Sufficient Sleep Improves Behavior

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 10-11 hours of sleep for children 5-12.  Teenagers need between 9 and 10 hours, but often don’t get even 8 hours.   Using computers during the hour before lights out causes interference with the brain waves of restful sleep.  Sleeping in a room where electronic devices give off signals when calls, texts and e-mails come in further disrupt sleep.  Consider a family policy of turning electronic devices off an hour before bedtime.  Everyone, including parents will feel better, be healthier, and be in better moods if they get enough sleep.

Key Point:  Sufficient sleep is essential for good health and good behavior (for children and adults)

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Don’t Just Say, “I’m sorry”

When a child has made a social mistake, or hurt someone’s feelings we often automatically tell them to “Say, you’re sorry.”  Sometimes the child will say the words, but not connect them with any real feeling of regret for the mistake.  We have accidentally taught them to say something they don’t really feel, and they rarely learn from it.  I would rather ask a child to show they are sorry by a “do-over.”  I ask the child to say or do the kind thing, use their word rather than grab or demonstrate the more appropriate behavior.  The adult can express sympathy to the hurt or offended person to role model the sincere expression of regret.  The child can learn from this role modeling.

Key Point:  Teach children to express sincere regret by correcting their mistakes.

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Loving Discipline for Babies and Toddlers

Scolding and timeouts don’t work for most babies and toddlers under 36 months. So what can you do?

Distract them with a song, story or more interesting object or activity.

Redirect their attention by bringing out a new or favorite book or toy.

Role-model the desired behavior while using a word to describe it. (“Fluffy loves gentle touching.”)

Modify the schedule.  (Shorten playdates, run fewer errands in a row, go to bed earlier)

Modify the environment.  Move the delicate objects until your child is at least three. Use baby gates. Put away toys that are misused until the child is old enough to use them properly.  Keep a bag with some toys in the car. Always keep those toys in the car rather than bringing them into the house. Good car toys?  Pipecleaners, simple vehicles, toddler-safe Playmobil figures.  Bad for cars?  Crayons, permanent markers, anything sharp or requiring supervision.  Books on tape or CD are also good, especially with books that go with the recording.

Modify the stimulation.  Turn off the electronic signals, turn off the TV, slow down the pace.

Modify the materials. Give your toddler one crayon at a time.  Make putting the cover back on the marker part of the game.  Not old enough to put the cap back on?  Too young for markers. If your child uses a water squirter on you or the cat, take the child outside and let her squirt water on the plants.

Modify adult behavior.  Talk on the phone later.  Simplify meals. Simplify your routines.  Plan ahead.

Teach words for feelings. Using words to express feelings is a precursor to using words for problem solving. Children who can use words are less likely to hit or bite.

Practice desired behaviors such as practice stopping at the curb.  Make a game out of stopping at the curb and putting toys away.

Positively reenforce behaviors while they are being learned but then reduce the enforcement once the behavior has been learned.

I do not believe in corporal punishment. It teaches a child to use physical agression to get their way.  It also teaches the child that it is okay for their parents and caregiver can love them and hurt them.  Physical punishment does not teach the child what behavior is desired.

Key idea:  Loving instruction and thoughtful planning are the most effective forms of discipline for babies and toddlers.

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Verbal abuse

The word “abuse” comes from the root words for “misuse.”  Many parents ask me what exactly is verbal abuse.  Parents don’t have to be quiet and “nicey-nicey” all the time.  Healthy family members can get angry and express anger at and to each other.

Certain kinds of expression of anger do harm to the recipient of the anger and to the relationship.  Apologizing later, but verbally  abusing again makes the apology meaningless.

Verbal abuse is:






hurtful teasing

predicting failure (also called forecasting)

What is the alternative to verbal abuse?  Take a deep breath; take a few moments or minutes to calm down and then speak for and about yourself.

“I am very angry that you dumped all your toys out of the toy box.  I want you to put them back.  As soon as the toys are put back in the box we can go to the park.”

Key ideas:  Being a family member is no excuse to verbally abuse someone.  Being a family member is no excuse to allow someone to abuse you.

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Discipline is not a euphemism for punishment

Discipline is the control that comes from parental guidance and leadership that allows the child to develop optimal self-control.  Authoritarian parenting often results in either rebellion or lack of self-confidence.  Passive parenting often results in children who lack internal structure.  Authoritative parenting provides guidelines and skills for life and usually produces the best results for most children.

