How to Keep your Kid Alive and Still Have a Happy Halloween

Kids Carving Pumpkin At HalloweenTime again for the annual “How to keep your kid alive and still have a happy Halloween” article. I know you’ve read this sort of thing before, but skim through – you might see something you forgot!

First, costumes:

From tiny ones who want to be lions to preteens dripping blood, costumes are the best part of Halloween. For a few hours we suspend boring reality and play at being something else. How better to encourage creativity and imagination?

Please try for bright, easy-to-see colors. Check to make sure the fabric is flame retardant and add reflective tape. Make sure the costume fits well so your little guy won’t trip. Stick your little gal’s feet into comfortable shoes. Pin a paper with their name, address and phone number inside their pockets in case you get separated.

Paint their faces so they don’t need to wear masks that can obstruct their vision.

Be careful about those accessories! Long scythes and pitchforks can be trip hazards.

Accessories should be soft, short, obviously fake, and flexible. Guns that look real have caused problems when people were unsure they were toys. Arm them with a flashlight with fresh batteries instead.

Home décor:

I once put a big fat candle on a table decorated with straw. It took my next-door neighbor–a fireman–raising his brow sardonically for me to see that this was not a terribly bright idea. So. Be careful where you put flame. Fire inside a floor level pumpkin with costumes sweeping by–not so good. Try battery powered candles or glow sticks instead. The firemen will appreciate it.

Only the grown ups get to use sharp objects, so pumpkin carving is for big people only. Nothing ruins a holiday like a trip to the ER. Kids can design with markers or paint.

Last, inspect your yard and home for trip hazards such as bikes and hoses. Check for frayed wires, and poorly lit areas.

Trick-or-treating:

There are, I admit, children who may disagree with me about costumes being the best part of Halloween. There is that other thing they like a lot: running around neighborhoods screaming maniacally and getting free candy. I would frown upon such activity but I have fond memories of doing the same.

The number one way children are seriously hurt on Halloween is by running in front of cars in the excitement of the moment. Teach your kids basic safety, know where they are, and know who they are with.

Kids under 12 walk with a grown-up (No, that is not up for debate; blame it on me if they disagree.) Over 12, it depends on the maturity of the child and the safety of the neighborhood. If they are not with a grown-up, they need to travel in a group, on a preplanned path. If you can find a neighborhood where they close off the streets, enjoy! If not, hike through a familiar neighborhood (it can’t hurt to check the registered sex offender site and avoid those houses).

Trick-or-treaters need to stay in well-lit areas, avoiding short cuts, alleys and darkness. Use sidewalks and walk facing traffic. Be careful when crossing the street: even if the approaching car does see your child, the one behind him or her might not. Make sure they know to never approach parked cars and never enter a house. Have your big kid carry a cell phone and check in every hour. Agree on a curfew.

When they get home, go through their haul. Throw out anything that looks like it was tampered with, anything home made (if you don’t know the maker), choking hazards, and whatever else you can get away with. Freeze some for holiday cookies later.

Pets

Last, take care to keep your pets safe during the holiday. Keep chocolate and anything sweetened with xylitol away from your dog. Watch for choking hazards and yummy electric wires, and lock your four legged ones away from the front door so they won’t escape when the hoodlums knock.

Happy Haunting!

What Chores Do I Give Which Child?

little baby gardener lost in the moment with the sun shinning in

Last week’s blog was about why children need to do chores. But how do you know what chores to give which child? The choice will depend on what needs to be done in your household and what they are physically and developmentally capable of.

Give children some chores that teach them to be responsible for themselves and some that contribute to the family as a whole.

Adjust them for their age and ability.

  • Eighteen- month-olds can pick up toys and hand them to you to throw into the toy box—and then get a hug.
  • Four-year-olds can dust, and be rewarded with applause.  Little ones will actually enjoy chores and be happy with your admiration as their reward,  although you might have to fix their work later. Mine helped me paint a wall once…
  • By eight or ten, they should be independent enough to leave them alone with a small chore. They can take out the trash, vacuum, or unload the dishwasher, which should be followed by a thank you and a hug. They will feel less inspired, so don’t forget the reward! Hugs rule.
  • Preteens live in constant fear of embarrassment, and chores need to be adjusted accordingly. They like to know, in detail, what is expected of them, when it is expected, and exactly how you want things done. They never want to do something wrong and be ridiculed. Coolness rules. I have had preteens tell me they didn’t know what “poop” was and had no idea how to stick out their tongue and say “ahh.” They fear doing it wrong. Be patient and explain things exactly. Use the preteen years to teach skills they will need later. They are able enough to learn basic cooking, laundry, and housekeeping skills, but they are still young enough that they don’t yet have the overwhelming schedules of teenagers.
  • For any age, add no more than one new chore at a time so they won’t feel overwhelmed.

