How We Finally Solved Our Electronics Problem: Cutting back on “Screen Time” Painlessly

How to limit screen time with already internet addicted kids

The internet addiction in our family happened slowly…  passing my iphone over to my toddler while out to dinner when food took too long, educational computer games on pbs kids. Electronic games and devices trickled in on birthdays and Christmases.

But PBSKids.org on our family desktop turned to games on the ipad, which turned to youtube, which slowly turned into a seemingly endless supply of mind numbing garbage.  Before I knew it my kids spent less and less time playing and reading and more and more time in front of some kind of internet connected screen.

But screens aren’t just a kid trap… they are a parent trap as well. When kids are plugged in they are blissfully quiet. Electronics don’t make much of a mess. If you have something for everyone to plug into, nobody is fighting. They make long car rides, cooking dinner, and conversations with adults much easier.  Bonus: a screen can help you sneak in that shower, or take a minute to just relax. Adding to the problem, screens can also be easy to justify, TV and educational games have taught my kids a lot. My 4 year old not only learned the word “gravity” from TV but could actually explain it, correctly, in his own words. At least, I thought to myself, the kids were getting a full day of unplugged time at school.

I became concerned when I could see the effects in my kids: diminished creativity, boredom with anything not electronic, lack of play, and just how they are used to consuming information… but pulling the kids away from the internet resulted in tension, fighting and power struggles. Lots of pouting, lots of anger, and a good deal of yelling and crying.

When we started deschooling after being in school I realized that I was going to need to make some big changes. I wasn’t sure how to go about these changes. We tried several different things: recording screen time to reflect back to the kids how much time they were actually spending online. I tried just putting my foot down and limiting screen time that way. I tried “blackout hours” from morning until 4pm.

After almost a year of trying various ways of getting internet usage under control we finally found a system that makes everyone happy. The kids can control their internet usage and I don’t have to get into arguments all the time. The kids are learning about time management, “saving”, delayed gratification and more. Best of all, the same system works for my 4 year old, 9 year old, and 10 year old.

The 30-Minute Ticket System.
Each Monday the kids get 30 minute tickets corresponding with their age (10 for the 10 year old, 9 for my 9 year old and 4 for my 4 year old). They can redeem these tickets at any time of day and use as many at one time as they choose… but once they’re out, they’re out until the next Monday.  Monday, they receive their next set and so on.  Not unlike an allowance, but for the internet. Tickets cover computer, iPad, Xbox, etc. The kids can be given additional 10 minute extension tickets when they are caught being good or helpful or just because at my discretion (asking for or negotiating for one is not allowed).

How we solved our screen time problems

When they choose to use their ticket, they turn it into me and we set the timer together.

I wasn’t sure about this, but to my surprise, it caught on quickly. The next day I woke up at 6 in the morning to the feeling of my 9 year old pushing a ticket into my hand as I slept. 5 hours of screen time a week (including weekends) cuts my 10 year old waaaay back (he’d spend more than 5 hours on electronics a day if I’d let him), but he doesn’t mind.  Of course he’d rather have more time, but the tradeoff is that he gets more control. He no longer needs to ask my permission, or worry about me storming in to tell him to get off the computer because I’ve had enough.

Having something tangible to keep or giveaway has helped the kids really think about using their time wisely. Screens and electronics are no friend to mindfulness, but by redeeming their tickets, they are at least making the choice to be on electronics, rather than doing that by default.

We’ve had exactly 0 arguments after starting this system (although I did get some balking that weekends were included). On just the first day, my oldest finished two books that had been taking him months to read and started two new projects.

Since the tickets were introduced our house is messier, louder, and somehow even wilder, but we’ve spent a whole lot more time together.

 

Raising Helpers.

raising helpers

Raising children to be helpful

Most days we have a morning meeting over breakfast.

It’s pretty simple: we start with what day it is and how everyone is feeling; we’ll each talk about what we have on our mind and what we would like to accomplish during the day or week.

