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Saturday, February 28, 2015

adventures at The Yard - an indoor playground!

I am so excited to feature Stacy Maguire's new place to visit and play - The Yard in Biddeford, Maine. I work in this town and am so grateful this indoor playground has opened its doors this cold Maine winter! My kids LOVE running, jumping and playing on the playground equipment. We've had a blast there already in just the few times we've visited. I highly recommend it.

$10 per child, $5 for children after that or $35 per month membership - totally worth the money to play!

Stacy Maguire answered some questions for me, explaining more about her passion to use her Occupational Therapy (OT) skills, teach families to love play for what it is - a way for kids to really learn and work. Thank you so much for answering, Stacy, such great information about what makes The Yard such a GREAT place!

1. When did you come up with the idea for The Yard? What was your original idea?
The idea for The Yard was years in the making, but the decision to make the move to just do it was rather abrupt now that I think about it! The concept lived in my mind for so long without a timeframe, like many dreams do, that it didn't have a timeline necessarily. So I guess by virtue of becoming a reality, it felt abrupt!
My original idea, compared to what opened 3 weeks ago, are pretty similar actually.  

I envisioned a place that felt simple, and like home. A place you wanted to go again and again because something about it felt familiar and easy. I wanted to keep everything, from the name to the décor, quite simple. I wanted it to feel relatable to not only children with a variety of differences, but across generations as well, so that grandparents taking children to play felt as natural as when they brought their own children.
2. What is your goal, mission, or hope for The Yard now and for those who visit?
My goal for The Yard was to create opportunity for those in the community. Opportunity from my perspective as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, meant access to play.  

Play is the work of children, and just like we go to work every day, children need access to play everyday. I wanted that play to feel natural and instinctual, so creating an outdoor feel was important, as well as equipping it with familiar equipment. My hope was that families would make us part of their routines, stopping on the way home from school, having play dates, inviting grandparents, coming with in-home support, etc and that the whole family would play. Play is so fundamental in all aspects of a child's development, and yet is can be thought of as "silly". I wanted to bring back play!
3. How did you come up with each activity, equipment, sensory play ideas, etc.? What was important to you when choosing the right activities to include?
The equipment was chosen with a clinical eye. I tried to keep it as sensory friendly and non-over stimulating as possible, though it is really hard to find preschool equipment that is not boldly colored!  

That being said, I focused on toys/equipment that targeted and supported early motor milestones such as crawling, pushing/pulling, and climbing for the little ones, and for the older kids, just offering the environment for them to practice their skills and meet their sensory needs.

4. Tell us more about the concept of taking an outdoor setting and putting it indoors - with outdoor playground equipment, benches and chairs that you'd find outside, the fake grass, etc.? Why did you choose this type of environment for kids to play?
Creating an outdoor space was important to me for several reasons. One is that it is inherently sensory-rich, meaning that there are natural sensory opportunities to be had just by duplicating the outdoors...visual, tactile...but also, I wanted to steer clear of an amusement/entertainment center. So keeping the name simple meant that we weren't "luring" kids to play with creative names, but inviting them to play in a familiar setting, with a familiar word that they know.  

"Go play in the yard"...we've all heard it from our own parents!

5. Which of your activities or equipment are you finding to be favorites of the children who play? 
The favorite pieces so far are the ones that are packing the most sensory bang for those little bodies that have been cooped up all winter...rollercoasters, merry-go-rounds, and swings! Totally vestibular!

6. What other types of services or events will you hold in this space (play groups, sensory therapy, birthday parties, etc.), and can you explain a little more about those? 
We are soon to be offering Occupational Therapy and maybe even Speech Therapy at The Yard. Though I am an OT, I cannot carry a caseload while running the business, so I will be passing the torch for a while while we get operations underway.  
We are already offering parties, and have had several since opening. They are themed parties, hosted by Heather, who is a full time employee and Special Ed teacher. The notion of offering birthday parties was born from the fact that the children on my caseload were not often successful, or even open, to having parties due to their varied developmental issues. We wanted to provide a safe, understanding, knowledgeable space for all children to experience a successful social gathering. They run very similar to a therapy session, in that they are structured with 2-3 activities led by Heather.

7. You wrote on your site that you hoped with The Yard that you could help families "preserve childhood." What does that mean to you, and why is it important? 

It is very important to me to preserve childhood. Our kids are growing up faster than ever, and with more distractions than ever, but one thing about that formula hasn't changed, and that is the need for play.  

It has a tremendous role in the development of a child's motor skills, cognitive skills, problem solving skills, sensory development, etc. While I can accept that technology is a fact of life, play is still is a way of life, and I'm hoping that the message of The Yard somehow gives permission to families to feel purposeful in their play, and have an appreciation for the value of it.
8. There is a sign in your Yard that read something like sensory play is "not just getting the energy out," what do you mean by that? Why is play so important for children's growth and development?
The signs in The Yard are intended to educate and empower families at their own pace. They may resonate strongly with one family dealing with sensory processing disorders in their family, and for another, begin the journey of understanding why their best friend's child behaves the way he does sometimes. What I love about signs is that you can read them for as long as you need to, maybe months, before you understand them but nobody knows (or at least that's what I do!)! You get to process that information as long as it takes, and make it meaningful and relevant to you in your own way.  

