Alternatives to yelling at your children

Against spanking? Maybe it’s time for you to denounce yelling, too.

Although more and more parents are leaving that horrible, Cro-Magnon practice of spanking behind, plenty of them continue to do it. Some are completely shameless about it, too—I know a family who spanks their little boy openly and often right in front of us! Talk about pain and humiliation. I feel so sorry for him and cross my fingers that he will turn out okay.

How come we’re told to mind our own business when we object to spanking, yet we are expected to speak up if we see someone beating an animal or an adult? Why are children, the most vulnerable and rights-less people of our world, not protected, too?

If you are against the violence of spanking, perhaps you are willing to stop yelling, too. If you’re a parent who yells or who has yelled before—and who hasn’t ever had a bad day?—you already know that it doesn’t work. You probably also feel like a jerk after you do it because, let’s face it, is there anyone on earth who likes to be yelled at? You know how it feels, either from arguments or your own childhood, and you wouldn’t want to do that to another human being, much less the most precious human in your life.

You might find Dr. Laura Markham’s column especially helpful. She’s the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids and a psychologist who helps parents be peaceful, loving guides in their children’s lives rather than totalitarian dictators. I have only been a fan of Dr. Laura’s for a few months, but I am in love with her message, her methods, and delivery (she’s much kinder and more patient than I am with my fellow parents). I wish that every parent could have access to this loving book—and to her online articles, as well.

Another great idea I recently came across is this recent article depicting five alternatives to screaming at your children, and I think it is a particularly important read. It’s from the Orange Rhino Challenge, an online challenge to get people to stop yelling for a full year. Doesn’t that sound heavenly, by the way? I know lots of parents who want to stop yelling but don’t know how.

This is a fantastic resource that I plan on picking over quite a bit in the coming weeks. There are some really unique ideas, like posting a photo of your child as a baby to remember her innocence. That said, all of the children of the mom giving advice are ages six and under—and it wasn’t until my daughter turned seven when she really started to push my buttons, scream, and act so meanly I was flabbergasted. Will these techniques work in my house as we strive for mindful anger management and more? I’m willing to try it to find out, and I hope you are, too.

Hey Jealousy

Ever wonder if your kid has it better than you do?

Today I realized something that absolutely mortified me, made me ashamed of myself—yet also helped me understand my sometimes passive-aggressive behavior. I am actually jealous of my kid.

I guess that’s a compliment to me as a mom, right? After all, I’m jealous that she gets to do activities that my family could never afford—there were three of us kids growing up, after all—and of all the comforts she has as my kiddo, like me tucking her in at night in a special “nest” of blankets, or the rituals she has for eating, teeth brushing, even getting up in the morning. All of her special nicknames—my sisters both had them but I never did, not with my parents, anyway—and her being able to pursue her own interests and being given choices and other special elements in her life are things that I wish I could say I had in my life, too.

But I also know that my parents did the best they could raising me and my sisters. I know that they had it harder than I do, and they worked hard to provide for us each day. And maybe one day my daughter will have an even bigger advantage than the one I had when raising her. I should be proud that she’s able to have this life, that I am able to give it to her.


When kids are smarter than their grown-ups

This happens to me several times a day!

We like to think that we’re smarter than children, but in reality, without the grown-up baggage and misconceptions and, yes, biases that we have, they’re actually often quite brighter than we are. Consider this situation, a common occurrence with my seven-year-old daughter.

Yesterday I was trying to fit all of her new GeoSafari games into the actual laptop’s holder. I couldn’t get them all in and pronounced it hopeless. My daughter came along and started putting them in differently—just a few at a time.

“It won’t hold them all,” I told her, shaking my head. “I just tried it.”

She just glanced at me—barely!—and kept putting them in without a word. Within minutes, she proved me wrong with her patience. “Oh,” I said. “You got them to fit.”

She didn’t even smirk at me. It was so simple. And it happened again, two times, during the same day—once when she asked me to put wheels on a Lego creation and again when she wanted a shirt on her giant Care Bear. You’d think after a few reminders I would have got it, but nope.

“It’s not going to work!” I protested, only to either prove myself wrong within seconds—or for her to calmly do it again, without a word.

