Can’t get your kids to do their homework? Try this simple solution….

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For nearly ten years I worked as an educator in a middle school while raising six kids I adopted through foster care. When they came to live with me, their ages ranged from 5 to 15 years and they were not exactly what you would call motived. When asked, they never actually “had homework.” Yet, when the report cards came out or I e-mailed their teachers, the failing grades appeared. I needed a way to help the kids discover their own motivation for doing their best. The solution came from my oldest daughter when she was just 15 years old. I tweaked it a little myself and it has worked wonders. We did this for years until the kids became more internally motivated and essentially “outgrew” the system. Now, you don’t have to be a mom of a clan of foster kiddos to benefit. If little Johnny isn’t the most motivated kid on the block, give it a shot. It just might work wonders for you too.

After school everyone sits in a common area, it doesn’t matter if they have homework or not; they are required a certain amount of time to study each day based on the grades from their last report card or progress report. 

If a child has straight A’s on his/her last three-week progress report or report card, he or she is only required to do assigned homework and study for tests. Then their homework time is over. They have proven themselves responsible and are left to determine for themselves how long their study time should take. 

If they have grades of B and higher, they are required to study for at least 30 minutes a day regardless of the amount of assigned homework. 

If grades of C and higher, they study a minimum of one hour each day regardless.

If a child has a D or lower, he or she is required to “homework time” for a minimum of two hours each day regardless of the amount of actual homework assigned. 

Don’t let the amount of time scare you. I used this system with a 5 year old who could have been the poster child for ADHD. It doesn’t have to all be traditional structured study time. Use this time to work with your kids in any areas they may be struggling academically. If you can’t personally sit down with them on a particular day, purchase educational videos and games. Read to them or have them read to you. Tweak the system to meet your family’s needs. I didn’t require homework time on Fridays or weekends. But, if the kids were in summer school there was homework time assigned for those dates based on their last report card.

Soon you’ll find with a dedicated amount of study time attached to their grades, that homework they “forgot” about will suddenly appear (after all you might as well do your math if you’re sitting at the table anyway) and those subjects that they’re struggling in will get a little more attention. The important thing is that it puts the responsibility back on the child. After all, it is their homework.

 

Top 5 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE I Delivered Babies

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As a new mom to twins I have learned so much I could probably fill a book with all of it! Lol. (I guess that tells you I knew nothing to start with about parenting or having babies :-) But, there were a few times when I said to myself, "Boy! I wish someone told me that before I had the girls!" Well, this is my top five list.

1) How to get babies to sleep. First, of all I fully acknowledge that I am no expert. All babies are different and should your pediatrician or any other expert tell you something different you should by all means go with them. That said, this is what works for me.

Babies go through stages of learning to sleep. So, what works well when they are a newborn will change when they hit about 4 months. This will change again about 7-8 months and, yet again, about 9-10 months. My girls are only eleven months (next week) so I can't really speak past that. But, there are a few things that seemed to work all the way through. First of all, "tiring them out" doesn't work. In other words, contrary to what seems logical, they do not get more tired as they stay up later. Quite the opposite. It's much tougher for me to get the girls to sleep at 8:30pm than it is a 7:00pm. They just get too tired. Too fussy. Not interested in sleep.

Second, times really do matter. My girls both sleep best when put them down at a constant interval between naps or at the exact same time each day. I've tried both methods I don't know that it really matters which them you go with.  Just find one and stick with it. But, varying the time of naps or bedtime due to appointments or simply life doesn't work well at all.

Beyond that, I found the very best way to get the girls to sleep was to lay them next to me with a bottle. Then, I would pretend to be asleep myself. No singing, no patting, no movement. Just cuddling them close to me, being completely still and giving them milk. (I couldn't nurse due to medical reasons but that's a whole different blog.) Bear in mind that I have two babies so holding and rocking them both at the same time isn't going to happen. Furthermore, my girls seem to get distracted with too much movement, walking, rocking, singing etc. so this just works best for us. Once, they get to sleep I can gently move them over into their crib.

When they were first born I think I was in "survival mode" so I honestly can't tell you how long between naps. We just did the best that we could. But, starting around 5 months I tried to put them down for a nap two hours from the time they last woke up. Now, they just take one long nap (2-3 hours) around noon each day. Wish it were more but for mine the single, long nap is what they gravitated toward when they were around 10 1/2 months old.

So, there you have it my great sleep secret. Lay them down next to you with a bottle. Be completely still. Pretend to be asleep. And, do this at the same time each day (or equally spaced intervals). Simple, I know. But, boy, do I wish someone would have let me in on this little secret. I read books and blogs, and a whole lot of "sleep training" information but this has been the only thing that really worked for us. 

2) Wear an abdominal binder as soon as the OBGYN gives the okay after you deliver. I had (have?) a mommy tummy. I looked like a 40 year old man with a beer belly. Not kidding. I seriously considered a tummy tuck and I've never really been a plastic surgery kind of a gal but this was ridiculous. After delivery, there was a time when I weighed less than 120lbs and looked 6 months pregnant. NO one tells you this!! Well, I didn't get a tummy tuck. But, I did do a lot of research online, had an appointment with a general surgeon, saw a physical therapist for several months, and, this is what came of it all.

The general surgeon suggested an abdominal binder. I don't really think that the kind matters. I got the one at the pharmacy that my insurance paid for and I also paid, out of pocket, for the one that the Tupler Technique boasts is the best one possible. Honestly, I liked the one from the pharmacy much better and wore it more faithfully. The material just seemed to breathe better so I didn't get so sweaty. Regardless, of what you choose, wear one, and, wear it soon. Unfortunately, several months passed before I figured this one out. It helped tremendously - both to flatten my tummy and to support my back.

I would also recommend doing physical therapy. My insurance paid for it, and it was great to be taught which exercises were helpful and which ones would actually make my tummy budge worse at that stage of the game (like traditional crunches and sit-ups). If you can't see a physical therapist to get a variety of exercises, try this exercise: 

Lay flat on your back, wrap a sheet or towel length-ways around your lower, mid and upper abs (each section separately). Hold the towel (or sheet) together with your hands, crossed across your stomach like you're about to tie a bow around a package. Then, try to contract and release your upper, mid and lower abdominals (separately) while really focusing on the muscle groups. Move the towel (or sheet) so that it wraps around the muscle group you are working on. You are trying to contract your muscles in such a way that they "wrap around you" and pull in-ward in much the same way that the towel you are holding is wrapped around you. (You don't always have to use a sheet or towel. It just helps you get the motion down at first.) Do this while laying flat on your back with your knees bent like you were going to do a sit-up. If done properly, you can place your thumb where your leg attaches to your pelvis area and feel that area rise slightly and just brush your thumb. This isn't about a lot of motion. It is more about contracting the muscles and retraining them to come together. Do this 30 times for each muscle group (upper, middle and lower abs) throughout the day. You can increase the number as you get stronger. You can also add a variation where you raise your head slightly off the ground - directly up not curled in like you were doing a sit-up. The key is not large movements or a huge number of repetitions. It is simply focus and teaching those muscles to tighten and contract once more. Eventually, you can add more exercises to strengthen your core but this is a great place to start.

I still don't have a perfectly flat stomach but it has vastly improved. I should also note that when you take off the binder for several days you will see a regression in that your stomach will begin to pooch more than it did immediately upon removing the binder. That said, I have found that the more I wear the binder, the less regression I see each time. I guess the one thing that has greatly improved is my vanity :-)

3) Prunes. They are baby's best friend. Oh, how I wish we had started prunes at 6 months. I tried apple juice and prune juice (baby style half water, half juice). I tried Karo syrup. (just about a teaspoon full in a 4 oz bottle, once a day) But nothing works as well as good old prunes. One pack a day keeps the constipation away. Enough said.

4) Let me start by saying I don't have any affiliate links. This is just pure mommy input. That said, these are the coolest sippy cups I have ever seen. We were not sippy cup girls. We liked our bottles just fine, thank you. We would also drink out a glass quite happily (although we did have a bad habit of dumping it on ourselves) but you could just keep those dreadful old sippy cups. Until....we found....the Munchkin, Miracle 360 Degree Cup. They are awesome. The nurse at my pediatrician's office told me about them. Now, I will say that they do leak out of the top some but, more importantly, the girls actually use them. They are much like an actual cup. However, they have a lid with a rim. The girls can drink anywhere from the rim of the cup and liquid comes out. They also have two handles for easy grip. I love them!!! So, if you have a baby who is not a sippy cup kind of a tot. Give them a try. You'll be amazed at the IMMEDIATE change from a no-sippy cup kind of a gal to sippin pro.

5) Spoons. It's the simple things of life. There is a spoon called a "Sassy" spoon. They come two to a pack and I think I paid $3.28 at the grocery store. Very neat if you're trying to teach your little one to feed themselves. The spoons have little holes in them so the food adheres to the little holes and actually stays on the spoon when its turned upside down (within reason and only THICK baby food stays on the spoon). They also have a nice angled grip and a chubby handle so their just perfect for little ones.

There you have it. Your ticket to the good life. (If you're a mommy.) Lots of sleep, a flat(er) stomach, prunes, cups and spoons. What more could you want? Oh, how life changes :-)

Posted on September 12, 2017 .

