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 chinese water torture.

We rarely even notice the first few drops. We are as patient as can be when the kids start breakfast by arguing about who has the most raisins in their oatmeal.

But as the day wears on, and the eighty thousandth drop lands with the thud of a muddy shoe on the clean kitchen floor ... well ... you know how it goes. Even though we are aware that ranting and raving are rarely successful at gaining cooperation, we just can't seem to help ourselves.

Finally, Dad comes home from work, where he may or may not have been enduring a different kind of torture all day. Nonetheless, Drop Eighty Thousand and Nine for you is only Drop One for him, so he can parent coherently, even patiently.

Is it because he's a better parent? Nah. He's just fresh. Don't take it personally. Pass the baton to him gratefully and go for a walk or run an errand. When you get back, you'll feel rested and refreshed, and are likely to be more effective again.

Some dads do not come home from work ready to parent well, and need some time to decompress first. That can be even more challenging for an overwhelmed mom who's been counting the minutes until he gets home.

If this your situation, it can help to pace yourself based not on when he will walk through the door, but when he can actually take over for you. That way you still have some energy left for the home stretch, and are less likely to feel resentment while you wait for him to take a shower, go for a run, or read the paper while he switches gears.

If your husband is not the type who can or wants to take over for you when he gets home, then you need a plan B. Rather than wish and hope that he would be different, find another backup. Maybe a pre-teen neighbor will come over for a few hours in late afternoon so you can take the dog for a walk, go to the gym, take a bath, or make dinner in peace.

If you are feeling especially stressed, you know something's gonna give. Rather than hanging by a fingernail until your spouse comes home, why not make a conscious choice to let something go? Consider pizza or cereal for dinner, or an extra half hour of tv for the kids. That way, you can actually connect with your spouse when he gets home instead of tagging and running.

As always, it comes down to this: Parenting young children can be very exhausting. We are much better at it when we take care of ourselves. And our marriages blossom when we bring in additional support from the outside. Remember, parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. It's really important to stop at those rest stations and refuel ourselves.

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

To read part 1, click here:

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.

You mentioned that you've been reading about Highly Sensitive Children ( and wondering if that was just a label parents made up so they could feel like their kids are special.

Most of the folks I know, both children and adults, who fall into the classification of Highly Sensitive don't feel special; they feel annoyed by their sensitivity. And most of the parents of sensitive kids that I know don't feel like their kids are special; they feel exhausted! Especially if they are not 'sensitive' themselves - it's so hard to understand it without feeling it in your own body.

I believe that neurologists have now identified that there is a spectrum of baseline "arousal" of the nervous system, and some of us fall at either extreme. For example, some people will startle and experience an adrenaline rush when a door slams two floors away, and some people barely react when you jump out and yell at them in the dark.

If a particular nervous system is running in high gear already, it won't take much to put it over the top into overwhelm. Something like the disappointment of her pink shirt not being clean could easily set it off. It may seem like no big deal to those of us with different thresholds of stimulation, but to her, it could be the last straw. Your daughter may be crying to release excess energy.

(You may see the opposite kind of behavior in kids with nervous systems that are running in real low gear - they poke and prod and wiggle and squirm and are all over the place in their search for more stimulation.)

Perhaps you may be able to reduce some of the crying by being empathetic before you are corrective. (saying "Oh, you really wanted to wear your favorite pink shirt and it isn't clean! That IS a bummer!") Correction often adds to the overwhelm, but empathy usually reduces it. Getting her into forward motion (Let's find another shirt) isn't likely to happen until she's calmed down a bit anyway, and empathy is a very effective way to speed that process up.

It may help to be extra vigilant about giving her time to decompress, feeding her protein often to avoid blood sugar fluctuations, and making sure she gets enough sleep. Affectionate physical activity, like play-wrestling, catch-me, or don't-let-me-kiss-you games can help release excess energy in a fun and loving context. You may need to cut tags out or buy only cotton shirts or seamless socks for a while. She may do better with unscented soap.

Some parents find that reducing sugar, wheat, dairy, or artificial colors and flavorings can make a big impact on their children's moods. It's worth experimenting with. Little adjustments like these can reduce the load on her nervous system so she can handle the big stuff better, and are so much easier than walking on eggshells all the time. What's that saying ... an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?

If you try those interventions and she still keeps winding up, she may simply need to cry. Crying is a pretty good way to clear the decks emotionally and physically. You might want to try letting her cry it out a time or two with no attempt to intervene in any way.

If it seems comforting to her for you to stay close by, that's absolutely fine to do. She may prefer physical comforting, or she may just want you within sight. Be present, quietly and calmly, and make no effort to get her to hurry up and finish crying, or talk her out of it, or distract her away from it. Just be a compassionate witness.

