Embracing the Chaos

Here we are: the week before Christmas and I really, honestly, truly feel like my head is going to explode. There is literally not enough time for me to do everything I need to (and those are just the things I can remember I have to do), so it’s just time to start accepting what I can’t. Bye bye, dusting. Clean the boys’ room – out of the question. Tidy up the yard – please. My family will have to accept that it’s a sloppy Christmas.

But this is nothing new, really. As a child care provider, mother of two boys who both play three sports, writer, small business owner, and wife, my life is pretty much constant chaos. Go go go go go it never stops. Needless to say, a lot slips through the cracks. And I spend a lot of time being hard on myself because of all the things I’m failing at.

When my mother calls to see how I’m doing I often start listing everything that’s hanging over my head: “Well Older needs new basketball shoes but we can’t get to the store before his next game because I have a meeting Wednesday night, and I had to go to school and pick up Younger because he was sick, so I didn’t get to write my article at naptime because I was entertaining him so I have to write after they go to bed tonight, and I won’t have time to cook dinner because we have to be at tae kwon do at 6:00 so they’ll have to eat grilled cheese again and the insurance agent called me for the fifth time to schedule the inspection but my phone died when I left it in the car overnight and speaking of which, I still haven’t gotten that rusty spot painted over and winter’s coming.”

And my mother will say, “I’m concerned that this surprises you.”

And I’ll say, “It doesn’t surprise me, it’s just my life, I’m used to it. But I still feel like I have to explain to you why everything’s in a shambles all the time.”

And she says, “You have to learn to embrace the chaos.”

Now that is a powerful sentence.

I had a mental picture of giant arms wrapping around a maelstrom of laundry, children, messy beds, lost shoes, spilled food, and undone paperwork whipping around like snowflakes in a blizzard.

I guess I embrace it in a way, because I have no other choice. I always say the most important task rises to the top, and it gets done, though maybe half-assed. I’ve had to learn how to get what I need done while cooking dinner, spelling words and shouting out multiplication answers for homework help, and trying not to trip over the cat who hasn’t been fed all day.

And that’s annoying. I want a block of quiet time to unclutter my brain. It’s frustrating not being able to sit down with a cup of coffee and plan the day in front of me: here’s what I need to get done, let me pay these bills, oh what a nice article in the paper, look at email/facebook/texts, make sure the appointments are on the calendar, check off done done done on the to-do list.

Ha. I wouldn’t even have a spot to sit down.

And even if I did, I’d hear “Mommy!” within 46 seconds.

But then I remember what Pam said one time when I was running off to a baseball game and had forgotten a plan we’d made. Instead of being mad she just told me, “I miss all that.”

And I knew exactly what she meant. Someday I will be organized and my house will be spotless – because it will be uninhabited by children. So I’m really, honestly going to embrace this chaos and just keep smiling.

Can Good Behavior Be Taught?

Words to live by

Do these rules really work? Sorta...

People often come here looking for “rules for kids to be nice in child care.” I put the quotes around that because yeah, you can have rules and give kids timeouts if they’re not nice, but it’s really hard (read: nearly impossible) to control kids’ behavior just through rules and consequences. What’s the first thing most kids do when someone gives them a rule?

Try to break it. (Same goes for you – admit it.) So when it comes to teaching kind behavior, I’ve always seen it as encouraging, modeling, guiding, and repeating yourself again, and again, and again, and again…

Someone observed that a child in my program was having trouble sharing. I said, “Well she’s only been with me six months.” My friend thought she should have sharing down by now. But six months isn’t long enough to learn how to share all the time. Really.

Don’t have a heart attack, just realize that this is what working with kids means. Adults sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that we can say something once – like “Put your dirty socks in the laundry pile” – and our kids will always do it.

Poor, deluded adults.

So it helps to realize that teaching children “how to be nice” is constant. It’s really the most important thing I’m doing, all the time. And here’s how:

Be kind to the person who’s hurt. This is one of my favorites. Little one whacks another and waits for you to swoop in, grab them, scold them good, and carry them off to timeout. Well why does that kid get to be carried around and talked to when someone else is nursing a bruise? So I usually put my body in between them (back to the aggressor – you get nothing!!) and love and hug that little hurt one as if they’re the most precious thing in the world. Take that, bully.

