Four years old is kinda magical. Imaginations are running wild and free.
I love watching my daughter orchestrate an entire wedding event in her playroom at the drop of a hat. Someone needs an archaeologist to find all the dinosaur bones in the bathroom? She’s all over that. But four years old brings its challenges (and tantrums), too.
No longer a baby and hardly even a toddler anymore, grace for bad behavior starts to run out a little faster than it did when she was younger.
My most recent testing zone of patience and grace? The zoo. The zoo is actually one of my favorite places to go with my kids. We get fresh air, my baby is all excited to see that there are elephants in REAL life, too (she throws her arm up in the air like a trunk going “Pffffffffff…”” every time one walks by). It’s an amazing place to learn about nature and it’s also an amazing place to learn some manners.
The other day, with one kid strapped to me and the other one bouncing along in a stroller, I braved that place like a boss. I packed all our own snacks, made sure we had sunscreen and worked hard to set expectations before we left.
“When we get to the zoo there will be other children going to see the exhibits,” I said. “You’re bringing your zoo key (a little piece of plastic shaped like a key you can insert into a machine that plays an educational recording about the animal in front of you). There might be other children who want to use their key to listen, too. If they’re using the key station before you get there, wait quietly for your turn. There’s no need to let them know that you’re waiting – they see you there. If you’re using a key and a child says that they would like to use it, just let them know with your polite words that you’ll be just a minute.”
Most importantly, I said, “And remember what happens if we throw a fit over using the zoo key machine or waiting for our turn to use it?”
“Yep, I get the zoo key taken away. If I do it twice, we leave the zoo.”
You can tell we’ve been down this road before.
Feeling extremely proud of my expert pediatrician and parenting forethought, we entered the gates enthusiastically. It seemed like for the first two zoo key stations, we were doing just fine. Everyone was sharing and there were tons of please and thank-yous. But, about one hour in, once the shine wore off, I saw those manners start to fade. Even though we prepared with good rest and a good meal before we started on our adventure, things started to unravel. I turned to grab a toy that fell out of my baby’s hand and looked up to see a full-on brawl about to ensue (by the way, if you’re in need of toddler tantrum help, we have a free guide here).
My little girl was red-faced and sweaty, holding her hands over her inserted zoo key while another boy asked her if he may have a turn listening about how flamingos stand on one foot, too.
“NOOOOO! It’s mine! It’s MY turn!” In, what seemed like an instant, she was screaming.
The boy stared at her, a bit dumbfounded, not sure what to make of this reaction to his simple request (it turns out he had asked for a turn but also motioned to put his key in instead of hers, which is what set her off. If only I had prepped her for every possible scenario when things don’t go her way, I smirked).
Two things happened. I bet you can guess the first…..
Yep, I took that zoo key right away and I let her know that our time at the zoo was done for the day if it happened again.
The second was more offensive.
The mother of that little boy proceeded to give my child the biggest stink eye I have ever seen. She glared at my daughter long and hard…And then she raised her eyes and glared at me. “Wow, nice,” she said.
The mommy shaming was UNREAL.
Now, I am a pediatrician. I see all types of behavior issues in clinic every day. There are some behaviors that really ARE a result of poor parenting practices. I’ve had times when I guide a parent to shift their approach with their kids and they see immediate, amazing results. But that’s not always true. Parents are only half (or sometimes less than half) of the behavior equation. There are external pressures and stressors, there are temperament factors and then there is the reality that kids cannot be completely controlled.
Like in all of our interactions with other human beings, we are responsible for our behaviors, for setting limits and appropriate boundaries and (for our kids) for providing fair consequences when lines are crossed. Our kids are in charge of their sometimes less than desirable reactions or responses to that guidance.
Even though we really, REALLY want them to get their act together and PLEASE remember their manners or control themselves, sometimes they just won’t…or they just can’t.
If we have a solid child development understanding, are setting expectations and are following through on them consistently in a loving but firm way, we’ve got to be okay with the idea that sometimes the cards will fall how they may. We can’t feel so bad when our children’s behavior doesn’t always reflect all the effort we are putting in.
That can be so tough. But why? I’ll speak for myself and for most of the other parents I know: it’s because sometimes we are really embarrassed by the behavior and because we know that other people are watching us with pretty unforgiving eyes (obviously, if you see someone blatantly being verbally, physically or emotionally abusive to their kids, shame away and stick up for those young souls. I’m just talking about people up on their high horse when they see a little tantrum).
The truth is sometimes our kids AREN’T well-behaved. They sometimes can’t or won’t remember their manners.
