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Morning routine chaos: How can I end the madness?

Dear Mama Drama:

(photo credit)

I am having a hard time getting my four-year-old to preschool on time. I usually ask him to get ready while I hop in the shower. When I get out, he hasn’t done anything. I get so frustrated because we are then rushing around and end up being late.

Please help us with this madness!

~Delayed Mama

Dear Delayed:

Getting out of the door on time in the morning is a challenge for many families. It is important to consider your child’s age and skill level when determining how independently he can complete the tasks you are asking of him. It sounds like your son, like most four-year-olds, will need more adult support to get through the morning routine.

When things are not working it is time to develop a new plan.

One idea would be to bring the items he needs to use into the bathroom where you are showering. He can get dressed, wash his face, and brush his teeth and hair while you shower. Having him in the room with you allows you to peek out periodically to give him support and encouragement. Have some books in a basket that he can look at as a reward when he’s done.

Another idea is to change your routine. Get up fifteen minutes earlier to take your shower and then you can work together to get dressed and ready to leave.

Provide visual supports. This previous Mama Drama column on Morning Routines explains how and why to use visuals as you move your son toward greater independence.  It also addresses the issue of awareness of time, or lack thereof, and strategies to help your child develop this.

Avoid distractions like television, videos, radios, toys, and computers that pull your child’s attention away from the task at hand. Use these as a carrot to encourage him to complete his tasks. Set a goal of being ready ten minutes before you need to leave and he can then choose a preferred activity for those few minutes. This also gives you time to slow down, have a cup of coffee or tea, and finish any last minute tasks.

It is always critical to remember that if things aren’t working, we need to change something…and it isn’t our children, it is ourselves. Provide the supports he needs and mornings will be smoother for everyone.

What tricks help your mornings run smoothly?

Lisa Vratny-Smith

HELP! I can’t get my child to write . . .

We’ve all been there. Making our children sit down to WRITE seems like punishment for them and for us. Us, when they throw a fit, cry, or refuse to do it . . . sound familiar?

How about these real life writing experiences . . .

  • LISTS – make a grocery list of your favorite foods, make a list of all the toys you want, make a list of your friends, make a list of your favorite animals in order of preference, etc.
  • POSTCARDS – buy or make postcards – think of friends to write to, or family, and write a quick hello and how are you.
  • DEAR MOM – write a letter to argue for a pet or an allowance raise, make sure you list all the reasons you should get it.
  • TABLE PLACE CARDS – write down everyone’s name and make a seating arrangement for the table. (Even little ones can do this)
  • DIARY – get a new diary and write something every day — mom and dad can’t read it!
  • SUGGESTION BOX – Make a suggestion box for your family, and have family meetings to discuss.
  • MAP – Draw and label a map of your backyard, neighborhood, or park
  • ALL ABOUT BOOK – on your favorite subject (worms, ghosts, rocks, solar system, airplanes) – use the internet and books from the library
  • SURVEY – conduct a survey about favorite foods, favorite ice cream flavors, (can make into a graph later)
  • COMPUTER WORD PROCESSING -Write something on the computer and add pictures from clip art.

Does this help? Will you comment and let me know if you’ve found any that work for your child or other ideas that you’ve tried?

Helping Kids Be Bucket Fillers

Last year my daughter came home from school and told me one of her friends “locked her out” or wouldn’t let her play. It happened the next day and the next. I asked, “Do you really think she’s a good friend?”

“Yes,” she insisted.

Suddenly, my whole life flashed before me. How many times had that happened to me? I hated to see her play with girls who weren’t kind. I knew how that felt.

And then I stumbled upon a wonderful book called Have You Filled A Bucket Today? The book compares our happiness or discouragement with a full or empty bucket. It talks about how we can say nice things to others and that fills their bucket! If we say rude things, it dips out their bucket.

In turn, if others say nice things or rude things, our own buckets can be filled or emptied. It’s a sweet book with lovely examples of real life.

The book helped my daughter take responsibility for her own behavior, kind or unkind. It took the focus off of the other girl as the truth is that we can only be responsible for our own behavior.

She began hanging out with different kids. It helped to have a metaphor to discuss the way she or others acted.

