Archive for September 30, 2011

Anxious Moments or Something More

I am very excited to write to you today! I want to thank everyone who sent a parenting question.  I will be answering questions not chosen privately by email.

The question I chose from “Billy” asks if I have worked with children who had anxiety issues and what strategies I used.  I like this question because it is a bit tricky and I enjoy a challenge.

First, please understand it’s difficult for me to group children who have anxiety together. That’s because anxiety is an extremely broad topic.  Some children I worked with have shown signs of anxiety because of something that happened in school.  Depending on the circumstances, symptoms didn’t last very long.  Others though showed anxiety from severe abuse suffered long before they were in my care.  The symptoms were treated with medication and lasted for years.

I read from the Anxiety Disorders Association of America that it may be time to see a doctor if the issues last beyond a month and there are several treatment options.  I am not a medical professional but that seems like a good rule of thumb.  For the sake of this blog, I am going to pretend that the anxiety issues are less than a month old.

My first question to Billy is where does anxiety stem?  Did the child watch a scary movie?  Was there a death in the family?  Is there an upcoming test in school that has the child on edge?  Is there something on the child’s mind he/she doesn’t want to talk about but is driving them crazy? (Drugs, pregnancy)  Getting to the heart of the matter is often a good first step in anxiety relief.

My oldest child once hid a poor school note from me for two days.  The anxiety climaxed when he became physically sick while at school.  Basically, his teacher had confronted him because I had obviously not signed the note. Once I picked him up and he finally told me what happened, consequences were assessed due to the behavior but his anxiety was instantly relieved.

A second step to help a child relieve anxiety is to be a supportive listener.  When I was a child, I had a lot of anxiety issues due to not being popular and bullied at school.  My mother went with the “it will pass someday” philosophy.  Granted she was correct.  But, that “someday” turned out to be years later.  I can vividly remember examples of days when my stomach would be in knots and constant tension in my head that wouldn’t seem to go away.

Children I have subsequently worked with over the years have had the same issues I felt.  I found that being a good listener and advocating where I felt it was appropriate really assisted in anxiety relief.  When a child knows you are there for them and believes you can help, anxiety will typically be decreased.  The key though is the belief in you.  If a child doesn’t believe you can or are really willing to help, merely talking to you probably won’t be enough to relieve the anxiety.

On a side note, it is important to know a little anxiety is not a bad thing.  For example, anxiety can keep a child attentive while taking a test.  It can also give a child an extra pep in their step while on a football field.

There are a lot of things I am leaving out because this is a complex issue.  I encourage Billy and everyone who is interested to check out this website from the aforementioned Anxiety Disorders Association of America for more information.  I believe you will find the general tips helpful.

Housekeeping note:

I want to thank the people who take the time to read my material and pass it along to others.  Some of my recent articles have received more attention on Facebook and Twitter than I have ever seen. I’m thrilled you think enough of my work to share it with the people you know and love.

Have a super weekend and I’ll write to you again Tuesday.

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Three Don'ts of Discipline

First, let me send a note of thanks to people who have sent parenting questions they would like answered on my blog this Friday.  For anyone who would like to send a parenting question- feel free.  My mind has not been made up yet as to which one I will answer.  The email address is

Last Thursday, I wrote the Three Do’s of Discipline.  Please check it out at because it leads directly into this blog. Today, I want to flip the script.  There are some things you shouldn’t do when disciplining your child at any age.  I realize that all rules have exceptions.  But, by and large, what you are about to read will save any parent from a lot of stress and headaches.

1.  Don’t discipline your child if you aren’t thinking two steps ahead.

Any chess player knows you have to outwit and outmaneuver your opponent in order to be successful.  Parenting isn’t much different.  Any parent should be able to talk to their child in such a way to get them to open up, calm down, or discipline to redirect him/her.  You never want the tail to wag the dog if you know what I mean.

What happens though is that parents get caught up in the emotion of the situation.  When this occurs, they start to lose their composure which is one of the greatest advantages any parent should have over a misbehaving child.  When a parent loses their composure, it’s much more difficult to think two steps ahead.  Mark my words.  Parents who discipline when they are not composed make mistakes.

