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.

Before you became a parent, dating was just about you. The stakes were not high - if at some point things weren't working well anymore, you could just walk away.

Now, becoming serious with someone means he will play a major role in the lives of your children. Dating when you have kids is about screening prospects out, not about making allowances or exceptions that grease the way for potential partners to glide their way in to your life.

Please set your standards HIGH. You are not only interviewing for the position of partner; this job description includes parental duties as well. Excitement on Saturday nights is no longer enough - you need someone who is also engaging and helpful with the kids on Sunday mornings.

Before you introduce your new 'friend' to your kids, do your homework! To put it bluntly -- put him through the wringer. If it doesn't happen naturally anyway because your kids get sick or your child care falls through, then deliberately cancel a date or ask to change the time or meeting place. His reaction to the change will give you a sense of how he handles the inevitable schedule adjustments that are part of the parenting package.

Watch how he treats the waiter at a restaurant. Observe him driving in rush hour traffic. Any signs of a temper? Any condescension or rudeness? Ask him about his ex if he has one, and LISTEN to his answer carefully. If there's any unfinished business there, wait until it's finished before you bring him home to meet your kids.

Likewise, ask about his relationship with his family of origin, and once again, pay close attention to his reply. Listen for red flags - unresolved anger, blame, lack of forgiveness, rigidity, etc. Don't overlook these signals! They are warnings that tell you he may not be a good fit for your family situation. (It goes without saying that active addictions automatically disqualify him, right?)

Discuss topics like whether he wants to have children of his own someday. Talk about your childhoods, your values, and your ideas about religion, discipline, and finances. You can't afford to wait until later to ask these kinds of questions.

Get it all out on the table NOW, before your kids meet or become attached to him. Neil Rosenthal over at http://www.heartrelationships.com/ has some quizzes and relationship checklists on his site that I find to be very practical and revealing.

The bottom line: Is he the kind of man you would want your son to grow up to be? (If you don't have a son, ask yourself the question hypothetically. It still works.)

If not, don't bring him home. Either move on, or let your fling run its course out of the view of your kids.

Any prospective partner needs understand that your relationship with your kids came first: it was in place before he arrived, is permanent, and will always take priority at a very primal level. There is no room in your life for a clingy, dependent or jealous man. This is not to say that your new partner will forever play second fiddle. It's simply unkind, unfair, and unrealistic to represent yourself as anything other than what you are - a parent, first and foremost.

In Dating after Divorce, Part Two, I'll cover how to talk to your kids about your new friend before they meet him or her. Part Three will address loyalty, commitment, realistic expectations, and boundaries. Since this is a very loaded topic, I suspect there will be a Part Four and Five as well, so please feel free to send me your questions.

If you'd like some support navigating the dating-with-kids territory, let's schedule a phone or email parenting consultation. Visit www.karenalonge.com for more information, or email me at karen@karenalonge.com.

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, www.catalystedu.org, and I must admit I was a bit nervous the day he turned in his first writing assignment.

He came home triumphant, announcing, "My teacher LOVES my writing!!" At first, I thought, "Huh? Is she reading what I'm reading?" But I zipped my lip and celebrated with him.

About 10 minutes later, he casually said, "Oh, and she says there's just a few little adjustments I could make so that other people can understand me a little better." Ah-ha! There it is. So smooth, he didn't even realize he was gonna learn something. I mentally high-fived his new teacher. Sheer brilliance!

The magic? She connected with him first on the content, not on the form. Once she validated that he had interesting ideas, he became motivated to express them in ways that people could understand. He needed to know that grammar and conventions have a real purpose - they help others to more clearly comprehend our point.

The take-away for parents? Let the school handle grammar and conventions. At home, get excited about the content of your child's writing. Talk about what kind of ideas they have inspired in you, or what you learned from their writing that was new or exciting for you.

That's how parents can help keep the fire of motivation burning bright -- not by correcting the spelling or commas or capitalization. Too much emphasis on right and wrong only forges a strong link in our children's experience between writing and criticism. Instead, let your enthusiasm about the content strengthen the link between writing and communication. The rest will follow naturally.

