Monthly Archives: January 2007

Young children and outside activities

It’s interesting to look at what is the typical schedule of a young child now, and what it was twenty years ago. Now, it’s very, very common for even 2 – 4 year olds to have structured activities outside of the home, such as ballet, soccer, gymnastics, music. Many parents feel they are giving their kids a head start on their future, helping them to be competitive when they are older by starting younger. Others feel that the social aspect is what they are most interested in.

For now, I’m just going to address the social aspect. How much do children need outside activities, or even play dates, to develop social skills? My position has shifted over time on this question. When my kids were very young, I didn’t even question the necessity of young kids spending lots of time in the company of their peers. That’s what everyone did, and I never thought to ask myself what kind of interactions young children were having, or what they were learning from one another.

When I started homeschooling, I started thinking a lot more about what the benefit to kids is from their playmates, since my kids weren’t having the typical school experience. I didn’t want to deprive them – so would it be necessary for me to duplicate the social group opportunities found in school for my kids so that they would develop appropriately? Where do good social skills come from? Once I started thinking about that question, I realized how ridiculous it was to assume it came from being around lots of kids – obviously if that was the answer, every child in school would have fantastic social skills and loads of friends (which clearly isn’t the case).

Generally group dynamics tend to be based on the pecking order, with kids competing to be the most popular, cool, etc, and minimizing others to raise their own standing. Parents and educators know that it’s what kids learn as part of a group that end up being the things you have to deal with and correct at home! If good social skills aren’t being learned from the group, how are they developed?

Well, how do we learn anything? We need to know the basic principles involved in being successful and have lots of opportunities to watch someone successful use those skills. The ideal is to do something on our own, while having someone who is skilled in that area close by to guide us, and show us the tips along the way. Think of the apprentice/mentor model, which is amazingly effective.

Now think about how a child can use the apprentice/mentor model to learn social skills. He needs to learn what good behavior/good social skills are, and see healthy social skills being practiced in a wide range of settings, while simultaneously being able to practice his fledgling skills with someone experienced close by to guide him. This means that the ideal place for a child to learn to interact with others is at home, not with a bunch of equally unskilled children.

A child spending lots of time with his parents gets to see them model getting along with others in wide variety of situations. He gets to see mom on the phone, in the store, chatting with the supermarket checker and other customers, handling a difficult situation with a plumber, responding to telemarketers, relaxing with her friends, and of course, interacting with other family members. She shows him by her example what healthy social skills look like. Throughout the time a child is growing up, he is absorbing all of this, and trying it out for himself. The mom who is close by can immediately correct a child who isn’t acting in the right way, or positively reinforce the actions that she wants to see more of.

A child in a group is getting feedback about how to act from others his age. Yes, there are some kids who are amazingly well balanced, but I wouldn’t put odds on those kids being the ones who are going to guide your child to becoming a healthy adult. And the social messages they are getting from the rest of them? No, thanks. I would much rather be the one guiding my child, wouldn’t you?

I don’t believe a young child (6 and under) needs any outside social activities or even playdates, if his mother is home with him and interacts with him during the day, and especially if he has another sibling. We have been fed the idea that kids need to be around other very young children from the time they are babies. It’s become the norm since so many moms are at work and need daycare, and the philosophy to support it came along afterwards – ie, “Don’t worry about being away from your kids all day, because they are better off in their playgroup/nursery instead of being with mom.” Very simply, it eased parental guilt. The first problem is, studies don’t support this contention, and the second problem is that lots of moms who are at home have bought the myth.

What kids do need (and this has been repeatedly established) is to be with their families; it is the custom made environment to help your child grow in every way. It doesn’t matter if the sibling is two years younger – he is learning important social skills by interacting with him. One young mother told me recently that she feels bad for her 3 year old son, having to play with his 2 year old brother, because they are such different personalities. She was wondering if she should move to a different neighborhood where there were more young children close by so that her oldest child would have his emotional needs met. I told her, his emotional needs are being met! He is better off in every way by being in a healthy home environment than by spending his days in nursery or preschool. It’s true, siblings many times wouldn’t choose each other as friends. But they are going to spend many years of their lives together, and all of those years will be so much better if they are taught how to be friends. That begins by giving them lots of opportunities to interact with each other, staying close by to moderate their behavior. (It isn’t fair for an older child to repeatedly have his tower torn down, his picture ripped up, or his hair be pulled – that’s why you need to be there, to stop behavior like that from the younger or older child, and keep their time together on an even keel.)

