040: What Happens When We Treat Our Kids Too Preciously – A Your Child Explained Episode

Tuesday’s guest – cartoonist and author Emily Flake – and I had a great conversation (although, full of swears and subject matter totally inappropriate for work or children – please take note 🙂 about modern parenting, but even with nearly an hour to talk we didn’t cover everything I wanted to cover.

Which leads to today’s Your Child Explained, episodes in which we are always looking right into the brains of our kids and figuring out what makes them tick. In her book, Mama Tried: Dispatches From The Seamy Underbelly of Modern Parenting, Emily shares that her older sister got pregnant and had a baby at age 17 – when Emily herself was just 13. The difference in how these two sisters were treated by the people around them while pregnant can’t be understated; Emily’s sister got a tremendously judgy and shaming vibe at 17, whereas Emily heard all about the “wonderful journey” that she and her husband were now on, while she was pregnant at age 34.

It really got me to thinking about what it means for our kids when we treat them too preciously – when we take care of their every need and want long after they’re too small to take care of themselves. Kids treated as if they’ll break at any moment come to believe that the world exists for their comfort and enjoyment only. This is dangerous, for the child and for our society.

The date this episode airs happens to be Thanksgiving Day of 2015, and it is in the spirit that I ask the question: what’s the opposite of believing that the world exists for your comfort and enjoyment? I think the answer is believing that we exist to serve – that serving in some way creates a feedback loop that makes us happy and filled with gratitude…

It’s a shift that paradoxically gives us the comfort and enjoyment we seek.

And it’s our responsibility to start teaching our kids early to serve others – for their own comfort and enjoyment.

How do we do that when they’re small? Well, letting them contribute to your family through housework and cooking, helping them understand that giving of themselves and their abilities is what will bring them the most comfort and enjoyment – that seems like a pretty good start to me.

Happy Thanksgiving, I hope you’re having the kind of Thanksgiving that is just perfect for you and I hope you know how grateful I am that you are listening to me today!

039: What. Have. We. Done? A Conversation with New Yorker Cartoonist and Author Emily Flake

WARNING: Today’s show is full of expletives and stuff you do not want your child to know about yet… please make sure to use headphones or listen away from the kiddos! It’s an awesome show, just there are pieces of it that are totally not suitable for children 🙂

Emily Flake credit John PastoreToday’s guest is the wonderful and talented author and cartoonist/illustrator Emily Flake. She writes a weekly comic strip for grown-ups, Lulu Eightball (find it here) and her work regularly appears in The New Yorker, as well as appearing in the New York Times, Newsweek, The Onion, Forbes Magazine… In short she is a creative force! A creative force who, three years ago, had a baby, a beautiful little girl with the awesome nickname Tug. Last month Emily released her new book, Mama Tried: Dispatches from the Seamy Underbelly of Modern Parenting, a gritty, tender, superb analysis of parenthood today. Part memoir, part cartoon, this book had me laughing until tears were streaming down my face.

My conversation with Emily ranges all over the countryside, from the things we found in common that she and my husband share, and that her husband and I share, to what you learn about sex and babies when your older sister becomes a teenage mom, to Emily’s wonderful advice for new parents or parents-to-be.

Want to win a signed copy of Mama Tried for yourself? I’m having an instagram giveaway! Go to@weturnedoutokay on instagram, find the picture of the book Mama Tried, leave a comment under that picture, and share the giveaway with a friend who might also like to enter by December 24, 2015. I’m choosing the winner on Christmas day, so some lucky mama will have an extra Christmas present this year!MAMA TRIED

036: Happier and More Engaged Kids – Just By Changing Their Playground! With Nursery School Director/Owner Tanya Trainor

Today’s episode was super fun to record because I got out of my usual studio and hung out at what’s easily the most amazing playground I’ve ever seen. All of the equipment we see on a typical playground – huge climber, big slide, jungle gym – was gone, and in its place were loose pieces. Bricks, cement pavers, wooden siding, bales of hay, an 8 foot long rowboat, tree stumps suitable for sitting on, or rolling around, a rain gutter with a hose near the top were some of the many things that replaced more typical playground equipment.

