Why Does My Baby Not Sleep Longer? (And 8 Things to do About It)

Adorable Sleeping BabyThe one warning all new parents receive is, “Enjoy your sleep now, you won’t get any after the baby arrives!” Babies sleep all the time – just never when we want them to.

The Science of Sleep

There are many geeky scientists who study sleep, and they have made some helpful and interesting discoveries. The most relevant of these for new parents is that people sleep in cycles, from light sleep to heavy and back again.

Infants cycle from light back to light sleep every hour. This cycle means that about once an hour they are sleeping lightly and may wake up. After about six months of age they can learn to put themselves back to sleep. They are not hungry and do not need to be fed, after that initial newborn period. They are not lonely and do not need to play. They need to learn to go back to sleep. When you check on them be boring, leave the room dark, pat them on the bottom and leave. Do not pick them up, do not play with them, and do not feed them if you ever want a full night’s sleep again.

Remember the part about how children will do what they are rewarded for doing? Picking them up, feeding them and playing with them is rewarding them for waking up.

Babies should come with warning labels.

So what’s normal?

Newborns sleep about sixteen hours a day, but only two to three hours at a time. Fortunately, they’re so cute that you don’t mind too much when they wake you up.

By about four months they will have one longer period of sleep (about four or five hours) per day. Heaven! Make sure it happens at night. You can’t keep babies from falling asleep, but you can certainly wake them up early if they try for that five-hour nap midday.

A six month old might sleep for ten or eleven hours straight to total, with naps, around fourteen hours.

The average toddler will sleep twelve or thirteen hours total. Most will take two naps until between eighteen and twenty-four months, then one nap until they are three to five years old. There is, of course, individual variation.

School aged children sleep between nine and twelve hours per night, taking about thirty minutes to fall asleep. No napping or they won’t sleep at night!

Bedtime Routine

A bedtime routine is the single most important tool you have in your arsenal to get your kids to sleep, and can be very reassuring when other things in their lives change. The details vary from family to family, but there are common elements that work:

  • Give them a light snack an hour or two before bedtime. Aim for low fat and low sugar. Fruit or a complex carbohydrate will work, like whole grain crackers or pop corn.
  • Notice if there is a time in the evening when your child slows down and gets sleepy: this is their natural bedtime. They will fall asleep more easily at this time. If they stay awake past it they will either get grouchy and irritable or, worse, find their second wind.
  • Slow things down an hour or so before bed. Turn the television and electronic games off. Lower the light level. Turn on some quiet music.Give them a nice warm bath (just like Grandma always said). Read a storybook.
  • Tell them how wonderful they are: going to sleep is easier when you’re happy.
  • Tuck them in with their comfort object, their night-light and their bottle of water (if they want them).
  • Make sure they are comfy – keeping it a little cool will help.
  • Leave while they are still awake, because you want them to be able to fall asleep without requiring your presence.
  • Once they are in bed, they need to stay there. If they get up, put them back. If you need to check on them, be boring. “You’re fine, it’s bedtime, go to sleep.” Don’t get angry, or you’ll upset them and they’ll stay up longer. Leave the lights off.

The routine should never vary much. Bedtime should be the same every day, unless dealing with a jet-lagged kid is your idea of fun. If you do the same things in the same order at the same time every night they will be so used to it that you will rarely, if ever, get an argument. The routine itself will trigger sleepiness.

If you get flexible, vary the routine a lot, or let them stay up late now and then you might have difficulty the next time they need to go to bed.

The absolute worst thing to do is to give in to whining. Planning ahead with “We’re staying up late tonight because it’s a holiday” will not set a precedent. Giving in to whining with “Fine, I’m tired of listening to you,” will. You will have taught them that if they whine enough they will get what they want. Then, since you have rewarded whining, you will see more of it.

If you are in a strange place or your family life is in upheaval, keeping the bedroom routine the same will not only help them fall asleep more easily but will also make them feel more safe and secure. Don’t forget to pack that Teddy bear and their favorite storybooks if you travel or when there is a family change or trauma!

Want answers on specific sleep problems like night terrors or airway obstruction? Come back next week, of course!

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8 Tech Tools to Protect Your Teen Driver

Jayson Goetz–a young writer whose work primarily focuses on educating readers about the effects of science and technology on today’s society–is the guest writer for today’s blog.

This is excellent news, because I am… umm…  technologically challenged. I did not know half these things even existed!

Since they are very cool and might save your teen driver’s life, read on:

Protecting Teen Drivers with Technology

student_driverToday’s world is becoming increasingly saturated with technology. Refrigerators come with built-in touch screens, and your iPhone can control the thermostat. What does this mean for parents? Most children in the US have uninterrupted access to some form of technology. This statistic doesn’t sound scary when your teenager is curled up on the couch, but it’s a different story when they’re hurdling through space in two tons of metal and combustibles (a.k.a. driving).

So, where do you stand? Are you a technophobe, or a technophile? On one hand, text messaging makes drivers 23 times more likely to have an accident. On the other hand, technology can prevent accidents, help you monitor your child’s whereabouts, and facilitate hands-free phone calls and text messages.

If your teen is tech savvy and about to start driving, this guide is for you.