It's Half-Time

There comes a time in the life of every family when they need more – when the same old thing just isn’t working – when they need power.  Living, breathing, Power. 

I think that through the years the word power has gotten a bad name as though there is something undignified or even flat-out totalitarian about it.  Let me invite you to expand your box and give a new definition for the same old word.  Power is the ability to make something out of nothing, the ability to strike a rock and from it flow clean water, the ability to part the Red Sea, to turn water into wine, or better yet, soften a heart of stone.  I’ve heard many people say they believe that God is no longer a God of miracles.  Some say that God only worked miracles in the times of the Old and New Testament so that He might show Himself through Christ Jesus and in the words of the prophets of long ago.  I believe in a God that is filled with power, a God who is just as faithful to fulfill His promises today as He was in the Old Testament of the Bible or in the days when Jesus walked upon this Earth in the shoes of a man. 

This morning I read about the Israelites, their journey through the wilderness for 40 years - never to enjoy the promise land.  Sometimes I wonder if I am wondering through a desert just a few short miles from my promise land but simply lacking the faith to complete the journey.  Their journey through the wilderness should have only taken a few weeks.  The journey was not long.  It was their faith that ran short.  How often are we so close to victory and yet finish in defeat because we have not the faith to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us?”

I love how The Message words Hebrews 12:1-3, “Do you see what this means – all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on?  It means we’d better get on with it.  Strip down, start running – and never quit!  No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins.  Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in.  Study how he did it.  Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way:  Cross, shame, whatever.  And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.  When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through.  That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”

Sometimes that’s what I need, a little adrenaline.  Sometimes that’s what our kids need as well.  So often when we start to make a little progress we are hit blindly with defeat.  But be of good cheer, that’s only Satan coming against you.  Jesus already fought that war and won.  If you were standing on the sidelines Satan wouldn’t come against you.  But you have taken the ball and are racing toward the finish line.  The game is not lost by a single tackle.  It is lost by a team who claims defeat at half-time and willingly forfeits their victory.

I laughed until I cried...

It all started when my son got a haircut on base. Normally they do great cuts but this time he went in with long locks and came out ready for bootcamp. He was mortified to say the least.

All the way to church the following Sunday he complained, "Why couldn't we have gone someplace else? Somewhere no one knows me."

Well, we didn't go somewhere else. We went to our home church. And...we were about 25 minutes late. The babies had just woken from a nap. I was running behind. And, if there's anything I've leaned post-baby it's that life is seldom perfect so you might as well just go with it and do the best that you can.

We pulled into the back row of the parking lot, unloaded the stroller and trudged on in. At our church if you park in larger of the church parking lots you've got to go up a flight of stairs. So, my daughter and I each towed a baby while my son took the stroller, all nicely folded up, and my Bible to the upper floor.

As we arrived at the sanctuary, they were just starting communion. Yes! I thought, we'll just sneak in the back in and head up the row like we're going to take the Lord's Supper. Along the way, we'll drop off our "luggage" (otherwise know as baby gear) in a set of three chairs we see together and no-one will even notice that we're late. Ha! There were no seats along the row. Little by little we crept our way further to the front of the church - pinned in the communion line like a car that can't get out of the drive thru at Kentucky Fried Chicken we trudged forward.

Now, my daughter and I, we were just fine. We each had a baby and looked just as "normal" as could be. But my poor son, already humiliated by his new summer look, was carrying a double stroller all folded up like it was his briefcase he just couldn't stand to leave at the seat and my rather large, giant-print Bible. To make matters worse he was 14. And, well...everything is worse when you're 14.

We made it all the way to the front of the church without so much as three seats open - even on the front row. So, now we just had to take communion as though we always traveled packed for a vacation. Poor kid, he was balancing the little communion cup, his wafer, the double stroller and my Bible as he trotted across the church in front of everyone. That would have been enough but just as he was about to round the corner to safety, he dropped my Bible, spilling out its contents everywhere. Oh, and...I had some napkins in there that kind of, might have looked like old kleenex along with about 50 sheets of little paper I use to mark verses. They went everywhere. 

I would have stopped. Really I would have. I am not a heartless, horrible mother. But I simple couldn't at that moment. I too, was carrying a little wafer, cup and a baby. So, I assumed we'd just leave it there and come back for it when we'd finally found a seat. Oh no...my dear son wasn't leaving any man (or Bible behind). He tried to balance, kneel and pick it up right there in the front of the church. (He just thought the haircut was the worst of his worries.) A little, old lady came to his rescue, gingerly picking up the Kleenex (really they were napkins...I think) by the corner and slowly bending (According to him she was rather elderly) to help him retrieve everything. My daughter and I were long past. (I really was going to go back. Didn't know he was going stop.) And the band just kept right on playing. When we finally got to our seats on the far side of the church, definitively he stated, "I feel like a terd."

I could not help myself. I bust out laughing until I was in tears. I'm quite sure I looked filled with the Holy Spirt at that somber moment, church full with people, hands raised, worshiping the Lord. I cried and cried and cried. Granted, it was all me trying to hold back any audible laughter. I wasn't the only one (although, I might have been the worst one). Both of the kids were dying laughing...and we probably retold the story at least 5 times during the week. My son later proudly relayed it to his dad who had been out of town. My daughter looked it up on the church's livestream.

It's funny for all the bonding that I try to be intentional about, the best memories are those that just happen. We can cry about them or we can laugh. But the very best times, are those when we can do both. 

Simple Tips to be a Proactive Not a Reactive Parent

Parenting is tough. I think I need this printed on a notecard and posted to my mirror!

1.     Keep as close to a schedule as feasible.  Tired and hungry are two of the biggest contributors to grumpy and irritable.  (For parents and children alike)

2.     Give your children as much notice as possible in regard to schedule changes.   Mention these changes more than once, so they never have the feeling that life is “out of control”.

3.     Be consistent with both rules and consequences.  Kids appreciate structure and predictability.

4.     Redirect instead of criticizing whenever possible.  For instance the other day I told my youngest son something the effect of, “Move over!  Your sister doesn’t like you staring over her shoulder like that!  People don’t like it when you do that.  You need to be on your side of the backseat.”  (By now you’ve definitely decided to look elsewhere for advice.)  My dad, on the other hand, preferred the approach, “What is that out the window over there!”

5.     Ask God for the discernment to choose your battles but not neglect to discipline your children.  Remember the Bible says “Do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  (Ephesians 6:4) 

6.     Never fight your battles alone.  Pray constantly for your children.

7.     Seek out positive role models for your children and plan for them to spend time around those individuals.  It never fails to amaze me that another adult can offer the exact same advice to my children that I have been saying for years.  The only difference – when they give the advice it’s acknowledged, appreciated and accepted.

Taking a consistent, proactive approach to discipline is not an easy task and I’m certain I fail as often as I succeed.  However, with each failure I grow and learn a valuable lesson.  (And who knows by the time my youngest turns eighteen I might be qualified to offer advice to someone other than myself.)

 

Posted on April 22, 2017 .

Be a Mom and Actually Finish Something...In ONE Simple Step

You want to know the most frustrating part of parenting? Granted it's not the most difficult. Or most important. In fact it's probably of little or no consequence to most of the human race. 

But for me...and my little type A...perfectionist in recovery...over-critcal...hyper-analytical (but I digress) mind it is by far the most frustrating. You get NOTHING done. NOTHING. Just give up now if you're a new mommy. You're house will never be "clean." Your laundry will never be "done." And you will only shave your legs 3 months out of the year (If your husband's lucky.)

The solution. FOCUS. Honestly, that's it. Focus. Now the tough part is how to manage that. Granted you could take your lap-top with you each time you need to use the restroom in hope's you'll have time to pay the electric bill. But let's face it. You and I both know that isn't going to happen. That little red light will start flashing that let's all the kids know you're in the restroom. And they will be there in 2.5 seconds. Banging on the door. And desperate for the irrefutable wisdom that can only be offered while yelling through the bathroom door.

No. There must be a plan. Excel spreadsheet. Bulleted list. Google calendar worthy plan. Ok, maybe not that good. But a PLAN. 

If life’s not protected, It doesn’t get done. If work’s not protected, it doesn’t get done.

— Dr. Henry Cloud, co-author to Boundaries

What does this mean? It means we need a plan. It means in business terms we need to practice  TIME-BLOCKINGOr, in feel-good mommy-blogger terms. It means that the old adage about placing the biggest rocks in the jar first, followed by the pebbles and then the sand is entirely true. So there you go. Put your big rocks in the jar first. Problem solved. Life complete. Right? WRONG.

Been there. Tried that. Got the t-shirt. But didn't get anything else done. How many of you have said, "I'm going to spend the next hour doing..." Show of hands. Me too. Did it work? Ha...only if you said I'm going to spend the next hour answering mind-numbing questions about absolutely nothing and solving the ever-increasing crime wave consisting of "he stole my pen" and "she looked at me."

We could also try the old adage. Parenting is the most important job in the world and as long as you do that well nothing else matters. While it may be the most important job in the world, if you don't have time to pay the light bill and scrape the green sludge off the counter your parenting may inadvertently suffer as well. 

