family time

Answers to Overscheduling

Calendar and to do lists hanging on refrigerator

Parenting often involves a whole lot of scheduling. It’s your own schedule, it’s their school and activities schedule, their playdates and homework or screen time. It is a lot to juggle.

  • Get a Master Calendar – We have a desk size calendar on our dining room table and have each year since our oldest was six. It has our work schedules, school events, parties, weekend plans and vacations. For a while, it had playdates then homework hours. The kids chore chart is right beside the calendar.
  • An hour a day of downtime – If your family’s schedule always seems full, an hour of downtime a day, every day, may be the first thing to put on the calendar. Downtime for children is truly unstructured, go-play time. It is not time on screens and not full of activities that you provide. It’s a time for them to make their own plans. Ideally it’s a full hour at a time, but it’s okay to break it up when you have to.
  • Consider limits – There are so many pulls on our time. It can be helpful to at least consider limits on screen time, set times for homework (even if it varies throughout the week, at least it’s on the calendar), and have 20 minutes of reading and 20 minutes of being read to daily.

General guidelines – These are all for starters, meaning a good place to start, and then a child may be able to handle more or need to shift to less.

  • In Preschool – In the preschool years, consider only scheduling something fixed on days off. If your child is in school three days a week, maybe plan for two or three activities on the days off. For children in five full days, plan for just one other on Saturdays.
  • Starting Kindergarten – The transition to Kindergarten can be exhausting for children. It is a fast paced, academic environment with little downtime or rest. It may be helpful to lay low on other structured activities for the first month or two of Kindergarten.
  • In Elementary School – Plan for school plus two structured activities at a time. However, there are children who can handle far more and some that school is plenty. Two would men piano and soccer or boy scouts and swimming. It may be helpful to place these on Monday and Tuesday when they are more rested from the weekend, or on the weekend when the rest of the day is relaxed.
  • In Middle School – Plan for school plus three structured activities at a time. Also plan for one major activity and two minor activities at a time. Major activities would be a school sport or being a lead in a school play. These types of activities may meet four or five days a week.
  • Go for variety – For my own children, I encourage them to participate in something athletic and something musical at any given time. I’ve let them pick the instruments and sports, just encouraged them to go broad and try new things often. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children not specialize in a year round sport until at least twelve years old.

Answers

  • Have a mission statement – When signing up for something, at least consider why you are enrolling and what you hope you or your child gets out of it.
  • Have the child help decide on activities – By about six or seven years old, I’d ask and take their answers in to account. For sure, when they start in the school band, they should pick the instrument. When they register for high school classes, they should have at least half the say if not more.
  • Also fine to have a few givens – In my house, everyone learns to swim. The option may be different in your house. Maybe it’s foreign language classes to be able to communicate with extended family. It is okay to decide some of this for them as well.
  • Make family time a priority – It may be helpful to put this on the calendar as well. Goals might include whole family time, doing something all together at least once a week. Couples time, a date night (even if it’s at home in front of the TV) at least twice a month. Individual pairs in the family, at least once a month.
  • Resist judging them at every turn – Children aren’t supposed to be good at anything. If they join the swim team, focus on enjoying the meets and asking questions to learn about their experience. Focus on their effort and process more than outcomes.
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How Your Own Sibling Relationships Can Impact Your Children’s Sibling Relationships

 

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Me and Rodney 1975

 

I’ll admit, I am about to way oversimplify an issue about complex family dynamics. There are people who spend years in therapy unraveling the impact from the next few points. That said, there are some fairly obvious ways your own sibling relationships, from growing up and from current exchange, can impact your children’s sibling relationships. While it may not be as direct in your family, still worth stepping back and checking the big picture.

Your expectations from childhood – How you got along with your siblings can shape your expectations for how your children will get along. My brother and I got along great, and I expected my children would get along. My husband and his siblings, not so much. He is still surprised by the way our children get along.

Your current sibling relationships – Through your current sibling relationships you are modeling how to treat and interact with siblings. How much you keep in touch, how you greet each other, the time you spend together and how you move through disagreements are all modeling to children about sibling relationships.

How you speak to and about your siblings – How you speak to and about your siblings, models to children how to speak to and about their siblings. If you put down your siblings, complain about them, or critique their decisions often, it opens the door for this to be how they speak to and about their siblings.

