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The Power of Step-Parents In A Child's Life

Today a client mentioned that she was interested in taking some parenting classes because she is about to get married and her new husband has two young kids from a previous marriage. She doesn’t have kids of her own yet and wants to be prepared with the latest information and skills so she can be the best parent possible for a preschooler and elementary aged child. The kids will be living with them every other week so she will have a huge impact on their lives and even though she’s already spent a lot of time with them, she’s a bit nervous. She brought up that she had a very strong foundation because her own parents were both very active in her life while she was growing up and she too wanted to be an engaged step-parent without being too overbearing. This is a key point, especially in today’s world in which our kids are barraged with images from video games, TV and in the movies that may not be age appropriate. This generation is also growing up with cell phones, texting and online social media sites that never existed in previous generations. It’s a lot to take in and handle and it’s up to us to help guide them through the confusion along with all of life’s basic challenges in school and with friends.

We have the power as parents and step-parents to build self-esteem in our kids, become strong role models for them, encourage good judgment and help them learn to become responsible, empathetic and well-balanced adults. The way to do this is to take an active role in your child’s life. Even if you can’t be “Room Mom” because you have to work, schedule time every day to not just spend time with but also genuinely connect with your kids. This will pay off at every stage in their life. In fact a 2007 study from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that there is a direct correlation between parental involvement and the prevention of drug and alcohol use in teens.

It all starts at home by implementing some if not all of the following suggestions:

1. Read to your child. From as early on as possible, take the time to read aloud to your kids. This gives you peaceful time with him or her during which he might feel comfortable to open up about his day and feelings. It also increases his ultimate reading success.

2. Make time for quality activities. It’s not necessarily the quantity, but how you spend the time you do have. Talk to them openly, listen, exercise together, and go to their sporting events, recitals, or plays. Watch television together and then discuss what was viewed. Interact in positive ways.

3. Express your pride in them and reward them not only when they’ve received an honor, but also while they are putting in the work. For example, to build self-esteem, compliment your child on the hours he is spending on creating his science project instead of waiting to see the final grade.

4. Ask open-ended questions, not just ones that require a yes or no answer. Listen to their thoughts and ideas showing empathy and without making judgment. This might sometimes be difficult to take, but it will help to create a strong level of communication.

5. Establish a daily routine that includes quiet time (either for rest when they are young or study as they get older), household chores, meals together as a family and a set bedtime. Children thrive on structure and giving them responsibilities at home helps to build self-confidence.

Focus On Protecting Your Kids During Divorce

Staying involved in your child’s life during a divorce is extremely important. While it may seem impossible to you to be “friends” or even communicate civilly with your ex-spouse, it’s essential for the best interest of your child because at the heart of everything your child needs to maintain healthy and strong relationships with both parents. This no doubt means you will have to make sacrifices and compromises to make it work, but it’s part and parcel of successful co-parenting.

While parents divorce each other and may wish that they never had to spend another moment with each other, kids have to live out the divorce. They are forced to establish daily routines split between two different households and often different parenting styles. Effective co-parenting consists of a number of things. Some examples include spending quality time with the child, working together to set boundaries, rules and consistency, and keeping your ex-spouse apprised of event’s in the child’s life including medical, social and school related issues. Experts also point out that it’s essential to be available for your child. Even if it’s not your week for visitation, make yourself easily accessible by phone, text or email. Ensure that you are doing are your best to listen and make them feel heard so they feel like their opinion is relevant and valued.

Most importantly, don’t take this sensitive time to reject, lecture or be judgmental of your child. Instead, vent to friends or close family and put your best foot forward in front of the kids. Studies show that recognizing your child’s positive behaviors instead of their negative creates a stronger and more supportive relationship. This is also not a time to start working long hours, take an extended vacation away or neglect the kids in any way. Rather, be reliable, on time and involved – do what you say you are going to do! Although you might be feeling like you need time to yourself to regroup, the impact of feeling estranged can have long-term consequences.

