Category Archives: Parenting Skills

Child-Directed Play

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For a young child, most of their activities are directed by adults: we tell them when they need to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, listen to stories and so on. Even when they play, sometimes we direct them – telling them how they should play with something, or else we interrogate them – “what color is that car? how many cars are there?”

Just take a moment to imagine what that would be like for you to be told what to do all day long. And then when you finally settle in to some “me time”, someone comes along and asks you question after question. It would drain your energy tanks, right? You might get cranky at that person. You might start to tune out their questions, or resist their suggestions.

Do you have a child who you feel is tuning you out – not listening to you? Do you have a child who is resisting doing what you tell them to do?

Try listening to them. Try letting them tell you what to do for a little while each day. I don’t mean put them in charge of discipline for you! What I mean is spend a little time each day that’s all about play, and even better, is all about your child deciding what to play, and you following along. Let them take the lead for a while and have fun discovering where they’ll lead you.

The Incredible Years program talks about “building up your child’s bank account” of energy, connection, and good will towards you as the parent. If they have a full bank, they’re much more willing to listen to you and do what you ask than if they’re feeling drained.

Many things fill their bank, including: praise, support, love, attention, and special time playing with them one-on-one.

To build a stronger, more positive relationship with your child, try dedicating at least ten minutes a day to a focused session of child-directed play. Here are some tips:

  • Call it “special time” or some other words that cue them that this is the time when they get to decide what happens.
  • Let them choose the activity.
  • Follow their lead. Model cooperation by doing what your child asks you to do.
  • Don’t focus on “the right way” to play, and don’t feel like this needs to be a time when you’re teaching them. This is just about building connections.
  • Praise their initiative and encourage their creativity.
  • Laugh and have fun.
  • Don’t quiz them on academic questions that have a right answer – these questions drain the bank. Either they don’t know the answer, which is stressful, or they (and you) already know the answer, so nothing new is learned by asking the question. Instead, try:
    • Silent observation.
    • Narration – talk about what you see them doing. “You picked up the red car and ran it down the ramp. Now you have the blue car.” Try to use descriptive comments much more often than questions.
    • Notice what they’re interested in and talk about that. That way, they’re setting the agenda, not you.
    • Open-ended questions – questions that you don’t already know the answer to. “What are you planning to do next?” “What would happen if…?”
  • Give just enough help to help them with frustration, but don’t take over the play, and don’t leap in to solve every problem for them.

You can use the Attention Principle while you play. Pay special attention to anything that you like about what they’re doing: “I appreciate that you shared that with me”, “you kept trying even though you were frustrated, and look, you did it!” If they do something annoying or something you don’t want to encourage, just ignore it. (Unless of course it is unsafe or breaks a family rule – you do still need to set reasonable limits.)

You’re modeling for your child what cooperative play looks like, and helping them develop social-emotional skills that will help them also play well with others.

Learn more tips for child-directed play using Greenspan’s Floortime method. https://gooddayswithkids.com/2019/01/15/floortime/

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Booster Seats for Travel

On a recent field trip day at my son’s school, I was watching kindergarten to second graders try to lug around their booster seats and car seats, and watching volunteer parents try to figure out how to strap the car seats into their cars. (I personally just volunteered to drive, because it was easier than unfastening and refastening my son’s car seat!) Then, one child came up holding this little thing the size of a clutch purse, telling me it was her car seat. (Image from Amazon)

I talked with the mother a little, but was having a hard time seeing how this could possibly be safe – so I did my research. (Meaning – I contacted a friend who is a CPST carseat technician and asked her! She gave me some great articles to read.)

The seat was a mifold Grab-and-Go Car Booster Seat. It’s advertised as being

  • More than 10x smaller than a regular booster seat and just as safe
  • The most advanced, compact, and portable booster seat ever invented designed for kids aged 4 and up, 40 to 100 lbs, and 40 to 57 inches tall

It’s available for around $40.

At first glance I didn’t understand how it worked… I thought the purpose of a booster seat was to get the child up high enough that the shoulder belt goes across their chest, not across their neck. This seat is 3/4 of an inch thick, so how does it work?

Instead of thinking of the mifold as a booster seat, think of it as a belt-positioner. Instead of lifting the child up, it pulls the seatbelt down. The belt guides on the seat ensure that the lap belt goes low across the child’s hips (not their belly – on top of all their internal organs, and not on the thighs where they could slip forward in case of an accident.) The strap pulls the shoulder belt down lower, so it will go across the child’s shoulder and chest, not their neck.

To transport, it folds up very small, with the strap wrapped around it. To install it, you unfold it, press a button to open the seat belt guides up wider (there are three possible widths to adjust to your child’s size). Use the setting that is closest to your child’s thighs without touching their thighs. Once child is seated on the mifold, you take the lap belt through the belt guides on the seat, then use the strap to clip the shoulder belt down at the right height. (Watch the videos on Amazon or in the reviews.)

Check for proper belt fit: the lap belt must fit snugly, low across the hip bones, just touching the top of the things. The shoulder belt should be across the center of the shoulder.

It appears that the mifold works very well with many children in many vehicles. However, in some vehicles, it just can’t position the belts correctly, which means it would not be safe in a crash.

