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Mama Drama: Scared of Strangers

Dear Mama Drama:

My three (almost four)- year-old has always been very friendly and outgoing. She waves and chats with our neighbors and speaks easily to other family friends.

Recently, she has begun behaving very differently with two families in the neighborhood. She hides behind me or my husband and won’t say hello. We feel very embarrassed and are not sure what to make of her behavior. We have talked with her about how rude this is and asked her why she won’t say hello. She can’t really give us any explanation other than that she doesn’t want to.

We don’t see these neighbors as often as others and are just casual acquaintances. We probably didn’t see them for four or five months during the cold winter weather before the behavior began. We also haven’t had any conversations with her about stranger safety so don’t think she would be scared of strangers.

We want her to be polite and don’t want to offend our neighbors, yet this doesn’t make any sense to us.

~Perplexed Mama

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Dear Perplexed:

You indicate that you have not talked with your daughter about stranger safety. Even though she is only three it is important to begin those conversations early and continue them often as she grows. Start small with information specific to the situations she will be in such as going to preschool or day care, playing at the park, shopping, or walking in the neighborhood. The basics are teaching her to stay with the grown up in charge of her unless that person tells her it is okay to go with or talk to someone else. Talking about these situations just before they occur will help her to remember the behavior you expect from her.

Children have different comfort levels interacting with adults and this can change with varying

Mama Drama: Getting Kids to Tune In

Dear Mama Drama:

I have three children ages 2, 4, and 6. I struggle so much to get them to listen to me when I am giving directions or asking them questions. They don’t even listen when I’m trying to do something for them like fix a meal and give them a choice about something. I get so frustrated that I end up yelling at them.

This is clearly not working, but I don’t know what else to do.

~Tuned Out Mama

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Dear Tuned Out:

It is extremely frustrating when your kids don’t listen to you. Sticking with the same old patterns of repeating directions and yelling, however, will only bring the same results. You’ll have to change your approach in order to change their response.

First make sure you have their attention before you give any information. Go to where they are, say their name, get down to their level, and obtain eye contact. Some children need a physical touch such as a hand on their shoulder to move their attention from the activity in which they are engaged.

Give clear, concise directions. Know what you are going to say before you say it and use developmentally appropriate language. Limit the number of directions you give at one time again depending on the developmental level of the child to whom you are speaking.

Remember to support your child through the task. Your two year old will need more support and supervision than the six year old, but don’t expect the six year old to be completely independent.

Encourage your children even when they are not completely successful. Recognize the small steps along the way as they work toward a larger goal.

Natural consequences to not listening can also be very effective. If you are asking if they want pretzels or carrots for snack and they don’t respond, they don’t get a snack.

Sometimes hearing the same old directions in the same old way gets boring and is easy to tune out. Make a silly rhyme or sing the directions. If your kids needs to pick up toys make it into a game by racing the clock. Pretend you are on a safari and use your hands and binoculars to search out items to be captured.

Your six year old should be able to understand opposites so have him do exactly the opposite of what you say such as, “Don’t go into that bathroom and brush your teeth.” or “You had better not put those dirty clothes in the hamper, they belong on they floor.” Kids think this is hilarious and are eager to disobey and do the opposite.

Remember that if you expect a behavior you have to teach it. And you’ll need to reinforce, re-teach, and reinforce it many times before each child has mastered that skill. Have fun, be silly, and help yourself and your kids not take things so seriously.

What tricks do you use to get your kids to listen?

The Teenage Years: They Happen to the Best of Us

With Mother’s Day this month, I find myself taking a look back through all the years I’ve been a mother. I’ve officially decided that once you have children, time moves at double speed. I can so vividly recall those precious, magical days when my teenage daughter was a toddler – heck, I have SHOES older than her – that I can’t really believe I’m coming up on my 15th year of motherhood.

People always joke about how hard it is to raise teenagers, and I’d like to set the record straight on that: I had NO IDEA. In addition to my oldest, I have two sets of twins who are seventeen months apart in age. I had four kids in diapers for YEARS. I have a child with autism. In other words, I feel like I’ve earned a few Mommy Merit Badges! But among all the parenting challenges I’ve faced, nothing compares to dealing with the drama and angst of a 14-year-old girl. I only hope that when my four little ones all hit their teens around the same time, I will have gained a substantial amount of wisdom in this area.