For that particular sign about sensory diets, I wanted families dealing with Sensory Processing Disorder to understand that there can be a formula for a successful playtime, based on their OT's input in understanding the way their child processes input. That some activities can be calming, some can be alerting, and every child is different. Often times, the term "sensory diet" can be thrown around a lot and become a watered down version of it's goal. I want to preserve the integrity around those terms through education.  
There is a reason that even Einstein said "Play is the highest form of research". Through children's senses and natural curiosities, they are continuously collecting data that their brain and central nervous system use as resources for future actions, all through the power of play. Those instincts to explore with their bodies is what allows a 6 year old to try hanging upside down from one leg just because they can, while their parents cringe at the possible outcomes!

9. How long were you an OT? How did that work prepare you for creating The Yard and offering a "sensory friendly" atmosphere for kids to learn and grow?
I have been an OT for just about 20 years. I started working with children with Autism right out of school, and have been in love with my decision to be an OT ever since. I have always felt that OT has a unique niche in pediatrics unlike any other discipline, and I love working with the whole family. As OTs, we have unique perspective on how the processing of sensory information has impacts on all aspects of development, including behavior. I particularly enjoy working through behaviors with families from an OT perspective.  
In terms of being "sensory friendly", I just wanted to create an environment that was rich in opportunity, while being gentle on the nervous system. By keeping colors down and the walls and ceilings free of hanging pictures, etc, we are keeping the visual stimulation low for example. By keeping the environment free of screens and batteries, we can offer a more controlled auditory environment (none of our toys "talk"). By keeping play choices to a relative minimum in terms of loose manipulatives, puzzles, books, etc, we maintain a general organization that can be reflected in the way children then organize themselves in relation to the environment.
10. When you take a step back and look out into the play yard and see the families and children enjoying time together, what do you feel, think about? 
So far, I am most proud of the "moments" families are having together. Take all of the clinical stuff out, and just seeing families engage with each other has been the most satisfying. Because we offer such relatable and interactive equipment, combined with the fact that we ask families to leave the electronics behind, we are getting just raw fun!  

Even if only for a little while, the distractions are virtually stripped away, and suddenly dads are hula hooping and moms are throwing 3 pointers, and the whole family is lighting up! That's been really fun!  

We also have many grandparents bringing their grandchildren, which is so special. I had a grandfather tell me today how grateful he was to be able to bring his grandson every Monday, because there are few things that they can do together where they have this much in common. And I guess when I'm looking around the room on a day like that, I'm thinking about the memories in the making.

11. You started with an idea, and now it's a successful play place for kids - what do you think has made it so successful so far? 
Well the snow has been in my favor for sure! But more than that maybe, I think our passion for this project must be shining through for people to have understood the concept so quickly. Or maybe they don't know they've understood it yet, and I'm just wishful thinking, but I'll take it!
12. Tell us a little about you as a mom (since this is for a mom blog ). How many children, ages? Which 3 words would you use to describe yourself as a mother? What is one thing you tried to do often with your kids to PLAY and have fun together? 
I have been a mom as long as I've been a therapist, and vice versa. My own kids are now almost 18 and 20, with the youngest heading to college in September. So now felt like a good time for changes for all! The Yard is my new baby!
Given my kids ages, they may have 3 very different words to describe me! In fact, I just asked my 18 year old...he says "loving, comforting, inspiring". My 20 year old says "happy, positive, motivated". ( so maybe they're not so bad after all!) .  

It seems like I was just trying to figure out how I was going to get to work and get them to daycare in the same day, and now they are adults! So at the risk of sounding cliché, it really does fly by! But we had a lot of play time! We spent a lot of time outdoors, and I can remember being out with my kids in a light rain one summer, and a neighbor yelling out her window "Are you ever going to let those kids in!?" Nah! It was too much fun to resist!  
Those are the things we talk about my son could never pass by a puddle, and how in my daughter's first grade picture, I asked the photographer NOT to delete the dirt off her hands! That dirt has stories to tell!

This airplane is the COOLEST!

