Choices in 2020 (and I am not talking the election)

Children & Choices

Choices. It’s an oft heard word in the realm of child hood development. Give you child choices. And it’s true, you should. You child has so little control or power over anything that happens in their lives that allowing them to have or make choices from time to time can be a powerful boost to their self-esteem and sense of worth. They are told when to play, when to stop playing, when to bathe, when to eat, when to go to bed, when it’s time run an errand, when it’s time to go to school when it’s time to leave school and the list goes on and on and on and on. In most scenarios, they need to be told what, how and when to do something because you are the grown up and they have no self regulation. So much pressure to constantly do what other, larger people tell them to do can create a volatile situation in their emotional system. But what if you could take some of that vim and vinegar out of their system by simply allowing them choices each day?

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You’re Doing it Wrong

I can hear many of you now, “But I give them choices and they never decided and it always backfires…” Guess what? You’re doing choices wrong. I used to do it wrong too. When I first started working with children I didn’t understand the power of choice and I made mistakes, a lot of them. Now I have the wisdom of a lot of years in the classroom, a lot of books read, a lot of continuing education courses take and a lot of experience with small children. You may be thinking, “There’s a right and wrong way to give choices?” Yup. There is. If you have read this far and are thinking, “Children should do what they’re told because I am the grown up. End of Story.” then this post is may not be for you, although I encourage you to read it anyway.

Realistic Choices

The number one thing you need to know about giving a child a choice is that it needs to be realistic. Sounds simple, no? Yet giving children unrealistic choices is one of the biggest parenting faux pas done daily. If you tell your child to put their coat on or they are not going to school today then you have just screwed yourself. Are you truly willing to keep them home for the day because they refused to put a coat on? My absolute favorite is when parents threaten that Santa wont come if their child doesn’t listen. Really? Are you really going to follow through with no presents on Christmas morning? I consider myself a tough cookie mom and even I won’t go that far. Parents, you cannot present an option to your child that you are not 100% willing to follow through on because the second you don’t follow through, they have your number. If you threaten to turn the car around if they continue bickering in the back seat then you better turn that car around should another argument begin. If you say you are leaving the store is they keep whining about the cookies you won’t by, then you better be prepared to leave a cart full of groceries and walk out. Each time you don’t follow through with a “threat” your child logs that in their brain. If you repeatedly do it, they know you are full of bluff and have no reason to believe you, which does nothing but spell trouble for you.

Limit Options

Providing a child with too many choices is overwhelming. As much as possible limit their options to two and no more than three choices. Asking a 4 year old what they want for snack is akin to opening Pandora’s box. Instead say, for snack today you can have a yogurt with fruit, or crackers and cheese which would you like? Once the choices have been given that’s it, no negotiating. If they whine and plead and throw a tantrum, let them, Once again if you give in they will smell blood and know they can pull that same trick over and over and over. A a few tantrums in the beginning is much better than a life time of stress because you taught your child they can walk all over you.

Just to clarify, this is not the same as using food for reward/punishments’ which should NEVER be done, this is saying these are your options, if you are hungry and want a snack then you will choose one. Same goes for choosing anything else, clothing, toy to take to grandmas, or a book to read at bedtime. If a matter is time conscious, such as getting dressed in the morning then set a timer and let your child know that they have until the timer goes off to make their decision, otherwise you will be the one choosing.

Pick Your Battles

Simple advice but true. Not everything needs to be done an exact way. Let go of some of your need for control. If he wants to wear red plaid shorts and a lime green shirt to school, let him. Who really cares? Plus you are giving your child the opportunity to express himself creatively. If she wants to play the trumpet instead of the flute then support her and buy yourself some earplugs for the first year or two! Some nights let them pick their own dinner, some days let them watch the extra TV show. By allowing them these small bits of choice and power their need to exert full control will relax. A child’s reaction to feeling no control is a tantrum. Think about how you feel when your boss dumps task after task on your plate with little to no input from you… it feels pretty lousy doesn’t it?

By no means should tantrums be accepted as OK behavior, but they ARE normal. Do not get mad at them for having one. Stay as calm as possible and ignore them. It will stop. I promise. Through a tantrum a child is trying to gain your attention. At this point they don’t care if it is negative or positive. DO NOT FEED THE ATTENTION MONSTER. When it is over you can talk to them about their strong emotions and brainstorm together better ways to handle it. If they are being destructive or harmful then say in a firm tone that even though they are mad “hitting, throwing, kicking etc.” is not acceptable.

