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Parenting on Purpose: 
Expert Advice Using The Enneagram

By Brian Thomas
Founder, A Child's

Is too much knowledge of self a good thing? Oftentimes people don't even think of their parenting style as being fluid or understand that they can alter their interactions with their children to make their relationships better.

Janet Levine's Know Your Parenting Personality: How to Use the Enneagram to Become the Best Parent You Can Be about using the Enneagram on the journey to become a better parent. This review starts off with a story. Back in the early 1990s I became the boyfriend of a woman who was into the "esoteric arts." Many people would label this study New Age, but most of the techniques and tools had been around for years and years. Tarot cards, psychic reading, the Celtic Runes were all used to figure out a bit more in the muck and mire of the every day. This woman whom I dated, we'll call her Annie, exposed me to a world that attempted to lead me from my own uber-unconsciousness into the light. 

Many people think that the new age rejects or even contradicts the Judeo-Christian beliefs that most people in the United States profess to hold dear, but I found that to be far from the truth, even as I wrestled constantly with my own skepticism of these arts and what constituted authenticate spiritual practice. 

The Enneagram actually fits somewhere in the outer edges of the debate about what constitutes knowledge of oneself and what represents the essence of our hidden nature. 

Janet Levine doesn't pretend to give the reader answers to the initial lofty question, but she does offer up the Enneagram as a way to look at what can make us better parents-not a bad pursuit, when you think about it. With chapter titles explaining the basic personality types and how they interface with other types, Know Your Parenting Personality: How to Use the Enneagram to Become the Best Parent You Can Be is a good book and a wonderful read!!

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Click here to register for your free ClubMom membershipBooster Seat Basics

By Jayne O'Donnell

I know, I know. Getting a 6-year-old who has been riding in the car like a "big girl" to go back to a child seat would be no easy task. But now there's considerable evidence that keeping older kids in booster seats until they reach small-adult size reduces injuries and saves lives.

Still, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says fewer than 7 percent of the 20 million U.S. children ages 4 to 8 are riding in booster seats. That's a frightening statistic when you consider that more than 500 children in this age group are killed in car accidents each year, and thousands more are injured. Safety experts say many of the deaths and injuries could be prevented by the proper use of booster seats.

Understanding the Necessity
When children wear adult safety belts too soon, their internal organs can be injured if the belts ride up and slice into their stomachs in a crash. If shoulder belts are put behind their backs, their torsos can jackknife forward, increasing the chance of head and abdominal injuries. More than 80 percent of 4- to 8-year-old passengers in 30,000 car crashes studied by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance were improperly restrained in adult-size safety belts. And the results were often tragic.

Autumn Alexander Skeen lost her 4-year-old son in a crash when an adult seat belt failed to keep him inside the car. Skeen is now a spokeswoman for Ford Motor Company's educational campaign promoting booster-seat use. "No parent should ever know the pain of losing a child, especially if death or injury is easily preventable," Skeen says.

A Simple Solution
Booster seats raise children up off the seat to position them in adult belts properly. These special seats are recommended for kids who weigh 40 to 80 pounds and are intended for use in the back seat of vehicles that have three-point lap/shoulder belts. (Remember, children younger than 13 should never ride up front in a car that has front air bags.) Children can usually safely use adult belts in the back seat once they reach a height of four feet nine inches and weigh 80 pounds.

Booster seats are available at many major department stores and at Web sites and superstores that carry children's products. Your vehicle's manufacturer or your insurance company may also be able to make suggestions about where to buy a booster seat in your neighborhood. Some insurance and car companies even have special programs that offer the seats for free or at a discount.

ClubMom's AutoPro, Jayne O'Donnell, is a Washington, D.C.-based reporter (and new mom!) whose automotive expertise and investigative reporting skills have helped break some of the biggest auto-safety stories of the past several years.

Copyright © 1999-2002 ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.

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When Mom Has a Temper Tantrum

Click here to register for your free ClubMom membershipBy Melanie Howard

Each month, my five-year-old son's kindergarten class compiles a "book of days," in which the children share their daily home experiences with one another. The next month, the book gets circulated to all the parents. Imagine my chagrin when James brought last month's book home, and there—between "Mollie and her mom made brownies" and "Jeremy helped his dad take out the trash"—was "James's mom was angry with him this morning." My temper, in writing, laminated and distributed for all the world to see.

Worse yet, I realized that almost all our recent mornings had degenerated into Mommy screamathons over seemingly minor matters—dawdling, misplaced gloves, sibling bickering. I felt terrible, and obviously James did, too. How could we break this angry pattern?

"Yelling is usually a sign that a parent has no strategy," says Thomas Phelan, a clinical psychologist in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and the author of the popular 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 (Child Management, Inc.). At a loss for what to do, moms may resort to yelling out of anger or frustration. But the end result is that parents feel guilty and children get the emotional message that they are bad.

It's because we love our children so dearly that they are able to provoke such strong feelings of anger in us, according to Nancy Samalin, a New York City–based parent educator and the author of Love and Anger: The Parental Dilemma (Penguin Paperbacks). But that doesn't make expressing that anger through hollering or put-downs appropriate—or effective. Samalin, who has conducted workshops for parents of toddlers through teens for more than 25 years, says the key is to feel and acknowledge your emotions but not let them control you and make you act irrationally.