What I LOVE about The Yard: I love it so much I bought a month membership on the spot the day we visited! It's the perfect place to take the kids on my way home from work, after a long day when it's cold out and we just want to PLAY!
  • When you walk in, there is space to take off all your gear - jackets, cubbies for the boots, etc. You should bring a clean pair of shoes that can be worn in on the playground equipment (we keep some sneakers in the car so we can make a trip to the Yard now!). 
  • Wherever I'm standing in the play yard area I can see my kids. This is HUGE for a parent of two children who are different ages and interested in different activities. I felt safe there, like I could watch them even if running in different directions.
  • The patio tables and eating area. Awesome! The first time we visited, my kids were SO excited and tired from running around after only an hour, they were starving for lunch at 10:15 a.m.! Good thing I'd packed lunch! They ate right there, then got up and ran around all over again. 
  • They've thought of everything! The bathrooms have a changing table in them. There is hand sanitizer everywhere, and a pitcher of water with lemons right when you walk in. The activities are for a range of ages. There are also signs everywhere - adorable chalkboard signs - that explain what various equipment should be used for, ages and weight limits, etc. I found this super helpful as a parent of two kids - one older and one younger, where I wasn't sure which things my older one could and could not be on. It was great.
  • It's clean! A lot of kid places can be dingy or not as well taken care of. This is a brand new, very well cared for play place. I can tell they take pride in what they offer to families and want to keep it looking as awesome as it is now. 
  • Helpful staff- WOW. They are amazing! You will see at least a couple of people walking around the entire time you are there, sweeping, putting toys back, redirecting kids kindly to be sure they are safe and with a parent, ETC. We visited this past week and my children were EXHAUSTED, about to completely melt down because we had to leave... I was trying to get their jackets on, my daughter was whining and running away from me... the staff person stepped in so gently and offered to blow some bubbles and let them take a deep breath to blow the bubbles themselves, as well as pop them after they put a jacket on, then shoes, etc. It was SO helpful to me, and honestly refreshing to see someone care that much to stop what she was doing and assist me in getting out of the door. They really have thought of everything that works for kids. I'm extremely impressed with their professionalism, support of parents, and understanding of how children learn best.
  • Birthday party room- It looks SUPER cute! I wish I had a picture here for you. I haven't attended a birthday party there, but I can see why parents would LOVE it. They put so much thought and creativity into that room, so sweet. 
  • It's good for us. Not only is it a fun thing and my kids think I'm the COOLEST mom ever taking them to The Yard, but it's also good for all of us! Mentally, for me, as a busy working out of the home mom, to get a break after work before rushing home for dinner, cleaning the house, laundry, etc. It's a great place to reconnect together after being apart at daycare, school, etc. and just PLAY and laugh! It's also physically healthy for the kids - so much exercise, running around, and feel-good endorphins running through them. It makes for a smoother, happier, calmer evening or to break up a long weekend day. 
  • Great place to make friends. I originally had a mommy group meeting there, so much fun! It was an awesome place for a variety of ages of children to interact together, and for we moms to chat while being able to see our kids at the same time. 
  • Taking the outdoor IN. LOVE this more than anything. I literally feel like we're outside... minus the freezing temperatures or blinding sun. It's the best! An indoor playground?! Who'd have thought? Genius! 

The only minor challenge is finding the place the first time, but then you're GOOD to go,  I promise! I have found parking on Main Street every time, no issues there. The Yard is inside this big brick building - next to the Portland Pie Company (YUM!!!). If you look in the picture below, it's the first door on the building, in front of that blue/gray car. LOVE that it's in this cool building, so authentic and fun.

Just a little break from playing so hard! (below)

OK these roller coasters.... SERIOUS FUN! My kids LOVE them! I'm so glad my 5 year old can still use them, he's obsessed.

I loved watching my children, especially my youngest child, learn to do different things I wasn't sure they could do even last summer at the outdoor playgrounds we visited. Watching my daughter focus and learn how to climb up the ladder or this rope was so cool! Every time we have gone back (three times now!) she's learned more and been stronger and more confident at climbing. What a great thing to prep us for outdoor play this summer!

See... they thought of everything! Hand sanitizer!

Snack break :)

I LOVED this tight rope. My son was able to do it all by himself on the first try, which included such focus and determination. I loved seeing him achieve that!

Fun for all ages! I love that there are big playground equipment like slides and swings, but also little things like ride-on cars and tractors (John Deere, our favorite!) and blocks and books to read. There literally is something for everyone here.

In the busy days that we all have - changing diapers, running here and there, shopping, cleaning, feeding, working, carpooling, etc. - it's in the moments where we're really PLAYING and connecting with our kids that the magic happens. Enjoy.

Thank you, Stacy and Heather, for all of your great information and for offering an amazing and fun place to learn with our children!

self-care for moms

Taking care of myself as a mother? Say what? 
I am a school counselor, and in counseling school they taught us all about the concept of self-care, aka taking care of ourselves in the midst of overwhelming, challenging, and sometimes emotionally draining stories we hear and situations involving students we work with. The idea is to find things - coping skills, physical outlets, things that boost our energy and remind us why we are important and that help us to do the best jobs we can without burning out and losing all of our focus, patience, or compassion.

It's a fantastic idea. Taking care of ourselves. Yet so many of us don't do that, do we? Especially when it comes to being moms. I know we've all heard of the idea on an airplane that we should always put on our own oxygen masks first before assisting children or others. It's life-saving really. That's important to consider when working as a busy mom, too.

If we don't manage our own health, take care of our own bodies, keep ourselves happy and emotionally charged, ready to go, we can't be the best moms we want to be for our children. 

A mom's job is TOUGH.
This past week was rough for me. Just a lot going on at work, cranky kids who were over tired, me not sleeping as well, busy work week for my husband, etc. Coming and going in a zillion directions, it felt like.

I was exhausted. Spent. Over it. Tired of being "on."

Yet we can't be "over it" or done as mothers, can we? We don't get sick days, so we sure as hell don't get "personal days," like I get at my job out of the home - days to do what we need/want to keep ourselves healthy or sane. Yeah right. Who's going to give us a personal day? Who's going to take over with what we do if we were to take a day away?

It might not be easy to get a personal day away. It might take some finagling and moving things around. It might even be difficult to figure out who could take over for you, but it's imperative to your self-care as a mother, to your self-preservation as a woman, to ask for help and do whatever it is that makes you feel better.

For me, this week I had reached my limit. I went to the gym immediately after work, knowing I needed to burn off some steam. I got home after getting the kids, took a hot shower, and then proceeded to let my husband take right over with dinner, bath, bed time routine. I told him I was leaving for a few hours, just needed to get out, kissed the kids goodnight early and took off. I drove around, belted out to my music in the car, ate French fries, talked to a girl friend on the phone, shopped, and got a hair cut. It was the best two hours I've spent in a long time. Totally on ME. Sometimes we just need that.