It’s not a huge space, and today’s guest, nursery school director and owner Tanya Trainor of Miss Tanya’s Nursery School, knew that typical equipment would no longer work when, in spring of 2014, she found out that the fall zones around each piece of equipment were expanding. So, Tanya and her staff did an amazing thing: they asked the children, “when we get rid of the climber out on the playground, what should we replace it with?” Their answers created the wonderful results spread out before me.

Listen to hear more about:

1) the improvements in how the children relate to one another and play together in going from more conventional equipment to this new kind of playground

2) the dramatic drop in frequency of negative behaviors; Tanya reports far fewer incidents of conflict or need for redirection since moving to the new kind of playground

3) how engaged the children are in both the creation of this new outdoor play space and their use of it

If you take just one thing from this episode, I hope it is this: play with “loose parts,” as this kind of outdoor play equipment is called, is a critical part of every child’s development and fosters all the important things that children will need to take into adulthood (social skills, problem-solving skills, creativity and curiosity.) Has your son or daughter’s preschool adopted the loose parts philosophy yet?

Podcast Episode 033: Play Is The Key With Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Mom Janine Halloran

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From the moment I first read her article on The Many Perks Of Play in the October 2015 issue of baystateparent, I knew I was going to have to talk to Janine Halloran. She explains everything there is to know about play and how it can benefit kids, in a really well-written and entertaining way.

Janine graciously agreed to come on to the show, and our interview is really one of my favorites so far!

Today, Janine shares that play is:

1) critical to the well-being of every human, and even many animals – the skills learned through play are uncountable, our reasoning and thinking skills are honed through play, we even learn how to get along with other people through play

2) endangered in our culture; the average kid’s time is way too structured, which crowds out the potential for open-ended play; since open-ended play is where so much of the magic happens, it’s downright dangerous to have so little of it in a child’s life

3) cheap, and/or free – think about how entertained your kids are just by the boxes that the stuff we buy comes in… we do not have to spend all kinds of crazy money to provide great playthings to our kids

If you take just one thing from today’s episode, I hope it is this: a thriving family needs play, and lots of it. How are you playing with your kids today?

Connect with Janine at her website, encourageplay.com, where she has great advice about helping get more play into your child’s life.

Podcast 023: School Rules – 5 Ways to Make This a Great Year for Your Young Child

Today’s episode is probably almost exactly the opposite of what you think of when you think of school rules. In fact, it feels a little subversive… The truth is, I think that schools are getting some important things wrong. These rules for you to follow can right some of these wrongs.

Let’s jump in!

1) Get into the mindset that school exists to help your child. We often feel like, especially if our kid does not fit the mold, that we are somehow in trouble – that our son or daughter is to blame for holding up the class, or poor test scores. It’s important to remember that, like the police who protect and serve, school teachers are there to nurture our children, to help our children achieve their dreams. It’s not the other way around!

2) Formulate a goal for what you want your child to get out of his or her school year. I know that this sounds like a weird one – aren’t goals for executive boardrooms, or job reviews, or at the very least high school? – but going into your child’s preschool, kindergarten, or first grade with an idea of what you hope she’ll learn will help her have a better year. It gives you a parameter, and if you don’t feel like this goal is being met it gives you a way to speak up about it.

3) Don’t worry about testing. Tests should be the absolute last thing on a parent of a young child’s mind; when they are young, our job is to nurture their creativity, help them get along better with other kids, help them spend time doing the things they love… The best way to have kids (of this age) (eventually) do well on tests is to not worry about them yet! Leave the test prep to the teachers.

