White Christmas

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Proverbs 31 describes several qualities of an exemplary woman, including, “She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household is clothed in scarlet” (vs. 21). This year I did dread the snow. It was well into December before I dug out the wintergear, and the uncharacteristically mild weather mercifully allowed it.

There have been other mercies this season. During a string of days when I had grown discouraged over small but stacked stressors–squabbling kids, potty training accidents, the thinness of my own patience–a friend brought me a beautiful card with just the right message. The card sparkled with glittered snow along a tree-lined path. It said, “In this moment now, capture it, remember it, ’cause I don’t know how it gets better than this.” My friend had left by the time I read it, but I sat and cried. These are the good times. Hard, yes–but good.

In this Christmas season, we celebrate the birth of our Savior, but the full story does not end in the stable. Because Jesus grew to fulfill his mission, we are redeemed from our weaknesses, our sorrows, our struggles. As we follow Him and trust in Him, we are able to rejoice and find that peace “which passeth all understanding” (Phil 4:7). “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). There is less than an inch of snow covering our Minnesota lawn, but it is a white Christmas.

An article on how to have the true Spirit of Christmas: www.facebook.com/notes/john-bytheway/i-thought-you-might-enjoy-this-insightful-christmas-message-by-william-b-smart/247323509621

Sweet Dreams: Tips for a good night’s sleep

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A friend recently asked me to offer advice that may help her grandbaby baby sleep through the night. Though few solutions are truly “one-size-fits-all,” certain foundational, sleep-related principles may be of use.

1. Sleep is important. You are wise to want some sleep and wise to recognize its importance for your children. Research has shown that sleep improves memory, focus, mood, immune-system function, and growth. It decreases risk for obesity, depression, and accident-related injury. This is an issue worth your attention!

2. Recognize what is in your control and what is not. Just like you can lead a horse to water but can’t make him drink, you can tuck a child in ever-so-nicely, but you can’t make him sleep! Try to create the best conditions you can and hopefully the “rest” will take care of itself! The best environment for one child may be different from another’s, however, try to limit accommodations to those that are reasonable and sustainable. Wisely respond to bedtime distractions or delay tactics. For example, if a child won’t keep the light off, you can take out the bulb; if a child insists on playing with toys, you can choose to store them outside of the bedroom; if a child wants drinks and snacks, build these in earlier in the bedtime routine. All these boundaries can be inacted kindly but firmly. (Think Mary Poppins here!)

3. Honor your true wishes. If you really don’t mind waking up to nurse or rock a crying baby, cherish the time. Don’t feel you have to impose external rules just because your neighbor, your pediatrician, or your mother-in-law says you should.

4. Create simple, cozy bedtime routines and healthy “sleep associations.” As often as possible, start your routine early enough that it can be relaxed and enjoyable. Consider things like putting on jammies, brushing teeth, reading or telling a story, singing a song, and saying prayers. To provide natural momentum, do the harder things first and save the favorite activities for last.  Now you may ask, “What are sleep associations?” (Note: this next part is extra important!!) Sleep associations are conditions we come to expect and rely upon to comfortably fall asleep–even as adults we have these. For example, we may expect a certain pillow or blanket to be in place. During the lighter phases of sleep (which we all cycle through), if the expected conditions are disrupted, we may wake up. As parents, we sometimes accidently create or reinforce sleep associations for our children that are difficult to maintain. For example, a baby that always falls asleep nursing, sucking on a pacifier, or being rocked arouses more easily when suddenly, during a lighter sleep phase, the breast or bottle is gone, the pacifier is gone, or the comforting arms are not there! This is not to say that you can never nurse or rock a baby to sleep, but if night wakenings become problematic, this is an area where a small change may bring great improvements. If comfort items are gently removed just before sleep, often a baby no longer relies on them to stay asleep. Sometimes there is a difficult transition period when a baby or child must adjust as they learn new boundaries, but often over the course of a few nights (and perhaps a few tears), new ways catch on.

5. Respond to cues, but give space. Learn (sometimes by trial and error) your child’s own cues for tiredness. Some babies get very fussy when they are tired and dutiful parents try to rock and comfort and soothe, only causing overstimulation. You will quickly learn to discern between the tired cry, the hungry cry, and the lonely cry. If in a certain instance you are not sure, start with your best guess and move on down the list as needed. Though you want to be very responsive to your child’s needs, don’t jump so fast to soothe every cry and solve every problem that your child has no opportunity to learn to calm himself or problem-solve. Interestingly, in certain cultures most babies do sleep through the night at a very young age. In her book Bringing up BébéPamela Druckerman tells how French mothers observe “La Pause”–a brief moment of waiting before picking up a fussing baby to encourage self-soothing–and its seeming correlation to French babies learning to sleep through the night much earlier. (For me, “La Pause” has occured by default because of having several kids waiting in line for my attentions, but they have tended to be good sleepers!)

