Why we chose to avoid the “elf”

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I have never been one to follow the crowd.  Even though I am an introvert by nature, I tend to speak my mind and question authority (ask my husband…oh and my parents!). . . .and I am never ok with believing what the majority says.  So!  When I first heard about the Elf on the Shelf, I was skeptical.  Don’t get me wrong, this little elf sounds like so much fun.  It’s the type of fun I would love to have.  I have some mischievous qualities to myself, and the elf would fit right into my life.  I spent many minutes of my life dreaming up great ways for this little elf to be devious and sneaky.  I mean. .. . .come on!  I was the preschool teacher who took green paint and walked her fingers all over the classroom to make her preschoolers think the leprechauns had visited the classroom overnight.  As a child, I had a wild imagination and still do, which has made me a “dreamer” as an adult.  But I digress.  I love this type of stuff!!!!!  It could be a real obsession for me.  My child would probably believe in all these things for the rest of her life because I would be THAT good.  No really.

But then our daughter was born.  Many of the “i have to’s” went out the door.  They were either not important anymore or just plain stupid.  The older she became, the more we started talking about how we would handle Christmas, halloween and all of our holiday traditions.  Growing up, Christmas was all about Jesus, but we also included santa claus.  Oh I loved santa claus.  I loved him so much that I believed whole heartedly that he was real and that somehow God gave him special powers to do everything he did.  That was until my 7th grade (you read that right) teacher asked everyone in the class, “so how did you find out santa claus was a fake?”  WHAT?!?!?!?  Oh yeah.  I told you I had a very vivid imagination.  There was no stopping it!  I bet you’re wondering what my answer was. . . .I simply said, “I don’t remember” and went home to my parents with many questions.  Ahem, excuse me?  How can santa claus NOT be real?  I mean. . . .God is ALL-POWERFUL, darn it!  Santa claus could totally be REAL!!!!!!  But he is not.

So as our daughter grew older, I realized that I couldn’t do santa claus the way he is traditionally “done” because I just couldn’t lie.  I was in the middle of a great conflict.  On one hand, I wanted our daughter to experience the magic of santa claus, but on the other hand I didn’t want to tell her an ongoing lie for years on end.  I finally settled on a compromise because I am unable to completely let go of the wonderfulness of santa claus, but I also decided to not lie to my child about him.  After all, I am a distant cousin of Abraham Lincoln, and we all know. . . .he could NEVER tell a lie.  I come by it honestly.  No pun intended. . . .

This year we bought a book that tells the story about St. Nick.  If you don’t know the story/legend, you should read up on it.  There are many different accounts of St. Nick, but all of them point to a few similar traits.  St. Nick was a rich person.  He was a giving person.  And he was a Christian.  Those were all the traits that I wanted my daughter to know about St. Nick, or Santa Claus.  Every year we plan on talking about santa and how his giving spirit lives on.  We will give her a gift that represents Santa claus’ giving spirit.  We will still visit santa claus and have pictures taken.  We will enjoy a bit of the magic minus the deception.  We will watch the santa claus movies just like we watch movies about tinker bell and winnie the pooh.  The one thing I have found to be true is that the imagination of a child is not dependent on our involvement.  We don’t have to do a thing.  They will still pretend and have imaginations that amaze us!  I am sure she will still experience the “magic” of it all and will pretend he is real every once in a while.  That’s ok with us!

So why do we choose to avoid the elf?  It’s probably not the reason you’re expecting to hear.  Sure. . . we don’t want to deceive our daughter, making her think the elf is REALLY reporting to santa claus and REALLY coming alive at night.  But the truth is that we want to keep the main thing, the main thing (in the words of my wise mother).  Christmas is not about how well you trim your tree or how many kiddie crafts you can fit into a 24 hour period.  It is not about how mischievous your little elf is.  It is not about how well you pretend santa claus is real.  Christmas is about Jesus.  So every tradition we build into Christmas as a family will be strongly rooted in Christ.  I can find Christ in the story of St. Nick, but not so much in the Elf on the shelf.  So while it is totally a fun idea, and I commend those of you who participate in it, it is not a tradition for us.  And we are ok with that.  If it is a tradition you have chosen and you enjoy it, go for it!  Enjoy it, embrace it, and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for your choice.  Just make sure it is a tradition that you want and it is not a tradition that you are pressured into because “everyone else is doing it”.  Make traditions with your children.  They are memories that will last a lifetime!

