Over-scheduling: Megan’s Story

You might know the phrase, “the bad news is time flies; the good news is you’re the pilot.” This is so TRUE. Luckily, we can navigate our own time and choose how we spend those moments we hold dear to our hearts. We can easily become too busy to experience life together, to share those special moments and our hearts with one another. I am a busy mother of 3 beautiful girls and my priority is to give my family the ultimate gift… each other. Giving them the “time” to truly know and understand one another and to explore life enabled them to develop STRONG relationships in our family. The key to making all of this a reality is simple—I didn’t over-schedule my family.

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In today’s society, kids are overloaded with activities that are robbing them of their childhood. They are constantly on the go, trying to experience every interest that each child may have. I didn’t want to force a “theme” on my daughters at such a young age. I have noticed kids seem to act as if they are programmed when life gets too busy. I encouraged my girls to pace their interests so they could develop into their own authentic selves. Giving each child one activity allowed them the necessary time to live in the moment and truly focus on other important things, which helped form crucial values and mold their morals. Activities such as eating dinner as a family, playing with each other and having those special times as a family are all essential to developing healthy values.

An astonishing fact that blows me away is that 40% of families eat together only three or fewer times a week, with 10% never eating dinner together at all. Family meals nurture my family and provide us with a unified experience which connects each one of us with love and security. I feel connected with each one of my girls and because we have established a close relationship, I feel they know they can come to me with any life obstacles that come their way. I owe this to the consistent bonding that we have, and feel my relationship would not exist if my daughters were over booked.

In addition, time has allowed my girls to develop an imagination. Having time to create their own activities and to explore their inventive side inspires my girls and molds them into beautiful young ladies. A strong imagination does not make you impractical, it’s a wonderful tool in life that gives you unlimited opportunities! In fact, people who lack imagination are inclined to think negatively and to be unhappy.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For Knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while Imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

-Albert Einstein

Extra time can also play against us as parents these days. Today, kids are not always choosing to play board games and go outside to play. They are glued to screens and are using the tech world for their enjoyment. Some kids may spend hours at a time staring at a screen, resulting in missing out on life. Although, technology can be a good thing. Not all screen time is bad, and it can actually be a great resource and building block in our children’s education. However, as with anything, moderation is key. One time, by choice, my girls decided to give up all electronics, and I was amazed at the difference in their attitudes! Since they had given up all of their gadgets, they were forced to nurture their imaginations, enabling them to find more happiness and contentment within themselves. This goes back to how important imagination is. I believe it is one of the foundations which creates happiness and peace within.

To sum it all up, not over-scheduling my family gave them time to use the gift of imagination and for them to experience life at a pace that is enjoyable. Every child and family is different, and finding your own groove as to what works for you is ultimately the best. What I do know, is time is extremely precious. Each time we share our moments together, we create precious memories we will all cherish for a lifetime!!

Megan

Ask Amy: How Do I Help My Child Feel Safe Despite the Recent Paris Attacks?

My child is asking lots of questions about the recent attacks in Paris. I’m not sure how to address it with her. Any suggestions?

Such events can leave all of us feeling sad, mad and scared and children may be particularly reactive, which makes them feel unsafe. When children are directly exposed to such events, they can become traumatized, and the emotional impact of trauma can last a very long time if it goes unnoticed. Some children who may not experience the trauma directly may be exposed to it nevertheless through sensationalized newscasts, and there is evidence to suggest that children can be just as traumatized by this kind of indirect contact as well. It is important that parents have information about the impact trauma has on children and how to help them understand and cope with these events.

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First, when something traumatic occurs, it is important to give children an honest, yet age appropriate explanation of what happened. They will almost certainly hear about it through television, schoolmates, etc., so it is best that children receive information from their parents. Second, it is imperative to reassure children, that you will do everything you can to keep them safe. It is wise to limit children’s exposure to newscasts. I don’t mean shield them from it entirely, just limit. Children do not have the reasoning abilities or coping mechanisms to deal with what they might see or hear. It is important to permit children to talk about their feelings and reactions. Although such conversations can be painful, especially if we’re experiencing our own reactions to the trauma, they do help all of us in the long run. One of the worst things we can say to our children is “get over it,” or “you can’t talk about it.” Denial of the child’s reactions can lead to larger problems later. Give them the facts such as, “the bad guys are in jail.”

