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Save Your Marriage!

It’s been almost 16 years of marriage for us and I can honestly say that I love my husband more now than I ever have before. I look forward to our getaways and our time together. He’s not a huge romantic-and-big-gestures kind of guy, but he’s kind, thoughtful, hard-working and SO patient. I see marriages around me struggling or falling apart, and it makes me sad. Sad that they don’t have what I have. Everyone deserves to love and be loved unconditionally and treated well. I will tell you that there’s nothing spectacular about our marriage. We make mistakes, we drive each other nuts sometimes, there are a million things that each of us would handle differently with the kids, I’m sure. But at the end of the day, we are truly each other’s best friend and we would do anything to keep from hurting the other. How did we get lucky enough to find this? We didn’t. We CHOSE it.

See, sometimes I hear people wondering if they ended up with the right person. I hear people thinking about how their life might be different or better if they were with somebody else. In my mind, those marriages are doomed. If you even have a tiny bit of wonder in your mind, it tells me you didn’t actually make up your mind in the first place. I don’t believe in love at first sight. I don’t believe in a soul mate. I believe you choose the person you’re going to marry and you decide to make it work…or you don’t.

There’s no perfect person. There’s no perfect relationship. However, there IS mutual respect, love, compassion, teamwork, trust and fun. I think these are the keys to marriage.
If you’re doubting your marriage, figure out which one of those keys is the problem. Focus on it together and strengthen it. Just like you would do at the gym. If your arms are weak, you focus on them. If your endurance isn’t where it should be, you work on it. You know darn well sitting on the couch and waiting for it to improve won’t do a thing.

So how do you target each of those things? Some are easier than others. If respect is the problem, it’s probably time for a serious discussion. If you don’t have respect, it’s going to be awfully hard to work on the other things. Some outside help might be your best bet. I think trust might be part of the outside help, too. Usually something big has happened to damage that. It’s best to go to somebody who has experience. The rest, I totally think can be worked on together.

If you find yourself not feeling in love, you need to make a conscious effort and decision to fall back in love. Go on a trip or simply take a weekend and leave the kids with a trusted friend. Stay in a hotel so all distractions are gone. Find a new experience to do together. It might be awkward and feel forced, but keep doing it. Soon enough it will start to get easier and feel more natural. This would help if the fun factor is missing, too. If you’re not feeling compassion toward your spouse, I encourage you to make a list of all of the things both of you do in a day. Really try to think about what their day must be like. It might help you realize that they have a lot on their plate. This also a great thing to do if the teamwork piece is missing. Once you see it all in black and white, it’s hard to deny that one person isn’t doing their part. Don’t do it to rub it in their face or show them you’re right and they’re wrong. Do it so you can decide together what might be able to switch from one person’s list to another.

Do what you have to do to strengthen the part of your marriage that is showing weakness. Don’t ignore it and assume it will get better. It probably won’t. Love isn’t a magic thing. It is a choice that you have to continually choose as long as you want the relationship to last.

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When Kids Need More Motivation Than What’s Inside

As a mom and as a teacher, I have encountered a lot. One of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with is kids that don’t have enough intrinsic motivation. This could be motivation to achieve a task, to behave, to potty-train…anything really! It’s hard because when they don’t have that motivation, they really just don’t care. I’ve encountered it both at home and at school. It’s rough. What can you do to help?

First, it is important to make sure you really know that child. If it is your own child, that’s pretty easy. It’s harder if you’re in the classroom with a bunch of kids, but definitely worth your while. Once you get to know them and form a bond with them, you can understand their likes and dislikes a lot better. Once you’ve got their likes and dislikes figured out, you can start attaching them to the behavior or task you’d like them to accomplish in the form of a chart.

This sounds weird, right? Like, what if their likes and dislikes have absolutely nothing to do with the task you want them to accomplish, or the behavior you want them to change? It’s okay! Trust me, it works. At least for toddlers up to elementary aged kids. That’s pretty much my realm of experience, so if you are looking for advice for older kids, I’m not your girl! The likes become the reward for achieving the goal and the dislikes become the consequence of not achieving the goal.

Decide what ONE task/goal/behavior you want them to accomplish. It can be tempting to just make their goal, “Behave in class”. But if it was that easy, the child would probably be doing it already. Take it in baby steps. Figure out what you want to tackle first. What is most pressing? It might be having big meltdowns, it might be complying with directions, it might be blurting out. Whatever the WORST behavior is should probably be the first, if possible. If you’re potty-training, you might want to focus on just going potty first and then tackle pooping (no mincing words with this mom of four and kindergarten teacher!), then maybe wiping at another time. Whatever you’re doing…baby steps!

Now, create a chart for this ONE behavior. This helps make it attainable. They don’t feel like they’re set up for failure because it’s just one tiny thing they have to accomplish. Keep in mind, you have to give room for error, especially as they’re starting. You can’t expect perfection right away. If it’s a specific behavior you want to correct, give them a little bit of leeway per portion/period/chunk of the day. When you see that they’ve met this goal for a period of time, it’s time to either up your expectations of that same goal (less leeway, or more times of accomplishing the goal) OR it’s time to go to the next baby-step and change the goal. If they were having huge meltdowns in your classroom and now they aren’t, choose the next behavior that seems to be causing the most problems…possibly completing work, blurting out, getting along with friends, etc.