When my daughter was a little girl, she was the most well-behaved, mellow child. I remember seeing mouthy teenagers and feeling relieved – smug, really – that MY daughter would never be a disrespectful little drama queen. Oh, how wrong I was. Like all teenagers, she speaks fluent sarcasm. She fights with her best friend over petty, ridiculous things, and when they don’t speak because of it, she acts as if somebody died. Then they make up by saying “hey” to each other at school and sharing a bag of Skittles, like nothing ever happened. She has crushes on boys based on how they wear their hair and what they have on their iPod. And if I gave her the choice between spending a weekend at Disneyland with her family or hanging out at the mall with her friends, I guarantee she would choose the mall.

I’ve tried to convince my daughter that I’m cool enough to still hang out with occasionally. I’ve even reminded her that I listened to Green Day before she was even born, but she’s not convinced. My sweet little girl has abandoned me to join a gang of Twilight-obsessed adolescents in skinny jeans – which is exactly what she’s supposed to do at this stage of her life. She has to test boundaries in order to learn life lessons. She has to

Mama Drama: Teaching Independence

Dear Mama Drama:

I am trying to get my five-year-old son to be more independent in bathing and dressing himself. I have been working with him for the past two weeks on this and he still cannot do anything on his own. I am frustrated and he starts crying every time I tell him to do it on his own.

I don’t understand why this is so hard or how to help him.

~Confused Mama

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Dear Confused:

Building independent self-care skills for bathing, dressing, etc., is very important for five year olds. While we, as parents, view these skills as fairly basic, we have to remember that we have been doing them for many, many years. Tasks that seem like one step for us, i.e. washing our hair, are really multiple steps.  For your son to try to master all of these things in a short amount of time is probably quite overwhelming.

Rather than working on all independent self-help skills at once, I suggested stepping back and deciding what will be the easiest skill for him to master. Start with that skill so he can experience success quickly and build from there.

Break down the skill step by step and teach him in manageable chunks. For example, if you are teaching him to wash his hair the steps are 1) wet your hair, 2) get the shampoo bottle, 3) pour shampoo on your hand, 4) put the bottle down, 5) rub your hands together, 6) rub the shampoo all over your head/hair (this in and of itself requires lots of practice), 7) rinse the shampoo out of your hair.

Talk through the steps as you do them for him. Then talk through the steps as he does them himself. Use simple, concise language to describe each step. After a few days of this have him tell you the steps to wash his hair. Then have him talk through the steps as he washes his hair. Making up a song or rhyme to describe the routine can make things more fun and easier to remember. Be sure to give your lots of positive recognition for his efforts throughout the process of learning. Focus on what he has done well and gently re-teach when he struggles.

Once he has master washing his hair move on to the next skill while continuing to encourage and reinforce the skill he has mastered. If he uses hair conditioner that is a perfect second skill because he already knows the steps with the shampoo!

Clear and simple directions will make a big difference for your son as he works master these self-help tasks. Using visual schedules (pictures of the task) to show the steps can be very helpful and allows you to support him without always telling him what to do. As you fade your verbal cues, you can have him use the visual schedule to see what comes next. Visual schedules can be used to describe a broad daily routine as well as to break down the steps of tasks within that routine.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to, and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

To pierce or not to pierce (ears, that is)

“Momma? When can I get my ears pierced?”

This was a question I’d anticipated, but not for a few more years. Claire is four-years old, and I knew it would come up eventually.

I answered with my standard I’ve-been-caught-off-guard response, which consists of, “Well, that’s a great question!” …stalling, stalling, stalling. “Why do you ask?” …an answer with a question always gives you more time.

That’s when I found out a little girl at Claire’s preschool has her ears pierced. The other girls had been talking about this fact at recess.

That’s the point in the conversation with Claire that I was able to postpone the true answer by telling her I’d talk to Daddy about it and we’d make a decision about it later.  …stall tactic complete.  For now.

It was at that point that all of my own childhood memories came flooding back.

