My Child Has Asthma: Now What?

Even though we had our suspicions and weren’t totally surprised, I still remember the devastating feeling that my son’s diagnosis of asthma left me with that day. He had more bouts with pneumonia than some with emphysema by the time he was just 4 years old, got his nebulizer at age 6 months, and had even been tested for cystic fibrosis. Asthma was a much more tolerable and livable condition. However, my Mom Mode went into overdrive as I struggled with how to make sure he had as few asthma attacks as possible, side effects from medications as tolerable, and life interruptions as allowable.

This isn’t meant to be a medical guide to treating your child’s asthma, but instead a Mom and Dad guide for dealing with your own concerns and teaching your child to understand and react to this condition. Asthma is a scary medical condition, but diligent care and the right attitude can make a world of difference. As a parent of a child with asthma, educate yourself about allergens, tricks for healthier living, and empowering your child.

What is allergen free?

When we first received the diagnosis we were instructed to keep his bedroom an “allergen free zone” so that we could more easily determine what my son’s triggers were. For our family that meant

  • Limiting stuffed animals to 1 on and near the bed at a time (a challenge for a 4 year old who had received a lifetime’s worth already)
  • No furry pets in the bedroom
  • Mattresses and pillows protected from the effects of dust mites
  • Keeping carpets vacuumed every week and shampooed once a month (had we known beforehand we could have just installed wood flooring)
  • Dusting the vertical blinds every week (fortunately we did not have fabric window coverings/curtains)
  • Dusting furniture every week
  • Using natural cleaning products that didn’t aggravate his breathing

Keep the room allergen free and my family sane.

Living in a busy home with a family of 6 isn’t always conducive to living an allergen free lifestyle, especially when my son shared a bedroom with brothers who wanted their own stuffed animals and their own furry pets. Here are a few tricks that helped keep everyone healthy and happy.

Mattress protectors/covers and allergen guard pillow cases for everyone. It helps keep the bedding cleaner, and doesn’t single out one person in the family as “ill”.

Frozen stuffed animals – not a joke! My son’s pulmonology specialist gave us a great tip as she knew that getting rid of the dozens and dozens of stuffed toys in a home with 4 children 10 and under would be difficult and an emotional train-wreck. Sort through and keep those stuffed toys that really mean something to your kids – but don’t put any pressure on them to do this (again – we don’t want to be singling out anyone with a blame game). Take turns rotating stuffed animals into the freezer for 1-2 weeks at a time, as this kills dust mites and those pesky allergens better than washing – and washing only leaves gross, matted fake fur. We made it a fun ritual and did a whole story about Ice Age Adventures whenever a new stuffed animal would enter the freezer. Those stuffed animals not in the freezer (and the one not on my son’s bed) waited their turn in a suitcase in the closet.

Find alternatives. For us it meant getting our son an aquarium instead of a hamster. For you it might be taking a vacation to the beach instead of a romp through the woods if your child has tree pollen triggers. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do as a family, get excited about the things you can do together. I also investigated certain dietary changes, such as eliminating dairy, to see if they were triggers for my son’s asthma.

Give your child ownership.

Get a peak flow meter, even if your child’s asthma is mild and easily controlled. It is a great teaching device that shows your child and any siblings how lung capacity should be in healthy situations. It also is just one more tool that you and your child have to better understand when he might be in distress. The peak flow meter we received was actually paid for by insurance, and delivered within a week to our home, simply by calling and requesting it from our insurance program. Some doctors have them on hand for patients, and they are available online and through pharmacies.  

Asthma can vary in seriousness and severity throughout a person’s lifetime. It is imperative that we give our kids the tools they will need to monitor and care for themselves. For me that meant finding a pulmonologist my son really connected with, and giving my son the responsibility of marking his medication intakes and peak flow meter readings on a chart in the kitchen (I always oversaw this, but he felt in control).

Make sure your child has his emergency inhaler (with a tag for instructions and emergency numbers) when he is out and about without you. If the asthma is severe or your child spends a lot of time away from you, consider an I.D. bracelet.

A diagnosis of asthma for your child can be difficult to accept, as it forces you to think of his life with certain modifications or restrictions, and as parents we want the world to be full of wide open possibilities for our kids. However, with a few sane, easy steps we can make that new journey a little smoother for them and for us. There was a time when my son required multiple treatments each day and couldn’t run without vomiting from coughing. With care and knowledge we have been able to help him manage his asthma so it doesn’t manage him. Last year at the age of 10 he ran his first 5K race, and this year he is training for his first 10K, something I was not confident that coughing young man could ever do. As he crossed the finish line I had tears of joy that came from knowing where he had been, and where he can still go – asthma and all.

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Smart Ideas for Easy Music Lessons

If you were told that from the time your child is born, if you did one simple, enjoyable, easy thing each day that your child would more likely be more intelligent, calmer, more focused, and healthier, would you do it? While it might sound on the outside to be a scam, it is actually possible through engaging your child in music. Research has shown that music is vital to enhanced brain activity. Children who are exposed to various forms of music score better on test and exams, are calmer, and physically feel healthier.

