The Overscheduled Child

Children have a lot of free-time during their young lives. This free-time is often good for them, increasing their independence and improving imagination and creativity. However, the organic and idyllic times of “just playing outside” sailed away quite a while ago. These days, free-time is often jeopardized by screen-time.

Screens Always Win

Even in school, children have cellphones and are required to do much of their schoolwork using a computer. This means they have this constant distraction, a digital temptation. Many parents wage war against screens, limiting time using parental controls; however, the screen always wins. My four year old child is in a dayhome for 8 hours a day, has a class once a week, and a pet to walk with me every evening and I still have to restrict screen time. Unless there is another activity to take children away from them, the screen-time wins the free-time!

Overscheduling Myths and Theories

In 2008, a report regarding overscheduled children was published by a non-profit group called Child Trends. At the time of publication, many theories regarding overscheduling children leaned towards the notion that overscheduling had negative effects, and children suffered as a result of too many activities. Contrary to this belief, Child Trends showed that children exposed to overscheduled activities had higher self-esteem, were able to maintain balance in their lives naturally, and had lower rates of drug and alcohol use in later years. These same children also spent more time doing schoolwork, playing informal games, and doing household chores than other children, and still watched TV! How?

They spent less time in front of computers and video games. You can view the publication here.

In 2016, a documentary titled “Screenagers” was released. It explored the challenges of parenting in the digital age and exposed the theory regarding overscheduling children. Psychologists and brain scientists revealed how internet addictions, social media, and video games increased stress and anxiety and reduced the ability to maintain a healthy life balance. Screenagers also goes into detail on how to reduce friction within the home regarding screen-time: scheduling of course! Click here.

Of course, as a parent, we are drawn to other articles regarding children that are depressed or anxious as a result of being too busy. While this has not been proven, the alternative to overscheduling is free‑time, where a child has the freedom to explore the world and create their own fun. The reality, though, is that playing outside, making up a game of your own, or daydreaming in a corner isn’t easy when a screen, of one form or another, is in every room of the home, and sometimes in your back pocket.

Who Can Schedule Their Family

Screenagers, which is based around families with teenagers, emphasizes the divide between those families with the time and income to increase their child’s amount of extracurricular activities. However, scheduling a child, even ones as young as mine, with a starter-family income, is very feasible! For instance, we purchase one class at a time through our local recreation centre (classes that usually accommodate the entire family to get our monies worth). Additionally, their Grandpa is big into soccer and practices with the boys once a week on “Blog Night.” We schedule arts and crafts time, and park time on weekends. And I even schedule household chores into my children’s lives; right before bedtime, we start cleaning the house together. This also adds to our bedtime routine and keeps me from losing my mind in a dirty home.

How Many Activities

There is no set rule for the amount of scheduling and which kinds are optimal. Researchers agree that it all depends on the child. Additionally, allowing for some downtime is necessary to accommodate relaxation and family-time. The key is to find the balance between activities and unscheduled downtime. You want to minimize boredom, which is often the cause for excessive screen-time. Watch your children or talk to them for indications of what kind of scheduling is beneficial to them to limit screen-time.

Sever the Screen Connection

Like educators, researchers, and exasperated parents everywhere, you and your family can embrace the benefits of a scheduled lifestyle to reduce screen-time and increase your family’s self-esteem! Not to mention productivity!

By scheduling sports, crafts, social interactions, outdoor activities, and household chores, you’re ensuring your child is busy with creative, mind-stimulating, and stress-reducing activities. The activities you choose are up to you and your child!

Apologizing to Kids

My son came up to me the other day to tell me that one of his family members had pushed him and didn’t say sorry. The family member was within earshot and came right over to say that “No, no, no, I didn’t do that,” making my son feel embarrassed for telling me. It hurt me to see that my son was conflicted with telling the truth, feeling embarrassed, and learning that apologizing was seen as a ‘bad thing’ all within one single event. It was also a tough situation for me as I was then faced with criticizing an adult, taking the word of a preschooler over them, and scolding someone that wasn’t my child. It certainly wasn’t an easy situation for anyone, but what parenting moment is?

Look at Apologies in Your House

I recall when I was a child. I was no stranger to mistakes and I certainly stole a toy or two from my siblings. The instant I made a mistake, I was chastised for an apology and was expected to deliver one on the spot. Children today are treated no different but when an adult makes a mistake, especially wronging a child, they often delay or don’t offer an apology. The reasoning could be embarrassment, believing that it was too small of a mistake for an apology or that no one would notice. The reason could also be that they believe they are too old and wise for apologies or that children aren’t smart enough to understand the mistake made. It could also be due to adults believing that apologies are a sign of weakness and that children would no longer respect them or would start to take advantage of them.

Whatever the reasoning, the opposite is the case. All mistakes warrant an apology, children really do see everything, no one is ever too old to make a mistake, children are very intelligent and empathy is build right into them, and children do not view our actions as signs of weakness, only as moments to learn from and mimic.

The Importance of Apologizing

There are numerous benefits to apologizing to a child, so many that I’ve barely succeeded at summarizing them into a blog.

First of all, children watch our every move and aspire to be just like us. They learn much more from our actions than from our words. Recall building your child’s foundation, as discussed in so many other blogs? The ones about dental hygiene, sports, or proper nutrition? Empathy and kindness are no different when it comes to building connections and memories in your child’s behavioural blueprint. Your child will mimic your actions, so when you’ve used strong language, broken promises, or even accidentally bumped them to the ground, they won’t just remember what you did but how to responded after the fact. Build the blueprint to include a genuine apology, being the role-model for them and leading by example. It’s a guarantee they will use your guiding principle when they make their own mistakes.

