Aha! Parenting Moments Weekly 10-4-15

"Now that school is back in session and I need to get both kids out the door and myself to work, I’m always running late. No matter how early I get up and get everything prepared the night before, my 4 yr. old is sooo slow and it is a nightmare...No matter how I phrase the request, “Let’s get our clothes on so we can get something to eat, who can do this faster let’s race, or who wants to be a cheetah or a turtle, do you want to do it or me, pick between these two shirts, etc….He will take the opposite position or just start whining or collapse to the floor...he is so slow that I find myself losing it... All the time, I’ve got my 17 mo. old on my hip crying to get downstairs to eat....I want all of us to have as full of a bucket as we can; not a depleted one as is the case by the time we get to school and work." 

Sound familiar?

The bad news is, even working as hard as this mom is -- offering choices, making it into a game, preparing the night before -- is no guarantee that things will go smoothly. Those things help enormously, but sometimes the needs of kids and adults simply clash.

What does a four year old need in the morning? Well, everyone is different, but most of us need some time to make the transition from sleep into busy activity; most kids balk at feeling pushed. Most four year olds need to "do it myself." Most four year olds want to make their own decision about when their body needs to pee. And I've never met a four year old who understands why that meeting Mom has to get to is more important than whether he can find his toy car.

Wouldn't it be amazing if all parents could have flextime, so there's more time in the morning for small humans to have a more humane start to their day? But that's not possible for many families.

So what's the answer? Re-frame your idea of the morning routine. What if your main job was to connect emotionally? That way, your child would have a genuinely "full cup." Not only would he be more ready to cooperate with you, he'd be more able to rise to the developmental challenges of his day. Here's how...

Parenting Question OF THE WEEK

Dear Dr. Laura,
My almost eight-year-old daughter has a very hard time falling asleep at night. Right now it is worse than ever as I am trying to get her out of the summer routine and back into a school routine, when we have to get up at 6:30 a.m.  Even though I start the bedtime routine around 8:30 p.m. she isn't falling asleep until around 10:15. It is making us both very anxious and she keeps saying "I can't sleep. My body feels too cookoo." She is now exhausted in the day and is acting very hyper-active and revved up but I know she is really just tired out. 


Some kids just have a harder time relaxing and falling asleep than other children.

It could be that your daughter just doesn't need that much sleep. But I suspect the opposite. You say that she is exhausted during the day and is acting hyperactive and revved up. it sounds to me like your daughter may be over-tired, which actually makes it harder to relax.

When humans get over-tired, we have to keep ourselves going by releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin into our bloodstreams. So when a child is over-tired, she might be swamped by those biochemicals, which stay in the bloodstream for a long time (meaning more than 24 hours.)

So what can you do?

1. Aim for a much earlier bedtime. How early? If you have to wake her up, she is not getting enough sleep. Since your goal is a 6:30am wake-up, and kids her age need an average of 10.5 hours of sleep, you want her asleep by 8 pm.

If she's one of those kids who doesn't need as much sleep, then maybe it can be a bit later, but if you have to wake her in the morning, then she is not getting enough sleep. So use her morning waking as a guide, meaning that you should keep moving her bedtime earlier until she is able to wake up on her own at 6:30am.

2. To get from here to there, keep waking her earlier (aiming for 6:30am). It's true that this increases her over-tiredness, but it will get her onto the schedule you need more quickly. You will just have to be patient and understanding when she is cranky. (Personally, I would just bite the bullet and start waking her at 6:30am now to get her onto the schedule, because that would make her exhaustion outweigh her stress hormones. But that may be too hard for your family.)

3. Start the bedtime routine MUCH earlier. Since you want her asleep by 8pm, you want lights off by 7:30pm. I know that right now that sounds like a terrible idea, since she is not falling asleep until 10:15pm. But I suspect that since you aren't starting the bedtime routine until after 8pm, she is having to keep herself wired just to keep her eyes open. So I suspect that if you wake her at 6:30am, start the bedtime routine at 7pm, and turn lights off at 7:30pm, she is likely to fall asleep by 8pm with little trouble.

4. Think through your routine. To help your daughter relax, make sure that your bedtime routine includes sleep associations that you can trigger. Also, begin thinking about the way her entire day contributes to her sleep readiness. It might go something like this:


1. Physical activity. Kids NEED to be physically active, and research shows that they really do sleep much more readily when they've had an hour or three to run around outside and breath fresh air. (By comparison, mental stimulation gets kids wound up and keeps them from falling asleep.)

2. Laughter. When children are wound up, they often need to laugh or cry to let off that tension. So roughhouse with her every afternoon to get her laughing. That actually decreases the stress hormones in her body, and increases the happy, bonding hormones! Of course, don't do this right before bedtime...........

Parenting Tools: Family Traditions

Extraordinary moments often masquerade as ordinary life. Parenting is tough, and so often we're just rushing against the clock to get our kids out the door in the morning, pick them up on time, get them through their homework and dinner, into the tub, into bed...so we can get up the next morning and do it all over again.

But it's a truism because it's true. These years pass more quickly than we can imagine, and when kids look back, these are the memories that will define family for them. Traditions can be an easy, meaningful way to take a breath during the rush and reconnect. They don't have to be a burden; you can simply choose a family activity to try, and then see if you want to make it into a family tradition. But just try one thing every season; life is busy enough already, and guilt doesn't make for joyful family time.