Newer research even claims the Mozart Effect, where certain pieces of music by Mozart or others from the Baroque period have amazing influences on various behaviors and actions of children. Have you ever thought about why music is played over speakers in office buildings, on public transportation systems, in elevators, and even at hospitals and clinics? Music has an overwhelming ability to positively influence our brains. With all of the research and evidence supporting the power of music, it really does exemplify the importance of parents and caregivers infusing music into the lives of children.

Music Activities, Crafts, and Games for Kids

The most effective ways to teach children anything is to get them engaged as active learners. When it comes to music, you can incorporate it into their lives from the first day.


  • Play music for your infant and newborn (the radio is a great option – you don’t have to actually play Mozart pieces yourself on the piano).
  • Pay attention to how your baby reacts to different forms of music. My son at age 1 month was an avid fan of Elvis – Blue Suede Shoes – to be exact.
  • Sing to your baby. The best part is you don’t have to in line for a record contract for your infant to love hearing your voice.
  • Dance with your baby. Music can be similar to the familiar and comforting rhythm of a heartbeat, and dancing is putting that sound into action.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

  • Continue all of those great traditions with music that began when your baby first came home.
  • Keep sound-makers on hand for your toddler so he can experiment making his own music. Rattles, squeakers, tubs for drums, child-safe keyboards, maracas, and inexpensive plastic flutes are great items with which to fill the toy box.
  • Expose your toddler to various music styles. Go to music in the park days, listen to musicians give performances at schools and community events, and sit near the musicians in church.
  • Make music a part of your routines – sing a song while you help him brush his teeth, belt out some fun tunes while cleaning up toys, or sing and dance with them as you move to bath-time.
  • Incorporate music with traditions – Christmas carols, birthday songs, or music that reflects your heritage.
  • Make up silly songs together – it is a great way to experiment with rhythm, rhyming, and beat.
  • Utilize technology with video games like Major Minor’s Majestic March (Wii), a great way for young kids to experience tempo and varieties of instruments. We have this one and it is a fun and educational addition to our collection.
  • Play traditional music games like Musical Chairs, London Bridge, and All Around the Mulberry Bush.

Beyond Preschool

  • Encourage your child to experiment with various instruments.
  • Provide opportunities for music lessons at whatever levels fit your child’s needs.
  • Expose your child to culturally rich and diverse musical options.
  • Keep musical traditions flowing in your family.
  • Keep music accessible in your home – play soft music with dinner, have fun CDs in the van, and allow your kids to have music in their bedrooms.
  • Encourage them to keep moving with music. Our teens like Wii Music for creative ways to virtually try instruments and read music.

Fun and Easy Ways to Make Music

Homemade Guitar

This easy craft involves taking a box – shoe box size is great – and helping your child slide rubber bands of various widths and lengths over the width of the box (over the open side of the box, or if the box is closed, over a hole you cut).

Rain Stick

Teach your kids about Central American traditions with this easy craft. Take a long, empty paper towel tube and cover one end with paper, then duct tape. Have your child help measure and fill the tube with a combination of dried rice and small balls of crumpled aluminum foil (about 1/3 of the volume of the tube). Cover and tape the other end, and let you child decorate the outside of the tube with markers and stickers.

Flying Maracas

We call these flying maracas at our house because they remind the kids of what they imagine flying saucers would look like. Take two paper plates. Have your child place a handful of dried beans, bottle caps, aluminum pop can tabs, or even paperclips on one of the plates. Place the other plate over the top of the first, creating a pocket between the two with the loose items inside. Staple the edges thoroughly and let you child decorate the plates.

Ringing Bells

Head to your local craft store and get a supply of bells, either traditional ones or jingle bells, in varying sizes. See if your child can arrange them in musical order (size is a clue). Then attempt to ring out basic tunes like Mary Had a Little Lamb. Your child can take ribbon pieces and make handles for the bells as well.

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The Traps of Instant Gratification

Why The Waiting Game Is Good For Kids

Instant gratification is all around us. If my kids want to learn how to perform a yo-yo trick, within minutes they can watch an expert on YouTube. If they need to do research for a report, they have access to college libraries from their seat in our living room courtesy of their laptop. And if they want to share a silly joke with a friend who is 2 hours away, they grab the phone and send the text. Instant gratification surrounds our children and changes how they perceive the world. It permeates their education, their social circles, and directs their futures. However, learning to rely on instant gratification can have negative effects on their childhood and their lives for years to come.

More Than Marshmallows

Decades ago psychologist Walter Mischel designed an experiment wherein hundreds of preschoolers were tempted with marshmallows. The children were directed that they could either eat 1 marshmallow right away, or if they were able to wait 15 minutes, they could have 2 marshmallows. The children were then left alone to decide their stomachs’ fates. Some children went for the immediate gratification and ate the lone marshmallow, while other squirmed in their seats, fidgeting and calculating, and eventually were rewarded with 2 marshmallows after they outlasted the time clocks. The final numbers revealed that 70% of the children could not resist the temptation for the 15 minutes, while 30% could. This experiment has been modeled in other cultures with similar results over the years.

In order to quantify this experiment, participants from the late 1960s experiment were brought back and certain characteristics were assessed during the end of their high school years. Those preschoolers who were able to delay their marshmallow gratification for 15 minutes years ago grew to be young adults who were significantly less likely to have drug addictions, behavior problems, or be obese. They also scored on average 210 points higher on their SAT exams.

