How to let our children experience risk without being negligent

By Rachel Norman, A Mother Far From Home

Let’s face it. With young children, everything is risky. The bed, a place of supposed repose, becomes an apparatus from which your 1-year-old will launch herself and break an arm. While your mother watches helplessly on Skype. Even though you were right there as it happened and yet powerless to stop it.

Children can climb into a chair hundreds of times and then one afternoon fall off and chip a tooth. How do we balance letting life happen naturally with protecting our children from risk and harm?

It isn’t like mothers think we should put our children in a padded room never to experience any damage. Most parents don’t say, “I’ll never let my child climb a tree.” When thinking rationally, most parents would even say that letting children discover their own boundaries and abilities is a good thing.

And yet, we are the age of helicopter parents. Always hovering waiting to intervene at a second’s notice to prevent any ill from befalling our children. As we do this we feel proud that we are protecting our children from harm. In fact, hovering can almost been seen as a virtue in the face of parents who let their children climb to high heights or explore woods unsupervised. And yet, I believe, too much is too much.

The Forbes article states, “If parents remove risk from children’s lives, we will likely experience high arrogance and low self-esteem in our growing leaders.”

Research and common sense both show that we need to let our children learn some life lessons through first-hand experience. This does not mean, however, that we just throw them into the deep end to sink or swim. No, we teach them to swim first.

1.  Train first.

Sometimes we simply can’t watch our children go off and do something that could get them seriously injured. If your children like heights or climbing adventures, then why not spend some time helping your children learn to go up and down safely. Getting up is the easy part, but getting down is where tumbles often occur. If you’ve helped your children with these skills then you’ll feel more confident in letting them have fun without climbing the tree right beside them.

What about relationships and friendships at school or day care? If you are afraid they will be ostracized and are tempted to intervene, why not use it as an opportunity to help them help themselves. Why not teach your children inter-personal skills? There’s no time like the present to teach conflict resolution skills, how to confront another in love, and forgiveness. After all that we simply must let them solve some of their own problems. It doesn’t mean we leave them floundering, just that we don’t intervene at the slightest sign of discomfort.

People must feel discomfort to grow. 

2. Encourage independent thinking and problem solving skills.

One reason Babywise considers independent play time foundational is that it gives children opportunity to think for themselves. If they throw a toy out of the playpen they quickly learn the consequence: no more toy. If they are stacking or building they’ll learn how to balance to reach the highest height. When my kids ask for help I always respond, but I don’t always do what they ask. Sometimes I’ll stand by my daughter and explain to her how to finish what she’s started.

Other times, instead of just doing it for them I’ll ask a few questions to get them thinking. Encouraging children to think on their own will help them become resilient, adaptable and confident. There is great confidence to be found in problem-solving, don’t rob your children of this by attempting to make them momentarily comfortable.

As your children become more confident and proficient in problem-solving and decision-making you may just find you aren’t so scared to let them have more freedom of choice.

3.  Land the helicopter!

Now, there’s a difference in a parent who properly supervises their child and one who is a helicopter parent. Let’s differentiate between the two. A helicopter parent is defined as one who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children. For smaller children I’d say it is a mother who is hyper-vigilant to the point of not letting their children do anything that could result in injury.

The trouble with this is that everything can result in injury with small children. Just yesterday my daughter fell and bruised her cheekbone on the laundry basket. Shall we then banish laundry baskets? Actually… I think that’s a fine idea.

When I get the urge to intervene with my children – and the urge comes often – I often stop myself and wait. Still nearby, but I purposefully hold back. I will let the kid try to get down from the high surface or finish what they’ve attempted to start. At least half the time they solve problems for themselves. Far far more often than I expect, they resolve situations to their liking without my help.

4.  Turn tumbles into truths. 

One way to help train your children in many areas of life is to turn tumbles, accidents and heartaches into opportunities to teach. Many times we tell our children something, they don’t listen, and they wish they did. The book How to be the Parent You Always Wanted to Be offers a better solution than “I told you so.” Letting children keep their dignity while acknowledging the truth (that you were right) can be as easy as “Oh, you found out.” Found out what? Found out that falling off the table hurts. Found out that being mean to people loses friends. Found out that talking during class gets you in trouble.

5. Ask yourself “what is the worst that could happen?” and “what is likely to happen?”

This is something the anxiety counsellor suggested when I was struggling with anxiety in my last pregnancy. It goes without saying you wouldn’t let a toddler cross a major intersection alone or walk down the street to grandma’s without supervision. However, there are many other ways in which we hover that aren’t so necessary.

What is the worst that could happen if your toddler is standing next to the kitchen counter while you cook? They touch the oven and get a blister? If you’ve told them before not to touch and they do, well, then they’ve found out why the oven isn’t to be touched. What is likely to happen if they fall off the merry-go-round? They hit the padded ground below? I don’t know how many times I’ve stopped myself and waited for “worst case scenario.” Most times it doesn’t happen. When it does it is often far less distressing as I thought. I am frequently happy with my conscious choice to stop hovering.

Of course we should keep our children safe! Of course we should train them what to do and what not to do! Our goal should be teaching them to make safety decisions on their own, appropriate to their developmental age. However, there will come a day when we simply must let our children make their own decisions. You wouldn’t let a 4-year-old decide which school they will attend, but you will let them make other day-to-day and moment-to-moment decisions. Decisions that will bring them into situations that could end in tears.

