Anger management for littles

Teach kids to deal with their anger in a safe way.

My seven-year-old has been experiencing some very heavy, angry feelings lately. I have been trying to help her deal with these emotions without harming others, but I realized that some of her actions—the stomping, the loud growling—are the exact same things that I do when I am very angry. I have tried to explain to her that I bottle up “my mad” or “my big feelings” and when they build up like a volcano, I kind of explode. That’s not enough, though; I have learned that I, too, need to work on dealing with my mad.

So here are a few ways we’ve started to handle our anger. I hope you can use them for your littles, too.

Cry or Scream Into a Pillow: This is a very safe, cathartic method that you can do anytime you are safe at home or at a location that you can feel safe at, like a friend’s home. Grab a comfortable pillow in private—maybe in a bedroom—and just scream or cry until you feel better. A stuffed animal will work, too.

Hug: Sometimes a giant bear hug is all you need to feel better!

Stomp: Stomping around can help you release anger as well as the adrenaline that comes with it sometimes. Running also helps if you have the room. If you can’t safely stomp or run but you need a physical outlet, we can punch pillows (or a punching bag if one is available) or squeeze playdough.

Get Calm Though Meditation: My daughter likes to draw a rake through her mini Zen sandbox garden while I read her guided meditations about stars and worry trees. They help her feel more calm and relaxed. Older children may want to listen to a guided meditation and sit or lie down in repose, learning to mindfully meditate with parents. Yoga can also be helpful.

Snuggle with a Story: You can read a story about handling anger, like Anh’s Anger, or you can just read a favorite comforting story.

The Mad You Feel: This episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood teaches about expressing anger in different ways, such as through swim or playing the piano. You can use it to build on, adding the things you like to do personally when frustrated. I showed my daughter how I like to write when I’m angry, as well as how I like to discuss things that make me mad or sad with her daddy.

Managing holiday green

The curse of the toy catalog!

I hate toy catalogs, flyers and Sunday newspaper inserts. All they do is give my children a group of false wants and a bad case of the “gimmes,” which is exactly what the savvy marketers want. My kids aren't generally greedy. We have family in far-flung places, so they do begin their Christmas lists early, usually sometime after Halloween. This isn't out of greed but necessity since family members request it early so they have time to shop and ship.


I begin shopping even earlier and I am one by December 1st. Those last minute “I wants,” fueled more by a glossy ad than the actual wants of the child, just set the boys up for disappointment. The kids know they only get four gifts (three from mom and dad, one from Santa), and then the four or so others that trickle in from the extended family. Although they know the shopping is done, they can't help but hope the newest fad item will be sitting under the tree.

Well, it won't be. We used to try and do one of those last-minute fad items. Sure, the kid was ecstatic Christmas morning, but my January first the toy was gathering dust because it was just an artificial want.

Plus, so many of those items are just boring. They only do one thing and they don't leave much room for creative play. My youngest has finally learned that he doesn't like action figures, after years of obsessing over the latest one. He admitted they are boring and that he just wants them to have them, not because he wants to play with them.

So this year, I have banned the catalogs. I toss them into the recycling bin as quickly as they enter the mailbox. I've limited TV to Netflix and prerecorded shows so we can skip commercials. The kids' lists have remained constant this season, with no signs of green and no bad case of the “gimmes.”

Holiday homeschooling

The mid-year blues

December is almost here, what many kids consider the middle of the school year. I know it's a tough time for traditionally schooled children and their parents because everyone is looking forward to the holidays and a break. It may be even more difficult for us homeschoolers, because we get to be with our kids 24/7 as the winter blahs and holiday excitement begin warring with each other!


Routine is vital at this time of year. We stick to our normal school schedule, which means no, we aren't taking a break to go to the mall to see Santa until school work is done, no matter how tempting it may be. Sticking to the schedule up until we “officially start our break” helps keep the jitters at bay and prevents that winter slump that hits so many of us at this time of year.