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The Best Years of Your Life

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After an exhausting day of being a mom, I was talking to my own mom on the phone.  My 3 yr old had worn me out emotionally and physically, and I was ready to flop on the ground and not move until morning.  My mom said, “someday you will look back and remember this as the best time of your life.”  Well of course I thought, “hmmm.  I hope NOT!”  I absolutely loved the early years of our marriage and my years of being a single 20-something with only my future dreams ahead of me.  I’m fairly certain that snot, puke, tantrums and poop have nothing to do with the best years of my life!  So being the analytical person that I am, I continued to think about that phrase for a few weeks.  “Are these really the best years of my life, and if they are, what exactly is the definition of ‘best’?”  See?  Just like I said: “analytical!”  Hang in there.  I think I’m on to something!

I am a true believer in perspective.  Whatever is going on in life can seem to be good or bad, but this is not because of the circumstance itself, but because of how we PERCEIVE it.  Recently a family friend said, “how we perceive the first snow of the winter will affect our mood for the entire season.”  Maybe those aren’t her exact words, but you get the jest.  Perception is reality!  My husband loves that phrase.  And it is so true.  If you have a preconceived notion about a restaurant because your friend loves it, that will indeed affect your perception of that restaurant.  Maybe you hate being a mother, and your negativity translates into the way you treat your child.  Or on the flip side:  you are a positive thinker, and you see the glass as half full.  This perspective greatly affects your happiness or contentment with life.  This is real life.  There are crummy times, and there are amazing times.  If Paul from the Bible can be content in all things (this guy was in prison!!!), then we can do it to!

So what about this word, “best”?  These years are the best years of your life!  Being my mom’s daughter for my entire life (it’s ok to laugh here), I know my mom’s true intention when she said this.  I know that she didn’t mean to say that everything is coming up roses & I should be grateful for the bountiful blessings God has bestowed upon me. .. . . .like spit up on my shirt and poop on my shoes. So what is “best” about the years of bearing children?  On a difficult day, this question is hard to answer.  I can’t see past the toddler tantrums or sharpie marker scribbled all over the walls.  But today I will tell you that the “best” is not about those little oopses as a parent.  The BEST is experiencing a love that is so deep that you cannot explain it in words, watching your spouse change from being terribly impatient to having more patience than you, imparting your wisdom into an impressionable little being, caring for someone who cannot care for themselves, understanding unconditional love, recognizing how much God really loves us. . . .I could go on and on.

What I realize now is that “best” doesn’t mean it is better in terms of good life vs. bad life.  To me, my best years are those where I grow the most.  And when I have the most growth, I have usually endured the most struggles.  These years are the best because they are challenging.  These years have brought out something in me that I didn’t know was there.  I am a more confident person because of my child.  I see life differently because I see it through her eyes.  Sometimes I am the student, and she is the teacher.  These years are best because my life is forever changed.

I still look back at my single years and newlywed years as some of the best years of my life because we had a blast!  We were carefree and did whatever we wanted to.  We were selfish and loved it.  But I’m sure when I am 80 years old and look back at my life, I will see these years of raising children as the best. .. . . .not because they were grandiose or always blissful.  But simply because these were the years that changed me forever and made me into a better person.

Hurry Up!

“Hurry up!”  These are 2 words that I continually find myself saying in my head.  As a mom, I made myself a promise that I would not subject my child to the spirit of “hurry”, even though hurry is one of the ways I function & always have.  And so I say it to myself instead: “hurry up. . . .get in the car. . . .we’re going to be late!!!!”  And then I calmly say out loud to my child, “we need to go honey. . . .please get in your seat.”  And sometimes I even turn it into a hurry game!  I say, “ok. . . .let’s see how quickly you can get in your car seat. . . ready. . .set. . . .go!!!!”

If you are a parent, you have probably guessed that I have a 3 year old.  She is just independent enough to dress herself, go potty and get ready to leave.  HOWEVER, she is just young enough  that she puts her shoes on the wrong feet. . . .or wears a tank top when it’s 30 degrees outside.  Thus, the reason for my sense of “hurriedness”.  It doesn’t matter what I do, we are either ridiculously early or crazy late to every function.  When I set aside a good 30 minutes to get her ready, allowing for those expected threenager behaviors, my little girl is an angel.  She gets ready, wears the appropriate clothing and says, “sure mommy!” to every request.  And so we are super early.   Then there are other days.  You know. . . .the days when we are crazy late because I am logical.  I cut the time down to allow 15 minutes to get her ready since we were left with too much time the day before.   And so she then pees all over the toilet seat, spills her milk, falls off her chair hitting her head and is screaming the whole way out the door.  Throw all planning efforts out the window!