Samalin and Phelan recommend drawing on these following strategies when your kids are driving you up the wall:

  • Exit or wait. When you feel your anger getting the better of you, briefly withdraw from the situation until you calm down, Samalin writes in Love and Anger. Phelan agrees: He suggests stepping out of the room, counting to ten, going to your bedroom, and closing the door—whatever it takes to restore your cool.

  • "I," not "you." Avoid attacking your child with "you" statements—"You are such a slob!" or "You'll never learn." Instead, think in terms of "I": "I don't like picking clothes up off your floor every day" or "I get upset when we're not on time." These are less hurtful and inflammatory.

  • Put it in writing. If you are too angry to speak, don't. If your child is old enough to read, express your feelings in writing. Sometimes just the time required to find pen and paper will help you to cool off.

  • Stay in the present. When your child makes you angry, don't work yourself into a tizzy by listing every offense he has committed in the past week and is likely to commit in the future. Stick to the issue at hand.

  • Restore good feelings. When you do lose it, reconnect with your child as soon as possible. That may mean saying you're sorry and giving a hug and kiss to a younger child. For an older child, you may want to offer an explanation of why you were angry along with an apology. Don't worry that apologizing will diminish your authority—it won't. It shows your child that you respect him and teaches him that everyone can be wrong sometimes.

  • Recognize what the problem is. Is it really your child's messy room? Or are you sleep-deprived? Feeling overwhelmed at work? Mad at your husband or mother or boss? Be aware of when you are more vulnerable to anger and resist the urge to transfer negative feelings to your child.

  • Make yourself—and all family members—accountable for lashing out. Institute a "no losing it" rule to make kids and parents aware of the times they go ballistic. But do it with a light touch. For instance, make a chart and tack on a sticker when one of you has an outburst. If one family member is accumulating a lot of stickers, it's time to talk about it.


  • Carry a tape recorder. When you feel yourself about to blow, turn it on. If you explode anyway, play back the tape and imagine yourself as the child on the receiving end.

  • Use cognitive therapy. This technique is sometimes used to calm fearful fliers. Analyze your thoughts and put them in perspective—or, as Phelan puts it, "deawfulize" the situation. (Fliers learn that their fear is of crashing, not flying. And since crashing is unlikely, their fear is not reasonable.) Ask yourself—when your children are fighting, say—if it's really that horrible. Think of the situation as aggravating but normal behavior that merits a calm, rational parental response.

Melanie Howard is a writer and a mother of two. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

Copyright © 1999-2002 ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Click here to register for your free ClubMom membershipBoy-Chasing on the Playground

By Liza Asher

Q: I take my 6-year-old daughter to the playground a lot after school, and I've noticed a weird phenomenon: The girls tend to get together in packs and single out a boy to chase around. The boy's always laughing and seems to enjoy it, but I'm curious as to why this happens at this age.

A: According to Stanley Greenspan, coauthor of The Challenging Child, children at this age move from being family-oriented to being peer-oriented. One way they explore their relationships with their friends and their position in the group is through play.

Playground chasing is about exploring friendship, says Sharon Gesse, a child-life specialist at Children's Hospital of Michigan, and it's a primitive form of flirtation. Once they get to school age, girls begin to gather in small cliques—and chasing boys is an activity that solidifies their standing as part of the "in" crowd. "This is a common way to be part of the group while satisfying their curiosity about boys," says Marilyn Segal, dean emeritus at the Family and School Center at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale.

Donna Pylman, a mother of three in Irvington, New York, witnessed that behavior when her daughter Marissa was in kindergarten and first grade. "She and her friend used to chase one of the boys because the friend liked him," she says. Now that Marissa is 10, the dynamics of the playground have changed. The boys usually play soccer at recess and the girls either join them or play amongst themselves.

School is the place where many children explore the sides of their personality that they keep in check at home. They also tend to develop different kinds of relationships. "Isabel plays with girlfriends outside of school," says her Mom, Susan Abraham of Montclair, New Jersey. "At school, her aggressive side and tendency to push the limits come out. Chasing boys is one expression of that."

If you're on the playground and see the game begin, you may want to keep an eye out to make sure nothing inappropriate occurs. Unless the boy who is being pursued is upset or uncomfortable by the attention, or the game becomes too physical and you are worried about someone getting hurt, avoid interfering.

Liza Asher is a mother of four and writes on parenting issues for national magazines. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Copyright © 1999-2002 ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.


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The Importance of Routines

By Liza Asher

At 8:30 p.m. at the Osborne family house in Burlington, Vermont, an exemplary bedtime process is underway. The three children are upstairs changing into their pajamas, brushing their teeth, and settling into their beds to read. There is remarkably little protest or variation. "Bedtime is the one area where our routine has not wavered," says mom Eleanor. "Since the boys were toddlers, we've been doing the same thing, and now it's automatic. This is usually the calmest period our day."

Regular schedules provide the day with a framework that orders a young child's world. Although predictability can be tedious for adults, children thrive on sameness and repetition. "Knowing what to expect from relationships and activities helps children become more confident," says Dr. Peter Gorski, assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachussetts.

Routines begin from the first days of life, says Susan Newman, a social psychologist in New Jersey, affecting the relationship between parent and child, setting the stage for rocky or smooth sailing as your child gets older. Babies, especially, need regular sleep and meal schedules and even routines leading up to those activities (a story every day before nap- or bedtime, for example).