The statistical likelihood of their nursery school playmate becoming a major part of his future is very, very tiny. The skills he learns even in guided play with a friend (which is a rare situation, unless you set it up yourself) are those even more effectively taught at home. I don’t know about you, but I feel that my time and energies are limited, and I want to invest my time as effectively as I can. That means using it in a way that brings me the highest returns – and teaching siblings to be kind to one another, interact respectfully, and get along in spite of their differences definitely brings high returns.

I strongly suggest that if you do want to have play dates, a) you limit their frequency, b) have your kids’ friends over to your home, and c) keep them in your eyesight or earshot at all times. I don’t allow my young children to have friends over and to play in a different room with a door closed, or on a different floor of the house. It’s not a lack of trust; it’s simply the understanding that it puts them in a situation that they don’t yet have the inner reserves to handle well. And I’m not referring to more extreme examples, like kids acting out sexual behavior (which is becoming very, very common, even among young kids). I’m talking about a child impatiently raising her voice to her friend, threatening not to be her friend if she doesn’t do what she wants, or even taking every toy off the shelf and leaving the room they are playing in a disaster zone.

When a child gets away with this kind of behavior at select times, like when she has a playdate, goes to a group activity, or goes to someone else’s home, it will influence them at other times, even when you are supervising closely. Be careful about providing lots of social opportunities that will undermine your goals as a parent. Most parents do it because they really believe it’s in the child’s best interest. I couldn’t disagree more.


Recovering dining room chairs

Yesterday we bought a ten foot conference table to replace our current dining room table. The table we’ve had until now is really nice, but is only 8.5 feet long. It comfortably seats 10, but we are already nine, and we enjoy having company over. Until now, we would bring out an additional table if we are having guests. Now, thanks to the shape and positioning of the table legs, we will be able to seat 12 very comfortably, and add another four on the corners (it’s an oval shape) without an unreasonable squish! Dh was also happy with it, which was nice, since he didn’t really feel the need to get another table. The woman selling them also had some chairs that she offered to give us, since she wasn’t using them and she was trying to declutter the part of her house where they were being stored. Initially, she thought she had four, but it turned out that she had eight! They are good sturdy chairs, though the cushions were kind of dusty and a couple were discolored. So I decided to recover them.

Refurbishing the chairs has been tonight’s project – we started after dinner and worked on it for a couple of hours. We were given a bunch of full length drapes a few weeks ago that don’t match any of our rooms, but the fabric is very nice quality. (I kept the drapes around because I made matching blanket covers for my bedroom with one set, and was planning to make another set of blanket covers with the other set of drapes.) We took apart the drapes (they are flannel lined so we needed to separate the three layers) so we can use the fabric to cover the seats and backs of the chairs. There are a lot of steps involved, and it’s a nice amount of work, but I really would like to finish all of the chairs by Friday. So far, we have four seat cushions finished (mostly the kids’ work – and they look great), and I’m working on the back cushions, which are more labor intensive and trickier to make look just right. It was a good night’s work for us all, and it’s fun for us all to see something so nice emerge from some chairs and drapes that we got for nothing, by just putting in some effort. Two boys went to sleep earlier than usual, but the rest of us worked together – my youngest daughter unscrewed the chairs, oldest son pried off the backing from the bottom of the chairs, and two older dds cut the fabric and plastic covering out and each covered one cushion. I kind of laughingly thought of it as my ‘sweatshop’ when I looked at all the kids in pajamas working on different parts of it assembly line style. We decided to cover the fabric with a heavy duty clear vinyl to keep it looking new for a long time.