Recognizing when you need a break.
Sometimes that's what we need: to get away, space, to take a break, some alone time focused solely on whatever it is we want. Sometimes we need to be a little selfish. I could have waited to leave another 45 minutes the other night ... after dinner with the family, cleaning up the kitchen, bath time and pajamas and reading stories. I could have done all of that and still had time to go out and get a hair cut, etc. But I chose ME instead. And that doesn't make me a bad mother AT ALL. It made me a better mother.

If I'd stayed, I would have snapped at some little thing or been impatient with the kids in the tub tossing water everywhere. I would not have been happy at the dinner table, would have been unfocused and not really listening to them talk. I would not have been my best self as a mother. I realized that.

That's the first key to self-care, realizing when you need a break. 

For me, I know I need a break when a few things are going on:
I'm exhausted. Can't focus, can't pay attention, can't see straight tired.
I am angry. Frustrated. Impatient. Snapping, heart pounding, easily annoyed by small things.
Bit my tongue, held back, ignored, remained patient and in control too long... and it's about to blow.

That's when I know I need some time alone. It's OK to know these things, it's great to recognize when those things happen in your mind, body, etc. to show you it's time to take space as a mother. We encourage our kids to take a time out to cool their bodies, to let them sort out how they're feeling, so we need that sometimes, too, as moms. And that's great!

There are plenty of things moms can do to improve their self-care:

  1. The first thing is recognizing when you need it. Recognize the signs in your body, what's coming out of your mouth, how you're physically and emotionally feeling.
  2. Then build it into your daily practice. Find something you can do daily to make you feel better. For me that's watching TV at night with my husband or listening to my music on the radio on the drive home from work. Whatever works for you, find something daily and make sure it happens, at least 5 out of 7 days a week. 
  3. Improve your overall health. Make sure you go to bed early enough, exercise a few times a week, and eat something healthy daily - and keep improving your healthy eating as you're able to. Drink water all day long, especially first thing in the morning. Talk to someone if things are bothering you so you improve your mental health. Take a multivitamin. Get outside for fresh air and Vitamin D. Practice deep breathing - this helps wonders for me when I'm frustrated or losing patience with the kids, too. 
  4. Have some go-to coping skills, or things that make you feel much better about whatever you're feeling. These can be anything. I have a good friend who loves baking - so if she's stressed she bakes cookies or something. Another friend is a long distance runner so she'll head out for a run to clear her mind. These are things that I do for self-care:
      • Exercise - it literally makes me a more patient, calmer person/mom if I've exercised that day. It's my goal on weekends to get it in first thing so that I'm a great mom all day because of it. 
      • Deep breathing
      • Iced chais - seriously, these are treats to me, I get them 1-2 times a month, they instantly make me feel like I'm treating myself to something special
      • Running errands solo - even though it's a chore, it's still easier and happier when I'm by myself sometimes
      • Text a friend and tell them I'm having a rough moment. 99% of the time they respond with "yup, I hear you, listen to this ridiculous mom moment I had today..." and it helps me feel less alone
      • Take a bath or hot shower
      • SLEEP. Naps help me tons on weekends, but making sure I go to bed early at night weekdays is a big help too.
      • Do something absent-minded like scan Facebook, Instagram, watch TV with my husband, etc.
      • Eat chocolate :) Dove chocolates with little inspirational quotes are the best. 
      • Drink a huge bottle of water - this helps my morning go well
      • Blast music- when I'm really frustrated, especially in the car, I'll turn the music up really loud and just sing. 
      • Remember I'm  still a girl- what I mean by this is every month or so I'll make sure I have some girl time to myself to shave, do a face mask, paint my nails, etc. like I used to do since middle and high school and college with my girlfriends. It always makes me feel rejuvenated. 
      • Get out - alone, with my husband, with girlfriends, etc. Just go! Missing the family is a good thing. 
  5. Remind yourself it's OK to need a break, to not be a perfect mother, to ask for help, to seek time alone. I think sooooo many moms think they are the best mom ever if they are 100% of the time with their kids or focused on their kids, never making themselves a priority. I don't mean to say these moms aren't awesome, sure they are, but those of us who need a break, who can't keep going as a great mom without taking a time out every now and then are not bad mothers for needing that. There is no such thing as a perfect mom. Remind yourself of that! 
Take care of yourselves, moms. 
It's easier in the short term to only focus on your family, I get that. There is never enough time to take care of ourselves, I know. But force it. Make it happen. Somehow, someway, even little things. Do something today that helps you be a better mother in the long run, not just for today. Your kids will appreciate you for it, I promise. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

book - You're Not the Boss of Me

You're Not the Boss of Me 
- Brat-Proofing Your 4-to-12 -Year -Old Child 
by Betsy Brown Braun

Image from

This was a fantastic read!
I highly recommend this book to all parents, but especially those with 3+ year olds. I admit when I read the title I wasn't fond of the "brat-proofing" idea, feeling that sounded a bit harsh... but as I read even the first few pages of the book I was hooked and realized the author wasn't meaning to make it so simple with the term "brat." She is really offering great suggestions on how to raise a great kid. All parents would benefit from reading this book.

