Do Simple Behavior Charts Work?

If you’re a parent, you probably have had a few struggles with your kids – chores, behaviors, homework, and expectations. They all weigh on parents and kids alike. As parents we know what we need and want our children to do because we have the knowledge and maturity to see the bigger picture. Our kids, however, feel the pressures of our expectations without always fully understanding the consequences or the logistics behind them. While it might seem logical to us, sometimes we need to bring it back to basics for our kids.

Behavior modification charts are just one easy way to give kids tangible, simple ways to replace negative behaviors with positive ones or to build a better set of behaviors where none existed. These charts can be found all over the internet, created by you the parent, purchased at the bookstore, or simply drawn at the kitchen counter. The premise behind these charts is that when children display undesired behaviors, the charts serve as a way to tangibly reroute children to better, more desirable behaviors. Charts do what the mere words of parents cannot. They serve as visual reminders of and sometimes motivation for positive outcomes. They put the child in charge of the outcome, teaching responsibility and self-monitoring skills.

Today my battle as a parent was over music practice. My son, who requested and received private music lessons this year, has been waning on his attitude for practices. I didn’t want to bribe, cajole, or threaten the loss of lessons in order for him to understand that he needed to practice. Honestly, I didn’t want the battle, but I desperately wanted to find a way to encourage him to practice without whining his way through it. My answer was to create a simple behavior modification chart, and I presented it to my son with some very basic, but essential steps included.

  1. I clearly and simply explained that music lessons require music practice. Both need to be done without whining and with positive energy.
  2. I showed him a blank paper Christmas tree which I had just cut from an 8.5×11 sheet of green paper (of which he wasn’t very impressed).
  3. I explained that the tree represented the piano. It was blank without his practice.
  4. I gave him a set of Christmas stickers and told him that every time he practiced his assigned song, with a positive attitude, he could use a sticker to decorate the paper tree. Bad attitude = no stickers.
  5. I asked him to explain back to me the expectations and the “rules” for decorating the tree. When I knew he understood the approach, we hung the paper tree amid the other Christmas decorations that were beginning to creep throughout our house.

Fast forward 2 hours and I was the proud displayer of a paper tree that is 75% decorated and a son who is prepared for his music lesson in 2 days. He is also looking forward to adding more stickers tomorrow. Did my simple behavior modification chart really do all of that? Yes.

Behavior modification charts need key ingredients to work and achieve the desired change you are seeking with your child. Experience had taught me that if I left out certain components, the only thing I would be certain of was starting back at whining through music practice.

  • I knew I needed to find a way to stop the whining over music lessons, without resorting to bribes, threats, or consequences that would be difficult to fulfill. The goal was positive practicing.
  • I chose a behavior modification chart that I knew would appeal to my son. He loves holidays, loves decorations, and likes order. A blank, undecorated tree screamed for adornment. I didn’t even need to place any other rewards on the completion of the tree – the completion was his personal motivation.
  • I clearly explained the goal and the reason for the goal, then asked him to repeat it back so I knew he truly understood it. We talked about what constituted whining and why that wasn’t part of the plan.
  • I had to remain consistent (and still do). Each time he played I had to make sure he took a sticker and added it to the tree. Even though he needed no reminders this time, it was my responsibility to make sure he knew I meant what I said.

Even though this is a simplistic example of the power of behavior modification charts, it is an accurate example of how children can be drawn to these methods for reaching goals of attitude change. As my older son watched his younger brother suddenly go from whining at the piano to excitedly sticking a glossy ornament on the paper tree, he shook his head and said, “Seriously?” under his breath to me. I smiled. Seriously. I know this version would never work for my attitude struggles with teens, but I’ll take the small rewards as I can get them.

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Are You Raising an Entrepreneur?

Does your child dream of being a firefighter, teacher, doctor, or newscaster, or does she instead make plans for the store she will own or the company she will run? Children love to dream big, and they often change those dreams as quickly as they zip through the hallways of our homes. I’ve recently been curious about a trend in our home that has developed throughout the years – when my kids make wild plans for their futures, they almost always put themselves in the driver’s seat of entrepreneurialism. As a child I did my fair share of dreaming, but I don’t recall the emphasis on being my own boss that my children seem to have found. My husband didn’t have any set plans for running his own company (he just knew what he didn’t want to do). So how do we raise children to be entrepreneurs?

Watching a news clip recently reminded me about the importance of encouraging our children to become entrepreneurs. Carl Schramm, co-president of the Kaufman Foundation, reports that it is encouraging news that there is “huge enthusiasm among kids to start businesses.” This enthusiasm, while not enough to immediately improve the economy, is vital for the future of developing businesses in this country. Suddenly I feel a little pressure to make sure that as a parent I don’t squash one iota of entrepreneurial spirit that my kids are displaying.

No pressure. Just the fate of the modern world balancing on our shoulders to help raise children who can successfully become entrepreneurs – be their own bosses and make their marks in the world, all while positively impacting the national and global economy. OK – there doesn’t need to be that much pressure, but parents do need to be that support system that will allow kids to become entrepreneurs.

Encourage the spirit. If you have a child who wants to sell lemonade, homemade stickers, old baseball cards, or even pet rocks, encourage him to try. Even if the thought of running your own business is foreign or unappealing to you, give room for your child to explore this option.