To sum it all up, this is what parents need to remeber:

  1. Make Choices Realistic
  2. Be Prepared to Follow Through
  3. Limit Options to 2 or 3
  4. Pick Your Battles
  5. Tantrums Happen, Don’t feed the monster

ADHD and My Child: the battle with healthcare

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My youngest son is the equivalent to the Tasmanian Devil at times, and I don’t mean the actual animal that lives in the bush, I mean that little cartoon guy that just spun everywhere and caused destruction in his path. It has been a challenge dealing with his lack of control at times, but there is only so much control he has. At the age of 5 he was diagnosed with ADHD, and it’s severe. As an early childhood educator I knew something was off developmentally a few years earlier but ADHD and ADD are not typically diagnosed until school age. All we knew was that he was struggling, a lot, in preschool due to his inability to keep his hands to himself, his lack of self control, outbursts both positive and negative, and the Tasmanian devil that seems to have inhabited his body.

After conducting research on my end, talking to his teacher and other professionals in the field, we came to the conclusion that he should be evaluated for ADHD. Luckily for us, his pediatrician also turned out to be the leading expert on ADHD in the area. That gave us extra peace of mind as we went through this process. After meeting with the doctor privately and conducting evaluations with our son we decided we would try medication. Deciding to use medication was not a snap decision. We had heard horror stories about children turned into zombies and the last thing we wanted was for him to lose was his spark. When he is not in tailspin mode destroying all in site he is an intelligent, funny and entertaining kid.

He wanted his hair to look like Sonic the Hedgehog this summer!

My son loves Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi. He was so obsessed with the Broadway Musical Newsies that the age of 3 he was the main character, Jack Kelly for Halloween. He’s creative and silly but he also has no impulse control, yells his favorite phrase “Booty-Butt” without warning at the top of his lungs, and used to greet people by hitting them in the crotch. Not forcefully, but enough to hurt, particularly if you were a man. We knew he couldn’t continue on this path and be successful. This wasn’t just your typical case of a child gone wild. I am a career expert in Early Childhood, his father has an undergraduate degree in Psychology. We knew what we should be doing to help him and nothing seemed to work.

The first medication we tried him on cost a whopping $60 a month after insurance. $60 a month for something my child needed to function. We saw results but he was still struggling. Especially as the evening wore on and the medication wore off. He became next to impossible to corral into anything productive. He started therapy with a psychologist and we were hoping to see major results. Unfortunately they seemed slow to come. On the upside he was getting much better reports from school and I was more confident about him starting kindergarten in the fall. At home he still wreaked havoc, knocked things over, ran around and caused general frustration for everyone.

Yes we tried discipline, time outs, meaningful chats, loss of privileges, positive re-direction. If it was in an expert handbook, we tried it. Nothing seemed to work for him. The only plan that has seemed to work is ignoring the negative behavior and over the top praise the positive choices. I have been reading the book Transforming the Difficult Child by Howard Glasser and his advice seems to be the first and only thing outside of medication that has had a positive effect on my son. And I love that feels built up by praise. I want to cheer him on and praise him and give him confidence, but there are only so many times I can hear “Booty-Butt” screamed at the top of his lungs while he claps his hands loudly. These aren’t discipline issue, these are impulse control issues. His brain is simply wired differently.

Amidst Cornoavirus shut-downs, he turned 6. We went in for his physical and I asked if there was something new we could try. After talking to me and performing the evaluation the doctor offered a new option. He said it was taken twice a day, was more potent and should have a more lasting effect. I was ecstatic. I went to get the prescription filled and they wanted $365. I’m sorry, for one month? On insurance?! That was simply not sustainable but my child potentially needed this to thrive. After frantic searching I found a manufacturer’s coupon that cut it down to $185 a month. The upside, it seems to be working wonders for him. I am seeing a more calm and engaged child. I am better able to hold conversations with him, and I see him able to focus for longer periods. In addition, it is not suppressing his appetite the way the first one was. These are all wins. The downside is I have to pay almost $200 a month for a medication, for a mainstream mental health disorder in order to help my child succeed and function they way a typical 6 year old should.

What does this say to you about America’s health care policies? Put simply, they are garbage. My son’s father is a doctor, he works for a major corporation, he should have top notch insurance, yet this is what he is offered. A plan that doesn’t even cover medications aimed at treating a common mental health disorder. It angers me and disgusts me. We are fortunate that while it’s not easy, we can afford to pay this amount each month to help our child, but what about all the people who can’t? Without insurance this same medication was over $600! As a mom and an educator I am calling out the U.S. Healthcare system and pharmaceutical companies. How dare you make billions each year and rake us over the coals for our basic needs. How do you expect America’s children to thrive and meet their potential when many don’t have access to their medication needs? It is an absolute travesty that in what is supposed to be the country of Freedom and Liberty the average American child does not have access nor can afford basic health care costs.

