Life With Seven Kids

Friday, March 28, 2014


Monday March 24, 2014
Last night Ricky and I made an offer on a very, very inexpensive small farm (bank owned property). A smaller home on 5 acres with a barn, totally fenced. (Oh such a nice all wooden post fence!) Downsizing house and monthly mortgage, up-size the land, live debt free much, much faster. We are excited, scared, dreamful. More goats for brush clearing, a horse for the kids, maybe a mini cow someday. The home needs some TLC, but nothing too crazy: Paint, tiny bit of carpet for two tiny bedrooms, a few windows, drywall and frames to make basement bedrooms.

We probably won't get the offer accepted because we have a feeling this property is going to go for more than asking price, but it's interesting to try. The asking price is dirt cheap and a real steal. $45,000. We offered 50. Others will probably offer 55 or 60. We would offer more if we could sell our current home before getting the loan and moving, but it's a no contingent sale. The bank that owns the home wants a clean fast sell, they don't want us to have to sell our home before we take possession. So in essence we are trying to buy a second home. I've had a splitting headache over the stress, but it has been a fun past few days. To have someone to: love, dream with, laugh with, be scared with, be joyous with, and be stressed with is the better than any home or farm or place in the world. I know we can be happy and in love anywhere as long as we are together. So we'll see if this is meant to be. Lots of prayers over this one. Please let this be right only if it's right, and please ease our doubts when they come. This may be just what we need either way. Either way this has been a big push in the right direction to change and simplify things at our current home and make plans for the future, whether we stay for a while longer or go sooner. The kids absolutely love the property despite the small home (which is still darling) and I'm really excited and proud they they see both the pros and cons of a bigger picture.   

Friday March 28, 2014
We didn't get the property. We have to believe there is better land and home out there for us. There was no pond and we really, really want one. So maybe that is why. We had already put ourselves inside that home. I imagined what winters would look like from the fireplace in the dining room. The wall size windows overlooking beautiful  huge green cedar trees heavy with snow, and tons of yard that led to nice land. An orchard we could plant. More counter space in the kitchen. A grassy yard that seemed forever long. I was going to hang tin farm signs outside the old tin barn. Instead we continue our journey fixing up our one acre backyard farm. We appreciate our current large home right now... with plenty of bedrooms, playrooms and space for everyone. Painted in my colors. Enjoying five years worth of trees and plants. Semi ignoring all the up-keep we should be doing to get ready to sell it. Our abandoned pool will be filled in soon, making a beautiful garden with a walkway around it (the pool deck). It should look lovely.  I have TONS of starter seeds that will make it into the ground now, if we had to move this spring/summer I would have given them all away. We want to add a new BBQ grill (ours is toast) and fire pit to the garden area. I have day dreams now of the little kids riding a big wheel bike on the decking around the garden as they watch their pumpkins grow, corn stalks growing a mile high, and getting to eat from our blackberry, raspberry, and strawberries for at least one more year. Another 4th of July family picture on the steps where we always take the picture.

When we move we'll have to plant ALL new things. We wanted to plant two more fruit trees here this year. I'm not sure if we will/should. We already pretty much have to put up the fencing we bought. We need it for rotating the goats and chickens onto pasture, and to send the goats into the wooded area to eat the scrub. Not sure it's worth it, but we're going to do it anyway. We love this home and feel very blessed to have such a beautiful space. Right now the yard is dreary because winter still has it's grip. There are so many times we don't want to leave this place. When the tulip tree pops with flowers this spring we will definitely wonder how we could leave this old home and it's charm. Our heart is all to often someplace miles away though....on more acreage. We just can't shake it, though we try hard.

We licked our wounds by ordering our new birds we had planned on. Seven turkey (Ricky wanted six, I told him seven was lucky though), two more geese, and 15 more chickens will arrive in May. It's gong to be a gorgeous, happy spring and summer. I know we are going to love every minute of it.

Dixie smelling Beatrice's snack

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Child Led Solid Food

I was just thinking I should blog about Beatrice starting solid food and drinking from a cup when a friend asked me about starting solids with her first baby. So yay for me, I'm now encouraged and inspired to talk about babies...I know it's really hard to get me to do that! Ha!

Beatrice officially started solids in the past three weeks or so; she will be nine months old in three days. I delay solids as long as possible -that pretty much means until my baby keeps grabbing my food and smacking their lips until I give in. Here is a very detailed page about why it's good to delay. (That link is at, it is a great site! Check it out further when you have the time. All kinds of awesome information there.)
Here's a snippet: 
Gastric acid and pepsin are secreted at birth and increase toward adult values over the following 3 to 4 months. The pancreatic enzyme amylase does not reach adequate levels for digestion of starches until around 6 months, and carbohydrate enzymes such as maltase, isomaltase, and sucrase do not reach adult levels until around 7 months. Young infants also have low levels of lipase and bile salts, so fat digestion does not reach adult levels until 6-9 months.
 If you don't know why rice cereal is really bad for babies please read/watch this. Rice cereal is a terrible first food and has no place in a child's diet. Brown rice shouldn't be introduced as a first food because it is harder and more complex to digest as a first food. Soft fruits and veggies are best.  

