Friday, November 18, 2011

Unconditional Parenting

"(As parents), we may be tempted to focus our energies on overcoming children's resistance to our requests and getting them to do what we tell them.  If we are not careful, this can become our primary goal.  We may find ourselves joining all those people around us who prize docility in children and value short-term obedience above all."

So, I finished the latest parenting book on my list: Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, and it was very interesting!  In the first few pages of the book, he said some things that I have used in arguments myself, so immediately I was interested.   He began by talking about what traits in children our society seems to value.  What does it usually mean when you say someone is "good?"  Well, if one is talking about an adult, it might mean kind-hearted, ethical, or honorable.  However, when talking about a child, he observes, all too often it means well-behaved, or sometimes nothing more than "quiet, or, perhaps, not a pain in the butt to me."  It seems that traits that many parents say they want to foster in their children, such as curiosity, creativity, independence, and compassion are not actually valued in children by our society, at least not as much as being quiet and having "manners."

 However, as I read on, he began to explain his main argument, which is one that I had never even heard before: that a system of punishments and rewards (including spanking, time-outs, money, verbal praise, etc.) is simply not an effective way of parenting.  It kind of blew my mind.

We know from the work of B.F. Skinner that rewards foster favorable behaviors and punishments discourage unfavorable behaviors.  However, Skinner's work only took behavior into account, not things like desires, fears, or feelings.  Kohn's argument is that behavior is not what parents should be focusing on.  We should be focusing on our long-term goals for our children: what kind of adults do we want them to become?

Some things in this book may be difficult to read, much less accept, for many parents, myself included.  Okay, so you are saying that not only is spanking bad (which most people already know), but time-outs are bad, too? Wait - even praising your child for good behavior is bad??!! This is too much! However, he really does make a compelling argument.

I guess he really has two main points to make in arguing against rewards and punishments:

The first is that when we give rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad behavior, we are basically telling our kids that we only love them when they exhibit good behavior   He called this conditional love.  Now, he is not arguing that we actually do love our kids any less when they misbehave, nor that we want them to think this.  He is arguing that this is how the mind of a child may perceive it, and that the child's perception is all that really matters.  

The second is that punishments and rewards move the focus of the consequences of one's actions from other people to the child himself, so the child becomes more self-centered and less able to empathize with others.  For example, if a child receives a time-out every time he hits someone, he very well may stop hitting people, but it will likely be that he stops the behavior only to avoid a time-out - he only cares about what is going to happen to him.  Kohn argues that if, instead, the child is engaged in dialogue about his actions and asked to try and see the situation from his victim's point of view, that he will learn to not hit people because it hurts them, and he will develop a desire not to hurt others.

While I am not completely convinced of these two arguments, they seem to make sense and are certainly are worth investigating further.  There is one chapter of the book which offers alternatives to a system of punishments and rewards, and it was my favorite chapter - I agreed with almost all of the advice he gave, so I will talk about that in my next post.  If anyone out there is raising their children without punishments and rewards, I would love to hear your input!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"I turned out just fine!"

This is just a little rant.  One of my pet peeves is when someone says, "My parents did (such and such), and I turned out just fine!"  Oh really?  How, exactly do you define "just fine?"  If you mean that you are an happy and fulfilled  person who finds joy in life and you are a joy to be around, you are responsible, compassionate, and creative; that you would be ecstatic if your children turned out to be exactly like you, then I guess your parents did a great job and you should follow in their footsteps.  However, if by "just fine," you mean little more than that you are employed, not a drug addict or a criminal, or mentally ill, then personally, I don't want my kids to turn out "just fine!"  I want so much more for them!

 I don't want them to have my faults and insecurities.  I don't want them to feel like something is missing from their life, like they have to constantly search for happiness.  I think the claim of "I turned out just fine" is a cop out.  People use it when they either don't want to admit their parents may have made mistakes, or probably more often, when they don't want to admit that they may be making mistakes , or spend the time and effort to find a better way of doing things.

We all make mistakes, but what makes a good parent is being able to admit this to ourselves and to search for better ways of doing things.  Being a good parent isn't about your beliefs.  Good parenting is a process.  It is constantly learning, growing, changing, developing, experimenting.  You don't become a good parent by reading a book or changing a behavior.  You become a good parent by raising your kids, and hopefully looking back and saying, "I wasn't perfect, but I did the best that I could," - and really meaning that.  Even if our kids don't turn out the way you hope or expect, we may never really know if it was because of or in spite of what we did as parents.  All we can do is try our best, and decide not to settle for "just fine."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cultivating a good life

"Cultivating a good life"

I ran across this phrase recently and it really resonated with me.  I love the idea that having a good life takes forethought and planning as well as tender daily care, just like cultivating a garden.  I like to think that we are each given "seeds", and we don't know what most of them will grow into, but the way we care for them determines how bountiful our lives will be.  We only have so much control - we can't grow a watermelon from a tomato seed.  Seldom can we rush things along without sacrificing something in the process.  Some people may be dealt a very bad "hand" of seeds, while others are very lucky to get a good "hand."  Some people may only be interested in the "crop yield", but they miss out on the best part - watching the growth and development that comes from all their hard work and attention.  Sometimes we work really hard and forces beyond our control may thwart our efforts, but we can't let the droughts and locusts of life prevent us from carrying on continually trying to make our lives and ourselves better.  Okay, so maybe I got a little carried away with this analogy . . . but anywho . . .

