We all have at least one—that mom thing we like to do for our kids. That little gesture that we use on a regular basis to communicate without words that we love our kids. For example, one mom makes her kids’ lunches for school every day. Her mom did that for her, and she enjoys passing on the tradition to her three children.
I do hair. Each morning, I brush and braid my two teenager daughter’s hair. Once a month or so, I cut my two boys’ hair. Sure, the girls could do their own hair, but I enjoy it and they enjoy having me do that in the mornings before school.
It’s wonderful that we each have a regular way we connect with our kids. The trick is not to have so many “mom” things that your kids aren’t doing things on their own.
When we’re expecting a baby, we spend a lot of time preparing for its arrival—decorating the nursery, buying the right equipment and clothes, etc. When the baby comes, we spend a lot of time preparing for outings—do we have a diaper bag? Check. Diapers? Check. Toys? Check. Change of clothes? Check. Something to feed the baby? Check.
When the infant grows up into a preschooler, our bag of tricks gets smaller. Upon entering elementary school, we’re rejoicing that we’re no longer a pack horse weighed down by mounds of child paraphernalia.
Somewhere along the way, we forget that we still need to always be prepared when taking our kids out to a restaurant, on a car ride, to the store, to a friend’s house, to visit grandmother, etc. This can put our kids at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to behaving—kids with nothing to do and no way to occupy their mind (and hands and feet) usually becomes kids misbehaving. Occasionally, even with preparation, kids go off the rails. But spending a little time preparing for a trip to the store or across the country will hedge against misbehavior.
Here are my top 5 tips for helping kids entertain themselves outside of the home.
Encourage reading. We shoved books in our kids’ hands from the time they were little—it was my go-to when a kid needed attention or I needed a few minutes to myself. This practice means my kids take books with them to read in the car, at the store, etc.
Have a “go” or travel bag. When my kids were younger, we made sure they had a small bag filled with stuff they could do on their laps, such as magnetic boards or dolls, lace-ups, coloring books/crayons or colored pencils, small figurines or action figures, etc. We avoided electronics and noisy toys.
Take the bag or book when going out. Our kids used to ask us when we told them to get ready to leave, “Will I need to bring something to do?” We usually erred on the side of “yes,” as there were many times a “quick” errand turned into a long wait at the register or rain meant staying inside without age-appropriate toys to play with. You’ll rarely be sorry you made them take their bag or book.
Guide them in filling the time. For long car trips for the younger set, map out a loose schedule of when to color and when to listen to an audio book. Kids sometimes need our help to occupy themselves—not to entertain them, but to provide a bit of direction—as they have a hard time thinking outside the box when they’re bored or not in a familiar place.
Mind the time. Everyone has their limits, so pushing for too much time in the car or trying to pack in too much time with extended family or not watching the clock while visiting friends can tip kids over into misbehavior land. Often, if we had heeded that inner voice that said it was time to stop or leave instead of lingering another half hour, things wouldn’t have gone south in a hurry.
As our kids have grown, they have continued the practice of being prepared to occupy themselves when not at home. It hasn’t always worked out well, but overall, it’s been a huge blessing for us, one that I hope you will work toward too.
Kids are touched by news or images of natural disasters. Their hearts can be stirred by the site of a homeless person dragging their belongings around town. “Compassion, empathy, and the ability to collaborate with others are fast becoming the most important traits of social and emotional intelligence that contribute to kids’ well-being and their future career success,” said Katherine Ludwig, co-author of Humility Is the New Smart.
I recently wrote an article for the Washington Post on how kids can help after a natural disaster. Here’s some other ways kids can assist that didn’t make it into that piece.
Focus on the good. “It’s a balancing act to help kids understand suffering in the world without making them paranoid or obsessed with the risk that something could happen to them,” says Penny Hunter, mom to human rights activist Zach Hunter. Pointing out how others are helping—and encouraging your kids to do the same—can provide that sense of balance.
Pack meals. This can be done on a large scale with another group or individually, and even young kids can participate. Schools, faith-based organizations or clubs can pack meals or snacks for first responder, homeless shelters or other groups with a way to get the meals to those who need them.
Donate goods. After natural disasters, clothing, toiletry items, blankets, pillows, and other household goods are needed. Go through your closets and let your kids decide which toys and clothes they could give away. “My kids helped us go through our house and make personal donations of our own,” said Christina Moreland, author of Secrets of the Super Mom and a Houston-area resident whose home was spared.