What is a brat? Why do kids act like brats? 
The author first explains what being a brat is so that we all know what we're aiming to avoid with our kids. "The truth is, most kids behave in bratty ways at one time or another in the course of growing up," (introduction). The author suggests it's sometimes normal for kids to act this way as they are separating from parents and becoming a little more independent - which is a good thing in the end. "Being bratty can also be a temporary condition in response to an environmental change such as a new baby, a parent who is working out of town, a relative who has been visiting for too long, a move to a new house," Brown Braun wrote (introduction). She also stated it can be a cry for help in response to things not going well at daycare, preschool, issues with friends or brothers or sisters.

She explained

"...what every parent needs to know is that the brat is a child who doesn't feel significant, who doesn't feel as if he plays a meaningful role, and who needs to feel that he has a purpose in the life of the family." 

She said sometimes it appears the opposite is true- the world revolves around him, but it's his way of trying to find where he fits in the family.

Be a good role model
Brown Braun stresses a lot in this book that parents are role models, the most important role models for kids. She says they are always looking, watching, observing, listening, and paying attention to what we do. She admits that's a lot of responsibility. "It is really hard to be the person you want your child to be. In fact, it's really hard to be the person each of us wants to be. Life gets in the way. You are tired, hungry, irritated, stressed, and any number of other normal states that result just from getting  through each day," she wrote on page xxi.

She suggests that starting early with teaching your child to avoid bratty behavior is key, but if you've gotten too far ahead and didn't instill good behaviors it's not too late. She says her techniques work with kids up through age 11. (page xxi)

Listen up!
Chapter one is all about how to talk so the kids listen. This is a big thing with especially preschool age when they are interested in doing their own thing all the time.

What I loved most about this book was that it was so simple and easy to read. She puts things in bold to make the most important points easy to find. You can easily read this book one chapter at a time, when you have a few moments, and still benefit greatly from it.

Some tips for helping your child listen to you:

  • Get down on their level, make eye contact, touch their shoulder 
  • Don't demand eye contact though - it's uncomfortable especially for older kids. 
  • Don't talk across rooms- get closer. 
I am also a school counselor so I tell parents this idea all the time- if you don't listen to the little (boring, mundane, silly) things that your kids tell you at young ages, they won't come to you later when it's important, when things are at stake like their well being and health. So listen... even to the little things that make no sense. They are important to your kids. 

Brown Braun agrees with this notion that you need to listen to your kids early on. (page 7)

"Your days are numbered. Sad though it is, there will come a time when your child will prefer  communicating (texting, IMing, posting on Facebook or tweeting, etc.) with his friends more than talking with you. Somewhere between the ages of eleven and seventeen, it will happen. The communications you have with your child are a gift, so honor them. When your child talks to you, take the time to listen." 

She suggested if you can stop, turn your body toward your child and stop whatever you are doing, focus. If you can't stop what you're doing - which sometimes we can't - stop for one second to say "I really want to hear your story, let me finish up with this and then let's talk," and make sure you go back to your child. 

I loved Brown Braun's idea about not forcing your child to talk either. She suggested at the end of your child's day, don't bug them about how their day went. Do it later. Give him some time to decompress first. I know all parents - myself included - are prone to do this, the second they get in the car, "How was your day? What did you do? Tell me everything, now." But this doesn't work for kids, especially older ones. This is because of a few reasons, sometimes they don't want to share with you- and that's developmentally normal. Sometimes it just takes a while to process what happened in the day, they don't remember in that moment. She suggests talking about your own day, sometimes that sparks your child into remembering other things. (page 9)

Positive Character Traits 
The book is set up into chapters of characteristic traits you want your child to have and that you must teach them in order for them to avoid being a brat and acting negatively. I love these ideas, especially as a counselor, I see how important all of these things are.

  1. Empathy - Caring about others, not being selfish, helping others, knowing and responding to feelings. 
    1. Teach them feelings, how to identify them in themselves and others. What to do with feelings. 
    2. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
    3. Talk about similarities and differences with others. 
  2. Independence - Doing things for themselves, taking care of themselves, being responsible, sorting through conflict. 
    1. With babies, leave them alone for a little bit, start early, let them figure things out. 
    2. Don't rush in and answer. Let kids problem solve. 
    3. Expect your child to do things like little chores (setting the table, putting shoes away, hanging up coat, etc.). Don't do it all for them. 
    4. Give your child choices. 
  3. Responsibility -(page 61) Teaching them to live as they say they will, think for themselves, etc. 
    1. Keep your promises- this teaches them to do the same. 
    2. "Never do for your child what she can do for herself... or at least make a genuine attempt," (page 66). Let them work through it. 
    3. Teach her how when she meets her responsibilities, how it helps you. Comment on the specific thing she did that helped you, "Thanks for picking up your toys, I almost tripped on them so I'm glad they are picked up now." 
    4. Be specific in your praise (page 73) , don't just say "good job." She lists in the back of the book 100 Ways to Say Good Job! LOVED this list. 
    5. Give them chores. It helps them feel a part of the family and teaches responsibility. Kids as young as one year old should be introduced to chores - starting it out as a game. Start by doing your own chores and talking to your kids about what you're doing.
The author explains a lot about using allowances for chores done by kids. She says it's a good way to teach kids about when you do work, you are rewarded. 

