Monday, February 27, 2012

Knowing When to Say When

Sometimes, I get a glimpse of how good I have it. This weekend was one of those. Due to the unavoidable fact of my being a female, like many women I have some 'not so pleasant' times in my life when hormones plummet and cramps descend upon me like the scourge they are.  No, this is not the good part--I'm not a sadist. The good part is that I have a husband who makes himself useful in those moments. On Saturday night, when my "keeping it together and being nice" tank ran empty, I suggested that it might be wise for me to excuse myself for the evening for a restorative treatment of a Perry Mason episode and some jigsaw puzzle work upstairs. Lovely husband concurred and gave me an hour and a half free pass to go zone out, which I so appreciated.

Sunday was much the same; I was a good mom and kept things going during the daytime. Joe and I worked on our taxes, I kept the house up, we took a walk up around the top reservoir at Mt Tabor...but by the time six o'clock rolled around, I was ready to disappear again, and again Joe kept Kiddo busy and happy until bedtime, when I returned. It was my night to read stories and sing bedtime songs. Having that break was so important to my having a good attitude. Even today, I feel better than I would have if I hadn't had the culmulative 2.5 hours alone.

I did have to make some hard choices and cancel a couple social activities with friends. Like another dear friend of mine, when we feel all crampy and grumpy, we try to keep our charming personalities to ourselves. I believe there was some wisdom involved way back when, when the women spent 'their time' in the red tent, letting others take care of them and getting to be gripey, grumpy and uncomfortable without being chastened by some lunkheaded guy about "why are you being such a bitch?", a question which--at this point--only makes a woman want to punch that man in the head. 

Yes, I plan on keeping my winning attitude to myself and trying to take things slow today, now that Joe's back at work. This means employing the spectacle of morning tv (SuperWhy and Dinosaur Train) to buy me a bit of time. Because I've bailed out on a playdate, this does mean I'll have to work a little harder to keep us more entertained. Yesterday, Playdoh bought us about 3 hours of entertainment, with a break for lunch. Pretty good return for a $3 pack of the stuff--that's a $1 an hour babysitter, if you didn't do the math. Scissors have already been brought out today, along with the basket of scrap paper and a wee plastic wheelie-bin toy garbage can from one of hubby's vendors. Kiddo spent some quality time practicing his cutting and putting the scraps in the tiny trash bin; he also gave me a picture of the zoo's bobcats he cut out from their quarterly mailer. I like putting the quasi-junk mail in his paper basket-- I never know what he'll bring to me to talk about. 

While PBS has my son enthralled, I get to write. This is good. It's like a runner starting their day with an easy two mile jaunt. Writing gives purpose and focus to my day...I figure out a lot as I type. Plans begin to take shape: Kiddo wants to make a paper chain today, so that we have a way of counting down until our beach trip near his birthday in April. We'll use a calendar and paper chain to do this. I'm wanting to find some more in-depth books regarding tide pool and coastal marine life too.  Maybe a library trip? hmmm... For now, the sun shines, and a walk is certainly in the cards for us today. We have pea seeds to plant, a suet cake to put out for the birdies, and I've got a old type tray I want to play with today, displaying bits of nature, seashore treasures as well as little bits of tchotke I can't seem to part with or place elsewhere. 

Taking a few quiet days does wonders for my soul. So does breakfast, so best get to that. My apologies if this is a bit 'journally' instead of more edifying, but here's a question back to you, Mamas: how do you take care of yourself on these sorts of days, when you are dragging or tired or hormonal? Do you go hide with a blanket over your head? Send the kids on endless games of Hide-and-Seek where you count to one hundred before searching for them? (Sure, you're teaching them numbers...) Hire a babysitter so you can curl up with the heating pad and watch some good trash on tv? (That'll be me--The Bachelor's on tonight, and that's one narcissistic relationship meltdown/mash-up I won't miss. It used to be that we'd sit at the coffee shop, speculating about people's real lives and relationships: now, thanks to Facebook and reality tv, there's no guessing involved, it's all out there for the world to place their bets on.) Let me know your favorite remedy for the "Lady-Time Blues" (yes, even if it involved alcohol, I won't judge you on that!) and I encourage us all in the Mama World to take those breaks when we need them. Quiet Play Time for forty minutes won't kill the kiddos, no matter how much they whine about it, but it's so much better than the alternative....

