Dear Parent at a Sporting Event:

Stop screaming at my child. He already has a coach.

He’s eight years old and learning a sport, not winning a championship.

Now he will go home and beat himself up all night because you couldn’t keep your mouth shut.

You’re not teaching him about sports. You’re only teaching him what its like when someone’s bullying you.

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It’s All Downhill From Here

Today was just hard. I jinxed myself. The boys were counting the days to Easter and I said “It’s Wednesday – hump day. Once you get over the hump it’s all downhill from there.”

I didn’t think about just how big the hump would be.

I woke up with a splitting headache – never a good way to start. The morning was so busy that I didn’t get the chance to down some ibuprofen until 10:00, and by then the tone had been set.

One girl followed me around all morning saying my name every 15 seconds, and if I didn’t answer she just increased her volume until she was yelling, almost demanding that I acknowledge her.

The big boy was mad that I wouldn’t let him go on the toddler swing so he started slamming it into the girls who were riding the big kid swings on either side of him.

The toddler is obsessed with the infant and every time I put him down she lays on him. If I pick him up, she follows me around saying “Carry! Carry!”

The baby threw up all over my shoulder while we were outside, so I couldn’t change my shirt (or answer the phone when my sister called because – how do you put the phone on your shoulder when it’s covered in puke?).

At one point three kids were screaming in the driveway because they all wanted THE DARK BLUE CHALK!!!!!

At lunch time I brought the bowls and drinks out before the mac & cheese was done, and started setting up the beds for nap time. When I came back in the girls were standing on chairs, scaling the toy shelf to reach the bowls they wanted. (I should point out that they know they are not supposed to climb on chairs. OR on the toy shelf. And that they fight over the bowls, and the spoons, and what chair they’re going to sit on, and who they sit next to, and where the chair should be located. Every day.)

I scolded them for climbing (which made one girl cry – oh great, now I’m making them cry), got them to sit down and served the food. The baby woke up and needed a bottle. I knew I put it somewhere….oh yes the toddler saw it and made off with it. While I went in quest of the bottle the kids were taking a bite of their food and then strolling around the house. Which they also are not allowed to do. I rubbed my aching head and could feel the vein pulsing in my temple.

Now as I sit here during quiet time with a perfect baby face in my lap cooing at me, I don’t remember why I was so mad. I am melted by the happy noise he makes when he sees me walk in the room. I’m consciously soaking up some baby-love and taking a few deep breaths, because I know I’m girding up for the rest of the afternoon.

And the girls are throwing toys in the NAP room, and I’m trapped under the sleeping baby. Thank goodness there are only 3.5 hours left to this hump.

**Addendum so you know I’m not a terrible person: yes, the moon was indeed almost full last night, as many people suspected. But today I woke up sick as a dog. That would explain it.**

Spying On Your Child Care Provider

Came across a disturbing search on my blog recently:

can i audio tape my childcare provider in her home

Seriously. Seriously?! Wow. I find that so offensive. Whether or not you can, you shouldn’t. Just don’t. It’s wrong on so many levels.

Having been a parent and worrying about what was happening to my child at day care, I understand the concern. But it’s nothing that a chat with my provider wouldn’t clear up. And invading someone’s privacy – someone who I trust to be almost a part of my family – is certainly not the solution I would come up with.

If you don’t trust your provider, leave. There are plenty of others out there.

If you don’t trust anyone that much, either stay home with your child or get a relative to watch them, because you will never be satisfied with someone else watching them.

If you think she’s doing something seriously wrong, drop in unannounced and see what’s happening. You are allowed to do that in most states, and your provider should have informed you of this. If you witness something awful, you have the right to call the state department she works for and they will come check on her. But don’t send in a nanny cam in a teddy bear!

Out of curiosity I had to look and find out what the law says about taping people. It’s illegal in my state, thank goodness. But the scary thing is it varies widely from state to state. You actually can record people without their knowledge in a lot of places. That’s unfortunate. Remember back when our right to privacy was something we actually valued? Now we get more upset about our right to guns.

The other thing I found out is that there are an amazing number of items out there for recording care providers. Ladies and gentlemen who do this job: beware. You may be like me and already feel paranoid all the time that someone is watching and judging you (when largely they are not, but then sometimes they are, at your worst moment).

And guess what? They really could be watching you at any time. Not just audio, but video recorders disguised as alarm clocks, lamps, thermostats, even boxes of tissues.

What a scary freakin world we live in.

I’ll admit that sometimes awful things happen in child care centers. But that doesn’t mean they’re all evil, and sadly that’s what happens in this field. Every time some jackass puts Benadryl in the kids’ milk we all pay the price. You know by your own instincts and by watching your child’s behavior whether something is really wrong.