That's not to say we don't take advantage of the flexibility of homeschooling to enjoy some holiday cheer! We stick to our morning schedule, or the core subjects of language arts and math, pretty rigorously. But come 11 a.m. I try to schedule in something a bit different once or twice weekly leading up to break. It may be a visit to the museum, visiting a “Santa's Workshop” kids' shopping event for a quick and fun economics lesson or baking together in the kitchen.

Finding the balance between routine and celebrations helps ramp up the excitement and combat boredom without sacrificing the school rhythm we have worked so hard the last few months to establish. After the holidays, it is much easier to slip back into schooling because of this.

Kid gift management

'Tis the season!

The “I wants” are beginning to invade homes around the country. Christmas toy catalogs are appearing in every mailbox and every single store, including the grocery store, is piping in Christmas music and setting up elaborate toy displays right inside the door. Even my kids aren't immune to the marketing.


We do keep things in check, though. We managed to implement a basic gift giving protocol when the boys were young that has helped manage some of the “I wants.” First and foremost, the boys get one Santa gift, a stocking full of small, inexpensive or homemade items, then four parent gifts. The first gift is actually a Christmas Eve gift, usually new pajamas handmade by mom. Then they always get a book and two “I want” gifts. Family and friends send plenty of gifts so they aren't shafted at all.

This year we have run into a conundrum. Everything my youngest son wants is very, very expensive. He has a penchant for robotics and science, so is list includes things like a $200 robotics and programming kit, a radio telescope kit and a solar filter for his telescope. My older son is at that awkward age where he doesn't know if he wants toys or more grownup stuff, so thus far only has a Lego set, some clothing and a computer game on his list.

We are going to have to change up our gift giving routine now that the kids are older, it seems. We may need to do a dollar amount limit, and inform the kids of it, so one isn't upset that the other received more items. I'm not sure how we will handle it yet and it is stressing me out, because I like to be done with Christmas shopping by Thanksgiving.

How do you handle gift giving in your family?


Assume nothing with your kids

Would you send a seven-year-old to a lock-in alone?

Would you even send a nine-year-old, for that matter? My daughter is a Daisy Scout, and we went to our first lock-in together over the weekend. I wasn’t feeling all that well—and I had been up the entire night before writing—so you can bet it was a rough night! But we had fun, my kid was a trooper, and we went home a couple hours early because, let’s face it, most seven-year-olds can’t stay up until six AM!

Though my daughter had to have a parent due to her Daisy status, any scouts in second grade or higher did not have to have a parent present. This, to me, was mind-boggling. It wasn’t like the kids were assigned a group leader to stick to all night long—or if they were, I sure didn’t notice it. I saw children my daughter’s age milling about, sometimes all alone, and sometimes even in the pool area.

This was shocking to me. I know I’ve been more protective of my child than other parents at some points in my life; she was premature and I spent the first three months of her life worrying over her incubator, changing diapers around a cluster of wires, and gently shaking her if she “forgot” to breathe and her stats sank. That’s sheer terror, folks, and I can tell you that after something like that, you’re damn skippy a mom is careful.

That said, my daughter’s been climbing the big boulder at our park since she was four with me spotting. She’s brave and strong and awesome, and I don’t hold her back—but I do make sure I’m there if she needs me. She didn’t know anyone during this lock-in, for example—it was our first activity with scouts—but when she did play with new friends, I hung back, found a spot, and smiled, occasionally taking pictures.

But to not go at all—to leave a child that young to navigate a whole recreation center, including pool, alone just boggles my mind. Another mom pointed out a tiny girl she’d been watching at the pool who was all alone, smaller than my daughter. The mom was there with her own kids, but she confessed that this poor kid was so small that she was keeping an eye on her, too.

After that, I made it a point to do the same, but I still couldn’t help but wonder at people who just assume it’s fine to drop their kids off—whether it’s at a camp or a lock-in or anything else. Believe me, I would love a cheap sitter, too, and a night off is tempting! But I would never put my child in jeopardy like that and just assume she’d be under someone’s watchful gaze the entire time just for one night off.

