Playing with Fire: Why Risk is Good for Kids

Boiling water and fire - yes, my kids play with both. Here's their raspberry syrup concoction.

Boiling water and fire – yes, my kids play with both. Here’s their raspberry syrup concoction.

I’m back after a lovely, non-computer time this summer. We spent a lot of our time playing and traveling, including camping and playing with fire.

OK, I don’t have tots anymore. My youngest is seven, and that’s a wonderful age to play with fire. Yes, striking the match, building the fire, poking it and learning its power. Some days in our campsite or backyard he spent hours playing with fire.

Letting children work with fire has some risk, but it also helps keep them safe. After I trained my kids on basic safety and gauged their development, I was ready to take that risk.

Kids don’t like to get hurt. They don’t like pain, blood or owies and most kids avoid getting hurt at all costs. That’s why giving them some training – and then giving them some risks – works so well.

Risk helps kids get involved in their own safety. It helps them understand real dangers and gauge their own physical limits. When kids have experience with handling risk, they actually grow safer  – becoming less likely to take dangerous risks and more likely to understand their limits when dealing with reasonable risk.

Researchers have found that letting kids experience risk first-hand is the only way children learn how to judge danger. Whether it’s crossing a street or adding a stick to the fire, we need to introduce risks to our children’s lives.

What zany, somewhat risky things did you do this summer? Are you comfortable or nervous about risk? Do you think kids are getting enough risk?

New chapter about Risk coming in my new book It’s OK to Go Up the Slide. Publication date: March 8, 2016.

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

8 Responses to Playing with Fire: Why Risk is Good for Kids

  1. Jan Waters says:

    Heather, again you are right on. I remember letting my grandkids light a whole box of matches while I watched and then blow out the candle. We have campfires a lot in my backyard and I let the kids play and poke. One granddaughter said she was doing experiments. Risk taking is so important to educating. Its fun to read your wriing what I’ve always believed. Jan

  2. Lydia says:

    I totally agree! I have so many happy memories from my own childhood, of fire building.
    I love the sound of your new book too, my daughter is a slide climber upper! 😀

  3. Fire building is a terrific way to teach safety and risk. I started making campfires under the watchful, expert eye of my mother the first year we went family camping. I was 10. A child needs to feel the intense heat from a small fire, feel the burn when he touches a seeming harmless point of a stick that’s been poking in red-hot coals, and see how fast a small fire can flare up when the damp wood has finally dried enough to really blaze away.

    My not so foolish risky behavior is taking solo wilderness canoe trips in my late 50s (and hope to do so well into my 60s). But I’m experienced, cautious, and never bite off more of a trip than I can chew. The main risks are Mother Nature nailing me with a bolt of lightning or a strong wind blowing a tree down onto my tent while I sleep. Capsizing in the middle of a large lake during high winds is a good example of mindless, intentionally foolish behavior. I’ll arrive home a day late if necessary rather than risk paddling across a whitecap filled lake by myself.

    Glad you brought up the topic of teaching kids to take risks. It’s an important topic too often ignored in the age of helicopter parenting when parents seek to eliminate all risks for their children.


    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Happy canoeing, Chris! And so glad your early campfire burning days have continued to serve you well. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Anna says:

    I agree! My son is only three, so as yet I’ve only let him throw twigs on the campfire, but more soon, hopefully. I do, however, let him cook his own oatmeal on our gas stove in the morning. He does great and he’s very cautious. I read a very helpful suggestion a while ago that when teaching a child to use the stove, you should have them actually use their hand to feel different distances from the flame to figure out what’s safe and what isn’t, and I found it to be great advice.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Great tip about stoves! Sounds as if you and your son will have many fine adventures ahead. Thanks for sharing your story.

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Book Clubs – Read this & Giveaway!

All adults need time for books and friendship. This book combines both.

Be honest. How many of you busy folks and parents really take time for friendship these days?

Mardi Link’s new memoir The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Change is all about the friendships we need in our adult lives. Her story may not be your story – her set of friends chase bears and drink on a remote island for their getaway – but the threads in her story are universal.

Mardi knows how to write. This is her 5th book, and her spunky, hysterical take on the world gets better all the time. It’s the perfect book for book clubs. How a diverse group of women comes together and shares life over a twenty-year period. How they age, marry, die, face calamity and good times. It’s spunky, witty, tender and true.

I love this book partly because I’ve seen it being born. Mardi’s part of a writing critique group I belong to. We call ourselves the Powerfingers. Boy, Mardi has the power ramped up on this book.

Author Mardi Link and a loyal fan.

Author Mardi Link and a loyal fan.

We all need reminders – tug-at-your-gut reminders – that kids, spouse/partners, careers, and other priorities are not enough. Without creating time for friends and friendships for ourselves, life gets to be too much. Whatever your status, single or partnered, kids or no kids, you need the sustaining power that only friendship gives.

So take time for friendship. Take time to dwell on friendship with The Drummond Girls.