Serve those serving. Kids can bring cold drinks or snacks to first responders or others helping to clean up after a disaster. One Christmas, my kids decided to bake muffins and cookies to take to our local fire station to thank the firefighters for working on December 25.
Thinking of others is a lifelong journey, and the sooner we can put our children on that path, the more likely they will grow into adults with a compassionate heart.
At the start of the school year, it’s not just the kids who face an adjustment—parents do too. From homework to teacher conference to after-school activities, this time of year can be overwhelming and chaotic.
But don’t despair—help is right around the corner! Join me, along with five other parent coaches, on Friday, Sept. 15, for A Parent’s Back to School Facebook Party, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:10 p.m. Eastern time. Here’s the lineup of topics each coach will discuss, along with giveaways and answering audience questions. Note: All times are Eastern time.
5:30 to 6 p.m. Coach introductions—the giveaways start. 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.Parent Coach Laura Gray on Getting Your School Day Off to a Great Start 6:30 to 7 p.m.Parent Coach Susan Morley on Creating a Family Mission Statement 7 to 7:30 p.m.Parent Coach Trinity Jensen on Avoiding Homework Hassles 7:30 to 8 p.m.Parent Coach Sarah Hamaker on Scheduling Your School Year 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.Parent Coach Liz Mallet on How to Avoid Micromanaging 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.Parent Coach Wendy Faucett on How to Have a Great Parent-Teacher Relationship 9 to 9:10 p.m. Final thoughts.
With the school in full swing, the pressure to pack more into each day accelerates, which usually means sleep, especially for kids, can be sacrificed. “Bad sleep habits affect the whole chemistry of a child or teen’s day,” says Dr. Anayansi Lasso-Pirot, pediatric pulmonologist and interim head of the division of pediatric pulmonology, allergy and sleep medicine at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. At her practice, she sees “tweens going to bed at midnight or later without the parents realizing their children are not sleeping enough….We learn some kids are sleeping six hours a night or less, which is not enough sleep even for an adult.”
My article “Why you need to pay attention to older kids’ sleeping habits” in the Washington Post On Parenting outlines the importance of sleep for older kids and suggests ways parents can encourage good sleep habits. Here are some additional ways parents can help their kids and teens develop healthy sleep patterns.
Model good habits. Parents should place a priority on sleep themselves. “There have been several studies that show a parent who leads by example when it comes to sleep is very effective,” says Dr. Robert S Rosenberg, board certified Sleep Medicine Physician and author of The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety.
Have a set bedtime. Most nights, our 8-year-old goes to bed at 8 p.m., our 10-year-old at 8:30 p.m., our 12-year-old at 9 p.m., and our 14-year-old at 9:30 p.m. “A consistent bed time aids in the development of healthy sleep habits,” says Terry Cralle, a nurse and certified clinical sleep educator.
Turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime. Again, parents should set an example in this area. “What you do before bed can make it harder for you to fall asleep,” says Lasso-Pirot. “For example, if you’re playing a video game, it’s hard to go to bed right afterwards.”
Keep electronics, including cellphones, out of the bedroom. Have a central docking location or basket for devices. “If your child is getting texts in the middle of the night, know that it is a sleep distraction and can affect performance,” says Lasso-Pirot.
“Sleep is important for all of us and the younger you are, the more sleep your body requires to recharge the brain and process information,” says Christine Stevens, a certified sleep consultant with Sleepy Tots Consulting. “Parents must prioritize sleep for their families and set the example for their children with healthy sleep habits of their own.”
School all over the country is either in session or about to start, which means parents are gearing up for another academic calendar year much like their children. Here are some back-to-school tips for parents.
Don’t project. Whether you loved school or hated it or fell somewhere in between, parents should try to keep their own thoughts about school to themselves, especially the first few weeks. We can’t predict how the school year will go, so encouraging a child to have an open mind is the best thing we can give them.
Don’t worry. All too often, if something goes wrong the first few weeks of school, we’re off worrying about the entire year. Kids pick up on our anxiety, so stay calm and remember that the school year is long and things can turn around for your child.
Remember who is going to school. Hint: It’s not you. Your child is the one who needs to learn to navigate the school, teachers, classes and homework, and your child should shoulder that responsibility.
Offer guidance at a distance. Don’t get overly involved in homework, etc. Provide structure when necessary but avoid becoming essential to the task or solution to academic problems.