Then after the hurtee is calmed down, obviously, go back and give an appropriate consequence to the hurter. Make sure they see that you’re upset, and the person they hurt is upset, but they’re not getting an hour lecture because then they get all the attention.

Be aware of your tone. Try to channel your inner preschool teacher and have that sing-song, everything’s happy, let’s just move on shall we? voice turned on as much as possible. At the same time, be firm, clear, consistent, and don’t raise your voice unless it’s absolutely necessary. Have you ever spent hours on a beach with a child who is throwing rocks in the water? Cause and effect. The bigger the splash, the more they want to throw. Soon they’re chucking in boulders instead of pebbles because WOW! Look what I did! When they see they’re setting you off, and you’re escalating, they just go for the biggest splash they can get. And once you start down that path, you can only get bigger. What happens when screeching doesn’t work, and it’s really kinda entertaining them? (Pam gets all the credit for the rock in the pond – I use it all the time and it’s one of the best descriptions of young kids’ behavior I’ve ever heard. Go Pam!)

You also don’t have to go right to yelling. Asking politely but clearly, “Please get off the bookshelf. Come on down,” or inviting the child to the next activity, “Guess what? Snack time!” can be just as effective. Of course, help them along if they’re not accepting your invitation.

Separation instead of timeout. This is one of the best tricks I’ve learned. You (hurter) go over there, and when you can be nice you can come back and play with us. It’s not sit-in-this-chair-and-serve-your-timeout (because if they get out of timeout 100 times they’ve still got your full attention for ten minutes), but it’s still a separation. No one will want to play with you if you’re mean, jelly bean.

Help them make good choices. Kids know there’s a right and wrong way to do things. Ask them, “Is that the best way to get what you want?” They usually know the answer. When they get it right, let them know. “You made a good choice and I’m so proud of you.”

Ignore bad behavior. Any bad behavior is a ploy for attention. If my kids lose sight of me, how long do you think it takes before someone is screaming to get me to come running back? If the behavior is not hurting anyone, stay back and see how the kids handle it. Sometimes they’ll surprise you. They need to learn naturally from each other, and a little peer pressure at this age is a good thing. Especially if, one day, someone’s doing EVERY BAD THING you’ve ever told them not to do, you will spend your day chasing them around doing just that. If she’s climbing on a chair – so be it. Let her fall and learn that climbing on a chair is a bad idea by herself.

My dad came up with this great phrase that I’ll never forget. He said, “Kids need to get used to a little benign neglect.” I loved that. It is ok to challenge them and let them figure out some things for themselves. I would never put anyone in harms way, but at the same time, let them stretch a little and see what they can learn all by themselves.

Turn it around. Redirect what’s happening into what you want to happen (ooo that sounds so new-agey). We were making banana bread the other day and the toddler was having a BLAST with the kitchen cabinets. After all my pleas, “No Miss A, stay out of the cabinets. Miss A, close that door. Miss A, stop dumping cereal all over the place!” I finally realized what I was doing. Then I said, “Miss A, come here – it’s your turn to stir.” Bingo. You can also use this when kids have had a run-in. Use the moment to teach them how to comfort someone, instead of punishing them for doing the hurting. When my boys fight my standard line is, “Go make it right.” They know it’s more important for them to work out the problem than to apologize to me and get punished.

...count to 10.

...growl it out!

Teach self-defense. If the adult is regulating every situation where someone is being victimized, the kids will never learn for themselves how to handle it. One of the first things I teach is to use your voice to say “Stop!” firmly and clearly (which is more effective than “NOOOOO!!! She’s touching MEEEEEEE,” which is sort of going right back to the pond). I also tell the kids that if someone is grabbing you or your toy it’s OK to push their hands away or hold on tight. We also sing the “If you’re angry and you know it stomp your feet” song to try to teach them how to handle their anger, instead of just saying no no no you’re bad and repressing it until they have three-year-old angst and depression.

Actions speak louder than words. We like to talk talk talk talk and explain to kids why things are bad and how they should behave and why what they’re doing is wrong and how they can’t live a decent life if they spend it pulling people’s hair – how much of that does a 2-year-old get!? Really! Use your body language: remove them from the situation, don’t make eye contact, give them the cold shoulder. Don’t give them what they want until they’re behaving the way you want them to. When that happens, shower them with love and praise!

