Trying to figure out why your baby is doing something is often times counter productive...by tomorrow it will be different again.  The best advice is to take it day by day, moment by moment (which is easier said than done!). Nurse when hungry, hold when fussy, change diaper when needed, put in bassinet when sleeping.

These first months are very intense.  Babies need 24 hour-a-day care.  Seek out support, ask for help and try to get lots of rest.  It will get much easier.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Will I Have a Good Adult Relationship with My Child?

Copyright Reflective Rearing
Rock climbing my my Dad and my Son.
I can tell you everything my son ate yesterday, his bowel movement schedule, when he last trimmed his toenails and when he last changed his underwear (I know...laundry is not my forte).  Our lives are so intertwined and often times it feels like it will be like this forever, but it won't.

Someday I will have an adult relationship with my son. He will have his own life and we will "visit one another," hopefully more often than not!

What is the best way to ensure a close and healthy adult relationship with our children? Model a close and healthy adult relationship with our parents. Children learn from watching us.  They learn what an adult relationship with parents looks like and what will be expected of them.

Suggestions for having a healthy adult relationship with parents:

1.  Acknowledge that you are different from your parents and that it is OK.
2.  Stop trying to win approval from your parents.
3.  Accept that your parents aren't perfect and neither are you.
4.  Acknowledge what was troublesome about your childhood, accept it and move on.
5.  Realize that your parents are a product of their own life experiences.
6.  Know that you are entitled to your own choices, opinions, decisions and even mistakes.
7.  Don't try to change your parents.
8.  Do what you can to create better interactions with your parents.
9.  Develop and enjoy interests and activities you can partake in with your parents.
10.  Always remain in contact.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Friday, May 11, 2012

Mother's Day When You're Not a Mother

According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, there are 2.1 million women in the United States who want children but are unable to have biological children due to issues with infertility.  There are other women, who for one reason or another, motherhood has not been an option nor a realization.  For many women, mother's day is a harsh reminder that the dream of motherhood has not come true.

Image: creativedoxfoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Melanie Notkin is the author of Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids.  The author describes how being a mother and being maternal are not always the same thing.  When a woman spends time with nieces or nephews or other special children in her life, she does so out of generosity of spirit, devotion and maternal love.

It is my hope that on this Mother's Day, all the maternal women, who are special in the lives of children are remembered and recognized.

Happy Mother's Day to ALL the maternal women, regardless of whether you are a mother or not.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Long Days and Short Years of Parenting

Melt down at dinner, child yelling and crabby, milk spilled and trickling off the table, neither homework nor bath near completion, it's getting late... I glance over at my husband...we give each other a warm smile...these are the days. There will come a day, sooner than later, when these crazy family evenings will be only a distant memory.

Now I know that it is not easy, in fact it is sometimes nearly impossible, to enjoy moments like these, but Dr Harley A Rotbart, in his book No Regrets Parenting: Turning Long Days and Short Years into Cherished Moments with Your Kids, gives us some perspective and strategies for doing just this.

Copyright Reflective Rearing

According to Dr. Rotbart, between the day your child is born and the day he or she turns 18, you get 940 Saturdays, and 260 of them are gone by your child's 5th birthday.  He suggests that it isn't so much about how much time we have with our children, but rather how we spend the time that we do have that matters. 

The author tells us that there are opportunities for intimate and meaningful time with kids amidst the daily grind and chores of parenting.  Car pool, bath time, homework, dinner hour, soccer practice, getting dressed in the morning; these are all more than just obligations and hurdles to overcome to get through the day. These are opportunities for intimate and meaningful time - quality time - with our children.  When we can step back and see the humor in family life, when we can see these "jobs" as opportunities for quality time with our children, we can experience the joy and depth of parenting.  

The author aspires to help parents get to the major milestones in their kids' lives without regret, by "turning the long days and the short years into cherished moments with your kids."

"Peace - It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.  It means to be in the midst of these things and still be calm in your heart."

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How Much Sleep do Children Need?

Why is sleep so important for children?  Dr. Dennis Rosen, a pediatric sleep specialist who practices at the Children's Hospital in Boston discusses the following reasons in his article, Sleeping Angles, How children's Sleep affects their health and well being.
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1.  Sleep is restorative for the brain.