As she gets older, when a child knows what is going to happen and who is going to be there, it allows her to think and feel more boldly and freely, Gorski adds. When a child does not know what to expect, his internal alarms go off. Ultimately, parents benefit as well: "Knowing what is expected cuts down on parenting struggles," says Jodi Mindell, child psychologist and author of Sleeping through the Night (HarperCollins).

Tips for Implementing Routines

Plan regular mealtimes: "It is so valuable to the developing spirit of children to have one meal together each day as a family," Gorski says. Sitting together at the dinner table gives children the opportunity to share their day's experience and get support for whatever they're feeling. The emphasis is on togetherness, so if your children need to eat earlier, at least give them dessert while you eat your meal. This is also an ideal time to introduce routines that give children responsibility, such as setting or clearing the table. Older children can be pre-dinner helpers and washer-uppers.

Wind down before bed: Consistent nightly rituals are soothing and take the battle out of bedtime. But after an exhausting day, it's tempting to skip the preliminaries when bedtime finally approaches. Don't, stresses Mindell: "About 20 to 30 minutes of calm, soothing, and consistent activities get children ready." Find what works best for your child—some children are revved up by a bath or fidgety when listening to a story. Yours may prefer doing a puzzle together or listening to music. For older children, bedtime is an ideal time for conversation. My 12-year-old son likes me to sit on his bed and talk for a few minutes before he goes to sleep.

In general, make the room conducive for sleep. Set aside a time each week for room cleanup (another important routine!), when your child puts away toys and books and you change the linens.

Be consistent but flexible: Routines are essential, but allow some room for flexibility. Although the Osborne family thought their bedtime routine was a blessing, there have been some problems recently. "I was completely rigid about my oldest son's bedtime, and he is now incapable of veering from that routine. If we are out later than his bedtime, he becomes upset," Eleanor says.

Unexpected events, like surprise guests or errands that cannot be postponed, may result in a nap in the car seat or a skipped meal. But if we react with frustration when this happens, our kids will, too. Try to prepare your child ahead of time for the change and reassure them that things will return to normal tomorrow.

Liza Asher is a mother of four and writes on parenting issues for national magazines. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Copyright © 1999-2002 ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Driving by Example

By Jayne O'Donnell

Want your children to grow up to be skilled, safe drivers? Point them in the right direction by setting a good example. Whether your kids are tots or teens, the driving habits they see in you may someday become their own.

Teach "no tailgating." Tailgating is one of the easiest—and most destructive—bad habits to fall into, especially in the stop-and-go, slow-go traffic that typifies both city and suburb. Try to develop a formula for determining a safe distance between yourself and the vehicle just ahead. One simple measure: Pick out a landmark, like a billboard or an overpass, on the road ahead. Wait for the car ahead to pass it. You should be able to count off three seconds before you go by.

Watch yourself in lots. The folks who create lab-rat mazes have nothing on the designers of modern mall parking lots. The temptation to cut across lanes and dart in and out of the traffic pattern seems irresistible. But don't. Drive slowly, stay patient, and be extra alert to the pedestrians and other drivers who surround you.

Yield at yield; stop at yellow. You probably learned both of these rules way back in Driver's Ed. And you probably forget to observe them every so often. But the results could be disastrous, especially if you slide through a yellow light and get T-boned by a T. rex-sized sport-utility vehicle jumping the gun at the other light.

On the right path. If you're driving below—or even just at—the speed limit, the right-hand lane is the best place for you. It seems more drivers than ever are busting speed limits and weaving in and out of traffic to get past those who aren't. Driving the limit, while legal, can cause traffic jams, frayed tempers, and uncontrolled bouts of hyperactive lane-changing by the speeders behind you. Leave the left lane (and the troopers) to them.

Forward, drive! Unless you absolutely have to (backing out of a parking space, for example), don't drive in reverse. It's too easy to lose control of your car and have it spin out if you go too far or too fast backwards. If you miss a turn, keep going forward, turn, and circle back when it's safe.

Pay attention. Driver distraction, which includes everything from talking on a car phone to fiddling with the CD player, is a huge traffic safety issue. In fact, studies have shown a correlation between car phone chat-ups and accidents. Keep your mind and eyes on the road, and that means, with the exception of emergencies, staying off cell phones. If you need to make a call, or change that CD, wait until you find a safe place to pull over.

ClubMom's AutoPro, Jayne O'Donnell, is a Washington, D.C.-based reporter (and new mom!) whose automotive expertise and investigative reporting skills have helped break some of the biggest auto-safety stories of the past several years.

Copyright © 1999-2002 ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Twelve Rules that Get Kids to Think Their Way to Better Behavior

By Elisa Medhus, MD

Parenting sure would be a piece of cake if kids waltzed out of the womb knowing how to behave. But since we're not that lucky, teaching them the rules of civility is our cross to bear. The tricky part: making sure they don't counterattack us in the process, which means we need to find ways to get our kids to use their own internal dialogue to follow the clear and reasonable rules of behavior that we establish. In other words, we need to get them to think their way to good behavior by getting them to comply with the rules we establish because they know it's the right thing to do, instead of following them because they're afraid we'll go ballistic and ground them until their grandchildren are potty trained.

There are 12 prerequisites to our discipline program that can help us accomplish this goal without too much blood, sweat and tears. If we follow them, we're sure to encourage self-direction instead of external direction in our kids:

  • First, if we want our children to decide, inwardly, to comply with a rule, it needs to be one they agree with. If they don't understand a rule or agree with its purpose and meaning, they won't follow it because it's the proper thing to do. If they do follow it, it's because they're afraid of being hounded, reprimanded, criticized or punished.

