One and Done: Raising awesome only children

One Year Old ParentingMembers of the One and Done club are surrounded by friends with multiples, stressed by social pressure and bombarded with media images of large, happy families. So, it comes as no surprised that many parents of only children worry that their kids will feel deprived, lonely, and/or end up self-centered brats. Well banish those thoughts! I’m here as a parenting coach and parent of a well-adjusted only child to tell you that, if raised by thoughtful, engaged parents, only children turn out to be among the most creative, intellectual, and generous citizens of the planet. Below is a list of concerns many parents have, followed by tips on how to counteract those worries. Next week I will share links and testimonials I’ve gathered from parents of phenomenal only children for further reassure and support.

They will be lonely:

1) Make sure your only kid does lots of socializing. Schedule play dates, sign them up for enriching classes, get them out and about in the community. But don’t overdo it. Often only children are remarkably self-contained in a good way and thrive with some solitary play time, as independent play fosters greater self-reliance and creativity.

2) As they get older, consider including friends on certain trips and outings. This gives your kid the opportunity to ‘share’ you, to feel what it’s like to not have mommy and/or daddy all to themselves.

3) Most importantly, be playful and available yourself. If you’re not naturally playful the way your kid is (they’re sporty, you’re not. They’re artistic, you’re not) take a learning seat and let they guide you.

They will be socially less adept and adaptable:

1) As I said above: socialize early in play dates, play groups, and classes. Another good thing for only children is shared childcare. Day care or a shared babysitter might be good for your budget too.

2) Make sure to model and teach emotional awareness and compromise skills. Your kid should observe your ability to be socially adept and adaptable. You are their first and foremost role model.

They will be spoiled:

1) Avoid excessive gift giving.

2) Initiate age-appropriate chores early on.

3) Make sure to initiate delayed gratification. Don’t buy toys or offer rewards immediately, don’t let them have their way each and every time.

4) Have a separate, grown-up life! Go out and do stuff without them! Pursue your own interests.

They will feel deprived of siblings:

1) Almost all only kids go through a stage of wanting a sibling. This usually occurs when they themselves are quite young, when most of their friends have younger siblings, and when babies or toddlers look cute, like dolls or pets. Often it doesn’t last. Once the friends’ younger siblings start to annoy, the blush is off the rose. Wait it out. But also talk it out with your only so they feel heard.

2) Check in with yourself on this concern. Is it really your child that feels deprived? Or might you have longing for more children? If so, don’t discuss this need with your kid. Work it out with your partner, or on your own. Note that at certain transitional stages, when your cute little toddler is suddenly an eye-rolling school yard hooligan, you may mourn the loss of that younger stage. This might also activate a yearning for more kids.

3)Try and identify your own desires separate from those of your peer groups, and extended families. Don’t have more kids to win brownie points.

They will not be able to handle our aging and eventual deaths on their own

1) Do really good estate and end-of-life planning.

2) Take solace in the fact that it is often more stressful to deal with siblings around these issues, especially if sibling relationships are troubled.

3) Do all you can on the front end to help your kid form good solid friendships and partnerships for support. Hopefully these relationships will sustain them when you are older.

They will feel awkward and different than peers w/ siblings

Who feels awkward, them or you? The percentage of only children is increasing over time, as are the other ‘differences’ of previous eras. We have more divorce, adoption, mixed culture/race/religion/sexual orientation of parents. So, your only is less different than you think!

 We will hover and be too intense

1)Kids benefit from benign neglect, so tone down the scrutiny. When in doubt it is best to detach and ultimately back off. Keep an eye out, protect them, but whenever possible do it from a comfortable distance.

2) If you are in a coupled parenting partnership it is good to do things as a trio, but change it up on occasion. Kids can sometimes feel smothered if both parents are there ALL the time. Take turns being alone with your only.

That we will be too much friends and not enough parents

Be a friend but not the BEST friend. Make sure you both have a social lives that are separate from each other.

That people will perceive us as weird or selfish or delusional for having only one

1) Some people might feel entitled to question your choice to be the parent of an only. They argue that because you’ve bred or adopted one already, you must have more kids because you can have more. Don’t let these know-it-alls get to you.

2) Space, time, socio-political, environmental and financial concerns are important issues to consider in family planning. Sometimes having only one kid is the sensible, if not downright heroic thing to do.

3) Remember always that pursuing your own passions while attentively raising children is the healthiest way to parent. Whether you’ve got one kid or a whole brood.

