Archives for 2014

Tips for Shopping Trips: Toddlers to Teens

This week’s guest post is by Julie Whitus. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Julie.


As a mother of six children, I have had some traumatic experiences in grocery stores, including meltdowns, tantrums, rude looks from strangers, and just plain embarrassment. Now my oldest child is 19 years old and my youngest is three. Throughout my years as a parent, I have come up with a few helpful tips to help make grocery shopping enjoyable for the whole family.

First, I think it is important to remember these three things before going grocery shopping:

1. Avoid shopping at high traffic times (for example, the lunch hour and dinner rush).

2. Avoid shopping when anyone is really hungry or really tired.

3. Create safety rules and before entering the store, and help your children recite them. For my family they are simple: walk, hold on to cart, and use indoor voices.

Toddler Tips

Play I Spy

While at the grocery store with a toddler, go near the item you are looking for and say, “We need bananas; what color are bananas?” “Can you help me find the yellow bananas?” This gives your toddler something to do and they enjoy helping. You can also include them in weighing produce on the scales.

Counting Games

When choosing items such as yogurt or canned foods, have your toddler help to count them or place them in the cart.

Elementary School Age Tips

Write the Shopping List

If your child loves to write or plan, have them help you write the list. My  8 year-old loves this part of shopping.

Find the Aisle, Food, and Best Price

This requires more creativity than playing I Spy with the toddler. Say things like, “Hmm, I am looking for cereal; what aisle is that in?” “We need cereal; what does that start with? Do you see an aisle that has cereal on the sign?” Depending on age and development, sometimes I make it a game and ask which child can find the best priced item.

Tips for Teens

Menu Planning

Have your teens pick a night to cook. They can plan out the ingredients and     budget. This is great because it gives the teens a mission, their choice of a meal, and an understanding of the cost of food. Also, teenagers can help to write out the shopping list, find the items and do the math to keep it to a budget.

I know as a mom that a trip to the grocery store can be challenging. Just remember that children love to help and have a developmental need to be stimulated. Feel free to try these tips or come up with your own. Of course, nothing works all the time and if a meltdown occurs, it’s okay…it happens.


Julie Whitus is an ISRS (In-Home Safety and Reunification Services) Advocate at Family Tree Relief Nursery.


Nurturing Lifetime Readers

This week’s guest post is from Lindsey Blake. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Lindsey. Here’s hoping there are some books under the tree this year.

One of my favorite times as a child was when my mom would say, “Alright girls, let’s pick out some books for us to read before bedtime!” My sister and I would then race to our bedroom closet and bring out an armful of books. My mom would read them to us; and though my sister and I were toddlers, we would sometimes “read” the books to my mom.

Looking back, bedtime reading was truly a bonding experience for the three of us. No matter how busy we were as a family, my mom made an effort to set aside this time for us every night. Even if it was for a mere five minutes I always treasured this time, and it became part of our nightly routine.

Reading to children, from as early as infancy, is helpful in many ways:

1) Reading can foster a child’s imagination. Reading introduces children to new words, colors and pictures, stories and concepts. A preschooler may open up a book and read to those around her. She may tell a story that makes no sense to an adult, but to the child it is fascinating!

2) Reading can help children understand tough transitional times. Big milestones like potty training, going to school, going to the doctor, welcoming a new sibling, etc. can often be explained well with stories and pictures.

3) Reading a book with your kids can help build their attention span. Children, as you know, are full of energy and have a hard time staying still. Through reading on a regular basis, children will learn to be engaged with the story and will develop an interest in listening.

4) Reading creates the ability to learn for a lifetime. A toddler who is read to becomes an elementary student who likes to read, and will continue to read as an adult.

I encourage you to make reading to your child a regular activity. It’s never too early to start, and if you build it into your daily routine, then books will become a treasured and valuable part of their lives.

Happy reading!


Lindsey Blake is a Family Support Worker in the Parents And Children Together program at Family Tree Relief Nursery.


You Don’t Have To Fix It

We continue with what is turning out to be a month of guest bloggers with a post from featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.


Just the other day I got a text message from one of my adult children complaining about a problem. I texted back a helpful suggestion, and another, and another. Which were received with several, “Yes, buts.” It wasn’t until a couple hours later that it occurred to me that I could have simply been empathetic. I could have listened and acknowledged the challenges of dealing with that problem instead of trying to fix it.

I know that listening with empathy is the best way to respond. I have experienced the benefits many times.