Physical Safety Features

First, the good news. As technology progresses, automobile manufacturers compete with one another as they tack on new safety features. That’s how consumers got cruise control, air bags, and seat belts. Today, these are all considered “standard” safety features, and that list is growing. If you’re out of the loop, check out this list of safety features that can protect your teen in the car:

  • Active Park Assist – will parallel park the vehicle without driver assistance
  • Adaptive Cruise Control – adjusts driver-set speed to account for distance from the vehicle ahead
  • Adaptive Headlights – adjusts illumination to accommodate for road conditions
  • Collision Warning System – alerts the driver of impending accidents
  • Drowsiness Alert – uses data to alert drivers when they need a break.
  • Electronic Stability Control – detects and reduces loss of traction during turns
  • Lane-Keep Assist – detects unintended lane changes and keeps the vehicle on course
  • 360-Degree Camera – displays the area around the vehicle to assist with parking

While all of these safety features are exciting, most of us have to budget for a new vehicle. My advice? Prioritize Electronic Stability Control, Lane-Keep Assist, and the Collision Warning System. These particular safety features are the most likely to protect inexperienced drivers from harm.

Hands-Free Features

Now for the bad news. Teen accidents are on the rise. In 2014, teens were involved in 4,272 accidents. In 2015, that number increased to 4,689. 2016 numbers aren’t in yet, but I can imagine that the trend will continue. Given than drivers under the age of 25 are three times more likely to text while driving, what can you do?

If you’re willing to spend the money, you can always purchase a vehicle with hands-free Bluetooth technology. Here of some of the feature to look for:

  • Text to Speech – translates text messages, status updated, and other notifications into speech
  • Speech to Text – allows user to dictate text messages, emails, and more
  • Vocalized GPS – vocalizes GPS directions through the speaker
  • Audio Streaming – streams audio from your device through the speaker
  • Voice Commands – allows user to activate various functions with their voice
  • Vocalized Caller ID – vocalizes incoming caller ID information
  • Voice Dialing – allows the user to dial with their voice

Now, these features are available in many new vehicles. I drive a used Honda Accord that comes with 6/7 of these features. You can also purchase a Bluetooth kit that comes with the features you really need.

Further Considerations

You’ve purchased a safe vehicle, and you’ve discouraged distracted driving? What’s left? My only other suggestions are low tech. If you run into trouble, try implementing a driving contract that includes rules and consequences for various driving scenarios. This will help your teen learn the rules and avoid negative consequences.

My last suggestion may seem obvious, but it’s critical: make sure you model good behavior. If your teen sees you texting while in the driver’s seat, they’ll be sure to model your behavior. That’s it! The rest is out of your hands.

Discipline Tips for Teens and Tough Guys

skateboarder-01Last week’s blog, 3 Don’t and 10 Do’s of Discipline, discussed the basics of how to successfully discipline children. Today’s is about those special cases. Like teens.

Teenagers are different.

Very different.

The Adolescent Brain

The area of the brain that allows people to see the long-term consequences of their actions is not fully developed in teenagers. They really can’t see themselves as the future forty-year-old they will become.

I once had one tell me that she couldn’t see the point of going to college because by the time she graduated, her youth would be gone. Several kids have told me that they didn’t think they would live past twenty-five. The distant future is empty space; only the immediate future is real.

At the time in their lives when they need to be making serious decisions about things like sexual activity, relationships, careers, and powering vehicles at high speeds, they have limited vision into the future. Add to this strong emotions, extreme stress, and peer pressure, and I don’t think any of us would volunteer to live through adolescence twice.

They need direction, but they also need to learn to make decisions: they have some big ones coming up. They need to figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. We are not they; we cannot make those decisions for them.

We do, however, need to catch them and stop them before they make stupid mistakes that will destroy their chances, and discipline them in a way that will head them in the right direction. We no longer have the advantage of being smarter than they are, and sometimes they’re sneaky. So what works?

Contracts work.

Sit down and talk to them about the temptations they will run into.

  • Let them know that you do not approve of underage drinking, but if they do try it, you want a phone call and you will come pick them up. Agree that you will not embarrass them in front of their friends and will not yell at them, but you will discuss it the next day.
  • Similarly, calling and letting you know they will be late is far better than speeding to get home on time.
  • Asking to be put on birth control is better than pregnancy.

Keep your eyes open to the possibility of bad behavior. Point out the risks to your child, and show them ways to solve their problems that they, with their limited experience, might not see.

If you see a problem coming, sit down with them to discuss possible solutions that would be within the rules. Make sure they understand that your main concern is their safety.

Avoid putting them in situations where they have no good options. If they don’t feel safe at a party, but they are afraid to call you, bad things can happen.

Don’t expect your teenager to always be rational.

I’ve seen girls convince themselves that if they don’t take a pregnancy test, they won’t be pregnant. One young lady asked me if it was true that you couldn’t get pregnant if you put a yellow skittle in your vagina during sex.Reality for a teenager is very different than reality for a grown-up.

If something looks fishy, butt your nose in and ask. They are living in your home, they have to follow your rules, and they do not have a right to privacy. They do have the right to your protection from their immaturity.

If the consequences to their errors are small, let them make mistakes.

Then let them live with the consequences. A failed test or a lost friend may teach a lesson that will prevent a failed marriage or a lost job.

I have known several teenagers who wrecked their cars, only to have them immediately replaced by their parents. It never ended well. If they walk for a while until they earn money for a car, they take much better care of the vehicle and, consequently, of the people inside.

Do try to protect them from the big mistakes.

Sex, drugs, and crime with all of their consequences come to mind. Some mistakes will follow them forever, and they really won’t see that far ahead. Heartbreak is inevitable, but keep a close watch for serious depression. Teens do kill themselves over temporary sadness because it is not temporary to them.

Above all, keep lines of communication open. They need to be able to tell you anything and know you won’t blow up. You can have your breakdown later in the privacy of your own room.

When discipline doesn’t work:

If kids of any age seem to be in trouble all the time, doing dumb things, or breaking rules they know well, look for something deeper going on. Take some time with them alone and talk.