6. Childproof and back off. 

Make sure your backyard is free of pythons and pitchforks, then let them play. If you aren’t there watching their every move you won’t feel the need to intervene. Let them stay with family or friends whose parents you trust, and take a break. Ultimately, we cannot protect our children from everything even though we try hard. At some point we must simply do our due diligence and trust God’s will be done.

I trust myself. Why? Because in my 32 years I’ve been put in many, many situations of varying degrees of risk and I’ve come out alive. I’ve made great decisions, poor decisions and I’ve acquired much wisdom by getting myself out of many situations. I am not afraid to take risks. Why? Because I trust that I can make the best of whatever happens. That is what I want to give my children.

Babywise Week: A Parent’s Best Instruction Manual

Babywise Instruction ManualEverything we buy these days comes with an instruction manual. These manuals include specific instructions on everything from how to toast bread to how to install a car seat (diagrams included). I was washing William’s coat the other day, I looked to the tag to find out what the manufacturer suggested. There were six “pages” of washing instructions sewn into his coat, all in about four or five languages. It was maddening to find simple instructions in English!

I can toast bread or wash a coat without an instruction manual. But raising a child? I need an instruction manual for that! Didn’t you feel this way when you left the hospital with your first baby? You go in with nothing but a few forms filled out, and they let you leave with a precious, fragile human being.

Some people take the advice of their parents. Others fumble their way through it. But we Babywise moms read! Babywise is our instruction manual.

Prepping for stages to come

Whenever I’m approaching a new phase with my kids, I prep and give myself a refresher course on where we’ve been and then look ahead to where we need to be going. The Ezzos have written books for every age range, and it’s best to be ready for changes before they happen.

I’m currently making my way through the videos for “Parenting Through the Middle Years.” It’s for kids ages 9-12. My oldest is 9.5 right now, so we’re definitely in the middle years. In fact, I’m probably a little behind and should have those videos finished by now.

Getting back on track when things go awry

In addition to prepping myself for stages to come, I love that the Babywise books keep us on track when we veer off course. I’m experiencing some attitude from my youngest, Lucas, these days. It’s really thrown me off. What do I do about it?

I know, first of all, that I don’t need to accept it. In fact, I shouldn’t accept it. Second, I know that I can open my worn, dog-eared copy of Childwise to figure out what’s going on and what I can do to fix it. Kids crave structure, and usually, any misbehavior we see stems from a lack of structure.

Our world has turned upside down lately. My husband is working a lot. I’m working a lot. And we have a new nanny who brings her toddler son with her. Lucas is not happy about the whole arrangement and has been very vocal with his discontent. So when I step back and examine his attitude issues, I can see that they’re just an expression of the insecurity he’s feeling from all of the changes in his life.

Knowing I have the power to effect change

Understanding our problem is one thing. Making the changes to fix it is another thing altogether. Without Childwise, I might feel defeated with no power to change our situation. But with Childwise, I know I can always turn to my book for the answers to our problems.

If I can see that Lucas is unhappy with all of the changes in our lives and the lack of structure that may stem from it, I know that if I create more order and structure in his life wherever I can, he will likely come around. He’s just asking for stability and structure. It’s unfortunate that it comes out with a bad attitude, but at least I can see it for what it is.

Having the power to effect change in our lives is amazing. I know that if I hadn’t been introduced to Babywise before my kids were born, I would have muddled my way through. I would be parenting from the hip, with little plan or structure. Babywise gives me power.

True, my kids are human beings, but rather than blaming them for their misbehavior and throwing my hands up in the air, I can stop and truly examine what’s going on and make the changes to fix any issues we may have. If creating more structure doesn’t resolve our issues, then maybe my kids need more sleep or maybe they need independent playtime. Whatever it may be, I know I have the tools in my parenting toolbox to create the change we need.

And it’s all thanks to my trusty instruction manual.

BFBN Graphic

Finding Support


By Bethany Lynch,

No matter what parenting philosophy you choose or whether you work full time, part time, or stay at home, you need support as a mom. You need other women that can identify with who you are and what you do. You need a good foundation in your marriage and other couples to identify with, but there is just something about that friend or confidant that truly understands the core of what you believe.

There are a few things that I think will make your quest for these special ladies a little easier. True friendships usually take years to grow, but support systems are great because they can often be instant. Use caution in just jumping in to groups you identify with just because you identify with them. By taking these simple steps it is possible to form a deep and broad foundation when you need encouragement, inspiration, advice, or listening ears and eyes.

The first step is to look for several options or ways to find support. Be broad and be open. For me, I loved the Babywise series and identified with the goals immediately. However, I was completely lost as to how to troubleshoot when things weren’t perfect (can you say anxious first-time, high-strung mom?!) and where to find more information on implementing the broad ideas I read about. I actually “Googled” pro-Babywise and came across Valerie’s blog and found links to other forums. Some were easier for me to navigate or follow than others, but through one of those forums I met one of my dearest best friends. We are in very different roles. She works hard in the home and I work full time outside of my home. She’s preparing to homeschool and I had to find a new nanny recently, but we have kids of similar ages and very similar goals. We’ve made special plans to visit each other and have stayed in frequent touch for 5 years all because of a small forum.

