Why Grit Matters and How to Infuse it in Your Kids

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. ~ Thomas A. Edison

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. ~ Thomas A. Edison

Why can some kids concentrate on a task until it gets done and others have to be constantly nagged to take the smallest of steps?  Why is it that one kid will get frustrated and give up when the going gets tough and another will be driven by the same challenge? Why can an intelligent kid fail to accomplish the simplest of things?
These questions have garnered much interest over the years. In the 1800s, Henry Galton undertook a study in which he sought to examine whether the success of achievers (scientists, musicians, judges, painters, etc) depended on their ability or was inborn. He found that success was determined by, “ability combined with zeal and with capacity for hard labor”. (A free copy of his book is available here).
Ever since, other researchers have explored this issue and come to the same conclusion: stick-to-it-tiveness (grit, persistence) is a greater determinant of success than ability or intelligence.
Stick-to-it-tiveness is the ability to keep going despite the greatest obstacles.  It is the ability to keep dusting yourself off and trying, over and over again. Stick-to-it-tiveness means being able to keep one’s eye on the long-term goal.
These studies have highlighted important facts:

  • The best performers are not necessarily the most talented. Bloom, for instance, found that high achievers have a strong interest in their field, a strong desire to achieve and are willing to put in the necessary time and effort.
  • That perseverance is one of the greatest determinants of success. This has been confirmed by Caroline Dweck, a psychology researcher at Stanford, whose studies have revealed that perseverance determines children’s intellectual growth.

There is much evidence to suggest that stick-to-it-tiveness can be developed. Indeed, encouraging certain behavior may increase a child’s ability to focus on long-term goals.

Developing Stick-to-it-tiveness In Children

1 | Make it worthwhile

For stick-to-it-tiveness to work, your child must consider the task to be accomplished or the skills to develop as worthwhile. Vroom’s expectancy theory of motivation suggests that individuals are more likely to stick to long-term objectives if they believe that their efforts and performance are worthwhile.

What you can do:

Explain to your child why achieving a particular objective is important. Meaningful activities are those where your child can see a clear link between his/her efforts and expected outcomes. Attractive outcomes can take multiple forms, and they can differ from one child to another – gifts, compliments, approval, having more friends, pride, encouragement, etc.

2 | Feed your child’s need for autonomy

There is evidence to suggest that encouraging your child to participate in decision-making feeds his/her need for autonomy and makes it easier for him/her to cooperate and invest in the future. The more a child believes that he/she has played an active role in the decision-making process, the more likely he/she is to be motivated towards achieving a specific goal.

What you can do:

Make it a habit of asking for your child’s point of view.

  • What do you think?
  • What do you think will work?
  • How else can we try this?
  • Brainstorm. Help him/her learn to analyze every problem from multiple viewpoints.

A child’s need for autonomy can be fed from the youngest age by using structured decision-making. Structured decision-making means encouraging your child to make decisions within a specific structure. For example, instead of asking younger children “what would you like for dinner?” you could ask, “would you like pasta or rice for dinner?”

3 | Give your child the tools to succeed

Much evidence suggests that children will give up when they believe they lack the competence or skills to succeed.
For instance, Bandura’s self-efficacy theory has shown that children are more likely to repeat behavior that leads to success, and give up if they repeatedly meet with failure. The Endowed Progress Effect, which you can read about here, also posits that encountering initial progress encourages continued effort towards a specific goal.

What you can do:

The first step if you want your child to succeed is to set high but realistic goals. The second step is to help your child view him/herself as a competent and successful human being. One study found that children were rarely aware of how their parents defined success. The researchers argue that parents should clearly define what they mean by success and model the skills they believe will help their children attain success.

4 | Help your child develop an optimistic explanatory style

According to Seligman, explanatory styles are the patterns of how people explain things to themselves and to others: “An optimistic explanatory style stops helplessness, whereas a pessimistic explanatory style spreads helplessness”.
An optimistic explanatory style views obstacles as temporary. The theory of explanatory styles is quite similar to the theory behind Caroline Dweck’s “growth mindset”. According to Dweck, a growth mindset refers to the belief that intelligence and talent can be developed with effort.

What you can do:

Developing your child’s optimistic explanatory style (or growth mindset) means teaching him/her to explore the root of the problem and come up with solutions.
It means helping your child understand that intelligence is not “fixed” and that he/she can control the outcomes. If your child thinks that he/she is no good at tennis, explain to him/her why practicing 10 minutes every day will help. Once the root of the problem is identified, help your child brainstorm solutions.
Work on your own explanatory style. We often fail to realize just how much our children observe and learn from us. Do you use an optimistic explanatory style? Do you tell your children positive and optimistic stories? The world is full of heroes. Celebrate those heroes with your child!

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” ~ Helen Keller

Be patient. Teaching a child persistence takes time and much effort. Be patient and stick-to-it!

How To Raise A Good Person – Instead Of One Who Is Just Afraid Of Being Bad

They have to be motivated by more than just fear of getting in trouble.

We discipline our kids for a reason: we want them to be good.
When a parent yells at their children or sends them to their room, it’s not because they want their kids to suffer. We’re not just hate-filled gargoyles who want to stamp out fun wherever we find it. We’re trying to help our kids understand that their behavior affects other people. We want to make them better people.
But there’s a difference between raising a child who is afraid of getting in trouble and a child who understands the difference between right and wrong. When our kids grow up, we won’t be around every minute of their lives. If we want them to make good decisions when we’re not around, they have to be motivated by more than just fear of getting in trouble.