  • Perhaps they just need more time with you? Breaking rules is a great way to get attention.
  • Kids will also act out when there are changes in their lives – good or bad. A new house, new school, different people in the home? Kids will push until they find out where the new limits are, just so they feel safe and know they can count on you.
  • Sometimes kids act out because things are going on in their life that scare them. You need to find out about those things. Give them a chance to talk, be quiet and open, and listen without jumping to conclusions.

Kids may be unwilling to risk the relationship with their parents, but they may be willing to talk to Grandma, Uncle Joe, or a trusted family friend.

If this doesn’t work, they may need to talk to a therapist—sometimes it’s easier to tell a stranger what’s wrong. With a stranger, there’s no danger of hurt feelings, judgment, or resentment.

The Big Picture

For any age, penalties for bad behavior need to be immediate and proportional. Ideally, the consequence is a logical extension from what the child did, like a broken toy or failed test. Equally, punishments must require taking responsibility for their actions. The goal of discipline is to point your children in the right direction and keep them from hurting themselves along the way, so tailor reprimands to correct behavior but not to kill all hope for the future and any chance for communication. Keep open the possibility of a reward in the future: the stick does not work without the carrot in place.

Discipline must be consistent and predictable over time. Your children should know what to expect if they do that bad thing, be aware that there will be no wiggling out of it, and understand that the punishment will not be unbearable and that they will get through it.

Last, don’t expect discipline to work overnight. You’re aiming for responsible adults here, not well-behaved thirteen-year-olds. Keep the long view.

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3 Don’t and 10 Do’s of Discipline

boy with baloon2-01So, you are Parenting: you have a structure of rules, and you have your focus lasered in on good behavior so that you can reward it appropriately. (If not, check out last month’s blogs on Rules and Rewards.)

But how do you deal with bad behavior? Of all the things we do as parents, this is the easiest to screw up. If we don’t believe in what we’re doing, we snicker and laugh—not convincing. If we’re not angry, we hate doing it; if we are angry, we sometimes go too far. We have to do it, or we will end up with spoiled children who, as adults, will have difficulty maintaining solid relationships and may never manage to have meaningful lives.

The American Academy of Pediatrics holds that discipline is a teaching opportunity, not a punishment. We will try for that, but we may not convince the kids.

Ahead of time, discuss discipline with your partner and have a structure in place. I can give you some guidelines, but you have think through your rules and decide how—given space and time for quiet reflection—you would like to react to some of the more interesting and creative behavior children will throw your way. When you are tired, stressed, and angry is not the time to decide what puni..—er—“teaching opportunity”—fits the crime.

(We never actually told our son not to cover the floor with water so he could slide across it in his bare feet. And as for cutting off all of his sister’s hair … Well, he has 2 year old twins now. Karma works.)

If you have trouble with authority roles, practice on each other. No smiling. Channel Smokey the Bear: serious, concerned, and confident.

You will make mistakes. Everyone does. Forgive yourself, apologize to your children, and move on. If you need to make it up to them, make your “learning opportunity” proportionate and relative to your mistake. Ask your kids what sort of punishment you deserve. Hopefully you fit in the time-out chair.

How Not to Discipline

There are a few dangers to avoid when discussing infractions with your children. The first is that if you allow the discussion to devolve into excuses, you risk turning your children into people who take no responsibility for their actions and believe they can talk their way out of anything.

Another is that the discussion can turn into an intimidating inquisition with the big people towering over the little ones. You want to improve their behavior, not destroy their confidence.

And don’t even consider giving a warning. They knew the rule, they broke it, and they know the consequences. What would a warning teach them? That they can get away with anything once? Craziness.

How to Discipline

When dealing with tiny people, of course, simple distraction and diversion will work. Pick them up, take them away from the neat burning candle, and hand them a book.

When they get old enough to understand rules, real consequences begin. No single consequence will work all the time; consequences vary with age, the personality style of the child, and the type of infraction.

Respect your children, get down to their level, and look them in the eye. Consider their points of view, but expect them to take responsibility for their actions. Explain why they are in trouble and what the consequences will be. Then do it. No exceptions, no waffling, no compromise. If they know that discipline is enforced every single time—and no amount of begging and crying will change that fact—soon you will have less begging and crying. I promise. If you sometimes let them talk their way out of things, you will have a battle each and every time, forever.

Time-outs

For little ones, usually a time-out is best. The standard belief is that time-outs work because they allow the child time to cool off and think about what they have done. Put the offending child in a chair in a corner alone and completely ignore him or her for as many minutes as they are old. The child can quietly contemplate their misdeeds. Hmm.

I think the truth is less pleasant and much more effective. Time-outs have more in common with traditional shunning than with quiet time. That little person has done something so unacceptable that he or she does not exist in your world for those few minutes. You are taking away the one thing that matters most to them in the world: your attention.

Time-outs: not so wimpy after all.

For a time-out to work, it has to be immediate (shocked looks help, especially for biting and hitting) and absolute. It does not have to be in a particular chair or corner. It can be on the floor right where they were when they decided to have a tantrum. You can even shut the door behind you as you leave. The point is to leave them alone, with no audience, no Mom or Dad, and no one who wants to be with them. The bad behavior will gradually go away because it gains them nothing and takes away something too important to risk.

Discipline by Karma

As they grow, some of their behaviors will have natural consequences. If your two-year-old breaks her toy by throwing it against the wall, she no longer has a toy. If your teenager doesn’t do his homework, he fails. If karma takes care of the punishment for you, your only job is to let it happen. No rescues! You don’t want them living in your basement at thirty!

Logical Consequences

Some consequences are logical. Your munchkin likes to slam their door? Take the door off the hinges and lean it against the wall. They won’t be able to close it for the duration. Horrors! Similarly, if they explore the wrong sites on the computer, they lose computer privileges. Forget their bike helmet? Walk.

