Potty Learning with Patience and Praise

Like most everything related to parenting, when it comes to potty learning (or training) there is not a one size fits all approach. Just as every child is different, every family is different and what works best for one will not work for another. However, since potty learning is a hot topic in our house these days, I thought I would share what we have found to work best for us.

When it comes to potty learning and my kids, I approach it similarly to the way I approach weaning from the breast. I trust that when the time is right and the child is ready, it will happen. I know this is not a method that would work for every child or every family, but so far its been working for us.

My oldest Ava was completely out of diapers (including at night) somewhere between ages 2 1/2 and 3. Julian became interested in using the potty earlier than Ava, but the transition to using the potty full time has been much more gradual. He’s currently 3 years and 2 months and mostly potty learned during the day, but not for the occasional nap or at night.

While I say, “it (potty learning) will happen,” that’s not to say I (and my husband) don’t do things to encourage the kids. The process is not left entirely up to them, but I do let them take the lead and guide how fast or slow the transition takes.


Photo courtesy of juhansonin

Here are some of the techniques I used with my kids to facilitate potty learning

Naked “Training”
One of the first things I like to do that helps them get more familiar with their body and elimination sensations is allow them to be naked from the waist down while at home. If it’s particularly cold, I’d suggest the kiddo wear BabyLegs or something similar on his/her legs, though my kids don’t seem to mind the cold at all.

Another benefit of being pant-less is that they can run to the potty and use it without having to worry about getting clothes out of the way first.

Since I’m at home with my kids this technique has worked well for us. Obviously though, isn’t for everyone.

Amber from Strocel uses the naked time technique as well. “During toilet training I … allow lots, and lots, and lots of naked time. Because it’s much more obvious to both you and the kid that they’re peeing when they aren’t in a diaper.”

Annie from PhD in Parenting said, “Being naked helped him (her son) to feel what was going on, it felt different from having a diaper on, it saved on laundry significantly, and it also made it quicker when he did rush off to the potty because there were no snaps and zippers and things to deal with.”

Keep a potty (or two or three) nearby
I try to keep a potty in the room wherever the child is playing. In our house that’s usually in the living room. I think having the potty where they can see it and have easy access to it helped my kids learn to use it. When they move off into another room and the potty isn’t right there, that’s usually when the accidents happen. (If you can invest in a few potties to scatter around the house, all the better.)

Once they have mastered using the potty in the living room, I would either move it into the bathroom or just encourage them to transition from the potty to using the actual toilet.

Praise, praise and more praise
My husband and I offer a lot of praise when our child uses the potty or toilet. In fact, in the beginning there’s often a lot of cheering, clapping hands, silly dances, etc. to encourage the new behavior.

Read books about going potty
The book I loved for helping my kids learn more about their bodies and using the potty was “Once Upon A Potty” by Alona Frankel. There are two versions of the book – one for boys featuring Joshua and one for girls featuring Prudence. I have to confess, one of the reasons I loved this book so much was the way Ava would say “Pwudence.” So cute.

There are many books available on this subject.

Patience
If my child didn’t seem to be ready for using the potty, we’d take a break and come back to it another time.

I remember having a success or two with Ava and the potty at a young age and I thought, “Yes! This is it!” But then she didn’t do it again so I figured it wasn’t the opportune time for her and we tried again in a few months.

Julian, who turned 3 in November, has been going through the motions of potty learning for over a year now. When naked and at home, he would use the potty or toilet about 90% of the time. It wasn’t until just the past couple months though that he would start asking to go potty while we were out of the house (and this was while wearing a diaper or a pull-up). Now he is using the toilet consistently when he is awake. If he’s napping or asleep at night, that’s not always the case and he wears a diaper or pull-up during those times. I’m not in the hurry to get him night “trained,” but trust that it will happen when he’s ready.

In Annie’s post about potty learning, she references a potty training readiness quiz by author Elizabeth Pantley, which is a great place to start if you are contemplating potty learning. Ask Dr Sears also has a wealth of toilet training information – from tips to know before you start to helping the child who won’t go to traveling while training.

Going commando
I have to admit that Julian isn’t in underwear full time during the day yet. He still either wears a pull-up or, if at home and is not half naked, goes commando under his pants. I think we are getting to the point where he could wear underwear regularly and be fine, but it’s just recently that we’ve gotten to that point. It seems like if he has pants on but no underwear, he is more easily able to feel when he has to pee.

With regard to poop
Once I noticed my kids’ pooping cues – both either went into a corner or behind a couch, it was easy to transition from pooping in a diaper to pooping on the potty. Thankfully neither of them had any poop resistance (where kids refuse to poop unless in a diaper), but I know that is common for many kids. Annie wrote a bit about how they overcame poop resistance with her son.

Potty learning at night
When the kiddo starts consistently waking up in the morning dry (i.e. you check their diaper as soon as they wake up and encourage using the potty), that’s a good indication they are ready to go all night in underwear.

It took a while of Ava waking up dry before I felt ready to take the plunge and let her go overnight without a diaper, but she was obviously ready and did well with it.

Techniques other parents swear by

The reward method
We never tried the reward method (yet?), but I know others who have had success with offering an M&M or something similar for each successful trip to the potty.

EcoMeg is currently using the M&M system for potty training her son.

Much More Than a Mom has also been using the reward system (chocolate chips or stickers) to help with potty learning her son.

Elimination communication
Hilary Stamper wrote an informative post explaining how elimination communication (EC) – the process of observing one’s baby’s signs and signals and providing cue sounds and elimination-place associations – worked for her and her baby.

