The nice weather and the school year’s end mean kids and adults want to head outside to play. But playing the same old outdoor games over and over can quickly become tedious, and by the third week of summer break, you’ll likely be hearing, “I’m bored.”
So how can parents make outside play fresh and exciting without spending much money or constantly feeling like they need to entertain their kids? I’ve got a few tips to make outdoor play fresh and fun!
1. Take indoor toys outside. Simple no? Pack all the building blocks in a large plastic bin and set them in the driveway to play. Or, take the cars, animals, and people figurines to the backyard. The change of scenery will spark your child’s creativity and imagination because of the novelty of playing with an indoor toy outside.
2. Create a “Laser Maze.” This task takes some serious prep time. But once it’s up, it can provide endless fun for preschoolers and elementary kids.
Use string and trees, posts, or any heavy outdoor furniture you’ll not need in the immediate future, and you can create a laser maze for the kids to navigate. This activity is great if you have future spies on ninjas in your house.
If you want something less permanent and more colorful, check out this fun idea from KREAZONA using party streamers!
3. Make a giant sensory tub. Yes, sandboxes are fun and always a great sensory experience. But shake things up by making a giant sensory bin with something other than sand.
My favorite is water beads, but rice or dried corn are two other awesome alternatives! Toss in some exploration toys, and your kids will likely entertain themselves for quite some time!
A plastic kiddie pool is a perfect size – just cover it so animals don’t get in at night!
4. Create a camp in your backyard. I did this one summer when my boys were 10 and 7, and they loved it! We pitched a tent together and stocked them with snacks, flashlights, walkie-talkies, and a sprinkler for water play on one end of the yard and sent them out to enjoy on nice days!
Extend the camp theme by building a fire one night and making smores, telling ghost stories at night, or playing flashlight hide and seek!
5. Make an outdoor art studio. If you have a child who loves art, spring, and summer is the perfect time to take it outdoors! Set up an easel and use a large plastic bin to store all their art supplies and to keep them safe from the elements.
Let nature inspire their art without worrying about cleaning up the mess! You can also use a make-up storage case or tackle box to store supplies and make them easy to transport.
Not to toot my own horn, but I consider myself a pretty adept parent. I believe I have a good relationship with both of my children. I don’t classify myself as having one specific parenting style; I am a marriage of authoritative and free-range as the situation necessitates.
For example, I set realistic rules and boundaries for my children; if those rules and boundaries are not followed, there is a relatable consequence. But, at the same time, I allow my children out into the neighborhood to play with the expectation they’ll return at a designated time. At the park, I allow them to wander off and do their own thing, occasionally checking on them to ensure they’re safe but not interfering with their play.
My children, however, are not the easiest of personalities, and raising them has not been a walk in the park. But I feel I have done my best to be consistent and that they’re growing up to be decent human beings. As a result, I have moments of immense pride in both of them as I watch them grow and accomplish new things at each stage of their lives thus far.
I have always encouraged their individuality. I want them to be their own person with their own interests, style, and passions. I encourage them to dress the way they feel comfortable, to style their hair the way that makes them feel good, and to pursue the hobbies that interest them.
However, all my education and experience dealing with kids goes up to about the age of my youngest, nine. And over the past few years, I’ve watched my recently turned twelve-year-old morph into someone who, I hate to say it, is annoying and frustrating to be around sometimes—namely, a tween.
And now, despite raising my children in as consistent an environment as possible, I am faced with crossing a new frontier. A place I have zero experience in, the land of tweens and teens.
To begin with, nothing is ever his fault; it’s usually mine. Everything I ask him to do is equivalent to asking for the sun to be moved and, probably worst of all, tweens smell. Their rooms smell, their clothes smell, and it doesn’t seem to bother them! Maybe girls are different, but I don’t remember being too much about being a tween.
Even when I say “yes” to things he wants to do, somehow, I’m still wrong. It’s truthfully exasperating. And there is so much eye rolling and huffing of the breath….
I’m reading the tween parenting articles and advice, and I’m using what I know about adolescent development, and I like to think I’m doing it mostly, sort of, kind of, almost right. But I guess only time will tell. So all I can do is stay the course.
And I guess that’s the key. Just like little ones, our tweens and teens need consistency and boundaries. Perhaps more than our little ones, who naturally rely on us and look to us for advice. Tweens and teens are disposed to rebel and argue, but they still secretly want our guidance. Therefore, their need for boundaries and rules is even more crucial.
My boys engaged in less-than-favorable behavior the other day in the care of another adult. I was mortified to hear about it. So my response was that on top of a 30-minute no-electronic session in their room to reflect on their behavior, they were each required to write an apology note as soon as they got home from school.
The younger accepted his fate will very little pushback. The tween? Not so much. There was wailing and gnashing of the teeth and, “This isn’t fair! This is so stupid!” And I guess to a twelve-year-old, it was unfair and stupid. But I hope this experience will contribute to the man he’ll one day become.
I hope he’s learning that apologizing when you’ve behaved poorly is important. I hope he’s gaining the understanding that his actions affect other people. I hope he realizes that life is unfair sometimes but that we can’t take out our negative emotions on other people.
I admit I don’t know what I am doing, and this foreign land is terrifying. But I know the type of person I want my son to become. And more importantly, I realize that the more consistent I am now with rules and boundaries, the more it will pay off later as he ages. I’m only scratching the surface of teen years and know it’s a long, arduous road ahead.