Here are detailed reviews of the mifold, from Car Seat Blog and Car Seats for the Littles. Here is a video review. Here’s another video review. (Note: the video reviewers do not appear to be car seat experts.) Here are the ease of use ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Safety note: the IIHS, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, will not rate the mifold because, instead of raising the child up, “the device pulls the belt down to the child. There aren’t any data about how this new type of device works with real kids in real crashes. For these reasons, the Mifold isn’t comparable to the boosters that IIHS evaluates and isn’t included in the ratings.”

The consensus of the reviews cited above, and user reviews on Amazon:

Pros: Incredibly portable! Great for travel, taxis, and so on. Affordable. Older children are not embarrassed to use it, as they may be with another booster when their friends have outgrown theirs.

Cons: Won’t fit all kids in all cars. Can slip around on seat or fold up a bit, which can make it hard to get into. Younger children won’t likely be able to buckle and unbuckle themselves as this is a bit tricky.

My personal choice, as a mom – not as an expert in the field – is that the next time I go on a solo trip with my son, I’ll get a mifold. As a handicapped mom (I have one leg), being able to tuck his carseat into a suitcase instead of having to schlep a separate seat around airports is a huge advantage to me. But for this week’s trip when my husband will be with me, we’ll just stick to our traditional backless booster. We’ve got two 2-hour drives and two 4-hr drives so want to ensure he’s comfortable and up high enough to see out the window of our unknown rental vehicle.

For our everyday use, my son is still in a 5 point harness seat in my car and my husband’s car, or in a traditional booster for the once a week ride with grandpa or school field trips where I won’t be around to help ensure it fits properly in another parent’s car.  I want him to be as safe as possible, so I always keep him at each level of car seat as long as I can. (My son is 8, but he’s just 50 inches and 52 pounds, so he’s got a long ways to go before he maxes out the height and weight limits on seats.)

But if a highly portable carseat is a necessity for you, this may be a good option.

The mifiold is available at Amazon, Target and elsewhere.

Alternatives:

Some alternative small portable booster seats to consider for travel, carpooling, field trips, after school playdates, visits with grandparents, taxi or bus rides:

BubbleBum Inflatable Backless Booster Car Seat, Black. Here’s a review of the BubbleBum. This is an inflatable booster seat! So, it weighs one pound and squashes up small in the suitcase. $27

Ride Safer Delight Travel Vest, Small Yellow – Includes Tether and Neck Pillow cost around $150. This is a vest that you buckle child into, then buckle it into the car. Comes with a bag so kids can carry their own seat easily. Helpful when there’s not enough space in the back seat to fit three car seats in a row. Putting one child in this travel vest can solve that problem.

Or, if you just want a fairly small and portable traditional booster seat:  Graco TurboBooster TakeAlong Backless Booster. Here’s the carseatblog’s review of the TurboBooster. $33.

Note: I am NOT a Child Passenger Safety Technician. I am not an expert in this field, so please do your own research with reputable experts to make the safety decisions that are best for your child.

47 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kids (or Their Heads Will Explode)


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There’s an article by Parents Magazine  that I often see shared on the internet. It’s titled “10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Kids.” But the article is not about obviously harmful phrases like “You’re worthless.” “I hate you.” “I wish you’d never been born.” Instead, they’re cautioning about saying “Great job.” “Practice makes perfect.” “Let me help.” “Be careful.” “You’re OK.”

Huh?? You may wonder what is so awful about these words.

When you read their article, it’s got lots of really good content, and is well worth a read. But a better title would be “Translating Common Parenting Sayings into More Positive Statements Which Will Help Your Kids Develop Into the Emotionally and Physically Healthy, Upstanding Citizens You Hope They Will Become.”

But, Parenting magazine knows the rules of modern media. When you want people to read a title on Facebook and click through to read the article, it helps to include a number in the title (“5 reasons chocolate is healthier than kale”) and it helps if they can convince readers that if they don’t read the article something terrible will happen to them or their children. (“Follow our screen time tips or your child will be brain damaged for life.”) And it’s not just Parenting magazine – many other media outlets have used this same headline with success. At the bottom of this post, I list just the first page of search results for “things never to say to your kids.”

But, when parents read these headlines, how does it make us feel? It raises anxiety. It creates stress around the sense of “I have to do everything right as a parent, or my child will end up screwed up.” It makes us feel guilty about all the times we’ve “done it wrong.”

So, let’s first reality check these articles:

  1. At some point, all parents say mean things to their kids. It’s not just you! Just yesterday I said some things I’m sure are on lists of “things never to say to your kids.” We all have bad days, and we get angry, because we’re human. (Check out my series on parental anger – how to manage it and how to heal from it.)
  2. Luckily, kids are remarkably resilient. (To learn more about resiliency and how to help your kids build it, read this article by Jan Faull on the PEPS website.) If you have a positive, loving relationship with your child overall, a few harmful words will not damage that permanently.
  3. Almost all the things on all these lists of “things never to say” aren’t really that dreadful. I promise you that if you say good job to your child, they won’t be permanently damaged!!  However, there are many more things you might say instead, or in addition to, good job. Having an awareness of alternatives just helps broaden your list of options for how to connect with and guide your child.