Drop your own anger and resentment. If you put a child in the category of “bad,” you’ll never get past it. Everything they do will annoy you, and nothing they do right will please you. Stop that right now. You are the adult – recognize that this child needs your help to learn how to grow up right. (I tried to find a link to Teddy Roosevelt in “Night at the Museum” telling Larry Daley to stop slapping the monkey because he’s the evolved one, but all the giggling teen clips on YouTube left that part out.) Realize that instincts drive us. The easiest thing for a little human being (who can’t talk) is to grab something when they want it, and hit the person who grabbed from them, and scream if they’ve been hurt.

Know your kids. Will this child respond to a timeout? Or are they motivated by praise? For some kids, all it takes is the stink eye to straighten them out. Or asking, “Is there a better way to do what you’re trying to do?” Sometimes they just need to be walked through the steps. I do a lot of talking for my kids. “Miss C, Miss M wants to use that toy. Can she?” (No, dummy.) “OK when you’re done with it will you let her have it?” Sometimes they’ll hand it over. But I always keep an eye on the toy and make sure the one who wants it eventually gets it. If the first child is clutching the toy for hours in spite of the other’s wanting it, out comes the timer.

And that leads to being trustworthy – do what you say you’re going to do. NO EMPTY THREATS! And:

Be fair. If your sweet darling who is always lovely and joyous suddenly bashes someone in the head, don’t let it slide because she’s not usually like that. Address it. Recently I had a tough day with one of my kids and I told his mother I’m not letting up on him because he knows what’s naughty. He’s not even three yet. Kids are smart – they know if you’re playing favorites.

See everything. I sometimes hear myself muttering, “You really think I’m dumb, don’t you?” So I’ll repeat something that’s happened without saying who did it, and the child looks at me with shock in their wide saucer eyes. Yes you, little person, I know what you did behind my back. And it was wrong and you know it. It helps if they think you’re omniscient.

Praise good behavior. You have to do this for all children, the aggressors as well as the victims. In my classes I often talk about training our kids almost like you would train a dog. You need them to understand what behavior you want to see, so when they get something right (even if it’s bringing a cup to their friend even though they’re not supposed to touch other people’s cups), tell them they did a good job.

I know at 40 years old I still crave praise. When someone tells me I did something right my little heart grows three sizes. This is how our kids feel too. I don’t know why we forget this. We’d rather nag and yell at them constantly when a little “You did a good job” will fill that child up for the rest of the day. And make them more willing to help the next time (really!).

By the way I thought people might be offended if I related teaching children to training dogs, and I asked my neighbor about it. She said when she was a childbirth educator she would watch how couples handled their dogs, and she could tell by that how they would be as parents. So don’t be upset, I’m not saying your kid’s a dog, I’m saying you need to use the same method of consistency, firmness, praise and rewards for good behavior, and yes, letting them know when they’re being bad. We get all caught up in complications when really, when it comes to kids – the simpler the better.

Use natural consequences. Ahh, the hardest concept to understand, especially in finding one that matches the offense. When my oldest son was almost three I remember screaming so loud I thought I might cough up a lung. I just have to get louder, then he can’t ignore me any more! I’ll teach him! And if nothing else I’ll scare the crap out of him! Somewhere we decided that we have to get our kids to submit to our will, rather than treating them like independent beings who need to learn how to make good choices. So we think the bigger the punishment, the more they’ll learn from it.

Think back to your childhood. Did that ever work for you? Or did you just resent your parents for acting like jerks?

So go for the obvious – AND SIMPLE – response. You don’t have to have a nuclear meltdown if a kid misbehaves. If a child takes a toy away from someone, return the toy. That’s it. The toy-taker doesn’t need to be yelled at and thrown in timeout. They just can’t have that toy and they need to go do something else. OR, walk them through asking for the toy and waiting their turn (if you want to get really crazy you can ask them to say they’re sorry for grabbing, but it’s not imperative. That’s a whole other can of worms).

Do have very clear rules about what is forbidden: hitting, biting, kicking, pushing, hair-pulling, screaming at people, teasing and taunting, manipulating, and blaming your behavior on others is never acceptable. (Which means you can’t do it either. Ha ha, that’s just a little day care provider humor there.)