Don’t stop your child from failing. Failure is one of the best teachers in life. Eons ago during my own childhood my older sister (I think she was about 6) wanted to earn money. Her grand plan was to sell newspapers. Old newspapers from a rusty red wagon. And we were the second to last house on a dead-end country road, and weren’t allowed to leave the end of the driveway. But my parents let her load her wagon with every old newspaper she could find and pace the driveway. Of course no customers ever came, but she learned that not all plans work as dreamed, but it doesn’t mean you have to stop dreaming. If you don’t let your child fail, she won’t know how to improve her approach and plans next time.

Help find answers. You don’t have to be a small business owner to teach your child how to be an entrepreneur. Help them learn how to find answers to their questions. Start with the library, your local small business association, and Better Business Bureau. There are some great books geared toward kids, such as Kidbiz: Everything You Need to Know to Start Your Own Business.

Be a subtle guiding hand. When my daughter wanted to prepare and sell dog treats to raise money for a non-profit, I was concerned about the legal issues. I suggested she contact the FDA, who in turn steered her to the USDA. At first she was told she could do this as long as 100% of the proceeds went to the non-profit. It turns out this was a learning curve for her and her contact with the USDA however, as she was later contacted and told she could bake and sell nothing – not even at an old fashioned craft and bake sale. Apparently there are more strict guidelines on dog food than on some human foods! While she was extremely disappointed, she learned a valuable lesson about the intricacies of the law and the importance of covering your business basics.

Teach your child some lessons about finances. You don’t need to dictate how and where to spend the money, both for supplies and from profit, but you should start with some real world examples of expenses and income. If your child needs start-up money make sure that you only provide it in the form of a loan to be paid back upon first profits earned or through other specific means if the venture would fail. These are real plans with real consequences – real life teaching real money management lessons.

Who Becomes an Entrepreneur?

Perhaps it is because we homeschool our kids that they are used to independent processes, or they see me work-at-home part-time and are drawn to the flexibility and rewards of it. Maybe it is because they have seen their father run his own part-time business from home that they can’t imagine a career completely dictated by someone else.

While I never set out to directly teach my kids to have an entrepreneurial sense, it does appear that I have fallen precisely into the statistics. Reports indicate that the anatomy of entrepreneurs is very much mirrored in my home. The typical adult entrepreneur is married, has children, and a solid educational foundation, and does not necessarily come from a home where parents were entrepreneurs. Research also shows that parents do play a role in at least encouraging their kids to explore the possibilities of running their own companies.

Preparing our kids for their futures and their future possibilities as entrepreneurs is no easy task. I guess I had better prepare for more worm farms (yes – one son has done that) and online marketing. The future of the economy depends on it. Gulp.

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Holiday Gifts Your Kids Can Make

Christmas is coming, the gift list is getting fat! It is inevitable that children get stars in their eyes and dream about magnificent toys and gadgets at night. One of the best ways I have found to encourage my kids to keep their gift wish lists reasonable is to have them focus on their gift giving list.

In our family the kids start with a list of all the people who have made special contributions to their lives during that year. This is not limited to family members, but includes neighbors, friends, music teachers, and those who have impacted the kids’ lives. Then I help them go through the list and choose which people they know for whom they definitely want to create something unique. The younger the child, the shorter I try to have them keep that list.

Talk with your kids about the types of gifts they might want to make. Encourage your kids to turn their interests and talents into gifts they can give this holiday season.

If you have a budding baker he can

  • Make Christmas cookies and give them in holiday tins
  • Make cocoa in a mug or brownies in a jar (supplying the ingredients and directions)
  • Dip plastic spoons in almond bark and sprinkle with cookie decorations for cocoa or coffee spoons
  • Give a coupon for a free order of (fill in the blank with something he can make fresh at a later date for the recipient)

If your child is an artist she can

  • Make homemade placemats or bookmarks and laminate them
  • Design the covers to greeting cards to give as a stationery gift set
  • Paint the matte border of a frame, with a picture of her and her special recipient inside

If you have a child who loves to be active he can

  • Give a certificate for leaf raking, lawn mowing, or snow shoveling
  • Create coupon for dog walking
  • Present the recipient with homemade tickets for a shared walk at a park or game of 1:1 basketball (great for older siblings to give to younger ones)

Easy Gift Ideas for Kids to Create

Take the month of December to teach your child a new activity or work on one they already enjoy. When my kids were 6 or 7 they learned to latch-hook and cross-stitch, creating gifts for family and friends. These were great projects for them to work on while I read aloud to them or we watched Christmas specials or even a football game on TV. The boys even took up the hobby, one creating a large deer print pillow for his grandparents.

Your kids don’t have to be expert craftsmen or master knitters in order to create special gifts. Head to the craft store and pick up some blank wooden ornaments or even flat wooden or plastic cut-outs in holiday shapes (these are anywhere from $0.20/each to just over $1). Have your kids paint, color with markers, or add glitter and ribbons to these and turn these into ornaments or refrigerator magnets by adding some self-stick magnet pieces.

Teens and tweens can take their favorite songs and create CDs for family members, or get creative and make a digital scrapbook and burn it to a DVD. Older kids are also the perfect ones to give certificates for babysitting, household chores, or lawn services.

It can be really easy for our kids to get caught up in the excitement of gifts for the holidays, but not always as easy to get them excited about the giving aspect. If you have some kids who still aren’t excited about sharing their treasures and talents, take them to do some volunteer service work, particularly for families, and let them see with their own eyes how important it is to give of ourselves.