I write this post thinking about going back to school, new friends, old friends and the issues that always arise. If you have preschool aged kids, Fill A Bucket is a version written especially for them.

have you filled a bucket

I hope this helps you as much as it did for our family. What has worked for you?

*image from

Take a pretend trip

Take a pretend trip around your house. Find a suitcase your child can pack with all the very important essentials of travel — favorite toys, books, and valuables – obviously, no clothes required. Mom and dad can do that.

Use chairs to make your car since your child has just learned to drive.
Don’t forget to document this trip with digital (of course) pictures of each destination. When you arrive, write postcards home.

Of course, your young traveler will be collecting souvenirs along the way. Don’t forget about that!
Imagine all the possibilities.

Have a great vacation!

All kids are smart. Really.

Children differ.  Does your child . . .
love animals?
like to work with others?
like to set goals?
enjoy singing?
do mental math easily?
like word games?
love maps?
excel in sports?

Everyone is smart. In some way. The examples you just read show the different ways in which children are gifted, or in other words, smart.

Parents, you know your kids are smart. But did you know that there are many ways of smart? Multiple Intelligences Theory (from research done by Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard) identifies eight different intelligences or ways of being smart – where as traditionally we think of smart as linguistic and mathematical. Gardner suggests we expand our thinking.

Thomas Armstrong, PhD paraphrases Gardner’s eight intelligences into kid language in his book, You’re Smarter Thank You Think as . . .

Word smart: reading, writing or speaking, foreign languages, story telling, spelling, & more
Music smart: music, singing, instruments, & more
Logic smart: numbers, math, patterns, science
Picture smart: visualize, like art, designing
Body smart: coordinated, athletic, like acting, crafting, repairing
People smart: interested in others, lots of friends, join groups
Self smart: understand self, journal, plan, goal oriented
Nature smart: observe, classify, enjoy outdoors, gardening, cooking

What are you?  What is your child?  Here’s an online test and a printable test.

Try this Fruit Game activity with your toddler to develop all of the intelligences.  Start out with . . . “I’m thinking of a fruit that is round, red, juicy,” sing songs about apples and show the shape of an apple with your hands or body.  See full details by clicking on the link.

Here are some activities for each of the intelligences.

Try these challenging Multiple Intelligences activities online. (for you)

Why does it matter?  What do you think?

Parent storytellers. Yes, you can.

It’s late. You’re so tired you could sleep on the floor through an earthquake outside in a rainstorm. Or that might just be me. Then your child says, “Tell me a story.” And you can’t think of a single idea other than sleeping . . . soon.

Here’s all you need to do . . . remember the parts of the story and ask for audience participation.

CHARACTERS: “Okay, who is going to be in this story?” (Suggest princess x, doggie y, or unicorn z.)

SETTING: “Where should the story take place?” (Suggest forest, desert, ocean, bedroom, school.)

PROBLEM: “What’s going to happen that’s hard for the main character?” Suggest a storm, something lost, mean person.)

Look around the room for a few more ideas if you need.

READY, SET, TELL. “Once there was a golden retriever named Princess Poo-Poo. (Yes, obvious crowd pleaser but it works every time.) . . .

Work in the problem, figure out how the character (hero) solves the problem and wrap it up.


Pat yourself on the back.  You’re a story teller!

Story twists:

Mix up fairy tale characters and settings. Examples: Snow White and the Three Bears.

Add in daddy humor. Example: Cindersmella and the three stink bugs. Goldisocks and the seven piggies.

Try “Tell Me a Story” cards.  Draw from a deck and use the pictures to make up unique stories.  We love this at my house!

Don’t forget, you can visit to find more fun learning activities.

Mama Drama: Grocery Grabbers and Independent Eights

Dear Mama Drama:

Every time we go to the grocery store my two-year-old daughter climbs all over the cart. She stands up and grabs at things and has nearly fallen out several times. I have talked with her over and over, bribed her with treats, and threatened to leave the store, but nothing has worked. What else can I do?

~At my wits end!

Dear Wits End:

The first thing to do is buckle your daughter into the cart every time she is in one. She may fuss and whine, but this should be a non-negotiable point.

Next, give her something to do while she is in the cart. Sitting for long, seemingly endless trips to the store can be very frustrating for a child. Let her hold the shopping list and help you cross off items. Give her a drawing pad or magnet drawing toy and have her make her own list. Bring a small bag of board books she can read.