2.  Too little sleep can lead to weight gain by altering the levels of hormones that regulate satiety and hunger, leading to overeating and obesity.

3.  Growth hormones are secreted during slow wave sleep.  Children need sleep to grow.

4.  Not enough sleep is associated with a higher incidence of behavioral problems, especially ADHD.

5.  During REM sleep, "unlearning" takes place.  "Unlearning" is the process by which our brain removes superfluous memories, memories that we don't need, and strengthens the important information.

In fact, pediatricians consider getting enough sleep to be just as important as healthy nutrition for the growth and development of children.

How much sleep do children need?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following guidelines for number of hours of sleep in a 24 hour period.

Between Birth-Six Months, children need 16-20 hours
Between Six-Twelve Months, children need 14-15 hours
Between Ages 1-3, children need 10-13 hours
Between Ages 3-10, children need 10-12 hours
Between Ages 11-12, children need about 10 hours
Teenagers need about 9 hours of sleep per night

As parents it can be very difficult to adhere to an early bedtime, especially during the long days of summer. However, the benefits of sleep for our children are so great, that it is probably well worth it to head home early so that our little ones can be all tucked in their beds before the sun goes down.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Monday, May 7, 2012

The Importance of Doing Nothing

It is springtime in Minneapolis and my son's favorite warm-weather activity is in full swing...making rivers and dams in the backyard with the hose.  He and the neighborhood kids are covered in mud, discussing and analyzing the best techniques and strategies for damming the "river", water from the hose can be found trickling blocks away.  I treasure these moments, when my son can just simply play; without a screen, without structure and without the involvement of a parent.

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According to Dr. Hirsh-Pasek, a professor at Temple University, "There is a myth that doing nothing is wasting time, when it's actually extremely productive and essential.

During empty hours, kids explore the world at their own pace, develop their own unique set of interests and indulge in the sort of play that will help them figure out how to create their own happiness, handle problems with others on their own, and sensibly manage their own time.  These are critical life skills."

Free time allows children the opportunity to explore, to be scientists and discoverers, to create, and to be innovative.  Giving kids free time and just letting them hang out is not as easy as it sounds.  Both children and parents need to practice the art of doing nothing.  So un-plan and un-structure this summer.  Make "doing nothing" a priority.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Thursday, May 3, 2012

I get to go to work!

I am often reminded of a very important lesson I have learned from the newly arrived immigrant populations with whom I work.

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I notice that when people in this group talk about their "job" or their "work" they will say, for example, "I get to go to work at 3:00." In comparison, many of the Minnesotan born people are in the habit of saying, "I have to go to work at 3:00."

For many recently arrived immigrants, having a job is a privilege and something for which to be extremely grateful.  Many people have left family, friends, even children and husbands and wives to come to Minnesota in search of a job, a way to support themselves and their families.

When my partner and I talk to our son on a Sunday evening, we are in the habit of saying, "I get to go to work tomorrow and you get to go to school tomorrow."  I think this is a good message to send to our children and will help our children to have a compassionate world view.  We are lucky to live in a country where we have the opportunity to have a job and to send our children to school.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How to Handle Hurt Feelings

This afternoon my son walked in the door and broke into tears.  There had been an incident at school where he felt that other kids were laughing at him and his feelings had been hurt.  This was a big deal and he was distraught.

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How do we handle an issue like this?

1.  Don't over-react - The first question I  asked my son upon walking in the door, "Are your feelings hurt or is your body hurt?"  When he responded that it was his feelings, I knew I could take it slow... there wasn't a gaping head wound that I had to deal with.

2.  Calmly and slowly ask your child to tell you what they are feeling.

3.  LISTEN!!!  It is not necessary to fix problems at this time, children need nothing more than a non-jugemental listening ear.

4.  Assure your child that it is normal and OK to have strong feelings. Let you child know that having feelings is part of life and it is these experiences help us learn and grow.  I told my son how difficult it is to navigate and manage all the social interactions at school.