4) Subject matter matters! It is much easier to help a young child on the path to, say, learning to read if what they are reading about is really important to them. The best teachers help their students learn by having them learn about what they love. If, unfortunately, your child doesn’t have one of these best teachers, it becomes even more crucial for you to help them learn about what they love. Luckily, this is fun for everybody; the best learning with kids this age result in a lot of laughter.

5) If you see something missing, ASK for it. Meaning, if you want something for your child that you don’t see happening in the classroom, you must respectfully ask for it… And then expect results. Fortunately we have the four C’s’s – remaining calm, being confident and courageous, and following up with consistency – to aid in asking, because it can be pretty scary to ask for stuff!

I hope these five School Rules help you help your child have a great school year. I’ll leave you with a fifth C – community – to add to the other four… Because if schools exist to serve our children, if we think of them and ourselves as existing in a community, then as part of that community we have the right to respectfully ask for change.

What kind of change would you like to see in your child’s school? Please share! Either in the comments here, or you can fill in the contact form at Weturnedoutokay.com… I can’t wait to hear from you!

Great Summer Memories!

Us three in front of the trailer

When I was a kid, we used to have a camper, a 28-foot Coachmen Bunkhouse. Every August, we would take three weeks and go on vacation to the Lake George RV Park. Can you imagine? A three-week vacation. While we were there I remember:

  • that the blackberries were always in season, and my brothers and I would get ourselves hopelessly entangled in this huge thicket of blackberries at least once every year, while bringing back bowls full of blackberries to munch on
  • lots of great Dad memories: playing tennis with him and going on hikes together, watching him play Space Invaders at the campground arcade, singing around the campfire every night as he played the guitar
  • lots of great Mom memories: leaving the campground just her and me to go on shopping excursions and talking girl stuff, picking blackberries together, eating soft serve ice cream at the campground arcade, loving her amazing voice and harmonizing capability while singing around the campfire every night
  • we got the best dog ever, Kaida the Samoyed, while on vacation there one year… He was a total impulse buy at a local mall!
  • we used to have a great big station wagon (necessary for pulling the big camper) with back windows that rolled all the way down; when we got the RV park every year, my folks would let my brother and I straddle the back doors, each of us with one leg in the car and one leg hanging out, pretending we were riding horses… it was awesome! Can you imagine parents letting their kids do that today?
  • I had my first kiss at the Lake George RV Park, when I was 13 :-)… and then, when the kisser invited me back to his trailer for lunch, I remember that his mom made tuna fish sandwiches, which I totally hate tuna! But I ate it that day, with a smile on my face. The things we do for love.
  • our youngest brother said his first word, “hot,” while we were all together eating pizza in Lake George the summer he turned one… I love that we were all together for his first word

I could go on – about the huge big bonfires the campground had every night, about the friends we made and saw each year, about playing softball at the campground, about the feel of the wind on my face in the evening walking around … but I won’t.

Instead, I want to hear about your summer memories!

What adventures did you have? What disasters befell you, and what did you learn from them? What friends did you make, and do you still see them?

Also, how are you vacationing now? How do you give your children the kind of summer memories you hope they’ll look back on happily all of their lives?

I can’t wait to hear your stories 🙂

010: How to Choose a Dance Studio for Your Young Child with Suzanne Lock, Dance Instructor

Do you have a young child, especially a daughter, who desperately wants to dance – but is totally uncoordinated, or whose body doesn’t look like a dancer’s? If so, then you probably know already how cutthroat the world of dance studios can be.

Today’s guest teaches dance in a unique studio, one where the focus is on dance as a fun way of expressing yourself, and where it doesn’t matter what you look like for if you’re a good dancer or not.