– Originally posted at A Child Grows 7/14

Issues in Separation and Divorce: Who Gets the Friends?

dogs-fighting-over-stickIt is brutally hard to manage co-parenting arrangements during separation and after divorce. It’s painful divvying up time and belongings, homes and pets.  Discussions of finances can send separating couples in to battle or hiding, licking wounds in deep, deep caves.
One often overlooked casualty of separation and divorce is the couple-friend, those married buddies you spent Saturday nights with, maybe going to a movie, having dinner, kvetching over your children’s shenanigans, or bemoaning the current state of American politics.
These connections often suffer, because unlike the purely personal decisions you and your ex might make, you’re not alone in navigating this area in the new landscape of your un-coupled life. Because those buddy friends have some decisions to make of their own.
And, it’s tough for them. Awkward. Divorce gives them the jitters. They’d rather not deal. Some of these friendships fade away, because no true effort is made on their part, or yours, to re-configure how to hang out.
Especially when there’s a lot of contention in a divorce, it’s hard for friends to know how to behave, what to say, how to support. Sometimes they’ll step up to the plate and ask. Other times they’ll avoid, which means they’ll avoid you. While couple-friends don’t feel like they’re choosing sides, often the spill out is to maintain friendship with the ex who’s the least ‘complicated’, who on the surface, at least, seems to be handling the divorce in stride, seems to be moving along in a ‘healthy’ way. Even if the ‘healthy’ ex might just be putting on a happy face so as not to lose connections.
So, the person who’s struggling honestly gets left in the dust.

And then there’s this ugly fact. It’s not unheard of, though rarely admitted to, that a wife or husband in a wobbly marriage may not want the newly single friend around as they represent freedom and availability. A spouse who fears their spouse has a roving eye may not want an attractive newly single pal around. Whether they think their spouse and friend would actually do anything is beside the point. But it brings up feelings they can’t manage. Unfortunately you, the attractive newly single friend, have to bear the brunt of their insecurities. Remind yourself this is their issue, NOT yours. If they’re a good enough friend, you could raise the issue and reassure them you’re not there to snatch their husband or wife away. If your relationship doesn’t allow for that kind of candor maybe it’s not worth salvaging anyhow. Move on and find a sturdier pal.

It is best when everyone can be honest about the awkwardness. Ideally a divorcing couple can be in agreement about sharing friends the way they (hopefully) agree to share their kids and/or property. Here are some suggestions for fostering an ongoing connection to your couple-friends:

1)Try not to talk about your divorce too often, unless something is really pressing and the occasion is appropriate for that kind of conversation.
2)Don’t make disparaging remarks about your ex, especially if you’re with friends who are trying to maintain relationships with both of you. But even with friends who are exclusively ‘yours’. It’s easy to fall in to a pattern of using friends for too much venting. Of course you have the need, and your good friends have the desire to support you. A little kvetching is okay. But don’t make it a repetitive habit. If this becomes the main activity of your time together, it will start to wear thin. You’ll find those great friends may not be seeing you as much as they used to.
3)Invite couple-friends to try some new adventurous activities with you. Obviously ones that don’t include looking for dates. Shows, sports activities, surf camp, puppet shows, whatever. Be creative. Be the change.
4) Even if, in your opinion, your ex is an evil troll who treated you like dirt, don’t expect your friends to feel the same way. Supporting you does not mean they have to join you in your deepest, darkest feelings.
5) Your divorce is a loss for them too. The times you shared together as couples mattered to them. They’re scrambling around trying to make sense of this new world order too. Be patient with them. Don’t expect unwavering support or constantly wonderful advice.
6) Set the sharing intention from the start being send a letter with your ex to all your friends. Let them know it’s okay for them to maintain friendships with you both. Tell them you’ll harbor no grudges. Take this risk of honesty and your true friends will return the favor.

Food Fights

GirlandBrusselSproutFood is fundamental. We want our kids to be healthy and strong and we’ll do anything to make this happen. And so, sometimes we fight stubbornly about food with our spouses in ways we would never fight about bedtime or discipline. Perhaps this is because underneath it all, feeding our children is truly a matter of life or death.

Sure, it can be positive for kids to see their parents disagree and watch them work towards compromise. But when it comes to food and kids it’s usually not a pretty scene. Any couple who argues at mealtimes with their kids as the focus knows, the whole family might as well give up and go scarf down some junk food, because kids shut down and shut their mouths when parents quarrel about food.

Less frequently, but no less detrimentally, some kids feel compelled to eat to make peace. Unfortunately for these kids mealtimes become associated with conflict-avoidance, not care and connection. And certain foods carry negative associations for a long while, if not forever.

