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Q: What should I do when my child unbuckles his seatbelt?

 

Question:  My child keeps unbuckling his carseat, what should I do?

Answer:  This is a great opportunity to fabricate a teachable moment.  Make sure to do these things ahead of time:

  1. Talk to him about the reasons for staying buckled in
  2. Completely clean the car out ahead of time–no toys, etc
  3. Set your own emotions to the side here.  They will sabotage your plan.  

Then:

  1. Set up an event where he’s likely (and then does) unbuckle. 
  2. When he does, pull over as soon as you safely can.  Don’t react.
  3. Let him know that you were going to go to ‘x’ (must be somewhere he would want to go) but that you can’t drive him places when he isn’t being safe. 
  4. Sit (have a book or magazine for yourself).  Pretend to read the book if you have to, your goal is to not interact (ie, reinforce) his behaviors.  Be boring.  The car should be boring.  You want him to get bored. 
  5. Wait until he gets back in the carseat, buckles as much as he can.  (this may take a while.  Be prepared.)

6.  Now go home–not to the desired destination. 

7.  Talk to him about safety and that if you can’t trust him to stay in his carseat, you can’t drive him to fun places/events.

8.  Plan to repeat this a few times. 

Be extra sure to be totally on your game.  Don’t feed/reward the behavior by providing ANY excitement.  Don’t even talk (after your initial request) until he’s back in the seat.  He needs to learn that cars are a method of transport, and that the supercool stuff happens once you get where you’re going.  Chances are he needs to unlearn that there is a lot of (parent-provided) excitement (conflict, power struggles, yelling, strong emotions, oh my!) to be had when he removes his seatbelt.

After you’ve done this at least once, you can ‘front-load’ for success by talking to him ahead of car rides, reminding him of how hard it can be for him to choose to keep his body in the carseat, but also reminding him that when he does not choose to keep his body buckled in, he really feels upset and disappointed when he doesn’t get to go to the fun places he likes going to.  You can also ask him–again: ahead of time–if there is any way you can help him make good choices during the ride, offering a suggestion if necessary (play his favorite song, sing something together, bring a favorite book in the car…)

This isn’t a foolproof plan (what, in parenting, ever is?) but it’s a great jumping-off place.  Good luck!

Book Review: Books about divorce for kids

Do you have any recommended books about…

No matter what the topic, reading a relevant book can help parents navigate through tough times.  They are helpful partly because books give us guidance on important concepts to cover, and a script to follow, but also because the pictures give our kids a concrete visual image to go along with our words.  Today’s post is a collection of brief reviews of some of my favorite books on divorce for younger kids.  (A list of recommended books for parents is available here.)

I’ll start with my favorite book for the youngest kids: Mama and Daddy Bear’s Divorce, by Cornelia Maude Spelman.

I’ve reviewed this one before, but it’s worthy of reposting: The story is about “Dinah” (a bear,) who loves her family but tells us that: “…one day, something sad happened.  Mama and Daddy said they were going to get a divorce.”   Dinah talks about her feelings (sad and scared) and some of her inner questions.  She talks to her parents about her feelings, and both parents reassure her that they will always be her mama/daddy.  As the book progresses, she describes how she spends time with both parents separately.  Her parents make some mistakes, but the theme of parental love and involvement persists.  The book concludes by saying that after time she feels less sad, and that her parents and sister will always be her family.  It’s a peaceful and positive ending.


Was it the Chocolate Pudding? by Sandra Levins is another favorite.  The story unfolds with two brothers making a big mess with some chocolate pudding.  The next day their parents tell the boys that they are getting a divorce.  The older brother puts 2 & 2 together (gets 5) and thinks it’s because of the chocolate pudding, and is therefore his fault.  This gets sorted out in the end, and the kids are portrayed as adjusting well.  This is a great book for really focusing on the fact that divorce is an adult matter, and really addresses the (all too common) misbelief in kids that they are the cause of the problems.  As a small note, this book is unique in that the father stays in the home and has primary custody (not what is usually portrayed.)  I highly recommend this one.


