Mr. Handy to the Rescue!

The key to interacting with preschoolers is keeping things light and fun.  I credit my munchkins’ preschool teacher with bestowing on us the powerful tool of Mr. Handy: Make a fist with your hand with the knuckle forward and use your thumb to control the mouth or keep your fingers spread and wiggle them like hair – either way your kids will get a kick out of Mr. Handy.  The beauty is that he can act as your special helper somewhere your kids need a bit more encouragement.

A few years back, I found that getting the kids ready in the morning had become a frustrating experience; I was calling people into the bathroom with poor response time, they weren’t excited about brushing their teeth, etc.  Mr. Handy to the rescue!  The kids and I got together and decided there were 5 things we really needed to accomplish every morning: get dressed, make our beds, brush hair, brush teeth, and put on sunscreen.  Five is the magic number so you have one finger for each activity; if your list has more than 5 items, you can merge tasks like brush hair & teeth.  The great thing about having Mr. Handy help out is that he does all the talking.  You can give him a fun voice and ask the kids, “Have you brushed your teeth yet?”and instead of Mom nagging them, it becomes fun!  I also love that you can count out the 5 To Do list items (starting with a closed fist and raising one finger at a time) to wrap-up the session and close with a high-5.

Try out Mr. Handy wherever you’re finding challenges in your daily routine: With good table manners, with homework, with remembering things to bring out the door on the way to school, etc.  P.S. – The other thing that we’ve found very helpful in the morning is to keep sunscreen and an extra toothbrush for each kid in the kitchen so we can keep the momentum going after breakfast and finish getting ready in the kitchen rather than dragging everyone back to the bathroom.

Solve Your Parenting Problems in 5 Steps

I’ve alluded to problem solving skills a few times in my earlier posts and today is the day we will talk about the steps you can take to actually solve your parenting problems.  A parenting problem can be anything from your child engaging in an undesirable behavior like hitting to you feeling dissatisfied with your own daily parenting routine.  These are basic steps that I used to teach my patients in therapy sessions.  My kindergartener even came home from school with a print-out of these steps.  I’m not comparing you to a psychotic person or a kindergartener, but in your frustrating parenting moments, perhaps you have felt a bit like that?  Have you ever caught yourself in a frustrating parenting moment saying something like, “Well, then you’re not going to get (insert child’s favorite treat or activity) today” without stopping to think about whether that was the best approach to solving the problem?  We all let our emotions get the best of us at times.  Having young children can be stressful and when we’re stressed we tend to overlook the problem solving process, but really taking the time to look more methodically and objectively at a situation can make it much easier to manage.  If you think about how you solve problems in your life when you’re in a more rational mindset, you will probably come up with these steps but most of us haven’t taken the time to step back and examine how we tackle life’s challenges.

We’ve been focussing on sleep lately, so I’m going to teach you the steps using an example of a bedtime problem I encountered with my daughter when she was about 3 1/2 years old.  Any number of acronyms can be used to help you remember the steps: STEP, SCALE, etc.  I’ll use SOLVE:

S: State the problem.  Without adding a lot of emotion to it, define the problem.

In my example, my daughter shared a room with her older brother and they had the same bedtime.  For at least half a year this had been a perfect set-up and they each fell asleep within minutes of tuck-in time.  Then she periodically started having trouble falling asleep and would talk, sing, etc. at bedtime.  There was no obvious pattern for her clearly not being ready for bed at her usual bedtime but it would happen a couple of times a week.  The more this went on, the more disruptive she would get, talking louder, preventing her brother from going to sleep, coming out of her room, etc.  We went from blissful bedtimes to quite a raucous and unpredictable routine.  S: My daughter does not fall asleep at her usual bedtime.

O: Options.  Think of every possible way you could solve this problem, even the ones that seem ridiculous; openly brainstorming just might lead to other great ideas or at least add a bit of humor to help deter any frustration you’re feeling.

  1. Change her bedtime
  2. Change her brother’s bedtime
  3. Have them sleep in different rooms
  4. Have mom or dad stay outside the room to intervene quickly when disruption occurs
  5. Have mom or dad stay in the room until she falls asleep
  6. Provide a reward for going to bed on time

L: List the pros and cons of each possible option for solving the problem.

  1. She might be more ready for bed at a later time but she might be overly tired if she still wakes up at the same time; also older brother would not like it if she got to stay up later; also her sleep duration seemed appropriate for her age
  2. Brother could be kept up later allowing sister to fall asleep with less distraction but he tends to wake up at the same time every day so that would leave him sleep-deprived; also that would eat into adult time in the evenings
  3. Baby brother was already in the picture by this point so we could move sister into her own room but then big brother might be woken up in the night by baby brother; also sister loved sharing a room with big brother and wasn’t ready to move to her own room yet
  4. Supervising from the hallway might help if she’s just testing boundaries and isn’t too inconvenient for mom/dad but isn’t a long-term solution
  5. Staying in the bedroom should help stop disruptive behavior but is a bigger adjustment to our normal routine where the kids fall asleep on their own after tuck-in and mom/dad leave the room
  6. She would likely respond to a reward but I tend not to like rewarding a behavior that had been mastered; rather, I tend to reward new behaviors the children are working on mastering then phase out the reward once the behavior is established.

