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Archive for April, 2010

Guilt-free time away – without the kids

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 by:

Here’s a difficult scenario that many mothers may relate to: Your partner surprises you with a getaway to spend time together and reconnect. You should be excited: what a privilege, what a treat! But for some moms, the thought of leaving their kids is not exactly a thrill and instead of feeling a sense of excitement and relief, they feel anxiety.

Many women are caught between bonding with their partner and worrying about their children. Some moms simply don’t enjoy being away from their kids. If they do go, they spend the whole time counting the days, phoning home and walking around thinking “I hope the kids are ok.” And your partner then feels sad or resentful that he can’t get your undivided attention.

Here’s what to do:

Before you dismiss the trip or pretend to be happy only to break the bad news later that you don’t want to go, acknowledge the time and thought put into this and the fact that you recognize how important time together is for the two of you. Then let your partner know that emotionally you worry that you will not enjoy being that far away, for that long, and such a trip may in fact make matters worse.

See if you can arrange a shorter trip, or a trip not so far away. This will help you be present in the moment and hopefully see that the kids will be fine so you can do a longer trip next time.

If you’re really struggling with it, and if money allows, you could try a family vacation where the kids are in programs so you have the emotional benefits of being near your children with time to spend together when they’re entertained. You could also go with another family and take turns with the kids so the couple can get away and have some time alone. Or, if you have a good relationship with you parents or inlaws, this can also be a solution.

Realize that things are often worse in your head
Often when we leave our kids, it’s actually harder for us than it is for them. Going away can give our children the message that they are fine away from you and it can give them a sense of competence. Children also love to know that their parents want to be together, it helps them to feel secure and safe to know that they want to spend time together.

Going away can give you a rest and time to connect and be adults again, worrying for a short time only about yourself. What you may find is that you do miss the kids but are able to enjoy this time and that after the initial separation you are fine.

Don’t wait for a vacation to stay connected
You don’t have to take a vacation to stay close and connected to your partner. Taking time to go for walks, go out to dinner or take up a new activity together is really important. (It is to easy to get into the rhythm of being very effective roommates!)

It takes time
Sometimes as our children get older, we find it easier to be away from them. When they are infants or toddlers it is especially difficult for some mothers to make that separation. Helping your partner to see that this is temporary may also be helpful, especially if they know you are working on it and finding other ways to stay close.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and founder of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit

Relieving your child’s excess energy

Monday, April 19th, 2010 by:

If your little one often has major meltdowns, is constantly bugging his brothers or sisters, or just seems to have a lot of excess energy, there’s a trick called “adrenaline play” that can really help.

But first, it helps to understand where the behavior is coming from:

• Kids often hold tension and worries that they don’t know what to do with. They haven’t yet learned how to calm themselves or regulate their emotions, so this tension comes out in the form of fits, meltdowns or relentless bugging.

• These behaviors are common late in the day when kids are tired, overwhelmed or hungry.

• Other kids just seem to have an internal battery that’s always charged and if that energy isn’t used up, it can spill over into everyday behavior. It’s like an emotional thunderstorm that has built up–and they attempt to regulate this build up by getting other people upset. Setting Mom up for a big argument or sending their sister running out of the room screaming often does the trick. They get a blast of adrenaline because of the excitement, which provides a release so they feel better afterward.

One way to deal with this is something called adrenaline play—one of my favorite techniques. It is especially helpful for highly active children and children with ADHD.

When you see signs that a tantrum, meltdown or severe episode of silliness or bugging is building, you can use adrenaline play as a way to help your child release excess energy in a more positive way. It’s a great way to connect and, in many cases, ward off a tantrum. Try wrestling, chasing, playing hide and seek, or having a sock-throwing war. Go outside and have a race. Or, if you want to participate directly, have your child set up an obstacle course in a safe place and time him running the course.

Whatever activity you choose must have an element of excitement and a tiny bit of fear, which is why chasing or hide and seek is great. Just sending them outside to run around won’t do the trick. The activity must have a thrill that will give the child’s brain what it needs and help him to self-regulate. Tantrums won’t disappear altogether, but you may find that they occur less frequently because you have provided a release–and a positive one at that.

