Dating after a Divorce, Part One

Good for you! You've done your healing work and are ready to try dating again. But what about your kids?

At first, you may decide to simply lead a double life -- enjoying an adult social life when the kids are with their other parent, and being a full time caregiver when they are at your house.

This compartmentalization works well for many parents for quite a while. And sooner or later, many of us decide we are ready for more than just an occasional night on the town.

Below are some suggestions for parents who are dating to find a new mate. For simplicity's sake, I'll write as if your date is male, and trust you to make the appropriate translation if this is not the case.

About Kids and Writing

My son is very articulate when it comes to debate and dialogue, but he's always had a lot of trouble representing his thoughts coherently in writing.

He's recently started attending a new school, and I must admit I was a bit nervous the day he turned in his first writing assignment.

What if rewards and consequences don't work?

Yep, it's true. Rewards and consequences often don't work. More frequently than many folks care to admit, I suspect. Here's one possible explanation for why, and what to do about it:

How to Hold a Family Meeting

Regular meetings are a very effective and efficient way to promote healthy family communication. Below is a structure that has worked well for many families. Feel free to pick and choose what you like, and add more of your own ideas.

Defending Against Parental Alienation

The words "parental alienation" strike fear in the hearts of many a divorced parent. It can be terrifying to think that your ex might be able to turn your children against you! And it's devastating to feel powerless to protect our precious 'babies' from emotional harm.

Luckily, you have more power and influence than you may think. Your best defense is to stand tall, with both humility and pride, squarely inside your own skin. Warts and all. When children notice that you are not afraid, not hiding, and not counter-attacking, they quickly learn to see through the illusions into the truth.

Tips on Potty Training

Keep the whole thing casual and low key. Learning to use the toilet is not a big deal that requires gold star charts and large rewards. It's just a handy skill that kids acquire in the process of growing up. Once they have it mastered, it opens up some nice opportunities for them -- similar to the way that riding a bike or learning to read expands their world.

Should I talk to my ex about his negativity and hypocrisy?

From a divorced mom:
How should I handle it when he does the very things that he has asked me not to do, like speaking negatively in front of the kids? Do I even bother to mention it to him or just accept it? And how do I talk to the kids about it? I'm feeling like I should just let everything go unless it is "major" and build the relationship with the kids so they feel they can open up to me.

I love this question! Let me affirm that your instincts are right on track, and make some additional suggestions.

getting rid of the pacifier

My child is now 3, and I'm ready for her to be done with using a pacifier. What do you suggest?


First, let's get this out of the way: Kids don't go off to college with their pacifiers. If your child is still super attached to it, assume it is meeting a valid need for comfort, for now. As her nervous system matures, and she learns to comfort herself in other ways, she'll naturally let go of the pacifier.

That being said, here are a few ideas that might gently help the process along:

preschoolers and bedtime

A few tips in no particular order for parents whose preschoolers seem to be staying awake too long after going to bed:

* Watch for the magic window - she could be overtired by the time she gets to bed, which can make it hard to wind down to sleep. Eye rubbing, yawning, slower blinking/physical movement, and snuggling up to you are all signs that she might be getting tired. Try putting her to bed when you notice these happening, even if it is earlier than her usual bedtime, and see what happens.

another Supermom leaps from her pedestal and lands in reality

From a mom of several young children:

I'm humbled and a bit embarrassed to find myself needing so much help from my husband and extended family. I was a capable, competent and independent woman before I had kids! What happened?

No mom is an island. Sometimes, the most capable, competent decision we can make is to ask for help.

Knowing who and when to call when you feel overwhelmed by the incessant demands of parenting is a BIG deal. It can make the difference between child abuse and not, between a nervous breakdown and not. It's not a cop out! It's a smart action plan.

It's when we CAN'T ask for help that things can become ugly and out of control.

So maybe it will help to reframe "independent" a little bit, so that instead of meaning, "I can do everything by myself," it means, "I am willing and able to make conscious choices, including the choice to ask for assistance."

If you want some help accepting help, let's set up a parenting consultation by phone or email. Contact me at karen@karenalonge.com.

