Tag Archives: parenting

Keeping kids entertained

This article will be published in the Press Democrat on Friday, February 8.

A friend of mine had to teach a group of teenagers about how seeds travel so they can germinate. Her challenge: how to teach about the topic and also keep these technology driven kids interested for more than an hour.

As a crafts teacher for younger children, her natural talents were geared towards more artistic activities. So my friend utilized her skills and had the teens decorate “seeds,” or in this case, wine corks that would represent seeds. You should have seen how fast those teens grabbed at stickers, paint daubers and colorful pens to decorate their corks.

Then my friend took the teens to the local creek. The teens were instructed to throw their corks in the water and watch as they got closer and closer to the finish line/collection point my friend had put at the end of the race, where the corks could be retrieved. The teens got really into it, following their “seeds” as some corks flowed downstream easily while others got stuck behind rocks. In the process, all of the kids not only learned something new but were entertained beyond their smartphones, MP3 players and video games.

Sometimes it takes a little bit of creativity to “trick” youngsters into having fun away from their electronic toys.

One of the hardest parts of raising kids is knowing how to keep them entertained. It’s easy to let them sit in front of the TV for hours on end. But to get them up and moving, or to exercise their mind? Finding ideas to occupy them when they’ve run out of things to do can be a real challenge.

For Robert Correa of Novato, the answer to keeping kids occupied is as easy as giving them a list of things to do every time they say they’re bored.

“Housekeeping, lawn mowing, dog walking, baby-sitting, reading, dishwashing,” Correa listed off the top of his head. He suggested that older kids would find enjoyment in being taught how to cook, and any kid can fly a kite, paint a picture, ride their bike, or skate. He also noted that kids should call their grandparents when they find they have “nothing to do,” just to tell their grandma and grandpa they are loved. And, of course, there is nothing like throwing an impromptu dance party in the privacy of your own living room.
“Put on some of your old records or CDs and dance together or sing together,” Correa said.

Elizabeth Dalton of Santa Rosa has three boys, ages 6 and 4 years old, and 20 months, and knows all too well the importance of having something fun up her sleeve to keep her sons entertained. One activity she discovered is called geocaching, otherwise known as a good old-fashioned treasure hunt. But in Dalton’s case, she gives the activity a prehistoric theme.

“I bury dinosaur toys outside and have the kids dig them out,” she said.

Jessica Snowden of Santa Rosa has a different kind of treasure hunt she suggests for quick entertainment.

“Make a list of age appropriate items,” she suggested, like telling younger kids to find something tall or red, and older kids to find something horizontal or bigger than a foot. As they find each item, then can check them off their pre-made list. “I have done this treasure hunt in teams for birthday parties or sleepovers,” Snowden said. “I have also done it with cameras,” she added, noting that cellphones and handheld video game systems worked well for this activity, allowing kids to capture their treasure through a photo instead of collecting the actual item.

Lorna Brown, owner of My Gym Santa Rosa, is known for having fun things for younger kids to do. One game she plays with kids is to blow up balloons (not helium), and give one to each child.

“Give them indoor space to bop them around, encouraging them to keep them up in the air,” Brown instructed. “Let them know that if their balloon pops, then game over.” She suggested that when the kids need a break from so much play, they can stop and decorate their balloons with markers.

And every kid can benefit from an “I’m bored jar.” Take an afternoon to brainstorm 100 fun things to do. Add in things like making homemade playdough, taking a hike in the hills, building a fort in the living room, learning how to speak Pig Latin, writing an illustrated children’s book, trying to beat your own record of bouncing a ball on a tennis racket, blowing the biggest bubblegum bubble, or anything else you and the kids can think of. Every time the kids say, “I’m bored,” point them toward the jar and have them pick an activity at random.

Do you have any tricks to entertain your kids when they have nothing to do?

Why I let my teen move out

I know I already wrote about this.  In fact, she has already moved.  But after much thought, I decided to also write a newspaper article about what’s going on in our home.  I figure plenty of divorced families are going through the same thing as their child decides which parent to live with full time.  So I am sharing my own personal story.

Note: I am doing ok.  DQ is too.  It’s still a transition, and a lot to get used to.  But so far, everything seems to be going smoothly.

This article will print on January 11, 2013 in the Press Democrat.


My 14-year-old daughter, DQ, is moving out.