HAVE FUN. For God’s sake, please, just relax, keep the flow moving, let go of the bad stuff, play, laugh, sing, be goofy. That’s all kids want. There is so little time in the rest of our hectic lives to simply enjoy ourselves – try to make their day with you at least a little fun. They WANT to laugh, you just need to give them an excuse. (Don’t ask me to demonstrate their favorite songs where I have to stick my tongue out and sing like a freak.)

Before I end this novella of a post, there is a very tricky situation that I feel the need to address. Adults don’t always understand this, and for me it was one of the hardest things to learn when I began working with young children: they are crying out for boundaries. When you open a day care you imagine that you are going to be filled with the sweet angel-love of babies – and then in an instant you’re living out the Lord of the Flies.

You have to be in command of that island. Firm, but fair. These are the rules, I will not accept meanness, you will not be allowed to act out, the word No is my friend, and do you know what will happen? The kids will love you. They’ll feel safe and protected. Your consistency will allow them to grow. You love them the most by being the grownup, even if it’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do, and it really hurts sometimes. (Parenting: it’s not for the weak of heart.)

And realize that for some kids, all your teaching and modeling and efforts might not be enough. You just do your best and hope they get something good from you.

You may have noticed that this post was less about the kids’ behavior than about ours. Always remember that the grownup sets the tone, not the kids (unless it’s just one of those days). So go out there and be nice to them today. If you set the example, they’re going to follow it. I swear.

Stop Judging My Kids

Here are a few recent searches on my blog:

when someone comments on your screaming baby, stop judging my kids, negative comments about my child

Are you seeing a pattern there?

Jeez. It’s sad to say, but parents are always going to have to put up with this. If you have kids and take them out in public, you will hear comments. I don’t know why people feel entitled to do it. It’s sort of like how every stranger wants to grope your brand new infant baby just when you’re most certain they’ll end up with ebola.

So it’s best to have a sense of humor if you can, and if you expect it will happen you can have a few snappy comebacks ready. “I know, kids – they’re crazy!” Or “It’s been a tough day.” Or my new recent favorite is, “Thank you for your input.” (Ha! What can they possibly say to that?)

And, seriously: does it really matter what some stranger thinks of you and your children?

Do they have any idea what’s going on in your life in the moment your kid decides to misbehave?

And do they think their helpful advice will straighten you and your bratty kids right out?

As you can see this is a sore point for me. But it’s human nature – we’re always judging people. I judged a woman this morning who was walking down the street with a man. I thought it was gross how he had his arm around her shoulders, and she looked hunched up under his weight. To me the body language said, “I own her.” But what do I know? Maybe she loves being held, or something bad happened and he was comforting her. They’re probably lovely people. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

I judged that guy who sat on his baby. But I was judging him, not his kids!! Maybe right there is the key to why comments about our kids annoy us so much – they reflect on something we might be doing wrong. And that, my friends, is some hard stuff right there. No one wants to admit they might be messing up. A lot of us don’t know how to fix it if we are. But it’s pretty much guaranteed that as soon as you become a parent you’re pretty sure you’re screwing them up somehow.

And maybe that’s why we’re always judging other people’s kids – because then we feel better about what we’re doing with ours. Ah, the vicious cycle. I’m reminded of that lovely old saying, he who points a finger points three back at himself.

There must some brain mechanism that causes us to behave this way, identifying with tribes and outcasting the weak or something like that. But when I tried to research it the only information I could find around judging had to do with religion and quotes from the bible. So get on it, psychologists, I want to know why we’re always picking on everybody else’s kids!

There’s nothing we can do about it: people will judge. Ignore them, love your kids and trust that you know what’s best for them. And remember that some days you get lucky. We were in the grocery store the other day, a place where I’ve had PLENTY of hairy eyeballs, rude comments, and people flat-out trying to discipline my kids. Luckily this stopped happening (for the most part) as they got beyond being three years old and whiny. It was either a really great day in the world, or we just looked like the happy family we are (it’s true). I had three different people comment on my boys, were they twins, they’re so helpful, what nice kids, etc. I was, of course, extremely pleased and proud, but also wondering who put the happy pills in the town water supply this morning.