 I have no desire to fill my baby up with solids in hopes they will be hungry less often, or sleep better, or for any other outdated reason. The goal many parents have had in the past (and to a large extent today) is to tank young babies up so they would sleep all night. This isn't good for many reasons. The coolest thing though is that Breastmilk is actually a sleep aid for babies! Mother's milk is ever changing and is actually different at different times of the day!

-My baby must first sit up on their own which is one sign of readiness.
-Around 6 months old (but sometimes 5 months old)  I usually notice my little ones: smacking their lips, watching food go into my mouth, looking REALLY interested in food and grabbing for it. Once the interest starts it gradually grows. Babies are smart and aware; they have been watching people eat since birth.
-The first food I usually give is between 6-8 months old. It's generally avocado or banana mashed up really fine on a spoon by me. If they gag or push food out of their mouth with their tongue that shows they are not ready. I'll try again some days later if they still seem like they really want solid food and keep grabbing and/or smacking their lips.
-I give peeled apples to suck on as an introduction to tastes and texture. A small amount of apple pulp that they suck and gum out may help with solid food swallowing practice. I gave one to Beatrice at seven months old.
-Babies will slowly start to learn a chewing motion with their mouth and learn to swallow solids. They ALWAYS gag a little at first because it's brand new, but I see gagging as a sign of not being ready too. There is a difference between a baby gagging and a baby learning to swallow solids and I watch for that.
 -I will not sit and shovel drippy food into my child's mouth as they drool it out and force feed it back to them. I choose a child led method.
-If my baby is interested in food but gags at food I'll just continue to let them gnaw on peeled apples.

 Moving Forward
 I breastfeed my baby before feeding solids so that my supply stays up ( I want my baby getting her calories from my milk instead of filling up on baby food). I do not want my infant skipping nursing sessions! This isn't as much as an issue when they first start tasting and trying foods, but could be an issue later when they can actually make meals or snacks out of solid foods.

 Once they are "into food" I give strawberries to gnaw on under careful supervision. If my baby doesn't have any teeth yet then they are not likely to bite off big hunks very often. This is a new sensitization, texture, flavor and they love it! Strawberries are a big joy for my babies, I think they just love the firm but soft edible texture. (Warning: wash them well and buy organic when you can, unfortunately strawberries tend to be very heavily sprayed. Pay attention to your baby -strawberries can give some babies a diaper rash. None of mine have trouble.)
 I give my babies baby teething biscuits/baby cookies to chew on, which aren't the best as I don't feel wheat is all that great on the system but it keeps babies super occupied and happy and they don't tend to eat much of it anyway. I buy organic whole grain varieties.  I like this kind -carrot and ginger. Even though rice cereal is a no-no and above I said brown rice isn't a good first food either, I still give these whole grain organic brown rice puffs on occasion, it is not filling and she doesn't eat it all at first anyway (most of it ends up on her bib or me). But it's super entertaining for her and it teaches her brand new chewing and swallowing motions with added texture. I make sure everything I give like that is sugar free and organic. This is sweetened with fruit juice which does add "sugar" and is totally unneeded at this age, but like I said it's totally occupying! And it definitely teaches chewing safely, so I see it as a learning tool. I'm also able to make breakfast for the other kids because she's so entertained.

  I do not feed my babies very often (if ever) from a spoon and jar the old fashioned way. Not only is it messy and time consuming, I believe shoveling food into a baby is not the best way for a child to self regulate food intake and learn to feed themselves. Also, I'm lazy! So I encourage self feeding with this silicone feeder: 

This looks like it is filled with fresh mashed carrot. The one I actually have is from Target and is a little different (open tip instead of holes throughout). This brand is by Kidsme.
 Beatrice LOVES this thing! And she never overeats because she is feeding herself; I am not stuffing food into her mouth. Young baby feedings often include the baby pushing food out of their mouths while you are wiping it off the baby's lips and chin with the spoon. The excess is re-feed it to them over and over until it is finally gone. Gradually a baby will learn to accept the food and eagerly open their mouths, but I would like to encourage parents to make sure they are not overfeeding their baby or feeding too early. Baby shouldn't be pushing food out with their tongue, a baby should be a willing participant of the experience and very engaged in this new eating thing!

 I use resealable organic baby food pouches for convenience and squirt a little in the feeder pictured above. You can also stuff it with cooked fresh veggies or fruits. You could make your own baby food puree if you want, and a lot of moms do these days. I don't make my own because organic baby food is a  cheaper faster option for me. (I buy in bulk and get Subscribe and Save deals from Amazon.) My babies are only on baby food periodically to learn about tastes and texture and when we travel or run errands. One pouch tends to last me for days when they are young. Then all too soon it's off to the big stuff!

