Archive for Tips & Tricks

Getting Kids to Drink More Water

With the onset of the warm months it is important for everyone to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. This is especially true for children, who can become overheated and dehydrated very quickly.

Take our own situation for example. After a round of visits to the doctor for a urinary tract infection a month ago, we have been super-vigilant with our 3 1/2 year old’s elimination habits – making sure she wipes properly, etc. But when she complained that her girl parts hurt a week ago, I was convinced she had contracted another UTI. Off to the doctor we went and submitted a urine sample for testing. The results came back negative for a UTI, but the doctor advised that her pH levels were higher than they should be and to encourage her to drink more water.

In a nation where soda and fruit juice are so prevalent, we have been making a conscious effort to no longer stock soda and limit access to fruit juices – presenting milk and water as choices at meals. That has worked reasonably well, but I found that our daughter was choosing milk over water pretty consistently. How could I make water a more pleasant alternative? The answer came to me this past week as we prepared to teach a cooking with fresh herbs class – “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme: Cultivating and Cooking with Fresh Herbs.”

My husband Dave had made a mint syrup to add to the iced tea we would be serving at the event. Here is the recipe:

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • large handful of mint leaves (approximately 1 cup)

Put mint leaves in food processor w/1 tablespoon sugar (as an abrasive) and 1-2 tablespoons of water. Blend until mint is finely minced. Bring the water and mint leaves to a boil in a small saucepan, add remaining sugar. Boil for 2-5 minutes or longer if you want the syrup thicker. Strain syrup through a fine sieve to remove any particulate matter. Store in a closed container for up to two weeks at room temperature or up to twelve months in the refrigerator.

Add just 1/2 teaspoon of mint syrup to a cup and add 6-8 ounces of cold water. This will give the water a clean, minty taste. Our daughter loves the taste of it and asks for it regularly. The amount of sugar (when you consider that you are only adding 1/2 teaspoon is negligible to the benefits that drinking the water gives her. Also, mint helps digestion!

My husband also made a ginger syrup for the more ‘adult’ tastebuds…the only difference is he substituted a ‘hand’ of fresh ginger (finely chopped) for the mint. If you don’t feel like making your own, try a Torini syrup in a flavor your child will enjoy. Just 1/2 teaspoon will flavor the water and make water a far more appealing choice!

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What are These? The Terrible THREES?!

When a tantrum comes, it can be epic. I mean, truly epic. With only two exceptions, they have happened at home and not in public. And believe me, my husband and I are quite thankful of that. The tantrum, filled with door pounding, toy throwing and blood curdling screams that leave your eardrums aching, usually lasts for about twenty minutes.

Our parents didn’t really ‘get’ how bad they were until we called them, first my husband’s parents, then mine, during an episode that lasted more than thirty minutes. It was fueled by no nap and lots of sugar and caffeine after a birthday party for my husband and it stands out in stark contrast to the rest in its duration and intensity. Our parents, all of them, were amazed and shocked. They assured both of us that we had never had a tantrum like that. They were sure, they all said, that they would have remembered as they listened to the screams carried thousands of miles over phone lines.

What causes these tantrums?

Lack of sleep.

Hunger.

Too much sugar.

Or…just because.

Enduring them, while not being able to simply snap my fingers and make them go away by ignoring them or some other quick fix has been humbling to say the least. I have searched my memories, over and over, trying to remember anything like this from my experiences raising my firstborn, now 21 years old, but keep coming up empty. This isn’t a matter of convenient amnesia, this is a matter of complete lack of experience with this form of outburst.

My firstborn tried throwing a tantrum once. She had seen the others in daycare do it, she was tiny, maybe eighteen months old, and she threw herself down on the floor and began kicking and screaming. I looked at her, said “Hah!” and walked out of the room. Out of her view I stood quietly around the corner and watched. Less than a minute later she stopped, looked around, and realized she had no audience. She picked herself up and continued with her day as usual. She never did it again.

So when Emily’s tantrums started this past November, just a month after her third birthday, I was completely taken aback. What was this? Where did it come from? Everyone had commented that she was such a good baby. She was sweet, talkative, lovable, obedient, and friendly – what wasn’t to like? And then the tantrums started.

