Friday, January 31, 2014

Let's learn something: Better bedtimes for our children

Image by Shawn Campbell
I really did't intend to keep talking about sleep this week. But, let's go ahead and cover this topic one more time. I promise to move on to something else next week.

I've given a tongue-in-cheek glance at the bedtime routine in our household before. The main theme of which is that my son doesn't want to go to sleep. I can't blame him for feeling that he is missing out on the crazy/exciting things my husband and I are doing while he is in bed (watching TV/cleaning up/falling asleep).

As it turns out, there is a way that I can help make my son's bedtime better. And, interestingly enough - the steps are similar to what adults need to do to get their bodies ready for sleep. Basically, we have to pay attention to his biological clock.

For any of us to do that, we have to pay attention to melatonin levels. This hormone is key to our sleep cycles and sensitive to light. Our melatonin levels tend to surge about two hours before our natural bedtime. Not enough melatonin in our systems, and it takes a long time to fall asleep, which can spark the string of "mom, I'm thirsty" comments as children struggle to settle.

Here's how we parents can help:
  • Dim the lights about an hour before bedtime.
  • Avoid electronic devices - their glow is a stimulant.
  • Let children experience natural light to help them stay sensitive to wake up cues.
  • Routines (we've talked about those before).
And finally, we need to keep in mind that sleep needs will change as our children grow. Don't be afraid to reassess as needed.

What about your household? How do you promote good sleep habits in your children or in yourself? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shhh! Mommy needs a nap

After a certain point, I just got used to my current level of exhaustion. When my son was born, night feedings were just part of life, and sleeping through the night meant five hours of continuous sleep (and oh, was it wonderful). As my son has gotten older, I am still woken up by his sweet voice asking me questions in the middle of the night. (See yesterday's post.)

It turns out that I am not getting enough sleep. I am not alone in this - most of us aren't getting enough sleep and we know that already. What I didn't know is that Moms need more sleep than Dads do. A study at Duke University found that men didn't suffer from the same ailments that women do when they are sleep deprived. According to the study, women suffer from worse depression, anger and hostility.

I believe at this point, I should apologize to my mother for all those late nights and early mornings she went through with me. Sorry, Mom!

Also at this point, I would like to point out that I am the morning person in my family, so I would like to believe that this doesn't really apply to me. I am generally in a good mood in the morning, but know to tone it down for my husband and son who don't want to talk to me (or anyone else) until they are fully awake.

If, however, you find that you are in need of more sleep, another study suggests that you fake it. This Smithsonian article outlines some research done on placebo sleep - basically saying that believing you had great sleep helps your brain function better.

I'll try to keep this in mind when I wake my son in the morning. Maybe I should stop asking him how he slept and start saying to him that he had a nice long sleep.

Two sleep posts in one week? Maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me something. Leave me a comment about the thing that interrupts your sleep the most often.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My child is stalking me

I was asleep; and then I was not. My eyes snapped open to land on the smiling face of my son who was standing next to my side of the bed. He smiles at me. It is 5:30 am on Saturday, but he is so cute, I can't be mad.

I am in the shower. Midway through washing my hair, the curtain is whipped back to reveal my son who wants to know when I will be done. I tell him to go and play in his room and try to remind him about "privacy." He has a seat on the floor next to the cat instead and says he'll just wait for me. He talks/sings/asks questions for the remainder of my shower.

I am wandering the house while attempting to pack for our upcoming move. My son is following me. I suggest that he play while mommy collects items and then he can help me pack them. I am told that he wants to follow me and that he will "just be in whatever room you are in."

My son is upstairs napping while I am downstairs working on my blog/answering email/doing whatever it is I do when I am at the computer. Without warning, I hear a "hi, mom!" right next to my ear and I jump about three feet out of my seat and try not to yell, because I don't want to startle him. Evidently nap time is over.

And evidently, my son is a ninja.