Chores are an invaluable parenting tool. Without them, your children will not be whole and balanced, and they might be less appealing. Chores allow your children to participate in the family and help it function. They teach your children to be responsible for themselves and manage their time. Work teaches them appreciation for what others do for them—and for the things they have. Accomplishments nurture pride in self and in their abilities. Chores teach skills they will need throughout their lives.

Your progeny should, of course, be adequately rewarded for their work by the joy of being able to contribute to the family and by the skills they have learned. This does not seem to be the case.

Allowance helps.

Why Children Need Chores

little baby gardener lost in the moment with the sun shinning inChores are simple jobs that routinely need to be done in and around the house. They come in all sizes and shapes, and there are a wide enough variety to suit any child’s age and abilities.

Chores are a great way to teach your children many of the skills they need to know to take care of themselves as adults, while also teaching them to take responsibility for a job and feel pride in work successfully completed.

Probably the most important reason for doing chores, though, is simply that they are members of your family and they need to participate.

There are many little jobs that need to get done during the day, and it is fair for every member of the family to do their part. By doing so, they invest in the success of the family as a whole.

The investment can be as simple as helping to make dinner or putting their dirty laundry in the basket. Every little duty adds up, creating a whole in which people depend upon and trust one another. “I’ll make dinner, you fold the laundry, and Meg can walk the dog.” Families function when the members work together as a team. Later, when they need help, they will call family. When family needs help, they will come. As they work together, they strengthen bonds and create memories and emotions that they will carry with them throughout their lives.

If your children do not do their parts, a link in the chain is broken. “You give to me, but I don’t give back” does not make for a long-lasting relationship. Ask any family in which one child was favored above the others.

Work Bestows Value

Even if we aren’t planning to be a close-knit family later, it is a human truth that we need to pay for what we receive. An oddity of the human mind is that it does not appreciate what it gets for free.

Allowance that is granted as a gift can be thrown away; allowance that is worked for is treasured. We are proud of having earned it, and we are more careful of how we spend it. It has value.

Watch your children’s faces when they see the results of work that produced something that the family needed. They will make sure you know all about the work they did. They washed those carrots and picked out the best ones! You will see pride of accomplishment–value added to their own self esteem.

Your children receive things for being members of your family. You give them shelter, food, and video games. It will be easier for them to appreciate the work other people do for them if they have also done work. If they do not learn to appreciate what they are given, they will grow up to be jerks. You want people to like your children—and nobody likes jerks. Give them work.

Responsibility

Chores are also a great way to learn responsibility. The most obvious chore is cleaning up after themselves. Toddlers can pick up their toys; six-year-olds can dust and bring their dishes to the sink, and ten-year-olds can put away their laundry. Teenagers should be capable of anything, but they are limited by their busy schedules.

Let them know how much you appreciate their work. Since they saved you all that time, now you can do something fun together! They will remember the satisfying feeling and be more likely to do it again, maybe with less argument.

Skills

Chores also teach useful skills. My son was the only guy in his freshman dorm that knew how to do his own laundry. Kids who know how to cook can feed themselves. Knowing how to clean can keep them healthy. A parent’s desire to take care of their children and be reassured that they themselves are needed can sometimes interfere with their children’s need to learn. They will be happy to let you do all the work. Don’t allow them.

One of the skills they learn by doing chores is time management, so give them a time limit to get the job done. They will learn all about the evils of procrastination. “Sorry, hon, you can’t go over to John’s house because you haven’t finished your chores yet.”

Exercise

Chores also get kids off their bottoms and away from the television, which is always a good thing. Make sure some of their chores involve physical work. A three-year-old can run back and forth, bringing you items to put in the toy box. An eight-year old can help you wash the car. For a teen, yard work and mopping are good. Letting them figure out how to get it done will exercise their brains as well.