Genuinely apologizing to children also strengthens the bond we share with them and lets them know we are listening and care about them and their feelings. They are people too and grow from positive self-esteem knowing that you think of them as an equal. This gives them, and you, the knowledge that everyone has worth and is equally human, no matter the virtue of their age or relationship to one another. By watching you apologize, your child learns to distinguish right from wrong. You also grow in the eyes of your child, and that cements the bond of mutual respect that you share.

Apologizing to children also helps them learn to take responsibility for their actions, just as you have done by modelling a sincere apology. It teaches them the virtue of honesty and how to be accountable. When adults accept their follies and apologize, it sends a very strong message – that everyone makes mistakes and the right way to make amends is to accept it and do what it takes to make it right. Hiding a mistake or lying about it sends the worst of messages to a child. It tells them you are above others and they will mimic this behaviour and feelings when interacting with others. Instead, be honest, own the mistake, apologize genuinely, and make amends by resolving it. No one is perfect, so show your child how you rise after you’ve made a mistake. Take responsibility, and be honest and accountable.

If you hadn’t guessed it yet, there are also benefits for the parent who practices apologies. It builds our self-esteem too by accepting one’s mistakes and doing the right thing by making amends. It also presents opportunities for adults to learn and grow. If you find yourself apologizing, take a moment to learn from the experience, whether that be learning how not to make a similar mistake or how to make the most of your apology.

What Not to Teach a Child

What your child will learn if you don’t apologize for a folly is shocking and not worth the risk. They will make the assumption that apologizing means you’ve done something bad, or that you are bad. They will assume there’s a feeling of shame attached to apologizing and will be hesitant to apologize when they make their own mistakes. They will also learn that it’s okay to damage a relationship and not acknowledge it or try to repair it. It’s likely that they won’t show or feel respect for others. They will also assume that when you apologize, you lose your status. A parent or adult has the most status in a child’s life and if you are scared to apologize for fear of showing weakness, a child will also fear the same and not show remorse. Lastly, a child will learn that apologizing is something you wouldn’t want to do unless you were forced to. This leads them to being dishonest and lack responsibility and accountability.

Don’t underestimate your child, they certainly do learn by example, so avoid making the additional mistake of not apologizing. You will gain more by taking the time and effort to do the right thing for your child.

How to Give a Genuine Apology

Apologize easily and often. Even for very small “Oops” moments where a short “Sorry!” is appropriate, be sure to admit it readily. Small apologies like this show your child that apologies are just a part of life, as are mistakes that accompany them. Anytime you act in a way that you wouldn’t want your child to, like accidentally interrupting someone who is speaking, offer an apology to show your child that it’s easy and natural to do the right thing.

“Oops! Sorry bud, I didn’t see you there!”

“Oops, sorry for interrupting you!”

Always apologize when you lose your cool. Grown-ups have tantrums too and it’s critical that we explain that we had an emotion, but the action that accompanied the emotion was not acceptable. There’s no need to apologize for setting limits, but it is important to enforce limits with a calm, respectful manner.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you for not staying in your bed. That was my mistake and I should not have gotten angry. I do need you to stay in bed at bedtime. How can I make it easier for you to stay in bed?”

If your child thinks something was a big deal and wants an apology, acknowledge that, even if you don’t think it was. There will certainly be times when you think an action was worth an apology but your child doesn’t. You will want to role model good behaviour at all times to ensure your child respects the feelings of others.

“I’m very sorry for stepping on your play-doh ball. I did not see it and I’m sorry. I know you’re upset. Is there a way I can help fix it?”

By apologizing for all shapes and sizes of mistakes, this also ensures your child will feel comfortable telling you any mistake that he or she thinks is afoot. This was particularly helpful to me as I struggled with leaving my children at dayhomes. Knowing that my child was comfortable telling me everything and never felt embarrassed to come to me was a huge emotional load off of my shoulders.

Also, always resist the urge to blame. Many of us start off by apologizing and then veering off to an excuse, like why you did what you did. This normally comes in the form of using “but.”

“I should not have thrown out your toy, but you should not have thrown it at your brother.”

Everything that was said before the “but” no longer has any meaning. Your child will not learn how to properly apologize without strong examples. It’s important to deliver a full apology after describing what happened.

“You threw a toy at your brother. Then I threw the toy in the garbage. I’m sorry, I should not have yelled at you or thrown out your toy. I am very sorry for yelling and for throwing out your toy. Please go apologize to your brother.”

It’s a very good strategy to explain the events leading up to a mistake, but do not let the explanation ruin a good apology by making excuses. A child needs to know that what you did was a mistake if they are to learn what they did was a mistake. By saying you threw out their toy because they deserved it for throwing it at their brother, they will in turn rationalize their mistake by thinking their brother deserved it.

The Take Away

When I was faced with my difficult situation, I am very proud to say that I took my son’s side, knowing what I know of the importance of apologies. I calmly told the accused that a real apology was required because it will show my son that his feelings are important and that all mistakes, even accidents, warrant an apology. It had the added benefits of showing the adults that mistakes do not have to be a big deal and that the littlest of children learn from the behaviours of adults. I was proud to stick up for my child and teach everyone involved, including him, that he has value.

Risky Play

Have you ever found yourself enjoying a nice cup of tea and watching the morning news in peace when suddenly a pint-sized person jumps from the arm of the couch into your unsuspecting face?