2.  Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

This is a common saying where I am from.  I am using the phrase to mean to separate the overall good of the child from the bad behavior.  If parents were to chart the good versus bad things their children did, many would be surprised to find the amount of good in a child perceived as poorly behaved. Sometimes, parents get so consumed with a poor behavior that they fail to see the qualities of the whole child.  One of my strategies is to find (and file away) the good qualities of a difficult child immediately to combat the behaviors I may see down the line.

Let’s say that I see a child, who struggles controlling their anger, start to rev up.  I want to catch them before the wheels come unhinged and remind them of another time they were able to control their anger.  My theory is if they can do it once, they can do it again.  This tactic has worked countless times but it does take some quick thinking, patience, and self control on my part.

3.  Don’t allow children who struggle with discipline to stay idle.

This tactic is difficult and time consuming but is well worth it.  Children who struggle with self discipline need to stay busy as much as possible.  When they are idle, he/she is more likely to get into trouble.  Therefore, at dinner time, for example, I won’t cook alone if I have a child in the room who struggles with behavior.  The child may be helping me prepare the food, be put to a task (such as reading) or be sent outside to burn off some energy.

I can’t assume a child who struggles with discipline will magically “get it” one day.  What I can assume is that I will put in the time and training to assist as long as I am needed.  There are times, of course, when we have to let children go in order to evaluate what has been learned and what needs to be improved.  Sometimes, the child will misbehave and we have to start over from square one.  There are other times though they will do something right (help a friend, control their temper, etc).  This feeds right in with point two which is very exciting.

Here’s a final thought I’ll make about discipline.  Whether you are working with a “terrible two” or your teenager is testing his/her boundaries, discipline is essential.  Though it can be really hard work, there’s a big personal satisfaction to the parent who watches their “little hellion” start to grow up and implement the discipline that was painstakingly implemented.

I wish you well and can’t wait for Friday’s question/answer post!

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Three Do's of Discipline

Housekeeping Note:

Welcome to my blog.  Thanks for the feedback on my slideshow presentation for Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures.  For those who haven’t seen it, click on the About the Book section located at the top of the blog.

Next Friday, I will have a question/answer blog.  Though I haven’t done this in a while, they are very popular and the parenting questions I get are thoughtful, serious, and sometimes zany (which I enjoy).  If you have a question about a real or hypothetical parenting situation, send it to

Too often, parents think of discipline in terms of “How to get that child back for what he/she did” or “How can I punish my child sorry for all the gray hair he/she is causing me.” Although consequences/punishment can be a form of discipline, it’s better to think of discipline in an overall behavioral context.  Discipline is simply a means of teaching right and wrong.  When a parent uses discipline effectively, they can often solve a problem before feeling like they have to pull out their hair. With that in mind here are three do’s of discipline.

1.  Make sure your supervision coincides appropriately with the child’s age. For example- If your 3 year old gets in a drawer, finds a pair of scissors, and cuts their hair to the scalp while you were busy watching The View, I would worry more about you taking it as a learning lesson in supervision versus getting on the child for the inappropriate behavior.  3 year old children shouldn’t have that type of access to scissors nor the time to do the deed.

The same principal can be said of the 11 year old who is struggling in math.  If, for example, you know your child struggles in math and you don’t help them- how can you consequence his academic behavior?  Of course, if you do help the child and he/she still struggles, there could be a deeper issue and consequences still would not be warranted.  Contrarily, if they are not giving any effort to improve their work despite your due diligence, consequences may come into play.

2.  When a child misbehaves, reflect back to assess what you could have done better. Something I’ve noticed is that children don’t always mess up on their own accord without a reason (unless we are talking about toddlers who are in their own world).  When a child talks back to their parent, fights their sibling, or misbehaves in school, there’s usually a reason.  Although consequences may still be warranted, sharp parents will dig to the root of the problem to avoid a repeat performance.  In past blogs, I have referred to this as keeping your finger on the pulse.

3.  Turn down the burner before stirring the pot. When I cook spaghetti, I turn the burner on high, boil the water, and turn the burner back down before I place the spaghetti in the pot and stir it.

This analogy is used because something similar happens when discipline is needed with children.  When a child is angry and misbehaving, the blood is already “boiling.”  At this point, I have a couple of options.  I could decide to consequence the behavior on the spot or I could wait for the child to calm down while staying close enough to keep him/her safe.  Waiting is very difficult and sometimes takes an extreme amount of patience.