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dino Drop: Introducing Simple Math Equations

Yesterday, Kiddo and I had a lot of fun playing "Dino Drop", a game that supports early math learning.  Dino Drop offers the child a chance to count, teaches awareness of boundaries, and can be used to introduce the symbols and concepts of "plus", "minus" and "equals" in a way that can be adapted to the child's level of ability.

Before I tell you how to make and play this game, I want to give you a quick background on it. The first time I encountered this game, it was in the most simple form: a large square drawn in the center of a piece of paper. The child drops a number of small toys onto the paper, then counts how many have landed "inside" the square, then how many have landed "outside" the square and finally, how many toys there are altogether.  Because children all have differing levels of activity and interests, this game can be adapted in a variety of ways, and I'll have suggestions for adaptation at the end of this post.

For now, though, I'll share with you what we did and my scripting, because how we say what we are saying is important in teaching these concepts.

1. First, we arranged the 'play area'. For Dino Drop (which is the name I gave this version, to spark Kiddo's curiosity),  I used a larger piece of paper and we drew a volcano on it. Kiddo gave me lots of directions on how much lava we needed to color in, then wanted to draw the boulders himself. We had lots of boulders coming down from the volcano and plenty of red hot lava. 

2. Next, I had Kiddo gather up a nice pile of small toy dinosaurs, the kind you can buy for about a dollar at the toy store. (Note: the size of your manipulative toy should determine the size of your play area, which is why we had a large piece of paper.) 

3. Have a second sheet handy for writing out your equations. You can make this with columns and icons, or keep it simple.


4. Now, Kiddo drops a collection of dinos onto the paper.  The game begins.


My script
Parent: How many dinosaurs landed on the volcano?
Child: Five.  (Parent should double check amounts each time; if a child can sight count their amounts correctly, great. If the child is incorrect, point-and-count each toy to ensure 1-t0-1 ratio counting; correction is important.)
Parent: There are Five dinosaurs on the volcano. Say this as you write the number. 
Parent: How many dinosaurs are not on the volcano?
Child: Three. 
Parent: And there are three dinos off the volcano. Draw a 'plus' sign as you say "and", then the numeral three.
Parent: Now, how many dinos are there all together? 
Child: Eight. 
Parent: Right. (or correct, if needed, then-) Five dinos on the volcano and three dinos off the volcano makes/equals eight dinosaurs all together.  Parent should point to each numeral in the sequence, the plus sign as we say "and" and the "equal" sign as we say "makes/equals", then the sum. 

I strongly recommend working with the same number of toys for at least three or four turns; thus, the child can learn that five and three make eight, as well as four and four, one and seven, zero and eight, etc. After three or four turns, then offer to add more dinos to the total, or decrease the amount. I suggest starting with an amount between four and ten dinos, depending on how proficient your child is at counting. This activity should be fun and slightly challenging, not discouraging. If your child has trouble counting correctly, start smaller because you will need to point and count all of the items each time. Children who have more practice and some ability to sight count will enjoy larger amounts a bit more. As stated earlier, we are teaching math equations, so always correct any mistakes in counting. We don't want to teach the child incorrectly, nor do we need to say "no, that's wrong"; instead, a simple "let's count that again" and pointing to each object while re-counting will keep the game moving along pleasantly. 


Now that you have the basic idea, this game can be played backward, introducing the 'minus' symbol.
My script:
Parent: How many dinos do we have here? (looking for a total number of dinos.)
Child: Seven. 
Parent: We have seven dinos all together. (Writes this down)
Parent: Dino Drop! (or whatever fun direction you can think of. Child drops dinos.)
Parent: How many dinos landed in the volcano?
Child: Four. 
Parent: Four dinos are in the volcano.  Adult writes  a minus sign and then a four.
Parent: How many are outside the volcano? 
Child: Three. Parent writes an "equal" sign and a three.
Parent: Right.  Seven dinos take away (or, 'minus')  four dinos leaves/equals three dinos. Once again, point to each part of the equation as you read it to your child.