Children love risky play, especially my children. They are constantly looking for ways to increase the thrill of the game, even if it means sacrificing safety. The purpose (other than to give me a heart attack) is to increase the fun and explore the rules of their environment.

 

A Learning Technique

Risky play is a learning technique – what I mean by this is that when children are engaging in risky play, they are conducting a science experiment (without knowing it). They are using reasoning and chance, as scary as it is, to determine what they are comfortable with, and what their bodies and environment will allow.

 

Benefits of Risk

Risk management skills, along with self-confidence, resilience, and reducing the chance of injury, are all learnings a child gains from engaging in risky play.

I know what you are about to ask; how can risky play reduce the chance of injury? The science tells us that those children who engage is risky play have a much greater understanding of what is likely to cause injury. A child that has continually experimented with tree climbing knows the best routes to take, which trees are safe to climb, and how to go back the way they came.

If you had never climbed a tree as a small child and then are asked to climb one as an adult, your body, being longer and stronger, would allow you to climb to the top without difficulty. But now you’re in a pickle because you’re at the top of a tree and don’t know how to get down. A child can only climb as high as his or her body and environment allows, not to the top. They take small steps as they mature, pushing themselves just as much as is allowable.

 

A Young Life Without Risk

Risky play certainly seems dangerous and it can result in injury, so why hasn’t natural selection weeded it out?

Experiments have been done on rats to deprive them of risky play and the outcome was less than appealing. The researchers did not deprive them of other types of socializing, just risky play, and they found that the rats grew up emotionally crippled. When faced with the unknown, instead of showing curiosity and adaptability like their risky play counterparts, the emotionally crippled rats would seize up in fear or lash out with aggression (click here). Not a rat-ical way to grow up.

On the flipside, the science has shown that risky play has quite the evolutionary advantage. I’m sure everyone can recall their puppy or kitten play wrestling with them or another animal. Perhaps to wolf cubs, this is practice for later squabbles over meals. Monkeys will leap for branches that are just within reach, pushing themselves further and further each time. This experience will certainly come in handy when leaping away from challengers. Certainly one of the most perilous types of risky play can be seen in mountain goats (kids) that frolic on incredibly steep, rocky slopes. Undoubtedly this will make them hard prey to catch. All animals engage in risky play and it benefits them tremendously.

Freedom + Fear = Thrill (Danger)

So now that we are all aware that risky play is a benefitting activity to engage in, should we just let our youngsters have at it – absolutely not. There are still real dangers in hazardous play (which often accompanies risky play), so parents have to be vigilant in identifying and removing the hazards.

Risk – The possibility of something happening

Hazard – A potential source of danger

Hazards are often beyond a child’s ability to recognize. Risks are uncertainties that a child often recognizes and challenges (click here).

Back to our lovely tree example, the child sees a challenge and is uncertain about what will happen if they climb to a certain branch. What the child does not recognize is that the branch they’ve chosen to climb to has rotted out – a hazard the parent needs to control. Removing the hazard can be done by removing the branch, or, even better, teaching the child how to recognize rotted branches. By controlling the hazards, the child is still able to engage in risky play without an increase in the chance of injury.

Risk now equals hazards divided by parental safeguards.

 

Risky Play in Your Community

I love the tree examples I’ve shared with you but when I look around the current area where I’ve chosen to raise my family, not many trees pop out to say “climb me.”

Living in a city rather than countryside can seem a little challenging when it comes to engaging in risky play, but it’s important to note that risky play hotspots can be found anywhere! Your local park, your backyard, your living room – anywhere! When it was too cold and slippery outside for hazardless risky play, my family and I set up an obstacle course throughout the house. My preschooler would run and jump from chair to chair and my toddler would bound into piles of pillows. When we play in the backyard, my kids love to use the short beam surrounding my yard to perfect their gymnastic skills. The chance of a small drop to the grassy lawn below certainly livens up the game! And local parks encourage plenty of risky play activities with its monkey bars, twisty slides, and swings. All you have to do to be a vigilant parent in these scenarios is to remove debris, check for the correct signage for safety standards, and be a helping hand when your child needs it!

To find out more on how Canada is improving your child’s access to independent and unstructured outdoor play, click here.

 

Last Note on Inspiring Yourself

“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

 

Please feel free to leave a comment or story about the risks you and your child take together!

Bed Sharing

Bed Sharing with Toddlers

Recently, my younger son, Polar Bear, has been finding it difficult to sleep through the night without finding his way to my bed. In the very wee hours of the morning, I can often hear his stumbling footsteps down the corridor between our two rooms. I doze in and out as I listen to his “Mama, mama, dou,” semantics. Roughly translated to English, I think this is “Mommy, where are you?”

Then I’m jolted awake as he throws open my bedroom door and, like a heat seeking missile, launches himself into the folds of covers that are around me.

Usually, I am able to fall back to sleep and endure the unprovoked and startling knee jerks to the back and elbow jabs to the face. Some nights, I just needed my mommy sleep and I gently corral him back to his bed or play musical beds and find another place to lay my head. Other nights, I enjoy the nighttime snuggles and wonder if there are negatives to bed sharing.

The Truths about Bed Sharing

The Canadian Pediatric Society does not recommend bed sharing with children under the age of one as it isn’t safe. Bed sharing with infants can be dangerous due to the increased risk of SIDS and suffocation. Please click here to learn more about these dangers and how to prevent them.