Taming Tiny Tyrants: What to do if your preschooler is constantly ordering you around

from the mom of a three year old:
I'm not comfortable with her dictating how we behave -- I think she needs to realize that she can't control other people's choices. It often happens in the car; she orders me to stop singing or change the song. She doesn't like when I suggest that she covers her ears! Do you have any suggestions as to how to defuse this type of situation? It happens in other contexts as well (ie, I'm not cooking an egg correctly.)

You are right that she needs to learn that she can't control other people's choices. She's not alone in this! I know many adults, myself included, who are still getting used to that idea. :)

Coping Tips for Stay-at-Home Moms

This post is based on a comment from a stay-at-home mom. Please adjust the gender accordingly if it is different in your situation.

Because I deal with all the little "stuff" during the day (I don't want to go to school, I don't need a coat, he's hitting me, when can I watch TV, I am hungry and I want junk food, I want a playdate!) I am so worn down that I can't think straight by 6 p.m. Then my husband comes home, and he's the star. Warm, patient, and clever, he can get them to do anything. Which is terrific and frustrating, all at the same time!

Some days, whoever is home alone with the kids all day feels like they've endured the equivalent of water torture.

My child cries at everything, part 2: very sensitive children

To read part 1, click here: http://www.advice-for-parents.com/2007/11/what-can-i-do-about-my-preschooler-who.html

Before I say anything else, let me first say I am assuming that you have had her thoroughly checked out by your doctor. Sometimes undiagnosed health issues can impact behavior. If there are sensory integration issues going on, an occupational therapist could teach you both some tricks that help enormously.

My five year-old just discovered "the finger." How do I get him to stop using it?

This very sincere and earnest question came from a childhood friend of mine, and oh my goodness, it just cracked me up! I've met this little guy, and he's got these twinkly blue eyes and an impish grin that just makes me want to muss up his hair and let him get away with anything. I bet he is absolutely gleeful about this new gesture!

"The finger" is a lot like swearing. It triggers an emotional reaction in some people - typically shock, aggression, or anger - and is therefore not something you want to see your child relying on for communication shorthand. On the other hand, we know that with some kids, our attempts to prohibit them from using it only inspire their creativity and determination to continue.

What if my son doesn't want to do extracurricular activities?

from a reader in the Midwest:

My 7 year-old does not want to do any extra curricular activities (like sports, game clubs, science clubs, etc.) He says that sometimes he has to do stuff he doesn’t want to do. He doesn’t care if everyone else is doing it. How do I interpret this? At what point do we need to teach our children the concept of working within a group or with a team for a common goal? Does he get enough of that in the classroom environment? If that is the way he feels should I just let him be himself and be independent (i.e. no organized anything outside of school)?

Ya know, I admire this kid. He knows himself pretty darn well! Not everyone is wired to love group activities. Group experiences that energize extroverts can be very draining for an introvert! I'd say to go ahead and respect his wishes. He's getting plenty of opportunities to participate in groups at home and in school.

Help! My teenage daughter wants to date, and I'm just not ready!

Ready or not, here it comes!

Here's the thing: When we simply prohibit our teenagers from dating, or anything else for that matter, we are missing a MAJOR opportunity to help them learn useful life skills while they are still receptive to our guidance and input. (Even though some adolescents don't seem receptive anymore, they are. It's just against the 'teen code of honor' for them to admit it!)

what can I do about my preschooler who cries about everything?

Today's question comes from Lisa, who asked me to write about preschoolers who cry about everything:

Some preschoolers are a bit more tender than others. They have a harder time with transitions, take social interactions very personally, and seem to need a lot more attention. They are easily overwhelmed by changes in routine, and once they are overwhelmed, they have a very hard time calming themselves down. Often they will continue spiraling emotionally out of control until they receive the help of a calm and caring adult.

soothing your baby

Trying to soothe your baby? Work your way up to full contact.

Rather than immediately picking her up when she fusses a bit, first try talking or singing within earshot, and/or moving yourself within view so she can see you. Then try looking into her eyes and smiling, followed by a gentle pat, and finally slowly rubbing her back, feet or head.

And then go right ahead and pick her up if none of that has helped to calm her down.