Although I first played this game as an oral counting game, what intrigued me about it were three things: first, through the writing of the equations and the scripting, we are providing our children with an opportunity to become familiar with the most basic math symbols; second, this game gives us a chance to introduce the number value of 'zero', which isn't where we usually teach our kids to start counting (at the real beginning); and as I mentioned before, the simplicity of the game itself opens it up to endless  imaginative adaptations. 


Now that you know the ways this game may be played, here are some adaptations:

Busy learners can work big: I once played this game with a boy who loved matchbox cars. We flew them off a ramp to a counting area consisting of a rug and a towel spread out on the floor. We counted how many landed on the towel and how many on the remaining floor area. 


Throwing soft cloth balls or  pompoms/cotton balls from a designated line into a pan or basket. How many in, how many out, how many all together?


Launch paper airplanes: how many can make it across a line of tape  on the floor? How many landed in front of the tape? How many planes all together?


Roll some nuts or marbles down a makeshift ramp: you can use either a line for them to cross (how many in front of the line? how many behind?) or have a landing area for the items to potentially drop into. This could be a place mat on a blanket or a pan from the kitchen--sometimes the nuts will bounce out, which is also pretty entertaining if you use mixed, unshelled nuts, because the kids can make predictions too, based on the shape and size of the nut and what they've previously observed. 


On a blanket/cloth, spread out a necklace into a circle or other shape and then drop an amount of bigger beads onto it. How many landed inside the necklace/outside?, etc. Buttons can be used for this, too. 


Ribbons or laces or feathers (nearly any sewing notion) can be used this way too. 


You can see, nearly any smaller manipulative can become a prop for this game, and any variety of household items (place mats, paper plates, sheet of foil...anything) can become the landing pad. As I mentioned before, the size of the landing pad should easily accommodate the size of the prop as well as the level of activity/busyness. When children master counting items up to ten, feel free to work up to fifteen, then twenty. This is great practice for counting, which most pre-K children need. 


Also, give the game a name appropriate to the activity. I called this one Dino Drop because we used toy dinosaurs. "Ball in the Basket", "Nut in the Pan", "Car Ramp Fliers"... use your imagination, or have your child make up a name for it. Make the game as busy or silly as it  needs to be. Some busy children will enjoy hopping on one foot as they toss a pompom or blowing feathers or balloons in the air to maneuver them into a target space before they fall. (Let them use straws to direct their air flow if you like for the feathers.) You can make this game as simple or as fascinatingly complex as you choose. The most important part of teaching early learners is, of course, the potential to have fun, so try to construct a game that's right for its environment and eliminate as many 'no's' or redirections as possible.


One word of warning: kids do best with this game when they work with us one-on-0ne, or as a team. I found with my preschoolers that doing this activity as a group sit-down was very boring for the kids who weren't dropping and counting the props. We could do it well as a group activity if all the kids got to roll some of the nuts down the ramp and if we all did the counting aloud. Just something to consider... Otherwise, this is a very engaging way to teach essential skills. Please add a comment if you have other adaptations of this game. I'm always open to new ideas!


Also, check out MathArts by MaryAnn Kohl and Cynthia Gainer.  Just about any book of MaryAnn's is highly recommended, and MathArts has a lot of easy ways to teach elemental math concepts to preschoolers and kindergarteners. Any parent with a child who has a love for art can use this book to introduce concepts we might not think to explore on our own. MaryAnn's mantra is "it's the process, not the product" and the activities suggested in her books are real winners. A truly lovely resource!
 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My Sweet Valentines

Sometimes, a loving Valentine comes to us early. I got mine last night. Lucky little me...