Why is Delayed Gratification Important?

Our children live in a world of instantaneous results. Delaying gratification:

  • Helps kids to think things through more thoroughly (like whether or not they should really make that Facebook post)
  • Reinforces the value and importance of self-control
  • Gives them the opportunity to enjoy anticipation
  • Helps prioritize activities in busy lives
  • Teaches children an important foundation for money management (credit cards are dangerous tools for instant gratification)
  • Gives them opportunities to deal with complex sets of choices and challenges and determine the best courses for action
  • Teaches them how to make and set goals
  • Gives children the opportunity to deal with disappointments and frustrations
  • Decreases instances of dangerous impulsive behaviors

How Can We Teach Delayed Gratification to Our Kids?

While we might be tempted to remove their technology gadgets and gizmos, put a halt on cell phones, and an end to endless activities, these aren’t very realistic on a long-term basis. Instead we can use small, tangible, and real opportunities for encouraging delayed gratification.

  • Give preschoolers their own calendars and help them anticipate time.
  • Demonstrate good behaviors. If you’re shopping with your kids you might say “I really would like that new coat, but I am going home to think about it before I buy it.”
  • Read chapter books or series of books together where you can talk about what might happen next, but give them time between readings to think about it
  • Allow your child to plan for a friend coming over. One day it might be the invitation, another it might be planning the activity, while you gradually build to the special day.
  • Establish family rules for purchases. Our kids have to wait 24 hours before spending their money on an item, and in that time, they usually decide they didn’t want it as much as they thought.
  • Talk about goals and find age appropriate ways to record them with your kids.
    • Pictures on a calendar that represent each day
    • A good old fashioned paper chain link countdown
    • Written goals by older kids – help them define long and short term goals
  • Play games that need “to be continued” such as a marathon run of Monopoly or putting a puzzle together as a family and only spending 15 minutes each evening working on it.
  • Plant a garden with your kids – nothing stretches their patience like waiting for seeds to emerge.

Delayed (sometimes called deferred) gratification is not easy, for kids or for adults. In a world where we can watch movies on demand, buy games with the click of a button, and update the world with the fact that our toddler took his first step, we need to take time to just wait. Good things do come.

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Are You Ready to Be a Mompreneur?

And Taking the Workforce by Storm!

Motherhood is a job – just one that doesn’t pay with money, but in so many other rewards. However, since it doesn’t pay for the electric bill or the groceries, many moms turn to working part-time or full-time, inside or outside of the home for a paycheck. Many moms are also forgoing polishing their resumes or completing their applications to instead start their own businesses and companies. It can bring in that much needed paycheck, as well as provide self-satisfaction and identity, but it is also not for the faint of heart.

What is a Mompreneur? describes a mompreneur as a woman who is balancing the roles of motherhood and entrepreneur. Balance does seem to be the key word in this definition, and it is a fluid state of being. Whether you are considering starting your own home daycare business, opening a greenhouse in your backyard, writing and editing from your home office (like me), or starting your own cleaning and professional organization company, there are several issues you need to carefully consider.

One Mompreneur’s Story

If you read my recent post about organizing your home life, you were introduced to Tammy Schotzko, owner of We Love Messes. Tammy shared with me some insights about home and family organization, but she also shared with me her experiences and perspectives about her dual role as a mom and entrepreneur – mompreneur.

Tammy decided early on that she wanted to stay home with her first child (now 17), but she always pursued some type of work to contribute to the family budget. Sometimes this was babysitting, mending or quilting for others, participating on the city council, or other part-time investments of her time and energy.

Take Something You Love and Go with It

Moms are about love – and Tammy’s move mirrors what drives so many successful mompreneurs. Like Tammy, they take their passions and interests and find a way to turn those into paychecks. Less than two years ago she decided to take what she loves, organizing, and pursue it as a career. While she first partnered with someone else, Tammy recently became the sole owner of her company in October of 2011. She said that “…once I realized that not everybody is a natural at it AND people would PAY me to do it I would’ve been crazy NOT to pursue it!”  

Tammy’s business is now a mobile business, with most of her needed supplies waiting for her in her van. She completes paperwork, bills, correspondences, and more from her home, and at any one time has 10-15 independent contractors doing work through her business.

The Challenges Mompreneurs Face

The glass ceiling may have been lifted, but in reality – it is still there – if at varying heights depending upon whom you ask. Tammy has seen this ceiling herself as she works as “the boss”. In two recent times she laughs about now, she took her husband on fire damage jobs and repeatedly faced people who automatically sought her husband out as the owner of her business. She walked away from one instance not really able to fully convince a particular gentleman that she was running the show. I can empathize with Tammy and understand her circumstances. As a cloud commuter I have often been mistaken for a man – with the name of Chris – as my image is not always attached with my name. Redirecting clients is not always easy, and not even always necessary. As you venture into mompreneur-land, just be aware that the ceilings exist – just take a hammer with you.

