Kids Talk Workshops and Newsletters
Put-It-Into-Action Advice You Can Trust
Maren Schmidt, M. Ed.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Step By Step For A Clean Room

“I can’t get Zoey to clean her room,” said Joan, mother to three-year-old Zoey.

Clean your room is an abstract idea and most three-year-olds don’t have the experience, memory or skills to clean their rooms all by themselves. Three-year-olds have attained a certain level of independence; they can walk, talk, express their opinions and are eager to do what we ask. 

Sometimes we ask more than our young children can deliver.  "Clean your room" is one of those times.

Children’s bedrooms and playrooms can become zones of chaos quickly.  Restoring the spaces to order can be difficult for an adult to visualize, much less our under sixes.

Here are some strategies to help your child learn what “clean up” means.  We can help by creating an environment that is orderly...a place for everything and everything in its place.  

A few rules help, too.  
  • Only two or three toys out at a time.  
  • Play in a defined space, perhaps on a 2’x3’ rug that can be rolled up with other cleaning duties. 
  • Limit the number of toys available to choose from to around ten items. 
Baskets or bin for toys versus a toy box helps keep those playthings with pieces organized.  Blocks in a laundry basket work well.  Puzzles can be put on a tray to keep the pieces going astray.

Even if you have prepared and planned, messes will happen.  When it is time to clean up give a five-minute warning, and set the timer.  When the timer goes off, announce clearly that it is clean up time.  Set the timer again for ten minutes. 

Have your child work with you as you break down the tasks into manageable bits. 
  • First, lets put all the blocks in the basket. 
  • Next, let’s put all the books on the shelf.  
  • Let’s make the bed. Now let’s put the stuffed animals away. 
  • Let’s take the dirty dishes to the kitchen and put them in the dishwasher.  
  • Let’s take these dirty clothes to the laundry room.  
  • Let’s put these papers in the trash.  
(Note:  I usually save the trash and laundry for last so that items do not “accidentally” get thrown away or put in the wash.)

When the room meets your expectations, say so.  “We’ve cleaned up your room.  This is what a clean room looks like.”  For added emphasis say, “Thank you.  That was fun to clean the room.” 

Review the steps it took to get the room cleaned up.  You might also want to make a chart with your child with pictures that reinforce each step of the process.

My experience is that in ten minutes or less most disorganized rooms can be returned to order by an adult and a child.  Work together, have fun, and step back and appreciate your accomplishment. 

Next week:  Avoiding Power Struggles

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Surviving Brotherly and Sisterly Struggles

Siblings between the ages of 3 and 7 years old engage in some kind of conflict on average 3.5 times an hour according to Laurie Kramer, professor of applied family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That’s one squabble about every 17 minutes!

For the 2 to 4 year age group the average number of conflict situations rises to 6.3 times per hour, or about every 9 minutes.  No wonder as parents we have days where we feel that all the children do is fight. 

What can we as parents do to help make life a little smoother?  Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. How we are taught to handle conflict and come to win/win agreements is perhaps vital for a two-year-old. Children who have the best conflict resolution skills at home carry those abilities to school, the workplace and into later life.  Siblings, also, may be our true partners in life, as we maintain relationships to the end of our lives.

Much of our younger children’s conflicts has to do with getting parents’ attention.  Our children want and need our love, time and attention.  Even though we try to be fair, our children’s perspective can be very different from ours.  You can give children identical t-shirts in different colors and you might hear—But she got the red one!  And from the person who got the red shirt—But she got the blue one!

Situations like this t-shirt example are ones where we can step back and let our children sort it out.  If they both really wanted the other color they’ll negotiate and trade without our interference. On the other hand, if the conflict is about getting our attention they’ll calm down and be happy with the gift, if we don’t enter the conflict and try to sort it out for them.
Most of the time we can and should step back and not get sucked up into the turmoil.  One of my strategies with my daughters was the “time-out.”  

When bickering got to a boiling point I’d call a “time-out” using a football hand signal along with humorous body language, and we’d all go to the couch.  I’d say something like, “Okay.  Let’s take a deep breath.  I am your mother you loves you more than anything else on this planet.  You are sisters who love each other.  Let’s think about that silently for two minutes before another word is said.”

I’d sit in the middle with an arm around each daughter, and usually the conflict calmed down to a manageable level, or perhaps forgotten altogether. A bit of humor and connection to love helped calm the waters.

It is perhaps wise to watch our young children in their negotiations.  The conflict may get physical, and our first response may be to jump up, separate kids and send them to their rooms.  As long as the physical contact is not dangerous, stand back.  Intervene as a last resort.  Our two-year-lds with their physical contact are learning that their bodies can hurt each other, and usually after a scuffle or two they’ll begin to use words to negotiate upsets. 