Try to keep shopping trips brief. Create a list of ten items and have her help you count them down. As you go through the store to find your items, enlist her help. “I’m looking for something blue (show her what blue is if she doesn’t know). Do you see it?” “We need bananas. Do you know where they are?” Stick to the ten items on the list for that trip, so she knows when the shopping is done.

Having an incentive at the end of the shopping trip is okay, but make sure the treat is an interactive activity most of the time. Tell your daughter, “We’re going to the store to get ten items. If you stay safe in the cart, we will play at the park when we’re done.” Be sure to describe what safe in the cart specifically means, i.e., strap stays buckled, bottom is on the seat, hands stay in the cart, etc.

Throughout the shopping trip frequently notice when she is being safe, “You are keeping your hands in the cart. Thank you.” If she is struggling, restate your expectations and her incentive, “If you want to go to the park, your bottom must stay on the seat.” When you reach the check out line (with all the tempting candies), remind her of her incentive and the expected behaviors, “You have been so safe in the cart. Keep your hands in the cart and stay on your bottom and we can go to the park.”

Finally, before you threaten to leave the store, be sure you are prepared to do so. Empty threats will only reinforce the unwanted behavior. If your daughter is not being safe in the cart, restate your expectations of what she is to do (see above). If she continues to be unsafe, park the cart and leave. Do this calmly, saying, “Uh-oh, you aren’t being safe in the cart so we have to leave. It’s so sad we won’t be able to go to the park today.” Expect a fit, but don’t react. You can empathize with her by saying, “I know. It’s so sad.” Then hold her hand or pick her up and walk out the door.

Dear Mama Drama:

My eight-year-old son is very rude to me in front of his friends. He says he wants me to volunteer in his classroom, but won’t acknowledge me when I am there. He wants me to walk behind him in the hallway and snaps at me when he does talk to me at school. At home he is all hugs and kisses.

~Confused Mama

Dear Confused Mama:

Your son is at the age where he is beginning to see himself as separate from you and seek more independence. Eight to nine is a typical stage for boys to begin this process. It is important to guide your son through this phase and set limits about his behavior.

Have a direct conversation about this issue with you son. Tell him you have noticed that at home he is kind and loving, but at school he is rude and distant. Let him know that all boys go through a phase of seeking independence and creating an identity separate from their mothers. Emphasize that this is a typical part of growing up. Be clear with him, however, there is no need for this to be done in a rude or disrespectful manner.

Discuss ways in which he would like to be more independent and make a plan to support him with this. Then, discuss how you expect him to treat you at school and other public places. Let him know that the manner in which he treats you will teach his peers how he wants them to treat you. Also, tell him that when he acts disrespectfully, he does not look cool, he looks rude.

While girls tend to like face-to-face conversations, this often makes boys uncomfortable. When you talk with your son, sit side by side with him or have the conversation while out on a walk or riding in the car. This will feel less threatening for him.

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 [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

Mama Drama: Picky Eaters and Tall Tales

Dear Mama Drama:

My two-year-old won’t eat anything except macaroni and cheese. I’m afraid to give him other things because if he doesn’t eat it he’ll be hungry. I see other children, even younger than him, eating a wide variety of foods. I am amazed that they will eat things like tofu and vegetables.

How can I get my son to eat a wider variety of foods?

~Scared of starving

Dear Scared:

Many children have difficulty expanding their food choices once they have found a favorite food. Macaroni and cheese, PB & J, and mashed potatoes are common favorites. They may like the texture, smell, or associate a positive experience with that food. However, we have to offer them other foods on a regular basis if we want them to make other choices. Our job as parents is to provide healthy options for our children to eat, not to force them to eat it.

Children may need to try a new food several times before they develop a preference for it. Having a family rule that everyone tastes each type of food offered at a meal is a good way to start. Varying the ways that you prepare food can also make a difference. You don’t have to be a short-order cook, but cooking foods in a way that your child is more likely to eat them ensures a better chance of success. If your child doesn’t like slimy foods, don’t offer cooked spinach. Instead, offer him spinach salad with yummy cranberries or mandarin oranges and a sweet vinaigrette dressing. As parents it is important to model trying foods we previously disliked as well.