Hobo Mama also has a great post chock full of information about using elimination communication with tips from her experience with her child, but also many links to other sites about EC.

Related links:
Angela at Breastfeeding 1-2-3 wrote Potty Training the Easy Way. She describes her method as somewhere between Potty Training and Elimination Communication. “The ‘easy way’ in my mind does not mean the fastest way or the least messy way. It’s an investment of time that respectfully helps my child learn to use the toilet.”

Previously mentioned, but very informative is Dr. Sears section on toilet training.

How did you go about toilet learning/training with your kiddo(s)? If you have any tips to share, we’d love to hear ’em.

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Where do your kids’ toys go to die? Children, consumerism, toys and trash

A few weeks ago I overheard a woman say (online) that she cleaned her basement and subsequently “threw out 10 bags of broken, crap toys!” The comments that followed applauded her efforts. I’m not sure if they were happy that she cleaned the basement or that she discarded numerous toys, but I couldn’t help but feel saddened that so many “broken, crap toys” were on their way to the landfill.

I can’t say I’ve never thrown out a broken toy myself, but generally speaking I try to make an effort to acquire toys that are the antithesis of “crap” and, thus will stand the test of time and, once they’ve lived out their time with us, can be given away to someone else (or saved for my kid’s kids…someday). Of course some less than stellar toys inevitably make their way into our house, but 10 bags of junked toys seems like a lot to me.

It had me wondering, is this scenario the norm or the exception? What do you think?

According to Earth911, “Recent studies show nearly every household purchases at least one toy a year (often more), and toy sales in the U.S. in 2007 totaled to $20.5 billion.” How many of those toys make their way into the landfills?

I have to admit that I feel guilty every time I throw a broken anything into the trash. I know that throwing something away doesn’t really make it go away. There is no “away.” It just means that it’s going to sit in a landfill or in an ocean somewhere for years and years and years. That bothers me, which is why I try to avoid it. (If you haven’t yet watch The Story of Stuff, I highly recommend it.) This is also why this weekend I was trying to Freecycle a bunch of stuff that we’re no longer using.

I wrote a bit about my process for getting rid of stuff in the post “Decluttering your house, the green way.”

Even if I know the garbage can is my last option for stuff, I still feel bad about throwing it out. I hate to think about it ending up in a landfill and staying there forever, but then I also have to be realistic and not completely beat myself up over it. It’s a good reminder to make wise choices when buying things and think:

* Do I really need this?
* Is it good enough quality that it will last for years or will it break after a year and have to be replaced?
* Should I save my money for a little while longer and buy a better quality item that will last me longer?
* What will I do with it when I no longer need it (or when it breaks)?

Of course this is a bit harder when you have kids (and toys) and it’s not always practical to go through this list every time you buy something, but it’s a good practice to get into and will help to avoid unnecessary purchases in the future. It can also help you avoid buying cheap, plastic toys that might as well go directly from the assembly line to the landfill for as long as they are usable. But don’t get me started about those. ;oP

Good toys vs. Junk toys

Jennifer Lance wrote Green Family Values: No More Junk Toys! and offers some tips on how to tell a good toy from a junk toy:

How can you tell a junk toy from a good toy? Field naturalist Alicia Daniel offers the following list of questions to ask when selecting toys:

  1. Will this toy eventually turn into dirt-i.e., could I compost it? Stones, snowmen, driftwood, and daisies-they will be gone, and we will be gone, and life goes on.
  2. Do I know who made this toy? This question leads us to search for the hidden folk artist in each of us.
  3. Is this toy beautiful? Have human hands bestowed an awkward grace, a uniqueness lacking in toys cranked out effortlessly by machine?
  4. Will this toy capture a child’s imagination?

So what do you do with the old toys?

Earth911 has some tips for recycling toys including:

  • passing them on to other family members
  • donating them
  • repairing broken toys
  • or selling them.

They also list the benefits of recycling toys.

Think before you buy

I think the best advice though is to think before you buy. I know not every single toy purchase can be a thoughtful/practical one, but if you can change that so the percentage of thoughtful purchases is increased by 25%, 50%, 75% or more, think of how much crap that will keep out of the landfills. Also, you might want to consider the carbon footprint and the safety of the toy. How far did it have to travel to get to your toy store? If you live in the United States, could you buy an American-made alternative instead? There have been a lot of recalls of toys in the past several years. When you buy well-made, quality toys, you reduce the risk of a recall.

Children and consumerism

Mrs. Green from My Zero Waste in her post A Plastic Frisbee for the Landfill wrote:

I have to say, this is something that concerns me about 21st century life – the massive volume of ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ toys that our children are growing up with. They last a few days at best and then become ‘rubbish’. Our children are bought up to look for the next fix and move on to the next thing, like good little consumers. I wonder how we can ever solve the landfill issue until we pull back from so much mindless consumerism. We try and stay away from it as much as we can, but we can’t live in a vacuum or turn our child into the village freak.

I agree. I don’t want my children to be turned into mindless consumers, which is why I support the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, but I also realize they cannot live in a vacuum and I don’t want them to be ostracized by their peers.

So, what’s the solution?

Think before you buy, have a plan in mind for what to do with a toy when your child is done with it, and remember: everything in moderation.

One of my favorite Native American proverbs is, “We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.” Yes, a cheap plastic toy might make your child happy for a few minutes or weeks, but how happy will it make them in 20 years when their generation is responsible for cleaning up the mess that resulted from all of those cheap plastic toys?

