Category Archives: prevention

Give individual instruction

Credit: kiwinz via Flickr

Do you have two or more children? If so, this is for you. Have you ever given an instruction that applies to both children and gotten zero response? Doesn’t it seem logical to give an instruction to two or more kids at the same time than to get their attention individually? We should be able to do so, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’re no stranger to the idea that we need to call our kids’ names and get a “yes, mommy” and eye contact before we give an instruction. It makes perfect sense and works very well when you’re working with one child.

But what do you do when you have an instruction for two or more children? Should you:

  • Option #1: Skip the process and just give your instruction?
  • Option #2: Call both children’s names at the same time?
  • Option #3: Call each name individually and go through the process as you would with one child?

I speak from experience when I suggest that you do the latter. Yes, it sounds very inefficient and like over-kill, but it works. Here’s how these scenarios play out in my home:

Option #1

Me: Boys, go wash your hands for dinner!

Them: Silence and inaction.

Option #2

Me: William and Lucas?

Them: Silence as they each wait for the other to respond.

Option #3

Me: William?

William: Yes, mommy?

Me: Go wash your hands for dinner.

William: Yes, mommy (as he goes to wash up).

Me: Lucas?

Lucas: Yes, mommy?

Me: Go wash your hands for dinner.

Lucas: Yes, mommy (as he goes to wash up).

When you do this, it’s always wise to call the older child first (assuming your older child has a better level of first-time obedience). You want the child who has better first-time obedience to set the example for the younger child. That way, the younger child will easily follow suit.

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Love languages

Do you know your child’s love language? One of my favorite aspects of the Ezzo books is their discussion of love languages. The idea is fully explored in a separate book, The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, but it is a philosophy the Ezzos endorse. As parents, it is our job to learn how our kids express and receive love and to love them according to their unique love language.

The concept applies to any age. Have you ever given someone a gift and received a lackluster response? Has your spouse ever complained about not feeling loved while you feel like all you do is show him love? Everybody communicates and receives love in different ways. No way is better or worse. The key is knowing the specific love languages of your loved ones.

Here’s a basic rundown of the five love languages and ways to recognize them in your child:

Words of encouragement

Words of encouragement means exactly that. Someone with this love language expresses love by offering words of praise. Examples include:

  • That dress looks great on you.
  • I loved the way you helped your brother today.
  • You do a great job of showing your best manners at the table.

This might be your child’s love language if he is regularly giving you and others words of encouragement.

Acts of service

Some people communicate love by doing for others. If your spouse goes out of his way to do things for you, acts of service is likely his love language. Examples:

  • Your spouse puts gas in your car without you asking.
  • You make a special dinner for your family.
  • Your spouse puts the children to bed while telling you to rest.

Children express acts of service by helping you out with chores. Do you find your child helping you sweep, wanting to help fold clothes or do an extra-special job putting away his toys?

Gift-giving

Often a simple gesture, giving gifts is a way to express love. Examples include:

  • Your spouse brings home a souvenir from a business trip.
  • Your dad spontaneously brings home flowers for your mom throughout the year.
  • Your spouse’s eyes light up when you give him a gift.

Think of gifts from a child as something that has value to him, not necessarily to you. Sharing his dessert, drawing a special picture and wrapping up a toy can be signs that gift-giving is your child’s love language.

Quality time

Quality time requires that you invest yourself in the other person by offering your undivided attention. Do you find your spouse complaining that you don’t spend enough time together, while you think you do everything together? The key is making sure that time is quality time. Examples:

  • Your spouse turns off the TV and asks you sit next to him.
  • You plan a special date night.
  • You spouse is thrilled with the idea of couch time.

For a child, spending quality time together means doing his favorite things with him or taking him out for some one-on-one time. You might recognize this in your child if he often asks you to play with him.

My oldest, William, loves his quality time. Before his brother was born, he was always asking me to play. Now, they are each other’s best friends. I’ve also discovered that timeouts are really effective with him because he hates to be alone.

Physical touch and closeness

Physical touch is simple to understand. Yet, this love language also includes spending time together in the same room. Different from quality time, it doesn’t matter what you are doing as long as you are together. Examples:

  • You’re reading a book and decide to go sit in the same room with your spouse.
  • Your spouse doesn’t want to watch the show you’re watching, and rather than leave the room, he will bring his newspaper and sit with you.
  • Your child wants you to sit with him while he does his homework.