He doesn't make sound anymore when he wanders around the house. He used to stomp around or sing or make enough noise that I had no trouble pinpointing his exact location. Now he just appears next to me and it is the greatest/creepiest magic trick I've ever seen.

Let me be clear: I am at the point where I want to put a bell on him so I can hear him coming. I used to have a bell on my cat's collar, but she learned how to walk in a way that didn't make the bell ring, so I don't have high hopes for this plan.

I feel like I am being stalked by my son. But it's OK. I know it won't last forever: One day he'll start stalking his father.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The family that texts together, stays together?

If you couldn't tell from this blog, I love my Mom. (Hi, Mom!) I try to keep in touch with her - we do in-person visits, Facetime, regular phone calls and texts. I even sometimes play text games with her near her birthday or mother's day, where I will text pictures of my cat for a week until she tells me to stop it and send a picture of her grandson. (It's a fun game; you should try it with your parent of choice.)

I love that my Mom does so well with technology. In fact, she probably texts more than I do. That's a good thing as researchers at the University of Nebraska have released a study indicating that families use texts to help enhance relationships with family members. Additionally, 60 percent of the participants said they rarely lie in a text. Now, since the sample size in that study was only 150 people and I couldn't find the age breakdown, take the results at face value.

But, the idea is intriguing to me. My son is little now, but as he grows older, will I need to embrace the text message as a way of keeping in touch with him? (I am sure he'll be trading texts with my Mom long before me.) Or will there be some new way for him to keep in touch with me by the time he reaches an age I feel comfortable giving him a cell phone?

I am curious: Do mothers of older children text their teens as a way to connect with them when they are unable to have face-to-face chats? I suppose it is inevitable amongst family members, after all, I have no problem texting my husband throughout the day to let him know I am thinking of him. 

If there are any moms who text their children to connect with them more, let me know in the comments. I'm interested in hearing how you got started.

If you'll excuse me, I have to send my Mom a picture of my cat.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The elusive work/life balance

There is a legend passed down amongst mothers. The details differ depending on who tells it, but it is about a woman who is able to fulfill her duties in a rewarding job, then be the perfect wife and mother to multiple children, all while still volunteering at PTA events and holding monthly cocktail parties. She also makes an excellent souffle.

It is the myth of the work/life balance. And it eludes us all.

There have been two studies lately that have dealt with gaining the upper hand in the tug-of-war between work and life. The first study, which is published in the Human Resource Management Journal, suggests that the key to solving the struggle is exercise. Although it sounds a little counter-intuitive (because that would mean finding the time to exercise in your already packed schedule), the study's participants who regularly exercised reported having less stress at work and greater confidence handling work/family conflicts.

The second study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found that women who restrict their working hours are able to maintain a better work/life balance.

Well, duh.

It amazes me that the second study even exists, because most families aren't in a position where one member can restrict their hours. And the study fails to mention a father's role. And...and you know what? Let's just not talk about the second study, because it is frustrating me. you have it. Exercise. Maybe find a gym with a daycare?

Some days this parenting thing is harder than others. How do you find balance in your everyday life?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Stop reading this and go outside and play

I'm going to keep this one short today, too (just like Monday's post).
We are not active enough with our children. We try to nurture their minds with wonderful books, encourage their good manners at the dinner table and even try to balance out their diets by tricking them into eating vegetables.

But we really need to get them to be more active. And to do that, we need to be active ourselves.

There's a study you could read from the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta in Edmonton that found only 10 percent of children got the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity per day at least six days per week. 

But I'd rather you stop reading this and go outside (yes, I know it's cold) and chase your children around instead. You'll both get some exercise, some sunlight and some memories of a great day.

Have fun!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Why we now eat family-style

A few weeks ago, we started letting our son serve himself his own food at dinnertime. Up until that point, I would bring him his pre-plated food and be met with a barrage of complaints ranging from "I don't like that" to "I'm not going to eat that."