The most important thing I’ve learned about charts is that they have to be fair, concise and consistent. The kids have to know exactly what the chart is for, how it will work, what will happen if they do or do not meet this goal. It all has to be laid out and explained. It has to work exactly like you tell them it will. You can not just use the chart to give “points” or “stars” or stickers when you think they’ve done a good job. The timing has to be set up and at that exact point, the child earns it or doesn’t. It can’t be done randomly and on your terms. And finally, the hardest part: you have to be consistent in using it. We are asking kids to exhibit a consistent behavior. If we aren’t consistent in monitoring it, they’re never going to be consistent either. You have to use the chart in the exact manner you laid out to the child. If you said you’d give a smiley or sad face after every subject, you HAVE to do it. If you toddler is supposed to get a sticker for going potty, drop what you’re doing and go get the sticker. It’s hard. We’re all busy. We have a ton of other things on our plate. But you have to. The kid is worth it, or you wouldn’t have cared enough to create the chart in the first place!

Parenting, Uncategorized

Easier Bedtimes

How is bedtime with kids at your house? Stressful? Chaotic? I get it. With four kids, I’ve had those nights. Or would you say, “It’s fine!”? But is it REALLY fine? Do you secretly dread it? Let’s make it better than fine! When I first became a mom, a good friend that I totally looked up to gave me a bedtime tip that has stuck with us through four children and 13 years (and counting!). It works and makes bedtime run pretty smoothly around here!

It seems like it would be pretty natural for kids to fight bedtime. You can’t even blame them! Most kids will tell you they hate sleeping. Give them ten years and they’ll change their mind. But how do we survive until they get to that point? The answer is stories. Yep, bedtime stories. You probably already read to your kids at night, so why not use the stories to drive compliant behavior?

See, in our house, bedtime stories aren’t a right. They’re a privilege. They are earned. How are they earned? Through compliance at bedtime. Brilliant, right?!? This is how it works. Each child has the opportunity to choose three stories for bedtime. When they’re really little, they might get to choose these before the getting-ready-for-bed routine begins. Grab a basket and call it their “Book Basket” (or something more clever than that!). That makes it a bit more concrete for them. As they get older it’s just a number we keep track of until it’s actually time to pick out stories and read. Once you start the process of getting ready for bed, any non-compliance like whining, saying “no”, refusing to open their mouth to brush teeth, running away from their bedroom (Just hypothetical examples there. I’m sure none of us have these things happen.) result in a book being taken away. If they have their book basket, they have to go pull one out and put it back on the shelf. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. They can not earn these back. If all three books are lost before they crawl into bed, there are no stories that evening. When that happens (and it WILL, especially in the beginning), I tuck them in, give them a hug and kiss, tell them I love them and that we’ll try again tomorrow. That’s it.

It seems simple, maybe too simple to work. But I promise, if you stick to your guns, even if you feel like you’re being harsh, the behaviors will change. Not only that, but they will look at books and reading as a reward and a positive thing. It will help create a sense of love for literature, give you a positive bonding activity, while majorly boosting their vocabulary. This is only going to help them down the road! And those nights when you read three stories? You might groan inside about how long it takes, especially if multiple kids are still on this system. We had three at once, so that was nine stories tackled between the two of us…ugh! But think about how much time and energy you saved by having compliant kids getting ready for bed. Trust me, a few extra minutes of reading each night is totally worth it!

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This Fine New Journey

Hello and welcome to my blog! This is a brand-new journey for me, but I’m so excited about it. I’m a 30-something mom of four, a kindergarten teacher, business owner, a wife, sister, daughter, friend…all the hats. I’m sure you all know what that’s like! I’m kind of known by my family, friends and co-workers for saying “It’s fine. It’ll be fine!” The house could be on fire, my kid could be missing, I could have just been told I have to work an extra three unplanned hours, the bus broke down on the field trip and I’m stranded with 60 5-year olds on a highway (that one really happened!)…and I’d still be saying “It’s fine!” with a swipe of my hand, like it’s no big deal. Inside I’d be completely freaking out. Was this healthy? No, I’m sure it wasn’t. I didn’t know how else to deal with it though.

In the past few years, I’ve realized that though I say I’m fine, (and honestly, in the grand scheme of things, it really is fine…people have MUCH bigger things on their plate), things aren’t fine at all! I seemed to have honed in on a knack for finding solutions to problems of all shapes and sizes. Now, that’s not to say that my life is problem-free. Ha! I wish. But I’m not sure if it’s the mom in me, the teacher in me or what…somehow I can take “problems” or minor frustrations and come up with a way to fix them. This can be organization issues, storage space problems, behavior problems with kids, relationship issues, time-management struggles, self-esteem lows. Somehow, I seem to be able to figure out ways to alleviate the stress. Though I still say, “It’s fine!” with a flick of my wrist, in my head, I’m already working on a solution. I’ve figured out how to be “better than fine” in my life. I look forward to sharing some of these solutions with you!