Emphasize your expectations. I’m not talking about grades, but about the kind of student you want your child to be. We’ve always told our kids that they should not be the reason a teacher can’t teach—that they should behave in the classroom. We’ve also told them that we expect them to do their best in school, but that we realize that will look different on a report card from child to child and subject to subject.
Provide support at home. Through interest in their schooling to a good place to do homework to helping them develop an inquiring mind, let them know you’re invested in their academic success.
Be true to their school. Help their school succeed too by volunteering where you can, being responsive with paperwork and teacher requests, and supporting the school in the community.
Encourage reading. Whether it’s a magazine or the local team’s stats in the newspaper or a book, promoting reading will help your child grow and prosper.
What else would you add to this list? How do you prepare for back to school?
Starting when I was 12, my parents took in foster kids of all ages from a variety of backgrounds. When I was a young teen, 9-year-old Trudy (not her real name) arrived on our doorstep with a bag of clothes and head lice hidden by a bowl haircut. Freckles danced across her nose giving her an impish look that belied her rather rough personality. In short, Trudy was a brat, an extremely annoying child who did everything—and I do mean everything!—wrong. She hit, she had a whiny voice, she had no social graces, no ability to make friends. It was almost as if she was bound and determined to push everyone away so that no one could get close to her.
Like most foster kids, she came from a background that would break your heart—abused physically, sexually, mentally. Ignored, unloved. And so she forged her own abhorrent personality to cope with the truly horrible hand she had been dealt by life.
But just because she was hard to love didn’t mean she was unloveable, as my parents demonstrated with patience and kindness and discipline and love. Lots and lots of unconditional love. It didn’t matter what Trudy did or didn’t do—my parents loved her. She drove me crazy with her antics, but because of my parents’ example, I loved her too.
I thought about Trudy recently when reading a post on Facebook about a young teenage girl with ADHD (“Milly”) who can be really annoying. The mom posting has a daughter (“Suzy”) who has had some run-ins/incidents with Milly. The mom wasn’t being snarky, and I know she’s probably genuinely concerned about her daughter. I know both parties and do understand both sides of the story.
But still, I wondered…Where is the compassion for Milly? Where is the understanding in the middle of the annoyance? Where is the tolerance for another, even one who does cross the line a time or two in tone or words? Do we just write off these kids and wash our hands because it’s hard? Do we allow our kids to do the same because it’s hard (when there’s no real abuse going on beyond annoyance)?
Loving those love us back, who make it easy by their personalities, isn’t difficult. Most of the time, we don’t even think about it. But loving and accepting those who make it hard, whose personalities repel us at times, that’s when the rubber meets the road.
We have to start by not labeling every annoying kid whose behavior pushes the limits or rubs another kid the wrong way. There’s true bullying and there’s “that kid is hard to be around because of her ineptness with social situations.”
We also need to teach our kids a compassionate response in the face of annoying behavior, and also kind responses. Our kids shouldn’t have to “take” an annoying personality but they should try to handle it in a kind way. Sometimes, that means telling a trusted adult. Sometimes, that means walking away. Sometimes, that means overlooking the other girl’s faults.
Because we never know when our influence or the influence of our kids can be the catalyst to change a child’s life. Remember Trudy? The world was stacked against her, but today, she’s the mother of three boys and by all accounts, a success story. Her upbringing and annoying personality didn’t dictate her future, and I know the positive influence of my parents (and perhaps, to a lesser degree, myself) had a lot to do with putting her on the right path.
On this July Fourth, we pause to reflect on our freedoms and responsibilities as Americans living in the United States. May you enjoy the holiday and celebrations with your families and friends and fellow citizens!
The subject of the email sent by a neighbor—Boys Riding Bikes—made me hesitate before clicking on it. With the advent of warm weather (finally!), my four kids played outside almost constantly, and riding bikes was their top choice of outdoor activities. The boys in question were at the time 6 and 8, and were limited to riding on our street unless with their older sisters.
I admit my heart started pounding as I considered what admonishment might be contained in the email. Had my boys run someone off the sidewalk? Had they shouted something inappropriate at the neighbor? Staring at the screen wasn’t going to answer my questions, so I opened the email.
The tone was warm and friendly, and the writer—a father himself—said how much he enjoyed seeing our boys enjoying themselves on their bikes. Then he kindly pointed out that he had noticed the pair hadn’t looked before crossing a street, and he wanted to let me know before an accident happened.