Ditching the pureed stuff
Once they start chomping down everything in sight (and with or without teeth they may do this sooner than you think!) I just feed them what I'm eating off my plate: Avocado, banana, mashed up sweet potato, cooked carrots, mashed potato, mashed up broccoli, cantaloupe, mango, asparagus, lintels, beans. Last night I was popping peas into Beatrice's mouth off my dinner plate and eating the skin for her. She was the cutest little baby bird ever! Eventually heavier things (oatmeal, eggs, noodles, whole grain brown rice, meats, fats, more grains) wiggle their way into their diet. I think eggs are a fabulous food. If you let your child lead they will be squealing and pawing for your plate. They will quickly realize there are LOTS of foods to try! So I don't mess with expensive messy baby food for long, or the time it takes to puree and freeze my own.
Eating asparagus off my plate...she's totally into this food thing now!
 Babies learn super fast to feed themselves when they are ready for solids and can grab food. They will simply chew (or gum rather) up their food. Eventually they will want a spoon! Everett didn't have teeth until after his first birthday! But the kid still ate everything. Even chicken in tiny pieces. He loved cooked carrots. At first I cut them up into bites that I would feed him but after that he became an avid eater, so I just gave him a cooked baby carrot stick cut in half for him to feed himself . For me it seems that somewhere between 14 and 18 months old I needed to make sure my baby eats well before bedtime or they may wake hungry for more than a breastmilk only feeding.

Cucumber: My new go-to finger food
 Recently we gave Beatrice a slice of cucumber with the skin peeled off (we left a little skin on one side for a better grip). She went nuts for it! They are so mild, cooling, full of moisture, easy to suck on, and they break apart slowly. Cucumbers are actually packed with many vitamins and minerals. Beatrice makes cute talking and "ahuuah!" babbling noises every time I'm in the kitchen with her and she won't stop until I get cucumber out! She asks for it like crazy! Yesterday she nom-nomed through at least 10 cucumber circles! (When it gets too gnawed down and small we just replace it with another.)
Beatrice was swinging and watching us do some yard work and fell asleep with her cucumber in her hand

Cool as a cucumber!
For the under one crowd, babies with no teeth, or when I'm not supervising very well: The Mesh Feeder
 I also put fresh food into this great contraption. It's a mesh version of the feeder pictured above. For me the silicone ones (as pictured above) is best suited for actual pureed baby food and this mesh one is better for whole chunks of food they puree on their own from biting down and gumming on it. I think it's a bit more messy to use, but they feed themselves and it's great for bigger chunks of cooked carrots, banana, cantaloupe, brown rice, beans, strawberry and anything else you want to load it with. I will still likely use a mesh one with Beatrice even though we are using the other right now. Other babies gave them a run for their money and I need to replace it. I've been using these for nearly every baby for years and years. I love this product because it makes any chunk of food instantly super safe for baby!

Drinking ~ Cups
 I read a long time ago that babies can go on a nursing strike and if they do they can be cup fed pumped milk. I couldn't even imagine a nursing strike with any of my eager and very attached-to-me nursing babies... but lo and behold we had one. When Penelope (now 7 years old) was a very young baby she went on a nursing strike. She was hungry and refused to nurse. There are all sorts of reasons babies can go on strike. So just like everyone recommends I pumped my milk and fed her from a cup. I was amazed, flabbergasted, stunned... it was magic. Babies, very small babies, can drink from cups.  Check out this precious video of a newborn baby drinking expressed breastmilk from a cup.

 By the way, if you are reading this and are in need of, or are just curious about, alternative feeding methods that go beyond just using a bottle (Cup, dropper, syringe, and links with various methods) check out this link: Tools for Feeding: Alternative Feeding Methods – Bottles & More

 So Penelope was fed from a cup until her nursing strike ended (2 days) and from then on I always taught my babies to drink from cups at around 6-8 months old, basically when solids started up.
What I do is hold a cup to their lip and slowly tilt it. They start to make a mouthy suck gesture when water hits their mouth, and I very slowly try to not let too much fall out. A clear glass cup works best for me to see better. They usually cough and choke at first in surprise, but after only a handful of tries they get used to sucking it in slowly and stopping the flow themselves. Most people never know that young babies are perfectly capable of drinking from a cup. There is no need to ever use bottles if you don't want to. (Juice is junk food to babies and should not be given.)

Teaching Beatrice to drink from a cup
A few weeks ago Beatrice was grabbing for my water and making cute curious noises that mean 'give it to me!' so I let her try it. After a few attempts over two days she got the hang of it and loves a cool little drink now. And water is tasty! She looks so happy when she asks for it and after she drinks it! I really just love watching her learn the muscle control of sucking it in and pushing it out of her mouth to prevent herself from choking. Babies learn so fast!

Food I don't ever give under one year:
Citrus - can cause bad rashes, best to wait until 12 months or older (learned that one the hard way!)
Honey- can contain botulism spores recommend to wait until at least after age 1. I usually wait a bit longer and we generally only use it in smoothies so it's a trivial amount anyway.
Animal milk- Not for the first year. I'm not sure when I introduce it. I guess it's by yogurt at about 14 months of age. 
Juice- Has no place in a young child's diet. Unless it's a smoothie made from frozen fruit mixed with a little juice for blending, or fresh squeezed fruit and veggie juice my babies never drink juice.