So, how does one cultivate a good life, exactly?  Well, that is obviously going to be different for everyone, but I think at the core is defining your purpose in life and working each day to fulfill that purpose.  And I believe one's purpose can and does change.  Each of us may feel we have several purposes in life at any given time, or maybe the same few throughout life, but different ones move to the forefront at different times, or maybe there is just one big one - each of us must define this for ourselves.

Right now in my life, being a mother is my purpose.  I have other roles, certainly, but raising my sons and taking care of my family is central.  Everything else hinges upon that.  So, for me cultivating a good life means making decisions every day with the whole family in mind - myself, my children, and my husband.

This is not about being selfless or self-sacrificing.  I must be as dedicating to taking care of myself, physically and emotionally, as I am to them.  I must be calm and happy to help cultivate calm and happiness in them, and I must value my own happiness as much as I value theirs.  And, caring for them is actually part of what makes me happy, so it is all like a big circle really.
When I think about cultivating a good life, I feel a sense of peace and a sense of excitement.  There is so much to be done and so many surprises in store for us!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Respecting the pace of the developing child

Is there anything we don't feel the need to hurry? Anything we don't feel the need to enrich, improve      upon, advance, or compete over?  While we haven't figured out a way around the nine month gestation  period, once that baby is born, its childhood seems to be "fair" game for acceleration.
                                                                                                                - Kim John Payne

As parents, we want the best for our children. We want so much for them. We want them to be smart, talented, compassionate. We want them to have self-esteem.  We want to give them every opportunity to grow into their best possible selves.

Unfortunately, I think we often get so caught up in these feelings, fueled by our profound love for them, that we want to do it all now, as soon and as fast as possible.  We often see books, toys, DVDs and products, which are marketed to us as "developmental," and we think we should get as many of these things as possible to teach our children, to enrich them, and give them a "head start."

I know I have done this plenty of times with my now 5 year old son.  We had Baby Einstein DVDs, books on every imaginable subject, toys that sing the ABCs and teach addition and subtraction, and flash cards.  We started him in pre-school shortly after he turned two.  We put him in gymnastics at three and soccer at four. I was so anxious for him to learn in every way, and proud when he learned things "early." We became frustrated when potty-training took "so long."  Impressed with his pre-reading and writing skills, I had high hopes that he would be reading at age four.   I wanted him to have every opportunity to get a head start, intellectually, emotionally, socially.  All of these things, I did out of love, and also I'll admit a little for myself as well.  Many parents, I believe, hinge their "success" as parents on the "success" of their children.   However, I never really stopped to consider if faster and sooner was actually better.

"Childhood has its own mysterious processes, its own pace." -Kim John Payne

Children learn at an amazingly fast rate about the world around them every day.  Just think about the complexity of everything they are learning from what different things feel like to the touch, to how to control the different muscles in their bodies, to what different facial expressions mean, to how other people respond to their actions.  These are essential lessons that are learned by being able to experience these things in their world over and over again.  I believe that when we try to control and direct their learning too much that surely other more basic aspects of learning must suffer in some way.

 Have you seen the product called "Your Baby Can Read"?  When I first saw this product, I thought "hmmm - I wonder if that works." Now, when  think about this product, I think, "How ridiculous!  Why on Earth would a baby need to know how to read, and who would want to spend these precious months trying to teach a baby such a thing?!"  Surely, there are much more important and enjoyable things that should be happening during the first couple years of a persons life!

I remember how anxious I was for Aiden to become potty-trained.  We used a sticker chart to reward him for using the potty. We put underwear on him and let him wet his pants very day for a couple weeks when we were tired of using pull-ups.  Now, I think "Why were we in such a rush?"  I bet if we hadn't used stickers or tried to rush the process, that it probably wouldn't have taken much longer than it did, and probably would have been a lot less stressful.  I think with Owen, I will take a more relaxed approach. It will happen eventually - he won't be going to Kindergarten in diapers!!

I think the most important thing to keep in mind when teaching children is to follow their lead.  Children are naturally curious, and they will let you know when they are ready to learn a new skill.  I am not saying wait until a child asks you specifically to use the potty or to learn the ABCs.  Offer them opportunities to do these things and then let them control the pace.

"Simplifying  . . . acknowledges how a child comes to understand the world - through play and interaction, not through adult concerns and information.  The pressure is off when childhood is no longer seen as an "enrichment opportunity," but instead as an unfolding experience." - Kim John Payne

I think when we rush our children through their stages of development, we take some of the joy out of being a child and out of being a parent.  I still want my children to have every opportunity to become their best selves, I am just beginning to believe that perhaps the way to do that is with less, rather than more.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Saying "No Thanks!" to TV for young children

As parents, we are constantly bombarded by the media and peer pressure about ways to make our children smarter - to the point that we often ignore the people and institutions that really know what is best for children.  For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics (as well as almost every specialist in child development) suggests than babies under two years old watch no television, at all, and that older kids watch very little, and also limit all screen use.  Yet, as a society, we largely ignore this.  