Monday morning, I gave the kids a challenge for the week ahead:

The kids had to find a time during each day to ask the question, “How can I help?”
They could ask  me or Jeff this question about something around the house; or our babysitter, their Nana, a stranger, or anyone. They could open it up beyond that, too. If they hear of anything on the news or in discussion, they could ask themselves, “how can I help?”
It didn’t matter so much who or how; what was important was to ask the question (and then actually help) daily.

I wasn’t sure how well it would catch on, but I didn’t want to harp on it, so I decided to change the way I ask them to do things around the house throughout the day.  Instead of saying, “Max, can you watch Langston for a minute while I fix your brother a snack,” I would start with, “Max I need your help.”  Instead of asking Marlowe to pick the books up off the floor, I started saying, “Marlowe, can you please help me”.

Raising helpful children.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but the boys have  been absolutely amazing. So amazing, actually, that I’ve decided to give myself the same challenge.

For the past week, I’ve been overwhelmed with many different calls to action, both on a political and a community level…so many things to get involved with, so many organizations doing great work in need of help.  What if I just asked this question once a day? It doesn’t have to be a big.  Can I devote 10 minutes a day to doing something that makes a difference? Can I make a phone call to my representatives? Can I attend a meeting? Can I volunteer? Can I make a donation to an organization? Can I offer someone help? Can I add canned food to my grocery list? Can I assemble a care package? Or maybe I can spend 10 minutes informing myself about a local candidate or cause?

Hopefully, this is a new habit for our whole family, myself included.

Raising children who help out

Our First Year of Homeschool: Small Changes in Our First 2 Months.

Hello from the beach!

Homeschool on the beach

My mother in law invited us to join her on a short trip to North Myrtle Beach so we hopped in the car on Monday to join her. I thought for sure 70 degrees would be too cold for the kids to get in the water but I was wrong, and the kids spent the afternoon with their pants and shorts rolled up running in and out of the water with the tide.

Our first year of homeschool

Adjusting to our new homeschool life has certainly had it’s challenges but the freedom to do things like this make it worth it.

In the past few weeks we’ve been to Shenandoah, Northern Virginia, Maryland, Jamestown and now South Carolina.

We’re still in that deschooling phase, adjusting to our new way of life. I’ll admit I was occasionally frustrated that after 2 weeks of “deschooling” nobody suddenly woke up saying “I want to learn calculus” or “I can’t wait to go on a 3 hour hike today!”.

When people talk about deschooling, or unschooling for that matter, the narrative always seems to be “we relaxed and now my child is reading above grade level/is a math genius/designed a rocket that actually went to the moon and back”

But we’re not focused on the product, we’re focused on the process. And lately I’ve noticed some little things that are telling me that we’re on the right track.

Max, who hates learning, is asking more questions. “What kind of bug is that?” “Can I listen to that book while we drive?” “Can I take a picture of that?”

Hudson, who used to cry every time he had reading homework, sleeps with a giant stack of books in his bed. He looks at the pictures every night. He’s sounding words out on his own out of curiosity. And he’ll sit and listen to me read until I have no voice left.

Hudson’s speech therapist remarked that he seems like a “totally different kid” that he walks in more relaxed and ready to work.

The kids are asking to collect things. They are keeping themselves more entertained outside. And I even heard the words “I’ve been on the computer enough today” come from my 10 year old.

We haven’t made actual rockets, nobody has discovered a secret hidden genius. But we’re learning, and that’s what our homeschool is all about.

our process learning about homeschool

5AM Wake Up Call

image

Just before 5am on a Saturday:

Child 2 woke up having apparently had a dream about bugs in his bed but was too afraid of the dark hallway to come to us so just yells to me from down the hall. Child 4 was nursing to stay asleep and would wake up and clamp down little more each time I tried to call down the hall back to Child 2.

Calling down the hall woke me up enough to realize I needed to pee which was going to be pretty much impossible to do without waking Child 4 up completely.