So, I read through all those articles on things never to say. And I’ve gathered all those phrases below. But I am NOT saying “Never say these things.” Frankly, for most of these phrases, it would be totally fine if you say them from time to time. But, they don’t want to be the only message your child hears from you. For each one, I’ll then share some of the negative or non-helpful ways the phrase could be heard by a child. Then I’ll offer other options for alternatives you can try out, and gives resources for where you can learn more.

Unadulterated praise: Great job / Good girl / That’s a beautiful picture. You did that just right. What a perfect building you built! You’re the best ____ in the whole world!

  • How your child might hear this: Could hear judgment – there’s only one right way to do things. Could feel like empty praise if you say it no matter what they do, even it it’s easy. Could imply they’ve reached their limit and you don’t think they can do any better. They may not trust you after they discover they’re not the best ____ in the whole world.
  • Alternatives:  Only praise things that took effort. Focus on the process and HOW they did it and what they learned rather than on the product. Give specific detailed feedback about what’s good, and what could be even better. Read about questions to ask to extend their learning. Read more about effective praise.

You make me feels…. I’m proud of you. I love it when you…. It would make me happy / mad if you… I’m ashamed when you…. I’ll never forgive you

  • How your child might hear this: Your love is conditional on their accomplishments. Also implies that your emotional well-being is dependent on their behavior.
  • Alternatives: Let your child know that you will always love them, no matter what. (This doesn’t mean that all behavior is always OK – it’s not and you do need to set limits. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t have high expectations for them. You do want them to work hard and be good people. But your happiness should not depend on that. 

Practice makes perfect. 

  • How your child might hear this: Anything less than perfect isn’t good enough.
  • Alternatives: “Practice and you will improve.” “Making mistakes helps us get better.” “If you aren’t making any mistakes, this is too easy for you and maybe you’re ready for more challenge.” Read more about Willingness to Fail is the Inventor’s Key to Success

 

Labeling:  You’re so [shy, smart, clumsy, pretty]. You’re the [strong, fast, silly, wild] one. You always… You’ll never… [lose, win, do anything wrong / right]. You’re worthless / a loser. Girls don’t do that / Boys don’t like..

  • Labeling your child limits them. If you label them based on a problem behavior, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and they may continue to be that way. If you label them by a “talent” that they have, that creates a lot of pressure on them to retain that talent. They may worry about losing your love / their identity if they don’t succeed in that area.
  • Alternatives: You do want to understand your child’s temperament, gender influences, and learning style and help support them in using their strengths to build confidence and work around the things that come harder to them. But don’t “label” kids or think they’ll never change. Praise effort, not talent. Let them know that everyone can get better at anything if they work at it. Learn more about the growth-based mindset.

Shaming: “You’re just like [someone your child knows you don’t like]. Why can’t you be more like… Stop acting like a baby. You’re so [negative adjective]. Big boys don’t… Good girls don’t…

  • What they might hear: These statements are intended to shame a child. “A child’s self-identity is shaped around the things they hear about themselves.”
  • Alternatives: Let your child become the very best them they can become without worrying whether they are just like someone else. If you disapprove of a child’s behavior, tell them how to change the behavior. Try not to attack their identity or their sense of being worthy of your love.

What’s wrong with you?

  • Implies that the problem is with them, instead of with the situation.
  • Alternatives:  What’s wrong?” “What happened that upset you?”

Let me do it:  Let me help you. Just let me do it for you. You’re doing it wrong, let me do it. You’re too slow, I’ll do it.

  • What they might hear: Implies that they’re not competent. If you rescue your child from every challenge, how will they ever learn to do anything on their own?
  • Alternatives: Allow them to be frustrated. When we’re struggling with something, we’re on the verge of learning something new. (If they’re miserable, that’s a different story….) Ask guiding questions – “what happens if…” Make gentle suggestions “Try…” If you’re really in a hurry say “I need to help you so we can get to preschool on time. Tomorrow you can try again when we have more time.”

Don’t cry. You’re OK. What a dumb thing to get upset about. Don’t worry, it will be fine. There’s no reason to be scared, just do it.

  • What they might hear: Their feelings are not important to you. They shouldn’t trust their own feelings, they should let other people tell them how to feel. Tells them not to trust their intuition and do things even if they seem risky. (This could get them into all sorts of trouble as teens.)
  • Alternatives: Validate emotions and pain first, then reassure. Once you’ve said “I hear that you’re scared / hurt / worriedthen you can address logical reasons why you believe that it will be OK in the end. More on emotion coaching.

Don’t talk to strangers

  • What they might hear: This blanket message can make your child fearful of everyone and also limit their ability to learn the social skills they’ll need as adults who very frequently have to talk to strangers!
  • Alternatives: Model appropriate ways to interact with appropriate strangers. Talk to them about how to tell the difference. Read more about how to help your kid judge whether to talk to strangers  and talk about tricky people.”

Be careful. Watch out!

  • What they could hear: Of course we use it when needed! But if over-used, can create a fearful child who thinks the world is a dangerous place. Also: Teacher Tom says: “An adult who commands, “Don’t slide down that banister!” might be keeping a child safe in that moment, but is… robbing him of a chance to think for himself, which makes him that much less safe in the future when no one is there to tell him what to do.”
  • Alternatives:Demonstrate / model how to be safe. Encourage them to look before leaping. Encourage them to tune into how they feel about something – if they’re nervous, there may be a good reason. When the risk is just a mild bump or bruise, let them test things. If they get that bruise, they’ll learn something important. Read more about teaching safety skills.

