How to Pull it Together When You’re Parenting on Empty

stressed parent

Gretchen Rubin, Author of a book called “The Happiness Project” said that the days are long, but the years are short. I try to focus on the fact that the years are short.  As my six-year-old grandson is having surgery, I sit in the waiting room thinking how can he be six years old? He was just born yesterday.  In fact my twenty-five year old son was born just the day before. J These years are passing so quickly, and I want to enjoy every moment with my family\

But it’s also true that the days can be long. Long and loud and messy. We all have those days — or string of days — when we feel like we’re at the end of a very frayed and quickly unraveling rope.  You spent half of the night awake, cleaning up vomit or holding a baby who decided it was time to party.  Or maybe both.  In your bleary-eyed state, you enjoy a breakfast of Mountain Dew as you simultaneously listen to one child tell a compelling (and very detailed) story about how to defeat super-villains with ordinary household objects, soothe another whose path through the kitchen coincided perfectly with the refrigerator door you just opened, and watch your toddler set off a rapid chain reaction of destruction across the entire counter top that ends with dumping out the pitcher of milk.  The entire pitcher.   Sometimes you feel as empty as that darn pitcher.


It’s hard to be your kids’ everything when you feel like you’re running on nothing.  (Well, Mountain Dew and nothing.) Sometimes you might feel like you are the only one having those days.  But I guarantee you aren’t. Knowing there are plenty of other parents exhausted and dealing with the same strenuous days and weeks we all find ourselves in now and then I thought I’d share some thoughts with you.  Keep in mind you don’t have to wait for a crisis to take care of yourself!


Reassess Your Habits. Many of us, self-included, live by our calendars. But we forget to schedule fun.  Realizing that alone has salvaged several days for me.  A quick game of Uno with the boys before bed time, or a morning spent at the park can change the entire tone of the day.


Let it Go (You started singing to yourself there, didn’t you?)

The yellow ring around the bathroom sink will live to see another day. Remind yourself during those stressful days to pick just ONE task to try to accomplish each day (in addition to keeping everyone alive, of course).  A trip to the grocery store? Congratulations! Laundry done?  Major accomplishment!  Laundry only started?  Good enough! Sometimes the key to lowering stress is to reduce the demands or commitments from the outside, but often the biggest thing is simply lowering the expectations we issue from within ourselves.


Loosen Up, But Keep a Rhythm, as you let go a bit, don’t go too far.  Keep a “loose rhythm”.  In high-stress parenting seasons we are tempted to “throw routine out the window, but that always backfires.”  So instead I encourage you to keep an adjusted routine and go easy, particularly when it comes to managing expectations.


Feed Your Soul.   You know the analogy.  Airlines remind us to put on our own oxygen masks before attending to others.  We aren’t much help to others if we haven’t helped ourselves.  Though it seems counter-intuitive when stress is high, we benefit greatly from doing something for ourselves first so we can better serve our little ones. Try to create a moment now and then for something that feeds your soul.  Even if it has to take on an abbreviated form.


And finally, Let People Help. This advice came from my big brother, who shares the same genetic flaw I have that causes chronic and obstinate independence.  Like my own grandson, I have the tendency to stubbornly declare I will do it all myself.  And, just as I do with my grandson, the people around me stand by, waiting for me to finally realize I need their help.


Accept offers to help.  Dare to ask for help.  Hire help if you have to and can afford it. Asking for help isn’t a weakness.  It’s a strong cord that weaves us together with those around us in a sense of belonging and community.  Open yourself up to your village!



Taming Temper Tantrums

I'm not listening


Temper tantrums are the worst, and they tend to happen at the most inopportune moments.  If you are the parent, or the grandparent, of a young child, knowing how to diffuse (or even prevent) a tantrum is an essential skill to have.

Teach Language

One way to prevent temper tantrums is to help improve your child’s ability to express how what he or she is feeling, or thinking. It is often that inability to express themselves that leads to anger.  If your child knows how to express himself, you might be able to get past the tantrum stage quickly.

The best way to do this is to teach and discuss the language of feelings.  When we are first teaching children to read, or to understand, we tend to teach them nouns, and we spend a lot of time doing it.

Nouns are really only a small part of the vocabulary, though, and when your children are trying to get a point across to you, nouns do them very little good.  So, try to start labeling feelings when you teach your child words.  When you are tired, tell your son or daughter, “Mommy is tired!” Tell them what would make you feel better, for example taking a nap, or just sitting down to rest.

Or, when you are happy, tell them that, too.  “Mommy is so happy!  I love ice cream!”  Use this especially with words that will help them get over their frustrations, such as hungry, tired, thirsty, angry, sad, etc.

If you know how your child feels, you can help to alleviate those feelings and nip that temper tantrum in the bud. As an added bonus, you get some quality teaching time with her.