This love language is easy to spot in children. They tend to be overly affectionate and easily respond to any touch. My little one, Lucas, is this way. He would hug and kiss me all day if I let him. If I play with his hair or rub his neck, he goes into a little trance. So cute.

There are a few things to keep in mind with love languages:

  • Some people have one or two love languages. Usually, one takes priority over another, but both should be considered.
  • Some parents can’t recognize a child’s love language until they are age 5 or older.
  • Sometimes our loved ones know our love language better than we do ourselves.

There is a whole series of books on love languages by Gary Chapman. Plus, the Growing Kids God’s Way book includes a test where you rank certain acts of love to discover your love language. It’s an enlightening exercise for the whole family.

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Moving to one nap a day

I don’t usually use this blog as a forum to give advice on naps and specific schedule items, but I see this one come up so often, I thought I would address it here. When our children drop the morning nap, it marks a shift in the child’s development. Dropping the morning nap is a big milestone in the lives of many parents of toddlers. Yet it’s almost one of the most frustrating. Many Babywise parents don’t know how to drop the nap without affecting baby’s sleep too terribly.

Here’s how the situation typically plays out. Baby is napping well and is able to overcome teething and various disruptions without too much trouble. For the most part, things have been going well for quite some time. Then suddenly, baby stops falling asleep for his afternoon nap. He’ll play in his crib for the whole nap, or he’ll go down fine but wake up after just 45 minutes. Mom gives it a day or two before deciding that something is going wrong. She knows that baby needs his afternoon nap and he seems to nap so well in the morning that she’s a little dumbfounded.

It’s true, these babies would nap a couple hours every morning if left to their own devices. But mom knows that there’s no way baby can go from late morning until bedtime without turning into a monster. The afternoon nap must be saved!

Before I give you my advice on dropping a nap, let me explain how I would not do it.

Don’t #1: Get out in the morning

Some say that the best way to preserve the afternoon nap is to cut out the morning nap entirely, cold turkey. To avoid a cranky baby in the morning, you should go out. Run errands. Take baby to story time at the library. Whatever. Just get out. It’s true, that getting out will help keep baby alert enough that he won’t get as cranky as he would at home. But still, it deprives the child of sleep.

Don’t #2: Every other day

Another approach is to allow baby to have a morning nap every other day. It’s true that this could help baby drop the morning nap, but the problem is it still deprives the child of sleep. By allowing him the nap every other day, you are depriving him of sleep and then letting him catch up on sleep on the days you allow it. His sleep is not on an even keel. The other problem with this approach is that it’s still likely that baby will not nap well in the afternoon on the days he takes a morning nap.

Don’t #3: Early bedtime

One idea to drop the nap is to let baby nap in the mornings and then do an earlier bedtime to compensate for the lack of sleep in the afternoon. Mom gradually moves the morning nap later and later while doing an early bedtime. Eventually, the morning nap becomes an afternoon nap. There are two problems with this approach. First, mom is messing with both naps and bedtime. There’s no need to mess with bedtime (if you’ll finish reading this post). Second, baby is still cranky and overtired until the transition process is complete.

My advice: Shorten the morning nap

When you’re sure that baby is ready to drop the morning nap and that the afternoon nap disruptions aren’t due to anything else (noise, teething, etc.), start shortening the morning nap. For this approach to work, it’s important to know your baby’s optimal wake time. When I did this with Lucas, his wake time was 2 hours. I realize that not all babies can go to sleep after just 2 hours, which is fine. The key is knowing what your baby’s optimal wake time is. It’s different for every child.

Before his afternoon nap disruptions, Lucas would usually nap for 1.5 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon. When I knew that nothing else was causing the problem, I started waking him up after one hour of sleep in the morning. I would allow him his usual wake time of 2 hours and then put him down for his afternoon nap. This meant that his afternoon nap started 30 minutes earlier, but it worked because he was still getting used to a shorter morning nap.