Above all, however, don’t lose sleep over losing sleep. Accept that some nights will go better than others. Function as well as possible with the amount of sleep you are able to get. Be kind to yourself as you schedule commitments for yourself and your children. Simplify when you can, press forward when you have to.

Sweet dreams!

Additional sources to consider: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth & Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo (you may find some useful nuggets)

 

 

 

 

Discipline

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The word discipline originates from a Latin word meaning “instruction.” Our aim as parents is to instruct our children well–to teach them habits, skills, and principles to help them in their lives. Our ability to meaningfully influence and inspire our children ultimately grows out of our relationship with them. (See this insightful link about how “Time Ins” may be more the answer than “Time Outs”:  http://www.bringingupkids.com/blog/why-you-need-time-in-before-time-out.html)

I try not to get caught up on nitpicky rules. Usually, common sense and a few foundational principles are enough (like “showing care and respect for people and things”). All smaller expectations tend to stem from these.  Such a framework gives children a sense of security (though often they push against it as if to see that it’s still there). By confidently and respectfully maintaining wise boundaries–especially when demonstrating the self-discipline to live by these guiding principles ourselves–we set a credible pattern for our children.

When children misbehave, we can ask ourselves, “What lesson needs to be taught or reinforced?” Rather than scolding or nagging, we can utilize new and engaging ways to teach. Recently, when two of my young sons were arguing, instead of once again asking them to stop, I read them this story poem (one my grandmother used to tell my mom when she was little). http://www.poetrynook.com/poem/two-little-kittens The arguing naturally stopped while they attentively listened and didn’t continue after the poem was done (at least not for a while!).

Teaching is a continual process; even as one item is mastered, another issue seems to crop up. Here are 3 helpful steps for disciplining or instructing children to behave wisely and well.

1) State the expectation 

2) Set up an environment that supports the expected behavior, making the unacceptable behavior less likely, less possible, or less problematic

3) Reinforce the expectation by noticing wise behavioral choices and, when needed, allowing/creating reasonable consequences to poor ones

Illustrative example: As a young preschooler, one of my sons went through a brief stage of throwing his dish if he didn’t like the food offered to him. By the third time it happened, I was quite infuriated. Though I generally try to make healthy meals I think my family will enjoy, I can’t pander to every individual taste. In this case, I firmly stated my expectation (#1):  “Food is for eating, not throwing”.  I did not allow my son to participate in the subsequent activities until he picked up his dinner off the floor and I did not offer him a replacement meal (#3).  Initially he refused, so I navigated around the splatted mashed potatoes until he was ready. (If he had been too young to clean up the mess, I could have at least had him help me or substituted another doable & related task). When children are too young to fix a problem created by their behavior, then #2 becomes especially important. In the food-throwing scenario, for example, I could position myself close enough to quickly remove any food about to be thrown, I could choose plastic plates and tableware, and I could avoid dishing out food that has been verbally refused (without necessarily offering an alternative), etc. Ideally, we go through the steps in a relatively “cool and collected” manner (at least outwardly), because over-reaction tends to backfire!

The process of teaching is a continual one, but over time lessons usually do sink in. I remember the surprising realization that one of my particularly squirrelly sons actually had matured enough to sit quietly through an entire concert performance.  This day had come after many reminders and much practice over the span of years, but it had come!  Similarly, I marveled this Thanksgiving that after years of involving the boys in the Thanksgiving meal preparation, the dinner was seemingly “making itself”–I only had to do the pies because my husband and the boys each had their part covered. Yet, mid-thought, I smelled something burning. The boys had put the marshmallow-topped yams in the oven and gone out to play in the newly fallen snow. (That particular dish was reminscent of a campfire experience). It turns out, some supervision is still warranted.

Though each child and each circumstance is unique and we cannot expect one technique to work every time, there are many good ideas out there. Learn a few basic strategies and creatively adapt them to your situation. Some parenting resources I recommend include:

Happy Kids, Happy You by Sue Beever

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber & Mazlich

Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn

What is a Parent to Do? by Glenn Latham (see also the link to a free online course below) http://ocw.usu.edu/Family__Consumer____Human_Development/oer-power-of-positive-parenting/