Next, surround yourself with positive, similar women. Look for women older and younger and the same age, but make sure you choose wisely! It is so tempting to identify and associate with women that can relate to your hardships, but often this spirals down into venting, complaining, and occasionally even bashing. We easily jump onto the bandwagon when it is something we are passionate about, and while it is good to have strong beliefs, it is extremely worthwhile to hold to those beliefs with integrity. It not only sets a good example for your children but it sets a good example for people that don’t even agree with you. You are much more likely to find people that are supportive and encouraging even though you may not see eye to eye if you refuse to join in on criticizing others. I know women that can talk about child rearing, religion, schooling, healthcare, and all leave with a smile but I also know women that are so passionate about Babywise that you cannot even have a fair conversation about any other method.

I also believe that you have to actively find ways to support other women. You need to be a friend and encourager to others that have gone through similar hardships. You need to make an effort to inspire other moms to come together in support and community. It doesn’t have to entail starting a blog or a new forum. It can be as simple as asking someone to get coffee or as small as taking a meal to a new mom. I do know that you cannot always wait for someone else to step up, and you might end up being even more blessed than the person you sought out.

It’s is a cool, fascinating era when one can be part of a network of similar bloggers. I have met some absolutely amazing women through my blog and this network. Women that exist to speak positive, encouraging words. Women that support you whether you have a newborn or school age children, whether you have children with sensory disorders or severe allergies or no health issues. So thank you for being part of my support system!

Hit the Reset Button


Do you ever feel like you’re looking for life’s reset button? It’s so easy when our computers act up. We can just hit that reset button and start anew. If only we had a reset button with our kids. I’ve blogged before about the ebb and flow of parenting. There are days when we’re super committed to doing all that we know is right. Then after doing that for a while, our kids are super obedient and do all that we ask. Then, after a while of that, we take that for granted and become complacent in our parenting. Once we realize that’s what’s happening, we start fresh with our drive to improve our parenting.

Well, I speak from experience when I say that it can take a little longer than we’d like to realize that things have gone awry in our parenting. When this happens, and when we let it go too long, our kids’ behaviors can get really out of control. Of course, it’s not ideal to let this happen, but hey, we’re human.

When we realize that our kids’ behaviors have been out of control for a little too long, we need to hit that reset button. I’m sorry to say it’s not as easy as pressing a button, but I’ll offer a few steps here to get you back on track.

Sit down with your spouse

There are a few things we can do to hit that proverbial reset button. It all begins with a little planning. Sit down with your spouse and hash it out. Talk big picture about what you would like your kids to think and act like, and examine how far you are from that ideal picture. It can even be helpful to sit down and write out the characteristics you’d like to see in your child. Or reference an old list if you’ve done this before. Check off the ones that you currently see in your child. Then highlight those that still need work. Then start thinking about what it will take to get you there. Here are a few pointers:

Create a plan. Whether it’s a discipline plan, a reward chart, or some other system that focuses on the child’s strengths and weaknesses, having a plan is key. This plan can be in your head, but it’s often much more effective when it’s on paper.

Create a schedule. If you don’t have a schedule already, create one. If you have one, figure out where it’s failing you. Is it too detailed to realistically follow? If so, scale it back considerably. Personally, I have a hard time following a detailed schedule. I like to plan things around breakfast, lunch, and dinner since they are typically all at the same time every day. Be realistic with yourself and the schedule. When in doubt, start small.

Examine your weaknesses. This is a hard one. But look long and hard at yourself and try to examine where you might have gone wrong. Personally, I have a hard time “meaning what I say.” I tend to spout out instructions without really listening to myself. This ultimately leads to a lack of follow through. As for my husband, he probably threatens consequences too much. We all need to realize that actions speak louder than words. No matter your weakness, pick one and write it down. And work on that one only. Once you see improvement in yourself, you can start working on any other weaknesses you may have.

Sit down with your child

If your child is of the age where he can understand (or even if he isn’t) sit down and explain your new rules. Inevitably, life will look a little different after you go through this exercise. Why not explain it all to the child. Prepare him for the change. And above all, explain the behavior you expect of him. If you’re working from a reward or discipline chart, show it to him. Read it over and explain it all step by step.

Evaluate your progress

In the business world, they call this a “post mortem.” After every project, we examine how it all went and what we might improve for next time. Even better than having a final evaluation of your progress, set a few milestones along the way that will tell you how you’re doing. Schedule a time to meet with your spouse, perhaps a month after your first meeting. Have a list of your milestones and evaluate each one. One of your milestones might be your consistency with a schedule, or following through on everything you say. Be honest with yourselves. And let your spouse be critical so you can improve. Always see your spouse as a partner in this effort, not an adversary or critic.

There’s probably a lot more I could say about this, but I’ll stop here. Perhaps in future posts, I’ll dig a little more into the nitty gritty on how you can hit that proverbial reset button with your kids. Wherever you are in this process, realize that you’re never alone. Read more of my blog. Lean on your spouse. Enlist the help and support of friends. It takes a village!