I continued allowing him a one-hour morning nap until his afternoon nap was again being disrupted in some way. I let him tell me when he was ready to shorten the nap even more. So then I started waking him up after 45 minutes. Again, I would put him down after 2 hours of wake time. Throughout the transition, I would let him sleep as long as he wanted to in the afternoon and I never messed with his bedtime.

After a few months of a 45-minute morning nap, we reduced it to 30 minutes. After a few months of that, we ended up going on vacation and it was the perfect time to drop the morning nap altogether. If we were home, I might have allowed a 20-minute catnap, but it also became apparent to me that he would have done fine without the morning nap entirely.

Bear in mind, this is not the fastest way to drop the morning nap. We started shortening the morning nap when Lucas was about 14 months old. He didn’t drop it entirely until he was almost 23 months old. Did I mind? Not in the least. Would I have minded a cranky baby all morning or afternoon? For sure. Would I have minded difficult bedtimes due to an overtired baby? Of course.

This gradual approach ensures that baby still gets the sleep he needs while allowing for an easy transition to drop the nap.

Schedule examples

To spell it out more clearly, here’s how our schedule looked during the transition.

Transition months 1-3

Morning nap: 10:00-11:00

Afternoon nap: 1:00-3:00-ish

Night sleep: 7:00pm-8:00am

Transition months 4-6

Morning nap: 10:00-10:45

Afternoon nap: 12:45-2:45-ish

Night sleep: 7:00pm-8:00am

Transition months 7-9

Morning nap: 10:00-10:30

Afternoon nap: 12:30-2:30-ish

Night sleep: 7:00pm-8:00am

You’ll recognize that the time between Lucas’ afternoon nap and bedtime got longer and longer. He handled this well. I realize, however, that some might not. The alternative is to keep the afternoon nap at the same time regardless of the child’s optimal wake time. There is something to be said for babies who are used to falling asleep at the same time every afternoon no matter how the long the morning nap was.

Finally, be sure baby is waking up at the same time every morning. No matter the method, the nap transition will not go well at all if you allow baby to sleep in every morning to compensate for a lack of sleep. The afternoon nap is where you will allow him to sleep as long as he needs.

Questions?

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Filed under miscellaneous, prevention

Get some sleep!

Does your child get enough sleep? Do you? Many kids don’t get enough sleep, and it most certainly affects their behavior. As our kids get older, they need less sleep, and sometimes it’s easy to skip naps here and there when we want to be out having fun.

Does your child get enough sleep?

Here are some signs your child isn’t getting enough sleep:

  • He throws fits over insignificant events. Any little thing will send him over the edge.
  • His behavior is characteristically poor an hour or two before bed.
  • He wakes up in bad mood. (This is huge!)
  • He’d rather lie on the couch and watch TV than go outside to play.
  • He seems hyper before bed.
  • It takes him a long time to settle down for bed and naps.
  • It seems like he’s constantly trying to catch up on sleep.

Making sure our kids get enough sleep is one of the easiest and most important things we can do to ensure good behavior. Stay home for naps. Get him in bed early. Give him the gift of sleep. Your social life can wait a year or two.

Do you get enough sleep?

Sleep is just as important for mom and dad as it is for the child. I know first-hand how easy it is to stay up late to have some alone time while the kids are asleep. But when we don’t get enough sleep, we are much more likely to lose patience with our children. When we are well rested, we can react calmly and with authority when they misbehave. Plus, we are much more available to our kids when we have had enough sleep.

Here are some signs that you need more sleep:

  • You feel like you’re disciplining your child all day long. (Every little thing seems like a huge behavior issue.)
  • You know you should react calmly but can’t seem to manage your anger and frustration.
  • You feel like all your child does is need, need, need, want, want, want.
  • You know you should spend more time playing with your child, but you just don’t have the energy.
  • You realize you went through the day barely talking to your child.
  • All you want to do when you have a break from your child is rest.
  • You argue with your spouse about who gets to sleep in.

Now, if you’re up all night with a newborn and up all day with a toddler, you don’t have much opportunity to sleep. Just be aware of your need for sleep. Take a nap when you can and try your hardest to be more patient with your little ones.

But if your kids sleep through the night, you have no excuse. Allow yourself some “me” time, but don’t lose track of time. Go to bed and get up at a reasonable hour and you’ll all be better off.