Promises you can’t keep: I’ll never let anything bad happen to you. Don’t worry – you’ll always be safe. I promise – I’ll never die. I’ll always be here

  • What they might hear: Lies. And no tools for how to survive hardship.
  • Alternatives. “I’ll do my best to keep you safe. I’ll try to always be there for you, for as long as I live. Sometimes bad things will happen and I’ll try to help give you tools for coping with that.”

Please Go Aways: You’re in the way. I can’t get anything done with you around. Hurry up. You’re making us late. Shut up. I have better things to do than… Would you just leave me alone for 5 minutes?

  • What they might hear: So, I totally get that children are terribly inconvenient at times, and that they make everything harder, and that we all need breaks sometimes!! However, these sorts of statements create stress and anxiety and make the child wonder if he is loved.
  • Alternatives: Give positive, concrete suggestions for other positive, concrete things they could be doing in the moment. When you really need a break or need help, admit it and ask for it. That’s part of modelling self care. “Mama is really sick today. I need your help. Can you sit and play quietly for just a few minutes?”

If/Then: If …. then…..  If you do [this bad thing], then you’ll get [this punishment].

  • What they might hear: “I’m expecting bad behavior and am looking forward to punishing you.”
  • Alternative: When … then….  “When you do [good thing that I’m expecting you to do], then we’ll get to do [this fun thing] together.” Learn more about punishment and reward.

Wait till your father gets home.

  • What they might hear: you don’t have enough power to enforce consequences.
  • Alternatives: Consequences should be immediate, logical, and enforced by the parent who encountered the misbehavior.

I told you so: that’s what you get for not listening

  • What they might hear: Feels a little vindictive, like you were hoping something bad would happen to them.
  • Alternative: “Well, that’s not what you were hoping would happen is it? What could you do differently in the future so you don’t have this problem again?”

Because I said so

    • What they might hear: It’s authoritarian. Implies that whoever makes the rules can make arbitrary judgments on a whim, and they have no control over that.
    • Alternative: “I’m your parent, and it’s my job to keep you safe and help you grow up to be a good person and keep things running well around the house. Sometimes I have to enforce rules you don’t like. It feels unfair to you, but I will continue to do what I think is best.”

Telling them how to do things they know how to do: Hang your coat up. Wash your hands.

  • What they could hear: You think they’re now smart or competent. Also implies they only need to do those things when you tell them to.
  • Alternatives: Ask them that to do: “Where does your coat go? What do you do before we eat? I bet you know what you need to do next.”

Don’t ______. Don’t throw that / spill that / hit the dog / slam the door.

  • What they might hear: If you just tell them  NOT to do, they first have to stop their impulse to do it (which is hard for a young child) and then figure out something to do instead (which is even harder.) Also, if they already know not to do that thing, you don’t want to pay too much attention to it, as attention reinforces behavior.
  • Alternative: Tell them what TO DO. “Carefully set that down. Move your milk so it doesn’t spill. Pet the dog softly. Close the door gently.”

You did that wrong. Why do you mess things up?

  • What they could hear: Mistakes are bad. Don’t try anything you’re not sure you can do well.
  • Alternative: “Oops, that didn’t work. What could you do differently?” “Making mistakes helps us get better.”

Learn more:

Here are lots more articles on these ideas.

Printable handout:

Would you like to print out a handout of this info for yourself or to share with friends or students or clients? Click here for: Words Matter 2. Includes a worksheet where you can practice re-writing sentences to be more effective.

When You…. I Feel… I Wish….

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In Honest, Direct, Respectful: Three Simple Words that will Change your Life, Dennis Adams describes a three step process for communicating your needs to others. This can be used in times of conflict to share your feelings and work toward a mutual resolution.

  1. Identify the behavior: “When you….”  The more concrete and specific you can be, the better.
  2. Identify the feeling: “I feel…” and then state the emotion (e.g. “I feel sad…” or angry… or disappointed.) Be careful not to say “I feel like….” because then you may be tempted to say “I feel like you are ignoring me” which is your interpretation of their intent, it is not how you feel because of their behavior.
  3. Identify something you want, wish, or wonder. You might use “I want” with someone you supervise – a child or employee – to tell them what action you want (and expect) them to take. “I wonder” is a continuation of your feeling statement: “I wonder if you notice what I do for you?” And “I wish” says what you want, without telling them that they have to do it for you.

Imagine if you said, in frustration: “You never pick up around the house. I always have to do all the work.” That would likely put your partner on the defensive, and it’s easy to get into a battle of one-up-manship where you both pull out all your martyr cards about how hard you work and how unappreciated you are. Instead, try:

“When you leave your piles of clean laundry in the TV room, I feel stressed that our house doesn’t feel like someplace I can relax. I wish the house was tidier so we could both enjoy our time here together.”

This re-frames the situation to you working together as allies toward a mutual goal.

Let’s look at a few more examples.

Instead of “You don’t care about this project – you never even respond to my emails!”, try “When you don’t respond to my emails, I feel frustrated, and I wonder whether you really want to work on this project with me.”