It’s weird, I never thought I’d type these words before she turned 18. But here I am, standing by as she packs up her bags and prepares to leave the nest. My nest. The one I have padded with protection and comfort since the day she was born, through a messy divorce, during financially tight times, and in her tumultuous teen years. She is flying the coop with my assistance when I drive her a full three hours away to live with her father.

And this might just be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

For 14 years, I have been her primary caregiver, the one who is responsible for every aspect of her life. I am the one who has filled out her school forms, checked her homework (till her homework got too smart for me), packed her lunches, and made her doctor’s appointments. I was the parent she told about her first love, and the parent who picked up the pieces when her heart was broken a few weeks later. I am her chauffeur, her personal chef, her nurse, her cheerleader, her everything she needed me to be so she can be a happy kid. I’ve gone to every one of her soccer games. I volunteer at the camp she attends every year. And I have done all this on my own. So to hand over the reins to her dad, allowing her to move three hours away and out of my realm of parenting, was way beyond my comfort level.

My first impulse was to say no, absolutely not. But she asked me to at least think about it. So I agreed to mull it over before I ultimately said no.

I was at war with what was the right thing to do in this situation. Of her two parents, I had proven to be the more responsible. Our two children, DQ and Taz, live with me full time, and I have fit my whole entire life within their schedule and comfort. Their father, who moved several counties away a few years ago, has never had the privilege of moving heaven and earth to make it to a parent-teacher conference at the same time as a mandatory meeting at work. I’ve been the parent while he’s been the one they visit occasionally. I’ve accepted that this is what works for raising the kids, and hold no bitterness over this. It’s just the way it is. But to give up my place as my daughter’s primary parent was rocking a boat I didn’t want rocked.

During the time when I was to be thinking this over (even though my mind was still set on NO), DQ took the time to patiently discuss all the perks of her living with her father. She talked about her new baby brother over there, how she would get a chance to know him and help take care of him. She took me on a virtual tour of her new town through Google Maps, pointing the cursor towards all of her favorite hangouts a few blocks from her home. She told me about the friends she had there, helping me to get to know them though her description. She handled the whole situation like she was the adult and I was the child. She was patient and kind, helping me with a hard transition. I was stubborn and tearful, refusing to budge.

Then a funny thing happened – my eyes were suddenly opened.

It didn’t happen on my own, but through a lot of help. I talked with my husband at great lengths about the whole decision. I discussed it with a counselor. And eventually, I called my ex-husband himself and talked about the possibility of our daughter moving in with him. After much deliberation and thought, I realized I had much less reasons to say no, and many more reasons to say yes.

So I let her go.

DQI know in my heart that I’ve made the best decision I could for her. DQ gets a chance to get to know her other side of her family, the part that makes up the other half of her. I, in turn, get to feel what it’s like on the other side of the coin – the one where I merely get to visit her instead of seeing her every single day. This still feels like a bad dream. I keep waiting for DQ to tell me she’s changed her mind. Of course, she hasn’t and likely won’t.

But I’ve realized something. Loving a child isn’t just about holding on to them and protecting them. It isn’t just about being there every step of the way.

Sometimes love is knowing when to let go.

Dating your kids

Vintage WC Mom – 2010. An impromptu misty evening of play at the Montgomery High School football field when they left the lights on and we just so happened to have a football in the car.

This article appears in the Press Democrat on Friday, October 6, 2012.

Last month I wrote about the importance of dating your spouse. Hopefully this resulted in some kid-free, uninterrupted conversation, and perhaps even a few steamy moments…. If not, let this serve as a note of inspiration to book a sitter for a much needed night out with your other half.

This week, however, I want to talk to you about the importance of dating other people – your children. That’s right, those little crumb grinders that are constantly hanging around your ankles looking for something to do would love to have some one-on-one time with their favorite person in the whole world – YOU*.

*Note: Level of strength in the word “favorite” as it relates to you directly depends on their age and whether they are going through puberty or not.

There are many sensible reasons to spend solo time with your child. Making time for your child tells them they’re important, helping to boost their self esteem. It gives you a chance to get to know your child as they grow, and also allows the opportunity for them to talk about anything they’re hesitant to mention in front of other family members. Feelings of jealousy and sibling rivalry are lessened as they learn they don’t have to compete for your attention.