Because of my desire to cure my hurriedness, I have done some serious self-assessment over the past few months.  I am a music therapist.  So I have this strong tendency to give myself therapy and dig deeper.  I love figuring out the real reason behind why we do the things we do.  After some self-reflection, I realized that I am hurrying because of focusing on completing the task more than enjoying the process of completing it.  I love fitting in just one more task.  “Oh. . . .I still have 5 minutes!  I think I’ll do a quick zumba workout before we leave!”  I’m not kidding.  This is me.  But the reality is that I am so focused on completing the tasks, that I forget about enjoying the process that is involved in getting me there.  As a therapist, we focus on the process instead of the product.  When I am teaching a child with developmental disabilities to play the piano, we see every opportunity as a learning opportunity because our goal is not to make that child a concert pianist or even a good pianist.  But the goal is to increase fine motor skills, on-task behavior, and following directions.  In typical piano lessons, this process is often overlooked.  And I need to bring that thinking into my personal life.  Instead of saying to myself. . . .”naptime is at 1.  We have to clean the car, get gas & go at the park by noon.  I hope we can fit it all in!”  I need to switch my focus so that I can enjoy some of these tasks with my daughter.  I desperately want to enjoy spending time with my 3 year old.  She can be so much fun!  I find that I only enjoy her when I am in the moment, focusing on the process instead of the product.  Once I slip back into:  “the task must be completed!!!!”, then she becomes an annoyance and hindrance to the task’s completion. That is not fun for either of us.

Hurried mommies (and daddies):  Take life one moment at a time.  Pour yourself into each moment, reminding yourself that those tasks will get done one way or another.  Don’t rush them.  That little child will grow up so fast.  Take time to smell the roses.  I bet your 3 year old will do it without even trying!

I have THAT child

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Look at this face!  You would never guess that I have THAT child.  Oh you know. . . .the one who bites HARD, the one who kicks, the one who throws trucks at other children’s heads.  I have that child.  Over the years I have spent a lot of time with children other than my own.  I worked in church childcare 4+ days a week for 7 years.  I taught preschool and PreK.  I spent years with autistic children.  I have experience with children and discipline and behavior.  The problem is, I always saw “that” child as being the child who was in full time daycare.  Because of course, products of daycare are hellions, right?  They are exposed to other children’s bad behaviors and they are influenced to act that way also.  Or maybe the parents aren’t doing enough.  They are letting their children run amuck and don’t discipline them.  And that’s where the problem begins.  What a horrible mentality to have.  My child is not in daycare.  She only goes to church childcare for an hour a week and to our gym childcare for 1-2 hours a week.  I am her biggest influence!  This realization has shocked me—the realization that my child is the product of a SAHM (Stay at home mom) and does these things that I have never modeled.

Funny thing is, I am not that bothered by the fact that she bites.  Many moms tell me that she will grow out of it.  I know this is true & pray for that day to come soon.  She will NOT be a 10 year old who bites her friends.  At least. . .I’m pretty sure she won’t be.  But nevertheless, I am not concerned that she bites.  What concerns me is the perception that others have of children who bite & how it makes the mom of a biting child feel about her performance as a mom.   We question ourselves enough and certainly don’t need to add this to our lists.

When I worked in childcare as a young college student, we were very judgmental.  Any act of the child was directly related to how the parents disciplined, or so we thought.  What a horrible attitude to have.  I kept this attitude until I had my own child in my 30’s!  My opinion changed drastically after I saw with my own eyes how much a child’s personality type can affect their behavior.  I knew my little girl’s personality within a few weeks of her birth.  She was always very determined & “spirited”.  While parents do have a very important role in their child’s behavior, not every act of our children can be prevented.  And on the flip side, just because you have a compliant child doesn’t mean that you are an awesome discipliner.  I bet I just burst someone’s bubble!!!!   If your child is pretty compliant without you intervening, chances are, your child’s personality is very easy going.

As much as I hate to admit it, we can’t have complete control over our children.  They have their own personalities & are certainly not puppets.  I have a very strong willed & determined child.  Her personality is vibrant and energetic!  She doesn’t just follow the rules because “I said so.”  She has to test the rules.  She is a sweet, empathetic, loving little girl.  She is smart & loves to sing.  She is also an easily frustrated little girl when things don’t go her way.  And the result of that feeling is usually biting, hitting, or kicking.  Toddlers, even those who have an amazing vocabulary, still have a hard time connecting their emotions with words.  They still connect emotions with actions.  For many children, they are not able to fully express themselves verbally until 4-5 years old.  While these acting out behaviors are not ok or permissible, they are understandable & very NORMAL.  Acting out doesn’t make a child bad.

