Does life have a taper?

After several years of running races, I have discovered at the end of the training cycle, I’m running on tired legs. Tired legs make every run feel like I’m slogging through cement. Tired legs make my lungs scream out with the smallest amount of effort. Tired legs make the bed more enticing and the outside more frightening.

And after 18 miles on Saturday, my hamstrings curled into the fetal position and said, NO MORE!

With four weeks to go until my race, I know that my body had enough, and now it’s time to taper. A glorious word to a runner. Tapering isn’t laziness, it’s a planned rest, so come race day, I don’t hurt myself.

And it made me wish that life had a taper.

Currently we are in the throes of the last weeks of school. No one wants to get out of the bed. Breakfast time is full of teeth pulling. And lunches? The kids throw in some fruit, peppers and a couple slices of salami and call it a lunch. I can’t even muster the energy to tell them to pack more.

Everyone is tired. We are all dragging our feet until that glorious day in June when we can sleep in, stay in our PJ’s until noon, and live in our bathing suits the other few hours of the day.

In a manner of speaking, we are all living life on tired legs.

The cruel thing about May, is it is the busiest time of year. Open houses, art shows, kid races, conferences, you name it, we got it. The time when we should be slowing down and getting ready for the last big week of school, we are all too tired to do more than make a half-hearted appearance. By the time we get to the end of the year picnic, everyone chugs into the station on empty.

Culture tells us, when we are tired, we should keep moving. Do the next thing, check off the next task, run our kids to the next event. The prize is at the end when we get to relax. But the relaxation never comes, because the next big event is taking shape. And that is what hurts us in the end, because if we are going to complete this big race of life.

Sometimes we need to taper.

This week I haven’t done housework. Dinner is simple if I make anything. Otherwise it is leftovers from the plethora of choices in our fridge. The kids play after school instead of doing chores.

We read more.

We laugh more.

We sit in the silence more.

If we are going to make it until the end of May with our sanity intact, now isn’t the time to push through. We need to save that grit for the last week. Otherwise, we will finish this race limping.

 

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Keep it Simple

It has taken me a long time to get it, but simpler is better.

For the longest time, I fell into the Pinterest trap. Believing my kids needed me to create memories that will last a lifetime. But that thinking corrupts the truth about kids.

They are happy no matter what.

So this year, Easter was a chocolate pop and gummy bears. And they ate that chocolate pop with relish and enjoyed each red, yellow and orange gummy.

No elaborate Easter Egg hunt. Instead we made pancakes and enjoyed a lazy morning before we headed to church.

No fancy dresses everyone is worried will be trashed faster than a 21 year old on their birthday. We went to Target, and what they picked we got. I didn’t worry about how the clothes they chose wouldn’t look nice in the family picture. There was no family picture.

No crazy meals that no one will eat. Our holiday fare was a simple roasted chicken, potatoes, and cucumber salad.

Okay, so they didn’t eat the cucumber salad.

The kids didn’t complain that they didn’t have more candy. No one noticed that the Easter bunny hadn’t hid eggs. Only once did the kids realize we hadn’t dyed any eggs.

And then they moved on.

As parents we assume to make memories, we they need to be manufactured by us. If we aren’t their to orchestrate the fun, kids won’t have fun. But kids are incredible at having fun. All they need is space, time, and a blank canvas.

And they will make their own joy.

Think about it as you’re planning your next gathering. Stop focusing on the gifts, the food, and the activities.

Just be.

And the joy will follow.

 

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Magic of Childhood

We lose something magical when we become adults.

We don’t go out in the rain without an umbrella

We are never messy when we eat.

And we are too wrapped up in the mundane of the every day to lose ourselves in another world.

This weekend I took the kids to play at the park. There happened to be the right mix of creative and outgoing kids, swirling about the equipment. While I read a book, Isaac played tag with the other kids. And if I could bottle up the sheer joy on his face and remind him of it when he’s an adult, I would.

Margo and Rebecca created a human chain down the slide with a group of other kids. Deep belly laughs reverberated through the playground. It was their solution to waiting turns to go down the slide.

I could see the magic and feel the memory of it, but it’s so hard to get back when we cross the line into adulthood.

