Let's Talk About The Slump

To any mother out there who has in the past or is experiencing the slump – or any mental health challenges for that matter – let’s talk about it.

Across the globe, we are finally starting to talk about mental health, discussing the many challenges, triggers, and internal conflicts that can affect anyone at any time. I’m not in a position to discuss the politics surrounding mental health funding or, indeed, to discuss anything on a clinical level.

However, I am someone who has relied on mental health services and I’m lucky to say that I’ve received enough support to keep me sailing through life on board a relatively happy ship. That being said, all sailors experience rough waters and we all know it can be a struggle to stay afloat. It’s an ongoing challenge and can often lead to something I want to talk about, something I call “The Slump.”

On paper my life is damn good. I’m not going to reel off the checklist of positives, that’s not what this is about. Like many of you reading this, I acknowledge that I’m privileged in life: I have money to pay bills, I can afford food and a roof over my head, and I’m blessed to have my beautiful children. That’s more than a lot of people in this world. So why do I sometimes feel so blue?

Firstly, I find it strange that knowing your fortunate in life can make you feel guilty for experiencing a slump. It seems that the pressure to appreciate life and be thankful for opportunities can make us feel as though our issues are worthless and that we are self-absorbed.

When you compare my problems to the relentless violence and famine faced by millions every day, they do seem utterly minuscule. However, like everyone in this world, I only experience life through my own filter and can only process, understand, and relate to what I’m exposed to. Everything in my world is my own reality, just like your world is your reality.

Like many mothers, the majority of my thoughts are consumed by day-to-day life admin: ensuring the children are clean, fed, and safe. It’s repetitive, and that in itself brings new challenges and demands within the family. For some the daily pressures within the family unit are enough to trigger the onset of a slump, for others it can be external factors infiltrating the family that initiates a low mood. The family is always the center; it will always be affected in some way even when it’s not the cause.

It’s frustrating when people assume the slump is something that can be shifted easily, or can disappear by “snapping out of it.” Just so we’re clear, my interpretation of the slump is a person who is functioning and still able to enjoy things, but is in a permanently low mood. I genuinely believe it’s time for people to openly talk about this state of mind, not only to lessen the isolating feelings of sadness, but to act as a therapeutic measure. 

So here I am, shouting to the world, “I’m in a slump but that’s okay!”

It’s okay to not feel great all the time. It’s okay to cancel commitments and do the bare minimum for a while. It’s okay to focus on yourself rather than feeling the need to cater to others around you. It’s okay to ask for help and rely on other people.

Mothers are like rocks – we appear solid but can crumble. Crumbling isn’t a sign of weakness as the rubble remains strong. Always remember that once the moment has passed, we reform and solidify once again.

On some occasions I’ve been unable to piece myself back together without help. It’s important to state that it’s not okay to ignore signals of a downward spiral. It’s also not okay to close down communication. Staying vigilant to a depressive mood is vital to your wellbeing and if you start to feel persistently sad, be sure to seek professional help.

To any mother out there who has in the past or is experiencing the slump – or any mental health challenges for that matter – let’s talk about it. Let’s not dismiss it, let’s not make light of the impact mental health issues can have on your everyday life. Share your story, talk about what you do to try and get out of the mindset. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling the way you do.

Your life matters. Your emotional state matters. Regardless of all the terrible things that happen in this world, your mental health is not to be downplayed or ignored, no matter how picture perfect your life may appear to others.

In Defense of Describing Your Kid’s Age in Months Until College (Or at Least Preschool)

The stages of development don’t care about calendar years. They happen in quick succession, and some things change every single day.

