For Moms

Make Mornings Better {through patience + planning}


Make Mornings Better {through patience + planning}

I have three kids ranging from age 7 to 14. Their schools all start at different times, which makes my mornings very long (sigh). They also have three distinct personalities that come with their own morning challenges. One is sleepy and moody, not a morning person. One is up early but defiant and stubborn, needs to do things when he is ready. And one is punctual and on top of it all, making my job harder because she leaves first and I am not always ready or awake myself which causes her to shout. If there is one thing I hate, it’s shouting. Especially in the morning.

Last year, I made a chart of sorts for my one that just cannot get her body moving in the morning. It wasn’t really a chart as much as a way for her to visually see what she needed to do. This totally worked for us. It helped her understand and grasp the fact that the mornings were hers to own (or hers to ruin). By taking me out of the equation, she actually did everything she needed to do because she was in control. We had this chart up for no more than two weeks and then it wasn’t needed anymore. Why it took me 4 years to figure this out is a mystery.

DIY good morning chart ~ teach kids to own their day | artbarblog.com

Make your own Good Morning chart:

shoe box lid / scissors / piece of cardboard / white glue / markers or paint / photos of your child doing the things that need to get done

I simply cut a shoebox lid in half and glued it to a piece of cardboard. I decorated it for her because she was honestly not into this idea at all. She thought it was “babyish”. But I convinced her by telling her that it would make mommy not have to talk to her at all! She liked that idea. We took photos of her in the midst of her morning tasks. All she had to do was move the photos from one pocket to another. She still is slow to get up, but she knows what to do and that if she doesn’t do it, I will have to speak to her (are you getting the picture that she is not a morning person?).

Here are some tips that might help you with your morning routine…the goal being less shouting, smoother transitions, and an overall kinder & gentler start to the day. These tips hinge on the fact that you wake up before them and get yourself ready, or as ready as you can. It will be virtually impossible to use many of these tools if you are running around like crazy yourself (I know this through experience)!

The slow-moving child: This child is not a morning person. Look out!

1. This may seem obvious, but wake them up way before they need to be ready. I start waking mine one hour before she has to leave. It takes about three or four trips to her room, but by the time she starts moving we still have 40 minutes.

2. Get them a digital clock. This way you can tell them that they have until 7:15 to get themselves up (of course we say 7:15 but we know that they really have until 7:25)

3. Lower your expectations and be patient. This child needs a long transition from sleep to wake. Respecting this will help both of you.

4. Do not rush them. Which goes back to my first point…give them plenty of time to wake.

5. Have them do as much as they can the night before. Usually, if they are not a morning person they are a night owl. Have them lay out their clothes with their choice of shoes, pack their backpacks with their homework, and even put out their own placemat and bowl for their breakfast in the morning. The more they practice this (it may take years, have heart), the more they will begin to own it. Once it’s theirs, they will miraculously do it all without help! Trust me, this does happen…but takes practice and patience.

The worrier child: This child is full of “what-ifs”. What if I did my home work wrong? What if it snows when I’m in school? What if I feel sick?

1. Talk about their tomorrow the night before. Simply say “Let’s talk about your routine tomorrow”. You can start with waking up, all the way to getting on the bus. Let them lead, this way questions will arise that you can work on together. Don’t bring up anything they haven’t mentioned!! You don’t want to add to their anxiety. This exercise is meant to prepare them for tomorrow. You are not only giving them one-on-one time with you, you are getting to know how their mind works and helping them learn that they can solve problems. It’s a nice time to reassure them that you guys are a team.

2. Listen to their needs. They may not always be convenient or plausible, but they are worthy. Sometimes they may want to be driven to school. If this is doable for you, then consider this as an option. You may feel like sometimes you are indulging them, and there certainly is a fine line between coddling and respecting their needs, but the more you let them feel that they have choices in their life, the more their confidence will grow.