Hopefully, in a few years, I’ll have some sage advice to share with others embarking on the tween/teen journey. But for now, I’m buckling in and prepping for a bumpy ride!
Travel and fun outings were a significant part of my childhood. Whether it was trips to a Phillies game, museums, visiting my grandparents, Disney World, road trips, or big trips to Europe, my parents excelled at exposing us to fun and adventure.
As a parent, I’ve tried to do the same for my two boys. It hasn’t always been easy or affordable, but I’ve managed to do some pretty fun stuff with my kids. Most recently, I had the pleasure of visiting a part of Maryland I’ve never traveled to before; Lusby, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay.
I’ve lived in Maryland for almost seven years, yet this was my first visit to this beautiful area only ninety minutes south of my home, but I hope it won’t be my last!
A friend recently bought a vacation home there with her husband and turned it into a peaceful escape for families available to rent on Air B&B. They named their newly renovated home The Waffle House, which lives up to its cozy vacation-vibe name. My boys and I were invited to stay there free of charge in return for blogging about my experience. So, while I have been compensated for this piece, the opinions are all mine!
The setting of the house is ideal. It is situated near other homes, which provides a sense of community, but nestled in a wooded area less than a 5-minute drive to the beach. The spacious yard has a volleyball court, a basketball net over the driveway, horseshoes, a fire pit, and hammocks!
And although the house provides a tranquil sense of isolation, the town center is a mere 10 minutes away and has everything you need. We utilized “the CVS and Weiss Supermarket for an “emergency” S’mores material purchase. In addition, we visited one of the local restaurants, Atomic Seafood.
The house itself is adorable, spacious, and beach chic. Robin and her husband have pulled out all the stops to ensure you and your family feel the beachy vibe from the get-go. There are nostalgic black and white old-fashioned beach photos, seashell decor, and my oldest son’s (and future zoologist) personal favorite, a fossilized 8-12 million old piece of baleen whale vertebrae. The Vertabae was a gift from the Calvert Marine Museum, which we also enjoyed visiting.
My kids have been museum junkies since they were born. If there is one thing I, an educator, love, it is a good museum; so my two have visited their fair share, and both thoroughly enjoyed the Calvert Marine Museum.
They both enjoyed the exploration room designed for kids to play hands-on, but the museum trip’s highlight was the opportunity to watch the resident otters being fed their lunch.
Only three of us were on our trip, but the home could accommodate several more. There’s a set of bunk beds and a king bed in the master suite and two additional bedrooms with a queen bed each. The room I slept in was right off the dining room and had one of the queen beds and a loft designed as a kid’s area. And honestly, a teen on an air mattress could easily sleep up there. So there are several ways you could arrange sleeping arrangements depending on the ages and numbers in your party.
The living room was our favorite spot. The dual air hockey/pool table entertained my two off and on, and I enjoyed cozying up in the oversized armchairs to read. The candy machine was another fun novelty loved by my kids! I loved that nickels were provided, and I’m surprised they only used it twice each during our stay!
Lastly, one of the biggest perks of staying in this beautiful vacation home is its proximity to two beaches. On our arrival evening, we visited Driftwood beach, a mere five-minute drive, and witnessed a beautiful sunset.
The following day, the weather cooperated, and the temps rose to a whopping 62 degrees – a treat for February, so we packed up and headed to another local, private beach, Seahorse Beach, for a few hours before lunch and then went back for another hour in the afternoon.
My boys enjoyed searching for shark teeth and collecting seashells, playing in the sand, and exploring the beach and the water.
And despite the cooler temps, my eldest even got in the water! I enjoyed sipping warm coffee and reading to the sounds of the waves as my children played in the sand.
Beach chairs, toys, and even sunscreen (which I forgot to pack!) were at the house, making the trek to the beach a smooth experience.
Other amenities provided at the vacation home that came in handy include:
Keurig with k-cups, creamer, and sugar
Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash
First aid kit and bandaids
Dishes, pots, pans, cups, utensils, etc.
Lines and towels
Olive oil and condiments
Roku TV & Wifi
Outside toys (basketball, frisbee, volleyball)
Attractions in the area:
Bike, running, and hiking trails
Annmarie Sculpture Garden & Arts Center
Cove Point Park and Pool
Cove Point Winery
Solomon’s Island Winery
Flag Ponds Park
Calvert Marine Museum
The World Famous Tiki Bar
St. Mary’s County
Several Farmer’s Markets
We ended our brief stay by making S’mores in the firepit, and my final half hour before getting ready to pack up was enjoyed sipping coffee as I sat by the dwindling fire.
Our stay was wonderful, relaxing, and refreshing. It’s the perfect spot for a short or long getaway for couples, families, or friends. There was so much to do in the area; I hope to take my boys back at some point to explore the area further.
I’ve been thinking a lot about mom shaming lately. And don’t get me wrong, criticism happens to dads, grandparents, and everyone else too, but mom-shaming has become such a part of our culture that when you say mom-shaming, we all know what you mean.
I experienced a lot of mom-shaming when my eldest was little. He has an “invisible illness” and was diagnosed with some physical and speech developmental delays around two, anxiety at three, and sensory processing disorder shortly after; people didn’t get why he behaved the way he sometimes did.
I’ve experienced it with my second one, who was diagnosed with ADHD at four and anxiety at five. So that’s a fun cocktail!