I keep thinking about something I saw on facebook awhile back. A mom friend shared something precocious her daughter had done and got the immediate “Oh, how cute, how old is she now?” response.
“She’s 26 months.”
“Oh! I thought she was two…”
On the one hand, it was hilarious. A little quick math can clear up the confusion easily enough and confirm that a 26-month-old child is, in fact, two years old (two years and two months, to be exact). But it also got me thinking.
Ever since my child was a newborn in my arms, I have run into the idea again and again that the way parents describe their children’s ages is somehow annoying and unnecessary. People ask how old a baby or toddler is and then complain about the answer coming in months (or even weeks).
Why do parents refuse to talk like normal people? Do parents consider their offspring so special that everyone needs to know exactly how many days, hours, and minutes, since their birth? Do they want to force everyone else to do math? What’s wrong with “he’s one” or “she’s two?” Are parents just plain being mean? Even my own wife preferred to call our toddler “almost two” when he was 23 months.
The consensus among non-parents (and some parents, too) seems to be that stating a child’s age in months is overly precious, utterly ridiculous, and hard to understand. It would seem that after six months, our kids’ ages can only appropriately be measured in half-years, but preferably only in years.
Excuse me, but I have learned a few things in the last 31 months of my life (oh yeah, I went there), and those people are wrong.
Go ahead, talk about your child’s age in months. Measure their time on this earth in months for the next 16 years for all I care. Everyone has a calculator in their pocket nowadays, so if people don’t like it, they can easily divide by 12 to reach a more palatable number.
Because look, you are the parent, and you know very well how precious every grouping of 30 or 31 days truly is. I don’t only mean that sentimentally. Practically, young children do not grow up birthday to birthday. They change more quickly than that.
I have been hearing about “the terrible twos” since I was two, but the truth is that a two-year-old is not a thing. On my kid’s second birthday, he was one kind of child, at one point in his development. Three months later, he was someone almost entirely different.
The stages of development don’t care about calendar years. They happen in quick succession, and some things change every single day. A 25-month-old child has very little in common with a 34-month-old child, even though there are plenty of people who would like you to pretend they’re the same age.
While it is true that differences of a few months do lessen with age, they don’t exactly just go away, either. In his book, “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell outlined a phenomena that I expect parents have been aware of for a very long time. Children who start school at a later age than their peers, even when everyone in the class is within one year of age, have an advantage.
So, a kindergartener who’s a little closer to six has had more time to master skills, develop mentally and emotionally, and just plain get bigger than a child who is only five years and one month. (That’s 61 months, in case you are curious.)
So please, parents of toddlers, I implore you, stop yielding to the pressure to measure your kids only in rotations of earth around sun. We know our kids. We know that 27 months is sometimes the more accurate thing to say. When people ask other questions, they expect accuracy. When they ask how old our children are, let’s also give them accuracy.
Plus, if the other person also happens to be a toddler parent, you might get a wistful “Oh, 27! I remember 27. That was a sweet month.”

One Thing Parents Should Resolve in the New Year In Order to Bring More Joy

My resolution for 2018 is to find more joy in my life right now and to stop comparing my life, to others. Especially the lives of others on social media.

The time has come once again to make those much anticipated/dreaded/needed/worthless New Year’s Resolutions.
Every year, many of us make the same resolutions.
This year, I will exercise more. This year, I will eat healthier. This year, I will read more and watch less TV. This year, I will focus less on work and more on my family. This year, I will put more of my paycheck into the savings account and spend less eating out and shopping online.
We all begin with the best of intentions. We join that gym. We stock the fridge with fruits and veggies. We leave work right at 5 p.m. We plan out our monthly budget.
January comes and we start out strong, but then February comes, and our resolve starts to fade – if our resolve isn’t already gone by then!
A commonly quoted statistic says that only around eight percent of people keep their New Year’s Resolutions. That means that the other 92 percent of us will fail at changing our ways and fall right back into our old routines and habits.
So what about this year? What resolution can we, as parents, make that will actually stick?
I don’t know if mine will stick, and it’s certainly much less simple than it sounds, but my resolution for 2018 is to find more joy in my life right now and to stop comparing myself, my kids, my marriage, my relationships, my job, and my life, to others.
Especially to stop comparing my life to the perceived lives of others on social media.
Social media can be a beautiful thing that allows us to keep in touch with family, friends, and colleagues that we never would hear from otherwise. However, it also opens a window into the lives of others that can never give us a complete picture of what their lives are really like behind closed doors-and that’s okay. We don’t need to know everyone’s deepest, darkest secrets to be happy for them and enjoy what they share.
I love knowing that people are taking fabulous vacations, getting married, having babies, raising amazing kids, buying their dream home, getting that promotion, moving to a new city, etc. I want the best for people in my life, but nothing and no one is perfect. The accomplishments and milestones of others in no way diminish or improve the accomplishments and milestones of my own life.
President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
In order to find true joy in our own lives, we have to stop comparing them to the lives of others.
If I can manage to find joy in my life as it is right now, then, all of those other things (my diet, my finances, my relationships, my job) will somehow not seem in need of such a drastic resolution or overhaul. I won’t have to worry about falling back into old habits and routines because those things won’t seem quite so bad.
That’s not to say that I shouldn’t still improve in all of the above areas, but those resolutions in and of themselves can never bring me real, lasting happiness if I don’t first let go of comparing my life to others and focus on the good that is already there.
Wishing you a new year filled with joy and free of comparison! You and your life are pretty amazing just as they are right now. Make it your resolution to recognize that.