In the middle of all the mess someone came by. She had called to ask if it would be okay for her to drop off a gift from a ‘Mompreneur’ group that I spoke to about work/life balance a couple of months ago, but I got so involved in the project that I lost track of time and was momentarily surprised to see her at the door. I was really surprised to receive a gift – I just loved having the opportunity to share some thoughts on the topic with a great group of women. Anyway, she saw what was going on (it would have been impossible not to – everything was everywhere!) and asked my kids if we always do such fun projects. Actually, we do, though I don’t set out to do them because I want us to have fun. I’m not a traditional fun mom in that I don’t naturally play games with my kids (I wrote in the past about how I’ve worked on that), but I’m pretty good at involving them in my work, and letting them share the pleasure of something meaningful and concrete accomplished.

If you’re wondering how I know how to reupholster furniture – I didn’t. I just took apart one chair last night and figured it out, and keep finding easier ways to do things as I go along. I find that most things aren’t as difficult as they seem, if you’re willing to try something new and put in the time to learn.


Child upping the ante

What do you do when you implement the steps I suggest when responding to bad behavior, and your child escalates the situation by refusing to do what you said? Many parents at this point might back down, thinking that it’s better to pick your battles and win the war. I couldn’t disagree more. By winning the small battles, you don’t end up with a war! (If the words battle and war bother you, substitute something else in your mind as you read!)

Especially in the beginning, when you start having new expectations of your child, she is going to test you. In all likelihood, she is going to push back when you tell her to do something. When you make your next move, she will push back harder, upping the ante. Don’t let this scare you. Once this happens, moms start to doubt themselves, thinking, “Well, I really just wanted her to sit down/speak quietly/whatever. I’m not going to make a mountain out of a molehill. I’ll just let it go since it’s not worth the battle.” And then moms do something to try to gracefully exit the situation, so it won’t seem like she gave in. This is a huge mistake!!

This is exactly the time you must be willing to follow through, no matter what the child does in response. If you don’t, she’s learned that if she pushes hard enough, you’ll back down. Even if you think you gracefully exited, your child is very clear that you gave in. Don’t get caught up in thinking that you are being unloving and rejecting, because this is what will keep you from doing what you need to do. It’s important to look past this two minute interaction to the bigger picture, and think about what is for her long term benefit. Do you think that your child is better off having to navigate through the waters of life without any guide to point the way? I think it’s unfair to expect a young child with no life experience to make the rules in the house – and there are always rules in a house. If a parent hasn’t set them, the child has.

Believe it or not, I welcome battles, and I encourage you to consider adopting a similar attitude towards them. Why do I think it is such a good thing, instead of being afraid of them, or dreading the confrontation? Because I know they are an opportunity to re-clarify the expectations in our home, and that is exactly what is necessary if a child is questioning them. However, you won’t get this opportunity very often – because once a child knows you mean business, their desire to test you drops dramatically. A willingness to ‘battle’ by a loving and caring mom who values peace and harmony in the home shows her child you think this is so important that you will go the distance.

I remember the first time I was willing to escalate with a child, one who was already almost my size (and I’m 5’9”!). He knew from experience that most of the time he would go along with me, and I wouldn’t make a big deal about the times he didn’t want to, because honestly, I didn’t know how to get a kid that old/big to do what I wanted if he didn’t feel like it. And I felt it wasn’t reasonable to expect him to always be respectful and listen, because after all, no one’s kids do, especially not preadolescents! After giving it a lot of thought over a period of time, I decided that it would be beneficial for the entire family if that changed, and below is the first major clash that followed my decision (I’m giving this for the sake of example, just to show how tough you need to be when you are first establishing new rules. This isn’t a step by step example of what to say or do.)