The message here is to address your child's feelings rather than the incident. There will always be incidents and issues in our lives, it is how we deal with our feelings that is important.  We can help our children learn how to express emotions, how to feel and then how to let go and feel better.  Hugs and cuddles are always in order too.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Kids Need More TIme to Play

Studies show that today's children have far less time to play than kids of 50 years ago, and it may impact their mental health and development. Television, video games, hyper-viligant parents and over scheduling are to blame.

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Author Hara Estroff Marano, in her book, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, discusses the phenomenon of excessive parental involvement and its consequences for a new generation.  According to the author, "over protective parents may create so-called "wimps", who are unable to cope with the ups and downs of life because they have no experience doing so."

When children are allowed to play with other children, without the hyper-vigilance of an adult, they learn how to negotiate rules, play fair, make decisions, solve problems and gain self-control.  They learn these skills through trial and error.

Not allowing our children the freedom to play may be stunting their development.

It is OK if children don't get along, or don't share well, or argue with one another.  However tempting it may be to intervene, it is often times better to ignore.  We need to give children the freedom to navigate the world of social interaction and this is how they learn!

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!
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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Being Sensitive to All Families on Mother's Day

In his article, Move Over Hallmark, Dr. Aaron Cooper, a clinical psychologist with The Family Institute at Northwestern University, reminds us of the importance of being sensitive to all families, especially with Mother's Day around the corner.
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In many schools, in the coming weeks, the traditional Mother's Day ritual will take place...

"We're going to make something today that you can bring home to your mother for Mother's Day."

But, what about the children who don't have a mom? Or have two moms at home? Or have two dads? Or one mom in one home and one in another?

In these situations, "it's easy for children to feel separate and apart —a kind of invisibility — in moments like this, deviants in the social world to which they are highly attuned."

The author suggests that, with Mother's Day approaching, parents consider sending a note to the classroom teacher, asking him or her to broaden the instruction and let the kids express appreciation for whomever it is that gives them special love and care.

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

When Can I Leave My Child Home Alone?

Summer is around the corner and many parents have questions as to when they can safely leave their children home alone for a period of time.

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Most states do not have a law that states what exact age a child must be before he or she may be left home alone or left under the care of another child.  However, according to the Dakota County Child Protection Services in the state of Minnesota, there are general laws that require the adequate and appropriate supervision of children.

Dakota County guidelines for leaving children home alone.

Children ages 7 and under should not be left home alone for any period of time.
Children ages 8-9 may not be left alone for more than 2 hours.
Children ages 10-13 may not be left alone for more 12 hours.
Children ages 14-17 may not be left alone for more than 24 hours.

Dakota County guidelines for older children providing supervision to younger children.

Children ages 11-14 may baby-sit for less than 12 hours.
Children ages 15 and older may baby-sit for up to 24 hours.

Dakota County encourages parents to avoid situations in  violation of the guidelines and to use common sense in all situations. It is also important to consider the following in making safe decisions regarding a child's readiness to be alone...

1. The maturity level of the children
2. The accessibility of the parent, guardian, caretaker or responsible adult by phone or in person
3. The physical or mental health condition of the children
4. The behavioral history of the children
5. Whether a young child is using a stove, iron or appliance which poses a danger because of their age
6. Whether the parents have discussed an escape plan or held a fire drill with the children
7. Whether the residence has a smoke detector
8. Whether there are unusual hazards in the home
9. The children's reaction to being left alone
10. The ages of the children being cared for
11. Whether the child has completed a Baby-sitting Clinic

12. The reliability of the person that the parent has chosen to provide supervision.

Thanks for reading and Happy Parenting!
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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Children Need to Thrive Emotionally

Dr. Janea B. Weinhold of the Carolina Institute for Conflict Resolution and Creative Leadership discusses the emotional health of children in her article, Time-In vs. Time-Out.  According to the author, there are specific things that children need present in their daily environments to thrive emotionally.
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Children need the following to thrive emotionally.

1.  The absolute minimum in the number of caregivers during the first three years of their lives. The more caregivers and the more rapid the turnover between caregivers, the more difficulty children have in developing positive mental heath.

2.  The adults in a child's environment should be supportive, psychologically stable and emotionally stable.  Adults must be able to "disengage" when they feel their own "buttons are being pushed."