For children over the age of one, there doesn’t appear to be a general consensus on bed sharing among experts. Many see it as benefiting children through bonding. Others saw it as disrupting a child’s social skills and independence. A great deal more seem not to take a stance.

However, a study conducted in 2011 helped debunk the 21st century thoughts that bed sharing may decrease a child’s developmental progress. When factoring in the socio-economic factors of the 944 families observed with children aged 1 to 5, there were no obvious developmental or behavioural issues noted between the children who shared a bed with their parents and didn’t. An anthropologist who looked at the study also mentioned that children may have instinctive sleep needs that don’t match our modern-day parenting sleep expectations (click here).

As a parent of young children, I can understand their little person instinct to want to be close to someone who provides comfort and security when woken in the middle of the night. My children use me as a shield for most unpleasant experiences they face; meeting strange dogs at the park, making new friends at their dayhome, trying new sporting activities, and even tasting new green, leafy vegetables. So why shouldn’t they want my comfort and experience when faced with darkness? Surely, it’s only natural, no question, but I, like many, have a modern day life with a modern day career, so I do need my children to be modern day sleepers, at least on weekdays.

Sleep Retraining

Now Polar Bear used to be a model sleeper, just like his brother, sleeping soundly all night and going back to sleep easily if woken. One night, something woke him and, foolishly, I brought him to my bed to comfort him. Since then, he came looking for me about once or twice a month in the middle of the night. It normally did not affect me too much because it wasn’t too often and I was able to get the sleep I required to function the following day. More recently, however, it became once or twice a week, which greatly affected my daily performance at everyday tasks.

I had to get Polar Bear to be comfortable sleeping in his own bedroom for my sanity. And since he was already a model sleeper, retraining him wouldn’t be too hard (or so I thought)!

Sleep retraining Polar Bear wasn’t easy. True, I was starting with a ready-made pro that I had just made a small lapse in nighttime guidance, but he was a stubborn little man and had already gotten to a place of expected nightly snuggles; it had already sunk in that Mommy would comfort him until he fell asleep (if she was too tired to put up a fight). Funny how fast their learned behaviour develops, isn’t it? But, I knew how to retrain him, just like the first time, when he was a small baby. And just like the first time, I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.

Sleep Training a Toddler

It turns out sleep training a toddler isn’t quite as easy as sleep training a baby. It turns out they can stay awake for much longer periods of time than a baby. They also make a heck of a lot more noise. Polar Bear easily woke his brother on multiple occasions and I would have to endure both boys pining for me in the middle of the night. But I persisted, taking these crucial pieces of advice (click here) along the way: pick a good time to start, be persistent, and give plenty of praise!

Pick a good night to start – First, I made sure it was a good night to begin this process. For my situation, this meant a weekend so that we could both sleep in if Mommy-Toddler arguments went well into the night. I also waited until he no longer had a cold and could sleep soundly once asleep. Was he in the midst of changing routines or potty training? Nope, another green light that it was the right time to start.

Stick to the routine – My children and I follow a simple bedtime routine before lights out. This routine consists of brushing our teeth and reading 5 board books (the last one is a goodnight themed one). If your family has a nightly routine, stick to it. When children are able to predict what will happen next, they feel secure and safe (click here). This is especially important to a child learning to comfort themselves during the night.

Lights out and listen – Now this is the tough part, especially if you didn’t handle the baby “cry-it-out” stage well. If your child is like mine, they can dish out explosive fury. I would sit outside his door and wait for him to open it, each time walking him back to his bed and giving him a stern look after explaining that he needed to stay in his bed. In his day, my older son handled this tactic moderately well, only pining for another book or glass of water. Polar Bear just pierces me with dirty looks (we call it the Polar Bear Glare) and clenched fists before letting out angry growls as I closed the bedroom door. Every child is different and they will probably try multiple tactics to make you give in, but it’s important to stay strong!

Nightly gambles – Polar Bear would try his luck at climbing into my bed in the early morning hours. This was the toughest part of our relationship. Mostly because this was the time when I was least motivated to win and because he had already won so many times in the past. But I was resilient and marched him back, hand in hand, to his bed every time he tried.

The victorious morning after – This was the best part of our battles, the morning party held just for him! I would deliver plenty of praise (and gratitude) that he spent the whole night in his bed. His favourite part, other than having the pleasure of picking his own morning juice box, was being called a “big boy just like his brother.”

This did make my older son mimic those Polar Bear Glares!

From One Parent to Another

If you struggle with nightly visits from your child, fear not! You can try some of the tactics here knowing that whatever you try, consistency and persistence always wins! On the other hand, bed sharing does not have negative impacts to your child (just to your sanity), so if you cherish the moments that seem to fly by so quickly, keep snuggling them!

Pick Me Up Mommy

Pick Me Up, Mommy

This evening, as I was preparing supper, leaning against the kitchen counter, a little person with a little set of hands pushed and poked until he was between me and the counter, entirely determined on obtaining my undivided attention. He reached up towards me and, without saying a word, indicated with his big blue eyes exactly what his motive was – pick me up, mommy.

My heart melted as it normally does when one of my children are being affectionate. Without skipping a beat, I scooped him up in my arms and planted a big kiss on his cheek. And here’s why:

Affection – The Importance of It

When you respond to a baby who requires your attention or needs your care, you are strengthening their ability to trust. This decreases stress levels, which increases the ability to learn new concepts.

You cannot spoil babies by responding to their needs. Babies cry because something is wrong. At birth, crying is the only form of communication available to them, their first learned form of communication. As they age, they learn more forms of communication, but crying was the first form, so they use it throughout childhood (and sometimes as adults!).