"Children in whom responsibility is cultivated at the earliest ages, who are allowed plenty of time and opportunities to become responsible, are not brats. They see the connection between their actions  and the consequences of their behavior, both positive and negative, and they learn to be accountable for the same. Children who are taught responsibility know how to think about the particular situations with which they are confronted. They develop into the people who know how to organize and complete tasks, to set goals and work toward them. Responsible people are trustworthy people. They are on their way to being self-reliant and independent adults." 

Luckily, my son LOVES doing chores like shoveling! 

4. Respect- "thinking of someone else, considering his needs, desires, and position. It is an acknowledgement." (page 86)
  • Don't take your child's possessions / toys away as a form of punishment. It doesn't match the issue. It also is disrespectful to their things. 
  • Respect your child, talk to them like you would talk to a friend. 
  • Teach privacy, knock before entering doors, etc. 
  • Only give away items or clean things out with your 5-year-old + permission, don't do it behind his back, that's disrespectful to his things.
  • State your expectations before going into places like stores, restaurants, etc. and then follow through on consequences.
5. Honesty- Teaching integrity, telling the truth, taking responsibility for actions, following rules, etc. 
  • "Create an environment where it is safe to make mistakes and to tell the truth about them." (page 120) 
  • Communicate. 
  • Praise truth-telling.
  • Don't ask "Are you telling me the truth?" It doesn't encourage truth-telling, it makes 4-5 year olds think "well, if you think I'm lying, then I will lie." (page 123) 
  • When they apologize, move on.
  • With stealing, "Recognize that stealing is a sign that your child needs something." (page 128) Figure out what that might be and talk about it.  Don't tell your child he'll go to jail, it's "not true and fear is not the best teacher."  (page 129)
6. Self-Reliance aka, NOT bored - Don't tell them what to do, let them figure it out themselves, help them to learn by themselves and be independent. 
  • Have rituals daily that don't change, that helps kids become more self-reliant. 
  • Teach him to make choices, give him choices. 
  • Let her experience the world, don't be worried about every possible thing that could happen. 
  • Leave her alone to explore a little bit. 
7. Gratitude - Appreciative, grateful, thankful, happy. 
  • Allow him to not get something and experience what that feels like.
  • Give him less sometimes. 
  • Allow her to work toward earning something.
  • Teach them to say thank you, to appreciate little things.
  • Model to them saying thank you for things they do so they learn to do the same to you.
8. Eliminating Spoilage aka talking money - Teaching values, showing what money is worth, teaching chores, etc. 
  • Teach your child to feel, touch, sort money.
  • Have some cash on you! Most kids these days only see credit and debit cards, barely even see check-writing. Get in the practice of using real money so they see what it's worth.
  • "Include your child in your bill paying beginning when he is 7 years old." (page 189) 
  • Open a bank account for your child as young as six years old. 
  • Allowances and wages are options.
  • Don't bribe them with money "I'll give you $10 for every A you receive," because "Bribery makes it difficult for a child to cultivate intrinsic motivation or even to make the 'right' decisions in the absence of external direction. It also teaches a child to associate achievement with getting paid as opposed to self-satisfaction." (page 197)
  • Don't give a lot of "freebies," like if you're on a work trip, don't always bring something back. Don't set them up to expect things. 
  • Donate and give to others as a family. 
9. Humor! - Lighten up, make it funny, tell jokes, be silly together. 
  • Play! 
  • At dinner, ask your child what made him laugh that day (page 211). 

My favorite part of the book was in the back on page 227, the list of 100 Ways to Say "Good Job!" Here are a few suggestions:
  • You're working so hard.
  • What an imagination!
  • Keep it up.
  • You're really improving.
  • You must be so proud of yourself.
  • You're so kind, thoughtful, helpful, patient...
  • What a genius!
  • You tried really hard.
  • Clever!
  • You're amazing!
  • Thumbs up!
  • Way to go!
  • Great remembering, listening, practicing.
  • Well, look at you! 
Overall, an awesome book. There was too much to share with you here, you have to read this one for yourself. I love these ideas, they are things that all parents dream of when they imagine how their child will turn out. The author of this book gives you specific how-tos that are easy to add to your busy days. It's never too soon to start thinking of the adult our babies will turn into someday, and I believe this book gives us tools and resources for how to help shape our kids into those awesome people we dream of them becoming. 

Happy reading, brat-free parents :) 

Monday, February 16, 2015

getting through the fearless and fun FOURS!

Well, my son turned the Big Five last week! Hooray, we're done with the toddler and preschool years, THANK GOD. We survived! People told me "it will get better, you'll see, just to get age five." I didn't believe them when my Terrible Two-er was hitting every day or running away from me in stores.

Now, my son is five and a week ago we were in a store and he walked alongside the cart. He did not pick up every little thing he saw, nor did he run away from me. He listened when I said he could pick out one thing to buy, and when his 2 year old sister was screeching her head off in a complete tantrum, he offered to help me load the items onto the belt to pay for them. Wow. Never saw this maturity coming so quickly after the tumultuous twos, threes and fours! I'll take it!

I wrote about those tough Terrible Twos here:

And the Tumultuous and Thriving Threes here:

So, now with the Fours. We've just gotten through those now that my son is five. I'm calling these the Fearless and Fun Fours. It's all about doing what they want, when they want, however they want. They were all about the rules at age three, you HAD to follow rules. Or else. But then age four comes along and is all like "what rules? I MAKE my own rules." It's kind of cute. Except for when they are doing what they want and it's not super cute anymore.