If I consequence the child on the spot, it would be like never turning the burner down on the stove.  Eventually boiling water will escape the pot.  Children are not fun to work with once things have gone this far so I typically take a different approach although I have the right to use either method.

I like to turn the burner down on children.  By this I mean my own voice is under control, I will be a good listener, and I will apply consequences (if needed) based on the facts of the situation.  With smaller children, some parents may choose to use intimidation to get a child to calm down an angry child.  As a child gets older though, they are less apt to be intimidated-especially during the teenage years.  Turning down a child’s burner before stirring the pot with consequences has been a more effective way of dealing with difficult children for me.

If you’ve noticed closely, all 3 suggestions focused on us- the parents.  Don’t get me wrong, children misbehave all the time and there are times consequences have to be applied.  Regardless, the most effective parents I’ve seen and worked with have the three do’s down to an art.  The ones who didn’t were typically confused with why they were the parent of a “bad child.”

I’ll write to you again on Tuesday.  Until then, have a great weekend with your family!

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The Fairness of Parenting

Housekeeping note: Please click on the About the Book (Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures) section located above to see a short presentation of how the book Tantrums, Troubles, and Treasures can benefit your family.  Now, on to the blog!

“Never be afraid to take a good idea.”  Those were the words of a high school teacher I’ll never forget.  Mr. Johnson taught me many things but these are the words I’ll remember the most.  It’s in this vain that I have to give credit to where this blog idea came from.  Over the weekend, I listened to the homily of Father Jeff Nicholas at the Cathedral of the Assumption.  One of his main points was that God is not fair.  God is love.  The way he articulated his points really struck a chord with me.  This post is dedicated to him.

I’ve never really thought of myself as a tough but fair parent.  I’m confident that I am tough. Fair is completely different.  My view on parenting is to give children what they need (and hopefully sprinkle in some desires along the way).  The thing is though the kids I have worked with have had different needs because children simply aren’t the same.  On a broad spectrum, I understand children need shelter, food, and love.  But, looking at them more closely, things are a bit different and they are not always fair.

Here’s an easy example of what I mean.  Let’s say I have two boys who are the same age.  One boy struggles in math so I tutor him an extra half hour every day to help him along.  Fairness, on the surface, dictates I should tutor the other boy as well.  Whether I actually do that or not depends on his strengths/weaknesses.  If the second boy is brilliant in math, my time with him may be spent doing something else academically.  Even the time I work with him may not be the same as the first child depending on his ability to effectively pay attention.

Let’s get into a more difficult issue such as discipline.  This time, I will use two girls who are the same age.  Let’s pretend both of them misbehave in the exact same manner.  Do you think I should consequence them in the same way?  That, of course, would be the fair thing to do.  But whether I take this approach or not really depend on the children.  When I discipline, I want to press their “buttons” inside them so that it will be known that their actions were inappropriate.   If time out works for one girl but doesn’t really affect the other, why should I be fair?  The more appropriate thing to do with the girl that time out doesn’t work is to give a different consequence which is more effective for that child.

Practically speaking, this approach can be difficult. I have little doubt that I will be challenged by a reader or two (which is always encouraged).  Nevertheless, one of my main teaching tenets to parents focuses on individual responsibility.  I really believe I would have trouble with this concept while working with children if I treated every child the same although it would be fair.

My mother used to tell me “life’s not fair.”  The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.  Whether you agree with this post or not- thanks so much for reading!  I will have another blog ready on Friday.  Take care of yourselves and your family!

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Children and Beer Caves

One thing I have noticed over my years of working with children is the attitude their parents take concerning the exposure to alcohol.  Before anyone believes that I have a holier than thou approach, the truth is my ideas are fairly convoluted.  For example, I don’t drink around my children.  But, my wife will have a glass of wine with dinner occasionally and it doesn’t bother me in the least.  My friends also drink around my children at parties and I’m not put off by them either.  Not drinking around my children is simply a personal decision.  My goal for this post is for parents to simply think about their attitudes about alcohol and their children.