No, take this from someone who decided she would "work from home" and "homeschoool the kids." Time-blocking is your friend. If done properly.

 Photo by Geoffrey Whiteway

Photo by Geoffrey Whiteway

So, how do you time-block properly you ask?

NEVER try to accomplish anything that requires even the most minuscule of thought while the children are around. Get up early. Leave the house. Do whatever you have to do but SET ASIDE time to to put the big rocks in the jar. In other words, accept REALITY. Make a calendar. Schedule UNINTERRUPTED true family time at least once a week for at least four consecutive hours (preferably much more). By the same token, schedule UNINTERRUPTED work-time or me-time or bill-paying time or take a shower time. Whatever the case may be. SCHEDULE it. WRITE it down. AND do not attempt to accomplish these things when the kids are around. In other words, get a sitter, leave the house, get up early. Do what you need to do. RETREAT...but save your sanity.

Posted on April 19, 2017 .

Kids Don't Communicate? Try this.

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It is always a difficult task to raise a family. However, when it is a blended family with a variety of backgrounds this task becomes both more daunting and more rewarding. Anger and hurt are two emotions that should be expected and prepared for in advance. One of the challenges of raising foster kids is teaching them to work through the hurt and anger that they feel in ways that don’t inflict harm on themselves or others. I think all of us have a metaphorical storage container inside of us. When children fill that container with hurt and anger, which are so closely related that most people can scarcely tell the difference, then they feel as if they are about to burst. The hurt and anger so envelop them, that they can sense energy rise up inside of them. They feel as if they must do something to release that energy and the fastest way seems to involve hurting themselves or someone or something else. Foster kids and many adults have had more hurt and anger than they know how to manage, so their storage container is always half-full to begin with. Therefore, they just don’t know quite how to process their pain when something sets them off, and they can feel the anger and hurt entwined and welling up inside of them as if they will explode. As parents, we must teach kids to not only cope with but begin to process this anger and hurt in a way that doesn’t inflict additional pain on themselves or others. This is no simple task. Kids who cut themselves don’t do so for the reasons that many foster parents might believe. Often, they simply hurt so much emotionally that they want to do something to distract their mind from the far worse pain they feel internally. My best advice is not to negate the pain they feel or minimize it by saying that they’re always upset or just emotional. That only makes them feel worse. Instead, validate what they are feeling, assure them of how much you love them, and help them find something to get rid of the extra energy inside of them released by the pain they feel. One idea I have found helpful is take a new roll of toilet paper or paper towels and just rip it to shreds. Then throw away the pieces and simply move on. This will temporarily release the anger and stress they feel at the moment. In addition, work with a trusted counselor to develop strategies for long term improvement and constantly encourage them to share what they ware feeling with you or another trusted adult.  Assure them that with time they will see improvements.  Another approach to try is called Theophostic Prayer Ministry.  It comes highly recommended by a gentlemen who worked successfully with many of the most troubled youth at the Texas Boy's Ranch.  He presented his findings at the 2012 Texas Foster Family Association Conference and I can vouch for him a a person of great integrity who truly does have the best interest of youth at heart.  This ministry is offered through many churches around the nation.

 In addition, as parents we should prepare for the reality that there will be times when everyone seems to be fussing with one another and tensions are heightened. Sometimes, it is best to call a family meeting and allow everyone to politely tell what is bothering them.  Then try to work through the problems and move forward. If the children are interrupting each other, have them hold an object such as a small block.  Tell them that they must have the object to be able to speak. Don't let these meeting go on for hours or become grounds to insult one another.  But every now and then, especially in the beginning.  It may be needed to clear the air and help individuals have their feelings heard.

 Whatever the approach or combination of strategies, do not take lightly your responsibility to help kids process emotions in a healthy manor.  This is a skill that will not only carry them far in their adult lives but will begin to bring peace to what most certainly begins as a troubled and chaotic environment.

Posted on March 27, 2017 .

The Daily Positive-Overcoming Anxiety

This is a blog post from Dale Partridge, CEO of Sevenly (go check Sevenly out, it's wonderful.) He has an amazing heart to reach out and touch people. I have so much respect for what this man is doing. Take a look as he shares his story about anxiety and how he overcame!

xo, Kim 

How Anxiety Almost Destroyed My Marriage

 By Dale Partridge On 11/20/2014 

In the Spring of 2013, I entered into the hardest season of my life.

I found myself addicted to Ambien for sleep, carrying Ativan in my wallet in case of a panic attack, and wearing a holter monitor to examine the hundreds of skipped heart beats I was experiencing daily.

Stress was killing me.

And what made it even harder was that I couldn’t stop. At the time, I was the CEO at Sevenly and had 40 employees to look after. I was a husband, a guest speaker, and our home’s sole provider. I had pressure layered up to my eyelids.

 

But our story gets even more difficult… Just a few weeks into this season of torment, my wife begun going through her own battle of mental illness.

“I remember days where I was fighting off a panic attack while coaching her through reasons to live.”

While my version of anxiety included panic, insomnia, and phobias, hers included chronic depression. And there is nothing harder than coaching mental illness while struggling with it yourself.

If you don’t fully understand anxiety, the video below explains it better than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s a must-watch in my opinion.

 

 

Our reality was harsh, we were both in a time when all we really wanted was for someone to take care of us. We didn’t have the emotional bandwidth required to help each other with anything.

Consequently, this season caused a catastrophic pain in our marriage. Life was flat, dark, and focused purely on survival. We lost the healthy ability of venting to one another about life’s struggles fearing we might trigger additional panic or worry. We lost the capacity for connection and found ourselves lonely and hopeless.

It was time for a plan.

My wife and I learned that happiness and health is a choice. But we understood nobody could start the journey, but us. We had to make some changes.

We began with reducing our commitments. We said no to dinners, meetings, and even vacations. We developed healthy routines that we followed fanatically, we read the Bible and prayed every day, we bought a cabin in the woods to help us relax, we opened up with people about our struggle, we stopped working past 6pm, we hired therapists for each of us and and even a marriage counselor for both of us, and we quit taking medicines that treated our symptoms and focused on true solutions for healing.

“It took about 6 months to reach normal again.”

The Lesson
Chronic stress and mental disorders uncared for can destroy your life. And for those who amplify it with their lifestyle, it doesn’t build in a day or week or even a month. It builds in our daily decisions. The yes’s when we already have too much on our plates. The pursuit of more success when we really need to learn the peace of contentment. And the forgetfulness of people, practices, and mentality that allow us to remain balanced.

 

 Image of Dale & family from The Daily Positive 

Image of Dale & family from The Daily Positive 

Eighteen short months later, my wife and I are on a new journey with our baby in a new state and a new commitment. We are stronger and more aware of stress triggers than ever before. We are building a balanced life around the things which keep us healthy and allow us to live out the purpose set in front of us.

For those of you struggling with mental disorders or chronic stress, we encourage you to make the first step in changing your life. Get help, change your routine, and lean into the pain. Our story proves healing is possible

- See more at: http://dalepartridge.com/how-anxiety-almost-destroyed-my-marriage/#sthash.aJOWtYqR.dpuf

Posted on May 14, 2015 .

Simple Strategies for Building Relationships What I Learned as a Foster Mom

I once heard Josh McDowell speak. He made the statement, “Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.” I believe that this statement is extremely well said and accurate. As parents, we must all work to truly build a relationship with our children and not just be the local drill sergeant. So the question remains, what can you do to build a relationship with your children when you have a house full of kids of all different ages and some whom you may have only known for a few weeks or months? The key is to purposely provide opportunities for a relationship to develop and understand it takes time for this to happen. Some of the simple ways you do this include taking the kids shopping one on one, tucking them in at night, and reading to them as well as doing family devotionals and spending meal times together. However, we have found that there are a few more deliberate and simple ways that you can begin to develop a relationship with your children.

stockvault-go-to-jail103548 Tracy → in Toys.jpg

One idea is to try to take a child out to eat each week. (For some children, these lunches may need to be only with the same gender parent or in small groups with two or three children.) Let the child choose the restaurant and do not use this as a time to correct behavior or tell them ways that you feel they should improve. Simply spend time with the child and get to know them. Talk about school, likes and dislikes, whatever hobbies they have, etc. This works two fold. In addition to helping build a relationship with the kids, it gives the kids more experience in observing how others act in social settings. Even if a child has pages (click Super Simple Strategy for Discipline to find out more), I still allow them their turn in the rotation. The only time they don’t get to go is if they are in a significant amount of trouble and are spending the day in their room because they are too disruptive to be around the other kids.

 We also try to find simple and deliberate ways to show the kids that we love them. At night, sometimes I place a small inexpensive gift (favorite candy, lip gloss, etc.) in a paper gift bag with their name on it. I do this for each child at the same time and have different yet comparable presents inside the bags for the kids to find the next morning. I do this regardless of whether the kids are in trouble or not. I want them to know they are loved and included no matter what they have done. I place the gifts randomly and as a surprise.

 Other times, I write an individualized compliment or words of encouragement on a sticky note to each child and place the note on the bathroom mirror. When the children wake up, the notes are the first things they see. For the longest time, there was a huge array of sticky notes that covered the children’s bathroom mirror. I also noticed that even after the notes were taken down, some of the kids had saved them as a keepsake.

