One of my favorite things during the Spring season is watching my husband and daughter start our garden. They start the seeds in small peat pots in our kitchen and nurture them until the sprouts are big enough to move outside to the back porch. We all take turns bringing the baby plants out into the sunshine for a few hours and then back in to stay warm overnight. Once they are big enough, Tim and the girls plant the little plants in our garden.
The impact of gardening has often been studied and written about before. I’m sure you’ve heard that the more active your children are in growing and/or preparing their food, the more likely they will be to eat it, or at least taste it. While this has not exactly been the case in my family, the girls certainly enjoy the process of growing and picking tomatoes for dad or zucchini for the neighbors.
There are also health benefits to being outdoors and to doing meaningful activities with your hands. In fact, there have been studies that show the more outdoor experiences a child has, the more positive his attitude tends to be. Many adults I have talked to, use gardening to relax and reduce stress which can help grow a positive attitude, or at least squash a negative one.
A garden does not need to be huge. In fact, if you don’t have an area in a yard to use, you can grow a small container garden. Even just experimenting and trying a few things with your children can be fun and help grow the connection between you and your child. We have planted apple and orange seeds from our snacks and the excitement and joy of watching them sprout was awesome. Parsley is an easy plant to grow in a small cup in your kitchen. We have also taken empty egg shells and grown hair for our “Egg Heads” (thanks mom for that fun idea while I was growing up!).
To grow your own “Egg Heads,” next time you use eggs, carefully crack your eggshells so that you save at least 2/3 of the shell intact. Wash them well and let them dry. Draw a face near the top of the cracked shell. You can even glue on some googly eyes. Fill the shell about 2/3 full of dirt and then put some grass (or parsely) seeds in the dirt. Water it as needed and watch the hair grow. My girls enjoyed giving our Egg Heads an occasional haircut .
Whatever type of garden or kitchen experiment you try, allow your kids to explore, experiment and get dirty. You can always hose them off or throw them in the bath tub!
I would love to hear what is growing in your garden! Comment below or send me an email at DrRenee@HelpingParentsParent.com and I’ll respond personally!
Here’s a website I recently found: KidsGardening.org . It is full of fun ideas and lots of information about gardening.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
I always have big plans for celebrating holidays. Sometimes these plans come close to reality, sometimes they don’t! Once I had kids, I had to learn to alter my Martha Stewart or Disney-perfect plans a bit in order to be successful. Here are some tips to help you enjoy Valentine’s Day with your child.
1. Plan in advance. If you are going to have a special meal, do any prep you can in advance. Get the decorations out and ready a few days in advance. Set the table the night before. If there is any food you can prepare in advance, do it.
2. Lower your expectations. I don’t mean this in a bad way – you should not settle. You should, however, communicate everything! Children, and husbands, are not mind readers. Don’t expect to be pleasantly surprised if you haven’t communicated what you are hoping for. As scary, painful, or foolish as it might feel, stating what you want will get much better results than hoping your family has been looking at Pinterest or paying attention to your needs.
3. Celebrate when you can. If you are not with your child on Valentine’s Day (due to travel, divorce, etc.), remember there is no rule that you have to celebrate on February 14th! One of my favorite Valentine’s Day celebrations was when our oldest daughter was about 6 months old. My husband and I had a busy February 14th, so we planned, in advance, to celebrate on the 15th. Tim had been very generously giving me roses for Valentine’s Day ever since we started dating. This particular year, he came home with 2 dozen roses! One for me and one for our daughter. While I was pleasantly surprised (I love flowers!), I teased that he could be setting an expensive precedent. What if we had more daughters? (We did!) That’s when Tim told me that the flowers were 1/2 off! I decided we should try to celebrate a day late for years to come. Consider this your heads up – I think the stores have caught on… it takes at least 3-5 days for our local stores to reduce the cost of flowers and candy after Valentine’s Day. Now Tim just buys flowers for me to share with our daughters.
4. Be flexible! For years I have been decorating our bedroom doors the night before Valentine’s Day, while everyone is asleep. I hang one streamer for each year my child has celebrated Valentine’s day, and on our bedroom door, I hang one streamer for each year that my husband and I have been celebrating Valentine’s Day as a married couple (21 Valentine’s this year!). I attach paper hearts and Valentine’s stickers to each of the streamers. One streamer will have one heart, another will have two hearts/stickers, the next three, and so on. This year, we have a wonderful Korean exchange student staying with us. My plans were to decorate her door with the correct number of decorated streamers, too.
