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Mama Drama: Preventing Shaken Baby Syndrome

Dear Mama Drama:

I am pregnant with my first child and due in a few weeks. I am very anxious about being a good mother and especially how to help my baby when she is crying.

I will only be able to take six weeks off of work, so I am also worried about finding a caregiver I can trust. I have heard of situations where a frustrated babysitter has shaken a baby and caused a lot of harm.

~Scared of Shaking

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Dear Scared:

Most new moms are anxious about how they will handle being a parent as well as the care their baby will receive when they are not with them. Planning ahead for providing the best care possible for your baby is a great start to alleviating some of those worries.

Crying is the way babies communicate. They cry to tell us they are tired, hungry, wet, agitated, and more. A baby can cry for up to five hours a day.  As parents and caregivers we need to expect crying to occur, do our best to figure out what they are trying to communicate, and meet their needs. As we get to know a baby better, it becomes easier to read their cries and even notice other cues to their needs before they start crying. However, at some point a baby may cry inconsolably and as caregivers we need to be prepared for handling that situation.

Having a good parenting resource to help you problem solve what your baby may need is the first step. Two excellent options are The Baby Book by Dr. William Sears and Martha Sears and The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley.

If the baby cannot be consoled and you are becoming frustrated, put the baby down in a safe place, i.e., the bassinet, crib, infant seat, etc. As long as the baby is safe, it is okay to shut the door or go into another room for a few minutes.  Take some deep, slow breaths to calm down and regain your self-control.

If you are still feeling too frustrated to safely support your baby, call a friend or relative who can help you calm down further or who may be able to care for the baby for a short while. Plan ahead who you will call and have their phone numbers easily accessible.

When interviewing prospective caregivers for your child there are many important topics to discuss. One of the most critical, and potentially difficult, is how that caregiver will care for him/herself and your baby when it is a difficult day with lots of crying. The caregiver’s plan should be similar to the one described above. Be sure he or she knows you are available for support if they are having a hard time.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and The Children’s Hospital, Kohls, and The Kempe Center are sponsoring a campaign to raise awareness of and prevent Shaken Baby Syndrome.  You can visit The Children’s Hospital website for more information as well as

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.

Mama Drama: Competitive Cravings

Dear Mama Drama:

My son is very athletic and competitive. Regardless of the activity he is doing, he has to be the winner and will do anything to achieve that.  When he wins, he pumps his fists, shouts, and jumps around. Then he endlessly recounts how great he was. He watches tons of sports and idolizes sports figures who behave in much the same manner.

Recently his behavior has been so obnoxious that other children have begun refusing to play with him. He doesn’t understand why and I’m not sure how to tell him gently.

~Crazed with Competition

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Dear Crazed:

Many kids are naturally competitive and that determination will serve them well in life. However, as you note, too much competition can interfere with social relationships and needs to be balanced. Helping your son understand and learn behavior that conveys respect, sportsmanship, and humility is key to finding that balance.

As you discuss this behavior with your son be sure to acknowledge that his desire for attention and recognition for his accomplishments is something everyone experiences. Also let him know his fierce competitiveness can be an asset at times. However, the way he is handling himself with his peers is disrespectful and leading to them not wanting to play with him.

Your son may not be aware of how extreme his behavior is or how it is affecting his peer relationships. Talking with him about the reasons behind his behavior (at a time when he isn’t engaging in it) will help both of you gain a better understanding. Many children who behave boastfully are actually unsure of their own self-worth and seek recognition to feel more confident.

One way to handle this is to watch sporting events with your son and talk with him about the behavior of the players. When you observe good sportsmanship, point it out and explain why you value that. When you observe poor sportsmanship, point that out as well and discuss how you and your son perceive people who act that way.

Directly teach him how you expect him to behave and give him the language he needs to handle disappointment and achievement. Practice various situations with him and pre-plan with him before he goes out to play with peers. You can read examples in columns from October and March.

Playing cooperative games where your son works together with you and/or other children to meet a goal can be an effective way to teach him other options to competition. The classic “Human Knot” game you may have played in school or at camp is a great example. If you don’t remember how to play, click here for a description and the rationale behind cooperative games. There are also a wide variety of cooperative board games that can be played by kids four and up. You can find good options at Eco Toy Town.