And I have to admit, ashamedly, I’ve done my fair share of mom and parent shaming. Something I’ve spent the last few years trying to stop. And believe me; I know it’s easy to look at a situation with a grain of sand of information about the entire beach exploding in front of you and say, “If I were her….”
But the problem is you’re not her. You’re you. If you were her, you’d probably be doing exactly what she’s doing because you’d have her experiences, toolbox, and mental health capacity to handle the situation.
It’s hard enough being a parent without feeling like everyone around you, even your family and closest friends, are judging every parenting decision you make. It was doubly hard for me because, as an early childhood educator, all my peers saw how I parented close up. After all, my children attended the preschool where I taught, albeit not in my class.
And truthfully, not everyone understood my choices because they didn’t know my child like I did. They didn’t understand the frustrations, fear, and anger I had at home sometimes because they only saw part of my children’s behaviors.
I still deal with mom-shaming. However, a lot of it is in my head now. I’m pretty proud of how my kids are turning out, but of course, the work isn’t over yet.
I feel guilty that they use electronics as much as they do.
I feel guilty when I say no to a game of Monopoly right now because my mental health can’t handle it.
I feel guilty when I say we can’t read another book because I need some quiet time.
I feel guilty when I let my kids eat dinner in front of the TV, I know I shouldn’t, I really, really know I shouldn’t, but I do.
I feel guilty when the 500th question my child asks me makes my brain want to explode, and I say, “I don’t know,” instead of helping him find the answers.
I feel guilty that my youngest lives on a diet of mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and fruit snacks most of the time.
I feel guilty about all these things because society has told me I should love being a mom every second of every day. Society has told me I must sacrifice everything for my kids, including my mental health. Society has told me that being a mom means being perfect.
And I know I’m not the only mom out there who struggles with feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and simply not being enough. I am not the only mom who feels the demands of life are just too much sometimes.
I make no secret that I deal with depression and anxiety, and some days are tough. Some days I want to crawl into bed and never come out. Some days I’m anxious from the moment I wake up until I finally, mercifully, fall asleep, only to wake up to the same anxieties.
I’m really good at being down on myself, but I rarely give myself credit for the good.
Instead, I mom-shame myself because it’s a learned behavior.
But what about the fact that I should feel proud that both my kids have a sport they love and are good at? I take time to get them to practice, classes, and games and cheer them on. Most afternoons, when the weather is nice, they go outside after school and play for several hours because I’ve encouraged outside play since they were babies.
I should feel proud that a game of Monopoly is on my floor right now that’s been going on for a week, so it’s ok. I didn’t want to play the one afternoon. I’ve spent hours playing with my son and having fun.
I should be proud that I read with my son every night and have always encouraged reading and that I value myself enough to take some time just for me.
I should be proud that I can provide my children with food and a comfortable home.
I should feel proud that I take them to the zoo, museums, aquarium, and library so they can learn and discover.
I should be proud that my youngest also loves fruit and eats fresh fruit with almost every meal.
I should feel proud that I am doing my best and understand that my best is not anyone else’s best. My best on one day is drastically different from my best on another.
As moms, we spend so much time in our heads, thinking we’re not enough. Thinking we’re not doing enough, giving enough, trying hard enough.
But I’m here to tell you, you are. You are enough. Hell, I need to tell myself I am. I am enough.
So, check on your mom-friends. Remind them and yourself that you’re doing a great job. Let them know they are seen. A lot of us are struggling. But we are enough. I promise.
People may not be aware, but there is a direct link between children’s ability to read and their social skills. Reading is all about letters, sounds, and words and is a solitary activity, so how could it help with social skills? Surprisingly, the answer is that it can benefit a child socially in myriad ways. Reading gives children access to a broader world than their own; it boosts their confidence, gives them something to discuss with their peers, and makes them more successful. Reading opens a series of social doors; let us take a more in-depth look at how and why reading is fundamental to a child’s social development.
Children with strong reading skills tend to have more confidence, at least within the academic and school setting, where children spend most of their time.
Children who lack basic reading skills are more likely to:
Be teased or bullied
Receive lower grades
When children possess appropriate reading skills for their age, they can:
Participate more in class discussions
Talk about stories and books with their friends
Pave the way for independent learning
Choose books on topics that appeal to them the most.
Even if your child is on the quiet or shy side in school, listening to the class discussions and realizing their understanding and comprehension align with the group or the teacher will boost their confidence!
Confidence in school also leads to engagement in more activities. For example, they may join the choir or the debate club or decide to write for the school paper or online journal. Confident children will develop more friendships and be more likely to try new things. When children feel confident, they will step outside their comfort zone from time to time, which will increase social experiences.
Reading helps children develop a sense of empathy as they are exposed to characters, cultures, and ideas outside their experience. This is especially the case when they read literary fiction. Children’s books tend to feature characters experiencing strong emotions for one reason or another.
When children read about characters who are forced to go through these experiences, it requires them to further their thought processes.
Children will actively think and ask themselves questions such as:
“How might I handle this situation?”
“How would I feel if this happened to me?”
“How could I help if I saw someone having this problem?”
Parents and educators can further that development by asking open-ended questions while reading.
“How do you think she is feeling right now? Why?”
“What would you do if your friend said they didn’t want to play with you?”
. Questions like the above give children a chance to process their feelings and reactions.
Adults should be reading children’s books that contain:
These themes are especially beneficial in developing young children’s empathy; It is never too early to read to your child. Reading to children in infancy stimulates the part of their brain that processes and develops language.