I make a mental list of pos and cons.

Enter Child 3 not afraid of the dark but shuffling into our bedroom in sobbing that he “missed Blaze”

I have no idea who Blaze is.
For a moment, nobody in our bed is asleep so I risk it and take a trip to the bathroom located, unfortunately, just passed child 2’s bedroom.
He jumps out at me “I have to sleep in your bed”
“You can’t buddy, there’s no room.”
“I can sleep at the bottom”
“No you can’t, go back to your bed” (perhaps I sound cold hearted but he’s 8 and two kids are already in there)
“I can’t. There are bugs in there. I have to find somewhere else to sleep.”
So I pee quickly and try to make a bed on the couch for Child 2 knowing that every second I’m not in bed my chances of getting Child 4 back to sleep diminishes. I can hear Child 3 still crying about his beloved Blaze.

Husband puts Child 3 back into the right bed and sits in his room with him.

Silence.

The sound of Child 2 stomping back up the stairs.

The crushing weight of nearly 30lb child 4 (yes, the baby is nearly 30lbs) on my ribcage signing “baby” which means he wants to watch Baby Signing Time. Not the whole video though, just the first minute on repeat.

I lay in bed, lit with an electronic glow listening to the sounds of Child 4’s favorite show. I try to doze keeping one eye open in case the baby has a sudden impulse to smash me on the head with the iPad. It’s been known to happen.

It’s over. I give up.

So here I am.

Child 3 is asleep.

Child 2 is watching TV.

Child 4 is on my lap watching his video. Yawning. Obnoxious, given the circumstances.

Child 1 slept though the entire thing (all the lights are on in his room but apparently that doesn’t matter)

Husband is asleep.

It’s 5:30 am… I might as well put the kettle on for coffee.

Happy Saturday everyone.

I Don’t Want to Know What You Think Causes Autism.

baby

Today this article popped up in my facebook feed.
I now suspect I will see it approximately 1,000 more times before the day is done, shared over and over and over again.

Read it if you want but I’ll sum it up for you: researchers found that of 100 kids with autism 16 of them had very high levels of folate at birth, and 15 had high levels of vitamin B12 at birth.

Folate often in the form of folic acid is recommended to pregnant mothers to prevent birth defects in the brain and spine.

The study shows a “plausible” link.

The study has not been peer reviewed.

And yet, if I google “folic acid autism link” I get a laundry list of articles from “news” sites citing this new study. Scroll down a little further and I get this one: Study links folic acid to lower autism risk.

To make matters worse Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shared this article (From Salon.com) on social media. If you’d really like to feel a special kind of rage read the comments (names removed but typos remain):

“autism is from vaccines injections………just like everyone who got bird flu or Swin flu were the only ones who GOT flu shots.”

“This is the kind of thing that happens when people use supplements to get their nutrition instead of healthful unprocessed foods. It isn’t just autism! Our food and water Supplies are tainted and damaging our bodies genetically.”

“Try looking at the levels of mercury our children are forced to eat, breathe, and drink. not to mention all of the other crap poisoning our environment.”

Stop. This is helping nobody, anywhere, so just stop.

Stop.

 

I am so tired of seeing this ridiculous bullshit.

Moms have guilt about everything but you haven’t MET a mom with guilt until you meet a parent who has a child with a disability the cause of which changes by the week.

The guilt is overwhelming.

You took too many vitamins, you vaccinated them on a doctor recommended schedule, you ate out of plastic tupperware, your lettuce wasn’t organic, you didn’t exercise enough, you took medication, you had postpartum depression, you didn’t breastfeed, you caught the flu from a co-worker… The list of things you probably did to screw up your child in one way or another is ENDLESS and when you’ve scheduled your 4th IEP meeting of the year wondering how you’re ever going to make it through the last month of school with your child let alone the next 12 YEARS the last thing you need to read is how your fucking multivitamin put you here.

