The Organized Parent

Apart from my time spent blogging, I also have two full-time jobs. I am a consultant with a firm and I’m a parent (both equally hard!). I recently went from one firm to another and in my interview, I was asked how I kept myself organized. My interview panel was significantly impressed with how I managed my time between my daily work activities and deliverables. I had wonderful answers for them in regard to keeping up with tasks, clients, and ever-changing regulatory frameworks. What shocked me most, and what I didn’t know how to answer when it was asked, was how I managed my work-life balance with respect to keeping myself organized. It wasn’t until I’d given it a few moments of thought that I realized how organized I’d made myself as a parent too!

If you’re interested in a life with less chaos or just keeping your family on schedule, check out these tips I’ve compiled! They are handy for any super-organized parents out there or those looking to manage their time a bit better too!

The Daily Activities

This list of tips includes the activities I do daily – I really notice a difference when it comes to saving time here!

Get Yourself Ready First

As a mom waking up at obscene hours of the early morning on weekdays, I always cherished my child‑free moments. I take lengthy showers and try on two or three outfits while I procrastinated waking my children. I always did this to enable myself a bit of free time to be myself! What I never realized was that this greatly expedited the process of getting out the door. The few times my children have woken up before me on a weekday always ended with tardy attendance. They would halt my progress by asking for toys or food or getting into my make-up bag (they also try on my shoes!). When I am the first to be freshened, I can devote my time to helping them, which speeds everything up! Try it out and see if it’s a speedy morning for your family!

Do One Load a Day

When it comes to household chores, I keep up by doing one load a day! Of course, I’m talking about dishes and laundry. For dishes, I wait until after breakfast and turn the dishwasher on right before leaving for work. When we arrive back at home, all the dishes are ready for dinner! I load the dishes throughout the day to keep the area tidy and turn it on the next day after breakfast.

For laundry, it really helps that my washer and dryer are on the main floor, right beside the kids’ and our bedrooms. Our kids are also too young to change themselves, so clothes never actually touch the floor (or the hamper). They go right from my hands to the washer and once a full load is in, it gets turned on. I don’t worry too much about sorting colours, I only keep my fancy clothes separate to do on the weekends. An extra tip – I also keep a garbage next to the washer too for those disposable diapers!

Clockwork Meals

I make very simple meals to keep our schedule on track. Breakfasts are raw foods like grated cheese, cut up fruit, yogurt, peanuts and mushrooms. The low prep time allows me to get a healthy meal put together in no time at all and my children learn to appreciate healthy choices. Lunches are similar with smoked salmon or deli meats, crackers, and raw vegetables. Dinners are pre-made from the weekend or are made with similar raw foods and a smoothie. This low prep time really helps my children stay healthy and have a consistent schedule. Their little tummy alarms go off at the same time everyday too, so I can also anticipate their needs!

Bathroom Cleaning

Before I was a parent, I used to pick one household cleaning chore to accomplish a day (along with sweeping up dog and kitty hair, which was truly out of hand!). My apartment was always spic-and-span! Now that I’m a parent, and have more than just a one bedroom apartment to clean, the days of having a perfect household are gone (for now). I’ve changed my tactic to always cleaning the dirtiest part of the house daily and leaving other chores until the weekend. I don’t doubt if you’ll agree; the bathroom is always the messiest place in our home. Giving it a once over every morning has really helped make me less anxious when leaving my home, knowing that it is glowing. How I manage to do it quick is by using the most available thing in my home – wet wipes! After hair and make-up, I wipe everything down in a jiffy.

An extra tip – I also learned a neat trick from my sister. Keep a pack of wet wipes in the bathroom and when surprise visitors come to call, tell them you would love a chat after your own potty break. Wipe your bathroom clean under the pretense of using the loo. They need never know your bathroom wasn’t clean! My sister has been doing this for years, keeping a supply of baby wet wipes in her lavatory, even though all of her children are teens (the messiest of all but at least they’re potty trained!).