In my interview with Tammy I heard her reiterate what I have heard from so many other women who are either entrepreneurs or figures of authority in companies. It can be challenging for women, somewhat natural caretakers, to be firm and business-focused, instead of friends to all, especially if a woman has been spending years providing love and support to her family. Tammy puts it well when she says that “…the buck, and the reputation, stops with me.” If you’re going to pursue an entrepreneurial road, you need to go prepared to be the boss.

The Best Parts of Being a Mompreneur

Working mother is a redundant term. However, if you seek a paycheck and decide to pursue building your own business or career, there are some wonderful advantages of becoming a mompreneur.

  • A paycheck – paying bills is nice.
  • A sense of accomplishment – your children can follow for inspiration.
  • An entrepreneurial experience – nothing prepares you for life’s hurdles like setting up your own track.
  • Your own schedule – this may mean more hours than you bargain for so be prepared to pace yourself.

Tammy acknowledges that wanting to do it all and being able to do it all realistically are two separate things. But she also says that mom CAN do it, just at readjusted levels of (self) expectation. At the end of the day there are only 24 hours – in which we are moms, mompreneurs, entrepreneurs, employees, partners, friends, shoe-shoppers, gardeners, and women. Balancing all of those hats is not easy, but as the rising trend of mompreneurs shows, it just might be the new path that women like Tammy are blazing.

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Don’t Tell Your Kids to Apologize

Don’t Tell Your Kids to Apologize

Don’t get me wrong – I think children sometimes lack the skill of apologizing, but more importantly they are lacking the ability to apologize sincerely. It is the difference between uttering those words and acting on those words – and the difference lies in our children’s ability to empathize. People make mistakes, and how we make restitutions for these demonstrate for our children how to accept responsibility and move forward with action based on empathy.

I’m fairly certain none of us are perfect parents or people, and one important way we can acknowledge that is to apologize to and in front of our children when we make mistakes. Accepting responsibility can be difficult, but when we demonstrate our regrets, we teach our children about empathy. It is this empathy that they need in order to understand how to make real apologies in their own life. And no matter how wonderfully amazing our children are, they are going to make some mistakes and need to own up to them.

Be Real

“Well sorrryyyy!” in a sarcastic tone obviously doesn’t seem sincere, but there are many more subtle ways we demonstrate false apologies. Teaching your kids to make real apologies begins by demonstrating that skill (yes – ownership and responsibility taking are skills).

  • Restate the act that got you there in the first place. “I am sorry your feelings are hurt because I threw away the picture you drew.” You acknowledge the pain and the reason for it.
  • Look into your children’s eyes when you apologize.
  • Don’t apologize to someone, and then turn around later and complain to someone else about the situation. You have just removed your ownership.
  • Don’t start sentences with, “I’m sorry, but….” What you might as well say is, “I’m not sorry because I think I was right for these reasons.”

Teaching Kids to Say They are Sorry – And Mean It

Leading by example in your own life is vitally important, but there are several other ways we can teach our children how to empathize and accept roles in hurtful words or actions, even when they are unintentional.

  • Don’t force your child to say sorry. It doesn’t teach them empathy. Instead, focus on why an apology is needed.
  • Don’t allow your child to think that “Sorry” is a free pass for misbehaviors. Kids who learn to apologize and get it over with aren’t learning to accept responsibility for their behaviors. Actions do speak louder than words.
  • Teach your child to do an apologetic action when he or she is sorry. This can be a hug, an offer to share a toy, or another action appropriate response.
  • Be careful of the blame game, especially between siblings. I have been witness to several disagreements between my children where I honestly cannot tell with certainty who is the responsible party for the behavior, even though I might have my suspicions. I encourage them to take ownership for their individual contributions.
  • Ask them to put themselves in the other person’s shoes, and ask questions about how they would feel. Encourage them to use words that reflect emotions – frustration, anger, sadness, uncertainty – as well as words that clearly state the reality. “I hit Sam with my block on the head because I was mad he took my doll. His head got hurt and he is angry and sad.” This is a great opportunity to demonstrate empathy.
  • Read good books and tell stories where apologies were needed and made. I was recently doing a read aloud with my kids of the classic story “Summer of the Swans” and it has several great scenes where apologies were needed, and not easy to make. My boys talked about how hard it can be sometimes, but that real apologies make everyone feel better.

Apologies are never easy, no matter how old we get. It is most important, however, to teach our kids to do more than just say “Sorry” for their wrongs. They need to learn from us as we set examples, and they need to learn the actions that support the words.

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Am I Crazy for Co-Sleeping?

Sleep like a baby. Actually, sleep near a baby. The benefits of co-sleeping are sometimes far overlooked amid the hyped up fears of lack of privacy, interrupted nights, and dangers of bed-sharing (which is different from co-sleeping and not as dangerous as critics say). I never set out a formal plan with my first child to use attachment parenting techniques, and never envisioned co-sleeping. Then I actually became a parent and the benefits of co-sleeping were too real to ignore.

My daughter was a colicky baby, and truly needed to be near us as she slept, so we backed into co-sleeping as a way to make sure we could all get a decent night’s rest. When she turned 2 and got her big girl bed, she decided that she preferred to sleep in it, in her own room – yes the transition really happened that easily. Then the boys came along.