Your tolerance for behaviors shaped by what you experienced – A mother of three was teary-eyed asking how to stop her children from bickering. Her question started, “I just can’t take their bickering. There was constant bickering in my house growing up…” Yes, healthy goal for her children to bicker less. Also healthy to recognize some level of bickering is normal, and to find ways to lessen her carried-over stress about the remainder.

 

Having Difficult Conversations with Children

 

Mother and daughter at home

As a parent, there are so many potentially difficult conversations in front of you. This may include conversations about transitions like moving to a new place or a marriage separation. At some point, you’ll likely have to talk about the significant illness or death of a close relative. Also as they grow, you’ll need to address sex and drugs and alcohol with something more than “don’t.”

Parents set the emotional landscape – How you present information goes a long way towards how they take that information in. I am not saying be a robot, it is normal to be emotional about emotional topics. However, if you present something as “the worst thing ever,” children will take it that way rather than presenting it as “something we are going to work on.” Here is a helpful post about setting the emotional landscape.

Ask what they already know, what they think, how they feel – Before you start, it may be helpful to ask what they already know. If a grandparent has been sick for weeks, you may have not talked to your child directly, but they may have overheard lots. This can give you a good starting point and gives you a chance to clear up any misunderstandings.

A few well planned sentences – For young children, two or three sentences is plenty. This can be longer for older children but good to make it on the brief side and straightforward.

Let their questions be your guide – Once you finish your few, clear sentences be ready to answer their questions. Depending on the topic, the child, and their age, they may have no questions or they may have several. The idea is they are in need of the amount of information they ask for.

Answer all of their questions, honest and small – As difficult as it may be, it’s good to answer all of their questions. Be honest and answer just what’s asked. If it’s too emotional in the moment, or you don’t actually know the answer, it is fine to let them know you need some time, but be sure to follow up with this.

Acknowledge emotions and validate why – If there is upset or anger, it’s good to give empathy and recognize why they might feel that way. It’s not a time to talk them out of their feelings, it’s a time to recognize and help them communicate.

Offer reassurance often – During and following difficult conversations, children are often rightfully thinking, “how does that impact me?” Even if they aren’t able to express it, the concern is there. Reassurance when discussing school shootings might be, “your school is a safe place. Dangers like that in schools are very rare. It is your teacher’s job to keep you safe, and she has a plan.” Reassurance after the death of a loved one, “most people die when they are very old. I am healthy and hope to be here when I am very old. There will always be someone to take care of you.” The idea is to add reassurance to the conversation and remember to reassure as you answer every few questions.

Parenting books and children’s books – For any life transition or difficult conversation, there are good children’s books available. It can be helpful to search Amazon’s children’s books by topic or head to the book store to ask. Reading and discussing books together can be a base for your conversation or a way to help answer questions. There are also parenting books available for several difficult topics.

Know school’s curriculum and stay ahead of it – Some of these topics are addressed in school. Sex education, drug and alcohol abuse are all covered in school health classes or D.A.R.E. programs. If your children are participating, it is good to know what will be covered, and it’s better to discuss these issues with your children before they hear it in school.

Small conversations scattered across time – Once a topic is open, it is normal for children to have questions over time. As they grow they are learning, being exposed to new information and new opinions. Good to let them know they can always talk to you about anything, anytime. It’s good to keep the topics open and answer them in honest ways as they ask you more.

Calm conversations – For them to feel like they can truly talk to you about anything, you have to stay calm when they bring up the difficult or challenging topics. You might read Screamfree Parenting by Runkel, Peaceful Parents, Peaceful Kids by Drew or attend our Calm Parenting workshops for help on this. Here are a few helpful posts on calm parenting.

 

Want Your Older Children to Really Talk to You? Practice Open Talk Time

Family time

When my girls were little, I practiced Stanley Greenspan’s floortime with them as a way to really connect with them in play. Here is a post with the basic guidelines of floortime.

As they got older, there was a gradual shift from floortime to open talk time. In my family, this shift started around 8 years old. Again inspired by Greenspan, open talk time is a way to encourage real conversation with your children. It’s a way to build their trust, for them to learn they really can talk to you about anything.

Like floortime, the goal is 20 minute stretches a few times a week. This is a time when you are fully engaged, really listening and not checking your phone or going up and down to make dinner. In my house, this happens after tuck-ins. Once everyone is in bed for the night, I lay down beside someone and we talk.