 A great book to read about expressing love to others is The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. He has also written the book The Five Love Languages of Children. The point of the book is that different people feel love in different ways. The love languages mentioned include spending quality time together, words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, and gifts. The basis of the book is that people feel most loved when you are “speaking their love language.” In other words, you are relating to them in the way they best understand and appreciate. People have a primary love language which is how they most easily feel loved and then one or more secondary love languages that also make them feel loved. Children and adults typically express love in their primary love language. For instance, a child whose primary love language is gifts, may often bring you a dandelion or color a picture for you. A child whose primary love language is acts of service, might offer to do the dishes or cook dinner for you. If their love language is quality time, they always want to spend time with you and might even offer to help you cook or do work around the house in order to spend time with you.

 We selected these activities to do with the kids based on The Five Love Languages because we felt that if we did these things for all of the children, we would relate to their primary love language at least part of the time. We tried to vary the activities so that they were based on a particular love language. For instance, taking the kids out to eat directly relates to quality time but can easily be used for words of affirmation toward the child if you take the time and effort to compliment them. The gifts on the bathroom counter, of course, relate to gifts. The individualized shopping trips could be considered gifts as well as quality time. The sticky notes correspond to words of affirmation. It is easy to do acts of service for the child by randomly offering to help them with a chore, helping with homework or assisting in a class project. When you bake something for the class, some kids view this as both a gift and an act of service. Also to children whose biological parents never took the time to cook homemade meals, simply cooking wonderful meals for them could be considered an act of service. Physical touch is slightly more difficult; many of the kids have been sexually molested and may be uncomfortable with physical touch. You should respect their boundaries but realize that other kids may need physical touch. Something as simple as a high five, pat on the back or a hug at just the right time can really help. The point is that as a parent you must make the effort to build a relationship with your child and share your love with the child in the way that they can best relate.

Posted on September 29, 2014 .

Be an Advocate for Your Foster Child

 Photo by Brian Norcross

Photo by Brian Norcross

There is one entity that I have found in the foster care system that truly appears to have the children’s best interest at heart. That is the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association. According to state guidelines, the primary goal of CPS must be re-unification with the biological family. Their plan B — if you will — must be to unite the children with a relative, although abuse is a cycle that is often rampant throughout generations of the family. In addition, many of the relatives may have witnessed the abuse and done nothing about it.

 Independent licensing agencies receive children and thus funds from CPS. They often do not want to cross CPS even if it is in the best interest of the children and they seldom do so. I have even heard CPS referred to as the mother hen by one of these agencies. In addition, they are often none too happy if you divulge any kind of information to your CPS worker before them. It is almost like a competition where the only losers are the kids in “care.”

As if this were not enough, when it comes time for one of the children to be in counseling or have a psychological evaluation done, CPS will give you the name and number of someone to contact whom they have a contract with. Thus, these few counselors / psychologists / psychiatrists often have far too large a case load. (They have more patients because Medicaid doesn’t pay as high a rate as private insurance.) In addition, they have far too much dependence on CPS. In other words, many don’t want to oppose CPS or any independent licensing agency even if it is in the best interest of the children because they are afraid they will lose their primary client base. They will vehemently deny this; however, I have witnessed it myself.

One particular instance concerned a conversation with one child’s counselor, whom this child had been seeing for the past 2 ½ years, about the strategy for treatment. Everyone was in agreement regarding the strategy in the best interest of the child. A short amount of time passed, and our independent licensing agency made it clear that they were absolutely opposed to this particular strategy as it involved temporary residential treatment. Oddly enough, the counselor changed his mind and didn’t seem to remember his previous opinion. This was when I knew that I must go to battle for the children and their best interests regardless of the opinions of those around me.

I began to sort through records that described the past history of this child and found that during the five years he had spent in care, he had been moved a total of nine times, including being pulled from the biological home, placed back in the biological home, removed from the biological home again, and placed in emergency respite twice.

In addition, three years prior to my research there were three separate psychological evaluations on this child. Two were done by psychologists; one was conducted by a child psychiatrist. All three strongly recommended the same strategy for treatment that I believed in, as well as his CASA. Within weeks after these psychological evaluations were done, he was removed from his placement at a children’s home and was moved to a foster home. The counselor changed as well as his caseworker, and all of these recommendations were “lost.” I were made aware of none of this at the time of or prior to his placement. I only found out through rather extensive research. In addition, his counselor, caseworker and CASA said that they were unaware. Furthermore, none of the recommendations were followed that were made three years before.

I made three-ring binders that contained all of this information and brought them to the caseworker and counselor as well as their supervisors during a meeting they had called. In addition, I placed in the notebook notes from three counseling sessions that his current counselor had written on him over the course of a year. They were exact copies of one another. Only the dates had been changed. The exact same words were written on the exact same places on the paper — even where they had run out of room and written below the line. The goals and insight had not changed one bit in over a year’s time! I gave our licensing agency, CPS, CASA and the counselors involved a copy of the notebooks I had prepared. I stood my ground at a meeting with approximately fifteen people who disagreed with me — with the exception of our CASA. The CASA assigned to us was always on the side of the kids no matter what. In fact, our CASA and I have never disagreed about what was best for the kids.

This is my point. While there are a few mental health professionals that are absolutely fantastic who work with CPS children, there are also many who are overbooked and place far too much emphasis on the recommendations of CPS or a licensing agency instead of what is best for the child. In addition, according to the statistics listed on the website for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, CPS has a turnover rate of 23.6, 20.9% of their employees have been there less than a year, and 50.2% of their employees have been there between one and three years.* This means that even a well-meaning caseworker probably has not known that child long enough or well enough to know what is best for the child. You are there to parent, not to be the friend of CPS, your counselor, your licensing agency, or anyone else. There will be times you have to stand up for these children or stand by and shake your head as they become victims once more while you mutter something softly about how much you love them. Do not be afraid.

*Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Annual Report and Data Book 2009. 18 March 2010.
http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/documents/about/Data_Books_and_Annual_Reports/2009/2009combined.pdf2009.

Posted on September 15, 2014 .

Finding the New "Normal" ~ What I Learned as a Foster Mom

There is an odd paradox in the fact that while foster kids were forced to grow up very quickly, they are often treated as a very small child the entire time they are in care. Then they are thrust into adulthood the moment they age out. They are expected to function in the same capacity as anyone else who has been exposed to life at a more gradual and deliberate pace.

 Photo by damien van holten

Photo by damien van holten

 It is sad to say, but many foster children will never date, drive, hold a part-time job, jump on a trampoline, play with firecrackers, spend the night at a friend’s house, or even go to the movies or mall with friends until they age out of care. Then they are suddenly expected to make wise “adult” choices in a responsible manner simply because a court document was changed. This is highly unlikely if not impossible.

 If your kids are at all trustworthy, it is imperative that you allow them the freedoms their “normal” counterparts enjoy. This becomes a bit difficult when you understand that in many states the law does not allow foster children to jump on a trampoline or play with firecrackers. In addition, dating, driving, holding a part time job, and even going to the mall or movies with friends must be approved by their caseworker and written into their Individual Service Plan (ISP). If they are to spend the night at a friend’s house, it must be approved by their caseworker. A background check must be run on everyone eighteen and older in the friend’s home. It is obvious why so many foster parents take the easier road and just keep the kids at home all of their lives and then release them into the wild of adulthood like a caged lion. It is also easy to see why so many youth who age out of the foster care system end up incarcerated or homeless. According to a study by Pew Charitable Trusts, Time for Reform: Aging Out and On Their Own, one in four foster kids that age out of the system will be incarcerated within the first two years of leaving the system and over one-fifth will become homeless at some time after age eighteen. With these statistics in mind, it is imperative parents give their kids the best shot possible at being prepared for adulthood. Talk to your caseworker and try to develop an individual service plan for the child that allows them as much freedom and personal responsibility as possible. Just remember, if they do get a license, wait up for them to get home each night. Teens might think twice about getting into trouble if they know they will be facing a parent the moment they walk in the door.

 This strategy is twofold. In addition to trying to give the kids as much freedom as possible while in the system, you must also try to minimize the amount of freedom and responsibility they have thrust upon them when they age out of care. Invite them to live with you rent-free when they age out while they get a college or trade school degree, save money for a house, and get on their feet. Help them fill out paperwork for college or job applications. Remember — biological or not — these are your children. Help them to get on their feet before you set them off running.

 One other area of assistance that few foster parents are aware of is orthodontia care. Many children don’t have straight teeth, which if severe enough, can make it more difficult when they are searching for employment. Their Medicaid-based insurance often pays for the child to have braces if they have teeth that are crooked enough or if they have a large overbite. The braces do not cost the foster parent anything, and they are available free of charge even if the child has already been adopted. There are few orthodontists that accept Medicaid, but you can call your children’s healthcare representative to find the orthodontist closest to you that accepts the child’s form of Medicaid insurance.

 Photo by Dmitry

Photo by Dmitry

 We drive to a small town about an hour away each month so that two of my kids are able to have braces. It doesn’t cost anything except a little time and some gasoline. Once my kids were adopted, Medicaid continued to pay for the braces. I am more than happy to travel one town away, because I know the kids will enjoy having straight teeth for years to come. It will give them added self-confidence to get out in the world and accomplish their goals.