  • Second, we have to treat our children with respect. Treating them as inferior puts us in the position of being something they need to react to through aggression or surrender. If we want them to trust their ability to make the right decisions on their own, we have to show them that we respect their ability to do so.

  • Third, our discipline needs to be consistently enforced. When we're inconsistent, it sends mixed messages, making it impossible for our kids to be consistent while assessing their own behavior. (Is this the time it matters that I'm good, or not? They end up using external cues to make that decision.)

  • Fourth, we need to model our own good behavioral choices. There's no sense trying to get them to stop cursing if we say things that would make Marilyn Manson blush, right? Double standards like this create a confusion that makes creating clear internal dialogue tough.

  • Fifth, we need to try to keep our cool. Yelling, screaming, or wigging out in any way brings to a screeching halt any attempts our children may have to internally reflect upon their poor choice. Then what do they do? They put the thing in reverse and drive right over us. We become the bad guys. If I say, "Erik, you haven't even cleaned your room! I'm sick and tired of having to remind you!" Erik is going to spend the next hour wishing he had been adopted at birth by a troop of chimpanzees. He sure as heck won't be thinking about going on a cleaning frenzy, that's for sure.

  • Sixth, it's important to address the behavior, not the child. Saying something like, "You're so lazy! I can't believe you haven't started your chores!" is a statement that attacks a child's self-worth, not his bad choices. So eventually, he's gonna assume every mistake he makes is a reflection of his self-worth. He'll also be more likely to counterattack, shifting all of his focus externally on what meanies we are rather than thinking about his behavior.

  • Seventh, we can cut the blabber. The more we lecture, explain, nag, negotiate, threaten, coax, bribe, plead, whine, beg, direct, demand, insist, warn or interrogate, the more static our children will have to cut through before they can think about their choices. 

  • Eighth, our children must always be the rightful owners of their problems. Say Rachel is about to miss the bus to school because she can't find her favorite hair scrunchie. A statement like, "Jeez, the bus is coming in 5 minutes, so I guess you might have to walk to school. Well, at least it's a nice morning for a walk," gets Rachel to think about her poor choice and the consequences she might experience as a result. On the other hand, a remark like, "Holy cow, how can anyone get so bent out of shape about some silly hair thing. I'll drive you to school, but if I'm late to work, you're never gonna hear the end of it!" will just make Rachel think about what monsters we are. And since we're assuming ownership of her problem, it implies that we don't have faith in her ability to handle it alone, and solving it is more important to us than to her. So she happily drops the whole enchilada (and future ones) right in our lap.

  • Ninth, we need to nix most of the negative words in our discipline language. Words like "stop," "no," "can't ," "quit" or "don't" encourage us to define our children in terms of their flaws, not their strengths, and it gives them every excuse to lash out against us, which means they're way too busy to think about their behavior . Here's an example to help illustrate this point:

Externally directed parenting:

Mom: "Tommy, don't run around the pool, or you might get hurt! 

Tommy ignores her because he's sick of being told what he can't do. Of course he becomes a human hockey puck.

Mom: "I told you not to run! I just knew this was going to happen."

Internally directed parenting:

Tommy races around the pool like an over-wound maniac. He slips, he falls, he cries.

Mom: "I'm so sorry you forgot about our rule to not run around the pool." (A remark that gives Tommy no reason to get mad at her.)

So the first example just makes Tommy feel furious and maybe a little stupid. The second encourages him to think about his mistake. 

  • Tenth, we should avoid using external influences to change their behavior. Threats, bribes, ultimatums, or rewards are examples. Invoking a higher authority like Santa or the Easter Bunny is another no-no. Using these fictitious authorities or even the ol' "Wait til your father get home," trick lets our children know that we (and they) can't handle their problems alone. Sure, they help our children behave (around the holidays, anyway,) but for all the wrong reasons. These tricks teach them that the answer to all of their problems is in the outside world, not within them-that they must be guided by external beacons, not internal ones. 

  • Eleventh, with rare exception, our children should never be rescued from the consequences of their misbehavior. Sure, it's easier to pick up their dirty clothes in their room. Hey, as far as I'm concerned, it's a whole lot easier to live their lives for them, because we can do it so much better and faster than they can! And who honestly enjoys the conflict and confrontation that comes when we don't? But if our kids are forced to deal with the consequences of their bad choices, they will learn to come up with their own solutions rather than rely on others to come up with them.

  • Twelfth, never use ignoring as a discipline strategy. Frankly, ignoring infuriates children driving them to ever-more obnoxious behaviors.

If we try to follow these twelve rules, chances are that our children will find it natural to use self-direction to figure out their choices, assess the consequences of those choices, and decide how to correct bad ones. The common thread in all of these rules is that we must give our children all the right reasons to behave. In the self-directed, those reasons always come from within.


Side Notes...

Elisa Medhus, M.D. is the author of Author of
 Raising Children Who Think for Themselves

 She has a website at

Dr. Medhus lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and their five children ages 16, 14, 10, 7 and 5.



