Tuesday, March 29, 2011

How Being A Working Mom Has Changed How I Shop

There's nothing like a little retail therapy to perk a girl up... so what happens when you become a crazy working mom with barely 5 minutes to spare in a day?  I remember the long leisurely afternoons spent either with girlfriends or alone browsing through stores and SHOPPING.  These days, I almost never shop in stores.  The best it gets is a rush to the mall on my lunch hour with a very short and detailed list.  Gotta go, get in and get out.  The only exception would be when I'm traveling for work and I find myself with a blessed few extra hours.  But that really is a rarity.

And that's where online shopping enters my picture.  I have become a PRO at shopping online.  The girls at work make fun of me as everything from my vitamins, photos, clothes, books, etc. get delivered to the office.  Need to buy a gift?  No problem... I buy birthday gifts from Toys 'R Us for my niece/nephew in Toronto, gift certificates for my family, presents for my husband... all online.  Although you don't get the shopper's high of touching, feeling and trying things on, you do get that great lift when the package arrives! 

I have to say, I've been pretty lucky that most of what I have bought clothes-wise has actually fit.  Once you find a store where you know the sizing and what styles suit your body, it's not so hit and miss.  I love getting things on sale at Victoria Secret - they have great deals, their clothes fit me well and they're really cute!  I buy skin care from Sephora, order pictures from Kodak Gallery and workout DVDs from Amazon... to name a few.  And I'm not alone - according to an article on Marketwire, 83% of consumers are shopping online at least once a week!  In addition, more and more consumers are using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to look up retailers.  I am all about reading reviews on Amazon before making a purchase.  It's amazing how social media has influenced our buying patterns.

Time really is precious and the internet has really changed how many women shop.  Now with all of the mobile apps available, shopping is yet to face another evolution.  They have apps where you can scan a barcode and you can find out the cheapest place to buy.  Imagine standing in a store (if you actually make it in one), trying something on, and then scanning the ticket to find it at a much better deal (either online or at another store)... it will force retailers to become much more competitive.  And if you buy online, more and more sites offer free shipping... or at least free shipping with a purchase over $50-$75.  Of course there is always the worry about how secure your credit card is when used online, but look for secure sites with an SSL certificate.  All major retailers have one.  I have to say (knock on wood) that my husband and I have had more trouble with our cards being compromised when used in-store than online.  My husband recently had his bank card compromised when he used it at one of our own bank's ATM machines!

So online shopping has become just one more way for me to find balance in my crazy life.  It can't completely replace the in-store shopping experience, but it sure comes in as a close second!  You certainly can't beat it where convenience and comfort are concerned, not to mention choice, choice, choice!  Just like I always say you can pretty much find an article on anything on the web, so too can you find any product.  Happy shopping girls!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sibling Love & Rivalries - Can You Make Them Play Nice?

I've been noticing lately that my kids are actually starting to play with each other.  I think it's the best thing ever to see this.  My daughter, who is 4, has pretty much always looked up to her 6 year old brother.  She looks at him with adoration (as you can see from this picture).  However, she is also a master at pushing all of his buttons and can drive him crazy.  She is totally mischievous in this way.

Up until this recent change, it seemed like everything was a contest or rivalry between the two - if you bought something for one , you had to buy for the other, if one wanted to sit on your lap, then the other just had to sit on your lap too, they fought over who should be washed first in the bath, who gets to use the bathroom first before bed (heaven forbid one of them go downstairs to use that bathroom), etc. etc..... I can keep going but the list would be as long as an entire post.  I think you get where I'm going.  In any case, I'm thrilled that now these rivalries are interspersed with some good solid play and fun between the two.

My brother and I definitely had our ups and downs growing up.  My husband on the other hand, has always been extremely close with his brother and sister.  He feels this is because while growing up, his parents insisted that they get along and be kind to one another, as well as reinforced their affection for one another.  Well, it's not like my parents encouraged my brother and I to fight!  I think some siblings just fight more than others.  It's very possible that some siblings are just different people with different personalities and so end up not as close as others. 

As I watch my kids interact, it makes me wonder how much of what I do now will ultimately determine the relationship they will have when they are older.  Obviously, I hope that they will be best friends, support one another and have a close and lasting bond.  I also know it's completely natural for there to be rivalries and fights so I don't sweat those too much.  As it stands, I am always encouraging them to play nicely together and always reminding them to be kind to each other.  I tell them they will always have each other as a friend to play with and that they need to stick together and stick up for one another.  Here are some other things I have tried:
  • let them have unstructured play time together so they can make up their own games (this seems to be working well right now)
  • give them certain activities to do together i.e. an art project
  • play together all of us i.e. board games or puzzles
  • have them do favors for one another ie.. I had my son make my daughter something for her birthday
  • have my son try and teach my daughter something he knows how to do
I'm really looking forward to the warmer weather when we can go back to playing outside.  Last fall they didn't have all that much interaction together, it was more parallel play.  It will also be very interesting when my daughter starts pre-K and will be in the same school as her brother again.  Will he be the protective older brother?  I hope so!

I always joke that their relationship is so important because as they grow older, who else will they turn to when mom or dad does something embarrassing?  Who else will get things in our family dynamic quite like the other?  Who else will be there when one day they only have each other?  If there is anything else I can possibly do to foster this closeness between them, I am there! 

I found a great article on the City of Ottawa website.  I think it has some really good tips on how to promote positive sibling relationships and on what to do when arguments occur.  They actually give you statements to use when dealing with certain emotions.  For example, if the emotion is "Accept all feelings but not all behaviour children display", the statement you would use is “It’s okay to feel jealous, but it is not okay to hurt.” See the full chart below...

Another interesting read is one on Family TLC about the ups and downs of sibling relationships.  This article provides some great tips for handling the older sibling.  There is no doubt that how siblings interact with one another will ultimately impact their development - a study from Concordia University clearly demonstrates this point.  How we as parents handle these interactions, will also surely influence their behaviour.  So much responsibility!