It’s fine for your child to lead the topic. It’s good to have positive conversations about things like what they enjoyed over the weekend or what interesting things they are learning about at school. It is equally good to have more difficult conversations about things like what they didn’t like about their summer camp or what they don’t like about you. During the more difficult conversations it is important to listen, reflect, accept and understand. If they are discussing challenges they have within your relationship, you might comment, “yeah, that would be hard if I were my mom.” They are learning you will stay calm, you can listen without judgements. The goal is to avoid any defensiveness, argueing, big opinions or upsets. By all means, if you feel you must weigh in, just give it a day. Come back later and say, “I was thinking about our conversation…”

It was February of Alicen’s eighth grade year. I was making dinner and she was setting the table when she said, “Okay, I have to tell you about this thing that is happening at school because no one is telling their parents.” I sat down. She proceeded to tell me a pretty horrible thing that was happening at school, and while all the students knew and were talking with each other, the teachers and parents were unaware. Usually when the girls tell me things of concern from school, we brainstorm how to best handle it. This time I just said, “You don’t need to worry about this one, I will speak with your principal tomorrow.”

What exactly was happening isn’t the point here. The point is she told me about it. When no one was telling their parents, she felt comfortable to tell me about it. She knew I wouldn’t lose it. There’s no way to be sure, but I feel it’s our open talk time that got us to that point.

 

 

Northern Virginia Staycation (Updated 2017)

Child at Mount Vernon in Northern Virginia

I made this list when we stayed home for yet another Spring Break, and thought it would be equally helpful to share at the start of summer! There are so many great things to do in the Northern Virginia area.

The Smithsonian- Our family’s favorite museums include the Natural History Museum, the two Air and Space Museums, the American Indian Museum, the American History Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The National Building Museum is also a hit with families, especially their recent summer exhibits. My children particularly enjoy taking in an IMAX movie and visiting the butterfly experience at the National History Museum. Here is a link to highlighted children’s activities: http://www.si.edu/Kids

Steven F Udvar Hazi Center- If your kids enjoy the Air and Space Museum, this museum in Chantilly is a must.  http://airandspace.si.edu/visit/udvar-hazy-center/

Newseum- We have found this to be a great museum with older children. It’s as interactive as it is informative. http://www.newseum.org/exhibits/

International Spy Museum- Fun for kids seven and up. http://www.spymuseum.org/education-programs/kids-families/

Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse- Good food, and who can beat Monday and Tuesday’s $2 movies? They often play family friendly matinees on the weekends as well. http://arlingtondrafthouse.com/drafthouse/

Fletcher’s Boathouse- Great place to rent rowboats, kayaks, canoes and bikes right on the Potomac River. http://boatingindc.com/boathouses/fletchers-boathouse/

Appalacian National Scenic Trail near Leesburg- For beautiful short or long term hikes, the entrance is just west of Loudoun County. https://www.visitloudoun.org/listing/appalachian-trail/364/

The B&O Railroad Museum- If you have a train lover in the family, this museum is worth the trip to Baltimore. http://www.borail.org/

Kid Museum in Bethesda- This museum offers STEM and cultural activities for children six to 14 years old. http://kid-museum.org/

Port Discovery in Baltimore- A fun children’s museum in Baltimore. They provide three floors of interactive exhibits. It’s designed for children who are toddlers to 10 years old. http://www.portdiscovery.org/

National Aquarium in Baltimore- The aquarium has become both of my girls’ favorite outing because of the dolphin show, rainforest area and shark tanks.  http://www.aqua.org/

Maryland Science Center- This Baltimore museum is worth the trip. http://www.mdsci.org/

Corcoran Gallery of Art- This museum has a large collection and interesting family programs. http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/education/families.html

National Geographic Museum- http://events.nationalgeographic.com/locations/city/washingtondc/

Canoeing, Kayaking and Tubing- We enjoyed tubing last summer, and are scheduled to go white water rafting (the mild course) next weekend. There are several companies including:

  • River & Trail Outfitters in Harper’s Ferry http://www.rivertrail.com/adventure-tours/
  • Shenandoah River Outfitters in Luray http://www.shenandoah-river.com/
  • DownRiver Canoe Company in Bentonville https://www.downriver.com/.

