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Because I homeschool, I spend lots of time with my kids. Usually, that is a good thing. I enjoy watching them learn and creating fabulous memories with them. However, with my oldest, the family togetherness sometimes has an ugly side. Her intensity can drive us all crazy.

My daughter is a wonderful kid. However, she has some personality quirks that can make her very challenging to be around. Many of these quirks have become more moderate now that she is an older teen. However, when she was younger, having a peaceful home wasn’t always easy. I had to learn methods to keep her calmer and more centered.

Parenting Tips for Managing Intense Kids

If you have a challenging, intense kid, these ideas might help you. Of course, don’t make the mistake of thinking they will “fix” your child; these tips never made my daughter easy, sweet, or compliant. However, when I stuck to these techniques, I found that some of the “rough edges were knocked-off,” so to speak. Remember, though, that what works for MY child may not work for yours, so study your own kids to see which of these tips will work for your family.

The Importance of Rest

I found out early on that my kid was not the type to handle fatigue very well. One late night could mean several days of irritability, arguments, and tantrums, so I place a huge emphasis on getting enough quality sleep. I am that parent who rounded up her kids on family vacations and makes them go to bed no more than a half hour later than normal. My daughter has never be able to sleep later to make up for a late night. Instead, she’d just get up at the same time as usual and act grumpy all day.

As my daughter hit puberty, the need for quality sleep grew. She actually needed more rest as a preteen and a teen. When it came to sleep-overs, I had to be the bad guy for many years. I often volunteered to host the sleep-overs so that I could make sure that my daughter got enough rest. And I knew my daughter’s friends’ parents well enough to mention that I really needed her to get some sleep, so I’d appreciate it if the kids could get to bed before midnight or 11 pm (yes, even when my daughter was 15 or 16-years-old). Amazingly, most of the other parents were happy to try to enforce this when hosting because they were dealing with grumpy kids the next day, too. I think they just needed another parent to share the blame! I also made the unpopular decision to ban multiple-night sleepovers; one weekend with too little time resting was always followed by several difficult weeks.

Healthy Diet

I wish I had known when my daughter was small how great a difference a diet of quality food makes in how she feels. Some kids are very sensitive to sugars, artificial flavorings and artificial colors. I stopped buying Pop-Tarts and sugary cereals for breakfast. I would allow her to eat them later in the day as a dessert or special treat, but starting the day off with a burst of sugar and fake flavorings contributed to more frequent meltdowns. While diet wasn’t everything when it came to helping my daughter cope with life, it did add a missing piece of the puzzle.

Physical Activity

My daughter has always been busy. However, as she grew older and schoolwork became more intensive and time consuming, time for physical activity was diminished. The lack of movement made her lethargic, irritable, and tired. I had to be intentional in making her stay physically active. The exercise helped with her mood regulation, and I noted that she was much less combative when I required it. Additionally, I found that time spent playing actively outdoors helped her manage even better. Perhaps the combination of sunlight, fresh air, and physical activity were just what her body and mind needed to help her focus and cooperate with me and others.

Nurturing Her Personality Type

My daughter is extremely extroverted, craving interactions with others. In the early years, I hoped that, as many homeschooling families claim, the interactions with siblings would be enough. However, in our family, it just wasn’t. My daughter needed regular interactions with others outside of the home. As a homeschooler, it wasn’t easy to make these connections, at least at first. I had to initiate contact with other moms. I had to be willing to pick up and drop off friends. I had to be willing to host other kids running wild through my house and yard. However difficult it was at times, these interactions fed my daughter’s soul. As an introverted mom of four kids, I often fell short of her ideal. But I did the best that I could, and more importantly, I tried to communicate to my daughter that seeing her friends was important to me because it was important to her.

