Mothers Aren’t for Hitting

People are NOT for hitting.  And that includes parents.  Put a stop to it at once.

People are NOT for hitting. And that includes parents. Put a stop to it at once.

If you know young children, you know about explosive anger. There’s lots to be frustrated about when you’re little, and this pent up emotional energy often breaks out physically.  Kids hit, kick, cry and yell.

Hitting per se is not bad. It’s the target. “Let Kids Hit and Kick” is the title of a chapter in It’s OK Not to Share. It gives you tips on how to accept the wild emotions and energy while setting firm limits on behavior.  ”You’re mad, but I can’t let you hit your brother.  If you need to hit, hit the pillow.  It can’t get hurt.”

As parents, we rush to protect other living things – brothers, sisters, neighbor kids, the cat, the houseplant – from our child’s rage.  But what about our own bodies?  It’s quite simple:

Mothers aren’t for hitting.  Fathers aren’t for hitting.

This needs to be an absolutely firm line. People aren’t for hitting.  And that includes mothers.

I emphasize mothers here, rather than fathers, because it seems moms have a tendency to allow children to hit them.  Countless times I’ve seen angry, frustrated young children attempt to hit their mothers.  And their mothers let them.

We cannot allow a child to think it’s OK to hit a parent. This crosses a dangerous relationship line. People aren’t for hitting and parents are people. Why any exceptions?  If kids are allowed to hit their mothers growing up, they come to believe that hitting some people is OK.  A mother now.  A future girlfriend or wife or child later.

What a horrible lesson to convey: don’t hit people, but family members are the exception.

Besides, kids want to be stopped.  They’re angry, but they don’t want to be allowed to do just anything.  They’re out of control and that’s scary.  It’s especially frightening for a child to strike a parent. They know it’s wrong.  Crossing the line typically terrifies them more than their own anger. They don’t know if they’ll lose their parent’s love.

Setting boundaries is a big part of what life’s all about.

If you’re a parent who lets yourself be hit by a child, take action to stop. Set boundaries for your body. Move fast, be firm, pin your child’s flailing arms if you have to. Say over and over to both yourself and your child: “I won’t let you hit me. People are not for hitting.”

You owe it to yourself, to your child and to the world.

It's OK small coverFor more tips about how to set effective boundaries on these tricky issues and how to deal with a child who tries to hit a lot, see chapters on emotions, limit setting and hitting and kicking in It’s OK Not to Share: And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids.  

What about you?  Do you remember what it felt like to try to hit your mother or father? Have you ever let your child hit you? How does it feel when you see a mother or father letting themselves be hit in public?

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

One Response to Mothers Aren’t for Hitting

  1. I hadn’t thought about the domestic abuse connection to allowing children to hit, but wow, does that make sense! And your alternative, to hit a pillow (or other inanimate object that can’t be hurt) is brilliant.

    I’ve always been an advocate of providing a punching bag for adults to beat up when they’re angry. Not a human punching bag of course, but one that boxers use. Or one of those inflatable plastic figures that are weighted on the bottom so you can knock them over and they bounce right back up, ready for another left hook.


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Climbing UP the Slide

Going UP the slide is good for kids, but it's hard on parents.

Going UP the slide is good for kids, but it’s hard on parents. – photo by Emily Plank

If you’ve ever been on a U.S. playground, you know one of the biggest controversies is this: should kids be allowed to go up the slide? The fact the question exists at all shows there’s a split between what’s good for kids and what’s good for parents.  In most cases it’s not about safety, it’s about parental pressure — judging, social pressure exerted from one parent (typically a stranger) to another.

Isn’t that odd, that in the realm of children’s play, it matters more what the other adults think?

I know how harsh the bad looks can be. I’m one of those parents who lets the kids climb up the slide. Why? Because it’s healthy play, full of adventure, risk, and sometimes peer negotiation. It also does no harm. It follows the golden renegade rule:

It’s OK if it’s not hurting people or property.

Kids going up a slide giggle. They feel powerful.  They gain balance, spatial awareness, and yes, social awareness. If a conflict comes up — between the kids not the parents — kids typically resolve it as part of the game’s flow.

The typical American playground is static. The swings are fun, and going up and down the slide is fun, but there’s nothing to move or create or build.  Scattered around the world are adventure playgrounds, including this one recently featured in The Atlantic, which gives kids lots to play with — including fire.