As a parent I think it's completely normal and acceptable to have different relationships with each child, however, I am uber careful to treat them as equally as possible.  I would never want one of my children to feel as if the other is favored or that one is more special than the other (although they may feel that way anyway - it's natural).  I think they need to know they each have a voice and that they will be heard, whether or not I agree with their actions.  I will try to be a positive role model and foster their unique qualities while still trying to create our family dynamic.  In other words, like most things part of being a mom, I will forage ahead one day at a time, follow my gut and hope that I am doing the best that I can...  

Show children how to co-operate with each other by setting the rules together.“Lets take turns” or “Please ask first before you borrow my book.”
Let children try to work it out on their own, if appropriate. Young toddlers may need your guidance.Show a young child how to trade for another toy. “Can we trade?” or “Let’s take turns.”
Step in only when there is a danger of someone becoming physically or emotionally hurt.“Name calling is not allowed” or “We do not hit. EVER!” “Fighting is not how we solve problems.”
Teach children how to avoid conflicts, such as leaving the room and having a quiet time.“You look like you need to be alone,” “Count to ten” or “Do you need to talk about how you feel?”
Separate children if necessary. They will learn to think before they act.“You can try to play together later but right now you need to be apart.”
Remind children of the rules your family has set.“Respect another person’s feelings” or “Do not hit.”
Use consequences to deal with unacceptable behaviour. Give children choices.“Share the crayons or I will put them away” or “You have a choice, play without fighting or play on your own.”
Use humour to diffuse the situation.“Yelling hurts my ears.”
Try to stay calm. “I see fighting” or “Let’s talk this out.”

When arguments or fights happen

Show children how to co-operate with each other by setting the rules together.“Lets take turns” or “Please ask first before you borrow my book.”
Let children try to work it out on their own, if appropriate. Young toddlers may need your guidance.Show a young child how to trade for another toy. “Can we trade?” or “Let’s take turns.”
Step in only when there is a danger of someone becoming physically or emotionally hurt.“Name calling is not allowed” or “We do not hit. EVER!” “Fighting is not how we solve problems.”
Teach children how to avoid conflicts, such as leaving the room and having a quiet time.“You look like you need to be alone,” “Count to ten” or “Do you need to talk about how you feel?”
Separate children if necessary. They will learn to think before they act.“You can try to play together later but right now you need to be apart.”
Remind children of the rules your family has set.“Respect another person’s feelings” or “Do not hit.”
Use consequences to deal with unacceptable behaviour. Give children choices.“Share the crayons or I will put them away” or “You have a choice, play without fighting or play on your own.”
Use humour to diffuse the situation.“Yelling hurts my ears.”
Try to stay calm. “I see fighting” or “Let’s talk this out.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

Disgusting! I May Never Take My Kids To The Park Again!

This week I've been on the sick kid topic quite a bit... so I thought I would just finish off the week and talk about germs.  I watched this video on Parents TV and I've got to tell you, OMG, I think ignorance may just be bliss!

Just to share the fun, I thought I would give you some of the highlights: 
  • Did you know that the playground has way more bacteria than a public bathroom? Makes sense since at least the public bathroom does get cleaned but the playground never does. 
  • And the sandbox?  Well, guess squirrels and birds amongst other outdoor animals use that as their public bathroom. 
  • Apparently water fountains are dirtier than a public toilet seat - so even if your kids don't put their mouth on it, the water still passes by the opening of the fountain (even if you let the water run for a few seconds first). 
  • Grocery carts are also a germ fest - think about the person who touches the raw meat package that may be dripping on the bottom... well, hands are going back on the handles to push the cart. Yuck.
  • How about this one - the keyboard and mouse on school computers - they're dirtier than a door knob!  They supposedly never get cleaned.
  • And just a few more before I completely gross you out... public high chairs (they may get wiped, but probably not sanitized), elevator buttons, phones, your kitchen sink, wet laundry (what??? who knew), ATM machines and the remote control.  I think I'll stop there or we're all going to end up with some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder!
The unfortunate part is that the "tip" list is very short here on how to avoid all the germs:  wash or sanitize your hands as much as possible and don't put your hands near your mouth, nose or eyes.  Yup, that's about it.  Unless you want to lock yourself away somewhere.  And that doesn't really work for your kids.  I did find some generic tips on eHow for battling germs in the classroom, but not sure how helpful they really will be.  With younger children, it's really about the battle of keeping their hands out of their mouths.  If I could count the times I've told my kids not to put their hands in their mouths, I'd most certainly be a millionaire by now.  With so many colds, coughs and the flu going around right now, it's bound to hit the majority of households.  So I leave you with this video on cold and flu treatment and prevention tips from Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford...  and here's to staying well!  Have a good weekend.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

How Do You Know When Your Kids Are Faking Or Lying?

If you are up-to-date on my posts, you'll know that my daughter has been sick this past week.  Yesterday, she didn't want to go to day care and she said she wasn't feeling well.  She had no temperature, she seemed perky enough (I had to chase her around the house to get her dressed) and there was just the leftover cough.  Usually the leftover cough can last for quite some time so I usually discount this.  So I was torn, do I send her or keep her home?  I decided to send her and according to her teachers, she was perfectly fine all day.  This morning she once again said she didn't feel well... I went with the assumption that she was fine.  But how do you really know?

I don't think it takes long for them to figure out that faking sick means they get to stay home and watch TV and have meals served on trays in bed... well, makes me want to fake being sick too!  When they were younger toddlers, I didn't have to deal with this - it was much easier to know whether they were sick or not. 

Last week, my daughter got her arm caught in a drawer and it left a mark.  She did the whole freak out, drama queen thing and I consoled her.  When she finally calmed down, she wanted to go back upstairs and she told me she needed help and started limping.  I'm like whaaaat?  You hurt your arm, not your leg!  It was actually pretty funny. 

My son too will milk things as much as he can.  With him, however, I also sometimes question whether I am getting the truth on the accounts of his day.  He has a very active imagination.  Yesterday he told me he had a bad day because one of the friends grabbed the ball from him in gym and pushed him and that another friend hit him in the head for no reason.  I tried to get more details on exactly what happened but he was not all that forthcoming.  I find this a tricky situation... I don't want to presume he did something to elicit these actions from his friends, but at the same time, it's hard to believe that they did these things strictly out of the blue.  I'm not one of those moms who thinks their child is perfect - I know he's still a 6 year old boy and is not always innocent.  On the other hand, what if they really did do it out of the blue and I'm asking what he did to "ask for it"?  Then I'd feel absolutely horrible!