Sometimes traumatized children look quite “normal” on the surface after the event, and then experience post-traumatic symptoms, weeks, months, or even years later. Many children are quite resilient when dealing with traumatic events, but it is good for parents to know what to look for when their child might be struggling. Here are some signs that might indicate problems for your child: nervousness, agitation, difficulty concentrating, refusing to go to school, angers quickly, aggression, nightmares, won’t sleep alone, startles easily, reverts to younger-age behaviors, fears separation, personality changes. Although these signs could be related to other things, they might indicate your child has been traumatized. The sooner it is treated, the better the outcome is likely to be for the child.

 
There’s Always Hope,

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Need more help? Parents often jokingly ask Amy, “Will you go home with me?” While she can’t do that, Amy is available to consult with parents through her consultation services. Click Here to learn more.

Self-Esteem Versus Self-Worth

Is there a difference between self-esteem and self-worth? You bet there is! Most people use these two interchangeably, yet they are hugely different. We usually speak more about self-esteem, and the importance of making sure our children feel good about themselves, than we do self-worth. If you’ve never thought about this, you might be asking, what is the difference?

Self-worth is about being, or who we are; while self-esteem is about doing, or what we do.

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Self-worth is a core belief in myself. It doesn’t change and is much deeper than self-esteem. The beginnings of self-worth are rooted in… are you ready for this… our experiences in childhood. During the first year of life, a baby learns if they cry, and someone listens to that cry and meets their needs, they feel important. A stronger self emerges. This means pressure, dear parents, to get this right during the formative years!

This confirms that the parent-child relationship is extremely important! Later on, peers become the primary influence, which is all the more reason for us to be intentional early on. We surely want them to be more influenced by us than their peers. Agree?

We are able to make statements like this, if we have a strong sense of self:

I am of value, simply because God created me.
I believe in myself.
I am loveable.
I am capable.
I can make a difference.
I am enough.
I am competent, even when I mess up.

Self-esteem is what I think, feel and believe about myself. It can change in a moment and is dependent on our accomplishments and performances. See if this resonates. You are feeling fairly confident about your parenting abilities until your parents and in-laws give you their unsolicited opinion about how they think you should be parenting. Wham! In a flash, you feel totally inept and begin to second-guess yourself.

How to foster your child’s healthy self-worth:

  • Respect their feelings and opinions
  • Encourage them
  • Let them fail
  • Let them make decisions whenever possible
  • Love them unconditionally

We want to be the biggest encourager they have ever encountered! This means giving them kudos from time to time. Saying things like “good work” is better than no praise, but what is most important is giving them credit for the process, “you knew just how to manage your time so you would be finished with your project by the due date.”

Kids need to fail, and we need to allow it. As hard as this is to watch, be reminded failure contributes to a healthy sense of self.

They need to be adept at problem solving, so let them make decisions whenever possible. This means to refrain from telling them what to do, or how to do it. The message this sends to them is you have confidence in their ability to come up with the solution that’s right for them. Talk about a confidence booster!

Respect them enough to let them share their views and opinions even though they might be different from yours. Ask them what their thoughts are on certain things. This is particularly true with teens.

Give them your time and undivided attention in some way each day. You don’t need to spend money to do this. Play with your young children, go get a coke with your teen or spend one-on-one time together before bed.

We know the way we feel about ourselves affects the way we live our lives – specifically, how we act, how we treat others and even the decisions we make. All the more reason to be mindful about helping our children embrace the fact that they matter!

 
There’s Always Hope,

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Need more help? Parents often jokingly ask Amy, “Will you go home with me?” While she can’t do that, Amy is available to consult with parents through her consultation services. Click Here to learn more.

Chores: The Great Debate

I’m not going to lie. When the girls were growing up, there were some days it was just easier and faster for me to do their chores for them.