Instead of “You need to get your act together and be on time”, try “When you’re late to meet me, I feel unloved, and I also feel frustrated that I’m wasting time waiting for you. I wish you could be on time or let me know when you’re running late.”

Instead of “You’re so rude to people! Why are you such a jerk?”, try “When you interrupted her when she was speaking, I felt really uncomfortable. I wonder if you realize that could seem disrespectful to her?”

Instead of saying to your child “I’ve told you 1000 times not to leave your shoes all over the house”, try “When you leave your shoes all over the house, I feel frustrated. When we ran late to school three days this week because you couldn’t find the shoes you wanted, I felt mad. I want you to always take your shoes off and put them on the shelf as soon as we get home, so we can easily find them when you need them.”

This model is reminiscent of Marshall Rosenberg, and his model of Non-Violent Communication. I’ve written a handout on using a variant of his model to Communicate what You Really Need.

Test it out this week – it’s an easy method you can use with your kids, partner, co-workers, or anyone you’re feeling in conflict with.

To see all my posts on relationship skills, click here.

Consignment Shops and Second Hand Items

photo of clothing purchased at consignment shop

Second hand sales are a fabulous resource for parents. They offer clothes, kid equipment (like strollers and baby carriers), and toys that are lightly used for a fraction of their original cost. Over 25 years of parenting, almost all my kids’ clothes have come from consignment shops. I like them not just for the cost savings, but because it’s better for the environment, more efficient for me, and helps me be a more relaxed parent. Are you ready to learn more?

(Note: this post focuses on clothes, because I just don’t buy a lot of toys or other kid equipment,  and we get our books at the library, but everything I say can hold true for these items as well.)

Why buy used?

Save Money

The photo at the top of this post is what I bought yesterday at a local consignment shop. (Small Threads in Issaquah, WA.) I got 6 shirts, and four pairs of pants, all the new clothes my kid needs for back to school, for $36.23. They’re all used, of course, but in fine shape. Brands I saw at the shop included: Gap, Old Navy, Gymboree, Oshkosh, Carter’s, Eddie Bauer, Janie & Jack, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein. At my local consignment shops, the prices are typically $1.99 – 6.00 per item for children’s pants and shirts. Cost savings is similar on coats, shoes, toys, and more. (At thrift stores, the cost might range $1 – 4.)

Pre-Vetted for Durability

I find that children’s clothes range a great deal in quality. Some will last through many children and countless washes, and others look awful after their first time through the laundry – they get “pills” all over them, or their colors run, or they have knees that tear out at the first tumble, or  collars or cuffs that get all squashed up never to go flat again. At a consignment store, everything is still in good shape after being used, so I know my kid can’t do much worse to them.

Better for the Environment

Most kids’ clothes are made from cotton. Cotton is terrible for the environment – it takes about 2500 liters of water – 660 gallons – to produce enough cotton for one shirt! Cotton is just 2.4% of the world’s crops, but of the pesticides used on the planet each year, 16% are used in the production of cotton. Let’s get as much use as we can out of every cotton shirt!

More Efficient Shopping Experience

I don’t enjoy shopping. I especially don’t enjoy shopping when I have to take a small child with me to the store! As a working mom, I also have limited time, and there’s other things I’d far rather do with it. If I walk into a kids’ clothing store, they have one rack that has a couple styles of shirt, then I walk to another rack with a couple more and another rack with a couple more. If I walk all around the store, they might have a dozen different shirt styles. And they might not all be available in a size 6. If I want more options, I have to walk through the mall till the next viable store.

At the  consignment shop I was at yesterday, I walked to the size 6 boys rack, and flipped through about 50 different shirts and 30 pairs of pants. I was able to pick out 6 shirts and 4 pants in much less time than it would have taken at the mall. And most consignment shops have some consignment toys stationed around the clothing racks so kids can play while their parent shops.

Makes me a Better Parent

I still remember 20 some years ago, when I bought my kids two really special matching outfits from Gymboree for a portrait session that were pretty pricey for my budget at the time. Even after the photos were taken, I was protective of those clothes… my preschooler and toddler really wanted to wear them but when they did, I’d spend the day saying “no, you can’t play with that, it’s too messy” and “no, you can’t eat / drink that – I don’t want to take the chance that you’ll spill it on your clothes.” I didn’t like being that fretful parent. When my kids wear cheap consignment clothes, I’m a relaxed parent. I let them finger-paint, play in the mud, eat nachos, and more. I don’t worry about stains and just let them be kids.

  • Stain tip: There’s a lot of good stain removers out there – I personally find Shout works great for us. But here’s the key with stains… never ever put stained clothes in a dryer. The heat will set the stain forever!! So, I spray a stain – wash it. If the stain didn’t come out, I spray it again and wash it again the next time I do laundry. It doesn’t go in the dryer till the stain is gone. It’s very rare when I end up with a permanent stain.

The Sell them Back option

I donate my kids’ clothes when we’re done with them. Many parents I know get their kids’ clothes from the consignment shop, wear them till the kid outgrows them, and then brings them back to re-sell to someone else. Instead of taking cash for the clothes, they can get a larger payment with store credit that they then roll into the next season’s clothes. Here’s tips on how to make money selling consignment, and more tips.

What about Teenagers?