3. Model making mistakes. Let them see you mess-up and teach them that you have to sometimes let things go, or find creative solutions. And things will be ok! I make many mistakes. I once forgot to get dressed and drove my son to school. I still had my PJs on and hair twisted on top of my head. I literally did not want to be seen. But instead I just said “whatever! nobody will look anyway”. He thought is was hilarious and we had a private joke about it. My kids say “remember that time…” quite a bit. I am constantly messing up.

4. Don’t use sarcasm, but do use humor. Sarcasm isn’t a good idea with any type of kid, but for the worrier who is already sensitive, it can make them feel worse. Do try and lighten and loosen up their body by cracking jokes and being silly. My son loves when I do stupid voices. Laughing is good medicine!

5. Use large motor muscles. A little expenditure of energy can create a calm feeling. Have them do some jumping jacks, push ups, burpees!

6. Deep breaths (for both of you) is the key to staying calm. And have patience.

The defiant child: This child will engage in power struggles if you let them.

1. Don’t be controlling. If they want to wear their black hoodie for the 4th day in a row, what’s the big deal. If you want to talk to them about how it’s gross and how you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on other clothes, save that talk for the evening. You do want to have a voice and a say in your child’s choice making, but don’t do it in the morning.

2. Be extremely patient. More than any other personality, this one will make you want to scream. How can they possibly decide one minute before the bus comes that they don’t want to wear their coat? Let me say from experience, here is how that will go if you demand they put their coat back on: “Fine, if I wear my coat then I’m not going to school. ” This is not a road you want to take when the bus is waiting at your house. Here’s a better option: “Ok, well put it in your backpack in case you get cold”. I know, it feels like you have lost. But really, you have won. He is on the bus!

3. Their battles are usually never about the thing that they are battling you over. Let them “win” but make sure to revisit the battle later in the day when emotions aren’t so high. As in the case of the coat vs. school fiasco, it turned out that all the boys in his class weren’t wearing coats anymore. Wearing a coat wasn’t “cool”. It took him one week of putting it in his backpack for him to start wearing it on the bus again. He said that he was wearing his coat again because he was being smart. A ha! I won after all.

4. No yelling. Ever. At least not in the morning. But really, try to yell at the defiant child as little as possible. It will only show them that you have lost control of your emotions, and that will be all they need to dig their heels in even deeper.

5. Deep breaths!! And don’t forget to pamper yourself a little. Whether it’s a morning run, or a giant brownie, knowing that a “reward” is waiting for you at the end just makes things better.

The moody child: This one will bite your head off, then give you hugs right after.

1. Plan ahead. Making sure everything is in order the night before will help with the lashing out the next morning.

2. Know their triggers. Sometimes it’s like walking on eggshells with these ones. But over the years you get to know them and what sets them off. Usually, for us, it’s their siblings! Which is a bummer because I can’t get rid of her brother. In our house, the little guy is not allowed to talk to his sister in the morning. Not one word. Of course that doesn’t always happen, so sometimes there is screaming. That’s when you take deep breaths and think of your reward.

3. Get out of their way. Mostly moody people are their own worst enemies. There’s nothing you’ve done, it’s just who they are. As moms, we can only hand them what they need and step out of their path.

4. Don’t take anything personally! And tell them you love them before they slam the door to leave. If yours is like mine, she’ll usually feel bad about her behavior and will run back to give you a hug.

5. Humor doesn’t work. Like I said….just say as little as possible and focus on the beautiful moment after they leave. If you feel like you need to teach them to be nicer and less moody, save that talk for the evening. Remember… our goal is a peaceful morning.

The perfectionist child: This child needs everything to be exactly they way they want it to be. Very little flexibility.

1. Expect crying, and try to not say things like “oh my God, please don’t cry”. This will make them cry more.

2. Make sure they have all of their ducks in a row the night before. Outfit picked (with shoes…shoes are very important because believe me, there is lots of crying in the morning when there are just no shoes to go with the outfit), backpack all set with completed homework, hairstyle picked out. Whatever needs to get done in the morning, do it at night.