Winter indoor activities

Coming in from the cold.

After a summer of pretty much living outside, the season's first major cold snap caught my kids off guard. Suddenly their beloved outdoors was an inhospitable, freezing cold land they no longer wished to explore. For many of their friends, this means retreating to the couch and watching hours of mind-numbing TV or playing video games. Because we are mean parents, my kids only get this privilege for a couple of hours on the weekend.


The boys needed a jumpstart to remind them how they usually occupy themselves in winter. I quickly set up a card table in the living room and spread the pieces to a 1,000 piece puzzle over the surface. This table becomes a mainstay of our winter living space. Sometimes we all gather around and put the pieces together, other times a child fits in a couple of pieces as he walks by on his way to something else.

I also restocked the book baskets we keep out with some fresh finds from summer book and garage sales. I placed books I knew would suck my kids in – fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels and a few how-to books filled with projects to spark the imagination.

I spent an hour reorganizing the craft closet and making a list of supplies that need restocked. My kids will be digging into it soon in search of wood, paint, fabric and a variety of odds and ends to build their newest inventions.

Even more important, I made sure the cabinet was stocked with plenty of hot cocoa and cider. I moved winter wear, snow suits and gloves from the top shelf of the hall closet to an area they could reach them more easily. For this first cold snap they have retreated indoors, but in no time the white stuff will beckon them out to build snowmen, construct forts and stage snowball wars.

We are ready for winter!

Shut up!

A lesson in respect.

There were few bad words in my house growing up, and those that were didn't tend to follow the basic four-letter word rule. We weren't allowed to say “I hate you” (although to be fair, hate is a four letter word). “It's too hard” was also frowned upon. But the phrase my mom hated the most was “Shut up.” Saying this would land us in our rooms with no privileges for the bulk of a day.

I didn't even hear the phrase “shut up” until I was in school. I remember by first grade teacher used it often, and it colored the way I thought about her. It seemed so rude and so disrespectful to six-year-old me. As I got older, it became more common for me to hear it from both kids and adults.

I once asked my mom why I couldn't say it. Her answer? “Shut up tells me that what I have to say is not important nor worth hearing. Quiet please tells me that you need quiet right now, but that my ideas and thoughts are still important and perhaps we can discuss them later.” Now as a mom myself, I tend to agree. “Shut up” is confrontational and mean sounding, while “quiet please” is not.

My husband comes from a house where “shut up” was the norm. I found it really off-putting at first and I told him why. Sadly enough, his home was one where children's thoughts and ideas weren't appreciated, and kids were expected to always be silent. He quickly got on board with the no “shut up” rule when we had kids.

Old habits are hard to break, though. Many times he would catch himself saying “shut up” to our young son. Fortunately he almost always caught himself but only after half the word was out. His answer was to turn it into “shush please.” Until one day he failed and instead said, “Shud-ush please!”

My son loved it. He giggled while also providing the necessary quiet, and the next time he wanted quiet he exclaimed “Shud-ush daddy!” So now we are not a shut-up house nor are we a quiet please house. We are a shud-ush please house, and proud of it. I'm not sure if shud-ush is any better than shut-up, but in the end my family sees it as a wonderful inside joke and it doesn't evoke any hard or hurt feelings when it's used.


Candy management

Post-Halloween overload

Halloween is over and the kids have counted their haul. My boys fall into two categories when it comes to candy. My oldest carefully selects two pieces for Halloween night, then he allows himself one piece a day until it's gone. His yearly goal is to stretch out his Halloween treats until Christmas. He has done this since he was little. I have never even tried to monitor his candy intake, because he does it so well himself.

