19Oct/15

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.

05Oct/15

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!

28Sep/15

Get Some Sleep

“Get Some Sleep” is so much easier said than done!   I can’t tell you how many times people told me to “sleep while your baby is sleeping,” when my first child was born. Sounds good in theory, but in real life, my daughter only took 2- 3 twenty minute naps a day! On a good day.

I hate to say it – and those of you who know me personally will know that this is hard for me to say, but I will: Get Some Sleep! You know how tired and cranky children can be when they are tired or hungry? Well, the same thing can happen to sleep-deprived parents. And let’s face it, the first few years with a new child provide many sleep deprived moments. Some days you feel like you are walking around in a fog just trying to keep your eyes open and make sure no one gets hurt.

Reading about the benefits of sleep have been eye- opening to me (no pun intended)! I used to be able to function quite well on 4-5 hours of solid sleep or 6-7 hours of interrupted sleep. I know that I am better able to handle life’s challenges when I am “more rested.” However, the specific health benefits I’ve learned about over the years have been enough to scare me into trying harder to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night. In fact, one year, my New Year’s resolution was to get in bed 15 minutes earlier every two months (starting at 11:45 in January aiming for 10:30 by December).

Based on research done by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, NOT getting enough sleep can:

  • Decrease one’s immune system

  • Impair cognitive functioning and memory

  • Affect mood, motivation, judgement and even our perception of events.

In fact, a study at the University of Rochester Medical Center, led by Dr. Maiken Nedergaardfound, found that sleeping actually flushes waste from the brain, helping one to think more clearly during the day.

Now, I’m not living in some fantasy world, although some days I imagine it would be nice. Getting a solid night’s sleep with an infant or young child in the house is challenging. Sleeping during the day when your child is napping can be even more challenging when you want to eat, go to the bathroom, do some work, clean the kitchen, do the laundry, catch up on bills, and maybe even throw a shower in there, too. But challenge yourself to make sleep a priority. You don’t even need to be creative about it. Hire a babysitter or a mother’s helper to sit with your child for a few hours so you can nap. Exchange babysitting days with another mom of a young child and use it as a play date for the children when they are at your house and a ‘nap date’ when the children are at her house.

The better rested you are, the better parent you can be, not to mention the healthier you will be and the longer you will live to parent your children. So please, do yourself and your children a favor and try to get some sleep.

21Sep/15

Please Go To Sleep!

While the ultimate goal is to teach your child to self-soothe and to fall asleep easily on his own, getting there can be accomplished in many different ways. It’s important that you find a strategy that works for you (the parent) and then practice it.

My neighbor swears by the “Ferberizing” or the “Cry-it Out” method (Richard Ferber). It worked wonders for my neighbor, she loved it. I did not have the nerves of steel needed to let my daughters cry it out. The one time we tried it, every cell in my body was jumping up and down and screaming for me to go pick her up. For more than an hour.

The strategy that worked best for me was a special bedtime ritual (book, then lullabies and cuddling) and a sweet good night wish. Most of the time that worked just fine. However on a rough night, I would offer to sit in the room with my daughter after I tucked her in as she fell asleep (even as an infant when I wasn’t sure she totally understood what I was telling and offering her). One daughter liked to have me next to her -I did not need to cuddle after she was tucked in, but she wanted me nearby, leaning against her crib at first, then sitting on the end of her bed. My other daughter was fine if I sat across the room and read a book with my itty bitty flash lite (bonus!). It was just comforting for her to know I was there. On busy nights, I didn’t sit long, but would offer to check back in after a specified number of minutes ( sometimes 5 or 10 or 18 – the number was less important than the knowledge that I was coming back and not leaving her alone).

As my children got older, we used special night lights and sometimes special music to help them fall asleep. The music selections changed as they grew, but it was always calm and quiet. White noise, such as a fan, has also helped to calm children down or hide other noises in the house at bedtime.