Schedule Procrastination

Every parent needs downtime. I myself need two breaks a day. On top of my morning beautification process, I also relax for an hour in the evening, every evening. The best way is to schedule it in daily. Make it known to the entire family by being consistent with it too. After I pick my boys up from their dayhome, I usually spend an hour with them outside or exercising (5 pm to 6 pm), have dinner with them (6 pm to 6:30 pm), then put snacks and a show on (6:30 pm to 7:30 pm). During snacks and show‑time, you will find me taking up an entire couch and enjoying my favourite kid-friendly documentary. I don’t feel badly about this feet-up time either because my children have full bellies and are usually learning a great deal from Bill Nye or David Attenborough. They also wander off to play with toys or colour too, allowing them downtime too!

Weekender Tips

These activities are reserved solely for weekends so that things run smoothly during weekdays! Check them out!

All Other Chores

Weekends are the days to get any other chores done around the house. It really doesn’t take too long either since the laundry, dishes, and bathroom have all been taken care of. I do a general, low‑maintenance pickup of out-of-place items, Swiffer wet-jet the floor, and mow the lawn or shovel the walk. These activities really help me stay efficient the rest of the week. My neighbours also appreciate that I keep my outdoor activity noises on the weekend schedule.

Groceries and Meal Prep

I do any big grocery orders on the weekend. I take my kids along too, which they consider a nice family outing, saving me time and money elsewhere. We get the raw foods for the week and items to make a big meal to keep in the fridge, which is usually a hearty pasta. We make the meal together too so I usually do this before I Swiffer the floor as I’m usually mopping up garlic flakes!

Fancy Outings or Occasions

Have you ever gone into work and run into tired coworkers? My coworkers and I chat about our weekends and sometimes I learn that they’ve completed several big events all in two days! They always sound like a lot of fun, going on multiple hikes or attending several birthday parties. I limit our weekends to just one grand event, whether we’re hosting a garage sale or going to the zoo, it’s only ever one big occasion. This prevents my family becoming drained and requiring more time off than was scheduled. It helps my children stay on top of sleep and me on top of everything else!

Anytime Organization

Lastly, one thing I do to keep myself organized is email myself. I do this anytime. This really helps me remember plans, outings, birthdays, grocery store items, checked-off tasks, upcoming events – you name it! If I’ve emailed it to myself, I’ll be ready and on top of it!

Your Organization Tips

I really hope these do-it-yourself organization tips for the busy parent help you build your dream of staying on top of everything that’s going on in your life! They may have also inspired you to feel good about the tricks you use in your daily, weekly, or anytime schedules! Feel free to share your pro‑organization parenting tips with us – I can always use more tips in my personal schedule!

Pets and Families

When I was little (littler), I had many pets and adored them all. I grew up on a farm, one of the luckiest kids in the world I thought, and cherished each of my companions. I had herding dogs named Emma and Kirby, a brawny mousing cat named Socks, a cow named Mable, pigs named Beans and Bacon, and about a hundred chickens, all named Sue. Despite constant wonderful interactions with all of the animals, my most meaningful companionship was with a kitten I rescued from a nearby highway culvert. I named her Ginger to match her (and my) hair.

My early memories of rescuing animals and caring for them, I believe, has given me the compassion and patience I exhibit now as an adult. It led to my course choices during my post-secondary education and to the organizations I choose to volunteer with. It probably also helped me in the choice to become a parent.

“Nothing less than alchemy is involved when animals and children get together, and the resulting magic has healing properties that work well.” – Elizabeth Anderson, The Powerful Bond Between People and Pets

Are Pets Beneficial?

After pondering my upbringing, I wondered if pets have been proven to show benefits to a family. Turns out having a pet in the home may have remarkable positive effects on people. Studies have shown that by having a pet you: are less likely to have depression, are more likely to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, are more likely to be calm and relaxed as a result of good hormones, and are more likely to live longer. I believe these attributes would help create more positive family relationships.

If you’re excited about the idea of the benefits of a companion but would rather a creepy-crawlie over a snuggly one, it’s no problem! The science even shows that the pet doesn’t have to be a cat or dog. Even watching a fish swim has shown the positive benefits indicated above.

There are a few other benefits that are more lifestyle benefits than health (although they are intertwined). Pets can help you get exercise (by demanding it themselves). They can help you meet new people (by running up to strangers and licking their faces). They can even help regulate sleep by forcing you to build a daily routine (what’s Saturday?).