Yesterday, for some reason still unknown to me, I began to itch like crazy. My neck, the sides of my face, my ears, the backs of my ears where my glasses rest... this entire area had some crazy reaction to something. Despite changing my clothes and pulling my hair up, the itching came and went all afternoon. It was driving me nuts. Add a demanding almost-five year old to the deal and there were a couple times I thought my head would come off completely. My littlest sweetheart didn't really feel like listening to Mama was such a hot idea and I was beginning to feel a bit, well, insane, as evidenced by the following email sent to a very good friend:

"Are you sure we are anti-spanking? I mean, like, really, really sure? I have the most disobedient, unpleasant little person with me right now and I'm thinking that his right to the pursuit of happiness isn't supposed to trespass on the my maternal right to Preserve Sanity."
My good, sweet friend actually took time to make a sympathy call, never mind that she has two little guys of her own. She didn't tell me to go suck it up, she didn't tell me how much 'easier' I had it and why was I complaining, which she totally could have.  Instead, she made me laugh for a minute and  feel like I was not alone in this storm-tossed dinghy adrift on The High Seas of Parenting.  She was in the next dinghy, waving in friendship and mouthing "yeah, they are the living end, aren't they?" and not making me feel bad about it. 

That, in and of itself, is a valentine of sorts right there.  And girlfriend, if you are reading this, it made me feel a whole lot better. Thank you.

But I still itched. And itched. And itched.  

I washed all the clothes I had worn (and still have another pile to be washed on hot, just in case). I carefully hand-washed a beautiful painted silk scarf that another friend had her artist sister make especially for me. The dragonflies on it make me smile, still. It's the best scarf ever and I am praying I am not allergic to silk because other scarves make me itch. This one hasn't yet. I've got an overnight trip with this friend in a month, to visit two friends who live out in beautiful Beavercreek. As I washed the scarf, I thought about all of these friends and the lasagna I want to make to take out there and how much fun we will have, sitting around the fire and talking about planting gardens, playing with their dogs and walking the property in rain or sunshine. A valentine just a month away. A valentine moment to look forward to.

The rest of the evening progressed without too many hitches, except the itches, and eventually Kiddo was asleep. Joe and I were lounging in bed, watching "An Idiot Abroad" and suddenly my neck felt burning hot. Joe said it was really red. And then he did a lovely thing. He put his jeans and boots back on, got the car back out of the garage and went to the store to buy me some Benadryl. 

Blessed man. Spare me the chocolates, the candies and hearts-- this was the best Valentine he could have ever given me. Itch relief.  He could have told me just to use the topical spray or to shut up about it already, but he didn't. And this is what I noticed, what I love about the guy... sometimes, the details slip by him, but the important stuff--he's there. He was sweet enough to see that I was on the verge of losing my mind and possibly  not sleeping, and he took care of it. No complaints, no "I'm so awesome, right?", just a sweet, kind and very thoughtful offer to go to the store and help me feel better.

I knew that this year, like the other years since we've had Kiddo,  Valentine's Day was going to be more low-key... a card of appreciation, hugs and kisses, and that's that. No fancy dinner expected-- besides the total rip-off of prix fix restaurant dinners, babysitters have homework on Valentine's Evening, or they want to be with their own friends. A meal out is not expected at this point, and  it is more conveniently  managed during the weekends anyway. I wasn't expecting much when I came downstairs this morning, but a card was waiting for me at the table. On it, a donkey, saying "If loving you is a crime...."(open card to see now-grinning donkey) "...then throw my happy ass in jail." Whatta guy. Really. He gets me Benadryl, he makes me laugh, he is cool about my going away for a weekend... 

So for today, I'm going to try to remember this for next year-- I get lots of valentines from special people in my life. Loads of them. There is love and care in their actions and words, kindness and humor in what they offer. Not for just one day, but every day. I hope to be more aware of this, and to celebrate it-- even if only to myself--when those moments happen. I am fortunate to have so many awesome people in my life, each of them makes my life better in their own way. February 14th doesn't have sole ownership of Valentine's Day---it  can feel like it happens more often, if we stay aware of loving and being loved. Nice for a holiday to help me remember what I already know.... besides a few itches, life is pretty good.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Preparing Our Children: Why Good Manners and Behavior Matter So Much

Each month, our son's preschool sends home a newsletter filled with all the happenings our children are enjoying together as a group. This month's missive contained avid descriptions of adventures in the dark with flashlights, the feeding stations the children take care of for the birds and squirrels, and a list of upcoming events. Attached to the newsletter was a one-page parenting article from "Grandma Says", a free e-newsletter from Growing Child, a company which publishes very balanced and informative newsletters and books on raising children.