Being present for our children in these progressive steps is a wonderful way to foster healthy attachment - your child experiences you as available, attentive, and responsive, and she also gets the opportunity to gently expand her self-soothing abilities.

what to say about poor grades

from a 16 year old young man:

Parents need to remember that just because their kid is failing math does not mean he will fail at life.
I hear a lot of angst from parents about grades. It makes us feel so powerless to see our offspring not working up to their potential! We try consequences, punishment, privilege removal, microscopic supervision, bribes, and lectures. Sometimes, these things seem to work, and their grades improve.

And sometimes, we only cement our teens' determination to have some control over their choices. Academics are not a battle we can truly win, because ultimately, the motivation for all REAL learning comes from within.

Step into your teen's shoes (combat boots?) for a moment, and imagine hearing this from your parents:

Honey, I have no doubt that you can successfully accomplish anything you set your mind to. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help, and good luck!
At the very least, this takes rebellion out of the equation.

If things get tough for my kid, I want him to see me as a trusted resource who is on his team and will help him figure out what to do, rather than being fearful of my reaction and hiding the situation from me.

Not only that, but there's so much more to success than grades. Skills such as honesty, responsible communication, self-awareness, curiosity, creativity, and compassion are at least as important for success in real life as academic discipline. Even if your kid is not a great student, he can still be a great person.

YOU are the expert on your child.

No author, professor, therapist, or consultant can trump what you know about yourself and your children.

Consider what you hear or read and see if it resonates with your own inner guidance and intuition. If it makes it through that filter, then experiment with it.

If it is not effective, or the price you or your child pay feels too high, then pitch it out and try something else.

taking care of yourself

Needs are part of the human experience.

In our Inspiring Connections parenting classes, Robin and I teach The ABC's of Five Core Needs:

Autonomy
Basic Essentials like food, water and safety
Connection
Contribution
Creativity

formula for making changes that last

Big changes can happen in small increments. Take baby steps!

When you want to make a change or try a new experiment, it's okay to take it slow. Look for the smallest possible step, one that is so small that it almost doesn't even register on your radar screen as a change. A step that makes you say, Sure, no problem! I can do that easily!!

teaching your teen to drive

As I write this, my son is out driving on his own for the first time. I am pretty much calm enough to write down a few ideas about teaching kids to drive. Forgive me if there are typos!

getting baby to sleep longer at night

Not getting enough sleep at night?
Perhaps one of these suggestions will be helpful:

parenting as yoga

Parenting is the ultimate asana! Like any good yoga, it bring us to our edges every day.

When we are at our edge emotionally or mentally -- the place where we think we can't stand it a second longer -- we don't always have to run away.

Sometimes we can stay there and breathe a bit, and we may find we can go a little deeper into the interaction, or we may decide to retreat. Either choice is okay.

It's the deep breath that allows us to decide and choose rather than react.

a tried and true stress-buster

Feeling stressed? Remember to breathe deeply.

Allow yourself at least one calming deep breath before taking a soothing action for your child.

Actions are more effective when they spring from a place of inner alignment. (and oxygenation!)

communication guidelines to teach your teen

My daughter is going into 8th grade, which really should have been included in Dante's levels of hell. She sure is suffering while she works things out for herself socially.

Most of the time, all I can do is rub her back and dry her tears and witness the fury and pain as it releases from her system. She rights herself much more quickly than I remember doing at her age. Heck, who am I kidding -- she's quicker than I am even now!!

While searching for some kind of lifeline to throw to her, I remembered a three part guideline I heard somewhere years ago, a sort of algorithm that helps us decide whether to speak our thoughts out loud or not. Thought I'd write it here since I will surely need to refer back to it myself:

Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Is it kind?

Ten Strategies for Co-Parenting with an Uncooperative Ex

Many single parents are sharing custody of their children with angry, bitter or wounded exes. Below are some practical and easily implemented strategies that require no cooperation from your ex and will make life much easier for you and your children.

advice to fathers with sons

Thought you might enjoy reading this summary of a parenting consultation I did last night for a divorced dad whose six year old son was having problems with anxiety. Seems to me that some of this advice could be relevant for fathers and sons without issues as well ....

Your son might prefer to connect with you while doing a physical activity side by side rather than tell you his feelings; try shooting hoops or playing a video game together rather than wanting him to sit and talk. Watch for things you and him do together that you both find relaxing and fun - and plan to do more of that.