Category Archives: Professional Parenting with Judy Arnall

Date Night: Why and How To Make It Happen

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline Without Distress and co-founder of Attachment Parenting Canada, www.attachmentparenting.ca.  Her date night blog is at www.datenightyyc.wordpress.com/about/.

In the movie Date Night, the characters played by Steve Carell and Tina Fey are in a long-term relationship that they try to spice up by1414109_13630179 candle going out to dinner once a week on a date night. The trouble is that their date night is monotonously predictable—they go to the same restaurant and order the same food on the same night every week. They start to notice the sameness when they become a little too clichéd even for their own taste by talking about the variation of the chicken quality instead of their feelings, week after week. One night they do something different—they dress up, pick a new restaurant and go to dinner in the city for a change. What happens next is hilarious, and they end up with an incredible evening tale, though probably one that no couple would wish for. The end result is that they had a renewed sense of each other as the people they loved, not just their roles such as parents, children, siblings, etc. (although those roles were strengthened, as well).

Why Have Date Nights?

No matter how long they have been together, couples need sparks, creativity and fun in their relationships. As the years pass, they need it even more. For centuries, organized religion has discovered that people need continuous affirmation of their faith in the form of weekly rituals such as church attendance. Relationships need the same kind of tending and care. Regular meetings are required in order to talk, have fun and spend time together.

We know that friendships survive on shared interests, yet as soon as we partner up with our very best friend, we tend to settle into domestic boredom and let the shared interests slide. Every relationship has peaks and valleys—moments where love is overwhelming and moments when you seriously wonder why you are still with your partner. Couples need to remind themselves of the qualities that they saw in each other at the beginning of the relationship and what they still love about each other. This is even more critical when mortgages, pets, children, jobs, laundry, broken appliances, normal conflicts and elderly caretaking occur alongside the couple relationship. These are normal stresses, but they can be overwhelming in a relationship without some nurturing buffers, such as date night and time together.

The “Date Night” Rules

  • Together, choose an evening of the week for date night, but make it the same day of the week so it’s not left by the wayside.

  • If you have children, hire a standing sitter to come each week at the same time. Try to get a sitter who drives, and pay the sitter well. If finances are a concern, consider finding or starting a babysitting co-op or have date nights at home after the children are asleep.

  • If you don’t wish to leave your children or if separation anxiety is a concern, plan date nights at home when the children are asleep.

  • Each partner takes a turn planning the date, executing, driving and paying. The other partner is the guest. Switch roles the next week. It’s more fun to keep plans a secret until you are both in the car or it’s the time of the date. Surprise is part of the fun!

  • The planner should hire the sitter and feed the kids before you go out.

  • Look your best, even for home dates. The only information the guest needs to know is what to wear and if he or she should eat before going out.

  • Try to plan an evening without friends so that intimate subjects can be addressed if need be. Some subjects are difficult to bring up, but with time and space, it’s better to broach the subjects and give them air time than to bury them. Couples who bury critical conversations end up with nothing to talk about in the later years and drift apart.

  • Be tolerant and enjoy the evening as much as possible, knowing that your partner put a lot of effort into making it special for you, even if he or she didn’t quite nail it that week.

When the Going Gets Tough – Babies, Toddlers & Teens

Research shows that the first five years of a relationship are the most difficult because of career-building demands, money woes and especially the parenting of babies and toddlers. The lack of sleep, child tantrums, worry and differing parenting styles can tear down the closeness and caring of even the most loving couples, as we tend to take our parenting frustrations out on each other. This can be toxic to relationships. We need frequent reminders to be kind and caring to each other in the good times and especially in the challenging times. Continue reading

The $120 Swim Lessons: Should We Let Children Quit an Activity After Committing?

By Judy Arnall, director of Attachment Parenting Canada, www.professionalparenting.ca

This was the summer my son was going to learn how to swim! He was seven years old and old enough to agree to the lessons when I asked him in March. I signed him up and paid the $120.00 Come July, he was feeling more anxious about it and resisted going the first day. Once again, I was faced with the age-old parenting question: “Should I make him go, or let him stay home?”