But then we switched styles, so he can now scoop whatever food he wants onto his plate. My son loves to make his own decisions, so he really responded to the switch; and we love the dearth of negative comments. There was even an added bonus, when he decided to serve a new food to himself without any pressure from us. (That would be a "parenting win.")

Turns out there is a whole other reason to switch to family-style meals: It teaches children correct portion sizes. The University of Illinois completed a study of two- to five-year-old children in more than 100 child-care centers. The researchers found that the children who eat family-style meals by passing bowls and serving themselves were able to recognize their own hunger cues better. That is pretty amazing to me. Here are some other tips the study recommended to help children understand portion control:
  • Use scoops to help little children serve themselves.
  • Ask children "Are you full?" instead of "Are you done?"
  • If a child wants to skip a meal, let the child skip it. (It's frustrating, but children do not starve themselves.)
  • Refrain from saying "Just take two more bites."
I'm not saying that the transition from pre-plated to serve yourself was easy. It hasn't been: Sometimes it is messy and we still have discussions about not wasting food. But, overall, it has made dinner more pleasant. And that is the goal, right?

How about you? Do you eat pre-plated or family-style? Would you consider making the switch?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Want more family time? Fix your slow computer (or turn it off)

Sometimes, I feel like I spend my entire day in front of a screen. I look at my blogs in the morning, then go to work where I stare at a computer all day, and I am usually on my computer at night as well. It's bad for my eyes, it's bad for my posture and it's bad for my family life.

A new study by Harris Interactive on behalf of has found that on some days, 64% of U.S. parents of young children spend more time with their computers than with family or close friends. That is believable and awful and true.

The study goes on to suggest that if you want more time with your family, you should fix your slow computer and get more time back in your day. Of course the study suggests that, as is in business to make computer upgrades.

I have a different solution: Turn the computer off. I know that it is easier said then done, but I think we can all do it. 

Which is exactly why I am cutting this post short today. Don't leave me a comment - just enjoy your day!

Friday, January 17, 2014

How to apologize to your mother

My Mom is a good sport. Here I am airing all sorts of personal stuff online and she takes it in stride. Does she read my blog? Yes. But you won't see her in the comments section - she sends me her thoughts via texts, phone calls and food.
Background image by Shawn Campbell

She's always been flexible and reliable and strong. I admire her for all those things, but most of all, I admire her for her ability to apologize. My mom is swift with an apology and great at staying calm and reassuring. (The kind of gal you'd want on your team any day.)

I am more stubborn. So, I find myself in my 30s with a bunch of overdue apologies. I suspect that I'm not alone in this.

But, if there is one thing this blog has taught me, it's how to apologize to my mother. Feel up to apologizing to yours? Here are some tips to get started:
  1. Be sincere.
  2. Be specific.
  3. Say it with love.
  4. Try and make her laugh (if possible and appropriate).
Notice that the words "only apologize for recent things" do not appear on that list. Feel free to talk about stuff in the past. Time makes things easier.

For example, with a single hard-working mom, I had a lot of leeway as a teen. Fortunately, I was an incredibly responsible gal. My mom worked a 50+ hour week with a lot of late nights. On the rare night she was at home, I didn't let her interrupt my schedule. I had a bad habit of feeling that I didn't need to answer to anyone. So...

Mom, I am sorry that I wasn't more specific about my evening plans when I was a teenager. I thought "I'm going out" was enough information. I didn't realize how disrespectful it was, and I am really lucky that you took all that in stride. I'm sure that when my son is old enough to pull this same stunt with me, I'll call you about it and we'll laugh.

So, go ahead. Apologize. Even though studies show it may not make you feel better, your Mother would probably love to hear it. Leave a comment and let everyone know what you're ready to apologize for.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What you name your child could help him choose his career

When I was in eighth grade, my classmate B.J. asked his parents if he could change his name to Mackie. (For the record, Mackie was his father's name as well.) So, his parents allowed him to change his name as a birthday gift and we all spent the next six months trying to remember to call him by his new name.

Today, my former classmate is a leader in sales at his company, but I now wonder if that is what he would be if he had remained a Benjamin James.