Learning to choose words will come from our conscious teaching of skills when there is no conflict occurring.  Five-step problem solving is one of the key skills that we should teach our children.  

To learn about five step problem solving visit

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Night Night Nasties

Bedtime battles.  Trying to get our children to sleep when and where we would like appears as one of the top parenting issues time after time.  Once we understand the big picture, plan and patiently execute the plan, we’ll be able to get those much needed nights of rest.

Seeing the big picture of what you want for the long term for your child and your family helps put the situation in perspective.  This requires some thought about what you want or need your child to do.  Families are different and sleep habits vary from having a family bed to every family member having their own bedroom.  Do you want your child to sleep alone?  Go to bed alone?  Does bedtime bring up guilty feelings for you if you’ve had a busy day and haven’t spent time with your child?  Your anxieties and uncertainties are nonverbally communicated to your child and can make bedtime more difficult.  Be clear of what you think will best serve the needs of your family and your child will become more cooperative.

Once have defined your big picture, you have to devise a plan and put it into action.  Routine is also an important feature for the child under the age of six.  The routine becomes a calming agent that helps the family wind down for the night.  If it important to you that your child sleeps in his or her own bed and be asleep by a certain time, consider the routine of how you make that happen.  Let’s say, your bedtime plan is for 7:30 pm.  Dinner needs to be finished by 6:30, followed by bath time, a story read in bed, a drink of water, a prayer, a kiss goodnight, lights out and a lullaby. 

It probably doesn’t matter what your plan is, as you can always refine it.  Once you have a plan in mind, visit with your child during the day, perhaps several times during the day, about how important it to sleep in your own bed so everyone can get a good night’s rest and not be grumpy the next day. 

Now the hard part, putting the plan in action.  Creating routine also creates an atmosphere that is conducive to relaxation and sleep.  Slow down.  Execute your routine slow and steady.  Breathe and be mindful of your connection with your child.  Many of our bedtime battles are about the child needing to reconnect with you.  I’m thirsty.  I need to go to the bathroom. I’m scared.  All those excuses are really excuses for your child to connect with you. 

As you form your plan, also think of the excuses your child gives you for not falling asleep and try to counter those excuses in your bedtime routine.  For the child who says they’re not tired, perhaps they’re ready to give up an afternoon nap, or perhaps they need more physical activity to be ready for bed.

Patience is key to success.  You’ll go slowly through your well-formed plan and, finally sit down after the lights have gone off, and pitter-patter, your tyke is up--again.  Part of your plan needs to be what you are going to do when (not if) your child gets up.  Be sure to tell him or her that plan in your daytime visits about bedtime.   “If you get out of bed I’ll walk you back,” you’ll say in the daylight.  At night, you can wordlessly take your child’s hand and lead them back to bed.  All done in a kind and caring way, without threats, yelling, or blood pressure rising.

What to do if your child cries?  Make sure that is in your plan. Do you go back and pat your child on the back, tuck them in again, give them one more hug?  Your plan, and knowing how you will deal with inevitable situations beforehand will help your child and you create a successful sleep routine in a week or two.

Remember: Picture. Plan. Patience.  Three P’s so you can get some Z’s.

Next week:  Brotherly and Sisterly Struggles

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Dealing With Mealtime Messes

Dinnertime has always been an important time of our family’s day.  It is the part of the day that we share the day’s events, discuss problems, as well as dreams.  When our daughters were young dinnertime was perhaps only twenty minutes, and gradually grew to be an hour.  Now that they are grown we enjoy long leisurely meals along with each other’s conversation and company.

Dinners, though, started out as a big mess, and we have the pictures to prove it.  Faces smeared with refried beans. Strawberry ice cream hair-do’s.  Here are some hints to go from messy meals to slow food dining.  Remember, this is probably a ten-year plan, at least.

Spills happen. Be prepared for the spilled milk, the toppled plate, the spaghetti on the floor.  Have cleaning supplies handy, and quietly without fanfare clean it up.  We used waffle-weave kitchen towels as napkins for many years.  They were handy, absorbent, and abundantly washable.

Think small and big.  Consider using smaller glasses and cups for your children and fill them only halfway.  Our kitchen was large enough to accommodate a child-sized table with chairs that the girls used for snack time as well as other activities.  At a child sized table children are better able to sit and maneuver utensils and food. 

At the dinner table, think of how you can boost your child to table level easily using booster chairs or even specially designed chairs that they can climb in and out of independently.  Consider how you might feel if you had to eat in a chair with your feet dangling and your chin barely above the tabletop.