Be sparing when taking things away from your children as part of their “teaching opportunities.” If you do it too often and they don’t have the opportunity or ability to earn the things back, you get resentment and sullenness, not success. Never take away something they need—food comes to mind. And never threaten to take away something you know you won’t enforce. If they need the computer to do schoolwork, the punishment (yes, I said the “P” word) could be that they have to use the computer in the kitchen where they can be monitored. If they can’t miss soccer practice without hurting the team, the punishment could be not hanging out afterward with their friends.

Responsibility

Frequently, the punishment can be simply taking responsibility for what they have done and making it right. If they steal a candy bar, going back to the store, confessing to the clerk, and paying for the item out of their own hard-earned cash is very effective. Simply being made to apologize can be excruciating, but it is the honorable thing to do.

Psychiatric experts say you should enlist your children to help decide the consequences for their actions. This is sometimes enlightening and certainly worth listening to, but in the end, it is your decision.

The Big Picture (the 10 Do’s):

  • Never hit a child. That only teaches them that it’s ok for big people to hit little ones.
  • Take away your attention for a time out, never your love. Your love they keep, forever, no matter what they did.
  • Calm yourself first. If you act out of anger, you will regret it later, and you will need to be the one apologizing.
  • Whatever you choose to do, do it immediately.
  • The consequence should be relevant to the issue and proportionate.
  • Criticize the behavior, not the child. What they did was bad—they are not bad, and you expect better from them.
  • Don’t use guilt or shame; those tend to become internalized and suck all the joy out of life.
  • No shouting labels at your progeny; labels stick and follow them around forever. It is impossible to forget that your dad called you stupid or your mom told you that you were a bitch. Children will live up to the labels we place on them.
  • When possible, give them a way to earn back what they have lost. Rescue them joyfully from that time out, and put that toy where it can wait for them to settle down and do their homework.
  • Last, don’t make the punishment last too long. Less than a day is generally best for most infractions. Much longer can make them disconnect the punishment from the crime.

How to discipline a teenager? And what to do when discipline just doesn’t work? Come back next week, of course!

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What Reward? When? How?

child with reward, parenting
Two weeks ago I wrote 5  Truths: Why Rewards Work. I wrote about how, without rewards, kids will use rules as guidelines to get our attention.

That’s bad. We don’t want that.

Why Rewards Work outlined how rewards need to be small and given frequently for small, possible accomplishments. It discussed that rewards need to be immediate, so that the happy feeling is linked to the good behavior. It argued that they be proportionate, because we don’t want to raise greedy brats.

I may have not used those exact words…

It talked about the sorts of behavior that ought to win a reward (pretty much anything that is not bad behavior).

It stressed that rewards are given after the good behavior, not before (that would be a bribe).

But what should the rewards be?

Since the most important thing to your children is always going to be your attention (yes, even that teenager), your attention is the best reward. Watch your young artists draw pictures and listen to them tell you about their masterpiece when they are done. Wear that pasta necklace with pride. Go to soccer games and recitals. If you show up, you must care and they must be doing something of which you are proud. If you do not show up, they must matter less to you than whatever else is taking up your time.

Running a close second to attention is praise. And it’s free! Tell them what a good job they did and that you appreciate their hard work. Tell them you’re proud of them. Then add affection to that praise. Why would you tell them they’re wonderful and not give them hugs? Who could resist?

Special time with Mom or Dad is a great reward for both munchkin and parent. Parents don’t get many opportunities to spend time with just one child. For a small accomplishment, the reward can be reading a favorite book together, playing catch, or anything else they’ve been bugging you to do. A moderate reward could be building a puzzle together or time at the park or library. Something larger could be a trip to a museum or sporting event.

Bigger Kids

Since older children tend to want larger things and have a longer attention span, they can earn points toward a larger reward. Rewards can be anything you would not normally buy them: something they want but do not need. Make it something possible, and display the points prominently where they can see their progress (their attention span may not be as long as you hoped).

Problems coming up with a good reward? Ask your munchkin–they will have ideas. They want a new skateboard? You want an A in math. Figure out what that A will take, and you can give points for performance on homework, quizzes, and tests. Even if they miss the A, your kids will have learned more math than they might have otherwise.

They will also have all those points amassed toward that skateboard, and science is coming.

Food Rewards

Be wary of food rewards. A special dinner made up of their favorite foods can be lovely. Sugary treats can be the makings of disaster. Food is for nourishment, not emotional support and not for power.

Material Girls… and Boys

When using material objects as rewards, be especially careful to make the object proportionate to the accomplishment. You do not want a child who expects a toy for being good at the grocery store. Baseline good gets hugs, appreciation, time, and pride—not toys. Tantrums negate the good behavior and are never rewarded.

Rewards are absolutely essential if you want good behavior from your children. Attention, affection, and your time are more valuable as rewards than anything monetary. Rewards should be frequent, small, and in proportion to the behavior. Larger rewards for older children should be earned over time with points (note how I just changed the big reward into many small ones), which can be transferred to another goal if the first proves to be too hard.

Be brave, and reward yourself, too, when you do well. Just keep in mind that your children are watching; model good rewards as well as good behavior. No junk food!

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Doc’s Top 10 New Years Resolutions for Moms and Dads

storkHappy New Year! Time for those resolutions.

This year, instead of resolving to lose that last ten pounds or eat more veggies (I really need to eat less chocolate…), resolve to do something that will actually make your life better. The reward for parenting well is amazing kids and sanity – definitely worth the effort. You may already be doing all these things (is that even possible?), but skim through if you are merely human and could use some help. So…

Dr. Lovlie’s Top 10 New Year’s Parenting Resolutions:

10.  Require chores. Equal participation is fundamental to receive the reward of being in a family. The pride your children feel serving the carrots they helped peel is well worth the time it takes to get them to do it. Every member of the family contributes, to the best of their ability. Family bonds and trust will form over the raking of leaves.

