Monthly Archives: October 2015

Halloween is Creeping Up

IMG_0091 (2)Halloween is creeping up… and ghosts and goblins are jumping out at us along with witches and vampires.

How do you help a child who is scared of everything make it through the Halloween season?

Young children can have a hard time determining what is real and what is imaginary.  They honestly can’t differentiate between the two.  Sometimes, it is not just the things they see, but rather what their little minds create, what is known as “magical thinking,” that can frighten them.


To put it in a regular-day, not Halloween related context, an example of a common “magical thought” can be seen when a child is scared to take a bath because she sees the water going down the drain and thinks she might be washed down with it.  As adults we know this is impossible, but young children do not.

This same magical thinking causes children to believe that ghosts and goblins might come after them at night.

So, what can you do to help your child who is scared?  Here are 5 suggestions:

  1. 1. Don’t try to minimize the fear. Be there to support your child.  The fear is real to him.  Hold his hand, walk on the other side of the street, whatever it takes to support him.

  2. Identify what your child is afraid of.  Once your child is able to verbalize her fear, or when you are able to figure it out if your child is unable to verbalize, you can help decrease the anxiety.   Is your child scared of the many creepy things walking around and people running everywhere?  Maybe she doesn’t like going up to strangers’ houses (not necessarily a bad thing on normal evenings!).  Or is it that your child is scared of Halloween because it’s dark outside?

  3. Help your child deal with his fear, don’t force him to eliminate the fear.   Help your child understand what he is scared of and listen to why he is afraid.  Help put the scary thing into perspective.  Many things at Halloween were invented to let people have fun scaring each other.

  4. Recognize signs of anxiety.  Some obvious signs of anxiety include your child clinging to you with a vice grip hold you didn’t know her tiny hands could accomplish.  Crying, shrieking or hiding behind you are also more obvious signs of anxiety.  Short breaths, timid steps, and slowing down while walking towards something are slightly less obvious signs of anxiety.  Appearing angry or more violent (hitting or kicking you or siblings/friends) are also possible signs of anxiety.

  5. Be Flexible.  Maybe Halloween is your most favorite holiday and you like to go all out…you might need to adjust a bit for a year or two.  If your child is scared of the dark, find day time, child-friendly Halloween events (check out local malls or Trunk-or-Treats).  If your child is scared of going to strangers’ houses, take him to a few of your neighbors’ houses and call it a night.  For children who are scared of all of the creepy things that go Boo in the night, turn off your lights and go to a back room, or bedroom to play a game or cuddle and read stories.

In time, most children grow out of their Halloween anxiety. If you are willing to be patient, flexible and support them, they will be just fine. As they get older, children learn the difference between real and imaginary and many even find out that they enjoy being scared or being the one who scares someone else every now and then.


Practice Makes Perfect

Is your child is learning to play an instrument? That’s great! Music is such an important part of brain development. It helps with math skills, timing, memory, anticipation, and so much more. For those of you whose children are not playing an instrument in formal lessons, even listening to music, singing or banging on an instrument will help.

When I taught piano, I would tell parents that they should encourage 5 minutes of practice a day and they would laugh at me. I heard, “5 minutes doesn’t seem like enough time to practice,” and “That sounds so easy.” Let’s face it, though. It’s not. Life gets busy and before we know it, we’re reading a bedtime story and we’ve missed that opportunity to practice that day.

Before you beat yourself up, know that it happens to everyone, even to the piano teacher’s children.

Here are four ways to get you off to a good start and maybe even encourage your child to practice on his/her own.

  1. My Initial Chart:

This first idea was suggested by my children’s violin teacher, Mrs. Murphy. Draw your child’s initials in large block letters on a piece of paper. Then draw lines to create small boxes within the letter (think of a checker board inside each letter). Each time my daughter practiced, she could put a sticker or draw a star inside one of the boxes. She would earn a reward for filling in a full letter (new crayons or a pack of stickers) and a bigger reward when the second full letter was full (a special dessert after dinner, a manicure by mommy, family dinner at a restaurant).

  1. 100 Chart:

Create a 10X10 grid (100 boxes) on a piece of sturdy paper. Each time your child practices, she can put a sticker or color in one box. Every 10 boxes she can earn a small reward (bubbles, chalk, stay up 10 minutes later). After 50 boxes she earns a bigger reward (an ice cream cone, a snow ball fight, a bubble bath), and at 100 you need to celebrate together (bake cupcakes or go to the movies).

  1. Yum:

When I used to practice piano in junior high, I would put a handful of m&m’s on the piano. If you don’t want your child eating m&m’s, you could use stickers for your child (but they don’t taste as good…ha ha). Each time I could play a line, or a phrase which was often 2-3 lines, correctly three times in a row without a mistake, I would reward myself with an m&m. I vaguely remember that I adjusted that system for pieces that were particularly hard, rewarding myself for each measure I played correctly. Or maybe, that happened on days that I didn’t really feel like practicing… Be gentle with your child and change things up occasionally. Offer different munchies or stickers for rewards, or alter the amount of music needed to be played three times in a row in order to earn the reward.

  1. Perform:

Have your child ‘perform’ his piece for someone else. A friend or neighbor, even a babysitter would be happy to listen to your child every so often. Your child can even put on an impromptu performance and play for far-away relatives on the phone or via Skype or FaceTime. Each time a piece is played, this is another opportunity to practice.