Key idea: The goal of parental discipline is to help the child develop self-discipline.

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“Losing your temper”

If you give yourself permission to lose control because you are angry, you teach your children that they can lose control when they are angry.

Key idea:  Your children learn from your behavior whether you want them to or not.

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Difficult conversations with our children

Inevitably, we will need to have difficult conversations with our children.  Truth is the best policy.  Telling the truth encourages them to tell us the truth, and encourages them to trust you!

Some examples:

“Grampa was very, very sick.  The doctors and nurses tried hard to make him get well but he was too sick and he died.  I know you and I will really miss him. We will not see him any more except his pictures but he will be in our hearts forever.”

“Mommy and Daddy have had a very hard time trying to solve problems together.  We just can’t agree and solve those grown-up problems so we have decided to get a divorce.”  “We will always take care of you and be your mommy and daddy, but we won’t live in the same house anymore but you will still have time with both of us.”

“I know you want new clothes for the new school year.  I’m sorry, because I would like for you to have some, but I don’t have a job yet, so we don’t have enough money for new clothes right now.”  “Let’s go through your clothes and see what fits and we can do to fix up what you have.”

Key idea:  Express sympathy, empathy and tell the truth, at an age appropriate level.

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In honor of Fathers’ Day

Every child can benefit from the influence of a good father, or good father-figure.

Children who have a father or father-figure who pays attention to them have a stronger belief in their own ability to control and determine their own fates.  They score higher on tests.  They have higher self-esteem

Girls who have a father or father-figure who pays attention to them feel more affirmed as females which delays early sexual experimentation. (If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will)

How to you pay attention?  Put down the newspaper when your child talks to you.  Turn off the TV, close the laptop.  Play a game of your child’s choice.  Leave a note for your child when you travel.  Send them an e-mail or a text.  Tell them about something you are  doing or are interested it, in an age-appropriate way.

My beloved father used to leave me or mail me rebus notes when he was on a business trip.  When I thought I wanted to be dentist in the ’50’s when there were few women in dentistry, he brought home a plastic dental kit.  I still have parts of it today.  He drove me to high school almost every day and discussed things I was interested it.

Key idea:  Parents, especially the less available parent, need to make sure they take care of the relationship with their children, and not just the discipline.

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Don’t get angry when your child misbehaves-learn from it

Consider the Antecedents to a misbehavior.  Did the child sleep less last night?  Did you try to run one more errand after picking up a tired child from daycare?  Did the playdate last too long?  Many misbehaviors are preventable!

Consider the Behavior.  Does the child know that it hurts the dog to poke its eye? Or does she need an explanation of how to gently touch. I believe that everyone deserves and explanation before or instead of a scolding.

Consider the Consequences.  If you sometimes say he may not have a sweet before dinner and sometimes you give in, then you accidentally communicate to the child that you might be persuaded to give in.  Be consistent.

Key idea: Make every misbehavior an opportunity for learning for you and teaching for your child.

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Babies and Crying

Check for the reason a baby might be crying.  Use the following order:

Safe-is the baby caught in twisted sleepers or crib bumper? Is he or she feverish?  Of course, the first thing we need to do is make sure the baby is safe and healthy.

Clean and fed-does the baby’s diaper need to be changed, or does he or she need to be nursed?  Babies up to 10 pounds often have to be fed every 2.5-3 hours around the clock.

Add stimulation-babies need to play during the day.  Take them for a walk and show them leaves. While holding them, show them patterns on fabric, tell them about the family dog, tell them what you are doing as you go through the day.  Rock or swing them gently, gently clap their hands or feet together. Read to them: baby board books or the newspaper.  A bored baby will cry, asking for attention.

Need reduced stimulation-babies can get overstimulated.  If you have checked the list above but your baby is still crying, he or she could have become overstimulated by too many people, too much noise or too much movement.  He or she could need to be swaddled, quietly held, or placed securely in the crib and allowed to “cry  it off”.  In other words, to cry off the tension, since they don’t yet have words to tell you what they need.

Key idea: Be calm systematic about deciding how to react to your baby’s crying in order to be more responsive to the baby’s needs and reduce your frustration as well.

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