By the time that Christmas morning arrives, my kids are typical kids and are excited to see what might be hiding under the wrapping paper. However, they are fortunately just as excited (sometimes more so) about the gifts they spent the month creating. I am the proud recipient of a hand-painted birdhouse, numerous artistic picture frames, and even a card-carrying member of the “Son who will clean the junk drawer” club. I can’t wait to see what ideas the kids will come up with next!

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Find Great Clothes for Your Kids

Kids really do seem to grow like weeds some days, and as a mom to 4 kids I can spend more money on shoes for them than my electric bill. Between those boys of mine who feel the need to slide in the grass, no matter what they’re wearing, and my daughter who likes to have fun with and experiment with different outfits, my time and purse can be stretched when it comes to finding clothes for them at prices that aren’t scary. Over the years I have found several ways to have fun with creating their wardrobes with them without giving up their college funds.


If you don’t know what is in the closet, you won’t know what to shop for their wardrobes. Each season I make an assessment of the clothes in the closet, and make sure they still fit the kids. If it just barely fits in October and you need it to last until April, be prepared to look for a replacement sometime soon. Keep a list of what each child needs so that when it goes on sale, you find it at a consignment shop, or your Aunt Annie wants a gift idea you know just what is needed.

Also keep a list of sizes for each child, especially important if you have several kids. Two of my sons are so close in size and age that I take a mini-magic marker and mark on the tags of their jeans their first initial. It makes laundry time so much easier and when I inventory things I know exactly who has what.

Never Pay Full Price

No matter how much money I have had, or not had, throughout my life, I have never just chosen to pay full price for something. Children’s clothing is one area where you can almost always find it on sale somewhere, which is why inventorying their clothes is so important. I always find brand names, high end fashions, and even socks go on sale at certain points every season. The key is to have patience and learn when your favorite stores post their best deals.

You can also save on money for your kids’ clothes when you shop ahead in sizes at the ends of seasons. This fall I found some great t-shirts and shorts for my boys at amazingly low prices, but we live in a cold climate and I knew they didn’t need them right now (or for several months). I bumped up a size for each and stocked up, setting them aside for the warmer spring months.

Shop Online

This is probably my least favorite way to shop for clothes for my kids, only because a couple of my kids are so tactile that unless I can feel the fabric, I’m not sure I want to invest in the clothing for them. Kids’ clothing is also so hard to size sometimes that unless it is a pair of leggings it is almost impossible to accurately choose a size for a brand or style we haven’t had yet.

However, online shopping has its advantages, especially if you look for coupon codes or use sites like PriceGrabber. Sometimes if I find a pair of great jeans for my child at the store, I can go online and find the same brand and size at a lower price. Online buying and selling for kids’ clothes is a popular way to recycle through wardrobes. Everything from Ebay to app alerts can let that parents can find great clothes for their kids and save a few bucks in the process.

Consider Secondhand

I feel very fortunate to live in a community where second hand shops are considered trendy and environmentally friendly. You can drive 5 miles and find 5 secondhand stores, all with different strengths. Not every second hand store has quality merchandise, but there are a few things to look for if you are shopping at a thrift store.

  • Always check the zippers, buttons, and other fasteners (even the top button you’ll never use).
  • Hold up the garment in different lighting to check for marks or stains.
  • Ask about a return policy.
  • To save time shop in thrift stores that organize clothing by size, style, and even color.
  • Know your brand names and comparable prices when purchased new.

My children, especially my daughter, actually prefer to shop second hand sometimes over the mall. The reason? She knows she has a budget either way, but she loves to mix and match outfits and have a few fun things in her wardrobe. She gets more bang for her buck shopping secondhand. Then she also knows that she can use “leftover” funds for a few special things at her favorite stores in the mall.

There are two other great lessons for my kids when we shop second hand: they learn the importance of reusing and recycling, and they learn the value of supporting second hand stores which are often community based organizations.


I find swaps with other parents as one of the easiest and least expensive options. I have always offered my children’s clothes to my niece and nephews, and eventually this moved beyond family to involve a mini network of families. I think it started when I had more clothes from my daughter than my niece needed or wanted, so I offered the extras to a family I knew for their daughter. I unknowingly opened the door for others to offer me clothes from their kids, in a disorganized shuffle of kids’ clothes. This can be a thrifty way to get some great clothes for your kids, but you have to be very flexible and not the least offended if the other families don’t just love the purple sweater that used to be your daughter’s favorite.

  • Only give to others what you would still put in your own child’s closet if it were the right size.
  • Don’t give away dirty, torn, stained, or otherwise disheveled clothing.
  • Let the family know that it is OK if they don’t want to keep everything. They can pass it on to someone else or donate it to a thrift store (that’s where all of mine would end up if I didn’t swap).
  • Don’t be offended if your favorites aren’t their favorites.
  • Don’t offer the clothes and then ask for or expect money in return. Have a garage sale or go to a consignment shop if you want reimbursement.
  • Be certain the family you offer clothes to doesn’t see it as a charitable action. There are plenty of families who swap clothes and can afford to shop in any store, but there are also families who have a hard time letting their pride step aside for receiving clothing.
  • Be thankful for any received clothes. My kids think it’s almost like Christmas to get a bag from my friend filled with cool shirts her son has outgrown.

Shopping for kids clothes doesn’t have to break your budget. Get creative and consider unique ways to bring a little style into their wardrobes. Your wallet and their college funds will thank you.

