the little red hen

During circle time at Friday’s Play Shop, we read the book, The Little Red Hen.  Many of you are probably familiar with this old story of the red hen who shares her little house with a cat, a dog and a mouse.

As the story goes … the cat likes to sleep all day on the couch, the dog likes to sleep all day on the sunny  back porch, and the mouse likes to snooze all day in the warm chair by the fire.

So …the little red hen had to do all the housework.  She cooked the meals and washed the dishes and made the beds.  She swept the floor and washed the windows and mended the clothes.

It was at this point in the story when 3-year-old Wren piped up, “She must be the mom.”

So should we, as women, cringe at this little girl’s perception that whoever is doing the housework must be the mom (even though she has a very hands-on dad in her own home}, or should we celebrate the intrinsic trust that it holds for her that of course,  moms can always be counted on to take care of us and do  things for us.

At three years old, I believe it’s a beautiful thought to have.

And, of course, there is the end of the story, you know.

When the cat, the dog and the mouse refuse to help the little red hen with planting the wheat seeds she finds, caring for the wheat, cutting the wheat, taking the wheat to the mill to be ground, making a cake …

… this spunky little red hen makes her point by eating the whole cake all by herself.

No door mat – this little red hen – just like a very wise mom.



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No thank you …

I never doubt how much parents love their child even when they are struggling with constant battles and sharing tales of misbehavior, tantrums, hitting and throwing.

When parents find themselves at this point, they are desperately searching for an answer – for some help.  Consequently I believe their child, at this point, is looking for the very same thing – an answer – even in the middle of an all-out tantrum, is looking for some help.

As parents we are encouraged to provide a relationship with our child that is warm and trusting and secure.  But a relationship that has that security and trust and love also needs to have honesty and respect for and with each other.  So from an early age, we need to be able to say “no thank you” when a child is throwing his food around, even while we empathize “I know you’re tired, but I won’t let you throw your food around”.

A limit is often what a child is looking for.  “Stop me because I can’t stop myself.

If we can keep the fear we have as parents, that our child is becoming a tyrant, a monster, an incorrigible brat, at bay, we can be the loving caregiver, the adult, the stronger of the two.  And by stronger it doesn’t mean more forceful or more punitive, it means being able to say “I won’t let you…” , “No thank you”, “Not now”, while trusting in the loving relationship you both have.

Will your child still go into a melt-down, lie on the floor and scream?  He probably might, but now you can be in a place where you are able to lovingly address his real need.  Is he tired, overwhelmed, hungry, hot, frustrated?

And so the day continues – your little one knowing he can count on you- to sometimes stop him when he can’t stop himself -  and say a firm but loving  “no thank you”.

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blueberry muffins

Some of you who are long time Parent Pulse readers will remember my dear older neighbor, Mrs. Duffy. (}.  Well, she not only tended me as a parent of a 2-year-old, in her unassuming, gentle way, but she also had time-honored recipes to share.

In our yard that was across the street from Mrs. Duffy’s in Rhode Island, we had huge blueberry bushes.  It was one of the highlights of that summer for us to go out in the back yard to pick blueberries.  Even after eating quite a few right on the spot, there were always plenty left in the bucket.  Mrs. Duffy shared just what to do with the rest – her blueberry muffin recipe.

We baked many batches of blueberry muffins that summer, Henry and I, and that time and that memory has stayed strong in my heart.

We don’t have any blueberry bushes in our yard here in La Crosse  (although we have had several failed attempts) but every summer when I decide to bake some blueberry muffins, it’s Mrs. Duffy’s recipe that I reach for, and it’s the connection with Mrs. Duffy that I celebrate.

I love the way that the legacy that Mrs. Duffy gave to me continues to resonate in me and in my family after so many years. You never really know at the time, perhaps, when someone’s involvement in your life will continue to be a touchstone  for you many years after.

I guess that’s the beauty and the gift of it.

So…if you have a hankering for blueberry muffins this July, here’s a beloved recipe from a special lady - Mrs. Duffy’s Blueberry Muffins.

Ingredients:  1/2 cup butter, 2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, 2 1/2 cups blueberries, 1tsp vanilla, 2Tbsp sugar (for top)

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs. Sift dry ingredients and add alternately with milk.  Add vanilla. Mash 1/2 cup blueberries and stir in.  Add rest of berries whole.

Grease top of muffin tin and then put in paper muffin cups.  Pile batter high in tins and sprinkle with sugar, if desired. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. 


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Is one child in your family really pushing your buttons?  Is he/she the one that makes you become a “screaming meamie”?

Then this is the child for you to take a week, even better, two weeks, to focus on.  By that I mean intentionally and quietly watching, observing, seeing the expression on his face when he’s involved, noticing the way she tries to get heard or be included or be noticed, even if inappropriate.

After days of really seeing your most challenging child from the inside out, your understanding of why she’s doing the things she does might begin to make more sense.

Look for the emotion behind the expression on this particular child.  What might that tell you? Remember the patterns of the behavior.  When did it happen most?  Was your child in need of sleep, hungry, needing attention, feeling left out, rushed, being teased, trying to keep up and fit in,  embarrassed, vulnerable?

This is not ammunition for future tirades that you are gathering.  This is an emotional data collection to figure out for yourself what it is that makes this particular child so personally challenging.

Don’t rely on memory.  Pick a spot out of reach of little hands that you can easily put a sticky note with a word or two to remind you about what you noticed.

I think it might be eye-opening.  It may show exactly what this child needs.  It may even reveal his/her challenge has also always been your own and might put your strong reaction to the behavior more into context.

Is this really going to change anything?

