Monthly Archives: November 2017

My Top Five Parenting Tips

When I was in Seattle over Thanksgiving, my mom and I talked about whether we should provide my cousin’s daughter, who is newly pregnant, with our top parenting tips.

Whether we do or not, I decided to write my top five tips for early-childhood parenting. If nothing else, perhaps Sydney will use them in 30 years! Readers, if you have other tips that are in your top five, please share!

  1. Talk To Your Child: One of my two favorite parenting books, Brain Rules for Baby, cites a study Brain Rules for Babythat says babies who have caregivers who consistently talk to them have an IQ 1.5 times higher by age three than those whose caregivers did not talk to them much. It seems obvious. Kids’s brains are just forming and they are learning a new language pretty much from the moment they are born. This is such easy advice to follow and yet so many parents do not do it, I sometimes think our entire country would be better off if all new parents were given this as a parenting guideline.
  2. Be Patient: This one is obvious too and yet is probably the most difficult one to practice. Kids are simply not on the same schedule as adults. They really don’t care that much about being on time to anything and would much rather engage in whatever interests them in the moment. My personal strategy is to get ready 5-10 minutes before I need to do so whenever Sydney and I have to go somewhere, including bedtime.
  3. Have Fun: Sure, it makes sense to have fun as a parent. But kids really really want to have fun and respond well to situations that are fun. I provided a detailed example below.How to Talk
  4. Give Choices: This advice is straight from my other favorite parenting book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, the new 2017 version just for young kids. Luckily, the older version also had this advice and Devon and I have been using it since Sydney could understand us. The advice is simple: give your child options, two things that are both acceptable outcomes, rather than telling them what to do. Kids (like adults) want a say in their own lives. So instead of “Please put your shoes on so we can go” I will say “Which shoes would you like to wear?” It is a magical way to eliminate arguments.
  5. Acknowledge Feelings: This is also a difficult one for many people. The key is to remember that a child’s world is hugely important to them. So if Sydney is sad because her pencil broke or mad because we have to leave the park, it is important to recognize these are real feelings of huge importance to Sydney at that moment. Instead of doing the typical guy thing of trying to make it better (“We can come back to the park tomorrow”), which is not really going to help, all I have to do is say “I understand – it is not nice to have to leave the park when we are having so much fun, is it?” Equally important is acknowledging and expressing my own feelings, which helps model this for Sydney. When I say something like “Sydney, it really makes me unhappy when you throw your hairbrush on the floor”, which happened the other day when her tangles were causing her discomfort, Sydney will invariably look me right in the eyes and say “I’m sorry, Daddy.”

Here is an example of the power of having fun. This morning Sydney woke up complaining of a sore neck, then a sore ankle, then another sore ankle. She probably did have a sore neck from sleeping on it funny, I probably didn’t acknowledge it enough, and she probably made up the sore ankles to get attention. I accommodated by carrying her downstairs on my shoulders but when it was time to eat breakfast and Sydney told me she couldn’t walk six feet from the couch to the dining room table, my first instinct was to tell her she would have to walk if she wanted breakfast.

That is a classic no-win statement in which I am “teaching her a lesson” that really doesn’t need to be taught. Do I want Sydney to go to preschool without breakfast? No. Was she happy to hear that ultimatum? No. Just as tears started welling, I switched tactics and said “I have a game.” Sydney perked up. “Pretend you are a famous pirate and you were bitten on the ankles by an alligator. We’ll pretend this chair is the alligator. You now have to get safely to Pirate’s Island, which is the table, before the alligator catches you.”

Sydney of course streaked off around the living room, behind the couch, and to the table (where breakfast was ready) while I chased her with the chair. Sore ankles forgotten. The power of having fun.

Sydney Reading Her First Book Ever!

I must admit I was a bit shocked. I am guessing Devon has been working with Sydney on her letters but I have not really been focused on it much.

So when Sydney picked out a “Ready to Read” book from the library, Bears on Wheels, I was expecting to just read it to her as I normally do. However, the book was really easy, with lots of repetition and photos that matched the words. So after reading it to Sydney once, I suggested she should read it to me. And pretty much on the first try she read the entire book!