9.   Make rules, and enforce them consistently. Rules keep kids safe, teach them right from wrong, and civilize them. Make sure your child understands the rules, and every single adult in his life needs to enforce every rule each and every time. No “warnings,” because you made sure ahead of time that they understood the rule. Decide what the consequence will be for a broken rule long before you need to enforce it; make the punishment appropriate for the crime (timeout? loss of the toy? paying for the damage?). Read 5 Reasons Why Kids Need Rules.

8.   Feed the munchkin a healthy diet: whole foods that look like they either grew out of the ground or walked on it (I know, but not everyone is a vegetarian). Teach your children to eat when they’re hungry, and stop eating when they’re not hungry anymore. Aim for about 2/3 fruits, vegies and whole or enriched grains, and about 1/3 protein (meat, eggs, cheese, beans or nuts) and starch (potatoes, corn). Everything else will be easier if they are well nourished. Check out All the Right Foods.

7.   Keep a regular sleep schedule – both enough hours and at about the same time every day – as much as possible. Kids who are short on sleep are irritable, tired and have no attention span. Everything else will also be easier if he or she has had enough sleep.

6.   Keep them safe when possible. There are lots of surprises out there to keep life interesting; there is no need to risk preventable injuries. Use those seat belts and bike helmets, lock up the household poisons, guns and Grandma’s meds, and get those vaccines.

5.   Teach financial responsibility. Spend less than you make, stay out of debt, and save for the future. Do it where they can see you and explain what you are doing. Go through your budget with them in an age appropriate way, and feel free to say, “We can’t afford that.” Give them an allowance for those chores and require that they save some.

4.   Don’t wear blinders. Your primary job is to protect this child, even if it is sometimes from themselves. Children will lie, take things that are not theirs, and sneak out at night when they are 14. You need to catch them so that they learn that it doesn’t work. If they get caught stealing at 7, they have an embarrassing memory of having to go back and pay for what they took. If they get caught at 25, they land in jail and loose their job, partner, and children.

3.   Give them love without condition. Love the child you have, not the one you dreamed they would be. Love is not a prize you can give when your child is good, and take away when they do not live up to your expectations. Without the absolute faith that no matter what happens or what horrible thing they do you will still love them, the foundation on which they build their life will by shaky and unstable. You chose to have them – unconditional love was part of the deal.

2.   Nurture your child’s unique talents and abilities. Don’t try to fit the ones you want them to have on an unsuitable frame. This little person is an original – why would you want to shove him or her into a standard form? And what irreplaceable gifts would be forever lost because you did not value them? Respect the exceptional person that he or she is.

1.   Inspire them with your own life. Be what you hope for them. Find work you love, maintain a healthy relationship with your partner, eat a healthy diet, and exercise. Learn something new every day. Never lie. Give respect, and demand it for yourself. Keep an open mind, explore the world and grab opportunities when they happen by. Make your children proud.

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5 Truths: Why Rewards Work

Parent with Child, parenting
Without rewards, rules become guidelines that tell our children how to get our attention.

We must reward our children when they are good–chiefly with our time and praise–since there is otherwise no benefit to good behavior. Rewards are far more effective at shaping good behavior than punishments will ever be, because children desire their parents’ love and attention above all.

Rewards are not bribes. Rewards are earned, like a paycheck, for desired behavior. Bribes are given beforehand, when they have not been earned.

What Earns a Reward?

As with rules, what behavior is defined as rewardable depends on the particular child’s personality, age, abilities, and the environment in which they find themselves. (Last month’s blog How to Custom Fit Rules to Your Child outlined what children are capable of at different developmental ages.) Think about the behavior you want, look for it, notice it, and reward it. You will see more of it.

Try not to expect behavior that is improbable for the age of the child. Fifteen-month-olds will not be able to control their tempers. Two-year-olds can begin learning that temper tantrums do not get them what they want. A temper tantrum in a seven-year-old is not attractive.

Consider, also, your particular child’s style and ability. Everyone is better at some things than others, and ability changes with age. Think about where they are now compared to where you want them to be and aim in that direction, taking small, attainable steps.

It is far too easy to ignore good behavior–or just not notice. Your toddler shared his toy?Definitely worth noticing. Your five year old is looking through a book? Fabulous. Teenager being civil? Yay! Good behavior is easy to miss or dismiss with the thought He should act that way all the time. But would you go to work every day if there was no paycheck at the end of the week? Would you work as well if your boss did not appreciate you? The human mind is built to respond to approval. If you want to see more of a particular behavior, reward it.

Small Goal, Small Reward

It is vital that you keep your goals small and of short duration. A trip to Disney for straight As sounds good, but can be soul killing to a child who just can’t get there.

Frequent small rewards are more effective. The child can see the end point and know that it’s possible. “If you wash the dishes, we can read that book together” is immediate and obtainable. “If you clean the whole house, I’ll give you fifty dollars” is distant and improbable, as well as overwhelming.  Divide responsibilities into many short sprints rather than an inconceivably long marathon.

Instant Gratification

Rewards should be immediate. Children have short attention spans, and if too much time passes, they won’t be able to remember what they did or why they’re being rewarded for it.

Immediate rewards create an emotional connection to the behavior that will give them a good feeling when they repeat it. Reading that book made them feel happy, so they will grab another book. They probably won’t remember the hug and smile, but the feeling will be there.

Proportion

Rewards should also be proportionate. Small people receive small rewards for small actions. Putting away their toys receives a hug and a smile, not a new toy. Finishing their homework should be rewarded by going with Dad to walk the dog, not by getting a new puppy.