Routine, Structure, and Flexibility

My daughter does best when she knows what to expect. She needed, and still does need, a concrete routine that she can count on. Unexpected surprises, especially of the disappointing kind, have always been difficult for her to handle, so I’ve learned that a solid routine makes life flow just a little bit better. She needs to know that we will get up, do our schoolwork, have some fun, have a snack at 10:30 am and 3 pm, and go to the library on Tuesdays. Having a routine also helped my daughter quit nagging me about different things. I no longer have to endure endless quizzing about what time we will have a snack because she knows it will be at 3pm every. single. day.

Having a structured life is not easy for me because I am more of a “go with the flow” kind of person who takes surprises in stride. My daughter isn’t like that. She needs to have a stable bedtime, a regular wake time, and know what will happen each day. Of course, we do work on flexing with unexpected circumstances, but as far as things are under my control, I try to provide a stable environment.

However, I also need to be able to flex within the routine. I didn’t force an arbitrary routine on my daughter for no good reason. I didn’t have a time schedule and force her to move from one activity to another just because the clock read a certain time. My daughter would have fought a rigid schedule like that tooth and nail. If we got up later than normal occasionally, we followed the same routine as always, but times were just pushed back throughout the day. Observe your child and see how much flex they can handle in a routine. Some kids need a tighter schedule than others. Other kids just need a dependable routine that flows throughout the day. We did have a flow, but the only “set in stone” times were bedtime and mealtimes.

Remember, this was what worked for my child. Study your child and consider how these tips will work in your family. Also, keep in mind that there is no “easy button” for these intense kids. They will always be more challenging to raise, but my hope is that these tips will help you bring your kid’s intensity down to a more manageable level.

April Freeman is a mother of four children. Ever since her daughter was an infant, she knew there was something just a little bit different about that one child. Despite the difficulties, April has homeschooled her daughter (along with her other 3 kids) for the past 12 years. It’s not always been easy, but it has definitely been worthwhile.

On June 16, 2015, April will host an online seminar from 2:30-4:00 pm EST entitled “Teaching Ramona Quimby: Homeschooling Your Intense Child,” free of charge and available online so there’s no need to find a babysitter. Also, if parents can’t be online at the time it is live, recordings will be available through the website for a few days. For more information, go to Well Trained Mind Online Conference Series.

When she’s not hanging out with her kids, April helps run her family’s beef farm and loves to grow vegetables of all kinds. She’s also a part-time freelance writer and keeps up with several different blogs. You can check out her food blog at Feeding My Family and her homeschooling blog at Hot Mess Homeschooling.

The post Day-to-Day Tips to Help You Manage Your Intense Kid appeared first on Parenting Advice.

Spring has arrived on the calendar, if not in my backyard in Maine.  With the longer days and slowly increasing temperatures, my thoughts often turn to for outdoor projects.  I plan out my vegetable garden, uncover my flower beds, and wait for signs of growth.

Sometimes, this seems to be an interminable waiting game, requiring a lot of patience.  After the long, cold, snowy winter we endured, I am impatient with the mountainous snowbanks still lingering in my yard.  I am constantly looking at the trees, almost willing the first leaf buds to appear on the limbs.  When a patch of snow melts away, I find myself slightly disappointed when the grass underneath is still brown and the earth still crunchy with frost heaves.

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Then, almost like magic every year, drastic changes begin out of the blue.  The snowbanks just disappear one day while I’m not looking.  The trees suddenly look like they have a hazy halo of color around them as leaves start to burst through.  Crocus and daffodil shoots start to appear from the ground.  The grass becomes green, and it’s time to drag out the lawnmower once again.

I speak with a lot of parents on Empowering Parents’ 1-on-1 Coaching Service who are also impatient, waiting for change to happen with their child.  They have been through a long, cold winter with their child (so to speak) and are ready to see the new growth happen.  Here are some things to keep in mind if this is where you are as a parent:

Change happens on its own timeline.  Just because I want the weather to be warm and my plants to grow doesn’t mean it’s going to happen right away.  In a similar vein, your child isn’t going to change simply because you want him to, and his readiness isn’t something that you can control.  There are things you can do to hasten that process along, though.  You might start to develop a culture of accountability in your home and begin implementing effective consequences for your child’s choices so he is uncomfortable with his current actions.  It’s important to remember that just because the change isn’t happening in your timeframe, it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.