Don’t rely on fear

For a lot of us, yelling is the only way we know how to do it, after all, it works. When you blow up on a child every time they don’t do what you want, their behavior changes. Those kids will make a mental list of everything that makes you angry, and they’ll make sure you don’t catch them doing it.
Something happens, though, in your kids’ heads when you try to scare them into being good. They stop noticing the effect they are having on other people and, instead, focus on the consequences to themselves. Being good becomes something they do to avoid getting in trouble, instead of something they decide to do.
They might be good when you’re around – but it won’t last. The second you turn your back, all that good behavior is going to stop.

Let your kids choose

Children aren’t evil. Even babies are naturally capable of kindness. Studies have found that babies as young as 14 months old will try to help people in need. There’s a natural goodness in every person, right there from birth. We’re social animals. We want to help each other out.
One of the best ways to kill that natural goodness, though, is to make kids do it. Children are actually more likely to help someone if they do it of their own free will. Experiments with children suggest that, if you force a child to do something good for someone, they’ll do the bare minimum, but if you let them decide whether they want to do it or not, they’ll go beyond.
What’s more is that they’ll keep doing it. Children who are forced to do charity work only do it when they’re forced to, but children who decide to do it themselves will keep it up. It becomes a whole part of their being. In fact, the more parents give their kids rewards, the less likely the kids are to act generously.

Teach your children to control their emotions

Remember when I said that kids are naturally good? Remember when you rolled your eyes and said, “That’s not my kid”? You weren’t wrong – just because kids are capable of goodness doesn’t mean they always do it. But there are reasons for that, and one of the big ones is emotion.
Kids get mad. They have impulses. They have urges. When people get emotional, no matter how old they are, they start making different decisions.
That’s one of the biggest challenges of being human – controlling your emotions. We’re filled with feelings that tell us to do things that are incredibly destructive, and we have to learn how to resist them. That’s a big part of being good.
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Talk About It

If you want your children to be able to walk into a new situation and figure out the right thing to do without your guidance, they need to be able to think things through – and that takes practice.
That’s why we need to talk about what’s right and wrong. Bring up ethical scenarios, like, “If you saw someone getting bullied, what would you do?” and let your kids weigh in. Listen to their thoughts, share a few of your own, and help them practice the mental process of how to be good.
It’s something you can work into any part of the day. You can do it when you’re reading stories or you can make a whole game out of it – but it’s especially useful when your kids misbehave.
When your kids do something bad, don’t just get them in trouble – ask them, “What do you think you could do differently next time?” Turn that bad moment into an actual learning opportunity and they’ll learn to be better people.

Walk The Talk

In the end, though, the most important thing is just to set a good example. Children copy their parents – it’s just what they do. No matter how you raise them, they’re going to end up an awful lot like you.
If you tell your kids to do what you say and not what you do, your kids are going to see that there’s a difference between the rules you set and how you lead your life, and that’s going to teach them to do the same in their own life – they’ll learn that they can set rules that they don’t necessarily have to hold themselves to.
On the other hand, when we practice what they preach, they not only copy us but they also get better at controlling their urges. When kids know they can trust their parents, it affects the way they see the world – and it makes it a lot easier to grow up a decent person.
 

5 Ways To Help Kids Cope With The Loss of a Family Pet

It’s not going to be easy.

I will never forget the day that we rescued a nine-month-old dog that was surrendered by a family who could no longer keep him. My husband and I brought him home four years before having children. His name was Samson. When our daughters were born, he played with and watched over them. He was incredibly protective of them. Like so many families, we included Samson in everything that we did.
Holidays, travel, hikes – my husband even took him to work in his Santa Monica office. One day, I noticed Samson was limping and immediately took him to the vet. I will never forget the day our dog was diagnosed with bone cancer. It was painful to watch and even harder to explain what was happening to our daughters, who were then two and four-years-old.
With the help of family, friends and even our pediatrician, we were able to help our daughters cope with his illness and ultimately his death.
We openly talked about what was happening at every stage. We used the five steps below to help our children through the grieving process. 

1 | Be honest

Our pediatrician told us that we should be honest about what is happening to Samson, but to keep in mind their very young ages. We told our daughters that our dog was very sick and that we were doing everything we could to help him. When the cancer started spreading in his body and he ultimately stopped eating, we knew it was time to say goodbye. Our daughters noticed the change in his physical appearance and our four-year-old asked us, “Is Samson going to die?” We said, “Yes, but that means Samson will no longer be in pain.” Those words gave them incredible comfort.

2 | Let them know it is okay to feel sad

The house felt empty without our dog. Our two-year-old daughter said she missed Samson and that she had dreams about him. She would often look at the sky and say “I see Samson!” Sometimes our daughters would cry and many times I would cry with them. We let them know it was ok to cry and feel sad. It’s what we do when we love somebody very much.

3 | A letter helps

We asked our little girls if they would like to draw Samson a picture to let him know how much they loved him. They drew several pictures. Samson has been gone for two years now and they still draw him pictures. My older daughter now even writes him letters.

4 | Celebrate your pet’s life

We asked our daughters about their favorite times with Samson. We laughed and we cried together. My husband and I also told them about our favorite times with our wonderful dog. They loved the story about his rescue, his training and how we first introduced him to them when they were born.

