Friday, May 28, 2010

Butting Heads With My 2 Year Old?

The Question:
Dear Jane,

I have 2 children (2 1/2 year old girl, 9 month old boy) that are as sweet as can be, but I have been butting heads with the 2 1/2 year old lately.  I'm guessing it's mostly the age and I just have to get through it, but I'm wondering if you have any tips to make it easier.

Getting her dressed or trying to do her hair is a wrestling match.  These are the things I've tried, as well as their opposites:  letting her pick what she'll wear, giving her warnings that it's almost time to get dressed, bribes (this when I have to get out the door for an appointment or something), just not caring what she's wearing when we go out, etc.  I haven't found anything that seems to make it easier. 

She's also started to be rude to other kids, especially her cousin (1 1/2 years old).  Everything is "hers" and she'll push him to get what she wants.  I realize this is very typical of the age, but I'm not sure how to respond when she does this.  I feel like she's such a bully to other kids, yet at other times she will be super sweet. 

Other topics I'm interested in your views on for this age:  nap time, teeth brushing, screaming (often while having fun, but it's too loud), getting her to cooperate when it's time to get in her car seat (once she's buckled in she's fine), and any other advice.

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with young mom's like me.  And thank you for helping me realize that I need to rely more on the spirit than on parenting books.  That's a hard thing for me to remember.

You really are the best!

The Answer:
Dear Bethany,
It sounds like you have a strong-willed child.  You're right that she'll outgrow many of those behaviors, but you can work with her now to teach her what you expect and to give her successes. 
Most of the things you mentioned seem to be power struggles--the things you want her to do that she doesn't want to do.    And it sounds like you've had some good ideas.  I really hate power struggles.  I avoid them whenever possible because they set things up in a way that makes a child feel defeated in the end.  You want your child to feel cooperative and capable.  Is she old enough to dress herself?   You can hand her a shirt and say, "Do you know how to put this on?" or have a race--she puts on her clothes while you dress her younger brother.  You can exclaim the whole time to her brother about what a big, grown-up sister he has.  Two year olds like to "act" rather than be "acted upon" so give her as much autonomy as she can handle. 
This weekend, I visited my grandchildren.  It was good for me to remember how they think.  I realized that I almost always use some sort of incentive when the task is unpleasant for them.  "As soon as you're all dressed, you can choose a candy."  "When you have you're shoes on, we'll go outside and look for bugs for a few minutes."  "We have to leave the park now, but when we get home, we can read a story or eat some lunch."  I think I've always done that--avoided conflict by giving a positive picture of the outcome. 
BUT--here is a big caution.  Never give in when she cries.   If you start to dress her and she starts to cry, you can sympathize and console but, go ahead and get her dressed.  You don't want to teach her to cry.  Don't make it a long drawn out ordeal--simply say, "I'm really sorry.  I know that you hate getting dressed but we have to do it every single day."  Then do it.  Same with the car seat and brushing hair.  You can remain kind and calm but she needs to understand that these are not optional activities.
Now--about screaming.  I think I've mentioned before that I have a very low tolerance for noise.  Because of that, my children don't scream.  I'm convinced that because I hate it, I am very aware of it and respond quickly and that has conditioned my children against screaming.   And that makes me think that we can teach our children anything when we act swiftly and consistently.  "We never scream in the house...screaming is for outside."    "Remember...never in the house."   To make it more graphic, if they continue to scream, take their hand and walk outside.  When you get out there, invite them to scream.  "This is where we scream...but never in the house." Even when my kids' friends used to come and play, they quickly caught on to that rule.  Here's a cute story to back this up.  My Daughter Natalie doesn't let her children watch certain tv shows and tells them that they "give her a headache."  One day when one of those shows came on, Jack said, "Hurry!  Turn it off!  Mom will get a headache!"   Children will comply with any expectation if we are firm and consistent.  When we're hit or miss about it, they won't learn that we mean it.  I love clear limits.  And the best part is, our children love them too and thrive on them. 
Recognize of course, that your daughter is very young and be patient as you work with her.  As always, continue to do all the things that build a bond of love.  Smiles, hugs, true connection.  Love brings out the best in all of us.
And keep praying for help.  You're a good mom.
With love,

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How Do You Learn To Nurture?