Look for change with a longer lens.  A few years ago, I took a cutting of a weeping willow tree and started the process of rooting it in my backyard.  It was my first time rooting a tree from a branch cutting, and I was so excited to see if it was working that I went out to check on it every night after dinner.  Every night, it looked the same as it did the night before.  I started to become discouraged and filled with doubt.  Was I doing this wrong?  Had I damaged the branch?  Should I have taken a different cutting?  Was it getting too much sun? Or not enough?  Had I killed it?  In the meantime, life happened and I wasn’t able to check on its progress for a week.  The next time I checked, I was rewarded with the sight of three tiny new leaves appearing on my branch.

The same phenomenon can occur in parenting.  When we try something new with our kids, it can be disappointing when they respond in the same way—refusing to do chores or homework, becoming defiant, or giving us the silent treatment.  When we look for change in a very small increment, it can be hard to see and we can quickly fall into self-doubt.  Sometimes, it can be useful to take a long view so we can truly see progress.  Instead of comparing how your child was acting today versus yesterday, think about how she was today compared with last week, last month, or even last year.  That is more likely to give you an accurate picture of change.

Have the right tools on hand.  In gardening, it’s important to have the right tool for the job; otherwise you might be creating a lot of extra work for yourself, if you are even able to get the job done at all.  You wouldn’t want to dig a hole with a rake, and you shouldn’t use a lawnmower to weed your flower garden (although my partner didn’t heed that last piece of advice—that’s a post for another time!).  Likewise, make sure that you have the tools you need to encourage change in your family.  The fact that you’re here, willing to seek and receive information, is a good sign!  Start to build your “parenting toolbox.”  If you need more support to make the changes you seek, reach out and let others know what you need.  It might be finding a friend that you can call during a tough time, getting a self-care plan in place, or locating other structured supports in your community, such as a counselor or support group.

Finally, don’t discount the importance of taking that first step.  A plant doesn’t grow without sowing the seed.  In parenting, there is a tremendous amount of power in the ability to recognize that something isn’t working and guiding your family toward improvement and change.

What changes are you working toward as a family?  Let me know in the comments below!

Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011.  Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and  schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have  survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

The post Exercising Patience: What Gardening and Parenting Have in Common appeared first on Parenting Advice.

‘Tis the season, as they say; and for many parents, it’s a tough season. The month of December is a Pandora’s Box of expectations, demands, and pressure. You have the average month’s worth of usual stuff—work, laundry, keeping everyone healthy, basketball practices—then throw in the prep, planning and execution of the holidays. Makes you want to pull the covers back over your head, doesn’t it?

While I pride myself on being quite organized and a dutiful planner, December used to make me seize with anxiety. When my kids were young, the average month soaked every ounce of energy from me.  I often wondered how in the world I would carry off the extra tasks required to make December a success.

Luckily, those were simpler times; meaning, I had very little extra money after the bills were paid! Christmas gifts for my two children were incredibly basic: a flashlight for reading under the covers and secondhand toys.  My family filled in with other presents, thankfully, and I don’t think my kids felt they were missing out on anything.

Having a simpler lifestyle actually helped us get through the holidays. Since Santa wasn’t bringing huge or expensive gifts, I put my focus on other seasonal things, like the special books and movies that only came out of storage in December, along with the decorations and ornaments. We would bake and decorate Christmas cookies, a full-on, all-day Saturday event that left the kitchen destroyed but was always a great experience. Those were wonderful times.

I can still remember the joy I felt when my church offered a free babysitting deal for four hours one Sunday in early December.  The pure bliss I experienced, having such a huge chunk of time to shop and wrap gifts without little ones around. When I picked the boys up, feeling weightless and accomplished, they had made Christmas ornaments: their smiling photos tucked inside small wreaths, hanging from ribbons. These were the types of things that would carry me through the hectic month.