Children who are read to and who read are more adept at problem-solving skills. Dialogue and text within books show children appropriate and inappropriate ways to handle problems and conflict. Reading provides children with social competence, meaning they will learn how to react in certain social situations. Reading competence means that children are also better equipped to read social cues given by others. Similar to asking questions related to empathy, adults can ask children open-ended questions about the character’s solutions or reactions, such as:
“Do you think their behavior was OK?
Why or Why Not?”
“How would you react if another child took your toy?”
Asking open-ended questions requires children to expand their thinking and develop language and problem-solving skills. Therefore, it is always more beneficial to a child’s development to pose open-ended questions when possible. Since open-ended questions encourage children to include more information than closed questions, it requires them to think beyond the obvious.
Reading with children creates an opportunity for them to ask their own questions about the world. They may have no experience with someone being unkind to them and may have never seen people who look or dress differently. They may have no fundamental concept of the world outside their neighborhood, city block, or small town.
The more that children have access to the outside world, the more they grow socially. There is the old phrase “Knowledge is Power,” and reading is an example where that phrase is one hundred percent relevant. More knowledge about the outside world gives children the power to make their own decisions and opinions about that world. When they are enticed and encouraged to ask questions and seek further understanding, they create a larger, more socially diversified world to live in for themselves.
Adults should encourage children to ask questions while reading. Constant interruptions can become frustrating, but these interruptions are how a child makes sense of the story. If the questions become so frequent you can barely read a sentence, try to have them wait until the end of a page to ask questions or make related statements. Asking questions is a way they can further their understanding and develop a larger schema on the topic at hand.
Reading introduces children to language, which introduces them to basic communication skills. We all know that talking to infants and babies is how they learn a language, but if we only expose them to how we speak and use words, their communication skills will be limited. Children pick up new information quickly and then try it out in various situations to see how it works.
Young children will repeat phrases they’ve heard adults use or heard in movies and books. How often have you observed a little one looking at a familiar book and attempting to repeat the dialogue or narration accompanying that text? The more children are read to, and the more they read themselves, the more their lexicon will grow as they absorb and audition new language skills.
The more words a child has at their disposal, the better they will be able to communicate, which in turn means the better their social skills will be. Strong communication skills are at the crux of strong social skills. Communication, language, and social skills are what set humans apart from other animals. The human ability to share everyday experiences, emotions, and experiences through language creates our communities, friendships, and bonds.
Any and every chance you get to read to your child, you should take it! It doesn’t have to be long and involve storybooks or famous children’s books. Anything you read to them will benefit them. If your child loves dinosaurs and wants to read about nothing but dinosaurs, you’d be surprised at how many dinosaur books are out there! Social stories, fiction, and non-fiction dinosaurs that talk, and dinosaurs that go to school. Children’s books run the gamut of themes, topics, and characters. Just read. Read, encourage questions, ask questions, and have discussions. Every interaction a child has with a book will benefit them socially.
This blog has been woefully silent. I have many good excuses but perhaps not as many good reasons. Life, to put it simply, has been nuts. No, not nuts, stressful. Really, truly, dreadfully stressful.
Health issues, COVID, a flooded basement, more health issues, little league baseball season, did I mention health issues and a flooded basement? It feels as if I have been holding my breath for months.
And amidst all the weeks and months of stress, I plodded on. Some days barely getting my assignments to my clients and editors on time. Taking care of my kids in a hazy cloud of exhaustion. And my house? Let’s just say it’s a good thing no company hasn’t been over for a while because it is just now getting back on track, minus the flooded basement whose carpet we had to rip up.
During all this stress and angst, the thing I typically forgot to do was take time for myself. Instead, I became the last priority, which only caused me more stress, deeper depression, and further anger and resentment.
In those moments, I tried to focus on gratitude. Yes, I had water leaking into my basement, but at least the only thing damaged was the carpet. I still had a home with a soft bed to sleep in at night and a fridge full of healthy food. Yes, my health has been a roller coaster which is still going, but I am still here, working on it, and I’ve managed to lose 33 of the 40 pounds I set as a goal last March.
33 pounds in 15 months is slow but steady, and I’ve done it, even with all the added stress. I also stopped drinking alcohol, significantly improving my weight loss and mental health. I’ve lost 22 of those 33 pounds in the six months since I stopped. If that’s not an endorsement to stop drinking, I don’t know what else is, mainly since most of my other habits have stayed the same.
So I have a home, a job, two healthy children, a supportive partner, and people who love and care for me; my health is crazy, but I am working on it. Reasons to feel grateful. But I still wasn’t taking time for myself, or at least not enough.
Writing is one of the things I enjoy doing and use to do just for me. But, since it’s become my job, like most hobbies turned professions, it became daunting to do even more of it for myself. So, I journaled here and there but couldn’t find anything meaningful to write about except complaining and ranting, and no one wants to read that. So, I didn’t blog.
But in not blogging, I perhaps took something I needed away from myself. Maybe, the exact thing I was too tired or stressed or angry to do was the very thing that would have helped me. So as I sat here working on an article that I am actually ahead of schedule with (wonder of wonders), I started thinking about blogging.
I stopped working on the article, and I started this blog. I wasn’t sure where it would go, and I’m still not. It’s very stream of consciousness right now. But I am getting myself on the page. I am taking a few moments out of my hectic day; more doctor appointments, more baseball… and doing something solely for me.
