Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Scary Halloween

For parents, the tricky part about trick-or-treating on Halloween comes in deciding how much freedom your kids will enjoy that evening. Will you send them out the door to canvass the neighborhood without you? Will you follow along behind them, watching from the sidewalk as they ring doorbells? Will you closely monitor their candy intake to avoid over-consumption? Will you hand out only organic Clementines in an effort to staunch the flow of sugar?

These are the questions that plague the modern parent—and it’s really no wonder that Halloween brings out the angst in us. If we no longer send out our children onto our own street—the street that we decided was safe enough to buy a house and live on—without our direct supervision, then why would we on Halloween? If we no longer we deem it okay to let our upper-elementary school age children or older walk to the bus stop by themselves in broad daylight, we certainly are not going to let them go alone to knock on strangers’ doors at night dressed up as Peter Pan and Elsa.

Image courtesy of maple/
Then there is the boost Halloween receives from the media, who ratcheted up fears in parents with tales—unfounded, unsubstantiated—of poisoned candy handed out to random children by crazy people. (Read some of the debunked myths on for just how the media loves to point the finger at Halloween goodies.)

The common denominator in all of these is fear of harm to our kids. That’s why this week, you’ve probably seen stories of hospitals that will scan Halloween candy for free and tips on how to make sure your child’s costume won’t cause injury when walking around the neighborhood. That’s also the reason why shopping malls offer indoor “safe” trick-or-treating under the bright lights and Christmas decorations.

What can you do to stop this fear epidemic? Take a moment to reflect on all the things you love about your neighborhood. The person who walks his cute little dog by your house at 7 a.m. every day. The neighbor who tosses your newspaper on the porch when you’re away. The children with which your kids play and go to school. This nice, safe place you’re raising your family. There’s nothing to fear the other 364 days of the year, so why pick on Halloween?

So get out there and get to know your neighbors a little bit better. If your kids are old enough (and I would hazard a guess that at least four or fifth graders and up are), then let them go trick-or-treating on their own. If that makes you really nervous, then have a time or street limit. They will have a blast being independent, and you can greet all the trick-or-treaters who come by your house.

And loosen up on the candy. Hand out the good stuff and don’t worry about childhood obesity or tooth decay. One night of over-indulgence isn’t going to hurt anyone in the long run.

Until next time,


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Blessing of Siblings

Over the next several Tuesdays, I’m giving readers a sneak peak chapter-by-chapter at what’s inside my new book, Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace, which is available now, with permission of Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City.
Parents often plan how many kids to have based on the number of children they think they can handle. Sometimes, that number of influenced by their own childhoods or by seeing how the children of relatives or friends behave. What parents usually fail to consider is what a healthy relationship with brothers and sisters gives a child. Hearing your children snipe at each other, or remembering fights you had with your own siblings, might make you forget the many blessings brothers and sisters can bring to your life and to the lives of your children. Whether you have one brother or sister, or five, being a sibling provides you with someone who “gets you” when the world doesn’t and with someone to share the joys and burdens of life.

Almost from the time of our birth, we share with siblings our most intimate thoughts, ideas, and dreams. Together, we explore, collaborate, conspire, and protect. We goad each other to do good—and bad. We play together, torment each other at times, counsel each other, and comfort one another. For better or for worse, our brothers and sisters become a large part of who we are.

Often those relationships outlast parents, spouses, and friends. With brothers and sisters, you share a history—the good and the bad. So far, it seems that the gist of sibling research focuses on how the children interact with one another and with their parents. But what the studies haven’t yet tackled in-depth is how siblings help each other in a variety of ways with friendship being at the top.

If you look past the in-fighting, you’ll likely see some of the secret—and not so hidden—blessings of having a brother or sister (or both!). As you watch your own children interact, note the many ways they support each other. Maybe an older sister helps her little brother tie his shoelaces, or an older boy takes his sister’s hand without prompting to cross the street. These small gestures done “undercover,” so to speak, show you more of their hearts than anything else. Write a few of those down and look at the list often, especially when sibling conflict heats up. It’s a good way to remind yourself of the blessings of siblings.