Last weekend, my wife ran out of wine.  Therefore (being the hunter gatherer of the house) I went out to correct this atrocity.  When I went to the liquor store though, I saw something that was a bit unusual.  A mom, dad, and two children (probably ages 8 and 5) walked out of the store’s beer cave with a cart full of beer.  While there are some people reading this thinking what bad parents they are, there are others pumping their fists thinking, “Now that’s what I am talking about.” Though I don’t want to judge this family, I question the message this act sends to their children.

Though I have had the same attitudes about alcohol, that doesn’t mean I am immune to an alcoholic story.  For example, about a month ago, my family attended my god son’s birthday party where alcohol was served.  I was in the yard watching my 4 year old when my 7 year old approached me.  He asked if I would open his bottle of lemonade.  I wasn’t really paying attention so I said “sure.”  When I took the bottle, it felt ice cold.  I looked down to discover it was a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade.  What was funny was that the other guests had thought I had sent him to the cooler to get it for me.  Of course, this was an innocent mistake.

Minutes before I started writing this post yesterday, I asked my 4 year old what he wanted to drink with his lunch.  He usually drinks chocolate milk but I am out of chocolate (I know- I know- poor parenting). Anyway, I asked what else he would like and he pointed to a bottle of Mike’s Lite Hard Cranberry Lemonade.  After a small chuckle, we settled on a Capri Sun.

I’m not about to tell parents where to draw the line on this issue.  But, out of all my convoluted opinions, I do have a strong one.  Our children may not always listen to what we say but they ALWAYS watch what we do.  Having a drink while socializing may be one thing but I can’t see why a parent would want to be drunk around their child.  If nothing else, a person’s ability to parent would have to be less than when he/she is sober.

Many of the children who I worked with at St. Joseph’s had problems with alcoholic parents.  Perhaps that’s where my disdain truly lies.  When I was growing up, I never saw my mother have a drink- let alone be drunk.  It’s certainly a lasting image I’ll always keep.  Please be responsible around your child no matter what your attitude is about alcohol. Here’s my final piece of advice. Make sure if you have to have your young child with you while you load up your cart in a refrigerated beer cave, be considerate and pack a sweater.

I’ll check in again with another post on Tuesday.  Until then, give the kids a sober hug!

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Working with Students on September 11th

Today’s post won’t come to you with the same authoritative tone as my others.  Nothing I learned from the house parents of St. Joseph Children’s Home or from any teacher I have ever worked with could have prepared me in how to work with children on September 11th, 2001.

President George Bush and I had something in common that morning.  My class was being read to when an aide came to me, whispered what happened after the first plane struck the World Trade Center, and asked me to handle it the way I wanted to- similar to the former president. Everyone who reads my blog regularly knows I am a problem solver with parents, teachers, and children.  To be honest though, I’ve never felt more lost that day either before I started working with kids or since.

My options were simple enough.  I could tune in to find out what in the world was going on.  I suspected the risks of exposing 6-7 year olds to this but I also knew something big was happening.  On the other hand, I could go on with my lesson as if nothing happened.  Keep in mind, no one at this point was reporting this was definitely a terrorist attack.

Though I can’t explain my reasoning, I turned the television on.  It wasn’t long after this point that the second plane hit.  Even in all my confusion, I knew the second plane couldn’t have been an accident.  My wife has many friends in New York and my thoughts turned to her: thus taking me even further away from my class (mentally).

The students in my room had reacted in various ways.  Some of them understood something wasn’t right while others didn’t really pay a lot of attention.  Besides the event itself, their faces are the thing still etched in my mind.  A couple of children were laughing but I’m certain they didn’t understand what was truly happening.

I don’t know how long after the buildings came down that it dawned on me that I had a job to do.  I’m not sure how well I taught my lessons the rest of the day.  Perhaps it’s best my mind has erased the memories. Hopefully, I composed myself and did a good job.  Like many others, I was numb.

Maybe it’s because my focus is constantly on children but after I left school that day, I remember driving home and thinking about the kids who lost their parents.  It made me physically ill.  To think that it’s been 10 years is mind blowing.  The same children who were with me that day are now juniors and seniors in high school.

I almost feel silly trying to teach a lesson after sharing these memories with you.  The thing is though that many people come to my site to receive parenting information or a nugget of knowledge.  Therefore, here’s my shot in teaching today’s lesson.

