Supporting Children with Routines

The Parenting Success Network is proud to introduce our new PSN Blogger, Lynne Brown, formerly of the Montessori School in Corvallis.  Lynne has an education in journalism and a background in early education, and we are delighted to welcome her to the PSN family!  Lynne’s blogs will be published bi-monthly, and will upload on Monday evenings (usually).

 

Ah, the new year.  A fresh new calendar and a return to the routine.

The end of December, with the long stretch of time off from school (and for some of us, from work) offers a wonderful opportunity to be out of the ordinary.  Without the structure of the school day, we are free to sleep in, stay up, leave home, or leave town for extended periods of time.  It’s exciting and fun, chaotic and sometimes exhausting.

And then it is January, and our everyday life resumes.

After the excitement of the holidays, most of us are ready to get back into our daily routine of school and work.  While the unique schedules during the holidays are something we look forward to, our everyday routines are important for both growing children and their parents.

Creating regular routines – for starting the day, transitioning to naps, sharing meals, and heading to bed helps children feel safe.  When babies and toddlers can predict what comes next, and when what they expect actually happens, it instills security and gives them a sense of mastery over their environment.  As the young child absorbs the world around them, they reach a stage of development where they suddenly have an idea about what is going to happen next.  When that idea turns out to be right, their successful prediction builds confidence and reassurance.  Even school-aged children are reassured when their day is predictable and familiar.

Routines can also help children understand time and develop time management skills.  When my first

four were very young our morning routine included Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers for the oldest three while I finished feeding and dressing the baby.  During that phase of our family life, when my four year old would ask “How long until…”, I often answered with “one (or two!) Mr. Rogers”.  She knew how long Mr. Rogers lasted when she watched it in the morning.  Thus, measuring time by the length of that TV show helped develop her ability to think abstractly.

Routines also help children establish good habits.  If getting ready for school every day includes putting dirty laundry in the hamper, brushing teeth, and combing hair, these activities become just a part of everyday life – good hygiene habits that will last them a lifetime.

Establishing a routine can reassure young children that their world is safe and predictable when:

  1. Starting the day.  Create a predictable set of tasks that start each day, and do them in the same order each day.  Do we eat first, or dress first? Do we brush our teeth immediately after we eat breakfast, or just before we head out the door? What order we do these things in is not important.  What is important is to maintain consistency once you’ve decided which comes first and what is last.
  2. Preparing for Nap time.  How will your child know that nap time is coming?  In order to help with the transition to the afternoon nap, our routine included nap time immediately after lunch.  When we were done eating, we headed for the changing table and then to bed. We established this routine when our children were infants and I remember the challenge of transitioning out of the morning nap.  In that stage, when they weren’t sleeping before lunch, but needed the afternoon nap before noon, I still maintained the routine of lunch, then nap.  As I noticed the need for the nap, lunch was served.  It meant some early lunches for a time.  But that was short-lived as they grow out of that stage so very quickly.
  3. During Play time. Even free time can have a predictable routine which helps young children learn sequencing – first, next, finally.  First we choose what we are going to play with, next we play with it, finally we put it back where we got it.
  4. It is Bedtime.  Like naptime, a predictable sequence of events following dinner helps children know that soon it will be time for bed. Knowing what comes next can help reduce resistance and encourage a calmer transition to sleep.  Transitions can be hard for many children. Creating a sequence of events that signals a transition is coming can help these children through it.

At our house we are working on creating a routine – and a habit – for putting things away when we have finished with them.  My incredibly creative eleven year old still struggles with returning the tools of her craftiness to their respective places.  It’s a work in progress.  And that’s okay.

There will be times when the routines we have established go right out the window.  We all have days when we must be flexible and do things differently than usual.  How we respond to those times is also a learning opportunity for our developing children.

Our response to a break from the routine shows our children how to be resilient and flexible, how to adjust when what we expected is different from what we experience.  And how to settle back into a routine after a disruption.  As long as our routine days outweigh the chaotic, our growing children will learn that the world is safe and predictable and that they can trust us to take care of them and meet their needs.