Related links:
Second Chance Toys: Rescuing and Recycling Plastic Toys for Needy Children
Tips for Choosing Eco-friendly Toys
Simple toys are better for children
Toys from Trash

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Addiction, choice and serenity

It’s a new year and a new decade, so I figure why not jump in with both feet and tackle a heavy, possibly even taboo, topic? 😛 Sometimes ya gotta strike while the iron is hot. And right now? It’s smoking hot.

I mentioned the word addiction to my 5 1/2 year old daughter Ava the other day. I can’t remember exactly what I was saying at the time (probably grumbling about my husband Jody and World of Warcraft), but I wondered later if using that word with her was the “right” thing to do (not to mention that I was grousing about her dad – a whole other issue).

Ya see, addictions have been a part of my life since I was born. In one way or another I’ve been exposed to them throughout my entire life. If I wasn’t around someone who had an addiction, I had one myself.

My addictions have varied over the years, but I just recently discovered how far back my propensity toward addictive behavior goes, think a little older than Ava’s age. And now here I sit nearly 30 years later, on my computer (another addiction), typing about it. Ironic, huh?

Jody and I were talking a couple nights ago about the excessive computer use in our household and he said something like, “I wonder what our lives would be like if we didn’t have the computers?” And the first thing out of my mouth was, “That would make a great blog!” 😛 So then we joked that I’d have to write my blog entries in a notebook – old-school style – and then take a picture of the page and post it on the ‘net, presumably all from my iPhone since computers would be out of the picture. (Though I’m not sure how I could justify having an iPhone if I was swearing off computers, but anyway…) We got a good laugh out of it, but seriously, my life revolves so much around computers.

I’ve been feeling kind of depressed about my computer usage lately too. It’s not that way when I’m writing and actually feeling productive, but it’s when I sit here for a stupid amount of time and walk away not having accomplished anything and not having made any real connections with anyone other than “liking” someone’s status on Facebook or commenting on a random Tweet or two. I’ve started feeling like I’m being sucked into an abyss and I’m not sure how I’m going to get out of it. It’s not having a blog that sucks me in. The blogging, the writing, the researching, and reading thought-provoking/entertaining posts, etc., is all of the stuff I enjoy. The things I’m proud of. It’s the mindless drivel that’s been sucking the life force out of me. The hitting refresh waiting for someone to say something. Waiting for someone to talk to me. Waiting for anything. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

And the irony (there’s that word again) is that Jody and I are trying to work on our marriage. In the evenings, at least, I have another adult here in the house (Jody) who I could be interacting with. We could be speaking to each other instead of interacting with the “internetz.” Yet we both feel this pull to the internet. After all, as we talked about at our couple’s therapy session yesterday, it’s because of the internet that he and I met in the first place. Here’s that word once again. This time say it with me – irony!

I digress. The point is I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching the past several weeks and discovering a lot about myself. Some of those things make me proud of myself, while others make me feel pretty craptastic.

Life is all about choices. I want to make smarter choices, not only because I think the future of my marriage depends on it, but I believe my children’s futures depend on it too. (Oh and there’s also that pesky thing known at my happiness – another thing I’m still learning about.)

That brings me back to talking about addiction with Ava. There’s a history of addiction on my side of the family and some tendencies on Jody’s side as well. However, I want the cycle to end with Jody and me. I don’t want my children to have to carry it on (in whatever form they may) as they get older.

Right now I know that I need to find the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, but I also need to find the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. By changing what I can – what I actually have control over right now, which is only me, myself and I – I have hope for the future. My future. My family’s future. I can’t change the past, but I can change the present. And I’m going to work on it one. day. at. a. time.

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Dear Target – a thank you letter

It’s no secret that I’ve harped on Target in the past. First there were the epidural maternity shirts, then there was the incident where the police were called on a breastfeeding mother. This weekend, however, Target did something that has me very thankful, and while I already informally expressed my thanks to them on Twitter, I wanted to do so a little more formally here.

It happened on Saturday – the last weekend before Christmas – when Jody and I decided to take the kids to Target so they could each pick out a present to give to the other. I thought it would help them learn the joy of giving, rather than just receiving on Christmas.

Before we went into the store, we emphasized that the store would be very busy with lots of people and the kids were to stay with us at all times. (You can see where this is headed, can’t you?)

Jody and I each took a kid and headed for the toy section as the kids searched for the perfect gift for their sibling (and got distracted with what they wanted for themselves at least 20 times). At one point, I turned a corner and glanced behind me with 3-year-old Julian nowhere to be seen. My heart jumped into my throat as I quickly retraced my steps and found him just around the corner playing with a toy. Whew!

Eventually, the sibling gifts were chosen.

I wanted to buy some art supplies for the kids, so Jody took the kids and planned to let them pick out something for me while I shopped for them.

I found what I wanted and began moseying around the store to find them. That’s when I saw Jody, alone, looking frantic as he dodged in and out of maternity clothes racks.

“Where are the kids??”

Jody told me he couldn’t find Julian and had told Ava to stay in one spot with the cart while he looked for Jules.

My first thought was to go to the guest services desk and let them know Julian was missing. The more people looking for him, especially on such a busy day, the better. Jody, however, apparently had the same thought at the same time and beat me to the desk.

I ditched my cart (and my purse – totally wasn’t thinking) and started looking for Julian myself.

Within seconds, crimson-clad Target employees were combing the aisles in force. Within two minutes, an employee asked me if I was the mom with the lost child (was the crazy “Oh my God, where is my son?” look in my eye that obvious?) and said they had found him and they would bring him to guest services.

Thank. God.

As I quickly walked to find Jody and tell him Julian had been found, I heard another employee say, “Oh! They are chasing after him!” And I could picture Julian screaming and crying and running away from the people who were trying to help him. Poor buddy.