Older kids, who generally want larger things,  can work toward them by getting points for small acts of fabulousness. Working toward an A in history? Homework done? Points toward that bike can be prominently displayed for each small accomplishment.

Respect your children’s intelligence: if you go overboard, they won’t believe the approval is authentic. If the reward is grandiose, they will know they did not truly earn it and may feel manipulated. They might be insulted that you thought they were so dumb. You may want to jump up and down when you find your teenager doing homework, but a nod and a “Cool, good job,” will be more accepted.

He’s Never Good!

What if you don’t ever see the behavior you’re looking for? Sometimes you can create the behavior you want, and then quickly reward it before they figure out that they didn’t mean to do it. Sneaky, but it works. You are smarter than they are—for a while, at least.
If they’ve been in a timeout, grab that instant before they scowl and say, with a relieved smile, “Good, you’re back! I missed you so much when your evil twin took over! Let’s go do something fun.” Most of the time, they will grab that preemptive reward and run with it.

We do this in the pediatric office when we torture kids. Right after a throat swab, their faces will start to crumble. In that instant, we smile and say, “Wow, you were so brave! I think you were the bravest kid all day! Would you like a sticker?” They are so proud of their bravery that they try to live up to it.

If they are exploring and about to get into something they shouldn’t, stop them before they do and tell them they are wonderful for being so curious. It is so much more fun than yelling at them for breaking that lamp! Interpretation is everything.

If your toddlers are not great at eating veggies, give them the ones they like and will eat, then tell them how great it is that they ate their veggies and that they will make them big and strong. Set up the playing field in such a way that they will succeed and you will have something to reward.

But what rewards do you give for what behavior? Check out What rewards? When? How?

How to Keep Christmas from Making You Crazy

Cute girl thinking about ChristmasMy daughter the anthropologist tells me that celebrations solidify relationships between people within a community, give them hope for the future, and serve as rights of passage.

Keep that in mind as you enter into the holiday insanity. What you want this season to mean to your children throughout their lives?

Do you want them to be involved in your community with its rich heritage and history? Emphasize that. Tell stories, act out events and celebrate your history. Help out people who are less fortunate.

Do you want holidays to strengthen family bonds? Put family first. Limit the decorating and shopping and work events, and hang out at home. Make gifts for each other, bake cookies and play games.

If you want holidays to be about joy, be joyful. Foster realistic expectations, appreciation for what they have and genuine values. Develop traditions that are more about time together as a family and less about how much stuff they get. The memories they keep forever will be the little things: sharing a bowl of popcorn while watching an old movie; reading a book while Mom or Dad runs fingers through their hair. Few people remember what they received for Christmas last year. They do remember that walk on Christmas Eve admiring the sparkling lights, tasting cookies straight out of the oven, and the look on Grandpa’s face when he got that homemade penholder.

Gifts

It’s tempting to get your children all the things they want for the holiday just to see them smile, but where do you go from there? Maniacal happiness is not joy. It cannot be sustained over time. Add to that that you have created unrealistic expectations for all the other holidays in their future. And the storage needs!

Restrain yourself. If holidays are about family time, board games, and baking cookies it is possible for holidays later in life to be happy. If holidays are about how much money was spent and how many new toys they received, how can real life ever work out? Bigger and better toys every year? That was not the goal.

If you can afford it, get them one or two of the things on their lists. Make them the ones they can create with, the ones that make them use their brains and bodies and talent. Add on some little things that are fun to open. Let little ones play with the boxes and bubble wrap. Then focus the day on family.

The Insanity

Don’t let holidays overwhelm you. There are so many expectations that no one can possibly meet them all and have any joy left. There are special foods that need to be prepared, special clothes that need to be bought, decorations, gifts, traditions to be followed, parties, travel, family… eeek! Weed out the excess so there is room left for joy, relaxation and rejoicing in whatever you were celebrating.

Before you decide to spend money on gifts or travel, be realistic about what you can afford. What did you get for your last birthday? Don’t remember? No one does. What people do remember is the conversation, the hugs and the warmth. Those are free. Take dollars out of the experience as much as possible and you won’t end up with a credit card bill for a present that was discarded six months ago. Don’t try to keep up with the people who have that bill and you won’t be laying awake at night and fighting with your spouse instead of relaxing snuggled up with hot chocolate.

Tune down the stress. Not spending more than you can afford will eliminate a huge amount of stress. Next, stop worrying about what other people think; they’re too busy worrying about what you think to care anyway. Keep to routines as much as possible. Sit down for meals; take some time to focus on each other. Step back from the hysteria and think about whether your progeny will actually play with that new doll or just stuff it in a corner, and whether you really need to travel or attend all the parties. Take some quiet time and relax. The world will not collapse if you skip a party or miss the line for the “it” gift. It will collapse if your child is so exhausted and stressed that he or she has a melt dow

Health

Keep healthy. The week after a holiday is always busy at my office. I make lots of money from airplanes crowded with sick people and stores packed with germy carts. Get enough rest, and hydrate. Use hand sanitizer. Eat as healthfully as possible–avoid fast foods, throw in some fruits and vegies. Hide the caffeine and limit alcohol. Get a flu shot. Nothing can destroy a holiday quicker than a trip to the ER.

Avoid injuries. Most holiday injuries have nothing to do with the particular holiday, but everything to do with people being so busy that they are not as watchful as usual. Sports are more dangerous when we want to impress cousins. Teenagers tend to get more reckless during a celebration, and young children sneak away quickly. Most holiday injuries are from everyday activities and household objects made dangerous by the holiday craziness.