Wild Rumpus

This is a submission in our monthly contest. January’s theme is “Wild.” Enter your own here!
When I hear the term “wild” I am automatically transported to the scene in Maurice Sendak’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” in which Max is sent to his room for behaving, well, wild. Even more poignant is when, on the island, Max is crowned King of the Wild Things and one of his first matters of business is to order all to dance at the wild rumpus. While stomping and roaring they all are able to release their inner beast. Thrilling, isn’t it? It’s exciting to think that for one brief moment one can rid themselves of social customs, enforced mannerisms and expected formalities. And don’t you think that for Max, and for the “wild things” living in our own homes, a spontaneous wild rumpus might have been more effective than being sent up to his room. What a wild idea!
I find that when my children’s behavior, and mine for that matter, begins to escalate it is because they’ve bottled up unresolved issues. These issues may stem from hunger, sleepiness, feeling unwell or uneasy, stress, disappointment, and much, much more. The scale of discomfort can range from mild to severe. But whatever the cause they almost always feel better, even if only momentarily, when they can distract themselves with a burst of healthy energy.
I am certain that if asked my children would inform you that I have, in fact, sent them up to their rooms and that, at times, was certainly warranted. I wonder, though, if they would also tell you of the times I, like King Max, ordered instead the commencement of the wild rumpus.
Sometimes we would stand together encircled about the room. Huffing and puffing, sucking air in and blowing out, we imagined ourselves as giant, monstrous volcanoes. Standing with legs spread wide apart and arms held tightly together, reaching high up to the sky, we would roar loudly, allowing ourselves to erupt. Roars were followed by jumps into the air. Hot lava spewed as we landed on feet, straight-legged, knees locked together, and arms held soldier like at our sides. Huge cities populated by our living frustrations would be destroyed by hot, flowing magma. We did this again and again. Boom! Crash! Bang! Wild!
Other times we would manage our anger by rolling up socks, tucking them tightly into squishy balls. We did this to every pair of socks that we owned. Armed heavily at the top of the stairs we would wait for Dad, the unsuspecting intruder, to arrive home from work. Once he stepped inside and sat down his bag a battle would inevitably commence. Socks would fly targeting Dad who eagerly returned the fire. Parents and children ran to and fro. All the while sock balls bombarded every square inch of the front room. Squeals and screams of delight erased angry feelings and snarls. For especially hectic phases, socks would be exchanged for marshmallows. Wild!
Still yet, one or more kids just couldn’t keep mean notions inside and that’s when they were deemed truly wild. Transformed into beasts of their own choosing they were banished to the “forests” outside. As dinosaurs, cheetahs, tigers and even crocodiles they would run from captors or chase their prey around and around the trees. Exhausted but content they inevitably returned ready to act nice and sweet. Wild!
Whether by spewing volcanoes, attacking intruders with sock ammunition, chasing prey or dancing at a real life wild rumpus, I find that our wild moments can often be tamed by a healthy change of focus and energy. May Max less often be banished to his room and more often be thrown a wildly vivacious rumpus.

How to Foster Your Son's Love of Reading

Boys are less apt to develop a love of reading and statistically score lower on reading tests. How can we better support them?

As an English teacher, it’s been paramount that I instill a love of reading into my children. My three-year-old daughter will still sit on my lap and read almost anything with me, only getting up for a snack. My son used to love reading even more than his little sister, but he’s five now, and I’m afraid he’s already losing interest. It’s no surprise either. Boys are less apt to develop a love of reading and statistically score lower on reading tests.

I don’t blame my son for not wanting to sit still any longer than he’s already required to. He spends eight hours a day being schooled. This is a lot for his brain. When he gets home, his body wants to play, and play hard. Sitting with his mother on the couch to read some books is not appealing. However it’s on my husband and me to help our son find that love of reading once again. We may just have to work a little harder.

In an article in The New York Times by young adult fiction author Robert Lipsyte, he discusses the problem of why boys read less than girls beginning in grade school lasting through young adulthood. He mentions the helpful website, guysread.com, and quotes the author Jon Scieszka when he says, “Boys don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. Because the majority of adults involved in kids’ reading are women, boys might not see reading as a masculine activity.”

Since my son’s interest in reading has plummeted, my husband has been more cognizant of this fact. In return, my husband has been more purposeful in trying to set aside time in the evening to read with our son and have our son read early-reader books to him. It’s also been vital that my husband reads his own books in front of our son too, showing him that he reads for pleasure. Masculine men who play sports can also enjoy the act of reading.

What I’m looking for now are what kind of books can rekindle that love again.

Lately, my five-year-old has gotten into playing with Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Legos, so I tried to find books about what I knew he already liked. Luckily, these characters often take the form of early-reader books. This way, he can enjoy the characters he loves and work on his reading at the same time. We usually head to the library to pick them out and, if it’s in the budget, we let him pick out one or two books per month from Scholastic, too.