Corn Chips?
Eventually our babies go all crazy and want everything they see us eat. Last night it was organic corn chips. It's not going to hurt her, but it's not real food either. But after her arms flapped like a bird and her bright blue eyes begged, I finally met her little baby squeals and grunts with the magic of a corn chip. She nom-nomed it right down and started asking for more. No teeth, no choking or gagging...just a baby sucking and nibbling on a corn chip against her mother's better judgement. And she pulverized it and asked for more. I gave her a sweet drink of fresh water which she appreciated. Perfect example that babies learn FAST when they are ready. We also come from a long line of food lovers, so it figures.
Who doesn't like an organic blue corn chip!?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Adults: You STOP Bullying First

Dear Parents, caregivers of children, or future parents,

  This ranty letter isn't just about one kid... this is about all kids, but one kid inspired me to write it. An 11 year old tried to commit suicide by hanging himself and he is fighting for his life now. (Link at bottom of page)
He was being bullied at school. These types of stories are not few and far between. These kinds of stories are easy to find, easy to come across, and horrible to imagine. So are stories about sexual abuse among kids and teens -peers abusing each other. It happens more than anyone knows because parents are often too preoccupied to realize it. It happens more than it should because we let kids raise each other most of the week, especially from Jr. High on up.

 Childhood should be the most amazing, free, happy, transformational time of a child's life, instead it's often a constant race to survive. It's a time that many look back on with good memories...but most of us also have heartbreaking stories too. There are often various events, situations, and periods of time where we should have been protected or guided either from the bully or from being the bully.

 Socialization of children is a total's not healthy for kids to grow up with as much unsupervised alone time as they do -completely free to ridicule and treat each other however they want. Kids shouldn't be expected to know how to treat others if they aren't guided through it. Not only do they need supervision, but they need examples, and they need to be taught. We follow around three year old kids and teach them manners, basic life skills and hygiene, how to cut with scissors, and how to cross the street. We teach our four year old kids to share, how to clean up, and how to make a bowl of cereal. We teach these young tikes how to talk to adults and say thank you and to not throw fits or whine. We teach them to share and to be fair with their young friends; but soon, all too soon, we let these kids run off largely unsupervised to play with other children from families we don't even know... all in the name of "socialization." And we let them do it forever and we rarely look back. From kindergarten on many of us rarely see what kids do during the day when they are "socializing."
 Today I just wanted a type out a message to parents and the message is this: What you say affects kids. What they see, hear, and learn about... ALL types of communication you have with them and that they have with other people affects them. If you bash others, or simply just complain or harass others within earshot of children they learn it is okay to do it to other people...namely their peers. They learn communication and socialization first from you and second from others and television/radio. They learn it's funny to ridicule others. We all do it at some point, and the point of it is usually to selfishly put ourselves on a pedestal above all others. It eventually becomes a serious habit for most people. A habit most people don't even realize they have. I'm a really nice person who cares about other people, but even I realized a few years back I said things I shouldn't. I changed myself for my kids, because even though I wasn’t a mean person I still said some negative things that I wouldn’t want them to say. In our household we also quit saying the word hate. We have to find kinder and more descriptive ways and reasons for saying we dislike something or someone; we also often to try to match a positive with a negative. This humanizes people and broadens our view on things. Even politically I play fair and try to teach two sides to every opinion and that people have the right to theirs. I just feel like it makes kinder, better kids to do so.

 Please pay attention to what you say about people that like certain things. Pay attention to how you treat others. Pay attention when you say 'I hate this actor’s ugly hair', 'I hate this show', 'look at that fat person', or whatever other rude thing you hold a personal opinion or bias about. What you say and how you treat others becomes your child's world view.
 Please pay attention when you say someone looks like a slut, or they have a big nose, or they are "lazy" because they get government assistance. Pay attention when hateful words fly out of your mouth about politics. Pay really close attention to everything you say and imagine your child going up to another child and rattling off those same words.

Just pay attention.

 If you say something on purpose or accident at least have the common sense and decency to follow up your negativity with something positive like: 'Well at least variety makes things interesting, I might not like it but people have a right to be who they are." Or, "I shouldn't say that, they are people too, I will be nicer and not bully people with my opinions."

 Make new habits to NOT say things you wouldn't say to someone in person. Deep down most of us adults don't want to hurt other people; most of us do have a conscience when held accountable for our words and actions. We have to teach our kids right from wrong and that should come largely from our example.

 Our kids grow up in a world where it's funny to ridicule people: just watch TV and read celebrity news. Read anything on the internet (especially the comments on news stories or on Facebook).  You'll see just how disgusting and hateful people are. A woman posted pictures of herself surfing while pregnant and the outpouring of hate and people calling her an idiot was baffling. Another blogger posted what others thought of as too many 'selfies' and so she received hate mail and death threats, from adults! Bullying is rampant, it's bad, and it's hurting our society. People LOVE to hate, and honestly they feed on it... it's gross. It has become cool to hate on things. It has  become cool to spew on about how much people and things suck.
 Commercials, T.V., movies, radio, magazines, Internet can find hate and shame in those things daily. Our kids soak it all up and they learn to be judgmental and hateful through them, their peers, and us. We all enjoy a funny skit on Saturday Night Live from time to time, or edgy comic bit, or political meme poking fun. We all laugh at someone's expense sometimes. I'm saying to be aware of it. Ask yourself why you think it's funny to make fun of others. Ask yourself why you're laughing. Ask yourself what your child is watching.

Our kids are watching and listening more than anyone thinks.