A playground with FIRE!  Click link below to watch video clip - (sorry, an ad appears first)

A playground with FIRE! Click link below to watch video clip – (sorry, an ad appears first)

So if you don’t have a fire-burning, saw-cutting, water-splashing, junk-filled playground near your house, what do you do?  Some ideas:

  • Relax the parents around you.  Say something out loud that other adults can hear. “It’s OK with me if they go up.” or “Seems as if they’re doing fine.”
  • Address the concern. “Looks as if you’re worried about something. What’s your concern?” Chances are the kids themselves can problem-solve and fix it.
  • Point out observations to your kids. ”It’s crowded today.  Looks as if the slide’s only for going down right now.”
  • Go somewhere else.  Modern playgrounds are not particularly interesting places to play. You can’t move the pieces. There are too many judging eyes and safety rules. Skip the official ‘playground’ and find some water. Throw stones. Wade. Go to the woods and whack sticks or build a tree fort. Balance on logs. Pick up logs and heave them about. Maybe you’ll even find a salamander.

What do you think?  Have you ever been caught in the slide dilemma? Is it more about you and other adults, or is it about children’s play? Know any great playgrounds?

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

5 Responses to Climbing UP the Slide

  1. Erika Cedillo says:

    I’ve think of this issue many times. Mainly when my oldest was very little (she’s now 5) and I kind of “learned” that you should teach them to go on their bump. But in the back of my mind I would also think that going up is also fun, but I held myself from encouraging her to do it. Until she was older and more stable (3years), I realized that at her daycare they had a slide where they were allowed and kind of encouraged to climb up and that was an aha! moment for me. It was just a matter of waiting for her to be older and stronger to practice that skill. Now with my second that is 17 months, we are in the process of teaching her to go down on her bump only while her sister explores going up. I finally understood it’s a matter of safety and development. As for the harsh look of other parents, I think the only issue is you make sure your children don’t take over the slide and allow others to have a chance, and to teach them of being mindful of younger children. Going up or down, I think it’s a matter of physical ability and they need to learn what they can do! Don’t you remember how strong you felt when doing that? I like to see how proud she feels when she masters a new challenge, a new structure.

  2. My little babe just started going down slides (at 17 months) and she already tries to climb up them also! It must be some rite of childhood!

  3. Christy Qualin says:

    If other kids aren’t gonna slide down when my toddler is trying to climb up, I’m okay with it. Have never encountered negative vibes or comments from other adults. My playground pet peeve tho is people who bring their dogs! It’s for kids, not dogs!

  4. Jan Waters says:

    All kids, I believe if left alone, want to go up the slide at some point. The only problem I see is that some want to go up while some are coming down. But then what a wonderful opportunity to problem solve a conflict!! Jan

  5. David Parker says:

    Just make sure you don’t let our nanny government decide!

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Playing Dead

Playing dead is important work in early childhood.

Playing dead is important work in early childhood.

It’s easy to idealize childhood. Sometimes we forget just how much young kids have to grapple with. Death, for instance. Even kids who have not been personally touched by death are trying to understand mortality.

Think about it. A young child, about age 3-5, must wrestle with startling new information. That’s about the age kids learn about death. That they will die. That mom and dad will die. That all living things will someday die.

I still remember when I learned that I was mortal. I was around age 4. I knew about people dying in story books, but it was amazing and puzzling to realize that I, too, would someday cease to exist.

This is powerful stuff, and when young children encounter powerful ideas, they need to explore them through play. ”We going to die and fall in the deep blue sea and turn into little crumbs of people,” a child might say. Some children play games of funeral. Some ask lots of “morbid” questions. Others incorporate frequent pretend death into their dramatic play. “You’re dead. You killed me. New guy.” They lie still and try not to breathe. Play is the way young children process the immense fact that they will die someday.

Beginning to understand the concept of death is a major task of the preschool years.

Next time you witness kids playing dead in a game, look beyond the idea of war games. Games of life and death are vital for children to explore. It’s child’s play, but it’s a whole lot more.

Do you talk with children openly about death? How have your children expressed their interest in death? What play involving death bothers you?