 

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Let’s Play

Today’s blog post is contributed by guest blogger, Esther Schiedel.  We hope you enjoy the read, and we appreciate Esther’s willingness to write for us!

 

I’ve just been reading about research on the value of play. Not that I needed convincing—I love to play! But since parents often worry about ensuring that their children will do well in this complicated world, it may be reassuring to know that play is good for your children. It’s also good for you.

Some of my favorites and their benefits:

Peek-a-boo and other hiding and finding games: Infants love to engage with people. Researchers describe it as “call and response.” The infant does something—looks at the adult for example, and the adult looks back, responding to the need for interaction. Peek-a-boo plays with that looking/not looking relationship. Other hiding games help the child understand object permanence and spatial relationships.  The key thing to remember is to always look to the child and respect when they need to disengage: the baby may turn away or start to fuss. Paying attention to another person’s social cues is a vital skill— which some people find easier to learn than others. Playing peek-a-boo is a wonderful opportunity to work on that—for babies and adults.

Monster, Mad Dog, and other chase games: Always popular at our house so I was pleased to read that this sort of activity can help children with physical and social skills—such as self-assertion and anger management. The caution here is identifying the difference between fear and excitement and terror—again the key is to look to the child to see how they are reacting. I was reminded of a scene in the Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She describes Pa pretending to be a mad dog and chasing his daughters around the room. At one point he corners them by the woodbox; they are so frightened that Laura leaps up over the woodbox, dragging her sister Mary with her. “And at once there was no mad dog at all. There was only Pa standing there with his blue eyes shining, looking at Laura.”

Role reversals: Teacher, Parent, Policeman and other roles let a child experiment with having power. These also allow a parent a (partial) break from responsibility. Acting as an assistant to your child’s play (finding Lego pieces, combing doll’s hair) gives them positive attention and can be a meditative practice for you. Simply focusing on your children as they play without trying to direct or get involved is entertaining and an easy way to give them attention. A foundation of the parenting curriculum The Incredible Years is observing and describing your child’s activities as they play—like a sportscaster describing a game. Your positive attention to activities that your child enjoys builds their sense of competence.

Active games and sports can be wonderful for both adults and children. With young children, and those who are not particularly well coordinated (I fall into that category) playing for fun and not keeping score is a good idea. However, watching as my grandson’s baseball team was totally overpowered by a team that was older, I mused that learning to keep calm and to keep trying to do your best is a valuable life skill. As is learning to be a gracious loser. And a respectful winner.

Board games: Speaking of competition, there are many board games nowadays that are co-operative. Instead of playing against each other, you team up to play against some element in the game. These range in complexity from those geared to 2 year-olds to adults. Some are mere chance but others involve strategies. You can also make some traditional games into cooperative ones—such as Memory.

Enough of reasons. Let’s play!

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What if She Isn’t Like Me?

Today’s blog post is contributed by guest blogger, Esther Schiedel.  We hope you enjoy the read, and we appreciate Esther’s willingness to write for us!

I wrote a while ago about parenting a child who shared some of my characteristics that I wish were different. She’s Not Me  http://www.parentingsuccessnetwork.org/parenting_tips/2018/shes-not-me/

This is the flip side of that concern.

I worried from time to time, as many parents do, about my children’s behavior—comparing them with other children their age, wondering if they could meet the expectations of school, and of society in general. Unlike some children I knew, my middle daughter was cautious and reserved around most people, children and adults alike. This was especially true when these were people she did not know. And included relatives she saw only occasionally—which, since we did not live near family, was all of them. We used to joke that she wanted to see your resume and three references before talking to you.

And she and I had different ways of learning—my attempts at teaching her something often ended in frustration on both our parts. Fortunately, while discussing these concerns with my husband, we both realized that she is a lot like him. Those similarities did not always contribute positively to their relationship, but once he recognized them, it helped a lot.