 I just recently heard one of my kids mock something they didn't understand or even care to understand. It wasn't a big deal, it wasn't even hateful, but it was unkind and uncompassionate. I broke into an impassioned speech about being nice and kind and watching what we say and who we judge. What they mocked meant something to someone and I don't want them spreading unkindness or meanness to others. It's especially important because their younger brothers and sisters were listening to them. It was a perfect example of standing up for someone in front of my kids so that they would learn empathy. They understood when I was done, and of course hadn’t even realized they were being unkind or negative.

 So that's my message today: watch kids, guide kids, show them good examples, talk to them about bullying, ask them what kind of bullying they see and how it makes them feel, ask them if they bully. Express to your kids that we should be kind to others and stand up for others. Be the person you want your kids to be. Teach personal boundaries and sexual boundaries. Teach kids not to touch, assault, rape, harm, push, or speak badly to other people. Teach kids about cyber bullying, and monitor what they do online. Don’t just assume they will be good kids. Say the words to them. Tell them what you expect and ask them to talk to you about things they see on T.V. or from their peers. Start young and then show them by example.
 After all the effort I put into raising nice kids, many years ago one of my kids did bully someone. This was 9 years ago or so... and of course I was shocked, but I faced it head on and we talked about it in detail. Turns out they were mimicking something they saw in a PG movie geared towards kids, and they had just repeated/reenacted what they saw and they did it word for word.

Kids ARE WATCHING and learning from everything they see.

News Story:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

It's Ethan's Birthday

Ethan is 14 today!
Birthday Lunch

Ethan is a quiet, happy kid who is sensitive and thoughtful…so very thoughtful. Ethan is kind and willing to lend a hand. He's sometimes absent minded when it comes to chores or 'the order of things' but he isn't easily sidetracked once he gets going. I've learned to think his absent mindedness is cute. One thing that's hard when you are a parent is realizing these kids won't always be the people they are right now. They'll grow, they'll change...they'll bloom into new people. So when Ethan does silly things like takes the trash bag from the kitchen out all the way to the curb because that's where the cans are, but doesn't bring the trash cans up even though the garbage man has clearly already been here, I try not to point out his flaw. I simply, later on, ask him to bring the trash cans up now -which is his normal routine and job anyway. He usually realizes on his own (’Duh, I should have done that earlier!'). I've learned getting frustrated at kids doesn't make them learn. Repetition and/or maturity help them to learn, nagging and complaining can turn into belittling and harm them socially and emotionally. I get the same result as if I nag or complain as if I just ignore the mistakes and just ask nonchalantly about it later. Thank you God for letting me learn this before my first set of teenagers are grown. I want to be a patient mom. There have been times that I nagged them all to near death -no more though.

So, Ethan is 14 and we went out to lunch for his birthday. We had a great time and I asked him what he knows in his 14 years and he said, "That I like turtles." And Sage replied, "Turtles are cool, they take their house with them."
I want Ethan to know he's a sweet and sensitive kid who is kind. I want him to know that I see that he tries really hard and I see it in everything he does. Ethan is so kind that he holds anger or upsets inside of him as long as he can until he's so upset he explodes into tears. I tell him he should try to not do that. He should speak his mind and not let himself get to the boil over point. I hope I'm able to help him with that. We don't want anyone taking advantage of him, and he will let people. As parents we have to teach him this about himself so that he can learn and watch out for it, especially as an adult.
He likes reading and drawing and he's an amazing independent worker. He gets his school work done eagerly. I love his writing! I ask the kids to keep journals and his is always a joy to read. He's got a great imagination and his writing keeps getting better and better, I wonder if he'd ever like to be a writer...
Ethan can do flips on the trampoline, which impresses me. He goes to bed early and wakes up early. He self regulates well, accept for the not speaking his mind part. He likes TV and video games but plays and then moves on to another thing. He loves science, dinosaurs, history, and animals. He loves our animals; he's attached to them in ways I often don't realize. If the dogs get out he worries about them, where I'm the one saying ...oh they'll come back the little jerks! Ethan and Sage chase down the dogs and bring ‘em on home. I appreciate it a lot.
Ethan is a hard worker; he's got his Dad and Grandpa in him for sure. Two amazing, hardworking, loyal, and wonderful men. Not unlike his Dad and Grandpa he'll sit back and watch others, smiling and laughing in enjoyment at his family. He's witty and fun and I love the looks he gives me when I'm being silly and weird. We have a lot of fun being weird at our house.

He gives to the kids and helps them a lot. He played for hours on the trampoline with Penelope (7), Sebastian (5) and Everett (3). He's still got that kid brain -the child-born ability to see the magic in everything and pretend for hours ...and play like a child. It's a blessing for him to be a homeschooler, he doesn't have to grow up. Not yet. Not too soon. He's a blessing to all of us.

I love you Ethan.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Seven Months

 Seven months have passed like a flash of lightning. Baby Bee snuggles in-between us during the night; she has open, soft, relaxed hands until she's hungry and she grabs for me tightly as she nurses into another deep slumber. At sunrise she batts her long eyelashes at us and we're pretty stunned how fast it goes. Another newborn grown and gone... and now a little curious, wide eyed sweetheart blooms before our watchful eyes.

 I left the bed for a moment one early morning, leaving a large gap between her and her daddy. In under a minute she had scooted up against her daddy to find security. It was precious.