Sometimes children are more willing to try new foods if they can dip them in something familiar. Barbeque sauce, salad dressings, and honey are just a few choices that may make a new food more appealing for your child.

Some children (and adults) don’t like their food mixed or touching. To those of us whom this does not bother, it doesn’t always make sense. But rather than forcing the issue, simply use plates that have sections in them to separate the foods. It’s an easy fix that eliminates an unnecessary battle.

If your child misses a meal or two, he will be hungry but will not starve. If you have provided healthy, kid friendly food to eat and he has refused to eat, then you have done your job. Be sure you refrain from rescuing your child on these occasions by giving him the mac and cheese after he’s refused to eat other foods you’ve provided.

There are times when extenuating circumstances may be impacting your child’s willingness or ability to eat other foods. Some children have sensory processing issues that make eating different food textures almost unbearable. Others have very sensitive senses of smell that may cause them to avoid foods. Subtle reactions to unknown food sensitivities or allergies may also be an underlying reason. If you have concerns in any of these areas, please consult your pediatrician.

Dear Mama Drama:

I have a question about the blurry line between encouraging active imaginations and lying.  Lying is absolutely not tolerated and we have taken great measures to make sure that we never lie to our four-year-old daughter so that she knows that she can always trust what we say. However, over the last few months she has begun telling “stories” that are untrue, either in an effort to get out of trouble or just to gauge our reaction.

For example, she threw a tantrum in the car after school and reverted to her old standby of communication when she is angry with me- grunting.  We worked through the tantrum and later that night I tried to talk to her about how important it is for us to use our words when we’re angry so that we can work on the problem together.  Her response was, “I was just playing a game….I was playing grunt, grunt, who likes to grunt? And you lost, I won because I’m good at grunting.”

Creative, yes, and of course her delivery was impeccable and I wanted to laugh. However, I did not feel that her response was an accurate reflection of what happened and tried to explain how that she was not telling the truth and when she doesn’t tell the truth it is lying.

To me, always telling the truth is not a negotiable point, but am I overreacting? Where do we draw the line between imagination and untruth?

~Worried about overreacting

Dear Worried:

Lying is one of those issues that is a hot button for many parents. Being clear about telling the truth helps to foster that trusting and honest relationship you are trying to create with your daughter. Your commitment to always being honest with her is a great foundation.

That said, developmentally preschoolers are trying to figure out the difference between fact and fiction. Playing with storytelling is one way of testing out how it all works. When a child has gotten a positive response from the stories, she may tell more to get that response again – such as when you note your daughter is trying to gauge your reaction.

If it is a harmless silly story, feel free to play along with her and then end the conversation by saying something like, “Wouldn’t it be fun if that were really true. You have a great imagination!” This validates her imaginative skills, but also lets her know that you know this is fiction.

Common reasons children lie are because they want to avoid getting into trouble, they wish they had not done what they have, they engage in magical thinking that if I say it did not happen then it didn’t, and to save face in an uncomfortable situation. In the case of the grunting game, your daughter may have been trying to save face and deflect attention from the difficult feelings the situation produced. Admitting that she threw a tantrum may have felt uncomfortable to her and she may have been worried that she would get in trouble.

Using humor to deflect the situation is a great tactic, but it certainly presents a challenge for you as a parent. You can use the same type of statement as noted above to let her know you know this is a story and to avoid the loss of face that she may be fearing. Often it is enough to let your child know you are aware this is fiction in a gentle and light-hearted way without forcing her to admit it.

It can be easy to fall into power struggles and to overreact in response to lying. Taking a moment to view the situation from your child’s perspective can often help you respond with empathy and in a way that reinforces your beliefs about honesty. Using humor yourself can help to keep the situation lighter and allow your daughter the space to tell the truth.

Learning the value of honesty and trustworthiness is an important life lesson. Know that you and your daughter will have many opportunities to practice and clarify this as she grows.