While being united with your spouse in your approaches to food isn’t a guarantee you’ll have a non-picky compliant eater, it definitely can help. So, try and remember this tips:

1) It’s best for parents to work out their food-related differences out of earshot, away from the dining table. Save the discussions for before meals begin, or after plates have been cleared.  All kid-food discussions should be parents-only and private.

2) In those discussions work towards compromise. Remember that our beliefs about proper eating habits and food choices are based in our own experiences as children.  Mommy was expected to clean her plate and never get up from the table until she did. Daddy was like a free-range chicken, allowed to roam around the dining table between bites, or choosing not to eat his meals at all. Mommy has great eating habits as an adult, and so does Daddy. They’re both healthy and strong now, both have relatively healthy relationships to food. No one is ‘right’ and no one is ‘wrong’.

3) Remember that food is fuel, first and foremost.

4) Remember always that food isn’t power. Food shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip or punishment. Not with your spouse, and not with your kids.

5) If at mealtime your partner has started a course of action that’s not your preferred approach, keep your mouth shut. Don’t undermine them in front of your kids. It’s best for everyone if you can table your gripes and go with the program. If you really disagree with what they’re doing, develop a hand signal to indicate your disapproval and let that hand signal be the indicator that you need to talk/disagree/argue about this issue in private later on.

6) Don’t create secrets with your kids around food. Undermining and sneaking treats, or sabotaging a meal plan behind the other parent’s back can be worse for your kids than trying to control the treats or meal plan to begin with. If you do change the game plan (and all parents do, at some point), perhaps giving your kid an ice cream cone before dinnertime, or changing out the salmon and broccoli for mac and cheese, fess up to your spouse in front of your kids. And if you’re on the receiving end of the confession, take the news gracefully and without rancor. Again, work out any residual gripes later, in grown-up privacy. Food and eating should exist in an family environment of openness and receptivity, not secrets and shame.

7) As often as possible make the atmosphere around meals a fun one. Enjoy cooking and eating together as a family. Cultivate an upbeat approach to clean-up afterwards. Every aspect of mealtime can be a part of meaningful family ritual. Each, a moment of happy connection your kids will remember always, and perhaps emulate with their own families in the future.

Girl Gone Active


My daughter, now almost 21 years old, was a whirling dervish when younger. There was no walking somewhere, there was only skipping or running. She wasn’t very coordinated or strong, she wasn’t involved in any organized sports, but she had energy to burn, and so she did.
Then, around age 10 she slowed down, like an engine running out of steam. Suddenly my little wiggle worm was wiggling no longer.
It’s an unfortunate fact that many girls become significantly less active in their preteen years, due to the physiological and psychological changes of puberty.
Even earlier though, my daughter and her friends rigidly defined themselves. By first grade, Kira was the Athlete, Hannah the Scientist, Annie the Artist.  My daughter embraced the role of the Reader. It’s true she was as much a bookworm as a wiggle worm, and I wouldn’t change that for a second.  But she also became a couch potato who should’ve gotten more exercise than she did. She reclined while the girls she defined as “the sporty girls” had all the physical fun. And I should’ve done more to get her off that couch.
I can’t blame her slow down purely on voracious reading, social expectations, my parenting or even puberty. The fact is there were, and still are, few opportunities in our urban home for girls to have casual involvement with sports of any kind. Unless a young girl wants to join a competitive team, or wants to work her way towards pointe shoes, there’s not a heck of a lot for her to do. It’s a sad irony that just as girls bodies change and they need to remain active more than ever, their opportunities disappear. The pre-pubescent girl is too old for fantasy frolic, too self conscious about her new body parts to move with abandon, too young to go to Y’s or other fitness facilities unsupervised.

So what is a girl’s parent, particularly an urban parent, to do? Here are some ideas I wish I had thought of when my girl was still wiggling.