As a parent, we want to provide our children with a taste of the many wonderful experiences that life can offer. We flip through pages of booklets of the many offerings of classes, day camps, and preschools, and envision our child loving the sports, art, music, science lessons, camps, and activities. We take time to sign him up, write checks, arrange transportation, and prepare him for the first day. The first day arrives and he doesn’t want to go. What to do now? Should we drag him to the activity kicking and screaming, or give in and let him miss?

It depends on your child and your goals for the activity. Does your child usually complain until he gets there and then loves it? Or does your child complain loudly the whole time he is there and all the way home? Did you sign up your child to acquire skills, socialize a bit more, or for a little down time for you? Continue reading

How to Raise a Disrespectful Teen

By Judy Arnall, director of Attachment Parenting Canada, www.professionalparenting.ca

There have been a lot of opinions published online regarding the Dad who shot his teen daughters laptop. His whole point is that too many parents are being lax and ineffective and are raising spoiled, entitled children. I view it not so much as lax parenting, but uninformed parenting – the kind that increases the likelihood of raising the kind of child that the Dad is speaking of.

So, if you want to raise a disrespectful teen, here are some sure-fire ways to do it: Continue reading

Celebrate Your Toddler’s “No!”

By Judy Arnall, director of Attachment Parenting Canada, www.professionalparenting.ca

I walked into the kitchen and discovered my two-year-old blonde-haired daughter, dressed in her little pink fleece sleeper with the padded feet, standing on top of the chair next to the counter.  She was preoccupied with dipping her fingers into the butter bowl and then into the sugar bowl before they headed into her waiting mouth. When she saw me enter the kitchen, a potential threat to her wonderful activity, she formed a very concise pointed finger at me, and firmly delivered “No!” at my astonished expression.

“No!” It’s probably the most commonly used word in toddlerhood! It flies out of our children’s mouths before they even have time to really think about what they are saying “no” to.

When my five children were young, they were allowed to say “no” as much as they wanted to. I would always try to respect their “no” as much as I could within the parameters of the particular situation, and especially in circumstances such as when they didn’t want to be tickled by me or didn’t want to hear me sing or didn’t want to be kissed by Grandma or didn’t want to share their prized possessions. I think “no” is an important word for asserting their feelings and desires and, unless it is a matter of safety, they have the right to have their opinion listened to and respected. Here is why children should be allowed to say “no”:

  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is three and her daddy might want to put her in the front seat and not the carseat because it is less hassle.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is five and her little five-year-old friend might want her to cross a busy street without an adult.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is nine and her uncle might want to touch her in her private places.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 12 and her friends might want her to steal a candy bar from the grocery store.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 14 and her friends might bully a fellow student.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 15 and a friend’s drunk parent might want to drive her home from a sleepover party.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 16 and her boyfriend might want to “show” her how much he loves her.
  • I want my daughter to say “no” when she is 18 and her buddies might want her to try some “ecstasy.”

So, when she is two years old, my daughter can practice saying “no” as much as she needs to. And I won’t take it personally.

The Busy Brain Kit

By Judy Arnall, director of Attachment Parenting Canada, www.professionalparenting.ca

Are you worried about your children’s bent necks and poor posture? Do their batteries run out at the wrong time?  Concerned that your toddler might drop your iphone? You don’t have to rely on cell-phone applications, portable handheld gaming devices, media players, and other electronic devices to occupy your kids during waiting times.

These constructive ideas will stimulate imagination, creativity, intellect, problem solving, and social skills. Best of all, they don’t require cable or batteries, can be taken anywhere, and will amuse toddlers to teens.

The lot of these items should fit in a small 9-by-12 inch container, such as a rectangular plastic box with a snap lid, a backpack, or even a laptop side pocket or briefcase for ease of carrying to restaurants, appointments, or airports. Continue reading

10 Phrases to Make a Better Parent

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress, www.professionalparenting.ca

Many times as parents, we blurt out sayings that we heard as children and later vowed to never say to our own children. However, that is easier said than done. In times of stress, we revert very easily back to actions and phrases we saw and heard when we were parented.