You see, psychologists from the State University of New York at Buffalo studied the phenomenon of implicit egotism. This is the idea that we unconsciously prefer things that we associate with ourselves, including the letters of our own names. The study found that people with the first name like Lauren or Lawrence were more likely to be lawyers, and that individuals with the name of Dennis or Denise were more likely to be dentists.

Really. I am not making this up. It's in the study. (And it is weird!)

Also interesting to note is that the effect is stronger for the first names of women and the last names of men (so maybe it didn't make any difference if my friend changed his first name after all.)

So, why am I sharing this? I think a lot of parents feel pressure to choose the "right" name for their child. They look at family names, throw out the names of past girlfriends and boyfriends, consider highly unique names and then figure out every possible iteration to make sure no horrible nicknames can be formed. 

Throw in the idea that the name you choose could determine your child's career, and maybe it'll make you laugh a bit. You need the break.

What do you wish your parents had named you when you were growing up?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Guys and dolls (no, not the musical)

If I was to give my son a baby doll today, he would hand it back to me with a "no thank you, Mommy," and continue playing with a car or truck. I know this, because I've tried it. This just tells me that
  1. I did a good job drilling manners into him. Did you read how polite that was? Go me!
  2. He's just not that into dolls.
But he's not a baby. And the latest research from the University of Western Sydney has found that young boys (around 5 months) prefer objects with faces (like dolls) rather than cars and trucks. In fact, they prefer them just as much as girls do.

And that makes sense to me. When my son was born, we got him a giant monkey, who he still adores to this day. I find the two of them playing cars "together" sometimes and it makes me smile. (I have a soft spot for that monkey and am often the "voice" of it.)

When he was about a year old, my son developed an absolute fascination with cars and trucks that has held to this day. He (and I) can list out an insanely long list of construction trucks, service trucks and a variety of cars. (Seriously, I can identify a vactor and tell you what it does.) He can play with his cars for hours and he has that amazing innate ability to make engine noises (I totally can't do that.)

So, what does all this mean? Well, for me, it means that the next time I am getting a gift for a new baby - whether a boy or a girl - I am going to hit the doll aisle first.

What was your favorite toy growing up? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Why I'm thankful my husband is a gamer

I married a gamer; and I am glad that I did.

Playing video games is just one of my husband's many hobbies. It is one that we occasionally do together (before I was pregnant, we used to have Wii Wednesdays where I would do my best to defeat him at bowling and tennis). But playing video games is not something I engage in as often as he would probably like. (Sorry, honey.)

With the exception of some classics (I will destroy you at Burger Time any day), I am not really a gamer. So, I will be looking to my husband for his guidance when our son gets interested in video games. 

Granted, this is a long time from now, as our son's biggest venture into gaming consists of a few Sesame Street based games.

But there will come a time when I will need to rely on more than the ESRB label to determine if the content is right for my son. I will need to rely on a gamer. Thankfully, I have my husband.

Other parents are not so lucky. In this admittedly unscientific survey of parents, most participants were unable to name three games owned by their child, and far fewer were able to summarize the plot and goals of those games.

Of course, there are some handy tips to follow if you don't happen to be married to video game guru. 
  1. Check out the ESRB on the box to make sure it is appropriate for your child. E is for Everyone, M is for mature. Details about the content continue under the main letter rating.
  2. Research the game your child wants to get some perspective on the plot. Common Sense Media has some great reviews about the most popular titles.
  3. Move the console to a family room so you'll be more apt to watch what your child is playing. 
  4. Talk about the game with your child. Let him/her tell you the plot and the story line and find out why it is so engaging.
  5. Share your favorite games with your child. (I can't wait to teach my son how to master the art of Tetris.)   
If you need me, I'll be watching my men play Mario Kart. It's my son's first "grown up" video game and he loves running into the cows and walls (just like his mommy!)
Game on.