I am thankful that I have had many church childcare workers who were empathetic to us and very encouraging.  They didn’t make me feel like a bad mom.  They didn’t make my child feel bad either.  But there have been a few workers at our gym and church who were just fed up with her behavior & I could tell when I walked up to the door.  There is no worse feeling as a parent than knowing your child is “in trouble” and has angered the staff.  These folks probably don’t act this way intentionally.  They just don’t understand.  Most of them are super nice individuals and care for the children.  But unfortunately, in my mind, those negative encounters have influenced me more than the encouragement I have received.  All the more reason to take the time to give encouragement to the parents out there as often as possible!  Being a parent can feel like a gamble.  Many of us question whether we are “doing it right” or not on a regular basis.

Parents, caregivers, childcare workers, grand parents, friends:  Go easy on the moms.  It isn’t easy being the mom of a toddler.  We work until our body is bone tired trying to keep the house in order, teaching our children how to be Christ-like and compassionate to others, taking care of the dogs, finding time to spend time with our husbands and preparing meals for everyone in the house, keeping in touch with parents who live far away, maintaining friendships.  Maybe you don’t mean to judge us, but you may wonder if we parents are doing enough to discipline our children.  Maybe it has been 30 years since you were in our shoes.  Do you remember these hard times?  Do you remember how hard it was to deal with potty training and biting?  Take some time to remember the way it really was.  Maybe you have never had your own children, but you have taken care of many children over the years.  Someday you will understand and empathize with those moms who had to deal with biting and kicking and spitting.  And before you say I will never let my child act like that, remember that our children are not puppets.  Instead be understanding.  Give us the benefit of the doubt before criticizing.

This week, take the time to notice a parent of a toddler.  Even if it is a stranger in a store.  Offer a word of encouragement to let her know that she/he is doing a great job.  A small word of praise can go a long way.

 

Even though this was written from the perspective of a mom, there are dads out there who have experienced similar feelings and situations.  This blog is for all of you parents out there!

Monthly Meal Planning Review

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I consider myself to be an organized person.  Messy, but organized.  It may be ironic, but I have a tendency to leave things sitting out:  random cups, shoes, underwear.  You know. . .normal stuff.  My husband thinks he is so funny when he finds my cups sitting around the house & puts them all on one table.  One time, he gathered up all of my shoes and set each pair of shoes on their own step on our staircase.  Hilarious, isn’t he?  Well, this “messy” person loves to be organized.  It is where I find the calm in the storm.  I get in a zone when I organize.  I have organized files, notebooks of music, organized stuffed animals, categorized bathroom toiletries, canned goods, labeled pantry items, an organized refrigerator (well most of the time). . . .you name it, chances are I have either organized it or thought very seriously about it.

So naturally, monthly meal planning sounded awesome to me in a nerdy sort of way.  But just as great as it sounded, it was just as scary too when I started to think about the execution of it all.  Not only would I have to plan out meals, but I would need to gather 20-30 recipes that all of us like, write out all of the ingredients to make a grocery list, decide which items needed to be purchased monthly or every two weeks or every week, make a note of when we didn’t need meals because of travel or special plans. . . . . .  And at that point, this great idea turned into an organizational nightmare for me.  I started slowly by making a list of 20 meals for the month & then I wasn’t tied down to a specific recipe for each day.  We could choose what we wanted to make from the list at any time.  But this turned into more of a nightmare than I was already in.  It was hard to plan the grocery trips because we didn’t know what was on the menu.  So I decided to tackle monthly meal planning the “right” way.

In the beginning, I tried excel programs that would generate a handy dandy little grocery list.  Well this was a big fail because I did NOT want to spend hours inputting all of my recipes and ingredients, just hoping I typed them in correctly.  If you forget just one ingredient or input the wrong measurement, your grocery list will be wrong.  So then I tried AllRecipes.  I made lists using their recipes and my own.  But again, I had to input my entire recipe if I wanted to use it in the list.  So again, I did not have the patience for this.  Too much brain power.  And plus, I have a love affair with paper.  I make lists better on paper, I follow lists better on paper, I brainstorm better on paper. Everything is just better with PAPER!

