5 Things Moms Do That Make Every Therapist Cringe

“Parenting.” The word alone is enough to make even the bravest among us shake a little in our Uggs. It’s a job that can and does intimidate every single person who ever took it on. It’s a roller coaster ride with no seat belts and sometimes we feel like we’re just one surprise turn away from being tossed out altogether.

Sometimes, when things are humming along, we feel absolutely sure of ourselves and walk around with the smug smile of self-satisfaction. On those glorious days we might even get pumped up enough to think we deserve an award for the great job we’re doing, or at least a talk show offer.

Then there are those other, horrible days when we’re down-in-the-dumps questioning whether we even deserve to be called a mom. That’s when we hear that nasty, self-sabotaging voice taunting us: “You’re not cut out for this! You suck! Why don’t you know what you’re doing?”

Most of us probably see-saw back and forth between both of those experiences, depending on the day, and the particular child involved. The goal, as impossible as it might sound, is to establish a certain balance  in how we take it all in so we don’t feel like our sanity and sense of self hinges on whether our so-called parenting skills are working that day or not.

There is definitely an art involved in this crazy job that develops with time and experience. But parenting smarts can be learned and practiced, too. Unfortunately though, it’s pretty much on-the-job training for most of us and we all trip into some bad habits from time to time.

But I know you’re trying hard to get it right. So I’m going to let you in on a few of the things that make every child and family therapist cringe so you can avoid them at all costs. Many parents don’t know how inappropriate or even damaging these behaviors are. And most would stop them immediately, if they did.

So here is your heads-up. Cut out these no-no’s and you’ll be much closer to being the kind of parent you want to be.

1Talking about your child’s problems or making hurtful remarks about him while he’s standing right there: “He’s so annoying.” “He’s the laziest kid I’ve ever met.” “She’s not too bright.”  “I can’t believe how scared he was. He’s such a baby!”

Some parents don’t seem to realize that their children can see the snickers on their faces and hear the less-than-flattering comments that come out of their mouths. And those words, and looks, go straight to their hearts and can leave lasting scars. Your words and what you think about them are very, very important and will influence how they view themselves — not just today, but for the rest of their lives. So if you want them to be happy and successful, watch your mouth!

A twist on this scenario is when a parent insults the other parent and the child in the same sentence: “He’s just like his father — no self-control.” This one impacts his view of himself and makes him ashamed of his father, too. It also models for him how to treat his own spouse one day.

2. Discussing frightening events in front of a child:

“I was totally freaked out, so I called the police and told them that there was a suspicious car parked out in front and I was afraid it might be a kidnapper because a child in the next town was approached by someone in a similar car on his way home from school. My kids are not going outside at all until they find that weirdo.”

When a scary thing happens to you or your children, it’s important to talk to them about it while being very mindful of your role as comforter. The things that you say should be directed very purposefully towards reducing their fears and helping them to move on feeling strong and reassured. You do not want to scare them, especially about things that are completely out of their control.

But some parents discuss the details of the troubling event openly with other adults while their kids are around and end up further traumatizing them. Following the events of 911 in New York I saw this happen over and over again. Parents (and store clerks, teachers, bus drivers etc.) talked about the disaster, the terrorist threat, and all their fears very dramatically while the children stared up at them wide-eyed and terrified. NOT COOL!

Remember that your job is to protect your kids (and all kids) from physical and emotional harm. Process your concerns out of ear shot of your children (or any children) with another adult. Do not ever assume that they are not listening because they are busy doing their homework or playing on the floor with their toys. If your voice sounds at all stressed, they will be all ears.

3. Using any kind of physical violence, from a yank to a slap to a swat to control behavior.

Seeing parents engage in these behaviors always makes me crazy. This also goes for name calling. It is never appropriate and if you find that you rely on physical force, humiliation or verbal abuse to get your child to behave, find a parenting class fast — you’re headed for disaster. There’s no shame in asking for help, you simply need some new strategies that will work without hurting your child or damaging your relationship with her. We tend to repeat what was done to us and you can be the hero who breaks the dysfunctional patterns in your family. How amazing would that be??