Chores Mimic Real Life

Chores give kids a chance to earn things above what you feel are their needs. If you are willing to pay for the plain bike and they want the fancy one, they can earn the difference. Name brand clothes are a want, not a need, and their savings can bridge the gap. They will appreciate the items more because of the work they invested, and they will take better care of them.

Make a chore chart and put it up somewhere visible. The basics earn them their allowance; extra chores earn points toward something they want but do not need.

Arguing for a higher dollar value per point will teach them negotiating skills.

Doing chores prepares kids for real life. Knowing how to work, how to do work well the first time, and how to not procrastinate will serve them well in the workplace. Which employee would you prefer if you were hiring: the one who whined and weaseled his way out of chores his whole life or the one who gets things done quickly with minimal supervision? Which would you fire first?

In real life, work is how you get money, and money is how you pay rent. The other option is moving back to your parents’ basement.

But what chores for which kid? Check out What Chores do I Give Which Kid?

How to Raise a Puppy You Will Like as a Dog

Cute girl and her dog friend

The first blog in this series was 6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet for Your Family. Last week’s was about the various ways pets can make your kids sick, and what to do about them. Since the most common pet by far is the dog, this week’s blog is all about how to raise a dog that will be a joy to have as a member of the family.

Your Own Dog

It is more than possible to raise a dog of your own that doesn’t have bad habits or bite. First, consider your choice carefully. There are sites on the Internet that will allow you to select characteristics like size, energy level, or amount of grooming needed for different breeds. The AKC has one such search engine; Animal Planet has another. If your children are young and crazy, you might do better with a mellow dog rather than one with a lot of energy. The same is true if the dog won’t get much exercise.

If you would consider a rescue, there are thousands of animals in rescue that need families. If you have a specific breed in mind, there are rescue agencies that specialize in most breeds. Many wonderful animals of all ages and types lose their families through no fault of their own, especially during an economic downturn or after a natural disaster.

If you decide you want to buy from a breeder, be careful to avoid puppy mills. Never buy from a pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who breeds only healthy dogs with good temperaments and who will socialize the puppy while it is in their care. Check with the national club for the breed you want; they will have a list of trustworthy breeders. Ask for references.

A careful breeder will screen the sire and dam for hip dysplasia, elbow abnormalities, heart defects, and eye problems. Some breeds have additional screenings as well. These tests are expensive, and if the dog fails, the breeder loses any potential litters. Puppy mills generally do not do those screenings. A good breeder will have copies of those clearances available; also, they can be verified at the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (www.offa.org). Pedigrees can be verified at AKC.org and K9data.com. A reputable breeder will also carefully screen you because he or she will not want the puppy to go to an inadequate home.

Once you have an energetic, slobbering puppy, it is vital that you train it so you will not have an energetic, slobbering adult dog.

  • Socialize it. Let it meet people of all sizes and behaviors, and lots of different animals. Give it lots of love and exercise. Never kick or hit it.
  • When you are with your dog, be calm and carry yourself with good posture. Move slowly. Canines have been with us for millennia; they can read our posture sometimes better than other humans can. Speak in a relaxed fashion. Dogs consider children to be puppies and will tolerate a lot of hyperness in two-legged puppies as long as their adult human is steady.
  • Neuter/spay your dog. Unneutered males are more aggressive; unsprayed females will bite when in heat or when protecting their puppies.
  • Keep it on a leash when you are outside your yard, and within a home, crate, or fenced area otherwise. If there are things you do not want your adult dog to do, like begging at the table or jumping on you, don’t allow your puppy to do them. If there are things you do want it to do, like coming when called, sitting, or walking on a leash, be consistent with your expectations and reward good behavior. Is this all starting to sound a bit like parenting your child?
  • Never chain your dog, and limit the time it spends in a crate. Too much time in a crate makes a dog crazy.

So, with all these problems, why do we keep pets? The unconditional love and companionship are priceless, but there are other benefits as well.

Pets teach children about loss and death. They learn that all living things die, that it is all right to be sad, and that it won’t hurt so much in time. Later, when a bigger loss comes into their lives, they will not be completely blindsided.

Kids with dogs get more exercise and are less likely to be overweight, and caring for an animal teaches responsibility. Pets will also teach social skills; the way children interact with a pet translates into behavior with friends and family. They learn to be calm and quiet and treat the pet gently, or it will shy away. They learn that if they are caring, attentive, and invest their time, they will be paid back with love and trust–exactly the traits that will gain your children friends and long-term happiness.