5 Ways to Stay Motivated


by Valerie Plowman

It isn’t always easy to be “on” as a mom. We have a lot of tasks and goals we want to meet for our children daily as well as in the “big picture,” and sometimes it gets exhausting! Sometimes we wonder if it is worth it to worry about independent play, first time obedience, learning time, and all of the other items on our list. So how do we keep up the motivation to go on and stick with our goals in the face of the craziness life throws at us? Here are five ideas to keep us going.

1. Look to Examples

Look to the examples around you. I always like to observe people with children older than my own to see what they do and what I like and what I don’t. I don’t mean this in a judging way–I don’t like the “mommy wars” of whose way is better than whose way. We all have our own priorities and goals. I like to observe what efforts produce the results I am looking for, and what efforts do not. I am looking for what I want for my family and trying to emulate those actions. I tweak them for our family and make them work for us. This idea of observation is discussed in On Becoming Childwise. See this post for more on that: Instilling Qualities: Observation.

2. Believe That You Will Miss It Some Day and Live in the Moment

Sometimes when the older women approach you in the store or at church and tell you how much you will miss these years so you better enjoy it, you really just want to punch them in the face hand off your kids and walk away and see how much they really do miss it. However, this is the comment I get most often from older women, so I really try to heed that advice to enjoy the moments. When something gets ruined, I try to think about how that mark on that book will always remind me of when so-and-so was young. When my freshly washed window has fingerprints and has been licked (WHY?!?!?), I try to remind myself that I will miss those prints and licks (so they say!). I try to enjoy it for what it is because apparently, someday I will miss it. See also Enjoy the Moment.

Along those same lines, I try to live in the moment. I don’t like to think, “I can’t wait until…[so-and-so is older, so-and-so masters this skill, etc.]. I just try to enjoy where everyone is for what they are at that moment. There will always been things you love and things you don’t love about each stage, so you have to just focus on what you enjoy rather than pining away for what you believe will surely be better in the future. See also It’s A Journey, Not A Destination

3. Simplify Where Possible

Simplify your life so you have the time and energy needed to do what is necessary. We can’t do it all, and when we try to do more than we can handle, we start to let important things slide. When we are too busy,we get tired, and when we get tired, we find it easier to let the child get her way than to correct her and require obedience. For more on this, see Days of Motherhood.  See also Good Sacrifice vs. Foolish Sacrifice. See also  Slow the Pace

4. Have Faith the Hard Work Will Pay Off

Day in and day out, you are taking small steps and working hard to make sure your child is being raised in the best way for your child. You remind your child over and over again to do a certain thing (say yes mommy, put shoes away, clean up after self…) and sometimes you wonder why you even bother. And is this much attention to the schedule that important? And why bother with bedtime and naps because life could be a bit less complicated if you weren’t worried about those things…

Have faith that your hard work will pay off. This brings us back to number one. Who are your positive examples? Their hard work paid off! This is something that gets easier with perspective. This is why having a fourth baby is less stressful than the first; you know the hard work pays off at some point. When you need a pep talk, look through my pep talks: Word to the Weary/Pep Talks Index

5. Take Breaks At Times

Sometimes, you need a change in the schedule. Sometimes, you as a mom need a girls’ night out. You need to take a break from the sharp focus of being a mom so you can see the big wide world, gain some perspective, and realize that everything will be okay. The world keeps spinning and your child refusing to sign at the end of the meal is not the end of the world.

Have time for yourself to develop your talents and to be you as an individual. See Developing Talents.

Sometimes you also need a break from the routine. Take a pajama day. Take a day to watch a movie as a family. Take the day off from your regular routine every once in a while. It will be a fun break, and when you return, everyone will be glad for it.

For more ideas in this area, see 10 Ways to Save Your Sanity.


Remember as you go along and things are hard, these hard times are what make us grow. Just like when you exercise, your muscles strengthen, when you practice managing time and efforts, you get better at it. See Increasing Our Capacity for more on that.

Valerie is a wife and mother of four, ages 7, 6, 4, and 9 months. She blogs at

Are Babywise Kids Smarter?


It’s been a long-held belief that IQ is a static thing. A person tests at a certain IQ level and maintains that level for the rest of their lives. Many say IQ is genetic, and there’s not much we can do to influence it.

I’ve been reading a bit about brain training lately, and I’m convinced that IQ is not a static measure of intelligence. Our brains are living, breathing organs that grow over time. Our brains have the ability to adapt and reorganize neural pathways and even build brand new ones. These neural pathways form the basis of our cognitive skills. And our cognitive abilities, quantified by IQ tests, measure our ability to not only hold knowledge, but also to process information. So because the brain is always adapting and building, our cognitive skills, and our IQ, never stay the same. The brain’s ability to adapt and grow is called neuroplasticity. When our brains are characterized by plasticity, they are by definition malleable, elastic, flexible, and pliable.

I can personally attest to this idea of neuroplasticity. In college, I could almost feel my brain growing. I learned so much in such a short period of time. I was surrounded by people who were educating themselves and professors who were experts in their fields. I was challenged intellectually like never before (or since). And not only was I taking in and storing information, I was learning the skills to study and process information.

So if our brains are so malleable, it seems entirely possible that parenting plays a huge role in the development of a child’s brain. And if that’s the case, is it possible that Babywise kids are smarter?