 As parents, it is our job to be both the safety net and the catalyst that propels the child onward to a better life. Give them a place to always come back to and call home as well as the freedom to make a few mistakes while in your care. Most of all, love and support them both emotionally and financially as they try their wings and see what it’s like to be an adult.

Posted on September 1, 2014 .

Building New Traditions in a Foster Home

 Photo by Bent Arvesen

Photo by Bent Arvesen

There are a few vital things that you must remember when it comes to Christmas or any holiday. First of all, celebrate them and play an active role in the school celebrations as well (bake cookies, bring cards or party favors, et cetera). The second thing that you must remember is to create your own family traditions.

As a family sit down and talk about the fact that you are all a “new family,” and you want to create your own family traditions. Then, ask the kids for their ideas. They can be as simple as watching a particular Christmas movie during the holidays, or maybe you all go to the movies after lunch on Christmas Day. Do you open the presents the night before or the day of Christmas? Let both the foster and the biological kids decide these things and think of creative ideas. Even go so far as to let them plan the menu for Christmas dinner or lunch. Who says that you have to have turkey and dressing or ham each year? Even if your family has done the same exact thing for the last 20 years, you can create new traditions. Begin as many new traditions as possible and perhaps even take out some of the older ones. You must lighten up and realize that the holidays are not made of the traditions but of the memories made. It doesn’t really matter when you open presents, what you eat, or what you do on Christmas afternoon. Sometimes there is pain for foster children in a very traditional Christmas celebration, and other times there is a great longing for a traditional celebration. Find out what your children want to do by simply having a fun family meeting where all the kids (biological and foster) plan the festivities. This is true for every holiday. After all, kids love holidays. Just make them fun and realize it is not about everything going perfectly (or the same way it’s been in the past); it is about bonding and growing as a family. When you expect children to come in and take on all of your previous traditions, they feel more like a spectator or a guest than a family member. You must help each child to see that he or she is a vital part of your family with an important voice.

That said, it is extremely important that you not have a family meeting and announce, “Well, now that Johnny is here we have to do things differently,” as you play witness to the chorus of groans. When you have the meeting, say something to this effect: “I have something fun for all of us to do. This year the kids are going to decide how we celebrate Christmas (or whatever holiday). I want everyone to think of at least one thing that would be fun for us to do as a family to celebrate Christmas and we will do our best to use everyone’s ideas.” Then talk about the food, presents and time frame of all of the events together. Let the kids share what they think would be fun. If two kids disagree on something that should be done, you find a compromise between the ideas or propose a new idea. Remember the point is to have fun and to insure that all the children feel that they are welcome, loved and extremely important in the family. Do not choose one child’s idea over another, because even if you do not mean for it to be so, that may be viewed by the child as favoritism — which defeats what you are trying to accomplish.

There is a particular entity called Heritage Builders that I have found to be extremely helpful. They have a website online at www.heritagebuilders.com as well as books that you can order. One book is called Family Traditions by J. Otis Ledbetter and Tim Smith. I found it to have many great, practical ideas to celebrate any holiday. I listed other resources and holiday traditions that you might use in the appendices at the back of this book. The most important thing to remember is to make it fun and not get caught up in the details. This is such a great opportunity to bond as a family and share wonderful memories; don’t miss out.

Posted on August 18, 2014 .

Birthday Parties~ What I Learned as a Foster Mom

It is amazing how many children in foster care do not have birthday parties. They are extremely important to children who have grown up in foster care. In fact, I would venture to say that they are more important to children who have grown up in foster care, than those who have not. Each of my children plans out what they would like to have at their birthday party. I am realistic with the older children and tell them I budget for $200-$400 (depending on current finances) to spend on each child’s birthday. Therefore, if they have a huge expensive party there will not be as much money for gifts as if there were a more reasonably-priced party. I let the child choose the type of party that they would like and the gifts they would like to receive. However, I do not purchase only one large gift — even if the child requests. I know that sometimes older children will ask for one expensive gift as opposed to a variety of more moderately priced gifts. I choose not to take this approach because I think that when children have many presents to open on their birthday, it makes the day a notably more memorable celebration. That said, this is what our typical birthday looks like and some of the money saving tips I have learned to make our budget go further.

In years past, we were members of a fitness club in town that has a beautiful indoor/outdoor swimming pool. If you book a birthday party through the club, the cost is several hundred dollars. However, if you bring a friend to swim, the price is only five dollars per friend. The only difference is that you must have the cake and presents at home — hardly worth the difference of $200. The kids could invite as many friends as they would like to come to our home. I would take them swimming and then come home and barbecue hot dogs. Then we open presents and have cake. The older kids really like a themed store-bought cake, but the younger kids think it’s fun to have a homemade cake and decorate it themselves. We purchase decorating supplies and the kids have fun decorating the cake with their friends. This is about one-third the price of a store-bought cake, even when you purchase four or five tubes of decorative icing. Water balloons only cost a few dollars and make for a really fun game to play at the party. The kids have also had potato sack races and three-legged races. Another fun activity for girls is to make personalized flip-flops. Get the flip-flops from the dollar store and cut strips of cloth material. Then the girls tie the material onto the flip-flops to personalize them. It’s really cute, rather time-consuming, and not terribly expensive or messy.

I try to purchase as many presents as possible with the remaining money. I have each child make a list and number the items in order of what they would like most to least. Then I choose from the list and do my best to find good sales so that I can purchase as much as possible while staying within the budget I have made. I also buy quite a few inexpensive items that are not on the list. I have found that many kids, especially younger ones, love to open presents regardless of whether they are expensive. Definitely get the main items on your child’s list; then supplement those with coloring books, puzzles, crayons, earrings, movies or CD’s that you can find on sale. If you are smart in your planning, it can be a really fun experience for you and your foster child to plan their perfect birthday party. More importantly, it makes them feel loved. I truly believe that feeling loved and cherished is the greatest need that children in foster care have. Yet I also believe it is the need least often met.

Posted on August 11, 2014 .

Vacations ~ What I Learned as a Foster Mom

Vacations can be a bit of a challenge for any large family. It is entirely possible for a family with foster kids to have wonderful vacations, there are just a few additional steps they must take. All trips must be approved by the caseworker and at times by the judge. Many large families get one hotel room, and the kids bring sleeping bags. However, foster families do not have this option as boys and girls are not allowed to stay in the same room. That said, I feel that vacations are extremely important for the entire family to take together even if it is a stretch to your budget. Do not place the foster kids in respite while you and biological children take a vacation. I think this is cruel at best.

 When we go on vacation, we typically rent a house/timeshare and travel somewhere that is a reasonable drive from where we live. It's also important that a kitchen be available wherever we stay so that we are able to bring our own food. On vacation, we play board games, go to the lake, take walks to explore the area, et cetera. In years past, I have taken the kids to a theme park but, in my opinion, this was exhausting and expensive. 

My best advice concerning vacations is that you should definitely go and take the entire family with you. If possible, rent a house to stay in and go to a place like the lake, the mountains, or the beach where there is a great deal that you can do outside with the kids for little or no added expense to the trip. They seem to enjoy this just as much as the hot, overpriced amusement parks. And trust me; there will be far more to your memories than just standing in line waiting for them to happen.

 Photo by Geoffrey Whiteway

Photo by Geoffrey Whiteway

Posted on August 4, 2014 .

Meals and Grocery Shopping ~ What I Learned as a Foster Mom

This is one area where families must be flexible and rigid at the same time. It is very important that you come together as a family for meal times. However, sometimes we sit in the living room and watch a TV show or movie together, sometimes we eat at the kitchen table, and other times the kids ask if they can take their food outside to eat. It is important to eat together often without the TV on and just visit, but this doesn’t have to be at every meal. Initially, to encourage conversation at our meals and reduce bickering we would often do “good and bad.” This is when we go around the table, starting with the person who said grace for the meal, and name one good thing and one bad thing that happened to us recently. This gives you a good idea of things happening in the kids’ lives. It also teaches them to wait their turn and listen to what others are saying.

 Photo by Merelize

Photo by Merelize

 The other question that always arises in large families is what to do when kids don’t like certain foods or “won’t eat their vegetables.” This is one lesson where I tried everything I could think of and finally found a method that works well. Don’t require kids to “clean their plate.” However, maintain an expectation that they should eat most of what they are served. If they don’t want to eat most of their food, don’t try to force them or plead with them. Simply don’t allow them to have snack foods until after their next meal. You can even place their plate in the oven. If they get hungry later, they have that for their snack. However, I have maintained that they don’t get snack foods if they don’t eat “real food.” After all, it is important for them to learn to enjoy a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Often, kids in foster care were raised on take-out or a diet of mainly starches. It may take awhile for them to develop a taste for healthy meals. This approach has worked perfectly. There is no pleading or punishing. The kids eat enough 99% of the time without any difficulty. And yes, this includes eating their vegetables.