Granted, the “reading” is part memorization of the book and part looking at the photos for clues. But Sydney was clearly reading the words, distinguishing among different words, and looking at letters within words. I am not sure who was prouder, Sydney or me!

The Importance of Social Connection

Sydney and I had an amazing day yesterday. In the morning, we hosted four other Pre-Kindergarten kids from our neighborhood for two hours of playing games in our house and, in the afternoon, hosted two other kids for Thanksgiving activities.

Sydney and I had met three of the children that came over in the morning in the neighborhood or local park, yet just meeting in the park is not quite enough to establish a relationship. So I decided to take it upon myself to post a message in NextDoor.com (a sort of online community bulletin board) suggesting families with four year olds get together. Yesterday’s morning meeting was the result. A few takeaways:

  • Being a single dad makes it more difficult to establish relationships. Many dads are busy during work days. Even yesterday, all four kids (one boy and three girls) were accompanied by a mom and not a dad, even though it was a Saturday. While it was totally comfortable hanging out with moms, if I had not initiated the event, Sydney and I would never have made the connection.
  • It is difficult hosting for a child. When a young child visits someone else’s house, it is pure joy. There are all these new toys, games, dolls, and stuffed animals with which to play. When hosting, all these kids are playing with your prized possessions. I prepared Sydney for this in advance and, for the most part, she did wonderfully with sharing.
  • Getting along with other kids is really a cornerstone of learning to be a good member of society. While it is not easy, Sydney does quite well and certainly enjoys it.
  • Kids are so different. Sydney and another little girl got into an argument because Sydney was pretending her stuffed unicorn was her baby and the other girl said “No it isn’t. It is a unicorn.” Sydney loves to pretend and this other girl was literal. Just one example of the many differences kids exhibit.
  • All four moms were very impressed with our basement, which is full of toys and play equipment.

Then, in the afternoon, we hosted my friend Pablo (from Spain) and his two daughters, Triana (age seven) and Olivia (age four). Sydney has played with them multiple times and enjoys their company.  Both are extremely easy going and cooperative. They came over specifically to celebrate Thanksgiving via some holiday crafts followed by making cookies.

I must say, the scene of two dads helping three young girls make sugar cookies and frosting from scratch was pretty hilarious. I don’t think I have made cookies from scratch in 40 years! But as Pablo said, it can’t be that hard. The kids LOVED it. The smiles were big. The kitchen was a mess.

At the end of the day, having spent the entire day indoors, Sydney told me “I like our home.” I was proud of Sydney. I was proud of myself, too.

Sydney with Heidi (left) and Lyra (right) from the neighborhood.

Sydney with Heidi (left) and Lyra (right) from the neighborhood.

Swinging on the gymnastics bar.

Swinging on the gymnastics bar.

Proud bakers showing off their holiday cookies.

Proud bakers showing off their holiday cookies.

What Is New With Sydney in Fall 2017? Part II

I previously wrote up some general observations of Sydney keep having new thoughts worth recording.

Pretend Play

I read in some book that pretend play is one of the healthiest activities in which a child can engage. If so, Sydney is on her way to excellent health.

Sydney has really ramped up her pretend play. She is consistently coming up with pretend scenarios that are much more complex than in the past and which often involve pretending we are other people. All this is spontaneous without any prompting at all from me. Here is a photo of one example: pretending we are watching a movie with the two empty chairs reserved for Sydney (pretending to be the mom of the dog) and me (pretending to be the dad of the unicorn).

Set up to pretend watch a movie at home

Helping Out

Sydney is extremely eager to help around the house: setting the table, preparing food, sweeping the floors, etc. I wonder how long this will last! Here is a photo of her preparing her own lunch for school the next day.

Sydney making her own lunch

Reading Chapter Books

A couple weeks ago I checked out a “chapter book” from the library: Paddington. Sydney has been reading short books with lots of photos we can finish in one sitting. Chapter books with more words, few or no pictures, and a need to remember what happened during the last time we read the book test Sydney’s concentration. Sydney loves it.

The funny thing about Paddington is that it was written in 1955 by a Brit, so there are a lot of new words for Sydney and some I don’t even know. I see this as really great for her mental development. Here we are reading a second Paddington book, Sydney with a blue tongue due to a Halloween sucker.