Of course, at the end of the month there would be no school, and sometimes no daycare, which was yet another wrench thrown into things. I tried to save up my vacation time so the three of us could be home together. We’d make pancakes in the morning and enjoy a long, luxurious breakfast. Some days were dubbed “PJ Day,” where no one ever changed out of their pajamas. Those were the days—there was a lack of money, but an abundance of love.  Just the other day I was in Michaels (feeling inadequate as I passed all the options for making crafts), and the store was playing music from the Nutcracker. A thousand happy memories rushed to my heart as I thought about my boys doing their own interpretive dance to the soundtrack we played daily near Christmas.

So try to keep this mind when you find yourself buried in shopping lists and crumb cake recipes: when your children are adults and they start to reminisce, what holiday memories do you want them to have? Memories of a ton of gifts under the tree, or memories of special traditions that even MasterCard can’t claim? My struggles back then were real and challenging, but our memories are unmatched.

Renee Brown is the tired yet happy mother of two young adult sons, Sam and Zachary. Almost an empty nester, she loves sharing her single parent experiences with the goal of providing hope and encouragement to those struggling on that “long and winding road.” Renee lives in Minneapolis, works in advertising, and also blogs for Your Teen magazine.

The post Single Parenting in December: Keep it in Perspective appeared first on Parenting Advice.

I love November; a month filled with reminders to be thankful. It’s such a simple concept, yet we always need reminders to be grateful for what we have.  As many single parents know, me included, it’s so easy to get caught up in the mantra of wanting MORE. We want MORE money because we’re exhausted from stretching that paycheck until it screams. We want MORE breaks in life because, quite honestly, sometimes just surviving the day wipes us out. We want MORE opportunities for our kids because we feel that living in a single-parent home puts them at a disadvantage. And we want MORE love in our lives because, dang it, it feels good; sometimes I feel like I can go three days just on a heartfelt compliment!

At different times in my life, I’ve found that if I don’t take the time to recognize and appreciate the gifts the world offers each day, I start to become insatiable: wanting bigger, better, faster, more.  I feel seemingly incapable of being grateful for the all the small things that, in actuality, are the big things. Yet how do we develop “an attitude of gratitude” that isn’t limited to the month of November? I want this practice to become a part of my everyday routine, all year round.

I’m a strong believer in the “fix what you can and let go of the rest” approach.  Yes, I’ve had to work hard and child support was sporadic, but I’ve been able to support my boys pretty well—that’s something to be grateful for. While our home has drafty windows and tiny bedrooms, we all have our own space.  Our vehicles are over ten years old, but they deliver everyone safely to school and work. It could be so much worse.

But it’s even more than that.  It’s not just about appreciating that we’re not at rock bottom.  It’s about valuing what we do have.  I remind myself that I live in a neighborhood so safe that I’ve never even seen a smashed pumpkin.  That my boys were able to attend a very impressive school district filled with teachers who poured knowledge into them; that my children are witty, bright and kind.  And having kids who are healthy and thriving is something to cherish.

In my bedside table is a notebook that I have used in the past to list five blessings daily. Reviewing those gems is a delightful way to see all of the riches around me, and to open my eyes to the beauty and love that is always present. I think it’s time to make recording those daily blessings a habit again.

When my boys were quite young we were big fans of the “list three good things that happened to you today” ritual during dinner. I wish I had recorded those moments!  Still, it’s not too late to resurrect that routine.

I no longer want to take for granted that my cupboards always have enough food to keep my family vibrant and strong; that nature presents such incredible beauty, even in the midst of a snowstorm or cloudy day. I want to smile as I think of how my boys always hold a door open for someone, or ask others how their day is going. I never want to ignore that I have a job that makes me happy, with coworkers who are rooting for my success. How about the fact that we have clean drinking water coming out of every faucet in our homes! This is such a basic, simple thing, yet how many thousands of women in other countries spend their days walking for hours to get their families’ daily supply of water?