Babywise Moms are Typically Type A

We Babywise moms are typically type A personalities. We like things to be in their place, and we think nothing of making the effort to actively teach our children. From what I see on message boards and in my “real life” Babywise friends, we actively engage with our children, read to them religiously, think critically about what we should be reading to them, engage their imaginations, teach them basic academics before they enter school, and supplement school if we see that it’s lacking. I know of no Babywise mom who thinks it’s okay to plop her child in front of the TV and think nothing of the child’s cognitive development.

We Teach Self-Control

Another reason I think Babywise kids might be smarter is that they’ve been taught self-control. If I had to choose between teaching my child early reading skills or teaching self-control before Kindergarten, self-control would be it. If a child has no self-control, he’s not going to be able to sit and learn. His mind and body will be so busy doing other things, things guided by his impulsive brain, that his learning ability will be diminished. So much of early learning is about form and structure. Teaching a child to work diligently is immensely valuable. The habits of learning form the foundation of all future learning. And since Babywise kids are raised on a routine and are taught the benefits of structure, they are much more likely to work diligently than the child who is left to his own devices.

Babywise Kids Get Lots of Sleep

Does anyone disagree that sleep affects the brain’s ability to process information? We all know how we feel when we haven’t had enough sleep. Unless we’re loaded up on coffee, we’re in a fog all day. This very idea is addressed in Growing Kids God’s Way:

“Children who have established healthy sleep habits are optimally awake and optimally alert to interact with their environment. Having observed a generation of these children now, we see some common threads among the school-age population. In classroom settings, I have consistently found these children to be more self-assured, happier, less demanding, more sociable, inspired, and motivated. They have longer attention spans and become faster learners because they are more adaptable. Mediocrity among this population is rare, while excellence is common,” (Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 253).

I love that the Ezzos describe these children as happier and more social. It’s not all about academics, folks. I don’t think the Ezzos would encourage us to give our kids 5 hours of homework every night for the sake of getting ahead. No amount of academic advancement is worth the risk of creating undue stress. In fact, when we push our kids too far too fast, we run the risk of burning them out. A child who’s burned out at age 10 may be academically ahead, but will it serve them well in the future? Will they even want to go to college? This says nothing of the effects on a child’s character when he believes he’s smarter than all of his peers.

It’s all about balance and priorities. And I think the Ezzos have it right in teaching Babywise moms to give our kids the skills and foundation to effectively learn. But they also place a huge priority on developing our kids’ moral foundation. In fact, they may even say that this moral foundation is more important than any skills that enable them to learn. But the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

If you are a Babywise mom, you can walk away from this post knowing that you’re giving your child the skills he needs to succeed in school. And not only can you trust that you’ve prepared him for school, but you can also trust that you’ve instilled important values that will serve him well in school and beyond.

Prevention: Lay a Foundation


Earlier this week, I talked about the benefits of outdoor play and cultivating the imagination in our children. Both of these ideas speak to the heart of what it so important in training our children: laying a foundation. By laying a foundation for our kids and our parenting, we do more to prevent problems with our children than to deal with them after they occur.

A few weeks ago, I asked you all what you wanted to read more about. Many of you said you wanted to learn more about consequences. I feel like I’m shirking my duty in giving you what you need. But I also feel like you’ll have more success as a parent if you lay the right foundation. It’s better to do your work ahead of time and set your child up for success than it is to discipline a child after the fact.

I certainly relate, though. When I first got my hands on On Becoming Childwise, I skipped ahead to the chapters on discipline. I felt like I needed a fix and I needed it now! I felt like if I could just get my hands on the right discipline method (timeouts, logical consequences, etc.) I would have my answer. That was so short-sighted of me. If there is anything I’ve learned in my 8.5 years of parenting, it’s that there is no quick fix in parenting.

This idea is even a primary focus in my e-book. Before I get into the specifics of training our children in first-time obedience, we need to set the stage. We need to do all we can to avoid child-centered parenting (couch time), give them independent play, schedule their days, make sure they eat healthy meals and get quality sleep, and more.

This applies to everything we hope to accomplish with our children. It goes beyond behavior. So whether you’re hoping to improve table manners or wanting them to get ahead in school, it’s all about laying that foundation. We need to set an example and create an environment that allows them to succeed.

An example of this is giving our boys outside time. While our greatest desire for our child may be creating a piano prodigy, we need to recognize our kids’ needs and give them the things they will need to succeed. It’s only by giving them outside time that we can expect them to sit still at the piano for any length of time. It’s only be cultivating their imagination that we can inspire creativity. It’s only by scheduling their day that we make sure we have time for it all.

This idea of laying a foundation forms the basis of my parenting. I believe in it so much that it affects everything I do with my kids. If we’re having issues with my boys not listening, I won’t immediately blame them or come up with a discipline plan. I will think through whatever it is that I’m doing wrong in laying a foundation. Whenever we have struggles, rather than blame my kids or lecture them on it, I’ll reevaluate our schedule and find a renewed commitment to follow it. (Following a schedule is one of my weaknesses.)

The other wonderful benefit of laying a foundation is that it’s all under our control. We cannot physically control our kids, but we can use our authority to follow a schedule, make sure they are in bed on time, take them outside, do couch time, and more. Probably the biggest detriment in laying our foundation is believing that it’s important.