4. Ignoring a child’s pleas for attention and then suddenly yelling at her.

I realize that you are trying to have a life and that being a parent is a 24/7 job that often feels like a 25/7 job. Still, it’s a big part of your job description to work on being patient and responding to your child when she talks to you. I’m not talking about a child who is in a  whiny mood and won’t stop even though you have answered her several times.

This is about those other times when you are preoccupied (iphone? computer? T.V.?) or talking to someone else and your child needs but cannot seem to get your attention. “Mommy?” “Mommy?” “Mommy?”  “Mommy?” No response until you suddenly decide you’ve had it and lash out at her verbally (or physically): “STOP IT! I’M TALKING!”

A child should not have to work so hard to get a parent to listen. And a reasonable person cannot simply ignore her and then suddenly pounce. It’s just not fair.

5. Answering for her or correcting her in mid-sentence:

“Hey Danny! How’s first grade? How do you like your teacher?” I asked this capable young man.

“Oh, he loves her! She’s great and we’re so lucky we got her” said Danny’s mom as he looked away.

This one is somewhat more benign than the others and I (and everyone I know) have to admit to occasionally stumbling into it myself. But it’s important to catch yourself when you do it and stop! Our child needs to be given the opportunity to learn how to express himself and answer questions about his life without prompting or help (unless of course he really needs it). It is one of the most important ways that he works to become independent and self-assured.

As parents we tend to rush in to fill the awkward gaps in our children’s conversations with others but we don’t need to. When she is asked a question, even if she’s three, give her a chance to come up with an answer. Take a break and let her figure it out. No one’s really expecting a brilliant answer here. Plus, she may be smarter than you think.

And always tread carefully when it comes to correcting him while he’s talking. Be gentle and sensitive as to how you go about this. He is learning to feel comfortable about sharing his thoughts and ideas. Sometimes that feels scary. And if he is afraid that you will interrupt him to let everyone know that he has made a mistake it will be even scarier.

He’s also learning how to correct others by watching and listening to how you do it, and nobody likes a know-it-all or a buttinski do they? Help us all out by doing your best not to create another one.

So, go ahead mamas and see if you can avoid or eliminate these “deadly five” from your parenting skill set. Your relationships with your kids will improve, they will gain self confidence and self respect  and you will feel much calmer, too. Funny how it works that way.

KidChores – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

All moms know that sometimes — well, maybe most of the time — it’s easier to do a household task yourself than to ask your child to help out. Whether it’s folding laundry or loading the dishwasher, many of us who worship efficiency and a job well done find ourselves falling for that old saw “if you want it done right, do it yourself”.

But wait. STOP. When we jump in and do it all we not only give ourselves a massive workload, we rob our kids of the tremendous satisfaction and sense of accomplishment that comes with having a job and getting it done. Oh, I know what you’re thinking ’cause I’ve been there — still am some days. “She’ll whine. She’ll complain. I’ll have to nag her to pick up her shoes, take out the trash, feed the dog, fill-in-the-blank. I’m in a hurry, and can just get it done in a quarter of the time it takes to cajole her into it.”

Sure you can, but do you want to set up the expectation that you’ll ALWAYS do it? That you won’t ask because it’s too hard or frustrating or maddening? If we behave like the clean-up crew, we can’t blame our kids for treating us like them. And it’s a sure-fire way to end up feeling resentful and unappreciated — one of those Achilles heels of motherhood.

So consider this: Put on your Mary Poppins hat and start early. Make helping out something fun and cool that the kids look forward to. There are lots of creative ways to do it. Here are a few ideas.

  • Kids as young as 3 can match socks. Give them a basket full out of the dryer and see how many pairs they can make. Keep score … like 2 points for each correct pair, 1 point for pairs that don’t quite make it (it’s important to reward the effort). If you like, you can reward a total point number with something they love, or if you’re ethically opposed to anything that even smells like a bribe, keep a chart on the wall that shows the constant rise of total points — that’s self-reinforcing. As a variation, time how long it takes to polish off the basket. Racing the clock is a sure winner.
  • Teach them to sweep. Kids love a broom almost as much as a rake (who didn’t like to rake leaves as a kid??). There’s a reason toy manufacturers sell kid versions. See how much gunk can end up in the pile at the end. Admire it.
  • Have them separate the recyclables. This activity includes more great lessons than I can count. Identifying materials, reading that little triangle symbol with the number inside, grouping like items. The incentive should match the age group. Little ones will enjoy counting which category (paper, plastic, glass) contains the most. Older ones may be motivated by saving up the bottles and cans until you have enough to sell back at the recycling center.