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The Bandwagon Phenomenon
Why Our Kids Hunger to Fit in to the Fickle Fold
By Elisa Medhus, MD

           Now, more than ever before, it ‘s painfully obvious that many of the world’s children would rather die or kill than not fit in. Although these few represent the extreme, what about our own children? What kind of pressure do they feel to belong, to be popular, to be worthy of their peer group? That’s an easy, one-word answer: intense. Okay, maybe two words, then: very intense. Sure, we’re frantically searching for ways to quell the horrific fallout that occurs when children are rejected, teased, and bullied by their peers by counseling the victims and the predators, by tightening school security, by home-schooling our kids, and so on. But this is like trimming the withering tips of the branches on a very sick tree. Why don’t we look to the roots to cure that tree by asking ourselves, What drives our kids to require peer acceptance and approval?

            To understand this root, let’s examine another—the root of human behavior. We are, much like wolves and dogs, pack animals. Okay, so we don’t howl at the moon, roll in nasty stuff or sniff inappropriate body parts, but we do have one vital pack animal instinct—the urge to belong to our pack. In our case, we may have many packs—our neighbors, our co-workers, our gender, our friends or all of humanity, but in the case of our children, their most influential pack is their peer group.

            There are two ways to satisfy that urge for pack acceptance:

  • To earn it by coming up with a unique contribution or meaningful role that betters the pack’s welfare.

  • To beg for it by pleasing the pack, conforming with the pack, abiding by those arbitrary and often warped standards of worthiness that the pack thrusts in our faces.

            Sadly, most of humanity has chosen the latter one, probably because it’s easier to let someone else think for us. Also, over the centuries, requiring people to think and act a certain way has been a convenient way for our leaders to dominate the unruly and uncivilized masses. The Spanish Inquisition. Need I say more?

            So instead of raising self-directed children who make their choices based on internal cues like their morals, their values, their past experiences, and their concept of self, we’ve been raising externally directed children who rely on the outside word, like their peers, the media, song lyrics and movies, as guiding beacons. And yep, we’ve been doing it for centuries.

            Self directed children use reason like a sword to cut through these external distractions so they’re free to make their choices because those choices are right. Externally directed children make whatever choice is necessary to win acceptance and approval. And to do that, they use all the choice distortion tools at their disposal—excuses, self-deceit, denial, rationalizations, justifications, etc. This makes it easy for them to act on impulse, to shirk responsibility, to thumb their noses at accountability, and to succumb to every temptation, whim, mood or desire. Look around you at the world today. Read the paper. Watch the evening news. It’s tragically clear what the repercussions of this choice mechanism are.

            So what can we do? Simple. We can teach our children how to think for themselves—to recover their true power of thought, to learn how to be rewarded with acceptance as a consequence of their contributions instead of needing acceptance and thereby conforming.

             This concept can be disseminated through many avenues quite easily. In fact, a pilot program is in the planning stages that would include “self-direction skills” in elementary school curricula. For those who want immediate intervention for their own children, Raising Children Who Think for Themselves provides practical parenting strategies that encourage self-direction in children. If we’re successful, and we will be, we’ll proudly bless our children with a safer, happier and saner future. A world that they deserve.

© 2001 by Elisa Medhus, M.D.

Side Notes...

Elisa Medhus, M.D. is the author of Author of
 Raising Children Who Think for Themselves

 She has a website at

Dr. Medhus lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and their five children ages 16, 14, 10, 7 and 5.


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The Importance of a Strong Family Identity
By Elisa Medhus, MD

Creating a family identity is an effective way to instill our children with a sense of permanence, belonging, and stability, paving the road for raising confident, independent, moral children. Since the family is our children's first "pack," it's important to do all we can to satisfy that intense pack animal urge to belong-to feel accepted by others.

The stronger that identity is, the more comfortable our children will be in their own skins, because they are a unique part of a strong group-a group that accepts them as they are. This is crucial for their developing faith in their own inner choice-making abilities rather than relying on peer pressure, the media, and other outside influences as guiding beacons. Sadly, children whose families have weak identities often seek guidance from less pristine influences to achieve a sense of belonging that they haven't been able to gain within the confines of their homes.

Any way that we can convey this sense of identity is important. Family traditions and rituals, whether they accompany holidays or not, are something to which our children look forward. Some examples include going on yearly vacations to a specific destination, singing "Happy Birthday" in a special, wacky way, having little family sayings, serving special dishes at holidays, going out on "buddy days" with each child, having father-daughter dinners, mother-son outings, creating special handshakes for each child, and so on. Watching family videos together and having photo albums that chronicle the years of family life handy can provide a strong sense of unity and a few belly laughs to boot.

Family dinners are crucial opportunities to strengthen this sense of identity, because it's a wonderful time for children to freely express themselves as individuals as well as members of the family. However, it must be a completely safe environment free from evaluations, criticisms, or judgments that might hinder this freedom of expression. We should never denounce what they say and never feel compelled to offer a better idea every time. 

A strong family identity also makes the job of instilling values in our children easier. We might try saying things such as, "We don't tell lies in our family," or "The Vazquez family shows respect for their friends," "We use words in our family, not hitting." This voicing of values demonstrates what we hold dear as a family, but actions pack an even greater punch. For instance, to show my children the benefits of generosity, we enjoy going out on Christmas Eve to distribute blankets, socks, mittens, and jackets to the homeless. To show them the virtues of a strong work ethic as well as the importance of loyalty and responsibility, we volunteer as a family to staff the garage sales and other fundraisers for our schools.