This book is brand new – the book launch is Tuesday, July 14. You can pre-order anytime. If you’re part of a book club, whether it’s a book club of one, or a book club of many, read this book.

Need more convincing that Mardi’s the real stuff? Here’re some reviews from the New York Times and others from her last book. (And The Drummond Girls is better).

“Glints with Link’s raw, willful energy. . . . Possesses that rare, elusive, but much sought-after feeling of authenticity.”The New York Times Book Review

“You’ll fall in love with Mardi Jo Link’s family in this irreverent and heartwarming memoir.”Parade

“A heroic-comic saga of single motherhood, pure stubbornness, and the loyalty of three young sons.”Garrison Keillor

OK, ready? Order or pre-order this book and you’ll be entered to win a second FREE copy of The Drummond Girls to share with friends, or a free copy of It’s OK Not to Share (your choice). Giveaway book signed by the author. Giveaway ends July 20, 2015 at 12 noon ESTLeave a comment on this blog, with order info. and /or friendship comments, and the winning name will be picked by a random number generator. U.S. mailing addresses only.

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Rewards versus Celebrations

Find a way to celebrate kids' big accomplishments. But be wary of rewards.

Find a way to celebrate kids’ big accomplishments. But be wary of rewards.

Rewards are all around our children. Stars. Sticker charts. Prizes. Many of us automatically reward good behavior or new accomplishments with food. Even if you don’t dole out frequent rewards in your family, chances are your child is being loaded with rewards like pencils, toys, candy, school bucks, ice cream parties or other prizes at school, music lessons or other places.

Where does all this rewarding lead us?

Rewards do two things. They put the spotlight on outside approval, so the child’s inner glow of satisfaction can get lost in the fuss and reward focus. They also elevate the value and importance of possessions/ eating. Rewards like this can be habit-forming in unhealthy ways. Even as adults, children rewarded by food may say “I did great! Now I’ll eat.” Food rewards can become a lifelong habit.

I’ve never been a sticker-chart person. Life and relationships seem to complicated for that. Still, for certain big changes, some kids appreciate seeing something tangible so they can touch and see and feel to mark their progress. The goal is to help a child develop and recognize the inner glow of accomplishment and self-worth. That comes most easily when things are child-directed. Go ahead and put something on the wall, but make it personal – something of the child’s own devising. We’ve had a picture of a dancer moving on to a stage and a soldier finding things a soldier would need, such as food and gunpowder. Progress itself is the reward, not a prize handed out.

There’s also a difference between giving out rewards and simply celebrating. Regular, daily celebrations go on all the time – these are times when you’re simply there to smile, listen and share the joy of your child’s new independence. Then there are times when you want to reach into a reward bag to mark a special milestone. Instead of food, toy or sticker rewards, our family uses experiences.

When it’s time to celebrate a child, we often camp out in the backyard or sleep in the barn. My youngest calls it a Wongo. It’s fun. It’s free. It’s the child’s idea. It reinforces family relationships. The reward has already come within the child’s own spirit, now we’re just celebrating.

Simple celebrations bind people together and they focus on doing not spending money or getting an object. It might be eating breakfast for supper. It might be having a silly hour. It might be sleeping under a tent fort in the living room.

When you’re ready to help a child change a behavior or gain new independence, be careful before you set up a reward structure. Think how you can foster internal rewards. Share her joy. And if you want to, go ahead and celebrate.

Were you rewarded with food or other things as a kid? What actually makes you feel good inside? What types of rewards or celebrations do you like best?

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

One Response to Rewards versus Celebrations

  1. Marisol says:

    Thanks for share this information. I have three childs and the prizes were foods or candies. It is bad this.

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How to Grow a Grown-Up


New book from Vermont author Vicki Hoefle!

“Bold, clear and lifesaving. Vicki Hoefle is in the business of helping parents grow great grown-ups.” That’s the cover quote on Vicki’s new book The Straight Talk on Parenting: A No-Nonsense Approach to How to Grow a Grown-Up.

2015 is turning into the year when all my favorite parenting authors are writing sequels. Vicki’s first book, Duct Tape Parenting, came out the same summer my first book It’s OK Not to Share did. Readers are clamoring for more.

And they should. Vicki understands that the struggles we face every day – morning out-the-door rush, meals, bedtime, backtalk, sibling squabbles, messy rooms and more – are all fundamentally caused by 1) fractured relationships, or 2) a child’s quest for independence that gets thwarted by parents and lack of training, or 3) both.

She’s in it for the long-haul. Behavior struggles that seem to many parents as daily headaches, Vicki sees as chances for developing lifelong character traits, independence and healthy relationship models. Lasting change takes time and means making a switch to intentional parenting. If this sounds daunting, it shouldn’t. Vicki’s method is straight-forward and far easier than a lifetime of parent-child struggles.

The strength of her book lies in the many examples and how the approach works for all ages.  Whether you have a toddler or a teenager, this book can guide you through making a change. She looks at teens on the phone past midnight with the same lens as toddlers not getting ready in the morning. No, the solutions are not identical, and the same issue would be resolved differently by different families, but the process is the same. It starts with examining your own parenting behavior. Read enough of these examples and you will be saying – wow – I didn’t know life could be any other way. It’s like having Vicki in the room with you.