What I believe it will do is open your eyes and your heart to whys and ways you can recognize, appreciate, and build a more positive understanding, and  find solutions that will bail both of you out from this ongoing negative behavior cycle.

Disconnected to connected.  Perhaps all due to focus.

If you need some help in figuring out what to do with the “emotional data” you collected and how to proceed, give me a call at The Parenting Place, 608-784-8125 to come in for a one-on 0ne discussion,  or we can chat about it on a warmline.  Together we can bring things into focus.



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summer evenings

From nightly neighborhood walks and sitting on front porches  to Riverside Band concerts and strolling along the river, from Friday nights’ farmer’s markets to picnics anywhere, we can appreciate the relaxed, slower pace of a summer evening.

Notice the freedom and confidence these times provide for our children.  We can sense it in their stride, their skipping, their climbing as they walk  along with their families  We feel it in the proud, content look of the child riding astride a dad’s shoulders , observing his world, high and close to one of his most significant people. We can watch and enjoy the independence of young children as they leave their parents’ blankets to run and cavort and dance at the farmer’s market.

We can all enjoy an ice cream cone or popsicle for sure.

It’s about simplicity, when nothing is expected but much is received. It doesn’t matter what the day was like.  A summer evening is about relaxing … allowing … accepting … letting go of shoulds and lists and just soaking in the warmth and the comfort of the moment.

It is about sharing, and a feeling of community.  It is about a sense of belonging.  And it brings all of us closer and makes all of us feel more secure and grateful.

It is our reward for February.

Summer evenings – hold on to them.

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presence not perfection

Today I listened to a wise woman speak about fathers and her message was “Children are not asking for perfection from their dads. They are asking for presence.”

Isn’t that the truth!  And the same goes for all parents really.  But today’s dads have won the freedom and the expectation to be nurturers as well as providers.  For we are providing the most for our children when we parent them with love, caring, and yes, presence.

So many dads are out there everyday meeting the immediate needs of their children.  I enjoy seeing one of my stay-at-home dads arrive at Play Shoppe at The Parenting Place on Friday mornings,  two young boys in tow, a diaper sticking out of his pants pocket.

Fathering in action.

I spoke with a stay-at-home dad on the phone recently who had a question about his young son’s sleeping habits.  We talked about these concerns, and then I told him about our Play Shoppe.  I love that this Dad is present enough to know the right questions to ask about his son.  Now they’re one of our regulars at Play Shoppe, and the last I heard, his son is sleeping well.

Of course, you don’t have to be a stay-at-home dad to be present for children.   It’s the sharing, interaction and connections that take place in a family that are so significant in a child’s life.

I have heard moms joke that dads put their children’s clothes on backwards and forget to brush their hair or give a final wipe to breakfast still on their child’s face.  But as the knowing woman who spoke today reminds us – presence not perfection.

I am particularly warmed by this message of fathers being present and hands on in their parenting.

Our own children were fortunate to have a dad like that in their lives.  And my heart glows when I think about our son, a soon to be first-time father,  who looks forward to being a hands- on dad.

My advice to our son as we talked recently was that all moms and dads alike are new to this stage of becoming someone’s parent.  And as new parents, no one is really sure what exactly to do with this newborn in your life.  We all get through it by being there, figuring out the baby’s needs and your own needs, by doing it – with love and compassion and some weariness thrown in – until, suddenly you are the expert on your child.

You understand every look, every sound, the ones of distress and the ones of pleasure.  You know what your baby needs.

Presence not perfection.

Happy Fathers Day 2014 to all the Dads out there.

Know how significant you are!

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You can’t play

It’s a typical scene – two young children pretend playing in the tent at Play Shoppe.  Looks like fun – another child tries to move on in.

“You can’t come in” , often forcefully repeated until the “tent crasher” gives up or an adult comes to his rescue.

This is always a difficult moment for parents to observe when their child is being less than kind to another.  But, often, in their young minds, they feel totally in the right – after all, they were the first ones in the tent, and the “game” they were pretending was only for two.

Exclusion of others is a standard preschool power play, but there are some ways we can help our children to be mindful of how it makes someone feel.

Warmly including others is important for us to model for our children in our daily life – by letting children hear us openly invite another to share our play, our snack, our sled, a ride home, to play in our yard, to stay for lunch.  Modeling to our children – being generous in spirit – can become a way of life for them.

Sensitize our children’s abilities to read emotional clues on other people’s faces.  Do you think he feels sad, mad, happy?  With your own children, validate their emotions which will improve their ability to offer this empathy to others.  When reading together, talk about how your child thinks the boy in the story is feeling and why. Listen to and  problem solve with children in their own social missteps.

Social exclusion, however,  is also a pretty powerful feeling for the children doing the excluding.  If a child is excluding others frequently, perhaps take a look at different ways he/she may need to feel more in charge of her life, more significant, more powerful.  Simple decisions, age-appropriate choices, trusting in your children’s capable physical and hands-on abilities may help them  feel more important in their own right.

And an interesting twist on time outs is that they actually represent social exclusion to our children, and thus are as likely to backfire, especially if we overuse them, as teaching them not to hit by hitting.

Of course, there are times in families especially, when children need their space, their alone moments to play, to think, to read, to create, to daydream.  These are necessary and should be respected as much as possible.

But for the times when open play is the name of the game, we can take the rule that Vivian Paley instituted in her book by the same name, “You Can’t Say You Can’t Play”.  Then when there are those power play incidents of exclusion, you can get right to the point, as Ms. Paley says, “Oh, did you forget the rule?”

“You can’t say you can’t play.”

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