Chokings and poisonings are popular. The one I see most is an overdose on Grandma’s meds. At Grandma’s home they are left on countertops; at your home they are in her purse. A left over drink is a common way to poison children. A little alcohol can drop a child’s blood sugar and throw him or her into a coma.

Toddlers will put anything in their mouths. Unfortunately this means that everybody needs to pick up their stuff. Items over 1¼ inch in diameter are generally safe. Smaller items than that can go straight into their gut or lung. The most dangerous items to swallow are batteries and magnets; the most dangerous to choke on are grape sized (older children’s toys, hard candy) or stretchy (balloons, plastic bags, marshmallows). Clean up!

Holidays also provide a banquet of things to irritate children’s allergies. Live trees indoors, foods, cigarette smoke, wood fires and other people’s homes and pets come to mind. Avoid them if your child has allergies.

Fires and electrical injuries are especially common during holidays. Decorations can be flammable, old Christmas trees will be dry, and space heaters, candles and fires are commonly nearby. Frayed and loose wires easily start fires. Keep your eyes open for dangers.

Use your common sense during celebrations. If it doesn’t seem safe, don’t let people pressure you into it. Feel free to let watching your kids take precedence over seeing Uncle Joe’s trophy or Aunt Mary’s vacation photos. “He’ll be fine” doesn’t make him fine. Keep an eye on him, or her.

Feel free to be rude and head for home when the kids get tired, if a situation feels out of control, or if your child is being exposed to something you aren’t happy with. Use the munchkin’s youth or fatigue as the excuse for you to head home, relax and read a bedtime story.

Remember that the point of celebrations is to solidify relationships and give hope for the future. Get there by focusing on your history, rejoicing in your present and not sabotaging your future. Don’t go crazy with gifts: they don’t teach your children anything you want them to learn and the financial stress will eat away at that joy and hope you were dreaming of. Pick fewer things to do, and do them together. Be safe and stay healthy.

 

8 Surefire Strategies to Make Rules Work (and 2 Corollaries)

A small boy playing

To succeed at this parenting thing, we need to not only have a set of rules with which to raise our children, we also have to teach those rules to our kids and enforce them evenly.

Children don’t handle inconsistency well; it frightens them and makes them feel insecure. Insecure children will act out endlessly both to see if anyone actually cares and to see if they can get away with it this time, since sometimes they can. Not fun. They also learn to play one parent against the other if you are not a consistent team, because they are smarter than you think they are.

Even if all the grown-ups in a child’s life don’t live in the same house they all have to agree on the basic rules and enforce them consistently, for the good of the children and the sanity of the grown-ups.

Last week’s blog was on why kids need rules; the week before discussed how a child’s developmental age affected rules.

This week’s blog is an outline for a framework of rules that work, and a guide on how to teach them to the kids. And Grandma. So.

The 8 Strategies that Make this Work:

  • The rules have to be reasonable, taking into account the child’s age and abilities. It would make no sense to rule that your one year old must use a fork; insisting that your eight year old do so is reasonable.
  • Try not to outlaw normal behavior. Fifteen month olds are going to climb on the furniture; five year olds will pretend to be lions. The “no lying” rule does not apply when playing pretend.
  • Never punish curiosity – we want that. Inappropriate questions can be answered with “I’m not going to discuss that with you,” rather than “You shouldn’t ask that.” Try to redirect curiosity, not punish it.
  • Try to make rules with your particular child in mind. Think about his personality, her abilities, their style. This combination of you, your child, and their particular environment has never before happened in the history of the world, so you get to decide what is best. Grandmas and books can only give you a general idea. If your child is a musician, cutting him off in the middle of a composition because it’s dinnertime would be failing him. If he is terrible at math, making him sit at the table alone until he finishes all of his homework may be torture. Consider your child when you make the rules.
  • Make sure they understand the rule and why it is important. “The rule is that you must wear the helmet every time you ride your bike, no exceptions.” Speak with authority, even if you can’t quite feel it. “We don’t make you wear the helmet to make you look dorky, we make you wear it because your head is fragile and we love you.” Keep the rules simple and easy to understand.
  • Rules should be consistent and predictable. Your child should be able to generally know what will be allowed and what will not, because all the rules form a cohesive whole. If it is a rule that he is not allowed to smoke or take drugs, and his new friend smokes and takes drugs, then he knows without asking that the answer is going to be no, he can’t hang out with his new friend unsupervised.
  • Rules have to be enforceable. Never fight a battle with a child that you cannot win. Set up the playing field ahead of time so that you do win. They are children; you can outsmart them. If they win, you have given up a lot of power you will need later. If you insist on her eating her creamed corn, what will you do when she refuses? You can’t force her to swallow. What you can do is enforce a “no junk food” policy. Don’t buy it. It’s not in the house. “Sorry kid, we don’t have that, but there’s fruit over there….” A win!
  • Last, try to make rules respectful of the child. Don’t condescend, especially if your child is a tween or teen. Never humiliate your child. It lessens them, when you want them to be more.

Teaching the Rules

So, we have rules. There aren’t too many, they make sense, and all the grown-ups have agreed on them. How do we teach them to the urchin?

First and most importantly, teach by example. You are the center of your child’s world. They see you. They watch and notice. Then they imitate, both because they love you and want to be like you, and because they want your approval. How much easier will parenting be if they copy your habit of honesty? How much more successful will you – and they – be if they strive to control their temper because they see you control yours? If they know it’s unacceptable to hit because they never see it at home?

Second, teach by explanation – making sure they understand – and then by repetition. When they are going to be in a situation that will give them the opportunity to break a rule, remind them that it exists. “Remember, you will get in more trouble for lying than for anything you did.” Repetition will always work, generally by the one hundred millionth time. Hopefully.

