Archive for the ‘Calm Kids’ Category

Inoculating Yourself Against Your Kids’ Bad Moods

Friday, November 5th, 2010

I am a huge fan of Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and the Happiness Project blog (the only blog I regularly read besides The Calm Mom!).  I encourage all of you to check out Gretchen’s fantastic words of wisdom!

This week, Gretchen wrote about how kids affect their parents’ mood.  She described a day when her 5 year old woke up on the wrong side of the bed and, in her words, “by the end of the day, all four of us were in very crabby moods.”  She goes on to post this question:

“How do I maintain my emotional self-sufficiency while also staying very engaged with the people around me? (Or, put another way, am I so shallow that a five-year-old’s whining can ruin my day?)”

Ah, Gretchen, I can relate!  I, too, live with a five year old and yes, her moods can color my day from our very first interaction in the morning.  So, the question got me thinking….and made me come up with some good tips for all of us to try:

-Think about biology: When kids wake up in a foul mood, sometimes it boils down to basic biology.  Did they get enough sleep?  Are they starving?  Have we started chatting to them before they have had a chance to even go pee (I am guilty of this one!)?  Could they be feeling under the weather?  I have found that on moody mornings, my daughter often has an extra bowl of cheerios and is like a changed person!  Be mindful of these factors, and adjust accordingly.  Everyone else might be putting their 5-year old to bed at 10 PM, but if your kid is a 7-o’clocker, stick to it religiously!

-Don’t get too involved: Some moms and dads spend a lot of time with their kids trying to figure out where the bad mood came from (otherwise known as talking about feelings).  Yes, I am psychologist, but I don’t think this is always a good idea.  For very young kids, they generally are not going to know.  They just feel grumpy.  The more attention you give to the grumpiness, the longer they will stay grumpy and the more often they will get grumpy.  Because, as we all know, kids love attention.  Instead….

-Try humor: For little kids, it can be fun to give this problem a name, like Mr. Grumpy.  “Gee, it seems like Mr. Grumpy has come for a visit today.  He is SUCH A PAIN!”  Then, ask your child, “What can we do to send him packing?”  Kids often have very good ideas about how to feel better.  On a weekend morning, for example, a child might choose to stay in bed a bit longer and look at some books.  This is not punishment…it is an opportunity to get into a better mood and enjoy the upcoming day.

-Change the Channel in the Brain: Little kids love this one.   Parents can say, “Ugh, it seems like your brain is stuck on the grumpy channel today.  Can we change the channel in your brain to a channel that is more fun?”  The general idea is to get busy with something else that propels kids out of their bad mood.  Good activities are: helping with household tasks, doing art, looking at books, playing with toys, watching a show, going outside to run around, etc. 

-Don’t let the bad mood determine the family’s behavior: When our kids wake up in bad moods, the inclination is to call off the plans!  “We were supposed to go to the zoo today, but I don’t want to go with a little grump-pot.”  Admit it, we’ve all said it!  Keeping with that same spirit of not paying too much attention to Mr. Grumpy, go on with your day.  When the whole family gets busy with a fun activity, your child will be more likely to be jarred out of a bad mood. 

-If all else fails, change the channel in your own brain:  We have all had those days when NOTHING works….I know, I’ve been there.  As a parent, it is then our job to change the channel in our own brains.  We can choose to stay focused on the little drama queen or king residing in our house, or get busy with something else.  Remember that doing nothing for the grumpy child is OKAY…sometimes there is nothing to do.  Modeling calmness yourself, by grabbing a book to read or going to do some baking or heading out for a run, shows a good example to your kids.

Let me know what you do when your kids are in a grumpy mood!  Post your comments here!

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In Her Shoes: Learn to See Kid Behavior From Kids’ Point of View

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

I am setting myself a resolution for November and hope you, my fellow Calm Moms, will join me.

I am going to work harder on understanding my kids’ behavior from their point of view, rather than from my own grown-up point of view (for moms of babies, check out a previous post on understanding baby behavior from baby’s point of view).

Here’s an example.  On Halloween, we attended a party with 30+ children, all five years old and younger.  As we set out for trick or treating (in a pack of these aforementioned 30 children), I noticed a lot of pushing and shoving and rudeness from my five year old daughter.  Several times, I pulled her aside and asked her to be more respectful of her friends.  “Please,” I said, “Stop pushing, shoving and snarling at your friends.  It’s not nice.”  Needless to say, I got some snarls in return!