Dating your child is an important practice to make at every stage in their life, not just when they’re young. As they grow older and start exerting their independence, it’s especially vital to insist on time spent with them to remain a positive influence in their life. By the time your child is a teenager, you will be in direct competition with your child’s peers, the media, and the community you live in when it comes to instilling values in your child. Every time you lessen your involvement in your child’s life and fail to spend quality time with them, you are taking yourself out of the equation during important value building years. But when you make it a point to spend time with your child, you are ensuring your voice is heard among all the other voices your child hears when making life-changing decisions. Even when it seems you have to fight your child to hang out with you, insist on at least one specified amount of time a week when the two of you can spend quality time together. It gives them the message that you genuinely care, even if they won’t say this out loud.

Here are a few tips to take with you as you plan some one-on-one time with your son or daughter:

Turn off all distractions, and ask them to do the same. This especially includes your cell phone. Unless you have a job that requires you to be on-call for emergencies, ensure that your child doesn’t have to compete with anyone else to hold your full attention. By making this a hard and fast rule, you are also teaching your son or daughter proper etiquette when they are spending time with anyone – whether it be you or somebody else – that it is important for them to treat the person they are with as their priority and not the person that is texting them on their phone.

Let your child take the reins on what you two will do. All too often we are guilty of dictating family activities. Sometimes we even choose things we’re interested in, but are totally boring to our kids. For one-on-one time, give your child the power to choose what the two of you will do. If they have trouble thinking of something, offer them a few choices to pick from. A date night can be as elaborate as dinner to a nice restaurant, or as simple as playing catch in the yard. The important part is spending time together.

Keep the conversation flowing. Ask them to share the best parts about the latest videogame they’re obsessing about. Play the “What’s your favorite” game when you both get to list your favorite things, from places in the world to things to eat, and everything in between. Learn more about them by taking turns listing the five worst things about the week so far, and then end with the five best things that happened this week.

Listen effectively. Listening requires more than our ears, but our eyes and our brains as well. When your child is speaking, pay attention to their body language. Are their movements saying something deeper than their words? When it’s natural, paraphrase what they’re saying so it’s clear they are being heard. As it becomes clear they’re being heard, it will be easier for your child to cooperate in conversation with you, as well as modeling proper listening skills for them to give you in return.

What are some things you like to do with your kids? Leave some suggestions in the comments. 🙂

The cool parent

Four generations of first borns – from my grandmother to my daughter.

This post will publish in the Press Democrat on Friday, September 7, 2012.

On a recent afternoon, my daughter DQ and I were on our way back from dropping my son, Taz, off at his friend’s house. I had assumed that DQ was going to spend the rest of the day bored since one of her best friends was grounded that day, so I racked my brain for something we could do together.

“What do you want to do?” I asked her, and was surprised when she said she already had plans.

“Katie and I are hanging out today,” she told me, even though her friend was not supposed to see the light of day for another 24-hours. From what I had heard, Katie had mouthed off to her grandmother pretty badly. As long as I had known Katie, I had never heard of any limitations being placed on her freedom. So she must have acted really badly for her mother to come down hard on her. But it wasn’t even a full day later and she was sprung from her cell and able to go free once again.

“What happened?” I asked DQ. “I thought Katie was grounded?”

“She was, but her mom changed her mind.” And then DQ said something that I’ll never forget. “It’s weird, but Katie has told me she wishes her mom would actually follow through when she punishes her. It would show that she actually cared.”

I’ve heard this theory before, that teens want boundaries to keep them safe whether they know it or not. But this was the very first time I had ever heard a kid actually voice this sentiment – that they wanted to know where the edge of their freedom stood through rules and discipline.  It made me think that maybe Katie was purposely pushing boundaries, testing her mom’s reaction when she got caught.

My friend Sara recently described a horrifying scene she‘d been witnessing on her Facebook newsfeed that only seemed to be getting worse. As of late, her cousin’s 15-year old daughter had been very blatant about showcasing her negative behavior all over her Facebook page. There were photos of her with friends holding bottles of alcohol and posts talking about staying out all night while she was partying, as well as call-outs to friends when she didn’t have any plans and was looking for the next reason to party.

Her mother seemed to turn a blind eye to her daughter’s antics, even though she has access to her daughter’s Facebook page and can see all that’s happening on there. Sara described how countless people had reached out to this girl only to be told to mind their own business by her and her friends, and sometimes ignored completely. But it was the latest incident that left Sara shaking to her core and unsure what to do. The young girl had posted an actual video of herself and some friends partaking in illegal drug use – right out in the open for everyone to see.