When I was younger, I was not allowed to have my ears pierced. My mother’s personal beliefs were what they were, and we knew that we’d never be allowed to do it. In fact, I didn’t get my ears pierced until after I’d graduated from college.

But, I remember when the girls in my class started getting them done, and I wanted so badly to have mine done, too. In fact, I vowed that if I ever had a girl, I

Study: New mothers older, more educated

New mothers in the U.S. are increasingly older and better educated than they were two decades ago, according to a new Pew Research Center study on the state of American motherhood.

But that doesn’t mean women are waiting for just the right moment: The study also found that half of mothers surveyed said parenthood “just happened.”

While most women giving birth are doing it within the context of marriage, the study found a record 41 percent of births were to unmarried women in 2008. That’s up from 28 percent in 1990, according to the study, “The New Demography of American Motherhood.”

The trend crossed major racial and ethnic groups.

Nearly 14 percent of mothers of newborns were 35 or older two years ago — and only about 10 percent were in their teens. The age trend was reversed in 1990, when teens had a 13-percent share of births.

“I think everyone will welcome a decline in births to teens,” said D’Vera Cohn, a senior writer on the study. “It’s notable that the population of teens is larger than it used to be, so there were more who could have become teen mothers.”

Today, one in seven babies is born to a mother at least 35 years old. In 1990, one in 11 had a mother in that age group.

Most mothers of newborns (54 percent) had at least some college education in 2008, an increase from 41 percent in 1990. Among mothers 35 or older, 71 percent had at least some college education.

Improvements in medical care and fertility treatment, along with marriage and childbearing postponed to seek additional education, all factor into the shifts.

“The rise in women’s education levels has changed the profile of the typical mother of a newborn baby,” the report said. Cohn added that a lower share of mothers ended their education after high school, “so some of those mothers who would have been high school graduates in 1990 have some college education today.”

The report is based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, along with a telephone survey in April 2009 of about 1,000 adults of both genders.

Overall, there were 4.3 million births in the U.S. in 2008, compared with 4.2 million in 1990. Multiple births associated with the trend toward older motherhood were up sharply, including a 70 percent increase in the twin birth rate from 1980 to 2004.

“Not only are women in their 30s more likely than younger women to conceive multiples on their own, they also are more likely to undergo fertility treatments, which are linked to births of multiples,” the researchers said.

-Keanne Italie

The sweet assurance that maybe I’m actually doing something right as a mom

Every mother has hopes and dreams for her children. Even though I would love for my kids to share many of my pastimes, I am most invested in instilling a passion for skiing and hiking. This is because we spend most of our family time in the mountains.

And the fact that I suck at pursuits such as golf, dance and tennis.

I was thrilled when my daughter Hadley took to the slopes like a fish in very slippery water last winter but I also want my kids to develop their own talents. Hadley excels in art so I went to the mat to get her in a sold-out, week-long art camp at her school this summer.

This, from the mom who only passed sixth grade art because her best friend did her projects for her.

Three-year-old Bode is a Babe Ruth in the making and I will enroll him in T-ball this summer. He can hit 9 out of 10 balls pitched correctly to him.

I say “correctly” because my pitching skills are lacking.

And he lets me know it with every wayward pitch.

I hate baseball. I mean, give me a Rocky Dog and a box of Cracker Jacks at a Rockies game and I can hang with the best of them. But the thought of enduring countless innings of baseball, year after year?

Maybe I should take out stock in

Losing the baby fat—with the baby and other moms

When Rebecca Loy’s family relocated to Denver, researching neighborhoods was key before setting up a new life for herself and her family.

Loy’s method? Lace up her running shoes, buckle daughter Jessica into the jogging stroller and hit a few Stroller Strides classes, the franchise exercise program where moms get a 60-minute workout while pushing their kids in the stroller.

In fall 2008, she found two options: one in a south suburb and Erin Johns’ workouts in Stapleton.

“The first thing I did when I knew we were moving was search online for Stroller Strides,” says Loy, a 27- year-old mother of two, who attended classes in Knoxville, Tenn.

“Once I got to class I met all these great women — including Erin — and that had a lot to do with choosing Stapleton. It’s how I made friends.”