Having become familiar with "Grandma Says" over the past few years, I thoroughly enjoy these short articles on parenting. They seem to have a sense of timeliness and acuity; whoever "Grandma" is, she is living in the same world the rest of us are and noticing some of the same trends in parenting. Yesterday's handout was no exception: Grandma is noticing something that many of us notice and are pretty uncomfortable with--children who are allowed to run amok in public and while visiting the homes of others while their parents, flummoxed and uncomfortable, try to ignore the misbehavior. This could be anything from failing to answer or acknowledge other adults and relatives who are speaking to the child and trying to interact with them, or worse, being allowed to become a considerable disturbance to others in public places.

I have to say that I had to agree with Grandma when she states that this is a 'modern' problem. Too many parents, perhaps, feel that even preschool-aged kids are 'too young' to be corrected or expected to mind. Recently, a friend shared a story of a four-year-old child who was being extremely rude to their parent as well other children. Instead of correcting this  immediately, the parent of that rude child shrugged their shoulders and dismissed it, sighing that "all kids are rude at this age".  To some, this would seem to be a discouraging thought; for me, I perceive it more as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we expect rudeness, if we accept rudeness as the norm, that's what we are eventually going to get--as the norm.


This complaint wasn't an isolated incident. Over the past few years, our own family has had more than our fair share of dinners ruined by questionable parenting choices. We've had parents playing slap-fight with their kids less than a foot away from us as we were eating. We've seen diners almost lose their dinners to toys and frisbees being flung about in their vicinity. I've even heard a mother repeatedly threaten her son that they would leave "the next time you do....", and we all wished they would leave, already. Poorly behaved children have climbed into our booth, have tried to tickle-- and then choke-- my son. They have  been allowed to 'hang out' by our table, to use profanity around us, have been allowed to run around restaurants and climb onto counters...I want to be clear that these kids are in the minority, but it is, disconcertingly, a growing minority.  When the unchecked mayhem takes over a space, it makes a nice meal out  become a miserable disappointment. It's like giving wild animals the keys to the zoo.


So, it was nice to know that "Grandma" is  noticing this too, and recognizing how maddening it is for the rest of us. These days, parents are sometimes criticized for expecting even a minimal sense of decorum from children.  This is frustrating. We understand kids need to move, to talk, to be seen and heard.  We do want to include our children in public activities, and we want to show them how to do it in socially considerate ways.  Kids aren't born with these skills, so they need us to teach them how to act when they are out and about, and to set expectations accordingly. When we see parents choosing to ignore their children's  bad behavior it makes for an uncomfortable situation, to say the least.   A few years ago, one woman shared with me her secret dread of hosting social gatherings for a group of friends. The adults were nice enough, but they wouldn't keep their kids out of her bedroom. Instead, these children were given free access to a stranger's house, and even when the children were getting into closets and drawers, their parents would not correct the situation.

This isn't right. Not at all. 


Perhaps I'm dating myself, but I remember what it was like to go 'visiting' as a child growing up. You said hello to the adult, then were quiet and found something to do. Mom would bring us some coloring books or other quiet activity and then the host family usually had a few games for us to play. Our job was to keep happily busy, not raise a fuss, and to mind. Visiting my own grandparents, we knew that anything on the mantle was not for our hands, nor was the candy jar full of bridge mix on the end table, nor the huge collection of hanging bells--they weren't for ringing. If you really wanted to see something closer, you asked. You minded the rules of the home you visited, and even if they weren't the same rules you had at home, you didn't complain or argue. Complaining to adults was rude; arguing with adults other than mom and dad was verboten.


While I'm not advocating for rigid manners for all children, I have to wonder, as "Grandma" did, how we are preparing our children for future experiences and interactions if we are afraid to correct them. Furthermore, what do children experience when we fail to prepare them for interactions with strangers? When we allow them to misbehave or be dismissive of others, we are allowing them to have very negative interactions to build upon and to recall during future social experiences. By not showing a child what is socially appropriate and requesting behaviors that in keeping with each setting--be it visiting relatives or out at the library or at a theater-- we make others uncomfortable. The public's  response is not lost on the child; when our most subtle responses telegraph disapproval and discomfort or anger (which is a reasonable feeling in this sort of situation), the child is very aware of this and may feel that they have failed in some way, although without the sort of awareness or clarity of thought an adult might experience after having bombed socially. Nonetheless, I strongly believe that children walk away feeling that interactions with adults (besides their own permissive parents) are to be avoided. Truly, this is very sad for the child. 