  • When I listen empathetically, I show respect. Being respected helps anyone cope with difficult situations.
  • When I listen without trying to solve the problem, I convey confidence in the other person’s ability to deal with the situation. The process of coming up with one’s own solutions to problems promotes learning and growth and increased ability and confidence.
  • When I refrain from offering solutions, I usually find out more information about the situation. When the other person feels free to tell me more, the problem becomes clearer to both of us.

Empathetic listening without jumping in to try to “fix it” is the cornerstone of the classic How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, and a major part of most other parenting books and curriculums. It’s a skill that is useful in any relationship.

Yes, there are times when fixing a problem is necessary—medical emergencies and dangerous situations are times to act and be empathetic along the way. In non-emergencies, empathy is a place to start; sometimes it is all that is needed, other times it opens the door to finding out more information and problem solving together or with outside help.

I share the strategy of empathetic listening with parents in my workshops and in my volunteer work all the time. I’m reasonably successful in responding empathetically to other people. But, as I tell parents, it is a whole lot easier to respond with empathy to a stranger or a friend than to your own children—even when they are competent adults! When I’m the parent, I have a strong gut urge to fix whatever the problem is. However, I have found some strategies that help me remember:

  1. Giving myself empathy first.
  1. Acknowledging (to myself) my underlying worries and fears about my child’s condition or situation. The urge to jump in with solutions is usually based in fear.
  1. Apologize when I jump into fix-it mode. Request a do over. Ask my children to remind me.

Being empathetic isn’t easy. It is worth it, though. One mother shared in a workshop that she dreading having her children tell her things because she thought she needed to solve all their problems, once she let go of having to “fix it,” she was happy to listen more. Now that I think about it, I probably wouldn’t have gotten that text in the first place without a background of years of (much of the time, anyway) listening without trying to “fix it.”


Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.


Turning the Cup

This week’s guest post is by Dessie Wilson. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Dessie.


I do believe that you’re a product of what you’re raised in.

My mother was born into poverty; she suffered mental and sexual abuse from both of her parents. She got pregnant at a young age and was forced to marry a very abusive sociopath. My mother bore three children with my father, and I am the middle child. We suffered from chronic homelessness and abuse during my early childhood years, followed by several stays in domestic violence shelters hiding from my father. My mother had experienced tremendous trauma and abuse and yet she was raising (by this time) four kids, working, and going to college, so it was in all respects every child for themselves.

I was not raised with rules or discipline. I was never read to, nor did I receive help with homework. I was never told to brush or floss my teeth. I wasn’t raised to do chores, I was raised to run wild and make sure my younger brothers were taken care of.

Now that I am a mother, I often say that I am not sure that I was meant to be one. I don’t think that it is a gift I was born with. I am not naturally nurturing, or empathetic, or even that caring and gentle. I lack the skills to be a disciplined productive parent, the same skills that were not demonstrated to me when I was a child. I’m horrible at making sure my kids do their homework; I brush my teeth but do not make them brush theirs.

The one thing I take away from my childhood is that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mother loves me. I have always felt comfortable talking to her. And I believe that one thing I do right as a parent is fostering an environment where my children feel safe to talk to me. Throughout the last couple of years and through my program of recovery, I have learned how to listen to my girls. I can allow them to talk without talking back. I even ask my thirteen year-old if she would like to know what I hear, and if she tells me no, I listen and don’t give her unsolicited advice.

My children’s father is not present, and I get to share with my girls my own experience of having an absent father. I share how my relationship with my father made me feel unwanted and unloved and unimportant. I share my fears of being abandoned, of not being loveable or good enough.

Most importantly, I get to share with them how I learned that it wasn’t true. That I was always wanted and important and loved but that my father didn’t know how to show me, because he had something broken inside of him too. When my children come home and complain about getting picked on or bullied, I turn the cup for them. I share my experience, and how I have learned that what other people do or say to me is not about me as much as it is about them: how most kids are full of fear and have a basic social instinct, and if making fun of you is one way they can get to the top, then that has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them, and their fear of not being liked. I take my childhood and adulthood experience and share them with my children so that hopefully I can turn the cup for them and show them a different perspective on life.

I am by no means mother of the year—I yell at my kids, I get frustrated, I cry—but I try to foster an environment of communication and unconditional love.


Dessie Wilson is the Family Treatment Court Advocate at Family Tree Relief Nursery.


A Shopping Story

This week’s post was contributed by Kelly Schell. I hope that you find it useful and we look forward to more posts from Kelly in the future.