Children of divorce who feel estranged often have low self-esteem. They think that it’s their fault that the marriage dissolved and that mommy or daddy isn’t around anymore, and can easily become depressed. In the short term the child might show fear, a lack of trust of adults, and a lack of confidence. In the long-term children neglected by one or both parents show limited empathy, low emotional intelligence and an inability to establish and maintain strong relationships throughout their life.

The take away from all this is that every parent should focus on protecting his or her child during divorce. They are innocent in all of this and shouldn’t be punished in any way. They need extra love, support and praise. The other parent is still the child’s mom or dad and it’s important that you model a respectful attitude so the child will follow suit. And finally, your child will better survive the situation if you remain in close proximity, stay an integral part of his/her life and remain dependable.

Co-Parenting Classes For Divorce Can Be Taken Online

Parents often call the office frustrated because they’ve been court ordered to take a co-parenting class as part of their divorce proceedings and want to know which one to take. Many have multiple children of all ages and are confident they know how to handle their own kids without having to take co-parenting 101. It’s particularly annoying because they work full-time or are very busy juggling all the kid stuff. Going to a classroom once a week will not only make them have to cut out of work early, but is a major hassle because the classes never seem to be conveniently located. It also pulls them away from the kids at a time when they most need to be present. Well, we hear you. While we do offer in-person group classes for court requirements in our office, we also provide an online option that is widely accepted throughout the country. It varies by state, county and even judge within a jurisdiction as to whether you can take the program online, but it’s worth asking.

Online co-parenting classes offer parents a number of benefits. They can be taken from any Internet connected computer device so you can login from home, during a lunch hour at work or late at night after the kids have gone to bed. If you don’t have Internet access at home, you can use a computer at your local library. There is no limit to the number of times someone logs in or out, so the classes can be taken in one sitting or broken up over a weekend or period of weeks. The participant reads through the material and takes a final exam at the end of the mandated class length. A certificate of completion is sent to the participant to present to the court once the course is successfully finished.

The theory behind co-parenting classes is that this is a new experience for everyone and setting up guidelines that both parents agree on will create the smoothest transition for the children. Once you get approval to take them online and see how convenient it is, you will find that the classes are actually filled with valuable information to help you guide your kids through the change involved with divorce. The program renews skills by presenting the most current research based advice and spends time to specifically discuss how to respect your ex-spouse as a parent if not a partner, set up parenting plans, deal with blending new people into your lives and how to manage the stress of it all.

Learning how to create a co-parenting plan is a vital tool. They are designed to help put emotions aside and stabilize your children’s lives as much as possible. Things to consider and include are a primary residential schedule, a visitation schedule, holiday and birthday schedules, bedtimes and curfews and where the parents must reside. They can also include things like religion, dietary requirements and vaccinations, sleeping arrangements and what the contact will be with dating partners. Family rules don’t need to end just because the relationship has ended. In fact, kids thrive on structure and creating two separate but cohesive households is the best thing you can do for your children during this time.

Overcoming the Bedtime Struggles

Getting your kids to bed each night can be one of a parent’s biggest obstacles. How many times have you heard “Ten more minutes!” or “After this show is over” or “I’m hungry”, “I’m thirsty”, “One more story, just one more!” Night after night this can become exhausting and frustrating for parents and leave the kids officially sleep deprived. Let’s face it; getting enough sleep is essential for growth, health and overall wellbeing. Research shows that on average 1-3 year olds need 12-14 hours per day, 3-6 year olds need 10-12 hours per day, 7-12 year olds need 10-11 hours per day and 12-18 year olds need 8-9 per day. But are your kids really getting it? I know in our household, afterschool activities and homework has caused our teenager to go for weeks with an average of 6 -7 hours a night. And, we’ve experienced the repercussions! Lack of sleep affects every part of a child’s daily functioning. Similar to adults, it makes them more irritable and short-tempered, more emotional and over reactive, and contributes to depression and poor judgment skills. In school, studies show that kids who scored in the lower percentiles also got less sleep than those scoring A’s and B’s. Lack of sleep makes it hard to focus, pay sustained attention and remember things.