A survey conducted by the University of Michigan looked at the parenting knowledge of 3,000 adults in 1997. The results indicated that 62% of adults incorrectly believed a six-month-old could be spoiled. It also indicated that 44% of parents and 60% of grandparents thought that by picking up a three-month‑old every time he cried, it would spoil him (click here).

This survey, although older, indicates that not all adults know why babies cry or what babies need, which in short, is affection and reassurance. Use this knowledge when you’re in a situation when someone criticizes your parenting techniques (we’ve all been there). The studies speak for themselves and know that when you respond with affection, you are doing the right thing for your child.

Ability – It’s Not Always Possible

But sometimes it’s not always possible to pick up your child, is it? When you’re carrying a large pile of groceries or already carrying one child, you must make exceptions or have some back-up forms of attention, correct?

Quite recently, I underwent minor surgery which came with doctor’s orders; I was unable to pick up my children for one month (or vacuum or drive, but I was okay with those). With a son who was only seventeen months old at the time, and fully into the carry-me-everywhere stage, twined with an occasionally jealous three-and-a-half-year-old, I had to come up with some crafty alternatives to avoid using my stomach muscles. Here’s how I got by:

Alternatives – Try These on for Size

I would encourage them to walk with me by making it into a game. We incorporated running, jumping (not me), singing, skipping and dancing into the mix. My children had fun keeping the beat going while we would make our way to various destinations. And because they are competitive little boys, we seemed to always arrive with time to spare. I’d say turning adventures to the grocery store or friend’s house into a friendly competition that involved bonding worked the majority of the time. Hooray!

However, my children aren’t always so easily inspired to be independent, as I’m sure no one’s are. Sometimes they just needed to be with a parent to feel safe and reassured. During these moments, I found that kneeling down beside them and cuddling with them on the floor for a minute or two gave them exactly and what the doctor ordered (literally)! I found that these cuddle moments were most often required during times of change or stress, such as changing routines or being worn out. A little bit of affection and talking with them gave me more insight into their needs and gave them the opportunity for some on-on-one mommy-cuddles!

Lastly, if you’re really in a jam and don’t have the ability to play a game or cuddle, I also had two backup methods. My younger son did really well with distraction methods, such as food and toys. We would still bond and he would develop trust by interacting with me and getting what he needed. I found my older child did really well with explanations and tasks. I did explain to him that mommy had a big scratch on her tummy and couldn’t carry him, then I would give him a big boy task to inspire his independence and encourage him. Although this worked extraordinarily well in the moment, he would also lovingly, and with what I can only assume was concern, tell everyone we came across that I had a big scratch on my stomach.

Whatever the crafty alternative, it’s important that children receive the same level of bonding they would if they were being held. You will be able to tell that by the level of fun and trust they are exhibiting during the alternative strategy.

More Information

As all new parent’s know, it’s essential to get all the good information right from the start, including how babies develop trust! If you’re looking for more information on the benefits of picking up and holding your little person, KARA’s free Nobody’s Perfect program has all the tools! This program focuses on the basics of parenting a young child, including helping children learn and develop new skills, among other topics. So feel free to pick up the phone (and your baby!) today!

Sibling Rivalry

As a parent of two, I sometimes worry that my children will encounter/experience sibling rivalry. My
children have fairly opposite personalities; while one is fairly shy and contemplative, the other is
boisterous and affectionate. But they both experience jealousy and have a temper to match that of a wild animals.

I do sometimes see one physically or emotionally hurt the other. And I know there is no stopping these
experiences; as a child, I endured it myself, and have relayed stories to those who have shared their sibling rivalry anecdotes with me. They tend to be the most hilarious stories to share. My children are young and have constant supervision in which intervention is continual, so fighting is fleeting, and effects are not permanent, but rather educational. I find it’s easy to teach them to be gentle and have empathy when they are so young, so I use these moments as a tool to prevent future fighting that could have bigger impacts. After all, it’s going to happen either way, so I use them to my Mommy advantage.

Why Children Fight:
· To get attention from their parents (“surely making my brother cry will get my mom to stop
cooking that horrible supper and pick me up”)
· To feel powerful (“I rarely have any say in what I eat or when I sleep but I can impose my
superiority over something that barely moves more than a potted plant”)
· Boredom (“annoying my brother while he is trying to watch his favourite show is so much more
fun than playing with the same old toys again”)
· To release energy (“why run when I can jump on someone who isn’t expecting it, from a great
height of course”)

What Children Learn from Fighting:
· They learn to manage, cope, and survive power struggles (“he won this round… but I’ll be back”)
· They learn to resolve conflicts by being open, communicative, sharing, and taking responsibility
for one’s actions (“I’m responsible for breaking the toy and he is responsible for my black eye”)
· They learn to be assertive and to stand up for themselves (“excuse me, I believe that’s my Barbie
Playdoh play set you are stealing”)
· They learn to negotiate and compromise (“okay, you take the heat for smearing diaper cream all
over the room and I’ll give you half of my dessert”)

Through general parenting (or lack of parenting skills I should say), I’ve learning fighting can be influenced by physical factors such as hunger, illness, and fatigue. Addressing these needs often has a happy outcome, especially for the child experiencing the wrath of their grouchy sibling. My younger child, my Polar Bear, is a feisty little guy and will assert dominance over toys, often tackling his older brother while he isn’t looking to obtain them. However, my more docile child, my Grizzly Bear, can become very troublesome when tired. He often becomes giddy and flat out ignores rules, particularly the rule about jumping off of furniture.