-Start young, before puberty. Don’t wait for the potential slow down. Cultivate a generally active lifestyle. When you can walk somewhere instead of taking a subway, bus or car, do so. If there are bags to carry, have your daughter use her muscle power to help.
-Float the message that we don’t need to be uber-athletes to be strong and fit. We just need to keep moving.
-Create active rituals out of daily family life. Take a walk around the block every evening before or after dinner. Institute a nightly dance party. Play an active version of Simon Says. If you have the space, keep equipment like mini-trampolines, yoga mats, and physioballs in common areas where you can encourage your girl to jump, bounce, do some cat-cows, or downward dogs. And do some yourself. As in all aspects of parenting, you should lead by example.
-Look for outside partners that promote kid and family fitness. Yoga studios with Mommy and Me, Kid, and Family yoga. Gyms that not only have Child Care, but also Family Fitness classes and hours when older kids can use the equipment. Nature clubs that take hikes and offer camping trips.
-Don’t rule out competition entirely. Sporty competition provides obvious metaphors for the ups and downs, successes and failures of life. Let your daughter compete if she wants to, but don’t push it if she doesn’t.
-Provide safe physical competition at home. Play games, run races, have sit-up contests. Let her win to bolster her confidence, even when she really hasn’t won. It’s better than okay to let her be the best every now and then, it’s good parenting! But don’t go overboard and make her faux victories too frequent or obvious. Everyone has to lose sometime, even her.
-Take up a new family sport. Choose something you haven’t mastered, a sport as potentially intimidating for you as it might be for your daughter. It’s great for kids to see parents take on challenges and succeed to the best of their ability. It’s particularly inspiring for daughters to see moms push themselves and take physical risks.
-Follow her lead. Pay attention to the things she gravitates towards. Encourage her to try everything and look for strengths, even when it seems there are none. Praise even the slightest of physical gifts. A girl who can’t throw a ball to save her life, might be a decent runner. A daughter who looks like a drowning cat while swimming, might rock at doing cannonballs. So what if she can’t do a cartwheel? She’s a master at rolling downhill.

The good news is my daughter found her way back to physical fitness in her later high school years. A college junior now, she runs and swims regularly. And finally she’s learned that yes, yoga is worth the bother.
But honestly? She still spends way too much time on the couch.
So don’t make my mistakes. And don’t wait. Get your girl moving now and move right along with her. You won’t regret it. I promise!noa in hawaii

Parent Playfulness

Parent Playfulness

pretend-playing1-470x352There is much talk in the parenting cosmos about how play is vital for optimal child development. Rambunctious, high-energy tussling with grown-ups is said to increase IQ’s and foster better self esteem. Guided fantasy play provides children with frameworks for understanding how the world works, in all its moral  and social complexity.

This is all well and good for the playful parent to hear. But there are many parents who struggle to find their inner wrestler or fairy princess. For those who feel downright awkward with most child’s play, it’s an ouchy thing to be told.

Kids and their preferred modes of play are moving targets. Their likes and dislikes can change with each major developmental shift, if not with each lunar cycle. Most parents will find some play interesting, and much of it deadly dull.  There are bound to be parenting moments when every mom or dad feels like they are on auto pilot, counting the minutes till they’ve put in a respectable chunk of play time and can guiltlessly turn over the job to the babysitter, TV or Ipad.
You don’t have to be great at playing to be a great parent-playmate. In fact it’s good for your kid to see you struggle a bit. Good for them to show you how to play. Great for them to sometimes be the expert. All you have to do is be willing to try.
When playing with kids, there’s relief in the old adage; do what comes naturally, even if it seems woefully boring and not child-friendly on first consideration. I worked with one dad, who’s very cerebral. He’s super successful at his science-based job, and the first one to admit he’s the quintessential nerd and social misfit. He’s far from sporty. He reads science journals exclusively. He’s not a fantasy type of dude. Aside from his family, he’s really only interested in his research. When I first started working with him he hadn’t a clue how to engage with his baby girl. He couldn’t even hold her without feeling incredibly nervous. I suggested he let her rest in her bouncy chair while talking to her about his work and establishing eye contact (also hard for him). And so, he babbled away about his impossible-for-mere-mortals-to-understand vocation. She was mesmerized and delighted. And as a result, so was he. As she got older, she picked up key words, would blurt them out with glee. A verbal volleyball game emerged, lasting through her toddler and grade school years, forming a special bond between father and daughter which helped enormously with her verbal skills and his confidence as a dad. I’m sure you’re expecting me to tell you she’s now a science-y kid herself, but that’s not the case. She currently attends a performing arts based high school where she shows a precocious talent for playwriting. I give her dad great credit for inspiring a love of complicated words and concepts. And so does she!

Here are some suggestions for numerical, wordy and visual types of parents/people.

Numbers types:
Math puzzles
Sports statistics
When outdoors, count windows on buildings, cars, note variations in colors, how many people are wearing stripes, shorts, stupid hats, etc.

Word types:
Read books aloud
Visit bookstores
Play word games
Board games like Junior Scrabble, Baby Boggle
Craft stories
Share tales about your own childhood
Save all original content and relish nostalgically in later years.