Lastly, teach by giving them the option for success within the rules. “You aren’t allowed to go to Jeremy’s house because his parents aren’t there. Would you like to invite him here or wait until his parents come home?” Let your child think of a solution that is within the rules. Kids can be very creative when they want something.

Changing the Rules

If you have not had many rules or have been lax about enforcing them, change will be painful. Expect rebellion.

They will probably act out and may initially become much worse, particularly for the first two weeks. They may even think the new rules make sense and secretly feel good that you care, but they will never let you know. As a general rule, it takes two weeks of absolute consistency to change a habit, be it a junk food addiction or a new curfew. After two weeks, the change becomes the new norm. They might still fight it, but they have gotten used to it, and they won’t put as much effort into the battle.

If you give in during that two weeks, it starts the timer over. Don’t give in.

Gang up on them. Everything will go more smoothly if you can get your children’s friends’ families to use similar rules. Imagine if all the kids had to do their homework, and all the teenagers had the same curfew! If that is not possible, at least communicate with the other parents, teachers, and daycare workers so that you know what their rules are, because your child will likely – um – mislead you as to what is allowed elsewhere.

The Important Stuff

Rules should be carefully considered so that they protect your children’s safety, teach them right from wrong, and help them function in society. Rules should be enforced equally by everyone involved in children’s lives, and need to be reasonable and understandable. They need to provide a framework that will allow kids to learn self-reliance and self-control. Rules, though restrictive and incomprehensible when done arbitrarily, are necessary and good when done with consideration for what is best for the child in the long run.

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5 Reasons Why Kids Need Rules, and How Need Decides What Rules Should Be

toddler with toy-01Random rules are bad.

How would you like it if you were strolling innocently down the street and were attested because the police decided to make the wearing of blue against the law on Tuesdays?

Kids are new. They don’t yet know what may seem obvious to us. They are not born knowing that when the ground turns from green to black suddenly big cars can come at them at high speeds. They don’t know that they are not supposed to just grab a toy they like or bite somebody that makes them mad, until you tell them so.

Chaos and disaster happen without rules. But they need to be good rules! Grown-ups need to consciously think about the rules that they make, agree on them, explain them to the kids, and enforce them.

Last week’s blog was about how a child’s age and development affect discipline. This week is devoted to figuring out what those rules should be.

Rules are important; allocate some serious time and thought to creating them. What do you want to accomplish? You don’t want your future teen to get in fights, so no hitting. You don’t want the parent of your future grandchildren to be dishonest, so no lying. Write the resultant rules down. Make a contract with your partner to enforce each and every rule, every time. Let grandparents and babysitters in on the plan, because discipline problems are usually caused by a caregiver’s misbehavior at least as much as the child’s.

This process will, of course, involve some compromise. No two people will ever agree on the necessity or fairness of every rule. To reach a sensible compromise, think about why we make rules in the first place.

Guidelines for Making Rules:

  • First, we make rules to keep our children safe. The easy ones are obvious: don’t play in the busy street, wear your seatbelt and bike helmet, don’t play with matches. Safety rules get more nebulous as your child gets older, though: never talk to strangers, no going on camping trips with people we don’t know,  no driving friends around because you’re still a new driver. It’s important when making rules to talk to your kids, think about the risks, and don’t compromise on safety.
  • We make rules to help teach children right from wrong. The basics are, again, obvious: no stealing, no lying, and no cheating in school. Others are more nebulous and can vary with culture, religion, and personal preference. The No hitting girls rule comes to mind. Why just girls? What if they’re bigger than you? What if they hit first – can you protect yourself? What about the No eating pork rule, or No working on Sundays? Many rules are religion or culture based, and with today’s mixing of cultures, will have to be discussed beforehand.
  • We make rules so that our children will learn self-control. We place the external framework around them and, over time, it will be internalized. Consider the No cursing rule, for example. A curse word is just a combination of sounds. There is no safety issue at stake here, no inherent nature of right or wrong. But if kids don’t learn that cursing is not acceptable, it will affect the way people see them. Teachers will not be happy with them, because cursing is inappropriate at school. They might lose friends. In the end, it could even limit their job prospects. So, if for no other reason than the norms and expectations of society, children need to learn to control their speech.
  • A framework of rules will teach your child self-reliance. If they understand the rules, they knows what to do in a given situation. Imagine a child who has not been taught basic table manners. When he is invited to a friend’s home for dinner, he will be confused and scared, and he may act out because he feels out of place or stupid. But if, instead, he knows what behavior is expected of him, he can count on his own abilities to get him through.
  • Rules provide the safe, structured environment in which a child can thrive. Painting must be done on the kitchen table translates to your child as, “I can paint on the kitchen table and not get in any trouble for the mess!” Saying You must do your homework signifies that you care about your child and want him to do well in school. Saying You have to wear your seatbelt means that you love him more than life and would die if he were hurt. Kids will roll their eyes at you, but they really do want you to care and keep them safe.

I find it amazing that children actually obey rules set down by their parents, especially when they become older, and sometimes much larger, than said parent. The reason they do becomes apparent when you look at the kids who do not obey their parents’ rules. It is a matter of simple respect and love. If you want to be able to say, “Stop!” to the sixteen year old headed for the door with the car keys and have him actually stop, he has to know you love him and you have to have earned his respect.

Kids cannot be expected to respect their parents simply because they are the Parents, any more than you would respect your boss simply because he or she has a job title.  A child’s respect is earned with unconditional love, dependability, and honesty. If the relationship is solid, kids will want their parents respect and approval – a very good thing as they get older, more independent, and our of your control.

Now that we know what rules we think matter enough to enforce (don’t even think about making a rule you aren’t going to enforce!), how do we go about enforcing them? Check out 8 Surefire Strategies to Make Rules Work.

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