For Christmas, he received six books from the Magic Treehouse series. These books have reignited his passion for books. The main characters, Annie and Jack, go on adventures in their magic treehouse to ancient kingdoms, a land of dinosaurs, and beaches with pirates. The series are chapter books with very little pictures, which helps my son work his imagination by picturing Annie and Jack in the scenes of these mysterious places. I love seeing the suspense in his eyes, it’s the joy from reading brought back.

I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what our kids read, what matters is that they love reading. Their passion for books will get squashed at some point while they’re in school. It happens. So it’s on us as parents to encourage their love of books outside of school.

Life is busy, but the more our kids can take ownership in their reading, the better. As our kids get older, we may not like the things they’re into, but it’s part of the game. Let them read whatever they want now because as they get older, their teachers will be the ones picking out their books for reading assignments.

Do everything you can to foster their love of reading because it’s a skill that will take them further than anything else in life.

Could the Key to Better Play Be Providing Fewer Toys?

A recent study looked at what helped improve the quality of children’s play, less or more toys?

Babies begin to play from early on in their infancy. They are curious and attracted to brightly colored toys and sometimes random things like small bits on the carpet and empty packaging. Through play babies learn to interpret their world and increase their mental, social, emotional, and physical skills.
The enormous benefits of play for development has been long known. This has led to much investigation as to what kinds of toys are best for children’s development. Parents and toy companies alike often want to enhance their child’s engagement with play through toys.
A recent study looked at what helped improve the quality of children’s play, less or more toys? Development, estimated that fewer toys in a child’s environment would lead to better play. The study participants were 36 toddlers aged around 24 months. 17 of the children were only children. Children were screened for the exposure to play prior to entering the study to ensure that they had a good repertoire and experience of play.

The study

A variety of 32 sit-and-play, gender neutral toys were used in this study. Toys represented four categories: educational (toys that may teach a concept such as shapes, colors, or counting), pretend (toys that suggest themed play scenarios for “as if” play), and action (toys that can be activated through manipulation or toys that encourage exploration). Toys were consistent with a checklist written on behalf of the American Occupational Therapy Association (2011) to aid parents in toy selection.
The toddlers played in two different conditions. One play session was a Four Toy play session and the other was a 16 Toy Play Condition. In the Four Toy condition, one toy from each category was randomly selected. No more than one toy was designated as battery operated. In the 16 Toy condition, four toys from each category were randomly selected. No more than four toys were designated as battery operated. No toys were repeated for both conditions. Toys that were indicated as a child’s favorite were replaced with a randomly selected toy.
Toddlers attended three individual sessions with their caregiver. The first session was for the purposes of screening the toddlers for suitability. The caregiver was asked to remain on site during data collection and was able to view the session. Prior to the play sessions, each toddler was asked for verbal agreement to play with the statement “would you like to play today?” The caregiver was asked to assist in helping the toddler feel comfortable before separation for the play session occurred. Caregivers were asked to join the toddler in the room during the session and to abide by research protocol if separation distress occurred.
The play session began with a two minute adjustment period in which the researcher interacted with the toddler in a friendly manner. Once comfortable, the toddler was informed that he/she could play with toys in the room however he/she would like to. If the toddler approached the researcher to engage in play, the researcher participated in the reciprocal interaction, following the toddler’s lead. The researcher did not ask or attempt to engage the toddler in any play behavior. Caregivers were also followed this protocol for interacting with their children if they were in the room during the data collection period.
Each session was videotaped. Play behavior was coded following the two-minute adjustment period. The researchers were interested in three things:
1 | The number of toys the toddlers played with.
2 | How long the toddler played with each toy.
3 | The number of actions the toddlers used when playing with the toy.
For example actions such as drumming, dumping, exploring, pretending, matching, gathering, or inserting were all recorded as different types of actions.

What parents can learn

The study found the quality of the toy play was better in the play condition with fewer toys. In the 16 toy condition the children played with more toys but their engagement with the toys was of less substance. The depth and duration of the play was best with four toys.
The researchers suggest that having fewer toys is beneficial to play due to children’s limited attention span at this age. When given a larger number of toys to play with their find it hard to focus and engage in deep play. Parents involved in this study reported toddlers had 90 toys on average in their play environment.
Western homes tend to be overloaded with toys. Parents regularly complain to me about the stress of managing toys and I’ve had my fair share of difficulties with this issue. I’ve never been successful at stemming the tide of toys that flow through my home.
It seems for children, access to more toys does not result in better play. The results of this study suggest that if you have a large number of toys in your home, reducing the number of available toys is beneficial to increase the quality of children’s play. Consider rotating toys on a weekly basis to allow your child to experience different toys. It keeps toys novel and may alleviate any concerns about toys being wasted.

Playing the Chess Game of Shorts in Winter

Harry, my four-year-old, is into fashion.