Your son will need practice and consistent support figuring out how to handle his feelings, how to be competitive and respectful, and when cooperation is more important than competition. Involving him in a team sport with a coach who can support these values is another good place to start.

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.

Girl World Tour for moms and tweens/teens

This post comes with a giveaway. Read to the bottom for info and to enter.

No parent wants to raise a mean girl.

The author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, the book on which the film Mean Girls was based, wants to help Denver-area moms and their daughters navigate more easily through the tween and teen years.

Rosalind Wiseman brings her Girl World Tour to Denver on Friday evening, April 16, from 6:30 -8:30 at Girl’s Inc. Mothers* of daughters aged 8-14 are invited for an evening of bonding, laughing, and an “interactive discussion about confidence, friendships, sweat-inducing moments and common mother-daughter challenges.”

The event is $41.50 for a mother-daughter pair, and includes a copy of Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl Worlds for the adult and Rosalind’s debut young adult novel Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials for the daughter. In addition, attendees will receive a gift bag with swag from sponsors Dove Go Fresh deodorant and Family Circle magazine.

Info and tickets at Girls Inc.

Thanks to Dove Go Fresh deodorant, one lucky Mile High Mama and her daughter will receive complimentary tickets to this event. Please click here to enter by this Friday, April 9, and make sure we can reach you by email should you be selected the winner. The randomly selected commenter will be notified this weekend, with tickets available at Will Call.

I’ll be there with Tessa. Might I see you?

* This event is inclusive of parent-figures, including fathers, big sisters, Girl Scout troop leaders, aunts, etc.

What’s been your most challenging tween/teen issue so far?

Easter Egg Hunts in a Communist Society

A Johnson family tradition is to duke it out every year at the community Easter egg hunt.

It’s been a long road. When our daughter Hadley was little, she mistook the eggs as “pretty balls” and hucked them in the air. Then there was the year we couldn’t drag her off the playground equipment. Another Easter, both kids simply raced past all the eggs and ran in circles.

Now that my children are 3 and 5, this was OUR year. They finally understand that inside those cheap plastic eggs are candy and toys.

Glorious treats that Mom and Dad did not have to stuff.

This year, there was still a lot of snow and muck on the ground. Being the good mother I am, I had outfitted them in clothing befitting of a polar bear club/mud-wrestling competition.

I am nothing if not prepared.

But the organizers surprised us all and moved the Easter egg hunt into the adjacent recreation center. Instead of setting the children loose at the same time, we were admitted into the arena in waves. Bode had the advantage and was among the eldest in the 0-3 age group, as was Hadley in the 4-5.

Remember that I mentioned it was our year?

The children chomped at the bit as they waited at the starting line like thoroughbreds at a race track. A volunteer explained the rules.

“When the whistle blows, you may run into the arena. Your children are allowed five eggs a piece.”

Five eggs a piece? What’re we: a communist society?

When the whistle blew, all the children tore off the starting line. There were hundreds, if not over a thousand eggs for each age group. It was obvious that the five-egg limit would not be an issue as pretty much every child I saw greedily walked away with baskets spilling over with eggs.

I, on the other hand, got nothing. You see, the volunteer had also made sure to emphasize that parents were not allowed to pick up eggs. I didn’t murmur about the ban on parental involvement because I figured it was aimed at me.

In my defense, I was *this* close to finding the golden egg in previous years.

Did your children participated in any Easter egg hunts of festivities this year?

Mama Drama: Daily Discipline

Dear Mama Drama:

I have four-year-olds twins, a boy and a girl, who are very sweet, but admittedly very spoiled. They have many medical issues and there have been several times when we thought we might lose them. My husband and I are so grateful to have them that we often struggle with setting limits. As a result we are constantly struggling to get them to follow directions, put away their toys, and go to bed at a reasonable time.

We feel guilty telling them no and end up feeling frustrated a lot. We don’t know how to discipline them and need your help.

~ Undisciplined Mama

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Dear Undisciplined:

While it is extremely difficult to have gone through the near misses you have experienced, your children still need you to be in charge and set limits for them. Discipline is about teaching your children how you want them to behave, although it is often misperceived as meaning punishment. Your children need you to set limits and provide structure for them, so they will understand how to function in the world. The best way to show them how much you love them and how grateful you are to have them in your lives is to provide them the structures they need to grow and be successful in life.