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Are Toy Guns Dangerous for Kids?

I admit that before my first son was even old enough to hold his own cup of water, I had decided that in order to raise a boy who would grow up to be a polite, respectful and kind man I needed to keep him as far away from toy weaponry as possible. I reasoned with myself that there were so many other wonderful ways for boys to play, that my son’s world would not be empty without the latest popgun or Nerf blaster. (I somehow blocked out the fact that as a child I loved to play in the woods near our home chasing down invisible bad guys with stick-guns and my brother’s coveted popgun.) Then a dear friend and mother of an extremely compassionate and mature teenage son set me straight. As my son zoomed through her living room in his walker, she gave me this advice.

Boys will make guns out of anything. Clothespins, popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and straws will be high powered blasters that fling marshmallows, peas, and small blocks through the house. Don’t waste energy on keeping the toy guns out of their hands. Focus on teaching them the difference between reality and fantasy, and how to treat others with respect.

Will Toy Guns Make My Child Aggressive?

There has been a debate waging since about the 1970s over whether toys guns encourage violent and aggressive behavior. Some states, such as Hawaii, have taken extensive measures to try to abolish toy guns in the hands of kids. In January legislators from this serene island state tried unsuccessfully to make it a crime to sell toy guns to anyone under the age of 18. Attorney General Patrick Lynch from Rhode Island even organized an event at which parents were encouraged to bring their children (and their stashes of fake weaponry) in to destroy these contraband in exchange for more mellow toys like puzzles.

While measures like these have been taken over the years in response to an apparent rise in youth violence and aggressive behaviors by children, the evidence that ties playing with toy guns to fulfilling real acts of violence and crime just doesn’t seem to be found. In fact, researchers like Penny Holland from the University of North London go as far as to say that preventing our sons from playing with toy guns and weapons could actually be detrimental to their development and self-esteem.

Holland claims that her research, experiments, and observations actually show that using a zero tolerance approach to kids and toy guns does not turn children away from violence. Instead, it leaves kids, often boys, less motivated and “marginalized” in their development. Children use imaginative play to work through their ideas, concerns, and fantasies about how the world works. Holland goes on to say that what is being forgotten in this debate is that there is a difference between playing imaginative games that involve good vs. evil and actual displays of aggressive, violent behaviors that hurt real people.

Other researchers see a tangible link between possible innate predispositions of young males to gravitate toward using toys guns and weapons in imaginative play. As years of political correctness and women’s liberation movements have blanketed our society, the true, core differences between males and females are often blurred. While I am the grateful product of the efforts to advance the opportunities for women, I wonder how far we can go to claim that genders are equal in every way. Some researchers such as Joyce Benenson from Emmanuel College feel that boys are more inclined to want to use these toy weapons because of “biological mechanisms” that influence children’s toy preferences. Maybe there is some truth to the theory of testosterone driven hunting and gathering. Perhaps comedian Tim Hawkins got it right in his rendition of the differences between boys and girls.

Should I Let My Child Play with a Toy Gun?

Authors at Family Education would prefer that you didn’t, citing various reasons such as safety concerns and the message they claim it sends to children that guns and violence are good. I admit that these were the same reasons I once cringed when a family member gave my young son a toy gun as a gift. They write that, “We don’t want kids ever to get the message that a gun is safe or something that children should use.” However, if we use this as criteria for selecting things in our children’s environment and toy box, there are WAY too many things I would have to throw out in the trash. I wouldn’t want my young child to burn himself by turning on the real stove, so should I get rid of her toy stove? The toy bin is filled with examples of items that are parts of our children’s lives. Probably more detrimental would be the loss of books from our shelves. Where would the classics be without the battle between good and evil? It is more important to allow children to use their imaginations while we teach them to be responsible and empathetic than to ban the inevitable peashooter.

  • Set guidelines and rules for play with toy weapons. Kids should be taught that they are only to be used with others who want to play with them and never pointed at the face.
  • Limit video games and television with real world violence. Children are able to create their own imaginary worlds without any help from the media.
  • Have discussions about the difference between real guns and toy guns. For very young children you can make sure that their toy guns have distinctive looks from real guns. There are neon rainbow colored plastic guns that shoot small balls and marshmallow shooters made from plumbing. It doesn’t have to be an authentic looking six-shooter.
  • Monitor your child’s play, whether it is with toy guns or baby dolls. You will most likely seem them expressing creative play, but if you notice anything of concern, don’t just take away the toys. Use them to understand what your child might be trying to tell you.
  • As soon as your kids are old enough, have them attend a firearm safety class. This isn’t just for boys or hunters. These classes teach proper safety around guns – something that everyone should be aware of at the proper ages. Parents can often sit in on these classes, and from our experiences the message is always clear: real guns are not toys.

Parenting children is travelling the back roads. There are no maps or GPS coordinates available to tell us if we are on the right path. Sometimes we have to listen to our instincts, and our insightful friends, when it comes to deciding what are the best books or toys for them. While my younger boys have their foam dart battles in the basement, my oldest is on a hunting trip with Dad. They all understand and respect the absolute differences between the two. We have come a long way from my cringes at the plastic gun gift, and I am glad I loosened my reigns on the toy parameters – if only I could find a sensor that locates lost darts before the vacuum cleaner life would be a little easier around here.

