Saturday, May 19, 2012

Craft Project: Will's Activity Bag

Will's getting to that great age where he wants to do things himself and loves figuring out how things work.  Snaps, buckles, zippers, buttons, twisting the lids onto his cups, everything!  After he finishes eating and we remove his high chair tray, he loves trying to unbuckle and buckle the snaps that hold him in.  He can't unbuckle them yet, but loves snapping them back into place.

Will buckles himself back into his high chair.

His interest in all things that buckle, snap and fasten reminded me of a toy we had growing up that my Mom recently pulled down from the attic.  It's a clown that has shoe-laces you can tie, a button with a flap, a zipper, and even a velcro shoe.  What better toy for a toddler who's learning to do things for themselves?

Since Mr. Clown should live at Mimi and Grampa's house for all their grandchildren to play with, I thought I'd make Will an activity bag with the same idea.

My inspiration! The clown I played with growing up.

I bought a mini tote bag from L.L. Bean for $15.95, and then went to Joann Fabrics and picked up a variety of fun things to sew on it! I used a combination of non-toxic fabric glue and hand stitching to attach everything to the bag.  The overall cost for everything was less than $25, even including the fabric glue.  The same idea could be used to embellish a doll or any other bag!  I plan to fill this one with paper, crayons, and other small entertainments for road trips and waiting in restaurants.

Here's what I ended up with:

Velcro closures
Velcro closures: I machine sewed strap material onto pieces of velcro, then fabric glued and hand stitched the velcro backing onto the bag.  I hand stitched one edge of the strap onto the bag so the pieces that velcro off can't be completely removed.

Zipper: I bought a five inch zipper, used non-toxic fabric glue to put it on the bag, then reinforced it by hand stitching each of the four corners so it'd stay on.

Buttons: I took a small piece of fabric and machine sewed a button hole.  I cut the edge with zig-zag scissors, then fabric glued the edge to prevent unraveling and let it dry.  Then I fabric glued just the top and reinforced the corners with hand stitching so the flap can be buttoned and unbuttoned.  I also sewed on two decorative buttons on the side of the bag with the buckle.  NOTE: Buttons are choking hazards for small children.  Think about getting really big buttons, sewing them on really well, checking them regularly to make sure they're well attached, and supervising your child when they're playing with the bag.  You can also skip the buttons.

Buckle: I bought a buckle and strap and followed the instructions on the belt buckle for machine sewing the strap together and assembling it with the buckle.  Then I hand stitched it to the bag.  (Did you know you can buy those plastic buckles for only a few dollars?  For some reason I find that really cool.)

The buckle is definitely his favorite!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lecture Review: Dr. Alan Kazdin "Effective Parenting: Help with Discipline and Child Rearing"

Discipline.  Now that I have a toddler, it's the new Sleep.  The word on the street, if you will.

How do we teach our children how to behave?  It's a big question, and it takes up a lot of space on the parenting bookshelves.  We recently attended a lecture given by our local Mother's forum where Dr. Alan Kazdin, the director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, spoke about his recommendations for shaping child behavior.

Here's what I took away.

According to research studies, the best way to shape a child's behavior is to praise positive behavior in the right way so that the child wants to repeat it.

This can be challenging, because when we talk about teaching children to behave, we frequently focus on what we DON'T want them to do, rather than what we want them to do.  How can I keep Will from throwing food on the floor?  How can I get him to stop trying to poke Andrew in the eye?  Should I say no more firmly?  Try time outs? 

Kazdin would say I need to find the "positive opposite" of the negative behavior I'm trying to eliminate, then work to encourage it.  For example, I don't want Will to throw food on the floor.  I do want Will to keep his food on his tray, and hand me food he doesn't want in front of him or tell me he's all done when he is finished instead of systematically throwing things against the wall.  

Since I do want Will to keep his food on his tray, when he's eating his food and keeping it on his tray, I need to praise him for that behavior, but in the right way.  It needs to be immediate, either while it's happening or directly afterwards, it needs to be specific "Great job keeping the food on your tray while you eat it, that's wonderful!", it needs to be appropriately enthusiastic for the child's age, and it helps if you make light contact with the child, putting your hand on their arm, or back or giving them a hug.  

Praise pitfalls: Don't praise the child instead of the action - he's not a "good boy" because he kept food on his tray, he's a good boy because he's your son and you love him.  The action was good, comment on it specifically.  Don't mix your own feelings and emotions in as incentive - "Mommy is happy when you don't throw food on the floor."  Research shows that is less helpful than just praising the action without complicating the issue.