My seven year old is a different story. He didn't even possess a sweet tooth until he was two. When he did finally discover sweets, he was smitten. We tried free access to candy with him, and it backfired. He ate almost all of it in one evening and ended up sick for two days. We hoped that cured him, but the following year we caught him doing the same thing and had to take the candy away.

Now, he's an organized kid. The first order of business on Halloween night is organizing the candy by type and size. But once organized, the face stuffing begins. I'm not the type to take their candy and give it away, or to do a silly candy trade for a toy or money, but we have to do something.

So the candy ends up in a high cabinet, with a piece doled out after each meal. He gets to choose the piece, and he usually begs for extra (we don't give in). His brother has learned to be secretive about his stash, since youngest usually runs out much earlier than he. The reward of no upset stomach is well worth the sneaking around and candy policing, though.

How do you manage candy in your home? Do you have a kid with self control, or must you watch the candy bucket like a hawk until it's finally empty and you can breathe a sigh of relief?


Logical consequences

Ideas for positive discipline.

My eldest son has a simple morning chore. After breakfast, he's supposed to empty the dishwasher and load up the breakfast dishes. He has had this chore for three years, and for three years he has forgotten to do it every single day. He promptly does it when reminded, he simply just doesn't remember. I could punish him for forgetting, or I could simply remind him every morning.

At first he was punished. We would ban TV on the days he forgot, or take away another privilege. After many grumpy mornings I had to ask myself, “is this the hill I want to die on?” On one hand, I believe it's very important to learn responsibility as a child, on the other hand this is such a minor thing and he does promptly and cheerfully do it with a small reminder.

I finally decided it wasn't worth the battle. Instead, we implemented logical consequences. If the dishwasher wasn't empty by dinner time, I couldn't cook. So dinner was delayed. It took about two weeks of delayed dinners before my growing, hungry 12-year-old realized he wouldn't get dinner unless the dishwasher was empty. Nowadays the dishwasher is empty on time, without the morning arguments or grumpiness.

I've found logical consequences work most of the time to manage improper behavior. For example, with a young child that's hitting, telling them that their behavior is hurting someone else so they must do or play something else, then physically (but not roughly) leading them to a different activity often eradicates the problem. Eventually, they learn to remove themselves from the situation on their own, with only a small reminder.

Of course, behavior that is dangerous to the child or others must be dealt with promptly and sometimes with more traditional discipline. But the small battles, where children aren't purposefully being disobedient, can usually be solved by applying logical consequences instead of punishments or engaging in a drawn out battle.

The joy of mama-made

Homemade Halloween costumes mean more

I never owned a store bought Halloween costume as a kid. That's probably a good thing, considering back in the late '70s and early '80s, store bought costumes were made of plastic featuring easy-tear seams and rigid plastic masks that could slice off your nose if mishandled.

Nowadays, the costumes are still low quality, but made of much more comfortable and durable fabric. I've bought a few over the years at the after-Halloween sales to add to the dress up bin, but we never, ever use them for the actual holiday.

Homemade costumes hold a special place in my heart. As a child, we would begin tossing around costume ideas in August. The topic got us through many a long car ride with my mom, as we came up with ideas and worked on the details together. 

Come October, mom or my aunt disappeared into the garage or sewing room, depending on what we came up with, and emerged with a gorgeous DIY costume made from scraps around the house. We cherished those costumes, and many of them are still around being worn by my boys and nephew.

We keep the same tradition alive with my kids. Right now I have a paper mache astronaut helmet on my work table. I've almost finished the Apollo space suit, we just need to schedule a trip to the hardware store for some hoses. My eldest is leaning toward costumes that don't require too much dressing up this year, so he chose the Pokemon trainer Ash. His paper mache Pokeball is finished and we just need to hunt down a red hat at the thrift store to complete his look.

Some years the costumes are better than others, it's true, depending on the time and resources available. Yet, my kids can remember every single Halloween costume they ever had. They happily reminiscence about past costume planning and creating sessions. We aren't just making costumes, we're making memories. You can't buy those at Walmart.