I don’t expect life to be a piece of cake every day; I know people are dealing with far worse challenges and issues than I am at the moment. However, that doesn’t take away what I was feeling. It doesn’t negate that nearly every stressful thing that could happen to a person seemed to happen to me simultaneously. I felt pulled in so many directions I couldn’t breathe. It felt as if even a feather touched me; I would shatter.
I don’t often share these moments. Instead, I come off as a perky, positive, happy person, and I am those things.
But I am also
A patient who sat down on the floor and started crying at 8:45 on a Wednesday morning because, after nearly six months, yet another set of blood work and tests gave her no answers.
A woman who looked at her partner several times in recent weeks and felt like she hadn’t had 10-minutes alone with just him that wasn’t discussing something kid, health, or house related.
A homeowner who sopped up water and washed towels five times a day for nearly a week before discovring where the leak was coming from or could get a contractor out to take a look.
A writer who was stressed one week because she didn’t think she’d have enough work to cover her bills and then the following week had so much work didn’t think she’d make all her deadlines.
A mother who wanted to cling to her children and not let them out of her sight after the tragedy in Texas. But was so exhausted at bedtime simply wanted to put them to bed and spend 15 minutes alone with a book.
A Mom and step-mom who grocery shops for six people, works from home, manages the house and pays the bills, tries to keep the house clean, and plays chauffeur to baseball, gymnastics, and drum kits.
A mom to an 8-year-old with combined presentation ADHD and borderline OCD and his 30-minute bedtime ritual.
A mom to an 11-year-old with anxiety who this week is obsessively worried about needing his wisdom teeth out in eight or nine years. And despite having good grades all year convinced he’s not advancing to 5th grade because of a comment his teacher said to the class, which he can’t remember, so I can’t help explain.
And I imagine I’m not the only one, so I’m sharing. Because while my story is entirely mine, it’s not unique.
Slowly last week, some of the pieces began to come back together, and I could breathe. I could pause and enjoy the trees rustling in the wind outside my library window. I could breathe and enjoy a board game with my 8-year-old without my mind wandering to ten different things I had to do next. I had time and the ability to see the beauty in the world again.
I could breathe and enjoy an evening out with my partner and some quiet time on the couch with him. I could look forward to a baseball game my 11-year-old was playing and relax and watch the game.
I read a book. I took a shower I didn’t need. I ate a bowl of real ice cream; because what’s the point of losing 33 pounds if you can’t have real ice cream once in a while? I wrote this blog. I exhaled. And I took those moments back and made them mine.
Almost all children go through a phase of being afraid of the dark. I imagine even as an adult, you’ve had moments of uneasiness when it comes to what could be lurking in the shadows.
Let’s examine some of the causes of why and ways to address your child’s fear of the dark.
One main reason children are afraid of the dark is it is the unknown. Their brains have not developed the cognitive reasoning to understand that there is nothing there that could hurt them. They also have much stronger imaginations than adults, which means a more challenging time separating fantasy from reality. Think of Elsa’s big song from Frozen II – what was she so scared of? Going into the unknown.
Have you watched the mover Monsters Inc.? It does a great job showing us how sounds, shapes, and shadows can play tricks on our minds. I can still get spooked when I know I’m home alone at night and hear an odd bump or noise. Yes, logically, I can reason that it was probably someone outside of the house simply settling, but at that moment, I become startled. Young children do not have the cognitive capacity to think logically when scary noises happen.
There are various other reasons children can be afraid of the dark, including something they saw in a movie or televisions show, a scary story they heard, or a fear of something else such as bugs, snakes, ghosts, etc.
Some children may fear the dark due to a personal experience such as losing someone close, an accident, or some other type of trauma.
Luckily, we can help most children overcome their fear of the dark using some old-fashioned fun and love at home!
Monster Spray is a fun way to help rid the fear of something hiding in the shadows. You can change the name to match whatever your child is afraid of Ghost Spray, Spider SPray, Witch Spray, etc.
To make the spray use a plastic spray bottle, water, and a little bit of food coloring (not too much because you don’t want to spray color on everything!) and glitter. If you’re feeling creative, make a label on your computer to attach to the bottle. Then, spray a little bit of the Monster Spray under the bed around the door, or wherever they are scared, the monsters will come from.
Read books and talk with your child. One of the best ways to overcome a fear is to have a safe place and person to discuss it. There are many excellent books available from your local library that cover childhood fears. Ask your child about their anxiety in an open and non-judgemental way. While we may know there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark to them, it is genuine.
Does your child have a special stuffed animal or doll they sleep with? If not it might be time to introduce a special lovie to sleep with.
Practice being in the dark together. Have a “sleepover” in your child’s room, play with flashlights, or use a rotating star nightlight. Watch movies and cuddled up in the dark. The more exposure your child has to the dark, the more comfortable they will become.
It is important to remember that all children are different; while some may overcome their fear in a matter of weeks, it can take months or even years for others.
I am currently experiencing a sleep regression with my seven-year-old, a common occurrence in school-aged children. To help older kids making late-night visits to your room, take a look at their bedtime routine. Are there any crutches you are providing that they cannot perform themselves if they wake up? For example, rubbing their back to help settle them is fine, but rubbing their back until they fall asleep is equivalent to putting your infant into the crib while sleeping.