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:

Imagine wheeling a quadriplegic to the bottom of a large staircase. How much would you have to pay him to motivate him enough to walk up those stairs? How many minutes in time-out will he need before he does what you want him to do? (I can wait all day, young man!)

It's a ridiculous question, right? Why? Because it's not a matter of motivation, it's a matter of capabilities.

And yet, it's often equally as ridiculous to try to motivate our kids to behave the way we want by using rewards and punishments.

The wheelchair metaphor comes from Dr. Ross Greene in his ground-breaking book, The Explosive Child. His premise is that some children lag behind others in the acquisition and mastery of the cognitive skills that allow us to tolerate frustration, adjust to change, manage intense emotions, and generate alternatives.

It's obvious that someone in a wheelchair is not walking because his legs don't function properly, and not because he's not properly motivated or doesn't care. However, cognitive skill delays are not as easy to recognize. They look exactly as if a child is simply being oppositional, defiant, or "acting up to get attention."

I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Greene's assertion that Children do well when they can. The idea that kids are misbehaving for attention breaks down pretty quickly when you see a kid experiencing many negative consequences and yet persisting in his behavior.

This child may simply not yet be capable of doing what we are asking without help. For example, he may not know how to break a task down into sequential steps (so he doesn't clean his room). He may not have learned how to anticipate transitions and prepare for them (so he's not ready when it's time to leave). He may not yet be reading and processing nonverbal social cues that tell him to back off and leave someone alone (so he bullies or intrudes).

In other words, he might be sitting in a cognitive wheelchair, and we are attempting to consequence him into walking.

Here's a concrete example: two kids arguing in the back seat of the car. Pretend it's a good day; we aren't tired or hungry and we just read our parenting book last night, so our request to them is very clear: It's not safe for me to drive with all this noise. Please be quiet, or I'll have to pull over and wait until it's safe to drive again.

So far, so good, right?

Maybe.

It depends on whether your kids have mastered the cognitive skills that are required to follow your request.

What if Johnny starts poking Jane's legs with a pencil beneath your radar? It is painful and annoying, and she knows she's not supposed to hit him or scream at him. So how is she supposed to defend herself? She's gotta be a pretty clear-headed kid to come up with an alternative that will be acceptable to you while she's under duress from the poking.

Unless she's well practiced with using with the phrase, "Mom, I need some help please," what you are likely to hear instead is an earsplitting shriek of frustration. "HE'S HURTING ME!!!"

I'd reckon that more often than not, habitually misbehaving kids need assistance, not consequences. Children do well when they can. If they are not doing well, they need help figuring something out.

Many times, misbehavior is very predictable. If the same transgressions are happening over and over, despite your very best consequences, consider that your child might need your help acquiring some cognitive skills.

For example, he may need your guidance in understanding other perspectives and concerns: "Hmm, you want to relax right after dinner, and I want the dishes rinsed off before they get crusty. How can we solve our problem?"

This formula, applied often and out loud, accomplishes a whole lotta cognitive skill training:

Your concern is _____.
My concern is _______.
What can we do about this?

More about this in future posts. This book is so rich with suggestions that it will take me some time to flesh it all out. In the meantime, if you'd appreciate having some one-on-one assistance with your child's habitual misbehaviors, contact me to schedule a telephone or email parenting consultation: karen@karenalonge.com


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.

ADVANCE PREPARATION

1) Post the date of the next meeting in writing on the fridge or family calendar, along with a blank agenda sheet and pencil so everyone can write down what they want to talk about as they think of it.


2) Write fun things on the agenda, like Decide family fun activity for next Saturday afternoon or Choose Sunday brunch restaurant. Also write actual or anticipated problems, such as Floor was not vacuumed this week or Garage needs to be organized before winter.


THE MEETING

1) Gather together promptly at the designated time. Bring the agenda, as well as a blank pad of paper and a pen for taking notes.