 I have always believed in limiting screen time to some degree, but I was always more worried about content.  We don't have cable, and when we did, Aiden only watched Noggin or DVDs such as Baby Einstein or Elmo's World, so I didn't have to worry about him seeing commercials or anything inappropriate.  TV was a part of our mornings for a long time. He was an early riser, and I admit that I used it as a babysitter while I got a little more rest on the couch.  He also often watched up to an hour in the afternoons.  I thought, "Surely if I only let him watch educational shows, with no commercials, for just an hour or two a day, it won't be harmful." This is simply not true.  Every parenting book I have read warns that TV really is very detrimental for children - and not only because of things like  violence, marketing targeted toward kids, and the fact that it fosters a sedentary, and therefore, physically unhealthy lifestyle.

Researchers have determined that babies, up to age 2, need 3 types of stimuli to optimize brain growth:

 1- Interaction with parents and other human beings
 2- Opportunities to manipulate their environment (to touch, feel, and move things)
 3- "Problem-solving" activities, such as figuring out object permanence (games like peek-a-boo)

TV provides none of these stimuli.  In fact, in Simplicity Parenting, Payne states, "Multiple studies have now concluded that watching TV, even such educational programs as Sesame Street, actually delays language development." Hearing someone on TV sing the ABCs is actually not the same as hearing someone do so in real life.  The language centers of the brain only light up on a brain scan if they are spoken by a human rather than a recording!

Television and other screens have detrimental effects on older children as well.  Dmitri Christakis, a researcher at Children's Hospital states, "We think that with continued exposure to high intensity, unrealistic action, you're conditioning the mind to expect that level of input."  Real life, in comparison, can seem quite slow, and children can respond with boredom and inattentiveness.

I can attest to this personally.   When we moved, we got rid of cable, and we started to explore our new city.  We were busy all the time, and rarely watched any TV.  Then it got hot, we ran out of things to do, and couldn't play outside with the heat, so I started letting Aiden watch more TV and play more video games - a lot more.  I could tell a difference in him - his attention span did seem shorter, and he got very upset when I did limit his screen time.  I knew this was not good, but between dealing with my own fatigue and always feeling like I had to keep him entertained, I continued to allow it.  This went on for about 2 months.  Then, one day, I asked him to draw a picture for his grandfather, who was having surgery.  He has always loved to draw, so I thought he'd enjoy it.  I kept asking him, several times, throughout the day, and he kept saying he would do it later. Twice, he actually sat down and tried to start, but couldn't.  He couldn't think of what to draw nor could he sit still long enough to actually do it! I  finally got him to do it just before bedtime.  That was it. I knew I had to do something.  So, now he has a 30 minute screen time limit per day.  He usually chooses to play on my phone, but he's gotten so used to not having screen time, that some days he doesn't even ask for it. Now he has started Kindergarten, as well, so a lot of his time is occupied, and that, of course, helps.

Owen, my 17 month old has never watched a lot of TV, but after all the reading I have done, I have decided that he doesn't need any.  If Aiden or Hunter are playing a video game, I let him watch, and sometimes I show him short home movie clips of himself on my phone, but that's pretty much it.  At first, he would sometimes point at the TV and cry, but I held my ground, and now he has forgotten that it is an option.

I have also been trying to limit the amount of time I use screens in front of my children. I only watch TV after bedtime anyway, but I try to use my phone and the computer when they are napping/at school, or after they go to bed.  I admit it is challenging, having gotten used to checking my email, Facebook, and Words with Friends several times a day, but I know it won't be long before Aiden will be able to call me out on my hypocrisy! Besides, they are sooo many better things to do with my time during the day!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Too much stuff

The first area Payne talks about in Simplicity Parenting is the child's environment. This is often the easiest area to make changes in - it is certainly the one I was most eager to tackle. In  fact, I had already begun to do this before reading this book.

There are many arguments that can be made against having too many toys, not least among them that children will gain a sense of entitlement.  Some may argue that it is ecologically irresponsible. Some say it's a waste of money. These are all valid arguments, but Payne is only interested in speaking about how it affects the child.  He does mention the entitlement issue, but his main concern goes beyond that.  Basically, he believes that when children are surrounded by too many toys, books, clothes, etc., that it is overstimulating.  "Too much stuff," he says, "deprives kids of leisure and the ability to explore their worlds deeply."  If a child is surrounded by 150 toys (as the average American child is at any given time), he will likely play with one toy for a few minutes, then move on to the next, and the next, and the next, never getting full enjoyment out of any one of them.  He may even feel so overwhelmed, he doesn't really play with any of them.  Also, when a child has so many toys, he often undervalues all of them, perhaps thinking, "I have so many of these that none of them are special - I must need something else."

He also talks about how young children are such tactile beings that they want to touch, feel, throw, and sort everything.  "Imagine the sensory overload when every closet, drawer, and surface is filled with stuff."