If you get the sense that she'd rather have some privacy, simply tell her kindly and gently that you'll be in the kitchen doing some dishes, and walk away. Come back and check on her periodically. The idea is not that you are isolating her until she stops, but that you are allowing her some space to see if she soothes herself better on her own. Most kids I know prefer company when they are upset, but check it out to see what helps your child. If you walk away and she amps up and chases you, that means that her jangled nervous system may need to connect with your calmer one as a role model. So stay close.

I've seen kids simply wail for 5 minutes, stop, get up, and just move on with their day, even though nothing has changed in the situation and the 'problem' has not been fixed. It can be sort of like a big thunderstorm - it just passes and the air is clean again. She may simply put on that yellow shirt as if nothing had ever happened. If so, then you know it's okay to stop walking on eggshells all the time, and just let her have her occasional cleansing cry while you keep her company or do something else.

Sensitive kids can learn to manage their temperament and function quite well in our society. School can be tough for them, but when given the freedom, they often design their personal environments to foster great productivity. Intuition, creativity, and compassion are a just a few of the many gifts that often come wrapped in a package of sensitivity.

I hope this helps.

To schedule a phone or email parenting consultation with Karen, visit or

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.

Here's how the talk went in our house:

Honey, it seems you've learned some new words at school, huh?

I'm not sure if you know that some people aren't bothered by those words, and some people get pretty upset when they hear them. Other people think that anyone who uses words like that must not be very smart, since they can't think of anything else to say. Of course, I know you are a smart guy, and can think of lots of other ways to say things.

So here's the deal: if you want to experiment with using that word, you can do it here at home with me whenever you want, since I am not offended by it. And when we have guests, or leave the house, since I can't be sure if the people who are around us would be offended or not, I'm going to ask you not to use it.

If you are not sure that you can remember not to say it in public yet, that's okay. When we need to go out somewhere, I'll just get a babysitter for you who is not offended by that word, and then you can stay home and say anything you want until you feel ready to try going out in public.

We never did need that babysitter. But your kid might be more persistent than mine, so be prepared to back up what you say! I predict it won't take more than once or twice being left home alone with a sitter (who has been instructed to be as boring as possible) while you all go out to the movies or skating or to dinner before he decides he can control it.

That being said, he may continue to use it with his little neighborhood buddies. I wouldn't worry about that unless they are offended. If so, then he may need to stay home for a while until he can control it. Same thing applies if he uses it at school - he may have to stay home or take a break in the office until he feels ready to control where he uses it.

The idea is to minimize the power of the word or gesture by not reacting dramatically when we hear or see it. When we get all worked up over it, we highlight it with our attention as something BIG and therefore quite interesting. Put it on the level of something like a burp or nose-picking. Socially offensive, but not a big deal. Your child will soon grow bored with it and move on.

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.

In fact, if you excuse him from needing to do extracurricular activities, he's likely to do even better during the required team activities at home and school, since he won't have used up his whole reserve of coping skills on optional things. If your son is very creative or energetic, he may have to constrict himself to be part of a group experience, which can be exhausting and annoying. He's already doing this succesfully when he has to. It's understandable that he might strongly prefer to spend his free time doing things that he feels are expansive and unrestrictive.

If you want him to have the benefit of physical activity and the feeling of body confidence that comes from exercise, consider asking him if he's interested the solitary sports of bicycling or swimming rather than team sports like soccer and baseball. He might also enjoy hitting a tennis ball against the wall by himself, or shooting baskets alone.

There are lots of hobbies that enrich the mind without draining the energy of an introvert. Solitaire, computer games like chess or checkers, writing, art, puzzles, magic tricks, or taking care of animals are just a few. Let your son know that you think it's great that he is so clear about what he likes, and help him find solitary challenges that he enjoys just for the fun of it.

Then sit back and celebrate that you have a creative and self-aware son who is not likely to be very susceptible to peer pressure when he's a teenager!

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!)

Protective action was very appropriate when your daughter was a young child. Now, too much protection of her as a teenager may actually backfire. How is she going to learn anything without the opportunity to gain experience?

In my freshman year of college, there was a girl down the hall who had been prohibited from dating in high school. Within her first week of dizzying freedom, she managed to become dangerously drunk, lose her virginity, and get kicked out of the dorm for violating curfew. All in one night! I'm betting her parents wish they had allowed a more gradual initiation to take place while she was still at home.

Please, let your daughter practice dating while she's under your watchful eye! It's the ideal opportunity to empower her with information and strategies.