V: (Choose the) Very best one.  Pick the option you think will work best for you and your child.

We chose what seemed like the simplest solution but one that might actually work and I started lingering in the hallway outside their door after tuck-in (option 4) so that I could pop my head in as soon as I heard her talking or climbing out of bed and remind her that it was bedtime and their bodies needed enough rest to be ready for a fun day tomorrow.

E: Evaluate the outcome.  Have you seen the type of progress you were hoping for?  If not, return to the previous step and try a different option, then evaluate the outcome.

Option 4 was clearly not the right approach for her.  Many nights she would go right to sleep or need 1 reminder but others she would be relentlessly energetic and clearly not ready for bed.  So we tried option 6.  Then option 5.  Then option 1; even with a later bedtime, she still had restless bedtimes on some nights.  Then option 2; we would put her to sleep first and that seemed to help a little, but she still had those nights where she would be up for a long time past bedtime so then her brother was kept up too late.  Then option 3; we would put him to sleep in our bed and move him into his after she fell asleep.  Trying out all of these options took a couple of months and by that time we were very ready for our easy bedtimes to return but out of options.  So, we went all the way back to the second problem-solving step: Options and came up with a new list of options to try.  This time I consulted with trusted mom friends and gained some great insight about how since having younger brother, our bedtime routine had changed a bit so we normalized that as much as we could.  But still, she had these occasional nights of wakefulness, until it hit me one day as we were driving around in the afternoon and she fell asleep, that perhaps the little catnaps she snuck in once or twice a week could be disrupting her nighttime sleep.  She had stopped napping regularly but if we happened to be out later in the afternoon, she would still fall asleep in the car.  The wakeful nights weren’t always on these nap days, but I thought perhaps the accumulated sleep from those naps was affecting her sleep schedule.  I started actively keeping her from falling asleep in the car and just like magic our easy bedtimes were back in action.  Although cutting out these car naps was the most helpful thing, we had noticed the benefit of staggered bedtimes; plus, by cutting out these occasional car naps she was more tired than usual at bedtime and benefitted from an earlier bedtime than her brother.  And that was the beginning of our 15-minute staggered bedtime between children.

This was a particularly difficult problem to solve which required several passes through the SOLVE steps, some good brainstorming sessions with other moms, and continued brainstorming that lead to the “Ah ha!” moment where I realized the car naps might be the culprit and added cutting out car naps to the “Options” list.  If you use the steps to guide you and have perseverance, even the toughest parenting problems can be solved.

These steps are great to teach your kids too!  They encounter problems daily, especially in their interactions with friends and siblings.  Teach your kids these steps to help them solve their own problems.  Instead of running to break-up every fight between the kids at our house, I’ll often holler, “Be a problem solver!” to help inspire them to work through their own problems using the same techniques I do.

Love, Balance, and Problem Solving

A little while back I asked you to think about your own parenting philosophy and to start keeping an eye out for parenting behavior you observe, both good and bad, to help develop a concept of what kind of parent you want to be.  Here’s my global view of parenting: There is no one perfect parenting style but rather doing what works best for you and your child.  This means a different approach for every family and within each family, a different approach for every child.  The approach that works for me and for my 4 munchkins merges several somewhat dichotomous parenting styles: I’m pro-baby carrying, pro-breastfeeding and start my kids later in preschool than most Americans yet I favor a structured household and use a cry-it-out approach to sleep training at 6 months.  Before getting into specifics, though, I think I can summarize my parenting style into 3 overarching principles.

First, I place great emphasis on how I interact with my children on a daily basis.  In their first few years of life, parents (especially stay-at-home parents) have a tremendous ability to shape their child’s development.  There are lots of hugs and kisses at our house and there is a great deal of attention to the words that I say.  Everything that you do and say to your children every day adds up over time and develops into their view of you and the world.  I want my children to know that they are unconditionally loved and to become warm and happy people.  As part of this, I always try to speak to them in a loving, kind, and supportive way and react to them in a calm and appropriate manner.  This may sound simple but it is certainly not easy and often requires an incredible amount of patience (especially since the household chaos level jumped up a notch after having our third child) but I think it’s critical to being a good parent.  Remember, this is a goal, not a constant reality.  We all get upset sometimes and overreact sometimes but having this image of amazing parenting in my mind always helps me to get back to that behavior as quickly as possible when I encounter obstacles.

Loving your children does not mean that you should cater to their every request and indulge their every desire.  Children need a tremendous amount of guidance in their early years and I provide clear and consistent expectations for my children’s behavior.  My influence is greatest in the first 5 years.  Once they start full-time school, there are so many other influences in their life and your daily interaction time is so greatly diminished, you have to hope that you have instilled a solid foundation of good behavior in your children.  While loving them unconditionally, each day, I work on molding them into the kind and respectful adults they one day will become.  Children are a work in progress; you have to pick and choose your battles, tackling just a few behaviors at a time.  So this second part of my parenting approach is about balance – balancing your child’s behavior today with the behavior you hope they’ll have when their 5 years old and later 18 years old.