Look at it this way. Our society has gotten a little carried away with the idea that popping a pill will cure whatever ails us. Popping a pill is so much easier than changing our diets or exercising. But we all know deep down that diet and exercise are the only true ways to improving our health. The same holds true with our children. Perfecting your timeout routine or finding a new logical consequence is akin to popping a pill. Laying that foundation and setting the stage for success for our children — the equivalent of diet and exercise — ensures a healthy home and children who will live the lives we want most for them.

My Vaccine Story


The AAP (American Association of Pediatrics) has just released a new vaccine schedule. It’s interesting that this should just come out because my own vaccine story had an interesting little development last week. Along with apparently 21% of the parent population, I choose to follow a delayed vaccine schedule with my kids. I follow a fairly natural lifestyle and diligently take my multivitamin, Vitamin D, and fish oils. When it comes to medication, I shy away from it as much as I can. In fact, both of my kids were born drug-free. Well, I had two small doses of an IV med with William, but no epidural with either of them.

Having given birth in a fairly natural setting, I learned that I didn’t necessarily need to give my kids that Hep B shot at birth. If I didn’t have it, they weren’t going to have it. That much was clear. Throughout William’s first year, for the most part, I listened to his doctor when she said which vaccines were recommended when. But she was also really good in helping me determine if I needed each and every shot at the time that the AAP recommended it. I had an inkling that I might wanted to follow my own schedule but I didn’t know where to start. I also knew that MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) was the one most commonly associated with problems, so I knew I was going to put that one off.

When William was a year old, I took him in for his well visit, and she told me about all the shots that were recommended for his age. I was a little bewildered by the fact that they wanted to pump all of this medication in my sweet child all at once. My sister’s kids came down with a case of whooping cough, and I knew it was bad news for babies, so I kept up with the DTaP vaccine. And while I had chicken pox as a kid, it wasn’t fun and I wanted to spare him the torture if I could. The doctor was also really adamant about polio since his own aunt suffered life-long trauma from it. So we left it at that. MMR was off the list…for the time being.

Well, just two weeks later, I heard in the news that an international traveler had brought measles to our area. A short 20-minute drive and a back luck encounter would have been bad news. So we headed back to the doctor for MMR.

Not long after, I happened to notice a little hiccup in William’s development. He stopped talking. He had been saying “mama” for about a month, starting at 11 months. Right around 12 months, at the same time he got the shots, he stopped talking altogether. I know there’s great debate about vaccines contributing to our Autism epidemic, and I’m still not sure how much stock I put into the idea, but I couldn’t help but make the connection. In fact, I feel lucky that I didn’t allow William to have all of those vaccines all at once. At least we waited the two weeks for MMR.

But here we were on this road to developmental delays. At about 18 months, William started getting speech therapy. And it wasn’t until he was about 2.5 that he started saying individual words, and then at age 3, he was speaking sentences.

Mind you, his SPD (sensory processing disorder) hadn’t yet been diagnosed and could have been a key player in his speech delay. The same holds true for his dairy allergy. I knew he didn’t tolerate dairy as a baby, but around a year old, I reintroduced it thinking that he had outgrown the allergy. (Little did I know that we rarely ever outgrow these things.) It’s entirely possible that it was a combination of all of these factors that contributed to his speech delay.

Soon after William turned 3, Lucas came along. I did my research and came up with a delayed schedule that I felt comfortable with. His doctor and I went over it, and while he disagreed with me (he’s a “by the book” doctor), there wasn’t much he could do to prevent me from following it. And we had much bigger things going on with Lucas, as he was admitted to the hospital at 2 months old with RSV and was subsequently diagnosed with asthma.

But as with William, I was preparing for the time when Lucas would hit a year old and we’d have to decide what to do about MMR. I spent countless time on the phone hunting down a pharmaceutical company that made the three vaccines (measles, mumps, and rubella) separately. Unfortunately, I had no luck. They had stopped making them separately.

Then when Lucas was about 13 or 14 months, we were exposed to the chicken pox. My sister had recognized it in her child after we had spent several days with them. Again, I didn’t want my child to have to suffer through the disease, so we rushed to the doctor and got the varicella vaccine. Apparently, it had done some good. Lucas suffered a very mild case of it, and luckily, he was well enough in time that we didn’t have to cancel our trip to New York!

After a change in doctors (and bad record-keeping), a visit to a naturopath, a mission to rid ourselves of food intolerances, and William’s SPD diagnosis, I became all the more fearful of vaccines. In fact, I learned that one of the symptoms of a food intolerances is red ears, and many times, when my kids were vaccinated, they walked away with bright red ears. There was something unnatural going on in their bodies, and it made me uncomfortable.

With William’s SPD diagnosis, I became all too aware of Autism, SPD, and all of the other afflictions that happen to children these days. With a year of speech therapy and 3.5 years of occupational therapy now, I am surrounded by it. Once a week, I get a glimpse into the world that exists for these children who don’t seem to have control over their bodies and their parents, some of whom seem to live life hanging by a thread.

Ultimately, my rule for vaccines became one of simplicity. It was merely this: I would allow one vaccine at a time (and discuss it with the physician, giving him great control over the decision) and that I would never vaccinate a child who showed signs of illness. If their immune system was already in overdrive and if vaccines were called into question by parents of kids with Autism, I was going to take a cautious route.