This situation played out over a period of two hours (a younger child wouldn’t in all likelihood require this amount of time): ds was tapping a pencil and I asked him to stop. He refused. I told him to give me the pencil. He tossed it on the table in my direction. I told him that I had asked him to give it to me, not throw it. He gave it to me with an attitude. (Here is where most moms would stop – he stopped tapping and gave me the pencil, and they would feel it was out of their hands to do anything about the attitude. Some moms would go on to feel guilty that she put him in this situation, blame herself for what happened, and think what a good kid he was usually so she could feel good about letting it go. But the underlying attitude was the real source of the problem and would continue to be a problem, which is why I continued our interaction.) I told him that an attitude like that was not acceptable, and he would sit in the chair next to me while I worked in the kitchen until I said he could go, and I would only be able to tell him he could go when he demonstrated a cheerful and respectful attitude. He got up and tried to leave. I said he needed to sit down until I told him he could get up. He said he was going to bed. I told him that in our house, the rule is that children listen to and are respectful of parents, and as a child living in our home, he would need to act in accordance with that. His bed belonged to us, his sheets belonged to us, his pillow and blanket belonged to us, and even the floor in his room belonged to us – and he wouldn’t go to bed right then. He said he would leave the house (obviously thinking I wouldn’t call his bluff because it was so extreme). I said if he felt he couldn’t abide by our house rules, then that would be a good idea, and I would welcome him in when he showed that he understood our expectations and was willing to act in accordance with them. He stomped outside –and I knew he had no desire to be outside, and would try to get in through another door and sneak into his room to get around what I said. So I locked the door and waited – there was a window in the door, and I was working in that room where he could see me the entire time he was outside.

All of this time, I was very calm and loving in the way I dealt with him. It’s really important that this is clear, because you must not have a screaming match, or let yourself get flustered. He got increasingly upset, but I didn’t raise my voice or respond accordingly, and continued to have positive feelings about him throughout it all. How was I able to stay calm and feel loving in such an inflammatory situation? I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t doing this for myself or my ego. It wasn’t about a power trip, it wasn’t about needing my child to jump to attention any time I cleared my throat. I was doing something difficult for me because I loved him enough to stretch myself for his benefit.

After an hour outside (he sat on the porch furniture – don’t picture a kid left to wander the streets), he came to the door, and when I opened it, his attitude was entirely different. He apologized sheepishly but sincerely for his disrespect. But what was really amazing was the difference in him the next day. He was so loving, helpful, and responsive to everything I said, and much happier. I had known it would be good for him, but even I was surprised at how peaceful he seemed inside, at how he seemed grateful that he lost the battle and could now relax and just be the child. His behavior got dramatically better after that, and he has maintained it for the most part.

So don’t worry so much about ‘choosing your battles’. (Of course, you must be reasonable in your expectations, as I’ve said before – that’s a prerequisite to good parenting. Don’t be a perfectionist and make your child crazy turning everything into an issue.) By responding strongly on a very few occasions in this way (winning the battles), and just continuing to be consistent in your expectations, you will have created an environment where you spend your time with your kids enjoying them, and them enjoying you, instead of getting wrapped up in regular power struggles. You won’t have to worry about winning the war, because there isn’t a need for a war – the kids already know you’re in charge.


Buying grain mill, treating candida

It’s snowing!! After a winter that hasn’t felt like winter, snow has finally appeared. Just a few days ago it was so warm that it felt like spring, and I was wondering why I wasted money at the beginning of winter buying everyone boots. It’s now cold enough that even my child who insists he’s never cold just told me that his ears are painfully cold, and actually took my advice when I mentioned that hats are made for this kind of weather. The kids are so excited!

Today has been a mellow kind of day so far. I’m preparing my order for the bulk foods distributor that I go to every few months. I found a huge place that sells to the stores, but was also willing to sell to me as an individual. It’s a 2.5 hour drive to get there, but the prices are so much cheaper than the health food store, and I buy such large amounts that it’s worth it (I buy 50 pound bags). I found another potential source that is in the same small town as a surplus store that I also like to go on the days that I do this shopping in a neighboring state; I will give them a call tomorrow and see if I can order grains from them. I would love it if I could consolidate my shopping to a smaller radius than I currently now have to travel to, but I will have to wait for tomorrow to give them a call.

After thinking about it for a year, I finally ordered a grain mill on Friday (it should be here at the end of this week), so for the first time I will be getting 50 lb of hard red wheat, 50 lb of hard white wheat, and 50 lb of soft white wheat, to make fresh bread with. I also ordered 25 pounds of buckwheat and 50 lb of millet, as well as the usual 50 lb of oats and cornmeal. I buy brown rice closer to home, only 20 lb at a time. My kids like buckwheat (kasha) as a side dish for lunch or dinner with coconut oil and salt, and for breakfast with milk and sweetener, but since I usually buy only five pounds or so at a time at the health food store, I end up not having it around for long, so I finally decided to just buy a big amount so I won’t have to think about it so often. Also, my oldest son is sensitive to gluten, so I’m planning to grind the millet and buckwheat and make fresh gluten free flour to bake with for him.