2) For the first round, ask everyone to share something positive -- something that happened since the last meeting that they enjoyed, something they liked hearing and who said it, or something they are proud of themselves for.

3) Now tackle the issues on the agenda, one at a time, using the following format. The comments in italics are examples of responses so you can hear the process in action.

a) The person who added the item to the agenda explains their concern.

The carpet is dirty, and I am embarrassed to have friends over here.

b) One at a time, other family members speak about their concerns.

Our vacuum is too heavy and it's hard for me to carry it in from the garage.

I don't like vacuuming.

I want the house to look nice, too.

I don't like nagging people until they do it.

c) Brainstorm lots of solutions that might meet satisfy everyone's concerns. No censoring at this stage of the game -- just write them all down.

Get rid of our carpeting.

Hire a housecleaning service.

Flip a coin each week to see who does the vacuuming.

Make a chart so everyone takes a turn in a month.

Make it a paying job.

Buy a Roomba so no one has to vacuum anymore.

I like to vacuum - how about if we trade jobs?

d) When the ideas start to slow down, ask if everyone is ready to discuss options. Here's where you start eliminating anything that is not workable or does not satisfy everyone's concerns.

A housecleaner would cost over $100, and we can't fit that in our budget right now.

But if we flip a coin, I could be stuck doing it two times in a row!

Getting rid of the carpet is not going to happen for a few years.

e) By now, your list has dwindled significantly. Odds are good that one of the remaining solutions will work.

Okay, let's trade our jobs then. I'll take over vacuuming, and you take over cleaning the cat box.


f) Double check to make sure everyone is willing to experiment with this option to see if it works.

Is everybody willing to try this for a week until our next meeting to see how it goes?

g) Discuss how you will know it's working, and what will happen if it doesn't. Write this down very clearly.

So if the floor or the catbox are still dirty on Saturday morning, we'll know that this plan didn't work. We can use your allowance to pay somebody else to take care of it right away, and we'll make a new plan at our Saturday afternoon meeting.

4) After you've tackled the problems, apply the same process to the fun stuff:

I want pancakes Sunday.

I want a place that's not too noisy.

I want a buffet.

Brainstorm restaurant options.

Eliminate those that don't satisfy all concerns.

Choose from the remaining possibilities.

Write the time and destination on the family calendar.

5) Read the meeting notes out loud, then pass the paper around and have everyone sign off of the agreements. This is not so you can wave it in someone's face later, it's to make sure everyone is clear on what they are agreeing to. This way no reminders will be necessary, and there won't be any arguments over selective memory issues. Keep the paper where it can easily be referred to.

So that's it! It may seem like a lot when you read it at first, but it's actually pretty simple and logical. This process equips your children with a powerful conflict resolution strategy that will serve them well throughout their lives - but you don't need to announce that! Just let the magic soak in naturally over time. It takes all the fun out of it if they think they are being taught a lesson.

If you'd like some assistance with this process, let's schedule a phone or email parenting consultation. Visit http://www.karenalonge.com/ or email karen@karenalonge.com for more information.

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.

This may sound simple, but it's not easy! When your kids come home reporting what their other parent said about you, your job is to remain calm, cool, and collected while listening. Act as if they are talking about the weather. Then tell them how neat you think it is that everyone can have their very own opinion about things. "I see things differently than your dad a lot of the time. I think it's fun to hear other people's ideas -- sometimes they tickle my brain!" (For older kids or teens, you might say "make life more colorful" or "expand my mind.")

Now here comes the really important part: Ask your kids what they think, and make it completely safe for them to tell the truth. "Now that I know my opinion, and your dad's opinion, I wonder what your opinion is! Tell me what you think about _______." (Fill in the blank with anything ... my car, my boyfriend, my job, my house, my attitude, my communication, my love, my parenting.)

If your child raises a valid concern, thank him for sharing it with you, and then address it head on. For example, if he is upset that you were late, take responsibility for your behavior, empathize with his feelings, apologize, and talk about how you will make a new plan that works better next time.