5 | Read them the poem called Rainbow Bridge

It’s a very healing poem for anyone who’s ever lost a pet. It’s a beautiful story about how pets are restored to perfect health upon dying and play all day. According to the story, they are ultimately reunited with family.
Every time our daughters see a Rainbow, they say “Samson is there waiting for us just like in the poem.” We like to believe he is there and one day we will all be reunited with him.
 

Fun, Effective Ways to Take the "Home" Out of Homework

And maybe some of the tears, too.

It’s maddening to go to a parent-teacher conference and hear your child’s teacher describe your son as an endearing, helpful and engaged learner, when at home if he’s pressed to do three math problems, he becomes an enraged lunatic, bordering on sociopathic. Lord help you if he’s got spelling homework too.
The same goes for the sitter who tells you that not only did your daughter handily complete her algebra, she read ahead in her language arts book, and took notes for science, before helping with the dishes. Who are these children that you have not met, but apparently birthed and reared? They are your public children, and they hold the secret to avoiding homework meltdowns. In other words: no more “homework.”
Short of staging a boycott at your school, which is not unheard of (France, Spain, anyone?), there are other ways to successfully mount a coup against homework. At the very least, there are ways of not doing it at home, thus circumventing the homework meltdowns, fights, arguments and total frustration of home-life enjoyment of most weekday afternoons. The key to all of these ideas is that you do not go home, not until the work is done. Homework will need a new name; perhaps we’ll start calling it on-the-road-work.  

Make Use of the School

This is the simplest, and most cost-effective solution to homework woes. Many schools host homework clubs, some at low-cost, and some at no cost to parents. Still, even with no homework clubs, just because the school day ends with the bell, it doesn’t mean that the building and property vanish. Stick around and find out what the rules are for where you can physically continue to be.
Chances are you are allowed to be with your child in the library, computer lab, or on the playground, sitting at a picnic table. Bring him a sandwich for the after-school famine, and finish math in what you can call a post-bell study hall, and then go home. Bring a book, some knitting, or do some laps on the track. But, he’s certainly not going to throw his math book at you while he’s in the lab.

Rotating Neighborhood Homework Club

Start a neighborhood homework club with the children in your class. Mondays at Mary’s house, Tuesdays at Theresa’s, Wednesdays are at Wendy’s, and so on. When it’s your day, provide a space, an allergy-friendly snack, and enough supervision that you ensure the kids are working, and gasp, collectively helping one another with similar work.
It’s a glorious thing when they can help one another figure out why Emmanuel ordered thirteen-eighteenths of a cupcake, instead of asking you to help. I don’t know why Emmanuel would do that either; he’s crazy. Simply crazy.

Milkshake Mondays

My son loves chocolate milkshakes. My son also gets the most homework on Mondays. So, on Mondays, we go to the diner down the street from us to complete homework, and he downs a milkshake bigger than my head, while he does his work. It takes him an hour or so to finish his work and to drink the shake.
In the months before I figured this trick out, he would spend up to six hours doing the same task at home, because of the whining, screaming and gnashing of teeth. I’m happy to throw three dollars at math once a week if feeling like sitting in a booth makes him feel like he has to keep control of his little angry body. If I bring work to Starbucks, he can bring math to the milkshake shop. The same applies to the ice cream parlor, or the hot dog restaurant, or wherever your kid needs to go, once a week, or every darn day, if it needs to be done.

The Public Library

Our local library keeps the local middle and high school texts on permanent loan, so students do not have to carry their heavier textbooks home. Most students walk over, immediately after school, to complete their homework, making the library the place to be. The library. Really. Kids meet up, do their homework, and remarkably, hang out there.
No child wants to be embarrassed in front of his peers, even peers he doesn’t know personally, by walking into the library to complete his homework, and then having a public meltdown, it’s near social suicide to walk this gauntlet of pre-teens and teens. Actually melting down would be social death. Plus, being at the public library means I get to renew and check out tons of books. It’s like Barnes and Noble, but free.

Fair Weather

Make use of your public spaces when the weather is nice. If the weather is not cold, not rainy, or not too hot, go outside. Never underestimate the power of sunshine and oxygen on an exhausted kid who’s been cooped up inside all day. Take a stroll around the grounds of a nice park while chomping on a nice apple, or snack that you’ve brought, then sit at a picnic table, or on a blanket, and get down to business. If you keep your car stocked with some supplies like a clipboard and pencils, you’ll be set for homework on the go. If there’s a playground at a park you select, the young ones will want to play, and even the pre-teens might go for a swing for a grimacing ironic selfie.
If you keep your car stocked with some supplies like a clipboard and pencils, you’ll be set for homework on the go. If there’s a playground at a park you select, the young ones will want to play, and even the pre-teens might go for a swing for a grimacing ironic selfie.
All of these ideas require that you, or someone else, is with your child in the afternoon. You’ve got to go somewhere with him, or her, until the task is complete. It puts a hole in your afternoon plans until homework is finished. Still, in our household, I’d chose a thirty to
Still, in our household, I’d chose a 30 to 60-minute hole in my afternoon, over a whirling dervish of a ten-year-old melting down over long division. In my faintest of hopes, we’re teaching the life-skill of working and scheduling priorities, so that when the workload gets worse, say in high school, or college, he’ll be ready for it.
Approaching education with the idea that homework has to get done because it’s part of the goal that the educator has set out for your child, means that you’ve got to find a way to get it done effectively. We can debate about whether or not it’s effective another day, but if my child’s teacher has assigned it to him, I refuse to debate, or question her because I’m on her team, and we present a united front with her, as part of my son’s educational unit. So, we’ll get it done, come hell or high water. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that, and it’s more milkshakes than hell and more fair weather than high water.