I was thinking what a funny juxtaposition it is, in buying all of this grain right now, while also trying to decide what to do about eliminating grains altogether from my diet. I have been on what most people would call a fairly restrictive food plan for over a year and a half. No flour, sugar, wheat, sweeteners of any kind, fruit juice, sweet fruits…but I’ve gotten used to eating like that and I don’t find it restrictive anymore. When I started eating like this, I had hopes that the fungal toenail infection I’ve had for ages would be helped (that wasn’t the reason I did it, but I hoped it would be a side benefit). Although there were lots of other benefits, that wasn’t one of them. Years ago, I asked both a naturopath and an acupuncturist who I was seeing how to deal with the toenail issue. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but both of them told me it’s difficult to treat, because it’s caused by an overgrowth of yeast internally.

Recently, I tried the Maker’s Diet, stage one, which wasn’t a big deal for me since I don’t eat most of the stuff that needs to be eliminated, so it just meant replacing all my current carbs with squash and having kefir instead of milk. I thought that would address the yeast issue, but no luck. Dh told me that he thinks I did it for too short a time (the book recommended 2 weeks, but the purpose was to realign the body’s sugar levels, not expressly for this issue). I’ve been somewhat reluctantly researching how to seriously address the candida, which I’m sure is the source of the problem, and at this point, I’m pretty sure how to deal with it. Why am I reluctant? Because I don’t yet feel willing to follow the advice on how to take care of the problem. Basically, it means eating only proteins (no beans, dairy), non starchy veg (no carrots, beets, squash, sweet potatoes), and no fruits except for lemons and limes in moderation – and it will be probably 3 – 6 months until I see results, possibly longer. I know it will do the job, but I am very intimidated by the idea of taking on a food plan like this for such a long time.

If all of this were just about the toenail, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but I believe that problem is a sign that something is internally imbalanced, and imbalances left unresolved get worse over time and start manifesting themselves as disease. So I’m trying to work up the internal resolve to commit myself to following a candida program; I’ve given myself the deadline of Tuesday night to make a decision by so that I don’t draw the decision out for so long. I think I will do it, I just need some time for my mind to get used to the idea!

Now I need to get back to the big fun of researching algebra textbooks for oldest ds!

Time outs

Time outs are a popular way of handling misbehavior – the child does something wrong, so he is sent to his room. One popular guideline for how long to keep him in his room is one minute for every year of his age; is, a four year old would stay in his room four minutes, etc.

What’s my position? We don’t do time outs – in my opinion, they are pointless since they don’t teach a child anything. I think they are popular because it makes parents feel they are responding in a concrete way, and most parents feel helpless to deal with misbehavior, so they grab onto this concept. But how many kids care about being in time out? Especially since time out is a puny amount of time in most cases. Why should they care? – it’s more rewarding to do what they want and get to stay in their rooms for four or five minutes. It simply doesn’t help a child understand clearly that his behavior is wrong. Not only that, it often breeds a feeling of resentment in the child as they wait in their room, feeling misunderstood and mistreated by their parents. So not only does a child not feel repentant, he often comes back into the room with his position more firmly established in his own mind.

We used to do them and now I am strongly against them. (Interestingly, when we were talking about this a while back, my oldest ds said his perception when he was younger was that we always were angry and punishing him by putting him in his room for something. What made this so interesting is that I was sooo gentle and loving; like the poster parent for how to effectively use this technique. And now, my expectations of my kids are much higher, but my kids perceive me as being much more relaxed…)

I do not bribe my kids. Never. I don’t threaten. If I say something needs to happen, it needs to happen. I don’t repeatedly warn them – “if you do this, I will do x; did you hear me? I will do x”.  If it’s something that I have addressed before, I don’t find it necessary to warn them each time what the consequences will be, because they have seen from the past what I will do. I try (I’m not a hundred percent in this, but I try!) to be reasonable in my expectations and consistent in my follow through – my kids know when I say something I mean it. I will take immediate action to show I mean it – and I stay calm and unflustered because I don’t wait until I’m frustrated about being ignored to start dealing with it.