If she complains about something that is not negotiable, connect with her feelings rather than being too quick to explain why what she wants can't happen. "It sounds like you really hate it when I'm not home to tuck you in at bedtime. Tell me more about what it feels like when you are trying to get to sleep on those nights."

Sometimes kids are hiding a little bit behind the other parent's opinion, sort of testing the waters to see if it's safe for them to express their own. Make it safe. Tell them that there's no topic that's off limits, and that you'll do your best to keep an open mind and work on solutions with them.

When we don't try to pretend we are perfect, we are far less vulnerable to criticism and attack. Instead of saying, "Why would your mom say that?! It's just not true!!" we can just say, "Yes, I can see how your mom might think that, and it's okay with me that she has a different opinion than I do." A child who hears this kind of tolerance will feel safe telling you anything. And THAT is your very best insurance policy against attempts to alienate.

In a nutshell: Don't get so lost in anger, defense, or counter attack that you forget to show your child who you really are in every possible moment.

Funnel your energy into being the best parent you can be when your child is with you. Let the truth of who you are ring clear, and don't allow anger, defensiveness, or revenge to pollute your relationship with your child.

This is one of the most emotionally vulnerable situations that parents can face after a divorce. If you'd like some guidance and assistance as you navigate these difficult waters, I'm available by phone and email for parenting consultations. Contact me at karen@karenalonge.com, or visit www.karenalonge.com/forclients.htm for more information.

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.

And just like two-wheel balancing and reading, we cannot force the acquisition of this skill by doling out rewards or punishments -- the child's body and nervous system simply must be sufficiently developed before they can master it.

Since each child's physical development has its own timetable, there's no point in pressuring her or comparing her with other children. When she is ready, it will be obvious, and it will happen fairly quickly.

Set up a little potty before you think she's ready to use it, so she gets accustomed to seeing it there. The big toilet can be kind of scary for some kids, whereas others prefer it because it's more 'real'. If she prefers the big toilet, consider getting one of those seats that make the opening smaller so she doesn't fall in. (!)

There are some cute picture books about using the potty these days - read those together just like your other books. Let her see you using the toilet, and mention casually that she will enjoy feeling clean and dry someday when she's ready.

Superabsorbent pull-ups or diapers prevent the natural sensory feedback of wetness on the skin, which can be important information that help kids link cause and effect together. When she asks, let her switch to wearing underwear at home even if she's not quite 100% reliable yet. (but not necessarily in the car or on long outings, where changing clothes is complicated!)

Think of this period as similar to the time when the training wheels come off - they still fall a lot while they put the finishing touches on their two wheel balancing act, but with every fall they learn a bit more about how to stay upright. Every wet incident brings her closer to dryness.

When it's warm outside, consider dressing her in long dresses or T-shirts with no underwear when she's in the yard. This is the quickest way I know of to help them link up the pre-pee-sensation with what comes next.

It's a process, so expect "accidents" and don't make a big deal over rewards or consequences. A quiet word of acknowledgement for staying dry is enough.

Stickers and rewards, for some kids, only increase the stakes on their 'failures'. They not only suffer the physical discomfort of wet pants, but also become upset with their bodies for not cooperating to earn them stars.

When kids' bodies are capable of consistent control, they usually don't need to be bribed to use the potty. Wet pants are pretty uncomfortable, and that's enough natural motivation right there.

As much as possible, stay out of it. Give her control over the process. Show her what you want her to do when she's wet -- including exactly where to find the clean clothes, and where to put the wet ones. I'd recommend that you set aside a special laundry basket for this purpose, because you'll want to be washing that laundry more frequently than the dirty but dry clothes.

The reality is that we cannot control our children's elimination processes. We can, however, help them learn to take good care of their bodies, and make it easy for them to do so. Once that's done, it's time for us to step out of the picture. The more we push and prod and bribe, the more our interference detracts from nature's feedback loop.