3.  Rules in a child's environment should be kept to a minimum and reinforced consistently.

4.  Discipline should be designed to help children develop internal controls.  The author suggests that a "time-in" is more effective than a "time-out."  The "time-in" allows for parent to connect with their child, help the child calm down, and help the child learn how to fix the problem.  A "time-out" isolates the child more, shames the child and blames the child.  The author has published a Time-In Guide, which discusses in detail the techniques of this type of discipline.

5.  Children need a maximum amount of physical contact in order to help them regulate their emotional states.  Touch and skin-to-skin contact are critical forms of communication and an important part of social interactions.

Thanks for reading and Happy Parenting!
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Monday, April 23, 2012

What do Human Babies Need?

In her article, Babies Are Needy - Does That Bug You?, Dr. Darcia Narvaez, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame, discusses the 24 hour care that babies need.

According to the author, humans are born 18 months earlier compared to other mammals.  If you consider a newborn cow or dog, they can walk when they are born.  If they are hungry, they can walk over to their mom and nurse!  Human babies are extremely immature when they are born and need constant care.

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The author discusses some of the special needs of human babies.

1.  Fetuses are sensitive to their mother's moods and experiences when they are in utero.  Mom's stress during pregnancy can have longterm personality and health effects on baby after birth.  Moms need support and relaxation during pregnancy.

2.  Babies need to eat frequently and they need to be nursed whenever they are hungry.  Their stomachs are very small and their brains and bodies are growing rapidly.  Studies show that limiting baby's feedings can undermine brain and body development.

3.  Babies need constant compassionate, responsive care; constant physical companionship and interpersonal communication in order to grow optimally.  Studies have shown that when babies are isolated, their brain development, health and intelligence will suffer.

4.  Babies need to be immersed in everyday life.  Babies need to be part of the family life.  Babies need to be carried and held.

The author discusses the idea that many adults are handicapped by the childrearing culture of their own childhoods.  We have been taught that it is "normal" and the "right thing to do" to neglect babies.  We don't have much empathy for babies because when we were young there was little empathy for us.

The author suggests that we should, "get off the crazy-go-round and do what's really important: taking care of the children properly so that they develop pleasant personalities, high intelligence and good health.  Then they would have the capacities to be better citizens and community members than we adults are today, and have a better chance of leading us through the challenges humanity faces."

Thanks for reading and happy parenting!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

When Will I Stop Worrying?

There are two questions that are always asked in the prenatal classes that I teach.

1.  When will my life be normal again?
2.  When will I stop worrying about my baby?

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And the answers are...drum roll please...NEVER!

Even though our lives will never be "normal" like they were before baby, eventually we will experience the "new normal."  Life will once again take on a pattern and a rhythm.  It may take some time before we feel this "new normal" emerge, before we embrace our new role as a parent.  For some families it can take up to one year or longer.

As parents we never stop worrying about our children.  During pregnancy we worry about our baby's growth and wellbeing.  We worry about our children as babies, as kids, as teenagers.  Even when our children become adults, we still worry about them.  Being a parent opens us to the possibility of the most heart wrenching pain known to mankind, the loss of a child.  As parents we need to find a sense of balance regarding this fear and worry surrounding our children.

Parenting is the toughest and most important job there is.
Happy parenting and thanks for reading.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Big Emotions and Birth

My nephew was born yesterday.  As I was driving to the hospital to meet him this morning, I welled up with emotions and started crying.

I was thinking of so many things; my grandma, who died, who isn't here to celebrate with us, but who is with us in spirit; this little human being who is just beginning his journey on this Earth, praying that he will experience much joy and little pain; I started contemplating my own mortality and the mortality of my loved ones, and this precious and fragile gift of life; some of my old wounds opened up regarding miscarriage and infertility as I thought of the babies who were never born.

Birth is a momentous event which allows us to step away from the daily grind of life and take in the miracle of life.

Welcome to the world my sweet baby Lou.  I love you more than you could know.

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Moms Shouldn't Feel Guilty About Not Breastfeeding

Melissa Bartick is a physician and co-author of the American Academy of Pediatrics publication, The Burden of Suboptimal Breastfeeding in the United States: A Pediatric Cost Analysis.  This publication reveled that if 90% of US families could comply with medical recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, the United States would save $13 billion per year in medical costs and prevent nearly 1000 infant deaths per year.  