Overall though, four wasn't that bad. It was FUN. It was all about learning and seeing what my son knew. He surprised us so much the past year with learning new things. We were past the terrible hitting phase. Past the potty training, even to the point where he'd just tell us he had to go and go himself. What?! We were past the "he got another time out at school today" phase. We'd pick him up and it was like "great day, all is well, perfect guy here!" What?!

Things just seemed to settle in a bit more. The first half of four was still like the threes, kind of all over the place with great moments and challenging behavior. However, the second half of four was full of watching him grow into this little man who now is the Big Five. Pretty cool.

I asked moms in the Mommy Stories Facebook group what they recall from age four. I LOVE what these moms said:

"4 is a great year! Very independent. I feel it is the age that sets apart the 'toddler'-ness to the 'little kid'-ness. So very bitter sweet. They are very independent, inquisitive, and take more initiative." - Jessica

"Needing praise. Jealous of sibling so one on one activities helped. I find moody when bored so pull out arts and crafts often, they want to learn and play a lot."-Cassie

Here are a few tips for getting through and even enjoying the Fearless and Fun Fours:
  • Remind them of the rules. They like to be in charge at age four. They are fearless, after all, they can do what they want. So remind them of rules when you're going places. Set the expectations out there clearly. We play a game when we're going into the doctor's office, church, grocery store, library, etc. where I'd say "OK what type of behavior do I want to see in here today? Do I want to see yelling and running around? Should we just take whatever food we want off the shelves in the store or wait patiently and ask for things we might like? Do we use a big loud voice like this or a quiet voice like this?" It's a game, they laugh. My son always gets the answers right. It's helped tremendously when we go into stores or other locations. Just a quick reminder as I'm parking the car helped. 
  • Give them opportunities to be in charge. I let my son do more chores around the house the second half of age four, because he loves helping out. Kids at age 4 want to be appreciated, to feel like they are the boss, like they contribute. So my son washes our chairs and table, he sets the table at night and puts his dishes away in the sink. He unloads the dishwasher silverware. I also ask him questions I already know answers to like where could we put the milk in the fridge? He picks out his clothes. I don't care which shoes he wears outside. If you give them chances to be the boss, like 4 year olds SO desperately want, they are more likely to cooperate with you on times when you can't have them making the decisions. 
  • Be careful what you say. They hear , see, observe and take in EVERYTHING when they want to or if it sounds exciting. No more are the days where you can talk in front of them about gifts or other things. They understand it all now. 
  • They may look bigger, but they still need you. This is a tricky one, since four year olds just want to have a chance to do it all themselves, act like they are fine without you… but inside their growing taller bodies is still a little kid. They can't do it all themselves. Help to make their world more accessible to them by putting things at their level and allowing them choices when you can. Still remember they will have big emotions sometimes and appear to be like a little toddler again when crying, they need their mama at this point. Make sure you leave plenty of time to go places, do things, get ready, etc. They want to do it all themselves, which means you'll need extra time to help them do things independently so that you both don't get frustrated or lose patience. 
  • Where are your ears?! I swear I've said my son's ears fell off a zillion times in the year of four. It's like he cannot hear me. We even had our son's ears checked in the beginning of the fourth year because I swore he was not hearing anything we were asking him to do. I realized later this is just how fearless four year olds act. They are in charge, not you. They have a mission, an agenda, a big plan. You can't get in the way of that. Plus, they've heard all you've had to say the last few years, they get it now, leave them alone. :) What helped me here was to stop nagging, to stop saying things a zillion times when in another room. Go to the room they are in, get on their level and make sure they are looking at you, even ask them to look at you for a second, then say what you need to say. Talking from downstairs when they are upstairs, threatening to take away a toy or something isn't going to work. It's out of sight, out of mind for them. You need to put a little more effort into what you say so that you only have to say it once or twice instead of seven times ineffectively. 
  • Create learning opportunities. Four year olds soak it all up. They are intrigued by everything, how it works, why it ended up like that, what it means. They ask a lot of questions, really cute questions! They want to know how everything works together. It's awesome observing this level of curiosity. So create opportunities for them to learn. Keep lots of artwork out - my son was obsessed with scissors, cutting paper, stamps, staplers, glue, paint, markers, etc. at this age. He LOVES creating. We put all of those supplies on his level so he could get them at any time he wanted to. He'd be playing trucks or looking at a book and it would make him think up some creative art project to work on. Take them to see new things - museums, aquariums, new playgrounds, etc. Give them lots of dress up costumes to try out new versions of themselves. Four is SO much fun with creative play. Make sure they have a lot at their fingertips to dive right in. 