How does she even put up with me?

Let your kids be kids!

Why take them to a play place in the first place if you’re not going to do that?

A few days ago, we took our daughter to the St. Louis Magic House for the day, something that we mean to do more often since we live pretty close to the fabulous children’s museum. It’s more like a giant play place, with a huge life-size beanstalk to climb, big slides, sandboxes, an enormous fun town replica of a village to explore, and even an Oval Office. It’s pretty fabulous, and even though we got sick the same day—possibly from the germs of many children running amuck—I would have done it again for the joy it brought to my daughter’s face.

While she was playing in the Water Works area, getting wet and having a blast like you’re supposed to at the Magic House, a mom with two younger sons fussed around them as they joyfully explored the water. “Conner! No! Stop! No splashing!” she would fume, and the poor kid—he was four or five, maybe—would stop, baffled. After all, he was in the water room; wasn’t he supposed to play in the water? He would, of course, start splashing again, and finally she just picked them both up and stormed off, saying it was time to go home.

My husband and I had been sitting there smiling, talking together and occasionally taking photos as our seven-year-old played independently. Did we act like that once? I’d like to say no, but I’m sure we did sometime or another. It broke my heart to see these two poor boys’ faces just crumble—they didn’t even cry, they were simply devastated—while their poor mom just didn’t know what to do to control them. Had she let go of control, maybe they could have all had some fun.

I really believe we’re all doing the best we can with what we know. I have seen much more violent displays of parenting, and I am sure that mom was really just trying to make her kids either not get wet or not be a nuisance—something we are constantly pressured to do by a society that often, incredibly, despises kids. I wanted to go to her and say, “It’s okay. They’re kids; they can play! Next time bring a change of clothes and it’s all good.” Then she could have sat next to us and watched them all, sharing in their joy instead of creating more stress for herself and her boys.

Sometimes I wish I had a clan of kids

I love our trio, but every now and then I want a baseball team…

We have a few friends that have whole broods of kids—from four to seven—and usually I am good with our one and only. I have written before about how much it hurts that I medically cannot have other children, but that my little girl was a surprise in and of herself when I expected a life with either no children or adopted kids, so I’m incredibly grateful for the gift of her.

We are a family on a budget, so just the three of us makes it easier to live healthfully, and though we can’t afford all of the classes we used to pay for for her, we do at least scrape together enough for her music class—and taking one child to co-op classes works well.

That said, I long for family days like my friends have—like the family on Dan in Real Life has—where everyone gets together for a weekend or even a week at a cabin somewhere and has a talent show, a crossword challenge, family meals... Everyone “gets” everyone and traditions are forged and memories are made. My friends with big families have such experiences year-round!

Sometimes I wish I had a whole clan of kids, a boisterous family taking up every inch of space and rollicking around with our pets—maybe on a farm, with some chickens and a cow, even! Of course, I would never be able to work and we’d be even more broke than we are now, forget affording groceries. And physically, I can’t have it; it would have to be through adoption, an idea I still toy with. Perhaps someday when my novels take off and we have a big, nice place of our own, we could fulfill such a dream…

Of course, part of me just wishes my sisters would have kids I could kidnap when I want them, and we could have annual retreats—or more frequent ones, of course—without me having to give up my jobs. I love to write, though this year has been leaner than most and has made me realize that I could share some of this excess time with a few more kiddos running around…

Then again, my daughter’s been an only child for seven years now—a year longer than I was before my two sisters were born—and she’s pretty used to this lifestyle. Every once in a while, she, too, wishes for siblings—but I do think that she prefers having my attention all to herself.

We didn’t start the fire

So why do we keep teaching kids that they did?

Something occurred to me the other day that really disturbed me and made me rethink the way we teach children about their safety. We took our daughter to meet a fireman who was very funny and charming. He gave a wonderful presentation about how to be safe regarding fires. When we got home and discussed it, my daughter revealed that she thought fires were started by kids—and that was that.

What! Immediately I set to righting this misconception, teaching her about electrical fires, cigarette fires and other ways fires can be started. I insisted that yes, it’s not good to play with matches—but grown-ups make mistakes, too! Many fires are caused by grown-ups, which just astounded her. Do we really think ourselves gods so much that we have to instill this sense of responsibility and foreboding upon our children? Do we need them to carry that much guilt and worry in their lives?