He says this about the nature of children's play:

No special toys or quantity of toys is necessary to develop a child's imagination.  Children use and grow their imaginations quite naturally.  They need only time to do so.

  He believes that reducing the number of toys a child has leads to increased attention span and capacity for deep, imaginative play.

In addition, he talks about the types of toys that may foster or hinder imagination.  When getting rid of toys he suggests the first to go are the "exploding disasters." (I love that term!) These are the loud, obnoxious toys that all parents seem to hate. They may "whir, talk, gyrate, or detonate."  He suggests keeping a mix of both active toys (for digging, building, construction, etc.) and receptive toys like dolls and stuffed animals, as well as some art supplies.

He also talks about drastically reducing your child's books.  At first, I was taken aback by this, until I realized he was only suggesting nutting most of them in storage and rotating them out, so that there were only a dozen or so out at a time.  This way, your child can read and re-read each book several times over the course of, say, a month.  He suggests doing the same with toys, having fewer out than stored.  I think it is a good idea.

So, what did this mean for me?  Over the past month, I have gotten rid of over half of my sons' toys.  They have not yet missed a single one!  In fact, I mentioned something to Aiden (my 5 year old) about how now we can find things better, since I gave some of the toys away, and he said, but that makes me sad because I miss my toys when you give them away." I said, "Oh really? Which toys do you miss?"  "What did you give away?" he responded.  He could not think of a single toy that he missed.  I gave away most of the battery-operated toys, all the cheap plastic pieces of crap, some cars, some stuffed animals.  I put most of the extensive Beanie Baby collection from Granny in a bin in the closet.  I put most of the probably 200 books in the closet, leaving about 40 out on the bookshelf.  I bought some little baskets at Salvation Army (8 for $7) to help with organization.  We know where all the toys are now. It looks and feels great!  It's not as simplified as Payne would have it, but it is much better than it was before. Now if I could only get my own space simplified . . .

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

I finished this book last night, and I really can't say enough good things about it!  The author  has a master's in education, specializing in Waldorf.  He has worked as a school counselor for 18 years and as a family counselor-therapist for 15.  He did some work in refugee camps in Asia, and has done most of his work in the UK and the US.
This book shares many of the same basic ideas that the last two books I read (Beyond the Rainbow Bridge and Living Simply with Children).  However, this book takes the best of those books combined, without inserting a lot of personal opinions, and instead explains why parents should do certain things based solely on the author's knowledge of child development.  I really like a book that is backed up by concrete research, and this one is.

Payne believes that our society today is raising kids with:

Too much stuff
Too many choices
Too much information
Too fast

He believes that growing up like this has many negative consequences for children that will affect them both now and as adults, including raised cortisol (stress hormone) levels, a sense of entitlement, difficulties in making decisions, difficulties with paying attention, a lessened ability to be adaptable to new situations, less security, less imagination, and  overall, fewer feelings of well-being and inner peace.

His solution is to simplify in these four corresponding areas:

1- Environment - primarily this deals with reducing the number of toys and books surrounding your child, thereby reducing the choices they must make on a daily basis
2- Rhythm- creating a rhythm do your days, weeks, and seasons, so that children gain a sense of security - they know what to expect and who is in charge
3-Schedules- creating a healthy balance between organized activities, free, unstructured play, and rest
4 - Filtering out the adult world - limiting media exposure as well as adult conversations

There is a lot to be discussed here, so I want to break it up into more than one post. In the next few days I will go more in depth into each of these areas and will share how I have begun to implement them in my own home.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Eco-friendly toy of the day: Smiling Tree toys

So, I was going to choose one of these toys for today's post, but I just couldn't decide! I love these beautiful, all-natural, organic wooden toys.  This family-owned business donates a percentage of their profits to youth developmental programs, as well. The toys are a bit on the pricey side (the 4 shown range from $26 to $48), but will no doubt be a special and long-lasting gift for any child.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Waldorf - inspired toys

Since reading about the Waldorf philosophy, I have been looking at Waldorf style toys. I hit the jackpot on Etsy! These are such beautiful, magical toys.  As a child, I know I would love to have been surrounded by a fantasy world filled with these things.  In fact, I think I would still love it!

Eco-friendly toy of the day: Handmade Knit Octopus Rattle

I love handmade gifts.  Here is another gem from Etsy, this adorable rattle is knit from 100% cotton. It is machine washable (yay!) and the eyes are safety eyes, so you don't have to worry about them being chewed off by baby.  I love that it uses richer colors, rather than the traditional pastels or primaries. A perfect little gift for any new baby.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