3. Show them how you aren’t perfect, but you’re still happy and life is good. This may not be appropriate in the morning rush, but make a point to model un-perfectionist behavior and to have talks when it’s the right moment. In time, they will get to know who they are and start to realize that being average is just fine. Maybe not all the time, but occasionally. What a relief!

4. Button your mouth. Keep all opinions to yourself in the morning. Just tell them they look amazing, give them hugs and kisses.

The older child: This child is in 7th grade or above.

1. Do they really need us anymore? I certainly have many friends who do not get up with their teens. Their kids make their own lunches and see themselves out the door. I think this is awesome!! I’m completely for it if you have the kind of child who loves his/her independence. My oldest is not quite there yet, so I still wake to pack her lunch and give her a kiss goodbye. She kind of still needs that attention.

2. Work towards independence. Again, every child is different. Some are more coachable, some will let you do everything for them until they are 50 years old. But every child needs to leave the nest at 18 so helping them do things for themselves is good parenting. The more confident they feel in taking care of themselves, the better for both of you!

All in all, the most important ingredients to a smooth, yelling free morning are planning and patience. And it goes without saying that nobody is perfect. It’s through trial and many errors (and lots of reading) that I have found what works for my family. We have had completely bad years where I just weep and feel bad every day. That’s when I make changes, try new things, and talk to my kids. It’s never too late to turn over a new leaf! And alway include them in the process. Being open and honest about their strengths and weaknesses helps them discover who they are.

I’m sure you could add to this list so please share your tried & true tips for getting through the morning!!

xo, Bar

PS: It’s a tough job, mothering. You are doing great!!

 

A Quiet Moment


A Quiet Moment

From the author Katrina Kenison, this passage struck home with me.

“When I come to a stop myself, when I draw a circle of stillness around me, my children are drawn into that peaceful place. They visibly relax, as if my very calmness nourishes them. The impact of just a few minutes of quiet attention can be profound, changing the mood of an entire day, restoring equilibrium to a distressed child, and to a frazzled mother.

We might sit side by side and draw, or gather up a stack of favorite old picture books and read them, make strange creatures out of clay, or just cuddle on the couch and listen to music as darkness falls. These are the moments when my children reveal themselves to me, when conversation spirals up and out, from the here and now into the realm of spirit and imagination. There, in that place Tennyson calls the ‘quiet limit of the world,’ we connect with one another at a very deep soul level. My children know then that they have my full attention and, even more important, that there’s no other place I’d rather be at that moment.”

As my children grow older, it gets harder to find quiet moments (or to even find them). I think my solution is that I have to plan the moments rather than happen upon them. Not quite as spontaneous (which is the way I roll), but maybe even more necessary now than when they were little.

Here’s hoping we all can create a quiet moment with our children this weekend…I know I will try!

xo, Bar

 

Lunchbox Words {to inspire}


Lunchbox Words {to inspire}

I love this idea for getting the kids to read big words…send a little message in their lunchbox! These alphabet cookies are from IKEA and they are so cute with their scalloped edges. We also use Trader Joe’s version which are cinnamony & delicious. My little guy has told me it’s too embarrassing to spell his word in the lunchroom, (this from the kid who wants me to stay and watch his entire soccer practice so that he can look over at me if he needs to), but my girls love it (I hope).

The IKEA cookies don’t seem to have a “Z”, or maybe it was just our batch. I was trying to write amazing. I told my son about it, and he immediately dumped the box of cookies out and found an “N” which he turned sideways. You might think to yourself, “well, duh!”, but I forgot about that trick until my 7-yr old reminded me. This got us talking about syllables and lowercase vs. uppercase. We thought of words starting with whatever letter he held up. It was a lovely conversation about words. And wouldn’t you know it? Somehow, the box was empty right when our little talk was over.