Talk to your older child about what tools might help them settle if they wake up. Would a special blanket (perhaps a weighted one that feels like a hug) help? What about a night light that puts stars on their ceiling or the effect of ocean waves. They might need to have soft music or a white noise machine on all night; if the music cuts out at 2 AM, the abrupt change could wake your child up. Some children might benefit from the permission to read or play quietly if they wake up until they feel safe and sleepy again.
Never punish your child for waking up at night or having nightmares; that will only increase their anxiety. While losing sleep can feel maddening and make us grumpy, try to remain calm and patient. Calmly remind your child that you need sleep too, so it is essential to find a solution that helps them without making them feel bad about themselves.
The pandemic has caused children to regress in several ways, so if you are noticing a sleep, behavioral, academic or any other regression it may be related to the experiences of the past year and a half.
Eventually, they will overcome their fear, but in the meantime, give them the space to feel and work through their emotions in a loving and supportive way.
Not many people talk about postpartum depression several years after giving birth. However, in some cases it can lasts for years. Postpartum depression usually begins within the first three months after giving birth and can last anywhere from a few months to several years. Roughly 80% of women will suffer the baby blues, a feeling of being overwhelmed, fatigued and sad. Baby blues are normal, after all, a significant change just occurred in your life. These feelings pass in a few days to a week for most women, but 1 in 7 women or roughly 15% will suffer from postpartum depression.
I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at 23, long before I became a mother which puts a woman at a higer risk of postpartum. That being said, I always wanted to be a mother; I used to say I would adopt a child from every country in the world and you could usually find me playing with my baby dolls or playing some version of “family” with my friends when I was young. Being a mom was an absolute must for me, so when I found out I was pregnant with my first child at the age of 29, I was through the roof excited.
I worried about postpartum since I already suffered from depression, but I hadn’t been on medication for a few years and was doing really well. And miraculously, I didn’t end up with postpartum after he was born. I was tired, moody at times, frustrated sure (also a full-time grad student), but I was delighted with him. I had the usual ups and downs of most new moms. My postpartum didn’t hit until he was about three years old, and I had a second child, but I didn’t understand what it was until several years later.
Having a second child was always what I wanted; I thought I wanted three or four; I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if that were the case now. My older son was a typical two-year-old in a lot of ways, except he wasn’t. He had a speech delay from having fluid in his ears for almost a year; we had no idea because he had only had one or two ear infections, typical stuff for an infant. It wasn’t until he was missing his speech milestones we knew something was up. He also required OT for sensory processing. He was an extremely bright boy who was becoming increasingly frustrated because he couldn’t communicate properly or make sense of his world.
These factors brought a lot of stress, combined with having a newborn and teaching full time; I became depressed again. I couldn’t afford treatment at the time, so I tried to work my way through it; I didn’t cope well but I did manage to hide it from most people. My second son was amazing in his own right, and I loved everything about him, but we lived far away from any friends or family at the time, so I had very little help with a newborn and a three-year-old.
I cried so many days, and evenings, nights, mornings, you name it. I kept thinking, what have I gotten myself into? That was almost over seven years ago, and it hasn’t gone away. I love my children, and I have and will do anything for them, but the past decade has been nothing like I thought parenting would be, and I’m still sad—a lot. I was ashamed that wasn’t loving every moment of motherhood and didn’t feel like it was something I could talk to anyone about.
Where was the time for me, and what I wanted to do? Everything came with stress, figuring out schedules, finding babysitters, calling off work when they were sick, constantly putting myself on the back burner. Somehow over the years, from time to time, I managed to still do the one thing I loved most in the world, theater, but it came at a steep financial and emotional cost at times between babysitters and schedule juggling. People would often ask how I had time to do theater, and I would always reply because I had to. I had to. It was the one place I still felt like me and not “just a mom.”
I am sure some are reading this and thinking, well, that’s what happens when you become a mom; you sacrifice yourself for your children. But I disagree. Yes, we make sacrifices for the sake of our children, we put them first more often than not because that’s what parents should do, but we should never feel like we have sacrificed who we are; and that’s how I felt nearly every day.
It was get them up, go to school/work, pick them up, cook them dinner, stop them from arguing, play with them if and when I had the energy, make sure homework was done, give them baths, put them to bed, and then if I had time, read (my other passion) for 15-30 minutes before falling exhausted into bed and doing it all over again.
On the flip side, I was never cut out to be the stay-at-home-mom, and I was grateful I had a job teaching that I loved, but when COVID-19 pandemic occurred it didn’t provide me with much of an option. So I resigned from teaching to take care of my two children, who were too young to stay home alone. It just wasn’t cost-effective to pay for full-time care for them while I worked. Staying home full-time compacted everything.
Thankfully this time, I was able to return to therapy and was already back on medication, both of which helped, but I constantly would think, “This isn’t what I signed up for.” Now there was absolutely ZERO time for me; they were here all the time. There was no theater to escape to, no karaoke nights with friends every other Saturday, no date nights outside the house. I didn’t even have the twenty-minute commute from my school to their aftercare to pick them to enjoy a moment of quiet.
I also couldn’t do the things I enjoyed doing with my kids; trips to the zoo, museums, playground, and vacations. I hated the mom I was becoming over the pandemic. I had no patience; I felt like I yelled all the time, I cried even more, and my depression was taking over.
It took some serious soul searching and multiple therapy sessions to realize that all this time, I was still suffering from postpartum depression. Let that sink in, seven years of postpartum depression. No wonder I often resented being a mom. No wonder I was jealous of all the Facebook-perfect moms out there.