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

6 Responses to Playing Dead

  1. deidra says:

    I had to talk openly about death with my child at an early age. My mother died of cancer many years ago before he was born. He started to ask questions about her and I was very honest with him. I simply said, she was sick and the doctors couldn’t make her better and that she was in heaven now. Interestingly, a year later a friend of mine delivered prematurely and the baby lived about a month and then died. My son knew she had been pregnant. We didn’t see them a whole lot and I kept my fingers crossed he wouldn’t ask about the baby. Well, as luck would have it he did. Again, I told him the baby was very sick and the doctors couldn’t make him better. My sweet little boy said(he was 4 years old), “I think the baby is in heaven and your mom is taking care of him.”

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Oh, that’s a sweet story. Thanks for sharing, Deidra. Glad you have been open to talking about death with your child. He will gain so much comfort and wisdom from your approach.

  2. As my babe is only 17 months, I don’t have experience with this yet. But since we live with a house full of animals (some old) and keep chickens, I know that she will encounter death with some of them while she is at a young age. I believe in telling the truth and not sugar coating things. Some people use phrases like “going over the rainbow bridge”, etc, and I think that is confusing. Death is a fact of life, so I think being open about it is important, even with a young child.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I haven’t heard the “rainbow bridge” one! Sounds as if your child will have lots of personal encounters with animal death. That can be so helpful. Glad you are approaching the topic as a simple part of the life cycle. I predict you’ll have many meaningful conversations ahead! Thanks for writing.

  3. Heather, Our now-adult son learned about death through the loss of pets, making the transition to the death of human beings that we knew a little easier to understand and cope with.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes, pets do help kids learn about loss, death and grief, don’t they? I believe you’re right – it makes the transition to losing humans more understandable.

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Lessons from a Pirate Ship Cake

Yes! We eat it. The pirate ship cake is exciting to make, but devouring it is part of the process.

Yes! We eat it. The pirate ship cake is exciting to make, but devouring it is part of the process.

My kindergartener loves pirates, so we concocted a pirate cake for his birthday party. I love the process of turning a child’s wish into reality. The ship was three-tiered, complete with poop deck, bowsprit, topsails, gun ports and a chocolate wafer plank. All told, it took eight hours to make. Then we plunged a knife in through the chocolate frosted deck boards and devoured it.

“How could you eat something like that?” people asked. “It’s too beautiful to eat…all that work…”

Elaborate cakes give me joy, but it’s the joy of creative process I love most.  The cake itself is ephemeral. Concocted, created with great enthusiasm, then… GONE.

It reminds me how important process is to children when they create art. The delight comes from experimenting and bringing something to life. It’s the action of art that’s important for kids, not the final product. Asking “how” questions when a child shows us artwork helps keep the focus on the process.  Next time a child shows you a painting or drawing, ask an action question “How did you do that?”

The cake itself has been reduced to crumbs. The Playmobil pirate guys are back in the living room, the frosting scraped off their feet. The cake is gone, but the fact that it was created lives on.  What we create stays with us. The process shapes us. The joy it gives prompts us to do more. What will be our next creative endeavor?

Creating edible art helps us practice the art of letting go. This is an essential life skill – it helps us accept change, accept death, and refocus life to center on relationships and experiences rather than ‘stuff.’ Besides, what’s the good of keeping it?  A cake will only get moldy.  Better to eat the pirate ship while it’s still fresh and marvelous.

And, of course, moving on to the next stage is also delicious.

What do you hang on to? How do you practice letting go and moving on? What’s your latest creation?

~                      ~                    ~

For those of you curious about the pirate ship cake process:

IMG_5104I built the ship in three layers, using up three cake mixes. The ship was longer than a 13x 9 pan, so I had to cut and piece cake together with frosting.  Using a pattern helps keep the shape consistent between the layers.





Pretzel rods made an excellent “wooden” bowsprit and taff rail around the ship. I attached the pretzels to the tootsie roll stanchions with dabs of frosting.  The cannon balls are malted milk balls.  Buckets are made of rollos.  The plank is a chocolate wafer cookie. I made the gun ports by poking in black licorice pieces and outlining them with colored frosting.



IMG_5123To make an ocean I just directly frosted the wooden cutting board used as a base, making “waves” with swirls of extra frosting. I originally hoped to make edible sails or at least masts made of pretzels rods, but paper ones worked better.  The sails are cardstock paper poked by wooden barbeque skewers (pretzel rods were too fat to do that). I added skewers at the bottom of each sail for the yards, and the crow’s nest is made of cardstock, too.