My favorite children's books: Old Turtle

I love children's books, and lately I have weeding out some books from our library and searching for new ones to add.  I generally select books based on  wonderful illustrations, relevant messages, and educational elements, but most importantly, books that are fun to read! So, I would love to share some of my old favorites, as well as new favorites that I discover.
First on the list: Old Turtle.  I came across this book at Barnes and Noble a couple years before I had my first child. I fell in love with it, but had no reason to buy it at the time, so I decided to just keep it mind for later.  Well, I should have known that my mind was not going to remember the title, because I promptly forgot it!  After Aiden was born, I spent a couple of years trying to find it, searching in vague terms with no luck.  Then, about a year ago, I came across this book on Amazon.  It looked right up my ally, so I ordered it.  When I received it, I realized it was the book I had been searching for!
Old Turtle is a beautiful fable about how seeing through one another's eyes, we can learn to live in peace and harmony.  The illustrations are lovely watercolors, and while it doesn't rhyme, you can tell it was written by a poet.  The descriptions are as rich and beautiful as the illustrations.  I really can't do the book justice. You just have to read it for yourself.  When I got this book, Aiden was a bit young to understand it.  However, he has surprised me - at 5 years old, this is one of his favorites, as well.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Eco-friendly toy of the day: Junior Ramp Racer

My boys love anything that has to do with cars! We actually have a plastic toy similar to this, but I actually think this one would be more fun.  The cars are smaller, and it has one more "ramp" than ours. I found this at It is painted with watercolor-based paints, and for every tree used, the manufacturer plants three more!

Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing our children from birth to seven

 Well, I just finished this book and it was very interesting. It was not quite what I was expecting, but it was well worth the read. It explains the Waldorf philosophy of how to nurture young children, which I knew nothing about. (I did not realize this was even the subject matter of the book until I began to read it.)
            In the Waldorf philosophy, the 3 cornerstones to raising happy, healthy, and capable children are:
1-   An understanding of children’s development – so that we don’t ask too much or too little of our children as they grow
2-    An understanding of the important of physical and emotional warmth for growth and development of children
3-   An awareness of the importance of daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms in our children’s lives

I couldn’t agree more with the first cornerstone.  When we don’t understand the way a child develops, mentally and emotionally, we often expect too much of them, or sometimes, too little.  For example, expecting your 18 month old to not touch dangerous or precious items is asking too much. They want and need to touch everything. We simply put these objects out of their reach. Or, asking a 2 1/2 year old, "What did you do today?"  They do not yet have the capacity to just remember the events of the day with out a visual or other cue to associate the memory with.  Or, expecting a child who is cold, hungry, or tired to be able to mind and perform tasks.  Young children must first have their physical needs met.  They can’t ignore pain or hunger.
That being said, I don’t agree with the degree to which Waldorf holds back information from children until they deem them old enough to handle it.   Surely, we should protect our children from a lot of information in this world.  A pre-schooler does not need to know about all the suffering in the world, for example, but I don’t believe it hurts for to teach them math concepts and pre-reading and writing skills.  Waldorf delays teaching reading until children are 7!  The teacher in this book says not to give children too many facts. For example if a young child asks why the sun has gone away and it’s dark now, she believes a good answer is to say that “Father Sun has gone to sleep.  He will wake up again in the morning.”  I can’t imagine telling my child that!  When they ask a question, we should give them an answer with some truth to it!
The Waldorf philosophy puts great emphasis on the importance of imaginative play for children. It advocates the use of only very simple toys such as simple dolls, carved wooden animals, baskets of stones and shells, silk and cotton cloths, simple dress-up clothes, and wooden blocks - things that a child can pretend are different things at different times.  It also talks about how having too many toys can be overwhelming for a child, and often they won't play with any of them, or they will develop a short attention span, moving from one thing to the next without getting much enjoyment from any one toy.  I think having simple toys and not too many toys is great.  However, I think it is also great to have some toys that teach concepts, as well, like in Montessori. 

The second cornerstone is a bit out there for me. So, it is important to keep you child warm. Ok – common sense – we don’t want them to be cold, of course.  However, their reasoning behind it is weird - that being cold interferes with proper organ development and that it can lead to a child who closes himself off and has trouble receiving emotional warmth later in life.  I just don’t buy that.
This book speaks of how young children's systems are much more sensitive than adults' to things such as noise (loud noise or background noise, especially), scents, cold, etc.  They believe that if the senses are overloaded it can cause a child to withdraw.  I think there may be some truth to this, at least for some highly sensitive children. I do think we should limit artificial noise like TV for small children.  I know I feel agitated when I am somewhere with a TV that is too loud or that is on and I am not actively watching it, so I am sure young children often feel that way too.  Of course TV is a whole other topic!  Waldorf equates it to a “poison,” but I will discuss that at another time.