The next morning, I was telling my very wise mom about the evening.  She said, “That sounds like the most ridiculous plan….who would attempt to trick or treat for 30 small children?”  I took a step back and thought it over.  It was certainly fun for all of us moms and dads.  But, for the kids?  They worried about whether there would be enough candy, they wanted to be the “line leader”, they were tired and felt irritated by the intrusion in their personal space as all the friends gathered on tiny front porches.

What did I expect???  Perhaps it would have been MORE concerning if my daughter had hung back, not caring about the same things (getting candy, being first, having space) as all the other kids. 

In other words, she behaved like a normal 5 year old, given the demands of the situation.

My problem (I am being honest here!) is that I forget to consider my kids’ point of view when we are in difficult situations.  I just get frustrated if they are not behaving like the little angels they are most of the time!

So, here is my plan.  When I feel myself getting frustrated, I am going to cue an image of a “SHOE” in my head.  This is going to remind me — stand in their shoes, consider what THEY are thinking and feeling right now, and….react accordingly.

I will fill you in on how my plan is going.  And please, leave your tips on how you handle challenging situations with your little ones.

Sign up for The Calm Mom blog!  Click on “subscribe to blog” on the right side of the blog page.  There are many ways to receive the blog.  If you want to receive it by email, click on the tab that says “email” and then immediately on the tab that says “feedblitz”.  This will take you to a page to enter your email address.

My book, Becoming a Calm Mom, is now available at  If you read the book and loved it, please write a reviewOr, if you are ordering a baby gift from Target for a friend, please add in a copy!

Babies and iPhones: Is Calm Always Good?

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Sunday’s New York Times Style Section included a fascinating article entitled, “Toddlers’ Favorite Toy: The iPhone”.  The article, well-written by Hilary Stout, wrote about how parents are using their iPhones to soothe and entertain their very young babies and toddlers.

The very next day, I was out to lunch with a dear friend and her 19-month old baby.  As our lunch drew to a close, and the little guy got fussy, out came the iPhone.  My friend turned on Elmo, the baby got a glazed, calm look on his face…and it bought us 15 more minutes for our girls lunch.  I saw the magic in action!

So, okay Moms…I’ll give you this.  The iPhone is going to work to soothe and entertain pretty much any darn kid on the planet.  As one of my favorite child psychologists, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek said  in the article, “This is a magical phone…I must admit I’m addicted to this phone.”

But, does the calming effect outweigh the problems?

Here are the Calm Mom’s thoughts:

-Relying on an iPhone denies kids the opportunity to learn self-regulation & self-soothing skills: Babies have been around for way longer than iPhones.  A very important part of child development is learning to self-soothe.  For very little babies, this might mean sucking on fingers or a pacifier or holding on to a blankie or stuffed friend.  For toddlers, this means playing with a toy or chatting to oneself or looking around at one’s environment.  These skills are essential for the rest of our lives!  We need to learn how to be present with ourselves without relying on technology to get us through the day.  I was amazed to read in the article about the mom who gave her child an iPhone on their 15 minute drive to school each day.  What about looking out the window?  Listening to music?  Singing?  Or, glory forbid, actually TALKING?  Beware moms who rely on technology — it only works when it is THERE.  What will happen to these iPhone dependent babies when they need to soothe themselves to sleep at night, or when Mom needs the iPhone to make a work call, or when the iPhone is accidentally left at home before a long outing?  Sounds like a disaster to me… 

-We don’t know what technology does to very young brains: There is a lot of exciting research going on about the effect of technology on our brains.  We certainly don’t know the impact yet, and I would guess the least attention is being paid to the under 3-year old set (who scientists would not imagine would be great users of techology).  I am compelled, however, by Dr. Hirsh-Pasek’s comment about the addictive quality of the iPhone.  There is evidence that getting a ping of a new email message or Facebook post releases neurotransmitters in our brains (admit it, you have seen the addictive properties in your own lives, Moms!).  These days, parents worry about feeding their babies non-organic foods or letting their kids eat Halloween candy that contains food coloring. Come on moms, let’s give some thought to our kids’ brains!  Maybe we are all worrying about the wrong things?