Parenting skills are learned skills, and we can consciously effect change if we become aware of what needs to be changed. Here are 10 common parenting phrases and alternatives to nurture closer, caring, and more respectful relationships with our children.

INSTEAD OF: You are a bad boy.
TRY: What did you learn from this? What can you try next time?

INSTEAD OF: Hurry Up! We are late!
TRY: It’s okay. Take the time you need… (Next time, leave more time to get ready!)

INSTEAD OF: Oh no! Look at what you have done!
TRY: It really won’t matter five years from now! I will show you how to fix this.

INSTEAD OF: You need to…
TRY: I need you to…

INSTEAD OF: Because I said so!
TRY: I’ll explain my reasoning in five minutes when I’m not distracted so much.

INSTEAD OF: Stop that tantrum right now!
TRY: You feel frustrated and angry. Can I give you a hug?

INSTEAD OF: No!
TRY: I can see you really want that but I can’t provide it right now.

INSTEAD OF: You’ve wrecked my…
TRY: I’m really angry right now. I need to take a timeout.

INSTEAD OF: Stop doing that!
TRY: Would you consider this?

INSTEAD OF: Suck it up and stop crying.
TRY: It’s OK to cry and feel your feelings. Want a hug?

INSTEAD OF: Go play and leave me alone.
TRY: I love you!

Try any one of these substitutions today and you will see how much better your parent-child relationship will be. If you are not sure what to say and how to say it, especially in the moment, just offer a hug. You will be surprised how much body language can communicate empathy and affection, and then you can get on with solving the problem with your child.

School-Age Children and the Family Bed

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress, www.professionalparenting.ca

“But you don’t have to sleep alone!” Kyle protests to his mom when she suggests he sleeps in his own room. Family bedrooms are increasingly becoming common in Western societies, thanks to the Attachment Parenting movement that recognizes that babies and toddlers are not developmentally ready to sleep on their own for the first few years of life. However, Kyle is seven years old.  The prevalence of family bedrooms among families with school-age children has not been studied, let alone talked, but the trend is growing.

Many children, especially those that don’t have siblings to snuggle in with, continue to sleep in the same bedroom as their parents, well into the school-aged years. Many families do not admit that they sleep with their children. The fear of being investigated by child welfare authorities is the biggest barrier against discussing this practice. So the practice occurs quite often, but is not openly admitted. As a society, we accept family bedrooms for motels rooms, visiting at relatives, camping, and vacations but not for everyday use in a society that values independence at all cost. Still, parents persist. “We cosleep because it’s a cultural choice. My husband is Vietnamese and I am Canadian, and we have decided that it’s what works best for our family. Back in Vietnam my husband’s sisters still sleep with their mother, and my husbands’ brother and father also share a room. The younger ones are all in their 20s and it is not illegal or abnormal or culturally odd like it is here,” says Cheryl, mom of two children.

How does a family bedroom work? Two hundred years ago, before the invention of central heating, most of the family slept in the same room if not the same beds. Fast forward to the 21st century, where bedrooms now have the square footage size of the average 1950s house, the family bedroom can easily accommodate two king-size mattresses on the floor or several beds in the same room.

Not everyone agrees with the concept of a family sharing sleep in the same room. Barbara Evans, a parent educator from Beaumont, Texas USA, worries about the parent’s need for privacy and intimacy.  “My concerns are that, as parents, our job is to raise healthy, loving and lovable, independent children. Not to the exclusion of depriving them of nurturing and cuddling, but this may be the first place to start learning about boundaries and self-care.”

Why do families choose a family bedroom? No separation anxiety issues and no bedtime battles is the biggest reason. For an increasingly separated family where both parents might work out of home full-time and children are away at school, it is comforting and enjoyable to cuddle together at the end of a busy day. “The best thing about having the kids there with us is the emotional bond we have with them. We love the time upstairs to talk in bed, read, write, or just watch TV together. There’s no separation between us and we don’t send our kids away at night to be alone unless they want to,” says Ally, mom of three children. They have a big master bed for the parents and two mattresses on the floor on either side of the master bed for the children.