Finishing touches – pirate figurines, pirate gold, extra supply of swords, tiny treasure map and Calico Jack’s pirate flag flying off the stern.







Posted in Celebrating Holidays, Cool Cakes and Costumes, Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

5 Responses to Lessons from a Pirate Ship Cake

  1. deidra says:

    WOW is all I can say!

  2. What a great mom! I would’ve killed for a birthday cake like that when I was 8 yrs old.

    My weakness is hanging on to financial documents way past when I need to. Not sure why, I just do, but am mentally working up to the day I start shredding the oldest of them.

    I have no trouble eating any culinary masterpiece either I’ve created (rare) or have eaten in a finer restaurant (a bit less rare, but we don’t eat out at fancy places very often).


  3. Erika Cedillo says:

    I loved your post!! Thanks for the reminder of focusing on to the process, the memories, the experiences and relationships… and to let go.
    I hang on to every single craft my children do as if I would like to document every stage and how their abilities evolve. What I’ve came up to is to create a digital file so I take a picture of everything and now I have a big digital photo album that only takes virtual space but that I can go back to and see their crafts. Then I just choose the very special ones and I restrict myself to just 3 (well maybe 4-5) for every 6 months or so and then let go the rest because all are in photos.

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The Emotions of Help

Packing lunch is a cinch - but only if you've got the right emotions to go with it.

Packing lunch is a cinch – but only if you’ve got the right emotions to go with it.

I trained both my kids to pack their own lunch boxes before the start of school. The other day I finished my morning routine early and casually asked my 8-year-old if he wanted help.

“Help?!” he retorted, scorn in his voice. “What would I need help for?  This is easy!”

He’s right. It is easy. Fruit, protein, sandwich, water bottle filled with water, nutritious snack, spoon if you need one. Put it all in. Zip it up. My offer to help was preposterous. It undermined his capable independence.

I’m a big advocate for play, but I also love it when kids WORK. I think we forget sometimes that chores we consider “work” are new skills for kids and provide them with a wonderful sense of independence, power and competency. He’s right – it is easy. He can do it. And when other kids at school say “I wonder what did my dad/mom packed in my lunch box?” he can say “I know what I have. I packed it myself.”

But there’s also a flip side. Much as taking control of chores gives our kids a surge of good feelings of independence, it can also be too much. Lunch packing is easy – my kindergartener can do it – but he can’t handle it right now. It’s not the physical action that’s hard, it’s the emotions. At this stage, he’s using all his emotional energy just getting dressed, brushing his teeth and adhering to the schedule of school buses. One more thing and he’d crack.

When to introduce a new chore and responsibility?

Try individualizing it by child and temperament. I like to give my oldest one new jobs (making the bed) when he’s about 1 year past being physically ready. Then the job is easy and no burden. It works best for my youngest one if he gets a new job just before he can do it well physically – being a younger sibling he seeks the emotional pride of being able to do something beyond his years.

Have you seen pride and self-confidence grow when children work? Do you consider emotional as well as physical readiness for new life steps?

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

2 Responses to The Emotions of Help

  1. I admire that you assign tasks by child, temperament, and capability.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks, Laurie. I remember your parents also tailored tasks to fit each child. Personalities do come different!

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A Musical Renegade

Tribute to a renegade

A song to sing all over this land.

A beloved Renegade died this week. You probably know him. Pete Seeger.

His sing-alongs unified millions. His ideas sometimes shocked folks. Like this typical Pete anecdote –  Pete walked by the living room where his grandson and a friend were playing Monopoly. “Might as well be playing ‘Rape,’” he said, letting the words hang in the air. Then he left the room.


This one still shocks me. But we need that renegade voice. The one who questions, the one who looks at things from another angle. The one who speaks up, voicing ideas that may be unpopular and certainly contrary to the status quo.

We may not agree with everything a renegade says, but we need to hear them. Because they jolt us. They wake us up. Wake us up enough to consider our own opinions and make deliberate choices.

I crossed paths with Pete Seeger because he founded my beloved Clearwater, the famous Hudson River Sloop that sails the waters of the Hudson.  I sailed on the Clearwater for a year, living on the boat as deckhand and Third Mate. It’s a boat of environmental education, but also a boat of joy and song. Pete and others built the boat to bring attention to the polluted river by bringing people down to the river again and reminding them they love it. Because, of course, we fight to save what we love.