While not all of Johns’ clients ultimately buy real estate to get closer to her workouts, she has created a loyal following of moms who make it to class several times a week for a serious workout and quality girl time.

Loy readily credits Stroller Strides for her solid mom-network in her new neighborhood. “And I’m proud to say, after two kids, I’m in the best shape of my life,” she says.

A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found non-dieting, middle-age women with a body mass index of less than 25 still needed 60 minutes of daily moderate exercise to prevent weight gain.

For new moms looking to shed the baby weight exercise is essential.

Personally, I don’t need medical experts to remind me to exercise. My son was 3, and I still wasn’t back in my “good jeans.” Then I met Johns.

“I gained 90 pounds”

Standing 5 foot, 8 inches tall in her running shoes, her blond hair pulled

How you can help newborns in need at a city-wide baby shower on May 8

When my daughter was a baby, I stumbled upon an organization that was accepting baby items at my local Target to be donated to newborns in need. It was heart-breaking to learn that many babies are born without having their basic needs met–some are forced to sit in the same diaper for days on end, others go hungry.

Each year, nearly 4,000 babies are delivered at Denver Health and more than 85% of these children are born to families who live below the poverty level, often forcing them to make heart-wrenching choices. No family should have to choose between buying items of necessity for their baby or paying their rent. But this is the dire situation thousands of new parents face each year in the greater Denver Metro area.

Now, we can all help at Denver’s biggest baby shower on Saturday, May 8. Simply donate NEW baby items at Denver Health Medical Center (301 W. 6th Avenue, Denver) from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Suggested baby items:

Disposable Diapers
Baby Wash/Shampoo
Newborn Socks/Booties/Bibs

Through a series of baby showers, the Newborns in Need campaign collects thousands of new baby items and cash and distributes them to those in need, so babies get the healthy start they deserve.

Want to get even more involved? Host your own Newborns in Need baby shower at your convenience and invite your friends, family or colleagues to donate one or more new baby care items.

To find out additional information about Newborns in Need, please go to

Mama Drama: Mama Needs a Minute

Dear Mama Drama:

I adore my three-year-old daughter and love spending time with her. However, I have so much to do and she always wants my attention. I am frustrated as I can’t seem to get anything done when she is awake, which is most of the day. It ‘s impossible to even make a phone call!

When I tell her I need ten minutes to take care of a few things she cooperatively says, “Okay, Mommy,” and then proceeds to check in with me every minute asking, “Is ten minutes over?”

I need a little sanity, but don’t know what to do. I don’t want to put her in front of the television, but am not sure what other options I have.

~Begging for a break

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Dear Begging:

There are so many mom jobs to get done throughout the day that your frustration is understandable. It is also important for children to learn to spend time safely on their own without constant interaction of adults.

At three your daughter does not understand the concept of “ten minutes” and needs a more concrete definition of when that time is finished. Using a timer can be helpful in facilitating this understanding. A digital timer that she can watch count down and/or listen for the beeping is a good option. Other more expensive choices are visual timers that show a strip of red getting smaller or flash from green to yellow to red when the time is up.

Another idea to help her understand when you are done working (and she’s done waiting) is to give her a time limited task to do during the time you need to make a phone call or complete another task. If she is engaged and has a clear ending time, she is less likely to interrupt along the way.

  • Have her listen to (and look at) a recorded book, which supports literacy and listening skills along with setting a clear ending time.
  • Give her a stack of books to “read” and have her place them in a basket when she has finished each one. She’ll be able to see when the task is complete and the activity is all cleaned up when she is done reading.
  • Put on a music CD and tell her she can come to check in with you when it reaches a particular song or is finished depending on how much time you need.
  • Give her an independent project to do in the same room with you. She can have crayons and paper, blocks, beads to string, play dough, or any other toys or activities she can engage with independently.

The keys to success here are providing clear expectations, her being engaged in an activity, and setting a clear ending. Start with small segments of time, five to ten minutes, and stretch her ability to play independently over time. Keep in mind that five minutes to adults is a short time while to a small child it can feel like forever.

We all need our sanity and little break now and then, so be gentle with yourself and remember that a little educational television now and then won’t harm her.

How do you balance mom tasks and time with your kids?