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Choose your battles

Yet again, unfortunately, life has gotten in the way of my blog posting. But now that we’re back from vacation and the taxes are done (mostly), I’m ready to get back to the blog. Today’s topic: choosing battles vs. inconsistency.

After fielding a few questions on the topic, I’ve discovered that many parents are rigid with their children for fear of being inconsistent. They believe that they need to fight every battle, lest they lose their parental authority. Let me assure you that you really can choose your battles without losing your authority.

In fact, I recommend that you choose your battles. When you fight every battle, your home becomes a war zone. Your children grow up thinking you are unfair and too strict and will start talking back just to be heard. Eventually, as they get older, they rebel just to gain a bit of freedom.

Think before you speak

The key to choosing battles is to think before you speak. If you haven’t said a word to your child about a particular behavior, then you really can choose to let it go. But once you tell your child to stop doing what he’s doing, you must follow through.

Here’s an example of how you might choose your battles without losing your authority:

Your child is pulling every book off the shelf to see which one he wants to read. The shelf is bare and the books are spread out all over the floor. The mess starts to nag at you and you’re tempted to tell your child to stop and start putting all the books back.

But you stop yourself. You realize that free playtime isn’t over yet and he really can see the books better when he spreads them out. And you always want him to read more books, so you don’t want to discourage his newfound interest in books.

So you let it go. You don’t say a word. He can clean them up when playtime is over.

Inconsistency

Here’s how the same scenario might go for a parent who is too quick to speak and ends up being inconsistent:

The set-up is the same. The child is pulling every book off the shelf and spreading them out on the floor. The mess starts to nag at you and you immediately tell your child not to make such a mess. You tell him to start putting them back. He whines and tries to state his case that he can see the books better.

So you think that maybe he’s right. Maybe it is okay that he makes a mess in free play. Besides, you really do want to encourage his interest in books. So you decide that the mess is okay. You decide that you’re just choosing your battles, and that it’s okay not to follow through.

The minute you told him to put the books back, however, you lost your opportunity to choose your battles. You gave him a command and by not following through on that command, you are being inconsistent. Choosing your battles is all about not saying anything and letting a behavior go. Once you say a word, you have chosen to fight that battle.

Being consistent and maintaining authority is all about saying what you mean and meaning what you say. So if you want to be able to choose your battles, you need to stop yourself and really think before you speak. It won’t hurt anyone if you take a few seconds. If you end up regretting what you say (which has happened to me many times), you must still follow through.

The caveat

There is one caveat to choosing your battles. If your child willfully disobeys a house rule that he knows is a rule, you can’t choose to not fight that battle. Say your child is jumping on the couch (always a no-no) and you dealt with the behavior consistently five times that day, you can’t choose to let it go the sixth time.

If you let it go the sixth time, then he will think that you really didn’t mean it those five other times. Even if the behavior continues the next day (and you’re in a better mood or you got your coffee or whatever), you must still follow through. Your child won’t respect you or your rules if you don’t enforce them.

Choosing battles is for those little things in life that nag at you but that won’t harm anything or anyone in the long run. So be sure you think before you speak and allow yourself that time to decide whether you want to fight every battle or let it go.

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Set realistic expectations

One of the most important elements of good parenting is setting expectations. Some parents expect far too much of their children only to exasperate themselves and their children. Other parents expect far too little. I encourage you to constantly evaluate your expectations of your child.

Setting the bar
Many Ezzo parents are proud of the fact that they can expect relatively good behavior from their children. This stems from the fact that we often set the bar quite high. Yet some parents take this too far, setting the bar so high that it’s impossible for their children to reach it. This family finds themselves in constant struggle with children being disciplined regularly for goals that are simply unattainable.

On the other hand, some parents, permissive parents in particular, set the bar too low. They expect very little of their children and achieve exactly that. These parents are often just as frustrated, however, simply because of their children’s excessive misbehavior. The children of permissive parents don’t get off without frustrations of their own. While in their daily lives they escape discipline, they encounter certain situations where the parents decide to crack down. Typically, this is at a friend’s house or some other public location that has left permissive parents feeling so embarrassed they decide to take action. Their poor children don’t see it coming and are confused by the sudden change in the rules.