I ran over to where Jody and Ava were already headed and met up with them to find a crying Julian safe in Jody’s arms. I kissed and hugged him and was so relieved to see he was OK. We let him know how scared we were that he was lost and it was obvious how scared he was too. (He had apparently run away from Jody looking for me when he got lost.)

It was about that time that I remembered that I’d ditched my cart with my purse in it. I was relieved to find it was all right where I left it.

I can’t tell you how thankful I am that our story had a happy ending.

Thank you, local Target employees, for springing into action so quickly and helping my husband and me find our son.

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What To Do If Your Child Is Missing:

If your child ever goes missing in a store, notify the front desk or an employee ASAP. Most stores have a “Code Adam” procedure (named after Adam Walsh, the 6-year-old son of John Walsh, who was abducted from a Sears department store in Florida in 1981 and later found murdered) that alerts the employees to look for the missing child. If the child is not located within 10 minutes, the police are called.

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Time magazine advocates “tough love” approach to infant sleep

Time magazine recently published a section called The Year in Health, A to Z in the Dec. 7, 2009 issue. The letter B is for Babies and what Time advised regarding babies, “tough love” and sleep has many people shaking their heads in disagreement.

The article states:

When a baby has repeated problems falling asleep, Mom and Dad may need to show some tough love. Lingering with cranky babies too long or bringing them into the parents’ bedroom can make them likelier to become poor sleepers, according to psychologist Jodi Mindell, who gathered data on nearly 30,000 kids up to 3 years old in 17 countries. “If you’re rocked to sleep at bedtime, you’re going to need that every time you wake up,” she notes. Her advice: have children fall asleep 3 ft. away. “If they’re slightly separated, they sleep much better,” she says.

Parents, pediatricians and proponents of attachment parenting strongly disagree with Time’s advice.

On Attachment Parenting International, Samantha Gray, executive director of Attachment Parenting International, and Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, founders of API, published the letter to the editor they wrote in response. Here is a bit of it:

Contrary to the very unfortunate and detrimental advice on sleep in Time magazine, API’s Principle outlines the need to be responsive to children during the night and not to brush aside their needs as inconsequential to them or to their development in the name of “tough love.” The magazine and this proponents’ advice is framed in such a way to alarm parents into unfounded fears about their children being poor sleepers if they respond in loving ways such as rocking their child, breastfeeding, or lying down with the child. We know, in fact, that these practices are not only healthy for the child, but, for the very short period of a child’s life that needs are met in this way, parent and child benefit.

Science indicates that a comforting nighttime approach helps children achieve healthy sleep habits. Research and the experience of parents throughout the ages have proven that effective nighttime parenting includes prompt, calm response, as well as holding, cuddling and soothing touch.

We pray no one takes to heart this advice you have quite surprisingly chosen to publish, all the more in the midst of the availability of substantial quality parenting information. This advice goes against parents’ good instincts to care for their very young child in the ways their inner knowing tells them to.

We implore Time to urgently correct this harmful information in such a way to command even greater attention than received by the original article. Our children are worth it, and so are their parents.

At the time of this posting, Time had not responded to API nor published any sort of correction.

Pediatrician, father of eight, and author of numerous parenting books Dr. William Sears suggests in his own letter to the editor to Time:

Rather than issuing rules or cautions about being “over attached” concerning nighttime parenting we should be encouraging parents to sleep safely and closely with their babies. In my experience and that of others who have thoroughly researched the issue of co-sleeping, namely Dr. James McKenna, babies who sleep close to their parents sleep physiologically healthier and a mutual trust develops between parents and child.

Remember, we have an epidemic of insomnia in this country necessitating a mushrooming of sleep disorder clinics. When babies start out life with a healthy sleep attitude, that sleep is a pleasant state to enter and a fear-less state to remain in they’re more likely to grow up with a healthy sleep attitude and both children and their parents will sleep better later on.

On his website, Dr. Sears has 8 Infant Sleep Facts Every Parent Should Know including:

  • babies have shorter sleep cycles than adults
  • there are developmental and survival benefits of nightwaking
  • and as babies grow, they achieve “sleep maturity.”

Kayris who blogs at The Great Walls of Baltimore said, “considering the amount of adults who suffer from sleep problems or use sleep aid medications, I’m truly surprised at the amount of people who expect sleep to also be easy for children.”

Micki AKA ADDHousewife is one of those people who has trouble sleeping and said in response to the Time article, “That’s pure crazy. Some kids are just lousy sleepers. Plain and simple. I am still a bad sleeper!”

Hannah Gaiten, owner of Natural Choices, had this response to Time’s article:

That type of position is based on what is perceived to be best for parents, not taking into account what is truly best for the kids, in my opinion. Heaven forbid a child need to nurse to sleep…why is it regarded as such a “problem?” We do it everyday, every time my daughter needs to sleep, she needs to nurse. Sure, it’s not the most convenient at times, but if I were looking for convenience, then perhaps being a parent wasn’t the best road to take.

To make a blanket statement like, “If they’re slightly separated, they sleep much better” is unwise, in my opinion – each child is different and instead of this author telling parents how to parent their child, they should give unbiased information and encourage the parents to do what is best for their family (not just what is in the best interest of the parents).

Susan, who blogs at Two Hands Two Feet agrees, “I hate it when ‘experts’ tell parents what is best for them and their kids. You need to do what is right for your family, not what an expert says. This stuff caused me a lot of grief when my girls were tiny. I read books because I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. But what I really should have done was just gone with my instincts.”