This usually ends with Polar Bear getting squashed as his brother finds new ways
to entertain himself. Children grow through phases where fighting has different effects on them as they view the world differently through each stage.

Preschoolers
· These little tykes live in a dog-eat-dog world in which there is lots of fighting and parents must
intervene frequently

Young School-aged Children
· These impressionable minds adhere to a new rule, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, and
parents intervene less and less

Older School-aged Children
· This law and order stage is a society where the children themselves use rules to guide actions and
determine fairness and parents, well, relax

High School and Beyond
· Yes, they have a human conscience now and resolve conflicts with techniques learned in earlier
phases (they still make poor decisions regarding safety and finances)

As my children are still both preschoolers, living in their dog-eat-dog world, it’s in my and my husband’s
nature to be in constant supervision mode. However, it’s important for us to remember that these first
five years are the foundation in which they will build the rest of their lives. I can’t stop, only teach.

Some Helpful Tips
· Encourage communication and understanding of feelings; help your children develop a sense of
empathy and respect for their siblings’ feelings
· Teach them how to resolve problems and let them know you believe they can be creative about
finding solutions
· Treat your children as the unique individuals that they are; if they are energetic and boisterous,
teach them to ask for high-fives rather than become physical; if they are sensitive and
communicative, teach them to strike conversations and make deals rather than scream
· Stay out of arguments that are harmless bickering, but don’t walk away; supervise the solutions
that they develop so that you can praise and encourage them And try to enjoy the young years full of bickering children, after all, these are the foundational years.

Remember how they learned these skills because they will be using them for the rest of their lives!

Separation Anxiety

I went back to work early with each of my children. With my Grizzly Bear, I returned to work at 10 months and with Polar Bear, 5 months. Each time, I was anticipating returning to work and leaving my children in the care of their allomother (see Blog 5), so I prepared myself, as well as my children, for the eventuality of separation anxiety.

I found, through research and attending KARA’s Grow With Me program, that separation anxiety was a wonderful developmental milestone that all children go through when developing the awareness of object permanence and apprehension to new situations. I know what you’re thinking, did you just read the word “wonderful”? Is this woman out of her mind? My child screaming and clinging to my body while other people pry him off so I can dash to my car is wonderful?

Let me be frank. My children never experienced the type of separation anxiety that you hear about. The ones that make you anxious and dread the day you need to drop your kids off somewhere. I’d like to say it’s because I’m a phenomenal mother or because I raised my little Bears to trust the entire world around them (which would actually be more frightening tome) but probably more likely that genetics played a role or that their dayhome allomother is a better caregiver than I am… (something else I’d like not to think about) so let’s get back to it!

Because I did experience an over the top, sweat behind your knees, and cringe in anticipation separation anxiety disorder the likes of which you’ve probably never dealt with, for a grand total of five years. Yes, five years. My experience with separation anxiety story occurred before doing my research and attending Grow With Me.

Before knowing that object permanence means that “Mom still exists but she isn’t here!? Where did she go? Did she just leave me here? If I scream loud enough, she’ll hear me and come back, right!?” Or before knowing children are genetically apprehensive of the new and that recognition is a huge component to cognitive development, so if I change my hair colour,the child is thinking “I don’t know this person! She looks completely different than yesterday!

This is not good, it’s just not good and she’s dead wrong if she thinks she can pull off black hair!”If you’ve guessed that my black hair phase was right in the middle of my babysitter career, you’d be correct. I babysat a child (and his siblings) for five years during my undergrad. And this littleboy loved his Mommy. In a way, I’m actually jealous. My Canadian Bears never put on a show of love like that. But I’m also grateful, because that child went through a turmoil of emotions each and every day.His Mom would call me up and ask if I had time to watch them for just a few short hours here and there, it was never a full-time gig.

She also would invite me over for help so she could complete chores around the house. This would also entail her going outside for a cigarette, where she’d only be absent for a few minutes, but the briefness of the absence didn’t seem to matter.Her child would shake the house with his displeasure. After a while, even the sight of me would trigger the anticipation of his mother leaving, and silent tears would start to role down his face hours before she would leave.I’m sure you can pick out the wrong strategies his mother and I used from these small windows now. As it wasn’t full-time and the days/hours were never consistent, the child never developed a sense of routine. It was always sprung on him and we never gave him time to adjust. When his mother would go outside to smoke, he could still see her through the window. The “out of sight,out of mind” combined with distraction practice that many of us use didn’t apply here.

Furthermore, seeing me well in advance of his mother leaving the house, lingering and anxious herself, never sat well in his tummy.Still, we had our fun with playing hide and seek, crafts, taking walks, and watching his favourite programs. You may think that five years of separation anxiety is a bit extreme but I know for a fact that they were able to overcome it because I still babysit them from time to time (althoughher youngest pretty much babysits mine while I have a lie down). And I know that their bond is undeniably strong.

Just this past weekend, their Mom told me “My youngest son brings me soup, he is my sweetest,my oldest daughter talks with me, she is my confidant, but he, he is enduring with love.”If you want more information and tips on how to make separation with your young child easier on both of you, I strongly recommend Parents Canada magazine and KARA’s Grow With Me free drop-in program. Parents Canada is full of advice from experts and their information on separation anxiety stems directly from the University of Toronto and pediatricians. I use ParentsCanada for research on behavioural patterns of children, mostly to see what stages my children are coming to next. They also have fantastic recipes.