At this point, if you have a high-energy kid you are probably thinking, “that sounds great, but as soon as we start my child will get out of control and won’t know how to stop.” To avoid this, frontload the rules and tell your child that if he’s hurting anyone, won’t listen, or won’t stop when the game is over, there will be a consequence. A natural consequence—such as not playing again until later or the next day, or having to sit in the “penalty box” and getting ejected from the game after three penalties—is best. He may test you a couple of times, but that should work.

If you have a high-energy kid, I recommend adrenaline play at least once a day, maybe twice, but definitely not too close to bed time. Remember to stay neutral if the child blows it, and follow through with the penalties.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and found of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit

How to have a successful play date

Monday, April 5th, 2010 by:

Play dates are an important part of social development and as parents we want our children to not only enjoy these moments, but to experience social success. Kids of all ages sometimes have trouble “playing nicely” together, but this is all part of learning and growing. Children learn much of what they need to learn in life through play: when to listen, how to be heard, when to back off and when to be assertive.

Unstructured playtime without adults hovering is important–and for parents, knowing when to help and when to let them work it out is very important. Here are a few things you can do to make play dates go more smoothly:

1. Keep play dates short and sweet
For younger children, those who have difficulty socializing, or those who are easily over-stimulated, about an hour and a half is a good timeframe. The mistake many of us make is that when things are going well, we’re seduced into letting it go on too long. Rather than letting the date end with the children fighting, end it when everyone’s happy, feels good about the experience and wants to do it again.

2. Work on the graceful exit
Sometimes all goes smoothly until it’s time to leave, and this is often because small children just don’t know what to say, or how to end it. I’ve found that scripting a goodbye for them can make it a lot easier. Try saying, “Okay, it’s time to leave. Tell Josh ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I had a really good time, but I have to go now.’” Use the tone and inflection your child will be using when he says those words. This is called scripting. It can be difficult for little kids to know what to say, and by giving them the words you’re actually giving them the tools to master a new social skill.

3. Provide structure
If your child struggles with positive social interaction, or has had trouble with one friend in particular, it’s a good idea to create structured activities and let the children know what they’re going to be doing. You can even write it down–kids actually love that. So, you might say, “First we’re going to be doing this activity for this amount of time, then we’re going to have a snack, and then we’re going to do this.” For children who are five or six, board games, baking and imaginative play generally work well.

4. Frontload in advance
Before the play date begins, you’ll need to “frontload” your child, basically telling her what kind of behavior you’re going to expect and letting her know that if she’s rude or mean or hits the other child, the play date will be over.

Remember to talk about the expected behavior in narrative terms. With young children you can say things like, “I don’t want to see the ‘no monster’ or the ‘cranky bug.’” You can make a game out of locking the “no monster” out of the car, rolling up the windows so that the imaginary monster can’t get back in, and driving away. Or, have some fun pretending to lock the “no monster” in the closet so he doesn’t wreck the game your child is playing with his friend.

You can also talk about frustration, and make a plan together about how to keep the behavior from ruining the play. Use these moments to point out the connection between choosing good behaviors and seeing good outcomes: when we make good choices, good things and happy faces are more likely to follow. And remember that these strategies can work in all kinds of situations, not just play dates.

5. Leave if the going gets tough

If your child has been struggling with play dates, you may have to explain to the other child’s caregiver that your child is a little bit cranky so this or that might happen, and if it does, it’s not her child’s fault, but the play date may have to end. I also suggest that you have some kind of “door prize” to give the visitor if she has to leave before the date is officially over, because you don’t want her to feel blamed for your child’s bad behavior.

Make sure you’re comfortable enough with the other child’s parent to do this. You probably don’t want to do it with someone you don’t know very well, or someone who’s going to say, “Well, if your child is so terrible why would I bring my child to play with her at all!” And if something does go wrong, remember that there may be times when it is not your child’s fault!

Most important of all, if your child does misbehave, make sure that you follow through with what you’ve told her is going to happen. Following through, letting her know that by behaving as she did she was making a choice and that her choice has a consequence, is what’s going to lead to her making better choices for play dates in the future.

6. Praise good effort
Praise your child for good choices made and for the effort that went into play date going well, and discuss out how much better it is when things go well. To do this, I like to use the “good-brings-good” formula. Point out that when your child makes a good choice, something good will follow, and that if he makes a bad choice (or, if you’re uncomfortable with the word “bad,” an “icky” or “yucky” choice, or whatever other term you prefer), something negative will happen.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and found of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact jennifer at or visit