Whatever method you choose. Give it a solid two to three weeks before you give up (unless every cell in your body is jumping up and down and screaming!). I love that even now, with my pre-teens, every once in a while I hear “Mommy, will you sit in my room for a little bit while I fall asleep?” I get to watch one of the loves of my life as she quietly rests in bed and occasionally I even get to read a few pages of a good book.

References:

Ferber, Richard. (2006) Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems: New, Revised, and Expanded Edition Paperback. Touchstone

Pantley, Elizabeth. (2002) The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night. McGraw-Hill Education.

Weissbluth, Marc. (1999) Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Ballantine Books.

13Sep/15

Loads of Laundry

I know you might not believe me if I told you that my girls started doing their laundry when they were 3 ½ and 5 ½ years old. And now that they are pre-teens, they are, in fact, doing their laundry on their own!

Think about how much free time you would have if you didn’t have to do so much laundry. If you have an infant, laundry, lots of laundry, is a fact of life. But your child will grow out of that stage and you will have a jump start because you read this in advance.

So, what have you got to lose? A sock? The possibility of a shrunken shirt? Or what if it’s a total flop and you end up going back to doing all of the laundry by yourself?

If you choose to start with the laundry, begin by teaching and modeling. This might take multiple loads, even a few weeks. Most young kids love to sort clothes and put them into the machine. They also like to measure and pour detergent into the machine and press the buttons or pull the knobs. It’s a bonus if you have a see-through door so your child can watch the water come in and the clothes spin.

Here are some tips to get you started.

  • Draw a line with a permanent marker on the measuring cup to the “fill” line you want.

  • Put detergent in a smaller container if necessary to make it easier to pour.

  • Put arrows where your child should press buttons or pull knobs to start the machine. Sticky notes or flags work well.

  • Sorting clothes offers a great chance to teach/review colors.

  • Teach your child how to ‘inside out’ any shirts with designs (prints) on the front.

  • Teach your child to check the pockets. I often let my children keep any coins they find (bonus!).

  • Let your child play basketball to put the clothes into the machine. This works for both the washer and the dryer.

  • The older your children are, the more you can let them do (under your supervision) without your help. You will still need to be very involved while your children are younger, but I promise you it’s worth it in the long run.

I often still help my daughters when it comes to determining which clothes go in the dryer and which clothes need to be hung up to dry. They are old enough to read the labels, but it is quicker (and there are fewer complaints) if mom helps. Sometimes I’ll even help them hang the up those ‘line dry’ clothes (great time to connect!).

When my girls were younger, when the clothes came out of the dryer, they would help by sorting clothes into each family member’s pile and help by finding clothes I was looking to fold, such as ‘Mommy’s shirts’. They could also match socks and learned to roll them together earlier than I expected.

For the most part, my girls are pretty good at doing their laundry from start to finish. We have had a few bumps here and there along the way. I have heard more than once that “no one else has to do her own laundry” and I’m sure I’ll hear it again. I’ve also witnessed some ingenuity and creativity. My younger daughter is ahead of her time. She used her allowance to buy more underwear so she wouldn’t have to do laundry as often – a trick most people don’t learn until they get to college…

So, was it worth teaching my girls how to do their laundry at such an early age? For my family, I have to answer “You bet!”

Pick a life skill, any life skill: mopping floors, making a meal, washing the windows, or weeding the garden just to name a few.   I’m challenging you to teach, supervise, and then to trust and let go.  Under your gentle guidance, your children can learn to do all of this and more.

07Sep/15

The Key to a Great Relationship With Your Child

IMG_5404When your child feels loved (taken care of, understood and protected) she will be more likely to respond positively when you ask something of her. There is less of an argument when something needs to be done because there is a sense that you are not making a crazy or unreasonable request.

Does that mean that you will never have problems? No. Problems can still occur, especially if you spring something on your child or if you are interrupting something fun that he is focused on. However, if you have a solid connection with your child, hearing “It’s time to go – I can’t wait until we get to come back again” or “Time’s up – where shall we start the next time we come to the zoo?” should go over pretty well.