Health benefits for kids; they have them too! Unlike some family members or friends, pets are never critical or bossy, so they are a great source of support for rough days. They can also provide a sense of security and ease separation anxiety. Pets can help teach a child responsibility and how to build relationships. It’s also been shown that pets can help children with attention deficit disorder, autism, or with overly aggressive attitudes, but that is dependent on proper pet and child training.

 

To learn more about the benefits of pets, click here.

Should We Get a Pet?

While everything sounds wonderful and easy, it can certainly be challenging to raise a pet while raising a family. Pets don’t “grow up” like children do. They do learn but not in the same astonishing and exponential way kids do. A pet will never be able to clean up after itself or get its own food. In this way, pets can be thought of as perpetual toddlers that will need care for their entire lives, which could be a while.

If considering a pet, it is recommended you scrutinize your lifestyle and living situation before taking the plunge. It’s best to assess your living situation. Do you have the room and finances to support a pet, particularly a large or energetic one? Assess your family; are you unanimously decided on adopting a furry or scaly companion and are your children ready to make room in their lives and hearts? Does anyone in your family have allergies to pets? Assess your lifestyle and unconditional devotion for the lifespan of your pet; are you willing and do you have the time to give a pet the attention it needs? Do you have a vet close by? Dogs in particular need daily exercise provided by humans. Cats need daily litterbox cleanings. All animals need food, baths, regular vet checkups, and love.

If you’d like to discuss or read more on how to determine your family’s pet-readiness, contact the Edmonton Humane Society or another local SPCA. They can provide plenty of information to prepare and help you. Also visit this site with advice from Canadian pediatricians (here).

We’re Ready, Let’s Do It!

When a pet first comes home, it can be stressful on both the animal and your children – and YOU! The change in the environment leaves everyone feeling distinctly out of place. In order to minimize risk, it’s usually best to keep children and new pets separated until the new pet has settled into its new environment. It’s important to give your new family member time to adjust by allowing them to explore undisturbed and in a quiet environment.

After your companion has had a chance to explore, you’re ready to introduce them to their new friends – your children. Children tend to make erratic movements, and this startles many animals. For this reason, it’s commonly recommended to introduce children to new pets whilst outdoors or in large, open rooms. Just remember to keep dogs on a leash!

It’s important to encourage any curiosity on behalf of either party but take care to notice the signs that anyone may be feeling uncomfortable. Common signs for dogs include a stiff posture, stiff tail, and raised hair on his or her back. The most common sign of alertness for cats is typically a stiff and bristling tail. Animals make themselves look larger when uncomfortable or afraid. This is an evolutionary tactic to scare off unwanted visitors. If your pet is trying to make itself look larger, it’s a sign he or she is uncomfortable.

Once the introductions are complete, it’s important to teach children that animals aren’t the same as their stuffed toys. Children should know to respect the boundaries of their animals – they’re your children’s responsibility too! It’s very important not to leave children and pets alone together until both are comfortable and your children are of a responsible age. The Edmonton Humane Society has Pet Sitter Courses for kids to help them learn the best ways to interact and care for pets (click here).

Last note: another important point that many adults don’t realize is that dogs and cats alike have extremely sensitive whiskers. While they may look cute to a baby or toddler (or you!), disturbing them can be extremely uncomfortable for your new friend.

Already a Pet Family and Bringing Home a Child?

Pet introductions to new babies or adopted children can also be challenging. A pet can see the new baby as competition, just as they would another pet. They are animals after all.

It’s very important to keep careful watch over your child at all times and never to leave him or her alone with your pet. Your pet can get jealous, which can quickly escalate into a disaster.

To help your pet adjust, there are some steps to complete before you bring home your new addition (3 weeks beforehand is recommended):

If you have a dog, ensure they are trained to follow basic commands such as sit, stay, no, and are willing to complete a solid recall. If this is not your dog’s forte, obedience training classes may be well worth the price.

Make gradual changes to your pet’s routine before the new arrival. Change where they will be sleeping or when they will be playing/walking beforehand so they don’t associate the changes with the new child. This also includes decreasing the amount of attention they get to the amount they will have when the new child arrives. It’s not nice to think about, but you won’t have much time for your pet with a newborn, so prepare them! Don’t make the mistake of lavishing them with last minute attention just to take it away when the new child arrives.

If you have a nervous or grumpy-type animal, it’s advisable to play recordings of a baby crying. Just jump on Youtube and play new baby crying sounds – it could help you and your partner to adjust too!