Suzanne at The Joyful Chaos who co-sleeps, but also says she’s “not actually an advocate for co-sleeping,” drives the point home that you have to do what works best for your family in her post The Cosleeping Edition of my Attachment Parenting Freako-ness and sometimes that may very well differ from child to child.

A Mother In Israel Hannah asks in her post Sleep Training at the 92nd St. Y:

Are our babies robots? Or dogs that we need to train? No, they are very small people who can’t understand why everyone ignores them once the sun goes down, even when they cry hard enough to throw up. A baby’s cry is intended to be disturbing. If we train ourselves to ignore it, we lose our instinctive rachmanut (compassion). And a baby whose cries are ignored learns that his feelings don’t count for much. Eventually he will give up and go to sleep, but pay a steep price.

Who are we to say that our need for a solid eight hours (which we usually don’t get anyway for all kinds of trivial reasons) trumps the baby’s needs? Adults can learn to cope with less sleep and babies need concern and sympathy no matter when they are in distress. Trust your baby; she will tell you when s/he is developmentally ready to fall asleep without your help.

As for my opinion, I think it’s very irresponsible for Time to make a blanket statement like that, especially when there is evidence that proves the contrary is true. I do believe it is up to each family to decide what works best for them and their children. While I don’t think it’s for everyone, co-sleeping worked for my family for years. Nowadays my children are still co-sleeping with each other at age 3 and 5 and sleep side by side in a room together. Just as they have different personalities, they are very different sleepers. My daughter has a harder time falling asleep than my son, but both are parented to sleep in a way that works best for them.

There’s nothing that is convenient about being a parent. It is a physically, emotionally and mentally taxing job. Parenting doesn’t end just because the sun sets. It’s a 24/7 365 days of the year job.

Instead of trying to put more distance between parents and their children, I think Time should be encouraging more connections. The time that our children are infants and toddlers is so fleeting in the grand scheme of things, we should be embracing them, not pushing them away.

Jan Hunt, director of The Natural Child, points out, “As the writer John Holt put it so eloquently, having feelings of love and safety in early life, far from ‘spoiling’ a child, is like ‘money in the bank’: a fund of trust, self-esteem and inner security they can draw on throughout life’s challenges.

Children may be small in size, but they are as fully human as we are, and as deserving as we are to be trusted to know what they need, and to have their voices heard.”

There is a wealth of information about infant sleep on Attachment Parenting International’s Baby Sleep Strategies page, including infant sleep safety, co-sleeping, nighttime parenting and more.

Annie at PhD in Parenting also has an informational post Gentle Baby and Toddler Sleep Tips that “provides tips for sleep deprived parents that want their babies to sleep better and… do not want to use the cry it out approach.”

If you’d like to respond to Time about “B” for Babies, please do so online using their letter to the editor web form or snail mail to:
TIME Magazine Letters
Time & Life Building
New York, N.Y. 10020
“Letters should include the writer’s full name, address and home telephone and may be edited for purposes of clarity and space.”

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

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Eco-friendly upcycled holiday crafts for kids

Green or eco-friendly crafts for children using recycled or upcycled (repurposing a waste material into a product of higher quality materials) are plentiful this holiday season. In addition to being better for the environment, crafting from items found around the house has the added benefit of being economical.

No Time for Flashcards is one of my favorite blogs for finding activities to do with young children. No all posts are green, but three posts that do fit that category include recycled Christmas tree using paper from an old catalog, A “Bow”tiful Christmas tree made out of a grocery bag and misshapen present bows, and a Bell Christmas ornament made from an Easter egg. All three are great crafts for toddlers and preschoolers. My kids, ages 3 and 5, and I made some of the recycled Christmas trees using magazine pages earlier this week.

Photo credit: No Time for Flashcards

For little ones who like to paint, why not try painting holiday cards or making your own wrapping paper using paints made from berries and beets! The Green Art Project has a tutorial for making your own natural paints using fruits and vegetables you may already have in the house.

Over at This and That, there’s another idea for making your own gift wrap. Money Saving Mom also suggests having the kids help make homemade wrapping paper.

Here’s a beautiful and easy craft from Maya*Made to hang on the tree – a “snow”-covered pinecone ornament.

Photo credit:Maya*Made

There are a lot of fun ornaments that can be made with a burnt-out incandescent light bulb. It’s upcycling at it’s finest! There’s a snowman face ornament, Rudolph the recycled light bulb, the light bulb penguin, and there are some more cute ideas over at Keep’n the SunnySide. You could also keep it simple and let your child paint and glue whatever they want on the light bulb.

Photo credit: Crafts by Amanda

Summer at Wired for Noise suggests embroidering pictures on old pillow cases and had fun teaching her son the handicraft.

Another craft idea that we’ve tried in our house is transforming old, broken crayons into new crayons. The Red, White and Green says you don’t need to spend $30 on a Crayola Crayon Maker (made of nearly four pounds of plastic) to do it either. If you want to make holiday-themed crayons, you just need some holiday candy molds. Zakka Life has a tutorial on how to recycle old crayons into new crayons using candy molds. You can also just use muffin tins for round crayons. Raising Maine also suggests making the recycled crayons into ornaments.

Photo credit: Raising Maine

Older children may enjoy stringing popcorn or cranberries on wire or thread as garland to be hung on the Christmas tree. When the tree is taken down, the edible garland can be strung outside for the birds or put into your compost bin.

Another fun idea for a craft and/or gift for older children from Little Birdie Secrets is felted soap. “You cover a bar of soap with this fabulous wool fiber, then felt it, and you have a soap and washcloth in one!”

