Monthly Archives: September 2006


Two months ago, I started to notice that a less than pleasant smell seemed to be coming from my four year old son, and after a few days, I tracked it down to his nose. Since I started noticing it after a week long cold, I thought that it must be left over from the cold. After a couple of weeks, there was no improvement – in fact, the smell seemed to be getting worse. I started thinking that it must be related to some internal imbalance, perhaps an allergy. I started giving him acidophilus, limiting his wheat intake – hardly any change after a couple of weeks.

Right around that time, about three weeks ago, he came to me and asked me to help him get something out of his ear. It turned out that he had inserted a small round berry-like ball from a bush into his ear, and when I saw how deep into his ear canal it was, I didn’t want to try to take it out and possibly push it further in. So off to the emergency room I went. After five hours there and lots of trauma and pain to my son, the doctor on call finally told me they couldn’t do anything about it, and recommended I see an ENT. The next day, we took him to the ENT, who pretty quickly was able to get it out. My husband asked him about the smell, but ds was so scared after all that had gone on regarding his ear, that he was screaming and the doctor couldn’t look at his nose.

I made a follow up appointment for the next available appointment, which was three weeks later. I was getting increasingly worried about the smell, since nothing seemed to be helping. It started to build up in my mind, and I got more and more anxious worrying about it. Yesterday, the follow up appointment finally arrived. After glancing up his nose with a light, the ENT said, “Hmm, it looks like something is up there.” He soon extracted a huge (stinky) piece of foam! I couldn’t believe that was the source of everything! At least three months ago, he had put some foam up his nose, and I pulled it out with some tweezers and admonished him about it. A few days after that, I pulled out some more that must have been higher up initially, and couldn’t believe that he had put so much in his nose. I am sure that this foam must have been part of the same ‘project’ but cannot figure out how in the world he could have stuffed so much up such a little nose! I am so relieved that it was so easily taken care of, though I hate thinking how much it must have been bothering him, and for so long. It was so far up that I hadn’t been able to see it at all.

The smell disappeared immediately, his nose stopped constantly running, his frequent nosebleeds stopped, and best of all, he is so happy and bouncy again – his old self! He had been very whiny but I couldn’t figure out why – I thought it might have something to do with the new baby. Now I see that it wasn’t something specific that was bothering him, just the constant feeling of irritation inside his nose that must have been disturbing him.

I have never had any other child even once purposely insert anything in an ear or nose, and I think after this, this child won’t be doing it again either! As the saying goes, life is the best teacher!


Letting kids self-regulate

There is a frequently put forth idea regarding parenting that I was very influenced by when my children were younger: give your child freedom to do what he wants and he will learn to make good choices, without being coerced. (The obvious unspoken corollary is that telling your child what to do or how to do it is a bad thing and coercive.) And I tried to follow this philosophy. The time came, however, when I realized that as nice as it sounded, it just didn’t work.

When my oldest was five, the challenges of following a philosophy like this began to be felt in my home. I never raised my voice, always spoke lovingly, was careful to phrase what I said in the positive (didn’t want to damage his self-esteem by saying ‘no’). We spent lots of time together, went to parks, read books, snuggled. In fact, people often commented on what a wonderful and patient parent I was. So why was he acting out? I described the situation to a parenting expert who told me he was trying to get positive attention. This didn’t feel right to me, but I hadn’t yet learned to trust my internal compass, and I accepted her ‘diagnosis’. I tried to be even more positive and encouraging. But his behavior got more and more out of hand, until one day (he had just turned seven) my mom was visiting and saw how he was acting. She expressed her concern about it, and I told her what the parenting expert had told me. She responded strongly, saying, “I have never seen a child get so much positive attention – that is definitely not what he is missing!”

Somehow, hearing someone who saw how I parented around the clock say that helped me validate what I was feeling, that I really was giving him more than enough love and attention. It helped me see that he didn’t need more love – he needed limits. Because I wasn’t able to differentiate between punishment and discipline, I wasn’t able to see what he was begging for – clear boundaries. When he kicked a piece of furniture or hit a sibling and I gently redirected him instead of acting decisively and firmly, I was denying him something he desperately needed. Kids need their parents to set a standard for what is acceptable and appropriate. By giving them a clear sense of our expectations and consistently reinforcing them, we give them a priceless gift: the gift of inner security, of knowing they can trust us and rely on us.

Kids know that they don’t know everything, even though they want to look like they do sometimes. Think about how frightening it would be if you were told you had to fly a plane with no flight plan, destination, directions, or lessons. Now think about how scary it is for our children when we give them the message that we expect them to navigate their way through life without any help from us – when they don’t know where they are going, how to get there, or what they will do when they arrive. Saying that kids will learn to self-regulate their food or activities or behavior is like saying as soon as they can toddle, kids should be free to walk wherever they want and they will learn to cross streets safely on their own and get where they need to go. Is that responsible? Is that kind?

Many of us have avoided setting these guidelines for our children, because we are afraid. When we tell others that they are being controlling and coercive because they do set limits for their children, we are very often speaking from a place of deep internal fear and ambivalence. We don’t know how to lovingly discipline. We don’t know what to do when they are disobedient or disrespectful, we don’t know how to guide them. Instead of dealing with the root of the issue, instead of learning new parenting behaviors that will benefit us and our children, we deny the legitimacy of those needs. We say their needs are really about independence, and by denying them independence, we are causing them long term emotional harm since they won’t learn to manage their own emotions/behavior, etc. We frame our lack of action as a morally responsible thing to do and condemn those who act otherwise.