We looked for causes. Is everything all right in her daycare? We reduced her hours in daycare from full-time to just three days per week at the end of November and we watched her responses to going to daycare carefully. No problems there, she seemed to really enjoy going there and was reluctant to leave at the end of the day. No one else besides us cares for her or is left alone with her, so all seemed fine.

We reduced sugary snacks and enforced naps. “You can play quietly in your room if you like, but you must go in there and stay there because it’s quiet time right now.” Almost without fail we would peek in and find her curled up asleep within half an hour.

We reduced television watching to one short show in the morning and nothing until after dark fell (this will get better as the days grow longer – less tv time!)

The tantrums are infrequent, perhaps one or two per week, but it remains a very disturbing and stressful situation for us. We explain to her after the tantrum is over and she is wiping her tears away, “We have rights. Everyone in this house deserves to not be yelled or screamed at, to not be hit. When you do this, you will be put in your room and the door will be closed until you can calm down.”

She nods and from what I can tell, understands quite well what we are saying. Early on, after a tantrum I would ask her, “Do you know why I put you in your room?”

“Because I was bad.”

“No, it is because you screamed at me (or Daddy) and tried to hit us. Screaming and hitting is not okay.”

Last night I asked her why and she said, “Because I screamed at you and Daddy.”

And this is the message I want my daughter to understand. Not that she was bad or a monster or any other tongue-in-cheek references to The Exorcist that my husband and I may share between ourselves. The reason she was isolated from us is an issue of basic respect. I cannot scream at her or her daddy, her daddy cannot scream at me or her, and she cannot scream at either of us. It is simply not an acceptable way to show her disagreement, frustration or anger.

I will admit it, I worry about the onset of the warm months. Will her screams and door-pounding result in a visit from the police or the Department of Family Services? Part of me cringes as I think, “I teach parenting classes for crying out loud, what will people think?!”

As I shared my fears during a meltdown last night, my dad commented, “Heck, I’d call DFS if I heard that kind of racket coming out of a house!”  And since our daughter’s room is within earshot of the street (especially during a tantrum), I am hoping, desperately at times, that these tantrums will be resolved before the weather gets warm.

I have run down the list, done the research, and come up with three choices:

  • Ignore the behavior until it subsides
  • Social isolation (time out in her room)
  • Holding/gently restraining

I know my limits. I am simply not wired to be able to stand there and let my child scream in my face and make my eardrums ring or allow her to hit one of us. I have tried the holding/gentle restraining during one episode. It not only infuriated her worse, I am pretty sure I now have significant hearing loss (okay, I’m being slightly sarcastic). It seemed to make things worse, although I spoke to her quietly and tried to rub her back while she did everything she could to, a) get loose, and b) hit me, while still screaming at the top of her lungs.

This leaves social isolation, or a time out. Her bedroom door sticks slightly. And when she is in a tantrum mood, she becomes so upset she loses the ability to manipulate the door open successfully. She screams, pounds on the door, bellows to us to ‘let her out’ and throws her toys. She does not, thankfully, hurt herself (except inadvertently). What I have found interesting is our reaction. We want her back out with us and we often go to her long before she has gotten all her anger out and try to speak with her, asking her if she would like to come out.

The door is typically slammed in our face, even as she screams at us to let her out. In time, sometimes as little as five minutes and sometimes as long as half an hour, the tantrum passes. She emerges, tear streaked and hiccuping and walks up to me as she did last night. She wraps her arm around my leg, presses her head close and peers up at me, “I’m sorry,” she says.

“What are you sorry about?” I ask.

“I’m sorry I screamed at you and hit Daddy.”

“I’m sorry you did too, honey, because I don’t like having to put you in your room or hear you so upset.” I hug her to me, “I love you.”

“I love you too, Mama.”

And with that, we sit down to eat dinner.