Come back next week for info on how to train your children to behave around dogs (even if they don’t have one) so that they can avoid being bitten.

6 Things to Consider when Choosing a Pet for Your Family

boy with baloon2-01In the United States, 70 percent of households have pets – more households have pets than have children. In our culture pets seem to speak more to a need than a want, and all the debate over whether or not they are a good idea doesn’t really seem to matter when we come home to that wagging tail and happy bark. Or meow. Or squeak.

The most common pet, currently in 39 percent of US households is—surprise!—the dog. There are almost 80 million pet dogs in the United States.

Dogs have been part of our lives since we depended on them to help us survive as early hunter-gatherers. One of the things that made us such a unique species, along with our big brains and opposable thumbs, was our ability to domesticate other species.  (I personally have an addiction to golden retrievers. I currently have five. Yes, they shed a lot.)

Following closely behind canines at 33 percent of US households and 86 million total are cats. Fewer households have one, but those that do tend to have more than one. After cats come rodents (hamsters and guinea pigs), lagomorphs (rabbits), birds (canaries, parakeets), reptiles (snakes and lizards), fish, and frogs.

How do you choose what type of pet to get?

Your children will be happy to choose for you. They probably already have one in mind.

Some general issues when choosing a pet:

  • Consider the age and maturity of your children. In general, a two- or three-year-old will be too aggressive for a pet. They tend to grab and hit rather than snuggle. We
    in pediatrics generally say that the best age for children to get a sibling is at about four. The same probably applies to a pet. It is possible to teach four-year-olds to be gentle, and they are able to help with feeding and grooming (of the pet, not the sibling).
  • If young children desperately want a personal pet consider a pocket pet, such as a hamster or a frog. Small, short-lived pets have less of a personal connection and are a better idea if your children are less responsible than you would like. A dead frog is very sad, but not as heartbreaking as a dead dog.
  • Consider your living environment. A small condo is not a great place for an energetic border collie, but a hamster is (mostly) self-contained.
  • If a family member is allergic, a cat is not a good idea. Fish might be good.
  • If you move frequently or travel often, it will impact on your decision.
  • Cost is a huge issue. The average lifetime cost of having a dog is between seven and thirteen thousand dollars; cats cost between eight and eleven thousand dollars over their lifetimes.

Still thinking about getting a pet after that appalling total lifetime cost? Money magazine wrote that the lifetime cost of a human child is around $241 thousand. See? A dog is a bargain!

Hmm.

Come back next week for info on allergies and the illnesses that pets can carry!

Oh My Heartsie Girl

Nutrition Facts: What to Grow in Your Kid’s Garden

girl with plantIn Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote “Spring is the time of plans and projects.” Plans and projects keep children out of trouble–or at least involve them in safer, more manageable trouble.

What could be better than digging in the dirt and playing in a spray of water on a hot summer day? What more creative than an adventure in the wilds of your back yard? Add in sunshine, fresh air and exercise, and planting a garden becomes the springtime activity of choice.

One of the best ways to coax kids into eating what is good for them is to involve them in its preparation. They are far more likely to eat the lunch they prepared with their own two hands than one you slaved over. If they help you peel and cut up carrots for dinner they will try them, and brag about their contribution while chewing.

Extend this a bit and you reap the miracle of children eating their vegetables because they grew them in their very own garden. They planted the seeds, watched over them, watered them, and cared for them. They will proudly eat the fruits of their labor and proclaim their tastiness.

Children need a variety of vitamins and minerals in order to function and grow, and the best place to get those nutrients, along with carbs for energy and fiber for bowel function, is in fruits and vegetables. Some, like beans and peas, are even excellent sources of protein. Many of them can be grown in small plots or in containers on a porch.

Carrots can be grown easily from seeds bought in your local garden store, and are very high in Vitamin A. Vitamin A helps with eyesight–especially night vision–which is why your mom always told you to eat lots. Watermelon, peas, peppers, beans, and tomatoes also have bunches of Vitamin A.

Tomatoes, peppers, and beans are high in B complex vitamins. B vitamins like riboflavin, niacin, thiamine and folic acid are tiny machines that allow your body to function. They help with everything from making blood cells, to generating energy from carbohydrates, to scavenging free radicles and protecting you from cancer.

Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are high in Vitamin C, which is necessary for collagen synthesis and wound healing and is an effective antioxidant. Without Vitamin C, people get scurvy.