A sleeping bag at the foot of the bed wrapped my toddler like a cocoon, and a bassinet just a step away from my bed cradled my infant son as he sighed peacefully in his sleep. Occasionally my 4 year-old son would drag his blanket into the room and silently curl up next to his 2 year-old brother on the floor. Not to mention my 6’ tall husband slumbering by my side. Yes – the accommodations were crowded, but the rewards of co-sleeping for my family were numerous, and I believe still evident today. And despite the slight claustrophobia I felt at times, the unorganized assembly of blankets and pillows, and the strange looks and rude comments I received from people, I would use co-sleeping habits again with my children, and recommend it to other parents.

What is co-sleeping?

Co-sleeping has varying definitions depending upon which proponent or critic you hear describe it, but in general it is the close sleeping arrangement between parents and their young children. In co-sleeping there is a close proximity of parents and children, but most often the children and parents sleep on separate surfaces.

Co-sleeping can be

  • a bassinet or crib near the parent’s bed
  • a mattress or sleeping bag on the parent’s floor for toddlers/preschoolers
  • a “side-car” sleeper which is basically a crib with 3 walls, and the 4th side is adjacent to the parent’s bed (without a gap between mattresses)
  • children sharing a room for sleeping

Sometimes the term co-sleeping is used when the term family bed is a more appropriate description. Family bed, or bed sharing, is the general practice of children routinely sharing the same bed as their parents, most often directly going to sleep and staying asleep in that same bed.

What are the benefits of co-sleeping?

  • If you are a breastfeeding mom, you don’t have to go far to have your infant near your side to feed him or her. Side-car sleepers are great for this as well.
  • You can respond to your children’s needs easily and quickly. I could hear my newborn rooting around in his crib, waking for his next feeding, but I didn’t have to wait until he was wide awake and crying to know I needed to attend to his needs. This allowed him to go back to sleep so much easier and faster.
  • Studies have shown that when an infant sleeps near his mother that his own breathing is regulated, benefiting his overall heart rate and body functions.
  • Studies show that co-sleeping reduces the amounts of cortisol, a stress hormone that is released in an infant’s brain. When infants sleep alone they can face separation anxiety and some neurological studies have even shown that being separated from parents has a similar effect to that of physical pain for the infant.
  • Studies have shown that room sharing (co-sleeping) has contributed to a reduced number of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) cases.
  • Your awareness of your children’s needs is heightened. When my infant son was sleeping peacefully one night in my room something awakened me – some subtle something. I got out of bed and stepped to his cradle, reached down in the dark, and screamed for my husband to turn on the lights. My brain was not prepared for what my hands touched – something wet and convulsing. My baby boy was lying on his back (the recommended sleep position), but covered in his own vomit and quite quietly choking on it. I was able to clear his mouth and his airway and he immediately started crying, a welcome sound. The aspirated vomit did cause pneumonia, but the experience reaffirmed for me why co-sleeping is a valuable and worthwhile choice for parents to make. Had I not been so near to him, I do not believe that I would have been as aware of his immediate, dire needs.

Now our youngest is 8 and my husband and I have regained full ownership of our bedroom. Since they were toddlers and preschoolers our children have all gone to bed without complaint, look forward to reading before bed and the other nighttime rituals, and sleep well through the night. I know so many other parents who have children in preschool and beyond who still have to cajole their children into bed, struggle as they resist, and struggle throughout the night trying to convince their children to remain in their own beds. Co-sleeping really does offer a gentle and gradual way to teach children how to sleep through the night, but more importantly, to teach them that we as parents are paying attention to their needs.

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Organize Your Family Life

Is the clutter in your home overwhelming your ability as a family to lead effective, less stressful lives? As busy parents we work to care for our partners and our kids, work as business owners or employees, and manage our homes.

Why Does Home Organization Matter?

Let’s face it – it simply is not fun to chase our children through the house looking for lost assignments, mittens, toys, or sanity because we failed to make home organization a priority. We don’t have to have commercial ready closets and pristine shelves of labeled everything in order to qualify as organized, but taming down the chaotic messes helps our families in several ways:

Saves time – less searching for AWOL items or spending extra time cleaning on the weekends because the mess mounted all week.

Saves money – less buying extras because you lost the first 2, and when you have a more organized approach to your home you truly understand whether or not you even need the first one.

Saves sanity – less stress from wasted time. While it might seem like an overwhelming task to organize a home, begin with a room, or a desk, and you can see that keeping it organized really does help in the long run to reduce family stress.

Tammy Schotzko, owner of We Love Messes, a professional organizing and eco-friendly cleaning service, recently shared with me in an interview some of the obstacles she sees in her profession that keep parents from easier home management. She spoke of the modern dual income families who are becoming more and more popular in numbers, and requiring a different approach to family organization because no longer is one parent the primary source at home for managing a family’s life. Parents have busy lives and busier children’s schedules to manage, and being organized is simply a saner way to live.

Not only will your days be less stressful if your home is more organized, but your children will learn to emulate these behaviors and have the same benefits in their lives. Tammy says that in her professional experiences one of the saddest things she has encountered is walking into a home and seeing the clutter and chaos and realizing that the children just aren’t learning to do anything better because the behaviors are modeled by the parents. When children live with positive routines they are more likely to model those positive behaviors and in turn behave more positively because they know what to expect.

How Can Families Become More Organized?