The Science Behind Discipline: 7 Tips to Keep in Mind to Modify Your Child’s Behavior

A child learns about acceptable and unacceptable behavior by observing the people around him/her. What lessons can you learn from behavior modification?

Your 7-year-old daughter won’t brush her teeth when told and says “I’ll do it in five minutes
Your 3-year-old daughter throws tantrums every time she doesn’t get her way
Your 10-year-old son switches on his tablet when you tell him “no more video games for the night
Your 4-year-old daughter refuses to eat her breakfast because you put bananas in her cereal and she “doesn’t feel like bananas today”.
Your 8-year-old son has watched too much TV. You ask him to turn it off to which he replies “no”.
Do these scenarios sound familiar?
Discipline is one of the greatest and most common challenges parents face.
This explains why the quest to predict, and thus control, human behavior has continued to receive much attention over the years.
In 1905, Thorndike came to the following conclusion: “responses that produce a satisfying effect in a particular situation become more likely to occur again in that situation, and responses that produce a discomforting effect become less likely to occur again in that situation”. Other studies have come to similar conclusions:

  • Positive reinforcement helps produce desired behavior.
  • Negative reinforcement reduces undesirable behavior.
  • Overall, children exposed to aggressive models are more likely to use physical and verbal aggression.
  • Children are more likely to imitate behavior from those they perceive to be similar to themselves (same gender). For instance, boys are more likely to become more aggressive when they start school if other boys in their class exhibit aggressive behavior.
  • A child learns by observing the consequences of other’s behavior: If a girl sees that her older sister’s negative behavior goes unnoticed, she is likely to reproduce the same behavior if this behavior appeals to her (jumping on the sofa, refusing to listen to instructions, throwing tantrums, being a picky eater, etc.).

In other words, a child learns about acceptable and unacceptable behavior by observing the people around him/her (parents, relatives, teachers, friends, TV personalities, etc.)
What lessons can you learn from behavior modification?

Success breeds success

Make it a habit to, “catch your child being good” and offering positive reinforcement (for instance by praising his/her behavior or effort) is likely to lead him/her to repeat the behavior.
There is scientific evidence that the “carrot and stick” approach in which good behavior is rewarded (positive reinforcement) and negative conditions are removed is effective in teaching your child about appropriate behavior. Rewarding good behavior, therefore makes your child more likely to repeat that behavior.

What can you do?

Focus on good behavior. Teach your child to view him/herself as a “good child.” Let your child overhear you praise his behavior.

Have clear expectations

Some studies have found that parents’ expectations and behavior largely determine how children behave in childhood years and beyond.

What you say matters

Telling your child, “I want you to be good,” is way too vague for a child. What does being good mean? Get specific: “I want you to share your LEGO bricks with your sister.”
Another example: telling your son, “You can play video games once your homework is done,” can lead to conflict when you ask him to stop. It can feel like you’re taking away his “hard-earned benefits.” To avoid this, be specific: “You can play video games for 30 minutes once your homework is done.”
Being clear on your behavioral priorities also makes it easier to modify behavior.
What are your absolute priorities when it comes to behavior? What are you willing to let slide?

Use relevant consequences

Consequences can only work if they are age-appropriate and relevant. “Grounding for a month,” does nothing more than increase your child’s resentment towards you.
Be clear about your expectations and clearer about the consequences. Warn your child, then apply the consequences: “If I have to ask you one more time to turn down the volume, I’ll put off  the TV.” Be one hundred percent consistent.
When possible, consequences should be as closely related to the misbehavior as possible: “If you ride your bike without your helmet, you won’t be able to play with your bike for a week.”

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

Modifying behavior is no easy task. It helps to take small steps.
It’s much easier to focus on one specific behavior you would like to change, then move on to another when your objectives are met.

Punish or reward immediately after specific behavior

Evidence suggests that you are more likely to succeed if you punish or reward immediately after the behavior you want to suppress or reinforce is exhibited. Let your child know the reasons for the positive or negative reinforcement.

Praise sparingly

When your child does a good deed, praise the effort “you did a great job”, not the child “you’re so clever”. Give praise where praise is due.
Evidence suggests that verbal praise can be effective in reinforcing positive behavior.
However, there is proof that praising children without thought can go very, very wrong.  
According to Mueller & Dweck, inappropriate praise can affect children’s mindsets and lead them to avoid challenges. Inappropriate praise can also lead children to associate praise with failure or to become immune to praise.

Keep an eye on your child’s models

We learned many things about our son the first time his best friend came home for a play date: they acted exactly the same, spoke with the same Southern French accent and used the same expressions.
According to the behaviorist theory, children identify a number of models with whom they identify (TV personalities, parents, siblings, friends, classmates, relatives) then imitate those models. This is why it’s important to know who your child is hanging out with.
It’s just as important to keep an eye on what he/she is actually watching.
Studies on television and video violence have consistently found that violent shows affect how children think and act: children exposed to violent shows are more likely to behave aggressively, be fearful and show less empathy.