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If your child is engaging in tantrum behavior, you might try these following steps:

  • Attempt to find a cause – too much sugar, too little sleep? Examine who your child has been spending time with – extreme anger can in rare cases be a sign of some kind of abuse.
  • Structure the environment – remove the possible causes of tantrums from the environment. We do not allow Emily to have any sugary snacks or soda on a regular basis now. Our house also has a rule in place for my mother, “You cannot return our daughter to us within twelve hours of feeding her sugar or chocolate!” Have a safe place for your child to go when they need a time out. We use our daughter’s room because this is her sanctuary. It is the place she goes to rest, to be by herself, and to pull herself together when she is feeling out of control.
  • Post the Rules – Experiencing the tantrums led me to think about some of our (primarily unspoken) rules of the house: no hitting, no yelling, politeness by saying “please” and “thank you, ” being kind to the animals, cleaning up your mess, and more. Think about what yours are and have a family discussion about it. Consider posting a list of the rules for everyone to see and refer back to it when any member of the house violates a rule.
  • Agree and Assess – It is vital that you (and your spouse or partner) agree on a plan of action and maintain a unified front. My husband is a bit of a marshmallow in comparison to me. She screams once and that’s it, she’s in her room. He will let her get at least a handful of screams in, and possibly a hit or two at him, before he even threatens to put her in her room. This is something we have had to work on, because we have both seen that she reacts with far more belligerence in his presence than in mine. We talk about it, when we are calm, and we assess the situation afterward and alter our behavior if we feel the tantrums need a different approach.
  • Write it Down – If you are seeing regular tantrums, chart them out. Details to include would be:
  1. Date and time of day
  2. Possible causes of tantrum
  3. What child did during tantrum
  4. What you did to combat it
  5. How long it took for your child to recover from the tantrum
  • Don’t Live in Fear – As I have watched these tantrums unfold in the last few months I have come to a realization. If they continue, I will have the police or possibly DFS at my door. This will, in all likelihood happen of the tantrums continue into spring. And really, I’m neither afraid of it nor resentful. In a case like this, if a child were being abused, I would want the authorities to intervene! I would want my neighbors to take the chance at upsetting or embarrassing us and report a child screaming in our home. It will be quite obvious when they arrive and see her that she has not been hurt and I will calmly explain the steps we have taken to deal with the situation.
  • Love the Child, Not the Behavior – I will admit that it is hard for me to not be resentful. It seems that long after the tantrum has ended, my nerves are still a jangly mess while our daughter is as carefree as a bird. But I love her, and while I do not like or appreciate the behavior, I love my daughter deeply. I take pains to make sure she knows that I love her no matter what. I state clearly that her behavior has hurt my feelings, but that I still love her and always will.
  • Seek Help – If your child is having screaming and violent tantrums multiple times each day – if they hurt themselves or others – if it takes them hours to calm down afterwards – these are all signs of a potentially far larger problem. Consult with a pediatric psychologist and bring notes on how often the tantrums have occurred, the potential causes, and what you have done during each episode.

In closing I simply want to say this – our responsibilities as parents include loving, protecting and teaching our children, even during the most trying of times. But that doesn’t mean we have to be screamed at or hit. We have rights too. Teaching our children what those right are, posting them for all the world to see, and sticking to them through thick and thin, will infuse your child with a sense of respect and common courtesy that is direly needed in our modern world.

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3 Qualities That Affect Your Children the Most

I’m giving away all the secrets today. Or at least, three important ones. To be a successful parent that effects change in your child’s life you need to have three qualities well established. After that, the rest is a walk in the park.

Here it is, successful parenting made simple.

The three qualities that you exhibit which affect your children the most are the qualities you model each and every day…

WHO you are

Are you honest? A hard worker? Fair-minded? Respectful? A responsible member of the community?

HOW you live your life

Are you living a life that models honesty, hard work, friendship, morality, and healthy living?

WHAT you say AND do

When you promise to do something, do you do it? Do you walk the talk, or do you just talk the walk?

Every one of us has different values and expectations of ourselves and our children. But the most powerful message we can send, the one that cements itself in their brains early on, is when we hold ourselves first to the standards we expect from others.

This means taking responsibility. It means showing strength of character and admitting when we are wrong. It means BEING the model.

If you want your child to be patient, you must show him patience first.

If you want your child to be an athlete, you need to avoid the couch and encourage a game of catch.

If you want your child to show empathy to those less fortunate, you must take her to serve on a soup line or volunteer at a homeless shelter.

By keeping it real, by modeling the behavior and values we wish for our children, we show them it can be done and we are living proof of its benefits.

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But I Don’t Want to Go to School…

Monday morning…8:40 am…and we were parked in the daycare parking lot.