Minerals are also easily come by on the plant side of your plate.

Calcium to build strong bones can be found in beans.

Potatoes, beans, corn, and mushrooms are high in iron, which helps carry oxygen around your body.

Potassium, necessary for muscle contraction and to maintain your heart rhythm, is present in potatoes, berries, peas, beans, and peppers.

Essential minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and zinc are all available in fruits and vegetables.

I’ve never seen a child turn down a pea fresh from the pod, or a strawberry plucked from the plant. Find a plant catalogue, pour through it with your child, pay attention to what will grow in your area and how much room the plants need to grow, and choose. Consider what you have room for: will these be container plants on the porch, or can you spare a patch of yard? Do you have space for a tree, or are we looking at a mushroom kit in the closet?

Some of my favorite kid friendly plants are peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes, and the ever popular carrot. Melons, pumpkins, and cucumbers are great if you have a little more room. Berries come in all sizes, from tiny strawberry plants fit for containers with pockets down the side, to raspberry vines best grown on trellises, to fat thorny blackberry bushes. Tires can be stacked up and filled with dirt in a tower as potato plants grow, then harvested by taking off one tire at a time.

Growing a few plants allows you to spend time with your children, get some exercise, and build some vitamin D of your own from all that sunshine. Have a conversation about science and nutrition while you are digging in the dirt. Money can be earned and financial lessons taught by naming the watering and weeding of those plants “chores.” Other lessons can be taught without any conversation: responsibility for life, the fruitfulness of hard work, and pride of accomplishment. Don’t miss this opportunity for spring plans and projects!

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Friday Features Linky Party

Springtime Allergies: What to Do?

sneezing boy-01Allergies happen when a body’s immune defenses overreact to something in the environment. They decide that a molecule of pollen or mold is a dangerous invader and it needs to be killed. Queue the mucus, swelling and itching.

If your child has the tendency to wheeze, queue the airway spasm as well.

If he or she has sensitive skin, also expect an outbreak of dry itchy patches.

If they keep the mucus, swelling and wheezing for a while, they can develop secondary infections like earaches, sinusitis and pneumonia.

Allergies suck.

What triggers allergies? 

Kids can be allergic to a multitude of things. They can react seasonally to flowers in the spring, to grasses in the summer and fall, or to wood fires and Christmas trees in the winter. Year round allergens include molds, mildews and dust mites (tiny bugs that live in dust and upholstery and feed on flakes of skin). Many children are allergic to pets–especially cats and birds–and react to the pet’s feathers, fur, saliva or skin scale. The poisons in cigarettes are common triggers, as are fumes like perfume and air pollution. Scents and dyes in soaps and detergents can cause allergic reactions. Some kids react to contact with latex or metals like nickel.

Food allergies are different–a whole blog in themselves. Hmmm… maybe next week?

How do we prevent or treat an allergy attack? 

We can’t cure allergies–all we can do is try to keep them under control. If possible, avoid the allergen:

  • If your child is allergic to cats, don’t buy him or her a kitten. Ditto for birds, dogs, hamsters…
  • Never smoke in your house or car.
  • If the allergy is to pollens, keep your air conditioner on seasonally and buy filters that catch allergens.
  • Dust mites? Cover your child’s mattress and pillow with zip up covers designed to contain them.
  • Don’t use curtains in his or her room, or wash them weekly.
  • Limit stuffed animals to those you can wash in hot water with their bed linens once a week.
  • Vacuum daily (sorry).
  • Dust with a damp cloth (also sorry).
  • Molds? Fix any damp areas in your home. Use that bathroom vent – timers work great, and are easy to install.
  • Clear out vegetation close to the house, and discard any dead plant bits.

Medicines can help prevent allergic reactions. 

If avoidance is not enough, your munchkin can take an antihistamine as needed to block the allergic reaction. Try to stick with the newer, non-sedating antihistamines: claritin, zyrtec or allegra and their generics.

If an exposure is inevitable (“We have to go to Grandma’s and you know she has that cat!”) you can give them an antihistamine about an hour before.

If they are going to be exposed to their allergy trigger every day for a while (springtime pollen?), they can take the antihistamine every day, if you buy the non-sedating type. If their allergies are chronic, a daily steroid nose spray or a preventative medicine called Singulair (montelukast sodium) can also help prevent the symptoms.

Offer them lots of water to wash the allergens out of their system.