In summary, a strong family identity is like a coat of armor protecting our children from the often cold, harsh world beyond the confines of that white picket fence. It insulates them from those outside influences that would otherwise rob them of their self-esteem, weaken their concept of self, and thwart their attempts to rebound from their mistakes and failures. Most importantly it safeguards them from all that would sabotage the sacred trust they must have in their own inner voice-their ability to inwardly make choices because they are right rather than rely on external beacons to make their choices contingent upon outside approval and acceptance. What a simple strategy. What far-reaching, momentous repercussions for our children, our families, and society as a whole.

© 2001 by Elisa Medhus, M.D.

Side Notes...

Elisa Medhus, M.D. is the author of Author of
 Raising Children Who Think for Themselves

 She has a website at

Dr. Medhus lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and their five children ages 16, 14, 10, 7 and 5.



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Click here to register for your free ClubMom membershipWhen Little Kids Curse

By Jenifer Whitten Woodring

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. Unless they come from the mouths of babes—my babes, that is. I'll never forget when my son, Patrick, then a darling two-year-old with angelic curls and adorable blue eyes, began saying, "Damn it, Mommy!" with both feeling and enunciation. How could I teach a toddler who was just learning to talk that some words are better left unsaid?

Preschoolers have an uncanny ability to pick up words—all words—that they hear. In my case, I must admit, Patrick probably heard it from his parents. And what kids pick up on TV, on the playground, in the store, or at child care is bound to stick. Eventually, your angel is going to utter something downright demonic, no matter how much you try to shield him.

Your little one's first cussing episode may seem funny at first, but don't laugh. "Swearing can get them into big trouble when they go to school. It's better to teach them now so they don't have to suffer the consequences later," advises Kathy Burklow, a psychologist at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

Curbing a Cusser

While there are many ways parents can help children avoid bad language, there is no substitute for avoiding it yourself. James O'Connor, the author of Cuss Control (Three Rivers Press), suggests trying alternative exclamations like shoot, blast it, nuts, phooey, for crying out loud, and dagnabit. Silly terms—malarkey, balderdash, hogwash—will get your kids to laugh, making them more likely to want to imitate them.

Most children under three won't comprehend that certain words are unacceptable. Often, ignoring the offense may be the best defense when dealing with the very young. But after their third birthday, they're more likely to understand that some words are naughty. So take action. "Get down on your knees, look your child directly in the eye, and tell him, 'That's a word that we don't use in our family,'" recommends Linda Metcalf, the author of Parenting Toward Solutions (Prentice Hall). "Make the words—not the child—the culprit to give him a chance to move away from the behavior."

If your child persists in using such language, show him you mean business with disciplinary action. For a four-year-old, that may mean calling a short time-out or taking away a favorite toy. Kids a little older may benefit from time spent in their rooms.

Fortunately, Patrick's transgression turned out to be an easy fix: We convinced him to substitute the more acceptable "darn it." It didn't take long for him to start correcting adults who failed to use this alternative.

Writer Jenifer Whitten Woodring has two children and lives in Pennsylvania.

Copyright © 1999-2002 ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Click here to register for your free ClubMom membershipSanity Tips for Eating Out With the Kids

By Marion Winik

Believe me when I tell you that the young gentlemen of my household, ages 12 and 9, are not cosmopolitan or gourmands. The best thing you could ever pack in their lunch boxes is a nice cold package of Lunchables, and they love beef jerky, french fries, and pizza. But - here's the surprise - they also sometimes get a yen for sushi, tofu, fried calamari, artichokes, Mexican food, or dim sum. They love to eat out, and they love to eat well.

I'm afraid I can't attribute their tastes to any exceptional quality of their attitudes or palates. I guess it's simply a result of continued exposure to these foods and environments. According to Isobel Contento, a professor of nutrition education at Columbia University's Teachers College in New York City, "Continued exposure to new foods is extremely important. Research suggests that children sometimes need to be exposed to food ten to fifteen times before they develop a liking to the food."

Research by Contento and many of her colleagues supports my hunch: Any kid can learn to dine out and enjoy a broader range of foods, if given the chance. Unfortunately, resisting the temptation to feed kids only "kid food" ordered from "kid menus" at "kid-friendly" restaurants is no piece of Tastycake. But if you don't, you wind up with kids whose narrow palates and general cluelessness about restaurant behavior are the self-fulfilling prophecies of Ronald, Wendy, and the Colonel.

I love going out to eat, but I don't love anything that comes in a nugget or is served in molded plastic. My solution is this: While we do consume our share of burgers and pizza, our family also patronizes real restaurants. If you're ready to try something a little more civilized and adventurous than another trip to KFC, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Tasting Tips for Kids

The journey of a thousand meals begins with a single bite - or something like that. Here are some clues to guiding that first morsel safely into the hangar.

  • Don't make a huge deal out of the new food in question. Start simply - just let your kids see the grown-ups eating and enjoying it.

  • While you don't want to flat-out lie, remember the old "tastes like chicken" ploy. You might say in your most casual tone, "Want a bite?" Then, when you're asked what it is, say, "It's like steak" (in other words, it's venison). Or try, "Taste a bite and see if you can guess."

  • Never eschew bribes: "A quarter for the first person who can guess what it is." "Taste it and you can pick the dessert."

  • If they absolutely hate it, do not make them eat it. If they're not sure, you might suggest a second taste, perhaps with soy sauce, pepper, or lemon to personalize the flavor.