Tell me your favorite video game in the comments.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Learning how to talk to strangers

In second grade we were all encouraged to create a secret code word so that if our parents ever sent an intermediary to pick us up from school, we would know it was safe to leave with that individual. (I can't remember if my word was kitten or Strawberry Shortcake.)
Background image by Shawn Campbell

Ahh...the crack security of our youth - where we were taught to say our parents were "in the shower" when answering the phone unsupervised at home (latchkey kids unite!), the house key was hidden in a fake rock, and we were taught to never ever talk to strangers.

I don't agree with that last one. I want my son to know how to talk to strangers.

So, we practice. I have him place his food order in restaurants. I prompt him to talk to other people in grocery stores. And because I lead by example, we start random conversations with strangers in elevators and while in line at the post office (older women love us). 

Are you shy? Don't be shy. Here are some conversation starters:
  • If you didn't have to work, what would you do with your days?
  • Ask for advice on something, even if it is a "What do you think of this color?"
  • Say something simple like: How's your day going so far?
  • Hit them with a crazy random fact like, "Did you know that most human brains aren't full functional for learning until after 10 am?"
Why am I doing all this? Easy: I want my son to know that most people are helpful. And if my son is ever in a situation where he feels uncomfortable I want him to know it's OK to go up to a group of strangers and say "I don't feel comfortable right now. Can I stand here with you for a moment?" Or, "Can you help me?"

So yes. Talk to strangers. Just don't leave with them. There is a difference. Now that we are getting the hang of the talking part down, we can start to work on the second lesson. Maybe we'll need to resurrect those code words.

How do you handle "stranger danger" in your household?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why he'll always be my baby

"I'm not a baby. I'm a little boy," says my son. Often. And he is right. He is growing up so quickly (seriously...who knew time traveled this fast?). And he has every right to remind me that he is more boy than baby.

I may think of him as my "baby boy" often, but evidently, it's not entirely my fault. A study by the Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, sheds some light on why the youngest child in a family is perceived as a "baby." According to the study, we parents are under an illusion that our first child is smaller than he is in reality. When a new baby sibling along, the spell is broken and we see how big our first born really is and we pass along the smallness illusion to our youngest child.

This explains a lot. Except that my son is an only child. Does this mean that I will see him as my "baby" forever? (For the record, I am OK with that, although he probably won't be.)

What about in your family? Who is the baby in your family and why?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Family game night: AKA Fight Night

We like to play games in our family: Board games and card games have taken over our Wednesday evenings. My son is now old enough to enjoy UNO (he loves skipping people), and Go Fish, and he has long been an expert at Candy Land and Hi-Ho Cherry-O. I love that these games teach him how to take turns and follow the rules and that everyone loses sometimes. As he gets older, I have visions of us playing Clue and Life and popping up some Trouble on the pop-o-matic bubble.

But I don't want to play Monopoly. I don't have fond memories of Monopoly. (And yes, I know that is mostly because we weren't playing by the correct rules and that is why it took forever to play a game.) But even if we do play Monopoly correctly and open up the purchase of properties once the original player declines to buy them, I think that the game still leads to animosity amongst players.

Evidently, I'm not alone. According to an Alabama study, family fighting breaks out in Monopoly more than any other played during the holiday season. Scrabble (hey, that's not a word!) and Trivial Pursuit follow closely on the list of instigators.

Image by dacotahsgirl
So for all our game nights, we try to focus on the fun. For the adults, we try to stick to light-hearted card games: Apples to Apples and Fluxx. For the little ones, we stick with the classics: Chutes and Ladders and Memory.

Don't get me wrong, I'll still play Monopoly with my son, because I think we all deserve to have memories of the classics. But I'm sure I'll eventually encourage him to play a game that focuses less on consumerism and more on fun. 

(Did anyone else play Mall Madness? I loved that game when I was younger, but I realize now that all it taught me was that it was OK to shop without a budget. It probably played a part in the recent financial crisis.)