After a few months of torture and sticking with it (because I REFUSED to give up. . . .my first name means “determination”), I came up with a pretty good plan to make it work.  For some of you, excel might be super awesome, and for others AllRecipes is great.  But for those of you like me, this will be your saving grace!  Here we go.

First, join AllRecipes.  You don’t have to do this to make it work, but I must say, it is nice.  A great place to store your recipes in case something happens to them.  It also allows you to make a list if you want and add in your own recipes.  They will also send you a nice magazine (with a subscription) with even more recipes!!!  I use AllRecipes primarily for storing and researching good recipes.  So far, all of the highly rated recipes have been amazing.  Second, print out a year’s worth of blank calendars.  You can just do a google search for this or go here (I use “landscape” starting with Sunday).  Third, locate a pencil.  They’re cheap.  If you don’t have one, go buy one.  They still sell these things!  Fourth, gather up all of your recipe books that you want to pull from & sit yourself in front of the computer.  Fifth, fill in the numbers for the month on your calendar.  Now you are ready to begin!

Before planning my month, I take out a separate sheet of paper & always write down all the days of the month that we will not be making dinner at home.  It may be due to travel, going out on a date, grilling at a friend’s house, etc.  Write those dates down and mark them off of your calendar using a big X.  Then, identify days that you need a simple meal:  days you are working all day, or you will be at an activity that leaves you no time at home.  Write these dates down on your extra sheet of paper under the heading, “simple” & mark those days on your calendar with a highlighter.  Now count how many days are left on your calendar for normal meals.  And count how many days you will make simple meals.  This gives you an easy way to plan!  Now all you have to do is go through your recipes and count them up until you have enough for the month.  Then lastly, subtract 1-2 regular recipes from your list.  Unexpected things happen all the time & I have found that we end up with extra ingredients for recipes we didn’t cook every month.  And since you’re using a pencil, you can erase and add whenever you need to!  And if you hubby decides to eat Mexican food for lunch on the day you’re cooking tacos for dinner (true story, ALL the stinkin’ time!), it’s an easy fix to just switch your days around since you already have the ingredients for the week or more!  Isn’t this awesome?  Behold, there is flexibility within the monthly meal planning beast.

AllRecipes has a search feature where you can find healthy meals, easy meals, crockpot meals, etc.  It is wonderful.  I always print my recipes out because again, I am all about paper.  If you like using the iPad or your phone, they have a kitchen version of each recipe that is easy to read if you are using a device as you cook.

Once you have collected your list of recipes, simply write the name of each recipe on the calendar where you would like to make it.  By the end of this step, you will feel VERY accomplished!  And time-wise, it doesn’t take as long as you may think to get to this point.

Next, here is the part that can be tricky.  It does steal some brain power, so don’t do it when your children are awake!  It is time to make your list.  Look at your first week of meals.  Gather the recipes & make your list.  Put the produce list and anything that will perish after 1 week or less on a separate column labeled week 1.  Do the same thing for week 2, keeping the produce & perishables in a separate column labeled week 2.  Keep doing this until you finish out the month.  Produce rarely lasts longer than a week, so you have to purchase it weekly or every other week.

Once you have your list, you should have one main list and 4 produce/perishables list.  Mine looks something like this.

 

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It can easily be done on a computer too if you prefer the electronic version.  And just think, you only have to do this once a month.  And if you have a young child like I do, this is a life saver!  One big trip to the store, 2-4 little trips for produce.  And that’s it.  Doing this has added so much time to my week & has eliminated the stress of not having the ingredients I need for a meal. . . .or having to go to the store once or twice a week for just a few items.  It did take some time for me to get into a groove, but now it’s second nature and well worth the learning curve.  Below, I have shared some life hacks that I learned along the way.

If you are interested in planning breakfast, which sounded overwhelming to me, try this idea:  Choose 5 different breakfast ideas like smoothies, cereal, waffles, eggs, oatmeal, etc.  Write them at the very top of your calendar in list format.  Add them to your grocery list & be sure to buy enough for each family member to eat each meal once or twice a week depending on how many items you choose.  Then when it is breakfast time, you have all the meals you need in the kitchen and all you have to do is choose from your list.  This is great for children because you don’t have to wonder what you will fix for breakfast every morning, but it also allows them to have a choice.  You won’t run out of breakfast food because you have somewhat of a plan without being too regimented.

Time hacks in the kitchen (& money savers):

For produce, freezing can be an option, depending on how you are using it.

I have found that buying chopped, frozen onions is an excellent time saver, produce saver & money saver.