However, after a busy day full of activities, by the time everyone was in bed, it was almost midnight. While I had thoughtfully saved many of my streamers from the previous year, I realized it was going to take a bit of time to cut 17 ribbons and count & stick hearts and Valentine’s on each of them. I decided I would share some of my daughters’ streamers and some of ours, too. While it wasn’t what I had envisioned, the flexibility allowed me to go to bed much earlier than if I had stuck to my plan. Another great way to be flexible is in the morning. Even though home made heart pancakes and waffles are great, I would recommend using a heart shaped cookie cutter on store bought waffles when you’re in a hurry.
I hope these tips help you enjoy your Valentine’s Day and every other day of the year, too. I would love to hear from you what tips you have to help you enjoy Valentine’s Day with your child(ren).
Don’t Forget to take advantage of my February Special: One-on-One Coaching sessions are only $49
Click the picture for more information.
This is not just for new parents – if you have worked with me before, you can take advantage of this, too!
I am posting this a bit early. I wanted to give you a little time to try the ideas below so that you don’t have to start them at midnight on February 13th!
Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day, or just love chocolate, love seems to be in the air this time of year.
According to Dictionary.com, LOVE is…
A profound tender, passionate affection for another person.
A feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
I remember when we first brought our daughter home. In between the sense of overwhelm and fear that if we didn’t “do it right” someone would come take her back, I developed this incredible sense of love for our tiny infant. It was something so strong I couldn’t describe it in words.
I was a actually a bit worried when we brought her sister home that this would hurt, or somehow diminish, the love I had for her. It didn’t. It’s amazing how much a heart can grow!
Some of you are going through challenges with your children and aren’t feeling that love right now. I get it. Believe me – we have both teen and pre-teen girls in our house! It can be very hard at times to remember the love you felt when you were first getting to know your child, whether that was at birth or any age you brought a child into your life.
Here are three things to help you get that feeling back. It won’t happen overnight, but try one – or all three – to help you feel the love between you and your child more often.
1) Write a Love Letter to Your Child
Take some time to think about what you most love, admire or enjoy about your child. Put this in a letter and mail it to your child. Be sure to include what makes you most proud to call him/her your child.
2) Create a Love List
If writing a letter is not your thing, write a “Top Ten Reasons I Love You” list. Some ideas to get you started: I love your smile, kind heart, how you care about your friends, share your toys nicely, how you cuddle with our dog, when we brush our teeth together and see who can get their teeth the cleanest, …. Be creative.
3) Love Notes
Write a short and sweet love note to your child and put it in his/her lunch box or leave it at the breakfast/dinner table each day of Valentine’s week. “Have fun in school today” or “I love your smile” are two ideas.
Here is an easy craft idea I sent out to my weekly Tip subscribers:
Cut out large hearts in different colors. Write notes on each of the hearts and tape them to your child’s door. The notes can be things you love about your child or you can use candy-heart sayings (Be Mine, I Luv U). You could even stick one heart per year that your child has been alive – this is easier for kids to understand when they are older. Be aware that younger children might wonder why they didn’t get as many hearts as their older siblings, so just be ready with an explanation.
If you have a young child who can’t read yet, glue or draw pictures onto the hearts. The pictures can be of family and friends who love your child or fun/cute pictures from magazines or the internet.
Sometimes it’s the little things that can melt a heart and see big changes.
If you are feeling the challenges of raising a child, please take advantage of my February Special: One-on-One Coaching sessions are only $49
Click the picture for more information.
This is not just for new parents – if you have worked with me before, you can take advantage of this, too!
Focus on the Positive
Last week I wrote about the self-fulfilling prophecy: “You will find what you are looking for.” So why not look for the good?! I invited you to take some time to really stop to notice all the things your child can do and some things about him that make you smile.
This week, I invite you to focus on your parenting through a positive lens. Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs in the world. And I bet, that even though you might not always feel that way, you are doing a pretty good job at parenting.
Stop and think for a moment. What is one thing that you are doing right as a parent? Do your children know that they need to stay buckled in their car seats to be safe? Are your kids going to bed nicely at night? Do they enjoy grocery shopping with you because you keep them engaged?
We are very hard on ourselves as parents. It’s so easy to dwell on the mistakes and regrets. It’s easy to freak out in the moment instead of looking at the bigger picture. Sometimes we need to stop and think if this will actually matter a year, or even a month, from now.