 Grocery Shopping

                 Photo by Mark Batterson

                Photo by Mark Batterson

I have learned so much about how to grocery shop and provide for a large family. First of all you might consider, getting a Sam’s or Costco Card. This may more than paid off for staples such as dry goods and cleaning products. However, not all things are less expensive at Sam’s or Costco. At our local grocery store, all of the meats that are getting older (but still in date) are placed in a discount bin first thing in the morning. So the earlier you can go, the better deals you get. I shopped garage sales and found a freezer on sale, purchased it so that I could stock up on meats when they are discounted. Then thaw them as we need them. Local stores often also offer less expensive bread than the larger chain retailers. Our family saves a great deal of money by only making a large shopping run once a month. When we went weekly or biweekly, we just purchased more instead of using what we had in the kitchen. Therefore, we go to Sam’s once a month and to a local grocery chain weekly to purchase only meat, milk and bread. Don’t take the kids to the store with you, if possible. I tend to purchase more when they are with me, not items like candy or chips, but I stay longer in the store, instead of getting what I truly need and getting out. Also, it saves money if you don’t purchase items such as flavored rice and macaroni and cheese in the boxes. These sound inexpensive enough, until you calculate that for a family our size, we must cook five boxes at a time. Instead, purchase the largest bag of rice they have and get a five-gallon bucket to store it in. We can purchase a 50-pound bag of rice for around $17.00. We learned some really great rice recipes (included in the recipe section at the end of the book), and now I prefer our rice to the boxes of rice you can purchase at the store. The same concept applies to macaroni and cheese. Beans are also a great item to purchase in a large bag, and then cook homemade, instead of buying them from a can. You will literally save hundreds of dollars if you use these methods. In addition, the food is much tastier and healthier than the kind that is pre-packaged with all of the preservatives. I really like the Duggar Family’s book, The Duggars: 20 and Counting!, as well as their website for ideas related to saving money.

Posted on July 28, 2014 .

Can't get your kids to do chores? Try this idea....

This is the system of allowance / chores that I used soon after the kids came to live with me. It has changed significantly in later years due to finances so I will present both systems so that you might gain  from each what might be helpful to your family. In the first system, each child has a maximum amount of allowance that they are able to earn based on their age.

 Photo by Val Lawless

Photo by Val Lawless

      5 years old       $2.00 a week

      6 years old       $3.00 a week

      7 years old       $4.00 a week

      8 years old       $5.00 a week

      9 years old       $6.00 a week

      10 years old      $7.00 a week

      11 years old      $8.00 a week

      12 and up         $10.00 a week

 They earn this allowance by doing their chores each day. I try not to remind the children to do their chores and instead rely on them to be responsible. (This is easier said than done. However, it is very effective if you can stay with it.) Each day they choose not to do their chores, they lose one quarter of their total allowances for that week. I have tried different amounts to take away but soon found that one quarter worked the best. It is enough that they don’t want to skip a day but small enough that if they do miss a day or two they will still receive some allowance.

 After a child completes his/her chore, he or she is required to show you so that his/her chore can be checked and credit given. If it is a chore such as dishes, it may need to be done throughout the day for credit.

 Recently I have started paying the children once a month, instead of once a week. They still earn the same amount but being paid monthly teaches them to budget their money. However, I would not recommend this until the children have become consistently successful at completing all of their chores each week and earning all of their allowance. Many kids need to see a more immediate reward for their efforts than once a month.

 There is a list of chores that the children may choose from. If at any time they become tired of their chore and can convince another child to trade with them, they are able to do so. However, both of the children must be at an age that is appropriate to be able to complete the chores successfully.

 I did temporarily try trading chores on a weekly basis, but this proved to be a very confusing and frustrating process to keep track of and enforce. Simply said, it just wasn’t worth it. Initially, we traded weekly because I wanted all of the children to become familiar with all of the chores so that they could one day easily maintain a home on their own. Once we quit rotating, I found that after a few months a child would become bored with their chore and trade anyway. This arrangement allows them the freedom to choose their own chores and eventually learn all of the chores on their own time frame.

 

List of Our Family Chores

 1.     Dishes: Do all of the dishes for the family, clear the table, sweep and mop the kitchen floor, wipe off the counters and take out the trash in the kitchen daily. It is by far the most time consuming of the chores. However, some of the children seem to prefer it.

 2.     Living Room: Straighten up the living room several times a day as it becomes messy. This is a great chore for a younger yet responsible child.

 3.     Bathroom: Clean the kids’ bathroom daily, including the shower, tub, vanity, mirror, and toilet. Sweep, mop, and take out all trash in this bathroom. (Be sure to choose a child you trust with cleaning products. An alternative is to mix a little dish-washing soap with water and use it as cleaner.)

 4.     Pets: Feed, water, walk and clean up after any family pets.

 

There is not a person assigned to do the cooking (other than me) but I do allow anyone to cook a meal or dessert if they request to do so. Often the girls like to plan menus or desserts and cook them themselves. My oldest daughters are especially good about preparing meals just to help out. In addition, the younger kids often ask to help cook, and I allow them to do so often as possible.

 Chores and allowance are designed to teach the kids how to handle the daily ins and outs of maintaining a home. In addition, it teaches them to be responsible, to remember what must be done around a house, and to manage their money.

 I do not require that any of the kids work outside of the home. However, I do allow them to, if they would like and they are able to maintain good grades in school, as education should always come first. I will drive them to and from work but I do not keep up with their work schedule or remind them. If they should lose their job for any reason or be reprimanded at work, I do not rescue them. I would prefer that they forget to show up for work at fifteen and lose their job than do the same thing at twenty-five. The main goal for chores, allowances and after school jobs is to instill in the children values they will need to become productive members of society.

 As I stated previously, the system outlined above was used for quite some time and rather successfully.  Then, finances dictated that I absolutely could no longer afford to give allowances.  The kids were all adopted by this time and all understood the limited budget that had become a reality.  At this time, we adopted a slightly different version of the chore system while maintaining the values of choice and personal responsibility.

2nd option for Chore System

The second chore system consists of a rather extensive list of chores from which the children may choose.  They are required to obtain five chore “credits” from Sunday – Friday.  Some chores are worth “one or two credits” while others are only given “one-half credit..” All chores must be completed by Friday at 6 p.m. as we take Saturday off to observe the Sabbath. If all five chores are not completed, ten pages are assigned for each chore left incomplete.  The number of pages should vary greatly with the age of your children and/or speed at which they complete pages.  In order for a chore to be given credit, I must be asked to “check” the chore and sign-off that it was completed correctly.  The chores may be done several times throughout the week but only if they are necessary.  For example, trash may only be taken out when the trash can is full.  The following is a list of chores from which the kids may choose.

 1.     Kitchen – wash dishes, counters and microwave, sweep and mop. (one credit)

2.     Dusting downstairs – (one and one-half credits)

3.    Dusting upstairs – (one and one-half credits)

4.    Vacuuming downstairs – (one credit)

5.     Vacuuming upstairs – (one credit)

6.    Taking out trash – (one-half credit)

7.     Cleaning large restroom – (one credit)

8.     Cleaning small restroom – (one-half credit)

9.     Taking care of pet – feed, water, walk and clean up after (one credit)

10.  Cleaning blinds downstairs – (two credits)

11.  Cleaning blinds upstairs – (two credits)

 

Additional chores are added as needed such as organizing a cabinet or drawer, watering the yard or cleaning out the refrigerator. 

 Photo by homero chapa

Photo by homero chapa

It should be noted that I do think it is a good idea for children to receive allowances and in some states it is required when they are in foster care.  However, for our present circumstances, it was neither required nor economically feasible.  All of the kids were well-aware of our limitations and understood that helping out around the house is not only expected but necessary to maintaining a well-kept home.  Families work together to keep a home in good order so that it is a pleasant place to live for everyone.  Regardless of the system you choose, chores are designed to teach both personal responsibility and a team approach to maintaining a home.

Posted on July 21, 2014 .

Personal Hygiene ~ What I Learned as a Foster Mom

Many of the issues related to personal hygiene also blend nicely with the category of “clothes.” However, there are also a few practical ideas that we have yet to address.

 Photo by maria b_r

Photo by maria b_r

First of all, it is extremely helpful to have a shower schedule and stay with it. With the large number of kids in our family, I find that if we don’t start showers by around 6:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m., it is going to be a very late night. Have the children choose the order that they want to take showers or simply assign that they go from youngest to oldest; whichever works best with your bedtimes and number of kids. Then tell each child that they have twenty minutes to shower and be out of the bathroom. Place a large mirror in the girls’ rooms next to the outlets so that they may style their hair in their bedrooms instead of in the bathroom. At first, it may even be necessary to set a kitchen timer, or allow the kids to have a kitchen timer in the bathroom so that they know when their time is up. If you have fewer kids, obviously you can allow them more time. But, with the large number in our family, twenty minutes is as lengthy as the shower time can be. Then keep the rotation going. This is one time I have found it is best just to remind the kids when it is their time instead of relying on the kids to be responsible. If you don’t get all of the kids bathed, their clothes laid out for the next day, and in bed at a decent hour, you can be assured that the following day will be difficult. Find a routine that works and stay with it. Set a kitchen timer if needed (both inside the bathroom for the kids and outside the bathroom for you) and remind the kids when it is their turn to get in the shower.