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10 Tips to Survive Holiday Travels with the Kids

10 Tips to Survive Holiday Travels with the Kids

Tis the season for family gatherings, indulging our tastes and our senses, and hoping we will survive travelling with children to all four corners of our family and friendship trees. Whether you live across town from your parents or across the continent from your in-laws, travelling with children for the holidays always poses some challenges and some excitements along the way. Check out these 10 tips to help you survive the chaos of travelling for the holidays and make memories that will last a lifetime.

  1. Give your kids a camera to help keep them occupied along the way, as well as to help document the adventure. There are almost foolproof cameras made for toddlers and it seems that as soon as kids can walk they can operate a simple digital camera. There are no rolls of film to purchase and develop, and kids get instant gratification when they can see their shot on the preview screen. If you are making an extended visit, pack a small scrapbook album and print some photos when you arrive. On quiet evenings at Grandma’s house your kids can work on completing the scrapbook together with family.
  2. Plan for delays and prepare for mishaps. Between the unpredictable weather and the random unreliability of vehicles and airport schedules, there are bound to be delays in your schedule. Keep one small tote (even a spare make-up bag) for your bag of tricks in these emergencies. This bag could include a travel game, packs of gum, or a new video game or movie for a handheld device. Add in a small notepad and a few pencils – easily turned into tic-tac-toe, hangman, doodle equipment, or lists about why we want to get to Grandma’s house.
  3.  Have a family meeting the day before your trip to go over ground rules for travelling together and expectations for behavior once you arrive. Make the rules age appropriate – for your 4 year-old this might mean reminders about dinner manners, and for teens this might be rules for limited texting once you arrive.
  4. If you’re visiting relatives or friends with whom your children are not very familiar, turn it into a game of getting to know loved ones. During your trip you can tell stories about the people you are going to see and why they are special to you. Make sure you show the kids recent pictures to help get them ready for the onslaught of new faces. Just don’t expect your child to immediately love your Aunt Susie as much as you do – give them time to warm up to all of these new adults.
  5. Shop for your contributions to the family dinner once you arrive so you don’t have to transport. If you need gifts for your holiday, shop online and have the gifts delivered to the destination ahead of time or ship them ahead of your departure yourself. This will save on room in your suitcase and be one less item to pack.
  6. Bring along a few simple items from home that can be used along the way or once you arrive to fill in gaps of downtime and bring familiarity for younger kids. If you’re reading from a special book at bedtime or have a favorite DVD or CD, pack those for when the togetherness gets to be too much and the kids need a touch of home.
  7. Bring along weather appropriate gear. When the family time is on overload take the kids and head out on the trails, snowshoe together, or pack your child’s scooter for a few trips around the block. Wearing off extra steam is a great way to bring some balance back into the schedule. If you have a long road trip, consider bringing a few simple outdoor supplies like Frisbees, balls, or snow pants (depending on where your travels take you) and stop every once in a while to let the kids roam outside.
  8. Pack a few nutritious fillers for the overabundance of fast food stops, Thanksgiving pie, or Christmas pudding. Cups of applesauce, dried fruit, nuts, and a baggie of carrots are easy snacks with no prep time and can help counterbalance the sugar overload Grandma might provide.
  9. Keep a routine. Often when travelling the family routines go out the window on the first stop, but finding and keeping at least a few small routines will help keep kids from overloading and help keep you out of your cranky pants. Even if the bedtime gets later, keep the same story time routine. If your child likes to start the day with cocoa and fruit while snuggling with you, keep that routine going as well.
  10. Pack your patience. Don’t rush through your holiday travels with your kids as your frenzied pace will only contribute to their meltdown factors. Taking a few extra minutes to let them explore new places or rest in between outings will help make sure that you survive your holiday travels and maybe even look forward to next year!

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How to Raise Teenagers You Can Live With

How to Raise Teenagers You Can Live With

Raising teenagers can be a little like mastering a secret language while trying to navigate through a mine field. If you can accurately learn the language you will be more likely to survive the trials and tribulations that parenting teens brings. With two teenagers in my home I know that it sometimes feels like there will be no safe passage granted to me as their parent (just because I wear the title of Mom), which is why I am so determined to make sure that these years aren’t spent fighting or filled with strife. I am trying to make conscious efforts to parent in a way that will allow them to flourish, while allowing me to survive!

Let Them Be… Individuals

Teenagers know they will eventually (soon) become adults, responsible for themselves and their own decisions in every way. That is not something that we can magically drop in their laps upon their 18th birthdays, but is something we need to prepare them for gradually. Even though it can be really challenging as a parent to give up that total leadership role, letting our teens make decisions now will help them form their individuality that they will need in order to function well in life. If your child knows himself, he can stand up for himself, believe in himself, and help himself make his dreams come true.

Some ways your child can assert himself and become his own individual self might include:

  • Let him choose his own hairstyle.
  • Give her freedom to assemble her own wardrobe.
  • Let your teen have choices for music, movies, and television.
  • Give your teen the freedom to decorate his own bedroom space.
  • Be OK with your teen trying things that you might not otherwise have encouraged when she was younger, such as becoming a vegetarian, politically active, or an advocate for a social issue.

As parents it can be frightening to give our children choices on these matters. We worry if the hairstyle will involve purple spikes, the wardrobe be appropriate for Grandma to see, or the bedroom look like a cave. However, we can guide our children through these choices without making them feel like we are still in the driver’s seat – subtlety is my new best friend as I parent teens.