What age should family bedrooms stop? Children naturally develop the desire for more privacy at puberty and tend to want their own room and sleeping space by age 13.  This occurs naturally whether they sleep alone, or share a bedroom with siblings or with parents.

Most experts agree that the rules are simple. Generally, all members of the family must wear night clothes. Whoever doesn’t like the arrangement and says “no” should have their wishes honored whether they are the parent or the child. The parents might enjoy the closeness, but if their eight-year-old son wants his own room, that should be respected. And of course, couple sexual intimacy must take place in another room.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau once said, “The government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” And for many families, that rings truer than ever.

Managing Your Time Online

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress, www.professionalparenting.ca

Judy ArnallOne of my worst parenting days was when I was still sitting at my computer in pajamas and my husband walked through the front door. I thought that he had forgotten his laptop again and returned to get it so that he could go back to work and get started on his day. When he didn’t seem to want to leave again, I realized that it was suppertime and that I had succumbed to spending the whole day in the black hole of the internet and social media.

Where had the time gone? My kids had spent the day at home watching movies and eating sugar cereal for breakfast, snack, lunch, and snack. I realized then that I needed to manage my online time better and not have it manage me so that I was missing out on the life I wanted.

The internet and social media can be a huge distraction for women who work and parent at home. Here are some tips to manage your online life: Continue reading

Keep Family Game Night Fun

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress, www.professionalparenting.ca

Judy ArnallIt’s that time of the week that everyone looks forward to: family game night. Here are some tips to make it go smoother and fun for everyone, including Mom:

  • Have a simple dinner — Order in pizza so that there are not many dishes to clean up and cooking is not necessary. If pizza is too expensive, plan to have a “snack” tray instead. Get a set of muffin tins or any compartmentalized tray and serve cheese cubes, fruit cubes, vegetable sticks, a few dips, meat roll-ups, raisins, nuts (not for under four-year-olds though), crackers, pita pieces, hummus, and various finger foods. This takes hardly any dishes, and Mom is not always getting up between game turns to cook, serve. and clean-up dinner.
  • Maintain a “missing pieces” bucket — Have a catch-all bucket for wayward game pieces, puzzle pieces, dice, and cards that get stuck under the sofa, behind tables, and dropped into the carpet. That way, when a certain game is pulled out, the bucket can be checked for “lost” pieces before play begins.
  • Use plastic bags for pieces — When game boxes get wrecked from overuse, use clear locking plastic bags to contain cards and all pieces. Hole punch the bag if you have young children present so it is not a suffocation hazard. Bags are also handy for travelling because they keep out dirt and are less bulky. Continue reading

Why Timeout as a Punishment Doesn’t Work

By Judy Arnall, author of Discipline without Distress, www.professionalparenting.ca

Judy ArnallAre you tired of holding the bedroom door handle closed when your school-aged child is trying to leave during a timeout? Fed up with your child trashing his room during timeout? Frustrated because you can’t get your child to calm down and think about restitution during his timeout?

Perhaps it’s time to re-think the way a timeout is used. Timeout is a popular behavior modification technique designed to punish unacceptable behavior. Much like the use of a penalty box in a hockey game, the absence from positive play is supposed to teach children to stop doing the behavior that got them sent there. However, it rarely works.

The Origin of Timeout

When parenting experts advised parents not to spank, timeout grew as a replacement for spanking. It was promoted under many names: quality time, reflection time, thinking time, timeout. It is promoted for children as young as one year old up to 13 years old, because then children are usually too big to be dragged off to their rooms. Parents loved it, because it sounded respectful and it gave them something concrete to do in times of misbehavior, rather than “not doing anything because spanking is not allowed anymore.” As the popularity of timeout grew, experts turned the purpose of timeout from a punishment that extinguishes behavior into a more acceptable-sounding purpose as a tool that enabled a child to “calm down.” However, as more and more parents used timeout to help their child “calm down,” they began to use it less as a calming tool and more as punishment. Continue reading