Kids & Yoga; put together and mix well


Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that was developed over 5,000 years ago by the Idus-Sarasvati civilization. Post-Classical Yoga, which was established sometime after 200 BC, was the beginning of what we in the west call yoga. As describe by Yoga Basics, “Yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment.”.

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The Modern Period and popularization of yoga in the west happened during the 1800s and 1900s when gurus started visiting western countries and attracting followers. Today, many of us in the west use yoga as a form of exercise and wellness. We participate in stretches and poses to relax and strengthen muscles also creates flexibility and develops balance and core strength. While yoga has been primarily thought of as an adult activity, I am here to educate on how beneficial it can be for children!

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Yoga provides the same benefits for children that it does for adults. A child who participates in yoga develops gross motor skills, core muscles, and balance. Yoga is an excellent tool to help children calm down and self-regulate. Most importantly, yoga is physical activity, which in today’s world of iPads, electronic devices, and sitting at a desk during school, is especially critical.

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My hands-down favorite for children’s Yoga is Cosmic Kids. These yoga journeys are not only physical movement, but they provide mindfulness and are presented through a story, which means they promote literacy as well! Triple score! I have used these repeatedly in my preschool classroom, and my two children, ages 9 and 6, love them as well. They have a story for just about every character and storyline you could think of. Have fun with your children, and jump in alongside them. Children are the epitome of Monkey See Monkey Do, they want to be just like the important adults in their lives. The bonus is you get a workout too! Not to mention, it is a fun way to bond. Some of them include bursts of running, jumping, and other cardio making it a whole body workout! Making fitness and wellness, a family affair has benefits for everyone.

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Statistic time! When children learn the importance of health and wellness at a young age, they are much more likely to continue those habits into adulthood. According to the CDC, 18.5% of children between the ages of 2-19 suffer from pediatric or childhood obesity. Those are staggering numbers. With the technology available at every turn, it can be difficult to entice children away from those devices. Therefore, I say make the devices part of the routine. Use sites like Cosmic Kids, GoNoodle, and artists such as Jack Hartman and The Learning Station to engage your children in an activity, movement, and song. Many of these videos are available free on YouTube!

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Get up and get moving! Teach your child the healthy benefits of yoga and exercise, and have fun at the same time!

These are a Few of my Favorite Things… for Kids

As both a mom and a Pre-K teacher I have purchased and interacted with A LOT of toys. Some have been fantastic and surpassed my wildest dreams while others have left me out to dry. I’ve complied a list of some my top toys. If you’re not familiar with these already then I hope I just introduced you and your child to their next favorite thing. Click on the name of any of these items to learn more!

Zingo! This a fan favorite in my four and five year old classroom. The set in my classroom used to be my personal game before my two outgrew it. It’s Bingo but requires letter and word recognition. It also promotes memory and hand eye coordination skills.

Lego Marble ~ Few things keep young children busier than Legos. Combine that with a marble run and there are endless opportunities. This is the perfect toy to boost STEM skills, problem solving and creativity.

Lazada Pig Pillow ~ My six year old has this and it goes everywhere with him. It’s so incredibility soft I want one of my own. It comes in a variety of sizes and options and is bound to be your child’s new best friend.

Chalk. Colored chalk is one of the most popular toys I have ever utilized. It is open ended and provides so much opportunity for creative expression. Plus it’s a great way to get everyone outside and enjoying the sunshine!

Dan&Darci Flower Growing Kit ~ Spring is the perfect time to take your kids outside and teach them about gardening. This kit is a great starter garden for your budding botanist and bonus it comes with paints to decorate the flower box!

Flybar My First Foam Pogo Stick ~ These are fantastic! Both my boys received these this year for their birthday and they are loving them! They hold up to 250 pounds, so you better believe I tried it out too. This toy is great for building balance and gross motor skills. Hey, if your kids don’t want one get it for yourself!

Kanoodle ~ This is a fantastic logic game that has even stumped me at times! Admittedly, when it comes to logic puzzles, I am not the best. I had to order a second one of these for the house because my kids were fighting over who got to play with it. Logic and problem solving are the key skills honed by this marvelous, inexpensive toy.

Piano Music Mat ~ We had one of these for years in our home and it was always a favorite of my two. Your kids can jump and dance around and make sounds with the instrument options and it has a record setting so your little Mozart can play back the music they made. I used it to reenact my own Tom Hanks “Big” Moment.

