Archives for October 2015

Yelling and Screaming and Time Outs (Oh My)


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


I was a mom of a very angry 3 year old, just a small time ago. My daughter was angry for many reasons and like most first time parents, I was at a loss as to how to help her. She would yell and scream, slam doors, and throw things, so I did what every “good” parent does, I watched Super Nanny. You know the show, where the British Nanny comes in and saves the whole family through time outs.  So I followed her example and used time outs regularly.

My poor daughter would be throwing a tantrum and I would pick her up and sit her in the “time out spot” and tell her that she could get up in three minutes. When she would get up–and she would always get up–I would put her back and add another minute. I remember at one point she was up to 15 minutes in the time out spot! I thought this is ridiculous. At that point I had no idea what she was in trouble for and neither did she. All I knew is we were both very upset and exhausted. That night I decided we both needed some help.

I found the most amazing counselor for my daughter. He taught me that there are other ways to handle difficult problems.  First he gave my child and me the language to keep each other accountable. He would ask my daughter, “When that happened and you were upset, were you growing up or growing down?” He told me that this was easier for children to understand because it was more visual. He even told me I could use it as a reminder: “Are you growing up right now, or growing down?” Now, when my child was super upset, she would say “I don’t know.” The response from her counselor was, “Oh well, you have time to think about it.” I thought, “Wow, what an idea, to give them time to come up with the right choice.” I started using it at home, and it helped so much.

The next step was addressing “time outs”. He told me that they don’t work. It only becomes a control issue; your focus is on time and control rather than the real problem. This is where he gave me the best gift ever. I can let go of the control and give it to my child. This may not sound like a good thing, but it changed my relationship with my daughter.

How I did it was the key. “Time outs” turned into “Taking a break” or “time away.” When my daughter was getting worked up and started doing things she shouldn’t, I would ask her if she was growing up or growing down. If that did not help her to calm down I would ask her to go to her break spot. (We had discussed with her counselor what was going to happen during these “growing down” behaviors. Then my daughter could choose her break spot). She did not take it as a punishment, because she got to choose when she was ready to come out and talk again. When she came out we would talk about what happened; she would give me a way to handle it better, and I would give her a way to handle it better (if you are trying this with your child and they cannot come up with a way, give them ideas). We always ended with a hug and “I love yous.”

The first time we did this, my daughter sat for fifteen minutes before coming out. Sometimes it was shorter. When she was really worked up, she would come back and still be upset. In that case I would give her a hug, acknowledge how upset she still was, and tell her that she may need more of a break to talk. She would always go back to the break spot until she felt better.


Tara Webster is the Home Based Supervisor at Family Tree Relief Nursery.


Self-care, Schmelf-care


I go to a lot of trainings as a parent educator, and a concept that comes up with some frequency is “self-care.” For some reason, this term fills me with a sense of dread (if a workshop can be a source of dread; I understand that there are scarier things in this world). It usually means that I am going to be given a bag with some pipe cleaners and a teabag in it.

In the “people professions,” as my supervisor puts it, we tend to want to give a lot to the families we work with, and often we neglect to give ourselves what we need to sustain this draining work. If you are a parent, you will understand this dilemma.

The work of caring for children, dressing and comforting and teaching and feeding them on a regular basis, leaves little time or energy for self-care.

But there is the maxim that in order to fill their cup, we have to keep our own cup filled as well. I don’t know about you, but this is usually the last thing I think about. Getting more than five hours of sleep a night is pretty much the extent of my personal cup-filling, and sometimes this doesn’t work out so well either.

What do we need in order to remain healthy and fulfilled as caregivers? My focus of late has been to stay connected with my wife, to be sure that the time we have together allows us to enjoy each other’s friendship and company. With four small children, this is easier said than done. After all, even when all the kids are asleep there is the chance that one of them will be up, and needing something, at any moment. Knowing a good babysitter would seem to be a key here, but given the emphasis we place on regular (and early) bedtimes in our family we don’t take advantage of this with any regularity. Weekends for my wife are a time during which, since I am home, she can catch up on planning for the next week of homeschooling and meals. I try to do most of the cooking and kid-watching so that she can do this.

  • I find time in the spaces between things. During my commute to and from work (26 minutes each way, traffic allowing) I listen to music, loudly. I understand that this is not always the best option, but I know from experience that if I don’t do this I will talk to myself incessantly. And I don’t find that relaxing.
  • When I was at a previous job, at a residential facility for children, I found a spot between work and home where I could stop and walk among the trees and spot birds. Fifteen to twenty minutes was usually enough to recharge my batteries. The secret was to leave my phone in the car and learn to accept the silence. These days, I sometimes park a few blocks from home, turn off the music, and sit and breathe for a while. When I walk in the door I will have freed myself of whatever worries I took with me when I got in the car.
  • Another thing with which I have become reacquainted is the luxury of reading in bed. Now that the girls are all old enough to have their own beds (though I do not expect them all to stay there), I realize that I will never take for granted the experience of settling back on my pillow with a book.