Now I love and respect my husband and he is a competent adult. But what if he wasn’t? What if I didn’t like him?

What happens when a parent sees a behavior in their child which is like that of a relative who has problems functioning successfully? Or their relationship with that relative is not a positive one?

The relative might be the other parent, or might be a sibling, grandparent, or other relation. In such cases a parent might over-react to that behavior. Which does NOT help.

What does help?

* Identifying what our reaction is based on. Sometimes we react without knowing why. We may have simply forgotten or we may have repressed traumatic memories. It might take serious self-examination or the help of a therapist to recognize why we have a strong response to some behaviors.

* Increasing our awareness of temperamental traits. A trait is not a behavior but a reason behind a behavior. In my daughter’s case, the trait is termed First Reaction; it describes whether a child approaches or withdraws from a new situation. It’s also referred to as Leaper or Watchful. Neither of these reactions to new situations or people is good or bad, but each can lead to behaviors which could cause problems. When we understand temperament we can help a child learn to behave in socially acceptable and safe ways. Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka is a helpful resource for parents

* Paying attention to the whole child. Making an issue out of one trait or behavior exaggerates its importance and can make things worse. Your relationship with the child is more important.

* Reminding ourselves that similarities to another person do not indicate that a child will grow up to be just like that person. Many, many things contribute to children’s and adult’s personalities, abilities, and behavior.

Parenting classes can provide more information and perspective on child development and temperament. They offer lots of techniques for dealing with behaviors.

And by the way, my cautious daughter is still cautious. She’s also a competent and wonderful adult.

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My To-Do List

While the Parenting Success Network works to hire another full-time blogger for this site, members of the Parenting Education staff at LBCC are going to be “guest blogging”.  This week’s guest blogger is LeAnne Trask, the Pollywog Database and Social Media Coordinator.  LeAnne and her husband, Terry, are the parents of three college-age sons.

As a young mom, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out a “plan” for raising my children.  What did I want them to grow up knowing?  What did I want them to believe?  What skills were they going to need?  What kind of things did my kids need to be prepared for?  What kind of Mom was I going to be?

Then, one day, I overhead a woman in my office talking about a “list” that her sister had created for each of her children.  I LOVE lists, and I barraged her with questions about this list.  A few days later, her sister called our office and my co-worker handed me the phone, and I introduced myself to Carol.  I asked her to tell me about her lists, and Carol explained that she believed that there were things that her children needed to know, needed to be able to do, needed to be sure about, before they left her home–just like I did!  I asked for examples.  Carol said that she believed that each of her children should play a musical instrument–well.  She wanted her son to be an Eagle Scout.  She wanted each of her children to find a sport that they loved, and be good at it.  She wanted her children to be able to cook a breakfast, a lunch, and a dinner–well.  She wanted her children to be able to sew, and not just a button!  Carol told me many more things that she had on her lists, and I took lots of notes.

What a great gift Carol gave me!  When an experienced mother shares her thoughts with a new mother, it gives us “fresh eyes” for looking at our situation and setting our goals.  Her idea of using a to-do list for each of her kids was perfect for me because I was already a list-maker.  One of the beauties of using this strategy is that list-making gives back a sense of control, plus there is a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in crossing things off your list.

I went home that night, and I started creating lists for each of my sons.  Over the years, things have been added to those lists, and a few things removed from the lists, but overall, they were the game plan we used to raise our children.  I took some of the things that Carol had on her list, like the importance of being an Eagle Scout and learning a musical instrument, and I added things that were personal to me, like attending Church regularly and participating in service projects.  Learning to cook became a way of life at our house, and all of my sons know how to change their oil and tie a necktie!

Over the years, many mothers have given me advice and shared their experiences–good and bad–and I am grateful for every one of those shared experiences.  I feel like we gave our kids not just a home and a place to hang their hat, but the benefit of our experience and the best of our knowledge.  My hope is that we turned out kids that were as prepared for life as we could make them.