What can you do?

  • Monitor what your child is actually watching.
  • Determine where and for how long TV can be watched.
  • Allow your child to watch current news only if you are available to explain any disturbing information.
  • Ban violent programs even if your child hates you for it – he/she will thank you later!

Behavior modification can only work if you are realistic about your expectations and make a consistent effort to modify misbehavior.

Actionable Steps

  • Is your child often “acting out”? Observe his/her models. How well do you know your child’s friends or the influences in his/her life? Spend some time together this week and find out.
  • How well do you know the programs your child watches? Watch at least one of his/her favorite shows together this week. Watch him/her play his/her favorite video games.
  • Honestly assess how you convey instructions. Do you communicate clearly? Are you aware of your expectations? Is your child always aware of what is expected of him/her?

I’d love to know what’s working for you! Let me know in the comments below.

When Your Spouse Travels for Work: A Supermom Survival Kit

Taking on the role of solo parent while your spouse is out of town is not always easy, but there are a few things you can do to ease the burden.

He hugs the kids goodbye, one by one. He kisses you last. He tells you to hang in there – he’ll be home soon. And that he loves you.

You hear the garage door close as he pulls out of the driveway. You take a breath. You’ve done this before. You know what’s in store for you. You know not every day will be terrible, but you know that some days will be tear-filled and God-awful. And you know that you’ll do your best. For him. For your kids. And for yourself.

This is the life we live – those of us whose spouses travel for work.

I’m lucky in countless ways. I have three vibrant, healthy children. My husband provides a steady income. He may not always be here physically, but he is safe. We are not hungry. We love our home. We order takeout. We take vacations. And we pay our bills.

I know how fortunate I am. I would never equate my life to that of a military spouse or a single parent as their hardships are far more stressful than anything I have to endure.

But I admit that it pushes me to my breaking point when I am the sole caregiver for five weeks straight. When I’m alone to handle dinner, bath, bedtime, nightmares, homework, housework, yard work, grocery shopping, soccer practices, Cub Scouts, changing light bulbs, killing spiders, and wiping runny noses. It all falls on Mom when Dad is gone.

I don’t count myself an expert on many things. But being a wife to a husband who travels often is one area where I’m more “experienced” than most of my friends. If you’re in my boat, trying to stay above water, staring at the calendar and counting down the days until his return, I’d like to share a few tips I’ve learned (often the hard way) that might help ease the burden.

Don’t feel pressured to do all the things

Sure, you still need to get the kids to school. And to the doctor. And buy groceries. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed at the magnitude of your list, cut it down.

You don’t have to volunteer for the pot luck at school. It’s okay to bail out of a play date and stay home in your pajamas. Let the kids watch three hours of “Paw Patrol” today. You can do all the things tomorrow.

You should do some things

Busy is good – a healthy level of busy. It will pass the time faster to have events on your calendar.

Take the kids to the library. Invite friends over for pizza. Visit the zoo. Check your local parenting magazines for events, festivals, hot air balloon shows, model train exhibits. Go apple picking and visit the farmers market. Another day can be crossed off more quickly if you have plans.

Try to fill the void for your kids

I know, I know. Isn’t there enough on your plate? But this is tough on them, maybe more than they let on. In our house, my husband is the fun parent while I am the disciplinarian/teeth brusher/vegetable server/bedtime enforcer.

So when he’s away for a few weeks, I need to put on my fun pants. I try to step outside my comfort zone. I wrestle my boys and play baseball in the street. Yeah, my kids might know I’m faking, but I am trying.

Give yourself some grace

You can’t do it all. Your kids don’t want a harried mother who expects herself to be amazing 24/7. Which means they’ll probably have to hear “no” or, “you’ll have to wait until Dad gets home,” on occasion.

In our house, Dad is the video game player. I loathe video games. I’ll take on a slew of fun activities with my kids – crafts, sports, books, Legos, hikes. But Mama doesn’t do video games. Sorry, boys. You’ll have to play solo and tell Dad all about that awesome level in Mario Kart that you beat when he calls later.

Ask for and accept help

This one took me years. Years. My girlfriends would offer, “Let me know how I can help!” and I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Please take them. All three. For several hours. Feed them whatever. Let them watch R-rated movies. I don’t care. I just need some quiet.

That’s what I wanted to say, anyway. But I never did. Until one day a friend demanded I bring my children to her house so I could get a break. She told me I better not come back for several hours and that she’d be feeding them dinner.

It was not easy to agree. I had to overcome tremendous guilt in admitting that I did, in fact, need help. But I’ll tell you what. It was a glorious three hours. I came home, ate chips and ice cream, and watched three consecutive episodes of “Law and Order.” I felt like a whole new woman.

Avoid resenting your spouse

Resentment is a sneaky little devil, isn’t it? It creeps up around you and before you know it, you’re shouting angry, ungrateful things at the person you love. You have to fight it. It’s a marriage-killer.

But that doesn’t mean you hold it all in either. You can certainly vent to your spouse about a long day or admit you are struggling. The difference is you’re not blaming him. This isn’t his fault. He’s working, supporting your family, and probably exhausted like you.

It’s also important to talk to your kids about why Dad is away so they don’t feel resentful. Dad loves you. He misses you. He is sad that he’s away from you. These are words your children need to hear, and respond to. Write letters, draw pictures, send gifts, call and FaceTime often.