-Boundaries: Allowing your baby to play with your $300 iPhone communicates to your baby “what is mine, is yours.”  Do you let your baby eat off your good china?  Do you allow your three year old daughter to wear your cashmere sweaters?  Go to the ATM and take out some spending money?  No, because these are adult things.  Children actually feel safer if they know there is a boundary between the adult world (i.e., things they don’t need to worry or think about) and the child’s world.  Furthermore, not having everything by the time you are three gives you something to look forward to when you are 30.

-Don’t put yourself in failure situations: It seems that parents pull out technology in situations that simply aren’t suitable to very little kids.  We let our kids watch their portable DVD players on airplanes and on long car trips (over two hours) because we recognize these are unnatural situations for kids who like to move around and play.  If you are pulling out the technology on a daily basis, it is worth asking yourself, “Am I putting my child in too many child un-friendly situations?”  If so, the problem is not the technology per se, it is the life you are setting up for your child.  As an example, if parents take their one-year old to dinner every Saturday night because they want a “date night” but are nervous about getting a babysitter, it might be a better idea to work on getting used to having a babysitter than to have their child sit for several hours, being entertained by a very small phone!

What are your views on this important issue?  Weigh in here by leaving your comments!

Taking Advice with a Grain of Salt: Chapter Books and Preschoolers

Monday, October 11th, 2010

This past week, I was on vacation.  For once, I was thoroughly relaxed…nowhere to rush to in the morning, no stress of work, and not to brag, but my kids were angelic. 

My peace of mind was disturbed however, when I read an article in the New York Times, entitled, “Picture Books Languish as Parents Push Chapter Books”.  The gist of the article is that parents are no longer reading picture books to kindergarten-age kids, shifting instead to chapter books.  The article was highly critical of this trend.

Well, my daughter (who just turned 5) and I have been reading chapter books for the past half-year.  So, after reading this article, my stomach was churning with guilt.  Am I a terrible parent?  Am I pushing her?  Am I denying her picture books which might be better for her intellectual, creative, and maybe even moral development?

The Calm is all about addressing negative thoughts like these.  So, I practiced what I preach.  I went back and re-read the article.  Was there a different way for me to think about the message that it conveyed? 

When I re-read it, I came to the conclusion that the article was critical of something very specific — parents pushing their kids to read at a higher level because they believe it is important to their future success.  One quotation in the article captured it all:  “I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, ‘You can do better than this, you can do more than this.’ It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling — that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.”

I re-framed my thinking.  I can’t remember how we started with our first chapter book, but I am quite sure that (a) I have never pushed them on my child; (b) I would never deny her the opportunity to read one of the hundred gorgeous picture books she still has on her shelf; or (c) that I ever even considered that chapter books at age 5 were her road to Harvard.

Here are my thoughts on chapter books:

-Chapter books encourage children to follow a story from day to day: Before my daughter and I start reading every night, we try to remember what happened in the chapter from the previous night.  Most nights, I either pretend to forget or genuinely do forget and my daughter LOVES to show off her superior memory.  I do think it is good for her cognitive development to keep track of a story from night to night.  Also, chapter books are teaching her the beauty of suspense in literature.  She is learning how cool it is to stop one night with some thread of the story unresolved, and jump back in the next night to find out what happened.  For me, suspense serves as a very good strategy for moving bedtime along (“the faster you do jammies and teeth, the faster we’ll get to see what Stuart Little is up to tonight!”) 

-Chapter books often have beautiful pictures too: The Times article points out that picture books are wonderful for children because, “from picture to picture, as the reader interacts with the book, their imagination is filling in the missing themes.”  I agree.  That is why I am always looking for chapter books with lovely pictures.  However, when we read a few pages without any pictures my daughter tells me about the picture she has created in her mind to match up with the story.  This is a super creative exercise too!

-It’s the reading that’s important, not the actual book: I could write a whole blog post about this statement — of course we should be reading quality books to our kids, that are age appropriate (i.e., yes, the actual book is important!).  But, here’s my point for today: We should all be reading to our kids every day.  Currently, my daughter is into chapter books.  So, I am reading her chapter books.  My sisters’ boys love hockey so she reads them books about hockey.  The most important thing is that kids are engaged with what they are reading and develop a life-long love of books.  So, read what they love!