The Question:
Dear Jane,
This is a two-part question.  I am the mother of an 8 month old boy.  My son was born at the beginning of my last year of law school, and I was fairly busy for a good part of his life.  I had a lot of help that last year from my husband and my neighbor, who both cared for my son, and now I am lucky enough to get to spend a lot more time with him.  Since I am now caring for my son all day, I am coming up short with ways to entertain him for such long periods of time.  We have "stations" all around the apartment where we move every 10-40 minutes on good days.  In addition, now that its warming up, we spend a lot of time outside.  He is able to entertain himself for longer periods in the morning, but gets fussier as the day goes on and won't be entertained easily.  He also takes a 1 hour nap in the morning and another 1 hour nap in the afternoon.  I'm running out of ideas to entertain the little guy.  What in the world do I do all day with a baby?
Additionally, I was just reading Elder Ballard's recent conference address entitled Mothers and Daughters, and I realized that my own mother didn't really teach me how to nurture.  My mother is a wonderful woman, but she failed to teach me how to "find joy in nurturing children" (that is something I have had to discover/am discovering on my own).  She worked outside the home throughout my childhood and places a high value on education, and although she didn't explicitly say it, looked down on the women at church who were stay-at-home mothers.  I don't judge my mother for her choices, but now that I've had a precious child, I find that the thing I want to do most is stay at home and raise my children.  But I find that nurturing doesn't necessarily come naturally.  My son is by all accounts a very easy baby and he's easy to love, but the nuts and bolts of nurturing are a bit elusive.  How do I learn to nurture? (and what exactly IS nurturing?)
Thank you so much for your advice, although I wish this is the kind of thing I could ask my own mother (as per Elder Ballard's talk).  I love your blog.

The Answer:

Dear Liz,
Thank you so much for your question, and for your humility.  You have obviously accomplished a great deal in the past few years and it's wonderful that you recognize your son as the best of accomplishments.
Your question actually brought back some memories for me.  I remember when I had just one little baby boy.   Older mothers would always comment that no one is busier than the mother of one.  And it's true--you are the entire entertainment committee!  But it sounds like you have some great little routines going and little by little (as you noticed), he will become more independent in his play.  It's a problem unique to the first child, I think.  After that, you hardly think about how to keep the baby occupied.  It just happens.  Other siblings help out or you get used to moving the baby from room to room with you while you go about your work.  I used to open up my pan cupboard and let the baby play while I fixed dinner, put them in a laundry basket with some toys while I folded clothes, etc.  But oldest babies, who get all that great one-on-one attention usually grow up with some special qualities.  Remember that no effort is wasted.   Your baby is surely benefiting from all of your attention and patience.
The second question, regarding nurturing, is really a good one.   What is nurturing and how do we learn to do it?  To me, nurturing means creating an environment in which my children can flourish and grow.  It means meeting all of their physical needs--keeping them fed and warm and safe.  And beyond that, it means surrounding them with love and security.
The ability to nurture seems to come naturally when we've been raised by a nurturer.   I was the youngest in my family so I didn't get to watch "nurturing" in action.  But when I was fifteen, we moved to a farm next to my two older sisters.  Babies were pure joy to both of them.  I remember many mornings when they would bring their new babies over.  My mother would drop everything and they would all ooo and ahhh and exclaim over the baby's smiles and coos.   They laughed as they told stories of their two-year-olds' antics.  Their children never seemed to be a hardship.  I can't express how much their attitudes and examples of love and nurture toward children impacted my life.  The moment my own son was born, I began to play and coo and connect with him.  You are right.  It's so much easier when you've seen it first-hand.
But your effort and desire to become a nurturer is so impressive.   You will learn how, and teach your children and they will know!   Explaining how to do it, has proven very difficult for me.  I've tried to analyze it and thing about it  and put it into words.  Here is my best effort.
 Remove all the barriers.  Your child is yours.  Don't be afraid you're going to break him or spoil him or "do it wrong."  Just enjoy him completely.  It's easy to get custodial--making sure our children are properly fed and scheduled and have regular check-ups.  There's nothing wrong with that but don't miss out on the fun and the joy.   I loved showing my baby new things, seeing him in new settings.  (I think we took Nick to the zoo for the first time when he was 3 months old and we were sure he loved the tigers.)  I took baths with my babies, rocked them and sang, played little games, showed them  flowers--showed them the world.  I really hated to miss any new experience my babies had. 
Make lots of eye contact and when you do, smile and talk.  I don't necessarily like "baby talk", but I think it's nice to use a light, loving voice with babies--a voice reserved just for them.  Your voice, your touch, your eye-contact, even your smell are very nurturing to your baby.  Kiss his soft little cheeks and neck.  Hold him tight against you and sing a little song that becomes familiar.  Our babies all learned to relax when we walked and hummed "Reverently, Quietly".  It was soothing to us and soothing to them.
In essence, when you really fall in love with your baby, when you could just eat him up...he's being nurtured.  If you resent him or love him with reservations, he is missing something.  In that case, give more of your deep self--not your custodial mother self, but your connecting self, to the relationship.  Pray to be "filled with love" for your child.  Look into his eyes and recognize his unique powerful little spirit.
I realize this might sound a little bit "new age" or  cosmic, but it's the only way I know to describe the deep invisible bond that needs to exist--that encourages real growth and security.  The whole relationship becomes symbiotic--mutually fulfilling.  Work at it until it does.  Since you were partially missing during his first few months, you might feel slightly estranged--as though others can do it better.  But you are his one and only mother.   And no person on earth can do what you can do in his life.
I really am proud of you for staying home with him and recognizing the value of your role when you would surely find more acclaim elsewhere.  I promise you, you've made a good choice.
All my love,