I do agree with the third cornerstone, that rhythms are important in a child’s life.  Children do like to know what to expect and to have a daily and weekly routine, and traditions that are the same every year for holidays, for example.  However, I don’t think it is necessarily important to have a set day for things like laundry and other household chores, as the author advocates.  In this day and age, flexibility is key, even when you have your set routines to guide you.
            I particularly liked the section on creative discipline. It offers ways to deal with children that do not include scolding, yelling, or criticizing.  One example of discipline that I thought made a lot of sense was that if a child is playing violently or too rough, the cure is real work. Have him help in the garden. Activities like digging, carrying things, etc. - things that have a goal in the end and require physical, rewarding work are the best ways to get the aggression out.  Punishments, whether they be spanking, scolding, or a time out, don't help the situation.
The book also says not to ask children to do things, but tell them. They don't need to think they have a choice, when they actually don't.  They need clear communication, not confusing requests. "You may put your dishes in the sink now." is much better than "Will you please go put your dishes in the sink?"  It also warns against giving too many choices. Young children are easily overwhelmed - it often works out better to not offer any choices or just to offer two. Children who are consistently offered too many choices may have trouble making choices later in life, or may become self-centered and not as in tune to the needs of others. 
I can say, from my experience, that my son does have trouble if I give him too many choices.  Some days I make him breakfast, give him his clothes to wear, and pack his lunch, all without asking him what he wants, and he’s fine with it.  Some days I say, “Do you want oatmeal or a waffle?”  “Tuna sandwich or tuna and crackers?” or “Blue shirt or red one?”  But I learned never to say, “What do you want for lunch today?” because he will either take a really long time deciding or will get upset because he can’t decide.  He’s had huge meltdowns just because he couldn’t make a decision.
I think it is important to learn to prevent difficult situations as much as possible.  One suggestion in this book is that with very young children, rather than, say, telling them to clean their room, having them say no, telling them more firmly, having them say no more firmly . . . Simply say, "It's time to clean up," and the two of you go together and do it.  The "no" phase is a normal part of child development and this makes this phase easier on everyone.
One of the book's final points is that any teacher (parents, included) must constantly work on self-discipline if we are to teach discipline to children. "The growing and developing in the child listens to the growing and developing in the teacher." Becoming a better parent is a constant struggle, not something that is accomplished after reading a few books. I am taking this advice to heart.
So, all in all, a pretty good read. Some of the reasoning in this book seems a bit out there, and perhaps outdated.  If you can get past that, and take the suggestions at face value and the reasoning with a grain of salt, I think it has some great ideas.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Eco-friendly toy of the day: Vintage wood block puzzle

I suppose the ultimate green toy is a used toy.  Vintage - even better. One that you have fond memories of as a child - quite possibly irresistible. I came across a Melissa and Doug wooden block puzzle on Amazon and was immediately reminded of one that my grandparents had at their house when I was a child. I played with it every time I visited. I remember there were cows on one side, horses on another, and I imagine there were some other farm animals or scenes on the remaining four sides.  So, I started my search on eBay, but ended up finding the one in the best condition for the best price on Etsy  (I LOVE Etsy, by the way).  It even has farm animals, although it is not the same one I had as a child. I couldn't resist - I bought it. I will probably tuck it away for Christmas.  I highly suggest the use of eBay, Craig's list, and Etsy for Christmas. You will save money, do something good for the environment, and find lots of unique gifts that you just can't find in stores.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

For Small Hands

Although I haven't featured a toy yet from this site, I certainly will be doing so in the future. is a site for Montessori materials.  I am a big supporter of the Montessori program for pre-school. My older son was in the program for 2 1/2 years and I really feel like he got so much out of it (and so did I).  I have ordered several things from this website, and will be getting more.  They have all sorts child-size tools, such as mops, brooms and kitchen utensils. They have musical instruments, books, puzzles, and so much more.  They use natural materials like wood for many of their products. They have over 150 products for under $10! It it a very reasonably priced site! So, check it out:

Eco-friendlt toy of the day: Haba wooden play food with basket

When my oldest son turned two, my mother gave him a play kitchen with a huge assortment of play food. He has played and played with his kitchen and food, but much to my surprise, my younger son has played even more with the food!  As soon as he could sit up, he loved to empty and refill the basket and look at, touch, and chew on all the different colors and textures of food.  I decided to search for an eco-friendly alternative to the plastic play food we have.  I finally found this one by Haba - they make so many great, cute wood toys.  Some are a bit expensive, but this set is pretty reasonable at about $30.  Check out the rest of this website - it is filled with great eco-friendly toys:

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ec-friendly toy of the day: Rolling Snail Sorter

Wow - it's a pull toy and a shape sorter all in one!  All wood and very colorful, this is a great toy for toddlers. has a lot of great eco-friendly toys.  They also have an equally adorable turtle pull toy that doubles as a stacking toy.

Living Simply with Children

   One of the first books I decided to read in my recent quest to becoming a better parent was Living Simply with Children: A voluntary simplicity guide for moms, dads, and kids who want to reclaim the bliss of childhood and the joy of parenting.  This book is as much an introduction to the concept of simple living as it is a parenting resource.  So, what is simple living?  The author, Marie Sherlock says, "Simple living begins when people become conscious of their values and live congruently with them, whatever they may be."  Sherlock interviewed many simple living families, and gave this list as some of the most common values of these families:

Compassion         Generosity           Respect for people and the earth      Responsibility
Love                    Understanding     Social justice
Charity                 Cooperation        Non-materialism
Family                  Peace                  Kindness
Tolerance             Diversity             Honesty

Topics that she discusses in this book include spending both quality and quantity time with your children, teaching your children money management, coping with peer pressure (both adult and child), caring for the earth, the effects of marketing and television on children, schooling options, and ways to make the holidays more meaningful.