This morning, he emerged from his bedroom wearing a red bandana, a pair of soccer shorts, and a short-sleeved T-shirt that read THIS KID RULES. When he asked me if he looked cool, and if his brand name shorts made him look like a real soccer player, I said:
“Harry, the man makes the clothes. Not the other way around.”
He responded by falling down on the living room floor, and between comically loud guffaws, he said, “Silly Daddy, kids don’t make clothes! And I’m not a man!”
With his red bandana tied neatly at the back of his head, he looked like a miniature Bruce Springsteen coming back from a trip to the gym. I laughed and he laughed, and then I asked him to go put on long pants and a jacket so we could go to the park.
In a flash, he was upright and stomping his feet at me. “No, you can’t make me wear pants! I like shorts!” He crossed his arms. He looked at me as if I’d just threatened to take away every toy in his room and burn them on the lawn.
As a stalling tactic, I sipped my English Breakfast and looked out the window. Frost covered our cars in the driveway. Bundled up in a parka, gloves, and winter boots, my neighbor (originally from Wisconsin) was walking his dog on the sidewalk, his breath escaping in thick, white plumes.
“It’s winter, Harry,” I said. “You can’t wear shorts until spring.”
He gritted his teeth. He balled up his fists. He growled at me like a hungry lion. “You can’t make me do anything!”
I resisted the urge to lecture him, a habit I’ve been trying to break ever since I stopped being an English professor and became a stay-at-home dad. Instead, I watched my only son storm into his bedroom and slam the door behind him.
I finished my tea. I waited until my heart beat slowed, and then I knocked on his door.
“Harry, may I come in?”
No answer.
I knocked a second time.
“Fine,” he said, “you can come in.”
Inside, I found him laying face first on the rug, his red bandana now tied around his wrist.
“I’m not going to take off my shorts, Daddy.” His tone was matter-of-fact rather than angry.
I stepped farther into the room, removed a pair of thick sweatpants from his dresser, and tossed them on the ground beside him.
“Sit up,” I said. “I’ll show you something.”
He didn’t move.
“Please,” I said pulling out my iPhone. “I think you’ll like it.”
Sighing heavily, he sat up, and I showed him a video of Harry Kane, my son’s and my favorite professional soccer player, practicing his dribbling skills on a snowy field in London. “You see how Harry Kane is wearing sweatpants with his shorts over the top? You see how Harry Kane is wearing a cool soccer jacket?”
My son smiled. He asked to see the video three more times. When he’d had enough, he gave me back my phone, and I asked him if he was ready to get dressed.
Without responding, he removed his shorts, revealing a pair of Lego Batman underwear. He put one leg into the sweatpants, and then stopped and looked at me.
“I’m doing this for me,” he said. “Not for Harry Kane.”
I nodded.
He put on the sweatpants with shorts over the top and then added a jacket. He asked me to retie his red bandana around his head, which I did.
“I’m ready to go to the park,” he said.
“First, you need to eat breakfast,” I said. “No candy or marshmallows, either.”
My son then gently shoved me out into the hallway. “I’ve got a lot of things on my mind,” he said, shutting and locking the door behind him.

Why a Consistent Approach to Your Parenting is Important

Being consistent is time-consuming and requires thought and patience but will make your relationship stronger as your child gets older.

Parenting is exhausting and frustrating. Most parents are just trying to make it to the end of the day. In many homes, expediency takes precedence over consistency. You may get very frustrated that your child won’t clean his room, but after asking multiple times, you get fed up and do it yourself. We are all human and will make mistakes, but making an effort to be consistent is vital to raising confident, secure children. Choosing to get things done faster over being consistent has an effect on your child’s behavior and character. Being consistent is time-consuming and requires thought and patience, but it is an investment in your child’s development and will make your relationship stronger as your child gets older.

Consistency helps kids

For children, the learning process involves internalizing, rehearsing, and repeating. Just like learning 2+2=4, kids need to internalize, rehearse and repeat behaviors. Emotionally, consistency means purposely choosing how you will engage with or respond to your child. It means being mindful about your choices and not changing them based on your moods. When parents are consistent in their reactions and consequences to their child’s behaviors, children grow up knowing what to expect.
At an early age your child will be able to predict how you will react in specific situations, such as when he or she throws food on the floor, hits the dog or does a silly dance. This of course does not mean that your children won’t push the boundaries to see if your reaction changes. But, after time, your child will come to feel safe within the consistency of your responses. Choosing to consistently not yell and calm yourself down before you respond to your child is one of the best gifts you can give any kid.
Consistency in terms of structure and routine provides a confirming and safe way for children to organize and integrate information into their brain and gain an understanding of how the world works. Children understand the world through repetition and consistency. When kids are able to predict how their morning will go, they feel more secure and in turn, make better choices.