Rules for Restaurants

Want to get your kids through an eating-out experience without a meltdown? Here are a few guidelines to make it more fun for everyone.

  • Do keep paper and crayons or pens in your purse at all times. This way, the gimmick of kid-friendly restaurants is yours anywhere. Older kids can play hangman and "dots."

  • Don't make a federal case about dressing up. Most restaurants these days don't mind casual clothes, and by choosing one with a relaxed dress code, you'll eliminate one area of dissent.

  • Don't let kids have too much sugary soda before the food arrives.

  • Don't let the waitperson serve meals to the kids first. If you do, the timing will get screwed up: They'll lose patience before you've finished your main course.

  • Don't bring other kids who have more limited palates than your own do. You don't want to get an "ew" thing going.

  • Do allow a field trip or two to the bathroom or the lobby. Accompany your kids the first time to demonstrate acceptable behavior.

  • Don't let your child order some expensive item she's never had before without having her first try an appetizer or tasting portion.

Marion Winik is a writer and a commentator on NPR. Her latest book is The Lunch-Box Chronicles (Vintage).

Copyright © 1999-2002 ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Click here to register for your free ClubMom membershipMom's Health Alert

By Dana Sullivan

You know when your child's next doctor's appointment is right down to the hour. But how diligent are you about keeping up with your own health checkups? If you have a Pap smear every year and leave it at that, you're not doing enough, says Dr. Vivian Dickerson, the division director of general obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at Irvine Medical Center.

"A lot of diseases that begin to develop in your twenties and thirties, like cervical cancer and heart disease, are often silent at first," says Dickerson. "But if they're caught early through screening tests, they may be cured or corrected before more serious complications develop." That's one reason to let your ob/gyn know that you're using her as your primary health-care provider and to make sure that she's comfortable in that role. If she assumes that you also see a family physician or internist, she may not address issues such as skin-cancer and cholesterol screenings during your yearly exam.

If you're between the ages of 18 and 40, here are five important health exams and screenings that can help doctors pinpoint disease early.

1. Breast Exam

Ideally, you began doing a monthly breast self-exam at age 20. If you don't know how, next time you see your doctor, have her show you. Until then, here's a basic description: Lie on your back with a pillow under your left shoulder and your left hand behind your head. With your right hand, use the flat parts of your three middle fingers (not your fingertips) to palpate your left breast. Press firmly around the breast in a circular (clockwise) or up-and-down motion, or mentally divide your breasts into sections and examine each one separately. Now use your left hand to examine your right breast. Next, repeat the exam standing up, making sure to check the armpit area. Finally, do a visual exam in the mirror, keeping alert to any changes in the appearance of your breasts. Remember that breast tissue is full of glands, which can sometimes swell and feel hard, probably due to hormonal fluctuations. Also, some women's breasts are just naturally lumpy. However, it's important that you inform your doctor of any lump or any change such as tenderness, pain, or discharge. She can decide whether a breast ultrasound (to check for cysts) or a mammogram (to screen for a benign or cancerous tumor) is necessary.

How often should you do the exam? Monthly. The best time is about a week after your period ends, since this is when hormone levels are at their lowest and your breasts aren't tender or swollen. If you're not menstruating, due to pregnancy or breast-feeding, do the exam at the same time each month. And starting at age 40 (or sooner, if you have a family history of breast cancer), you should have a yearly mammogram.

2. Gynecologic Exam

A thorough gynecological checkup involves both a breast and pelvic exam. The pelvic includes a Pap smear, an examination of the vaginal walls, and possibly a check of the rectum. With a Pap smear—recommended for all women over 18 and for any girl who's sexually active—the doctor scrapes cells from the cervix to check for evidence of abnormalities, which could indicate or be precursors to cancer.

How often should you have the exam? Once a year. If you have a family history of certain cancers or abnormalities such as ovarian cysts, your health-care provider may wish to see you more often.

3. Cholesterol Screening

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends a blood test to screen for high cholesterol starting at age 45. However, high cholesterol is associated with coronary heart disease, so if you have a family history of heart disease, are more than 20 percent over your ideal body weight, have high blood pressure, or eat a high-fat diet, you should have this test done immediately, no matter what your age. If your cholesterol is above normal, your doctor will likely recommend dietary changes and an exercise program and may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication. The most accurate test involves drawing a sample of blood from your arm, then sending it to a lab for analysis. Don't rely on finger-prick tests that give instant results, since they are often unreliable.

How often should you be screened? Every three to five years, if everything is normal. If not, this test should be done yearly.

4. Type II Diabetes Screening

If you're of African, Hispanic, Native American, or Asian descent or have a parent or sibling with the disease, you're at a higher risk of developing type II diabetes—a condition in which the body becomes resistant to insulin, a hormone that is essential in helping the body convert food into energy. The illness often begins gradually after age 40, most often in people who are overweight. It can typically be controlled with diet and exercise. If you fall into a high-risk category, you should have this test done no matter how old you are; otherwise, you can wait until age 45. (This test doesn't screen for type I diabetes, which usually begins in childhood or adolescence, or gestational diabetes, which affects pregnant women.)

How often should you be screened for type II diabetes? Every three years.

5. Skin-Cancer Screening

Regular screenings for skin cancer are recommended beginning at age 18. If you haven't yet had this exam, it's important to do so. Your dermatologist or primary-care physician should examine your skin, from the top of your head to the soles of your feet, looking for suspicious moles, freckles, nodules, or lesions. If, during a self-exam, you notice changes in a freckle, mole, or lesion (it's bigger than a pencil eraser, it develops irregular borders, or it bleeds), tell your health-care provider immediately.