Can you imagine being okay with the present and not demanding more? No worries about what tomorrow brings, but content with where you are right this moment?

As adults we catch glimpses of this magic, but most of our lives are spent with the stress, busyness and distractions of the “real world.” But seeing the kids on the playground this weekend;

I want what they have.

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Being Honest with Myself

Isaac lies. He does it when he wants to avoid consequences, don’t we all. So when I catch him in the act, I stop him and say, “Truth time.” And anything after that is the truth. It gives him a chance to regroup and trust that he can safely tell me what he needs to.

So here I go. Truth time.

I am sick of marathon training.

My current mantra is only 5 more weeks. In five weeks, this madness ends. I have two long, long runs scheduled, before I begin to taper. Only 2 more times that I have to run longer than any person should ever run, if they aren’t being chased by something.

And what I learned most during this six months of training is; I want my Saturdays back.

Running ShoesThis weekend I gave myself a reprieve from the long run. My right heel and hip are a constant bone-grinding song, and my husband was out-of-town all weekend. Although I had family who agreed to watch the kids, I knew if I went for my scheduled 18-miler, I would be toast the rest of the weekend. Not a great way to parent when you are the only show in town.

And if I am honest with myself, I just didn’t want to run.

Instead of the guilt I expected to feel, I reveled in a Saturday morning not dictated by training. I got up and took the kids to an easter egg hunt at church. We played outside, cleaned, and read. The day was bright and shiny, so we went to the park. While the kids played with new-found friends, I sat on a bench and read. On Sunday I got up and ran four miles and enjoyed every second of it. Because I chose to run, instead of being told I needed to run.

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a weekend, and it was a good reminder of why I will never run another marathon. The training isn’t worth the beating, my love for the sport has taken. There are so many things I have to do in life, I don’t want to turn running into just another thing I have to check off.

I miss running for fun. No training plan, no schedule, no pace. Just pounding my feet on the ground until I say I’ve had enough. My plan for the next 6 months is to enjoy not having a plan.

At the same time I’m struggling with my marathon training, I have struggled with editing my novel. Again, it is something I have to get through. For the past month, my head bends over my laptop crafting my story into something better. Painstakingly, I traverse my world line-by-line, making sure the story is coherent, the words flow, and characters are consistent. There is no creativity in the editing process, and it pushes me into the cone of shame faster than anything else I have done.

In fact, I thought about adding a geographic location to the cone of shame and the map would show my mind.

But unlike my marathon training, the editing spurs me on. I can’t wait to get back to creative writing. Editing taught me more about pacing, words, and storytelling, than any book on writing ever could. All of this prepares me for my next book, that I can’t wait to get back to. Although the editing process is cumbersome, it hasn’t killed my love for writing.

This morning during my walk, I wondered what is the difference between my marathon training and writing. Why has the tedious task of training killed my love for running, while the editing process increases my joy of the job?

In 5 short weeks, the training will be over. I will take a break from running and heal my tired muscles. I don’t regret signing up for the race. When I started out on the journey, I didn’t believe I could truly finish it. And I’m a month away from proving I can finish something I’ve started. The bigger lesson, however, is sometimes I need to persevere through the hard stuff, and sometimes I need to stop and enjoy the moment.

And training taught me how to know the difference.

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Pain Isn’t Weakness

There are a lot of things I have learned during the 27 weeks I have trained for my first marathon. First, I discovered my infatuation with Chris Hardwick and the Nerdist podcast. Thank God there are 500 episodes, or race day would be a 5 hours with me and my thoughts. And no good ever came from that. Second, I learned that while I can probably run 26.2, it is not something I ever want to repeat again. I’m a one and done kinda girl when it comes to the long distances. I’ll happily stick to my 10ks, 10 milers, and 13.1. Lastly, I learned when my body hurts, it means something is out of balance. And that was an important lesson to learn in running and life.

This past Saturday it came to a head when my plantar fasciitis, IT Band, and hip pain collided into a tsunami of pain, and I limped my way through the last 2 miles of my 10 mile run. I have a habit of not listening to my body, and my body got even. As I lay on the couch wrapping the right side of my body from shoulder to foot in ice, I realized pain isn’t weakness leaving my body, but pain is a signal my body is out of balance and I need to listen to it.