The harm of inconsistent parenting

Inconsistency can be very confusing for children. If one day dad yells to his son for hitting his sister but the next day he tolerates it, his son may become confused about the limits. He will also come to learn that dad’s responses are not predictable.
Lack of parental consistency can cause several characteristics to develop in children, including aggression and hostility, or complacency and passivity. As the child learns to deal with unpredictability, anxiety is produced depending on the level of inconsistency. Children who have to learn to cope with anxiety at a young age will not learn appropriate problem solving skills. Lack of consistency can overwhelm their defenses, and cause them to solve problems with undesired or inappropriate behavior.

Consistency and different caregivers

Consistency is important not only between parents, but between caregivers, including grandparents, babysitters, nannies, and teachers. All of your child’s caregivers should be working together to help the child integrate information into their schema, using simple and concrete ideas. To make this happen, there should be open communication between caregivers so everyone understands the message and is on the same page with rules. For example, decide on some simple and concrete house rules and enforce them in a similar way to how rules are enforced in school. Make sure that your simple and concrete rules are realistic and age appropriate.
Many children are better behaved in school because of the consistency and rules. In school, when there is a rule, every student must adhere to it and there are no exceptions. This predictability helps children feel secure.

Consistently address difficult behaviors

Difficult behavior is developmentally normal and age-appropriate for children of all ages. These behaviors are especially normal during when children are young and starting to integrate stimuli from their environment into their schema, and develop a world view. Children test limits in order to figure out their world. If you are trying to change an undesirable behavior, consistency is the way to do it. It may take a long time, but if you are consistent with your new rules and ideas, your children will integrate these new, desirable ideas into their brain.
Consistency is important in how you emotionally react when your child does something which you don’t like and also what reaction or consequence you use to teach that the behavior is the undesirable. Consequences should fit the behavior, and your tone and demeanor should match the severity of the behavior. If a child is acting out, the behavior needs to be addressed with a logical and related consequence, not something days later or for an extended time period where the child forgets what happened in the first place.

Maintain a consistent routine

One of the most important things you can do for family is to have a familiar schedule where each family members knows their expectations. As a parent, it is your job to teach your children what your expectations are of them. As most parents know, a tough night or morning can throw a wrench into your whole day. Many people have bedtime routines that began when their children were very young. But those routines can get derailed very quickly by kids asking for water, a snack, or any other creative thing they can think of to make bedtime not come so quickly.
In order to keep your routines going, make sure everyone in the family knows what is expected of them. Depending on your kids ages, have them get themselves dressed or brush their teeth on their own. When kids know their responsibilities, they feel empowered and are more likely to respond positively to the task. Establish a routine and do your best to stick to it. If there is a major change to the routine, share it with your child so they can mentally prepare and not be anxious or surprised by the change. Most importantly, don’t let your child hijack the routine. Being calm and consistent reminds your child that you are a safe person to go to when life feels chaotic to them.

Changes to the routine

It is inevitable that plans will change and routines will get interrupted. It is a part of life. The important thing is that you share those changes with your child in a clear, age-appropriate way. We unfairly expect kids to do as we say, but many times, we don’t provide them enough information or any explanation. We expect them to be flexible and respond easily to life changes but we rarely give them the tools to cope with such changes. Include your child in a conversation about changes and allow them to ask questions. Every family and situation are different, but open communication will help you foster a positive relationship.
Consistent parenting takes time and energy. None of us can be consistent all the time, and sometimes it is just as important to be able to be flexible and go with the flow. Making the choice when to be consistent and when to be flexible is where your parenting power lies. Being mindful of those purposeful decisions are what will make you a better parents and will help your child develop into a confident and secure adult.

How Focusing on Strengths Gives Our Kids an Edge

“If you focus on what is wrong, your child lives up to your vision of failure. If you focus on your child’s strengths, your child lives what is possible.”

It wasn’t until I became a parent that I recognized my tendency to see the negative before the positive. Though my children all have strengths I can easily name, I find myself harping on the areas where they are weak. I know this approach isn’t helping us build stronger relationships, and I don’t feel good about it.
Psychologists and therapists agree that parenting that focuses on a child’s weaknesses over his strengths is problematic. Dr. Fawn McNeil-Haber says:

Focusing on children’s weaknesses decreases their motivation to do better. This is because, like many of us, when people point out what we aren’t good at we either feel demoralized, defensive, or annoyed. None of these feelings help us motivate to do better and try harder.