That’s just life.
I’ve decided to put my blinders on, as much as possible, to the mom shaming I see all around me. Haters gonna hate. Let’s focus instead on loving on our kids, doing the best by them and raising them up to be their best selves long term, however long it takes.
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What’s that? You want to take your kids out to eat with you, actually enjoy the restaurant AND finish all your food without stuffing it in your mouth as fast as you can? Sounds a little ambitious? You think that’s an impossible dream? Nah, you just need these parenting tips on eating out with your kids:
1. Plan Your Escape Route.
As soon as the food comes and you’ve gotten all the extra sauces and silverware you need, ask them to bring the check. Let your server know that you’re not planning on leaving for awhile but that, if things devolve quickly, this way you won’t be inconveniencing anyone at the restaurant. The wait staff will love it and you can high-tail it as soon as YOU and yours start to feel stressed out.
2. Bring Your Own (Multiple) Distractions.
I pack a ton of lightweight, screen-free distraction options with me each time I head out to eat with my littles. Crayons and coloring book? Check. Thin paperback book? Check. Food of my own for the one-year-old to nosh on? Check. Believe me, the server will NOT mind if you bring in some outside food for a very small child If the alternative is a screaming very small child.
I love this little contraption. It’s a machine-washable silicone plate and placemat combo that sticks to the table so your baby or young toddler can’t throw the porcelain plate they give you at the cafe across the room, hitting another patron in the head (I’m not sure that’s exactly what they were trying to prevent when they designed it, but it definitely does prevent that scenario). The one downside is that the original version is kinda huge for taking along with you but, thank heavens, these people thought of everything. They made a mini version you can use for travel. I keep my full-size Happy Mat at the house.
4. Choose Your Restaurant Wisely.
I am all about allowing kids to be in grown-up settings where they have an opportunity to learn manners and etiquette (at the grocery store, while shoe shopping, etc). As for restaurants? I think, hey, if your kid is fancy and you want to take them to a fancy restaurant, go for it!! Sometimes that plan works out beautifully. Often it doesn’t. Make sure you’re paying attention to your child’s mood, sleep level and, generally, how things are going that day when you pick your place to eat. Sometimes, going to a restaurant where there are a ton of other kids or where you know your noise will be drowned out a bit by the surrounding chatter can make you less on edge as you try to enjoy your meal.
5. Let Your Kids Play Until the Food Comes.
In Portland, we love our indoor restaurant play areas, complete with mini kitchens and wooden play fruit. In other parts of the country, where it doesn’t rain so stinkin’ much, playing with your child outside in a nearby park while the other parent orders and waits for the food to come can make everyone happier in the end.
6. Know When to Call “Uncle.”
Try as we might to ALWAYS predict how time with our children will go, there are some moments when you realize it’s time to call it quits. There have been plenty of times we’ve decided to divide and conquer- letting my husband get one or both of our screaming children back into the car while I get the check as fast as possible. We lick our wounds on the way home, asking ourselves why we ever thought it was a good idea to leave the house and venture out into the world.
Sometimes after we have a negative experience at a restaurant I think, “Why do I torture myself like this? Why do I even bother going places where I have to corral cats while I try to keep food from flying around the room?” But, in the end, we always do it again. Why? Because, as hard as it can be to get out and about, it’s worth it to try new things, to explore the world, to LIVE LIFE with our children.
When you go out to eat with young kids, you’re always rollin’ the dice- that’s clear. You can win (nine times out of ten) if you plan ahead, bring the right gear and know your limits.
Check out our free guides to make the rest of parenting easier, too.
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So you want to find an amazing nanny? I get it. I did, too. Kind of desperately. Like, in an “I am really trying to not bawl right now at the thought of leaving my precious baby in the arms of someone else, so if that someone else could be dream-like, it would really help” kind of way (see my article on Mommy Guilt for more). Choosing a care provider is one of the most important choices you make for your kids early on. The people your child are around strongly influence the way they see the world and the place they find within it. I have compiled some tips for finding a nanny.
I’m not going to mince words here. I have the world’s best nanny. She has been with me for four years. She’s been there through two very different infants, a remodel and a bout of toddler pinworms (I know, it was very gross). You name it, she has done it. She LITERALLY makes my world go round and she’s gracious enough to not let it go to her head.
But I don’t have the world’s best nanny by accident. I have her by design. I had a really specific plan when I set out to find her. So, when parents ask me for recommendations on this topic, I have plenty of advice.
The most common question I get is, “Where do I find a great nanny/sitter?”