If they still have symptoms, allergy testing can help to pinpoint exactly what they are allergic to, so you know what to avoid or clean up. Knowledge is power. It does no good to find a new home for the cat if the child is only allergic to mold. Poor kitten.

Last, if avoidance and medication are not enough, your physician will bring up the subject of allergy shots to desensitize your munchkin to the allergen. He or she will not be thrilled.

Allergies are miserable, but there are things you can do to make your child more comfortable. Prevent the exposure if you can, and give medication if you can’t–either a short term antihistamine or longer term preventative nasal sprays or montelukast sodium.  Consider allergy testing and shots when those simpler therapies don’t work. And hydrate. Soon, the season will change.

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How to have a Stress Free Spring Break with Kids

little cute girl near the pool with a circle for swimming

Spring Break! Time for the Family Vacation. So how do you have fun without going insane? I, of course, have my top ten!

10. Pack a simple medicine kit: don’t waste a day of vacation at the doctor’s office, refilling the prescription you forgot at home. Take:

  • any prescription meds your child sometimes needs, even if they haven’t used them in a while (asthma and allergy meds come to mind)
  • frequently used over-the-counter stuff: acetaminophen or ibuprofen, an antihistamine, insect repellant with DEET (the other stuff really doesn’t work, and insect borne encephalitis is unpleasant), sunscreen, and hand sanitizer
  • basic first aid supplies (band aids, gauze pads, tape, antibiotic ointment, cortisone cream, alcohol, tweezers, scissors, thermometer)

9.  Write out a budget before you go. I know, I am a fun sucker, but it has to be done. Know how much money you have and where you plan to spend it. Give the kids an allowance for souvenirs. They will be more careful with money they consider their own, and they will not be constantly asking for things. “Can I have that?” can be answered with “Sure, it’s your money. But are you positive that is where you want to spend it? There might be something better later…” Also, knowing how much you yourself have to spend will save you stress and regret later.

8.  Keep to healthy foods most of the time. (Here I go, sucking out the fun again!) Kids will have more energy, feel better and have a better attitude if they are nourished. And it’s cheaper. Have a basket of fruit available, some whole grain crackers, cheese, peanut butter, popcorn – food with nutrients. Don’t waste valuable vacation time sitting in the drive thru line and arguing over food.

7.  Keep to established routines when you can. Bring along a book for that bedtime story, keep bed time the same, set aside time for their bath. Kids don’t always deal well with change, and vacations are all about change. A few familiar routines will help them feel less stressed. A full night’s sleep is an absolute necessity if you don’t want an emotional wreck for a kid.

6.  Keep an eye on the little ones. You are in a different environment with new dangers. Distractions abound. Kids on vacation get lost, or get into Grandma’s meds or the local pool. Check out my summer safety tips.

5.  Find interesting things to keep their brains busy. Bored kids whine, and then they find their own version of interesting things. Have a stock of books, games and videos for the car. Bring a journal for them to write in, and art supplies. Explore the area you travel to – Google it before you go. See the sights, hit the museums, find the local artists and craftsmen. Check out ideas to abolish summer boredom.

4.  Keep your own mind open to new and different ways of doing things, so that your kids will do the same. Kids internalize their parent’s judgments, and they will close down their minds and wipe possibilities out of their lives if that is the example you set.

3.  Keep them physically active as well. A tired kid is less stressed, sleeps better, and is not sitting around thinking of ways to get into trouble.

2.  Keep stress to a minimum. Use a GPS if you’re driving: arguments with the navigator have ruined many a vacation. Keep your expectations in line with the actual possibilities, to avoid disapointment. Don’t overschedule – leave time for that relaxing hike and to have a conversation over dinner. Stay within your budget – your hindbrain will know you are overspending and your stress will mount. Stressed out people snap at each other and cannot enjoy time or family.

1.  Align your vacation with your priorities, then toss out the rest. What are the goals of this vacation? Relaxation, family time, memories, enrichment, joy? Plan the vacation and activities that will get you there, and don’t let exhaustion, stress, and fear get in your way. Don’t stop at Uncle Joe’s house if you know he will stress you out; don’t vacation with those friends who overspend or forget to pay their half of the bill. Don’t worry if the kids are getting dirty or if your Aunt Judy wouldn’t approve. Just say no, open up, and relax.

And have a fantastic vacation!

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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.

The Blogger's Pit Stop

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!

The Blogger's Pit Stop