Parent Tips: Allowance

If you're just starting out with allowances, or planning to in the future, I highly recommend the book Millionaire Babies or Bankrupt Brats: Love and Logic Solutions to Teaching Kids About Money by Jim Fay and Kristan Leatherman. They also have a simple, step-by-step blog post on giving an allowance. 

Many of the experts, including the Love and Logic authors, recommend separating allowance from household chores. Chores are something everyone in the family does to contribute. They are part of being needed and valued by the family. They teach responsibility. They are not optional. If you tie them to an allowance, a child can decide they don't want to do their chores with the consequence of just skipping their allowance. Probably not an issue at age five, but I can certainly see it being an issue at age 15.

At age five, Sydney is the only one old enough for allowance in our household, but it’s made a world of difference in many ways.  She’s already learning how to spend wisely (and not so wisely) and the value of saving. 

One of the biggest benefits has been in our shopping experiences. Sydney was infamous for having meltdowns at stores. She’d spot something she wanted and the dam would break. Through tears, she’d be screaming, “It’s SO IMPORTANT! I can’t live without it! PLEASE MOMMY! I need it!” and that could go on for the duration of our shopping experience, with nearly every eye on us (and consoling smiles from the parents who’ve “been there”).

Once we implemented a weekly allowance – we pay it every Sunday – the nightmare shopping trips were (mostly) over. She must bring her money with her for any shopping trip. She can purchase whatever she wants with her money. I only ask that she wait until we’ve traversed the entire store before she makes a decision, and in several cases what she held onto for dear life at the beginning of the store has been tossed for something else she can’t live without by the time we're checking out. 

Sydney now understands that everything she sees has a price and that sometimes she can't afford it (that's why there's a "mostly" in the paragraph above - we've still had a few meltdowns when she's out of money or when something is out of her budget). I can see the wheels turning as she decides between two items and compares their cost and value.

It’s also made her a bigger helper around the house – she’s always looking for ways to earn more money. Being an American Girl Doll lover, she's started to ask, “How can I earn $100 Mommy?”


Lessons Learned: Temper Tantrums

Do you have a strong willed toddler like we do? Up until Sydney was seven months old, she would fuss briefly when she didn’t get her way, but was easily distracted. Then suddenly we experienced her first real temper tantrum – over wanting a popsicle. She was tired, and probably hungry, and started to fuss while we were fixing dinner. It escalated from fussing to a screaming fit when we tried to get her to sit down and have dinner. We let her know that once she ate with us, she could have a popsicle and go outside, but instead she decided to hold onto the freezer door, jump up and down and cry hysterically.

We learned many lessons in that 15 minutes:

  1. Ignoring the tantrum didn’t help at all, but sitting down beside her didn’t seem to help either, nor did carrying her back over to the table to try to get her to eat.
  2. Letting her know that we understood exactly what she wanted did not make her feel any better about the situation.
  3. She can work herself up so much that she throws up (though it appeared to be mostly phlegm).
  4. I wish we’d never let her try a popsicle, or a piece of candy, or a cashew for that matter (she always wants one, but then spits chunks of it out all over the floor), or anything else she pitched a fit over, even though I know that’s only a temporary solution.
  5. And most importantly, she needs to be taken far away from whatever she’s coveting.

As soon as we finished with dinner, Chris took her outside (without a popsicle needless to say), and although she fussed a bit when she came back in, she did not touch the freezer again and was happy as can be by bath time. 

Funny how much easier it is for kids to forget the tirades than it is for their parents.

Lessons Learned Recap: Tantrums will happen. All you can do is ride out the storm and figure out the best approach to shorten their duration.

Parent Tips: Cleaning Up the Toys

When you have young kids, it's impossible to keep the house clean all day long. Here are the strategies we've adopted to keep our sanity and avoid breaking our ankles on stray toys:

girl legos mess.jpg
  1. When our kids are ready to move on to "the next thing," they need to clean up the activity they've just finished first. As I type this, our 3yo has every art item out on her office table - markers, paper, hole punch, scissors, tape, glue, old business cards, stamps, stamp pads, gift boxes and a bucket (not sure what the bucket is for?). When she's ready for Legos or puzzles or to jump outside on the trampoline, everything needs to go back in its place first. Using the Love and Logic enforceable statements, we say, "You can [go outside] as soon as you've cleaned up the [art supplies that are out on the table]."
  2. Clean up time is at 5pm every day. We sing, "It's time to put the toys away, toys away, toys away. It's time to put the toys away. Where are all my helpers?" (a song we learned at Sydney's first preschool). Everyone helps get the house in order and then we head to the kitchen to make dinner. If the kids complain that they don't want to clean up, that's fine! I reply, "I only charge $1 to clean up the mess for you." Every once in a while I actually get a taker, but usually that spurs them into action.
  3. Once all the kids are in bed, I go back through the house and put away anything else that's been left out (sippy cups, books, etc.) so that we end and start the day with a relatively clean house. Unless I'm totally out of energy. Then I just close my eyes, imagine what it would look like clean, and head to bed.