As I reached to undo Emily’s buckles on her car seat she screamed, “No, don’t take me out!” I paused, her seat half unbuckled, and reached again for the last hook. “NO! I don’t want to go to school!” She looked as if she were on the edge of tears.

“Don’t you want to go to school today?” I asked. This vivacious, outgoing daughter of mine practically stampeded down the sidewalk each weekday, barreled through the entry and straight into a hug from a playmate.  That she would not want to go to school was rather shocking to me.

Her face showed a flash of sly wonder, as if she were considering how likely her chances were of actually not going into the building at that moment. “I want to go to work with you, Mama.”

I had recently taken on some part-time work for a friend of mine, working in her home office. When I was first turning over the idea of putting Emily in daycare two months before, my friend, desperate for office help, had even said, “If you need to bring Emily to work with you, you can.”

Knowing my three-year-old as well as I do, I knew that wouldn’t work. I have a strong work ethic, when I’m at work, I’m there 100%. Having a 3-year-old bopping around asking questions and needing attention would not work, not at all. I had insisted that I would retain child care and had found a large, colorful, fun and well organized daycare just a few blocks from our house. Emily had fit in well there, eagerly heading off to class each weekday morning.

Looking at her now, I figured this was a test. But a test of what? Was there something more at play here? Was she having difficulties with her classmates or her new teacher? In that moment I made the decision.

“Do you want to come to work with me today?” I asked her. She grinned and nodded. “Okay, but I think you are going to find it rather boring.” I fastened her back in, closed the door and drove out of the parking lot. As I did I thought of Jean telling me, “You can bring Emily to work with you if you need to.” Somehow, after nearly three months, I doubted the offer was still on the table. This would require some delicate footwork.

When I arrived I explained to Jean that I was pretty sure this was just a test and that, if Emily got rowdy, I would pack her up and take her home or to the daycare. I said it quietly, and asked Jean for her help, “I have told her there aren’t any toys here and I don’t want to switch on the television.”

My friend’s face was a mixture of incredulity and thinly veiled impatience. I could tell this wasn’t going to wash for very long. She came into the office, sat down at her desk and I called Emily over to me. “Sweetie, please remember not to touch anything, because this isn’t our house. There are no toys to play with either. Just let me know when you want to go to school, okay?” She nodded, and I leaned down and kissed her.

It took all of 30 minutes. “Mama, I want to go to school now.”

“Okay, Emily. I’ll take you to school.” I gathered up the deposit for the bank, and the mail for the post office. “I’ll run and do these errands while I’m out, Jean.” She smiled and nodded as we left.

When I returned Jean was laughing. “Wow, when you first came in and told me you had Emily with you and why, I thought, ‘This kid rules the roost!’ But I was really impressed with how you handled that.”

I explained to her that I had been concerned that there might be more than she was telling me. It was quite obvious after the first few minutes that Emily was simply testing the waters, and checking to see if I would actually be willing to take her with me if she wanted it badly enough.No abuse or problems were occurring, but I had needed to make sure of that.

If there is a next time and she again refuses to go to school, I will probably be kind but firm, and explain that, although I miss her when I am at work, we both have our places to go and things to do.

I am lucky that I have a work scenario where I could do this. It was the perfect answer for the situation at hand and it worked out very well. Not everyone is as lucky.

I imagined doing something like that in my last ‘real’ job working for an insurance company. I closed my eyes and imagined my daughter running up and down the aisles of that corporate office. Somehow I don’t think it would worked out as nicely!

Even if you don’t have the same situation. Even if your situation is more like mine was fifteen years ago with my firstborn, please tread carefully. Yes, we need our jobs so we can pay for our homes and clothes and food. But if we are slaves to our positions, to the extent that we send our children to school when all they need is just a few minutes of our time…what are we teaching them?

Perhaps I am suggesting a change in how we work and how we live. And maybe that’s too much to think of or make happen overnight. But I encourage you to give it some thought.

I was properly appreciative when I returned to work. I made sure that my friend knew that this was one of the reasons I had agreed to work for her…because I needed that flexibility and understanding as much as she had needed me to help out in her office.

I don’t regret spending an extra half hour of my day with one amazing and sweet little girl. The way I measure it…we’re both worth it!

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