How often do we go through life ignoring what our bodies are trying to tell us? Not just physically, but emotionally as well. When something is out of balance, we might feel more anxious, sad, or irritable. A lot of times we chalk these feelings up to stress, and keep trucking along, as if stress is a necessary evil in life.

But just like that pain I felt on Saturday, our feelings are trying to tell us something. And our job is to listen before we fall apart.

Today when I went out for my run, I ran with my senses turned on. Which meant I couldn’t distract myself. No Chris Hardwick for me today. The music was on low and I paid attention to each foot strike. About 10 minutes into the run I felt my calf tightening in my right leg. And then my plantar tendon started throbbing and by minute 15 the tightness in my hip began its sharp song. I knew if I kept on running my knee would join in this band of pain and I would be hobbling through the rest of the day.

But because I paid attention during my run, I now know the origin of all that mess.

My stupid calf muscle.

How often in life do we turn off our senses, and just keep going along until something overwhelms us? What would it take to live paying attention to our bodies and be able to take care of problems before they become too big to handle on our own?

Can you push away the distractions, so you can focus on yourself for just a while, and learn what your body is telling you?

When we believe that pain is something to ignore we lose sight of the fact that pain is actually our bodies trying to tell us something. It doesn’t mean we quit, it doesn’t mean we give up, but we use that pain as a signal to search our senses for what the origin is.

It is our job to unmask the pain and figure out what it is before it becomes an injury that takes a long time to recover from. Don’t ignore the feelings in your life. Embrace them, and let them show you the imbalance in your life, and then fix it.

We kid ourselves when we say, this too shall pass. Believing if we just push through whatever it is we feel, we will come out on the other side. This belief keeps us distracted and looking for more distractions to fill in the pain in our life. Face your pain head on. Acknowledge it and look for its source.

Because that is the only way we can start to heal.

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Let Me Entertain You

Do you ever feel like a one woman (or man) show?

Parenting nowadays is over the top. I’m sure every generation has said that, but I truly think my generation has turned parenting into the worst version of itself. We strive for perfection and in that pursuit, unintentionally hurt our kids.

We sign them up for every possible activity. We keep them busy with organized playdates. We turn birthdays into a 3 ring circus (and I bet some birthdays are actual circuses). There are no rainy afternoons at home, instead they are spent running around town keeping our kids from getting bored.

For Pete’s sake snack at school has turned into the culinary pursuits of a 5 star restaurant. All of this is to keep our kids busy and keep them from experiencing boredom. And in that pursuit we ignore the one critical skill children need to develop into emotionally intelligent, creative, successful adults: Creative Play.

Recently these two article appeared in my Facebook feed and had me screaming YES!!!! Someone else gets it! I’m not alone fighting against the tide. And both were good reminders why its important to not give in to the cultural pressure to keep our kids busy. Please take a few minutes and read these awesome articles.

I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical

Maybe We Should Stop Entertaining Our Kids So Much

What we are supposed to do as parents is:

1) Lead by example. Show them what you do when you are bored. If you plop down in front of the TV and then yell, “Go do something!” I’m guessing the kids will argue back. Just saying. Think about the hobbies you have or what you do when you have a few spare hours. And if you don’t have a few spare hours, get out that calendar and start freeing yourself up. Because your kids are learning from you.

2) Let them figure it out on their own. Give them an afternoon with no plans. And when they come to you with the whiny refrain, “I’m Bored.” Say, “I’m sorry you’re bored, I hope you find something that interests you.” And then run away. Or go do the laundry, because no one will follow you when there’s a possibility they could end up doing work.

3) Set up a space that encourages play. I expect for the next 10 years the room off of our kitchen will be filled to the brim with childhood. There is always paper available, crayons, markers, chalk, paint. (yes paint-that stains), scissors, tape, and glue. Books are always in reach, and I don’t know how many times I’ve had to replace The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Books are for use, right? Have games, puzzles and toys accessible and let them play. If my kids say, “I’m BORED.” I point them to the back of the house, and then I disappear.