So when someone cuts us down I try to remember those happy times, when I’m so proud of my kids that my chest is about to burst. It’s natural to focus on the the one negative thing someone said and forget about the twenty positive comments. Put a few good moments in your basket (as Pam would say), and try to remember them when someone disses you. We’re only human – we’re all doing our best – and we’re not at our best every moment.

And PS, to all the friendly “helpers” out there: It’s not your job to fix anybody else’s kids!!!

Why Are You REGRESSING??!!

We’ve had a lot of it around here. So far it’s been a whiny, cranky winter. I recommended in an earlier post that day care providers have earplugs – mine have been in effect. Then for a while the kids stare at you. “What’s in your ear Amy?” And I have to decide if I’m going to answer them nicely or tell the truth.

I’ve taken on a new motto. It’s my job to keep you fed, safe, warm, clean, exercised and rested, but not happy. Even if I tried, I simply cannot do it.

I have to remember that kids grow in spurts – not just physically but mentally too – and it’s a very difficult process. But, if your bones ache when you grow taller, it’s your heart that aches when your brain is growing.

So what’s going on with my kids. The twins have just given up their pacifiers so that in itself is traumatic. But they’re also learning to talk, which is probably the longest and most challenging development in early childhood. And they get SOOOOO mad when you can’t understand what they’re saying (which leads to them yelling it, louder and louder, as if I was deaf). So if I don’t understand what they’re saying, I just nod and smile and say, “Yeah!”

One child has had an ear infection and strep, leading to two antibiotics and lots of G.I. distress and following me around begging to be held. Another reached the “food phobia” stage and has been eating nothing but crackers for a few weeks and is constipated. Another is beginning to realize that her baby sister is here to stay and is having some stressful responses to that. And the baby is just a baby, and even when they’re a pretty easy and happy baby, they still need constant care.

Miss S, the after-schooler, is dealing with life in kindergarten and all the challenges that come with that. So she wants more affection from me but unfortunately, when she wants it she tackles me from behind when I’m not looking.

Younger Son is working on his colorful language and I’m doing all I can to stop him from using it in front of the kids. He’s a big tough second grader trying to navigate friendships and loyalty, and for a boy who is 100% loyal, it’s very confusing when friends naturally come and go. And he’s decided that he’s in charge of everyone’s behavior around here, but he is a much harsher taskmaster than I. So I’m constantly chasing him around telling him to stop cussing and abusing us all.

Older Son and I have been battling over everything and it’s getting OLD. Then I realized he just turned ten, a milestone birthday. Once on my birthday I was having a terrible day and I called Pam in tears. She said, “It’s your birthday! Of course you’re going to cry! I cry every year on my birthday.” There is something cosmic and powerful happening on those days. A little letting go, I think, and the big fourth grader who is facing a new school and a bus ride and big kids next year is definitely feeling that.

To top it all off, we’re in the shortest and coldest days of the year, when kids are cooped up inside and everyone’s cycle is out of whack. And there’s always the ho-ho-ho-holiday stress!! When my boys want some attention after a long day I’m brushing them off to make lists, shop, wrap presents, and be stressed out and exhausted myself. We haven’t had a decent meal for days.

So there are a lot of reasons we’re all cranky. Is it possible for a 40-year-old to regress too? Probably. Yesterday after an afternoon of being badgered by six kids, my poor Miss S yelled “Amy!” from the other room and I stood in the kitchen and bellowed (not in a very nice way), “WHAAAT?!?!?!”

Of course I apologized.

My problem is that I have very high expectations for behavior. Once kids have reached a certain level I expect they will stay there and move forward only, and I get frustrated when they don’t. “You KNOW this, what’s the problem?” I think. I forget that wise old saying: one step forward, two steps back.

So luckily for all of us, after the holiday rush we have a week off. Oh yeah, I close after Christmas. It’s time to rejuvenate and get ready to start fresh in a new year.

Here’s something funny. I didn’t pick “rejuvenate” for any reason except that’s what you do on a vacation. But if you look it up in the dictionary, it says “to make young again.” Oh dear. Maybe I should have chosen “relax.”

To the Day Care Provider Who Doesn’t Like Her Job

WordPress, the site that hosts this lovely blog, has a feature that shows you the search terms that people use to find your blog. It is meant to help us drive more traffic our way, but I just like to see what people are looking for when they find me. And sometimes I get emotionally involved.