Teaching moments can be as fun as asking your child how a cartoon character on television is feeling, or how a character in a book is feeling, or how her stuffed animal is feeling. Once they can express these emotions successfully they will no longer feel frustrated.

Pay Attention

Keep a tantrum diary detailing what ignites your child.  This will help you to pick up on the about-to-flare-up signals and quickly distract her/him into a more calming activity.

If your toddler usually has an afternoon melt down, do  shopping and errands in the morning.  Is he or she getting enough sleep?  You may need to adjust bed or nap time.

You need to let children  know early on that tantrums don’t work. Once your toddler realizes that manipulative tantrums will not get them any where, this behavior will self-destruct This may mean waiting out a tantrum by ignoring it.  Make sure the child is in a safe place and let him/her scream.   You may have to leave the store or restaurant.  You may have to pull over.  But if you react with benign indifference a few times the behavior will fade.  If tantrums have become a habit, they may get worse before they get better.  Hang in there and hang tough.

Post tantrum

Tantrums will happen, no matter what you do, but you can use that ‘post tantrum cooling off period’ to talk about what went wrong, and figure out how to avoid this problem in the future.  You can ask your child how he or she was feeling, what made him feel this way, etc.  Smaller children will not have the words to really express these things, but if they can voice those emotions that we mentioned before, you are well on your way to understanding what happened, and how to avoid this problem in the future.  After everyone is calm, it’s fun and effective for kids as young as 2.5 or 3 to role play how to act in situations.  They get a kick out of watching you mimicking a tantrum then acting out, with them, a more acceptable way to get what they want.

If you are out shopping, it may simply be that your child is tired, and needs a break. However, if he does not tell you, and goes right into meltdown mode, no one wins.  If you can get your child to say, “I am tired” or “I need a rest” before you head out the door you might be able to save yourself a headache.

Usually a tantrum is the last straw, for your child! It simply means that he has had it!  He is tired, he is cranky, he is hungry, he is frustrated–something, and whatever happens next will set him off. So be cognizant of your child’s emotions, and have him express those emotions in the best way that he can (aside from a tantrum).

Parents and grandparents are really the best teachers for children because your children identity with you more than they do with anyone else. What you say means more.

So, simply work on language every chance you get and see if those temper tantrums subside.  In a nut shell, providing  your child the tools  to express him/herself, is a key to enjoying the terrific twos.

What Not To Wear: stuff you don’t want to wear or bring to daycare

dressed up kids

“Play is really the work of childhood.” Mister Rogers

When you dress for work, you choose clothing appropriate to your profession. Just as you wouldn’t wear heels at a construction site or scrubs to the office, choosing the right clothing for your little ones to wear to daycare is equally important. Daycare is where children develop fine and gross motor skills, social skills, and develop the very beginnings of literacy and numeracy. You might want to dress your little boy in the most precious wee suits or your daughter in charming frocks, but these are best saved for occasions when the primary task is posing for photos, not learning vital skills. Parenting tips don’t always include fashion advice, but these will help you and your little ones stay comfortable and preserve the clothing you treasure. So what should you save for special occasions?

Clothes that require dry cleaning should be saved for family photos. Anything in silk, fine wool (such as some suit jackets), would fall into this category. Daycare is a messy place. Children spill food and beverages on themselves and others, and gleefully partake in messy arts and crafts activities. Parenting tips often involve sharing favorite stain removers, and for good reason. If your child is in clothes that can’t get wet, even to remove stains, they’ll not have nearly as much fun.

Clothes that can’t tolerate rough handling should stay on the sidelines. Delicate lace and beading often get ruined in rough play. Even if your youngster isn’t the rowdy type, he or she might get jostled by more energetic classmates. Beaded items could also pose a choking hazard if the beads are torn loose. When choosing clothes, ask your child to move around when trying them on. Some shirt and pant seams can’t tolerate a wide range of movement. If the seams strain as your child is reaching up, then it’s not a good choice for someone who might spend time on the monkey bars. Some clothing brands can offer just the right amount of ease, so ask friends and family for parenting tips on good brands for active kids.

Clothing that can’t be easily replaced should be sparingly used. Do not send your child to daycare in anything your family considers an heirloom, no matter how careful your child is. Clothing does gets lost at daycare and at school. Any handmade clothing made by someone who is sensitive about their work should be saved for photos. If your aunt doesn’t care that her handknit sweater is stained and ripped under the arm, then feel free to send your child to daycare wearing it. But if a lost or ruined item will cause family tensions, keep it at home.

The best fashion choices for daycare include comfortable clothing that is machine washable and has soft tags for easy labeling. While your little one might look like a child model, daycare is a different “work” environment than a fashion shoot. Save the darling outfits for when your child is truly ready for their close-up, and he or she will have picture perfect days at daycare.