Because we’re parents, self-care is never an end in itself, but allows us to keep up with a job that never ends. What do you do? How do you keep your cup filled?


Rest Time, Anyone?

Miriam kicking it

A couple of weeks ago I told you about a typical day in home school. I stopped at what is, to me, the most amazing part of the day: what we call rest time.

Rest time is a magical thing. It serves as a sort of hinge upon which the whole day turns. And I don’t know how or why it works so well. But I’d like to tell you about it.

Rest time, as I understand it, grew out of the days (actually the several years) during which we had one or more children young enough to need a nap in the middle of the day. As you probably know, it’s kind of important for the kids that are not sleeping to be, you know, quiet, and not jumping on their younger siblings’ beds or undertaking construction projects right outside their door. So, that’s a challenge.

The solution was to set up a routine for the others in which they had the opportunity to engage in a quiet, peaceful activity for the duration of naptime. As the little ones grew older and the need for naps subsided, we continued the practice of rest time for the whole family. Here’s how it works:

Like any routine for children—or anyone, for that matter—the transitions are the tricky part. It’s hard to move from one place or activity to the next, and this is precisely where many behavioral issues, tantrums, and resistance to adult expectations come about. So there are built-in rituals for moving into and out of rest time.

  • To set the stage, the kids know there are certain things they have to do when lunch is over: wash hands and face, make their beds, and tidy the area. Those that need help with these things may receive it, but at this point even the four and six year-old are able to undertake these tasks with minimal interference.
  • Once everyone is ready, rest time can begin. In our house the two youngest and two oldest share a bedroom, so there are two separate activities going on at once. Many parents find it easier to give everyone a separate space, or to keep them together; in our case, this is what works best.

The idea of rest time is spend an interval in some form of tranquil concentration, without a lot of movement and without noise or talking. We listen to a lot of audiobooks in our family, and rest time is a good opportunity for them to catch up on their stories. Right now the younger pair is listening to The Secret Garden, an old favorite, while the two oldest are deep in the latest book in the Redwall series. While they listen they remain in their room, and may have paper and drawing supplies, or books to look at, or puzzles to assemble. On other days, this would be a good time for them to watch something: a movie on Fridays, or a couple of episodes of Sesame Street or (for the eldest girls) a documentary series like Edwardian Farm (their choice, I swear).

  • If you are wanting to establish a routine like this, you might try starting out with smaller chunks of time—15 to 30 minutes, especially if you have toddlers or preschool aged kids. At this point, our grizzled veterans engage successfully in rest time for an hour to 90 minutes a day.
  • It’s just as important to have a way out of this activity and into the next, so in our house the end of rest time means afternoon tea (or snack, as the Americans call it). After that there is usually an outing of some sort, or it’s time to play outside. The upshot is that now it’s time for some movement and activity.

How does this work so well for us? Frankly, I’m baffled every time. Like any routine, consistency is the key. And of course, for a homeschooling family this is more or less a daily practice; you might want to try it on the weekends and experience the magic for yourself.

By the way, while the kids are in rest time, this is a great time for the adults to catch up on housework, pay the bills, or paint the porch, right?

Not so fast, pal. You should be resting.


Taking a Breath


A funny thing happened on the way to my blog post last night.

One of the things about homeschooling is that the kids are all home, together, and they get to share everything. So when someone gets sick, everyone is in on the experience. If you have a family, you know how this works. The constant laundry, the cleaning supplies, the probability that with four sick children one of them is likely to be up at any given time of the night. Parenting does not stop for illness; on the contrary, it shifts into a higher gear. The vigilance, the worry, the lack of sleep pile on and everything is more challenging for the duration of the crisis. And all of this is assuming that you don’t get sick as well.

I like to be useful, so I tend to appreciate this more immediate, concrete mode of parenting. Taking care of someone in need is a good way to feel that I’m doing my job. It’s less complicated, somehow. More elemental.

Maybe it’s the lack of sleep talking.

Anyway, last night my ten year-old’s asthma, which she has had since she was a baby, was triggered by her cold and went into overdrive. Her inhaler didn’t seem to be working and she couldn’t keep anything down. When I got home from work she was ghostly pale.

I took her to the emergency room and she was given a nebulizer treatment. She was a champion. Her relief at being able to breathe again freed her up to tell me all about what she had been reading. We discussed Kit Carson and the Oregon Trail. She regretted having ignored my advice to bring a book (you should always bring a book). So she took my sketchbook and drew a still life of the medical instruments in the triage room.

As a parent you will understand the value of this moment: of being close to your child and knowing that she is going to be okay; that she is free to be the person she is and to share it.

It should be easier for me to appreciate these moments when they happen. My children do something astounding every day. But sometimes it’s important to start with just being there, just being present with them.

Just breathing. That’s a good start.