In addition to spending her days with tutu-clad young girls, my guest is Mom to very active tween-and teenage boys… As a result, evenings and weekends are all about cheering them on at sports, supporting them in their academic work, and enjoying a great relationship with her husband Rob (a guy who happens to be my brother 🙂

Listen for:

  • some really great tips for choosing a dance studio; how to know you’ve got the right one, when to keep looking
  • Sue’s take on raising children with special needs, and how important it is to work closely with their other parent – you both need to be on the same page to give kids with extra challenges the support they need
  • how to truly enjoy life, even when it’s super busy or throwing challenges at you; for Sue, teaching dance has helped her care for herself, so she can be a more supportive Mom and spouse

If you take just one thing away from this episode, I hope it is this: knowing yourself and what you need to enjoy life makes everything better. And not just for you – but for your loved ones and the people you care for. My awesome sister-in-law is really hitting her stride with this, and as you listen you can hear the enthusiasm and love in her voice… She is a great example to follow, and I know you’re going to love this episode!

How the 5 C’s of Leadership Will Help You Be a Better Parent

As a Mom or Dad, do you think of yourself as a leader? I never did. I thought of the president as a leader, or the heads of corporations as leaders, somebody with CEO, COO, CIO attached to their name, but surely not me!

That was before I heard the podcast Labrador Leadership with Dr. Bob Nolley. Prior to starting the podcast, Dr. Bob spent years as a leader in the corporate world, and then moved on to teach about leadership in a university setting, always with a view toward helping the people around him get what they want out of life. With specialization in subjects such as negotiation and conflict resolution, or emotional intelligence, listening in as Bob speaks with his millennial cohost (some of my favorite shows, thanks Alex Mossa!) or interviewing entrepreneurs and leaders in diverse fields, Labrador Leadership has become a favorite show with insight into how to make family life better.

One such leader, Rich Rierson from episode 5 of Dr. Bob’s podcast, spoke about the idea of the 4C’s:

  • Calm – so you can think clearly and keep from saying things you’ll regret
  • Confident – so the people around you know you can help them
  • Courageous – speaking up for what you believe in
  • Consistent – so you become known as trustworthy

In episode 5, the conversation is mostly centered around the 4C’s as you might hear about them in a corporate setting. But I kept thinking about how thoroughly they apply to family life!

One recent example (of probably a zillion) from my own life involves a week in which each boy attempted to lie to me. They don’t often lie, and thankfully they’re not very good at it, but for whatever reason this week each tried to look into my eyes and pull the wool over them.

I found out about the second one at 9 o’clock at night on a Sunday, after a weekend in which I’d been away with my dear friends – the ones from episode 000, go back and take a listen because they’re awesome – and got about eight hours’ sleep total the entire weekend… All I wanted to do was take a cup of tea into my bedroom and read for the three minutes until I fell asleep. But instead I found myself thinking about the 4C’s because:

I got up the courage to go to my guy and calmly discuss the lie with him. I confidently explained that I knew about it, and consistently gave him the message while we talked that he’s a good boy, and that while I’m disappointed in his actions I know that he will learn from his mistake and be honest from here on out.

No yelling, no drama, no sarcasm, no “how could you be such a bad boy?” Of course, all of these things went through my head – but I was able to recognize them as either counterproductive or, in the case of that last question, completely untrue. My boy was very upset and disappointed in himself, but I think he was relieved at not having to lie anymore, and especially he was relieved because even though I knew the worst of him, the message he got from me was that I love him so much and that he is a worthy person.

We all make mistakes, and we all deserve the chance to learn from them and be supported by the people we love.

Which brings me to a fifth C: Community.

Our little family of four is a community, and in our way each of the rest of us supported my boy that night: one of the toughest parts for our son was when he had to tell his Dad what he had done, and to have a calm response – to have his beloved Dad tell him “thank you for telling me this, it was brave of you” meant so much to him. You could see him visibly relax!

His big brother played a part as well, in allowing me to share with his little brother about the lie that he told earlier in the week, and what happened about that. Little brother, it turns out, has been feeling jealous of big brother, views him as perfect in every way and could not believe that big brother would ever have told a lie.