  • Start young – even toddlers can learn to pick up their toys, put their dirty laundry in the hamper, and participate in the home’s care.
  • Be consistent – develop routines that are easy for the kids to remember. If organizing does not come naturally to you, start small and build from there so you and your family members don’t feel overwhelmed.
  • Share the load – as Tammy spoke about it with me, kids will be very comfortable letting you do the work if that is what you teach them to expect. If we enable them to create messes (and messes are more than tangible disasters in toy boxes) because we don’t enforce the routines and plans, they won’t learn to do anything else.

Tammy also shared these 3 top tips for parents who are working to create more organization in their homes, and lives. (these are right from Tammy, the organizing horse’s mouth)

  1. Make your bed every morning. Crazy, right? Hear me out – it starts your morning with a positive note of accomplishment, it instantly de-clutters the space, AND it’s a great habit to model for your kids. It’s such a small, simple thing, but it has far reaching impact.
  2. A place for everything, and everything in its place. Yes, putting things away takes more effort than setting it down with the intention to come back to it, but setting it down “to put away later” is how piles and clutter begins. If you don’t have a place for everything, maybe you have too many things…our space defines what we can have, not the other way around. There isn’t a closet system around that can fit 50 pairs of shoes in a closet that only has space for 25, I don’t care how creative you are!
  3. Routines. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are essential – kids are less demanding if they know what is expected of them.

What Challenges Do Families Face When Getting Organized?

In her profession, Tammy sees what most of us can probably relate to on some level – “family buy in” – where the brunt of the family responsibilities fall on one parent’s shoulders – often the mom’s. The family buys into the idea that Mom can do it all, often because Mom tries to fit that unrealistic mold.  Both Mom and Dad need to be in agreement on the expectations of the children’s contributions to maintaining the household, and both parents need to follow through on making sure those expectations are upheld.

Tammy also shared with me other obstacles she sees keeping parents from getting and staying organized.

We just can’t get more than 24 hours in a given day. We need to make more efficient use of the time we have, and even though getting organized might feel too time consuming, being organized really does save us time.

“Must haves”
For new parents it might be the gadgets that they think babies need, which ends up being stuff that floats around the house unused, and worse yet, maybe saved for the next baby to not really need.

Growing stuff
It might sound like a science experiment, but growing stuff is what happens when our kids continually accumulate more toys, art supplies, video games, and whatever tiny, plastic thing you will step on in the middle of the night, without us helping them purge those unused items.

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed about a chaotic and unorganized home, take a deep breath and start small. Tammy shared with me these two specific tips for organizing with your kids (and they don’t require a ton of time or resources).

  1. Organize school papers – and start in preschool! Tammy recommends using a durable bin or storage container that kids can use to put their saved schoolwork in throughout the year. At the end of each year, have the kids go through the bins and save what they want – give them ownership.
  2. Use a family calendar. In Tammy’s home this is a dry erase board where every Sunday each member of the family (her kids are 13 17) is responsible for writing down their weekly schedule, all color coded. In my family it is a monthly wall calendar where each member of the family has his or her own column, and family members add their activities. As my husband says – if it’s not on the calendar, it isn’t happening! There is no efficient way our family of 6 could operate without a clear and consistent way to organize and appreciate everyone’s schedules. You can use a dry erase board, a formal calendar, or print your own – but creating a family calendar is an easy way to help everyone in the home stay on track.

On those days when I feel overwhelmed, I might want to stick my head in the proverbial sand, but I usually start by cleaning my kitchen. I am far from a neat freak (wink to Tammy!), but I have learned that ownership and responsibility start in my own home, with me, if I ever hope to pass those lessons along to my children. Special thanks to Tammy Schotzko for taking the time to answer some questions about home and family organization!

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5 Fun Ideas for Family Date Night

Do you love your family? So many of us immediately answer with an emphatic YES!, but fail to always act like it or know how to show it. Family date nights are important for reaffirming to your family how much your relationships matter, and help build stronger family bonds. Especially during busy and hectic times, between baseball practices, music lessons, and homework, it is so vital for parents to take the lead and institute family time together.

Building Strong Families

Research has shown that strong families are built on foundations of several different constructs, including:

  • Open communication
  • Atmosphere of encouragement and appreciation
  • Religious roots
  • Ability to adapt to changes and face challenges
  • Time together

These constructs don’t simply come together because we all live under the same roof or share the same last name. Strong, healthy families are built when attention is paid to all of these important areas, and family date nights are fun ways to accomplish this.

Fun, Easy, Family Date Night Ideas

Family date nights can (and should) begin when children are young, and they don’t have to be extravagant or expensive. Set aside at least one night each month for family date nights, but once a week is even better.

Family Restaurant

We’ve heard it before that eating together as a family is vitally important to building strong families, but use this twist for a family date night. Imagine that your family owns its own restaurant – would it be an Italian diner, specialize in Asian cuisine, or an old fashioned cafe? Create a menu together as a family, and give the kids the tasks of decorating the dining room to reflect the restaurant style. Shop together for the ingredients, cook the food together, don’t forget to throw on some music that matches your theme, and enjoy your meal (and just as in a family restaurant – everyone helps with cleanup!)