If you'd like some additional support and guidance during this process, contact me to schedule a phone or email parenting consultation: karen@karenalonge.com

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.

There's no good reason to mention things like this to your ex at all, ever again.

Treat him as if he were a business colleague. It's not your job to bring his incongruence to his attention. Nor is he likely to become inspired to clean up his act thanks to your intervention. His behavior is not your business.

Your business is your own behavior, and you are free to adjust it based upon the circumstances. For example, if you feel that his inability to remain neutral in front of the kids is not good for them, then it may be time to make some changes.

Consider dropping them off at his home rather than having him come to yours to pick them up - it gives you much more control over the interaction, and you can say your goodbyes in the car and watch from there until they are safely in his care. Be sure you are on time, since children learn what they live and you want to be modeling strong integrity.

You may choose to begin a communication notebook that travels back and forth with the kids and contains all the relevant details, which eliminates the need for face-to-face interactions during transition times.

Perhaps due to extenuating circumstances, none of the above ideas are workable. They are only suggestions to get the ball rolling. Keep on generating options and experimenting with them until you find one that works.

If there is simply no way to avoid face-to-face interactions, consider resolving to remain civil and polite no matter what he says, and refuse to take the bait or respond defensively. Your reactions are completely under your control. (but they don't always feel like it, so go easy on yourself if you slip up, and start fresh the next time)

I would not mention any of this to the kids. What I would encourage you to do instead is to live your life as the example of the kind of integrity you want them to internalize.

Take his issues completely out of your interactions with them.

Live as a shining example of integrity and acceptance, and his shadowy stuff will naturally diminish in influence and importance.

Here's a guideline to experiment with: Don't bring him up in your conversations with the kids at all. If they bring him up, focus your attention on their feelings, not on his words or actions. "So how was it for you when he said that, honey?" rather than, "Why did he say that?" or "That's not what happened."

This makes the conversation about them, not him. And showing interest in their experience and emotions is a powerful way to build a strong relationship with them. As they learn to trust that they can share things like this and you won't get all agitated or defensive, they will tell you more.

Joint custody dynamics can be extremely challenging. If you'd like suggestions and support that are custom tailored for your own particular situation, contact me at karen@karenalonge.com to schedule a parenting consultation by phone or email.

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:

* When kids fear that their pacifiers will be yanked from them before they are ready to let them go, they often cling to them far more tenaciously. Talk in a neutral and matter-of-fact way about your hunch that soon she simply will not want it anymore, and that she can probably even feel that change happening inside her little by little already. This sets it up as a natural part of growing up, rather than a power struggle or a battle of wills.

* Suggest that someday she'll want to trade it in for a 'big kid' toy of her choice. Bring it up casually every few weeks to see if she's ready yet. I promise that at some point, she will be!

* Progressively restrict its use to inside the house, then inside her room, then only in her crib. Even if it takes a while for her to totally let go of it, it's not interfering with her social skills if she's only using it when she's alone in her crib.

* Some parents dip the pacifier into vinegar or another nasty tasting but harmless foodstuff, and then sympathize authentically with their child that it tastes so icky. It's a bit underhanded, and you wouldn't want your child to spot you doing the dipping, but it can be effective. Pretty quickly, the child 'decides' to let go of it on her own.

* Even when she is ready to voluntarily let the pacifier go, she may miss it for a little while. After all, it was a very consistent, effective, and reliable source of comfort to her. To ease the transition and replace the soothing effect that sucking provides, be sure to offer plenty of other forms of physical comfort instead. Hold her more often, rock in the rocking chair together, let her sit on your lap to read stories, or give her backrubs/footrubs.

If you'd like some guidance and support to ease the transition, contact me to schedule your own phone or email parenting consultation: karen@karenalonge.com

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.

* Create a very specific ritual together that happens after you tuck her in. Make it short, sweet, and predictable. Then breeze out with an air of confidence that she'll be fine and you'll see her tomorrow morning.