The third part of my approach is using problem-solving skills to tackle all my parenting dilemmas because training children is not easy and we often find ourselves stumped by our children’s behavior.  Rather than getting frustrated and overwhelmed, I like to think of parenting as an exciting challenge and attempt to solve the problems we encounter together.  This is where a problem-solving approach to parenting comes in really handy; if your technique isn’t working, search for another and keep searching until you find one that works for both you and your child.  I’ll lay-out the problem-solving approach in my next post.  For now, the emphasis is on realizing that parents have a myriad of tools in their arsenal and with some perseverance and patience, you can help your children through any challenging phases.

 

Breakfast is Scheduled

My name is Lindsay Emmerson and I am a mother of 4 young children: Colin (8), Robin (6), Logan (nearly 4), and Soren (approaching 2). This is the first bit of information I include when I tell you about myself because my identity is pretty entwined with my parental role being a stay-at-home mom. I actually have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology which probably makes me one of the most over-educated stay-at-home moms around but I’m certainly using aspects of my training in my daily life. I also took a brief foray into being a fitness coach in my early years of motherhood but that is a story for another day.

The quick back-story on why I’m starting a blog today…when people ask me what I’m going to do when all the kids are in school, I usually reply that first I will get caught-up on a 10-year-long To Do list. Then I’m planning to write a book on psychology and parenting. I’ve kept notes through the years and have a treasure chest of case points for the book from raising my own children. One day I just need time to sit down with my psychology textbooks and merge the two into a handbook for new parents. Last weekend a friend in a similar situation (who is writing an exciting book on intimacy and family relationships) told me her agent said she needs to have a social media platform with at least 5,000 followers before the publisher will seriously consider her work. To put this in perspective, I log onto Facebook about 7 times a year and I joined Instagram just last week. So, self-publishing started sounding like a good idea. But today I woke up and had an idea about something to blog about and thought I might as well try it out and see where it takes me.

Today I have one tid-bit of advice to share with mothers, fathers, caregivers, etc. that came about from using basic problem solving skills, a core component of cognitive behavioral psychology. Has your morning with your munchkin(s) ever seemed rushed? My husband leaves for work around 6am which coincides with 4 munchkins waking up hungry, needing to get dressed, needing to brush teeth and hair, needing to put on sunscreen (since we are so fortunate to live in Santa Barbara, CA), needing to do homework, needing to pack up their lunches for school, and all the while just wanting to play with (or harass) their siblings – not to mention that I should at least get myself dressed and brush my teeth before leaving the house. We need to leave the house by 8:15 to make it to the first school drop-off which is enough time to do all this, except when it’s not – when there’s a huge diaper blow-out, a sick child, when the kids or I wake up in a particularly grumpy mood, when we can’t find a library book that’s due that day, etc. So, we are often scurrying out the door.

In trying to simplify my morning routine, I came up with an organizational strategy that has greatly helped easy mornings. Imagine that four kids are asking you to make four different breakfasts. Sounds a bit chaotic, right? It hit me one day that I should have a set meal plan so I thought up five breakfast for Monday through Friday, each of which include a fruit and a protein, and told the kids this was the new plan:

Monday: muffins (a real treat to get everyone excited about Mondays), chopped fruit, and a glass of milk

Tuesday: cereal (because Tuesday I do all of my laundry and need every second in the morning to get the second load in before we head out for the morning), chopped fruit, and milk either in the cereal or in a glass

Wednesday: bagel with cream cheese and either fruit on the side or orange juice since the bagel and cream cheese have the protein covered

Thursday: oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts – option of juice if they have nuts for protein, otherwise milk

Friday: primevil bars (which are these yummy bar-shaped baked good that resembles a cinnamon-raisin bagel made by Trader Joe’s) with jam, honey, or peanut butter on top, shopped fruit, and milk on the side

This may be way healthier or way less healthy than you’re used to and your own munchkins might love or despise these items; the menu can obviously be varied tremendously to meet your family needs but the routine in the real triumph. Such a simple strategy made mornings so much easier. After a short period, the kids were totally into the routine and started asking, “What day is it? So what do we eat today?” A wonderful mother friend of mine with 3 children saw my menu printed out and posted on our refrigerator one day and loved the idea so much she adapted it to her family to simplify their mornings. You may have already thought of this technique on your own but if not, give it a try and hopefully it will make your parenting morning just a little bit easier. By the way, as the kids get older, I let them choose a different meal than the daily special if they can make the entire meal themselves. My 8 year-old and 6-year-old love oatmeal so last year they learned how to microwave it themselves and some weeks they have that on several mornings with the fruit I have prepared.  Similarly, my 3 year-old just learned how to prepare his own primeval bars.

I don’t know when I’ll get around to writing my next entry in this blog. So far while writing this one I have retrieved my 8 year-old’s homework from my 1 year-old, wiped watermelon juice off my 3 year-old, been asked about 10 questions, and been pleasantly interrupted by about 30 comments just beseeching praise and affirmation. But I’ll try to fit them in here and there!