Discipline begins with a consistent, though not rigid, daily schedule. This includes times for waking up, meals and snacks, self-care (brushing teeth, baths, etc.), playing, and going to bed. Regular routines for each of these activities help children to learn the steps involved and develop independent skills.  A great place to start is with a visual schedule. You can use clip art or pictures of your kids (most children really love this!) to display your daily schedule.  Help your children learn to tell time by putting time of day next to the pictures. I recommend having a schedule that is adjustable as different days have different activities. Attaching laminated pictures with Velcro allows you to put in a picture of school, the doctor, or a play date when those will be part of the schedule. Make the schedule simple to manage and understand.

Once you have created the visual schedule you will need to teach your children what it means and how to use it. Get them involved by having them help you arrange the schedule for the day and/or remove the activities that are already completed and put them in an envelope for the next day. This way when bedtime comes and that is the only activity left on the schedule you can say, “The schedule says it’s bedtime, let’s go get ready for bed.” It is harder for kids to argue with a schedule.

At four children have the ability to follow one and two steps directions and independently put away their own toys. However, if this has not been expected before they will need to be taught what you expect. Get their attention before giving them a direction. That means getting close to them, obtaining eye contact, and having them stop whatever they are doing before you give a direction.

Begin by being specific, “Put the cars in the car box.” or “Put the dress up clothes in their bin.” Then you will need to get involved and work with them. “I’m putting the yellow cars in. Are you going to put the blue cars in first or the red ones? ” Giving them choices empowers them and keeping the choices within the limits of your expectations empowers you.

Make sure you are using directive statements and not asking questions. If you hear yourself saying, “Can you… or will you…?” restate your expectation as a directive, “Time to brush your teeth.” Asking a question gives your child the option of saying, “No.” Make sure that is an option you can live with before you offer it.

Setting limits with your children will take practice and discipline for you and your husband. Talk about the language you want to use and support each other when you find yourselves slipping into old patterns. It may be helpful to take a parenting class to give yourself a jumpstart. Love and Logic classes are offered around the metro area and Jim and Charlie Fay’s book Love and Logic Magic for the Early Childhood Years is a great resource as well.

Change will be difficult at first for both you and your children. Expect them to resist a bit at first, but keep at it. Consistency is the key to success.

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.

Parenting 101: The Art of Lovingly Bribing Your Children

Parents have very strong opinions about what they refer to as bribing their children.

I prefer to look at it as an early lesson in action and consequence. If you do something, there will either be a reward or a punishment.

If that is bribery, sign me up.

Potty training my daughter was a nightmare because there was nothing in this world she wanted enough to make her do it (to see that long, sordid journey summarized in one painful post, go here). Treats? Forget it. New toy? Whatever. Revoke beloved cat privileges? “Just make sure to feed him during my absence.”

Parenting the most spirited and stubborn child in the world is a battle of the wills. Since starting kindergarten, she has regressed and we have gone through a new set of challenges. We have also been potty training my son, both of which have caused me to wave a white flag in frustration.

Until we met Super Mario Bros Wii.

There is something about that creepy little mustached man that is like crack cocaine for my children. From Day 1, their reaction has been the extremes: Euphoric when they win, meltdowns when they lose.

But most importantly: I finally found the one thing that would motivate my children to action. Neither are allowed to play Mr. Super Mario unless they are both accident-free.

In the bathroom, that is. There are plenty of near-accidents in the perilous Mushroom Kingdom.

Positive sibling pressure has been a good thing as they encourage the other to go. I.e. “Do you realize because of you, we can’t play Super Mario?”

OK, so maybe it’s not always positive but it is the only thing that has actually worked. And if the Wii can train my kids to go pee?

I’m all about bribery, especially if it results in a catchy marketing slogan for Nintendo.

Fess up: what motivates your children to action?

Mama Drama: Cheering Chores

Dear Mama Drama:

I feel so frustrated trying to get all of the housework done, laundry cleaned, lunches made, and still find time to be with my kids. They complain that I’m always too busy for them, but there is so much to do.

I also feel like they don’t appreciate how much I do for them and that they are not asked to do very much at all. It seems like the more I do, the less respectful they are to me.