Here’s a nice alternative to this situation: ask your provider what’s going on. A lot of things happen in child care that when reported by a 2- or 3-year-old can be construed in an ugly manner. And it’s important to know that the bigger your reaction, the more the child is going to say it.

If Jenny comes home from day care and says, “Joey hit me,” of course you’re going to be upset. But if mom and dad give her a lot of attention for it, and spend the rest of the evening talking about it, and processing it, and asking her over and over about it, and asking her every day if it happened again, Jenny’s gonna keep talking about it.

I joke about this because it’s exactly what I did. It was the first question out of my mouth every day when I picked up my son. “Did Joey hit you today?” What expectation was that setting up for him?

Of course be concerned, ask the provider, talk about how to respond. But don’t make it the focal point of your life.

And here’s the key: ask your child what the provider did when Joey hit her. If Joey got a timeout or the provider hugged your child or even talked to them about what was going on, she did what she should have.

Much of the time I don’t report all behavior to parents because I believe in addressing it in the moment and not tattling. The old “Just wait until your father comes home!!” doesn’t work because it takes the power out of my hands. The child feels like I can’t handle it alone, spends the whole day worrying, and mom and dad get hit with bad news about their kid the moment they walk in the door. If a problem persists, I’ll talk to the parents about it and ask how they deal with it, and ask what insight they have into their child’s behavior that could help me.

But if I’ve worked it out and given an appropriate consequence, there’s usually no reason for me to report it. So if a child goes home and says, “Johnny kicked me!” I would hope that the parent hearing this would trust that I handled the situation. When I talked to my provider about my son being hit, she helped me feel better.

Here’s the thing: kids hit. And it’s normal at this age. That doesn’t make it any nicer, but often they don’t know another way to get what they want. They can’t talk, and they can’t negotiate, and they can’t even tell the provider what they’re thinking. If she’s a good one, she can take one look at the situation and figure it out. And she will, like I do, spend most of her time teaching them better ways of behaving.

Keep in mind that a hit from a two-year-old is not going to do permanent damage. And sometimes, I know you don’t want to hear this but, your child may have been the instigator. That doesn’t make them bad! It makes them human. Normal, human, two-year-old children with all the faults and foibles that come with the territory.

And the sad reality is that as our kids grow older, there will always be someone out there who will hit, or tease, or taunt, or otherwise assault our kids. It’s up to us to teach them how to respond.

One of my moms was asking me a lot of questions about how her daughter behaves for me. It was mostly out of concern because she was afraid that her daughter was showing me some of the beautiful behaviors that she showed mom (i.e. tantrums, stubbornness, not listening, etc). I told her that her child is a doll. And yes, she does all those things. And that’s OK, because she’s TWO YEARS OLD.

She asked, but how do you handle it when she does that? What do you do to make her cooperate?

And we went through a bunch of scenarios and tools that I use that may become another post someday, but she ended the conversation with, “I wish I could be a fly on the wall at Amy’s House.”

Now THAT’S what I want to hear. What a great idea! To be able to disappear and see how her child is interacting without being a distraction, because as long as mom is around that child is thinking about mom and nothing else (and usually acting out because it’s transition time).

So if Mom was a fly on the wall, here’s what she would see. That her child can share toys and notice when someone else is upset and ask if they’re ok. That she has awesome imaginary games where all kinds of crazy things are happening in her world. That she can get into a screaming match with other kids over who is 2 (“No I’m 2!” “No, I’M 2!” “NO! I’M TWOOOOO!” Ad infinitum, I swear to you I’m not making it up. When one of them is really 3, by the way). That sometimes she is incredibly self-sufficient, and sometimes I have to beg for her cooperation. That she and her BF made up a game where “The LIONS!!! Lions are coming!!!” and they run away screaming with glee.

And if she wanted to see what I was doing, she would see a human being working with nine kids who sometimes loses it, not a super-powered angel of mercy who never has a moment of frustration. She would see me correcting behaviors all day, chasing kids around and making sure they’re safe, asking them five times to do something and occasionally on the sixth time having to speak a little more sternly. She would probably notice that when I raise my voice, it’s because someone is hurting someone else or is in a dangerous situation. And that the kids respond to me – and actually love me, I think – because I’m predictable and trustworthy. She would even hear me laughing at silly things the kids do or see me giving them kisses and hugs and cuddles.

My child care provider friend Karen has a great response any time someone doubts their provider. She says, “My advice to all parents is this: make unannounced visits to the place you choose for your child. I would be happy to have you find us making muffins, playing play dough, or doing the Hokey Pokey.” And once in a while, instead of asking who hit them, ask who they played with and what was their favorite part of the day. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Painless Pickups

This week’s reader question:

Why does my daughter pretend I’m a monster when I pick her up from day care?