Sometimes, you do things with children without knowing whether it’s the right thing to do or not.  Most of the times, you can reflect back and think about ways you could have done something better.  That reflection will help make you a better parent.

There will be other times though when, after reflecting, you still have no idea if what you did was the correct decision.  My advice to you is to shrug it off knowing that you did your best.

This Friday, I will be back with a more upbeat blog.  Best wishes to you and your loved ones.

The Heart of a Power Struggle

Power struggles in the home usually boil down to a single issue.  Today, I am going to talk about that issue and how you, as a parent, can actually turn power struggles to your advantage.

Doesn’t it just stink when you tell your child to do something and what you get back isn’t what you asked for?  For example, when a child talks back, refuses to follow a direction, argues, screams, or fights, it can be enough to want to make a person pull their hair out. Sometimes, when a child gets older, they can be more manipulative, defiant, or say hurtful things to us.

The single issue power struggles typically boil down to is control.  It starts much earlier in children than you may think.  For example, my 4 year old hates having his hand held in a parking lot.  There is a power struggle between us.  He wants that little bit of independence and isn’t happy when he doesn’t get it.

The first key in handling a power struggle is to know you are the parent and it’s up to you to be in control of yourself and the situation.  One of the worst things a parent can do during any type of power struggle is to lose his/her cool.  In the short term, it can work if, for example, you scare a child into compliance.  Long term though, it’s more risky because over time, the shock factor is reduced or eliminated.

When children have really challenged me over the years, I have frequently made the conscience effort to control my voice.  I’ve always had the confidence that I was going to win the power struggle in the end. What’s the point of losing my cool? Besides, if any child I have worked with could see that their behavior could physically control my response- in essence, I have lost that part of the power struggle.

Another key to winning a power struggle with a child is to be quiet.  Go ahead and let the child have their say.  It’s beneficial for many reasons.   For example, the child may make a good point for you to consider.  But remember, just because a child makes a good point doesn’t mean the power struggle has been lost so relax.

Another reason to let the child have their say is because you are modeling how a power struggle can be handled with civility.  Power struggles tend to get really ugly when both sides are yelling and neither side is listening to the other.  It’s been my experience that when I let the child have their say- not only will I still get what I want in the end but the struggle itself takes much less time.  When I was a teenager, my mother obviously wasn’t privy to my blog.  We had knock down drag out verbal wars that would last for days.  I remember them well and refuse to have the same circumstances with children I work with.

One of the last things that have been a key for me concerning power struggles is that I have a short memory.  I don’t let arguments of the past consume me.  Harboring ill feelings of power struggles of days, months, and years past don’t serve any real purpose.

Towards the beginning of this piece, I referenced the power struggle of holding my 4 year old child’s hand in a parking lot.  I’ve already told you that power struggles typically boil down to control, and I told you I had full confidence I was going to win.  So, here’s how this plays out.  Keep in mind I have used the same general strategies even on tough teenagers.

When my child wants to let go of my hand, I listen clearly and then remind him to be safe in a parking lot by walking and staying close because cars can’t see him.  In essence, I let go but I am still very close.  If one misstep happened, I could grab him immediately.  From there though, I slowly back off.  Nowadays, the struggle doesn’t exist to a great degree because he clearly knows what to do.

The reason I won that power struggle was because I recognized what my child wanted and guided him on a path in order to achieve his goal.  Hypothetically speaking, some parents would have wanted me to win the power struggle by holding on to my child’s hand.  But, why do that unless, of course, he attempts to run away in the parking lot?

This piece, though long, wasn’t nearly long enough to handle all the “what ifs.”   There are so many ways power struggles can occur; I simply cannot cover all the situations.  If you have further questions or comments, please leave a message in the comment box.  If you want a private response, drop me an email at

My next post will be on Tuesday.  It will deal with split second decision making on 9/11, how it was handled with my elementary classroom, and lessons I learned that day.

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Three Reasons to Delay Kindergarten

First, I want to acknowledge my influx of new followers from Twitter, Facebook, and Feedburner.  I’m happy you are here so let’s get moving.

Today, I want to delve into my theory of when to send a child to school.  Most parents who have the means really care about “the where.”  In other words, they study schools relentlessly until they have discovered “the perfect fit” for their child.  Although where a child goes to school is certainly important- WHEN they start should be, in my mind, an equal consideration.