So what’s a parent to do? Many kids just don’t want to go to sleep because they are afraid of missing something going on in the family. For other young children, it might be because they are afraid of the dark, or they want to control the situation. In many busy families, it might be the only time that the child gets alone time and complete attention from a particular parent. Whatever the reason is, it’s important for parents to get a handle on it for the child’s health and the well being of the entire family.

To start with, from an early age (12 months) it’s critical to set a bedtime routine. Children thrive when they have consistency because it gives them a sense of security. So start the nightly bedtime ritual about 30 minutes before it’s lights out. Ideally this is a quiet time that doesn’t include any electronics or TV. It helps if dad and other siblings are also winding down at this point so the child doesn’t feel like anything exciting is happening without them. Take this time to brush teeth, get into pj’s and pick out a book to read together. Or just snuggle and talk about the day. Fulfill any requests for water, one last trip to the restroom, or even kissing all the stuffed animals good night. Try to dim the lighting during this time as well to create a more relaxed and sleepy mood.

If your child claims he or she is frightened try to come up with solutions to overcome the worries. For example, put a flashlight next to the bed, make a ritual of locking windows and doors in his room, set up a stuffed animal brigade to ward off any monsters that might arrive and install a small night-light so the room isn’t totally dark.

If your child starts to make a ritual of coming into your room after lights out, it’s important to stand your ground. If you don’t want him or her setting up camp in your bed for the unforeseen future, be consistent about walking them back to bed and explaining why everything is okay and there’s no need to be afraid. You may even need to do this multiple times a night until they get it that you aren’t going to budge.

To reward children for good bedtime behavior, many parents find that a star chart works wonders. Have them help you construct it and explain that for every week that has 6 or 7 stars, they will receive some type of reward. This could be a special show they want to watch, their favorite dessert, or even a special outing with you!

Positive Parenting Styles Encourage Strong Coping Skills and Self-Esteem in Kids

Many pediatricians and family therapists recommend that a key to successful parenting is to adopt a parenting style that recognizes and encourages good behavior in their kids by offering kind words, smiles and affection. The idea is to comment on your child’s behavior when they are doing something right instead of when they are acting up. This is a type of caregiving known as “positive parenting”. Specifically, it includes principles such as:

1. Praising the behavior you would like to see in your child.

2. Setting a good example as a role model.

3. Showing warmth and love towards your child.

4. Listening closely to your child to help him/her work out problems.

5. Avoiding yelling and hitting.

6. Setting clear boundaries.

7. Maintaining consistency when it comes to punishment.

This does not mean that parents have to be best friends with their kids. Rather that they show an understanding and acknowledgement of their child’s beliefs and feelings so the child feels like his/her opinion matters. Effective discipline is also a big component of this style. Years of research and studies show that children need structure to develop self-discipline. It’s important to set reasonable boundaries and repercussions for unacceptable behavior, but this isn’t the type of authoritarian discipline many of us grew up with. We all know that shouting, yelling, and spanking all add up to fear and distrust and escalate a breakdown in relationships. Instead, positive parenting styles encourage positive behavior by praising good behavior and establishing logical and reasonable consequences. This encourages children to get themselves under control and organized. Some of these techniques include:

1. Calling for a timeout. This effectively stops the bad behavior by stopping it in its tracks and removing the child from the situation. Most experts agree that the timeout should last one minute for each year of the child’s life up to about age 11.

2. Reasoning discussions. This relies on the theory that it’s more effective to prevent negative actions than to punish them after the fact. In other words, don’t deal with the situation in the stress of the moment but rather take time beforehand to explain clearly what type of behavior is expected and desirable. For example, tell children who they can expect to see at an upcoming family get together, what they can and cannot do during that visit and explain why.

3. Set age appropriate expectations and stick with them. Don’t just shout out idle threats. Your kids will catch on at an early age that you don’t really mean it and they don’t really need to listen to you. Explain the limits and then speak in a firm voice when you want them to follow your wishes. Don’t let your child negotiate or talk you out of a particular punishment.

This type of parenting generally forges a strong, trusting bond between parent and child. Boundaries are clear and the child feels respected and loved. Children who are parented in this way usually have higher self-esteem, coping skills and self discipline and since they are treated with respect, they know how to treat others in this same way.