I could list so many more, and I will probably will down the line! When purchasing toys for kids I like to think about what possibilities the toy presents and what senses it engages. For me, the less electronics the better. Guide your children while playing by asking them open ended questions as this will engage and enhance their language and literacy skills.

If your quarantine brain is starting to fuzz on what to do to keep your kids engaged then I hope this list can give you some ideas or at least set you down the right path!

An Embarrassment on Two Wheels

My children don’t know how to ride a bike.  If it comes up in conversation with other parents, I just stay quiet and nod like I’m part of bike society.  I feel guilty about this; I harbor a secret shame.  But… I don’t feel guilty enough to change it.  My oldest son was born in Washington, D.C.  We lived there until he was 14 months old.  Then we moved to Chicago, where my husband at the time had been admitted to medical school.  A year and a half later, my second son was born almost three years to the day from big brother.  They celebrate their birthdays exactly two weeks apart (Amazon and Target love me and my wallet each spring). 

I tell you all this because, for four years, we lived in a 3rd story walk-up. A third story walk-up with insultingly small stairs which twisted and turned like you were trying to reach a princess in a tower.  Except there was no princess at the top, just a stressed-out mom whose hair was too short to be of use to anyone attempting to climb up because, in a fit of insanity, she decided a pixie cut would be a great idea, then spent the next several years attempting to grow it out and not look like she had a mullet.  To help you get an even better mental picture here’s more.  It was a third-floor walk-up that I had to climb up with a toddler, a frequently moody toddler.  Then it became a third-floor walk-up while I was pregnant and with a two-year-old and then lastly a third floor walk-up with a threenanger and a newborn to become moody toddler by the time we moved out.  To top it off, this was a tiny, but nice two-bedroom condo with no storage.  There was nowhere to store a bike if even if I had the motivation to teach them, which I repeat, I did not.  We did, however, purchase a middle of the line Lightening McQueen scooter for my older son’s third birthday.  Being the perfectionist that he is, he tried it once, it wouldn’t go, so he got off and kicked it.  He began to stomp away, arms crossed and all, realized it didn’t fall over, walked back, and kicked it again.  To this day, it is one of the most hysterical things I’ve seen him do.  Every year when the video pops up on my memory feed, I watch it several times, it truly never gets old.  Eventually, he does try it again and makes progress. 

But back to bike riding.  With absolutely nowhere to store a bike, we never bought one.  Did I mention that roughly 6 months out of the year, the sidewalks and streets in Chicago are covered with ice, sleet, snow, or slush?  Sometimes it’s all four at once.  Once my husband graduated, he secured a job in Maryland outside of Washington, D.C. We could no longer afford to live in an even halfway decent D.C. neighborhood, so we settled in Annapolis.  We found a townhouse to rent; an entire 3 floors and 4 bedrooms.  It felt like the Taj Mahal.  Now, finally, we could buy him a bike, and we did, the first Christmas we lived there.  He was ecstatic when he saw it under the tree. Yet, again, upon the initial attempt, he wasn’t perfect, and he quickly lost interest.  By this point, at age 5, he had been diagnosed with anxiety, and we often chose not to push him on things for fear of triggering a meltdown. 

Looking back, there are times I wish we pushed him more and weren’t so scared of upsetting him, but as they say, hindsight is always 20/20.  He never asked again to learn to ride, and eventually, the bike rusted up and was thrown away.  A few years later, he received a skateboard from his Aunt and Uncle for Christmas. It fills me with joy to report that he has become more than proficient on the skateboard.  Since he never learned to ride a bike, little brother never learned, and the years have just kept slipping by.  They’re both young, they could learn, but if I’m being honest, I continue to lack the desire to teach them.  I often see the neighborhood kids out and riding, and I feel that guilt rush over me. 

Have I deprived my children of an essential rite of passage?  I have vivid memories of my dad running behind me, wearing his aviator sunglasses, and I decked out in an 80’s glory romper and tassels on my handlebars.  Shouldn’t’ my kids have that too?  But I’ve given them other experiences.  I’ve taken them to dance class, Broadway and community theater productions, nature hikes, trips to the zoo (so many trips to the zoo), museums, roller skating, ice skating (ok this one ended in stitches one time), playgrounds, botanical gardens, Disney World (more times than most people consider acceptable) and the list could go on.  Maybe every kid doesn’t need to ride a bike.  Maybe not teaching them to ride doesn’t rank me among America’s Worst Moms.  Even so, I’m not telling anyone my kids can’t ride a bike, it’ll be our little secret.