Visual types:
Art projects of any kind
Visit museums and galleries
Be a photography team, create an album
Baking and cooking
Gift making
Games like I-spy
‘Read’ wordless books, and/or create your own

So every parent: please don’t go down a self-flagellating path. Playfulness is a relative term. Thinking is playful, talking is playful. Engaging with life in any way is playful. Every parent can dig deep, or deep enough. Discover what you love, or merely like and share it. Engagement and connection with a kid is what matters most. The rest is child’s play.

Odd Kid Out

In my perfect parenting world there is no need for the phrase, “You can’t say you can’t play” because all kids are invited to join in, all kids are tolerant of differences, all kids know how to share, adapt, and behave. More importantly all parents know how to foster inclusion and teach kids compassion and acceptance. These evolved grown-ups don’t rank or dismiss each other, and by default don’t rank or dismiss each other’s kids.
Sadly there is no such world, no such kids, and not many such parents. But that doesn’t mean it can’t get better. We can all do our part to limit the feelings of low self worth that come from being excluded.
Let’s look at some of the why’s first, and the what-to-do’s after.


1) KIDS exclude others because of unconventional behavior. Often kids are considered odd if for example, they have facial or body tics, talk to themselves, pick their nose publicly, eat paste, constantly pretend they’re space aliens.
2) KIDS exclude others because of aggressive behavior. A child with a history of biting, grabbing, pushing, punching, etc will have a hard time scoring playdates.
3) KIDS exclude other kids because they’re shy and socially awkward. An overly extroverted kid might be excluded because they get too physically close to other kids.
4) KIDS exclude others because they don’t look right. Because they dress “weirdly”, have unconventional features, physical disabilities, or the wrong color skin.
5) KIDS exclude others if they’re less media savvy and/or faux- mature. It’s a sad fact that the more pseudo-grownup kids behave, the cooler they are perceived to be. The child who isn’t plugged in to the latest trends in pop culture, tv, social media, I-pad apps, may have a tough time finding a place.
6) KIDS leave others out unintentionally because they themselves are so present focused, so wrapped up in their own activities.  If a game is going, it is the center of their universe. The outsider kid who doesn’t have the personality, social skills or desire to jump right in the game will be left by the wayside. Not excluded exactly, but unrecognized and ignored.


1) SOME PARENTS don’t understand unusual childhood development. They hold all kids to the same developmental standards as their own offspring.

2) SOME PARENTS talk disparagingly about other children and adults in front of their own kids, thereby promoting an atmosphere of intolerance.

3) SOME PARENTS don’t invite certain kids to social events like birthday parties, playdates, or impromptu after-school playground migrations.

4) SOME PARENTS don’t cultivate a family attitude of acceptance, instead they rank others and exclude many.

5) SOME PARENTS don’t give aggressive or impulsive kids second or third invitations to play nicely if they’ve misbehaved the first time round.

6) SOME PARENTS don’t risk talking openly with other parents about their child’s problematic behavior. Instead they avoid the topic, the parent and the child.

7) SOME PARENTS don’t remember that other parents are not in the loop when social plans are made because of other commitments. Work, other children, and health issues keep many parents out of sight and out of mind. As a consequence their kids get left out as well.


1) OTHER PARENTS take their kid’s exclusion personally, making it about their own hurt feelings.

2) OTHER PARENTS withdraw their child prematurely from social interactions when things aren’t going well. Or, they don’t withdraw them soon enough when things start to dissolve.

3) OTHER PARENTS project their own social insecurities when their kid is left out. Their own childhood wounds are re-opened and they over-identify with their child’s current social discomfort.

4) OTHER PARENTS misinterpret a lack of reciprocity as rejection when they reach out and extend themselves to some parents.

5) OTHER PARENTS aren’t receptive to feedback provided by friendly parents, teachers and caregivers who may have insight in to their child’s problematic behavior.

6) OTHER PARENTS don’t make enough of an effort to stay in the loop, in spite of their other commitments.


While it’s okay to let kids figure certain things out on their own, this is one area where they need coaching across the board; In Kids and Odd Kids alike. It’s up to ALL parents. Your child’s comfort and safety should always remain your top priority. Don’t force kids to play with children with whom they repeatedly have problems, who cause them undo anxiety, who scare them, who make them feel bad about themselves. But let’s all try to reach out and show our kids how to connect. Here’s what parents can do:


1) YOU CAN model tolerance for immature behavior. Cultivate patience for the socially awkward.