I can’t say I never raise my voice, but I don’t do it often. My kids don’t need to wait for me to get irritated, angry, or yell for them to know that it’s time to respond. Kids MUST learn to respect a mother’s authority, and it’s much easier to teach while they are young. Bribes, timeouts, reverse psych, threats, and similar strategies don’t address the deeper issue, that the child doesn’t think he needs to respect what his parent says, and can get around it. The parent plays the game on the child’s turf and thereby turns over their parental power to the child.



Many moms have a hard time thinking of the right consequence for misbehavior, and I also had a hard time with this for for a long time. Finally I changed the way I looked at it and thought about my goal. My goal is to teach my kids to act appropriately and to control themselves, not to worry so much about my exact response. I used to spend too much time trying to make the punishment fit the crime, so to speak. So now I don’t think about matching consequences to behavior; I think about what will help me teach them to do the right thing the next time the situation comes up. It might sound like it’s just semantics, but it’s actually a subtle but important shift in perspective.

Something that I do alot is have the child repeat the behavior I want to see a number of times. I do it a number of times because one time doesn’t make an impression in the brain, but several times does. And it makes a conscious impression on them. Also, they change their own mood when they do this, because after a few minutes of this, they are all smiling and feeling cheerful since they start to feel silly. Eg: child slams door – go open and close door gently ten times; child raises voice – they need to repeat what they wanted to say in a respectful tone several times; child jumps on couch – they practice standing up and sitting down a number of times. I like this because I can clearly tell them it’s not about punishing them, it’s about helping them learn the right kind of behavior, and it resonates with them that it’s really what I am doing. They also don’t like having to do things so many times, so it’s a natural deterrent. For a child who hits sibling, I have a slightly different approach; I want them to actively do something to make the situation better – sometimes they have to play whatever the child they hurt wants to do for the period of time I set (usually 30 min, though a couple of times for my oldest I have made it one hour). Within a short time of playing together, both parties are feeling good about each other again.

In all of these situations, I also take responsibility for not being close enough by to cut it short before it escalated. I don’t expect any parent to be around for every minute and catch every possible situation, but I know that when I stay close by, not much happens because I nip it in the bud. Also, older kids can be given a lot more leeway (assuming that you can trust them to act appropriately with one another when you’re not around) than a young child. The younger a child is, the closer to me I try to keep them. The younger kids aren’t usually allowed to play in a room out of my sight, because I know that young children need the constant guidance and instruction on how to act. When they don’t have your guidance, that’s when problems occur!

edit – I realized after posting that what is older for one family isn’t the same for another, and this could lead to some confusion. When I said older kids get more leeway, I mean ages ten and above, maybe 8 for a super well behaved child, can be given more space. A four year old really needs to be in the same room as you all the time.


Transitioning from a crib

Lots of parents wonder about when the right time is to transition their young children from a crib to a toddler/regular bed. I don’t think there is any right age for this, though most people say it was easier for them sooner rather than later. Personally, I think most of our kids have switched from one to another between 18 – 24 months and it worked fine for us.

The hard things about switching your child to a new sleeping situation are: a) getting them to go to sleep; and b) keeping them in bed.

A) You can’t make a child go to sleep, and it’s to be expected that they will find a new bed exciting enough to keep them awake – especially if they will now be in the same room as a sibling. I don’t mind if my kids talk after lights out, as long as they keep their voices down. Usually they wind down on their own, so I don’t find that they overstimulate each other so much that it gets problematic. But we also have a winding down routine prior to getting into bed. For us, we do nightly read alouds together (yes, even the older kids!), which everyone listens to and gets them to slow down and sit quietly, which is a natural lead in to sleep. Every family will find the rituals that they enjoy, but whatever it is, when done regularly, the kids will just expect it. So set up a relaxing evening routine – baths, stories, slow music – whatever works well for you.