I’m assuming that you mean she treats you like you’re a monster, not that she actually pretends you’re Godzilla and runs away screaming. Though that would be fun and entertaining.

And the running away screaming part can often be true, so your child is not alone. I’ve seen other similarly icky behavior like crying, tantruming, kicking, ignoring, full-on defiance, pulling off the coat and shoes that have already been put on, clutching the provider, refusing to put down a toy, stalling, stalling, stalling, etc. It has happened to all of us, so don’t feel bad. You’re not really a monster.

You’re dealing with transition times, which are always tricky – especially at day care age. When they’re this little, sometimes it’s just hard for kids to move from one activity to the next. It’s extra tough at the end of the day when everyone’s a little cranky, no matter how great of a day they’ve had. I call it “the witching hour” (and that hour lasts from 4:30 – bedtime).

Also there’s a lot going on in that moment: you have expectations of seeing your child, your feelings are hurt because they’re being awful, the provider is probably trying to talk to you about their day, other kids are around making the usual ruckus, it’s a very stressful time.

Besides all that, look at what your child is doing and see the moment from their perspective. They may be right in the middle of a crayon masterpiece and don’t want to be interrupted, but your arrival means they have no choice. Sometimes the emotions are just too much.

So pickup time can be a perfect storm. What’s a sad-Godzilla mom to do?

Work with your provider to establish a routine for pickup times. Ask if she can have your child ready with coat and shoes on. I try to have my end-of-day pickups on the front porch so we’re ready to walk out the front door instead of lingering all through the house.

Try to arrive at the same time every day so it’s very predictable for your child. I always tell parents they know when you’re coming – and if there’s a usual order for pickup they know that too. If they always get picked up after Johnny and before Susie, they will be upset if Susie gets picked up first. If you are very late, they will get worried. Let the provider know you’ll be late so she can reassure your child.

Recognize that it might not be the best time for talking with your provider, and call her at another time if there’s something you need to discuss. If your child is SO excited to see you but you’re saying, “Wait a minute!” so you can talk to someone else, that’s going to hurt their feelings and escalate fast. I had one provider who would open the door, hand me my child, say, “It was a good day, see you tomorrow,” and close the door. Well, it was quick and painless.

It may not seem true, but often quicker transitions are much easier. It doesn’t give your child a chance to ramp up the behavior. There’s no negotiating if – boom – you’re out the door. Try not to respond to any bad behavior in this moment except to say, “It’s time to go. Say goodbye to (insert provider name here) and your friends!” Then walk out the door, carrying the crying child if you have to.

If all else fails, know that this too shall pass. You will have days when your child runs screaming TOWARD you, and you will feel like your chest is going to explode. You’ll have days where they barely acknowledge you but at least they head for the door without a fight. And know that beneath whatever they’re showing you on the outside, they are really SO happy to see you, and so relieved that they get to go home with you. There’s no one like Mom – that’s why we can show her our ugliest self – and she will still take us home with her.

In Which I Teach Kids Self-Defense

I’ve had a lot of noise in my head lately about how to protect children, especially after writing two articles for the Gazette on Penn State, and viewing this awesome clip of my friend Lynne Marie speaking at an anti-violence rally.

One of the things that bothered me the most was my son worrying about being left at basketball practice because of “that coach who molested that kid and no one called the police.”

So I’m trying to take my own advice and give my kids some real power over their bodies. This morning we opened the super fun box of Christmas delights so we could start working on some Christmas crafts.

Miss M and Miss G were fighting over a little baggie full of foam Christmas beads. I was busy cleaning up the remnants of the exploded box, so I told them to walk away, use their words, etc. (You know, all the things you yell at them from across the room when you can’t get there fast enough to break it up.)

But it wasn’t working, and Mr. R decided he was going to get in on the action. He went over and started slapping at the two girls who were already slapping at each other. Miss G just took it as a challenge and started slapping both Miss M and Mr. R. But Miss M started to cry.

I pulled them all apart and looked right in Miss M’s eyes. I said, “I want you to practice this with me. ‘NO!!!'” and I put my hand out like stop-in-the-name-of-love. At first she just looked at me with the tears still coming, like, are you yelling at me? What’s going on here?

I said, “I want you to practice your strong voice. When you cry and scream it only makes him want to hit you more. You have to make him want to stop. So, do this. ‘NO!!!'” The other girls started practicing.

“That’s great! Miss C, let me hear your strong voice!” She did it again, and the other girls took a turn.