Pete was the ultimate renegade. He wouldn’t stop. Five years ago, when I stood on the National Mall for President Obama’s inaugural concert, there was Pete Seeger up on stage at the Lincoln Memorial, still playing his banjo at age 89 in the frigid January air. Last year he was still adding new verses to “This Land is Your Land” keeping up with current causes in support of Farm Aid.

Pete had a file a mile long with the FBI.  The House Un-American Activities Committee marched him in for interrogation and sentenced him to jail because he wouldn’t stop. If they had woken up, they would have realized that the only un-American activities going on were the actions of the House Committee itself. Speaking out is a vital part of healthy democracy.

In President Clinton’s words, Pete was “an inconvenient artist who dared to sing things as he saw them.”

We all need to do that. Sing out what we see.  Take action to make positive changes.

Pete’s weapon was always his banjo. He woke up people’s hearts with his songs. Universal songs like “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and quintessential American songs that he popularized like “This Land is Your Land” and “We Shall Overcome.” Words painted on his banjo said, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.”

The lyrics say it best:

Nobody living can ever stop me

As I go walking that freedom highway

Farewell, Pete. Your music will carry on. Most people may think of you singing around a campfire, but I’ll always picture you with a banjo in your hand on the deck of Clearwater, or up on your Beacon hilltop home filtering maple sap into buckets through your handkerchiefs.

Good work. Good rest.

Have you sung with your children today? What renegade do you admire? 

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

9 Responses to A Musical Renegade

  1. Fleda Brown says:

    Wonderful post, Heather. Thank you for taking the time to talk about him.

  2. Jan Waters says:

    Pete has been a role model for us all at the School for Young Children. He will be greatly missed. Jan Waters

  3. No kids, but I sing just about every day. Usually sing along with recordings by “good” singers, since I need an extra large bucket in which to carry a tune. Singing is wonderfully invigorating and empowering, knowing that you can, either alone or with a large group (which is spectacular, hundreds singing along together in four-part harmony), permanently impress into someone’s mind a message, a feeling, an emotion. The same goes for playing a musical instrument.

    One thing I was fortunate to have in my family when I was growing up was the love of music. We learned all the old folk songs by listening to my parents’ records. Also had them some in elementary music classes, but most came from listening at home. That’s something that should be re-emphasized in schools- music first of all, but folk songs in particular, since they so often represent our common roots as well as our heritage and nationality.

    Some of the greats even changed the world.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I love what you said – “folk songs in particular, since they so often represent our common roots as well as our heritage and nationality.” Plus learning others’ folk songs – they tell so much about a place and people.

  4. Nikki Stahl says:

    I loved this post, Heather! (well, I love them all whether I agree or not). You always make me think. Thank you!

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Why Less School is Good

Snow Days are an excellent antidote to play deprivation.

Snow Days are an excellent antidote to play deprivation.

It’s another Snow Day for our local schools today. A day of universal rejoicing around here. Of course, unexpected Snow Days add inconvenience for adults. For me, that means scurrying to reschedule interviews and arrange last minute sitters, but most of all I feel relief. My kids now have the Gift of Time.

Time to pursue their own ideas. Time to follow passions and whatever’s most fascinating to them right now. Time to be themselves. Time to Play. And for me, a Snow Day is also an emotional day off. It means I can give the kids what they most need without bucking the system.

I’m a proponent of short school days. I believe some school is good, just not too much. Kids have so much learning to do that is truly self-directed. What they most desperately need from us adults is TIME. Time without schedules, time constraints, demands and commands. Time guided only by daily cycles of sleeping, waking, eating and family chores.

I know short school days work. My high school had only 4 regular school days.  Wednesdays were internships and time off. My elementary school had 3 recesses.  Morning recess, afternoon recess plus an hour at lunch. With a six hour school day, that meant class time was only four hours.

Do you know the work of Peter Gray? He beautifully explains the benefits of children’s play. How telling, as he says, that people cry cruelty when we do experiments on animals to deprive them of play, yet for the last 50 years we’ve been doing a massive experiment of systematically depriving our children of play. It makes me shudder.

Standing up for the right to play takes courage. It means skipping team sports. It means adjusting adult work schedules and income. It means purposefully taking children out of school some days and saying no to homework. It means partnering with teachers and having those difficult conversations. It means letting your child go to the park alone.

As Mark Twain said: “Never let formal education get in the way of your learning.”