People are looking for a lot of things on the internet. Here’s how they found my blog in the past week:

i dont want to wake up on my own anymore, new home daycare provider dont like my job, gymnastics mat sandwich

OK that last one is clearly my favorite, and I don’t even know what the hell it is. I might not want to know.

The first one made me really really sad. I’m sorry, person. I know I would hate that too. I hope that you find someone to wake up next to soon. But I think it’s match.com you’re looking for, I’m not sure why they gave you my blog. Except that I spend a lot of time complaining about waking up?

But today I’m here to talk to the new home day care provider. Honey, hang in there. I can tell you this: it gets better. (No disrespect or copying of a slogan intended!)

In fact, when I told Carol (one of my MANY mentors) that I was writing about this she said, “You can’t love it in the first year. No one does. It’s impossible.” And she’s been doing this for years now, and she is a total pro, and she loves her work. So you can make it.

My first years on this job were ridiculous. I had crazy kids, crazy families, I didn’t know WHAT I was doing. They ran my house like it was some kind of kid zoo. And they were running it, not me. It took me a long time to be able to be in charge. And if you have your own kids in care, fuggedaboudit! They will make your life worse than anyone else (my older son was three when we started and he was BY FAR my toughest customer).

I was once talking to a home visitor who said that year three is when everybody gets it. You turn the bend and suddenly you know exactly what you’re doing. If you can’t make it to year three, that’s OK. No job is worth making yourself crazy, but if you can make it, I think you’ll find the rewards are there. It is a steady job, there will always be people who need care, YOU ARE YOUR OWN BOSS, and when you do get the hang of it, it’s fun. Plus you can wear your pajamas to work.

I had another home visitor, Kathleen, who would tell me with all sincerity, “It’s the hardest job in the world.”

This made me feel better, proud, a little resentful of everyone else whose job was easier than mine, and a LOT less crazy.

Also I should tell you this. Like me, you probably have an official governing body with a bunch of rules you think you have to follow. You don’t. Well, not to the letter I mean. Obviously you have to follow the biggies: keep the kids safe, take care of them, feed them, nap, change, and clean them, nurture them. But don’t kill yourself over making sure you have art, music, drama, P.E., and the proper amount of intellectual stimulation every day. I remember driving myself crazy trying to make sure I hit all those daily requirements – and they are really, truly, impossible for any human being to achieve.

What you have to do is focus on the kids who are with you and what they need in the moment. You may have days where the best you can do is keep everyone sane, including yourself. If that means you pop in a movie and let them all fight for space on your lap, then so be it. When I get worried about this kind of stuff my husband says, “Did they all go home safe and happy at the end of the day? Then the rest is gravy.” (Yeah, he’s a keeper.)

Now here’s some actual advice for getting through the days until you make the choice of whether to keep this job or not. Hopefully it will help you have better days, and you won’t feel so bad about it:

1. Find a mentor. You need someone, or even many someones, to help you on a daily basis. You need to be able to call them and say, what do I do when they won’t put on their shoes or eat their lunch or when Susie won’t stop stealing Johnny’s toys and Janey bit someone!!?? If you have a local agency providing services for providers (most areas do), contact them and find some support.

2. Know that you are in charge. Think Mary Poppins. Be firm, clear, make it fun, and foster an atmosphere of respect for EVERYONE. I used to freak out when kids would fight. I learned from my first mentor, Pam, how to handle bad behavior: by talking for them. “She doesn’t want to be yelled at. Can you use your words to talk to her? Tell her what you want. Would you like a turn with that toy when she’s done? We don’t hit people. Look how sad she is because you hit her.”

Use natural consequences – instant but simple. If you can’t share the toy, it’s going to take a break (and be put away for a while – they’ll forget about it in minutes). If you hit, you need to go away from us. It doesn’t have to be a timeout chair because you’ll be chasing that child into the timeout chair and they’ll still have your attention. Play with the injured child and ignore the misbehaving one.

And don’t worry if they’re crying: kids cry!! We like to pretend that they don’t have to in this day and age, and it’s up to us to do a song and dance to keep them from crying. This is not reality. Seriously – I have earplugs for the bad days.