Have you ever been guilty of this? Most parents I know have. Some parents cave in to avoid confrontation while others don’t have the energy, patience or time to hold their children accountable. I also know plenty of parents that don’t want to inconvenience or impose on their already over scheduled kids.

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None of these are good options because chores are, or should be, a necessary part of growing up.

Benefits:

Responsibility – holding children accountable for chores can increase their self-worth because they will feel good when they meet their obligations.

Life skills – cooking, cleaning, laundry, taking care of a pet and yard work are all skills they will need when they leave your home.

Hard work – life requires work… house work, school work, job work, etc. Chores provide the training ground for these essential life skills.

Here’s what you can do:

Model positive behaviors. If you whine about doing the laundry or mowing the yard, your children are more likely to complain about cleaning up their rooms.

Be patient. If you tell your son to put away his video games before dinnertime, then don’t complain if he hasn’t started the task by mid-afternoon. Give him the opportunity to complete the request without begging, pleading or nagging.

Compliment cooperation. Acknowledge when your child completes a task—even if the toys aren’t on the right shelves. You’ll get more cooperation if you refrain from criticism.

Start young and start small. A one-year-old can start age-appropriate chores, such as picking up books and blocks. And it’s okay for you to help them! Make it fun. “I’ll put my block in here, now it’s your turn. My book goes right here, yours goes next to mine.” By the time our children are six or seven, they should be able to do their chores unassisted.

What is the state of the parent-child relationship? Keep in mind that kids want to please but the connection has to be there. Also, they will be more apt to embrace your values regarding chores as well as your work ethic if the parent-child relationship is strong.

What if?

The ever-present question from parents is “What if they don’t do their chores? What consequence should I give them?” I don’t believe there always needs to be a consequence, especially if they are younger. Remember, you are training and teaching them—be positive and supportive and work alongside them until they are done. Yes, this does take more of your time, but if you can put in the hard work and training at the front end, the ultimate result will be that as they grow up, you should be able to say it’s time to do your chores and they will be able to do just that.

For older kiddos and teens, yes, a consequence might be in order. When they complete their chores then they can go out with friends. Say “feel free to go to Haley’s house when your chores are done.” This teaches him to govern himself and enables you to parent in a positive way. The more negative approach goes like this “No, you can’t go to Haley’s. I’ve told you a hundred times you have chores to do. You always wait until the last minute and you’ve known all along what you were supposed to be doing.” This kind of reaction doesn’t encourage cooperation.

Of this one thing I am certain: Your children will not thank you for insisting they do their chores while they still live in your home. Hopefully, they will thank you someday… after they are living on their own.

 
There’s Always Hope,

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Need more help?  Parents often jokingly ask Amy, “Will you go home with me?”  While she can’t do that, Amy is available to consult with parents through her consultation services.  Click Here to learn more.

Ask Amy: Can I Learn to Connect to my Child?

Jeni writesYou always talk about the significance of the parent-child relationship and how important that connection is. I’m not sure I know how to really connect because I’m pretty sure I never experienced that from my parents. Could you talk about ways to connect and stay connected to my child?

Great question Jeni! You’re right, if you’ve never felt really connected to your parents, it’s highly unlikely that you would know how to do it. The good news is, you can learn!

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Connection takes time. Your time. Your undivided attention is the best way to let your kids know how much you value them. Why not start by playing with your child if they are younger or just hanging out with them if they are older? These times of connection are not times to teach, lecture or nag. They are times for letting the child lead the play or conversation. It’s on their terms and their choosing. You’re just along for the ride doing and talking about things that are of interest to them, not you.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Peek a boo
  • Hide and Seek
  • I Spy
  • Chase
  • Go on a walk
  • Ride bikes
  • Cook
  • Wrestle
  • Tickle games
  • Sing and dance
  • Board games
  • Cards

Hopefully, these ideas will get you started. Thirty minutes, one time a week, is what I like to suggest for this kind of one-on-one time. No distractions from technology, siblings, spouses, friends, chores, etc.

