Archives for August 2015

The Parenting Garden

This week’s guest post was written by Jen Bettis. We hope that you find it useful, and look forward to future posts by Jen.

Baldhill kids

It’s the time of year in which we can harvest the fruits of our gardens. Gardeners have spend hours watering and cultivating growth to produce this fruit.

This practice also works with parenting, and goes along with the Nurturing Parenting teaching curriculum written by Dr. Stephen J. Bavolek. It is easy to get caught up in the negatives in life. Many of the parents I work with can easily share the negative behaviors in their children, often citing how they want these behaviors to change. Much of a parent’s time and attention is poured into changing these behaviors.

One way to problem solve is to do the opposite of what we might think. Rather than focusing attention on changing the negative behaviors, Dr. Bavolek encourages parents to focus on the positive behaviors they see in their children. In the midst of the negative behaviors it is easy to lose sight of the positive ones, the areas in children that are producing fruit.

As all parents know, there is limited time and energy in each day; in gardening, the watering can has a limited amount of water to be poured out. My encouragement to parents is to look at where the water is being poured. How much is spent correcting negative behaviors (watering weeds) versus praising positive behaviors (watering seeds which lead to fruit)?

Often something as simple as spending 15 to 30 minutes of quality time each day engaging with your child will result in growth. Try it. Turn off technology, put aside any preconceived ideas of what the child should be, and get on their level. Let them take the lead and engage in an activity that brings them joy. The families that participate in our parenting class are asked to do this and report back each week. The stories from the parents who fully engage are full of hope and encouragement. They share change in their relationship with their children as well as an increase in positive behaviors.

Over my time working with children and families I have come to understand how important boundaries, structure and consistency are for children. Structure in particular has a positive impact on the family as a whole. When working with families, adding structure to the home is often the first place I start.

My recommendations are to start small, with tasks the family feels they can be consistent with. Consistency will help children know what to expect and what is expected of them, which often lowers anxiety in the child.

Often we start with tasks and activities that are already regularly happening, such as sleeping and eating. Once those patterns are regularly in place the family can continue to build, adding in other daily tasks such as chores, homework, family time and so on.

I also encourage families to include children in setting a daily schedule, particularly offering choices on when activities happen through the day. For example; would you like to complete your homework right after school or have a snack first and then do your homework? This helps the child feel that they are a part of the plan and usually increases their willingness to participate in the schedule.

Finally, I encourage parents not to aim for perfection. It will likely be a slow process with steps forward and back. Being a boundary holder can be a difficult job. I warn parents that children will likely push back at first, testing to see how strong the boundaries are. Hold tight to the areas that are most important for you and your family. With time the whole family will adjust.

Jen Bettis is the Intensive Safety and Reunification Services Supervisor at Family Tree Relief Nursery. She teaches Nurturing Parenting classes at Family Tree.


“How Would You Know?”

This week’s guest post was written by Jeni Jorgens. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Jeni.


“How would you know?”


The experience of a childless parent-educator

In short, I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know what it feels like to have my child step on my face when I’m still slumbering in the morning, I wouldn’t know the constant anxiety about my child’s well-being, and I wouldn’t know the crushing anguish of hearing my child say “I hate you!”

I will tell you what I do know. I know that parenting is hard. Really, really, really hard. I know that parenting tests limits you didn’t even know existed. Mostly, I know that all parents do the best they can with what they know and have.

I do not have children; however, my job is supporting parents in becoming the best parents they can be. Often, this includes sharing tips and ideas to make child-rearing a little bit easier. When I am in someone’s life, problem-solving various family-related things, I am sometimes asked the question I dread most: “So, do you have kids?”

When a parent asks me this, a small wave of panic consumes me while I search for the best way to answer. Do I explain that although I don’t have kids, I have a lot of education? No, that sounds too smug. Do I talk about all of the experience I have? Perhaps too defensive. Can I simply say “no,” with no rationalization for why they should listen to me? So here the parent and I sit, most likely both fearing judgment from each other.

In these moments, I settle on “I do not have kids, but I love them, have taken care of a lot of them, and want to support your family.” I share that I do not, in fact, have all of the answers (or claim to), and that I appoint the parent as the true expert.

Being in this position has its benefits for both the family and me. Having an objective perspective, I may be able to think of solutions that are not clouded by emotion and exhaustion. As for me, I have the wonderful opportunity to learn about situations and challenges I may have never considered.

