The Power of Preparation

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Will He Ever Wake Up Dry?

Q: Our nearly 5-year-old son has been daytime potty trained since 22 months but has never been nighttime dry. He had his tonsils and adenoids out a few months ago, and our pediatrician said that may help with his deep sleep/bedwetting and waking up since he had snoring and sleep apnea. He recovered very well and has stopped snoring.

We put him in undies at night over a month ago, and he didn’t even wake up when he was wet until it got cold. We got a bed alarm almost three weeks ago and have used it nightly since, but we seem to be going backwards with it. It is the kind that clips to his undies. He was waking up a little with the alarm at first (at least sitting up in bed, but not really awake), and we would go in a help him wake up, then walk himself to the bathroom, change his own clothes, cover the wet spot if there was one, and we help get the clip back his undies in the right spot.

The past week, he is completely sleeping through the alarm. we try to nicely but firmly wake him up, turn the lights on, and get him to the bathroom, but he is often so disoriented he just starts crying—sometimes turning into screaming. He is now only wetting about once a night (an improvement from three to four times!), but I am not sure if there is anything else we can do?

The screaming and crying is the part I am really struggling with—hard to keep calm in the middle of the night when he won’t get up! Do we just keep going helping him wake up, sometimes having to drag him out of the bed? Wanted to start potty training my 19 month old in about a month, but don’t know if I can handle both!

A: Let me first dispel some common myths about nighttime training based on my own experience and the experience of many friends, plus some commonsense.

First, wetting the bed is more biology than anything. A child who wets the bed on a regular basis literally can’t help it—he sleeps too soundly to wake up when his body tells him he has to pee.

Second, nighttime training has nothing to do with a child’s daytime potty training. Often, a boy will master daytime well before night time.

Third, bed wetting alarms only work when a child is ready for nighttime training. As you’ve seen yourself, your son is sleeping soundly through the alarm.

It’s obvious that your son isn’t ready biologically to not wet the bed. Some boys (my two sons included) aren’t ready for night time training until age 5 or even 6. Sometimes, family genes can play a part, such as one friend whose sons wet the bed until 8 or 9—her husband and his brothers experienced the same thing.

So I would ditch the undies at night and the bed-wetting alarm, and go back to diapers or a pull up at night. Have him put it on and take it off in the morning, etc.

When will he be ready to transition to undies at night? A good rule of thumb is when he starts waking up dry three or four mornings out of seven. When he does that for a week or two, then you can try underwear again. His body will tell him when he’s ready.

Things You Never Thought You’d Say as a Parent

 

We all say strange things to our kids! This month’s original cartoon is from RH in Tujuana, Calif., who told this story: “We woke up to find ants in our kitchen. My oldest daughter, then maybe 3, was very curious. I talked to her about anteaters and such, then she asked if she could eat one. I said it wouldn’t hurt. To my surprise, she actually did. She said it tasted spicy, like cinnamon. The she lay flat on the floor by the line of ants like she was going to lick them up. And thus the quote!”

Post your “Things You Never Thought You’d Say as a Parent” comment below—yours might be featured as a cartoon!

A Troubled Adult Son

Q: Our 29-year-old son was essentially a model child growing up, a good student with very few behavior issues. He graduated college in 2010, during which time he was charged twice for possession of marijuana. He also was prescribed anti-depressant medication during this time.

Upon graduation, he took a construction job, which he then lost due to a DUI and driving illegally on a restricted license. We had noticed behavioral changes after graduation—he developed an aggressive, sometimes hostile demeanor. He agreed to see a psychiatrist, but stopped after a short time. As his behavior became increasingly hostile and erratic, we suggested that he return to see the psychiatrist which he adamantly refused to do. Finally, after one particularly disturbing episode, during which he came to our home acting very strangely and ultimately became verbally and physically abusive, we, upon the advice of a psychiatrist friend, called the crisis mental health hotline and had him involuntarily committed to the hospital. We repeated that awful experience twice in the following month due to his continued bizarre behavior and his refusal to follow up with the mental health support team, which he had previously agreed to.