2) YOU CAN keep all snarky, critical comments about others to yourselves. Make sure any gossiping about ANYONE, whatever their age, is never done in front of your own kids. Talking behind people’s backs sets a really bad example.

3) YOU CAN extend invitations to as many kids as it is possible to include. If one-on-one or small group playdates are what your kid wants, that’s totally fine. But make sure they also learn how to play in extended groups. Look towards kids on the sidelines, the invisible and forgotten, the odd but sweet, the over-enthusiastic but well-intentioned.

4) YOU CAN model openness and receptivity your kids can emulate as they get older. This may mean you have to forfeit your own social needs to get down on the ground and be part of the play, to show your kid how to share, to be civil, to engage.

5) YOU CAN read books to your kids about Bullying, Sharing, and Friendship Building, discuss the lessons and act on them.

6) YOU CAN contact other parents who may or may not know their kids are being ostracized, bullied or excluded. Reach across the divide and try to help them and their kids be part of things. Be constructive in your feedback, and open-minded in your approach.


1) YOU CAN try not to project your own insecurities. If you were teased as a kid, you may have a stronger reaction than a parent who never experienced painful social poking. Take yourself out of the equation. Pay attention to what your child needs. If they need you to intervene, you will do a better job if your approach is parental and not personal.

2) YOU CAN avoid over-reacting. Pay close attention and make sure your kid is really troubled by what’s going on, because sometimes they’re not. Sometimes what looks like teasing to you, may be a fun moment in a game. Sometimes playing solo is just what a kid wants and needs.

3) YOU CAN coach your child and stay attuned. Don’t leave them to figure out this complicated social stuff on their own. You also may have to forfeit your own social needs to get down on the ground and be part of the play. Show your kid how to share, to be civil, to engage.

4) YOU CAN rehearse social interactions at home, through game playing with toddlers and straight forward talks about social do’s and dont’s with school-agers. Take a situation that didn’t go so well and re-enact it, show your kid how to make the ending better. Tell them if they can do it with you, they can try it with anybody. Have them practice, but don’t force it. Make it enjoyable.

5) YOU CAN remind yourselves that some parents aren’t initiators or planners, while others are. If a playdate invitation is not reciprocated it may be those non-reciprocating parents are not skilled at social organizing. They might depend on a stream of invites, and may be waiting for one from you!

6) YOU CAN take a deep breath and try to listen non-defensively when other parents offer constructive criticism about your child’s behavior. There may be a kernel or stockpile of truth in the feedback they offer.

7) YOU CAN make sure to stay connected when other commitments keep you out of the loop. Find an ally who’s got their finger on the parenting pulse. Make sure to touch base with them often. Since spontaneous after school trips to playgrounds, houses, or coffee shops are harder for you, be organized ahead of time about setting your child up with play dates, after school activities, etc.


And keep trying.
Some attempts will fail miserably. Some will have limited success. Some will reap wonderful new rewards. Let’s none of us ever give up on our children or ourselves. And let’s never give up on each other, whoever we are, whatever our shortcomings may currently be.

Fight Fair, Parents!

Valentines Day is around the corner, and while many may be planning for a romantic, loving day with your partner, others are wondering whether they’ll be able to be in the same room without wanting to throw a verbal (or real) punch.

All couples have conflict. Couples with young kids are likely to have even more conflict. Stakes are higher, tensions are greater, sleep and sex are diminished. For many couples old gripes join new ones in a steamy stew always on the verge of boiling over. And while experts have gone back and forth on whether it’s good for kids to bear witness to their parents tussles, most of us agree: if the fight is an insult sling fest, if one person storms out, leaving the other to do damage control, when all that’s been witnessed is a berating scene of hurt feelings and no resolution, it ain’t good for anyone.  On the other hand, it can be instructive and character building for some kids to observe their parents talk through their differences, even heatedly, and reach some kind of accord in the end.

Fighting is inevitable, but fair fighting takes practice and effort. In honor of Valentines Day, and in honor of your kids EVERY day, look at the quality, content and timing of your arguments and try to follow some basic ground rules.

DONT fight about parenting decisions in front of kids, if at all possible. If your partner has started a course of action that’s not your preferred approach, keep your mouth shut, or suck it up and join in. If you really disagree with what they’re doing, develop a hand signal to indicate your disapproval and let that hand signal be the indicator that you need to talk/disagree/argue about this issue in private later on.

DO step in and disagree if you truly feel your partner’s parenting is harming your child, feel it’s downright abusive, or dangerous.