Give them Boundaries

Decorating their own room and choosing their own clothes are simple ways to allow our children to display their individual personalities, but we still need to set clear boundaries for them. When the rules are clear, understood by all, and fair, they are usually more likely to be followed. The most important rule for parents is to be consistent. Teenagers are constantly maneuvering to test the waters and actually need that safe, consistent parent to fall back on when things don’t go as planned.

  • Establish a curfew. The later our kids are out at night, the more likely they are to be getting into trouble. This doesn’t mean, however, that we need them in bed by 9:00. Talk together about where they are going, who they will be with, and the importance of being home on time.
  • Set rules about friends in the home when parents are gone.
  • Talk about sleepovers and decide together what works for your family. If you allow sleepovers, make sure you set some rules for conduct and also let your child know that if she is ever at a sleepover that she can call at ANY time of night and get a ride home for any reason.
  • Make and keep rules for cell phone use. No phones while driving, no phones at the dinner table, and always carrying a phone when out jogging in the neighborhood are good places to start. Cell phones for kids can be great annoyances for parents, but also invaluable tools for staying connected and safe.
  • Clearly establish expectations for academics, allowing for individual talents and abilities. If your child needs to take a break from school and works best on homework after dinner, be flexible.

Know Their Friends

When parents truly know their teen’s friends they have a head-start on the parenting race. Taking the time to get to know your child’s friends does two things.

  1. It tells your child that you care enough about him to invest your time and energy into forming a relationship with his friends. This doesn’t mean that you become best buddies with your son’s friends, which can blur the lines too much. It does mean that you know their life situations, interests outside of school, and maybe what Friday night meal they prefer when they come over.
  2. It gives you one more way to stay involved in your own child’s life and have some positive influence. Your teen’s friends might even need to look to you for guidance at certain times in their lives and they will be more comfortable doing so if you have taken the time to form some type of bond with them.

Getting to know your teen’s friends might not always seem easy, especially if your child feels threatened by those relationships forming. Keep trying subtle ways to let your child and her friends know that you want to be a supportive part of their lives.

  • Encourage your teen to have friends over to the house (preferably when you are home and can welcome them yourself).
  • Listen to your teen when she talks about her friends, even if it is just about the amazing outfit they saw at the mall.
  • Support your teen and her friends. Go to their school functions, cheer for them at sporting events, and offer to chaperone when needed.
  • Ask questions and listen to the answers, but don’t give third degree questioning. If you are driving kids to the mall, ask how their week was at school, which teachers they like best, who they think will win the football game, and which radio station they want to listen to on the drive. These will help you learn more about the people your child is spending time with and will let everyone know that you care in a non-threatening way.
  • Get to know the preferences of your child’s friends. Maybe Jo loves cheeseburgers, but Sara is allergic to wheat so you need to have some corn bread on hand for her. These simple things send a message that you value their individual needs.

The efforts your put into getting to know your teen’s friends will benefit you as well. Your relationship with your teen will be better because she will see that you genuinely care about her friendships. Your teen’s friends will also feel more able to come to you when there are problems, either with your own teen or in their own lives.

Above all, spend time together, one on one. This phase of teen life can seem daunting, but is also very fleeting and can be filled with wonderful memories. It is an opportunity to get to know the person your teen is growing to be, and you still get to have a positive, influential hand in the process. Let your teenager choose activities for you to share. His interests have probably changed over the years so don’t assume that because you have always gone to the park to roller blade together that he still wants to do this (with his mom!). Take time to enjoy the experience of your teen’s life becoming his own – it is one of the gifts parents can give themselves.

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Packing for the Hospital and Delivery

Packing for the Hospital and Delivery

You’ve waited for months to deliver and cherish your new baby. The crib has been assembled, the diapers are stacked, and the booties line the drawer. Everything is ready – except for your bag for the hospital. Just what are you supposed to pack for one of the most physically demanding, emotionally amplified, wonderful moments of your life?

The Basic Must Haves

Keep an envelope or file folder ready to go with some of the boring, but necessary information. You never know when you might start labor so keep this file in an obvious, accessible place to help ease the process. For my first child I didn’t even realize I was in labor and I went to my regular doctor appointment – he sent me right to the hospital and I had to scramble directions together over the phone for family members as to where to find everything at my house. Other basic requirements for your folder include:

  • Insurance card and any required precertification papers
  • Photo ID (some hospitals and birthing centers also require labor coaches to show ID)
  • A complete list of contact information, including your partner’s or labor coaches contact numbers and a list of who to call to share the great news
  • A separate set of instructions for anyone who you are having check on the house, the pets, or care for your other children while you are at the hospital
  • Birth plan

For Mom’s Bag

You’ve planned for months how you hope this moment will transpire and have maybe created a birth plan to help facilitate the experience. Your bag should include everything you need for delivery and the day or two before you take your new baby home.