Do me a favor and talk to your child about fires tonight—about how they’re started, how to prevent them and how to react if there’s one in your home. Have a home fire drill and engage your children in checking the smoke detectors. Practice your fire drill routinely to be sure they are safe.

My husband’s home burned down due to an electrical fire when he was seventeen (before we were married, of course) and his family lost much—including nearly every photo of him—but they all thankfully made it out alive. If we can prepare our kids adequately, hopefully they, too, will survive any accident that they encounter. But we also need to teach them the full story—to use caution while cooking, for example, rather than simply, “Don’t play with matches!”

We can also teach them more specifically about stranger danger, police officers, and so much more. Because when we teach them that every stranger is a monster, we are creating a more cynical, hateful world—and possibly not even protecting our kids in the process, since many attacks result from people we already know.

And when we teach kids to blindly respect authority—such as making adults in power seem godly, as in the example above and as we do in so many other roles adults have—without knowing personal safety boundaries, we fail in preparing them to fight off abusers who would use their power to hurt children, too. Kids are not alone in making mistakes, and they need to know that not only do adults also make mistakes, but that some adults may even be dangerous. They need to be told that they will not get into trouble for reporting an inappropriate grown-up—and that they should trust their own instincts as well.

Having a favorite child

Reflections on one blogger's confession

Everyone is talking about blogger Buzz Bishop's (Dad Camp) confession that he has a favorite child. In his blog post, titled: "The Time When My Girlfriend Got Pregnant,” he told the story of how he met his wife. Toward the end of the post, he says: “If I were to be absolutely honest, my older son is my favorite of the two. He and I are adventurous partners in crime, and I can’t imagine life without him.”

And the Internet went BONKERS. Some applauded the post, and said that they, too, have a favorite. Others argued that they do not have a favorite child and worried about the effect of such an admission on one's children. In an effort to clarify his feelings, Bishop wrote a follow-up post titled: “Admit It, You Have A Favorite Kid. I Do.” In it, he explained why his prefers his older son:

“I admit it, my oldest son is my favorite because he can do more things. To me, he’s more fun. I don’t love either of my sons any more than the other, but I do like them differently. I’d be willing to bet you’re the same.”

Bishop seems to be defending his statement by saying, “ do you!” But the issue isn't just – as far as I am concerned – about whether or not a parent actually does have a favorite child. The issue is also that this parent chose to use a public forum to share that favorite. I find that sad, and unfortunate for his youngest son, who gets carried along in the wake of his father's 15 minutes of fame.

It is possible that Bishop chose his words poorly. It is also possible that that was intentional, in order to create more buzz. But when he says that he prefers to spend time with his older son because “he can do more things”, that doesn't sound like a father who cares more for one child than the other. That sounds like a dad who likes to play in a different way with his older child, and who – when his younger son grows older – will eventually play with both boys the same way.

Perhaps he has a preference for one AGE over the other. THAT I could understand. I love the age my kids are right now, and I can guarantee that if they had a younger sibling I would not be as excited about infant and toddler care as I am about hanging out with my preschoolers. It's the difference between saying a child can do more fun things, and, as Bishop puts it, saying that “[that child is] more fun.”

Bishop says that it is a matter of “liking” one more than the other. So does liking a child and calling them your favorite differ from the love you feel for all of your children? To Bishop, I suppose it does. But I have always liked the phrase, “I don't just LOVE you, I LIKE you.” Because loving our children is (for most of us) a given. But liking someone infers that there is a choice involved – that this person is so terrific that you don't just love them as your child, but you like them as a person.

So, no, I do not have a favorite child. I do not have a child that I love but don't like as much as the other. Are there times when one is a pain in the butt and the other isn't? YES. Double and triple yes. But that does not change my feelings for them. In my mind, parental love is unconditional, because what you like and love is that child, that particular little soul...not their actions that day, or whether or not they are old enough to kick a ball around with you.