Treasure Hunt

Put together a treasure hunt where the entire family has to work together to solve clues and locate the treasure, which could be anything from a new DVD to watch together, a board game, or a family photo album. Your clues can lead family members around the house or through an entire park, depending on ages and patience levels, and could even incorporate GPS coordinates for those tweens and teens. Working together to solve problems is an extremely valuable family tool, and treasure hunts are fun ways to practice group problem solving skills.

Picture Perfect Family

Grab a digital camera and head to some of your favorite family locations for group pictures. If time permits, have each child choose a location that is special to him or her – maybe for your son it is the ballpark where he saw his first baseball game with the family, or for your daughter it is where you always used to go as a family for picnics. Use a timer setting or find an obliging stranger to take a family photo, but also take extra candid shots of the family at the location. If your town has a photo booth have everyone cram inside for some goofy and classic group shots. Then head to the drugstore or take the rest of your digital photos home to print, and then work on a family scrapbook together.

Game Show Challenge

As a family choose a game show to use as a model and create your own family version. This one might take some more planning during weekly dinners together, but the final, fun result will be a great night of family fun. Some fun ones to consider are:

  • Family Feud (versions sold in stores so you don’t have to develop your own questions) – just add a host and come up with a fun prize.
  • Survivor – develop fun challenges like puzzle solving, 3-legged races, and obstacle courses.
  • Amazing Race – Set up a course of challenges for either individuals or teams to complete. These could even be silly tasks like matching Tupperware lids to containers, sorting a huge stack of mismatched socks, or searching through a toy box for a small trinket.

New Adventures

One of the best ways to work together as a family is to try something new. There are two ways you can approach this family date night.

Have each family member take turns introducing the rest of the family to something new that he or she really enjoys. In our family that might be our son taking us mountain biking at a local trail where only he has been, or my daughter teaching us how to run a dog agility course. Letting the kids teach the rest of the family something new emphasizes individuality but promotes family time and learning more about each other.

Do something completely new as a family that you all have been curious about trying. This might be fishing for the first time, taking a martial arts class, or going to a play. Be sure to end the activity talking about what each family member liked and didn’t like about the activity.

The most important thing about family date nights are to start them with a positive attitude and keep trying, even if one is a flop. Your family is worth the effort and your children will appreciate the time and energy you put into the adventures, even if it doesn’t show for another 15 years!

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Advertisements Targeting Children: Are They All Bad?

I just found this video below and couldn’t help but re-post it for you to see.

It’s called “Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood” and seeks to blame advertising for many of the problems that children in our society are showing today.

And if you take the argument all by itself, then maybe they’re right.  We probably really should be upset about commercials that build strong desire in young girls to buy a ‘Bratz’ doll or something else that represents values that directly counter what we hope our children develop.  So in cases like that I am in complete agreement.

However… the trailer for this documentary also shows a Disney commercial as a case for how commercials ruin children; and I think we step into unfair territory when we don’t separate companies or commercials from those that advertise products with no value, compared to those that deliver value.  I see a lot of people who get on this anti corporation kick hate companies who sell products that have made my life better, or delivered more joy, or created a special family memory for me, which is exactly what Disney has done for my family.

For sure, I don’t like all their shows, nor do I think all of what they do is right for my children.  The Suite Life of Zack Cody is an example.  That show has a lot of really bitchy little rich girls all over it, and I don’t want influencing my young daughters lives at all.  According to research done in a great book called Nurture Shock, a TV show that spends too much time showing bad or in this case, bitchy behavior more then repentance of that behavior, will cause a child who watches that show to start behaving like a bitch.

However, the research also shows that children who watch a show where the character spends most of the show being good and representing good qualities starts to behave BETTER.

This is why I am not one of those raving Anti TV parents who think TV is from the devil.

Do I think their are crappy TV programs that ruin children, yes!  But I also think that their are quality shows that build children up.  And in the case of Disney I think they make a TON of wonderful programs and products.

Just Some Of The Things I’m Thankful To Disney For

  • Wonderful family vacation filled with joy that my children still talk about.  Why is it that we hate a company that delivers happiness?
  • Allowing me to purchase premium services to make the experience more enjoyable, like their private tour guide service that makes lines shorter but costs $200 an hour.  If you find yourself hating that service because some can afford it and others cannot I’d like to suggest you might have more of a jealousy issue with the person who bought the service then you do with Disney.  Or do you think nobody should have the service if you can’t because it’s not fair?  Is that right for you to think that?  Is it right for you to wish that another family who saved up to pay for that service doesn’t have the right to enjoy it?  hmmmmm….
  • Rides that stretched my sons bravery.  If you could ever know one thing about me, its that I value the stretching of my children outside their comfort zone more than just about anyone, and I find rides like ‘The Matterhorn’, ‘Splash Mountain’, and Jack’s Haunted Mansion are wonderful at doing this.

I could go on, but I’ll stop with this final example…

Why I Like My Children Watching Scooby Doo

Recently my son, who loves to watch Scooby Doo everyday decided that he wanted to set a trap like Fred Jones always does in every episode.  So while I was outside lugging in firewood this winter, he snuck a glass out of the cupboard, filled it with soapy water and set it on the counter for me for when I got thirsty.