Of course, it’s also important to connect in a quicker way each day. Take 5–10 minutes to check in and see how their day was, what they are feeling and if all is well in their world.

I can promise, if these times are done correctly, you will have a child that is more compliant, cooperative and happy.

I’d love to hear how this works for you, Jeni!
 
There’s Always Hope,

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Need more help?  Parents often jokingly ask Amy, “Will you go home with me?”  While she can’t do that, Amy is available to consult with parents through her consultation services.  Click Here to learn more.

Mealtime: Take the Focus Off the Food

How many meals do you and your family enjoy together each week?

Being together at mealtime can be one of the threads that holds the fabric of a family together. Relationships, specifically family relationships, are at the core of a satisfying life, and sitting down together at least once a day with your family gives everyone time to relax, talk, listen, laugh and find love and understanding. Children have an opportunity to talk about what is on their mind and receive support from parents and siblings. Everyone can engage and the whole family can leave the table feeling satisfied and refreshed.

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What is mealtime like at your house? It can be enjoyable and satisfying or dreadful and stressful. Oftentimes, food can become the focus, and then a big battle ignites! We all want our kids to eat well, but we cannot make a child eat. I was reminded of this again –just today actually. Wilson is nearly one now and he politely pushed my hand away when I tried to feed him yogurt. He did not want yogurt. He wanted blueberries. Wise parents know that trying to force a child to eat can cause problems. Some parents resort to bribes or threats. It is best to focus on things we can control like what we prepare, how much to serve and when to serve it. Food should not become a battle. If they don’t want to eat, that’s their choice. Let them be in control of that. Be sure to let them know if they choose not to eat, that’s fine with you but there will be nothing more until the next meal. They will not starve!

Benefits of eating together as a family:

Better grades Higher self-esteem
Expanded vocabulary
Greater social skills
Fewer behavioral problems
Connection to the family unit

Guidelines to consider:

Unplug – turn off all electronics
Make good manners a part of the ritual
Be attentive and listen
Be respectful to each other
Keep loaded discussions for a later time
Let kids help with the cooking, setting the table and clearing the table
No nagging and lecturing

Make mealtimes a priority, yet be flexible with everyone’s schedule. The family meal doesn’t have to be dinner, and even an occasional family meal is better than none at all. If your family doesn’t currently do mealtimes together, why not consider working one or two into your schedule soon – despite soccer games, baseball practice, piano lessons, dance class, meetings and everything else that gets in the way of this important time.

Remember that food is not the only nourishment that kids get from dinner. They get emotional nourishment just by sitting together with their loved ones. This is good for the soul of family life.
 

There’s Always Hope,

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Need more help?  Parents often jokingly ask Amy, “Will you go home with me?”  While she can’t do that, Amy is available to consult with parents through her consultation services.  Click Here to learn more.

Ask Amy: My Child Hates Me!

“My 6 year old told me recently he hated me and he wished he had a different Mother. I couldn’t believe it! It hurt my feelings and at the same time made me furious. I told him that was disrespectful and he was not allowed to talk to me that way. I then sent him to his room. I don’t know if that was the best thing to do. What should I do if it happens again?”

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It is hard to hear a remark like this from someone we’ve invested so much into for the last 6 years, isn’t it? You will probably hear it again, so let’s come up with a plan.

Rest assured that most young kids I know that say things like this do not really mean it! It usually comes on the heels of them not getting something they want or things not going their way. In other words, they are mad when we say no! The bottom line is they haven’t learned how to use their words to let us know they are feeling angry.

Here’s what we should do.

Acknowledge the fact that they are mad, give them permission to feel that way and then teach them to use their words appropriately.

The next time you hear “I hate you,” respond by saying “I think you’re trying to tell me you are mad because I said no. I want you to know it’s ok that you’re mad and you can always say, Mommy, I’m mad at you because you won’t let me buy this toy”.

You are modeling for him what you want him to do the next time he’s upset with you. That’s addressing the real issue, which is his anger.