Once your child has a few songs under his belt, arrange for a concert at a local nursing home and have him perform there. If desired, invite siblings and friends to perform, too. Residents will love it, even if your child plays the same three line piece 5 times in a row. Having him play the piece where it is supposed to be played, and then in a higher range and again in a lower range will help make the concert more exciting (for your child).   Having your child perform in a nursing home provides a bright spot in the residents’ day and gives your child a chance to show off and be applauded for his hard work.

Did you catch a 5th way to encourage your child to practice? It was hidden in the last paragraph: Have your child practice his piece in the lower and higher ranges, not just around Middle C where he is expected to practice. It might sound, um, interesting, if your child practices on a different string of his instrument, but that is still practice and a great ear/listening experiment.

As with any long term project or goal, interest will wax and wane. Focusing on the smaller goals of practicing a measure of a line will make it easier to continue. When you reach a big goal, such as completing or memorizing a full song, you can enjoy the progress, and hopefully, the wonderful music your child will be able to make.


The Joys (not!) of Shopping With Children

7 Tips for Shopping with Children

As a parent who needs to take a child on a shopping trip, you face extra challenges than someone shopping alone. I’ll admit to buying a toy from the $1 section on more than one occasion (blush, blush) to entertain my daughters throughout a shopping trip…

  1. Be Prepared. Know what you are going to buy when you go shopping, have a list. It is very easy to get side-tracked or distracted when you have children in tow. Know how much your child(ren) can actually handle. Some children are calm and sit quietly while shopping. Many others don’t and have a definite time limit of how long they are willing to help you shop.

  2. Timing. Ideally, the best time to shop is when you are feeling energetic, happy and are by yourself. However, reality hits and you have to get to the store this afternoon during a 20 minute window if you are going to have anything to eat for dinner. Oh, and you are going to have to take all of your children and get them into and out of the store within those 20 minutes. If at all possible, shop when your child is not tired or hungry. You will have more success.

  3. Be Willing to Leave. Yes, sometimes, if your child is having a meltdown, you just need to leave. It is not fun to be the parent who is herding a crying, screaming child out the door to the car, and it stinks to be going home empty handed. It is, however, worth the life lesson and the future peace if you do not tolerate meltdowns and tantrums.

  4. Bring a Goodie Bag

  • Pick items that won’t get lost easily (i.e., avoid Polly pockets or small Lego parts)

  • Dress up items (glasses, hats) can make walking down aisles in a grocery store a whole new experience. Have your child pretend to be a cowboy and point out items such as horses or cows that cowboys might be interested in along the way. What does a princess eat to grow strong, be smart and stay healthy?

  • Bring a noisy toy. Some parents aren’t sure about this. When my daughters were little, I would bring a little ‘giggle stick.’ It’s a 1-2 inch stick that you shake and it makes noise. I’ve also had rain sticks and little squeaky toys (note: I don’t recommend the little squeaky toys). Some days I would let my daughters shake as desired, other times, I would ask them to shake along to a song on the store radio or a song we would sing.

  • For slightly older children, bring a calculator. Have them add up each item you are putting in your cart and see how close their total is to the store cashier’s total or subtotal (you might want to explain about taxes).   Even young children (3-5) like pushing the buttons on the calculator to help out.

  • Play detective…have your child hunt for and count all of the blue items in one section or aisle. You can focus on items or on people – how many kids are shopping at this time? How many are in carts, walking, crying? Older children can write their answers down on a pad of paper.

  • Snacks! Most people buy more things at the grocery store if they are hungry…most children get fussy or cry more when they are hungry. Bring a few snacks in a baggie or container for your child (or you!) to munch on along the way.

  1. Runaways. If you have a child that likes to wander or is at the age when he wants to run and hide from you, try not to take them shopping! I have seen the fear in a mother’s eyes as she searched for her child who was eventually found hiding under a display. If you must bring your child, and she won’t sit in the cart or is too big, have her hold onto something (the cart, a furry boa that you bring from home, your belt). Make sure “she can see you” at all times. It’s a great lesson to teach a child to know where you are (“be able to see you”) and is more effective than telling her to stay where you can see her. Have a plan in case you get separated. Let your child know who he/she can talk to (a store employee – point out what their uniform looks like; a police officer; a grandmother) and how to call for you (he should know your first and last name!) if he/she is lost.

  2. Provide a list for your child. If she is too young to read, you can draw or cut out pictures from a magazine (or from the computer) for her to follow while you shop. Have your child check off items on the list as you shop.   If she asks for something extra, it’s easy to reply “If it isn’t on the list, we can’t buy it on this trip.” Quick parent tip: You (the parent) really need to stick to the list if you want this to work…if you are constantly buying extra things, you aren’t modeling this concept well. As an insider’s tip, put 5-6 parent stars on the list, or question marks. That way, if there is something you forgot to put on the list, you can still buy it in place of one of the stars or question marks.

  3. Watch the Clock. Talk about time and see how long it takes to go down each aisle or how long it takes to find an item that’s in the middle of the store (to keep child’s interest a little longer). You can tell your child you anticipate the shopping trip taking X minutes (always add 10-15!) and see how close you are to checking out on time. Imagine her surprise when you end “early”! Watching the clock also means know your child. If your child can handle a 15-20 minute shopping trip, try to stick to that to avoid meltdowns.

While it would be ideal to be able to go shopping on your own, or better yet, to have someone else go shopping for you… sometimes you just have to bring your children along. Using the tips above will help make it easier on everyone involved!