 Beatrice talks to all of her siblings when they enter the room. Her face lights up as she scans their familiar faces and she lets out a intentful wide mouthed "ahh-aah" sound as her arms flap like a baby bird. The kids all take the time to acknowledge her with their own brand of greetings and Baby Bee goes wild with happiness that her little tribe notices her. They always say hi to her, they always carry on about how cute she is. Watching her face light up and her brain make familiar connections as she learns we all live with her is one of many great joys we get from having her in our lives.
 Her personality is sweet and watchful, content but careful. She nods her head into my chest when she gets bashful. She sucks in her bottom lip when she's interested. She smiles when she's filled with joy. She squeaks and carries on when I walk by; she has a call for me and the squeaking gets louder and then sadder sounding the longer I take at responding. I usually am able to get her before she cries out, she's learned communication with me is working and I hear her. I love this little sweetie so much. It's such a blessing to get to do this all over again.
I just love the 'I love you, I need you' look

I've wanted this Ergo for over a year! My old Ergo is sooo...old! (Seven years old, and showing real signs of wear.) This is fabulous and sooo soft! It's really beautiful and better in person than I imagined!

Oh and the belly laughs that come from this baby --the sweetest sounds I've ever heard. Although I think I've said that before about all the kids... 
Seriously, how can a baby laugh not make everything just so much better.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Preschoolers and Toddlers: Hitting & Anger

A mom close to me asked my advice on what they could do to get their three year old to stop hitting them. Below is my advice. I wrote so much on the topic that I decided to add a bit more to it and expanded it into a big ol' fat blog post!

Preschoolers and Hitting
  In my experience preschoolers hit when they feel like they have too little control over their own lives or a particular situation. They hit for other reasons too: being angry, bored, tired, lonely, hungry, unable to communicate (because they are literally learning an entire language they don't yet fluently speak). Preschoolers may hit because they are being just plain wild, playful, or immature. Many people don't realize young kids will hit when they are not feeling well, especially if they are teething. It seems all my 2-3 year old kiddos go through a really angry stage that often includes hitting when they are teething molars. They may also hit because they feel you have wronged them in some way. Some examples that could make them feel this way and spur aggressive behavior: not spending enough time with them, spanking them, fighting with others in front of them, and life changes such as a big move, divorce, or death of a loved one. Too much TV and any violent TV (even cartoon violence) can trigger a child's impulse to hit. Look for triggers for the hitting and try to determine and eliminate the source the best you can.

  Preschoolers may hit or act out in other ways because they are testing boundaries, which means they are actually testing the really fascinating concept of cause and effect. Look at the little stinker as a scientist -and you are the experiment! 

 Over reacting to a child hitting can make them hit more, but under reacting can make them hit more too! What are you to do? I don’t know. I do know maturity plays into this though; developmentally it’s normal for little kids to hit and some have more trouble with it than others. You have to test not reacting very much and reacting a little bit and see if you can find a balance and solution.
  It is HARD being three years old... and four, and five, and six, and seven, and twenty-seven…you get the point. Seriously though, in my experience it looks really darn hard to be a preschooler. 

Preschoolers: What do they see? How do they feel?
 Preschoolers are little people who have feelings and thoughts and are learning about the world around them at a rapid pace. They want to accomplish simple tasks themselves and it makes them feel good and accomplished. For many preschoolers being told what to do all day everyday is hard and frustrating. Not being able to say many words or explain yourself is frustrating. Not knowing what things are called is frustrating. Not being understood is frustrating. Most preschoolers hear the word 'no' or 'stop' more than any other word. That's frustrating! To top it off when you are that age and you are walking near or standing in line with adults all you see is butts and crotches at your face level. Imagine for one moment the view of a toddler and preschooler. Now imagine looking up towards the ceiling or sky all day long just see other people's faces. To top off all that your brain isn't fully developed to process why some things are the way they are.This is why I bet being a toddler/preschooler is probably much harder than anyone gives these young kids credit for.
3 things I’ve learned:
1. What you do as a parent will probably not make a difference overnight. It takes consistency and weeks, months, and sometimes a year for your efforts to show. This does not make you a parenting failure; this makes you in for the long haul. No one said this parenting gig was easy. It's totally NOT easy. Talking to your kid, teaching your kid, getting down to their level, and being there for them as they mature is what makes you a successful parent. There is not always a quick fix to behavior problems, so tell yourself to stay strong.

2. Sometimes behavior problems are not really problems. The word "problem" implies something is wrong or dysfunctional with the child. More often than not they are actually developmentally normal milestones kids have to go through. Kids are all different and their challenges and hardships will be different. Different or "problem" doesn't equal abnormal. Everybody (adults and kids) have things they need to work on at various times in their lives.

3. Spanking doesn't work. In the long-term spanking just teaches that the person who can hit the hardest wins. If you can't control the impulse to hit then you simply cannot expect to teach your child to control theirs. Hitting kids is the one sure fire way to teach them that they have no control over their life and that makes people regardless of age feel out of control and angry. Studies show over and over again that spanking is not good for kids and in the long run does damage. There is compelling research that shows it alters brain development. Spanking can slow cognitive development (thinking, understanding, learning, and memory) and increase the risk of mental health disorders. Those are some of the reasons why the American Academy of Pediatrics and The American Psychological Association both oppose striking a child or adolescent for any reason. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not endorse spanking under any circumstance. It's a form of punishment that becomes less effective with repeated use, according to the AAP; it also makes discipline more difficult as the child outgrows it. 
 Can you imagine spanking a child for teething molars or coming down with a cold? They may not be feeling well when they aren't listening, hitting, or saying "no" to you. And you could hit them for them actually being hurt and/or not feeling well and never even know it. How horrible!