I’m sure by now your mind is humming with ideas. The point is to start early, make it fun, and let your kids know that it’s how a family works. They’ll love the feeling they get knowing that YOU depend on THEM, too.

Too Young For A Puppy?

Dear Mamas,

We are thinking about getting a dog for our son who is turning five in August. He loves animals and I think it would be a good way to teach him responsibility. My husband thinks he is too young. Who’s right?


Dear Danielle,

A pet can be a wonderful addition to any family given that you have space, time, and family members who are wiling to do the feeding, the walking, the training and the playing. It’s kind of like having a kid. Lots of work and lots of fun. BUT….a 5 year old is definitely not ready to take on this kind of responsibility by himself and should not be expected to do so. He’s not old enough and is incapable of caring for a living, breathing being without a lot of supervision and help.

Having said that, getting a pet can be a great way to introduce him to the idea of caring for others and also to get him started on doing a regular, daily chore or two. He can help with the feeding and can walk the dog (with a parent) and play catch with him outside. Most likely he will come to see his pet as his friend and will no doubt enjoy the unconditional love and companionship that a dog can provide. BUT he cannot train the dog, or care for him when he is sick, or be responsible for keeping him safe and fed. That will have to be up to you.

If you decide to go ahead, look for a breed that is even tempered and good with kids. Make sure that YOU are willing to make the commitment and include your son in choosing and naming the dog. Then make sure that you teach him to be gentle and kind to his new pet. No teasing or pulling on the tail allowed. After all, the dog is a person too!

Trade Ya!

Throughout the early parenting years two things are always in short supply: time and money. But there’s one other thing that you always have plenty of: exhaustion.

Those munchkins are definitely cute and being a mom is incredibly fun and satisfying. And we wouldn’t trade it for the world. But let’s be honest, most days it’s hard to figure out how to get everything (or anything) done.

Moms are all in the same boat with this one. But you might not know that there is a way to lighten your load and pick up your spirits at the same time. It’s easy — just find a friend from the neighborhood and work out a trade.

When my brood was young, I had a neighbor with kids around the same age. We both felt bogged down by the endless trips to the grocery store and the free-for-all that often accompanied our efforts to get a meal on the table each night.

So we decided to help each other out by cooking dinner for each other’s families once a week. I would make double of whatever I was cooking one night and bring half to her around suppertime and she would do the same on another night.

We kept the meals simple and family friendly and it made the weekly cooking thing a lot more fun and the food more interesting, too. The kids got into the action as well, and loved helping with the prep work and packing everything up to bring to our neighbors.

Then, because the dinner thing worked so well, we decided to expand our sharing to date night, too. No, we didn’t share each other’s husbands, but we did trade babysitting duties once a month. Suddenly, that all important night out didn’t seem like such an expensive, difficult thing to negotiate.

In fact, it worked like magic. Having that plan in place not only guaranteed us each a kid-free night out with our spouse, it also allowed us to be able to go in peace, knowing that our children were with an adult who they knew and we trusted.

This little pearl can change your life in a small but powerful way by giving you some all-important support. Trading dinners and babysitting not only relieved me of some of the tedium and expense that goes hand-in-hand with raising kids, it also brought me closer to my friend and helped to cement our friendship, which continues to this day even though we live many, many miles away from each other.

So try it out. Start with a plan to trade dinners once a week for a month and see how it goes. If it works, you can keep it going and add the babysitting piece, too.

If it’s a flop, you can just say you are too disorganized to make the commitment. Either way, you have nothing to lose and lots to gain.

Apples Pack A Powerful Punch!