The next area of concern in personal hygiene relates to the children brushing their teeth. In our house, one child would say that he had brushed his teeth and three of the other children said that child did not. Sometimes it’s hard to know whom to believe, and you really don’t want to waste a lot of time and energy on something as simple as brushing teeth. However, you don’t want all of their teeth to fall out either. What I find works best is purchasing what we call “the blue stuff.” It is next to the mouthwash and toothpaste in the grocery store. When the child swishes it, it will tint the plaque that remains in the child’s mouth a blue color. You can have the children do this daily and monitor or you can do this weekly just to be sure the children are brushing correctly. I would recommend daily at first, as many of the children have never been taught how to brush their teeth correctly.

Many times girls will want to paint their fingernails or toenails. Let the girls do this but also beware that there is a good chance that fingernail polish or remover (Which should be stored in your bathroom instead of theirs.) will be spilled. Plan accordingly. You may want the girls to be in the kitchen with trash bags laid out to protect the floor. Also, if they are honest when they spill something and come and tell you what they did, do not become angry. Just clean it up. It is far more important that they learn you are 

someone they can come to with a problem (and be honest) than that your floor or table is free of spills. The spills are just not a big deal. Also, I do not allow my girls to wear black fingernail polish. I realize that it is in style, but I also want to do everything I can to teach them practices that will serve them well as adults on the job and to deter them from being escorted into a group of which I don’t want them to be a part. I realize that color of nail polish seems like a small thing but you show your children that you love them by caring about the details in their lives just as God shows his love for us by caring about even the details in our lives. After all, life is made of a series of details that simply run together.

I also ask that all children style their hair before leaving the house. When young children fix their hair themselves, and it still looks messy, politely offer to help them style their hair. They may tell you that they like their hair looking like that. Typically, this simply means that no one ever taught them how to style their hair.  Find a nice salon to take the girls to with a young stylist that the girls love but whom you can trust to give the girls hair styles and cuts of which you approve. Call the hair stylist before an appointment and ask her to explain to the girls how to fix their hair while they are at the appointment. This way you won’t embarrass the girls by asking in front of them. Also, if you can trust the girls and Child Protective Services (CPS) will allow, just drop the girls off at their hair appointments. This is much more fun for the girls and it shows them that you trust them to make good choices in their hairstyle. If they want to cut their hair short, grow it long or get highlights, allow the girls to do so. I let any child from age 11 and older get highlights as long as it is a color that occurs naturally in hair (no pink or blue) and is something that the stylist thinks would look pretty on them with their skin tone, natural hair color, etc. I pay for all the haircuts and for all the girls to have their eyebrows waxed. When appropriate, I purchase my daughters their own flat iron (the kind that turns off by itself if left on too long is best), hair dryer, hair gel and any other tools that they might need to style their hair. They pay for the highlights, acrylic nails, etc., out of their allowance. I do require that if they are going to have highlights, they keep them up. They are not allowed to have their roots showing as I tell them that it looks “tacky.” This may sound minor, but it is important that you find a hair stylist both you and your girls love. The stylist must be able to relate to the kids and be trusted by you to do a great job. This way, you don’t have to be the one to say, “No, you may not shave your head and dye the Mohawk green.” The stylist simply guides the girls to cute and fashionable styles that both of you will like. Boys are a bit simpler as they are usually quite happy with a walk-in barber shop environment. However, try to avoid taking the girls to a walk-in place if possible. Even the girl who is a sworn tomboy typically loves the pampering of an exclusive salon, and it will do wonders for her self-confidence. One privilege of parenting is teaching children poise and self-confidence. They will take this with them on job interviews, dates and in social settings throughout their adult life. Grooming and hygiene are very closely related to self-confidence. If you can instill self-confidence in a child, half of the work is done.

Posted on July 14, 2014 .

Clothing ~ What I Learned as a Foster Mom

This is one of areas I deem especially vital to be adamant so that you might make a significant difference in a child’s life. There are several reasons for this. First of all, children are often ushered into a particular group in school based on their appearance and how they dress. At times, this is not the group that you would most like for them to join. Second, many children who have no pride in their appearance suffer from low self-esteem. Taking pride in their appearance often has the effect of increasing their self-esteem, which is something that all children in foster care can benefit from. Most foster parents and staff at group homes do not think it is worth the battle with children over clothing. They feel there are more important issues. I can tell you as a teacher, I have witnessed on many occasions that clothes are often the catalyst for the group that a child is taken into and thus the problems or lack thereof that they will experience in school. When my children first came to live with me, one of the girls would only wear boys’ clothing and wore a jacket in both summer and winter. Another had never been taught how to match clothing, For instance, they would pair stripes and plaids together. One girl dressed in loose-fitting clothes and preferred a very tomboy look. One of the boys dressed like a “gangster.”

In our home, obviously we have the rule that all clothes must comply with the school dress code. However, this is where many foster and group homes stop. We have a few other rules as well. The rules were specifically written in such a a way that they might bring humor to what could otherwise be a more tense conversation.  They are not meant to stereotype or offend only bring humor to the conversation.

1.   You may not wear clothes outside the house that have been written on, stained, or torn.

2.  You may only wear clothing designed for your gender.

3.  You may not wear jackets in the summer time.

4.   You may not wear clothes outside the house that have been written on, stained, or torn.

5.    You may wear shorts only from March 1 – October 31 and only if the high temperature is going to be 70° Fahrenheit or greater. (This only applies to elementary and junior high ages)

6.     You may not sag or wear oversized clothing. We word this in our family by saying  that you can’t look like you just robbed a liquor store.

In our family, early on, there were some knock-down drag-out discussions over these rules. It is important, though, not to give in or purchase anything of which you don’t truly approve. In addition, do not let the kids leave the house in anything that you do not approve of regardless of who purchased it or where it came from. I can offer encouragement in saying just a year later we laughed together at some of the outfits the kids used to wear before they came to live with us. They absolutely appreciate that I loved them enough to care about their appearance even when they didn’t.

I have also learned a few guidelines about shopping along the way. Most of the time, it is best not to take boys shopping with you. They generally don’t care what you buy them as long as it is in style and fits well. Purchase what you want them to wear and bring it home to them. Boys tend to really like jeans and shirts with sports teams on them or sports jerseys. Girls are a bit more difficult when it comes to shopping, but they are also much more fun to shop with. Take only one girl shopping with you at a time and plan for it to take the entire day. Take her only to stores where you approve of most of the clothes. I really like Cato and Academy. Their clothing is reasonably priced and in style. Let the girl pick out anything she likes and then try it on. Have her come out of the dressing room only in the outfits that she would like you to purchase. If you approve of it, then purchase it. If not, then don’t. No discussion needed. If she says that she can’t find anything that she likes and you approve of, then say okay and leave. Do not try to convince her to change her mind. Do not plan an extra trip to take her shopping again before your usually scheduled times (i.e., before school starts, change in season, etc.). If she tells you that she has “no clothes to wear,” remind her that you took her shopping, and she couldn’t find anything that she liked. Leave it at that. It may take time, but eventually she will figure out that she would like some new clothes and that you will only purchase clothes of which you approve. By approve, I mean that you think that the clothes match and that they are relatively attractive, in addition to being appropriate for school. Foster kids may have never had anyone care about their appearance or take the time to teach them what is flattering on them. They will later thank you, but trust me it may take a year. Be ready.

I can encourage you, however, that it is now a joy to shop with my girls. I love, as do they, almost every outfit they pick out. They now do things such as select clothes that fit, highlight and style their hair, and take pride in their appearance. In addition, I have seen their self-confidence skyrocket. They not only participate in clubs at school but run for leadership positions. They are able to shake hands with and introduce themselves to strangers. These kids have made a 180 degree turn in their self-confidence and how they carry themselves.

I credit a great deal of this to the fact that I was willing to battle over the clothes they wore and insist that they style their hair before leaving the house without their hair styled. How you look affects how you feel. How you feel affects how you act. How you act affects the way that others view you and, in turn, how you view yourself. Love the kids enough to make them have standards. They will love you for it. (It just may take awhile.)

Posted on July 7, 2014 .

Nightly Routine ~ What I Learned as a Foster Mom

 Photo by Merelize

Photo by Merelize

Many children in care have the most difficult time at night. This is because much of the abuse occurred at night or in the dark. They are scared and often have nightmares or just can’t sleep. To add to this, bedtime is often a difficult and trying time around many homes in general. However, it doesn’t have to be. Have a routine and do your best to stick with it. Also, be consistent in the order of the routine so that kids know what to expect. That said, do not be too much of a drill sergeant when it comes to bed times. Begin to tuck the kids into bed at their bedtime but also realize that this is the time when many children will open up to you. If they begin to talk with you, let them. This is one of the best times for you to bond with the child. Yes, it’s true that both you and the kids know they may be talking to you just to stay up a little later. But that’s okay. At least they are talking to you. One of the first steps to healing is being able to admit your thoughts, fears and inhibitions. By all means, let them talk.

 

Nightly Routine

This is the nightly routine that works best for us during the school year. It is very similar during the summer except I let the kids stay up a little later and don’t have homework time.

 

4:00‒6:00 p.m.              Homework time, chores, take a shower and then have free time.