All in all, I really don’t know what it is like to be a parent, but my hope is that the family and I can work as a team. We can brainstorm and try new things together. We can teach each other. We can nurture the family so that they not just surviving, but thriving.

Jeni Jorgens is the Infant Specialist at Family Tree Relief Nursery.


Mommy, Why?


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

Toddlers are like little scientists, toddling, as they do, around their environment gathering information and trying to figure it all out. At one point children will start asking, “Why?” As an adult who still loves to question why, this is one of my favorite stages of human development.

Recently my four year-old daughter has been asking her whys. “Mommy, why is there a sun?” “Mommy, why do we have necks?” “Mommy, why do I have a belly?” My reaction is always to turn this question back to her: “Well, why do you think?” I enjoy her answers greatly, especially the most recent response to why she thinks she has a nose. “So I can give you nose kisses,” she replied.

As these whys continued, I thought to myself that I needed to buy my daughter a book with information about the five senses. But upon further investigation I realized that no book could possible encompass the answers to all my daughter’s questions. Suddenly, the creative mommy part of my brain clicked on and I thought, “Why not make her a personal Why Book?”

Now, creating a book for a child can be as extravagant or as simple as you want it. As a working mother of six children, I prefer the simpler version. For this Why Book I printed out some coloring pages depicting the five senses, gathered some blank colored paper, printed a picture of my daughter, bought some stickers, crayons, and a 50 cent pocket folder with three prongs. I hole-punched all the pages and put them into the folder, then printed off a page with my daughter’s name and the title: Why Book.

When I presented this to my four year-old she helped me to decorate the front of the book with stickers. Then we discussed eyes, and I asked her what types of things she saw with her eyes. She responded, “a snowman.” Together my daughter and I drew a snowman and I labeled it.

This project created quiet time for my daughter to explore the world, color, and look at new words. She really enjoys the book, and there are plenty of blank pages to utilize for more why questions. I love the idea of being able to capture her questions and answers and save them for the future.

Julie Whitus is an In-Home Safety & Reunification Services Advocate at Family Tree Relief Nursery.


The Dress Rehearsal


So, school is starting soon. If you’re not one of those parents who have kept those routines going throughout the Summer (have you met one? I’m sure they exist), then you and your kids may have some adjusting to do in order to transition smoothly into the school year.

One difference that makes itself apparent is that suddenly, a lot more will be happening in the morning. Kids will need to be fed, bathed, dressed and ready to go—to the bus stop, to the car, on foot, preferably with shoes on—and all of these things need to happen on time.

Don’t freak out! Some of this will have to work itself out through experimentation, and there may be mornings in which someone’s shirt is inside out and the homework is in the lunchbox. And that’s okay. But there are ways to prepare the ground, as it were, to make the coming circus easier to mount.

One week is generally enough time to get back into school routines. This gives time to work out the kinks, to try the steps in a different order or at a longer or shorter duration, and most importantly it gives kids the opportunity to adjust to this new reality. They are going to be full of excitement and trepidation in more or less equal measure, and knowing how their sendoff will work goes a long way toward easing their minds and being able to focus on the good stuff.

What needs to happen? Here are the essentials.

  1. The night before: have a good idea of what breakfast will be, and what lunches will look like, if applicable. Lay the kids’ clothes out, or have outfits stored together for easy access.
  2. In the morning: You should be up first, because you’re the ringmaster. It is good for parents to establish their own morning rituals in order to be awake and ready to meet the kids’ needs. Making coffee is the key to my success (if not my very existence). My girls like to read books or draw first thing, so I might leave books, paper and pencils out for them to find.
  3. Kids can get used to getting up on time. Like I said, a week should be enough time for this to sink in. It might be good to allow a few days with little pressure before making it a “dress rehearsal.”
  4. Help kids practice dressing, toothbrushing, and gathering of backpacks, jackets and whatever else they might need. Give gentle reminders with little pressure, and make it fun, with incentives and rewards for mastering the task (my kids are fond of brushing to a timer; something like a sticker chart might work to encourage the practice).

These days of preparation are the place to learn what works and what needs tweaking. Remember to be gentle and patient now that the stakes are low and by the time “opening day” arrives, you will all feel more confident and comfortable with the new routine. And by removing barriers to the kids’ success, you are helping them to a place in which they are ready to learn.

Did I mention the coffee part?