She identifies the following as obstacles to simple living:

- Marketing aimed at kids and parents, indoctrinating them with the belief that happiness can be     purchased
- Age-innapropriate and violent media
- The peer pressure of a society that believes more is better
- Over-scheduling of children and adults
- Practices that harm the environment and, consequently, children's futures
- The commercialization of schools
- The sheer excess that has become the norm in America

I would say that the concept really at the heart of this book is living according to your own values rather than the values of the consumer culture.  Sherlock suggests that if you want to begin living simply, to have a family meeting where you brainstorm and come up with a list of values that is important to your family. Then, have another meeting where you figure out how to practice these values in your daily life.

This book is full of resources, which I am anxious to explore.  It recommends other books,magazines, and websites about simple living, simplifying the holidays, caring for the earth, and managing money, children's books that can help teach values, and organizations to look into for volunteering in your community.  I got a lot out of this book, I will discuss some the ideas in more detail in future posts, but I just wanted to give an overview of this book for anyone who is interested

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Eco-friendly toy of the day: Schylling Panda's Pick Bamboo Builders

Wood blocks are a great toy for all kids.  They will get used!  Traditional Lincoln Logs are fun and already pretty eco-friendly, but these bamboo builders are even more so.  Made of organic bamboo, a very sustainable material, there are no plastic pieces. Even the container is not plastic, unlike a traditional Lincoln Logs tub. (I'm not sure of the material, but it appears to be a paper product, similar to a poster tube.)  Note that this toy has small pieces, so it is not for kids under 3.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Three Questions

I have devoted a lot of time over the last several years thinking about my purpose in life. What can I do to make this world a better place?  I don't feel a need to be known or remembered in some great way, but I would like to feel like I have made some positive difference in this hurting world.  It is really quite overwhelming when you begin to look deeply into the great suffering in the world. I think, "Where to begin?" and "How can I even begin to make a dent?"

A few months ago, I came across a children's book that helped me put things in perspective. It is called The Three Questions and is is based on a story by Leo Tolstoy.  In the book, a young boy is pondering how to be a good person. He is searching for answers to three questions:

When is the best time to do things?
Who is the most important one?
What is the right thing to do?

During his quest, he happens upon an injured panda bear and her cub and rescues them from certain death. With the help of a wise old turtle, he realizes how important it was that he was there at the right place and time.  The turtle tells him,
"Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing to do is to do good for the one who is standing by your side."

This really struck me. While I have always believed that family is the first priority and that raising my children is the most important thing I will ever do in my life, I guess I felt like maybe that was not enough.  However, I am beginning to feel that it is.  That doesn't mean that I won't help other people. It just means that my life energy will be spent close to home. We don't have to look far to do good. There are always opportunities to help people right at your doorstep.

 So, I will give to charity. I will volunteer in my community. I will let my kids see what I do and hope that they live their lives in a way that helps others as well.  But, I won't be searching high and low for ways to help the most people. I will focus on helping individuals.

I am reminded of the tier system of waiting tables at the restaurant where I worked for several years. First priority: take care of your tables. Second priority: take care of your neighbors' tables. Third priority: take care of all the tables in the restaurant. It may seem like a silly analogy, but I think it can work in our lives.  Do all we can for the people we love. When they are taken care of, do for the people in our own community. When we feel we've done what we can there, help strangers and people we may never meet.

When I think about my life in this context, I feel that I have great worth, and that is essential in achieving peace within one's self.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Eco-friendly toy of the day: Green Toys Recycling Truck

As part of my simple living campaign, I have decided to pare down the toys in our home, getting rid of many of the battery-powered things, as well as just reducing the amount, in general.  There are several reasons I wanted to do this. One is simply to reduce clutter.  My kids don't play with all their toys because there is just too much to choose from.  Another reason is that I don't want them to think that they or anyone needs so many toys (because they don't!)  Also, I want them to play with toys that encourage them to use their imaginations and toys that encourage learning. Finally, I want to be more environmentally responsible.  So, I have been searching for more appropriate toys. I don't feel like we need any more right now, but as we get rid of more toys, and as Christmas approaches, I would like to have a few things picked out for them, and I would like to have some ideas for gifts for other children, as well.  Since I am beginning to find some really neat eco-friendly, imagination-friendly toys, I have decided to start a "green toy of the day" piece.  These are not toys that I own, so I can't review them, but I hope to purchase some of them in the future for my boys or as gifts, so I will be able to add some reviews later.  Please share any great toys you have found, especially if they are eco-friendly!

So, here is my first Green Toy of the Day!

Green Toys Recycling Truck 

What little boy doesn't like to play with a truck?  Even most little girls I've met enjoy playing with my kids' cars and trucks.  This cool truck is made of 100% recycled milk cartons! The fact that it is a recycling truck, as well, gives it extra points for being green, but they also have a dump truck and fire truck that are just as cute! They are nice and big, and I am thinking of getting one for my 17 month old for Christmas.  It sells on Amazon for about $20.