* See if you can make a deal with her - if she stays in her room without coming out after bedtime, she can do something special in the morning. Make it a new privilege or task that reflects how grown up she is now that she can stay in her room on her own.

* Mellow the pre-bed routine down even more (ie brush teeth before taking a bath, since it often involves power struggles which can be over-stimulating.)

* Consider adding a daily after dinner walk around the block to help her wind down. (You can double your efficiency if you take the dog ...)

* I found that a high complex carb bedtime snack helped - cereal, whole wheat toast, or a granola bar. Some parents find that protein snacks at bedtime are helpful for their kids. Experiment to see what works best for yours. (I learned the hard way that Power Bars aren't such a great option. What was I thinking feeding my daughter an 'energy bar' at bedtime!?)

* Lavender or jasmine are very relaxing aromatherapy: in the bath, misted on her pillow, or rubbed onto her feet in a lotion or cream. Some parents find that homeopathic remedies such as Calms Forte or Moon Drops work wonders.

* Is she running thoughts from the day through her head? Add some kind of clearing/closing ritual to bedtime, like putting everything that happened during the day into a big imaginary bubble and watching it drift far, far away.

* Try letting her participate in making up a bedtime story and have her put in things that happened to her today. Tie up any loose ends into emotionally satisfying solutions.


The bottom line: Experiment and be creative. You will eventually find something that works. Be sure to ask your children what they think will help them feel more sleepy. They sometimes come up with the darndest things.

If you want some additional help figuring out how to help your child sleep better, contact me at karen@karenalonge.com to schedule a parenting consultation by phone or email.

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. :)

And it may be that at age 3 or 4, the only strategy she can think of to try to stop sensory input that is overwhelming to her immature nervous system is to try to control the behavior of others. She's going to need your help learning the more advanced social skills of negotiation, walking away, asking for clarification, or compromise.

Modeling in your own behavior what you want her to do will be key. It's a humbling and ironic moment for us as parents when we realize we are trying to teach our children not to be controlling by trying to control them!

My hunch is that her controlling behavior is a red flag that she is becoming overwhelmed in some way. It takes a while for kids to develop those internal filters that allow adults to tune out unwanted auditory input. Even as adults, some people are more bothered than others by unpredictable or uncontrolled auditory stimuli.

Since this tends to be a problem in the car, you may want to get her a toy music player with headphones. That way, if she doesn't like what she's hearing in the environment, she has an acceptable way to regain control over her personal auditory space.

If she demands that you stop singing, a response such as, "If you'd rather hear something else, honey, it's okay with me if you put on your headphones and play your music while I sing," not only demonstrates acceptance and understanding of people's different preferences, but also models that there are more effective solutions to sensory overload than ordering people around.

Later, during a quiet and connected moment with her, you might say, "Honey, today in the car when you yelled at me to stop singing, it seemed like something was really bothering you. I want to help you, but it's hard for me to do that when I'm being yelled at. Let's figure out a better way for you to let me know."

Then teach her phrases like, "Mommy, something is bugging me. Will you help me figure it out?"

When it happens with the egg cooking, she might be comparing an inner map of how it 'should' be done with what she is seeing you do, and trying to reconcile the two. She sounds very bright, and would therefore be quite sensitive to discrepancy. Developmentally, she's probably also very eager to identify the 'right' way to do things.

It would be an interesting experiment, when and if you feel like it, to go along with it and invite her to help you. Which might sound like this: "Sounds like you have an idea about how eggs should be cooked, and it's different from what you are seeing me do right now. Tell me more about your idea! "

Talking to her like this is helping her to learn and internalize the language to use when she wants to talk about a discrepancy in the future. (And it may take a while before you see evidence of this, but it IS sinking in! Kids understand concepts long before they can articulate them.)

I realize this is a loaded topic, and I can't really do it justice in a quick post. If you'd like personalized coaching on how to implement this approach with your child, let's set up a parenting consultation by phone or email. Visit www.karenalonge.com/forclients.htm for more information.