So much of this bad feeling could also be avoided if those affected by a child's behavior could see that the parent was actively working to correct and help the child. When we see a parent stopping to help their child through a hard time, to correct a misstep or mistake or to take a wiggly or upset child outside for a few minutes to calm down-- we relax. We can see that there is a responsive, responsible adult tending to the situation and our own demeanor changes. Our feelings grow more positive and accepting toward them  because we know the parents are showing respect for their child, for themselves, and for those around them. Choosing to stop what we are doing and help our children makes a tangible positive difference for everyone involved. Other parents are more likely to give a sympathetic smile or comment, because we've all been there and feel far more understanding and compassion now that the problem is being remedied.


Zooming out into the bigger picture,  the situation begs a different question, one of much more gravity than our immediate inconvenience: how does this lack of guidance prepare our children for kindergarten and their school situations? Likely, not very well. We can't expect the teacher to teach our children to sit where they are asked, to be considerate of other students while they work,  or to answer questions when spoken to if we haven't laid the groundwork for these actions. A teacher may have great classroom management skills, but it's unreasonable for a parent to expect teachers  to do all the work of introducing basic self-regulation and social skills. Young children need for their parents to have introduced and  previously provided a strong foundation for good behavior and minding at home, no later than age three and preferably sooner. This consistency is essential for our children's success in the larger world. 

How our children interact with other adults may have other social consequences as well. Few parents are excited to invite a badly-behaved child over to play.  There is plenty of lip-service paid to giving all kids a fair shake, but as someone who has worked with families for as long as I have, I know that parents will choose time and again to discourage those friendships which they feel may be a  negative influence in their children's lives.  Many parents face a very real dilemma when their child's desired playmates  are rude, disrespectful (sometimes to the point of stealing and lying, even flagrantly) and refuse to cooperate, mind rules or manners, or address adults respectfully--if at all. A hard situation for any loving parent, we want our children to be able to choose their own friends, but when our attempts at normalizing an out-of-control situation are not met with mutual concern from their own parent, it is natural for us to encourage our children toward other friendships which feel happier and healthier.

We are raising children,  children who will eventually become citizens that will need to have strong pro-social skills. They will need them throughout their educational journey, they will need them to be able to move forward in their respective careers. (Let's be honest, no one really wants to work with a jerk.)  They will need these skills as they become parents themselves, the customers we will one day sit next to at a restaurant when we ourselves are older and wanting a nice meal.  I want my son, and all of the children I have cared for and taught, to be able to look adults in the eye, to say hello and smile, and to go forward with confidence and make a good impression in the world.  Preparing our children now by teaching them  the simple acts which show respect and awareness for others will strengthen our children and give them strong positive experiences to draw from as they go forward. The right time is now, before bad habits become the norm. Even Grandma says so.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The "Yesterday" Hangover

Sometimes, life with kids is a treat. I think most parents will agree that some of our best moments are times we've spent with our children. When things are going well, when we fall into a positive groove of mutual give and take,there are few things which could be better.

That said, the opposite can feel true, too. Our hardest days with our children can make us feel terrible--about the moment and about ourselves. If we are truly being honest, we sometimes think or feel some pretty terrible thoughts and feelings about our kids too. And when you've had 'one of those days' where the children have suddenly become deaf to our directions (and then, to our rising frustration) and we eventually all lose our cool, it can  make the next day hard to look forward to. 

Welcome to what I call "The Yesterday Hangover". It's that nagging feeling that comes upon us when we get out of bed the next morning, that small silent non-denominational parental prayer of "Oh, heavens, please let today be nothing at all like yesterday." In this moment, we tell ourselves we are going to try to do things differently. We are not going to get emotionally engaged in whatever antics come our way. We will ignore their whining and crying and we will not lose our cool when they try to hit us or do other dangerous things. We will correct as positively as we can, put them in a safe place to cool down, and try to give them all the positive attention while they play as we can. We'll take a Time Out ourselves, if need be, and hope to model this positively. All this we promise ourselves before we've even had a cup of coffee.