At Our House:
 When our kids have hit us (Sebastian has even kicked and scratched us as a 3-4 year old and was one of the most frustrated/angry kids we have ever had) we have repeatedly taken them aside and explained to them that we do not hit them. If they are anger-hitting we wait until they are calm and we are sure they are listening. We don't force them to listen; we wait for an opportunity that looks like they will listen. At times Sebastian has put his hands over his ears to ignore us and we don't let that upset us or insist he take his hands off, we simply wait until he is ready to listen.

We Will Say Things Like:
-I do not hit you, I love you, let's be nice to each other, I'm angry too, but I don't want to hurt my family. (This works with Everett very well, it took a couple weeks for him to start understanding it though)
-Mommy and Daddy do not hit each other, what would it look like if Daddy hit Mommy? Mommy would be scared and the police would come, because it's not okay to hit people. (You can substitute any names you want) This may or may not be too abstract for a 3 year old, but caution should be used so as not scare kids into thinking police are bad or scary. For Sebastian it wasn't too abstract at 3, for Everett I'm unsure but he seems to listen to my talking. I use this because I think the relation between grown-ups not hitting each other is important to make.

Waiting for Anger to Pass before Teaching Begins:
  When kids are angry or frustrated (or even in an ornery mood) it doesn't do a lot of good to try to talk to them until they are calm. Think about yourself: Do you want to listen to common sense and be reasonable at the height of your anger? Nope.

  When a person gets angry the body is flooded with chemicals, an adrenaline rush is experienced as blood rushes to the arms and legs in a classic flight or fight reaction. When in this state breathing gets heavier, the rational mind is disengaged, the eyes dilate and most of the time all reasoning goes totally out the window. It's like being drunk, you are held accountable and are responsible for your own actions but you are at real risk of not caring to control your actions, and you are at real risk of not making reasonable decisions. So once calmer and willing to talk, even if it's a half hour later or more, what I do is I repeat a couple or few times "I do not hit you, I love you and hitting really hurts me..." 

 Once, because I did eventually give in and spank Sebastian to see if it would work and because I was at my wits end (even though I've always been very against spanking) I had to mutter the words to him: "I will NEVER spank you again. It's not okay to hit and hitting hurts and I was wrong." Things got a lot better between him and I after that and we found a way to communicate. I figured out eventually he was frustrated a lot during the day because I wasn't listening to him enough and some anger was triggered when that would happen, so I started getting down to his level (literally I'd bend down to his level) whenever I talked to him or he talked to me. I did that for a year. It helped a lot. I'll tell you what though, I felt like a giant ass for spanking him, and I told my husband I felt that way too. Seriously, they are little kids with small developing brains! Don't hit them! I was trying to get him to control and regulate himself and I was doing the exact opposite. Watch this video to see why. It's the same video I posted in my last post.
Walking Away:  
 Walking away helps kids understand you are not going to stick around and be abused. Being firm and using few words I walk away. I usually say ‘I’m not going to be around you when you hit/hurt me.’ Leaving to another room or starting another activity by yourself may show your child you will not tolerate hitting and they may change their tune when they see they are left alone. Be prepared for more hitting if they need more attention though. If they are looking for attention I think this would make the hitting worse.
THE LIST: I will tell my child the things I do for them and how they need me, how I need them, and how I don't want to hurt them or for them to hurt me. 
This could be too abstract depending on age but it has worked for me. I've had really great results with this strategy. Sometimes I talk sad and emotion filled so they can see I'm sad. I'll say some things like:
  • I make you food
  • I wash your clothes
  • I play with you
  • I held you when you were a baby and kissed you
  • I help you when you get hurt / get band-aids for you
  • I hold you when you are sick
  • I helped you fix your broken toy
  • I found your lost toy
  • I sing sings with you
  • I read to you
  • I take you to the park
  • I really, really love you and have so much fun with you
  • You make me happy and you are fun to be around
  • You are funny and sweet when you are being nice and I like that the best
 And then I start following it up with "...and when you hit me it makes me feel really sad and I'm not having fun or feeling good when you do that, can we be nice to each other please?" And sometimes I'll ask if I can have a hug to make me feel better. This is such a good strategy and can be altered for all ages 3 and over really, and for lots of problems including when a child is being disrespectful or rude/mean because you are stating your worth and asking for respect because you care for them and love them. I have used this time and time again with good results. Sometimes they smile or think I’m silly, those times I don’t react. I just go with it. Sometimes comic relief is all that’s needed to break up a bad mood.

Teach Them Words:
  It takes a little time but teaching words helps a ton. I taught Everett to tell me when he is angry. Every time he got angry I would say to him "I can see you are angry, you're SO angry, I'm sorry you feel like this, it doesn't feel good to be angry."