Most of us don't welcome Autumn by celebrating the harvest. But as the dark comes earlier, we instinctively turn our focus inside, toward cooking wholesome food, lighting candles and creating a cozier home. Would revitalizing a seasonal tradition enrich your family life, and help you and your child to feel more connected? 

Here are a few ideas to get you started. You can pare them back and make them as simple as you want. The point is connection, not emulating Martha Stewart (she doesn't have children at home!). As long as there's laughter and hugs, you're on the right track.

In the northern hemisphere, it's Autumn. Most of us aren't celebrating the harvest. But as the dark comes earlier, we instinctively turn our focus inside, toward cooking wholesome food, lighting candles and creating a cozier home.

Would revitalizing a seasonal tradition enrich your family life, and help you and your child to feel more connected? Here are a few ideas to get you started. You can pare them back and make them as simple as you want. The point is connection, not emulating Martha Stewart (she doesn't have children at home!). As long as there's laughter and hugs, you're on the right track.

  • Go for a drive to see the autumn foliage on the weekend before Halloween and pick up pumpkins to carve together. Roast the seeds.
  • Take ten minutes with your children to record a "spooky" outgoing message on your answering machine.
  • Set aside time every weekend to help kids make their own Halloween costumes. Even five year olds can help you sew a seam on the machine or glue on ears. You'll save money, have a costume good enough to reuse, and think how proud he'll be! By the time he's nine, he'll be taking charge of making his own costume.
  • Divide your family into teams and see who can rake the biggest leaf pile. Don't forget jumping into them!....

"2 year-olds argue with their parents 20 to 25 times an hour." - Study reported in Child Development Magazine


Between 11 and 15 months, we learn a wonderful word: "No!"


It's an ecstatic discovery. We learn we are separate, autonomous beings with a will of our own who can impact what happens in the world. We delight in saying, "No!" at every opportunity.

Our "No" is actually a big "YES!" It's an awesome, pure expression of our life force.

After the first cute "No" or two, our parents are usually less than delighted. In fact, this developmental stage launches what's often called the "terrible twos." Our ecstatic expressions of primal life force aren't usually affirmed.

Do you remember your father or mother saying:

"I love your independence and autonomy!"

"I see that you're learning to stand up for your own truth, which will really help you later in life."

More common messages are along the lines of:

"Don't you dare talk back to me!"

"We'll nip this in the bud!"

There may be the threat—or the reality—of punishment or physical force. There is almost always the withdrawal of love, as parents walk away when little ones tantrum--the only way they know to make their No heard.

Being powerless and utterly dependent, we soon learn to hide our No's. We begin to resort to whining, passive resistance, and manipulation. By the time we reach adulthood, we've often lost touch with our own needs and even our own inner compass about what's right for us.

So when our little one falls in love with the word NO, danger signs flash inside us. We know that NO is dangerous, even if we don't know why. We think we MUST teach him who's in charge, right away. Defiance from our child, whether two or twelve, is met with an emotional slap-down as we put him in his place.

The problem is that defiance is not a danger to you or your child. Defiance is simply a sign that your child is having a problem. When we rush in with an iron fist, we don't address the real issue. Which might be that she feels you aren't listening. Or that she's really upset and needs your help to feel safe enough to cry. Or that she needs you to teach her how to express her needs and wants without attacking the other person. Or maybe she feels she's sticking up for her integrity.

If she's a tween or teen, that should make you rejoice. Research shows that teens who are willing to stand up to their parents are also more likely to stand up to their peers. (After all, she could just lie to avoid a confrontation with you, which is what most teens do.) And kids who can stand up for their own truth start as toddlers.

So even though you get triggered, this isn't about who is in charge. Your child knows you're in charge. This is about your child's right to his feelings, even while you honor your responsibility to keep him safe and healthy, and to set necessary limits on behavior.

It IS possible to say "No" in a way that honors your own truth, while still staying in positive contact with your child. It IS possible to honor both your needs and your child's age-appropriate need to assert herself. Here's the secret....

Quotes of the Week

"Independent: How we want our children to be as long as they do everything we say." - Bacon Babble

"The importance of the parent-child relationship is above everything else in parenting. If you work on that relationship, over behavior, that will win in the end. You may not get the behavior in the short term but in the long term it's that bond that keeps kids safe and emotionally healthy." -- Judy Arnall

"Children need love, especially when they do not deserve it."  --  Harold Hulbert

“A child whose cries have been answered and whose emotional needs have been met, and who has not been taxed by having to handle feelings of hurt, pain or fright when she is too young, grows up with a high level of self-esteem.” – Selma Fraiberg

"When we spoil something, we deny it the conditions it requires…. The real spoiling of children is not in the indulging of demands or the giving of gifts, but in the ignoring of their genuine needs."-- Gordon Neufeld, PhD

"All the children who are held and loved will know how to love others.  Spread these virtues in the world.  Nothing more need be done." - Meng Zi, 300 BC

Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings:
How To Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life

"Love the positive loving approach and great usable strategies she has for each situation. This is one of the rare parenting books that makes the parenst feel good! We love our kids and want to do the right things with them and just need some tools to help us with the important work of raising loving happy children!" - Kay F. on Amazon