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Last Call

Dear parents, caretakers, families, educators, grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster parents, and anyone else I haven’t mentioned who might be reading this blog:

This is my final post for the Parenting Tips blog at Parenting Success Network.

I have been writing to you more or less every week for the last four years. During that time I have enjoyed sharing my evolving challenges with chores and bedtime, my intimations of mortality, and just my straight-up posts about Star Wars.

I appreciate all those who have commented, either here or on that popular social media platform, what’s-its-name. I am grateful for our wonderful guest contributors, who have enriched and diversified my offerings while enabling me to get paid while essentially doing nothing. And the push to write on the regular has been especially valuable, especially since frankly I’m not always feelin’ it. Because here’s the thing: once I get started I’m always glad I did it. I guess there’s a lesson there, or whatever.

It has been a fun four years. Best wishes to the Network and to future blog maestra/os.

Thanks for everything, and keep on parenting!

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Such Thing as Free Lunch

This week I want to tell you about something that I love.

It is Oregon’s Summer Meals program, and in this time of uncertainty and crisis I believe it’s one of the few things around that’s just purely good.

It might seem like I’m hyperbolizing (or, more likely, just inventing an excuse to use that word in a sentence), but I tell you it’s true. Why, take a gander if you will at the organization’s handsome and generous website, which provides an overview of the service and a tidy history as well as a sweet site locator to find meals around the state.

What do they do? Well, since it was created thanks to an act of Congress (remember those?) exactly 50 years ago, the USDA-funded program simply gives out free meals to children aged 1-18. Some sites also sell meals to adults, and some offer activities and educational opportunities before or after. That’s it.

Why is that magic? The awesomeness is in the details: how many public programs can you think of that don’t ask you to register your kids, or meet eligibility requirements, or sign up for further something-or-other, or commit to anything? Really! You just show up and they feed your kids. The end. No follow up, no stigma around needing the assistance. I think that’s mighty special.

My kids, who eat a lot and are sometimes in need of assistance, have enjoyed free meals in parks and libraries around Linn and Benton Counties. They’re not picky or anything, but they have pronounced the offerings both varied and pleasing. I believe them.

If you have kids, and a finite amount of financial resources, and/or it’s just too cockadoodle hot to make lunch, I suggest you check out the Summer Meals sitch. Here’s some nice pointers from our own Parenting Success Network.

So, what are you waiting for?

Except maybe morning?

 

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Like Baby Steps, Only Tinier

“It takes 30 days to form a habit.” It’s always somehow shocking to me when these cliches turn out to be more or less true, as if the truthiness (thank you Stephen Colbert) rubs off in the repetition. But what if it’s backed by science? Turns out the facts are more complicated (AGAIN). Certainly too much so to comfortably aphorise.

So let’s put this another way: “It takes 66 days to form a habit. Or broadly, 18 to 254.” Doesn’t trip off the tongue, does it?

Anyway, I’m glad I didn’t bother to do this research before I started forming my new exercise habit. Because I was going by the 30 day thing.

Let me back up a little bit. I just turned 45 and I was thinking about, like, mortality, and things. In my parent-mind, I was thinking about how nice it would be to still be around when all my kids were doing grownup things and thinking about their mortality, and things.

Related to that thought was the one about how well I’ve modeled literacy and learning for my kids at the expense of other things like movement, sport (in the phenomenological sense), and exercise. Sure, we like to take hikes and go for walks, but that’s more about being in nature. And they do love to swim. So. But I have not prioritized those things, and I want to turn that around.

My brilliant wife is right on board, and has instituted a morning walking/jogging regimen for the girls, supplemented by yoga and frequent trips to the pool. It’s going…okay. And by okay, I mean that about half the kids are into it on any given day. Granted, it hasn’t been 30 days, much less 254.