You can freeze chopped bell peppers, but they will be a little soggy after freezing.  Only use frozen peppers if you are mixing them into a dish and don’t need the crunch.

If you are a smoothie lover for breakfast, but hate having to chop up and prepare everything, try this!  Buy a ton of bananas, peel and slice them up once they’re ripe.  Put each sliced banana in it’s own plastic cheapie flip top bag.  Gather all the bags of sliced bananas & place them in a gallon size ziploc bag.  Throw them in the freezer & you have smoothie bananas!  Each bag will make 1 1/2-2 smoothies, depending on how much other fruit you add.  You can also do this with strawberries, blueberries, etc.  Or just purchase them in the frozen section at your grocery store.  For a sweet smoothie, try this:  approximately 1 cup vanilla almond milk, frozen banana slices, handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips, 3 T of peanut butter (or more depending on what you like) and 1-2 T of honey.  Mix it up & wow does it taste like a sinful dessert!  Add more or less of each ingredient depending on your taste.

When you do your monthly shop, be prepared to spend an hour or so going through your food and prepping it.  This helps so much, but it isn’t necessary unless you want to have easy prep meals.  As soon as you bring your food home, take all the meat and prep it according to the recipe.  If it calls for 3 chicken breasts, divide them into the amount you need, wrap them well in plastic wrap, foil & ziploc bags, then label them with the recipe name.  Place them in the freezer.  If you need sliced beef for fajitas, do the slicing ahead of time, then freeze them in labeled plastic bags.  If you need 1/2 pound hamburger meat for tacos, cut into that portion size & do the same thing.  Label & freeze.  When it is time for that meal, all you have to do is pull it from the freezer & cook it.  This saves so much time.  You can do this with some of the produce but not all.  To learn more about what produce you can and cannot freeze, go here and here.

If you have any other great ideas related to monthly planning or kitchen hacks, please share them!

Tips for extinguishing a toddler meltdown

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If you are reading this, you probably either have a toddler yourself or you are someone who works with this age group.  So you are familiar with tantrums!  As many of us know, toddlers are just learning language and how to use it correctly.  During this time when they are learning, you may see them stutter or stumble over their words.  Their brains are “talking” too fast for their mouths!  They just can’t get all of that out!  So then add in a frustrating moment and their communication turns into screaming, crying, flailing their arms or throwing themselves to the floor because that is one way to get our attention.

Before we go any further, you all need to understand that this is typical toddler behavior.  It is our job as parents and caregivers to teach them ways to deal with their frustrations that are more socially acceptable.  It’s true.  I have been in your shoes.  I have been that mom who exited her car, ready to walk into the store with a toddler.  She was happy, right up until that moment when our feet crossed the threshold.  And then it started. My child tends to be on the extremely spirited side of the toddler personalities.  I have experienced tantrums since mine was 11 months old and we are still goin’ strong at 2 1/2 years!  However, our meltdowns are much shorter, easier to difuse and they are starting to be fewer in number.  I attribute this to some of the tips I am going to share with you.  Let me know if they help you!

Tip 1:  Respect

While a toddler is still a very small person and most of the time doesn’t act mature like we wish they would, they still deserve respect.  I am talking about respect for them as another human being with feelings & emotions, not respect as your equal.  You are still the parent and in charge of teaching them wrong from right.  While toddlers are capable of making choices, they still need your guidance, correction and discipline.  So back to respect.  Toddlers experience emotions like we do.  Sometimes it seems silly when they get upset over a shoe or a toy, but for them it is a real emotion and deserves respect.  For example, when your toddler is off playing by himself and you hear him scream and throw himself on the floor, ask yourself a few questions first instead of getting frustrated or angry.  Why did he do that?  Not the easiest question to answer, but be a super sleuth and try to figure it out.  Let’s say he couldn’t put a cap onto a bottle.  Once you know the why answer, ask him about it:  “Did it make you mad when you couldn’t put that cap on?  Do you need help?”  If you maintain this mindset of respect throughout the day, you will find that your approach with them will change.  And in turn, your approach will affect their response to frustrating events.

Tip 2: Talk

I talk my daughter’s ear off.  I do.  I confess.  She knows I respect her need to be understood because I talk to her and try to figure out what she is saying or why she is frustrated.  Toddlers understand a ton more than they can communicate back to you.  When your child is frustrated, talk to them about it.  The best time to do this is as soon as they meltdown starts.  Don’t wait because many times they will not be able to calm down, and talking will do no good.