Photo credit: Little Birdie Secrets

Celebrate Green Blog recently came across some eco-friendly holiday crafts from Family Fun magazine using upcycled materials, including retro ornaments made from toilet paper rolls, Christmas carolers made from toilet paper rolls, holey socks and old sheet music, and a Flame-free menorah.

Photo credit: Family Fun

Lastly, there are some creative recycled craft ideas over at Monkey See Monkey Do including a milk carton nativity or Christmas village and a mop-head Santa, as well as coat hanger snowmen and reindeer and a trash bag wreath.

Looking for more green craft ideas? Check out Books make great gifts for green crafters over at Crafting a Green World. She suggests Green Crafts for Children: 35 Step-by-Step Projects Using Natural, Recycled, And Found Materials by Emma Hardy especially for green mamas and their green girls.

Have more eco-friendly holiday craft ideas for kids? Please share them in the comments.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Homemade & eco-friendly Christmas tree trimming

Last year I got all crafty and made all of the decorations for our Christmas tree. The mood didn’t strike me this year (although we still have several of our salt dough ornaments from last year), but in case any of you are inspired to create an eco-friendly homemade Christmas tree, I thought I’d repost the blog I wrote a year ago.

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Our homemade-decorated tree  12/14/08

Originally posted Dec. 15, 2008

After writing my holiday eco-friendly crafts post, I got this insane great idea that it’d be lots of fun to make all of the decorations for our Christmas tree this year.  I was hoping to involve the kids in the crafting, but my first two attempts – with popcorn garland and cranberry garland – were not as successful as I hoped. Turns out that popcorn is fairly hard to put a needle through and I didn’t want to risk Ava poking the heck out of herself, so she and Julian ate popcorn while I threaded it. The cranberries were a little harder than I would’ve liked too so I did those myself while the kids ate them and then spat them out because they are, of course, very tart. 😉

I also made the star on the top of our tree by cutting it out of a pie tin (super sharp edges) and gluing it to a piece of black paper.

Finally this morning, I decided on a project we could work on together (at least Ava and I could and Julian could help out later) – salt dough ornaments!

Here’s the recipe that I used.

Salt Dough Ornaments

2 cups flour
1 cup salt
1 cup water
Optional: 1 tablespoon any type of oil (to make it easier to work with – thanks to Brighid for the tip)

I didn’t have enough sea salt, so I used my kosher salt (after grinding it up in the food processor a bit). It worked just as well. I think table salt is probably what they have in mind for this recipe though.

Mix salt and flour. Add in half the water, then gradually add the remaining water. Knead until the dough is smooth, this can take up to 10 minutes.

I divided up my dough into different segments and used food coloring on some of it.

For flat dough ornaments roll out the dough (to about 1/4 inch thickness) on baking paper, wax paper, or directly on a cookie sheet. Use cookie cutters, cut-out templates, or just use your hands.

Add details to the ornaments with a toothpick and knife.

Don’t forget to use a straw to make a hole so you can hang the ornament. (I forgot to do this on two of mine. Oops!)

Baking: Time varies based on thickness of ornament
Temperature: 325°F.
Time: 20 minutes or until dry – They should be hard to the touch, but not brown.

After they are done baking and cooling, you can paint, add glitter, spray with a clear finish, etc. We chose not to do this and let me tell you why I’m glad we didn’t.
a) because Julian decided to start tasting several of the ornaments
b) because a few, invariably, got dropped or stepped on and broke, but because they don’t have any extra stuff on them, I can just throw them into the composter. (The popcorn and cranberries can go out for the birds when you are done with them or into the compost bin). 🙂

Finally, add ribbon, yard, string, twine, etc. and your ornaments are ready to hang on the tree or give as gifts.

And now, the pictures…

Ava hard at work 12/14/08 Decorating candy cane ornaments 12/14/08 Ornaments ready to go into the oven  12/14/08

Putting yarn in our ornaments  12/14/08 Finished ornaments  12/14/08 Ava showing Julian how to hang ornaments  12/14/08

A tree on a tree  12/14/08 My little candy cane 12/14/08 Julian gets the hang of it fast  12/14/08

Ava’s happy tree 12/14/08 Last-minute rearranging before bed 12/14/08 Our homemade-decorated tree  12/14/08

I don’t know if we’ll stick with just the homemade decorations on the tree – I think we may add a handful of ornaments we’ve collected over the years – but I will say that despite the extra work involved, I really enjoy the organic-feel and personality that our tree has this year. It’s been a lot of fun. 🙂

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Reducing holiday stress for your kids

The holidays are supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” yet for many people they might as well be known as “the most stressful time of the year.” We often think of stress as something that only affects adults, but it can play a significant role in the lives of children as well, especially around the holidays.

There are a lot of changes to children’s routines during the holidays, from visits from unfamiliar relatives to traveling, from an influx of sweets to over-scheduled days and late bedtimes. All of these things can take a toll on the wee ones.

Rather than accept that tears, tantrums and troubles (which are all normal child reactions to stress) are a necessary evil of the holidays, you can follow some tips to keep your kids (and yourself) feeling a bit more carefree. I can’t guarantee there won’t be any tears or tantrums, but it will be less likely to be from stress and more likely to be your typical childhood tears and tantrums.

10 Ways to Reduce Kids’ Stress has some helpful tips such as:

  • Stick with the routine as much as possible. Keep stressful holiday shopping and eating out to a minimum; start preparing for Christmas early to avoid holiday anxiety.
  • Talk to your children about traditions and spirituality. If you believe in Christ, focus on the real meaning of Christmas – and trusting God. If you have traditions, explain why they’ve stayed in your family.
  • Bring a favorite blanket or stuffed animal if you’re staying with family over the holidays. A bit of home will reduce your child’s holiday anxiety.