So I did a little digging... I found an article on eHow giving pretty good tips on how to know when your child is faking sick... mainly, looking for actual symptoms to some of the more subjective complaints.  For example, they say sore throat, take a flash light and check for redness or mucous in the back of their throat.  For me, another dead giveaway is if the "ailment" moves around the body i.e. one minute they have a headache, then next it's a stomach ache.  I also think their eyes are a dead giveaway - when they are ill, they are usually droopy and dull looking.  I believe this is one of those cases where you really have to know your child and trust your intuition!

As for the lying part, now that's a little harder in my opinion.  I've always told my son (my daughter is still a bit young for this) that he will be in more trouble for lying about something, than the something he feels he actually did wrong.  I guess the first thing I need to ask is why would he lie?  According to an article on About.com, here are some possible reasons:

  • To play with you;

  • Because he thinks it is funny;

  • To gain control of you or a situation;

  • To avoid punishment;

  • To cast blame on someone else;

  • Because of fear or anxiety;

  • To avoid doing something they do not want to do; or

  • Because of jealousy.

  • OK, I get it.  But how do you know????  Sometimes my son won't make eye contact when he's talking to me, but that's usually when I'm asking the questions.  If he's telling me a story, he's definitely looking me in the eye.  He otherwise doesn't fidget or have other body language that would give him away.  But I don't think that he's lying every time he doesn't make eye contact.  So I am once again relying on my gut... but I'm not so comfortable on the old mother's intuition thing in this situation.  I know that all children lie at some point, just as we adults can often tell little white lies.  Obviously as role models, our kids see these white lies and perhaps they can't differentiate between the two?  I'm really at a loss here... despite my digging on the internet!  I guess you can't always find what you looking for on the web ;-)  So if you have any further insight, I would truly appreciate hearing from you!

    That said, there was an abundance of information on what to do if your child is lying.  I figure since I couldn't really give you much on figuring out the "if" part, I might as well give you some details on what do when you know they are lying to you. Other than be a good role model and encourage truthfulness, here are some great tips from a site called Bardos.  They say prevention is the first rule:
    • Keep your word. Kids learn integrity by seeing it. There is no such thing as inconsistent integrity. Teach and live honesty.
    • If you do lie, admit it and correct it immediately. Remember the cardinal rule of child development is “Monkey see. Monkey do.”
    • Young children can not tell the difference between “white lies” and serious lies. Maybe they are on to something we as adults could emulate.
    • Keep rules simple, reasonable and consistent. This gives them fewer reasons to feel like they “have” to lie. It also makes your parenting job easier.
    • Praise them when they tell the truth, especially when it was hard for them. Make it easy for children to be honest.
    • Assume the truth is being told first. Otherwise, 1. mistrust will be bred, 2. they will learn to become sneakier, and 3. they will learn that telling the truth does not really matter anyway.
     And then if you do catch them lying:
    • Stay calm. Do not take the lie personally. Choose to respond effectively, not angrily.
    • Seek out why your child is lying. Assume the best. Do not accuse. Instead, inquire.
    • Emphasize that the behavior was not okay, but that your child is okay. You love her, not her behavior. Thus consequences are given to discipline (e.g., teach, instruct) the child’s behavior not to punish the child. This keeps the child more open to confessing next time. Remember, punishment breeds fear and more often than not the child will be more likely to conceal faults and lies to avoid punishment.
    • Do not force a confession. Give your child a chance to tell the truth. He may need time alone to consider his choices. Let patience prevail over anger. We want to help our children to open up, not force them to. This is important because young children grow into teenagers and we will need this skill all the more then. If we do not develop it now we can not expect to wait to develop it then when it is much harder.
    • Do not call your child on a lie in front of others. Respect and discretion breeds the same.
    • Do not lecture. Ask her what her thoughts are about what impact lying has on herself and others. Share your observations with her when she is done.
    • Wonder instead of accuse. “I wonder who did this?” opens people up more to the truth since they are not put on the defensive than “Did you do this?” does.
    • Don’t play games or give your child a chance to practice further lying by asking, “Where were you just now?” If you know the truth, say it and deal with it.
    • If the lies are about getting attention let your child know that he does not need to make up stories for you to love him. Seek little and big ways to give him some extra doses of attention. Attention is a powerful medicine.
    • Share the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Again, do not lecture, but share and inquire.
    • Adolescents need a good deal of privacy. Give them what they need within reason and they willl have less to “hide” from you.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    If I Could Live My Dream Life... What Would It Be?

    It's so easy to bitch about what we don't like in our lives, but have you ever stopped to think if you could make a wish and your dream life would come true, what it would be?  I used to always say that my dream was to own a bed and breakfast somewhere tropical with an amazing spa and cuisine.  But just as so many things change when you become a mom, my dream life is no longer a realistic one (even for a dream life).  I can't imagine raising my kids on a tropical island and not giving them the best possible opportunities in life to succeed in the modern world.  So if that is no longer my dream life, then what is?

    I had to stop and really think about it.  It's important to recognize your dream life, or how else will you work to achieve what will most make you happy?  Perhaps you can't live the full blown version of that dream, but you can certainly try and incorporate as many aspects as realistically possible.

    So stop for a second.... you have all the money you could possibly need, you can do any type of work you want, and you can live anywhere in the world... what do you come up with?

    Here's what I came up with...  although it does assume certain aspects of my current life i.e. husband & children, as well as the givens such as good health.
    • Live somewhere hot!  I hate winter with a passion, it totally depresses me.
    • Work for myself, from home - I think I would love to be a writer.  Starting this blog has been a real reminder that I've always loved to write... when I was little, I thought I would grow up to be a journalist.  I'm just not quite sure what type of writer I would want to be.
    • Travel and see the world - there are so many places I would like to see.  I would love to give my children the opportunity to experience and learn about the world and everything in it first-hand.
    • Be free to be there for my children and husband whenever, wherever it may be.
    • Have TIME to enjoy the things I love to do, as well as to do something charitable to make the world a better place.
    When I look back at this, it's actually not a long list - only 5 bullets!  Not bad... of course it does assume money is no object, which as we know, dictates quite a lot about how we live our lives.  Now, if only I could come up with a strategy.... or win the lottery.