Sure enough when I came in from packing firewood I was thirsty, and not paying much attention, gladly accepted my son’s glass of water, thinking he was being so kind.  I thought something was odd about his behavior as I lifted the glass to my lips and took that first swig.  And as that soapy water touched my lips and I knew I’d been had, my son exploded in laughter, “I set a trap for you Dad!” he proudly exclaimed.

And sure enough he had, a quite creative trap for a three year old if I do say so myself, and one inspired by Scooby Doo.

That very day I took my son to the hardware store and bought him ‘Trap Stuff’, like rope, wood, rubber bands etc.  And we spent several hours that week making traps.

Here’s the Takeaway

TV creates context for our children constantly.  It is constantly exposing them to new ideas, and if we would just take the one on one time it takes to take that new context TV gives our children and fan the creative ideas that it can create through play then it is NOT bad, and it instead is a tool.

Even when TV drives our children to strongly desire material things like ‘Toys’, it can be used for good.  My mother used the drive that the show ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ created for me to have their action figures, as a tool for teaching me to save money for things I wanted.  I got a nickel per chore as a kid and I remember my brother and I saving for 2-3 months just to buy a $13 action figure as young kids.  Does that make whoever produced that show evil?  Not if a child has a good mother like mine… instead it taught me to delay gratification for things I really wanted, even when I want them VERY badly.

So when I see parents or shows that bitch about children and consumerism, and then want to pass laws to make it illegal I can’t help but think, where are the parents?  Our children are going to grow up and strongly desire things as they grow older, so why can’t we be using the strong desires of our TV programming to create skills for life.  Skills like delaying gratification, savings etc.

If we spent more time trying to hate companies, and did some responsible screening of TV programs, and used the others as tools for developing our children, we’d be better off… I know my kids are.

But that’s enough ranting for today, watch the trailer and tell me what you think:




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Should Kids Get Paid for Grades?

Call me old fashioned, but when I was a kid we went to school to learn. We didn’t get paid for grades, had to attend classes whether we liked them or not, and we just knew it – no bribery needed. As the education system in America has struggled to provide students with first class educations on low-string budgets, a new approach has been emerging. Funding has gotten very creative, including paying students for arriving to school on time, attending classes, behaving at school, getting good grades, and achieving higher than typical test scores.

As communities struggle with increasing drop-out rates and lower than acceptable test scores, the students are the ones who are missing out on their futures. Many schools that are choosing to pay for performances are doing so in desperate attempts to save their students from the dangers of quitting school with a poor quality 9th grade education. The end goals are to increase graduation rates and test scores, with the attempt to then set students up for more successful futures in either higher education or better paying jobs out of school. But does this really work to meet these end goals?

The Benefits of Paying Students for Their Performances

Families across the country pay their own children for report card performances. Parents search for motivating factors for their children to succeed in school, and have found that money is a great influencer. It indeed might get their attention and motivate them to do better in classes if the payout is large enough and the need is great enough. Generally families with middle to higher levels are the ones offering financial bonuses to their kids, while children from poorer neighborhoods might be the ones left with fewer resources to both succeed in school and have families who pay for grades.

When school boards step up to the plate and decide to offer financial incentives for students’ performances it gets more attention, and the ramifications can be much different. One researcher in particular has been taking a very close look at the strategies used and the outcomes achieved. Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. has spent years studying the effects of paying for student performances and has found that if the incentives are designed correctly, the end goals can be reached.

His studies showed that younger students appeared to be the most influenced, and the monetary amount did not have to be as high, but there is no way of knowing if their motivation would continue in later years. When the goals were achievable and clearly and narrowly defined, such as wearing school uniforms each day or not being tardy to class, students knew how to achieve these goals and were therefor successful. The interesting portion is that when the goals were more far-reaching, such as increased standardized test scores, the students didn’t know how to reach those goals so the success rates were lower.

In one test group 2nd graders were paid to read books, and their reported reading times increased, thus the goal was met. The extra payoff was that the student’s reading scores on future tests were increased. While the over-all goals might be better test scores and increased graduation rates, students don’t have the skills to reach these goals, even when paid for them. They respond much better to smaller, more manageable goals, and even in older populations of students this didn’t always work as hypothesized.

The Dangers of Paying Students for Performances

I am one who believes that true learning cannot be purchased, and that paying students for performances reduces their ability to motivate themselves later in life. The end goals in the short term might be reached, but the long-term success might even be decreased. I am not alone in this viewpoint, as many researchers have long concluded that when we trade (bribe) our children to behave in certain ways, we actually create less motivated and capable people.

One of the criticisms of these types of payment plans for students is that they are even racially motivated, as many programs are done in poorer neighborhoods with higher minority populations. These are where the students who need the most help live. Some have suggested that better parenting incentives might be the more effective and efficient plan in the long run, but the problem still remains: the education system is not developed for supporting struggling families and their students.

Paying for grades is one way to improve the numbers, but does it improve the future for the people? Yes, the job of a child is to get an education, but not all jobs should be compensated for monetarily, especially if we are seeking real results. I consider it my job to be a good parent and community member. If someone started to pay me for these performances, wouldn’t we question the validity of my job and of my motivations? We are missing the difference between actually doing a good job, versus getting the job done.

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