For us, it also means celebrating Snow Days.

Read more about the social, emotional and moral value of play in Peter Gray’s work. Find more of play’s benefits and ways to preserve play in “Don’t Steal Play” the opening chapter of It’s OK Not to Share or read reviews.

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

15 Responses to Why Less School is Good

  1. Elizabeth Dell says:

    So glad you shared this with your readers Heather. It is a fantastic article that I wish was required reading for every educator and policy maker.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for sending it on, Elizabeth!

      Perhaps the policy makers need it most. So many teachers understand play’s value but have a lot of requirements to follow.

  2. Holly Dean says:

    So true. And not to mention the absurd amounts of homework children have to do. How are children supposed to find themselves or explore what they want if they have no private time or ME time? It blows my mind that more people don’t think about how their own children spend the majority of their time. The excuse that all that time is required to learn is refuted when one realized it only takes about 100 hrs to learn to read, write, and do basic math. My children unschool.. and it’s the most wonderful gift I could have possibly given them. We don’t have to make jokes about going someplace we dislike every single day until the age of 18.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      This is really meaning of life, isn’t it? How we spend our time, both as children and adults. Life is the gift of time and we have to decide what to do with it.

      Glad the unschooling works for your family. Good for you! Though I know school can be marvelous – I loved my elementary school so much that I was sad about weekends – so school can be done right.

  3. Martha Amezquita says:

    I agree but in Calif. Even in the suburbs I would never let them go alone to the park. Sad sign of the times out here.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I hear you. Every neighborhood has its own situation and I know you’ll find another spot for your kids to gain that independence.

  4. Zane says:

    Hooray for snow days, free time, play, and homeschooling! We cherish our “open space” time around here too and consider it the very best gift. When I was in college I took a wonderful class team taught by three professors from different disciplines. They included “open space” in our schedule — a classroom period for which nothing was planned. Those “open space” days resulted in some of the most memorable and through-provoking conversations I remember. It was a lesson well taken!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Love your story of open space days. What wonderful professors to recognize the value of open space time and the life long lessons you obviously absorbed so well.

  5. Katie says:

    I agree. Letting a child use their brains and bodies for what they want to do, instead of following the exact instructions on a page, will hopefully encourage creative thinking. Even in my little 15 month old babe, I find that she is learning more new things just by entertaining herself, rather than by me sitting down with her and trying to have her put the puzzle pieces in the correct spot.

  6. Jill Dodds says:

    We were remembering you fondly this evening Heather and your fantastic presentation you gave us! Tomorrow we are hosting Peter Gray for our conference. Another wonderful learning opportunity supporting the importance of play! Stay warm!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Enjoy every minute of your time with Peter Gray. Thanks for your fond remembrances. Keep opening doors in Iowa!

  7. Thanks again for spreading the renegade word to the world, Heather. The US education system needs a massive overhaul and you have many of the answers to the questions that everyone doesn’t quite know how to ask because they don’t understand one of the root problems with regard to education–the inability of a rigid system to cater to millions of individuals.

  8. deidra says:

    I loved snow days as a child. I wish I could stay home on snow days with my child. I work and it would mean using up one of my precious vacation days that I like to save for summer vacation, time off at the holidays, school field trips, etc. I am a big proponent of less school, more play and the like. But these snow days are so hard on working parents. It is easier for us to buck the system and take a sick day if we need a day off.

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It’s Not a Choice

Behavior isn't always a choice.  Plus, too much choice can be overwhelming for children.

Behavior isn’t always a choice. Plus, too much choice can be overwhelming for children.

Our culture loves choice. Ever feel overwhelmed by it all? Go to the grocery store and there are 15 types of bread. Eighty types of snack food. In my grocery store, there must be at least 30 types of crackers alone. Some choice is helpful. Too much is overwhelming, especially if we’re not in a mood equipped to handle it.

Choice is hard on kids. The world is pretty overwhelming already – fascinating, yes, but it takes young kids enormous energy just to process it all.

We often expect kids to make choices.  Mostly, logical choices about their own behavior.  ”That’s a good choice,” we tell them.  ”That’s a bad choice.” Or “Did you make a good choice?”  ”Hitting your brother wasn’t a good choice.”

The truth is how they behave isn’t always a choice for children. At times – especially when they’re well rested, fed, feeling safe and cheerful – young kids can make sensible choices and control their impulsive behavior. But often they can’t. It’s too hard.