With a sigh of relief—and a mental note to remind the boys of the look-both-ways-before-crossing-street-rule coupled with a restriction on their biking movements to reinforce the seriousness of not complying—I told the neighbor how grateful I was that he took the time to point out the incident and thanked him for looking out for my boys.
Later I thought about why it’s so difficult these days for us to make the effort to look out for each other’s children, to alert parents to potentially dangerous situations and to help make our communities safe for all kids, not just our own. I think it boils down to fear. Fear that our overtures will be unwelcome. Fear that we’ve misread the circumstances. Fear that our gestures will be met with vitriol. Fear that we will overstep societal boundaries.
For generations, mothers didn’t worry about those things. If they saw a neighbor kid acting in a way that wasn’t right, they called him on it. If they were the closest adult to a child in a potentially hurtful situation, they acted. The parents of those children didn’t react with anger that someone—sometimes, a stranger—had taken it upon themselves to get involved in their child’s life. No, they generally supported the actions and reprimanded their child later for her misbehavior.
That this has ceased to be the norm is both sad and frightening. It’s sad that we’ve lost the camaraderie among mothers to care for all children near our own. It’s sad that we’ve neglected to be aware of other kids, choosing instead to focus exclusively on our own. It’s sad that we don’t get to know our neighbors and their kids because we’re too busy.
It’s also frightening that we’re more apt to call the police than approach children by themselves to see if they’re okay. It’s frightening that we allow fear to rule our parenting decisions, rather than commonsense. It’s frightening that we’ve forgotten how communities that pull together and that know one another are communities that look out for one another—and the children.
But we can change that! This summer, I challenge each of you to be a positive force in your neighborhood. When you see a child not your own doing something wrong, gently correct him. When you come across an unsafe situation, admonish in a kind way. When you see a child hurt, offer comfort. When someone does that to one of your kids, respond with thanks.
We underestimate the power of goodwill toward kids—especially those not our own. The more we act like we care about all children we come in contact with, the better our neighborhoods, cities and countries will become.
Recently, a reader wrote to say that “we are about to start toilet training and are getting so much negative feedback!” She went on to say that she keeps getting sent articles about how starting toilet training too early will be detrimental to her child’s overall well-being. The reader ended with “Maybe I should have kept my potty-training thoughts to myself.”
Her non-question brought up a very real concern in today’s age of over-sharing and an attitude of “I know best for everyone—listen to me.” How do you handle unsolicited child-rearing advice or concerns?
It’s something I struggle with as a mom of four and as a trained parent coach. There have been times when what I’m saying as a speaker to other moms and dads isn’t well received because they disagree with where I’m coming from. There have been times when I’ve given an answer the parent doesn’t want to hear (and I can tell by her expression, isn’t going to take).
I’ve shared what we’ve done in certain situations…and felt the roomful of moms initially recoil but eventually see the truth and freedom that comes from doing the right thing even though society at large might not agree with my decisions.
Because of my training in parenting, I don’t often receive unsolicited advice, but my standard response is: “Thank you for sharing your concerns or information.” Then I smile and change the subject. I find it’s best to not engage, just acknowledge their thoughtfulness (choose to interpret that way instead of intrusiveness and you’ll be able to deflect the person much more easily), and move on to something else. Ask a question about some benign child rearing issue that you don’t care one whit about if you must—redirection is key.
But on the flip side, I’ve also had to bite my tongue to avoid giving advice or solutions to problems friends or relatives haven’t asked to hear. I don’t want to be the one who can’t keep her opinions to herself on matters of raising kids.
That doesn’t mean I’m not true to who I am, but it does mean that I try to be more careful to read the situation to see if my advice would be welcome. Sometimes, I’ll even ask before launching into what I would do. Other times, I catch myself on a tear, and apologize for hijacking the conversation into one of my parenting talks. Still others, I wait to be asked my opinion, and if it’s not solicited, then I move on to something else.
I also try not to criticize how others are raising kids. No one wins that game, and while friends, family, acquaintances might be handling a situation differently than how I would (and could be creating more angst while doing so), it’s not up to me to fix that problem.
We should be supportive, rather than critical; warm and accepting, rather than pointing fingers; listening, rather than speaking. Raising kids has enough challenges without throwing in moms and dads being afraid to open their mouths and share their troubles or concerns.