4) Stop over-scheduling kids. I know, I say it a lot. But kids who never rest, don’t know what to do when they have time to themselves. Keep to the 1 activity at a time rule, and I bet your kids will be less bored than they ever have been.

5) Don’t teach kids outside is dangerous. Shove them into the fresh air. I can get a lot of writing done when the kids are outside. And most of the time they aren’t playing with toys. Sticks, rocks, plants, and trees are their toys.

All the research I have read on child development is clear, other than feeling safe, creative play is one of the most critical skills a child needs for development. When we as parents give in to the battle cry of I’m Bored, and fill their brains with things we find fun, we are not only hurting them in the present, we are hurting their future creativity.

 

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Failure isn’t a Bad Word

How do you feel about failure?

It is something we don’t talk about, at least not in a good way. Failure is seen as something negative, something we should be ashamed of, and something that should be avoided at all costs.

But if we don’t fail, how do we ever improve?

 

Recently I wrote a post that was featured on BlogHer called, Little League Isn’t for Kids. A lot of women wrote in believing I didn’t want my kids to fail. Their point was in life we lose, and it’s something kids need to learn.

Losing is absolutely fine. I am not the type of parent who believes everyone needs a trophy on game day. I do believe sports are one way kids learn about success and failure. But I wholeheartedly disagree that sports are the only way the lesson is learned. And I argue it isn’t the best way for kids to understand failure. There are so many other ways our kids learn failure isn’t a bad word.

I think the biggest disservice parents do nowadays is taking away a child’s ability to fail. Here is my list of how to let kids fail, everyday, until they learn that failure makes them stronger individual.

1) You. I think as parents we are the best teachers of failure. How many times do you fail a day? And how do you feel when you fail? Don’t keep those things to yourself. Let your kids know when you fail to complete a job, when you don’t get the promotion, or you didn’t reach a goal you set. Then let them know what you learned from the experience and what you will do in the future. It sets the stage for how they handle their own failures in life and the emotions that come with it.

2) Homework. Ask yourself this question, whose homework is it? If you are not enrolled in classes, then why are you doing your child’s homework? Why are you begging them to complete assignments? Do you sit with them until it is done, or let them pull all nighters?

Because you don’t want them to fail. But what do they learn from that experience? Do they learn they can’t be trusted to do their own work? Or manage their own time? Do they learn if you don’t get something done mom will give a pass? What happens when Mom and Dad aren’t around? What if it’s a job? College?

Let them learn how to manage time and homework on their own. Let them learn now when the stakes are low. Because someday you won’t be around to help, and all they have learned is to avoid failure. And that’s a bad place to be.

3) Chores. This a a fertile ground of failure. Give them jobs and then give them space to complete them. Don’t nag to get them done, don’t beg or plead. Give them the list, a time limit and then see if it’s done. If they fail to complete the job have a handy consequences available, so the can feel the pain of the choice they made. Through the experience they will learn how to manage time instead of being nagged at until a job is done.

4) Cooking. This is often an activity parents don’t let their kids participate in. They are afraid the kids will hurt themselves or do it wrong. But cooking is a great way for kids to learn to follow directions and why it’s important to do so. They also can learn the benefits of experimenting. Let them follow a recipe themselves and see what happens. It will either work, or it won’t, but I guarantee they’ll learn something from the process.

5) Conflict. Don’t mediate problems. Let kids work it out themselves. Listen to them, help them talk through their problem, but don’t fix it for them. Working through their own problems is a big step in growing up, and too often parents step in to smooth things over. Whether at school, at the park, or at home, if kids run into problems we go into fix it mode. Give them a safe place to work out the issue on their own, offer support, but don’t give them solutions. They’ll surprise you with their own, if you let them.

My intention when I wrote Little League Isn’t for Kids was not to suggest kids don’t need to learn about failure. I do believe children need to learn failure at an early age. They need to learn decisions have consequences and sometimes those consequences are negative. But it doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them. As long as we give kids a safe environment to work out their failures on their own, kids will grow up strong individuals who are ready to take on the world.

Do you have examples of how your kids have benefited from failure?