My oldest child wasn’t that picky about clothes and was happy to wear whatever appeared in the drawer. But my second child was very picky about her clothes. By the time she was about 12, she was doing all her own shopping. I would give her a budget at the start of the school year, and she could decide how to spend it. One year, she decided she really wanted the designer pants. So she blew her whole budget on one pair of pants and a pair of shoes, and otherwise had to wear all the clothes she already owned, whether or not they fit her current style. In all the future years, she’d go to Plato’s Closet and other consignment shops, and buy 6 – 8 new items – mostly by the designers she’d want to wear – but for a fraction of what they would have cost new.

What is a second hand seller?

There are multiple types of second-hand sellers that sell used items. They include:

  • Consignment stores / pawn shops.
    • In a consignment shop, people have asked the shop to sell their stuff for them – if it sells, the store gets part of the money and gives the other part to the seller. If it doesn’t sell in a set amount of time, they ask the seller to pick it up. Most towns have a consignment shop – search online. Some are huge with lots of stock, some are small and you’re less likely to find what you need.
    • In a pawn shop model, the seller brings items to the store – the store buys what they want – if they think they can re-sell an item for $10, they’ll give the seller $5. Half Price Books and Plato’s Closet follow a pawn shop model. (Learn the difference between these models from the seller’s point of view.)
    • Everything in a consignment shop had to meet the shop’s standards for quality, so in general, it’s all in quite good shape and fashionable. (I’ve watched at Plato’s Closet, and they reject half to two thirds of the items sellers bring in, taking only the very best.)
  • Garage sales / yard sales / swap meets / flea markets / consignment sales – where people sell their own stuff or other folks’ stuff for a couple days in the yard or at a swap meet. (Just Between Friends is a nationwide group that does huge consignment events full of kids’ clothes. They can be a bit of a zoo, but people get lots of good stuff there.) You can get really good deals on stuff and you can find treasures – wacky delights you didn’t even know you were looking for till you found them. On the other hand, you can find a lot of junk you have no desire to own. Personally, the only time I did these was when it was a lovely sunny day in spring and I wasn’t quite ready to go home but didn’t have any ideas for what to do with my kids. We’d see a garage sale and go off on a quest to see what we’d find. Never anything substantial, but a fun little diversion.
  • Craig’s List / ebay / Vinted / classifieds – people list specific items that you can search for. Helpful if you know exactly what you’re looking for. My son outgrew his favorite pair of shoes, and the company no longer made them, but we found a new pair in a larger size on ebay.
  • Thrift shops – where all the goods they sell were donated to them. Anything that’s deemed “acceptable” is out on the shelves, so that means there’s a wide range of quality. There might be a barely worn Gap sweater from this year’s line next to an almost worn-out t-shirt from an event that happened a decade ago. If you’re willing to sort through a lot of junk, you can get some good deals. Note: some thrift shops donate all their proceeds to a charity, some (like our local Value Village) are for-profit businesses.
  • Buy Nothing Groups: The Buy Nothing Project has created a huge network of Facebook-based local groups where folks who have things to give away post them to the group and where others ask for what they need. On my Buy Nothing group at this moment, people are giving away: an unused case for an iPhone 6, a bicycle seat, a glass-topped end table, a bag of size 3T boys’ clothes, company for evening walks on a local trail for other women who don’t feel comfortable walking alone, size 9 heels from 9 West, wood toddler toys, and so on. And there’s someone who’s due in a month who is asking for a crib, crib sheets, and a stroller. It’s pretty hit or miss what’s posted, but you may luck out. And if you have stuff to give away, it’s nice to give directly to a neighbor rather than donating to a thrift shop.

Tips for all second hand shopping

  • The nicer the neighborhood – the better the used goods. At a garage sale in some parts of town, you’ll find things from Target and Walmart that the sellers are trying to eke as much money out of selling as they can. In another part of town, you’ll find items from Pottery Barn and Williams and Sonoma that they’re willing to sell for any amount you feel like offering.
  • Inspect items thoroughly before buying, especially at thrift shops. Look for the subtle holes or small stains that a quick inspection wouldn’t have picked up.
  • Be careful of recalls and hazards. In a used goods sale, you might find items that have hazards such as lead paint, or safety recalls.
  • Don’t buy stuff just because it’s cheap. A lot of people get really excited about “look at this doo-hickey that sells for $50 in a store and I got it for $5!!” And in that excitement they don’t stop to think about whether they really need a doo-hickey and are now stuck with it. (Note: lots of parents find that they have so many toys that it’s overwhelming for them – and we know kids don’t learn well in environments that are too cluttered – read here for tips on How Much is Enough – How Much is Too Much.)

If you’re looking for money saving ideas for parents, you may also be interested in my series Cheap Dates with Toddlers which offers lots of free and cheap ideas for what to do with little ones.

Talking with Children about Death

cemetery

Parents in my classes ask: “when should I talk to my child about death?” I say: whenever the opportunity presents itself. Because death is a part of life. There will be plenty of chances to talk about it. Here are just some of the opportunities I’ve encountered with my youngest child in the past year or so.