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Letter From Jane: 11-13 year old girls

The Question:

Will you write us about the 11-13 year old years when girls are becoming more socially aware, having problems with friends, developing their confidence..... I could get into our specific situation but thought it might be more helpful as a letter like you did with the babies. (Mine is an 11 year old, tom boy that is so little still and isn't accepted by the boys, can't stand the girls and their chatty, gossipy boy craziness, but wants a facebook and phone, and I want to keep her away from cyber bullies and the scary sexual world. So much for not getting into it........) 

The Answer:

Since most of our readers have very young children, I’d like to address this question from the ground up.  I believe there are many things we can do with and for our daughters while they are young, to prepare them for the pressure they’ll face when they reach their early teens.  Here are a few of my ideas. 

Live and teach modesty.  Buy them modest clothing when they are young.  Avoid sleeveless, bare tummies, super trendy or tight clothes.   Buy modest bathing suits and then have them wear a cover-up to and from the pool.  When they are young, you can actually shape their taste in clothes.    I used to love to look at magazines with my girls and point out how lovely the modest dresses were in contrast with the tacky, revealing ones.  By the time they were five or six, they really preferred the right kinds of clothes.
Keep them young.  I think that mothers sometimes encourage their daughters to grow up too fast.  We’re excited about make-up and school dances and boys that find our daughters attractive.  But all of those things will come in time (around 14-16) so hang on to childhood tenaciously.  If you’re lucky enough to have a little tom boy who still loves dogs more than boys and would rather ride bikes than go to the mall, enjoy it.  If your daughter has loved clothes and boys since she was two, do all you can to hold her back.  Set firm policies such as--no boy/girl parties or school dances until 14.
I'll admit right up front that I have pretty strong views about cell phones, facebook and i-pods.  I might be a little old-fashioned, but my children are the last ones on the block to have them.  Facebook can be fun when limited and monitored.  But it can encourage superficial relationships and expose children to too much too soon.  We don’t allow it until 14 and even then, for a limited time each day.  I-pods keep a constant stream of noise in our children’s lives—right during the years when they most need the still, small voice.  My children can have one when they’re 16 (if they still want it).  I’ve found that by then, they have the maturity to use it in moderation and to choose better music.  That applies to cell phones as well and no texting til they leave home.  I know—it’s extreme but I like my children to be with the people they’re with—not somewhere else.  And I like them to have real conversations.  Maybe these limits keep them out of the loop but that’s ok.  I’m not sure I like the loop! 

The world and all of its influences are going to pour in on our children.  We can’t prevent that.  But time and maturity are our best friends.  A sixteen year old is old and wise enough to handle so much more than a girl of eleven.  As parents, we really can regulate the social pace of our daughters’ lives by what we encourage and allow.

And let me add, that this is the point at which “parenting with love” begins to really pay off.  We’ve spent years building a strong, loving relationship and even though these years bring natural separation and independence, in many ways, they bring a new level of closeness.  Never argue.  Give lots of hugs.  Listen.  Be loving and accepting but hold the line.  Hopefully your daughter will love the commandments and standards as much as you do.

I had four daughters in a row.  They’re all grown up and are pure joy to me.  They’re my friends and companions.  And I have an eleven year old now who loves dogs.  She’ll notice boys pretty soon but I’m not in a hurry. 

May the Lord bless you in your efforts as you raise your daughters.  There isn’t a more rewarding work. 

With Love,

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Daughter Becoming Less Attached?

The Question:

Hi Jane

I'm glad I came across your blog and I read it all up immediately. It was reassuring to know that what I feel is completely normal and I also got loads of information and much needed advice.