Finding the positive opposite of the behavior you want to discourage can be tough, and so can be finding your child modeling that behavior in order to praise it.  But over time, research has demonstrated that this is the best way of getting your child to behave differently.  "No" stops behavior in the short term, but won't reduce the frequency of the behavior in the future.  I still plan to tell Will "No" when I need him to stop something immediately, but after listening to Dr. Kazdin's compelling lecture, I no longer expect that magically on "No" number 518, Will's going to understand and stop throwing food on the floor.  I need him to want to keep his food on the tray because it feels good to get praise when he does.  (And no, this shouldn't lead to a day filled with praise for every little thing your child does right, after the behavior disappears, it usually stays gone without the need for regular praise to keep it gone.  Says research.  And you know I love research.)

Something interesting things we learned at the lecture:

It's not about understanding.  It's fine to explain to a child why they should not do something, but them understanding they shouldn't do it will not necessarily discourage that behavior.  I think every parent has seen their wonderful, adorable toddler look at them with a gleam in their eye right before they do something forbidden, even waiting so the parent can catch them doing it.  They know.  That's not the problem.  The problem is they require motivation to do differently.  We need to make them excited for the praise they'll get doing something right, rather than the attention they get when they do something wrong.

Punishment is not very effective at changing behavior, and often has negative consequences.

What if you can't find your child doing the "positive opposite"?

I want Will to stop poking Andrew in the eye.  Positive opposite: I want Will to be gentle with Andrew in their interactions.  So I need to praise Will when he's patting Andrew's head gently or making faces at him without throwing blocks at his head.  If those moments are far between, Kazdin would recommend that I play a game and set up a scenario where Will practices being gentle and I praise him.  I'd really recommend reading Kazdin's book for more information on shaping behavior in specific situations.  It's called "The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child", a title he apparently fought the publishers hard over for several reasons, and it has a lot of guidance on working to eliminate troublesome behaviors common for different age groups.  (Everything from homework refusal and supermarket scenes to swearing.)

This can be time consuming when you have a problem like keeping your toddler away from the hot stove, because it might require coming up with a game where you open the stove door when it's not hot, and praise your child for staying away from it.  "I bet you can't remember to back away when I open the stove door!  Bet you can't get far enough away!"  Blech.  I just want to make my biscuits.  It might be best for me to focus on one challenging behavior at a time with this positive opposite approach.  (But it would be seriously awesome if Will thought it was funny to run in the other direction when I opened the oven door.)

My thoughts on all this:

Will it fix your toddler, pre-adolescent, or spouse's behavior problems quickly and irreversibly?  Who are we kidding.  It takes time and patience, and it's not fool proof, but it makes good sense, is backed by research, and is easy enough to do.  Plus, I can't imagine that praising your child in a specific way for modeling a positive behavior is going to do harm.  

This is something I can do and feel good doing.  I love setting my toddler up to succeed and praising him when he does.  That feels a lot better than the idea of time outs, or perfecting my "mommy glare".  This is up there with child proofing my home and using distractions and redirection to shape my toddler's behavior instead of having to say "No" all the time.  

Discipline is a word that makes me feel nervous, there's some negative, punitive association with that word.  I like to think instead about Education.  My job as a parent is to parent myself out of a job.  My job is to teach my child how to behave and encourage him to behave in the right way.  I like any strategies that help me do that in a way that is comfortable for me as a parent, and this is one of them.

I read a lot of parenting books, in part because I enjoy it, and in part because I don't feel you need to be loyal to one set of advice, but that you can often just learn something useful to add to your parenting toolbox.  If this sounds inconsistent, let me try to explain.

In the course of the day, I expect I will try many different recommended ways of shaping Will's behavior.  When he approaches the stove I will say "No" firmly and explain that it's hot.  I will redirect him to his plastic shovel when he grabs my metal one when we're planting.  I will foster a loving connection with him and hope that his desire to please me will positively influence his actions.  I will tell him he's doing a wonderful job patting kitty gently when he rubs her fur instead of pulling her tail.  I can cite a different book recommending each of these strategies, and I think all of them have a place in my parental toolbox as I help Will learn how to behave, and get him to want to behave that way.

I think Dr. Kazdin's advice will work best for me if I focus on one or two behaviors at a time, so I can consistently look for and praise positive opposites for those behaviors.  I've been implementing Dr. Kazdin's advice and praising Will for not throwing food and dishes on the floor with some noticeable success: dinner is hit or miss (either he hits me with the food or misses and hits the floor), but when he eats his cereal at breakfast, nothing gets thrown.  And when he's done, he stacks his two bowls (one for milk, one for cereal, he gets to do the mixing) puts his metal spoon in them, and lifts them up to me with the words "All done!"  It almost makes up for getting fork-fulls of salmon hucked at me during the witching hour.  Almost.  

Why say no...
When you can redirect?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Happy Mother's Day!

My first Mother's Day after Will was born, I was awake for the day by 5:30 a.m. when Will got up to nurse and wouldn't go back to sleep.  I remember feeling like it wasn't supposed to happen that way, that Mother's Day was going to somehow be a magical day where I, as a Mom, got the day off and didn't have to do any work.  In a sense, I wanted to celebrate Mother's Day by pretending I wasn't a mother.