Tip 3:  Bubbles

One of my most awesome finds.  I am a music therapist who has worked in many hospitals over the years.  The child life specialists always used bubbles or some type of blowing to calm their patients who were undergoing a procedure.  It only took me 2 years to figure out that I could use this for my own kiddo!  Sheesh!  The second they start a meltdown, ask if they would like to blow bubbles.  Man this works.  It has never failed me.  I tend to use this one more when my toddler is melting down quick and nothing is working or when we need to leave the house or get ready quickly.  This will get her over the tantrum quickly so that we can move on with our day.  Remember if you choose to use a distraction technique like bubbles, you have two choices.  You can either forget about the tantrum and move on with your day, or you can discuss it with your toddler.  Remember that discipline consistency is very important and you need to follow up, do it.  And do it right after the tantrum.  If they are just throwing a tantrum for a reason unknown to you and they aren’t disobeying or doing anything “wrong”, just distract them and let it go.  🙂  This is sometimes the hardest thing for me!

Tip 4:  Choose your battles

Not everything a child does needs a “talk” or “time out” or an “intervention”.  Decide when you need to intervene and when you don’t.  Simple.

Tip 5: Calm

As I mentioned previously, we are responsible for teaching our children how to cope.  If we ignore the reasons behind our child’s tantrum, we are missing out on a teaching moment because we are ignoring the underlying reason and just discipling them for their tantrum.  Just like when they were babies, we were told that they cried for a reason.  ALWAYS.  Now that they are toddlers, they still cry for a reason and throw tantrums for a reason.  If it wasn’t important to them, it wouldn’t be worth a tantrum.  So!  We have started something in our house to help teach our daughter how to cope with frustration.  She will run up to us from another room and start screaming “milk” over and over while jumping up and down.  She is starting a tantrum.  I turn to her and say with a quiet voice, “calmly tell me what you need.”  She immediately lowers her tone and asks me for the milk or whatever she is wanting at the moment.  Now, we didn’t arrive at  this result overnight.  We had to “groom” her 🙂  We started out by saying, “when you fuss, I cannot hear you.  If you want something, you need to ask me calmly.”  Another phrase I used a lot was, “You will not get what you want by fussing.  But you might get it when you ask calmly.”  What a difference this has made in our lives.  And not to mention the fact that we are teaching her a skill instead of disciplining her for her fussing and tantrums.  Don’t get me wrong, she still gets disciplined when she chooses to not listen or when she continues with a tantrum.  But we rarely have to intervene any other way except through talking with her.

Tip 6:  Time Out

This is not the time out you may think it is.  This is not a punishment, but a breather for them.  If you cannot calm your child using any of these methods, tell them, “you are not in trouble, but I want you to take a time out to calm down.  Go sit over there and when the timer sounds, we will talk about it.”  Some kids just need to yell a little bit.  Gosh.  Sometimes I need to yell a little bit 🙂  This gives them time to let it out without getting in trouble for it.  This gives them time to self-regulate and calm down on their own.  After this time out, then you can try talking to them.

Tip 7:  Hands Off

Most toddlers don’t like being touched when they are in the middle of a tantrum.  They tend to get more angry when you grab them or try to move them.  Avoid touching and stick to talking at first.  If they are not in danger of hurting themselves, this is ok.  If they are at risk for hurting themselves, then by all means, intervene and remove them from danger.

Tip 7:  Love

Love on that child.  He needs to know you still love him even though he is acting like a crazy person.  Say “I love you”.  You can also try holding/hugging your child, but as we mentioned in tip 7:  Most toddlers aren’t ready to show affection in the midst of their strong emotions, but they will be ready for a hug after it is over.  The times that you will be able to pick up your child in the middle of their tantrum is when they are tired, sick or hungry.  My daughter will resist me holding her, but as soon as I pick her up and talk to her sweetly, she just falls into my arms.  If none of the other tips work, try this one.  If they resist, then that’s ok.  Just give them time to calm down and then love on them.

Tip 8:  Exceptions to the Rule

Most of the time we can calm our toddler down using these tips, but sometimes she doesn’t calm down no matter what we try.  Sometimes she gets madder and madder.  There are exceptions to the rule.  When my daughter is hungry, tired or sick, the tantrums are hard to defuse, and I try to factor in those reasons when I am planning my response.  I choose to be compassionate and understanding.  When they are not themselves, give them a break and just love on them.

This is not an exhaustive list and may or may not work for you!  Toddlers have different personalities and all react to situations differently.  Regardless of their differences, I hope you will find something that will work for you!  Good luck, parents!