  • Eyeglasses and contact supplies
  • Toothbrush and paste
  • Soap and shampoo – use mild, unscented soap, especially if you plan to nurse so you don’t irritate your baby’s senses
  • Deodorant
  • Hair brush, barrettes, and ponytail holders
  • Sanitary pads – while the hospital can provide these, they are usually not the brand or fit that you would choose on your own (just remember that your flow will most likely be heavier than a normal period)
  • Nursing pads – even if you don’t plan to breastfeed you will go through a period of engorgement and need the coverage for leaking
  • Slippers and socks
  • Underwear – extra pairs you can throw away if they become too stained from blood
  • Nursing bras
  • Pajamas – if you are planning to breastfeed consider ones that button in the front
  • Bathrobe
  • Comfortable clothes for the hospital – By day 2 at the hospital I always preferred by own comfortable clothes than pajamas
  • Comfy outfit for taking baby home – consider layers as your body will be adjusting to fluctuating hormone levels and you may go through hot and cold flashes
  • Pillow – use a colorful case so it doesn’t get confused with hospital issue cases
  • Music or other comfort measures
  • Picture or item for focusing on during labor

For Partner’s Bag

Your partner or labor coach will need their own little supply bag for the delivery. My husband always left those details up to me, but he was glad for the extra supplies when the days got longer than anticipated.

  • Swimsuit – you may want a water labor or even just to shower while in labor
  • Change of clothes – you never know how long labor will last or what your partner might be doing when you go into labor (I had a friend whose construction-working husband showed up at the hospital with his orange vest and coveralls on!)
  • Money for vending machines and other minimal purchases
  • Cameras and battery charges, and explicit instructions on when and where you want those cameras aimed!
  • Snacks like gum, mints, oranges, and protein bars
  • A copy of your birth plan
  • A copy of contact information

The Extras

After our first child there were a few extras I always packed in my bag.

  • Gifts for older siblings to receive when they come to meet the newest member of the family – I made t-shirts for them pronouncing their new roles as Big Sister and Big Brother and a special gift
  • Pictures of older siblings that I taped to the inside of the hospital bassinet (so when older siblings come they feel they have a special place)
  • A gift for the new baby that the older siblings chose – My 8-year-old still has his small teddy bear that was waiting in the bassinet for his birth
  • A baby book – you might feel exhausted from labor or you might sit up all night staring at your precious child. I always took a few moments to record those emotions and details that I always wanted my children to know about their true first birthday.
  • Thank you cards – there will be a good chance that you might get flowers in your room or have visitors stop by to congratulate your family. Get those thank you notes done right away, and while your baby is still blissfully sleeping away.

Your labor and delivery probably won’t go exactly as hoped or planned, so probably the single most important thing you bring with you to the hospital is acceptance. Accept that your body will do amazing and sometimes crazy things. Accept that you will wish things could go a little faster, easier, or with less pain, but that in the end you will have your beautiful baby in your arms.

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How to Find Work-at-Home Jobs Online

Working from home became my end goal as two things happened: my children grew older and my expense lists grew longer. Add into those things a yearning for contributing more to the family finances and the sense of accomplishment that brings to me and I began my journey. Deciding to pursue working from home, often while also raising children, is a large enough decision by itself. Deciding, it turns out, is the easier job – find the work can be more challenging.

Cloud commuting is the modern twist on telecommuting. Where is once seemed a luxury to spend an extra day or two working at home each week instead of commuting to the office, cloud commuting means the home is the office, and often the client and the provider never meet in other than the virtual world. While this is a strange, convoluted notion for my grandmother, it is the opportunity that my mother never had. It is the ability to work at home, on my own schedule, and around the lives of my family – who are still my top priority.

First 3 Steps for Working at Home

There are important lessons I have learned over the years when it comes to working from home on the cloud commuting bus, and doing it without losing my sanity or wasting my time. The first 3 steps that can help you develop your plan include:

  1. Make goals. You won’t be able to make decisions if you don’t know the purposes for making them.
  2. Determine a minimum amount of money you need or want to contribute to the finances – realistically.
  3. Determine a maximum of hours you can spend working from home, including paperwork, invoices, and seeking or maintaining connections.

These 3 steps are essential to working at home as a cloud commuter successfully. If you determine that you want to earn $1000 each month, you need to compare that with how many hours you can devote each week to reaching that goal. Stay at home moms and dads are busy people. I have met many who don’t feel they have any more than 12 hours each week to spend working from home. This calculates into 48 hours each month. In order to earn $1000 in one month, you would need to find a job that pays roughly $21/hour. Now that you have your goals set, it is time to move on to finding those jobs.

Getting Ready to Work from Home

Update your resume and portfolio. Legitimate employers will want to see your resume, work history, or work samples. They probably won’t ever meet you in person, so they need to make sure that your virtual version is capable.

If you earned a degree long before the kids came along, go back and add in those additional skills and experiences you have acquired since, including things like CPR training, leadership certificates you earned through church, or classes you helped teach through community education. They fill in gaps on your resume and show a continued interest in education.

Make a list of targeted job possibilities. These could range from anything in the following:

  • Computer programmer
  • App developer
  • Ad copy writer
  • Transcriptionist
  • Ghostwriter
  • Blogger
  • Editor/proofreader
  • Tutorial services
  • And an endless list of cloud commuting possibilities

Searching for Online Work

For many parents who stay home and try to pursue additional work (this time paid), the first place they turn is the internet. While there are a host of possibilities and options, not all are legitimate, and many don’t pay nearly enough to provide you with the means to reach your goal.

Be careful. Potential employers who ask for your money in order to proceed through a hiring a process are not going to be your ticket to financial freedom. Be wary of employers who advertise “no experience necessary” and who don’t actually tell you what you are going to be asked to do. Legitimate companies and employers will want to make the most of their advertising dollar and bring in people who best fit their needs.