    All that aside, I do believe you can create a list, believe that you deserve the items on that list, and then take small steps to achieve some of those dreams.  One thing I've learned in life is that if you don't try, you don't get.  So sitting back and complaining will not make the things you don't like disappear, only taking action can evoke change.  And boy, is it ever gratifying when you take things into your own hands and make things happen.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Oh, The Guilt Of The Working Mom - Nobody Told Me...

    I've always been an over-achiever.  Straight A student, scholarships, sports... I would say pretty much anything I've put my mind to, I've succeeded at... at least to varying degrees.  So although before becoming a mom I had heard all about the struggle for balancing career and parenthood and the "having it all" lifestyle, nobody told me about the tremendous amount of guilt that also comes part and parcel.

    There are days I just feel like a failure because at the end of the day, I just can't "do it all" without making some sacrifices.  My daughter has been home sick for the last 2 days and I want nothing more than to be there to nurture her back to health.  She woke up this morning just as I was heading out the door at 6:30am and she was clinging to me and I felt like total utter crap as I had to pull away and leave.  When I got home yesterday, she was sitting listlessly on the bed with a fever and all she wanted was to sit curled in my arms.  I want to be there for her terribly and I truly hate this feeling.  Even when I know she's in good hands at home, oh, the guilt when I can't take care of her myself.

    Then there are the school plays, concerts, graduation ceremonies, etc. (I'm including the day care ones here) that get held during working hours and you know how badly your child will feel if he or she is one of the few without a parent in the audience.  But how do you tell work you're going to miss a 1/2 day because your 3 year old is performing in her day care concert?  Last spring my husband was able to make it but because I wasn't there, my daughter sat through the entire concert without uttering a word and with the saddest face you've ever seen (they took pictures - just to add insult to injury).  She was looking through the crowd for me as she entered the room... but I wasn't there.

    How is it even remotely possible to give 100% to being a mom and 100% to your career?  It's not ... so in come the sacrifices.  The weighing of each situation to see which takes priority.  Who will be most upset or who loses out the most this time around?  But each time you take a risk - a risk that your child is ultimately going to pay long term because you were unavailable too many times, or a risk that your work will be pissed off because you've missed to many hours due to child-related responsibilities.  I know I'm not alone in this - just check out this article from the Cincinnati Enquirer about parents juggling the choice of staying home with a sick child or sending them to school sick in order not to miss work... Obviously having an understanding employer goes a long way in making this struggle easier, but even still, I totally understand that at the end of the day, all employers have a business to run.  And then there's whether you love or hate your job - when you love what you do, it makes those decisions that much more agonizing! 

    Last week there was a segment on Fox News talking about how women actually have more guilt over working than men.  It's true, I don't think my husband feels the same way.  I think that as a mom, we are the ones who are expected to be there for our children.  Probably because we have been the primary caregiver for so long throughout history.  Should we be taking a lesson from our husbands???

    I know there is so much out there on the "to work" or "not to work" debate and the effect the decision can have on our children.  I think most of the research, however, shows that children of working moms turn out just fine... (i.e. article in Family Education).  This does help in removing some of the guilt I carry around.  I do think a lot depends on the type of woman you are - if you know you would not be a good mom if you were home full time, then that helps you feel less guilty working.  If you think you can do with less (if working is about money) and be happier at home, then that works for that situation.  Your children benefit when as a mom, you're also doing what makes you happy.  I do feel it is essential that we don't lose our sense of self when we become a parent.  By maintaining our identity as women, we can be stronger role models to our kids.

    Personally, I love to work and to be challenged - I don't think I could stay home full time and be fulfilled.  However, I wish, oh I wish, that I could work just a little bit less so I can have a few extra hours with my children every day.  Even just enough to alleviate that feeling of being rushed so much of the time.  I think if I had my dream situation, it would be to work 9 to 3, 4 days a week.  But I think I would even take either 4 days at my current hours, or 5 days at 9 to 3 and be ecstatic.  Who knows, maybe one day that will happen.  The question remains however, will that be enough to alleviate all of my guilt?  I'm not sure, but I think it would go a long way in that direction! So in the meantime, here's a video I found providing some tips on dealing with working mom guilt!

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    How Do You Teach Your Kids To Be Grateful & Empathetic?

    So, first off.  Princess Party on Saturday... a hit!  Check it out!

    Yummy cake - red velvet!  Came from Simply Sweet.

    Now that we have that out of the way.... my daughter did a couple of things on the day of her party that were cringe-worthy.  The first was as follows... as I was making a play date for her with one of her little friends, she said in front of another little friend that she didn't want any more play dates with her.  She said it twice.  The second thing she did was after opening all of her presents (thankfully at home) she started to cry and said "Is that all of the presents I got???".  Wow.  I know she just turned 4 (officially today... although she's spending her birthday at home sick), but wow again. 

    That begs the question, when do children learn to feel both gratitude and empathy?  And how do you teach those qualities?  My responses to these two incidents were as follows:  (1) "Of course you still want a play date with your friend, don't be silly" as I tried to make light of the matter.  And later, I said to her that although she may or may not want a future play date with her friend, that saying it front of her would really hurt her feelings (and gave the example if it was said about her... wouldn't she feel bad?).  I told her it's OK to think certain things but that we don't always want to say them out loud.  This was a tough one because you can't force a child to like and want to play with another child, so she should be free to make those choices.  It was really more trying to teach her not to hurt other's feelings. 

    (2) With respect to the comment about the presents, I tried to point out all of the great gifts she got.  When that didn't work, I tried the old, "Well, if you don't want them, I'm sure there is another little girl who would be more than happy to have them!".  You can imagine she didn't like that very much.  All of a sudden, the gifts looked much better again and not another word was said on the topic.