Sara Anderson, an Atlanta-based psychotherapist, says how we approach our children affects their view of their potential: “If you focus on what is wrong, your child lives up to your vision of failure. If you focus on your child’s strengths, your child lives what is possible.”
The problem is focusing on the bad is what our brains do. We all have a negativity bias, and that’s not always a bad thing. From an evolutionary perspective, the negativity bias has been hugely beneficial in keeping humans alive because they stayed aware of potential threats in their environments. Even now, it can be helpful.
Unfortunately, it’s also the reason I am much more likely to notice my daughter’s lack of organizational skills over her ability to approach her entire life with passion. Because I am focusing on the negative, she’s learning to do the same, and her mind will fixate on the bad interactions we’ve had over the good ones because that’s what our brains are wired to do.
Lea Waters, PhD, writer of “The Strength Switch: How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish” and a leader in positive psychology, offers a solution. Her strength-based parenting approach teaches us how to pull away from the negative when raising kids to offer the entire family a more positive experience in the home.
Parents focus on the kids’ strengths, the kids know they have strengths, and the entire journey is smoother for everyone.
Sounds easy, but since we’re built to focus on the negative, how do we shift towards pointing out the positive?

What is a strength?

Knowing what our children’s strengths are is the first step. Most of us simply look at what our children are good at and assume it’s a strength. We ask, where do they excel?
While that’s one qualifier, it’s not enough. If a child is great at playing the violin but hates it, Waters says violin playing isn’t a strength. It’s a skill.
Strengths are what we’re good at, what we’re motivated to do on our own, and what give us energy. Thinking about our kids, what do we never have to beg them to do? What gives them life? That’s a strength.
My daughter is a strong leader and communicator, often verbalizing and storytelling even when her listeners are worn out. My son uses art as a way to communicate, and he has never once had to be told to sit down and create. He can’t imagine not creating.
Though these strengths may seem specific to only certain areas of life, we can use them to guide our kids and to teach them to handle conflict in other areas. When my son is upset about something that he can’t articulate, I can ask him to use his strength in art instead of demanding he verbalize. Verbalization under pressure is not his strength.
We can also evaluate for emotional strengths, like kindness, patience, or fairness. When our kids have a conflict, instead of always pointing out their weaknesses and making them feel like bad kids, we can point out strengths they aren’t using.
When my daughter chooses to scream when upset, I can tell her, “You’re not using your strengths in communication and kindness right now, and I think you can solve the conflict better if you do.” I’m reminding her that she is capable of fixing this situation, and she’s already equipped with the strengths to do it.

Too much, or too little, of a good thing

On The Psychology Podcast with Scott Barry Kaufman, Waters points out another reason to know a child’s strengths and lead with them: they may be the cause of behavioral problems.
Overuse or underuse of a strength can lead to behavioral issues. My son, who is obsessed with accuracy in a way that only a seven-year-old can be, often gets in trouble because of his absolute desire for perfection. When his younger sister pronounces a word incorrectly, he will badger her until she is in tears under the guise of trying to help her speak properly. This is overusing a strength. In certain areas, when used in the right amount, this is a great strength, but it’s being overused when it leads to a four-year-old screaming hysterically because she can’t say the word “taquito.”
Fortunately, I can use my son’s other strengths to help him work through this problem. He also has strength when it comes to empathy, so I can encourage him to use that strength to imagine how his sister feels when he scolds her for doing her best. We’re still focusing on his strengths, but we’re deciding which strength to use to solve the problem overuse of a different one caused.
Kids who underuse a strength are also at risk for behavioral issues. All of us want to do something that makes us feel alive regularly. If children aren’t able to do that, they are going to act out.
My daughter is strong in teamwork, and she also loves to communicate. She wants and needs to be around peers frequently to feel like she’s thriving. I’ve never had to encourage her to play with someone at the park. She seeks out any and every person in her vicinity.
This explains why after a few days stuck in the house due to illness or friends having to cancel plans, she has problems. Finding a way for her to use this strength as soon as possible will alleviate the issue, and in the meantime I can ask her to exercise her strength in patience.

Where does this lead?

Many parents shy away from constantly pointing out their kids’ strong points because it seems a little like a praise-for-no-reason thing to do. A friend who actually has an easy time focusing on her children’s strengths worries that she may be raising future narcissists. Fortunately, Waters has words of encouragement. It’s all about approach.
Strengths don’t make kids special, and parents should point out that everyone has strengths. Since we all bring our unique strengths to the table, kids should be encouraged to look for strengths in others, something that will likely come easier for kids raised by parents who point out strengths in them.
Kids will also be able to use their strengths for the sake of others. When deciding on a life path, children who are parented using the strength-based model will know what their strong points are, and this will help them impact the world using the strengths they’ve been aware of for most of their lives.
Waters even believes that strength-based parenting encourages self-compassion in children, a much-coveted skill that is proving more important than self-esteem. Self-compassion allows children to mindfully be kind to themselves when they make a mistake instead of living in shame or guilt. If children know they have strengths, they can give themselves grace when areas they aren’t strong in cause them problems. It keeps kids from believing that when they fail it’s because they are irredeemably flawed humans who have nothing positive to bring to the table.
Using the strength-based parenting approach doesn’t mean ignoring weaknesses. By virtue of identifying strengths, kids are going to realize they also have weaknesses, and that’s okay. Shuntai Walker, MA, LPC says “…it is ok to be aware of weakness but the focus should be on cultivating their strengths.”
We’re not raising kids who think they are perfect. Strength-based parenting means raising kids who know what their strong points are and how to use them to help themselves and others. It’s a form of positive parenting that helps us encourage our children while also creating positive interactions that strengthen our relationships with them.