As a parent, it’s also easy to assume that every other parent has their act together. I used to giggle inside when people assumed that because I was so involved and organized outside my home that the inside of my home was just as organized and spotless. To be honest, the organization part isn’t bad, but even the few years that I had a maid didn’t seem to keep my home spotless! I was spending more time playing with my kids than washing baseboards so that made it OK for me.
Think of this as permission for you to spend a few minutes as you are getting dressed in the morning, or ready for bed at night, to pat yourself on the back. Think about some of the things you have done as a parent that have been successful. Be specific and authentic with your thoughts. Some days, that might include a sentence like: “My kids are still alive today!” and that’s OK. The fact that they have made it this far with your help and guidance, is an accomplishment.
Congratulations! Raising a child isn’t easy and you’ve made it this far. There will always be ups and downs, but focusing on the positive will improve your outlook and spill over to make the downs not dip quite so low.
I am a strong believer in the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy:
“You will find what you are looking for.”
So why not look for the good?! Focusing on the positive is the foundation of all the work I do with parents.
We get so caught up in our day-to-day activities that we often forget to look at all the great things that are happening around us. Unfortunately, our brains are wired to notice the negative. It is simply easier to focus on what is going wrong. Taking note of the negative does help prevent mistakes from happening again, but it can be a real downer! Rather than dwelling on what could be better or what you should be doing, why don’t you pay attention to the things that are already going well.
Your mind is an amazing entity. Look for the good that is happening, think positive thoughts and you can transform your life.
I know, you’re thinking, “Sounds great Dr. Renee, but HOW can I do this?” The fact that you are interested in learning more, indicates to me that you are already on the right path.
Start by looking for the good in your child. I know this is hard when you are exhausted and stretched beyond anything you ever imagined parenting to be. But I promise you, it is worth it.
Take a few moments as you get dressed in the morning, or ready for bed at night, and think about your child. What are some of his positive qualities, traits, and abilities? If you are feeling a little more ambitious, pick an entire day to try to look for positive things your child says or does.
Positive things can be something as simple as ‘sitting in a chair for an entire meal.’ Even if he’s strapped in a high chair, your child is sitting and not climbing/fussing to get out. Maybe your daughter smiled at you this morning. Maybe you took a few seconds to notice, and really enjoy, the sweet, little hand holding yours as you walked to the car. What about how he played with his friend and shared his toys? Or how she called a friend who was feeling lonely or looked sad at school? Open your eyes and look for the positive.
I am often asked, “Should I tell my child about all of these positive things I am seeing?” Then almost immediately, there will typically be one of two follow-up questions: “Will this boost his self-esteem?” or, “Won’t all that complimenting go to her head?”
It is OK to comment and praise occasionally, especially if you can point out a specific behavior/action and you are being authentic. However, just spouting off compliments all day could backfire. Your child might come to expect your input on everything in life (= not be able to think for himself). Or she might begin to tune you out well before she hits the pre-teen years!
Focusing on the positive is more for YOU than for your child. Trust me, your child will benefit because your upbeat mood will have a ripple effect. Focusing on the positive is really more about a mind shift for you. It will help you find ways to be happier and feel a purpose as you go through the everyday tasks and necessities in life.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog. It’s Part Two of Focus on the Positive and it’s going to help you even more with your ability to parent.
I love this time of year! There are fresh school supplies in the stores, the weather starts to change, and there are so many hope-filled possibilities. Yes, it’s “Back To School” time.
My disclaimer before you read the rest of this post, so that you know my bias: I am not one of those moms who does a happy dance when my kiddos go off to school each fall. This time of year is bitter sweet for me. I love getting back into a routine and the structure of school and activities. But I miss my kids. I enjoy spending time with them during the summer and eating lunch with them..
Below are a few things that have made the transition to school easier for our family. Sign up for my weekly TIPS if you would like more fun, easy ideas regarding the start of school (and many other things throughout the year)
1. Practice Run
When my girls were little, we would do a full practice run the week before school started. We would wake up “on time” to get washed up, eat breakfast, put clothes on, make lunches, and pack things into back packs with enough time to get to school. If your kids will be walking or riding their bikes, time that. It took our family 25-35 minutes to walk to school in first grade because my girls had small legs. We also we had to stop and look at everything along the way. By fifth grade, we could make it to school in 10-15 minutes (less if we were late and had to jog!). If your child is taking a bus, practice being ready 5 minutes before you need to leave for the bus stop. If you are driving, plan on carpool-lane lines, especially in rainy or snowy weather, and give yourself a little cushion of time there as well.
