No More Grapes Until You Finish That Donut (and other words you never knew you’d say as a parent)

“No more grapes until you finish that donut…”  Yep.  That’s a direct quote that came from my mouth a few years ago as my two-year-old consumed the only breakfast item she cared to eat at that meal.  If I ever write a parenting book – that will be the title.

Reflecting back, there are so many words I’ve said as a 30-something parent that 20-something me would never have imagined.  These words I say multiple times a week:

  • No singing at the dinner table.
  • Don’t scratch the table with your fork.
  • Feet off the table.
  • Don’t touch your feet at the table (is this just my kids? so many are about dinner)
  • Where are your pants?
  • You’re not the parent (stop bossing your sibling).
  • Yes, you have to pick up your mess.
  • I can’t hear you over your whining.

Then there’s the mundane of life that I get really excited about.  Potty training, for example.  I have behaved like I just won an Olympic gold after my child went potty.  Jumping, flailing, high fives, beaming with pride.  I make up potty lyrics to popular songs (my favorite being Potty Rockin’ in the House Tonight) and sing them for what feels like hours on end.

20-something me would be appalled at how often my mother’s words just fall right out of my mouth.  The most notable being “Be quiet…I’m on the phone!”  It’s not just those words but the way I say them.  And I get it now.  The entire house can be calm but as soon as a parent gets a phone call, every child in the house will begin to ask for cookies, play with the loudest toy in the house (drum set), and engage in a shouting match with a sibling.  It’s just a rule.  I did it to my mom.  My kids do it to me.

Some of these are funny examples, but there are some I’m less proud of.  I distinctly remember rocking an inconsolable infant after many nights of lack of sleep and telling my husband, “we are never doing this again” (meaning have another child).  That was during a refining stage for me where some of the selfishness of singledom and early marriage had yet to be sifted out.  Obviously my opinion changed (two more times, to be exact), but the point is there are things I might wish I could unsay as a parent.  And some others that I can only laugh at and try to do better in the future…including “no more grapes until you finish that donut.”

Back to School *MORNINGS*

For the first time in almost three decades, I’m not heading “back to school” this time of year.  In the past, I’ve always either been a student or been working in a school (or both).  It’s a little strange now that I don’t have that seasonal fresh start for my work, but I still get to do the “back to school” thing as a parent of an elementary schooler and two preschoolers.  I’m grateful to have at least 16 more “back to schools” to go.

A huge consideration with starting back after summer break is the morning routine.  I hope your kids had a summer filled with popsicles, tons of outside play, and relaxed morning routines.  Now’s the time to start moving the bedtimes and wake ups a little earlier each day (10-15 minutes) until you hit the target start for a regular school morning.

Regarding sleep, the American Pediatric Association recommends the following:

  • Children ages 3-5 should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps).
  • Children ages 6-12 should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours.
  • Teenagers 13-18 should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours.
  • Adequate sleep duration for age on a regular basis leads to improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and mental and physical health. Not getting enough sleep each night is associated with an increase in injuries, hypertension, obesity and depression, especially for teens who may experience increased risk of self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
  • In addition to these recommendations, the AAP suggests that all screens be turned off 30 minutes before bedtime and that TV, computers and other screens not be allowed in children’s bedrooms. (www.aap.org)

I highlighted two parts above.  The first is the improved outcomes for kids who get good sleep.  Each one of those is an area I might work on with a client.  I’ve had many families over the years who didn’t promote good sleep and their child showed negative behaviors as a result.  Set your child up for success and have a good routine and a consistent bedtime.

The second part I highlighted was screen time.  I will write more about this in the future, but regarding sleep the important part is that screens are not in children’s bedrooms.

I’m including a morning chart I created for my own kids.  The first one is for a four-year-old who loves life so much that he moves rather slowly through it.  He doesn’t struggle to “stop and smell the roses,” in fact, he stops to smell ALL the roses.  This makes everyday tasks take much longer than his mother would like them to take.  The chart has been very helpful for him to focus.  The second chart is for a six-year-old who can read some words.  Feel free to download and modify these for your family.  I laminated ours and my kids use a dry-erase marker to check off each item.  The best part is I don’t have to nag and say “did you brush your teeth?” or “hurry up and put on your shoes!”  Now it’s up to them.  My house is a nag-free zone in the mornings.

4-year-old morning chart (click here)

6-year-old morning chart (click here)

What is Play Therapy?

The official logo of Horizon Mental Health says “Sarah Olson, LSCSW, Certified Play Therapist” and I suspect many reading that may wonder what exactly is a play therapist.  I’ve gotten interesting questions and comments since adding that credential to my professional title.  One question was “So does that mean you teach kindergarten?” and comments often are something like “Oh cool.  You get to play with kids all day.  How fun!”  These comments are well-meaning and I don’t take offense.  I’m happy to talk more about it.

First let’s get into why I sought out play therapy training.  I have a master’s degree in clinical social work, meaning I’m a trained and licensed mental health therapist.  For 12 years I worked in public education with clients ages 3-18.  For the majority of the time, I worked in a K-6 elementary school.  In 2016, I completed post-graduate education in play therapy from Mid-America Nazarene University to enhance my work with children.

The Association for Play Therapy’s website defines play therapy as:

“a way of being with the child that honors their unique developmental level and looks for ways of helping in the “language” of the child – play.  Licensed mental health professionals therapeutically use play to help their clients, most often children ages three to 12 years, to better express themselves and resolve their problems.” (a4pt.org)

These are some of the kids of issues for which my child clients might come to therapy:

  • Disruption(s) in attachment (such as foster care)
  • Death of a parent or other loved one
  • High level of aggression
  • Difficulties with impulse control
  • Difficulties with emotion management
  • Parents divorcing or re-marrying
  • High levels of anxiety, including specific fears
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Bullying as a victim or target

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does give the reader an idea of what kinds of issues a play therapist might treat.  In addition, I work with the systems in which the child operates.  I may see the child in session one-on-one, but I take what I learn from the child and the skills I teach there and work with parents/caregivers/teachers to carry those skills over to other areas of the child’s life.

In the future I’ll share specific techniques I might use to help children with various issues.  But for now, if your child is struggling and you’ve exhausted all the resources and know-how that you currently possess, I hope you’ll consider play therapy as a way to help your child and your family.

I’ll close with a short video from a professor at John Brown University with an overview of play therapy (click on the title to view):

Overview of Play Therapy