 

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Ten Books every Toddler Should Have

Yesterday was a clean house day. Ostensibly it was so we can find Rebecca’s glasses that Margo squirreled away somewhere. At this point I assume they will turn up when we pony up the money to buy a replacement pair.

The bright side to all this is the kids’ rooms got a good cleaning.

Isaac cleared his booshelves of books he decided he was too old for. Now that he is reading on his own, apparently picture books are for babies. Margo excitedly welcomed the new library in her room, but that meant we had to get rid of her board books.

And that was a sad day for me. A lot of these books have been through all three kids. We built the library up over the past nine years and some of my favorite books are in there. I may never have used my MLIS when I was an actual librarian, but my kids have benefited from my education and training.

So I have created my top 10 list of books every toddler should have. And I will pass these books on and hope another family will enjoy them as much as my kids have.

Learning to read starts when kids are infants.  Talking to your babies, reading, and singing to are the best ways you can prepare your kids for future reading success. I am here to tell you there is no app, no computer game, and no video series that works as well as good old fashioned reading. Twenty minutes a day is all it takes to raise successful readers.

When choosing books for you kids look for these elements: unique words; rhyming; strong narrative; simple pictures; refrains for kids to repeat.; and they have to be fun. It’s important for the books to be fun and read with excitement. If you aren’t interested, your kids won’t be interested.

Without further ado here are my top 10 board books every toddler should have.

1) Piggies. Audrey and Don Wood. The pictures are great, the rhyme is silly and Audrey and Don Wood understand what kids like and what kids need to hear to develop reading.

2) Napping House. Again, the pictures are fabulous. And the kids will hear words they don’t normally hear. In addition the book is a sequences which will help kids build narrative as they get older.

3) Bear Snores On. Karma Wilson. It is a longer book than most toddlers will sit for, but they are captivated by the pictures and the refrain they can repeat. The author uses lots of unique words and rhymes to help build vocabulary and phonetic understanding.

4) Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Bill Martin and Eric Carle. This classic is fun to read and sing! The pictures are simple, and the kids can participate by naming the animals.

5) Goodnight Moon. Margaret Wise Brown. Another classic that will help kids build vocabulary and narrative. The pages are filled with pictures to help the child tell the story on their own. There is a reason this book has been around for generations.

6) Snuggle Puppy. Sandra Boynton. Sandra Boynton’s books are funny silly and full of rhymes. A lot of her work is songs and one of her best compilations is Philadelphia Chickens that comes with a CD that the kids can listen to while following along in the book.

7) Who’s Hiding. This series has simple text and simple pictures to help kids learn new words. It is a sturdy lift the flap book that covers all sorts of animals.

8) Is Your Mama a llama? Deobrah Guanrino and Steven Kellogg. The rhymes will keep your kids guessing and they will learn a lot of new words in this fun book.

9) Toes, Ears, and Nose. Marion Dane Bauer. Karen Katz. This series of books is great for young toddlers learning body parts. It is a lift the flap book done in Karen Katz’s typical style which appeals to young readers. You won’t be disappointed with any Katz book you pick up.

10) Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. Eileen Christelow. A familiar chant that the kids love. It is a book that keeps them excited for reading and the only downside is you might get tired of reading it :)

There are so many other books I could add to the list. But these are the books I know have made a difference in the reading life of my kids. If you want to raise successful readers add these books to your personal library!

For more information on raising readers visit Raising Readers

Or check out your local library!

What books would you add to this list? How do you make reading fun for your kids?

 

 

 

 

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Parenting Struggle: Tattling and Fighting

One of the most difficult parts of parenting or working with kids is tattling. When I worked at the library the afterschool hours were a barrage of, “Ms Jessica he just took my book.” or “Ms Jessica, she just touched me.”  My response was always, work that out yourselves.”

It was easier back then, because these kids weren’t mine. I could easily distance myself from whatever was happening and save my discipline for when I really needed to step in. For example gang fights.

Eventually the kids learned they weren’t going to get a helping hand from me and they worked it out, or not. And when they didn’t, I pulled out my authoritative librarian voice and told them they could come back tomorrow and work it out, but their chance today was gone.