Think back. When I decided that I wanted to pursue working from home on a more regular, consistent basis, I went back way too many years to count and reached out to my one client I met while in college. I let him know that I was ready for editing work if he needed any completed, and asked him to spread my name and contact information if he heard of colleagues who were searching for editing services as well. This was my little nudge that got the ball rolling and the editing work trickling in, and for new clients I met through my original contact. All of this was done online, in my cloud commuting world.

Set yourself up for success. Make sure that you have the tools necessary to complete your work as efficiently as possible. One distinct difference between working in an office and working from home is that you have to create your own space that supports your goals. Make sure your computer has the programs you need, you have peripherals like printers and faxes, and your workspace is organized. You don’t want to fumble through your grocery lists and PTA forms to find the information a client needs.

Be ready to be rejected. Don’t expect to apply for a job that meets your financial and time commitment needs and be accepted on the first try. Just as you are searching for that perfect work-at-home job, so are millions of other people. In the cloud commuting world you are also competing on an international level, and your expectations for payment might not be anywhere near the going rates in other countries.

Be open to starting out small, but ready to quickly move ahead. As you compete in a global online job market community you need to be open to the possibility of taking on a lower-end job just to get your name, experience, and virtual ranking established. Don’t keep a habit of this though, or potential clients can see that you are willing to work for little and won’t be jumping up to give you more.

While there are many sites that cater to those wanting to join the ranks of cloud commuters, sometimes the best bet is to contact trustworthy employers directly. Don’t underestimate the power of networking, and keep pounding on those virtual doors. If you are stuck on getting started, try some of the following sites, but beware of scammers and low-ball job bidding.

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Teach Your Child to Manage Money

Teach Your Child to Manage Money

Money doesn’t grow on trees. And it is sometimes hard for children to fully grasp all of the intricacies involved with money management. It is not enough to teach children to save money – we need to focus on teaching our children how to manage money. Just as healthy eating is only one part of raising a healthy child, putting money in the bank is only part of raising financially secure people.

Have you ever found yourself saying, “I can’t buy that for you – I don’t have the money” or “that is too much money” when your child begs for that amazingly awesome alien that spits green goo? Those answers might seem like easy, harmless ways to teach children about money management, but you might be doing more harm than you realize.

The language you use about money tells your child how money fits into your life and your decisions. While the truth might be that you don’t have extra money to spend on the green goo spitter, you do two things that set your kids up for failure when you give answers like the examples above.

  1. You indicate that if you actually had the money, that you would buy the toy. Is this really the truth? Do you really want a green goo spitter in the house? Does your child really need another toy to add to the clutter? I’m guessing that most of us still would not randomly just buy the latest fad toys to fill our homes, even if we had the means to spend frivolously at our disposal.
  2. You teach your child that money gives you power, and you are powerless without it. While some of us might nods our head and say yes, the world does work that way, it is important for our kids to learn that we still have the power to control our financial decisions. Even if we only have $25 to our name, we still have the choice how to spend that money. We might know that we need it for food for our family – even though technically we could buy a new toy. It is about choices.

To answer the pleas for toys, trips to the mall, and endless dinners out it is better to be proactive. Start with the language you use about money and your own finances. The next time your child pleads for that toy in the window, put yourself in control of the situation and the money. Say something such as:

That toy costs $(fill in with amount of money). I am not going to choose to spend my money on the toy. It is not a need that our family has right now. If it is something you truly want, you can save your money for it.

Using this type of approach gives you the control over your money, and it also helps distinguish for your kids the differences between needs and wants. When your children hear you openly discussing the differences they learn to identify those in their own lives.

  • Create an age appropriate list of the needs of the family (shelter, food, insurance, etc.).
  • Create another age appropriate list of the wants in your family (newer vehicle, vacation, cable/satellite television, membership to the museum, etc.).
  • Help your kids identify which ones are priorities.
  • Give your children real world examples of how much each of these items on both lists cost.

Money management is difficult to teach effectively unless your children have access to their own or are openly involved in family finances. Helping them create a budget, even at very young ages, can be one of the best lifelong gifts you can give your child. Remember – it is about developing a sense of power and control over the finances and not letting the money control you.

  • Give your kids access to money, whether it is their allowance, birthday money, or cash earned from chores in the neighborhood.
  • Give your kids opportunities to spend money – it is the only way they can understand how to use it. If you always keep their money and never let them spend it, they won’t learn how to budget.
  • Set up some guidelines for spending, saving, and giving. One way to do this is to say 1/3 for saving, 1/3 for spending, and 1/3 for giving (charity, church offerings, birthday gifts for friends/siblings).
  • Discourage spending on whims. Kids who bring money to the mall usually end up spending money at the mall, even if they never had any focused intention of spending it. I have my children plan their purchases and the younger ones aren’t allowed to just bring money “in case” while we are shopping. Our rule is 24 hours to plan for small purchases and 3 days for larger purchases. My kids rarely go back and buy the item they thought they couldn’t live without after they have had time to think about it.
  • Teach your kids about savings accounts, interest, and real world situations of bills and financial responsibility. Show them the electric bill or take a poll to see who can estimate to the closest amount how much money insurance is each month.
  • Be a good role model. Our children soak in our spending habits like a dry sponge set out in a rainstorm. Remember to use proactive and positive language that reaffirms that while money is necessary for many things in our life, we are the ones who are in control of the decisions about how to spend it, how to save it, and how to use it best.

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