    Now I don't want to give my daughter a bad rap here, she's truly a very generous child and great at sharing.  But she's still a child (so don't hold this stuff against her!).  So I question myself, did I do the right thing?  Did I handle this well?  Was there something else I could have said?  It's difficult at this age to say things in a way that they will understand and ultimately, be able to grasp the concepts.

    My son's school is doing a fundraiser tomorrow on International Water Day to raise money for the victims in Japan.  I'm not quite sure at 6 years old that he can grasp the magnitude of this natural disaster (nor can many of us adults) but I think it's essential to teach him to be charitable and to want to help others.

    Is it only through our repetitive actions as parents that these traits become a part of a child's personality, or is it a maturity thing?  Not all people end up being empathic - some definitely more so than others (or to be grateful for the good things in their life).  Is that because their parents didn't teach them or because it was just not part of their personality?  I found an article about teaching your child how to be grateful - it was mostly about setting an example.  One thing I did try with my son that seemed to really work was to have him tell me 3 things each night before going to bed that he was grateful for from his day (in kid speak - what were the three things that made you happy today?).  It seemed to also end the day on a good note before going to sleep.

    Teaching empathy, on the other hand is a little harder.  I found another article (there is ALWAYS an article) that says children don't really learn this until they are 8 or 9.  Basically, we need to help them understand what it is by labeling the emotion, praising the behaviour and labeling others behaviour so they learn what it is.  It was actually quite a good list of suggestions.

    I guess at some stage, there is a transition from being in the "me" phase, to gradually being aware of how the rest of the world is affected by your behaviour.  And then of course, what you do with that recognition.  I think we are all born with the capacity for empathy, but that it definitely needs to be nurtured for it to fully bloom.  So for now, I will continue to do my best and try and teach my children to be kind, grateful and generous and hope the lessons stick - it's all I can do.

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    What's The Deal With Kids' Birthday Parties These Days?

    Tomorrow is my daughter's 4th Birthday party.  She's having a full blown princess party that is being held at a princess castle.  They will dress them up as princesses, teach them how to be a proper princess, do a princess craft and read princess stories.  She will have a princess castle cake, and surely receive lots of princess birthday presents from her 10 little princess friends who are attending.  My son and his cousin will no doubt be hanging with the parents and playing their respective DS games (although they are welcome to dress up as knights or princes and partake in the festivities).

    When I was a kid, I think I may have had one birthday party at McDonalds.  The rest were at home - usually in our basement.  Perhaps my mom set up a craft or a game of some sort, but otherwise, we simply played.  I actually asked my mom this morning if we ever went to birthday parties like the kids have today and she said that on the odd occasion, someone got a clown or something.  But that was considered extravagant. 

    So when did this evolution of the blow out birthday party come about???  I guess sometime between when I was a kid and when I had kids.  I know, kind of a big window.  I remember back in the late 90's my cousin threw her little one a party in the park and had an entire petting zoo... so my best estimate would be sometime in the 90's? 

    In any case, if you don't have big inflatables, a reptile guy, a craft specialist or some kind of animator for your home party, then you're perhaps not up with the times.  Then there are the bowling parties, gymnastics parties, build-a-bear places and other spots that specialize in throwing more lavish b-day parties (like the princess one LOL).  My son's party in January was glow in the dark mini golf and laser games.  But these don't even come close to the crazy over-the-top birthday parties you see on shows like TLC's Outrageous Kid Parties, Slice's Party Mamas or MTV's My Super Sweet 16... that's a whole other level.  And may I say, setting precedents for this generation of kids???  Yikes!

    Well, I do admit, I have fallen prey to the big birthday party.  BUT, I do plan on going smaller and smaller as they get older.  And I have already, believe it or not!  Last year for my daughter's 3rd birthday I invited the whole daycare class (not thinking they would all show up) and had 20 kids at Party World.  So 10 kids this year is actually cutting it in half!  Next year I'm thinking more along the lines of letting my son invite a few of his closest friends and taking them to a movie and then a sleepover. I also think they outgrow these parties pretty quickly, so I'm kind of enjoying them while I can.

    I wonder though... do we throw these types of parties today because there are so many more working moms and we over-compensate?  Or, do we do it because so many other people do it?  Do we try and "one up" and that's how we got to this point?  Not sure... I do know, however, that I get excited and have fun planning these parties - each year it's a challenge to think of something different to do and figuring out a really fun cake.  And then there's the party itself - I love watching my kids have the time of their life.  I really do get so much joy out of their joy, and because the daily routine of the working mom is more about function than moments of over-the-top fun, I appreciate these times more than ever.

    So I look forward to tomorrow with great anticipation and hope it will be a huge hit.  As for all the princess stuff and how that screws with our daughter's minds as they grow up... I'll save it for another post.  Have a great weekend to all!

    A couple of snapshots from my son's 6th b-day party in January... we all loved the cake!

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    Our Kids Are Not Like Us - How The Digital Generation Has Been Re-Wired By Technology

    This week we had a Governing Board meeting at my son's school (I'm the Secretary of the Governing Board) and a topic came up that really captured my interest.  One of the teachers was discussing a workshop she had attended about how differently our kids' minds are wired compared to ours.  They call our kids The Digital Generation or Generation Z.

    We all know that due to the rapid changes in technology, children are growing up differently than we did, but I had no idea that their lifelong use of communications and media technologies had actually changed the way they think and how their brains work!  Here's one example the teacher gave - when our generation reads a page, we usually read in a Z pattern.  When our kids read, they read in an F pattern... that means, if you put something in the bottom right corner, they probably won't see it!  How crazy is that?

    This intrigued me and I wanted to see what else I could find about this new Digital Generation and how the re-wiring of our children's brain changes how they learn.  And even more importantly, if they learn differently, then how are the schools keeping up and evolving their teaching techniques to maximize our children's potential?  Obviously, the methods used when we were in school are now completely antiquated.  I know there are the additions of lap tops and smart boards in their schools, but is this enough of a change?  I'm guessing not...