Another tip they add that I think is really important (and often difficult to do) is:

  • Give ’em time – Allow lots of time so you don’t have to rush from point A to point B, unnecessarily stressing everyone out. Allow time for potty breaks, diaper changes, unexpected car sickness, getting out to stretch, etc.
  • Keep ’em fed – Pack lots of healthy snacks for the kids to eat while you drive/fly.
  • Keep ’em entertained – Pack a variety of toys, games, books, coloring books, markers (Crayola Color Wonder markers and books are great for travel because the color only shows up on the special paper). You can even wrap small presents for the child to unwrap on the way. You might also consider investing in a portable DVD player so the child(ren) can watch a movie here and there.
  • Keep a good attitude and your sense of humor and your children will likely follow suit.

There are more Tips for Airplane Travel with Small Children at Mother Words.

Another tip that I really like is to learn relaxation techniques with your children. This will serve you both well during the holidays and throughout the year. The article Holiday Stress! Are children affected? states:

Colds are contagious and so is stress. Children are affected by stress of their own and pick up on family stresses. This includes holiday stress. So how do we promote calmness in our family and increase our chances of staying healthy during the holidays?

The Mental Health Association recommends counteracting stress by maintaining a positive outlook, focusing on activities that take your mind off your worries and taking time to relax.

Instead of telling your child to go “calm down” this holiday season, I invite you to give them the tools they need to manage stress and anxiety. Introduce your children to breathing, visualizations and affirmations during this holiday season.

All you need to do is read a relaxation book to your child that shows them how to manage their own energy, stress and anxiety. Play a guided imagery CD that’s creates calming images. Sit down and write affirmations with your child. Make it fun by hiding your positive, calm statements in your pockets or under your pillows. Take time to look in your children’s eyes as they speak to you. Try it for 10 minutes a day. Sit still and hold their hand as you listen to holiday music. Watch the ripple effect of calmness as it makes its way through your family.

In Midwest Moms’ post How to Avoid Thanksgiving Stress, she has some suggestions on how to make introductions between your kids and unfamiliar relatives a little less stressful for the kids.

I have found it is best to give children a chance to “make friends” with new relatives in whatever way they are most comfortable. Sometimes that means that it will take time to warm up to someone new.

When you are introducing someone to your child, do so in a way that reveals important information about the new adult — not potentially embarrassing information about your child. Saying, “Aunt Doris used to fly airplanes!” can intrigue your child and get them to ask questions.

We usually make the introductions easier on our kids in two ways. We arrive early, so they’re meeting people one-at-a-time. And we arrange to meet relatives we know well and all walk in together. It can be a lot less intimidating to meet people when you are already surrounded by friends.

In Jolene Park‘s recent guest post on Mile High Mamas called Beat the Holiday Stress, she suggests the use of Rescue Remedy both for adults and kids (and even pets). Jolene notes, “Rescue Remedy is part of the Bach Flower essences, which are extracts from flowers and used to balance emotions. They can be purchased in any health food store.” Personally, I’ve used Rescue Remedy for both myself and my children and highly recommend it.

No matter what your plans are this holiday season, try to remember to keep your own stress level down and your sense of humor up and your kids will benefit as much as you will.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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BPA, its everywhere you don’t want it to be

This weekend as my friend Melissa was showing me her cool pressure canner and all of the foods she’s canned with it, we started talking about the presence of BPA in most store-bought canned goods. The presence of BPA (bisphenol-A) in canned goods is something I’ve known about for a while, but one of those things I try to ignore because I still buy a fair amount of our food in cans, including all of our beans (black, pinto, Great Northern, kidney, garbanzo, etc.), tomatoes, tuna, salmon and some soups.

After reading this NY Times op-ed piece, Chemicals in Our Food, and Bodies by Nicholas D. Kristof, I’m rethinking my canned good buying habits.

Consumer Reports magazine tested an array of brand-name canned foods for a report in its December issue and found BPA in almost all of them. The magazine says that relatively high levels turned up, for example, in Progresso vegetable soup, Campbell’s condensed chicken noodle soup, and Del Monte Blue Lake cut green beans.

The magazine also says it found BPA in the canned liquid version of Similac Advance infant formula (but not in the powdered version) and in canned Nestlé* Juicy Juice (but not in the juice boxes). The BPA in the food probably came from an interior coating used in many cans.

*Which you are already boycotting anyway, right? 😉 No? Here’s the Nestle Boycott list.

What’s the problem with BPA?
It’s a synthetic estrogen (an endocrine disruptor) and has been linked to everything from childhood behavioral problems and breast cancer to obesity, infertility, and genital abnormalities, and possibly diabetes and heart disease as well. In other words, it’s a chemical you likely don’t want in your or your children’s bodies, yet “more than 92 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine.”

So sure, I’m buying mostly organic foods in those cans, but what good does it do us if the organic foods are chock full of BPA? Ugh.

Julie at Terminal Verbosity recently wrote about the new findings and has some suggestions on how you can reduce your BPA exposure.

  • Stop buying canned goods” – Use your crock pot to make beans or soups instead. Both generally freeze well.
  • Check your hard plastic food receptacles” – Or switch to glass food storage containers (I recently got a set at Costco for a under $40 I think.)
  • Beware plastic toys, especially teethers” – You’d think our children’s toys would be safe from this chemical, but nope, they’re not.