Enter Sandman

There are many topics that I am anxious to discuss in this blog, but the one I choose for today is one that I have actually not given much thought to until just now.  It is the importance of getting enough sleep! Now, I have thought about getting enough sleep pretty much every day since I became a parent, but it has primarily been a desperate longing for sleep.  I never really stopped to think about how important it is to be rested in order to be the best parent I can be and to get the most joy out of my experience as a parent.   My youngest son, Owen did not start sleeping through the night until he was a year old. It was a long year! But when he did, I felt like a fog was lifted. I could think much more clearly, and was more able to enjoy my time with my children and my time away from them.

To be a good parent and a joyful one, there are two things that I think are really important.  One is that you must have a lot of patience. The other is that you need the ability to be in the moment - to slow down and enjoy what you are doing, rather than rushing through each event of the day, thinking about what needs to be done next.  Both of these things are difficult when you have not had enough rest.  I am cranky and unfocused when I am tired, as I am sure most people are. When I am cranky, I have less patience.  When I am unfocused, I have trouble getting things done, and when I have trouble getting things done, it often makes me anxious and unable to revel in the little things in life. I find myself not listening to Aiden's stories, rushing him along unnecessarily, and doing other things that take joy out of our days.  Children are full of wonder and we should delight in them while we can, because they won't be like this forever.

So, I challenge myself and any other parents reading this to make sleep a priority this week. It's not easy, especially when you have a baby.  There is much to be done, and when you are awakened in the middle of the night, it may be close to impossible to truly get enough sleep, but we should still try to get as much rest as we can, and it does get easier as the kids get older.

So, let's say on my ideal day, the house is clean every day, there's a home-cooked meal on the table each evening, I have time to play with the kids,  time for myself, and a time to spend with just my husband, as well.  Of course this is not a perfect world and this doesn't happen every day even when I'm not thinking about trying to get enough sleep!  However, sometimes we have to be flexible enough to skip this here and that there, while still maintaining a balance in our lives. I think all too often, we sacrifice sleep, so we can have everything else, or as much of it as possible, and I think this is often a mistake.

 Of course, there may be certain things that we just aren't willing to sacrifice, and that's okay. For example, I try really hard not to interfere with my kids' evening routine of dinner, bath, jammies, playtime, reading a couple books and in bed at 8:15 - at least on weeknights. I find this routine to be very important. The kids like to know what to expect, and it makes it easier for the whole family.  You may have other things that are especially important to you.  But each day, I think we can always find one thing we can do without if it is going to ensure that we get enough rest.
Maybe the house can stay a mess today.  Maybe tomorrow we can order pizza for dinner. Maybe another day this week,  we can skip watching TV or reading and turn in a bit early.  If this gives us an extra 30 minutes that we can devote to sleep, maybe we will find that we actually start getting more done each day, with less rushing, because we have sharp, rested minds ready for the day's challenges.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Phoenix Rising

         I have always loved the symbol of the phoenix: a being that is continually reborn from it’s own ashes.  This symbol of rebirth and renewal has meant many things to many people.  To me, the phoenix is a symbol of the power each one of us has within to transform ourselves while always keeping the essence of ourselves. 

         I have been feeling a force within myself as of late – as if the parts of me that have been out of sync are coming together in harmonious way. It is both of feeling like a strong pull from within as well as a feeling like things are ever so gently falling into place.  I feel a need to change the way that I am living in some ways, yet I am also keenly aware of the wonderful feelings certain ways I am already living are bringing me joy.  It is a very exciting time.

         My inspiration for transformation is twofold: I want to be a better parent and I want to be a better person. These two things, of course, are inextricably intertwined.  In striving to be a better citizen of the world, one becomes a better parent by setting an example for her children. By becoming a better parent, one gives the world a gift: children who are also good citizens of the world, and grow up to be good parents themselves.

        What I am searching for in this life is what we all want: inner peace.  That is what this blog is really about, at its core.

I am reminded of a favorite quote of mine by an unknown person:

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard      work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.

For many of us with small chiIdren, it may seem nearly impossible to be at peace. Between middle of the night wakings, temper tantrums, never-ending laundry, dishes, and toys on the floor, not to mention the responsibilities if one works outside the home, how does a parent keep calm in her heart?  I think the answer lies in the way we live our lives: that is, that the way we live our lives must be in sync with our values.

The first step to inner peace then, is to identify our values. What is it that is truly important to us? What are the things that we cannot live without?  What can we live without? What would we be much better off without?  Once we answer this question, the countless parenting decisions we are faced with each day become much more simple.  That does not mean we completely eliminate stress, uncertainty, or heartache. However, we reduce it, we make it manageable, we find peace amidst chaos.

I started this blog for two reasons. One is that I want to share this journey, especially with the people I love. Second, I have always found that when I put my ideas and thoughts into words, I understand them better myself. And I have always been better at putting thoughts on paper than I have been at verbalizing them.

So, I invite you to follow me as I learn as much as I can about the nature of children, all aspects of parenting, simple and authentic living, ecological responsibility, and anything else I come across in my studies and my experience. And I invite your thoughts, opinions, and inspirations, for you are to be a part of my personal journey.