    According to what I have now read, our kids may look similar to us on the outside, but on the inside, there's a whole different world and language going on! In a slide show entitled "Understanding The Digital Generation", they state:
    Today, we face a new kind of student. Our schools weren’t designed for them. And our teachers weren’t trained to teach them... The changes we faced growing up were incremental and fairly gradual. But for anyone under age 25, change is affected by the present arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century... They’ve developed a “cultural brain” profoundly affected by digital culture. Because of digital bombardment, the brains of today’s children are changing physically and chemically.
    I'm not going to go into all of the details of how those changes occur in the brain - you can read the article if you're really interested - but I'll provide a quick synopsis:   
    What this means is that the student who spends most of his or her time focused on a specific pursuit, say sports or academics or the arts, will hard-wire and insulate those specific neural connections. But if the same student spends that time lying on the couch playing games or watching TV, those are the cells that will flourish. Connections that are most used or useful develop into a complex, high-speed neural network. Today, even the youngest kids are exposed to many digital devices, and it’s this digital bombardment creating the cultural brains in our children. As such, they process information differently than we do. Visual memory, processing, and learning skills are being enhanced in particular.
    You should read the page on visual learning - it's fascinating.  Basically, our children are visual learners and that retention of information is much greater when there are images involved.  This doesn't bode well for the classic text book or blackboards, not to mention a teacher standing at the front of the class giving a lecture.  The article continues:
    The vast majority of students in any given classroom are no longer auditory or text-based learners. Because of the effects of digital bombardment, they think graphically and are, therefore, either “visual or visual kinesthetic” learners. They’re wired for multimedia. Yet the majority of student examination content continues to be text- and vocabulary-based, fixated on content recall.
    What I really want to know is what's changed and how we need to adapt to these changes?  Here's a summary of the different preferences The Digital Generation has for learning.  Again, for further details, you can read the article.  I know I'm quoting a lot in this post, but I really thought it important to put this information out there correctly and it's not my expertise.  This is what Digital Learners prefer vs what most educators prefer:

    • Receiving information quickly from multiple multimedia sources - educators prefer slow and controlled release of information from limited sources.
    • Parallel processing and multitasking - our schools still focus on processing one thing at a time, which is a very traditional and linear approach. 
    • Processing pictures, sounds, color, and video before text - educators prefer to provide text before pictures, sounds, and video.
    • Random access to hyperlinked multimedia information - educators prefer to provide information linearly, logically, and sequentially.
    • To network simultaneously with many others - educators prefer students to work independently before they network and interact.
    • Learning “just in time.” - educators prefer teaching “just in case.”
    • Instant gratification with immediate and deferred rewards - educators prefer deferred gratification and delayed rewards.
    • Learning that is relevant, active, instantly useful, and fun - educators prefer teaching memorization in preparation for standardized tests.
    I don't know about you, but I am confident that the schools are not even close to catching up to these new, prefered ways of learning.  How will this affect our children? According to Wikipedia, they note the following regarding this new generation of kids:
    Some can be described as impatient and instant minded, and tending to lack the ambition of previous generations. Psychologists are claiming an "acquired Attention Deficit Disorder" since their dependency on technology is high and attention span is much lower, as opposed to previous generations who read books and other printed material, along with watching live television. They are also more consumer-oriented than the previous generation, which was focused on technology, retro, and indie culture.

    Generation Z are also more individualistic. While members of Generation Y are group and team oriented, members of Generation Z are more self-directed... Despite being in a day care facilities, many children have structured extracurricular activities, reducing free playtime. Parents are becoming more like advisers to this generation.
    I think this is a serious issue that needs closer attention.  We cannot prepare our children for a world that no longer exists.  Jobs are changing, how we do busines is changing, the whole world is changing.... and much more rapidly than at any other time in history.  The changes required by our schools to adapt feel so overwhelming.  Teachers need to be re-trained, the classrooms re-organized, the lesson plans revised, etc. etc.  One thing's for sure, we must change the way we have always done things.  As a parent, I also don't have the skills to help my children - my mind was trained the old-fashioned way!  This scares me.  Like you, I want the best for my kids and this topic raises serious concerns, but has received very little media attention to date.  I hope the writing of this article brings new light to the issue and raises awareness to my fellow readers.

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    The Scary Topic: Body Image... As A Woman & As A Mom

    I was recently having a conversation about women and body image and something stuck out in my mind... the woman I was speaking with said that she doesn't know a single woman who is happy with her body.  You know what, I think she's right and that is beyond scary.  We all know about the media screwing us up by showing us unrealistically skinny, toned women everywhere and anywhere, about how every picture we see in print is Photo Shopped (unless it's one of those entertainment magazines who love to snap stars and their cellulite), and that probably every model starves herself to look the way she does.  But the thought that if given the chance, there isn't a woman out there who wouldn't change something about her body is simply CRAZY.

    We obviously learn this behaviour but because it's so prevalent and so deeply ingrained in society, we can't escape it.  As a mom, I'm terrified about protecting my daughter from falling pray but I don't know if that's even possible.  She's just turning 4 years old and she's the most petite little thing you ever did see (with a beautifully proportioned body), but even now she complains that she doesn't like her hair curly and wants me to straighten it!  I'm beyond nervous on what's to come.

    Growing up I was always super skinny and as a competitive athlete, I was in fantastic shape.  However, I was not immune to coaches telling me in my teens to lose weight.  And I always hated how my hip bones stuck out.  Even at my most fit, I was not good enough.  And when I quit skating (just shy of my 17th birthday) and stopped training 4 hours a day, well, I don't have to tell you how my body changed.  Some things I liked (for example, getting boobs), but it's hard to go from rock hard to a more realistic figure without some effect on the psyche.  During my 20's, my weight did fluctuate, once as much as 20 to 25 lbs, but by my 30's it was usually more in the 10 lb range.  Even so, I was usually the girl known to have a "great" body.  There are definitely times I've felt like I've had a great body, but then there is the challenge of maintaining that body... not so realistic, especially now that I'm in my 40's and a very busy working mom.  More often than not, I usually feel like I can lose more weight and be more toned.  Is that the perfectionist in me, or is that every woman?  I'm beginning to see that this is every woman.  I definitely believe that we are own worse critics, and I also believe that women judge other women more harshly than men judge women (generally speaking).