What could you do in your home, with your family, to take the focus away from wanting more and place it on learning to appreciate what you already possess? Teaching this lesson to our kids is one of the finest ways we can help them grow into the adults this world so desperately needs. Be grateful!

Renee Brown is the tired yet happy mother of two young adult sons, Sam and Zachary. Almost an empty nester, she loves sharing her single parent experiences with the goal of providing hope and encouragement to those struggling on that “long and winding road.” Renee lives in Minneapolis, works in advertising, and also blogs for Your Teen magazine.

The post Invite Gratitude into Your Life Every Day appeared first on Parenting Advice.

When you’re raising kids on your own, you are a downright super hero. Making sure everyone gets to where they need to be, with all of their equipment and paperwork and lunches and gym shoes, is absolutely a Herculean effort. Even an average Tuesday can rock the socks right off of you at times.

I know you’re strong and quite capable, but when is the last time you let someone help you out and do you a favor or two? I hope you are saying yes to offers of help and not letting pride prevent you from experiencing one of the greatest joys we can receive—help in times of need. I have been a single parent for many, many years.  One of the main reasons I’ve come through to the other side is because I chose to accept the kindness of friends. Here’s a short highlight reel.

When my boys were small, we lived in a terrific neighborhood and had quite possibly the best next-door neighbors. An older couple with adult kids, Meg and Gene loved my babies so much; they practically fought over who got to hold them. Many a Saturday afternoon was spent passing one of the boys over the fence for them to love up and cuddle. If my mower quit, Gene had his over for me to borrow before I could ask. On long, dark winter nights, they would ring me up to come over so I could get a break from entertaining my boys. Many a late Sunday afternoon, Meg would hand me—right over my white picket fence—a tart glass of Chardonnay, covered in plastic wrap and secured with a rubber band to be sipped luxuriously after the boys had gone to bed.  While you could say I was lucky to have them next door (and I was), I also had to do my part:  being open to receiving their friendship and generosity.

Sometimes, I had to get out of my own way first.  For instance, while we didn’t stray too far from home those days, as it honestly felt like more work than it was worth, we did venture on some road trips to see friends and family. My college roommate lives about four hours away, but making the trip felt like going across the country. However, once we got there, it was worth it!  Having an extra set of eyes on my boys was a huge relief. One of my favorite memories was the time Kristi insisted I retreat to the master bath to spend some time in the luxurious whirlpool bathtub. She filled the tub with fragrant bubbles, placed a full glass of wine on the edge of the tub and sent me upstairs with strict instructions to soak for a good long time, while she and her family played with my boys.

During the 2009 recession, when the boys were teens, I went through a job layoff. I limped along with unemployment and my life-saving emergency fund; but money was extra tight, and I had two hungry teenage boys at home. One night at church, my dear friend Deb was admiring my Bible cover. She asked to see it and while she was checking that out, I got distracted, talking to some other friends. It was only later that I discovered Deb faked her interest in my Bible in order to slip a few gift cards into it for gas and groceries.  I wept upon discovering her act of kindness when I could have refused it by insisting she take them back, knowing money was tight for her already.

Yes, I have been extremely blessed by the love and thoughtfulness of those around me. But I also had to be willing to accept acts of love and service with an open heart and a smiling face.  I know my sons have witnessed all of this goodness and my response to it.  It has shaped their hearts into being givers themselves. We pay it forward when we can, spreading love and kindness to others going through their own rough patch. So promise me this: stop being stubborn; let others help you, knowing that we are all here to support and uplift each other.

Renee Brown is the tired yet happy mother of two young adult sons, Sam and Zachary. Almost an empty nester, she loves sharing her single parent experiences with the goal of providing hope and encouragement to those struggling on that “long and winding road.” Renee lives in Minneapolis, works in advertising, and also blogs for Your Teen magazine.

The post Accepting the Gift of Help appeared first on Parenting Advice.