Treat yourself

These are long days. If you manage to score a babysitter, go to a coffee shop. Order a ridiculously overpriced latte and enjoy a good book. Get a pedicure. Go to a movie by yourself or with a girlfriend. Cheat a bit and order pizza or give the kids cereal for dinner. Skip the bath.

This is hard work. You deserve a night off.

Be proud of yourself

This is most important. You and your spouse are a team. He’s off kicking ass someplace while you are at home doing the same.

After a long day, when the kids are in bed and you’ve read the last book, said the last prayer, and sang the last song, sit down to a glass of wine and pat yourself on the back. You’ve got this.

Hang in there, Mom. He’ll be home soon.

10 Big Lebowski Quotes That Will Help You Parent, Man

Dude. Sometimes in parenting, it’s easier to abide than it is to struggle.

Dude. It’s hard to be a parent.

Sometimes, it’s just easier to abide than it is to struggle.

Put a little zen in your parenting with these gems from The Big Lebowski…

Quote: That rug really tied the room together.

Useful when: The stomach bug hits and you’re watching the whole fam projectile vomit onto the rug, the wall, and all of your favorite things (while trying not to lose your goddamn mind).

View post on imgur.com

[su_spacer size=”40″]Quote: Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

Useful when: Anytime anyone opens their mouth and says anything.

[su_spacer size=”40″]Quote: This is a very complicated case, Maude. You know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous.

Useful when: Your kids walk in on your make-out sesh and now you gotta explain some things. Also, it really throws the kids off their game when you call them Maude, particularly if they’re not named Maude.

 

[su_spacer size=”40″]Quote: This will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man.

Useful when: Someone dares complain about the dinner you just served. Or anything else, for that matter.

[su_spacer size=”40″]Quote: I’m the Dude, so that’s what you call me. That or, His Dudeness, or Duder, or El Duderino.

Useful when: Your kids’ new friends are wondering what to call you. Or, just anytime you’re introduced to someone new.

[su_spacer size=”40″]Quote: Obviously, you’re not a golfer.

Useful when: Anytime you need sarcasm. Which is always.

View post on imgur.com

[su_spacer size=”40″]Quote: Eight-year-olds, Dude.

Useful when: You’re commiserating with other adults about the strange and largely inexplicable behaviors of human children.

 

[su_spacer size=”40″]Quote: I love you, but sooner or later, you’re going to have to face the fact you’re a goddamn moron. 

Useful when: You realize your kids aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, and you’re at peace with that.

[su_spacer size=”40″]Quote: Careful man, there’s a beverage here!

Useful when: Your kid is climbing into your lap and you’re obviously just trying to relax and enjoy a nice bev. Or, anytime you need the kids to stop destroying everything in sight like the little barbarians they are.

[su_spacer size=”40″]Quote: F*ck it, Dude. Let’s go bowling.

Useful when: You just can’t even anymore, so you might as well go roll.

Why I Want to be a Good Enough Parent

I know what kind of parent I try to be: patient, thoughtful, easygoing, and joyful. And patient. I know I already wrote that. But my number one priority and desire for my parenting style is to be patient.

I know what kind of parent I try to be: patient, thoughtful, easygoing, and joyful. And patient. I know I already wrote that. But my number one priority and desire for my parenting style is to be patient.

Life, being human, and actually being a parent makes it hard. So when I am not the mama I want to be, or think I should be, it feels like all systems fail. I yell. I nag and rush my kids through tasks. I am anything but patiently joyful. Then I feel regret and guilt. It feels like I am the failed system.

After the kids are asleep and my partner and I digest the day, I remind myself that I am not perfect. And anything less than perfect is still pretty good. In fact, there is scientific evidence that proves being good enough is just the right amount of good. Though written in 1987, the book A Good Enough Parent by Bruno Bettelheim feels like the message modern day parents need. Bettelheim encourages self-reflection so that parents can understand their children and their behaviors, thus allowing them to become the person they want to be and not the person we think they should be. The book is also full of reassuring reasons why we are probably already doing a fine job.

The concept of being a good enough parent stems from D.W. Winnicott, an English pediatrician and psychoanalyst, who believed that “ordinary” parents are doing a good job and don’t need the intrusion of numerous professional experts when it comes to raising children. He also believed that a parent’s focus should be on creating a nurturing environment where both parents and children can safely explore their authentic selves through play and creativity.

Bettelheim takes this theory of “normal” parenting and provides a guidebook on what it means to be good enough for our children. He explains that first we need to let go of perfectionism and says this, “Perfection is not within the grasp of ordinary human beings. Efforts to attain it typically interfere with that lenient response to the imperfections of others, including those of one’s child, which alone make good human relations possible.” 

In an article published on Psychology Today, Dr. Peter Gray interprets Bettelheim’s words this way:

“The belief that perfection, or even something approaching it, is possible in parenting promotes a tendency to blame. The perfectionist reasoning is this: If problems arise, then they must be someone’s fault. Parents seeking perfection blame themselves, or their spouse, or their children when things are not just right. Blame never helps. Blame is the bane of every family in which it occurs.”

When we can let go of trying to be perfect, we can also let go what other people think of our parenting styles, because ultimately we, as parents, understand what is best for our children even when others don’t agree. Good enough parents understand their children, or at least try to understand them, by having empathy while allowing them to feel any and all of their emotions.