    I do know that it is easier as I get older to accept myself the way I am, but I'm not there yet 100%, nor am I sure if I will ever be.  At my last physical, my doctor told me I was at the low end of my BMI and that I shouldn't lose any weight (however, since then I gained 5 lbs and am now trying to lose it LOL).  I think the biggest change since I've gotten older is that my focus is not so much about weight loss, rather it's on staying fit and being toned.  I exercise 20-30 minutes, 4 to 5 times per week and try to eat as healthy as I can.  It's always a work in progress.

    Although self-acceptance does come easier with age, there are other things we can do to improve our body image.  I think the most important thing we can do to change how we feel about our bodies is to try and live a healthier lifestyle.  When we eat well and are at a healthy weight, then we look and feel better (our hair is shinier, out skin has more of a glow).  When we exercise regularly, we increase our self-esteem and self-image, not to mention our energy levels.  Of course getting enough rest, managing stress and balancing our hectic working mom schedules also goes a long way toward a healthier lifestyle... well, we can try, right?  Besides, I do strongly believe being healthier and having some curves is a whole lot more sexy than a stick skinny figure (and I apologize to the very few women who are naturally underweight).  For a more in-depth read on body image, there are tons of articles out there... for example, the one I found on the  Healthy Place website.

    Despite my own feelings about my body, I will tackle raising my daughter in the hope that I can provide her with a positive body image and good self-esteem.  This can be challenging and I don't want to be a hypocrite if I tell her she's perfect the way she is when I don't always feel that way about myself... but I'm working on it!  As it stands today, she is totally self-confident and loves to run around in her birthday suit (yikes).  I'm not sure when this begins to change, but I know it will.  She won't live forever with blinders on (unfortunately).  So for any of you moms out there who are a little ahead of me, I would so appreciate knowing what to expect and when to expect it.  This way, I'll be armed and ready!

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    How Come I'm 42 And Still Getting Acne!?!?

    I thought I would have left acne behind in my teens... and yet, sure enough I still get more than the occasional zit... at 42! Why, why, why???  Well, I do know something about skin care given my 6 years working for a pharmaceutical skincare line.  One of our bestselling collections was our acne collection - and the majority of the sales were to ADULT women. 

    I thought I would share this with you given that I have a big zit on my face right now and when I look into the mirror, it's all I see.  I also know more and more women are suffering from adult acne and that the condition is on the rise.  Look at all of those ProActive commercials - all of the celebrity spokespeople are adults.

    Let's take a closer look at why acne affects so many of us... the first thing to note is that the exact cause of acne is actually unknown, which means that there can be no cure for acne.  There are certain theories as to what causes acne, as well as known triggers that make acne worse, but no scientific, known conclusion as to the exact cause.  Consequently, the best we can do is to "manage" the condition, rather than "cure" it. 

    Acne is a result of a hormonal, bacterial or inflammatory disturbance that occurs at the level of the oil pore of your skin. The primary cause is bacterial, but it can also result from the accumulation of dead skin cells within the follicles and is usually partly hereditary. Acne is aggravated by hormonal changes, high levels of stress (not everyday stress), medications and chemicals.  That leads me to question... do we get more adult acne now because we lead more stressful lives than the previous generation?  We do know that stress can play havoc with our hormones.... combine that with other hormonal changes (i.e. that time of the month, pre-menopause, etc.) and it could be a bad recipe for ZITS.  We certainly see how crazy hormones in our teens can result in acne.

    Contrary to popular belief, acne is not affected by diet (no scientific proof at least), the sun will not help rid you of acne, nor will washing your face more often... amonth other myths.  So what can you do to treat and minimize adult acne? 

    Here are some tips:

    • Cleanse with gentle, oil-free products to remove excess sebum and keratin.
    • Exfoliate and mask weekly to remove dead skin cells and purify pores.  Avoid any active acne lesions when exfoliating.
    • Avoid excessive exposure to the sun.  Use a good sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30.
    • Choose water-based rather than oil-based cosmetics.  Mineral makeup is a good choice.
    • Spot treat with benzoyl peroxide to help break up the plug of dead skin cells, bacteria, and oil that clogs the pore and forms an acne blemish. (The most effective over-the-counter medication for acne).
    • Use products containing salicylic acid to help prevent hair follicles from shedding excess skin and clogging your pores.
    • Wash hands frequently and don’t touch your face.  Ensure telephones are wiped down regularly to remove bacteria.  DON’T PICK!

    When you have adult acne, you have the added challenge of drier skin - this means that some of the products made specifically for teens is too harsh for more mature skin.  Believe it or not, they actually now have anti-aging acne products - so you can treat your fine lines and wrinkles together with your pimples.  Check out some by Kate Somerville... Now that's multi-tasking!  And, when push comes to shove, wear the darn cover up!  Although I never really feel like I'm fooling anyone when I do wear it - the bump is still there... just not as red LOL!  Anyway, I truly hope that one of these days I can count acne as one of the things of the past...

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    The Meaning of Milestones And How They Can Drive You Nuts

    When you're a new mom you have a lot of anxiety and uncertainly over whether you are doing things correctly.  One thing we do to assuage that anxiety is rely on certain given milestones that are "supposed" to occur at certain stages in our child's development.  But what happens when your child doesn't meet that milestone?  We usually feel like a bit of a failure in some way (rational or not).  And worse to boot, there is usually another mom out there to tell you how their child excelled and met that milestone ages before they were supposed to.  And so the competition begins... my child walked at 10 months, oh, ya, mine started reading at age 3... and so on and so on.  We all know moms like that out there.

    Even though I tell myself milestones are just supposed to be a gage on when something should happen, I do feel relief when one of my kids meets that milestone.  Although I also tell myself that they all get there in their own time, contending with the pressures of other parents and their comparisons is another story.  There is also all of the unsolicited advice you get from family and friends when your child fails to meet the milestone in question.  For example, my son was potty trained at 3 1/2... perhaps a bit late but nothing too unusual, especially for a boy.  I got all kinds of "suggestions", mainly about trying to force him to do it by going hardcore.  I stood strong and kept saying he'll do it when he's ready.  And when he was ready, it happened overnight. No big deal.  It was super easy.  I think if I had forced him, it would have complicated the matter and perhaps created unnecessary issues for him.  Instead of relying on the milestone in question, I relied on my intuition and listened to my child, despite what others were saying.