Hopefully--hopefully, our kids are on the same page. Hopefully, we won't have to resort to some of the lame observations we remember our own parents making. "REMEMBER YESTERDAY? DO YOU WANT TO HAVE A REPEAT OF YESTERDAY? THEN YOU NEED TO BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH IF YOU WANT TO MAKE IT OUT OF TODAY ALIVE." Of course, this is highly inappropriate in any case, but it does make us pause and reflect for a moment that we, too, sometimes gave our own parents a run for their money. I know I did. 

Yesterday in our house was one of those days best left unremembered. After three days of more or less flying solo as a parent due to Joe working some long hours, I was spent and probably not on my own best behavior. But I really did try. Yet, somehow, this was not enough for Kiddo. Perhaps it was one of those 'testing' phases, perhaps it was just a long week, but the day eventually devolved into a bedtime with no stories or songs and plenty of tears and frustration. After closing the door to his room and sitting at the table with my evening cocktail of Advil and a beer, watching Joe eat his late dinner, I wondered aloud why it was so hard sometimes. 

And then I silently hoped that there would be no repeat performance the next day. 

Thankfully, despite a spate of tests again from Kiddo ("If I do X, will Mama's head fly off? Will she really just walk away? Oh, wait, why am I standing here alone?") I think we made it through the day fairly well. What helped was taking it one moment at a time, not superimposing the day before onto the present, but treating each individual conflict as their own, isolated incident. We managed to pull off a pretty good day overall, including a cribbage game for the grown-ups and dinner out at my favorite sushi restaurant in Portland. (Of course, dinner worked out well because I'd cut out a handful of paper valentines and brought stickers, but that's just me doing my parental job of bringing something to stay happily busy with while we waited for our food.) Saying goodnight was pleasant, stories were read and songs were sung. The Yesterday Hangover had not wrestled our day away from us. Instead, rational thought--instead of parental superstition and negative predictions-- had been allowed to reign supreme during our day.

All of this was so good. Especially as there is no "hair of the dog" treatment for the Yesterday Hangover. A glass of water and some aspirin won't help. Planning the low-key, low-expectations day is probably the best remedy, if it is possible. 

Some language to use when you know you are heading into another rough day--because it's all about how you say it:
Instead of "Go to your room right now! Are you trying to send me to an early grave?!" try "I see you don't want to follow directions right now. This would be a good time for you to go play (anywhere away from me)." Being 'sent' versus having the remedy to the problem strongly suggested are a world apart. The former is more reactionary, the latter more reasonable and it holds an explanation as well.

Instead of "What do you think I am? A waitress? Do you think this is a restaurant? DO YOU SEE A TIP JAR ON THE COUNTER?" or "Why don't you want to eat it? I made it especially for you because you loved it yesterday?" try "This is what we are having for dinner tonight." (And if they don't like it, put some bread and butter on their plate before serving... just to alleviate any sense of guilt you might suffer for your after-dinner 'starving' child.)

Instead of "if you do X again, I will explode like Vesuvius!" try "I need you to do X or you will need to take a break (wherever, however, I see fit)." 

...and a few more practical tips for the hard days:

1. When faced with an undesired task for the child, close the door to whichever room you need to work in. Many children are little runaways and will bolt out of the room to start a maddening game of chase which you did not ask to play. Closing the door and putting your body between door and child minimizes this.

2. Do the work before the fun. By the time a child is four, he knows when it 'works best for him' to do an undesired task and when he can dig his heels in and ignore the parents. I'm all for making the next desired activity contingent upon getting one's room picked up or one's clothes put away, etc. etc. The other night I was smart enough to leave Kiddo in his room to pick up his toys before dinner... and to tell him that he could come to the table only after his messes were cleaned up. This eliminated an after-dinner bedtime non-cooperative stalemate. Sometimes, dangling a carrot is a good idea.