DO have open disagreements about where or what to eat, how to get places, politics, household logistics, shared responsibilities that are not being shared, plates that are not being stepped up to. Bickering is okay, especially if peppered with a sense of humor, and frequent admissions of fallibility.

DONT fight about your serious relationship issues in front of your kids. It is incredibly scary for kids to think their parents union is shaky. If your relationship is truly at risk, go get some couples therapy pronto, or at the very least save all such talks for after bedtime.

DON’T label each other. For example, if you think your partner has said something stupid, don’t say “You’re stupid.” Try at least to say, “That’s a stupid idea.” Better yet, try “I disagree. That sounds kind of stupid.” Best, “I disagree.”

DO apologize publicly. Let your kids hear you say you’re sorry. It’s fantastic when kids hear both parents taking responsibility for their part in an argument, so don’t be a stubborn, non-reflector who keeps letting the other guy take the fall. There are always two sides to an argument, so there can always be two apologies.

DO make apologies physical as well, because kids under the age of eight don’t recognize resolution unless it’s accompanied by a kiss and/or hug.

DON’T stew silently. Kids know when something’s up with their parents. If you’re having a disagreement with your partner that’s still unresolved let your kids know that you and daddy/mommy are trying to figure something out together, that’s it’s hard work, but you’re really trying. Then, live up to your words, and try.



I have a confession to make: Many books written by colleagues sit in a pile on my desk, half or never read. I can barely get through these well-researched, informative books, and I know the sleep-deprived, stressed out parents I work with have an even harder time than me.

To be honest, I’m not sure a parent can become better at their job by reading advice from a book (though a short column written by yours truly might be helpful now and then). I believe parenting is best learned by trusting gut feelings, asking questions, being humble, and constantly starting over again and again and again.

This column is devoted to another kind of book that may be more instructive than Parenting How-To’s, the picture book. I’m not referring to message-heavy illustrated books with obvious agendas. Rather, consider picture books that are simple and direct. Often a fun, quick read with cool illustrations is more inspiring than 200 plus pages of professionally endorsed do’s and dont’s. Good picture books can positively influence parents as well as kids, teaching without preaching.

So with or without your kids: Read, look, and enjoy!


Boundaries – No, David!

Issue: Boundaries
Suggested Book:
No, David! by David Shannon

Have you ever tried to count how many times a day you say “No” to your child? No, not now.
Time to go.
No, that’s dangerous.
Put that down.
No, don’t touch that.
Pay attention.
No, you cant.
Be quiet.
Stop that!!!!!

Sometimes our children listen, but many times they don’t. It isn’t because they’re trying to intentionally push our buttons. Young kids are remarkably present focused. Whether it’s a wall to be climbed, a cookie to be eaten, a dog to be hugged, a game to be played, or a song to be sung. Whatever is immediately in front of them is the most important thing in the world, EVER!

They’re not trying to drive us crazy on purpose. On the rare occasions when they are trying to get a rise out of us, a mischievous grin or giggle will give them away. Most often they’re just doing what children are hard-wired to do: explore worlds, test boundaries, and discover passions.

I can’t think of a better example of a kid doing what a kid does than that energetic, boundary pusher David, the guileless mischief-maker in David Shannon’s book titled (of course) No, David!

David is a force of nature, with uncompromising, often exhausting child-like drive.
His exploits continue in the David book series, but No, David! is the first and a true classic.

No, David! is a picture book that relies on very few words. Shannon’s artwork has a frenzied, hilarious quality that sets the tone perfectly. While David plays with his food, makes various messes, runs around naked, and doesn’t listen, he does so in a fevered pitch, always at the brink of total disaster. From off the page, David’s mother reprimands, warns, and scolds, but David is not one to be stopped. He goes from one potentially damaging, embarrassing or dangerous activity to another with arms akimbo and a wild grin on his face.

His mother attempts to protect him from harm, as a mother should. Her tone gets increasingly exasperated, and she loses her temper. Afterwards she realizes that maybe she’s been a bit too tough. She must remind poor “Davey” of her unconditional love. Sure, he wreaks havoc, but he is just so darn cute and clueless!

Kids love No, David!, as just about every kid can relate to constantly being told “NO”! This is a book that can be useful when discussing the difference between good, old-fashioned messy fun and property-destroying pandemonium.

But I particularly recommend No, David! to parents as a reminder of the intractable and loveable nature of risk-taking children. It’s important to let kids go the limit, whenever possible. It’s crucial to protect them from harm. But it makes all the difference in the world to provide a loving hug when they’re upset by having gone too far.