For Parents of Babies Who Think They'll Always be Angels

Here is a list of Toddler Truths that you should come to grips with.

I know, I know, when they sleep they look so peaceful and innocent that you can’t imagine what people are talking about when they mention the “terrible two’s.” At nine months, spaghetti-kisses and applesauce-hugs are actually incredibly sweet. 

By the time your toddler is two or three years old, you’ve paid enough dry-cleaning bills to know that prime seating at the dinner table is no where near your beloved toddler. Here is a list of Toddler Truths that you should come to grips with:

1 | Children lie  

Yes, I said it! They indulge in self-preservation at an early age. They refuse to go down for crayons on the wall, shampoo on Elmo, or even lipstick on the toilet seat. They will look you dead in the eye and deny any involvement in the incident. They may blame the dog or even you, yourself. You are not alone if, at some sleep-deprived moment, you question if you were responsible for the offense. Stay strong. You are the parent. You can do this.

2 | Toddler poop in underwear is disgusting 

Remember when you first took your baby home from the hospital and their runny, yellow poops didn’t smell? Well, you’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. 

A mushy brown lump in Super Hero undies is best just thrown away. Don’t try to clean that shit, just get rid of it. I give you permission. No one wants that running through the washing machine in the cycle before you clean your washcloths.

Parents, if your child goes to daycare and has an accident there, don’t get mad at your childcare provider if they throw the underwear away. Unless you employ Mary Poppins, no one wants to roll that up in a plastic bag and have it hanging around in a backpack all day. Just consider the $4.99 pack of six underwear part of the cost of the potty-training “business.”

3 | Sticky telephone screens are not always a result of candy

Honestly, most of us use our phones to entertain our children while we are at the grocery store, post office, in the car, at the doctor’s office, even in church. When we get those phones back, 100 percent of the time the screen is smudgy and sticky. Why is this? As the wonderful parents we are, we rarely give our toddlers candy during those times, and yet the screens are still filthy. 

The truth is that kids pick their noses. They dig in there with the same finger that they use to search your apps and play their games. The little lumps on your screen are sticky little boogers straight from your child’s nose. If you are not for sharing germs to build up natural immunity, my advice is to carry around sanitizing wipe packets. I hear they kill 99.99 percent of germs.

4 | Toddlers will embarrass you

Of course, we’ve all heard stories about toddlers innocently pointing at the large man driving the automated cart at the grocery store and loudly informing you (along with the rest of aisle nine) that he is fat. Yes, this is embarrassing, but at least you have the option of leaving the store. 

The humiliation I’m talking about is mortification that you can’t escape. I’m talking about when your toddler repeats overheard complaints you made to your husband about his overbearing, selfish, nagging, in-your-business mother who always “compliments” your cooking. You know, the one you’d like to backhand if given the chance? 

Yeah, well, when your three-year-old repeats that at Easter dinner, trust me, you will blush with shame. Unfortunately, the vocabulary your child will use will negate any of your attempts to convince those at the table that your child has “an over-active imagination.” It’s best to simply serve yourself a piece of humble pie and accept the fact that you will never live it down.

5 | Despite the discomfort of living with a toddler, they are extraordinary self-esteem boosters

No one else on the planet will unapologetically flatter you the way a toddler will. When you’re feeling emotional, bloated, and exhausted, there’s nothing like a two-year-old telling you how beautiful you are. Or when you ask them what their favorite color is and they tell you, “Green, Mommy, just like your eyes.”  Or when you’re driving around looking at Christmas light displays and everyone in the car is oohing and ahhing at their beauty when a small voice in the backseat says, “But not as beautiful as you, Mommy!” 

I think toddlers see us for who we really are. They’re not beholden to the cultural rules of our day. They can actually see your genuine love despite your glasses, bags under your eyes, extra rolls, unbrushed teeth, need for a shower, sweatpants again, and utter fatigue. Having someone recognize your light from within is worth putting up with the occasional lying, pooping, nose-picking, embarrassing child who has stolen your heart.