So, fellow Calm Moms, I am done with the guilt on this one!  Later this week, I will post the titles of the chapter books my daughter and I have enjoyed recently.  When your kids are ready for them, I hope you will enjoy them too!

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Good, and not-so-good, behavior

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Fellow Calm Moms, you might have noticed the following pattern in your own home…

….A few weeks of blissful calm.  Your babies and/or children are behaving well!  Everything seems easy.  They are eating well, waking up in good moods, going to bed with ease.  They do as you ask, make you laugh and smile, and generally make you think, “I am the perfect mom.”

….And then, it all goes to pot.  For some mysterious reason, your little ones fall from the peak of the mountain to the trough of the valley.  They fall apart at the littlest upset.  Daily routines turn into struggles.  Bedtime is endless.  Behavior is barbaric.  And moms start to have the inevitable thought: “I am a terrible mom.  What am I doing wrong?”

Rest assured, this is all totally normal.  Child development is a process of equilibruim and dis-equilibrium.  Babies and children regularly go through phases where they seem to totally fall apart and, here’s the good news, come out of it a while later with a burst of maturity.

At, we teach simple strategies to help moms deal with struggles like these.  Let’s consider two strategies here:

First, Be a Calm Thinker.  When you catch yourself saying, “I am the worst mom.  What the heck am I doing wrong?” try to re-frame those negative negative thoughts.  Consider this —

“This is all normal.  It is going to be hard for a few weeks, and then we’ll have a period of calm again.”

Also, resist the urge to puzzle out WHY the bad behavior is happening.  At times, the reason is obvious (e.g., maybe one parent has been working or out of town a lot or maybe the child has been going to bed too late) and can be resolved with simple behavioral changes.  But, so often, trying to figure it out is well, kind of a waste of mental energy.  Kids grow and change all the time and it is okay to accept that an inevitable part of growth and change is periods of not-so-good behavior. 

Second, Be your own behavior therapist.  Think about ways you can change things around for you and for your children to make everything go more smoothly.  During these troughs, it is probably NOT the time to change routine.  My sense is that babies and children go through these times when something is changing in their lives (a birthday, a transition to a new classroom, learning to walk or talk, etc.).  So, leave everything pretty much the same in your day-to day-routine.  But, consider these tips:

-Give the child who is having a difficulties some extra one-on-one time.  When one of our kids is behaving badly, our inclination is to RUN the other way!  Resist the urge.  Give your child at least ten minutes of child-directed play, with one parent who is dedicating all of their attention to the child (turn off that Blackberry or iPhone folks!).  For babies, it might mean an extra cuddle or story or a longer bathtime.  For toddlers and preschoolers, it might mean a fun game, a special art project, or an outing.  The important thing is that the child decides what the activity is and that the parent is completely attentive during that stretch of time.  Often, this little behavioral change can result in greatly improved behavior.

-Let the little things go: At times like these, it can seem like every move your child makes is naughty.  You can spend your whole day correcting them.  Put picture it from their point of view.  They already feel like they are falling apart (in a two, three, or four year old way!).  And then, on top of that, they are being told that everything they are doing is wrong.  SO, moms, leave it alone.  Don’t scream over spilled milk, or criticize a kooky looking outfit, or get cross if they fail to wash their hands after they pee.  Try to save any negative feedback for something really important, like feeding dog food to their new baby sibling. 

-Give yourself a break: It can be very taxing to be with a challenging child day in and day out.  A miserable mom can cause anxiety to a child, which can result in even more bad behavior.  So, recognize your own need for a time out.  Arrange a night out with girlfrinds, set up a date night with your husband, or just go for a long walk on the weekend by yourself.  After a little time away, you will feel calmer.  And remember, a calmer mom raises calmer kids!

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The Calm Mom’s Favorite Games for Getting Through Your Day – Getting Kids to Stay in their Beds.

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

Another bedtime problem concerns children getting out of bed a million times each night for potty visits, needing to tell mom or dad “one more thing,” or seeking comfort from some fear or worry (that you never heard about during the day, of course). My friend Jodi Mindell (see the Favorite Things page for her excellent books) suggests giving kids one “get out of bed free” card each night. With only one “out” they will really need to consider what they will use it for. You can then set your kids up on a reward system – they will get one point in the morning if they stuck to their one card the night before, and a bonus point (total two points) if they didn’t get out of bed at all. They can accumulate points for small rewards like stickers, a new coloring book, a container of bubbles, etc.