It is also important to focus on the present. The good enough parent is able to let go of idealistic views of our kids’ future. Instead, we focus on creating a happy childhood for our children. Happy kids who feel supported and secure in their relationships with their parents tend to grow up to be happy adults who are capable of making healthy connections with other adults and eventually children of their own. Our children’s future and the decisions they ultimately make are theirs, not ours. Good enough parents don’t save their children from failure. In fact, we are doing more harm than good if we don’t guide them through the learning process of natural consequences.

Keeping all of this in mind can feel daunting, but that is far from the idea. Good enough parenting is about compassion and maturity. It’s about accepting and coping with imperfections—because they are going to happen. Being a good enough parent means knowing we’re going to screw up, yet we still have the confidence to know we are doing a good job.

A good enough parent forgives him or herself and shows his or her kids how to react to life’s victories and defeats. Good enough parenting is about trusting our instincts when it comes to knowing what our children need. And it’s about giving our kids the space to develop their true selves.

All of this is a reminder for me to celebrate the fact that each day I am raising my kids in a loving environment where they are safe and feel safe enough to express their joy and exert their independence. The frustrations and disappointments are just as valuable as the shining moments in parenting. Everyone’s version of a happy kid and healthy family will be a bit different, but every version is enough.

Bettelheim also believes this: “While we are not perfect, we are indeed good enough parents if most of the time we love our children and do our best to do well by them. This wisdom, or truth, can protect us against the folly of reflecting that everything a child does reflects only upon us. Much of what he does has mainly to do with himself and only indirectly or peripherally with us and what we do.”

When it comes to my kids, I want to be good enough.

Why Conversations With Your Preschooler Are More Important Than Preschool

There really are few things more entertaining than a chat with a 4 year old. Yet, hilarity aside, there’s actually scientific evidence that suggests volleying conversation back and forth with young kids lays a foundation for later successes.

There really are few things more entertaining than a chat with a 4 year old. Yet, hilarity aside, there’s actually scientific evidence that suggests volleying conversation back and forth with young kids lays a foundation for later successes. 

According to research by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, engaging in dialogue with young kids can, in the long term, significantly improve their vocabulary and reading comprehension.

An eye-opening take away from their multi-year study? By the time a child reaches the age of three, the duration of their conversations, their speech patterns, and even the average number of words they use are a direct reflection of their parents.  

There’s much debate these days about what we can do to ensure that our kids grow up to lead full, happy and enriching lives. Given the insights from this study, maybe we should spend less time stressing out about selecting a preschool and more time talking construction vehicles, favorite color preferences, and just what ingredients make the ultimate ice cream sundae (preferably, over ice cream sundaes.)

The truth is, everyone loves a good conversationalist. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the most important and overlooked skills we can acquire. Engaging people in conversation (and learning to really listen) is the key to learning and building connections. It solves problems and sparks new ideas.

But just like conversing with people over 3 feet tall, there’s certainly an art to it. For some parents it’s hard to find the right questions or topics that get them chatting. For others, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise over a breathless barrage of the entire plot of Frozen.

Asking open ended questions that start with “who, what, when, where, or why” give the most runway for thoughtful answers. Narrowing those questions down to specifics are helpful for driving the dialogue. (Instead of “what did you do today?” ask “what games did you play at recess today?”)


Read: 30 Questions to Ask Your Kid Instead of how Was Your Day


 

Simple things, like narrating your frustrations about a misplaced set of keys and involving your kid in the retracing of steps go a long way in boosting their ability to problem solve.

Relating stories of your own childhood to the things they enjoy/fear/are disappointed by brings you closer. (Especially if you tell them the embarrassing stuff.)

Asking about their dreams is beyond entertaining. Last week my 4 year old daughter recounted a “very scary dream” where two crabs “tried to steal me and take me to their land of dirt and rocks.”

“Wow. That sounds stressful. How big were the crabs?”

With her hands in claw shapes, she smacked them together imploring, “Regular size. BUT THEY WERE VERY STRONG.” 

The beauty of implementing this scientifically proven path to greatness? You can do while you wait in line at the grocery store. On the drive to school. While cooking dinner. (And it’s way cheaper than fancy preschool.)

Beyond “Sleep When the Baby Sleeps” – 7 Tips For New Parents That Are Actually Useful

Throughout my pregnancy I mostly heard the same advice over and over.  To help out all the soon-to-be-mamas out there, I’ve compiled a list of my all-time favorite, never before heard newborn survival tips.

When I was pregnant with my son I was big. I started showing early and, by 28 weeks, people were asking how far past my due date I was.

Despite not being able to see my feet or shave my legs, I loved being big. I’d looked forward to experiencing pregnancy since I was a little girl and, after the loss of my first pregnancy at nearly 10 weeks, my round belly and the constant kicks my little one gifted me with felt very reassuring.

The only downside to being so obviously pregnant for so much of my pregnancy was that it left me absolutely inundated with advice.

Reminiscent grandmas told me to “savor every second” and haggard moms in the grocery store shouted over their own fighting kids that I better “sleep now because you won’t for the next 10 years.”

Strangers on the street stopped me to tell me what I should and shouldn’t be eating and the best positions to labor in. Though trying to process all the advice coming my way was tiring, a big part me was listening, desperately, for anything that I thought might help ease into the biggest transition of my life.

Though I didn’t know exactly what parenthood was going to be like, I did know that life was going to change in a big way and, every day of my pregnancy that passed, I got a little more nervous about what was ahead.