The answer is: there are a ton of places to look for quality caregiver suggestions – care.com, sittercity.com, friends, family, co-workers, social media groups, even professional nanny companies. On the websites specifically designed for finding care, they’ll make it pretty easy for you to go through all the steps. They’ll allow you to create a profile, create a job posting and filter through applicants, then set up in-person interviews. From there, you can do a paid trial where the caregiver watches your child for just an hour or so while you’re still in the house so that you can make sure you feel comfortable.
Here’s the secret, though. It’s not about where. It’s about how. It doesn’t matter what site you use or what friend makes an initial suggestion. It matters what process you go through to attract, evaluate and hire potential candidates.
Here are my top four tips for finding a nanny:
1. Be thorough and specific as you outline your needs.
Make sure you’ve covered all of the things that really matter to you as you create your job description so that the standard of applicant is raised from the get-go and you don’t attract people that aren’t a good fit. This is my exact job post from four years ago:
My husband and I are currently pregnant with our first baby and are due with our little girl mid-October. I will have about three months off work and then will go back. We are looking for a great nanny to care for our little one at our home on the days I work. We need someone sporadically starting in October and consistently starting in January. In mid October-mid January, it would be for babysitting, to get to know us and her, so I can get a break some days and so I could fill in at my work some days if needed before I officially go back.
We could work out what would work for your schedule but we don’t have specific guaranteed hours in mind. Starting mid-January, it would be part time guaranteed 2 days per week (the days I am working, which are Tuesday and Friday) plus whatever works for both parties for extra babysitting/extra days etc. We’re looking for someone that could for sure commit to working with us until our daughter is one but possibly for longer depending on our needs plus your needs.
2. Present yourself in a way that attracts the person you want working for you.
Get a contract together so you look professional yourself (you can find free templates here). Plan ahead! My nanny told me that when she saw my job post, she was really impressed because I posted it about three months before I had my baby. I didn’t need regular care for six months from the time of the job posting! She said she loved that (if you are about to have your baby and you are just now trying to find care, please don’t freak out! All is not lost).
“If you are a really serious nanny and you’re looking for a transition, you don’t just try to find a position two weeks ahead of time. You look four to six months ahead.”
She also said that she noticed three things in my post. I seemed warm and friendly, I seemed organized and I seemed respectful of a potential candidate’s needs.
3. Feel free to weed out those that don’t quite measure up.
This is your kid we’re talking about. You want a caregiver you feel great about. Filter out applicants who don’t present themselves well (by having spelling or grammatical errors), who don’t have the experience you’re looking for or who don’t fit your style. If you start your search early, you’re more likely to allow enough time to find a good pool of applicants to choose from.
Sometimes, when you meet someone in person, it becomes even more clear that they are right (or wrong) for you. Use your gut to make your final decision. Check references. When someone said, “I know this is a big deal and I can tell you without reservation that you will be so happy you chose her- she’s like family at this point,” I knew I found a winner!
4. Get real about the things that really matter to you in a caregiver.
Of course, things like CPR-certified status are important to me. However, the four things that topped my list once I got past my check-boxed items were these:
I wanted someone who was intuitive and confident.
In my experience, this only comes from real experience. As a pediatrician, once you’ve seen 100 ear infections, you can spot one a mile away. The same goes for caregivers. If someone has “over ten years experience” on their resume, but you dig in and it means watching their younger siblings, it doesn’t count as much as someone who has watched four families over the course of 5-10 years, ranging in ages from infancy to fifteen years old. That person probably knows their stuff.
It also comes from being trusted over the years. When we had our in-person interview with our nanny, I told her I was looking for someone who could call me for anything, but who felt comfortable in most situations so that she wouldn’t need to unless there was a real emergency. Turns out that was what our nanny was looking for, too! She told me that one of the main reasons she CHOSE US was because she knew she wouldn’t be micromanaged all day long on things she knew a lot about. She presented herself as a professional and expected to be treated in the same way and she defers to my direction if needed. But, because she is so trustworthy and confident, I hardly ever feel the need to re-direct.
I wanted someone who deeply loved my kids.
I think sometimes this can be one of the most daunting aspects of this whole search. The reality is, however, when you are searching for someone to care for your children on a regular basis, it matters that they are loved on during that time (of course in a way that keeps your kids safe and that has appropriate boundaries), not just “watched.”
This takes a little bit of letting go. It means that your children will form a relationship with someone that is not you. They might one day call your nanny “mom” on accident, that it may sometimes feel like they love them (gulp) more than they love you. I feel your pain. Your children might very well fall in love with their caregiver and that would be the BEST CASE scenario, in the end. When I finally put aside my pride and didn’t let that sabotage my nanny search efforts, I was more successful.