Bye Bye Baby- how to leave the childcare without tears



Childcare can be a great adventure. However, when you’re leaving your child there, the experience is often difficult for both you and the child. Use these parenting tips to ensure your child’s transition is as smooth as possible. In turn, your mindset will be much better.

waving goodby

  • Let your children know what to expect. Your kids are used to the rhythm of your family life, and childcare disrupts that. They’ll be confronted with new rules and routines. Explain that while you are at work, they will be having fun. Say that they will make new friends and play with lots of cool toys. If possible, visit the childcare with your children prior to the start date and have them meet the teacher and get a feel for the place. That may not be enough, and a photo book with pictures taken during that visit will help remind the child of what to expect. However, don’t treat this as some huge ordeal or change. Another idea is to read a couple of books about childcare adventures to your children.
  • Practice consistency. This is probably the most critical of these parenting tips. If the first day of drop-off goes terribly, shrug it off and start fresh the next day. And the next. Before you know it, a new routine has been established, and your child is looking forward to childcare. Avoid pulling your child out if the first hand-off (or subsequent ones) go badly. This serves to tell the child he can sidestep negative feelings and also puts him in control.
  • Keep goodbyes and hellos snappy. This area is particularly important for consistency. When you say goodbye, say something like: “Goodbye for now. I will be back after nap time to get you. I hope you have a fun day!” or “Bye for now. See you later, alligator!” Turn and leave. Don’t look back or linger. Definitely don’t sneak off without informing your child you are leaving.  When you do return after work, point out that you are back, exactly as you said you would be. Your child will get the message that these goodbyes are by no means permanent.
  • Enlist the teacher’s help. Write or type a bulleted list for the teacher that gives her the lowdown on your child’s life at home. For example, include information on when your child eats, sleeps and uses the bathroom. Also include personal touches such as your child’s favorite color, story, games and songs. Of vital importance is to highlight any allergies your child may have and methods you use to calm your child. The teacher can take advantage of your parenting tips to keep your child happy.
  • Let your child choose a “buddy” to bring from home. The “buddy,” which could be a photo, blanket, doll, cup or pretty much anything, will make the child feel more at home and will function as an emotional support of sorts. After some time passes, the child probably will no longer need the “buddy.”
  • Stay away. This means no surprise drop-ins and resisting the temptation to call every more than twice a day. You must trust the childcare to contact you if an emergency occurs. Remember that children are intuitive and read moods well. You being anxious will give your child anxiety that wasn’t there or fuel further anxiety. Give your child’s distress at childcare about two weeks to a month to subside.
  • Remember your child adores you whether saying goodbye is easy or tough for them; whether they rush to you when you come to pick them up or tell you to wait a minute, they aren’t ready to go.  Sometimes younger children have NO problem with goodbye the first week or so- pre-school is a grand adventure. But they may begin to cry after two weeks or so when they realize this is an everyday thing.  Wanting to stay means they are Very secure: you’ve found the right place and they know you will always be there. If  either event  happens, know that it’s normal, and follow the tips above.

Following these parenting tips should result in relatively smooth hand-offs. However, if the tears and tantrums are especially severe and persist more than a month, have someone else take your child to childcare for a few days.

Practical Literacy: using Signs and Labels to help your child read

stop signReading is the most fundamental of all school skills , and the first thing children begin to learn in school.  An easy way to supplement your child’s first attempts at sight reading words is to point out road signs, store signs,and labels

Pay attention to signs with commands “Stop,” “One Way,” or “Do Not Enter,” “Yield”.   Watch out for signs that say “Hill”, or “Slow” or “Curve”. There’s tons of opportunity to point out “Road work ahead” over and over and over 🙂 One of the children in my class learned how to write “Thank You” thanks to road construction projects.  You can make a game out of reading the signs, asking questions like, “What should I do now?” or “Can I go this way?”  The follow-up questions are important, since it provides practice reading, and comprehending.  Street name signs can help when you are teaching your child your address. If your child is older, you can take this one step further by asking things like, “I’m looking for Sycamore Avenue.  Can you tell me when I’ve come to it?”  Then the child will have to read all the street signs and mentally match the words with the name.

This technique doesn’t have to stay inside the car.  You can take your child for a walk around a shopping center and ask him or her to read the names of the stores.  Again, you can make this a game by asking follow-up questions.  For example, if you see a place called “Park Avenue Florist,” ask “What do they sell here?”  Even when you’re inside a store, you can still continue the reading exercises.  You can treat this outing almost like a scavenger hunt, saying things like “I need to buy something for an office,” then pointing to the aisle markers hanging from the ceiling and saying, “Which aisle has things for an office?” It takes time, but you can use labels off cans and food packages to teach reading in the grocery store. Now days it’s so simple to take a photo of what you are planning to buy. Then show your child the photo and ask her to find the item.

There’s never been a better teacher than you combined with hands on experience, so it may be time to consider your entire neighborhood a rich teaching tool.