Help your pet acclimatize to new baby things and odours (the good ones) by letting them explore new furniture, check out new clothes and toys, and smell baby lotions.

If you have a dog, teach them where his “bed” is. This will help a dog with any type of personality, from excitable and jumpy to older and uncomfortable. This “bed” or “place” is a safe place for your dog or cat, acting as a buffer for commotion and a place for them to reset. I’m sure we all remember being “grounded” or having “time-outs” as children and having to stare endlessly at the ceiling above our beds. This is the same type of zone for your dog. Praise them when they are let out of their bed. If training, praise them when they get into their bed too to encourage the behavior.

Now for the arrival of your child! When you bring the baby or child home:

Greet your pet alone, if possible, to avoid them jumping on the baby or child.

Allow your pet to adjust to the sight, sound, and smell of the child before making a closer introduction. What this looks like is allowing your pet to take his time to come and go freely into the room you and the child are in without calling him over.

After a few days, allow the pet to get close enough to smell the baby. If you have an adopted child, this length of time is more dependent on the comfort of the child. Most pets adapt easily but some pets require more precautions, such as a leash or muzzle. Never approach the animal with the child, always allow the pet to approach you. This will keep the pet calm and you in the stable seat, able to jump into action if needed.

Give your pet attention when the baby or child is around to prevent them from thinking they are in competition. Also, never scold the dog from touching things that belong to the baby, like toys or food. If you have an adopted child, this also has the additional benefit of teaching the child to share with the pet.

When the new baby starts becoming more mobile, this will be the time for the dog or cat to learn his bed is his refuge. Teach your baby or your adopted child that when the pet is in his bed, he’s tired and does not want to play. This will help your pet relax and prevent potential bites or scratches.

Never leave a pet alone with a baby or small child! Even the most trusted animals that you’ve had for years can be a danger. They are animals!

To learn more, click here.

A Pawsitive Ending

If you find yourself adopting a pet, please be mindful of the feasibility of your family to care for them and consider the wellbeing of your children. Remember that pets do not make good gifts, as they are not toys. They are animals that need the same care and devotion as another child. Also remember that not all families are suited to having pets. If anyone in your family has allergies to pets, it won’t be feasible or fair to either party.

Pets can make wonderful additions for the right families though and can have positive effects! So after careful consideration, take the plunge and enjoy the benefits of a furry or scaly creature! My family and I have a wonderful pet, a dog named Wylie Coyote. She’s been in my children’s entire lives and mine for eight years. She is well loved in this household and properly looked after. We could never imagine such a full, well-rounded family without her – I wish the same applies to you and your family!

We Are Experts

Now that you’ve entered into the parenting realm, it’s a guarantee that you’ve mastered a skill that you never imagined would occupy your time. You’re likely so good at it that it’s a shame to keep it off of your resume. I too came to this realization as I wielded a Q-tip through the slots of a computer modem, removing the remaining remnants of the smoothie that was poured over it. The art of cleaning up after toddlers, now that’s a fine skill to be proud of!

I asked my husband, “Now that you are a parent, you are an expert at (what)?”

My husband claims to be an expert in all things poop. His nose can pick up a whiff of waste from a different household floor. He even claims that each baby facial expression during the act indicates what type of poop he will find in the diaper. A hard one, a soft one, a green one – it’s a practiced art. With having been peed on in the first 24 hours of being a Dad, this parenting scouts badge should not have come as a surprise to me.

My family had some interesting answers too!

My Mom indicated she is “an expert at taking care of my grown children’s pets after they move into a dorm or a boyfriend’s place.” I could hear her grumbling as my sister choked on a nervous laugh! I do remember my Mom also being very practiced at having a split personality (which I have thankfully adopted and hope to perfect soon). She could be furious with one of us one moment, a venomous tone that could freeze and petrify, and then next minute, cool as a cucumber, answer the phone with a calm, collected voice, “Hi Susan, so glad you called!”

My Dad was always skilled at fixing broken toys and electronics. He must have been an expert with patience as well while he removed a grilled cheese sandwich from the VCR. Now that his kids are grown and gone, he claims to be an expert at relaxing but the jury may still be out on that one!

My sister-in-law is an expert in all things baby food! She was always a great chef but now the meals are of a frozen green bean variety. What accompanies this skill is my brother’s ability to Tetris his way through the freezer to get to his meaty portions.