Now, I am not bashing social media, I have a Facebook account, but I realized that my constant comparison to everyone else out there added to my depression; so when I feel a surge hit, I stay off for a day or two. Studies have shown that while social media has some benefits for some, it can also increase feelings of depression in others. And what did I spend a lot of time doing when I was stuck home with two kids? Browse Facebook, of course. I would sit and scroll and look at what I perceived to be everyone’s “perfect life.” There’s a beautiful meme I saw that perfectly describes what social media is genuinely like. I wish I knew who to give credit to, but I don’t, so to whoever created this, thank you.
My children went back to school last week after nearly 17 months of being with them every day, and while anxious about COVID concerns, I trust their school and am happy they are back. I feel relief.
It wasn’t all bad, of course. I was able to watch them grow and learn close up, they bonded at a new level, and we all had our creativity and ingenuity stretched to the limits.
But for the first time in seven years, I feel relaxed, as if I can breathe again. I decided to stay with freelance writing instead of going back to teaching, and I’m finally doing what is right for me.
I’ve been alone in the house for five days now, and it’s incredible, for lack of a better word. I can think, I can run an errand when I want to, I can work out on my schedule, I can watch TV, or work, or write, or clean the house, or take a nap, or practice my singing, or mow the lawn, or take a walk, or go get coffee, I can use the bathroom or take a shower without hearing someone knock as soon as I go in.
I can breathe.
For the first time in over a decade, I am not at the beck and call of someone else, and it feels phenomenal, and I refuse to feel guilty for feeling this way.
I never knew how much I needed this space; I didn’t understand. I felt terrible because I didn’t love every second of being a mother, but how could I love being a mother when I couldn’t love myself? I will always battle depression, but understanding it better has given me new strengths and tools to combat it.
When my children walk in the door every afternoon, I am excited to see them; I am calm and restored. I feel like I am finally becoming the mom they deserve. I hope they know how much I love them, and I have always done my best to show them. Yet, I have been far from perfect and made so many mistakes.
With this newly found space, I finally have the time to find myself again and am discovering I have so much more to give them.
As long as I have been a part of the early childhood education world, the following phrase has been a part of it: You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.
I don’t know when parents and educators started using this phrase, but can we please stop?
Not only is it dismissive to the child aka you’re feelings don’t matter but more and more research indicates the importance of teaching children how to express and handle their emotions. When we teach children about their emotions, we give them the power of expression and self, and we start letting them know their mental health and well-being are just as important as their physical well-being.
I understand what the phrase is trying to do; it’s saying, whatever happens, it’s going to be ok, but to blatantly and repeatedly tell children they cannot get upset is ridiculous; it’s also not human.
We get upset. I get upset. One day years ago, when I was teaching four-and-five-year-olds, it was my day to be at the school early and open the classroom. On these days, I made a special stop at Starbucks and bought an expensive splurge drink. A parent who was in a rush asked if they could leave their child with me. Even though I wasn’t clocked in yet and not even in my classroom, I was in the kitchen of the school enjoying my last moments of quiet before the crazy day began; I said yes.
While in my hazy, still sleepy, somewhat-annoyed-that-the-parent-had-just-done-this-state, and trying to keep an eye on the kid while I got what I needed for the classroom snack that morning, I set my coffee down on an uneven surface and the entirety of my specialty, splurge coffee spilled on the floor.
It wasn’t even 7 A.M. My once-a-week splurge lay on the floor (and I now had to clean it up). And I had a 4-year-old standing next to me. I vividly remember telling myself silently, “Don’t cry. Do not let this child see you cry over a spilled coffee.” Honestly I wanted to have a tantrum.
So why didn’t I have a tantrum? Well, I came close, but I didn’t because I had learned how to process and handle strong emotions. We need to teach our children that it is OK to be upset when something negative happens, but how you respond that matters.
When I was teaching and passing things out, I would always shorten it to “You get what you get.” There was always at least one child in the class who would then say, “and you don’t get upset.” When that happened, I would look at them and say, “It’s ok to be upset when you don’t get what you want; what’s important is how you handle it.” Pay attention to that second part – it is OK to get upset when you don’t get what you want.
I have been performing in theater and music nearly my entire life, which means there are countless times I didn’t get the part or the solo I auditioned for and wanted. Do you know how many times I was upset I didn’t get the part I wanted? EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Of course I was upset! But here’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t go on social media and bash everyone involved with the show. I didn’t scream and throw things. I didn’t swear off doing theater ever again.
I talked to a friend or my mom. I went and did something I enjoyed like reading a book. I took a walk and listened to music. I enjoyed a glass (or two) of wine. I took a bubble bath. The point is I found ways to work through my disappointment and move on. These are the skills we need to be teaching our kids. Go ahead and have your disappointment, but let’s figure out the best way to handle it.
There are times I cried and times I didn’t. There are times it took me a few weeks to get over the disappointment and times it only took a few hours, but I was still upset every single time; because I’m human.
Is it appropriate for a ten-year-old to cry because their sibling got the last green Jolly Rancher? In most cases, no; but they are allowed to be bummed out about it. Is it appropriate for a five-year-old to have a tantrum because their best friend got the sticker they wanted at circle time? Probably not, but if they do, we can use it as a teaching opportunity to find other ways to express disappointment.