What was your favorite board game growing up? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, January 6, 2014

I love Sesame Street

Whenever I think I am focused on a project at work or chore around the house, there is a soundtrack playing in my head. The soundtrack used to be my favorite songs or the last song I heard playing on the radio. As a parent, this playlist has been replaced with children's songs and most of them come from Sesame Street.

Hopefully, this answers the question of why I am humming "What's the Name of That Song?" while ironing.

I love Sesame Street. I know I am not alone in this. Sharing the joys of watching Cookie Monster and Grover with my little guy is fun.

And the key word in that sentence is "sharing."

You see, we are all guilty of letting our children watch Sesame Street without us. We forget that even though it is educational programming, it still needs parental involvement. In a recent study at Vanderbilt University, three-year-olds were evaluated after watching an educational video. The children of parents who paused the video to ask questions or talk about the story showed significant gains in vocabulary and comprehension.

Parents often use this same technique while reading books to their children, so it makes sense that it works for television as well.

I understand that sometimes you need a break - some privacy in the bathroom or a few minutes to cook dinner - but let's all take a few moments to sit down with our children and ask, "What is Cookie Monster doing now? Do we eat cookies all the time?"

You might even enjoy it. Think of it as a reunion with your favorite neighborhood monsters.

Share you favorite Sesame Street related memory in the comments. No talking about the episode where Mr. Hooper died (you'll make me cry.)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Grandparents Challenge: Share a hobby with my son

My son is a lucky little guy. He has three sets of wonderful grandparents who love him to pieces. They think he is adorable (and he is), they love to brag about him (and he is brag-worthy) and they all read this blog (hi, everyone!) So, with all that in mind: I have a challenge for them:
Background image by Shawn Campbell

Teach my son your hobby.

Let me back up a moment and explain. When I was little, I wasn't very close to my grandparents. We lived far away from my maternal grandmother. And, although we visited my grandparents on my father's side often, I had too many cousins to distract me from them. My maternal Grandmother was great at sewing and crocheting and the textile arts. I wish that I could have picked up those skills from her, because I can sew buttons, but everything else needs to be sent out for repair. My paternal Grandfather loved woodworking and collecting pennies, but other than us receiving the fruits of his labors, that wasn't a skill he shared. I should probably email my paternal Grandmother, as I am actually not sure what her hobby is these days.

Now, back to the present. My son's grandparents are amazing people with mad skills. (Take his grandmothers, for example: one is an accomplished dancer, one is a superior swimmer and one is multimedia artist.)

So, here is my challenge to each of you. Pick a hobby that you want to share with your grandson. Something special that the two of you can do together - learn Italian, practice archery, go camping, clip bonsai trees - whatever you want. He may not want to do it his entire life, but maybe when he is my age he can look back and think of all that wonderful time you spent together.

I can't wait to see what you come up with!

What special skill do you wish you learned when you were younger? Tell me in the comments.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

How cute is your child? Really?

My son is handsome. I am sure this isn’t just mommy bias, as strangers tell me this all the time. I agree with them saying he has “good genes,” because as a mother, I take credit wherever I can.

And, my hope is that he stays handsome – don’t get me wrong, I will love him no matter what he looks like – but I want him to get good grades.

Are you following me here? No? Oh, well maybe you haven’t seen the study from the Society for Research on Child Development in which they find that children who are better-looking are more likely to get higher grades and go to college.

The more attractive children in the study reported higher levels of teacher attention, and that they had more friends and less depression. As the study tracked their progress, those children also went on to become more successful.

This isn’t really surprising, is it? We all have that good-looking friend that seems to have an easy life, where great things are just handed to him/her. We suspect it is because they are good looking, and now (thanks to researchers with too much grant money) we know we were right. Thanks, science!
Whether my son retains his cuteness or somehow sprouts those little devil horns I am sure are just beneath the surface, I am a big believer in education. So I will encourage him to work hard and earn his good grades.

Feel like sharing a story about that good-looking friend of yours who got everything they wanted? Tell me in the comments. I'm listening.