I said, “Now try to make your voice really low,” because they still sounded like 3-year-old-girl squeaky toys. I showed them again but just sounded like a bear with indigestion. They knew it. “Ha ha Amy you sound like a bear!”

I said, “You’re right, I do. Now growl and say ‘NO!!!'”

We kept it up for a while and laughed at our silly voices. I told them that it was always OK to do this, and that I wanted to see growling bears instead of crying.

Then it was time to make lunch so I put out their drinks and snuck into the kitchen. Right after I disappeared, I finally heard a very loud “NO!!!” from Miss M. I winked at her but didn’t say anything (she likes to work stuff out on her own – you’re not really supposed to know about it).

The kids will sometimes sit at the table and wait while I make lunch. During this time, Mr. R likes to touch Miss G’s cup and make her cry (for a 2-year-old boy, this is a very interesting cause and effect toy). So after about thirty seconds in the kitchen I heard four girls yell “NO!” I glanced through the doorway and saw four stop-sign hands aimed at Mr. R.

It was lovely to see this, but it’s something I have to keep practicing. I’ve taught kids this from the start and like everything else, I have to teach it over and over. Like yesterday when we had to pull out the old “If you’re angry and you know it” song sheet and review what we should do when we’re angry.

But I do hope this will stick with them. I might start using it myself, in fact, when I’m surrounded by children who are hanging on my body or whining for me to do something for them. And most importantly, I have to work it into the conversation while my own boys are home. They’re getting some damn good fighting skills just from wrestling with each other, but I want them to feel that powerful in case they’re ever in a situation where the person is someone who isn’t just playing around.

Blog Posts: Vacation Edition

It’s a holiday week (yeay) which means I won’t get any work done, so I have some quick updates instead.

First, take a look at this excellent and moving blog post by my friend, Jennifer Levi, reflecting on the transgender rights bill that was passed in Massachusetts last week.

Also, I have a new Gazette article taking aim at a pretty easy target: the Penn State debacle. But am I taking a cheap shot, or speaking the truth that no one else can afford to?

And the brandy-new post I just included below, originally featured on OwnaDayCare, which started quite an interesting debate over curriculum standards. I feel they’re too high, and I’m reminded of it every time I attempt a curriculum project (such as the handprint turkeys we made today while one child who doesn’t like projects threw a tantrum, and one really did a good job, and one painted the entire table with glue, and we all got frustrated and/or bored at some point during the course of the activity).

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

I Will NOT Clean Up

(Originally posted Nov. 1, 2011 on ownadaycare.com)

There’s an evil genius in my day care. And this week I found myself caught up in his maniacal schemes.

It’s not that I don’t love him. I’ve worked with this family for seven years, and I had both of Dr. Evil’s two older siblings in my care. But just this week I realized that he was one step ahead of me, and I was shocked, annoyed, entertained, slightly worried, and impressed. In the blink of an eye, I found I had a nemesis.

He is the youngest of three kids, so out of necessity he has learned how to get attention. He’s also going through a hair-pulling phase, for which, of course, he gets a LOT of attention. He knows that if he pulls hair, he’s going to get a timeout and quick.

Here’s when I knew I was up against something big. It was almost circle time (he’s not a fan) and we were cleaning up the blocks that were all over the floor. Yank. “No, that is NOT acceptable!” I said, and whisked him off to timeout. I went back to comfort the pull-ee and continued cleaning up the blocks.

I glanced up to make sure Dr. Evil was still in timeout and he was looking at me calmly. Too calmly. Wait a minute! It dawned on me (slowly) – now he’s not cleaning up!!

Just as fast as I whisked him off to timeout, I whisked him back and asked him to help us clean again. He sat and fussed, tried to dump the basket over again, and yep, made a move toward someone to knock them down.

Now I was at my day care provider best – anticipating every trick and using every tool I have to keep him on track without losing it myself. I countered his every move and did not let him leave the area. I was cool, collected, precise. (A nemesis brings out the best in me.)

And then, miraculously, he started putting blocks in the basket. When he saw that I wasn’t backing down and he wasn’t getting out of helping, he got it. I praised him heartily and high-fived everybody. One of the twins (perhaps his original hair-pulling victim) even said, “Good teamwork!”

This little boy, who’s barely over 2, figured out how to work the system. I’ve always known kids are far, far smarter than we give them credit for, but this was a twist I hadn’t seen yet. That’s pretty good, if he can stump the Expert.

So next week, I keep a keen watch. I have one eye on him at all times. I protect the other kids from injury and keep him engaged in what I say we’re doing, rather than letting him dictate the situation. I stay one step ahead and don’t fall into any traps.

But if he shows up on Monday with a Mini-Me, I’m gonna totally lose it.