2. Stock up on School Supplies in Advance
Many schools will provide students with a supply list for their upcoming year. If at all possible, buy these supplies in advance so that you are not fighting crowds or toting tired kids along after they have been at school all day.
Since we’ve been doing this for a while, I save leftover supplies at the end of the year. My girls shop in ‘our store’ before we go off and purchase new items. It’s not nearly as fun as having brand new colored pencils, but do I really need to spend $3 on 12 new pencils when only the light blue and green ones were used a little bit last year? I think not. It’s the same thing with notebooks and binders. Especially the notebooks we bought towards the end of the year. These often only have 8-10 used pages. I rip the used pages out and we have a new (well, almost new) notebook for the fall.
3. Important Names and Numbers
Start working on important names and numbers now. In addition to a digital list, if that’s the way you work, keep a hard copy of this list in a central location (near your phone or on the cover of your phone book) so that it is handy for everyone when needed. Some of the numbers I keep: School Office, Attendance, Teacher(s), Emergency Contacts, Doctor/Dentist Office, Close Friends and Neighbors. This list comes in handy when my kids need to be out of school (attendance) and when filling in all of the forms at the beginning of the year (every year) that ask for some of that information.
4. Dates on Calendar
Put dates on your calendar as soon as they come in. It doesn’t matter if you use a digital calendar or an old fashioned paper and pencil calendar. Put the dates on now. This might seem like a no-brainer or a super easy task. If you are just starting and don’t have too many activities, it should be relatively easy. However, if you have multiple children involved in multiple activities, it can get busy and might seem overwhelming quickly.
I have one client who uses a different color for each person in her family. Another client uses a different color for different activities (school activities are green, sports are blue, scouts are brown, etc.). There is no correct way to do this. You will need to come up with a system that works for you – even if you write everything in pencil – the goal is to get in the habit of writing it all on your calendar so that you can keep your head above water and stay on top of things!
5. Have Fun
This is super important to me. I want to send my girls off to their first day in a good mood.
I have helium balloons and take pictures on that first day of school. While I do request at least one ‘nice smile’ picture, there are often a bunch of crazy faces along the way. I also provide donuts for our bus stop on the first day of school (the middle school bus stops right in front of our house). As a bonus, after the kids leave, the parents usually hang around and visit for a bit and tease me as I try not to cry. Yes, even with my girls growing up, I still get a bit tear-y eyed on that first day.
After school I offer my girls a special snack (ice cream or milk and cookies) that we don’t have on a typical afternoon. It’s my way of getting them to sit still long enough to talk about their day for a few moments.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog. I’ll have more ideas to help if your child is anxious about school starting.
While I have often challenged parents I work with to catch their children being good, a few years ago I decided to challenge my family to catch each other being good. I think it was a busy time of year and we were all tired and running in multiple directions. It seemed as if there were more complaints and arguments than usual. I wanted to shift our stinkin’ thinkin’ from the negative to the positive.
I cut long strips of colored paper and put them, along with a few markers, in a box labeled “Can You Catch Someone Being Good?” The goal was to make a chain with all of the strips of paper. I was surprised that this was difficult for my daughters at first, and will admit there were days that this was hard for me to do, too. However, after a little while, when the girls realized that being good didn’t mean doing big things, it almost became a competition to see who could catch the most people being good.
Each day I tried to find something that was good about my children and to look for a variety of things as often as possible. Here are some of the things I wrote on my slips of paper:
Alanna went to bed nicely tonight.
Megan brushed her teeth well for 2 whole minutes.
Alanna fed the dogs.
Megan played with the dogs.
Alanna held the door open while Mommy brought in groceries.
Megan walked to school with a friend so her friend wouldn’t have to walk alone.
Alanna donated allowance money to a friend who was in a jump-a-thon at his school.
Megan asked for items for the Humane Society instead of birthday presents at her birthday party.
Here are some of the things my girls wrote on their slips of paper:
Mommy put away the dishes from the dish washer (this was before it became a ‘life-skill’ assigned to my children…)
Daddy, Mommy and Alanna – for being you
Mommy walked the dogs today when they needed exercise.
Megan shared her toys.
Alanna is good at Irish Dance.
Megan played soccer great today in her game.
Alanna played dolls with me.
So, what do you think? Can you Catch Someone Being Good?!
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
“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.