Use indirect preparation.  Help your children develop skills away from the table that will help them.  Show them how to clean up spills using water.  Set up two bowls and let them spoon dried beans back and forth between the two bowls to practice handling a spoon. Buy a small pitcher and let them practice pouring dried beans and then liquids.  Think about the skills they need to learn to be successful at the dinner table and focus on the steps necessary to get there.

Slow down.  Our adult movements are often too fast for our children to follow and imitate, which is how young children learn.  Slow down.  Once you sit down at the table, stay seated and try not to get up and down.  Make your movements slower and more intentional.  When you do, you’ll see your children slowing down and having fewer mishaps at dinner.  Practice the art of dinner conversation. Make sure the television is off.  It is a huge distraction to learning dinnertime skills.

Savor the experience.  Imagine yourself around the table with the people you love most in the world.  You are eating fabulous food on an ocean cruise.  But then every ten seconds someone says––Be careful.  Don’t spill that.  Finish your green beans.  Drink your milk.  Wipe your mouth.  Sit up straight.  Put your napkin on your lap.  Sort of ruins the experience. 

When you are at the table, enjoy.  Enjoy the meal.  Enjoy the people.
To teach manners, use indirect preparation by giving short lessons before or after dinner on how to use a napkin, how to sit up straight, how to be careful with your drink, and all those little nagging things we say to children at the dinner table.

Avoid mealtime messes by being prepared for the inevitable spills.  Prepare your child’s space with the right sized utensils and furniture.  Slow down and model what it is to be an adult who enjoys eating and being with the people they love.

Next week:  The Night Night Nasties

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Avoiding Morning Madness

Getting everyone out the door in the morning can feel like we've put in a full day's work before 7 am.  We have to deal with the sleepyhead, the dawdler, the procrastinator, the inappropriate dresser and the forgetful space cadet.  

Until we can let these characters have meaningful experiences they will continue to be difficult to get up and get going.  Arranging for these meaningful experiences, though, can entail that rest of the family are thrown into uproar, as the natural consequences of certain behaviors can over-complicate our lives.

What is a parent to do?

Here are some hints to help create a peaceful morning routine.

Do what you can the night before.  Planning ahead the night before can help the morning go smoother.  Have children lay out the clothes they will put on in the morning. Plan breakfast menu's weekly and set the breakfast table after dinner.  Have a spot for everyone's supplies-coats, shoes, backpacks, lunches--and set out what you can the night before.  Make lunches the night before.  Have the children learn to do whatever age appropriate tasks they can. 

Have expectations.  Consider no television, computer time or video games in the morning.  Expect everyone to be dressed before breakfast.  Expect everyone to be ready to go at a certain time and set a five or ten minute timer to help get everyone headed in that that direction.

Get some skin in the game. Make your children responsible for certain tasks.  Even a three-year-old can be expected to set the table with silverware, dishes and food, carry his or her dishes to the kitchen and place dishes into the dishwasher.  If the jobs don't get done, then the children see that their contribution is important to the well-being of their family.

Create consequences.  Decide what you will do when the morning routine heads down the wrong path, and tell your children what to expect as consequences.  If the television is turned on before you brush your teeth, I'll turn it off.  If you aren't dressed by the time to we need to get in the car, I'll put your clothes in the car and you can get dressed at school.  If you haven't eaten breakfast by a certain time, I'll put your food away. 

Remember, whatever you say you'll do, do it without comment.  Actions speak louder than words. You'll probably only have to do these things once or twice before the dawdler or procrastinator learns to change their ways.  I've had several students appear at school in their pajamas after their parents talked to me about their dawdling.  But usually only once.

Get enough sleep.  Make sure that you, as well as the children, are well rested.  Adults need on average 8 hours of sleep per night.  Unfortunately, most adults get only around six hours of rest.  The paradox is that when you go ahead and get that extra couple of hours of sleep, you'll find that you are more productive and alert and can get the same amount of tasks in less time.

Children need 10 to 14 hours of sleep per day depending on the age of the child.  Have a bedtime schedule and enforce it so that all of your family members can start the day rested and ready to go. 

Have a plan, have expectations, have consequences, give responsibility and get enough sleep so that your household can rise and shine.

Next week:  Dealing With Mealtime Messes

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Different Strokes For Different Folks

“But Sammy’s mother let’s them eat ice cream for breakfast.”

One of our parenting and teaching challenges is to explain the rules, not only in our own homes and classrooms, but in those places where we have no control. 