    But how do you not feel bad when you hear that another 6 year old is reading books to himself while you're still working on spelling out 3 letter words with yours?  There's no question that he'll learn to read so logically, I should no waste any time worrying over it, but I can't help but question myself on whether it's something I'm doing (or not doing).  And on the flip side, when I see one of my kids doing something before the given milestone, I can't help but feel good (or relieved). It's like we wear an invisible badge of "good mom" when our kids excel at something (or "failure" when they don't), when in actual fact, it may have very little to do with our parenting and more on the individual in question.  Just because your child achieves a certain milestone early does not mean that they are going to be a genius, nor does it mean that just because they don't meet the milestone, that there is something wrong with him or her.  In reality, our kids will eventually all be good at some things and not as good at others.  Just like us as adults.

    Where did all of this pressure come from and why do we get sucked in?  Why do we need to measure ourselves and our kids' progress based on others?  Why is it not enough to celebrate our individual milestones?  I guess the easy answer is that without the milestones, we are unable to say whether we are above or below average based on society's standards.  And we are all part of society.  And somehow it matters for our success in life to measure ourselves based on those standards.

    The more difficult challenge is trying to take milestones for what they are - just an approximation for when  your child will be doing certain things... sitting by themselves, talking, walking, reading, etc.  Even harder, we need to learn to tune out all of the other parents who are only too happy to gloat about their child's achievements.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we can't be truly happy to hear about other children's accomplishments, only that we should not to fall into that competitive arena of "one upping" that some parents do, and feeling bad if our child is not quite there... yet.

    Luckily, I have several mom friends with whom I don't compete and with whom I feel "safe" in discussing my parenting concerns.  In other words, none of us play the "one up" game with each other.  It's so important to find validation, but more important to find encouragement and other moms who don't judge us or our children.  I also think it's important to note that perhaps those other competitive moms are feeling insecure in some way and need to gloat in order to feel good about themselves as a parent.  If you look at it that way, perhaps you can find some empathy and not take it too seriously.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    There's No Shame In Bedwetting - How To Help Your Child

    I am not an expert on this topic, but I am a concerned mother of a 6 year old son who still regularly wets his bed.  My concern is not for the health of my son, as I know there is nothing physically wrong with him.  Rather, my concern is over how I can ensure that he does not feel ashamed or in any way responsible for what he cannot control.  It did cross my mind whether I should actually write about this, whether I was invading my son's privacy to the world, however, I also thought that by worrying about writing this topic was in itself implying that there was something to be ashamed about - and there isn't. 

    When my son was first potty trained at 3 1/2 he actually did stay dry at night for about the first 3 months.  And then there started to be accidents.  At first they were sporadic, then nightly, then several times a night.  As a working mom, it was killing me getting up at night.  So I went back to pull-ups.  I have tried several times to take away the pull-ups.  Most recently, he went 10 straight nights without an accident - the best success we've had.  I thought we were finally through with diapers in my house.  And then he had an accident.  I didn't put him back in the pull-ups hoping that it was just an off night.  But 3 more consecutive nights and I felt I had no choice.  Not only because it's exhausting to get up at night and then go to work the next day, but also how disillusioned my son was to wake up in a wet bed.  Not only did it make him feel bad, but he was also tired the next day for school.  He recently had his 6 year check up and his pediatrician said I really shouldn't worry about it, that I should keep using the pull-ups and that eventually it would just click.  He assured me that there was nothing wrong with my son and that this was VERY common.

    I do know how common this topic is, but there is still that underlying notion of having to keep it hush hush and having to somehow fix it.  I know some mothers have tried the bedwetting alarms but I can't bring myself to do it.  I think that would imply that my son can make this stop.  I know he feels bad and would LOVE to not wet the bed (especially since his younger sister is dry at night), so I feel it's so important that I make sure he knows it's OK and that there is nothing wrong with him.  I have NEVER made a big deal about it to him.  I do praise him when he has a dry night, but not too loudly or else I fear it will make the wet nights feel more like a failure.

    So what causes bedwetting in kids over 5?  Apparently, it's not considered a "problem" for children younger than 6.  According to an article from RevolutionHealth, the main causes include:

    • Delayed growth. Children whose nervous system is still forming may not be able to know when their bladder is full.
    • A small bladder. Some children may have a bladder that gets full quickly.
    • Too little antidiuretic hormone. The body makes this hormone, which rises at night to tell the kidneys to release less water. Some children may not have enough of this hormone.
    • Deep sleeping. Many children who wet the bed sleep so deeply that they don't wake up to use the bathroom. They probably will wet the bed less often as they get older and their sleep pattern changes.
    • Emotional or social factors. Children may be more likely to wet the bed if they have some stress. For example, a child may have a new brother or sister.
    I know there are things you can do to "treat" bedwetting in children 7 or over.  Again, I'm a little torn as to whether I should do so, or whether I should let it run its course and sort itself out.  I feel quite confident that it will sort itself out eventually.  I know there are so many ways to handle this situation and that not everyone will choose the same route.  I think the biggest factor in my decision will be my son himself.  If he gets to the point where the pull-ups have to go but he still wets his bed, then I will speak with his pediatrician again for further options.  For now, I will hold steady and continue to do as I have:

    • limit fluid intake in the evening
    • have him go to the bathroom right before bed
    • use pull-ups
    • praise him for dry nights (but not too enthusiastically)
    • make light of wet nights
    • assure him that there is absolutely nothing wrong with him and that it is beyond his control (he is a very deep sleeper)
    • keep communication open with how he's feeling about the situation

    A last word on the topic... it seems that every time I tell someone about the issue, either they themselves or someone they know have also had the problem.  I'm continuously surprised at how common this is.  I also hear from many that they were punished and/or ridiculed for their bedwetting.  That breaks my heart.  I hope that speaking out about this and saying "It is NOT the child's fault" well help someone else out there.  I only scratched the surface here, but there are many resources out there to educate yourself on the topic.  And, of course, there is always your pediatrician.