If my kids were keeping each other awake and I felt it was a problem, I would just sit in the room with them and immediately put my finger to their lips and make a gentle shushing sound the minute they opened their mouths to speak. When I first sat down with them, I would let them know that it’s time for sleep, and say something like, “I know you love to talk and tomorrow you will have plenty of time for that. I want you to have lots of energy for our fun day tomorrow and if you stay up late talking you’re going to be too tired to enjoy it.” By nighttime, kids really are worn out, and enforced silence for a period of time means that they will have the chance to relax enough to go to sleep.

B) So how do you get them to stay in bed, once they realize they have the freedom to get out when they want? I remember my second child literally getting out of bed twenty times the first night she was in her new bed. Yes, that was very frustrating for me. I didn’t know how to appropriately handle it and prevent the situation from escalating in the first place. Now that would never happen, because I would stay close by, knowing that she will need help learning the rules of sleeping in a bed. The lights would be out, and as soon as she would move her leg to the side of the bed to start to get up, I would tap it gently and say, “No getting up now, it’s time for sleep.” Again, if you are right there, she is not going to be able to come out even once, let alone twenty times. And she will fall asleep relatively quickly once the stimulus of being able to independently explore her room at night is removed.


Making broth from scratch

I’ve been feeling tired the last couple of days, and I’ve been frequenting parenting boards more than usual since it’s easier to be online than to be actually doing stuff when I’m this exhausted. Tonight I just have had enough. It’s like a huge ocean of lousy parenting suggestions. :(

So I decided to shift mental gears and instead of writing about parenting I’ll share with you how to make chicken stock. Especially in the winter when kids aren’t feeling good, it’s great to have some germ fighting chicken soup on hand! Lots of people think that making chicken stock from scratch is hard and think that adding soup mix is necessary to give it flavor. I don’t know where this idea came from, since there’s nothing much easier than homemade stock. My kids make ours on a regular basis, and every time, it is delicious! I had a couple of turkey carcasses in the fridge today, and this is the perfect use for them.

Put the chicken/bones/whatever you are using in the pot, covering it with at least a couple of inches with water. Some people like to skim it after bringing it to a boil, to make the soup clearer, but I stopped doing that years ago. Once it is boiling, add your veggies – onions, garlic, parsnip, carrot, celery, turnip, rutabaga, squash, tomato – use as many or as few of these in combination as you like. Personally, we use most of the veggies listed – they make for an incredibly rich flavor. Just peel the vegetables and pop them in the pot; don’t worry about chopping them up.

Once the soup is boiling again, turn it all the way down and let it simmer, for hours. I sometimes start a large pot before I go to sleep, and leave it on the lowest setting overnight. When I wake up, the house smells amazing and there is a delicious pot of soup waiting for us. The long cooking time is really important in giving the flavors a chance to meld and deepen.

If you want to put a couple of tablespoons of vinegar in when it’s cooking, that will help leach vitamins from the bones and adds to the nutritional value. I like to use Bragg’s raw apple cider vinegar for this. If you don’t, it will still be good for you. Some people also like to let it cool in the fridge once it’s finished cooking and then skim off the fat from the top so the broth is clear- I don’t do this, but just in case it’s something you want to try, I’m mentioning it.  Then you can put the fat that you skim off in the fridge and use it to cook with!

When it’s finished, I take out the carcass, and take all of the turkey meat off of it. Then I use it in a turkey pot pie for another night’s dinner. I end up with so much soup that we have soup as a first course for one meal, and then later in the week, add rice to whatever soup is left for a hearty lunch meal. Amazing how much good eating can come from a turkey carcass that most people would throw away!


Reinforcing your requests to your child

I thought I had posted steps for how to handle reinforcing your requests to your child, but just checked the archives and realized that I’ve written it on parenting boards and in private emails but not here! So I will give an example of my general approach here. (For the person to whom I promised to post about transitioning to a crib: I wrote the post yesterday and my system froze so it was lost – I will rewrite it and post it in the next couple of days. Please forgive the delay.)