On the walk to my son’s kindergarten, once we saw a dead squirrel, another time, we found the leg of a bird, and there was a lost cat sign up for months, which led to lots of discussions of what might have happened to the cat. On the way to first grade, we drive past a cemetery. On Memorial Day, he asked whether we would have a party for this holiday, and I explained why we don’t “celebrate” Memorial Day, which led to a whole discussion of death, war, what is a generation, and so on. A member of our church, a teacher at school, and a student at school have died, and he heard people speaking about these deaths and being sad about them. His older sister’s pet gecko died and we buried it together. We heard on the news about many people being killed in a shooting. (I try not to listen to the news much around him… but this was a TV that was on in a public place.) His pea plant died. We see flowers on a sign post on the side of a highway where a fatal car accident occurred. Somehow at school, a discussion came up of the danger of thunderstorms, and he worried for a few days about whether his dad would be struck by lightning and killed. He was wondering about heaven. He’s seen death occur in many books, movies, and TV shows. Each time one of these ‘teachable moments’ came up, we talked openly about death, the dying process, and grief. None of these were long drawn-out, or stressful conversations. Most were brief (one minute?) discussions, where I try to be as matter-of-fact about things like decomposition as I am about things like new buds coming out on a tree. I try to talk about grief as a natural emotion similarly to how I talk about other emotions.

And… then his grandmother died. My mom had Alzheimer’s and had been fading for a few years. We had been open with my son about this and the fact that she was no longer able to do the things she had done before. This April, I had to travel to be with her for a few days as we moved her into hospice care, and then my husband and I traveled for her funeral. Around this time, we have lots of long conversations with my son about death.

I was so glad that we had a long history of open and honest conversations about this part of life. I can only imagine how hard it would be for a parent who had tried to avoid this subject for years to suddenly have to explain it for the first time when she is managing her own grief over the loss of a parent and the child’s loss of a grandparent.

When talking with a child about anything, it always helps to have some knowledge of their developmental stage, and what they’re likely to be able to understand, versus what might simply be over their head at this age. Here is how children’s understanding of death evolves:

  • Preschool age (3 – 5). Even if you explain what death is (when something living stops functioning – stops breathing, growing, etc.), they may not be able to grasp what you mean. They may believe death is temporary and reversible. Although children see many deaths in movies and stories, they don’t really see a lot of what happens afterward when that character never returns.
  • Early elementary age (5 – 9): Children come to understand that death is final. They aren’t clear on what causes death. They also learn that all living things will someday die, but tend not to yet grasp that they themselves will someday die.
  • Tweens (age 9 – 12): They understand what death is – that organisms no longer function in the way they did when they were alive. They understand that death is final, and that they will die someday.
  • Teenagers: Begin to wonder about the meaning of life and form beliefs about what happens after death. Some begin taking risks, as if to test their own immortality.

When and How to Talk

Be thoughtful about whether you bring it up.

There’s typically no reason for you to push the topic or start the conversation, unless you believe a death will come soon to someone they care about. (Just as we’d talked to my son about his grandmother as she declined, we also have a 16 year old dog who is ailing, so when he has bad days, we let my son know that Rufty may not be with us much longer.) This allows them to build special memories, and say some goodbyes so there are fewer regrets later on about what was not done or said.

If they bring it up, don’t change the subject.

Let them know it’s OK to talk about it, and you’re glad they feel comfortable asking you.

If they’ve asked a question, clarify exactly what they’re asking. Sometimes they want just a simple basic answer and we go into the Big Talk about everything they’ll ever need to know about death and totally overwhelm them.

Turn the question around, and ask them what they already know. This lets you set a baseline for what you need to talk about versus what they already understand. It also allows you to correct misconceptions. For example, if they ask when someone will come back to life, we may need to explain the permanency of death, and how it’s different than when kids just “pretend to be dead” while playing.

Reassure.

Often when someone asks a question, there is an underlying concern behind the question. If your child seems worried when they ask you about something, think what fear might be behind the question. If a child asks you “can parents die?”, they’re really asking “will you die? Who will take care of me?” If you suspect this is the case, you can put it into words for them: “are you worried I won’t be here to take care of you?”

First, unless you have reason to suspect otherwise, say “I don’t expect to die any time soon. I know that idea feels scary to you, but I expect I will live for a long time yet.” (Note, you didn’t promise anything, because we can’t ever really promise that.) Then reassure that even if that were to happen, they would be OK: “But if I did die, here’s who would take care of you.”

Think about key points to make about what death is.

There are a few key ideas to convey at some point – not all at once, but in multiple minute-long conversations through their childhood:

  • Death is the cessation of life functions. Use simple terms and concrete examples from their life experience. “When an animal dies, it no longer breathes, or eats, or moves or feels hungry.” “Do you remember when your pea plant died, and it stopped growing?”
  • Death is caused by physical reasons. Describe in a simple, non-graphic way what caused a death. Explain enough that they understand… for example, don’t just say “she died because she was sick”, because then the next time your child is sick with a cold, they might think they might die. Explaining something like “she’s really sick, with a disease called _____. It’s not something I would expect you or me to get…”
    • Note: Children are inherently self-centered – their world view rotates around themselves. This can often mean that if someone dies, they wonder if it was their fault. “I said ‘I hope you die’ and then they did!!!” This can lead to a lot of guilt and shame. Reassure them that the death is not their fault.
  • Death is permanent.
    • Don’t confuse them by saying the person “went to sleep” because then it can be scary to go to sleep, or saying the person “went away” because then they will worry when you “go away” to the grocery store that you may never come back. Using the word death is actually helpful to reduce these anxieties.
    • Saying that the person who passed away is “watching over you”, or asking your child to “draw a picture for grandma to tell her how much you miss her” may confuse children about the permanency of death. If the idea that someone is watching over you from heaven fits into your belief structure, it’s fine to say this, but just be aware of this possible confusion effect.
  • Everything that is alive will someday die. You may also address that different things have different expected life spans. We might expect some pets to only live for a few years. We expect people to live for many decades. (Again, you may need to reassure them that you or other important adults expect to be around for a long while still.)
    • At some point, we’ll need to acknowledge that not only old people / animals die. It can happen to someone very young, it’s just less likely.