How often should you be screened? Yearly, either by a dermatologist or as part of your annual physical. However, if you have a history of chronic exposure to sunlight (either due to hobbies such as swimming or gardening or because of your job), have had one or more blistering sunburns, or have a family or personal history of skin cancer, your doctor may want to see you more often. Self-exams are recommended at least every three months, more often if you're at high risk.

Dana Sullivan writes about health for several national magazines and is a regular contributor to ClubMom.

Copyright © 1999-2002 ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Click here to register for your free ClubMom membershipMy Favorite Mom-to-Be Look

By Julie Weingarden

Pregnancy doesn't have to mean hiding under shapeless shirts and leggings or tent dresses; the trick is to find a look that spells confidence and comfort. Here, four women share their favorite apparel picks.

Name: Sandy Frinton
Age: 32
Hometown: Poughkeepsie, New York
How far along: 28 weeks
Favorite look: Jeans

I'm a preppy, classic dresser, and I typically wear clothes from the Gap, Eddie Bauer, and L.L. Bean. My husband likes me to wear the kinds of things I always wear. He doesn't like "pregnancy clothes." I don't think he's used to my new body.

My favorite maternity clothes are my husband's old Levi's jeans from college. I found a bunch of them when we were cleaning one day. They're in all different sizes so I can grow into some of them. His big jeans were a great find because I'm still too small for maternity jeans. His Levi's are baggy, long, and so comfortable. You can't beat the fact that they were free. I don't want to invest money in clothes until I'm skinny again.

People say that I look cute in his jeans and I like that I don't look as big to the outside world as I really am. I top the jeans with his old oxford shirts—white, pink, yellow, and pinstriped. I just throw them in the washer and dryer and roll up the sleeves. With his clothes, I'm sporting bigger sizes, but I feel confident knowing I've kept my style.

Name: Jill Holder
Age: 33
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
How far along: 36 weeks
Favorite look: Power suit

I'm very short, so I'm conscious about looking round and stocky. I like to wear clothes that give me a shape. Most maternity clothes are "tenty," like smocks and baby doll dresses. I just can't do the look where clothes balloon out over the belly.

So my best find has been the business suit I bought for less than $50. It's charcoal gray and has pants, a skirt, and a jacket with a zipper down the front and two pockets on each breast. The jacket also has a clip so I can taper it in the back. I like that I can switch off between the skirt and the pants. Everything is made out of cotton jersey, so it's comfortable and machine washable.

I spice up the suit with a pair of black leather mules. It's easy to forget I'm pregnant because I look so chic in the outfit. I can walk into a meeting and be taken seriously. One guy at work didn't even know I was pregnant. When I wear bulky maternity clothes, people just look at my belly. When I wear my suit, people look at my face.

Name: Angie Tucker
Age: 29
Hometown: Garden Grove, California
How far along: 26 weeks
Favorite look: Stretchy separates

It's difficult to find stylish clothes that I'd wear if I weren't pregnant. It's bad enough that you gain weight, yet don't look pregnant until the fifth or sixth month—the last thing you want to do is wear dorky clothes.

I'm normally thin and big-busted with an hourglass shape. I like to dress sexy and wear fitted fashions, and pregnancy is no exception. My favorite look is a long, black stretch polyester-blend skirt with a black short-sleeve top. The top was $14 and the skirt was $20. The shirt is stretchy and snug. It shows off my belly and has a scoop neck that looks great, especially when I wear a little choker necklace. The skirt has a drawstring waist so I can roll over the top to make it shorter if I want. I wear black slides to show my toes. I get a lot of compliments when I wear my sexy outfit. It's nice to know I can be pregnant and keep my personal style

Name: Jadie Gamble
Age: 38
Hometown: Atlanta
How far along: 31 weeks
Favorite look: Bathing suit

I'm kind of chubby, and I got bigger sooner than other women. When I was six months pregnant, I probably looked like I was at eight months. I'm really big now and people ask me if I'm having twins. But I'm not worried about the weight gain—I think I look pretty good all around. In fact, I like showing off my pregnancy.

I bought a great black one-piece swimsuit with spaghetti straps for $35. It has a skirt that makes my thighs look nice, and its scoop neck shows off my cleavage. The other day I felt so good in it, I pranced around the pool.

I actually feel more confident in a bathing suit when I'm pregnant than I do when I'm not expecting. In a bathing suit, people definitely can see that I'm pregnant. My husband likes when I show some skin, too. He says I look like a really cute pregnant chick.

Julie Weingarden is a writer based in Royal Oak, Michigan.

Copyright © 1999-2002 ClubMom, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Parenting on Purpose: Expert Advice Using the Enneagram

Booster Seat Basics

When Mom Has A Temper Tantrum

Boy Chasing on the Playground

The Importance of Routines

Driving by Example

Twelve Rules that Get Kids to Think Their Way to Better Behavior

The Bandwagon Phenomenon
Why Our Kids Hunger to Fit in to the Fickle Fold

The Importance of a Strong Family Identity

When Little Kids Curse

Sanity Tips for Eating Out With the Kids

Mom's Health Alert

My Favorite Mom-to-Be Look

Return to Main Parenting Page


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