We need to understand that and not be disappointed. Not be angry. We need to put a stop to the bad behavior, but not assume it’s a choice. Sometimes kids want to stop but need help. Often they’re scared of their raging feelings or actions. Believe it or not, the ability to “stop” is hard.  Kids may not know how.

By calling their behavior a “choice” we expect them to be logical beings with fully developed impulse control and a steady hand on their emotions. Kids are still developing impulse control, and it’s often impossible for them to “choose” to stop when they are raging mad, scared or sad.

Acknowledge it’s not always a choice   Instead of saying “That wasn’t a good choice.” Try: “It’s too hard right now. I’m going to move your body away.”

Keep choices to a minimum    Being asked too many questions can be stressful for kids.  It also gives young kids an inflated notion of who’s the boss in the family. Try: “We’re going to the park.” instead of “Do you want to go to the park or the school playground today?” The kids will enjoy wherever they are, and chances are you already know which will fit the family best.

Give limited choices in daily life   If getting dressed is a stumbling block, you can provide a limited choice. “You have to get dressed now.  Are you going to wear the blue shirt or the red shirt?” This allows the child some power.  The less often you use this tool, the more effective it can be.

Give free choice in play   This is where children really get to practice choosing ideas and actions. Limit behavior if it crosses the line, but give kids plenty of time to make choices and risks in play.

It's OK small coverMaking good and bad choices becomes more relevant as kids get older. Most young kids’ “choices” are really learning how to set limits and cope with intense feelings. Want to know more? Read chapters on setting limits and wild emotions in the book It’s OK Not to Share.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by so much choice?  When does choice work well in your family?

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

8 Responses to It’s Not a Choice

  1. Heather – We need to cut kids some slack. I was 50 years old before I realized that, “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing” (a choice).

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes, recognizing choices is tricky. Love your wise motto! Everyone should have it in a visible place for daily reminders.

  2. I have no kids, but I’m one of those who is more and more overwhelmed by choice, most notably at the grocery store, like Heather mentioned. I also see overwhelming choice in other areas: cars, movies, TV shows, internet websites and activities, restaurants, clothing, you name it, there are often too many choices to be manageable.

    That’s why I think there is a slight advantage to living in a small town. Choice is limited by geography if nothing else.


  3. Anne says:

    Hello Heather! I was wondering if you could recommend any pre-schools in or near traverse city, that are on the eco friendly side, if they even exist here? Do you know anything about the “Human Nature” school or the cooperative preschool?< I have been curious about your book for a while, will have to read it. Thanks!
    Will, check for response.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Hmm…I’ve never observed at the Human Nature school, and I always think you should observe before judging a place. I have heard from a few families who enjoy it there. Waldorf schools tend to have a naturey side, and there are 1-2 small programs in TC and Benzie. The cooperative preschool does a good job with play but doesn’t particularly emphasize nature or get outside much. My all around favorite preschool in the area is the Leelanau Children’s Center in Leland and Northport. They get outside and have gardens and animals, and their commitment to free play is top notch. Enjoy the book!

  4. As always, very clearly explained and right on the money. Looking forward to sharing this with friends and family. Thanks!

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A Case Against ‘Use your Words’

"Use your words" is too vague for young kids.  Give them effective tools.

“Use your words” is too vague for young kids. Give them effective, specific tools to solve disputes.

When there’s trouble afoot –  a child grabs a toy or pushes someone – it’s common to hear a nearby adult say “Use your words.”

That’s frustrating for kids. “Use your words” isn’t enough information. Which words?  What do I say? How do I do it? If we want kids to talk out their differences, instead of slugging each other, we need to give them effective words to say.

Especially for young kids, who are still developing emotional control and verbal skills, talking while mad is a huge challenge.  That’s why offering them exact words to say can work such magic.

“Say ‘Stop!’”

“Tell her what you don’t like.”

“Tell her what’s making you mad.”

“Tell him what you’re worried about.”

Specifics like this help an angry child know what to do next.  Sure, she’s using her words, but she knows what to say. Soon these words become a second nature.  They need to be.  Because when kids are mad they’re so busy raging inside about the immediate injustice that words fail them.

This happens to adults, too.  ”Words fail me.” We don’t know what to say.  We either say the wrong thing or we don’t say anything.  We all need help knowing what to say in high intensity situations.