Read more about why siblings can be blessings, both when kids are young and when they are older in Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace, available for now on, and Beacon Hill Press.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fairness Snapshot

The Scenario: Your two sons, ages eight and ten, usually get along just fine. But lately, whenever you have to discipline one, the other tells you it’s not fair. Sometimes, they’ve been so convincing that you’ve not addressed the problem. You’ve explained and explained why they need to stay out of the disciplining of their brother, but they won’t listen. What can you do?

The Solution: Step one is to stop explaining. They’re not listening, and they’re not going to listen or agree with your rationalization of why interfering is wrong. Step two is to realize that you’ve given the boys reason to think you don’t mean what you say. So they have come to the conclusion that if one interferes with a punishment of the other, chances are good you’ll back down.

Step three is to do something to fix the problem once and for all. The next time you’re about to punish one and the other interrupts to plead his case that you’re “not being fair,” respond with: “You’re right. I’m not. So now you both will receive the punishment since you interfered.” Then follow through with punishing both of them. That will stop the interfering soon.

Excerpted from Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace, available in October. Posted with permission of Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Separate and Unequal, or Fairness

Over the next several Tuesdays, I’m giving readers a sneak peak chapter-by-chapter at what’s inside my new book, Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace, which is available now, with permission of Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City.

“It’s not fair!” is one of the rallying cries of childhood. At any given moment, somewhere in the world, a child is sure she’s not getting a fair shake. You can’t blame kids for coveting fairness; after all, the concept of fairness seems to be wired into our DNA: Scientific research has discovered that our brains react to perceived inequity the same way as when we respond to the things that disgust us. That ingrained sense of fairness makes us hypersensitive to any slight or perceived inequality.

Our children have fully internalized this and use nearly every opportunity to invoke the “fairness doctrine.” These questions from our kids ring out in practically every family as some point: “Why do I always have to do this?” “Why does [sibling] get a pass and I get punished for the same thing?” “How come [sibling’s] piece of cake is bigger?” Often these queries, delivered in an aggrieved tone of voice, catch parents off guard and provoke angst as Mom and Dad start worrying about whether or not they are treating their children fairly.

That our children have absorbed a desire for fairness should come as no surprise, especially when fairness is emphasized in school (as it should be among peers). As they grow, kids accept that fairness has more nuances. When a child says, “It’s not fair,” she doesn’t mean that in the true sense of the word. It’s because at age six, she doesn’t get to stay up as late as the ten-year-old sibling. Or at age eight, she has to do more chores than her four-year-old brother.

It’s not just the kids who jump on the fair play bandwagon—we often bend over backwards to treat our children fairly. More than eight-six percent of parents participating in my sibling rivalry survey said they try to treat their children fairly or equally.

Practicing the fairness doctrine doesn’t lead to generosity and gentleness of spirit but to grumbling and hoarding. Among siblings, pursuit of fairness as a parent can create conflict, frustration, and disappointment because each child will be constantly assessing everything to make sure things are distributed evenly. Even if you strive for fairness within your family, your children will still find things to pout about, as in “He got more icing on his piece of cake than I did” or “She got new shoes and I didn’t.”

Read more about some areas that parents often attempt to play fair with their children and ways to correct this habit in Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace, available for now on, and Beacon Hill Press

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Comparison Snapshot

The Scenario: Your two kids each insist that you are favoring the other. How can you convince them you aren’t playing favorites?

The Solution: You can’t. What you can do is examine your own motives for the decisions you make concerning the kids. Are you thinking of them as individuals? Are you allowing your feelings of frustration about behavior color your interactions with one or the other? Are you comparing one with another on a frequent basis? Are you holding up one sibling as the “good” example too often?

Spend some time reviewing your own actions and see if you can pinpoint what might be convincing the children that you have a favorite. If, after you correct any behaviors on your part that could be contributing to their feelings, they still howl about favoritism, you can probably chalk it up to the fact that kids love drama, and ignore the comments. Eventually, as you work on keeping comparisons out of your home, they stop talking about favoritism and realize that they’re both your “favorites.”

Excerpted from Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace, available in October. Posted with permission of Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City
Content Sarah Hamaker
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