The hilariousness of the answers I came across were so great that I pursued more!

Friends of mine indicated their amusing expertise avenues:

“I’m an expert at finding the bathroom in shopping malls, immediately”

“I’m an expert at sewing a stuffed animal’s ear back on over and over and over”

“I’m an expert at eating cold supper”

“I’m an expert at sharing slobbery sippy cups”

“I’m an expert at memorizing children’s books and spouting them off by heart”

“I’m an expert at contradicting myself.”

“I’m an expert at getting full from imaginary food”

“I’m an expert at wondering why my kids are always talking”

“I’m an expert at turning away from my kids when they are in trouble because I’m silently laughing”

“I’m an expert at having my own temper tantrums”

“I’m an expert at admitting I was clueless before I had kids – a TV is not a babysitter, KD is not food, kids should never backtalk”

“I’m an expert at holding down my child with an arm and leg to give them medicine”

“I’m an expert at ignoring siren imitations while driving”

“I’m an expert at finding terrible hiding places during hide-and-go-seek”

“I’m an expert at deluding myself into thinking I’ll clean the house tomorrow”

I asked my husband, “what am I an expert in?”

He responded, “ you’re an expert in everything other than negotiations. When the kids ask for a cookie and you say you can only have half of a cookie, they are winning, Marn.”

I also pondered what my kids will say when they are older. This evening they likened me to a “Sharptooth,” the Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Land Before Time collection, while running away cackling. Perhaps I’m an expert at non-threatening dinosaur imitations – a truly lost art!

 

If you’re a practised raspberry-belly-blower or invisible-tea-party-host, please share your gifts with us! Who knows, you may be the best favourite-toy-locator in the world and you never knew it!

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!

Child Proofing

Like many Mom’s, I’m overconfident in my children’s understanding of what is okay to touch and what isn’t. In fact, when my second child arrived, my Polar Bear, I did very little to childproof my new home. I felt that children were inherently smart and that they could take most of what the world could dish out, especially in this modern-day age.

The truth is that childproofing will minimize your child’s chances of getting hurt, or worse. According to The National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 10.4 million children under three were admitted to emergency rooms in the United States as a result of household accidents in the last decade. The number one cause of injuries was attributed to falls and the number one cause of serious injuries resulting in death was attributed to furniture falling on the child. It’s no doubt that children need our protection. And the best way to protect is to prevent.

The Huffington Post Canada recommends using anchors rather than latches as effective solutions to preventing furniture from falling on loved ones. They recommend childproofing before children are mobile and state that getting on your hands and knees to explore your home from the child’s point of view really helps parents identify areas of concern.

The University of Alabama conducted a study where they arranged for first-time-moms of children aged 12 to 36 months to walk through scenarios and identify potential hazards. The study concluded that fewer than half the hazards were recognized. Parents Magazine put together their own project for readers to use to educate themselves; they incorporated drawings of typical households and circled potential hazards. I have included a few for reference and more can be found here: https://www.parents.com/toddlers preschoolers/safety/toddlerproofing/home-safe-home-childproofyour-
home-room-by-room/

It’s smart to be prepared for the worst, so I’ve compiled a short list of childproofing must-haves that are nearly universal. I’ve used these products before and can say with certainty that they helped protect my
children:

• Toilet lock – As you can plainly see, I didn’t invest in this must-have soon enough (Mommy was
• present through this adventure but it could have happened when I wasn’t there). Childproofing
• the toilet is extremely important and the toilet lock, any brand, is a must-have
• Bath spout covers – These nifty covers are to be placed over your tub spout to protect your baby’s
• head from the faucet
• Finger pinch guards – These guards are placed high up on doors (out of reach) and prevent doors
• from closing all the way, protecting fingers
• Tamper-proof plugs – Have a professional install these for you. I know it’s expensive but I can’t
• stress the importance of this must-have enough. Electricity and children don’t mix.
• Drawer and cupboard latches – These are what come to mind when most people think of
• childproofing. Common as they are, they should not be overlooked when making your home childfriendly.
• Baby gates – A pain to install and use but nothing compared to the pain a child feels when falling
• down stairs. This type of accident always results in a trip to the hospital so it’s crucial to have this
• must-have. Additionally, only hardware mounted gates are approved for stairs. Do not use
• pressure mounted gates as these can come loose and fall with your baby, adding extra danger to
• the situation.