Was this video to share with her friends to make herself look cool? It’s possible. Was she looking for approval from others? Judging by the negative backlash from anyone concerned, probably not. Sara’s guess was that this was a cry for help, that she was trying to get her mom’s attention – someone who had made herself more of the “cool mom” to her daughter than the parent who was in charge.

Kids don’t need their parents to be “cool”. They need them to provide boundaries to keep them safe.

There’s a natural pull to want to be our kids’ friends. From the moment they’re born, we love them immensely. They are familiar to us, and under our influence appreciate many of the same things we enjoy doing or experiencing. My dad used to jokingly tell me that he and my mom were growing their own friends by having my sisters and me.

Silliness on New Year’s Eve with DQ

It’s ok to be friends with your child, but with limitations put in place. Staying involved in their lives, getting to know who their friends are, and keeping up with what their changing interests are is a good way to be a parental friend to your child. Having a moment each day for one on one time, and more importantly, listening to them, is a great way to keep a connection with them. But when you find yourself caving when it comes to discipline, confiding in them with issues of an adult nature, or forgoing rules altogether to be known as the “cool” parent, you’re actually failing your child.

Kids are going through a constant motion of change. They’re physically and mentally growing, and at times it can feel pretty out of control. As they earn more and more independence, they need a constant in their life to hold on to. They need boundaries to keep them safe. They need someone to be in charge.

They need you to be a parent.

7 things to say to your toddler

Vintage Taz (circa 2005, I think… He was about 4 here)

(This article publishes in the Press Democrat on August 24, 2012.)

Raising a toddler is much like going the opposite direction on an escalator – you have to work twice as hard to get to your destination or you’ll never reach the top. Between coaxing them to get a move on and pleading with them to behave, it’s tempting to rush whenever possible. But in the busy world of raising a toddler, there are some things you shouldn’t forget to tell your child along the way.

“Crying is not just for babies.” Kids of all ages should be given room to cry if that’s the emotion that needs to come out. When you try to bottle up her tears, you’re skipping over a teachable moment of helping her to name her feelings. Of course, it can be admittedly frustrating to handle the constant tears of a hypersensitive child, especially when you’re in a hurry. The number one key is to stay calm. If she’s more prone to tears, refrain from being overly sympathetic, but remain understanding. If you keep your cool, it gives her an anchor to pull out of the tears and move on with her day.

“It’s ok if we go slow.” You’ve got things to do. The laundry isn’t going to fold itself. The groceries are still sitting on the shelves at the store. There are bills to pay, places to be, people to see… But your toddler has his own agenda planned for the day. There’s the insistence that he can dress himself. There’s that exact moment in the day that’s perfect for running around in circles just out of your reach. The groceries on the shelves look perfect for knocking down, and the stroller isn’t as much fun to ride in as walking is – even if it’s much slower. I know you’re in a hurry. But isn’t life going fast enough? Take a few moments to go slow with your toddler and see the world at his level. You might be amazed at how much you can learn from a two-year-old.

“You can do it.” Most toddlers insist they are more than capable of doing everything on their own, asserting their own independence by attempting things just out of their reach. As tempting as it might be, practice restraint whenever you can and let your child do it on her own. If she gets frustrated, encourage her that she really can do it, only taking over when it’s absolutely necessary. Not only will her newfound freedom head off some of her stubbornness, it will also place healthy habits in both of you when teaching lifelong independence years down the road. When she’s a teenager and capable of cooking and cleaning on her own, you can look back on her toddler years and know you were on the right track.

“Everyone makes mistakes.” Jessica Snowden, a local mom of an autistic child, knows all too well the frustration that young children feel when they don’t get it right the first time. “Because my son is still ‘toddler-esque’, I tend to have to do things step by step and say ‘Everyone makes mistakes…that’s how we learn.’”

“I love you because…” Of course you love your toddler. And like most parents, you tell her this every day. But just as important as sharing your love with your child is to point out the things you love about her. ‘I admire the way you share with your friends.’ ‘I love how kind you are with animals.’ ‘You are so helpful when you pick up your toys!’ By pointing out all the things she does positively, it encourages her to keep up the good behavior.

“What do YOU want to do?” It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own agenda. But have you thought about asking him what HE wants to do? Even if he isn’t at an age when decision-making comes easily, it’s still a good practice to get him to think about his likes and dislikes, and what kinds of activities he prefers. Plus, this is another step towards encouraging his independence.