~Choking on Chores

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Dear Choking:

I think you found the answer in your question. You are doing all of the work and your children are taking you for granted. They don’t understand to value of the work you do as they have not been asked to contribute. They have lots of time to hang out, but you can’t join them because you are so busy doing things for them. Get them involved and plan to play a game or go for a walk together when the chores are done.

Giving children responsibilities around the house gives them a sense of accomplishment, teaches them life skills, and increases their self-esteem. Not to mention that if they are doing some of the jobs, you won’t have to.

Children as young as two can help around the house. Obviously, different aged children can handle different responsibilities and need varying degrees of supervision. Getting them in the routine of helping when they are younger can prevent it from being seen as a burden later on. When asking your children to do chores, be sure to teach them how to do it and offer support and encouragement. Recognize the effort they put into the job, even if it isn’t done perfectly. Remember to resist the urge to redo the job for them as that will defeat the purpose.

Small children can contribute by cleaning up their toys, putting books in a basket, wiping down the front of the refrigerator or dishwasher with a sponge, or wiping up the spots on the kitchen floor with a wet paper towel. As children get older they can sort their dirty laundry, put away clean clothes, use a small broom and dustpan to sweep small areas, and use non-toxic cleaning wipes to wipe down the counters and floors in the bathroom. Most kids love to vacuum, although they are often not strong enough to do it until they are a little older. Other helpful tasks are watering plants (use a squirt bottle for little kids and a pitcher for older ones) and dusting with an old sock or non-toxic dusting wipe. As they get older have children help make lunches the night before, gather their items for school, and fill water bottles to help mornings run more smoothly.

Children like to be helpful, so use that natural inclination to get them involved. Let them know you need their help and that you’ll be able to have more fun together when they pitch in to help. Then be sure to follow through with the fun!

How do you readers involve your children in daily chores?

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.

Mama Drama: The New Baby

Dear Mama Drama:

I have a two-year-old daughter and am due with my second child very soon. My daughter and I are very close and spend lots of time together. I am concerned about how she will adjust to having a new sibling and having to share my attention.

What tips do you have that can help us through this transition?

~About to be a mom of two

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Dear About:

A new baby is both exciting and stressful for all family members. Planning ahead for meeting your daughter’s changing needs is a great idea.

A meaningful step in the transition from only child to big sister can be the choosing of a gift for her new sibling. A book or stuffed animal is a good choice. This will help her to feel that she is a part of what is happening.  A lovely idea to compliment that is to have a gift for her from the new baby. I Love You the Purplest by Barbara M. Joose is a wonderful choice that helps children feel loved for who they are.

As you know you’ll be spending a good deal of time feeding and holding the baby.  Using a secure sling or front carrier can help you bond with the baby and leave your hands free to engage with big sister. She can hold a book and turn pages while you read and feed/nurse or she can play next to you with quiet toys from a special box or basket that is only available at that time.

Two-year-olds love to be helpers. Enlist her in simple tasks such as getting a diaper or blanket, turning on soft music, or choosing a book to read to both of them.

Some children observe how much attention their new baby sibling is getting and all of the gadgets they use and want to have that themselves. They may want to drink from a bottle, use a pacifer, or want to be carried everywhere. It is okay to baby them a bit to help them through the transition. However, it is also important to encourage age appropriate behaviors by providing opportunities for them to engage in activities with same age peers in playgroups and classes.

It is not unusual for older siblings to be initially enamored with the new baby and then get tired of the crying and fussing and want the baby to go away. It will take time to adjust. A couple of books you can read with your daughter are Arthur’s Baby by Marc Brown and Julius, the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes. Their humorous yet understanding perspective on having a new sibling can be supportive and fun for older siblings.

Plan each day to spend some one on one time with your daughter without the baby. Perhaps trading off time with Dad, so that each child gets one to one time with both of you. Most of all remember to talk with her about the upcoming changes and continue to check in with her as the baby arrives and you all adjust to each new stage you encounter.

Congratulations and best wishes to your family!

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.

Grand Theft Childhood

So much of parenting entails thwarting.

I must thwart my toddler’s attempts to travel staircases and wade in toilets. I do this with gates, latches, and other inventions meant to keep small children safe and properly frustrated.