Take heart – every step you take in the right direction will make your parenting journey so much more pleasant. The next time your child refuses to do as you ask, runs around a public setting, or does something else that sets your teeth on edge – don’t feel you need to say it’s okay. See it as an opportunity to set new expectations for your family. You might feel mean and heartless if you are used to giving them whatever they want or ignoring things you don’t like. Think about your long term goals – if you don’t help your children learn to manage themselves, one day the outside world will, and that will be extremely painful.


Enjoying every stage

Today I made a meal for a new mom and had a chance to speak with her for a bit when we delivered it. She has been having a hard time since her baby was in the NICU for a week and an half, and they just came home a couple of days ago.

Being a new parent can be hard! During pregnancy, there is often a lot of excitement and anticipation, and very often, the challenges of being a parent to a new baby hit like a load of bricks. Crying babies, combined with a lack of sleep and the emotional pressure of feeling like you just don’t know what to do, leave moms feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. A bit of time and perspective can help a mom to recognize how very short this time in a child’s life is. It seems so all-consuming when you’re in the middle of it, but it is like a blip on the screen of life. Seeing how quickly babies grow up has helped me develop an attitude of ‘enjoy exactly the stage they are at now’. Colic, teething, non stop crying – it all passes. Along with the things you don’t miss are the things you will remember fondly –tiny bodies and wise newborn gazes, how totally dependent they were on you, how easy it was to express your love for them just by holding and feeding them frequently and regularly.

My baby just cut his first tooth – last week I was dealing with the exhaustion that comes with an infant waking up six times a night, crying and being hard to soothe for most of the day. In the middle of it all, I thought about what I am sharing with you, no matter how it feels in the moment (and it feels endless!), it all passes. And here I am, a week later, and he’s back to sleeping through most of the night, and is a pleasure during the day.

Someone told me years ago, “When my children were young, the days would drag on, but the years fly by.” When she told me that, I had four children under 5.5, and I couldn’t imagine time going quickly. Every day seemed to take sooo long, with everyone needing my help for everything; if I wasn’t changing a diaper, I was feeding or dressing someone, or reading a book to them, or keeping them entertained. But she was so right – now I often marvel how fast time goes. Every time I think about how fast the kids are growing up, I feel grateful that I am able to spend so much time being there with them and for them. I don’t have to wonder where all those years went, because I was there, and that is very precious to me.


“How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk”

When my oldest son was five, I read a book by Faber and Mazlish with the above title that I was very taken with. I applied what they said, and like magic, my children started responding beautifully. But then it stopped working. That began one of the biggest parenting lessons I have learned. I finally began to see that it wasn’t what I was saying that made the difference, but how I said it. I initially felt confident and optimistic about using their techniques, and my kids were responding to that when I spoke. When I started doubting myself and was tired and tense, saying the same words didn’t get the same results. It doesn’t matter what words you use, but it very much matters your intent behind them. When I was feeling frustrated, it didn’t matter how I phrased it – my kids sensed my tension. And when I was upbeat and positive, I could say something that technically would be considered ‘wrong’ and my kids would be happy and responsive.

Many times when I have been asked how to handle various parenting situations, I am asked for what specific words to use. Lots of people have read the book above or others like them, and are afraid that if they don’t put the words together in just the right way, they will be doing something wrong. This attitude is very disempowering to parents, as it implies that the experts know what works and unless you study their work and duplicate their techniques, you won’t be successful. My standard response is that it’s what is behind your words that your children pick up on. You need to mean what you say, and say what you mean. If there is ambiguity, your children will respond to that. I can’t count how many times I have been in public settings and watched mothers attempt to discipline their children. “Get down, don’t touch, come here!” But it is clear to me even as a casual observer when a mother means what she says – if she means it, her kids know it and they will do what she says, because they sense that she will take the necessary action to be sure they comply if they don’t.

I was in the orthodontist’s office a couple of days ago with my oldest daughter, and atypically didn’t have any other children with me. I took advantage of the quiet time to read a business magazine in the waiting room. I came across an article by leadership guru John C. Maxwell, and he made a statement that validated what I have written above. He said: “I also learned that words, more often than not, don’t matter…’s what you believe and how you act on those beliefs that make people want to follow you.”

The principles of leadership as it applies in business are the same principles that apply to leadership in the home. We have inner beliefs that influence our outer actions, and that is what influences those around us. It’s not so much what we say, as who we are.


Can babies be spoiled?

I mentioned the topic of my last post to my mother, and she said, “I rocked all of my children to sleep and they never became dependent on it!” So to clarify my point, it wasn’t that rocking/nursing/whatever you do is wrong – it’s not, it’s wonderful!- just to be aware that always doing something can lead inadvertently to habits that can be hard to break.

Last night my oldest son somewhat jokingly looked at the baby I was holding during dinner and told me he’s getting spoiled by being held so frequently. I smiled at him and said, “You turned out okay!” My son didn’t mean this seriously, but I have frequently heard the idea that a baby becomes spoiled by too much holding. But babies have needs, like everyone else, and being held and loved is a true need. Babies in orphanages were shown to waste away and often die due to emotional neglect – they were physically cared for but didn’t get the emotional nurturing that is so crucial.

Holding a baby and being attentive to his needs isn’t spoiling, it’s responsible and loving parenting. Ditto with older children – it’s not too much time and attention that spoils a child, it’s the lack of proper discipline and boundaries. Too many parents in the name of being loving don’t provide their children with the boundaries that would make them more secure and balanced.

Holding a baby helps him feel secure and loved, and as a baby gets older, his need for holding so much of the time decreases. As he gets older, he wants to get down and explore the world around him, and wants you to be there when he needs you – not any different really, than young adults!