It is rarely a healthy option to tell kids “Don’t cry” because it is another way of telling them their emotions are not valid, but sometimes it can be hard not to roll our adult eyes and think, “Really? He’s crying because Godzilla is no longer on Amazon Prime?” (And yes, my son did this. So what I like to do instead is say, “It is ok to be upset, but Is this situation worth your tears?” Phrasing things in this way makes children slow down and evaluate their responses.
We can help our children process big emotions and disappointments by using phrases like:
I see you’re really upset right now. Would you like some space?
This seems to be making you sad. Do you want to talk about it?
It is ok to be angry, but it is not OK to hurt people or things.
You seem worried. Would you like me to sit with you?
I am not sure what is bothering you, but I am here if you want to talk.
The more we as adults recognize and discuss emotions, the more our children will understand them. Like language and social interactions, children learn about handling emotions from the adults surrounding them.
If a child grows up in a house where anger is considered “bad,” they may have trouble processing feelings of anger because they believe it makes them bad. We must also avoid assigning emotions to genders. For example, if children hear that crying and whining is what girls do and boys should be strong and fearless, then we are assigning weakness as feminine, but we are telling our boys that they have to be brave all the time.
Fear is another normal and completely biological response in many situations; fear is what kept our early ancestors alive. They needed to know when to run, when to fight, and when to hide too, survive.
Emotions need just to be emotions—all normal and all OK.
Children should be learning self-awareness and understanding of their own emotions, regulating and controlling those emotions, learning to understand what is essential and what is not (AKA is this situation worth your tears?), and reading and understanding emotions in others.
We do this when we allow children to see our emotions and emotional process and demonstrate how to handle disappointing and upsetting situations. Teaching emotional intelligence puts our children in the driver’s seat of their mental well-being and teaches them how to problem-solve and self-soothe.
So, teach your kids you get what you get, and you CAN get upset. But also teach them that a tantrum over a Jolly Rancher probably isn’t worth the energy spent, and if you take the red one, at least you still got candy! More importantly, you’re helping them process their emotions and how to handle things independently so that when they are thrity they don’t have a melt down over spilled coffee.
One of my son’s favorite books is “No, David!” by David Shannon. We read it all the time. I like to jokingly put his name in the book, and while it is funny, it also hits a nerve for him and me too. That’s because we can both see him as the character in this book, a little boy who has trouble controlling his emotions and actions and, as a result, hears the word “No,” a lot.
The funny thing is I know that that is the least effective way to communicate with him and to get him to do what I need to be done. I’ve read all the research on positive phrasing; as a teacher, I had that skill down almost to perfection. I even counseled other parents to use it and explained the benefits behind it. As a mom, though, easier said than done.
When you place a negative in front of a phrase, the child doesn’t hear the negative; they hear the action. So “Don’t run inside” becomes “run inside.” Now, I am not saying children hear this and automatically think you are telling them to run in the house, but the negative gets washed away; it’s not effective.
Positive phrasing, in all communication, is more likely to yield the results you’re after. But why? Well, first, it’s more pleasing to the ear and the mind. “Please walk inside” is more compelling than “Don’t run!” Second, when we phrase things positively, we are more likely to speak in a calm voice than yelling or a scolding tone. A calm voice is more likely to garner attention.
Experts say if you want your children to listen quietly and calmly, don’t yell. When you yell, they begin to shut you out and begin to shut down. When you speak calmly and quietly, you show respect, which begets respect, and they are also forced to listen to hear what you have to say.
You may still get surly looks and crossed arms when you talk quietly, but I guarantee they are listening.
Telling your child what you want or expect instead of what you don’t want sets up clear guidelines; it tells your child exactly what is expected. If you say, “Don’t run,” it leaves room for them to interpret that as ok well, I can still skip, jump, hop, cartwheel, or crawl. If you say, “You need to walk when inside the house,” there is no room for interpretation. It’s cut and dry.
Trust me, I know this is a difficult skill to conquer, especially of late when we’ve all had way more “quality” time with our children than ever before, but it does work. And I need to remind myself of that from time to time too. But just try it, write your self post-it notes or reminders around the house so you see them and can remember it in the heat of the moment.
Try taking a deep breath before responding to your child’s behavior. It will help you stay calm and it gives you a chance to phrase what you need to say in your head first.
Take some time and think of all the things you say “no” to in a day and see if you can flip them into positives.
Don’t leave your laundry on the floor.
Stop playing with your food.
Stop hitting your brother.
We don’t draw on the wall.
Don’t dump all your toys out.
Don’t talk back to me.
Please put your laundry in the basket
I need you to eat because you are making a mess.
You need to keep your hands to yourself.
Crayons and markers are used on paper.
Please clean up your toys when you’re finished.
You need to speak respectfully to me.
Phrasing things positively doesn’t mean you are saying yes to everything; it means you set up clear expectations of what is expected and acceptable.
Save “No” for moments of danger. Then it should be said in a loud, firm voice. Yelling “No” or “Stop” right before a kid touches a hot stove or steps off the sidewalk as a car barrels down will give them the jolt to potentially stop the dangerous choice.
When children hear no all the time, it loses its polish. Think of “No” as your boy who cried wolf. If it happens all the time, no one is going to listen to it. If you save it for moments of import, your child will not be used to hearing it, so the novelty will grab their focus.
My boys are fans of the new movie “YES DAY” and have watched it at least twenty times in the last few weeks. The concept is that for one day, the parents say yes to anything the kids ask (within a set of parameters, of course).
They have asked me to have a Yes Day on more than one occasion. So far, the answer is a no… but we’ll see.