He is currently living alone in a house we own, and refuses to get a full-time job, preferring to try and get by doing odd jobs for people. Due to privacy issues, we never got a definitive diagnosis from the hospital, but nurses we spoke with mentioned schizo-affective and bipolar disorders. The psychiatrist he had seen prior to his hospitalization had advised us to stay in contact with him and to make sure he had food and shelter. His behavior continues to be unpredictable, and we are torn between cutting him off financially and telling him he is totally on his own, or continuing to be supportive, not knowing for certain just what his mental status is. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

A: First of all, I want to say how sorry I am that you’re going through this. I know it must be extremely painful and difficult to see your son not seek the professional help he clearly needs. However, as you’ve seen, there are limits to what you can do to help him, and unfortunately, you can’t make him get better–he has to want that for himself. And right now, it doesn’t look like he’s in a place to do that.

So what to do? You don’t mention that he’s doing drugs or other substances (alcohol, for example), so it appears that he does need medical intervention, which he is refusing. You already had him committed twice and that hasn’t worked out. If you can—and he’s not destroying your property or clearly endangering himself or others—then you could continue following the advice of his former psychiatrist.

However, I would caution you against throwing around diagnoses—you can’t know for sure what’s ailing your son, and talking nurses, who can’t tell you because of privacy laws, into speculating will only either give you a false impression or send you down the wrong path. For now, you will have to live with the fact that you might not know what’s exactly wrong with your son.

What you can do is to meet him on his terms (as long as he’s not being abusive to himself or others) and don’t try to change him—just love him and let him know that you do through word and deed.

The Word is a Great Tool in Parenting

By June Foster

Parenting? Yes, I qualify to speak on the subject as I’m a mom, grandmother, and great-grandmother, though I don’t know where the years went.

As parents, we have opportunity to mold and train our children. As a grandmother, some of us are fortunate enough to influence our grandkids, though others, because of distance, might not have the opportunity. So I can’t stress enough the importance of loving and teaching our children when they’re still under our roofs.

My story is a bit different than some. I didn’t become a Christian until my girls were ten and seven, and even then I was a baby follower of the Lord. But by His grace, He always led me to the Word when a problem arose. Many times I’d scratch my head and wonder how to resolve my children’s issues or answer their questions. Then I’d sit down with them and reading a relevant scripture which addressed their concern.

For example, when my oldest first went to high school, drugs among teens was beginning to infiltrate the schools. I worried about her but knew she’d given her heart to the Lord. So before the school year began, we looked at a few helpful scriptures. 1 Corinthians 15:3 says, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals.” Ephesians 5:11 says, “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness.” We talked about how to befriend others who don’t walk with the Lord but at the same time stay away from those things God forbids.

My youngest daughter had a conflict with one of the girls in her class, and we discussed Luke 6:31, which  says, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.”

Today both girls are grown women with families of their own and each still love the Lord. I can’t help but believe spending time with them in the Word played a great part.

Always remember that wonderful promise in Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

About June Foster
An award-winning author, June Foster is a retired teacher with a BA in education and MA in counseling. June has written The Bellewood Series, Ryan’s Father, Red and the Wolf, The Almond Tree Series, Lavender Fields Inn, Christmas at Raccoon Creek, Restoration of the Heart and Letting Go. She enjoys writing stories about characters who overcome the circumstances in their lives by the power of God and His Word. Find June online at junefoster.com.

 

 

Compassionate Outpourings

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.

Christina Moreland’s sons helped to sort donations at a church after Hurricane Harvey.

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.

A Parent’s Back To School

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.

On Friday, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1892016571016178 to join the fun–you can ask questions, interact with the coaches or just enjoy the party. Hope to see you all soon!

 

How to Help Kids Adjust to Hurricane Displacements

Q: We were affected by Hurricane Harvey. Our house flooded by a few inches, and we had to relocate until we’re able to redo some parts of our house. My husband, 24-month old son, and I are currently living with my sister.

I noticed my son started sucking his finger a lot more and is a bit more clingy than usual. Is there anything I can do to help him during this transition? He also has his own room here, but since the move, we have been sleeping with him. When do we transition him to sleeping back on his own without heightening the anxiety? Thank you!