As in all things parental, I had to start with me (we fill our own cup so that we can yada yada). As much as I cherished my morning ritual of making coffee and reading on the couch with a pointy cat on my lap, I knew I had to get moving. My aforementioned wife–the brilliant one–got me some workout clothes for Christmas (I HAVE NEVER OWNED workout clothes). I visualized myself waking up, suiting up, and heading out for an early morning jog, frost, rain and snails be darned (really, tried to be careful of the snails though).

I kept visualizing it every day as I made my coffee and sat down on the couch with coffee and a pointy cat, trying not to look in the direction of my workout clothes, which were balled up in a corner.

Finally I tried another way. Less ambitious, more…tiny. In this case, doing some research would have been helpful because I would have found something like this.

What I did was this: I got a gym bag. I put my workout clothes inside. I left the bag on the dining table when I went to bed. When I got up in the morning, I saw it there, taunting me like Mickey.

After a few days, I opened the bag and put the clothes on. And once I had done that, it just seemed silly not to go outside.

And the rest is…ongoing. Every morning, I put on the clothes and head out for a brisk walk. When I return, in 20-30 minutes, I feel awake and ready for the day. And also ready to do things like bend over and walk up stairs without wheezing.

My kids have noticed all these things. After (insert number of days here), it becomes just something that is done in our family.

Sometimes there are advantages to kids watching everything we do.

 

 

 

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Oregon Dune

So this summer I’ve decided to try to read as many of Frank Herbert’s Dune novels as I can (there are six, the first three of which are regarded as classics, plus around a billion written by his son, Brian Herbert, from notes he found in his dad’s garage). I’ve been trying to get through the first book since I was in fifth grade and the bizarre and not too successful movie adaptation came out. A couple years ago, I made it halfway through on Kindle (on my phone, which is pretty impressive). This time I’m ready.

Why am I telling you this, other than the fact that I haven’t talked about painfully nerdy stuff for several weeks now? Well, Dune was published in 1965 and was critically and commercially successful enough to have turned a lot of people on to its (at the time) radical concepts of planetary ecology; the idea that we need to pull back and pay attention to the world as a whole, because everything is connected. On the desert planet of Arrakis, the survival of its inhabitants–and by extension, the galaxy, because plot points–depends on their ability to take this holistic view.

Clearly this is something we need to do here, now. As on Arrakis, the summer on Earth is again displaying record temperatures, along with drought, wildfires and unprecedented heat-related deaths. The macro is coming back to haunt the micro (which is us. We’re the micro).

As I read about the characters in Dune trying to survive the alien desert with its extreme lack of moisture, I keep seeing warnings about the heat wave coming to us here in the Willamette Valley this week. I wanted to reiterate the warning and share some tips on how to prepare for the coming heat.

According to the highly diverting Department of Homeland Security website Ready.gov (which also contains helpful hints about tsunamis, shooters, pandemics and nuclear explosions but not, sadly, zombies), here are the basics:

  • If your home is not air conditioned, find places to go that are. Work in a state office, like me! Or, go to the public library, the mall, anywhere you can spend some time safely during the hottest hours.
  • Drink lots of water. Like seriously. You know you don’t drink enough as it is. Drink water before you feel you need to, because in this kind of weather you are already dehydrated if you feel thirsty.
  • DO NOT leave pets or children in an enclosed car. We know that, right? It goes triple this week. Check frequently on children and elderly. Make sure your neighbors are prepared.
  • Eat popsicles. Not on the website, but that’s because I think it was scrubbed by the incoming administration.

Be safe, folks. See you next week. And watch for wormsign!

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Parenting in the Bubble

It’s science time at the Parenting Success Network blog. That’s right: that means it’s time to take to the internet and google (it’s what we used to do before we started talking to Siri, but after we went to the library and pulled out the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature) “parenting.”

Somewhat disappointingly, this blog is not the first thing to come up in the search results, even in my own google bubble.  Although, here’s what does come up for me: “NPR readers share their best parenting advice,” and “Kim Kardashian West asks Kylie Jenner for baby advice.” I don’t really know what to say. Anyway, the heavy hitters are all on page one here. Parenting.com, good job with the brand management.