I wanted someone who had a solid understanding of child development.
I knew that, eventually, my nanny would be the one to discipline my kids during the day. At first, it would be all roses and sunshine while they were cute and cuddly but, if I was in this for the long haul (which I was), there would come a time that she would be handling tantrums and time-outs. I wanted this to be like second-nature to her.
Let me be clear: this doesn’t mean a caregiver has to take official courses in child development. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that they can quote experts in the field of behavior management (can you?). It means that they can walk you through what they would do if a tricky situation came up with your child. Make sure their explanation makes you say, “Wow, I would never have thought to do that! That’s a genius idea!”
I wanted someone I actually liked.
This is so important. You really have to make sure that the person that you hire is someone that you would be okay spending time with or, even better, would want to spend time with. They don’t need to be your best friend but, odds are, you will develop a friendship with them as you share the responsibility of raising your kids together. If you are irritated by them half the time, the odds of this all working out will start to wear on you. Spend time in your interview asking a bit about your potential employee so that you have a good sense of the person you are inviting into your home.
Finding a nanny can be stressful but it’s also really exciting. You’re building your village, hiring the person that will be there for your kids alongside you, nurturing, guiding and caring for the person or people you love best! Focus on the how, not the where, and you’ll find amazing people waiting in the wings to work with you.
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Mommy Guilt is one of the worst parenting tricks in the book. There you are, perfect little baby in hand and, wham, in comes Mommy Guilt, making you feel like a failure when you’re not producing enough milk, taunting you when you leave your baby for the first time, gnawing at you, making you feel like you must not be doing enough to stimulate/soothe/protect/you name it your little one. At one point or another in your journey in motherhood, you’re going to need some tips for avoiding mommy guilt.
And then? The day you go back to work (for all you working moms). And you wonder, “Am I the worst mom in the world for leaving my precious baby in the arms of someone else?”
Now, I am all about women meeting their full potential, whether as working or stay-at-home moms (or as not moms at all, for that matter). It’s most important to do what works the best for all of us individually. Remember, I work full-time as a doctor. I love working. Still, it doesn’t stop me, on some days, from feeling like a complete jerk when I walk out the door and leave my girls behind.
It’s worse when they start to get a little older. My youngest daughter just turned one year old and she has perfected the “Mommy don’t go” cry which usually consists of, “mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom” over and over again while she clings to my pant leg. It reliably happens when I’m heading out to my job in the morning or when I’m all geared up to work out. It hardly ever happens to my husband (I’m sure it does, I just don’t notice it because I only have room in my brain for my guilt, not his as well). It’s enough to make me cry in my car occasionally.
What are my choices?
I could -and I have in the past- just decided it’s not worth it to feed the non-mom parts of me. I could decide to only go to work every day. To come straight home or go straight there all week long. I could never take the time to hang out with friends. Or never take an adult vacation. To never feel like I’m inconveniencing my partner or other caregivers.
It’s an option I see a lot of parents take. I could do it, too. But I know where that path leads me, and it’s dark and lonely and kinda muddy in that river.
Plus, the mom guilt itself doesn’t serve me well. I’m less physically and mentally healthy, I’m faster to get irritated and lose my cool with my kids. I’m, let’s face it, a pretty sad example of the balance I hope my girls will have in their own lives.
I could figure out what the real issue is, what scares me so much when I prioritize myself as much as the other people and obligations I have. Here’s my real worry: I’m deep down fearful that it will, in some way, mess my kids up. That they’ll internalize a message that they don’t matter to me.
Now that we’re really getting to the heart of it, what is the evidence that working or taking some time for self-care (I’m not talking about going out every single night ’til dawn. I’m talking about taking consistent time for yourself to re-group and re-boot) actually damages our kids? Wait for it… It’s not there.
Three things that actually do really matter:
Providing consistency. Tons of families come to my clinic asking about family dinners. They’ve heard a lot about their importance on social media and in books they’ve read. The truth is, family dinners are just one example of providing times throughout the day and week that our kids can count on. Kids thrive on routine. There are always times we have to make adjustments, but if you build in planned times to connect that your kids can count on, that is more important than you being physically present with your children 24 hours a day.
Being focused. It’s so much worse to spend all day on your smartphone while your child tries to get your attention than to take care of what you need to do in a chunk of concentrated time and then give our kids the undivided attention they deserve. Make the time you spend with your children purposeful instead of distracted and you’ll enjoy it more and not wish you were somewhere else the whole time. If you’ve taken your own time to take care of yourself, this won’t be such a challenge.