I remember my first solo trip to the grocery store several weeks after the birth of my second child. I took my two daughters, one a toddler, to do some grocery shopping. It was my first opportunity to do so since being discharged from the hospital. I was exhausted, and not at my best.

Upon arriving at the store, I looked for a cart and discovered that none of them had built in infant seats. I did not have the type of infant car seat that had a detachable carrier, so I had to juggle my 22 month-old daughter, her newborn sister and a cart. Faced with this situation, I decided the easiest thing to do was to let my 22 month-old walk with me while shopping. I awkwardly pushed the cart with one arm while holding my two week old infant with the other.

My other daughter, being a bright and independent toddler, soon realized my limitations. Taking advantage of this, she took off running through the store, ready to play a game of chase. I called out to her to stop, becoming increasingly frustrated when she kept going. I found that I had to abandon the shopping cart in order to pursue my wildly giggling toddler through the store. I became increasingly frustrated, angry and embarrassed as I unsuccessfully attempted to rein in my errant daughter. My feeling of embarrassment was intensified by the fact that the chase was witnessed by other customers, most of whom openly stared as we passed them. I was sure I was being judged and found lacking as a parent; after all, I couldn’t even control my small child. When I eventually caught up to my daughter, I felt irritated and angry that she had done this to me. I retrieved her, ensuring that she knew how unhappy I was with her, and quickly left the store to go home.

I have used this more than once as an example to underscore how we perceive what other people are thinking often influences us, especially in our parenting. Most of us, especially in stressful situations, have a negative inner dialogue that happens regularly that we may not even be aware of. For example, when I am shopping and my two year old tantrums loudly in the middle of store, I might think things like: “I’m a bad mother,” or “My child is acting awful”. Looks and occasional comments made by well-meaning bystanders often serve to reinforce our negative perception of our parenting. We tend to assume that people are judging us, even if they really aren’t. All of these factors can make it difficult to remain calm and focus on dealing effectively with our children.

There are several tactics you can use to help you remain calm and focused in these situations.

  • Be aware of your negative self-talk and change it to positive self-talk. This is not easy and takes practice. Instead of “I’m a bad mother” you could change it to, “I’m a good mother doing the best I can.” Instead of “My child is acting awful” you could say, “My child is acting like a normal two year old.”
  • Remember that you know your child better than anyone, and ignore unsolicited opinions. People may judge you, and you have no control over that, but you can decide how it will affect you. This is also difficult and will require practice.
  • Avoid or minimize the potential for public outings to become overly stressful. One way to do this is to plan ahead as much as possible and to set expectations for your children. When children know what to expect, things tend to go much smoother for them and for you. Be flexible; you may have to change your plan, no matter how well thought out it is.

I can look back on my experience and laugh now, but if I’d had more tools at the time, it would have been a better experience for both of us.


Kelly Schell is the Family Navigator at Family Tree Relief Nursery. 


Winter Is Coming


Parenting is hard. It’s difficult enough without having to worry about getting by.

And yet: it’s getting colder, utility bills are mounting, and our children need warm clothes. The economy could be recovering faster. Do you know where to look for help?

The Holiday Resource Guide on the Parenting Success Network site is a great place to start. I want to highlight some of the other organizations in our area that can help get your family through the Winter.

Services offered by CSC include the Linn-Benton Food Share program and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides financial help with utilities as well as free education on weatherization and energy conservation in the home.

“As your state-designated community action agency, CSC is here to help. We offer a number of services in Linn, Benton, and Lincoln counties. These services focus on essential day-to-day survival, such as food and housing, as well as developing new skills that lead to independence through education, training, and work.”

Fish of Albany provides emergency services including food, clothing, school supplies, rent and utility assistance, and help with transportation.

“Fish of Albany, Inc. is a cooperative effort begun in 1972 by civic leaders and churches to fill crisis needs for food. Incorporated in 1973, Fish has evolved to address changing community needs. It is run by 6 staff and over 30 volunteers and is funded by local churches, private donations and gifts from United Way and foundations. Annually, Fish volunteers and staff provide services to well over 22, 500 people. “

211 info is a phone-based resource that can connect you with a variety of local programs.

“Last year more than 425,000 people contacted us by dialing 211, searching for resources on, texting their zip code to 898211 or emailing us — all toll-free and confidential. We also have bilingual staff who can take calls in Spanish; all staff have access to an interpreter service with more than 140 languages. We’re everyone’s front door to nonprofit, government and faith-based programs. There are roughly 3,000 agencies in our database providing over 50,000 programs to people throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington.”