Parents can’t always just “use our words” all the time either. If an angry child crosses a boundary, words aren’t enough. We need to physically stop her and remove her from the situation. It’s a hands-on job.

What should we say when we move a child?  ”It’s too hard for you to stop right now.”  This acknowledges the situation – the child simply can’t muster the power to control her impulses at the moment.  She can’t stop hitting/ knocking over the tower/ sitting on her sister without adult help.  It’s too much.  Simply say “It’s too hard right now” as you move the child away.

It's OK small coverHaving the right words handy is a godsend.  That’s why I ended each chapter of It’s OK Not to Share with a list of effective words.  Words kids can say.  Words adults can say.  It’s handy to have a resource of easy-to-remember words, especially in the heat of the moment, when words might just fail you.

What other phrases do you hear adults commonly use that bug you? What effective words do you rely on?

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

4 Responses to A Case Against ‘Use your Words’

  1. I always thought the phrase, “that’s not nice” was pretty lame. Words like “nice” which are so vague, probably confuse children more than they instruct or guide them. “Be nice to him.” “If you’re nice to her, she might let you play with her toy.” I think the more specific you are with kids, the better they learn and understand how to handle situations.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Right on! “Nice” and “good” as well as “bad” are all vague words. Being specific works wonders.

  2. Another great post, Heather! You asked, “What other phrases do you hear adults commonly use that bug you?”

    It grates the bajeebers out of me to hear a parents say, “I’m going to count to three.” In my perspective, that’s BEGGING the child to push the envelope to three (five, seven or nineteen). And more to the point, when they get to the “magical” three and don’t do anything (don’t back up their “threat” with whatever it was they promised).

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Ah, yes, counting is very popular among parents. I’ve never done counting with my children. Never done time outs, either. But, boy, they certainly do get limits set on their behavior.

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Castle Cake

Celebrating the new year with a castle cake.

Celebrating the new year with a castle cake.

January is cake time in our family. My youngest has a birthday and we have fun making elaborate cakes. For his 4th birthday he asked for a castle cake with a princess coming out of it. Thought you’d like to see the 7-tower castle cake we made as a result.

IMG_2883We built the towers with cake and upside down ice cream cones. The doors and windows were made of fruit roll-ups snipped into shape with scissors. The moat was blue paper with a pretzel drawbridge.

Beware – making this cake takes lots of cake batter. The main castle base was built with two square cakes stacked on top of each other. Then I baked another rectangular cake and cut it into smaller pieces, plus made a few cupcakes for smaller tower pieces. I ended up baking extra cake along the way to finish all the towers.

And this January?  He’s asked for a pirate ship cake.

What cool cakes have you ever seen or created? Any tips for making a pirate ship?

Posted in Celebrating Holidays, Cool Cakes and Costumes | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

8 Responses to Castle Cake

  1. Holy Toledo – that’s FANTASTIC!

    Ahoy Matey, I’m looking forward to photos of the pirate ship!

    May 2014 be filled with simple, slow moments that nourish your soul.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thank you, Laurie. I’ll let you know what the pirate ship looks like. Maybe we could use tootsie rolls for cannons.

  2. You’re one cool mom, Heather! If my mom had made a cake for me like that when I was four, I might have keeled over from excitement right then and there.

    No tips for a pirate ship other than don’t try to make tall masts or yardarms from cake.(duh) I’d use colored straws or thin wooden dowels.

    Happy New Year.


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I was thinking of pretzel rods for the masts and bowsprit and maybe yards as well. Still debating about the sails…

  3. Katie says:

    Funny that I read this post today, because I just got cleaning out some old picture albums and found a picture of a hamburger shaped cake that I made for my brother’s birthday when I was taking a Wilton cake decorating course. I made two 8″ round yellow cakes for the buns, then frosted them. I made a 8″ chocolate for the “burger” and edged the top of that with some red and green for the “lettuce” and “ketchup”. It looked pretty good!

  4. jenifer says:

    Great cake! When my princess-obsessed daughter turns 4 in September, I’ll have to pull it out. Then again, maybe I can wow her with a minimized version when her sister turns 1 in February. :)

    Could you use wontons for sails? Maybe brushed with butter and sprinkled with sugar?

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Have fun with your birthday castles! Ooh – and thanks for the sail idea. Never would have thought of that.

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