 I'd also offer hugs and really try and relate to him. I'd tell him it's okay to feel angry but let's try to work on feeling better. Sometimes sympathy helps; when we sympathize with their feelings they feel validated. I think we all like to feel this way. Sebastian will sometimes not be ready for sympathy when he is angry, but I try anyway. Everett responds really, really well.

A success story about teaching Everett to use words:
 Everett and I were at the chiropractor. I was seeing a doctor I don’t see very often and Everett was starting to act agitated. I saw some warning signs in him that he was slowly getting angry. He walked around the room agitated and making small huffing noises before trying to pull my shoes and socks off as I lay on the examination table. I of course told him to stop but his anger escalated to hitting. He began hitting my legs; I asked him to stop very calmly several times and told him he was hurting me.  I was trying NOT to over react. As he landed one more punch to my leg the doctor was very upset and raised her voice at him. She exclaimed, “STOP hitting your mom RIGHT NOW!” He looked very unhappy and stopped. Now I could tell he was getting ready to burst into tears or burst into a rage. Then he said it, the words I had been teaching him for weeks. He folded his arms and he grumbled, “I am angry, I AM ANGRY.” I used my soft mom voice and thanked him for using words, I told him I was sorry he was angry and asked him if he could come hold my hand to make him feel better. At first he said no, but I calmly persisted that holding his hand would help him calm down and help get the anger out. He relaxed his tense shoulders and walked over and gently grabbed my hand. I was so proud of him. And the best part is I could feel his stiff body soften and the anger melt from him.

 Later thinking about it I figured out the main trigger; he heard me say that maybe I should have his back looked at because he fell really hard the previous day. He heard that and obviously didn’t want to be seen that day, plus he was tired. I was pretty annoyed at the doctor afterwards and when I was telling Ricky about the incident I followed it up with, “So BOOM doctor, take that! My kid is AWESOME and so am I for teaching him how to use words to express himself so I could help him!” I know the doc meant well and didn’t want him hurting me, but I didn’t receive her “help” as helpful. He’s only three years old. And actually he had only been three years old for one month! This brings me to the next part:

Holding Hands
 I always taught my younger kids that holding hands is a relaxing thing and it works for winding them down. It started rather sweetly and innocently when they were weaning as a way to connect and stay close when they fell asleep instead of nursing. It has time and time again turned into a way for me to reconnect with them when they are tired, angry, or otherwise upset. In the story above it obviously helped Everett.
Teach Hitting Alternatives: 
 If they still need to display a physical reaction offer that instead of hitting maybe they try to hit a pillow to express anger, frustration, or pent up energy. Or, offer the idea to stomp their feet. I do this with Everett, I show him to clinch his fists and jump up and down and say “I’m SO ANGRY” over and over. It’s better than hitting. And if they take to this idea and then do this on their own you can know they are angry before hitting and even meltdowns might begin.

The Boy Thing
  My girls were pretty easy preschoolers, in general they were classic little girly-girls. My boys have been classic stereotypical boys. They run and bounce off the walls and turn everything into a toy gun. They carry sticks everywhere and fight monsters and bad guys. Our boys have extreme "boy" personalities and we have A LOT of contact challenges. Teaching personal boundaries is a constant lesson that actually takes years.

 We have two really nice teenage boys now but it took a lot of consistent patience, reminding, and us understanding about the way their brains worked when they were younger. As we are still learning! They literally bounced off the walls and wrestled almost all of the time. Sage was the hitter mostly; Ethan was the high energy one bouncing off the walls. Ethan was able to burn off energy in the basement or outdoors and so did often. Sage took constant reminding about why we should not hit others.  

 Sebastian and Everett have been even wilder than Sage and Ethan, which I didn't know was even possible. I swear God gave me both those boys because he knew I wouldn't beat them. The techniques I outlined above have helped. There are times I’m totally at the end of my rope and I think they are “bad” kids. But I knew at the end of the day they really are just kids. There is no one size fits all personality, and I was dealt some really hard wonderful, tough, FUN personalities. 
Not Easy...
Typing all of this out made me totally realize we have a lot of strategies for dealing with our kids/boys. It all sounds kind of easy in print. (Don't all parenting tips?!) I'm thinking after re-reading this that we're doing a pretty good job and we have clear concise ways of dealing with the kids without hitting them, and that's great! But in reality, while we do have good positive strategies, they don't work the first time or maybe even the hundredth time. I don't know how long it took for me to teach Everett to say he's angry. He just started doing it one day. Repetition is key with kids. Everett has a pretty good hold on his anger now and we can talk it out quickly, but there's always something else around the corner. He loves dumping stuff. Toys, books, crackers, the magnets off the fridge, whatever. He cries his head off when I don't let him pour his own cereal and milk. He's a busy kid and he gets bored easily. Just the other day the stinker poked holes with a long nail in the new mini bounce house they got for Christmas, and a few days before that he hammered the front of the brand new refrigerator and told me he was just fixing it. He's entered the 'color on the wall' stage too. (He's not as bad at that as Sebastian was, whoa that kid LOVED walls. Why? I do not know.) Kids mature, they do! They will mature and grow and learn and be on the road to new things eventually. I've learned you can work with them or against them. Either way they are going to make you totally nuts.