I refer these and other services regularly to my clients at work, and I have found that they are helpful, friendly and willing to tell you about other services if they are not able to provide exactly what you need. I have also used them myself. Working full-time and supporting four children and a stay-at-home spouse, I have taken advantage of Community Service Consortium’s Utility Assistance Program at the start of each year.

No one has to do this alone. Seeking out local resources can help us place the focus where it should be: taking care of our families.

Stay warm out there.


Music to Their Ears

I’m a bit of a music geek. Much of my free time is spent discovering music old and new, mainstream and obscure, making mixes (on CDs, because I’m old), reading, thinking and writing about music and, whenever I can do it, listening.

I also have four daughters, and as much as I want to share my enthusiasm with them, this has proved to be tricky. For one thing, much of what I listen to is simply not appropriate for children (the same can be said for what still gets played on Top 40 radio). For another, my girls are free with their opinions and have made it clear what they want to hear and what they don’t (my seven year-old is alone among her sisters in appreciating a good synthesizer).

What works for them? We play a lot of classical music during the day. It has been claimed that playing Bach and Vivaldi and especially Mozart can have a positive effect on a child’s brain development; and though the evidence for this has been disputed, there’s no doubt that it makes a nice backdrop for them as they work and play. Jazz and folk music have always been popular in our house. While the kids love the soothing sounds of New Age music, I…don’t, so much.

It is only recently that my kids have discovered the musical mainstream, in the form of the soundtrack to Frozen. You are probably familiar with this, especially if you have girls. There is nothing like hearing four children sing “Let It Go” at the same time in four different tempos and levels of volume.

Children are always listening, and will soak up whatever is around them. Some of my earliest memories are of my parents playing Janis Joplin and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and not surprisingly they stuck with me. It made me very aware, as a parent, of what I am exposing them to. So what’s the best way to introduce music to kids?

  • It’s important to help children connect what they’re hearing to the people making the music. If you have musicians in your family, let your kids see and hear them playing instruments.
  • If you can, practice an instrument, any instrument, at home. I own a banjo, and regardless of my lack of skill, it is good for them to see me struggle with it. After all, we want them to know that we take on skills through practice, and that failing is part of the process (I am good at failing on banjo).
  • Show them performances on YouTube and point out what’s happening. Help them to identify the sounds that they’re hearing and where they come from.
  • Encourage them to make music on their own, whether it be through the music program at their school, or with instruments (bought or made) at home. Countless studies have made connections between music making and other skills, especially math and problem-solving.
  • Most importantly, sing! Make up songs for bedtime, cleanup time, bath time, and crossing the street. Sing lullabies. And yes, sing songs from Frozen. Using songs to prepare children for chores, transitions and other routines has proven to be very effective.

A Kitchen of Their Own


Everybody eats.

That’s why a play kitchen is a crucial part of our childrens’ education at home. Through playing at cooking and serving food, our kids can practice the skills they will need as they get older. They can learn about nutrition, how to prepare a balanced meal, and how to interact with others around food. Kids like to imitate the work we do around the house, and a play kitchen can provide an entry into helping grownups in the “real” kitchen.

Who can benefit from a play kitchen? It is traditionally thought of as a toy for girls, but given that everybody eats, and everybody can prepare food, it is just as important and just as valuable for boys.

You can spend as much or as little money as you wish. We have a simple wooden kitchen with a stovetop, a sink, some cabinets and an oven. Most toy stores carry more elaborate models with a microwave, a kitchen clock, and various dials and thingamajigs. But you can use most anything to make a play kitchen, and the kids will be glad to help. A cardboard box, with circles drawn on top for burners, works just dandy.

There’s no need to buy play food, either. My girls recently stocked their pantry with food they made from clay and painted; they frequently use wooden blocks, paper cutouts, water, dry rice and beans, mud (preferably while outside, though this is not always the case) and pure, all-natural imagination. They love to play with empty containers such as butter boxes, yogurt cartons, and cupcake holders. We often “hand down” old utensils, plates and cups.

Kids love to help out with food preparation. Even toddlers can stir batter, combine ingredients, chop vegetables, fruit or, say, cheese sticks (closely supervised, of course, with a butter knife or crinkle cutter: safety first!). My nine year-old daughter has mastered baking from a recipe, and can scramble eggs like a champ.