Most important is what your child SEES you doing rather than what they HEAR you say. “I believe the number one thing any parent can do, regardless of the age of a child, is to listen to them,” local mom Christina shared with me. “Talk to them in a reasonable tone. Use your eyes to express your love. Be patient and help them understand how they are feeling and teach them how to express how they feel.” And when it comes to acting out negatively, Christina urges parent to label the behavior rather than criticize the child. “Tell them that behavior is not acceptable and changes need to be made, but show them what is acceptable and show them by example.”

Being noticed

I was sitting in traffic the other day in San Francisco. Being a total country girl when it comes to driving the “Big City”, I had successfully made it all the way to Van Ness on my way to a conference I got to attend over the weekend. And I was pretty proud of myself. But at the same time, I was incredibly nervous. The conference start time was creeping up on me and I was unsure how much longer I had to drive. Plus, I’m not one to drive the San Francisco maze of streets every day. While I wanted to be sure to get to the conference safely, I also didn’t want to appear as the annoying tourist from out of town by driving stupidly. So I had to navigate the streets as if I knew what I was doing, even though I was only one wrong turn away from getting lost.

Thank goodness for a decent GPS.

At any rate, there I was in traffic, anticipating my next turn, and trying not to stress too much about being in unfamiliar surroundings headed to unfamiliar surroundings to attend a bunch of unfamiliar seminars when the bus driver in the bus next to me opened his door and waved me down.

“Great,” I thought. I rolled down my window, expecting him to inform me of a flat tire or that the gas pump was still hanging out of my gas tank.

“Gumorng,” he said. I squinted as I tried to understand which part of my car he was telling me was broken.

“Excuse me?” I asked him.

“Good morning!” he said, and belly laughed.

Shocking. Here I was in this big city where, at times, I feel like a tiny speck in a crowded anthill, and a San Francisco native had gone out of his way to bring little ole me a bit of cheer.

And it turned my whole day around.

It’s amazing how some of the smallest things mean the most. In this instance, two little words spoke a novel of ideas. While the bus driver had only said “good morning,” his action of kindness said, “You’re noticed. I see you. You matter.”

This made me think of the way we go about things in our own families. In my family, we tend to get overrun by activities. Now that there are 5 of us, there are 5 different schedules to adhere to. One has baseball, the other has soccer, and the oldest has high school band and sports. School triumphs all, and homework dictates life. Chores must be finished, and papers have to be signed. Add in to that equation two parents with very busy jobs, and you have a very busy family – and a very normal one.

Thing is, busy-ness can also create the same anthill effect I felt in San Francisco. Everyone is so intent on their own direction, just getting things done, that it’s possible for at least one member of the family to go a whole day without being seen. Most of the time, that person is the kid. While a parent might be carting kids from Point A to Point B, or instructing them to do their chores, or for the millionth time “please pick your backpack up off the floor!” there is no actual time of acknowledging their existence any further than “student” or “child” or “extremely forgetful kid who needs a reminder for every action”. After a grueling day of school (in the classroom, as well as surviving the playground), getting everything done on his list, and being lectured about everything he “forgot”, a very clear message is being sent – “It is not YOU that matters, it is what you do.”

What kind of difference would it make if we took the time to acknowledge them as WHO they are rather than what they’re supposed to be doing?

I was talking with a bunch of moms the other day, and one of them lamented the lack of time she spends with her children. She described her hectic morning with the kids and realized that through it all she hadn’t actually spent any quality time with them.

“I drove them to the grocery store and then home again, made them lunch, cleaned up after them… And yet, I don’t think I really saw them all day,” she said remorsefully. And we could all relate.

But in that same conversation, solutions were made. One of the favored suggestions was for car conversations. Much of our time is spent on the road carting the kids to and from activities or dragging them along on errands. What a perfect time to chat! First of all, your audience is held captive without choice. Ha! Take that teenagers! One mom I know promotes this by prohibiting phones or earbuds in the car to ensure that even when they aren’t speaking, they’re still hearing. Also, the fact that a child isn’t looking you in the eye makes it easier for them to share what’s going on with them. Admitting that their friend avoided them all day or that boy they’ve been eyeing doesn’t even know they exist is way easier when their parent’s watchful eye isn’t focused on them.

The point is, every child needs to be noticed. They need a kind word to turn around their day. They need to be given the chance to be heard. They need the message that they are noticed, that you see them, and that they matter.

Heck, we all need this, right?

So starting today, let’s make an effort to offer kind words generously. And let’s start with our own families. Who’s with me?