Mount Vernon- A full day of learning about George Washington’s life and times. It’s a kid friendly tour with lots of tips under Educational Resources on the website. http://www.mountvernon.org/

National Harbor Ferris Wheel and Waterfront Activities or Tidal Basin Paddle Boats – For waterfront fun! 

http://www.nationalharbor.com/play/ or http://www.tidalbasinpaddleboats.com/

US National Arboretum- This is a beautiful place to visit, and now they have a mobile app to assist with your visit. http://www.usna.usda.gov/

United States Botanical Gardens- Another beautiful place to visit to learn about plants and gardening. Every Thursday they host a parent-child tour for parents with young children in backpack carriers or slings. https://www.usbg.gov/

Leesburg Air Shows- Save the date – this year it’s Saturday September 30th. http://www.leesburgairshow.com/

Sandy Point State Park (beach on the Chesapeake Bay)- A small family friendly beach on the bay.

http://reservations.dnr.state.md.us/camping/sandy-point-state-park/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=MD&parkId=380517

Trampoline Parks – Flight in Springfield, or Rebounderz in Chantilly.

County and State Parks

  • Huntley Meadows in Alexandria
  • Buddy Ford in Arlington
  • Frying Pan Park in Reston
  • Burke Lake Park in Burke
  • Bull Run Park in Centreville

Children’s Theatre

  • Encore Stage and Studio
  • Wolf Trap Children’s Theater in the Woods
  • Imagination Stage
  • The Puppet Co. at Glen Echo
  • Creative Cauldron

Spraygrounds and Water Parks

  • Special Harbor Spray Park at Lee District in Alexandria
  • Drew Park in Arlington (spray park)
  • Mosaic District in Fairfax (spray park)
  • Great Waves in Alexandria (water park)
  • Splash Down in Manassas (water park)

Farms

  • Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon
  • Loudoun Heritage Farm Park
  • Great Country Farms in Bluemont, VA
  • Washington’s River Farm in Alexandria

Horse Riding Trails 

  • Rock Creek Park Horse Center
  • Piscataway Riding Stables
  • The MainTree Farm in Leesburg

Zoos

  • National Zoo, DC
  • Maryland Zoo in Baltimore
  • Salisbury Zoological Park, MD
  • Catoctin Wildlife Preserve, MD
  • Roer’s Safari (Reston Zoo)
  • Leesburg Animal Park

Ice Skating

  • Lee District Rec Center
  • Ashburn Ice House
  • Fairfax

Playgrounds- There’s really too many to list here. This is a link to Northern Virginia Magazine’s list: http://www.northernvirginiamag.com/game-plan/2013/07/05/playgrounds-for-the-kiddos/. Here’s a second extensive list from Our-Kids https://www.our-kids.com/sports-recreation/playgrounds.

How to Get Kids to Stay at the Dinner Table

Happy family smiling at camera at lunch

Kids getting up and down from the dinner table is such a common complaint. For the parents who are in the thick of this behavior, it’s exhausting. Here are lots of ideas for keeping them at the table.

Continue the high chair or booster seat – I would keep the highchair with a strap as long as you reasonably can and then the booster seat with a strap following that. If they are buckled in everyday, likely less of a battle as it’s just expected. If you intermittently use the strap or give it up for a while, I’d give it up all together.

Place cards to pick seats – In the ‘every little bit counts’ category, let kids decorate place cards (folded over construction paper works) and pick where they sit.

Fun place settings and place mats – Right now, Frozen place settings can go a long way.

Serve food in fun ways – Not all the time, but occasionally, serve food on sticks or use toothpicks as utensils. It may be fun to serve small cut up fruit in ice cube trays, or use tv dinner style trays. Once in a while, have a picnic or play restaurant and have children take orders. I will admit to having more patience for these things at lunch time.

Conversation – Make a list of questions and conversation starters that would be interesting for your children and slowly work your way through. If you’d like conversation ideas, try Melissa and Doug’s Family Dinner Box of Questions or several versions by Table Topics and Chat Packs.

Small toys – While I don’t want the whole train track at the table, I think it’s fine to bring one train. Talk about how it’s nice for Thomas to keep him company.

Small activities– Again, not a whole craft project but it’s fine to have two crayons and a small notebook. This can be particularly helpful if your child typically finishes early, and you want him to stay at the table to wait for others.