  • All about learning. They love learning their numbers, how to spell, write their name, etc. So make sure you are thinking about these things and giving them chances to practice. It's all about doing things themselves, too, so teaching them to use the potty alone without assistance, get their drink from the fridge, put their plates in the sink after lunch, put shoes and clothes on themselves, etc. These are good things to practice before heading to Kindergarten anyway so it's good to remember to give them chances to do that this fourth year. Keep lots of books around for them to flip through. Their brains are huge sponges at this time, it's pretty neat to see. 
  • Be consistent. Mean what you say, say what you mean. They are taking stock of what you said yesterday and the day before, whereas before this age four, they didn't really remember, NOW they do remember what you said. If you say you're taking something away or rewarding them, then do it. Incentives, positive reinforcement and sticker charts helped us a lot whenever we did have some negative behaviors happening. 
  • Story telling. Our son learned the art of telling stories and even lying sometimes in the fourth year. It was not the type of lying to avoid getting in trouble each time, but rather wild imagination type story telling about things that sound cool but didn't actually happen. It's a good time to talk about telling the truth, why the truth is important and how lying is hurtful. It's also very normal and developmentally appropriate for four year olds to tell stories, so don't discipline it harshly, but rather teach them to learn from the situation. 

  • Nightmares. The world becomes more real to four year olds. Hearing things on the news or watching scary things in movies - even things you don't see as being that scary to them - can stay in their brains and cause nightmares later on. Our son was up for two weeks straight multiple times in the night this past year due to being terrified of something. We couldn't quite figure it out, but we added night lights and Christmas lights to his room, slept on his floor a few times to help him fall asleep, put his music on repeat a few times, etc. It's very frustrating to have that lack of sleep but more importantly to not be sure what is causing the nightmares. I've read that it's quite common in four year olds to experience nightmares because of their wild imaginations but also because they are really learning new things in the world, which sometimes is not a fun thing. Make sure you know what your child is watching on TV and watch what people are talking about around him. 
  • Help them learn to problem solve. Four year olds are trying to get it all worked out in their busy minds. They can't often get it though, they need help in figuring things out. They want to do things really fast, too, which frustrates them when they can't figure things out as fast as their minds are wanting to go. When they get frustrated, get on their level, stay calm yourself, look in their eyes, and try to reassure them that you're there to help, ask them to talk slowly to explain what they are asking for. I have a big thing in our house that we say, when the kids say "I can't do it," which my four year old was saying often since he was trying to do things so quickly and couldn't figure it out. I always say "We don't say 'I can't,' we say 'I need…." and they always fill it in with what I'm looking for, "I need help." Teaching our kids to ask for help is a good life skill. They also ask why a lot… so it's a good idea to add in the answer why, the logical reasons for what you are requesting of them, as you state your request. 
  • Hey, where'd you learn to do that?! Surprises all the time with what they learn to do in year 4. It's awesome. My son was playing with Legos for the first time at a friend's house last month and he built these amazing cars and buildings. I was shocked he even knew where to begin making those things. He knows how to spell his whole name now, and count to 20 and beyond. He remembers everything. It's really cool watching your once toddler who could barely say a few words turn into this talking-working-planning-problem solving machine who is almost ready for school. This is the best part about four. 
  • Getting OUT there. Being four is all about staying busy, active and moving those feet. It's an awesome age for things like soccer or swim lessons. Our son did both of those lessons at age 3 1/2 and it was hard for him to listen, pay attention, stay focused on what the coach was asking, and to do an activity for a long time. Fast forward to the next summer, age 4 1/2, and he was one of the best kids on the team! It was a HUGE difference in how much he could focus and stay in the game. Age four is great for learning new things, being part of a team, and starting to realize the rules of the world, like pay attention while the coach is talking and wait your turn. Sharing the ball and being a good friend - great things to learn, that come from being part of something like a soccer team or preschool. Whether you are home with your child or not, send him out there to some group sports or lessons or even preschool. Four year olds are social butterflies, they like to get out and learn from their peers. 
  • Peer relationships are forming. I found with age four that my son was talking more and more to me about his peers at preschool - what they said, did, who got in timeout, who didn't listen to the teacher, his thoughts on their Halloween costume or the show n' tell toy they brought in that he really wants for Christmas, etc. Every day when I picked him up at age 3 from preschool it was one-word answers to tell me about his day, he couldn't remember what he ate for lunch or any activities. Then age 4 1/2 he was all about telling me every detail. As a school counselor who knows teenagers later in their childhood are against talking to parents because they say their parents won't listen or will freak out over things… I encourage you all to really listen to your children, and for me I've found it truly started at age 4. My son would get very upset about a friend who wouldn't play with him on the slides that day or about a friend who had time out and how he thinks time out is really bad and why is his friend acting up like that? Listen to this, offer solutions and coach him. "Well, next time that boy throws something at you, what can you do? That's right, ask him to stop and if he doesn't, then you go tell the teacher." This is where you set the groundwork for when he's in public school and encountering more situations with peers. 

Resources about four year olds:

Overall, four is full of fearless activities and exploring. It's mostly fun, less challenging than the toddler years. 

The hardest part about four for us was keeping up with our son's demands - he wanted to do and see and be everything! Also the hardest part was the not listening. It's very frustrating and you lose patience sometimes with having to ask something five times. What helped me was getting on his level, not be talking to him from a room away. Also what helped was not saying "I've asked you again to put your shoes on before we leave the house," but instead simply saying, "Owen, shoes." 1-2 words makes them less apt to tune you out with a long drawn-out lecture. Also, we had to practice the "one thing at a time" rule. I found I was asking him to do multiple things at once, which is a good thing for them to learn at this age in preparation for school… but take it slowly, tell them one thing at a time, then add another thing once you know he's listened to you. 

Here are some resources for teaching your kids to listen more:

HAVE FUN! Next up is the BIG FIVE. 
Wow, where did time go?! :)