So, how does a parent connect with a child in a way that will strengthen their bond? There are many ways and they do not need to be expensive! In fact, some of the best bond-strengthening activities are FREE and don’t even take a lot of time. Here are four ways to strengthen your relationship with your child:

  1. Special Time. Pick a date and time to spend with your child and schedule it in your calendar. Let your child see that this special time is on your calendar and do everything possible to keep your date. Sometimes things come up and you need to change the date or time, but let the child know when you will be re-scheduling your date and mark it on the calendar.

  2. Turn off the TV, computer and, yes, even your phone. If someone does call and you need to (or accidentally, out of habit) answer the call – notice your child’s reaction. Typically you will see shoulders slump, a sad face and sometimes even tears. But don’t worry, you can work magic and fix that. Continue to watch your child as you tell the person on the phone that you can’t talk right now. Throw in the fact that you are having Special Time with your child if you can. For some kids, it’s as if you hung the moon in the sky when they hear you value this time with them and that it is not going to be taken by or given to others.

  3. Let Your Child Lead. This can be a challenge for some parents, but if you are able to follow your child’s lead during your special time, she will feel respected, understood and loved. Let her choose, within reason, what the activity will be – or, if the activity is already chosen, follow her lead while you do the activity. If you are playing legos, let her decide what to build. If you are walking the dogs, let her decide which path to take. If you are playing school or cars, let her take the lead on the story line.

  4. Be Curious About Your Child. Ask questions, learn about your child’s favorite things, friends he hangs out with, games he likes to play. You don’t want to question your child with the 3rd However, asking a few well thought out questions here or there, especially during Special Time or when you’re driving somewhere in the car, will provide some insight into your child’s life that you might not get otherwise.

The key to a great relationship with your child is connection. Connect with your child and watch bonds strengthen and doors open that you might never have known were there.

Can you think of a time you had a key connection with your child? What were you doing? What was the result? I’d love to hear about it.

01Sep/15

Putting the Fun back in DysFUNctional

When was the last time you played as a family? Or just “hung out” together? Sometimes you need to call a Time Out of your hectic schedule, ignore your To-Do List and just take time to play. The laundry and the dirt in the corner of the bathroom can wait until tomorrow. When you take a break from the rat race, you give your family time to get to know and enjoy each other.

While time away can be a vacation or a pre-made adventure (amusement park, mini-golf, roller skating), it can also be simple and cheap. Here are the top 5 favorite Family Fun Escapes contributed by some of the families with whom I have worked:

  • Have a Picnic in the Den. Instead of sitting at the dinner table, lay a table cloth on the floor and eat picnic foods. You can play music that reminds you of summer and have popsicles or ice cream in cones for dessert!

  • Go on a Night Walk. One night, when no one has a super busy schedule the next day, surprise your kids after PJs and teeth brushing and go outside for a walk. Listen to the night sounds, look at the night stars or the snow if it’s falling. What does the night smell like? Is it the same as during the day or does it smell more clear and fresh?

  • Go on a Hike. Explore your local parks and paths. Bring plenty of water, a few snacks, and most importantly a camera to save your family memories!

  • Have a Family Game Night. Depending on how much time you have, each family member can choose a game to play or you can write down everyone’s ideas and pick one out of a hat. Serve a special snack (popcorn or fruit kabobs).

  • Have Ice Cream for Breakfast! You might have heard me mention this as a special surprise to get kids out the door on time or as a reward for getting all of their “To Do’s” done, however, if you haven’t done this in a while (or ever), serve ice cream for breakfast for a fun morning. You can balance it out with fruit toppings, or go all out and enjoy chocolate syrup and sprinkles. It’s such a fun way to start the day off with smiles and giggles, give it a try!

These are just a few ideas you can use to get to know your children better and to experience how much JOY and FUN you can have playing together. Can you think of more?