Getting angry with him, telling him to stop talking to you like that, sending him to his room, making him apologize to you are all things that further ignite his anger.

Let me know if this helps!

There’s Always Hope,

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Need more help?  Parents often jokingly ask Amy, “Will you go home with me?”  While she can’t do that, Amy is available to consult with parents through her consultation services.  Click Here to learn more.

The Battle For Power

When I hear a parent say “she argues with me about everything,” I immediately start to wonder is it Mom or Dad that is controlling and likes to hold the power. You see, I have yet to meet a power hungry kid without at least one power hungry parent.

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We all need to feel powerful and have some control in our lives and our children are no exception. When we don’t give them any control, or even if they have control but don’t perceive they do, they begin to fight for it and power struggles ensue.

We usually begin to see kids fighting for power and independence around 2 years of age. This is healthy and normal and what they are supposed to be doing at this stage in their development. If we know and accept that and learn how to handle ourselves appropriately, then we can better help them manage themselves. The more we can give them developmentally appropriate ways to be in control and feel powerful, the less power struggles we are going to have.

Contrary to what some parents believe, when we argue with our children, we abdicate our role as parents and put our kids in control. This is way too much power for them and they can’t handle it emotionally. They become angry, resentful and overwhelmed and their behavior escalates. Parents feel the same emotions, and now everyone is in a bad place.

So, what’s the secret you say? You are. Yes, you. You hold the power!

Here’s what to do:

  • Just stop it. Bow out. Do not engage. Doesn’t that sound easy? In theory it is, however, practical application proves different.
  • Give them choices. Only give two options and make certain they are both acceptable with you.
  • Pick your battles. We know this but it’s so hard to pull off. Is it really necessary to engage about whether she should put on her coat? No. After you suggest it, and she resists, let it go. Trust that she will come back for the coat when she gets cold enough.
  • Make sure the parent-child relationship is solid. When they feel disconnected from us, they behave much worse. Take time to do a little nurturing if they are fighting for control.

If you can be mindful of these suggestions and implement them, I’ll just bet you will not encounter as many battles as you normally do. It’s sure worth a try!

There’s Always Hope,

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Need more help?  Parents often jokingly ask Amy, “Will you go home with me?”  While she can’t do that, Amy is available to consult with parents through her consultation services.  Click Here to learn more.

Back to School – Tips for An Easy Transition!

It’s hard to believe it’s already that time of year again! The lazy, hazy days of summer are coming to an end and a new school year is dawning.

For moms and dads, this is often a happy time as they are weary after having the kids at home all summer. Most kids, however, are usually not happy about the end of their summer fun. The beginning of a new year can be a hard adjustment for some kiddos or a simple transition for others.

Getting back into a school routine or at least a more consistent one is tough, but can sure make a difference in the way your child adjusts to the new year. Soon, the nights of staying up a little later, sleeping in a bit longer and all manner of summer fun will be a thing of the past. Here a some ways to make the transition easier:

  • Consider easing back into your school routine by beginning about two to three weeks before school kicks off.
  • Gradually begin to tweak your bedtime schedule so that everyone is getting to bed earlier. Equally as important is waking up earlier in the mornings.
  • Teach them to be organized and make decisions about their clothes the night before. This translates to less stress in the mornings.
  • Give them opportunities to be independent and responsible. Set them up for success by giving them responsibilities at home so they can experience what it is like. For example, you might make it their responsibility to pack their backpacks and lunchbox.
  • If a new school is on the horizon this year, a peek inside might help allay any anxiety your child is having. Go to the building and let them see where they will be going each day.
  • Implement a daily homework routine. Whether that is immediately after school, after their snack and a little downtime, or even after dinner for teens, having a set time established helps everybody.
  • Prepare them for the separation from you, particularly if this is their first year to attend school or if you have an anxious child. Let them know what the morning drop off will look like. Be specific. “I’ll be able to walk you into your classroom the first week of school and after that, I’ll drop you off in the carpool line.”
  • We set the tone for the family. Get enough rest and get up early enough so that you aren’t rushed. Allow time for the unexpected.