Involving kids in kitchen work is a great way to introduce math concepts through measuring and timing; to show them where ingredients come from and how they work together to make a meal; and to model cooperation and sharing work with others. The added responsibilities will make them feel proud and useful. Best of all, if kids are picky eaters they are much more likely to try, and enjoy, foods they had a hand in making. Inevitably, they practice these skills in the play kitchen as well.


To Nurture



What do we mean when we say we want to nurture our children? As parents we probably think right away about food, clothing, shelter. I don’t know about you, but those considerations alone take up most of my time. Hugs, snuggles, taking care of “owies.” Those things are nurturing, right?

But when it comes to the more complicated functions of parenting—teaching values, establishing routines, instilling discipline—what is the most nurturing thing we can do?

It’s always useful to consult the Four Questions, as I brought up last week. When I check what I want to be doing against what I’m actually doing, I am often surprised, and not always in a good way.

What does nurturing mean? I’m not a gardener (I struggle to keep houseplants alive), but I can understand that I need to be watering and tending the plants that are useful, and that if I don’t, it’s the weeds that are likely to flourish and take over.

There’s a story that keeps coming up when I have conversations about parenting in a nurturing way.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” 

What does this have to do with parenting? I want to “feed the wolf” that will help my child feel loved, valued and respected. So, I have to demonstrate this with real words and actions. For example:

My time with my children should belong to them, rather than my iPhone screen (I struggle with this).

Nap times and bedtimes should be calming and predictable, and I should be committed to helping them to rest.

I should discipline them according to clear and consistent expectations; they should know what my expectations are, and any consequences should follow logically from them.

If I want them to be the most responsible, capable and caring people they can be, I need to focus on the behavior that demonstrates these things, rather than the behavior that falls short. If I feed the wolf that misbehaves—with my time, my attention and especially my anger—then the misbehavior is what will flourish.

None of these things are easy. They take real work, experimentation and practice. But I find that it is helpful to keep in mind what it is that I want to do, and what it means to nurture.



Sullen tee w/dad

Have you ever been compelled to apologize? As in, “Tell your brother you’re sorry for taking his Transformer?” How did that work out? Did you feel sorry? I didn’t. After all, he said that his Optimus Prime was better than my stupid GoBot (remember GoBots?). I didn’t feel apologetic. I felt hurt. So when I said, “Sorry,” it came out just as lame and insincere as it felt.

Why do we do this, as parents? I’m thinking about the very useful Four Questions, from a training given by Parenting Now in Eugene (Kara wrote about it for this site a couple of years ago). They go like this:

  1. What do I want my child to learn?
  2. Is what I’m doing teaching that?
  3. Are there any negative results from it?
  4. If so, what can I do differently?

Let’s run through it. When I tell my child to apologize for something, what do I want them to learn? I guess I want them to feel sorry, right? I’m trying to instill a sense of right and wrong. But I also want them to know what to do when they cause harm (or perceived harm) to someone else, and to expect the same in return. Fine. So far, so good.

So, is directing the child to apologize accomplishing that? I remember well enough the feeling. Even on the offending end of things, I still felt wronged. No sincerity there. Could it be that the feeling doesn’t come on demand?

Is my child learning the etiquette of apology? Maybe. But what’s more important here? Aren’t we teaching the lesson that we should expect an apology more than how to give one?

Negative results? I didn’t feel sorry. I wanted even more to throw that Transformer out the window. And I felt put upon, and judged.

Okay, so we know what we want to teach. Is there a better way?

There is. It’s called modeling. If we want our kids to learn to apologize, we’ve got to show them how to do it.

Fortunately, there’s a great place to practice telling our children that we’re sorry. It’s called real life.

Wait, why would we, as parents, apologize to our children? Aren’t we supposed to be the authority here? Haven’t we used “because I’m the parent, that’s why” as evidence to back up a claim? Doesn’t being sorry mean that we have made a mistake, that we don’t have everything figured out all the time, that we occasionally slip up?

Exactly. And our children know how it feels to slip up (probably far more than we realize). And more importantly, they will appreciate it when we acknowledge and own up to our own foibles. Apologizing to our children shows them how to deal with mistakes and with behavior that they (and we) know was not appropriate. Once they are given the opportunity to forgive a very human parent, they will feel how important it is to say they’re sorry.

Try it sometime. Don’t worry: there’s no need to create a situation in which to apologize. It’ll come up.