I’ve already said how important it is to be clear about what you want your child to do. This means that you need to be crystal clear in your own mind about what you want – don’t skip this! Once you’ve decided what kind of behavior is acceptable and not acceptable in your home, and your child crosses you, what do you do?

Let’s take the example of a child hitting a sibling, since it’s so common and makes parents furious! Usually what happens? You don’t do anything until after the child has hit his sibling. Instead of waiting for your child to hit the sibling, and then responding to the incident, you want to preempt the behavior from the beginning. That means you are going to stop him before he hits his baby brother.

How can you stop him? Make sure he stays in your presence – and I don’t mean only the same room. Glue him to your side if necessary. When you wash dishes or cook, have him busy in the kitchen with you. When he is playing with his cars on the floor, you are sitting close by on the couch. You want to catch him as he is about to do the behavior you have forbidden, and the only way to intercept him is to be there.

The idea is not only to physically prevent him from hurting his brother all the time, but to help him learn that you won’t tolerate it and change how he thinks about his actions. In the first case, it will only work when you are there to stop him, and your eventual goal is to help him develop an internal awareness of what is acceptable behavior, not just the short term goal of stopping the hurting. You are waiting for him to reach his hand out to hurt the baby, and when you see him start to stretch his hand out, you will swiftly catch him hand and strongly tell him, “No hurting!” No yelling will be necessary, and you will be feeling calm because you know you are taking steps to address the situation proactively instead of just reacting to what is already done.

You will need to do this regularly and consistently so that your child gets the clear message that he’s not going to get away with this. His behavior should improve quickly. Remember, though, that you don’t want to be the punitive parent, always looking for your child to do something wrong. What are you going to be doing with your child so close by, for all of that time when he isn’t about to misbehave? You are going to be actively building the relationship. Play, talk, read – this builds the bonds of love between you both, and gives you a solid platform to discipline from. This is really, really important – don’t skip building the relationship and make your child feel you are like a policeman, watching him every second for any tiny misdeed. That would be a total misunderstanding of what I’m suggesting.

I know that most moms will say that it’s too hard for them to keep their child close by for so long. Here’s something to think about: would you rather spend your time working on prevention or putting out fires? I’m a believer in prevention being worth more than the cure. Wouldn’t you rather not get sick in the first place than need to have any kind of treatment for it, even if the treatment is relatively pleasant?

By taking this kind of action, you are eliminating the need for extensive discipline further down the road. Whatever action you want to correct, you are basically going to swiftly and firmly let him know isn’t going to go over with you. I don’t want to share too many specifics because I know people get hung up on the exact how (I’m often asked what exact consequence to give), and it’s the process that I want you to understand. (Some general suggestions of things we have done: remove him from the area, take away what he is using wrongly, have him sit/stand for a certain period of time, have him practice the kind of behavior you want to see for several times.) Once you understand the approach, you can tailor the exact response to your personality.


Testing limits (continued)

Sometimes a child will be really well behaved for a period of time, and then starts to misbehave. The parent doesn’t understand what has happened to her perfect child. What has usually happened is the parent is initially consistent in her reponses, and the child acts accordingly. Bit by bit she slacks off in her supervision of the child since she feels he doesn’t need that kind of oversight anymore, and they start to act out more and more, seeing that their mom isn’t doing anything about it. They want to see if you are going to loosen the reigns, or if you are going to stand firm on what you claim are your standards.

Sometimes moms are too ‘nice’ and their children learn quickly that they can manipulate them and take advantage of them, by acting out to get what they want, knowing mom isn’t going to respond strongly. This is especially common with moms who have ignored small incidents of testing, thinking they are too insignificant to respond to.

It’s not irrelevant where the behavior is coming from, but it’s a lot less important than most parents think. Many parents analyze themselves and their children, questioning and doubting themselves, worrying that the child is acting like this because of inner turmoil or emotionally challenging times. It’s generally true that parents will see more testing behavior at times like these, since that’s when a parent is preoccupied with other things and therefore inconsistent – before or after a baby is born, when moving, etc. Especially at times like this, children need the stability of you being there, knowing that you aren’t going to blow with the wind. As someone said to me years ago, “A child needs to know when he leans on the wall that it’s not going to fall down.”