Kids take their cues from us. If we are excited about the new year and happy with their teacher, chances are they will be too. If we’re anxious and worried that they might not be in the class with their best friend, worried that they might get lost trying to get to their classes on time with all of their materials or unhappy because they didn’t get the teacher we wanted, they will probably unhappy be too.

Hoping your family gets an A+ on this transition into another year of school!

Family Spotlight: Wendy Stem

In the spring of 2011, after our older daughter Abigail had started second grade, she began experiencing frequent stomach aches. They would usually come in the evening around dinner time, she would become flushed in the face and just need to lie down. After six months of doctor’s visits that included everything from strep throat to allergy tests and even an endoscopy, the stomach aches went away.

Parenting With Amy

Six months later, our younger daughter Sarah, shortly after starting first grade, began experiencing the same symptoms. Unfortunately, Sarah’s were more intense. She had stomach aches, cramping, and painful constipation. She became fearful of several things including being sick, going to school, and being by herself. There was a lot of crying, a lot of screaming, and several trips to the pediatrician’s office. After testing for a few things, it was becoming clear that Sarah was on the same path that Abigail had been on. Fortunately, this time around, our pediatrician recommended visiting with Amy to investigate the possibility of Sarah’s symptoms being related to anxiety.

During our first visit with Amy, she assured me that all of Sarah’s symptoms, while they could be something physical, aligned with a child feeling anxiety. Because Sarah is very verbal, often times we feel like we can reason with her and explain situations, but trying to explain Sarah’s anxiety to her and tell her the “right” way to view it was clearly not helping. Amy has helped us better understand the viewpoint of the anxious child. She has helped us learn how to talk with Sarah in such a way as to acknowledge what she is feeling, to help Sarah feel validated in what she is feeling, instead of feeling differently or wrong about it. The following spring, Sarah was doing very well in her first grade class.

It was late that same spring that we had a huge family change – we decided to take an assignment overseas with my husband’s company. We all felt nervous but very excited. We were busy with plans, selling our home and getting ready to move in August when we were delayed by an indefinite amount of time while we waited on immigration paperwork. We moved into a small apartment that was fun for the first week, but the reality of leaving our home, our neighborhood, friends and routine soon hit. We were all grieving, not sure how long we would be in this apartment and not sure what our lives would look like when we moved overseas. It was an emotional, scary time.

We were all feeling quite uncertain about what we were doing, but it is Sarah who is somewhat of the “thermometer” in our household. She felt all of the insecurity and emotion intensely. We had crying and screaming fits, periods of deep sadness, even a period of time when Sarah did not want to get off of the couch to play.

I am so thankful we were able to reach out to Amy again. She was a neutral person with whom Sarah could talk, and who, according to Sarah has great dolls to play with! As her parents, we had this idea that we could just tell Sarah how to “fix” what she was feeling by doing something different, acting a certain way, or believing something specific. One of the most important things we have learned from Amy is how to validate our children and their feelings. Simply being able to listen to them and acknowledge what they are going through as being normal has given them a confidence to work through a lot of these anxious moments.

While nothing about our move overseas was easy, we have done it. Our first move was an amazing adventure, but definitely filled with moments to practice the skills we have learned from Amy! The adjustment continued to be filled with sadness, anxiety, and a little anger, but both girls started new schools overseas, made many new friends and enjoyed an amazing experience. We continue to face fears and anxiety, but with an openness to talk, acknowledge, and validate. We have learned to be aware of our stressors, to recognize what are reactions to anxiety and to reach out for help when we need it, all of which is an ongoing process.

Our girls are now entering seventh and fifth grades, and we have made another overseas move. We have faced the grief of leaving another home, the sadness of leaving friends and the anxiety of not knowing what the next months will be like. Sarah and Abigail have both felt this intensely and have had the same feelings manifest. However, they are beginning to recognize and verbalize how they are feeling, and we know we can work through it as a family. We are thankful for the skills we have learned from Amy, and thankful that we are able to continue to seek her guidance and resources!

Wendy Stem