A: First of all, kudos on trying to establish as normal a situation as you can with your toddler. In 2003, my husband and I, along with our nearly 1-year-old daughter, had to relocate to my in-laws’ home after Hurricane Isabel dropped a tree through our home, so I do understand the stress of leaving home quickly and trying to figure out how to get the house fixed, all while raising a toddler. We ended up living with my in-laws for five months while our house was put back together, so we went through much of what you’re experiencing in transitioning to temporary housing situations in less-than-ideal conditions.

Kids pick up on our anxiety, which is probably why he’s sucking his finger more and being clingy. He doesn’t understand what happened, only that mom and dad are not acting like usual. What worked for us is establishing as normal a routine as you can, including moving him to sleep in his own bed in his own room. There might be a few nights of some crying (just go in and reassure, but try not to pick him up—pat on back, maybe sing a song, etc.

Try to ensure he’s napping as usual and has plenty of time to run around/use up his energy during the day. If you have to meet with people to discuss your house repairs, make sure you bring toys or books or things for him to play with. Also try to stick to his regular diet as much as possible–when we eat well and sleep well, things are generally better all around (and this goes for mom and dad, too).

The more calm you can act, the less anxious he’ll be—a tall order, I know! But remember: children are very resilient and he’ll soon settle into the new environment and routine fairly quickly.

For older children, try not to discuss too much of the situation within their earshot, as too much information can bred confusion and anxiety. But do keep them informed with regular updates as to what’s being done and what to expect in the coming days or weeks.

Also, try to incorporate as much normalcy as possible with family celebrations, trips and/or outings already on the calendar. Another tall order, but that can help to make life seem just a bit off track and not completely derailed.

If your family’s situation isn’t too dire, consider volunteering or helping others in worse straits if possible. A morning spent helping someone shovel mud out of their home when yours only had water damage can help keep things in perspective.

Sleep Isn’t Just for Babies

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.”

How to Help a Bullied Toddler

Q: My guy just turned two and has been in daycare since he was 12 weeks old. My husband and I both work full time and right now, it’s the only option. We love his school. It’s very enriching and he’s learned a ton, except… in the past few months I am getting a call weekly that my child has been bit. He has to bruises on his back right now from bites. He had one on his arm, another on his hand.

The directors and teachers keep saying “It’s developmentally appropriate at this age” [for kids to bite each other] blah blah blah. One or two bites, I get, but weekly? Not okay. They won’t tell us who is doing the biting, and they won’t tell us if it is a repeat offender (but at this point, it has to be or every kid in the class has been taking a shot at my kid).

Instead they are trying to say my 2-year-old needs to start saying, “Stop, I don’t like that.” They say part of the problem is that he is one of the only vocal kids, meaning the others don’t speak and take out their frustration by biting.

What the heck do we do? I do not want my guy getting aggressive and biting back because it’s happening to him. How can we continue to make school a fun place for him and keep him safe?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: My advice would be to look for a new daycare situation. Yes, children bite at this age, regardless of whether or not they are verbal, but to subject your son to biting with enough force to leave bruises on a regular basis, well, that’s another matter.

Your son saying, “Stop that” or something similar isn’t going to stop the biting—not for toddlers, who haven’t developed empathy and often are totally unaware that biting hurts. They also want to do what they want to do, so “telling” them to stop shouldn’t be the solution to this biting problem.

Frankly, I’m more concerned by the directors/teachers brushing this off as your son’s problem and looking to a two-year-old to solve it. Because children this age bite (and hit and push and throw things), a daycare center should train its teachers on how to stop this behavior. It boils down to more supervision, separation of the biter from other children, and perhaps short-term removal of chronic biters from the classroom until the biting phrase stops.

It sounds like they are doing neither of those things, and instead are saying the solution is to rely on the victim to stop the abuse. In my book, that’s not an acceptable adult response to this kind of problem. I realize that finding a new daycare situation won’t be easy, but it’s a necessary step to take for your son.

You might find a willing college student or older homeschooler eager to be an in-home nanny for a few weeks or longer to buy you some time to find a new daycare, one that will not expect a toddler to be part of a biting/hitting/pushing solution.