Games – You might play word games like Grandma’s Trunk Alphabet game or a group story telling game when each person adds a sentence to the story. We played Spin the Knife (butter knife) and the person who spins it gets to ask any question of the person it points to, very interesting. Eye Spy, Would You Rather and 20 Questions are other favorites.

Just once – This is the flexible parent who is tolerant of each child getting up just once after they’ve sat down for dinner. The just once rule really needs to be respected as just once, or it falls to pieces. Other families give kids one or two tickets, the child can get up once per ticket and when the tickets are gone the child must stay at the table. It tends to work.

Box them in – Depending on your table and your kitchen, maybe push the table against the wall on one side and have children sit between the wall and a parent. My friends growing up had a booth in their kitchen and parents sat on the outsides.

Choices – Choices go a long way towards encouraging behavior. This may be giving a child a choice about where to sit or what to eat first.

Challenge – You might set a timer and see if each night children can sit one minute longer than the night before. Once they finish eating, you might ask them to tell you five interesting things about their day.

Contribution – Get kids busy folding napkins, buttering rolls, serving green beans and stacking plates to carry to the sink. Children who are busy at the table, stay at the table.

Read (avoid screens) – It’s fine to read aloud during dinner. Many preschool teachers read aloud through snack time. Screens, however, are an unhealthy habit during meals and can lead to mindless eating.

Start where you are and gradually increase the time – If your kids typically sit for eight minutes at dinner, start there. Have a goal of 10 minutes a week later, and 12 a week after that.

Plan dinner when kids are hungry – Children are more likely to sit and eat when they are hungry. They may be able to meet expectations to sit at the table earlier, rather than much later in the evening.

Dinner is done – Families with older children may start the rule, “when you get up from the table, your dinner is done.” Again, follow through is what becomes important for this to curb behaviors. Families should also have a clear plan for what happens after, meaning having a healthy snack much later, having dinner food available once others finish or having the child not eat once the kitchen is closed. As a reminder, natural consequences don’t become fair game until closer to four years old.

Other consequences – Again, as children are older, this could be, “if you are up from the table, you’ll have to sit at the counter.” or, “if you are up from the table, you can eat when we are done.” Consequences are meant as an end point, not a starting point. If you start here, there’s no where left to go.

Tips to Encourage Sibling Relationships

Sweet Little Boy Kisses His Baby Sister in a Rustic Ranch Setting at the Pumpkin Patch.

So often when I write about siblings, it’s about how to best manage the bickering and the fighting or how to get them to stop grabbing toys from each other. Happily, this post is about ways to encourage their relationships!