3. Ignore the attitude as much as it makes sense to, then redirect it. On tough days, it seems like they're really trying to pick a fight with us. Weirdly, of course, it is likely because they want our attention--and we should give them attention, but not for this. In fact, on tough days, it may feel like we are doing nothing but giving them attention. Try to ignore those baits for negative attention and to focus on positive attention during neutral times, and then give genuine thanks for their good choices and those moments when they are doing something right. When the negative actions begin to annoy, see the above suggestion for going to one's room or playing elsewhere. 

4. Make sure you are all well-rested. Tell the kids you are going to take a quiet rest and that they  must play quietly for a certain amount of time. Then, model this. I use a timer, and when my Little Mister wants my attention, I just say one phrase- "When the timer goes ding..." and go back to my book or close my eyes. Granted, younger children might have a harder time with this, but everyone should be taking a quiet break during the day, even if they are not napping, because we Mamas need a break!

5. Go outside. Unless there's some seriously inclement weather, try to get outside for a walk. If you have a rascally handful of a younger kid, bring a stroller or some other containment device, just in case things melt down and you have to get an uncooperative child home. If your kids are digging their heels in, go sit on the porch alone or if they are old enough to be unattended, go work in the yard. Just getting out and breathing some fresh air will help.

6. Make a clear playtime with your child. Set aside a half-hour (use a timer) and ignore your phone, email, etc.---just focus on doing something pleasant and easy together. Note: hard days are not a day for focus-oriented projects; save those for easier days. Instead, get out the playdough or do something open-ended and creative and low-stakes. Avoid competitive games if you can; losing on a good day can be hard for little ones, losing on a bad day can become the End of the World.

7. Give kids separate spaces to play or work in. Families with multiple children will agree with this. If possible, give each child a separate room or even floor to exist in for a chunk of time. 

8. Stay as emotionally neutral as possible. This can be very difficult, but give it a try. When correcting a behavior, just state the facts and remedy the situation without a lot of talk. Yesterday, scissors were thrown because a Little Someone was frustrated. "I see that you are not being safe with the scissors. You are done with them for today. You may try them tomorrow." Chances are, this will not keep your child from crying and being angry. However, this can keep you from feeling guilty for yelling and exacerbating an already bad situation. Plus, when we are disciplining on a 'testing' day, it's hard for kids to try and take the wind out of our sails when there is no wind in there to begin with.

9. Correct misbehavior after the first warning. No procrastinating, no lazy parenting, no 'the next time I see you blah blah blah...". Just one warning and then, follow through with whatever correction is necessary. And any deliberate aggressive, hurtful or dangerous actions get an immediate correction, because a typical child will know by 3 years old that they are doing something wrong. (This is when I will use a 1-minute-per-year time-out in a chair and then checking in with the hurt person/making amends.) If it's hurtful words or a disrespectful attitude, it's okay for them to go into their room to play "until you are ready to be a friendly person again". If the nasty words are addressed to siblings, they can go to their room until they are ready to make things right with sister or brother and to check in with them. Don't wait for things to escalate or for them to test you and see if you will 'really' follow through with the correction. Just do it.

10. Lastly--Let go of what it's reasonable to let go of. On our tougher days, I don't ask Kiddo to do a lot of extra helping out, only what pertains to him. Today I put his laundry away, only because I knew it would be a  big bone of contention and I didn't want the drama. This doesn't mean excusing our older kids from their self-care and daily chores, however, with younger kids, some days, just getting them to get back into the habit of minding us in regard to basics is all we all have the energy for. Focus on the most elemental tasks on those hard days and then try to have some positive interactions. Or turn things around; for older kids, perhaps swapping out a couple of dreaded chores for the day can help them to know that we are 'for' them and not trying to make their lives miserable. (Of course, on some days, they see us as Pure Parental Evil, and that's just going to be their filter for everything. Adolescents and teens are especially prone to this.) Small olive branches, hugs when they'll let us, a healthy favorite snack or the chance to opt out of something they really don't want to do...just for today, and only if the consequences are reasonable~ all of these can help an older child know that we do not, in fact, hate them. Those nachos you let them eat in their room for a change, away from a pesky younger sibling...they are not just nachos. They are an artifact of love.


Hopefully, some of these strategies will pay off down the road and help you to shake off the Yesterday Hangover. Here's hoping tomorrow is as bright as ever...