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.

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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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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?

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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