  • Teach social skills in general – If your children have difficulty taking turns or grabbing toys from each other, avoid putting pressure on their individual relationship by saying things like, “you need to take turns with your brother.” Rather teach them about turn taking in general and let the skill trickle down to their relationship. Keep your language on the behavior, “when you want a turn, you need to ask first.” For creative ways to teach social skill, read https://parentingbydrrene.com/2014/08/15/12-ways-to-coach-good-behaviors/.
  • Encourage listening to others – If your children have difficulty listening to each other, it can be helpful to reinforce their words to each other. This would be saying “did you hear her?  She said, ‘stop that!’ What does that mean to you.” or, “I heard him say that he doesn’t like being poked. That means you should stop.” For creative ways to teach listening, read https://parentingbydrrene.com/2012/02/18/teach-them-to-listen/.
  • Coach positive ways to handle conflicts – When there is a conflict, help children to brainstorm solutions and weigh their options.  Teach them to empathize with the other.
  • Find low pressure activities they can share – If they enjoy working on puzzles together, doings arts and crafts or kicking a ball back and forth, encourage it often.
  • Plan for time together and time apart – It’s fine to give them breaks from each other as well.  It can be helpful for kids to have time during the day that they can play alone in their rooms, or have an activity that doesn’t have to be shared.
  • Allow sleepovers – We allow sleepovers as often as they’d like.  When the girls moved from toddler beds to big kids beds, we got them each a trundle so they could easily have sleepovers with each other.
  • Encourage them to help each other and highlight when they do – In my family, we talk often about helping each other. It became a given that when someone asks for help, you help as much as you can. We highlight and appreciate when family members are helpful.
  • Avoid pitting them in competition – I am a firm believer in teaching kids to manage competition, and am fine with siblings playing board games and backyard sports.  Bigger sports competition should be with peers. Also avoid daily doses of competition such as, “let’s see who can get dressed first. Ready, go!” Rather, pit them in a cooperative effort, “let’s see if you can help each other get dressed before me.”
  • Offer cooperative efforts – This can be cooking together or building pillow forts. There are cooperative effort board games like Snails Pace Race or Colorama. There are a few good idea books titled Everybody Wins by MacGregor and Cooperative Games and Sports by Orlick.
  • Have at least one joint chore – Cooperative efforts carry over to chores as well. Across ages, it can be helpful to for children to share responsibilities. For young children, this can be helping with pet care. For older children, this can be cleaning a shared bathroom weekly.
  • Avoid comparisions – Avoid direct comparisons, “why can’t you be more like your sister?” and indirect, “your sister is always on time!” Comparisons are a seed of sibling rivalry. For other hints about rivalry, read https://parentingbydrrene.com/2014/05/15/a-few-hints-to-avoid-sibling-rivalry/. There’s also a great parenting book titled Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish.
  • Discipline individually – As best you can, avoid discipline for one child spilling over onto siblings. If one child is throwing sand at the playground say, “if you throw sand, you will have to come out of the sandbox,” rather than, “if you throw sand, we are all going home.”
  • Praise individually – Avoid praising one child to curb their sibling’s behavior. Don’t say, “look how neatly your brother keeps his room!” rather say, “your room is a mess. Go clean it please.”
  • Make a sibling photo album – It’s nice for kids to have their own photo albums as well as a shared sibling album. This one is tough as it’s hard enough to keep family photos organized, but it’s worth the effort.
  • Tell stories about their good times – It can be helpful to remind them of their good times often. We tell a lot of stories about how Alicen welcomed Claire home from the hospital, and funny stories from when they were in preschool and early grade school.
  • Model and speak positively about your own sibling relationships – When you speak about your own siblings, either growing up together or getting along now, you are modeling how to speak and feel about siblings. Yes, some conflict is normal in life, and it’s fine to share but avoid being negative, name calling and complaining.
  • Use positive discipline – Positive discipline models giving empathy and positive intent to others. It gives children examples of how to best work through conflicts. To read more about positive discipline, read https://parentingbydrrene.com/?s=steps. You can also listen to our online audio workshops at http://parentingplaygroups.com/MemberResources/index.php/welcome/.
Join me for an in-depth discussion of Birth Order and Sibling Rivalry on Sept. 9 from 7:00-9:00pm. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/o/parenting-by-dr-rene-parenting-playgroups-283710166?s=1328924.

Is It Okay to Take a Mommy Time-Out?

Kids having a quarrel and fight

Absolutely yes!

When most parents think about time-out, it’s often sending the child to their room or having the child sit out of play for a few minutes. When I discuss time-outs in the last hour of our positive discipline series, I often get a question about the use of a mommy time-out. The parent says something along the lines of, “this isn’t really a time-out for my child, but there are times when I just need a break. Is it okay to be alone myself for a few minutes, or to go into my bedroom and close the door for a few minutes?”

As long as your child is in a safe place, I think it’s completely fine to take a few minutes of a break for yourself. If this is a very young child, just putting them in the crib with a few safe toys and walking to another room is better than continuing to hold the child when you are feeling on the edge. If you are about to lose your cool with an older child, I think it’s fine to separate yourself, close a door and just breath for a few minutes before you interact again.

It can be helpful to note, as children get older, discipline doesn’t have to be immediate.  Of course, it should be as soon as possible, and under four years old it should be immediate, but as the child is four or five years old, the discipline can be a bit later. You can have time to collect your thoughts before moving forward.

In the big picture, I think it’s healthy to occasionally plan for time away from your family. In my own house, maybe once a month my husband or I would plan a night out with friends solo. Ideally parents find alone time at least once a week. This can be small like a shower with the door locked or a jog around the neighborhood. I know it’s sad that the shower counts, but it does.

If both parents are home and one is loosing their cool, it is also fine to tap-out. It’s fine to hand off your children to your partner. In our house it’s always been unspoken, a parent that is handing off supervision, is absolutely allowed to do so. For the receiving parent, it’s time to step-up!