Dinosaurs Divorce, by Laurie Krasny Brown & Marc Brown may be the most well-known book about divorce for kids.  It’s not my favorite, perhaps because of the comic-strip format, but it’s still a good book.  It’s an informative style, not a narrative story.  It covers all the basic info that kids need to know about divorce, including why parents divorce, custody, feelings, holidays, step-parents and more.  Think of it as a reference book for your kid.  Good to have on the shelf.

At Daddy’s on Saturdays, by Linda Walvoord Girard is an older book, but I like it for its realism.  After this school-aged girl’s parents divorce, her father’s custody rights are more like visitation.  One time he even forgets to come.  (ouch!)  But that happens in real life, and for kids for whom that’s true, it’s good to have a book that mirrors their experience.

Fred Stays with Me! by Nancy Coffelt is really a story about a young girl and her trouble-making dog, who happen to live in a split-custody arrangement.  Really, this is a narrative story that any kid would enjoy (the dog causes lots of trouble!) and the divorce angle is very minor to the story.  But, that’s the reason I like it.  It’s not the book that will explain divorce to your child, nor the book that will help her figure out her emotions, but it is the book that will show that there are all sorts of normal.  That’s a good thing.

Two Homes, by Claire Masurel is another good one for the youngest kids.  The main character is a young boy named Alex, who goes back and forth between both parents’ homes.  The book focuses on one theme–that Alex is loved by both parents.  The last line of the book is particularly sweet: “We love you wherever we are. And we love you wherever you are.”

If you have a favorite that’s not listed here, please leave a comment telling me about it.  I’d love to add to my list!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive compensation if you click the links and then buy.
(and if you do, thanks!)

Book Review: Always and Forever

Always and Forever by Alan Durant is a child’s picture book about death, grief, and moving on.  It’s very much the sort of book that I like to review here.  But this review came about completely accidentally, and the surprise ultimately made me like it even more.

I sometimes check out kids’ books from the library with a minimum of attention to the content of the book.  If the cover looks good, I open to the middle.  If those pages don’t have too many words, and the illustrations are decent, the book goes in to my stack.  My librarian readers are probably cringing now.  :^)

So, due to my neglectful vetting, I sat down to read this book to my daughter today without a clue of what it was about.  I figured it out as soon as I looked at the inside dust jacket, and had a moment’s pause.  Our family dog died a month ago, and we talked about death and grief a lot then, but a story about death and grief seemed out of place today.

But I believe that one of the shortcomings of our modern culture is that we fool ourselves into thinking that death is rare and predictable.  It is neither, and I want my daughter to know the vocabulary, and the concepts (especially that things get better!) about death before she has to experience death with an emotional component (there’s a big difference in the emotional impact of reading a book about death and having someone you love die.)  So I read the book.  And then I wrote this blog entry.  ;^)

I’ve heard many parents of young kids say that they want to protect their children from the ills of the world.  Actually, I’ve probably said it myself–it’s a pretty common and reasonable parenting belief.  But, death isn’t really an “ill” of the world.  Death is a normal part of life, and I was reminded that it’s the surprise of death that can sometimes be most painful.

When I teach parents about how to talk with their kids about sex (see my other blog) I talk a lot about the importance of giving the youngest kids the vocabulary to identify their body parts and functions.  I remembered this as I was reading Always and Forever earlier today.  I felt like I was giving the structure/framework of the “concept of death” to my daughter.  Not as fun as some of our favorite books, but I was glad I did anyway.  Check it out from your local public library or click below to look at it on amazon.

(note: I originally wrote this several months ago but it somehow didn’t get published, so I’m putting it up now.)

What kids really want for the holidays

I originally posted this last year, but it’s such good info, I wanted to post it again this year…

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In their book Unplug the Christmas Machine, authors Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli say that kids want the following 4 things for Christmas:

  1. A relaxed and loving time with their family.
  2. Realistic expectations about gifts
  3. An evenly paced holiday season
  4. Reliable family traditions

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Notice it doesn’t say a ‘Wii’, or a trampoline, or Thomas the Tank Engine, or or or…  Sure, they do want the specific toys they are asking for, but deep down they also want and need the 4 items above even more. 