That's hard to do when you have a nursing baby, and when you're also expecting your husband to cook a meal for your extended family, thereby preventing him from assuming all childcare responsibilities.  (No really, stop cutting lobster meat and change this diaper, Greg, it's Mother's Day.  And get a move on those sandwiches, we need at least fourteen of them.  Have you even made the fruit salad?)  Not only did Greg make an amazing luncheon for my immediate family and both sets of grandparents, but my mother-in-law actually woke up and cooked me breakfast.  So it was a great Mother's Day, even though part of me really resented my 5:30 a.m. wake-up and stay up.

Just one of the plates of Lobster Rolls last year!

I kind of laugh when I think about it now, and have adjusted my expectations.  I've also grown into my role as a mother, and while I'd still like a few minutes of quiet to myself on Mother's Day to drink a whole cup of coffee while it's still warm or maybe knit more than ten stitches of a sock, I no longer crave a day long break from diapers.  I don't mind changing diapers.  I really don't.  

This year, I've decided to be more reasonable.  Here's how I'm planning to celebrate:  
(And no, I don't feel bad asking for what I want.  Should I?  I'll reciprocate for Father's Day if that helps!)

A Photo of Me with Both Boys: Greg takes amazing pictures, but things are so busy that we don't have many of me with both kids.  I'd love Greg to be in them too, so maybe we can set up a tripod and take some with the timer.  Either way, I'm getting up, putting makeup on, and getting some photos I'll want to look at later!

Almost a picture of me with both boys, but maybe if I looked at the camera it'd help!

Some Time To Myself: Not on Mother's Day, when I'd rather be spending time as a family because Greg isn't working.  No, I've promised myself to get a babysitter a little more frequently, starting this afternoon, so that I can get some scheduled quiet time to look forward to.  And I want to use it for more than folding laundry and taking care of things around the house.  I want to use it to work uninterrupted on a craft project for more than five minutes, to start putting photographs in our family albums, to do the things that never seem to get done because while they're important, they're not urgent.  And I want that cup of coffee I was talking about.


A New Child to Sponsor: I am ridiculously lucky.  I have two healthy boys, and not only do they have a safe place to live, plenty of food and clothing, and warm beds to sleep in, but I am also able to stay home  with them.  Many mothers aren't so lucky, and I can only imagine the heartbreak it must cause a mother to see her child go hungry.  I cannot begin to imagine.  So as a small expression of thanks, for each of my sons who have all they need, we're sponsoring a child who doesn't.  It will be something we talk to the boys about as they get older, and it's my way of helping another mother now.  We go through Children International.  The Heifer Project is another great organization to help provide food and income for needy families, and I love its focus on education and recipients sharing their gifts with the community.  Because, as much as I love jewelry, I don't even wear it around my young children.  This is a gift I really need.

Happy Mother's Day to all you Moms!  Hope it meets expectations ;)

Me with my amazing Mom :)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Things That Grow

I'm not just talking about seedlings, although this is a post about gardening.  My kids are growing too, faster than I even realize sometimes.  Will is at that fun stage where he's learning to talk, and it's becoming very clear that he understands so much more of what's being said than he can verbalize.  He can follow instructions like "Go get Mr. Monkey from behind the couch!", or "Where's the red ball?  Can you bring it to Dad?"

So when it was time to sow the seeds for our summer vegetable garden, I thought we should do it together. I expected Will to try to eat the dirt and seeds, dump the watering can on himself, and wander off, but I figured I'd explain what I was doing and give him a chance to help.

And you know what?  He did!

He helped push the peas down into the soil after I showed him, carefully pressing each one into the dirt.

                                                 He watered the seeds and not himself.

He helped carry the seed packets.  He even tried to help turn the soil, but seemed to realize that the shovel was kind of heavy.

The result?  Our seed distribution may be a little special this year, and, well, there were a couple areas that got watered perhaps more than necessary.  But we had a ton of fun, and we really did do it together.  I didn't really know until we tried that Will would be able to copy me and push the seeds into the soil, or help use the watering can.  But he did, and he only ate one, even though peas are his favorite vegetable.  (That's why we're planting them.)

It made me realize that in order to find out what Will was capable of, I needed to give him the opportunity to show me.  If I hadn't thought that he could help plant the seeds, and shown him how, I wouldn't have gotten to see him push those peas into the dirt with such focus.

And now, when we go out every day (even in the rain) to check and see if our seeds have sprouted, I wonder if maybe he really knows what we're doing.  Either way, we're both having fun!

A big difference from the little guy who watched us build our garden bed from a blanket last year :)  Here's to spring, and all the wonderful things that grow!

                                                              Will and me in April of 2011

UPDATE: Our seedlings have sprouted, and the spinach definitely needs to be thinned!  This made me laugh :)