The Grow With Me program I attended at KARA during both of my maternity leaves was educational and inspiring. The ladies that facilitated that program introduced me to the importance of routines and being honest with my children. The do’s and don’ts really did work as I sought the perfect dayhome for my kids. If you and your child are struggling with separation, give these two resources a try; they won’t disappoint you!

Bedtime Routines

When I first started researching bedtime routines (I was probably halfway along in my first pregnancy) I found some pretty interesting information. I knew that my husband and I wanted to include reading (at least twenty minutes a night), bathing (who doesn’t want to wash and pamper a little newborn?), and cuddling up with a little tune (I was very excited for this part!).

So, I checked out the information at hand. What I learned through googling, reading Alberta Health Care books, and talking with friends and family, albeit informational, nowhere near provided me for the little Grizzly Bear I was about to bring home. The rest of my three years of parental insight came from plain, old, on-the-job, firsthand experience – something every parent should remember.

What I did learn through research provided me with two tidbits of information that were extremely helpful; don’t start any routine that you don’t want to continue doing until you have a teenager and don’t bathe your baby too often.

The first one made sense right away. I certainly didn’t want to complete an hour-long ritual for bedtime or deal with a tantrum every night I’m unable to complete the routine. The second one made sense to me, as I’d studied microbiology in college. It didn’t make sense to my husband, so I explained: the societal mentality on cleanliness eradicates necessary microbes from our bodies, leaving room for pathogens.

Simply put, if I wash my son every day, the little microbes that are on his skin, the good microbes that I introduced to him by birthing him, breastfeeding him, and kissing him, would be continually under attack from the bath time wash cloth, leaving them unable to battle for space against new, potentially harmful microbes. So, we limited baths to twice a week, one bath with soap, the other with water, and occasional ones whenever he was actually dirty. This also worked with our busy lifestyle, especially when we introduced our little Polar Bear into the mix, making life just that much busier.

On-the-job training, with no manager, supervisor, or foreman available for questioning, was a bit different. Obviously, we let our baby be a baby, we fed him when he woke, cuddled him continuously, and read to him occasionally.

When our baby became a toddler (one year, yay!) we were so excited to start doing the actual bedtime routine and have him SLEEP THROUGH THE
NIGHT. We did as we intended from the beginning, we read to him for twenty minutes, cuddled him while singing a short lullaby, and then plopped him in his crib with a few soft toys.

We didn’t do anything we didn’t want to do every night for the foreseeable future. We didn’t cuddle him until he fell asleep, we didn’t wait outside his room to listen to his snoring, and we didn’t give in to his demands (unless he cried for more than 20 minutes as directed by pediatricians). As Grizzly Bear
grew older and started climbing out of his crib, we moved him to a toddler bed.

He was afforded more toys and books to help him fall asleep. We learned quickly that only board books survived his curiosity and that skinny ones could be shoved under the door, making for interesting clean up in the morning. As he grew older still, his demands became more coherent and adorable than
the pitched crying we used to hear.

“Mommy, my teeth are still dirty, I need to brush them.”
“Mommy, I was crying because I wanted a drink.”
“Mommy, I just wanted to go with you to get a slurpilee.”
“Mommy, there’s a poop in there. And my feet are stinky.”
“Sweetie, Mommy has to sleep too you know.”

These demands were harder to ignore because we knew what favorite toy he was asking for, we knew which favorite cup he wanted to drink water from, we knew which book made him the happiest, etc. However, we also knew that he knew we would only come back once to do whatever task he needed, so he’d better pick a long and arduous one.

Bedtime routines, psychological warfare, whatever you want to call it, it’s a very precious time, especially for those parents that work or only see their kids for short periods of time. Even though I’m tired at the end of the day, I like reading my son his favorite book for the eighth time. But not the ninth, because Mommy needs to sleep too.

Conflict Resolution

After all the hoopla of the Christmas holidays, both of my boys zeroed in on a favourite toy – an airplane that you can build with a toy drill and screwdriver. Listening to them argue over it (little Polar Bear can’t talk yet but makes his feelings well known) isn’t my favourite activity, but it does allow me to reflect on conflict resolutions between children (and myself).

Interestingly, teachers of elementary schools (you can also find variations on Pinterest) use a conflict resolution tool called the Wheel of Choices (see my mini toddler/preschooler one below). Primarily, I’m an avoidance conflict resolver. I tend to walk away to cool down and walk it off. This non-confrontational attitude helps me but it doesn’t seem to be my sons’ first choices.

Grizzly Bear, my older son, never steals toys from his brother but he does guard them. If his little bro arrives on the scene of a very good play session, Grizzly Bear tends to put toys under his arms and hoards them until he can’t actually use his hands for play. Or, if his little bro has a toy that Grizzly Bear wants, he won’t grab for the toy but he will stand in front of his brother like a football player and refuse to let him move from the spot he is currently occupying. If his little bro won’t give up the toy after this ploy, Grizzly Bear will come talk to me about it, using the “Talk” strategy listed on the wheel.

Polar Bear, my younger son, takes a more physical approach. Not able (or willing) to use words yet, he has more of a tendency to lean towards physically demanding he get his way. He does not hoard toys and will, more often than not, share toys willingly. He loves to watch others use a toy first to discover its secrets before taking a turn. However, if there is a favourite toy at stake that is not currently being shared equally, he will grab at or push others in his fury to have the toy. Once a parent intervenes, he is quite happy to share the toy again (as long as the turns are equal in length). Polar Bear uses the “Share” strategy.