Julie has further information on these suggestions and links in her post.

The more I learn, the more I think I’m finally going to have to bite the bullet and start cooking my own beans and freezing them. I know it’s not hard (Tara @ Feels Like Home has tips in her post How To Prepare Dried Beans), it’s just one more thing that I don’t want to add to my list, however I think the health payoffs are definitely worth it. We’re exposed to enough harmful chemicals in our environment without having to eat them too.

Edited to add: If you’ve ever been concerned about possible lead leaching into your food from your crock pot, you’ll want to give this a read! Check out another post from Julie where she has several of the leading brands of crock pots tested for lead. (Spoiler alert: it’s good news!)

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Birth plan? Doula? Natural birth? Not here you don’t.

A sign posted at the Aspen OB/GYN Women’s Center in Provo, Utah has many women up in arms. What’s so offensive? Read for yourself.

The sign reads as follows:

Because the Physicians at Aspen Women’s Center care about the quality of their patient’s deliveries and are very concerned about the welfare and health of your unborn child, we will not participate in a “Birth Contract”, a Doulah Assisted, or a Bradley Method delivery. For those patients who are interested in such methods, please notify the nurse so we may arrange transfer of your care.

I first learned of this sign from Naomi, the Denver Doula, who posted it on Facebook. Being a doula (which is misspelled on the sign) herself, she took a particular interest in it. When she called the Center and inquired with the receptionist as to why the sign was posted she was told, “in case there is an emergency we don’t want anyone to get in the way of the doctor doing what he has to do.”

Annie from PhD in Parenting was inspired by the sign to write How Not To Have a Natural Birth and believes the center might as well have said:

Because Physicians at Aspen Women’s Center care only about doing things their own way and making as much money as possible from unnecessary birth interventions, even if it poses greater risks to the welfare and health your baby, we will not participate in a “Birth Contract”, a doula-assisted, or a Bradley Method delivery. For all patients who have done any research into having the safest birth possible, please notify the nurse so that we can transfer you to a facility that cares less about control and money.

Annie added, “I guess we can at least credit them with warning women in advance. Many hospitals with the same attitude don’t have a sign hanging out front.”

Amber responded, “I always thought the big ‘trust birth’ poster in my midwives office was a little cheesy. Now that I’ve seen the alternative, I think it’s truly marvelous. Really.”

Miriam Zoila Pérez of Radical Doula wrote a post called Signs You Don’t Want to See at Your OB-GYN’s Office. She believes the sign could be translated to say:

We don’t care at all what you want as a parent, or a person in labor. We want a patient who will sit quiet and do what we say–no matter what. Oh and if you have a partner you want involved, tough. Your desires don’t matter.

Miriam adds, “They should change the name of the center to the ‘Unborn Children Center’ since they don’t seem to care too much about the women involved.”

A commenter named Janna responded saying, “That’s what bothered me most about this hateful little sign–not once is the “welfare and health” of the MOTHER mentioned, just the “welfare and health” of the “unborn child” and the “quality” of the “deliveries.” Who would want to give birth in a place where they’re the lowest priority on their caregiver’s list? I hope women in this area have other options and the opportunity to have safe, healthy, supportive births.”

Does no doula, Bradley Method birth or birth “contract” equal no women’s rights?

Summer who writes at Wired for Noise says signs like this one and stories like the lack of choice with regard to our reproductive health and doctors’ personal “birth plans” make her sometimes think Doctors Hate Women.

What does it say when women have to escape, have to run away in order to do something as normal as give birth? What does it say when women are treated like children, talked down to, insulted, lied to, and handed letters telling them what the god-head doctor will allow or not allow. When all you want to do is give birth and you’re doctor is more concerned with telling you to sit down and shut up, what is that if not hatred?

I have to agree with Annie that at least some doctors are upfront with what they will and won’t “allow” as part of their practice. Kudos to them for being honest. Hopefully that will allow women to look for another care provider while she’s still early in her pregnancy.

Rest assured if the OB/GYN I had at my daughter’s birth would have given me a piece of paper with her “rules” or had a sign posted like that at the Aspen Women’s Clinic, I would have found another care provider pronto. Instead, however, she paid me lip service and acted like she cared about my birth plan (though she didn’t act very well and that should have been a big clue for me) and said we could “try” Hypnobirthing, etc. However, when push came to shove (no pun intended), it was her way or the highway. I had my healthy baby girl at the end of it and for that I am truly thankful, but I also got a lot more than I bargained for (and not in a good way). Then again it was that experience lead me to pursue a home birth for my second child and become a home birth advocate.

Although I admire the Aspen Women’s Center’s honesty, I find it truly offensive that they imply that if a woman wants a doula, natural birth, or has a birth plan, she is not concerned with the welfare and health of her baby (so much more personal than “unborn child” don’t you think?) or is even putting her baby’s life at risk. Studies have shown that when doulas attend birth, labors are shorter with fewer complications, babies are healthier and they breastfeed more easily. And how exactly is choosing a Bradley birth not good for the health or welfare of the baby? “Bradley® classes teach families how to have natural births. The techniques are simple and effective. They are based on information about how the human body works during labor. Couples are taught how they can work with their bodies to reduce pain and make their labors more efficient.” What about a birth plan or “contract?” Is that harmful to the “unborn child?” The American Pregnancy Association suggests, “Creating a birth plan can help you have a more positive birth experience.”

There are other things I find offensive as well, like Janna mentioned above, the mother does not seem to be included in the equation at all. Is there any concern for her “welfare and health?”

Who’s time money welfare are they really concerned with? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. I’ve obviously already drawn mine.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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