Well, it turns out that Lucas’ little life has been full of sickness. We were dealing with constant colds and tummy bugs (made worse by dairy), ear infections, fevers, asthma, and more. The child has never been healthy at his “well” visits. So his vaccines got pushed out. Always, in the back of my mind, was the idea that he had yet to receive MMR.

Now, as you might be able to tell, I’m not some dread-lock-wearing hippie who shuns all medical care and all vaccines. I eat organic food because it’s healthy. I got rid of our non-stick pans because of the chemicals that leach into our food. I did the same with all the plastic in my kitchen. So I choose to follow some natural lifestyle choices, but I always have a reason behind them. I didn’t unilaterally reject all vaccines. I know they are important, and there’s nothing more important to me than my children’s health. There just didn’t seem to be a driving force behind the MMR for Lucas.

This brings me to last week. A few days ago, I saw that our local newspaper posted on Facebook about a case of the measles in our county. And not only was it in our county, but the person who had contracted the disease frequented the same grocery store and Starbucks that we go to all time. This shopping center is within walking distance of my house, and it’s a nice little outing when we need to get out.

As you might imagine, I freaked out. The weight of my vaccine choices came crashing down on me in one fell swoop. Here I was with a child who could have been exposed to measles, and I could have had him vaccinated (while sick or otherwise), but hadn’t. The case of mommy guilt I had from giving birth to a second child with my husband in Kuwait paled in comparison to this vaccine doozy. And of course, I looked up the symptoms on the Internet (never a good idea) and was hit in the face with the word “encephalitis.”

The next morning, I had a doctor’s appointment for myself and brought my brood along with me. The minute we got there, I requested that Lucas get MMR. By this point, I had calmed down a bit and realized that we were never in the grocery store or Starbucks at the same time as the person with measles. It was close, but the grocery store is big, and the odds of him catching it hours later were slight. Nonetheless, he got the shot, even though he was sick. Of course, he was sick. But I couldn’t chance it. I figured, if anything, the shot might help reduce the significance of the illness, as it had done with the chicken pox, if he ended up getting it.

He spent the entire day after getting the shot sweating up a storm, apparently caused by a low-grade fever. But he tolerated the shot without incident. He’s still got a runny nose and a nasty cough, but I attribute that more to the cold and asthma than the shot.

William and I also got a couple shots. I was vaccinated against whooping cough since it’s going around, and William needed a second dose of MMR.

I also walked away from the experience with a renewed determination to get my kids caught up on their vaccines. I have printed out the AAP’s new schedule and I’ll compare it to their records to come up with a plan. Besides, now that they’re older, I feel like there’s very little chance that my kids will become Autistic.

So there you have it: my long, meandering vaccine story. I tell this not to influence you in any way about vaccines. I think everybody needs to make these choices for themselves, but I do think every parent should make a conscious, educated choice about vaccines. Perhaps you can learn a bit from my story.

How to Manage Screen Time

Lucas with remote, age 2

Lucas with remote, age 2

We all know that we are supposed to limit our kids’ screen time, right? Whether it’s TV, video games, the iPad, or our smartphones, a screen is a screen. It can be so nice after a long day to let our kids veg out in front of a screen and give us some much-needed quiet. But while we’re enjoying that quiet, we know deep down that our kids’ brains are rotting from the inside out!

So what are we to do to manage their screen time? Some would say we should eliminate screens altogether. I know of a couple families who have lived without a TV. I commend them for living a TV-free lifestyle. But ultimately, I think depriving our kids completely does more harm than good. When they hear friends talk about their favorite TV shows or hear about the latest Angry Birds app, these kids will feel like social pariahs. Not only that, but when they are finally introduced to TV and all its flashy goodness, they’ll want nothing to do with their former TV-free existence. As with anything in life, when we feel deprived of something (TV, food, etc.), we want it all the more.

For those of us who do have TVs, computers, and mobile devices in our homes, we are called upon to actively manage our kids’ exposure. (That TV-free life sounds kinda good in comparison.) But knowing that we don’t want to deprive them completely or let their brains rot, our only choice is to manage.

Fortunately for you, I seem to have found the answer to managing screen time: trade time.

By trade time, I mean that we trade our kids for the time they spend in front of a screen. I started this recently and it’s working wonderfully. I require my kids to earn minutes. For every minute they earn, they can spend it in front of a screen. Here’s the key to trading time: to earn minutes, they have to do something I want them to do. And when I think about how I want them to spend time that is completely different from zoning out in front of a screen, it involves reading!

Sometimes my kids will earn minutes by finishing their school work early or by having a good attitude. But mostly, they earn minutes by reading. Lucas is still learning to read, so I simply require him to leaf through a book. Any book is fine, and oddly enough, he will sometimes choose chapter books. My only requirement is that he tell me that he wants to earn minutes so I can time him. We have a simple digital timer that I use to track his time.

William is a fairly advanced reader, but he will still choose comic books and magazines over chapter books. But to earn screen time, this doesn’t cut it. He has to read a chapter book. I bought him a bookmark that has a digital timer attached, so he can easily track his own time. I know he would never lie to me about it, so I let him track his own time.

The beauty of this plan is that it puts all the power of screen time in their hands. If William has only 5 minutes, he will choose to read for another 25 before he asks for a device. And they get a sense for how time can fly when you’re in front of a screen, a skill that many adults haven’t mastered.