At home it’s a whole different playing field. I can’t kick these kids out of the house for misbehavior. The tattling gets worse the older the kids get. “Margo just spit on me!  He just took my toy! Rebecca isn’t playing with me!” I bite my tongue and try not to get involved. I’ll look up over my book and answer, “Work it out yourselves.” That is my answer for about everything. If someone isn’t running into the street, I don’t need to hear about it.

But that type of parenting is hard. It involves trusting your kids enough to believe they will work out their differences.

The kids have been on spring break for two weeks now, and the tattling and fighting have escalated to epic proportions. And so I have spent a lot of time telling the kids to work it out and removing myself from their line of sight, so they have to search the house in order to tattle.

In other words, they really have to want it in order to tattle.

In a book I’ve been reading by Kevin Leman called, Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours, he suggests removing the fighting kids to a room and saying, “Alright, if you want to fight, you need to do it here.” In most cases the kids will stare in horror at the parent suggesting a mini-fight club. And the kids will work out their differences without it resorting to fisticuffs.

I would love to hear the story of kids who actually do fight. Because I bet that would happen.

But his advice makes sense. And it is the same with tattling. If us parents get involved in the conflicts between our kids, how will they learn to work through problems on their own? What we need to do is give them a safe place to explore their feelings and work out a solution. The best way to do that is by removing ourselves from the argument and also leading by example in our own lives. (So stop arguing with you hubby behind closed doors.  Let the kids see how conflict can be resolved)

That has to be one of the best gifts we can give to our kids.

How do you handle tattling and fighting in your house?

 

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Five Rules for Natural Consequences

Sometimes I forget my own parenting advice.

I love to write about natural consequences. It seems so, ya know, natural. If the kids don’t put their clothes down the chute they don’t have clothes to wear. If they forget to put away toys outside they get ruined. If they don’t eat their dinner they are hungry until the next meal.

But in practice it’s hard. Really hard. Natural consequences happen they aren’t created. But I tend to plead, beg, remind, and force my kids to act. “If you don’t do this, this will happen.” Mainly because I don’t want to enforce the consequence I know is coming.

It came to a head this weekend. We took the kids to an overnight in Pittsburgh.  Kids being kids, they refused go to sleep in the hotel room. For two hours Michael and I kept coming out of the bedroom and begging the kids to sleep. We knew how tired they would be the next day. We ordered, threatened, and took away what we could think of. Finally we realized nature would be a better teacher than us. And they went to sleep eventually.

We didn’t need to beg them, we needed to show them why they should have listened. So the next morning they slept in. Awesome for us, not so awesome for them. Because they had their hearts set on swimming one last time in the pool before we checked out. They didn’t get up until close to 9. We ate and then said, “Because we slept in, we only have 20 minutes to swim.”

And it clicked for them when they had to get out of the pool after such a short amount of time.

In our minds we know what needs to happen and we try our best to make it happen. While Michael and I argued uselessly for 2 hours, we could have shut the bedroom door and let nature take its course. Sometimes we do have to impose realistic consequences instead of natural.  After all we aren’t going to let our kids put themselves in danger.  The problem happens when we confuse what puts our kids in danger, with what needs to happen on its own.

And that’s what Michael and I continue to work on.

Top 5 rules for natural consequences: (Or what I have learned so far)

1. Let nature be the teacher

2. Say it once and then act. (for example, if the kid doesn’t eat dinner, take away the plate and say they can eat until the next meal. No snacks and no changing their mind later. If you leave the plate out, they have learned nothing.)

3. Don’t ever say, “I told you so.” Not that any of us would do that :) It’s okay to talk them through their disappointment. But they already feel bad, you don’t need to rub it in.

4. Follow through. That is the only way this system works.

5. Be discerning. If a child could hurt themselves, it’s not the right consequence. That is when a realistic punishment steps in. If your child is going to jump off of the roof, it’s not a great time to say, “Ah well, live and learn!” Time outs or other punishments become helpful. But they still need to be immediate and related to the behavior.

This weekend, the disappointment of not getting a lot of time in the pool was a better teacher than any punishment Michael and I could have thought up. And it only took 2 hours for us to figure it out.

See, natural consequences work for adults too.

 

 

How do you handle consequences? Do you let life be the teacher, or do you use time outs, etc?

 

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