If you need help determining the right childproofing gadgets for your unique home, please contact KARA. Additional tips and resources on childproofing can be obtained during programs or just having a chat with a wonderful staff member. They have years of experience and know quite a few talented handymen to
help make your home safe for your loved ones. All the best and stay safe!

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!

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.

Allomothers

Perhaps you’ve set out to find the perfect day home or daycare for your sprouting children. If you’re like me, or any other parent for that matter, you’re looking for perfection, the best of the best. You know the one I mean; it has a brightly coloured, toy filled room, an impressive art supply collection, a fabulous outdoor space complete with a sandbox, over fifty children’s books, and, of course, a one-of-kind allomother.

If you’re not familiar with that term, an allomother is any caregiver that is not the biological parent. Any person in your family that regularly looks after your child is an allomother. They can be aunties, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers, or friends. Allomothering is a phenomenon seen through history and is also common in other mammal and bird species. It has and always will be a key component to your child’s upbringing. It takes a village to raise a child and your dayhome attendant is a very important allomother.

I searched incessantly for the perfect person to be part of my children’s upbringing. I needed someone with the same values as me within an affordable price range. This was the process I went through to find the perfect allomother for my Little Bears.

I started by searching the web on what to look for. I knew I needed to interview potential allomothers and I wanted to know what qualities I should look for, what questions I should ask, and what kinds of environments would be best suited to my children’s ages. This is a brief list of what I found:

  • Ask what kind of food they serve on a daily basis and what they sometimes get (don’t phrase the question “what do you normally serve”)
    Be sure to get a tour of the environment, particularly asking to see where the children sleep.
  • Ask what the child/caregiver ratio is and bring up scenarios such as bathroom breaks.
  • Ask what kind of scenarios warrant a time-out and what other specific forms of discipline are used.
  • Confirm that they are the type of facility they are claiming to be and that everyone involved in childcare has their First Aid.

Now, this is just a list of the resonating points that repeated in almost every search I completed. Different childcare qualities may apply to your family based on your and your children’s needs. These may include allergies, extra naps, picky eaters, vacations, sick days, prices, outdoor time, vaccinations, and/or extended hours.

For me, I was even bold enough to ask if they had ever committed a crime such as child abandonment or assault. I knew I had to be extraordinarily comfortable with the place I was leaving my children, so I wasn’t afraid to flip over every rock to get my piece of mind.

The next task I undertook was researching day homes and daycares near me and my place of work. I googled reviews and asked family, friends, KARA staff, and internet strangers if they knew of childcare places nearby and what they thought of them. It was nice to chat with everyone and gain their insight. A few of them did refer me to places, where I completed the last leg of my journey.

Now, this last piece of the project took effort, much more effort, as I was now traveling to and from potential day homes and daycares and conducting interviews, with my children in tow. And it was a lot of interviews, twelve to be exact. I saw all kinds of day homes and daycares alike. I saw ones with no outdoor environment, ones where children greatly exceeded the number of child care attendants, ones that were dirty with used bandaids on the floor, ones where the caregiver seemed to be constantly yelling to be heard over the volume of a TV, ones that transitioned children to one nap when they weren’t ready, ones where children slept on the floor in a pile, and ones where I could tell the caregivers didn’t like looking after kids all day.

At the end of it all, I learned it takes a special kind of person to be an allomother all day, everyday, to many different children. A kind hearted person with a sort of gentle grace. It also taught me something about myself and what I wanted to find. As well as being a safe place, I dreamed of the sweetest girl to reflect the same environment I had at home, complimented by a wonderfully soft voice to laugh and play with my children. Dreams don’t always come true, but mine did. Yes, fortunately, my hard work paid off and I found a dayhome that was exactly what I wanted. It was also close to KARA. A dream come true and the piece of mind I needed.

If you are reading this and happen to be actively searching for the perfect allomother, I suggest asking around. Friends, family, internet strangers and KARA staff are all good resources as they may once have been, or currently are, in your shoes. Your child’s age and needs, and your needs too, should all be considered. Never be afraid to ask the bold questions. After all, you’re looking for your child’s allomother.

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)!