Find your happy medium between these two extremes. Set your bar high enough that you can expect good behavior and a solid moral conscience, but don’t set it so high that you exasperate yourself or your child.

Childishness vs. defiance
While setting the bar high will help improve your child’s behavior, we must not forget that they sometimes misbehave in innocence. Before disciplining your child, you must stop to think about the intent behind the misbehavior. You must determine whether the behavior was caused by simple childishness or whether the child was being defiant in his actions.

“We use the term childishness to refer to innocent immaturity. This includes those nonmalicious, nonrebellious, accidental mistakes our children make…. Defiance, on the other hand, implies bad motives. The child knew the act was wrong but did it anyway. Childishness is usually a head problem—a lack of knowledge. Defiance is usually a heart problem—the child does not want to do right,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 132).

Clearly, defiance deserves correction. Childishness, however, must be treated differently. While childish acts can be just as grating on a parent’s nerves, they cannot be treated in the same way. Simply explain to your child why his actions were wrong so you give him the knowledge for next time. If he makes the same mistake again (and if it’s not a true accident), then the act deserves correction. If your child clearly understands your instruction and commits the offense again, the act moves from childishness to defiance.

Expectations change
One final note about setting expectations is to realize that they will—and should—change as your child gets older. Some actions will be treated as childishness with a young child, but the same actions in an older child are defiance. Yes, you must still tell your child what you expect of him, but also at some point he becomes old enough to know better.

Say you struggle with table manners with your toddler. In many ways, his actions (getting food all over his face, choosing to use his hands over utensils, etc.) are childish. But if you saw these same actions in a five-year-old, you would treat them as defiance. An older child has the capacity to use his utensils and keep food in his mouth—not to mention use a napkin—so if he acts like a toddler at the table, his actions must be corrected.

Be aware of this as your child ages and make sure you are moving your expectations and setting the bar higher and higher. And take the time right now to make sure your expectations are in the right place for today. You don’t want to discipline your child excessively nor do you want to set the bar too low. Take the time to figure out where your child’s bar belongs.

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Where’s the discipline?

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you may be wondering why I haven’t discussed discipline or correction ideas. Until now, most of my posts have been about the theoretical fundamentals that make up the Ezzo parenting series.

So why has it taken me so long to discuss discipline and correction methods? Well, aside from the fact that I don’t post as often as I’d like to, true followers of the Ezzo principles must have the basics under their belts before they can correct their children in good conscience.

Train yourself first
If you are new to the Ezzos or are starting with older children, you may have skipped straight to the discipline chapters in the books. I know I did! I felt like I needed to get my son’s behaviors in line and I needed to do it ASAP. I figured all the rest could wait until later.

But it doesn’t work that way. If you believe in the Ezzos’ teachings, you must work on yourself first. You need to change your habits. You need to change your perception of your child’s misbehaviors. You need to formulate a plan.

Prevention is key
You may have clued into the fact that the Ezzo principles are all about prevention. All of the work you put into your parenting and your marriage will prevent misbehavior from your child. Before learning about the Ezzos, our life looked something like this: 80% frustration, 15% discipline (mostly in the form of yelling, threatening and repeating) and 5% prevention. Today, it looks like this: 90% prevention, 9% discipline and 1% frustration. (I think even the most perfect parents get frustrated with their children at some point.)

Fundamentals
To recap my earlier posts, here is how you go about preventing misbehavior:

  • Put your marriage first. Do couch time, go out on dates, and make time for yourselves.
  • Make sure your child knows he is not the center of the universe. See my posts on child-centered parenting.
  • Create and follow a schedule. Do this even if your child is in school six hours a day.
  • Do non-conflict training. Make sure your child knows what is expected of him and don’t confuse him. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  • Don’t repeat yourself. Don’t allow yourself to become a threatening, repeating parent. It happens to the best of us, so make a conscious effort to avoid it.
  • Make sure you have your child’s attention when you are talking and especially when you are giving an instruction. Getting eye contact and having him say “yes, mommy” are crucial.
  • And most of all, love, encourage and praise your child.

Follow the tags on the right or do a search to review my posts on these principles.

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Filed under first-time obedience, parenting philosophy, prevention