Perhaps Bishop has forgotten what your parent's opinion means to you as a child. It is not a news flash that parents have an effect on their child's self-esteem. Life is going to throw so many lemons at my children – I want them to have at least one person in their life with whom they never feel “less than”. One person who they know will always have their back. One person that they know loves AND likes them no matter what. That person will always be me.

To spank or not to spank?

Disciplining children with spanking.

Delaware recently became the first state to ban spanking. The ban comes as the result of a new child abuse law which labels any action that causes pain to a child as child abuse. While some parents have praised Delaware for taking a stand against a harmful act, others are upset that they could end up in jail for simply disciplining their children.

Parents have been spanking children for hundreds of years. Some used wooden paddles or spoons. Others made children choose their own switch from the tree and were spanked with it. Many parents just stuck to their bare hands. Whatever the case, if you were spanked as a child, you knew that if you were spanked you were in trouble. Parents who spank often use it to shock the child into realizing he is in trouble and the experience reiterates the seriousness of the offense.

Those who don’t spank argue it does not teach children as much as providing a punishment that fits the crime. They also contend that spanking is often done out of anger rather than a form of actual punishment and that its effects do not last. Numerous studies have also attempted to show that spanking a child may have long-lasting negative psychological effects and may even lower a child’s IQ.

Ultimately, unless you live in Delaware, the decision whether to spank or not to spank, the decision is up to you as a parent. However, if you decide to spank, you must keep the following in mind:

  • Your spanking should never bruise or leave a mark on a child.
  • Any spanking should be preceded and followed by an explanation of why the child received the spanking and how spanking can be avoided.
  • Spanking should be reserved for serious offenses.
  • You should never spank in anger.

Fall safety tips

Tips to enjoy the changing season

Fall is a fun season for kids. It’s full of Friday night football games, pumpkin patches and piles of leaves. At the same time, it’s full of a lot of safety hazards. To truly enjoy the fall season with your children, make sure you’re taking a few precautions to make sure everyone stays safe.

Bonfires are common during the fall. While large piles of fire can be fascinating things for a child, they can also be a source of burns and other health problems. Watch your child carefully around the bonfire and teach him to keep a healthy distance away. If roasting marshmallows around the bonfire, use a long stick or special roasting stick and watch for burning marshmallows that could hurt you or your child.

A visit to a pumpkin patch is another fun fall activity. When you go, make sure your child dresses appropriately with long pants and tennis shoes or boots. Watch for slippery spots, as most pumpkin patches get muddy when it rains. If the pumpkin patch has an attached petting zoo, wash your hands after petting animals or even after picking up pumpkins to avoid salmonella and other diseases.

For fall activities that take place at night, teach your child to stay close. Use reflective tape or brightly-colored clothing to make your children visible in the dark. Dress them appropriately for the cold too. Fall nights can get chilly quickly and even if there’s a fire going, you want your child’s clothes to help keep her warm.

Play place etiquette

Follow the rules for an enjoyable experience.

Fast food play places can be a saving grace on a rainy or stressful day. However, they can also become sources of additional stress and illness. To make the trip to a play place an enjoyable one, it helps to follow some basic rules of play place etiquette.First, if your child has been sick, avoid the play place altogether. It’s hard to have been cooped up in the house for a few days with a sick child and going to a fast food restaurant is an easy outing, but it’s also an opportunity to expose other children to your child’s illness. Make sure all symptoms have disappeared at least 24 hours before taking your child to play.

Supervise your child in the play place as well. Most play places have tables right by the structure so parents can eat and chat while children play. You may not like the noise of the play place and choose to sit in the regular restaurant seating, but you cannot provide proper supervision from there. Even if you trust your child, you know nothing about the other children who are playing at the play place and any one of them could quickly cause a problem for your child.

Even if you are sitting in the play area while your child plays, take some time to go over the rules of the play place with your child. Older children often run and become rambunctious in indoor play areas and this can be dangerous or frustrating for younger child. Read the rules about roughhousing, running and how to properly use the play structures. If there is a special area for younger children to play, don’t be afraid to tell your older children to keep off of it and help the younger kids stay safe.

When your children are healthy, supervised and follow the rules, a visit to a fast food play place can be an inexpensive way to get out of the house for a little bit.