Seeing Eye To Eye

IMG_2571I was early with my Tuesday post last week and late this week!  But nevertheless, here I am again.  Finally able to sit in front of my computer without a toddler pecking away at my keyboard.

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When did you stop imagining?  I bet it’s not something you have thought about very often or maybe not at all.  As I was chatting with our amazingly awesome babysitter the other night, we were talking about this very thing.  Somewhere between middle school and college, our imaginations turned to reality.  “I don’t have time for kid games anymore. . . .”  But I think we should make time for kid games.

Adults often lose sight of the importance of imagination.  We get stuck in the day to day blahs of life and no longer take the time to dream and imagine things that may never happen.  This type of play comes naturally to children.  They do it with abandon, without embarrassment, sans reality.

I vividly remember my childhood imagination.  Most often it manifested itself through my Barbie dolls or Cabbage Patch Kids.  I created voices for each figure. .  .they all had names. . .and they were friends with my friends’ Barbie dolls.  I imagined my future life as an adult.  I imagined what life was like at the North Pole.  I imagined the Tooth Fairy was chronically exhausted.  I imagined Michael Jackson knew how much I love him as evidenced by the kisses I left on the poster hanging in my room.

Since I have been around kids since I was a kid, it’s very natural for me to get down on their level to play.  Sometimes I will initiate imagination by grabbing a Little People toy and walking her up the stairs on the pink Fisher Price bus.  But I know what you may be thinking, “this does NOT come naturally to me! I dread the times when my child asks me to play.  I don’t know how anymore.”  You are not alone.  And you are not hopeless!  With time, it will become natural again.

How do you see eye to eye with a child?

1-Physically:  You guessed it.  Physically get down on the floor with your child or students or patients.  Whatever it takes to be at their eye level.  See what they see.

2-Understand them:  Play is important to children, in fact it may be the most important “task” that they do all day.  Consider play as a necessary part of the day and treat it as such.  Respect their work.  They are serious about play!

3-Reckless Abandonment:  I have heard this term many times as a Christian, but it applies here just as well.  My condensed definition of this term is:  just do it!  Get involved in play without worrying about your performance.  You child/student/patient won’t care if you look funny, talk funny or don’t know what to do.  They just want you to play along.

4-Take their lead, unguided play:  If you are reading this thinking, “I can get down on the floor, but after that. . . .nothin!”  Let the child lead you.  They are incredibly creative and will help you out. Children need to be allowed to initiate play without being guided by an adult.  They will love that you are in their world and allowing them to be in charge of it.

5-Go back in time:  Try to remember what you did as a child.  How did you use your imagination?  Use these memories to give you ideas on how to tap into your inner child 🙂

Learning how to imagine again is worth the effort.  You will be seeing eye to eye in no time.

Toddler Tip Tuesday!

IMG_2343Yes, I know.  It is still Monday.  However, time is valuable and with a toddler in the house. . . .it becomes scarce!  So excuse me for taking the time on Monday to write a blog for Tuesday 🙂

Toddlers.  They are a handful.  They want to explore and touch everything, especially new “things!”  They need sensory input on every level.  Toddlers want to touch, see, hear and smell new and exciting “things.”  Many times they get bored with the same old “things”.  So how can you keep them interested without having to stock your shelves like a preschool classroom?  Here is where my Peter Pan tendencies help out!

It doesn’t matter how old I get, I still think like a child and that’s why I enjoy them so much. That is my tip for the week.  Think like a child.  You don’t have to spend much more than a penny to occupy a toddler all afternoon.

*Take a barefoot walk in your grass or even on the concrete.

*Turn on some upbeat music, put on some noisy shoes and stomp around on the kitchen floor (or buy some awesome removable taps here)

*Squeeze some blue hair gel into a ziploc bag along with some small toys for a sensory bag.

*Clip on a few bells and shake around the house!

*Lay out several different tastes & use it as a teaching moment: sour lemon, sweet honey, salty pretzels, bitter. . . .hm.  Can’t think of anything bitter.

*Smell the flowers at the supermarket.

*Stick your hands in a bowl of rice

*Crinkle up some paper

*Pet your dog

*Open up a container of vanilla and sniff!

*Turn an empty toilet paper roll into binoculars by taping two of them side by side.

*Put several small earrings or barrettes into several Tupperware midget containers and shake!  The lids are nearly impossible to take off for an adult, so with supervision, they should be safe for a toddler!