When she thinks she's ready to date, sit her down and map out the ground rules and consequences. Let her know your concerns. She may have no idea about the realities of date rape drugs, sexual violations, or what to do if her date gets behind the wheel after drinking.

Go ahead and bring up all the scary stuff. Help her troubleshoot what she would do if those things happen. Let her know that you will allow her to work her way up to a real 'date' in baby steps, so that by the time she is alone with a boy she'll be prepared to handle anything.

Let her start by with going out in a mixed gender group of friends. Then let her go on group dates, then double dates, then out for a dinner date alone (but in public!) After each date, debrief with her. Ask how it went, ask if there was any red flags or potential problems, and ask if she felt comfortable. In this way, you are helping her tune into her own gut instincts (and you want that since you can't be there to watch over her forever), and to identify her own readiness to take the next step (or not). You are also taking rebellion out of the equation. (it's hard to hear my protective gut instincts if I am busy sneaking out the window to prove that my parents aren't the boss of me!)

I issue a blanket offer to my kids: If your inner alarms go off at any time for any reason, you can call me and I will come and pick you up, no questions asked. I believe that is one of the very best insurance policies of all.

Your daughter needs your help. Teach her how to keep herself safe, and then let her practice her skills incrementally. You'll both be glad you did.

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.

This is where it gets tricky! We adults often find ourselves becoming impatient and exasperated when the crying and whining goes on and on. The more upset our child is, the more strain we feel on our own nervous systems. The more we want them to stop crying, the harder it is to provide the calm and caring presence that could help bring it to an end.

So here's what to do. When your child is crying, and you feel the tension building in yourself, take a deep, slow breath. Calm yourself down first.

Then, get down to your child's level, look at her, and ask her if she wants you to hold her. If she nods, go ahead and bring her into your lap and comfort her.

If she doesn't want to be held, just sit yourself nearby and be with her. While you are holding her or not, speak some guesses as to what might be going on for her. "Oh, you weren't quite ready to leave yet." "You wanted more." "You wanted that toy." This is not an endorsement, it's simply an acknowledgement of her feelings. Kids start to calm down very quickly after they feel understood.

You might be thinking, "Yeah, right, that's sounds nice and everything, but I have things to do!!" Which of course is true, but let's think about that for a second. Which takes longer and costs more of our energy - trying to move on ahead with our schedules while dragging around a crying child, or investing a moment now to have a cooperative and willing helper for the rest of the errand?

Until she has calmed down, her emotional state will prohibit any kind of reasonable conversation. A crying child needs to be comforted before any learning will take place. Current brain research tells us that learning is simply not occurring while a child is in a state of emotional distress. Period.

So job one is to comfort the child. When she feels understood, you'll see her start to relax a bit, and the storm will start to subside. Sometimes, just this release of energy will be enough to allow you to continue with your activity - stimulation just builds up in the nervous system and needs to vent through crying in order to return to manageable levels.

Other times, after your child calms down, you can talk a little bit about what might have triggered the blow up, and troubleshoot ways to avoid it. For example, you may decide your child needs more warning before a transition, or that it works better to run errands after naptime, or that an earlier lunch might head off a blood sugar crash.

In any case, you'll be able to think much more clearly about all this after the crying has stopped, so don't put pressure on yourself to figure it out on the spot. Simply take a deep breath, soothe your child by holding her (or sitting nearby) and see if you can understand where she's coming from. Later, when things are calm, you can make some changes to her routine if necessary.

For more on children who cry at everything, see my post

For information about scheduling a parenting consultation with Karen by phone or email, please visit or

how to get your teen to talk to you

You might not like this one! It's simple, but not easy.


Don't teach, don't judge, don't correct.

Don't interrupt, don't dismiss, don't diminish.

Don't try to fix anything, and please, don't freak out!

Sit down, maintain eye contact, pay close attention, and don't say a thing.

Wait until you think you will burst inside if you don't get to make your contribution, and then go ahead and say hmmm or uh-huh.

Listen with the intention of understanding her perspective, not changing it. Teens want to talk to their parents! What they don't want is to be lectured, corrected, shamed, or turned into fixer-upper projects. They want to be heard and understood. Nine times out of ten, after hearing themselves talk for a while, they will generate their own elegant solutions.

If she asks for your opinion, respond by asking what she's already considered. Ask about the pros and cons of each. Then and only then, when it's clear you have been invited and she has run out of things to say, share your opinion. Be sure to issue the disclaimer that it is indeed only your opinion.

Follow it up with an expression of confidence in her ability to work it out, and a loving reminder that you are standing by ready to assist if she wants your help.

Simple, but not easy! However, when you see how well this works, it becomes much easier to remember to do it.