Neither of my boys are old enough to use the Wheel of Choices on their own but I use it to help them. Here’s two reasons why:

  1. I want them to see that there are different strategies to resolving conflicts than the ones they have used in the past. I know from experience that my avoidance strategy has not worked for every situation. By seeing me use the tool, this role modeling reflects positively on them and they will be more willing to try new strategies.
  2. I want them to be comfortable choosing their own conflict resolution strategies. As they grow, they may tend to use this tool on their own when I’m not around or use it by memory if they are out of the house. As little as they are, they have constant adult supervision and are prone to seek adult intervention immediately. As they grow and have less supervision, I want them to make the right choices. Being an adept problem-solver is a gigantic skill in later life.

My Mini Wheel of Choices – 4 Strategies for Preschoolers

  1. Numbers – This is another way of saying take deep breaths or calm down. No one likes hearing “calm down,” least of all an emotional preschooler, but they do love numbers! Have your child count to five (or higher if needed). Count along with them and set the pace of counting to a slow, heavy-breathing rhythm. It’s also a crafty mom-way to teach your children to count.
  2. Walk – use this avoidance technique to remove a child from the situation. Give them a chance to think about things silently or have the needed moment to explain their frustrations to you, a caring adult. Also, taking them outside is a great stress reducer and decreases bullying (read about the Chester Elementary School’s Outdoor Play and Learning pilot project in Today’s Parent here).
  3. Talk – try to have the children explain the situation to you in front of one another. I know that this could lead to more arguing in a he said-she said way but I found it also helps children see the other’s point of view. Let the conversation develop and never cut it short (this is tough when you’re entertaining company or are in a hurry, I know). Continue the conversation as long as necessary to reach a resolution.
  4. Share – I practice a “Mommy shares with you, so you share with him” rule. I always try to role model good behaviour and tend to say share more often than any other word, even when it’s not the topic of conversation. Instead of saying “would you like some ____,” try to say “would you like me to share some ____.” This emphasizes that sharing is just a natural part of the world in which we live (and it also helps when you need to get your phone/keys back from your toddler).

As my kids age, they will notice that more and more options will be added to their strategy repertoire. Starting little like this will allow them to be comfortable with these basic options before moving on to other, more complex problem-solving strategies. I encourage you to make your own pin-wheel of choices. Please feel free to use these strategies (and invite ideas from your own family)!

It’s Potty Time

Today I wanted to touch base on a long and tedious battle between the toilet and my son.

My husband and I started potty training our oldest son, our Grizzly Bear, at two years of age. At the time, my second child was well on his way to being welcomed into the family and before then, we thought we’d try to make things easier on ourselves by potty training our first born. He was a smart lad and willing to learn new skills, this was going to be easy.

We started out with the old fashioned portable potty. Sat him on it and tried to keep him there with books, toys, food, and even the television. Each strategy worked well for a little while and then psychological warfare would have to be kicked up a notch as our Grizzly Bear would grow tired of sticker rewards and saying bye bye to his pee as it swirled around in the flushing toilet.

Fast forward eight months. You read that right; eight months………
By this time, we’d pulled out all the stops including following expensive and temper tantrum inducing advice from family, friends, and internet strangers (like myself).

My sister told me she purchased special underwear for her child, dawning his favourite movie character. When he pooped his pants, she made him throw the undies in the trash. He hasn’t had an accident since. He was three when he successfully potty trained. I tried this tactic with our Grizzly Bear at 2.5 years and the only thing accomplished was the purchasing of very expensive soon-to-be garbage. No success there. My Mom secretly fed Grizzly Bear Smarties for every successful potty pee/poop. This only resulted in my son having extra sweets as he still only used the potty half the time and even expected a candy after going in his pants. Grizzly Bear has a slight addiction to Smarties now.

Internet sensations indicated scheduling potty breaks and determining your child’s poop schedule through what I can only assume is psychic reasoning. It is true that my son is a regular pooper and predicting his bodily functions wasn’t too difficult. That is until he got a cold or slept funny the night before or was fed prune juice at his dayhome.

In the end, my husband suggested one last tactic that we hadn’t heard anywhere before. We were a bit desperate to try anything at this point as it was hard to keep up diapering two children. However, let me start out by saying that this experiment did not work and should not be tried ever again in the history of potty training.

We decided to put Grizzly Bear’s potty in his room with him at bedtime and let him sleep in the half nude. We figured he would either go in the potty if he needed or fall asleep without pants. No big deal right?? Big deal it turns out. I hear him 10 minutes later saying he went in his potty. I enter his room with excitement and joy only to stop short with wide eyes and a speechless expression.

He did pee in the potty (hooray!) but then, in his infinite wisdom, he picked up his potty in an effort to bring it to the big potty and dump it, only to spill it all over the hardwood and attempt to clean it with his bare hands. That’s right, he was covered in wee. I ran for a cloth and began soaking up the mess as my adoring toddler comes up behind me to offer encouragement. I cringe as the smell rolls over me, my toddler stroking my hair, saying “that’s a good girl, mommy.”

Although none of the “tactics” we used worked for our Grizzly Bear, he did eventually potty train at 2 years and 10 months. He did not potty train as a result of our hard work or ingenious potty plotting, but simply as a result of being ready and willing. After reading this, I’m sure you’ll agree that my husband and I are no experts on toddlers and the wonder that is the toilet.

We simply reflect upon the last year and agree that every child is indeed different and each learn on a different time schedule. We had some good laughs and are even looking forward to our next potty trainer, our Polar Bear!