You probably don’t give a lot of thought to the lowly apple, but nutritionists (and The Mamas) wish you would. It is one of the most nutritious and delicious everyday foods you can share with your family.

Apple season is about to explode from coast to coast and we want to give you some good, hard facts that will encourage you to grab a bunch of them while they are just coming off the trees. Then do your best to make sure that they make it into the mouths and lunch boxes of your babes.

Here are just a few of the many reasons why you might want to make apples the new go-to snack for your whole family:

1. Apples stimulate the production of saliva, which reduces tooth decay by lowering the levels of bacteria in the mouth. Who doesn’t want their child to have healthier gums and whiter teeth?

2. Apples are packed with antioxidants, powerful compounds that fight many diseases. A recent study found that one of the antioxidants found in apples helps boost the immune system, especially during times of stress.

3. Apples fight the development of many kinds of cancer, including pancreatic, liver, colon and breast.

3. Apples are an excellent source of fiber which provides a huge list of health benefits-it helps to prevent diarrhea and constipation, maintain a healthy weight, and lower the risk for diabetes and heart disease.

5. Apples are a good source of Vitamin C. Just one contains up to 25% of your child’s daily requirement.

6. Apples contain boron, an important mineral which helps to build and maintain strong bones.

7. Apples are fat-free, sodium-free, cholesterol-free, just 65 – 80 calories and mouthwateringly delicious!

How to get the most out of this fabulous food:

  • Serve it to your kids in its whole, original form-unvarnished and straight up. No substitutions or alterations, please. Make sure you don’t accidentally eliminate all the good, wholesome stuff in those crunchy, juicy gems by trying to make them more “kid friendly.” For example: keep the peel! Please! Half the fiber is in it, so don’t take it off!
  • Also, make sure you don’t substitute apple juice or apple sauce for the whole fruit. Again, you lose a lot of fiber and add unwanted sugar and calories.
  • One of the best tricks I’ve found for getting kids to eat their apples instead of tossing them out is to quarter them and remove the core. This makes them a lot easier to eat and there’s no garbage to get rid of later. Letting the kids spread or dip a little peanut butter on top is also a good way to get them down the hatch. And cut up with a little cheese on the side is always a popular way to serve them, too.
  • Go for variety: One of mine loves red, the other two are more fond of green and yellow. Try them all and have your children rate their favorites.
  • Same thing for temperature. I love them chilled from the fridge. To me, they’re crunchier and sweeter that way but my youngest prefers them at room temperature. Give both ways a shot and see which one yours like best!

Mother’s Love Changes a Child’s Brain

It’s not like we didn’t know, but it always helps when research provides medical evidence for what we thought all along.

Investigators at Washington University in St. Louis studied brain images of children who participated in a project focused on early onset depression in young children. As part of the project, Dr. Joan Luby and her colleagues measured the maternal support that children — who were ages 3 to 6 and had either symptoms of depression, other psychiatric disorders or no mental health problems — were given during a task.

The researchers placed mother and child in a room along with an attractively wrapped gift and a survey that the mother had to fill out. The children were told they could not open the present until five minutes had passed — basically until their mothers had finished the survey. Psychiatrists rated the amount of support the mothers gave to their children.

For example, a mother who was very supportive might console her child, explaining that the child had only a few more minutes to wait and that she understands the situation was frustrating. The task gave researchers an idea of how much support the child was typically receiving at home.

Four years later the researchers gave MRI brain scans to 92 children who underwent the waiting task. Compared with children with high maternal support, children with low support had smaller hippocampal regions, the part of the brain known to be important for learning, memory and stress responses. Results were consistent for children with symptoms of mental health problems and those without.

Though most of the parents in the study were biological mothers, the researchers say that the effects of nurturing on the brain are likely to be the same for any primary caregiver.

“It’s now clear that a caregiver’s nurturing is not only good for the development of the child, but it actually physically changes the brain,” Luby said. She and her team will continue following the children as they grow older, and plan to see how other brain regions are affected by parental nurturing during preschool years.

Take home message for Mamas looking to maximize smarts: love on ’em lots and lots. More nurturing = smarter, happier kids!