Throughout my pregnancy I mostly heard the same advice over and over.

While “sleep while the baby sleeps” actually turned out to be a pretty good tip, there were several gems, uttered by family and friends and strangers, that came to be far more important in my sons first few months.

To help out all the soon-to-be-mamas out there, I’ve compiled a list of my all-time favorite, never-before-heard newborn survival tips.

New baby mom and dad

1 | Buy a mattress pad, not for the crib, but for your bed

This one came from my aunt. Though I’d always heard mom’s talking about the importance of the little plastic under sheets that keep the baby’s crib mattress clean and dry in the case of a diaper incident, I’d never thought of getting one for my bed until my aunt told me it was an absolute necessity.

The thing is, the baby won’t just be having blowouts in its own bed – it will also, definitely, be pooping and spitting up and peeing all over yours too.

During the newborn period you will also be exhausted and, while it may be hard to imagine now, I promise that there will be a night (or a lot of nights) when your baby does one of these things and you, in your utter desperation for sleep, just throw a towel over the spot and scoot over.

It’s times like these you’ll be particularly grateful that you have a mattress pad under your own sheets.

2 | Don’t even bother with a baby bathtub

As I browsed the bathing section of Babies-r-Us, my husband pushing the cart and me massaging my growing bump, I imagined the not-to-far-off day I would be giving my own child their very first bath.

As I tried to imagine which tub my son would like best, a toddler mom zipped past and shouted, over her shoulder “skip the tub, they’re never going to use it!”

On that day I didn’t believe her and, as I bought the fancy tub, I wondered why other people always seemed to think they had a right to give advice. And then my son was born and, indeed, he never ever used his fancy little tub.

I tried to set it up once, but, before I could get it out of the box, my son spit up on me and, as I stripped off my own shirt, I decided a co-shower would be pleasant.

I was surprised at how much my boy seemed to love snuggling up to me under the warm water and, from that night forward, I didn’t even try to get the tub from it’s box.

3 | It’s cool to keep wearing your maternity clothes

… and I don’t mean for just a few weeks. Once, when my son was about a year and a half old a co-worker complimented my sweater and asked where I got it – I sheepishly replied that it was a maternity sweater. Almost immediately all other moms in the group, even those with kids well into elementary school shouted out that they were still wearing a few maternity favorites.

No, you might not want to keep wearing the shirt that says “baby on board,” but if something fits well and looks good don’t ditch it just because it says maternity on the label.

4 | Stock up on restaurant gift cards while your pregnant

After you have a baby people are nice to you. For a little while at least, they cook you meals and shovel your driveway and ask if you need a sitter.

All too soon, though, they totally forget about you and you’re stuck with a cluster-feeding one-month old, a bank account running on empty due to unexpected baby expenses and absolutely nothing for dinner.

A friend suggested I splurge on a few restaurant gift cards with money people give me at my shower and, a few months later, I was deeply grateful she had suggested it.

5 | Get some kind of stretchy, wrappy thing for your jiggly-wiggly post-birth belly

I’m sure it’s possible for your belly to shrink back to it’s normal size without being held together in a compression tank top, but I’m not sure that it would have been possible for me to walk out of the hospital without one.

In the hours, days and weeks after giving birth, it felt like my organs were bouncing around falling back into place every time I took a step – that’s because my organs were bouncing around and falling back into place every time I took a step. I got a cheapo post-natal wrap off Amazon, but I’m sure that just about any tight tank top or wrap marketed for this purpose will do.

This piece of advice came from the woman checking me out at the maternity store and, in those first few weeks, I was immensely grateful that I had listened.

6 | Pick a pediatrician whose office is near good restaurants

There are a lot of articles on picking a pediatrician – these articles suggest you find someone who shares your parenting philosophy, who is a good listener and who will work with you to meet your parenting goals.

These things are important, but what really matters, is what restaurants are next door to their office. In your baby’s first year of life you’re going to take a ridiculous number of trips to the doctor – it’s also likely going to be one of the only places you’re able to get yourself out the door to in the early weeks, so make each visit count by rounding it into a lunch or dinner outing somewhere good.

This parenting tip is all my own and, as I chow down after every doctor’s appointment, I give myself a hearty pat on the back for choosing my pediatrician so wisely.

7 | Just go ahead and buy the bulk pack

Before I had my son I didn’t think I would allow him to use a pacifier. I worried they would destroy my sons nursing latch or mess up his future teeth, but five days in, when I realized that he needed to be sucking something LITERALLY 24/7, I broke down, bought a pack of pacifiers and regained a tiny piece of the sanity I’d lost over the past few days.

My son was soothed by a pacifier, but also had a tendency to spit them so quietly and surreptitiously that we often found ourselves tearing the house apart to try to locate one as he fussed on the verge of waking up in his crib.

A turning point in my life came when, on another mad dash to the store for more pacifiers, my mom suggested I just but five packs. A light bulb went on, and I thanked her for her genius. That afternoon I distributed the 15 new pacifiers among the rooms of my home and my little one was rarely out of reach of one for long.

Whether your kid’s thing is pacifiers or a specific type of blanket or swaddle, do yourself a favor and just go ahead and buy the big pack – they’ll use it, I promise.

So, soon-to-be parents and already-parents out there: What’s the most useful parenting advice you’ve ever received?