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 [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

Mama Drama: Brotherly Love and Playgroup Problems

Dear Mama Drama:
I have three sons, ages 7, 4, and 2. Everyday after picking up my oldest son from school, within five minutes either the seven year old or four year old is crying. The struggles are often related to rude behavior and hitting. The oldest wants time to himself at this time of day and the younger brothers have been eagerly awaiting his return. The reconnection between the oldest and youngest is a love fest, but the middle and oldest set each other off. It seems like this should be a fun and exciting part of our day, but it quickly deteriorates into frustration for all of us.
~Hoping for a peaceful ride home

Dear Hoping:

Kids put out a ton of energy being at school all day and even though they may be running around, they are often exhausted emotionally and physically. Re-entering into their families low on energy can often lead to irritability and frustration.

Re-engaging with younger brothers after being with same age peers all day can be a challenge for older siblings. The older brother often struggles to remember that the younger brothers don’t have the same skills as his peers. He may have unrealistic expectations that lead to frustration for everyone. His low energy may prevent him from handling the situation with compassion and understanding.

From the perspective of the middle brother, he has been the big brother all day so giving that up when the bigger brother returns may be difficult for him. Aggression may be his outlet as he doesn’t have the language to conceptualize what he is experiencing. It may be even more difficult for him given the loving interactions the two other brothers demonstrate.

Reflecting with each child about how they perceive the after school experience is the first step. Understanding their thinking, helping them to understand the perspective of the other brother, and coming up with ideas for how they can handle that time of day is a good place to start. They may need more structure for this re-entry phase such as a secret brothers only handshake or hug ritual, a catch and release connection (meaning a quick hello, then let big brother be on his own for a few minutes), or a quiet time in the car or at home where everyone takes a break to rest or read. Having snacks and drinks available for the ride home gives them something to do and a chance to re-fuel without waiting too long.

Part of your problem solving should also involve helping them recognize their own internal cues of tiredness and frustration and how to read and respond to the non-verbal signals and body language of each other. This will take lots of time and practice, but you can help them by describing what you observe in them and explaining how you handle such feelings. Teaching them how to tune in to their own needs and read the signals from each other is a great life skill to start now.

Dear Mama Drama,

One of the children in our playgroup has a problem with hitting, and often uses my child as a target. (They are both approximately 3.5 years old.) The mother knows it happens and tries to discipline her child, but to no avail. It’s gotten to the point where my child doesn’t like playing with the hitter and is afraid. My child has tried telling the other child that kids won’t want to play with people who hit, but that doesn’t seem to be working either. Because the child’s behavior isn’t changing, which would be the best route to take: avoid playing with this person altogether, or keep playing and hope for the best?

Logistically, it would be a challenge to not see this child, and we love our playgroup, but I hate putting my child in harm’s way (literally!).

~Hit me with your best shot

Dear Hit me:

Hoping for the best without changing the interventions will lead to more of the same behavior. It is apparent that both the child and mother are struggling with the skills to handle this situation. My guess is that they are as frustrated with the problems as you are. If these relationships are important enough for you to continue in this playgroup, I suggest a direct conversation with this mom.

With compassion you can share how you have noticed her struggles in handling the hitting behavior of her child. You can also tell her how it is impacting your child’s feeling toward hers and that this is concerning to you. Let her know how important your relationship is and that you would like to support her in helping her child so that your relationship, and that of your children, can continue to be positive and successful.

For ideas on how she can support her daughter in using more appropriate social skills during your playgroup, you can refer her to last week’s Mama Drama column on Playtime Struggles. They may also need more direct support from a family behavior consultant or counselor.

If she is receptive and willing to work on this issue, then continuing may be a good idea. If she is not, you may need to take steps to limit or avoid contact with her and her child.

Mama Drama: Sibling Rivalry and Playtime Struggles

Dear Mama Drama,

I recently took my 6 and 8 year old daughters to a pumpkin carving contest. It is a wonderful family event that focuses more on community than competition, but the pumpkins are judged and there are winners. My 6 year old won and my 8 year old did not.  At first, the 8 year old was very supportive of her sister, but then she started crying. When we finally got to the root of the problem, she was upset that she had given her sister ideas and that her sister had won and she didn’t.

This sibling competition expresses itself frequently in negative ways in our family and I am unsure how to react or what to do about it.  Growing up most of my life as an only child, I really don’t understand and am not very sympathetic to sibling rivalry.

How can I encourage my children to be loving supportive sisters and discourage them from being self-centered and competitive?

~Seeking Harmony

Dear Seeking Harmony:

Sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up with brothers and sisters, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have that harmony you are seeking.