*whew*

So autism moms (or pregnant moms), I say to you this:

 

You are not responsible for your child’s autism just like you are not responsible for which physical features your child gets from you or your partner.

You didn’t GIVE your child autism.

Your child is perfect. Your child is flawed. Just like we are perfect, and we are flawed.  It’s just that some of our flaws are easily seen and some of them aren’t.

 

Articles like these, a “plausible link” between something an autism aren’t helping the 1 in 68 children diagnosed with autism.  They are not helping families who are looking for guidance on how to support their child with autism. In fact, these click-bait-y articles do more harm than good.

Not only do they add insult to injury because parents who do so much to support their children also feel guilty for having caused it; but now if you’re pregnant do you take your folic acid or not? Prevent spina bifida and risk autism or prevent autism and risk spina bifida?

I’m not suggesting researchers don’t look into the cause of autism.

But until you have actual data that actually means something…

Don’t publish it…. and for God’s sake stop sharing it.

 

Parenting Fail. The Highs and Lows of Stay at Home Mom-ing.

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I decided to be at home with the kids more.  I knew they needed it and I needed it. In fact, the first month after I quit both jobs confirmed everything I had been thinking and feeling about staying at home.

Let’s call it the honeymoon phase.

The house was cleaner, the laundry more manageable.  I was able to make time for kids and clients. I even blogged more than I expected.  I was definitely nailing this stay at home thing.

Then February. An abrupt ending to my January honeymoon. Each day I felt like at best I was treading water, at worst I had already drowned and couldn’t admit it.  So far, March hasn’t seemed any less chaotic.  The beginning of last week perfectly illustrated the parenting highs and lows.

Sunday was beautiful. Jeff was exhausted after a long night of kids not sleeping (it usually bothers him more than me), and I was determined to exhaust them so we might get a good night sleep.  So I packed the four of them in the car, left Jeff at home to doze, and took them to a beautiful local park, Maymont.

Maymont 1

We hoofed the entire park (Langston on my back) from the Children’s Farm, through the Japanese Gardens, up the beautiful steps to the Italian gardens, past the mansion, to the visitors center and back to the Children’s Farm to say goodbye to the pig before we left. We had a great time, and the kids were happy and exhausted. Sunday was a parenting high.

Maymont 2.JPG

Monday came around. I got the kids off to school, and was getting ready for a catch up day when I went to change Langston’s diaper.  I got distracted by a messed up trash bag and in an instant, Langston flipped off the table. I picked him up to hug him before realizing blood was pouring from his mouth; a bottom tooth was out and dangling, root and all. We rushed off to a somewhat-nearby Pediatric ER (at a hospital which I knew happened to also have a dentistry practice), and I found myself standing there, unshowered and barely dressed, with a busted up baby, a shattered phone (which I had broken on Saturday) held together with scotch tape, and a two year old who was wedging himself between a side table and a waiting room chair.

infant fall lost baby tooth.JPG

WHY WAS I ALLOWED TO HAVE CHILDREN?

It just seems inhumane.

We went home, one tooth down from a set of 6; I was utterly exhausted. This was definitely a parenting low.

Tuesday rolled around and I was determined to redeem the day before. The kids were off from school, so I’d planned a great day at the zoo, a trip to Toys R Us and other fun stuff. Except nobody was excited about the zoo. One child (who will remain nameless) had been particularly sour the past couple of days, and  even stepped it up a few notches… but it wasn’t just him. In fact everyone was so uncooperative, difficult, and just plain nasty that I completely lost it. LOST. IT.  Lost it.  I yelled. Loudly. At my children. About the zoo.  They cried. I cried. It was a mess. Evidently, while trying to balance a growing list of things demanding my attention,  I had been missing some big stuff bothering one of the boys. Parenting really, really low.