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In her article, Peaceful Revolution: Motherhood and the $13 Billion Guilt, Dr. Bartick discuss the idea of guilt and breastfeeding.  She recalls that after the study was published, many people commented that this research, "just makes moms feel guilty if they couldn't breastfeed."

The author goes on to discusses the reasons why so many moms "can't" breastfeed.  She places the blame on the hospitals, physicians, insurance companies, society in general, and our country's lack of social support for new moms.

Many hospitals do not incorporate best practices for supporting breastfeeding. Many physicians lack knowledge of breastfeeding and how to support breastfeeding moms.  Many insurance companies do not cover breast pumps and visits to the lactation consultant.  Our society tends to place so much blame on women, while at the same time not affording them the necessary support and resources.  Our country does not mandate paid maternity leave - if fact we are the only developed country without paid maternity leave.  No wonder the breastfeeding rates are so low in our country!

Moms should NOT feel guilty about not breastfeeding, in contrast, our country as a whole should feel guilty for NOT giving moms the support and resources they need to be able to breastfeed!

The author suggests that we should all advocate for new moms.  We can write a letter to our local hospital encouraging them to become a Baby Friendly Hospital, (this means the hospital is certified by the Baby Friendly Organization and has implemented all the best practices to support new moms with breastfeeding).  We can insist that our pediatric clinics have full time staff lactation consultants available.  We can contact our US representatives and senators and tell them to support laws that support moms and breastfeeding; requiring insurance companies to reimburse for lactation care and services, tax credits for onsite childcare, paid maternity leave, etc.

Breastfeeding is important for our children and our country as a whole. Let's make it a priority to support breastfeeding moms.

Thanks for reading and Happy Parenting!
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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why We Need to Talk About Race with Our Children

A recent article entitled, The Danger of Not Talking to Your Children About Race, published in the New York Times, written by KJ Dell'Antonia, discusses some important issues regarding race and children.

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According to the author, many white parents are uncomfortable talking with their children directly about race.  Maybe we hope that "not mentioning" race will show our children that race "doesn't matter."

Many white parents believe that children are socially color blind. Research shows, however, that children are aware of race at a very early age.  Children whose parents directly address race are less likely to make assumptions based on skin color.  

Ideas on how to talk about race with children.

1.  Let children know that people have a variety of skin colors, and it is OK to notice this.
2.  Each person is unique and has unique physical characteristics as well as personality characteristics.
3.  We can't know what a person is like until we get to know them.
4.  People whose ancestors are from countries close to the equator have more melatonin in their skin to protect them from the sun, which gives their skin a darker color.
5.  Many people in the United States have ancestors from other parts of the world.
6.  Getting to know people who are different from us will help us to learn about the world and become a better person.

It is also important to give children a vocabulary for talking about race...
Race, racism, stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, ethnicity, bi-racial, interracial marriage, African-American, Native-American, European-American, Asian-American, etc.

Discussing race with our children will help them to understand that it is normal and OK to notice racial differences in people; while at the same time teaching them that race does not tell us what a person is like inside.  We have to get to know a person to find out about their personality.

Thanks for reading and Happy Parenting!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Parents Relationship Key to Kids' Mental Health

Research by Notre Dame psychologist E. Mark Cummings, PhD, and colleagues, suggest that the key to kids' mental health and social adjustment is feeling secure about their parents' relationship with each other.

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The researchers found that when parents have conflict, especially unresolved conflict, children respond with depression, anxiety, and behavior problems. Children in high-conflict homes were also shown to have more sleep issues. The research found that children of all ages were negatively affected, from the very young to teens.

According to the researchers, the following features of a parent conflict are most hurtful to kids;

Personal insults
Verbal hostility
Nonverbal expressions of hostility
Silent treatment 
Lack of cooperation and lack of openness
Physical agression

The researchers suggest that if children witness a fight or conflict, it is very important that they see their parents resolve the conflict and compromise.

Being a good parent is not only about the quality of the relationship we have with our children, it is about the quality of the relationship we have with our partner!

"The development of a good marriage is not a natural 
process.  It is an achievement."

Thanks for reading and Happy Parenting!

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