A little about me - I live in India and I have a 3 year old daughter whom I love to death. I am a full time working mom (work from 7AM to 7PM), feel terribly guilty everyday when I leave home to work.My Husband and I live with my parents, so my parents look after my girl while I am out. I am so lucky, they take care of her better than I do and I dont have to worry a bit about her :)

I resumed work after she turned 1 and we both went through difficult times adjusting and getting used to being without each other.Slowly it became a routine and she was fine when I was at work. The time that I spent at home (Evenings and weekends), she would cling onto me, want me to do everything for her, play with her, she would cry if i went out without her...I just loved it. Everything was so perfect. I mean, a working mother's biggest fear is that her child will not need her anymore. But that was not the case with me and my other friends who worked quite envied me.

Of late ( last 3 weeks to be precise), my daughter does not need me as much as used to. She is ok with anyone handling her (feeding, taking her to the bathroom, changing clothes etc). there are times she runs to my mother for things that earlier she wanted only me to do. No matter what she always wanted me to sleep with at night. But now she snuggles up to her dad while I lay down alone wishing for her. I HATE the fact that she does not need me anymore. Its not that she wants to be independent or something, its just that earlier whatever she wanted only me to do, she is now Ok with anyone doing it. She is a sweet little girl, she is lucky to have both sets of grandparents around who absolutely adore her. This time when we went for the weekly visit to my in-Laws place, she wanted my MIL to do everything for her. I am sad and feel like any other member in the house. I used to feel so special when she wanted me always and now it does not matter whether I am around. She is just happy with who ever is there. I feel so terrible, but i cannot think of quitting my job as I cannot afford it right now.

There have been such phases earlier but did not last for more than 2 days.I am so low and sad. I want my daughter to need and want me..

The Answer:
Dear friend,

I really feel your sadness and I’m so sorry for your situation.  I’m guessing that your daughter is pulling away for two reasons.  First, she is getting a bit older and more independent in general, and second, she is accepting the truth of her life.  You are a person that she sees for only a few hours each day.   I believe that children always have a special bond with their mother and a longing to be near them.  I think she misses you a great deal.  But she has learned to accept her life and she is very blessed to be surrounded by so many people who love her.  When you think about it, you wouldn’t want your daughter to be so devoted to you that her everyday life was continually sad and miserable.

 Is there any hope of changing your situation?  These years with you are precious and passing quickly.  If not, you’ll have to accept the fact that your daughter needs to divide her affection.  If she senses that her love for others hurts you, it will be unfair and confusing.  She’s just a wonderful little girl—functioning in the life she’s been given.

I really feel your love for your daughter and that you don’t like your situation.  I hope it can change and you can be with her more of the time.

With Love,


Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Letter From Jane: Mother's Day

Dear Readers,

It’s Mother’s Day.  I woke up this morning thinking of you—of your humble, sincere questions and of your beautiful children.  I thought about how you’ve blessed my life—how happy I am just knowing that you’re waking up this morning to your children….again.  They’re young—most of them and don’t know how to really honor you today.  They might make a card for you at church.  They’ll give you hugs and kisses.  If you’re lucky, your on-the-ball husband helped them buy you a gift.  But, truly, they don’t understand yet what you are to them or how to adequately honor you.  You are like breathing to them—as natural as air.  They don’t understand yet that your love is shaping their life—that your constant presence is what makes them feel safe as they explore the world. 

My sister, Judy, died many years ago and left five children—ages 15 down to 3.  I was expecting my first baby when she died.  Seeing that little row of children sitting in front of me at their mother’s funeral was the most heart-breaking scene of my life.  She had been a wonderful mother.  She had fully devoted herself to those little children and now she was gone.  It seemed unbelievable that most of them would not remember her and how she loved them.  And it’s true.  Her daughter Chris was 10 when she died and years later, she had only a few isolated memories of her mother.  But each of the five children have turned out to be wonderful people and exceptional parents.  They have her dry humor and wise perspective.  Many people have had a hand in their lives, but I know that Judy’s love was there during their most formative years.  The mother they can’t remember shaped them and set their course for life.

Most of what you do each day for your little ones will not be remembered.   They will definitely thank you some day and feel genuine gratitude.  But they won’t recall a fraction of the daily experiences you’ve given them—the time you cut their sandwiches into heart shapes, the nights you read two extra stories even though you couldn’t keep your eyes open, the day you walked out to get the mail together and noticed the crocuses popping through. Last year, my daughter Marlee sent me this poem on Mother’s Day.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

The Lanyard

By: Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Nothing will ever make you even.  There is no gift or card or expression of gratitude that will hit the mark—the “thank you, Mom” mark.  But today something happened that came close.  My son—sixteen years old, blessed the sacrament for the first time.  I was sitting so close that I could watch his clean hands break the bread.  I heard his mild voice say the words to the prayer.   In this filthy world, he is worthy.  He honors me with his clean life.  It’s all I want from him.  Our eyes locked for a few moments after he sat down and there weren’t words to frame my love and gratitude—for him, for the Savior’s emblems, for the gospel that guides us together.  No Mother’s Day geranium was needed.