The Calm Mom’s Favorite Games for Getting Through Your Day – Brushing Teeth.

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Brushing teeth is one of those funny things. Kids like to do it themselves, but gee, they just aren’t terribly good at it. So, let them take a stab on their own (with fun toothbrushes and paste, of course). Then, it is mommy or daddy’s turn, but make that part a fun game. We have had many versions of tooth-brushing games in our house. For a long time, we played “six tickles”. Our kids would open wide and we’d make “six tickles” over the various surfaces of their teeth. They thought that was pretty funny. Then, we evolved into “the A-choo game”. Child opens wide and says “Ahhhh….” for a couple of swipes and then everyone says, “Choo.” Laugh and repeat till all teeth are clean. Now, the kids are getting too smart for us. Our little guy requests the “choo choo” game which means that we are supposed to pretend his toothbrush is a train and sing “chug a chug a choo choo”. Our little girl wants us to do anything princess-related, which usually means singing the names of all the Disney princesses as we brush her pearly princess whites! We have never once had our children refuse to brush their teeth!

The Calm Mom’s Favorite Games for Getting Through Your Day – Bedtime Routine.

Friday, June 4th, 2010

As I have written before, when nighttime comes, important brain function seems to cease for young children. It is simply impossible for young kids to follow the progression of events involved in the nighttime routine from start to finish without guidance from an adult. They get distracted and silly, and you will find them in daytime pants and a pajama top, doing something totally off-task, probably in some room they are not supposed to be in! The problem is that most families have more than one child, and most children these days are spaced quite close together. It is difficult to do bedtime (particularly when only one parents is present) if you have multiple kids that all go to bed at around the same time. For preschoolers, try making them a simple bedtime schedule. On a sheet of paper, print out pictures in order of what your child is supposed to do each night – jammies, teeth, story, potty, bed, for example. Give them a little sheet of stickers. As they complete each task, have them place a sticker next to the task. They will see this as a game, and relish the idea of filling up their sheet with stickers. Reward them for getting through their routine with relative efficiency. For example, if they are done all their tasks by the time you come into their room after putting a younger sibling to bed, read them an extra story.

The Calm Mom’s Favorite Games for Getting Through Your Day – Running Errands.

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Running errands can be very tricky with little kids. They get antsy and often end up wanting all sorts of things you are not willing to buy for them. We all dread the grocery store tantrum, don’t we? On the way to run errands, be clear about the rules. For example, “We are going to buy groceries today. You can pick ONE healthy treat to bring home.” Then, keep your child amused with games. Kids love crossing things off lists – give them a paper and pen and have them make a “list” and then cross items off (reading and writing are not required….made-up lists are fine!). Have kids help you choose items….if you need peppers, have them choose red, yellow, orange or green. And, with all but the breakables, hand kids items and allow them to toss them (gently) into the back of the cart. In the checkout line, have your little ones help you put the groceries on the belt, hand coupons to the cashier, or even press the “enter” button on the debit card machine. Anything to distract them from all those chocolate bars, right?

The Calm Mom’s Favorite Games for Getting Through Your Day — Getting Out The Door.

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

If you take your kids to daycare or preschool in the morning and have to get yourself to work, you know how difficult it is to get everyone out the door on time. One key to success is routine – doing the same thing, in the same order every day. For example, if you do not typically allow your kids to watch TV in the mornings, allowing it on some days is a recipe for disaster. Just try dragging them away from a really exciting episode of Dora when you have to get to work! In addition to sticking to routine, think of games to help get everyone out the door. During the summer, sing the “hokey pokey” when applying sunscreen (“you put your left arm in…,” apply sunscreen….move on to next body part!). During the winter, keep your child’s hats and gloves in a basket and give him or her the job of choosing which to wear each day (who cares if they match?). Kids love jobs and they love making decisions for themselves. And, when it is ultimately time to go to the car, have everyone get there by marching, galloping, skipping, hopping on one foot, or whatever way you can think of to make it fun!