And when I told little brother about the time I took money from my mom’s wallet when I was about his age, told him about the note of apology that I wrote and signed Stupid Karen, he sat up a little straighter. When I told him about his Uncle Rob’s theft of a candy bar at age 3, and about how our Mom made him bring the wrapper and money back to the store, apologize and pay the manager – he couldn’t believe it. All these people in his life, he sees as perfect and honest, all these people have made mistakes? You could see him thinking, “if they’ve all done it and learned from it and turned out okay, maybe there is hope for me.”

There is definitely a place in leadership for the fifth C of Community.

Thanks Dr. Bob for helping me use the 5 C’s of leadership!

What about you, dear reader? Do the 5C’s come into your life at all? Have you ever caught your kid in a major lie, or committed one yourself? Please share! Leave a note in the comments, or email me at Karen@weturnedoutokay.com, and thanks for sharing 🙂

Stuffed Animals Are People Too

At age 10, my youngest is coming closer to the end of his stuffed animal days. But you wouldn’t know it looking at his bed:

Each one of those guys has a name and a history, each has a unique voice – some of them have French accents! (Because, of course, they come from France or French-speaking Canada. Why else?)

Over the years they have helped my son through lots of tough situations, everything from being left out of big-boy activities to those times when no human is available to play. It’s funny to walk into the boy’s room and see a board game set up – like Risk – and three or four stuffed animals each in control of their own part of the board, each taking turns.

Right around the time that Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014, just after the Sochi Olympics, he my son happened to watch Red Dawn, the movie about the USSR invading the US. We do talk current events in our home, as well as history, but I think because we had just been so invested in the Olympics, this movie resonated a little bit more strongly with him than it might have otherwise. Still, we didn’t realize the true impact until late that night, when he asked if I would come and “speak to the animals – they are scared that Putin is going to invade the US.”

When I went to speak to them, I found them all set up in a circle up in my boy’s bed; they had been having a conversation among themselves about “their” concern that Putin was going to invade the US. I told them that Putin was not going to invade the US, answered “their” questions, and just tried to be a good listener, all the while knowing that it was really my son’s fears and questions that were coming through via the stuffed animals.

I’ve come to think of the stuffed animals like puppets, each making up a part of my son’s world and through which he can express fears and show empathy. Since he was small, this child has had an incredible ability to see events from another’s point of view, to see how someone else might feel differently than he does in a given situation. This is a rare quality, and definitely one to be supported – his sense of caring pervades all his friendships, and kids are really drawn to that. I believe it’s the stuffed animals that have helped give him this perspective.

As he grows out of them, and moves on to the things that tweens and teens do and love, I know he’ll take that empathy with him. Continue reading “Stuffed Animals Are People Too”

007: When Siblings Attack: Stopping the Rivalry

Can you think back on your own childhood and come up with some crazy sibling-fight stories? I’ve heard some doozies, people being hung out windows or tied to trees by their siblings, the time a brother put green dye in a sister’s hair – so the sister retaliated by pouring glitter into the brother’s bed! Today, we talk about the ups and downs of brothers and sisters, both in our families growing up and in our homes as parents.

Siblings can hurt each other in lots of big and small ways; sometimes it feels like there’s no good intervention. Today, I share about a book that I first read while pregnant with my second: Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This book is the second of The Fabulous Five, five books which will transform your relationship with your children, so get reading them ASAP (here’s the blog post detailing the Fab Five)! It made the list because, quite simply, if you have more than one child – or if you grew up in a family where you had at least one sibling – you will finally understand how to help when siblings fight.

  • Listen for how to:
    • make peace with childhood hurts of our own, in order to be better at handling sibling rivalry with our kids
    • be fair without being equal
    • handle when an older child says “can we give the baby back?”

Your one take away from today: it is possible to alleviate sibling rivalry! You don’t have to live with fighting, jealousy, the mean tricks that siblings play on each other… Siblings Without Rivalry will help you fix it.