Wikipedia, just below it, defines “parenting” according to the democratic will of the (internet-abled) human race: “Parenting or child rearing is the process of promoting and supporting the physicalemotionalsocial, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. Parenting refers to the intricacies of raising a child aside from the biological relationship.” This is an accurate and utterly uninteresting encapsulation. More intriguingly, however, it goes on to say:

“Parenting styles vary by historical time period, race/ethnicity, social class, and other social features. Additionally, research has supported that parental history both in terms of attachments of varying quality as well as parental psychopathology, particularly in the wake of adverse experiences, can strongly influence parental sensitivity and child outcomes.”

Okay. So in other words, the quality of parenting depends on a lot of different things. What were we born with? What have we lived through, and what did we take with us? How many other things get our attention, energy, concentrated will? No wonder there are so many parenting blogs. Sheesh.

Most interesting, though, are the questions that those who come before us have asked; the search engine equivalent to the stones cast at the feet of the Omphalos of Delphi (a situation I may have just completely made up). Here are some of the top questions:

“What is a bad parent?”

This one kind of breaks my heart, not only because I don’t like to think about how bad my parenting is, but because I picture someone typing this question into the search field after having been accused of being one. A better question: “What is a good parent?” It goes back to that thing about the google bubble.

“What does it mean to be a parent?”

This is a good question, because it could be practical or purely philosophical. Clicking through brings up that pesky Wikipedia entry as well as one from, randomly, The Ministry of Education in Guyana.

“What are the parenting skills?”

No, really, what are the skills?

According to the Leelanau Children’s Center, which has been “serving families since 1976,” they are these:

  1. Love and affection.
  2. Stress Management.
  3. Relationship Skills.
  4. Autonomy and Independence.
  5. Education and Learning.
  6. Life Skills.
  7. Behavior Management.
  8. Health.
  9. Religion.
  10. Safety.

So, all the things, basically. It’s a lot to take in.

Kind of makes you want to google something, doesn’t it?

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What’s So Funny?

I remember the first time one of my children made a joke. My eldest daughter was barely a year old. She placed an empty bowl, with firm deliberation, upside down on her head, and said, “Hat?”

Now they all groan at what they have identified as “dad jokes.” Or as the youngest one syllogises, “Dad jokes are bad jokes. Are all bad jokes dad jokes?”

I love that they want to talk about comedy, about how it’s made. The middle one asked me, “What makes a joke a joke?” We worked it through together:

 

A joke is a joke if:

a. You meant it to be funny; AND

b. Someone else takes it to be funny.

If b. but not a., it’s probably not nice to laugh.

Corollary: if b. but not a., you as the (non)joker reserves the right to later use it as a joke, on purpose.

If a. and not b., it is probably not a good joke (unless your Dad tells it, in which case his judgement is gold).

If a. AND b., it’s officially a joke.

 

Humor and child development are like this. Sorry, you can’t see my fingers stuck together.

When your child suddenly finds peek-a-boo hilarious, you know that they’ve crossed a cognitive threshold: object permanence has moved into place. The child understands that it’s you, still existing, behind your hand, and finds your futile attempt to hide hilariously pathetic.

At least, that’s how I understand it.

 

Later, as verbal and logical functioning revs up to higher levels, more sophisticated jokes, based on discrepancies between facts and perceptions, come into play.

I knew a 10 year-old who found this joke so brilliant she repeated it with maddening regularity: “Two muffins were sitting in an oven. One said, ‘Is it getting hot in here?’ The other said, ‘Oh my god! It’s a talking muffin!'” That one stayed funny for a while.

 

Now in my house we’re going meta, discussing joke mechanics.

And just last week my oldest, now 13, left a note for my on top of the dinner dishes:

Hurrgh rurg arrook (Wookie for “I love you”).

 

Not as good as the one about the hat, but how could you top that?

 

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