Antipsychotic Meds & Children

The New York Times published an article yesterday about the FDA’s recent criticism of the use of antipsychotic drugs in children.  (For example: Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify and Geodon.)  Prescriptions for the drugs (for kids) are increasing, and despite their designation as anti-psychotic meds, they are also being prescribed for non-psychotic problems like ADHD!  The side effects are serious and numerous–including fatalities (Risperdal alone has resulted in 31 child deaths since its introduction.)   John Grohol at psychcenter.com said this about these “off-label” prescriptions:

The data don’t support such prescriptions, and the long-term data is
virtually non-existent. Docs (and parents pushing the docs) should stop
reaching for every possible new drug to help children when, especially
for a disorder like ADHD, there are powerful, fast non-drug treatments
available (such as psychotherapy).

I’m glad to see an increase in scrutiny in the use of these medications.  Behavioral, psychological, attentional problems–they aren’t just a chemical problem–and the further we can move away from the mindset of “pill=solution,” the better.

Read the original NYT article here.
Read John Grohol’s take on it here.

Helping Children Grieve

Today’s post is written by author & therapist Victoria Hendricks. 
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No parent wants to use the words “child” and “death” in the same sentence.  But life doesn’t always honor our wants. In the best circumstances we can introduce children to death gradually.  We can talk to the three year old about the difference between the live ant that crawls and the dead ant that lies still and stiff.  We can have a sad, sweet funeral for the gold fish with the kindergartener.
 
Sometimes though, death doesn’t give us time to prepare children gently and gradually.  Sometimes a beloved uncle dies of a sudden heart attack, a friend is killed by a car, or a parent is diagnosed with a life threatening disease and then succumbs.  What can we do for our children then, when we are hurting and in shock and they need information and support, right then?
 
When my daughters were five and nine, their daddy died of cancer within nine months of diagnosis.  The bad news is that, even with training as a grief counselor, I could not spare them pain and after effects of that loss.  The good news is both of them feel that they understood what was going on with their daddy and his death and that they felt loved and safe, even when very sad.
 
So what is helpful when the bottom falls out and you and your children are faced with the unspeakable?
 
Tell the truth.  Tell it in simple, age appropriate terms, but don’t sugar coat. Euphemisms are confusing.  Especially avoid any likening of death to sleep, so  children won’t become afraid of sleep. Explain the “why” of the particular death accurately because children tend to blame themselves even when that doesn’t seem reasonable at all.  Truth fights that tendency. Tell your truth about the spiritual aspects of death too.  You can say that others believe differently, but telling a story one doesn’t believe isn’t helpful.
 
Answer questions as many times as they ask.  Sometimes children need many repetitions, and they definitely need to hear about their losses at different developmental stages over the years, so that their understanding can develop with them.
 
Remember grief comes in a wave form that hits cyclically.  That’s true for all of us, but for little children the waves hit close together and emotions shift quickly.  It’s completely normal for a five year old to be weeping inconsolably and then in ten minutes, be laughing and chasing a friend.  Remember anger as well as sadness is part of grief and let your child know that too and have safe outlets for anger. Let your child know that all feelings are normal and feelings pass.

Develop rituals that work for you and your child, whether telling a story, lighting a candle, or going to a grave site.  It doesn’t matter what you do, but that you and the grieving child do something together that opens conversation about the loss and allows you to share it.
 
Be clear with your child that she or he will be taken care of no matter how sad you are and no matter how hard things get.

Take care of yourself.  Use your own support system.  Your child needs you strong.  Love truly is stronger than loss in the end, or so it has seemed in my life, but loss hurts and we don’t need to pretend it doesn’t in order to protect and nurture our children.

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Victoria Hendricks is an author & therapist in central Austin, with a private practice specializing in individual & couples.  Victoria helped me get my start in private practice, and is a mentor to me still, so I’m very excited to be able to include this post from her today.  If you’re interested in more from Victoria, you can call her work number: 458-2844, or email her at: seastarvsh  AT  aol  DOT  com.