Reading Paddington

Visit to Emergency Room

On October 20 both Devon and I received a phone call from the JCC saying Sydney had had a biking accident at school. Apparently she was riding a strider bike (with no pedals), had been going down a hill while trying to turn, and flipped over the handlebars. She was bleeding from just above the lip.

The teachers told me they thought it would not require any medical attention but given it was on her face, they were not sure. Devon, whom they reached first, was on her way to pick up Sydney and called the doctor, who told us we should take her to the emergency room. I met Sydney and Devon there.

The teachers were right in that it was really just a small wound but, given the location, we wanted to make sure there was no scarring. We were in the emergency room at least three hours, most of it waiting around to be seen. In the end, they cleaned the wound and told us it did not require stitches. I was quite proud that when we got home from the hospital, Sydney immediately wanted to ride her bike to the park!

In the hospital

Parent Teacher Conference

On October 25 I had a parent-teacher conference; Devon had hers separately. It was a bit odd at first because I waited for them to actually tell me something and they seemed to wait for me to ask questions! So I did. Here is a summary:

  • How is Sydney doing? Great. She is doing so well at preschool and is so lovely to have in class.
  • Is she having any problems? No. If she was, we would not wait until the parent-teacher conference to tell you.
  • Is she having potty accidents? Sydney prefers not to go to the bathroom so she doesn’t miss out on anything. Sometimes she waits too long but this is generally just wetting her underwear a little, not peeing all over the floor.
  • Does she get along with the other kids? We have a class full of leaders – specifically girl leaders. Sydney does a really good job of leading sometimes and not leading other times.
  • Does she have any friends? Yes, she does. (They named a few girls but I can’t remember who.) She is also very good at playing with all the kids.
  • I have noticed she isn’t interested in activities after school. What do you think of that? Sydney is sometimes an “observer” and wants to watch an activity first. But that is not what I am seeing. She is often not participating at all. We don’t know why this is. Could it be she is just tired at the end of the day? Yes.
  • How is Sydney doing emotionally compared to other kids? We don’t like to compare kids to each other. But Sydney is doing just fine and we have not noticed anything that suggests any emotional or developmental problems, especially since Sydney is the youngest one in her class.

Fantastic Traveler

On October 26 Sydney and I traveled to Seattle for a five-day trip. Even though Seattle is not that far, the trip itself is long: 45 minutes to get to the airport two hours in advance so we can park, check luggage, and go through security; a 2.5-hour flight; 30 minutes to get off the plane and get luggage; and 30 more minutes to get home. So we are looking at six hours and 15 minutes of travel, which pretty much kills two of the five days.

This trip it was compounded because our flight home was delayed three hours! Luckily, my niece Erica had the day off, was taking us to the airport, and was able to hang out in the morning so we didn’t spend those three hours at the airport!

Through all of this, Sydney is stellar. She has been flying since she was little and has a ton of miles under her belt (wings) already. She rarely complains, almost never acts out, and deals with the waiting amazingly well. Considering most four year olds have no patience, I am highly impressed with Sydney’s ability to accept the trials of travel.

Halloween

Halloween was a bit disjointed this year. Sydney and I went to a pumpkin farm and carved pumpkins in Seattle before returning on the 30th. On Halloween I picked up Sydney from school at 2:30 PM and we trick-or-treated on Pearl Street Mall (where all the shops give out candy to thousands of kids) for 30 minutes. At 3:30 I then met Devon who went home with Sydney to change her costume and return to the mall to trick-or-treat again. Not ideal but Sydney loved it and seemed to not be bothered by the transfer or costume change at all. I minimized the changes by keeping Sydney in her Strawberry Shortcake robe for her costume, which she wore to preschool that day for pajama day, and was pleasantly surprised to hear lots of comments from the Pearl Street shops on Sydney’s “costume”.

Once I got home, I handed out Kind brand granola bars (kids seemed to love them) to 54 kids. That, by far, was a record for me and was quite fun. I hope next year Sydney will be able to trick or treat in our neighborhood and then help me pass out candy.

Halloween 2017

Naming Her Toy Friends

Sydney has a small number of stuffed animals I got when I moved out plus a whole box of small figures she received from our neighbor when we moved in. She has always given her animals interesting names but recently has wanted to not only name every one but also give them name tags so we can remember their names.

Sydney and her toy friends