6:00‒7:00 p.m.               Dinner time as a family.

7:00‒8:00 p.m.               Complete chores and showers, followed by free time. 

8:00‒8:30 p.m.               Family devotional.

8:30‒9:30 p.m.               Read to children and get them tucked into bed.

 

Bed Time Goals on School Nights

            8:30 p.m.                       For the 6-year-old.

            9:00 p.m.                       For the 8-year-old.

            9:30 p.m.                       For all kids 11 and up.

 

During the summer, there is more leeway. Although I do still try to keep to a routine, I will let the kids stay up later if we are watching a movie together or playing a board game. We do both movies and games several nights a week as a family. One of our favorite board games is called Ticket to Europe. We also play Clue, Monopoly and Risk frequently. All of the kids from age 10 and up play individually and the younger ones partner up with someone else. It is wonderful family time as well as very inexpensive entertainment.

 The routines outlined, as most others, have been adapted over time to meet the needs of the kids as well as my own.  The important take-away is not particular bedtimes or an order of events.  It is that children from care need a consistent, predictable routine.  There is some flexibility with weekends, summer or family events but in general stay as close to the routine as possible and provide the greatest level of predictability possible.  This gives not only as sense of control and safety to your child but will lessen the frequency and degree of temper tantrums and protests.  It will also allow your adequate time to rest and prepare for the day to come.

Posted on June 30, 2014 .

Super Simple Strategy for Discipline ~ What I Learned as a Foster Mom

One of the most trying and vital areas of parenting a child who is placed in foster care is discipline. When I first entered into the realm of fostering children, I understood that I couldn’t spank. I was rather adamant against spanking at the time anyway. I can only recall being spanked twice during my childhood and only grounded on two occasions. Now that I have adopted a boy who is currently ten years old and “all boy,” I am much less adamant.  That said, upon first fostering one of my initial questions was how to adequately address discipline. The only solutions offered by CPS and the independent licensing agency that where I obtained my foster care license from were a time out (one minute per year of the child’s age was suggested) and taking away privileges. I was told that the childcare’s home where most of my children lived prior to coming to my home did not ground for more than three consecutive days but did place the children on a safety plan if needed. In my opinion, a safety plan is basically a loss of freedoms and stricter monitoring of the child for a lengthy period of time.

 So there I was, left with such an array of options. I began with grounding because the three children in my home were already in their pre-teen and teen years. I quickly found that as behaviors escalated so did the length of grounding until a time came when almost every child was grounded and some for as long as a year. After all, when they misbehaved you tacked onto the original grounding until both you and the child had forgotten why they were in trouble in the first place. In addition, there was no incentive to behave because they were already grounded for the remainder of their life. Needless to say, this did not work particularly well.

 I also thought that sending children to their room would be a good option. There were a couple of problems with this plan. First of all, I found that some children really enjoy being sent to their room. Second, it did nothing to calm their anger. Instead, it gave them a quiet place to sulk and become angrier. The only instance that I have found sending children to their room to be effective is to do so before they are truly in trouble. For instance, you might say “Amy, your attitude is really not very good at this point, and I’m afraid if you continue this you’re going to get into trouble. Why don’t you go to your room and calm down? Then, come out when you feel better so you don’t end up getting into trouble.” This serves two purposes. First, to help the child to stay out of trouble. More importantly, it helps prevent the bad attitude from spreading. I have found that in a home with a large family a bad attitude is easily caught by other children. I had much rather have one grumpy child (which is inevitable at times) than six. If you can separate the one grumpy child from the others, not as a punishment, but merely “looking out for their best interests” it will make your life much easier and your hair less gray.

 My next plan of action was to have the kids pull the tall and rather daunting weeds that grew right behind the fence around our home when they misbehaved. This worked extremely well because it gave the child a chance to cool down and re-think their behaviors. It was a productive activity, and it gave the children something to occupy their time other that sulking in their room or singing a chorus of 

“I hate it here!” However, we ran into a problem when all of the weeds were gone and the behaviors continued.

 My next idea was to charge them for misbehaving. Each of the children received ten dollars allowance every week. I decided to charge them a set amount each time they misbehaved. Typically, I charged a dollar, but the amount could easily be increased if the behavior warranted. The problem with this method quickly surfaced as I found that children often not only lost their allowance for that week but for months into the future as well. Again, where is the incentive to behave? This method quickly ceased. Around the same time, several additional children were placed in my home. The other children were ages five through ten so even more methods of discipline were tried. I did try time out. However, one minute per year for the child seemed to be somewhat of a joke and no punishment at all. For the seven-year-old girl, it worked slightly. However, she was the type of child that if you simply talked sternly to her and explained the offense it was just as effective. In addition, some of kids took the took the opportunity to damage the wall while in time out, so I must say that I never found it to be especially helpful.

 By this time I was at my wits’ end. I had a house full of kids. Two of them were classified as moderate and the ages of the children ranged from five to fifteen years old. I was attempting to use all different forms of discipline from time out to grounding, taking allowance, pulling weeds and loss of belongings. I was doing my best to “tailor the punishment to the needs of the child.” However, I began forgetting which child had which punishment. In addition, I felt that we were caught in an endless cycle of discipline that didn’t really work. To make matters worse, the children were always in trouble because they typically got in trouble for something new before the last punishment ended.

 

The Solution

One particular morning I was praying about this problem and asking God to offer me guidance when an idea came to me. I felt that I should find a book or activity that was catered to each child. For instance, if a child has difficulty with losing their temper, find a book about maintaining control or if a child was learning to read, have a list of sight words. If nothing else, have a developmentally appropriate book or activity for each child that is his or her own. When the child has broken a rule, give the child one warning. Each child may have one warning per day without any consequences but no more. The warnings do not accumulate from day to day and there are no records to keep. If a child breaks the same rule or any other rule during the course of the day, he or she is assigned a page or pages to copy. Typically, the pages are assigned one at a time. However, for greater offenses such as, being sent to the principal’s office at school, there is no warning and a larger number of pages, typically between 10 and 30, would be assigned. When children have pages  are grounded from all activities until the pages are complete. If they choose to just sit in the kitchen and not work on the pages, don’t worry about it. Eventually, they will get tired of sitting in the kitchen and choose to complete the pages. If they choose to misbehave while in the kitchen, assign additional pages but do not relent. Some children take to the system more quickly than others, but it absolutely works. This is why:

 

1.       It gives the child control over how long their punishment lasts. Several of my children can easily complete 20 pages in less than a day.

 2.     The children know exactly what is expected of them and you are able to be extremely consistent. Most of my children rarely receive any pages. They simply stop the behavior at the warning because they know what will happen next. I never give more than one warning to a child in a day. The next offense will be a page.

 3.     Even if a page is assigned, the children are able to complete it in 30 minutes or less, which means that they do not spend their lives in trouble.

 4.     It allows me to differentiate between large and small offenses by simply changing the number of pages but not the form of discipline.

 5.     This works extremely well for both small children and older children. My youngest child does pages by practicing to write his ABC’s or his sight words. I have also had a child write his multiplication tables when he was trying to learn them.

 6.    It gives the child something to do and diffuses the anger. When children are sent to their room, time out or grounding, they are left with nothing to do but sit and stew about why they are angry. I promise they don’t think about what they did wrong. Instead, they are thinking about what you did wrong. By the time they finish writing their pages, I have never seen a child who is still angry. Mentally, it forces them to calm down and think about something else for awhile.

 

 Now, I do want to address what I know will very quickly be a concern. I know that someone is probably thinking. This is all well and good but why not have the child write a report about what they did wrong or a letter of apology? I have tried this and I can promise it doesn’t work nearly as well. The child often becomes even more frustrated with this assignment because they don’t know what to say or how to word the report. I remember, I assigned one particular child this punishment, and literally she worked on it for weeks using both a dictionary and a thesaurus because she couldn’t get it just right and didn’t know what to say. It was a very frustrating experience for her and, instead of serving to calm her down, it only seemed to agitate and dismay her more. In addition, a young child certainly can’t be expected to write a report, but they can very easily copy their ABC’s or sight words.

 When I switched to this method of punishment: I “exchanged” all of the grounding the children had been assigned to pages. The number of pages they were assigned was based on the length of the grounding they currently had.

I guarantee this form of discipline has worked for me. It allows me to be
extremely consistent both with small and large offenses and among children. In addition, the children appreciate the one warning. Often, they self-correct the behavior after the warning is given before any pages are assigned.

One a side, this, as well as any of the other methods, can and should be adapted to meet the individual needs of your children and structure of your home.  As time progressed and my children required less structure, I adapted the page system in my own family.  I assigned a much higher number of pages (They became very proficient at completing pages quickly.) and in a less structured manor.  The children / teens were no longer required to sit quietly at the table to complete their pages but could do them at any time.  In addition, they were grounded from all electronics while they had pages but could continue to play outside or do activities not involving electronics. 

The key to discipline is not the consequence in and of itself but the consistency with which it is enforced.  As with any area of parenting, provide as much structure as needed to promote growth but no more than is required.  In other words, structure is only as necessary as it is beneficial.  This level will vary with each family and should evolve with time.

Posted on June 23, 2014 .