You may worry that you don’t know what to say about things like what death feels like, or what happens after you die. It’s OK if you don’t have all the answers. You can say to your child “No one knows for sure. I believe ________.”

Share your own beliefs.

One of the reasons it’s important to talk to your children about hard things (read “Better You than YouTube”) is so  you can share your own values with them and talk about the beliefs that are important to your family.

Note: one thing that can confuse children is when parents say things like “he’s happy up in heaven now” but the parent is clearly grieving and sad. They may not understand why you’re sad about something that makes the departed one happy. You can explain that you are sad the person is no longer with you, and you can’t spend time with them any more.

Talk about how we might feel about death.

Don’t be shy about talking about grief. It is one of many emotions that we humans experience. (Emotional literacy is a key life skill we want our children to gain.) Sadness about someone’s loss is a reflection of the fact that they mattered to us. Share what your feelings have been about various losses in your life.

But also talk about the wide range of reactions that people may have. Some may be sad. Some may be angry. Some may not seem to react at all. And some may react on a different schedule. It’s all OK.

Know when to move on.

Sometimes your child may ask more questions in the moment. Sometimes not. If your child has initiated a discussion about death, then seems ready to move on before you think “we’re done”, follow the child’s lead and move on. Prolonging the conversation will only cause discomfort.

Children learn through repetition, so expect that they make ask some questions again and again.

When a child is grieving.

Sometimes there losses that we would consider big in a child’s life where they don’t seem to react. Give them time and space for their own reaction. And other times, there are things we think of as small sadnesses – seeing a dead bird by the road, or a death in a storybook, where our child may suffer deep grief. Don’t dismiss them or tell them “don’t feel bad.” Honor their right to their feelings, whatever the cause.

Don’t avoid talking about the person who has died. Even though they’re no longer here, you can still remember them. They may want to do a ceremony, or create a shrine to help them remember. You could establish new traditions of continuing to do a favorite thing they did with the person who has passed away.

Your child may need help remembering the person won’t come back. They may ask again and again when they will return. They are not doing this to upset anyone. They’re just wrapping their minds around the permanency of death.

Your child may “play” death. They are just trying to understand. It’s fine to use puppets or stuffed animals to tell the story or play things out. It may also help your child to draw their feelings and memories.

Many children will regress or have behavioral challenges after a death of a loved one. Be patient and understanding with them, but don’t overly coddle them. Normal family rules should still apply. The sooner you get back to normal routines, the better. This helps you all move forward to the “new normal” of what your life will look like in the future.

Here are two helpful resources: 10 ways to help a grieving child and When Families Grieve from Sesame Street.

Funerals: If a loved one has died, you may decide not to have the child participate in the funeral. If they will attend the service, be sure to prepare them – telling them who they will sit with, how they should behave, and what will happen. For example,

 “Lots of people who loved Grandma will be there. We will sing, pray, and talk about Grandma’s life. People might cry and hug. People will say things like, ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ or, ‘My condolences.’ Those are polite and kind things to say to the family at a funeral. We can say, ‘Thank you,’ or, ‘Thanks for coming.’ You can stay near me and hold my hand if you want.”  (source)

If the person’s body will be at the service, talk to your child about that. (Note: although people worry that seeing a body would be upsetting to children, they typically take it in stride). Explain burial if they will go to the cemetery. Explain if there will be a wake or reception of some sort – explain that people will talk and share happy memories of the one who has passed.

If you expect to experience a lot of strong emotions at the funeral, you may want to either not bring the child or ask another adult to help care for the child and sit with the child during the service. Remind your child that it is not their fault you are sad.

Using Media to Start the Conversation

There are several excellent books and some shows that are explicitly designed to help children understand death and manage grief. There are also many excellent books and movies that include a death that you can use to help you start a conversation.

Here are recommended books: https://imaginationsoup.net/childrens-picture-books-grief-death/https://www.familyeducation.com/videos/12-childrens-books-help-explain-tragedies-deathhttps://pjlibrary.org/blog/january-2017/childrens-books-about-death.

Find  movies and shows listed here www.ranker.com/list/kids-entertainment-dealing-with-death/matt-manser, and here https://whatsyourgrief.com/death-in-disney-movies/ and here: www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/movies-to-help-kids-deal-with-grief 

Resources

Here’s a free printable handout on Talking with your Child about Death that you can share with others.

To learn how (and why) to talk about other difficult topics with your child (including sexuality, “tricky people”, scary topics, and more: read Better You Than YouTube.