We took deep breaths, had a good talk, hugged a lot, and told each other we loved each other a lot. We made pancakes. We went to the zoo. We saw baby animals. We laughed. We had fun. We were on our way back up again.

metro richmond zoo

feed giraffes metro richmond zoo

 

The house is still a mess, and I’m behind on a lot of things (like this very blog).  I’ve got my fingers crossed for a few uneventful days.  In fact, I could use an uneventful month… The reality of stay-at-home/work-at-home parenting has proven to be much bumpier than I expected. So, I’m trying to hold a tight grip on the things that matter while I ride out some of these highs and lows.

Ps. Still doing dishes in the bathroom sink.  Big update coming soon.

Your Baby at 6 Months: Painful.

 

Baby stage 6 months kissing mama

Langston turned 6 months old last week.

He sits up.
He has 5 teeth.
He drools.
He’s aaaaaalllmost ready to crawl.
He’s showing interest in food.
He plays with toys.
He laughs at his brothers.
He pulls the small hairs out of the back of my neck.
He claws my face with his razor sharp nails.
He eats my pony tail.
He sticks his fingers in my eyes and up my nose.
He bites my back when I wear him.

We have entered the painful stage of babyhood.
We don’t talk about this stage because we like to focus on how cute they are and they are really actively loving you back.  He just wants to love and be loved, and feel how squishy your eyeball is. He wants to play and cuddle and laugh at what you do when he bites your arm.  He wants your attention and your hair.

This is the stage where I get a little “touched out” by the end of the day.  My hair is always up in top knot and even then it’s not safe.

I love this stage… I think.  I’ll miss it… I think.

In the meantime, I’ll take lots of pictures because he’s pretty adorable.

 

The Not So Picture Perfect Christmas.

It’s Christmas time!!

Time for visits with Santa, sleigh rides, hot cocoa by the fire. Chopping down a Christmas tree, tying it to the roof and singing carols all the way home. Smiling children baking cookies for family members and on the cover of Christmas cards…

… uh. Kinda.

Baking Christmas cookies chaos

The start of the Christmas season at the Cole house looks a little more like this:

– Bins full of Christmas decorations taking up a giant chunk of our postage stamp sized living room.

– Replacing the fireplace only to find it has missing parts.

– Trying to get a picture of the kids in front of our Christmas tree at the lot and not getting a single one with the kids standing still or looking at the camera.

– Someone yelling “I don’t like this music” in response to the 12 Days of Christmas on the radio.

– A child who is terrified of Santa. TERRIFIED.

– A two year old that needs a nap.

– Someone throwing an absolute fit in the car on the way to see Christmas lights.

– Cutting out sugar cookies and then immediately balling up the dough to do it again.

– A fight over the rolling pin.

– Burning said cookies.

– Nobody is wearing a shirt.

– Don’t even get me started on the photo holiday cards. It’s not happening, folks.

Over the years I’ve found that all my attempts to create a stock photo moment of the holidays tend to fail.

Finally I’ve learned to take it in a different direction. As a family of 6 ( plus 2 dogs and a cat) it’s time I surrender to the Christmas Chaos.

Crazy Kids Baking Christmas Cookies Chaos

I should have known better, but those stock photos put together and taken with insta-worthy-pinterest-perfection just aren’t real (at least not for us). But you know, I just don’t care.

We’ll still put icing on our burned cookies. There will be cocoa (complete with schnapps).  At least one of our 4 kids will sit on Santa’s lap. Eventually, we’ll fix up the fireplace and enjoy an evening by the fire (for a minute or two). The photo Christmas cards are still not happening… but who knows, maybe this year we’ll send out a pack of cards we picked up on our 289th trip to Target.

The holidays, I’ve found, are best served up with a nice helping of reality check and a glass of wine.  My kids are making memories whether I have the perfect photo of them or not. If I try to control their fun to make it look picture perfect or hold a perfect pose, I won’t have fun and neither will they.  What good is a beautiful photo if everyone is stressed out about it?

Over the years I’ve learned that the holidays are much more fun when you embrace what it is…

The magic of Christmas Chaos.