We love words! And alphabet cookies. Send a little love in their lunchbox. ♡

xo Bar

{ps: tupperware from IKEA, too}

 

Travel Art Bag


Travel Art Bag

We’re back from our February vacation! It was beautiful in the Dominican Republic and we feel so fortunate that we were invited to share a very memorable family vacation with grandparents. Despite several trips to the infirmary for various problems (which I will not elaborate on because I am pretending none of that happened), we were able to relax, read, eat, play and best of all…create some pretty art! I threw together this little travel bag for the trip and it was perfect. I’ll include sources, but you can really just grab anything that you have on hand (or make a run to CVS) and even just put it in a ziplock! My goal was to get the kids to draw and paint from the beautiful nature that surrounded us. (I will share their art later this week.)

Here’s what I put in our travel art bag:

watercolors // colored pencils // washi tape // 1 pencil, 1 eraser, 1 sharpener, 1 sharpie // sketchbook // brushes // tempera paints // merimekko tote

I hope you had a nice little break as well (or will have one soon!). Don’t forget to pack a few art supplies when you travel!

{Travel tip: Remember, when traveling to a foreign country with small kids, curtail the habit of picking off of your kids’ plates or having your kids share any food. Also, don’t share utensils or have the whole family drink from the same water bottle at the airport. And wash hands frequently! Sickness could be spreading and you won’t even know it until it’s too late. And that’s all I have to say about that.}

 

Tell Them “I Like You”


Tell Them “I Like You”

I made this poster for my kiddos for Valentine’s day today. It is Version 2. Funny story, actually, about how those three influence me creatively, and push me to be a better parent. You can read it below, or just enjoy the art!

So the other night, as I lay next to him on his bed, my sensitive and sweet little six-year old boy asks, “Do you like me?” I remain outwardly calm and tell him that not only do I like him, I LOVE him!!! Duh?! But this is not the answer he is looking for. He says that of course I love him, I’m his mom. But do I like him? I spend the next 30 to 85 minutes telling him every last thing I like about him and kiss him a thousand times. Then we snuggle some more and I wait for him to fall asleep, just like the old days.

The next day I give him cookies for breakfast and write him a lovey note in his lunchbox. Then, after he gets on the bus, I decide I am going to make him some art so that he will always know how much I really like him. In fact, I am going to make one for all three of them and then also talk to my girls that night to make sure they know I really like them, too. I have work to do. I’m all over it!

I design a simple poster with hand lettering that says: I don’t just love you, I like you. A few days later, I show him Version 1 (although at the time I didn’t know it was V1). “Look what I made you! It says that I don’t just love you, I like you”. He looks at my masterpiece for a second, then says to me, “That’s just mean, mom”. Oh no, no, no. It doesn’t say I don’t love you, it says I don’t just love you. You know, like the conversation we had the other night? But he darts off with his hockey stick. Later, I show my middle daughter. She reads it and says, “I don’t get it”. More explaining. You know, how I don’t just love you but I really like you and I like being with you. She says, “You should say all that, too, because then people will understand”. Really? Now I’m feeling like my poster sucks. Well, I’ll show it to my oldest. She always has good insight and reliably constructive feedback. Guess what? She likes it! After I tell her she’s my new favorite, we laugh about what those other two said (they are so clueless!). She leaves my office and I hear her say to my son in the kitchen, “Hey, I like you!” He takes out his mouthguard and says to her, “Yeah, mom already told me that joke”. Joke? Hmmm.

I decide to start over. It needs to be a bit more clear. Version 2 is better. At least they understand it and I don’t have to explain. But all of this work has made me realize something. I think my son, with his original question, was maybe just trying to get me to spend more time with him that night. And you might think, reading this, that I am so stupid because obviously that’s what he was doing. But as the mother, you just don’t want to risk it. Maybe there was a small 2 or 7% chance that he was feeling unsure? And that right there is why parenting is the hardest job in the universe. We never really know what is going on in their heads and what they are feeling in their hearts. So why not just go overboard? Better safe than sorry. Better too much than not enough. Right?