Discipline Rules Between Siblings

Children figting, sibling rivalry

It’s one thing to know positive discipline. It’s a whole other thing to apply this language consistently when there are siblings involved. With school letting out, families are likely to be spending more time together. Here are a few discipline rules between siblings to help for a smooth summer:

  • Discipline individually – If you are at the park with three children, and one keeps throwing sand after being asked to keep the sand in the box, aim your discipline towards the one rather than towards all three. Say something like, “if you are throwing sand, you will have to come out of the sandbox,” rather than, “if you are throwing sand, we are all going home!”
  • Praise individually – When you praise a child, you should be praising for something they did, NOT to curb their sibling. As a parent, you don’t get to say, “wow Johny, look how neatly you keep your room,” and then glare at his brother. Clearly you are talking to the brother. It’s not good to be either one in this scenario. It’s not good to be the one that got knocked, but it’s also not good to be the one that got praise in spite of brother either. There is pressure to stay on top or keep the other down, and it is a seed of sibling rivalry.
  • When you don’t know what happened, start with what you do know – As you enter the room, two children are screaming over a ball and each is yelling they had it first. Asking, “who had this first?” is often treading water. You’ll likely get two versions of the story that leave you back at the starting point. Rather start by saying what you know, “I see you are upset about using this ball. I am going to hold on to it for a minute while we figure out what to do next.” Then focus your effort on helping them problem solve and move forward.
  • Often, it’s start with empathy all around – It can go a long way to calming a situation by remembering to give empathy to anyone in need before moving through discipline. Remember to validate emotions, and let them know you understand before moving forward.
  • Allow for their negative emotions – Building on empathy is actually allowing children to own and express their negative emotions. Let’s say you hear your children arguing down the hall, and a minute later one storms into the kitchen with an, “I hate her!” The answer is to start with empathy, validate the emotions behind the words, and let the child know you understand before curbing the language. This would sound like, “wow! You are angry, you don’t like it when she uses your things!” You might go on to explore this a bit, and then can more effectively loop back around to curbing the words like a behavior, “those words were too hurtful. Next time you can tell her you are mad, or you can ask me for help (choices). If I hear those words again, you will have to play in a separate area for the afternoon (logical consequences).”
  • It’s okay when discipline varies per child – Your discipline for hitting may be very different for your three-year-old than it is for your six-year-old and that is okay.  The mantra here is ‘fair is not equal, fair is everyone has their needs met.’ Discipline and expectations may vary based on personality, history, age and other variables. You can explain to the six-year-old what you did when they were three, or what you will do when the younger is six, but the six-year-old may still see it as “not fair.” This will make more sense to them when they become a parent.
  • Recognize when and why you might side with one more than another – Sometimes, I find myself siding with my younger daughter more easily because I was the youngest in the family. You might side with one more then the other based on spacing or personality traits or behavior patterns. The idea is to recognize when this happens, so you can keep things in check.

There are a few good parenting books on sibling issues.

  • Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish
  • The Birth Order Book by Leman
  • Birth Order Blues by Wallace

There are several good children’s books on sibling issues.

  • Do Like Kyla by Johnson
  • Julius Baby of the World by Henkes
  • I Love You the Purplest by Joosse
  • On Mother’s Lap by Scott
  • Siblings: You’re Stuck with Each Other so Stick Together by Christ

Do Your Children Get Silly When You Are Angry?

Children can easily feel overwhelmed by other people’s emotional displays. This is especially the case if they feel responsible for the other’s negative emotions. This is often the set-up in a parent-child discipline exchange. Child misbehaves, parent feels angry, child feels responsible for parent’s anger. When children feel overwhelmed by other’s emotions, a natural defense mechanism is to get silly and play. In this moment they are trying to diffuse the situation, to distract from the anger. It tends to be a pretty poor way to diffuse, usually it tends to fail.

Let’s say your arms are full of groceries, you are trying to get the kids in the car and your four-year-old is running circles around you. Next thing, they knock groceries out of your hand. You bark, “get in the car!” Your face is red, and your voice is angry. Your child feels overwhelmed, so a natural defense mechanism kicks in, and they get silly. They laugh and run off saying, “you can’t catch me!” They are trying to change the situation, to calm things. Unfortunately it’s a very poor choice for getting to calm, being silly tends to kicks things up a notch.

The trick is to recognize the pattern for what it is. If your children get silly and play in response to your upset, at least consider they may be feeling overwhelmed and trying to diffuse your emotion. Take it as a signal to calm.

 

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