Teaching My Kids To Quit

Teaching Kids to QuitIn second grade, my son tested into a Center-Based Gifted program after a recommendation from his teacher.  The program was offered by the county and transportation was provided, and it required a lot of shuffling and some sacrifices for our family, but he decided to give it a shot.

Third grade at his new school proved to be a tough transition. It wasn’t the work necessarily, or the school itself, or the other kids, or the teacher. In fact, it was hard to pin point one thing in particular that made him miserable. Even after working hard and making the honor roll, he still wasn’t happy.

Each morning I told him that there are times in our life that are tough. There are obstacles in our way. There are people who are difficult to deal with.  I told him this year would teach him a  valuable lesson in how to overcome challenges.

In September, he gave Center-Based Gifted another try for fourth grade. Each morning the same pep talk: work hard, be tough, don’t give up, you can do it.  And each day he became more miserable than the last.

One morning he looked at me and simply said, “I’m not going.”

And I no longer believed the pep talk.

I laid out his options and let him decide what he wanted to do; a day later we were switching back to his old school.

We value tenacity so much in our culture. We value hard work and perseverance because those qualities are important for success.

But sometimes it’s empowering to quit.  It’s important to know when it’s time to switch tracks and move onto something else.  Sometimes, you have to cut your losses, call it quits and be ready to tackle something else.

Last week he brought home a stack of tests with A’s on them.  But more important than the grades, he has come back to life.  He’s happy again. Immediately after making the switch, it was as if a weight had lifted off his shoulders.

And really, looking at it objectively, the drawbacks were outweighing the benefits.  He saw that.  I didn’t.

So, I guess the lesson here is, never give up… until it’s time to quit.

 

 

The eclipsed child.

“I just need a lot of your attention” Max told me when snapped at him after he interrupted me for the 4th time while I was trying to hold a conversation with a friend.  Max likes to play, but it’s only interesting to him if I am watching him narrate his entire game and providing occasional commentary.  If Max wants your attention he demands it. And he demands it a lot, whether it’s ‘watch me play with dinosaurs’ or ‘ what are you guys talking about’ when Max is in the room he’s a part of what is going on. It’s delightful and frustrating all at the same time.

But I have another son.

One who, when the spotlight is on his brother tends to retreat into his own games and toys.  The one who can count to 10 in 3 languages, loves to learn new things, can do 4 puzzles at once, can stack a perfect tower taller than himself, has never once held a pencil incorrectly, and can jump higher and father than his brother.  An empathetic child who sits with his brother when his brother who is supposed to be in time out, who says “it’s ok, don’t cry” when people are upset. A complete and utter goofball on the occasions where he does hold the spotlight, clever and silly. Little Hudson, who will ask you to color with him or to build a tower with him or sit with him but will be fine to go do something else if you are too busy.

It’s not about loving one any more than the other or favorites, but when you’re balancing 4 careers between two people, a busy life and two kids, the one who demands your attention gets in the way of time with the one who asks politely.

I had the realization this past weekend that when it comes to my little Hudson I need to adjust my parenting style. I’ve always felt confident on how to parent Max because he’s a lot like me.  There is no mystery to Max in my mind, I know what he’s going to say  or do before he says it.  Hudson is different from all three of us. Not better, not worse, just different.  If you want to go all zodiac about it you’ve got 3 fire signs (Me: Aries, Jeff and Max: Leo) and here comes Hudson, the Aquarius who leaves us all a bit mystified.  There’s so much we can learn from Hudson and discover about him, but we have to slow down and pay attention.

I haven’t been as good of a parent to Hudson as I could have been because I’ve been waiting for him to tell me what he needs as loudly as his brother does.  I need to listen closer. So it’s time to adjust our focus. Max will get his attention regardless.  Hudson needs to get the focus and attention now and since he won’t demand it, it’s up to us.  This is, in fact, dawning of the age of Aquarius (sorry, couldn’t resist).  Jeff and I need to change tactics and get more involved, after all, he needs a lot of our attention too.