What tricks do you have to keep your house tidy?

Lessons Learned: Never Make Your Office Door Out of Glass

When we moved into our four-bedroom house, with no kids, we had our pick of the place for our office. It's moved several times in the last ten years. When Sabrina was born, Michelle decided to move it from the back hallway bedroom to the front hallway bedroom. When Luke was born, we needed that fourth bedroom, so we moved the office to the extra living area off the family room. We closed the space off with double glass doors.

That was a ridiculously bad idea. 

Now while we're on the phone with clients or trying to concentrate on a writing project, we have three kids looking into the fishbowl. Or banging on the glass. Or screaming so loud you can hear every word.

We're seriously debating about building a back-house, just so we have a place to work in peace and quiet without having to drive to an office. 

Lessons Learned Recap: Use the most remote room in the house for your office if you have young children. Ideally with a vault door, extra thick insulation and an escape hatch. 


Lessons Learned: Never Use a Light Pole as Home Base

We were having the best morning at the Texas Capital today. We enjoyed a picnic with breakfast tacos and pastries, in absolutely gorgeous spring weather. We found a bird's nest above us and listened as the momma bird fed her tweeting babies (the eggs from our breakfast tacos). We chased the squirrels. Sydney and I laid side by side and soaked in the sun. We read a WWII memorial dedicated to the Texans who served and those who lost their lives fighting for freedom. We looked up at the mini Statue of Liberty and explained to the kids how we were going to New York City soon, where there was the same statue, but as tall as the Capital building. Chris explained to the girls how it greeted millions of immigrants and embodied freedom and hope and opportunity for those seeking a better life in America. We taught Luke how to play Duck, Duck, Goose and laughed hysterically that he didn't get it, and kept walking around the circle patting everyone's head saying either Duck or Goose, but not understanding he needed to run if he said Goose.

It was one of the best mornings of my life.

And then it wasn't.

Did you notice the "were" in the first sentence? Well, that's because it all went terribly wrong in a matter of seconds. We were playing tag, with a light pole as home base. I was IT. We were all running and laughing. Sydney and Luke were trying to hold me so that Daddy could get to the pole safely. Then Luke tripped (on the grass, on his shoe?) and dove head first, hitting the base of the light pole with his chin. 

Chaos ensued. Blood came pouring out of Luke's mouth (he'd bitten his tongue) and from a large wound on his chin. His t-shirt, applicably labeled "Dirt Expert," was soaked dark red.

Sydney was screaming and crying, worried about her little brother. Daddy was screaming for everyone to collect their things so we could take Luke to the emergency room. Luke was screaming from the pain. I was rocking Luke back and forth trying to calm him down. And Sabrina was still hiding from the game we'd been playing.

luke photo.JPG

Here's Luke after three shots (don't get me started on why he needed three!) and three stitches. He screamed and fought every single stitch. But otherwise, he was a trooper like usual.

This was not exactly how I envisioned my perfect Mother's Day Weekend going.

Lessons Learned Recap: Never use a light pole or any other hard object as home base for a game of tag. Or, never play tag with a two-year-old? Or, never let your children out of the house? But if your young one does need stitches, especially on the face, take them to a children's ER where they give them a nose spray that makes them loopy and not care that they're getting stitched up!

Don't Forget to Look Up

Michelle and I were at dinner the other night. Sitting at a table next to us was a ~10-year-old girl and her father, waiting for their food. They were not talking and laughing, and clearly not taking advantage of this moment together. What was crazy to me was that it wasn't the young girl playing a computer game on her iTouch or Nintendo. It was her father, playing a game on his phone. 

I know I'm guilty of this getting distracted sometimes too, when there's a call I have to take or an email I have to respond to when I'm out with my family. But this struck a chord. Here's a chance for a father and daughter to have a "date night" and spend quality time together. And they didn't say one word to each other. The girl looked around and actually sighed. The father finally put away his phone when the food came, but the conversation didn't start then either.

Someone on my Facebook page shared the Look Up video yesterday, about the perils of technology to our everyday communication and connection (there's that social media stuff again!), which spurred me to write this post. I don’t personally agree with his rant on social media, but I do agree we’re all looking down at our tech gadgets too often these days, adults and kids alike. There are great things about technology. Like swimming laps and jamming to music with the new waterproof iPod Shuffle the kids got me for my birthday last month. And then there are not so great things about technology. I hope to help my kids understand how to use it properly... 

And most of all, I hope to take advantage of every precious moment with my kids. 