After being an elementary teacher for 7 years and studying this topic at length, I have some fairly strong opinions on this topic.  Here are three reasons parents should wait until their child is 6 before sending him/her to kindergarten.

1.  The Maturity Factor– Speaking in general terms, there is a major difference between a 5 year old child who was born right after the cutoff date versus another child who is a few months older. Children in kindergarten are considered fairly equal in age but the truth is the months that separate children can be significant.  When I was a teacher, I never looked at a child’s birth month in my class as a contributing factor of success although maybe I should have.   Over time, children naturally separate themselves in terms of cognitive ability.  This separation is really important.  In many schools, they are “grouped” or “fast tracked” into ability levels.  As a parent, do you want to give your child the best chance to be placed in the higher ability group and thus pushed to succeed at a higher rate?

2.  Bullying- Obviously with time, children grow.  Would you like your child to be one of the bigger ones in the class?  The biggest children in the class aren’t the most bullied (unless we are talking about a weight issue which is different). Instead, what I have found is they are usually the leaders of the class other children look up to.  Sometimes, they wind up being a bully but that is more of a parenting issue or a teacher’s lack of control.

3.  Athletics- For the sake of kindergarten, this doesn’t matter but as time goes along, it certainly does.  It’s advantageous for any child to be one of the older ones on a school’s sports team.  Although sports shouldn’t dictate when a child goes to school, it can be considered with points 1 and 2.

There are some who will argue that their children are ready for school and in some cases it’s true.  I have close friends, for example, whose child is one of the youngest in his class; yet one of the smartest.  Also, the school he goes to is a blue ribbon school which basically means they have tested in the top 10% in the country of Catholic schools in the last seven years. He is certainly an exception to the rule.

In most cases, what I find are parents who decide to send their child to school merely because he/she is 5 and going to school at the age is the social norm.  They believe the child is “ready” but I question if that should be the criteria.

With my youngest child, it’s true that he would be ready for kindergarten by the time he is 5.  But, readiness isn’t my criteria.  I am looking to give him more academic time in a one on one environment which you do not get in school.  Certainly, this won’t hurt my child to say the least. More importantly, it should help down the road and has certainly paid important dividends for his older brother where the same tactics, in essence, were implemented.

While I acknowledge each parent has to decide for themselves what is best, I have heard few counterarguments once the facts are on the table.  The only good exception I have heard is if the parent doesn’t bother to work with their child and watches trashy talk shows all day.  In that case, please disregard this post and send your child to school as early as you possibly can.

I will be writing to you again Friday.  Until then, have a terrific week!

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A Story for Mothers

Today’s post is a story of when breaking a rule isn’t such a bad thing.  This was one of those moments I needed to keep my flexibility meter up.  While enforcing rules (in general) is vital to maintaining a disciplined household, knowing when to be flexible to very important as well.

A couple of nights ago, I had placed my 4 year old to bed.  In my home, once a child is placed in bed, they are expected to rest and go to sleep.  Although my older child can read (no televisions in bedrooms) in his bed, I haven’t implemented that policy for my younger one yet.

As the story goes, around 30-45 minutes had passed after I placed my children to bed. My wife went upstairs (where the kids sleep) to change into her pajama’s.  It took a lot more time for her to change than usual but I didn’t question anything.  I had had a long day and was exhausted.

The next morning, I mentioned something about the prior night in passing.  What happened was my wife peeked in on my 4 year old.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite asleep.  He looked up at her and sweetly asked, “Mommy, will you rock me?”  Though Lauren and I have the same general bedtime policies, she gave in.

The way she explained the situation was beyond question to me.  In essence, she said that the day will come when he’ll never ask to be rocked again.  Now, there may be a cynic or two who will question her decision on the basis of breaking routines.  But, here’s what I have learned after years of working with children.  You have to be clear to a child on your rules.  Your child has to be clear on the rules.  Then and only then can you take a jackhammer and smash a rule occasionally.

Tonight, of course, I’ll place the children to bed and make sure my wife stays the heck away from them.  (Ha Ha- just kidding)

Have a fabulous weekend and I’ll write to you again Tuesday.

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