The other wonderful benefit is that they seem to spend much less time in front of a screen. They can make the choice to read and earn time or simply play with Legos or some other toy. It’s all up to them, and I’ve learned that sometimes Legos are just as attractive as screen time.

And one final benefit of this plan: no nagging required!

I can even get them to do their more difficult chores before I allow screen time. They will come to me with the number of minutes they have earned, and I will allow them to have their screen time. But before I do, I make a quick request for them to put away a few toys, empty the dishwasher, or any other quick chore. They do it without complaint since they know that device (usually my iPhone or iPad) is calling their name.

I will admit, there are still times that I allow screen time simply because I need the quiet. But I make the clear distinction when the TV is on for my benefit or theirs. If it’s for my benefit, they don’t have to earn minutes. I just use caution and don’t do this very often.

Picky Eaters

William eating sushi

William eating sushi

Do you have a picky eater? If you’re unsure, you don’t. Those of us who have picky eaters cannot deny that we do. There’s no question. Raising a picky eater is no easy task. But as with many things in parenting, it comes down to training.

Lucas is my picky eater. William is decidedly not a picky eater. At the right are a couple pictures of William eating food that many picky eaters wouldn’t even consider touching (sushi and steak salad). I’m thankful that he’s not picky because he’s my child who has the most food issues. He has a slew of food intolerances and blood sugar instability that might be diagnosed as hypoglycemia. With his restrictions, he cannot live on pasta and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like many picky eaters do.

William eating steak salad

William eating steak salad

I’m lucky that my youngest is my picky eater. William has taught me that kids can eat a wide variety of foods. I was a picky eater as a kid, and my mom would typically make me new food when I refused to eat. So I’m sure if my oldest was a picky eater, I would have done the same. But after seeing William eat everything from broccoli to lentil soup, I knew that Lucas was perfectly capable of eating these foods, too.

I remember when Lucas was still sitting in a high chair, I always made it a point to put a green vegetable on his tray. At first, I didn’t ask him to eat it. I just wanted him to see it. Most days, he would move it away and put it in the tray’s cup holder. He wasn’t shy about the fact that he had no intentions of eating it. But I kept putting it there, day after day. Whatever green veggie we were eating, I put one small piece on his tray. We ate spinach salad quite a bit back then, so I usually put one small leaf. Well, my plan worked. After time, he decided that it wasn’t so scary after all. He eventually started taking small bites, and years later, he’s now to the point where he’ll happily eat a whole serving of green vegetables.

Some might say that given this experience Lucas isn’t truly a picky eater. I do believe that picky eaters are born, not made. I recognized this the first time Lucas would take in a bite of a casserole and filter out the meat so he could spit it out. But I also believe that parents have the power to change their kids’ picky eating habits. We don’t need to simply throw up our hands and say there’s nothing we can do.

There’s also something to be said about food intolerances and picky eating. Typically, when we have a food intolerance, we tend to crave that food. So if a child doesn’t tolerate wheat, she may want to eat nothing but pasta and bread. It sounds counterintuitive, but when we don’t tolerate a food, it creates an opiate effect in the brain. It’s a drug! If a child eats a food that doesn’t feed that opiate craving, they want nothing to do with it. They will get to the point where they’ll eat nothing but the foods they crave. I’ve had a few friends who I’ve described this to, and a couple were completely fearful of the idea of eliminating the food the child craves. They said that the child would eat nothing! Kids are smart. They won’t starve themselves. I have one friend who heard my advice, and after eliminating wheat, her daughter got so healthy and made great strides in social and physical development.

The other reason I believe that parents can change their picky eaters is that many kids often decide to stop being so picky because they see that their siblings eat well. I have a friend whose oldest is a picky eater. After little sister came along and showed her brother that she could eat well and there was nothing scary about it, he got better.

If you have a picky eater, I have a few words of advice:

1) Your first goal should be to not make special food. Always feed the child something you know he will like (e.g., plain rice along with the chicken he doesn’t like), but never make a new meal. The child should eat what the family eats. With the one food you know he will eat, he won’t starve.

2) Eat together as a family. If he sees that everyone he knows and loves eats this food, he’ll be more inclined to eat.

3) With foods that the child finds particularly distasteful, simply put them on his plate day after day, but don’t require him to eat. Encourage him, but don’t require him.

4) Limit the child’s liquid intake before a meal. Lucas used to fill up on milk or water to avoid having to eat what we were serving.

5) Use dips to your advantage. Kids like to dip, and if ketchup helps cover up the taste, so be it. Let him.

6) While you’re working on his picky habits, talk to his doctor about nutrients. Find out if you need to supplement calcium or any other vitamin.

7) Don’t tell other people, within the child’s earshot, that he’s a picky eater. The more you validate it, the more he’ll live up to the label. Convince him that he’s capable of eating any food.

So trust that all hope is not lost with picky eaters. Train your child to eat well in the same way that you would teach him to read. Take it slowly and be patient. Every child is capable of breaking habits, which is exactly what picky eating is. Help him overcome his picky eating ways, and he’ll thank you for it when he’s an adult.

I’d love to hear from you if you have a picky eater. Have you found any other tactics that work?