I take away the cordless phone, which is often left on a low table. Everyone knows a story of a young cousin or neighbor’s child who called China, resulting in a $14,582.53 phone bill. They never say who was reached in China. It’s always as if the entire country came to the phone. 1 billion people simultaneously saying Ni-Hao would be pretty awesome, actually.

With older children, we erect other types of roadblocks. In our household, we have very strong filters on what they can see or search for on the internet. We don’t allow them to watch movies above a PG rating. If a movie is PG-13, my husband and I watch it first and then we determine if it is appropriate for them to watch. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes it’s no. We have disabled chat capabilities in online forums connected to our PS3 gaming system.

I worry we go overboard in our attempts to protect them from the influences of the big bad world. They come home from school with tales of kids who play rated-M games and watch movies like Saw. I’d never go that far, but sometimes I wonder if we are too prudish with our rules.

Is it possible our good-intentioned sheltering hurts our children in ways we don’t understand? Are they culturally illiterate because they can’t recount the funniest scenes from The Hangover or discuss the latest episode of Jersey Shore? Are kids who don’t play games where the object is to steal cars and kill prostitutes going to be left behind by their generation?

My toddler son often stands at the bottom of the stairs. He looks through the bars of the safety gate and says, “Up? Up?”

I know from experience that someday he will be steady enough to navigate each step safely. But at 14 months, it isn’t now. I cannot trust him to marry gravity and gross motor skills in a tight union. Gravity is still a bit of a bully.

The wisest thing for me to do is hold onto this truth. Our older kids gaze through the invisible bars of parental control. They ask to go up. To go deeper. To see what’s in that room to the left. Someday, the gate will swing wide open. Our job is recognizing when it should happen.

I have the feeling it isn’t now, but it’s very soon.

Gravity may be a bully, but it’s also a great teacher.

Finding the balance between protection and freedom is a struggle I never anticipated.

Mama Drama: Respectful Independence

Dear Mama Drama:

My eight-year-old son has recently become very rude and disrespectful. Every time I ask him to do something he argues with me. When I try to help him with something he becomes surly and impatient. When he is with his friends he is either rude or acts embarrassed to be seen with me.

We used to be so close and he would cuddle with me and hold my hand wherever we went. I don’t understand his behavior and am not sure what to do.

~ Disrespected Mom

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Dear Disrespected:

It sounds like your son is trying to exert his independence, but he does not know how to do so respectfully.

Around the age of eight or nine, boys begin to feel the need to individuate from their mothers. They become aware of the gender difference between themselves and their moms and need to find ways to identify themselves differently. When they have strong bonds with their mothers, this can be confusing to both them and their moms.

Eight-year-olds are also seeking to be more independent in their skills and completing tasks. As parents, we sometimes provide too much support and forget to let them try things out on their own a bit more. Children often don’t know how to express what they need, so they act rude or surly.

Take a look at your expectations for your son and reflect on what he may be able to do more independently and what new responsibilities he may be able to take on. Then have a frank conversation with him about his behavior. Let him know that it is normal for boys to want to be less dependent on their moms. Then help him develop some phrases he can use to respectfully let you know he needs more space, less support, or more independence. Phrases such as, “Thanks mom, but I can do this on my own.” or “I’m working on a project right now; is it alright if I do that in ten minutes?” Discuss the importance of tone of voice and practice by role-playing different situations.

Continue providing choices for your son when you give him directions just as we recommend with younger children. Allow him a range of time to complete tasks or give a deadline to help him feel he has some independence and is respected for his ability to be responsible. Be consistent with your expectations and be ready to adjust as he demonstrates more responsibility.

It is important to be clear and direct with your son regarding his behavior towards you and particularly his actions in front of his peers. Let him know that the way he treats you communicates to his friends how they should treat you. Discuss how he perceives peers who treat their parents rudely and if he wants his friends to think of him that way. Plan ahead for giving a hug at the car away from peers, keeping endearments such as “sweetie” or “sugar” out of ear shot of friends, and maybe creating a special handshake or non-verbal sign you can give each other that provides the connection you need and the independence he is seeking.

A great resource for understanding the behavior and development of boys is The Wonder of Boys by Michael Gurian.

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.