I am not talking about praise. By now we’ve all been very enlightened by the one billion articles out there on how too much praise is bad, very bad. I am not even talking about love, which we clearly know can be dished out in loads and loads and never be too much. What I am talking about is the very thing that is actually the hardest for all of us busy parents to give, and that is time. Simply, my son just wanted my time.

This episode was a poignant reminder for me that our kids really want to know that we like being with them. Spending our precious time with them is really how we show them that they are indeed fun and interesting. They are worthwhile. For me, I like finding those small moments when we are alone and can play a quick game of tic-tac-toe, or they can show me their best dance move, or tell me about their favorite show. Just small, ordinary moments when they have my full and undivided attention.

Another way of giving our attention is paying them a compliment. It makes them feel noticed. Starting sentences with “I like…” and finding something positive to say always leads to a nice exchange. This Valentine’s day, I am challenging myself to a year of compliments. Not just for my kids, but my husband, too. (Especially him, last one on the totem pole. If you’re reading this D, I like your funky hair today.) One compliment a day, or more if the mood strikes.

Thank you for reading. Keep up the good work! Have a Happy Valentine’s Day…

…and I like your smile. 

 

 

Parenting // Discipline Less + Understand More


Parenting // Discipline Less + Understand More

Every once in a while, I come across something that I really feel like I need to share. This chart was created by Carol Tuttle, author of the book The Child Whisperer, which I have never read. I wish I had had this book when my girls were little to add to my parenting-book library. I’m now starting to buy the how-to-deal-with-teenagers variety. But I still have a six-year old and this chart has worked brilliantly twice already! I won’t bore you with my child’s almost-tantrums and how I avoided them, but suffice it to say that within 30 seconds of reading this chart I realized I had a sensitive little boy who wasn’t being heard by his busy mama.

I say we all print this out and hang it in the bathroom (the place I hide when I can’t take one more child crying…or the place where husbands might read it!).

Good luck mamas! And happy monday from your friend Bar ♡

 

Wall of Sight Words


Wall of Sight Words

My son is six and learning to read. To learn his sight words, we use little cards and put about 10-15 in a baggie next to his bed. Once he knows them cold, we tape them to his wall. Now that we have so many up there, we can make full sentences!

Me: The old fly can look this way and that.

Him: People who find number two like each other. (Fits of laughter.)

Me: Many old people walk into each other. (Uncontrollable laughter.)

Him: You can just walk there to do number two. (Wetting his pants with laughter.) 

As you can tell, every sentence for him involves ‘number two’ which I innocently taped next to each other. But I will take potty humor as long as there is laughter and learning!

Tip: Only put the words they know cold up on the wall, this way it makes playing the sentence game fun and not work. They are proud of their growing knowledge!

 

Museums with Kids


Museums with Kids

We live about an hour from New York City, which is very lucky. One train ride and we are in the Big Apple! We try to take advantage of this perk whenever possible, although I’ve found that it was actually easier when they were little and didn’t have homework and activities. One of my favorite trips is to the MoMA. I just love this place! If you’ve never had the chance to visit the Museum of Modern Art, I would suggest planning a trip to NYC, pronto.

My kids didn’t used to jump up and down for joy when I mentioned going to a museum, but now they do because I have a museum trick! Well, it’s not really my trick, it’s one that was told to me by a wise friend. You probably already know this trick, but it’s so good that I just had to share.

Here is what you do:

When you get to the museum, go directly to the gift shop. Let your kids chose a handful of postcards that excite them. You can use this time to talk about when the piece was made, the artist’s style and color choice, and anything else that stands out. Then it’s time to go on a search! My kids love this part…finding the real art that matches the postcard. I love it, too!

These pictures are from a few years ago but I remember this day like it was yesterday. After we did our museum search, we went out for lunch at Rockefeller Plaza. They had their backpacks full of little surprises, and we had the day to ourselves…just the girls. When we got home, hot and tired, they taped their postcards to their doors. A little trick they like to do to let everyone who enters know what they have been up to. We still have the postcards, I used them this summer to decorate my studio. Have I mentioned how much I love postcards?