So accept the many silent honors your children bestow upon you each day.  When your 2-year-old shares a toy, when your daughter speaks oh so gently to the baby, when your son picks up all of his cars cheerfully.  Those honors will increase in magnitude as the years unfold and there will be echoes of your efforts even in the lives of your grandchildren.  Your careful acts of love and teaching that seem at times to evaporate into thin air, are actually settling and sinking in and they will all bear fruit in time.

The world honors you today.  I do too.  But in their own unique little ways, each of your children honors you best of all.

With Love,


Friday, May 7, 2010

What To Do About More Complex Problems?

The Question:

Dear Jane,
I guess I still don't get it.  I don't have a clear picture of what your discipline looks like.  I liked the example that you gave of your child coming home late, and thinking about how you would want to be treated if you were late- it makes sense, and I have been able to apply it to some situations at home with great success.  But, I get stuck when it gets more complex- like one kid saying something hurtful to another, or when the older kids aren't willing to allow the younger kids to play with them or share with them.  Or when someone back talks to me.  Then what?  Please help me to understand.  I want to do better.  I have so many questions- but this one is at the top of the list!  Thank you!

The Answer:

Dear Friend,

I wish I had a blueprint or a manual that would cover every situation.  I remember longing for one of those myself!   But I haven’t found one and I couldn’t write one.  It’s your privilege to decide what the climate of your home will be and how to create it.  My suggestions are really just general principles to guide you in that process.  

Let’s look at one of your concerns:  When older kids aren’t willing to allow the younger kids to play with them.

You’ve identified that as a problem in your home.  You know that you could force the older kids to play with the younger ones—but that won’t work.  It will breed resentment and contention.  You could set up a reward system in which older children earn points for including younger ones.  That would solve the problem on a superficial level, but again, you would be policing and orchestrating the situation.  What you really want is for your children to care about each other on a deeper level--enough that they would feel bad leaving one another out.  Encouraging and building those feelings in our children is possible—but it isn’t done overnight and it demands deeper thought and prayer on your part.

Spend some time thinking and praying about the situation.  Actually, all the concerns you talked about fall into the category of love and respect in your home.  The climate in your home is bothering you and you want to change it.  Know that the Lord wants you to succeed and he will inspire you with ideas.  I’ve been amazed again and again at the inspiration that begins to flow into my mind when I humbly seek it—insights that I would not have had, solutions that were so much simpler than I thought.  The solutions fit my family, my personality, my situation.  Some examples of this type of revelation might be:

I see that I am part of the problem.  The way that I am speaking, acting or treating my children is not modeling the behavior I’m hoping to see in them.

I see that one of my children is needy—discouraged or overlooked and therefore crippled when it comes to giving of himself in the family.

I feel impressed to talk to my older children about my vision for our family and enlist their aid in accomplishing it.

I might really see the point of view of my older children and have the ability to sympathize with their position when it comes to younger siblings.    When they feel understood and accepted, they naturally become more generous.

I might feel inspired to temporarily set up that point system I discussed earlier, as a way of turning the tide and raising awareness.

The general principles that I use involve teaching and loving, instead of continual discipline for failure.  These principles are especially effective when it comes to teaching love in the home.  It’s ironic when children are spanked for hitting or sent to their room for isolating a sibling.  Creating a loving environment, encourages love.  You model kindness when you speak kindly.  You teach patience when you are patient.  Most teen-agers who are disrespectful, are often spoken to disrespectfully, forcefully, and in ways that belittle.

I have often told my children over the years that this is our home, our family.  We knew each other before we came here and we hoped we’d be friends.  We get to decide how we want it to be.  I think it’s very important to keep the larger picture in view for everyone to see, to shoot for the ideal.

And one last thought.  When it comes to love in the home, my greatest asset (besides the Lord) is my oldest child.  Enlist their aid.  Give them lots of special attention and help them feel the weight of their role in the success of your family.  They very often set the tone.  As our children have left one by one, the next child steps into that role and becomes a great strength to us as they mature personally.  I would start fostering that role and relationship early.

Going back to your original question, I don’t really think of this as a “method of discipline”.  I don’t really discipline or punish.  I expect and teach and do everything I can to create an environment that will bring about success.

With Love,