As our children’s friends and relatives visit our homes, we’ll hear the phrase, more than once, “But we don’t do that at our house!”  The temptation may be to defend our position, or modify our stance to mollify the protesters.  All we have to remember, though, is that the rules we have in our family are the rules we have for our family.  Other people in other places have different rules that meet their needs and desires.  The simple statement, “These are our family rules”, should help you hold firm in what may seem a storm of complaints.

Objections to your house rules are more about children broadening their perspective of the world, and experiencing another way of living.  With their complaining children aren’t asking you to change your rules as much as they are verbalizing the differences they see, and will incorporate into their lives.  As children learn, here are some situations you may have to handle.

The resistance.  “We don’t do that at our house” needs to be interpreted as either the child’s call to do it his or her way, or a request for help in understanding how to do it your way.  Say, “Yes, the rules are different at our house.  But when you are at our house you play by our rules.”  Helping to clean up the kitchen or making your bed can look very different in a new place.

The guilt trip.  “At Susie’s house they always go to bed at midnight.”   Be wary of those phrases that use always, never, and everyone.  They are the major road signs on the guilt trip.  Don’t feel that you have to defend your 7:30 bedtime.  Simply agree that yes, they do it differently at Susie’s house. But at our house we go to bed at 7:30 on school nights.  Differences acknowledged, rules restated, and back on the road again.

Reminders.  We all forget the rules and friendly reminders are usually all that is needed to help a child change behavior.  If snacks are to be eaten at the kitchen table at grandmother’s house, a quick question can ease the transition.  “Do you remember where to eat snack at Grandma’s?”  Questions work better at engaging the child in the process versus a recitation of the rules. 

Changing the rules.  Sometimes we discover a new way of doing things that causes us to change.  We need to model flexibility in a way that doesn’t seem capricious and arbitrary.  When we see a good idea that benefits our family, we need to be open to change.  Perhaps we start to compost because of the Jones’ down the street, and the rules for how we clean up after dinner change.  We need to model that when a better idea comes our way, we’ll try it.
Celebrate differences.  Thank goodness not every place is the same.  Toast the fact that there are many ways of living, eating, sleeping, playing, working, going to school, and on and on.  How unexciting and uneventful the world would be if everyone did everything the same way.

Celebrate similarities.  People all over the world have similar needs and meet those needs based on the resources and culture available to them.  Shelter, food, clothes, furniture, transportation, and relationships will have similarities because all people have a need for affection, safety, nutrition, comfort and mobility.

Yes, the rules are different and I’m glad that someone, somewhere, get’s to eat ice cream for breakfast.  But at our house we…

Next week:  Avoiding Morning Madness

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Wants Versus Needs

To live is to consume.  The first definition of consume is “to eat, drink or ingest”.  Consumption is about taking care of hunger and thirst.  The second definition is “to buy”.  The third is “to use up”. 

Modern consuming is more about buying than eating or using things up. Advertising is a huge business to get us to purchase good and services, and advertising to children is big business, with estimates of over $15 billion used yearly to advertise to children.  The psychology of advertising plays into our core emotional systems and can make it difficult for us to differentiate between needs and wants. 

The novelty of advertised items along with the subtle social attachment communicated make certain commercials irresistible.  Realizing that our wants are about satisfying emotional needs can help us navigate the rough and tumble waters of “I want”.

Think.  Get your children thinking about needs and wants by asking questions.  Many of the advertised items targeted to our children are foods or perhaps foodstuff is a better description.  Ask what kinds of food do we need to stay healthy and have good energy.  What kinds of foods should we avoid?  Read aloud the labels of your child’s “gotta-have” cereals, sodas, or candy bars.  Ask your child if each ingredient is something that we would want to put into our bodies to stay healthy and have high energy.
Compare.  For children over age six, money talks.  A $5.00 box of cereal or use the $5.00 for other kinds of food?  Two boxes of cereal per week for a year.  Is it how you want to spend $520?  How much oatmeal can you buy for that much money?  What do you want to put in your body for optimum health?

Watch.  Spend time watching television and screen time to be aware of all the kinds of consumer messages your child is receiving.  The average American child is exposed to an estimated 40,000 television commercials a year—over 100 a day, according to an American Psychological Association Task force report from 2004.  This same report recommended restrictions on advertising that targets children under the age of eight, based on research showing that children under this age are unable to critically comprehend televised advertising messages and are prone to accept advertiser messages as truthful, accurate and unbiased.

Help your children think, compare, and watch out for messages that create want.  

Help your children discover the difference between a want and a need, and you’ll get through the rough waters of “I wanna”.

 Next week:  Different Strokes for Different Folks