No, David! is about the power of parental love above all else. It reminds parents to lighten up before, during and after the damage is done, and to save the “I told you so” for later, or never.

This was first published in A Child Grows in Brooklyn on April 19, 2011

Shout Out for Going Backwards

As this summer ended and autumn began, my office phone rang off the hook. The perfect sleeper was suddenly up at 3 am, the previously potty-trained was back in pull-ups, the former fair sharer was biting his best friend. Each parent calling had a kid facing a new challenge. Whether it was going to school for the first time or walking for the first time, a new home or a new baby sister, a new social or physical skill. Understandably many parents were troubled by these regressive slips, worried their kids would stay stuck in problematic behavior forever. But what occurred was perfectly normal. In fact, in almost every case these kids needed to take a few healthy steps backwards. They needed to retreat to the safety of their younger selves before moving forward once again. And here are some reasons why.

Down and backwards is part of the developmental process.
Healthy child development is best thought of as an ongoing spiral looping through time, up and back around repeatedly as it moves along a steady plane, not an upward progression with the apex as the goal. Kids almost always spiral down and backwards during times of transition, when they face new challenges, or when new demands are made of them. Some parents don’t know this fact. In the heat of the moment even parents who do know forget and worry that their kids are not thriving. Often parents get impatient with kids who are appropriately regressing. But hold on! There’s great value to going back to old familiar ways as long as kids don’t get stuck there.

Down and backwards slows the developmental process.
We live in a culture focused on speedy skill mastery, achievement and competition. What parent hasn’t praised their kid with exclamations like “what a big boy/girl you are!” after their kid has reached a much anticipated developmental milestone. Even a benign “Good job” can send a kid dipping backwards. You shouldn’t stop praising your kids, but every now and then let them step away from the competence spotlight to the nice comfy corner of regression. It may seem paradoxical, but in that comfy corner kids are unconsciously processing and ultimately accepting their forward strides.

Down and backwards gives kids an opportunity to re-experience parental love and support.
Kids need to feel loved however they are. They need to know it’s not all about being a big boy, a helpful sister, a great reader, a fabulous dancer. That’s why it’s so important to cultivate patience and understanding during backwards cycles. It’s best not to comment critically on regressive behaviors and often it’s better to temporarily indulge them. For example, a child who has been feeding herself for years suddenly wants to be fed like a baby. Perhaps it’s because there’s a new baby sibling around, or you’ve gone back to work, or she’s made the transition from crib to big kid bed. If possible, try not to say, “Silly girl. You’re not a baby. You can feed yourself”. Instead try something like, “Oh, so you want to be a baby right now. Okay Baby.” Hopefully her need is not terribly inconvenient, and you can play along. At some point between spoonfuls later that day/week/month you can interject a gentle, “Gee, I wonder when you’ll want to be big kid again.” Float the message and leave it at that. She’ll come around eventually.

Down and backwards is a great way to re-do.
Some kids walk as if they were born to, others struggle to get to two feet. Some kids talk at nine months, others don’t utter a word until they’re two. Some developments are a breeze, others are an ordeal. Stepping backwards allows a kid to do-over certain ordeals with speed and confidence.  This kind of stepping backward can be especially curative and ego-enforcing if there were stressors in your home environment that made first developmental attempts emotionally or physically challenging.

Down and backwards is nurturing for parents also.
If you’re a nostalgia junkie like me, you’re probably saying things your own parents said when you were a kid, phrases you rolled your eyes at by the time you were a teenager. “I don’t know where the time has gone.” “ I already miss the baby phase.” “It goes too quickly.” “ I wish I could bottle this time forever.” Welcome to the unavoidably corny side of parenting. When family life feels too focused on your kid growing up and growing away regressive moments are great opportunities to enjoy deep bonding, not just for your kid but for you as well. So go ahead and indulge the occasional plea for a middle of the night snuggle, a babyish game of patty cake, a picture book instead of those word-heavy chapters ones with no visuals.

Accept the down and backwards.
Maturity cannot be forced, but it can be nurtured.  If a kid has mastered a biggie, there will probably be collateral regression soon after. Remind yourself between deep breaths that all kids want to grow up eventually. But sometimes we need to let them take their time. If you feel your kid is regressing for too long check in with your pediatrician, child’s teacher, your friends, or a professional parenting expert like me. But in most cases, remember: Most regression is a pit stop at the bottom of a spiral. With a little love and a gentle push your kid will be back on their merry way up the loop soon enough.

Originally published in A Child Grows in Brooklyn on February 17, 2011