Remember that you are also in charge when it comes to the parents. It took me a VERY long time to be able to say, “This is how we do it in my program. If that won’t work for you, I’ll help you find another program.” It’s nothing personal and it is not your failure. You have to be in charge of your day or everyone – kids and parents alike – will walk all over you. I really really really really wish I’d learned that lesson a long time ago.

3. Praise and thank the kids for good work. Keep it light, keep it moving, don’t yell. Make it inviting: “Come on! Time for snack!” You don’t have to be a cheerleader, but just use a fun tone. (Rather than, get-your-butt-to-the-table-now-because-I-told-you-three-times-already-that-it’s-snacktime!! Keep that on the inside.) Have rules and stick to them like glue. Dole it all out calmly. “We don’t play in the cabinets. Let’s play over here with the toys.” Expect to repeat yourself a hundred times a day.

I didn’t do any of those things in my first year. I yelled, I punished, I got SO mad at the kids for not listening! Well guess what – little kids aren’t good listeners. And yelling doesn’t work. You just have to accept that, and guide them all day. When you are able to make this shift it will CHANGE YOUR LIFE.

4. Be consistent and trustworthy with your kids. My twins trust me 100%. We play games where I can see the concerned look on their face – they’re not sure if I’m going to tickle them or turn them upside down or fly them up in the air or make a scary noise – but they go along with it because they know I am going to protect them no matter what. They also know that even if I get mad and my voice is loud, my love is still there. Say “I’m sorry” if you lose it, explain why you lost it, and they’ll get it.

5. Have a routine. This is KEY, you NEED a routine. Write it on a piece of paper if you have to and go look at it when you’re floundering. Have a circle time even if they seem too little. It doesn’t have to be a SITTING circle, it can be singing and dancing and MAYBE sitting to read a book if they’re into it. If not, let the kids who want to sit do it, and let the others wander around and play. Circle time is not required. (Maybe I should make that into a t-shirt.)

Once you start doing things daily, the kids will know what to expect and they will follow right along with the routine. They will be happy to get out their mats or put away their dishes or line up at the door. Really, I’m not exaggerating! Predictability makes them feel safe, that’s why nursery rhymes and simple songs work so well. When they know what’s coming, they’re secure and happy.

6. Prepare activities that are educational but EASY (play-doh, blocks, sand & water, chalk and bubbles, puppets, puzzles). It doesn’t have to be fancy to be “curriculum.” If you’re into art projects and your kids can do them, then go for it. My kids eat paint, so I’m not a big project kinda gal. Or just sit down and read. Play with the toys. Pam used to say that five minutes on the floor with them equals ten minutes away for you (and that’s when you’ll be making snack).

Know that the little issues or problems of the families that you are working with will come into your home through their kids. You may not know the details, but you will see it in their behavior. All you can do is deal with them while they’re with you, and be aware that in some cases you may be the one stable and trustworthy thing in their lives. They need you, no matter how difficult they make your job.

And that is not to say that you are their savior: you can only do so much. I’ve had to terminate people over the years and it SUCKS – it is the worst part of the job. But when it gets so bad that you are suffering, it’s time to let it go.

On the flip side, when you find a nice family it’s delightful. I have a group of kids right now who are so easy, because I finally figured out how to pick and choose. It’s up to you who you have to work with, and it may take a couple of years to find a good clientele, but you will learn to see the signs during your interviews.

Remember the most important thing is you have to put yourself and your family first. You need clients and your business, but it might not be worth if you’re all suffering. Over the years my husband has given me many suggestions on how to make my job easier (including taking fewer clients even though the money would be less) because he pays the price if I’m not happy. And then your kids pay the price too, which is unacceptable.

And also – find somebody safe to rant to – another provider, a friend, a therapist – whoever. Because when Dad comes home the last thing he wants to hear is that your job sucked all day and all the reasons why. Dave would ask, “Why are we all putting up with this if you hate it so much?”

I hope I’m not too late to speak to you. I hope you figure out what’s best for you and maybe you can hang in there to get to the rewards. It’s a tough job, there’s no way around that. But if you can stick it out for a while, you can go to bed every night feeling good about a hard day’s work. Knowing you’ve done a service rather than sat in front of a computer all day. AND your life will be filled with the unconditional love of children. What could be better than that?