Allowing other caretakers to be equal players who provide that same level of consistency. Nine out of ten weekends in our house, my husband makes waffles and takes the kids to the park while I do something solo. The next morning we switch and I do something special with them. Both of us get our time to re-boot and we’re less resentful of each other’s free time. Plus we get some individual moments with our kids to make memories.
Mommy (and Daddy) Guilt is hard to kick, but the reality is, it just doesn’t do us any good. Take care of yourself, so you can take care of the other people in your life with an equal measure of love and commitment.
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My daughter and I have a little joke going today. She keeps telling me how perfect her art creations are:
“Look at this little cat I painted,” she tells me at the pottery painting studio. “It’s just perfect. Ooh, and how about this beaded necklace I made earlier? I did it absolutely perfectly.” She laughs and grins up at me, smirking.
When we think about our kids’ behavior (tantrums, manners, whining) versus the things they are able to do (ride a bike, spell a word), the anti-perfection rule should hold just as strong. More times than not, though, we’re less forgiving in that area. Our goal is well-behaved kids all the time, every time. A little bit of parenting advice: while that would be nice, it’s not realistic and it’s not fair.
Why It’s Not Realistic
Ok, here’s the deal. Are YOU on your A-game every single moment of every single day? Do you sometimes feel incredibly tired, incredibly hungry or, just generally, not in the mood to play nice? It’s the same for your kids – get this- because they are humans, too. I feel like about 10% of the time (and that is probably a gross underestimate), I have to make a conscious effort not to get offended, to try to say something in a nicer way than I am thinking it or to change my behavior as I consider how my actions will affect other people. Remember, your kids do not have the benefit of years of practice with social intelligence like you do.
Also, toddlers and elementary school kids are more sensitive little creatures – some more than others- than you are. I often describe my daughter like a high-end race car. When she’s running well and she’s in her groove, oh man, she drives like a million bucks. When she breaks down, it takes a specialty shop and a crew of 20 to get things back in motion. So it is with most kids. Snacks, sleep and a lot of one-on-one attention throughout the day? No problem. They will use their manners til the cows come home and wow you with their stellar behavior. Woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Good luck, my friend.
Why It’s Not Fair
Perfect –it’s the new standard for moms (and dads), right? Lean in – to your job, to your mothering, to your appearance, to your relationships. Be everything, all at once. It’s just impossible to meet the expectations of this world. So, why would we want to put that on our kids, too?
Especially when it comes to our young girls, it’s up to us as parents to make sure they understand that, when they look in the mirror, they are absolutely beautiful even if they are not perfectly attractive. That they matter because of their INNER value, not as the result of some complicated mathematics equation that takes into account their external and internal points, with external carrying significantly more weight. That they are worthy of love and respect, no matter what they look like.
Also, as much as we may not want to admit it, a lot of our parenting responses and actions come from other people’s potential judgements about us (read here about the way I responded when my toddler threw a huge tantrum in the grocery store). I will be the first to acknowledge that, sometimes, I am really just worried that other people will think that I am not a good parent when they see my child in action. Just because I’m a pediatrician doesn’t make me exempt from those feelings of, “I bet those other moms are watching this play out right now and are thinking, ‘What a hot mess.’” I have to remember to put my pride aside.
What Is Possible
Alright, so does that mean we just let our kids do whatever they want and run all over us and everyone else around us? Absolutely not. Consistent behavior management is still key. It means this: instead of our focus being only the way our child is acting right at this moment (which leads to irritation), our focus should be on the future adults we want our kids to be (which leads to patience and goal-oriented coaching). If the future, not the present is our priority, we will be less frustrated as we guide and encourage our kids. We’ll also show our children that we are imperfect as well, but we’re constantly working on our own behavior and actions. It’s the first step when dealing with most whining and meltdown troubles.
That shift requires a little more thoughtfulness, and a little better understanding of child development. It’s worth it to read up on why kids sometimes “flip their lids” when they get overwhelmed or overly-emotional, as Daniel Siegel puts it in The Whole-Brain Child, to figure out how to provide wholesome foods on a consistent basis and to focus on healthy sleep habits and consistent physical activity.
My daughter, bless her heart, looks up at me from her mountain of beads on the art table.
“Okay, mommy,” she giggles. “ My art is Not perfect. It’s just awesome.”
“That’s right, baby girl,” I say. “It’s perfectly imperfect.”
The information in our articles, on our website and in our courses are NOT intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and are not intended as medical advice.