If you get over-eager and jump into providing solutions, it's okay. We all do it! When you become aware of it, just take a deep breath, sit back a little in your chair, and quiet back down.

Teens are usually very forgiving, and will just pick up the ball and run with it again.

Listening in this way helps your child to perceive you as a resource, rather than an obstacle.

how to make learning easier

There is some amazing content here. Wish I would have seen this years ago, when my kids were in elementary school ...

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 my 16 year old son:

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 (and mine is not), 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:

Basic Essentials like food, water and safety

We all get snarky when we go too long without getting these core needs met, and then we aren't the kind of parent, spouse or friend that we want to be. Therefore, consider yourself Permitted to find ways to meet your needs, and to help your spouse find ways to meet his/hers! Just like they always say on the airplane -- secure your oxygen mask before securing that of your child's. If you pass out, you're no help!

There are plenty of ways to take care of yourself without compromising your values as a parent, so it's not an All or Nothing situation. There's quite a range of possibilities between having baby in bed with you and letting baby cry it out alone for hours. See the sleep entry in the newborns topic for some suggestions.

Parents are giving their children a powerful gift when they acknowledge their own human needs, as well as their children's, with neutral matter-of-fact acceptance, rather than hiding them because they seem like weaknesses. Modeling has a greater impact than anything else we do as parents.

It's wonderful for our kids to experience the joy and connection that happens while we brainstorm creative ways for both parties to get their needs met. That's a major life skill that will serve them well.

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!!

For example, if you want to help the baby start learning to soothe himself a bit, first try waiting just 5 seconds longer than you usually do before going to him when he starts fussing. Try it out, and see how it goes.

When it feels like you are ready for more, look for the next smallest possible adjustment and make that one. Maybe try waiting 10 seconds. For some parents, their no-brainer time increments are measured in minutes, not seconds. That's fine - there's no right or wrong here. Adjust your steps until they fly under your radar. Only you know what constitutes a baby step for you!

Continue on in this effortless way until you are where you want to be. My friend has a needlepoint on her kitchen wall of a saying that's been in her family for generations: Yard by yard, life is hard. Inch by inch, it's a cinch! I find it strangely comforting in a cheesy sort of way.

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!

- Let the most relaxed parent do most of the teaching. (Not the white-knuckled dashboard-thumping, imaginary-brake-slamming one.)

- Put 'em through the ringer. Mountain roads, ice, snow, rain, dark of night. (Hey, that sounds like the post office motto, doesn't it?) Let them experience the extremes for the first time while you are with them and can offer guidance. Take them to a big parking lot in a snowstorm and let them learn how the car handles in adverse conditions.

- Communicating faith and trust in your teen's abilities will be far more helpful than projecting your fears by issuing warnings and dire predictions. Which voice do you want them to hear inside their heads when you aren't there? The one that shrieks, "Oh no!" or the one that says "Okay, I know you can figure out what to do here."

- Notice what they do well and point it out very specifically. "Nice job making that turn tight enough so you ended up in the right lane." "Glad you looked both ways and noticed that guy coming on his bike!"

- Make your expectations crystal clear, as well as the consequences for any violations. Cell phones? Radio? Passengers? Destinations? Speeding? Write it all down, go over it, and have your teen sign it before you hand over the keys for independent driving.

- Reiterate your "call anytime and I'll come pick you up anywhere no questions asked" policy. It still applies, even after they are driving on their own. The teen brain is not at 100% reliability yet. Offer them a buffer that will keep one impulsive decision from dropping a whole lotta dominos.

- And my most recent idea, spawned just about the time I heard the garage door go down: Petition your teen's guardian angels for extra protection! I dunno, I figure it sure can't hurt.

getting baby to sleep longer at night

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

Swaddle baby tightly at bedtime to keep him from startling himself awake.

Let baby sleep in a portable crib in your room for easier night feedings.

Don't pick her up at the first murmur. Wait a bit to see if she settles herself down. -OR- If you have one of those babies who gets all wound up when in distress, DO comfort her at the first murmur! If you aren't sure what kind of baby you have yet, try both and see which strategy works better.

After a feeding, put baby back down while still woozy rather than holding him until he's all the way asleep.

Keep the lights dim and don't get very enthusiastic with your voice or make a lot of eye contact during night feedings. Daytime feedings can be fun and playful, but nighttime should be all business.

Make sure baby is getting lots of calories during her daytime feedings.

Try a white noise machine.

Read Harvey Karp's The Happiest Baby on the Block for suggestions about how to effectively soothe your baby any time of day.

Nap whenever the baby naps! Sleep is a Very Important Need, and takes precedence over laundry, dishes, and everything else for now.

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?