Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Sound of Music

It all started when I rented a video for my family to watch. I decided it was time for a little bit of culture, so I picked a film I loved as a child. Did I say loved? I mean adored, worshiped, memorized. I had seen this film so many times in my childhood that I had not bothered to watch it in the last 19 years. But this was the day. My daughter Cora was four and given to memorizing snatches of songs from her favorite TV shows, so I knew she would be down with it. Secretly I was planning a whole slew of musicals over the next couple of months. What I hadn’t figured out was how I was going to get my husband to watch them.
I got home and my husband spied the movie clutched lovingly in my hand. “Oh no, you didn’t” he said in horror. You must understand, this film was absolutely vilified in his household. A single note sung by Julie Andrews would have his whole family sprinting to the nearest exit. Nevertheless I persevered and my husband made himself scarce for the next couple hours, emerging only to utter snide comments.
As for Cora, she was absolutely enthralled. She sat, mouth agape, listening to every song. The dialogue she was less interested in, but no one really watches The Sound of Music for the dialogue anyway. And we did fast forward past the long instrumental piece at the beginning—-straight to Julie Andrews famously twirling on an Austrian hillside.
It was as good as I remember in many ways. But I also saw its weaknesses for the first time. The songs are simple and repetitive. The plot is a stretch by any means—-Maria and Captain Von Trap fall in love after talking maybe three times? The sixteen-year-old Louisa is happy to wait “a year or two” before dating? And perhaps most far-fetched, all seven Von Trap children adore Maria after one verse of “My favorite things”. Finally, I realized that this was the beauty of the film. It made love seem so easy.
The next day my daughter had some new lyrics to sing. Over breakfast she belted out “How do you solve a problem like Ramia?”. Well, close enough.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Chore Chart

Rewarding 3-5 Year-Olds for Good Behavior
(P.S. It’s not bribery!)
Bribery is a crime. It happens when someone offers something so enticing, so desirable that saying no just isn’t possible. Ten thousand dollars to lie about someone’s whereabouts. A pony if you tell me where you put my keys. See, it’s not possible to say no, especially when the requested behavior is so easy to do. Bribery is not a policy I condone. So when I tell you to reward your preschooler for good behavior, that’s exactly what I mean—a small token of your appreciation for accomplishing something that’s a little bit hard to do. You know, those things kids are supposed to be doing by themselves every day, but sometimes don’t.
The chore chart is a simple way to create a positive interaction. After all, those preschoolers are just too busy playing, exploring and building to stop and do something as mundane as putting their toys away. Even if you remind them a million times, it may not get done.
The goal with the chore chart is to get the behavior you want without the whining and foot-dragging you don’t. After using this technique for just a week, my daughter started clearing her dishes from the table after every meal without being reminded. She even did it when we forgot to do the chore chart.
Your child, like almost every mammal, can be trained to respond to positive reinforcement. Eventually, you drop the rewards, but the good behavior continues because it is now routine.
For preschoolers, these behavioral inducements should be something fun, small, and temporary. My local toy store has a wall of trinkets for $1 to $2. I pay an average of five bucks a week for whine-free, blissful tooth-brushing, dish-clearing, and room-cleaning.
So here’s how it works:
1.Make a chart or list of jobs the child needs to do to earn the reward. The number of jobs to do is the same as the child’s age, ie. 3 jobs for a 3 year, 4 for a four-year old, etc. Write a short phrase or word and put a picture next to it, then laminate (see directions below for easy laminated wall chart). Using an erasable marker, kids get to cross out each job as it is completed. Visit for markers.
2.Always make it clear what the reward will be. It can still be a surprise, as long as the child understands the scale of the surprise: I’ve got something in this envelope for you when you finish your jobs.
3.Be positive. Praise the child for what she has accomplished toward the goal instead of nagging about what she hasn’t done.
4.Don’t sweat it. If your child forgets to do a chore or chooses not to, don’t worry about it. The opportunity to remind your child why he needs to do the chore will arise, and you can use positive language to do it. You didn’t do all your jobs today so you don’t get a surprise tonight, but I bet you will do a better job of remembering tomorrow.
Three- to five-year- olds love to be independent. By remembering to do the chart herself, your child already feels positively rewarded. You can up the ante by having her show you the completed chart (and reacting appropriately) or gathering the family around to see her get her reward. That kind of public recognition is something you never get with bribery. It’s so… secret. Your child’s good behavior, on the other hand, should be shared with everyone.

Easy laminated wall chart:
1.Take a 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper or card stock and draw or paste on pictures to represent what your child needs to do.
2.Write a short phrase next to each picture, like brush teeth, comb hair, or make bed.
3.Starting at the bottom of the page, put a strip of shiny cello-tape across the paper. Firmly press the tape in place.
4.Place another strip of tape above this one, overlapping slightly, and press it firmly in place.
5.Repeat the process all the way to the top of the page.
6.Hang on the wall using a thumbtack.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Picky Picky Picky

What is it about a my daughter Cora that makes her so against trying new foods? Is it something she picked up from her friends? Her father and me? Is is simply that she's four years old?
Today, when she asked to make her own quesadilla for lunch, I had no idea it would turn into a battle of wills. I just did my mom duties. I placed a tortilla on a plate in front of her, then handed her the bag of shredded cheese mix. Then, as I watched, she began separating the cheddar cheese from the jack cheese. "I just want the yellow cheese, Mama," she explained. For some reason, this infuriated me. "Don't do that," I said, "Just put it all on. You'll like it."
"No!" she responded. After the cheese was separated, Cora slowly began arranging the cheese into a smiley face on her tortilla. A few minutes later she announced it was ready. "It's for Jody" she said, gesturing to her little brother. Are you kidding me? All this and she's not even going to eat it?
Eventually I agreed to make her a cheese sandwich, and her little brother was more than happy to eat the quesadilla with both kinds of cheese on it. As I drove her to preschool I tried to shake the anger that had so easily taken hold me. After all, it was just a sandwich. There were many foods she liked and ate. I guess what really bothered me is the idea of having a picky child. How could I, an open-minded, omnivorous eater, have a child that refuses to even taste new things? Perhaps it is just the beginning of my daughter's lifelong battle to separate herself from me, her way of saying "I am part of you, but I am not you." This is the reality of having a daughter. Because she will look like me, be my gender, and take after me in many ways she would rather not acknowledge for the rest of her life, she must work that much harder to establish her own identity. Now all I have to do is accept that.

My new soup recipe!

Cream of Turkey Soup

Full of vegetables, grains, and leftover turkey, this soup is filling and inexpensive. Tastes great too!

2 T butter
1/3 cup chopped shallots
2 cups sliced Crimini mushrooms
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped carrots
1/4 t salt
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup rice, Israeli cous cous, quinoa, or quick-cooking wild rice
2-3 cups shredded turkey
2/3 cup cream or milk
1 T chopped chives

1. Heat butter in soup pot or Dutch oven until melted. Add shallots, mushrooms, celery and carrots and stir to coat. Cook over medium heat until softened and just starting to brown, about 7 minutes. Add salt.
2. Pour in broths and bring to a boil, scraping up an browned bits. Add rice or grain and reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook 10 minutes, or until the grains are tender. Add the turkey, cream, and chives and heat through, with the lid off, about 2 more minutes. Serve immediately.
Serves 3-4.