Right now at the MoMA (through 11/5/12) there is a wonderful exhibit called Century of the Child, a survey of 20th century design for children. With over 500 items to look at, this curated show examines the intersection of Modernist design and modern thinking about children. I can’t wait to take all three of them!

Here are some more exciting ways to use museum postcards.

Have fun!

 

 

The Importance of Play


The Importance of Play

I have just finished reading Nurture Shock, by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman, for the second time. Forgetting that I’d already read it, I picked it up again and was just as fascinated. It’s nothing like a parenting manual. In fact, this insightful book transcends basic child rearing. I highly recommend this book.

The authors propose (through research that they have parsed through and reviewed thoroughly) that parents and educators make small corrections in their thinking, the key being to ignore common assumptions or “maternal wisdom” about children in favor of scientific reason, much of it counterintuitive.

There are 10 very organized chapters, ranging from “The Inverse Power of Praise” to “Why Kids Lie” (this chapter is especially interesting to anyone who has a teen or pre-teen).

One of the most compelling chapters is called “Can Self-Control Be Taught?”. It sites a very interesting pre-school and kindergarten program that was developed in the 1990′s by two scholars in the Denver area. It was a technique, really, that they developed as part of a curriculum that required some training, but did not cost a penny more than a traditional curriculum. They called it “Tools of the Mind“. Initially developed for children “at risk”, the results were so staggering that researchers could not finish their study because teachers in the control groups (the ones who were not using Tools) felt that in good conscience, they must provide all children with the Tools curriculum.

What Tools of the Mind focuses on is how to help children avoid distractions. And how do Tools teachers succeed in teaching 4 and 5 year olds to focus and concentrate on an activity for an extended period of time? Through play!

For example, in one famous Russian study from the 1950′s, children were told to stand as long as possible – they lasted two minutes. But then a second group was told to pretend they were soldiers on guard who had to stand still at their posts – they lasted eleven minutes!

Another example: When small children are asked to copy something from the board, they may not think they can do it. But hand the same kid a notepad and ask them to pretend to be a waiter at a pizza parlor, they don’t think about if they can write or not – they just know they have to do something to remember those pizza orders.

Here is an excerpt that I have read over and over:

“It’s well recognized that kids today get to play less. As pressure for academic achievement has mounted, schools around the country cut back on recess to devote more time to the classroom. This created a backlash…experts arguments were straightforward: the brain needs a break, kids need to blow off energy, cutting recess increases obesity, and it’s during recess that children learn social skills. Tools suggests a different benefit entirely – that during playtime, children learn basic developmental building blocks necessary for later academic success, and in fact they develop these building blocks better while playing than in a traditional classroom.”

Through play, children learn abstract thinking, symbolic thought, high-order thinking like self-reflection, they develop an internal voice (“I can do this!”), the ability to self-analyze and to set goals. But it’s not all about managing information, either. Through the process of play, children learn to squelch frustration and anger, and to stifle inappropriate or impulsive responses.

In addition, when children get to choose their own activity (not one their parents signed them up for), they become highly motivated. And when children are motivated, they learn more.

I have always believed in the power of play. I try very hard to not let peer pressure (yes, moms feel peer pressure, too) sway me into signing my kids up for too many after-school activities. We live in a great neighborhood where they can safely walk outside on any given day and find a friend, play a game. Or they can play with their siblings. Yes, there is squabbling (there is even a chapter in the book called “The Sibling Effect”). But eventually, if I give them no other choice, they will work it out, compromise, and create roles for one another.

My best advice to any parent with school-age children: Let them play!

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day!


Happy Mother’s Day!

My mom in Holland, 1971. My kids call her Oma. She is an incredible human being, remarkable in every way. She has taught me to stay strong, rise above it, keep trying, be grateful, smile at everyone, give generously, laugh at myself, cross at the light, stop complaining, eat my protein, cherish my marriage and, most importantly, not to worry (she does that for me). I love you, mama!