Parent Tips: Falling Asleep in Your Toddler's Bed

At one and a half, we moved Sydney to a big girls’ bed because she’d started climbing out of her crib. The first time she did it, we hoped it was a fluke. The next time, we heard a THUMP and a WAIL, and we decided it was time to make the change. We started off with a mattress on the floor so if she rolled out, she wouldn’t have far to fall. She rolled out often for the first six months or so, but then settled in enough that we were comfortable putting the bed frame back in her room.

The issue with the new bed was that she wouldn’t stay in it unless one of us fell asleep with her. We tried many ways to get her to fall asleep on her own, but nothing worked (especially since we were really big wimps with our first!). And Sydney is a very strong-willed child. So, sometimes I’d bring my book in and enjoy some quiet reading time while she drifted off. But other times, I grumbled about taking an hour to lay in bed with her when I had so many other things to do. 

The worst part was that if she woke up in the night, she couldn’t get herself back to sleep without one of us sleeping next to her either. 

With Sabrina on the way, it was even more critical to get Sydney out of the habit. A friend suggested I try the “moving the chair" routine. I was very, very skeptical. Here are the steps:

Step 1 - Instead of lying in their bed, you start out by sitting in a chair next to their bed.   When Sydney asked about the chair, I told her that I knew she could fall asleep on her own and that I was going to prove it to her.

Step 2 – After 2-3 nights, you move the chair a little closer to the door and away from the bed. 

Step 3 – Keep moving the chair a little bit farther away until you’re literally in the doorway.

Step 4 – Move the chair outside the door into the hall.  This was Day 8 of our experiment, and Sydney was not happy about the fact she couldn’t see me anymore.  She called out for me and I popped my head back in and said, “I’m right outside the door in the chair, reading my book.” 

Step 5 – Remove the chair entirely. I reminded her that she could officially fall asleep all by herself. She knew it was true and didn’t fight it at all!  We implemented the “I’ll come back to check on you” language.  Eventually, I put the chair back into her room and for a couple more days, I hung out in the kitchen where she could hear me making noises putting the dishes away, etc.  I’d poke my head back in every 10 minutes or so. 

That was it.  I really couldn’t believe it worked. I’d been lying in bed with her to get her to sleep for nearly a year and it only took 10 days to break the habit. The best part was she could get back to sleep on her own in the night as well. Out of habit, I went to lie down on her bed one night after she woke up and she said, "Mommy, I don't need you here. Go back to your bed!"

Sometimes, daughters really do know best!

Parent Tips: That Last Nightly Bottle...and Pacifiers

I read A LOT of books about getting babies to sleep when we had Sydney. There were tidbits in all of them that I used to try to get Sydney to sleep through the night, and eventually, they either worked or she was tired enough and wired appropriately to sleep ten or eleven hours straight. But we still had a lot of challenges with her sleeping through the night consistently until she was four.

                            Sabrina Miller - Four Months Old

                            Sabrina Miller - Four Months Old

When Sabrina came along, she was a pretty good sleeper by three months, but she was still waking up once a night for milk. A friend recommended the book Twelve Hours' Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old: A Step-by-Step Plan for Baby Sleep Success by Suzy Giordano. I'd read it when Sydney was a baby and didn't see how in the world I could follow it successfully with her. There were so many rules to follow, including how many naps they could take during the day and how often to feed them. But I was determined to try it with Sabrina and end the middle-of-the-night wake-up. I followed the 12 Hours in 12 Weeks format of reducing her last bottle by a half ounce each night. It worked like a charm. By the time I got down to two ounces, she stopped waking up in the night for a bottle. She probably figured it wasn't worth the effort for two measly ounces. Things were going well in the sleep department.

At five months, we had another hiccup. Sabrina suddenly started waking up and crying out three or four times a night. Sometimes she’d go right back to sleep when you put the pacifier back in her mouth. Sometimes she'd stay awake crying for an hour or more. I was convinced it was the pacifier after a little online research. Everyone recommended going cold turkey. They warned it might be a painful week, but from then on, Sabrina would be sleeping through the night again.

So, I had our wonderful night nanny, Janis, come take care of Sabrina and got a great night’s sleep to prepare myself for the challenge. Then I rounded up every pacifier in the house, backpack, diaper bag, both cars and my purse, put them all in a bag that I hid away, and declared that Sabrina would no longer be using them. (I'd tried to implement a no pacifier policy before and other family members and nannies just ignored me. But it's impossible to ignore if they can't find them!) By the end of the week, she was only waking up once in the night, and in less than a week, she was sleeping 12 hours straight.  And Sabrina did that consistently until the next hiccup, at age 2.5, when she started climbing into our bed in the middle of the night. That's a topic for another post...

It's amazing how different our three kids are - in so many ways, including sleep. I'm happy to report that with Luke, we never had to do a thing about sleep. He took care of it all by himself, sleeping twelve hours a night by two months. He's woken up during the night less than a handful of times since.