I love this book . It gives practical, yet individual help, for every family. And that quote on the cover? It’s what I told Vicki when I read the advanced copy.

Want to read Vicki Hoefle’s new book? Add a comment to enter the Straight Talk on Parenting book Give-Away!

vicki book smallWhat’s your biggest daily parenting struggle? What behavior would you love to transform? Add a comment and your name will be entered in the Book Give-Away.  Give-Away ended Monday, June 1 at 12 noon ET. Winning name was chosen by a random number generator.


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

9 Responses to How to Grow a Grown-Up

  1. Amy Sue says:

    My biggest parenting struggle is with our 8 & 10 year olds. They argue about screen time limits, and are constantly bickering with each other. It’s exhausting!

  2. Jenifer says:

    This sounds great! My girls are now 2 and nearly 5. They crave independence, and I try to give it to them, but would love to learn more about how to give them the skills they need!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Jenifer – Congrats! You’re the winner of the book. Enjoy the wonderful journey ahead of giving more independence to your children. Best wishes, Heather

  3. Irene says:

    I would love to parent my son without yelling or bribing him!

  4. Swen says:

    Our greatest struggle is with our 4 year old daughter, being very strong-headed, testing our limits and her owns every day and all the time. When we as parents are sleep deprived from our younger one, it gets exhausting.

  5. Linda says:

    Sounds excellent!! We have 2.5 yr old triplets. Feels like we’re in the throws of it all right now and we’ve only just begun!

  6. Cari Noga says:

    I have a 9 y.o. son with special needs and a 6 year old typical daughter. Exhausted trying to be fair to both. Also worried my special needs son is not ever going to be able to leave home. I definitely need help growing 2 grownups.

  7. Alyson S says:

    I would love to win this book! I struggle so much with losing my patience

  8. Dawn Sparks says:

    I have a 5 and 3 year old. Our current biggest problem is helping them deal with anger and disappointment in appopriate ways. It’s pointing out my issues in dealing with my own big emotions!

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Why Accelerating Reading Harms Kids and Books

Being a child should give you a free ticket to read ALL children's books. No "reading level" scores required.

Being a child should give you a free ticket to read ALL children’s books. No “reading level” scores required.

We’re in a mad rush to speed up childhood again. This time rushing them through the delights of children’s literature.

Children are asked to read “at their level.” For schools participating in the Accelerated Reader program (owned by a publicly traded corporation), reading level is all about words, not ideas, storyline or emotional maturity. A child who’s a strong reader is expected to reach higher and higher for ever more complicated text regardless of social and emotional understanding.

It’s taken some digging for me to realize how books are labeled with an AR number. A computer scans them. The scan comes up with a number considering three factors: sentence length, word length and word difficulty level. Nothing about what topics the book covers, what big ideas are inside, how deeply characters are developed, how skilled the writing is, or whether the child can emotionally handle the book.

As a writer of children’s Middle Grade fiction, this is baffling to me. Books are all about story, characters and ideas. There’s an extremely precious window of time for children to delve into the enormous wealth of children’s books – fun ones and literary ones. No child can possibly fit all the good ones in. It’s short, this magical time of childhood book reading. We certainly don’t want to speed things up.

My 10-year-old reads regularly and loves the full range of children’s books. But next year he’ll be expected to abandon a good chunk of children’s literature that is considered too easy for him. Accelerated Reader wants him to move on to books for adults and teenagers.

Choosing a book for the right age and interest level is crucial and can be a delicate art. But it needs to be tied to Thinking Level, not always reading level. Thinking Level often works best by reading aloud. When you read aloud to a child, you can introduce books that match or challenge the child’s Thinking Level. Teachers can do this with class read-aloud books. Families can do this by reading to kids who already read – kids ages 8-18.

Thinking level does not move in a straight line, always marching to a higher number. It lets kids move in circles around their emotional maturity. What delights them. What strikes them. What gives them new thoughts. What gives them pleasure.

Children desperately need pleasure reading to become lifelong readers. Let them dip into books that are supposedly below them. Once they can read independently, kids should be able to move freely within the vast treasure trove of children’s literature. If they like a book, it’s a good book. It’s an age-appropriate book. There must be no stigma in reading a book that’s “too easy.”

When kids read books we are teaching writing. That’s how children learn to frame a story. In AR, books with flat characters, such as 39 Clues, score in the same range as books with deep characters, like Charlotte’s Web.

When kids read books they learn about moral dilemmas. That’s one important way children develop ethics. Books that are fluffy and fun, (Mary Poppins; Peter Pan) score much higher in AR than books that help kids grapple with deep life issues, like mortality and discrimination (Tuck Everlasting; Sounder). Fluffy, magical books are fantastic for kids to read, but AR scores make us fixate on the number. Complex ideas are important, not just complex sentences.

The more I learn about Accelerated Reader, the more I dislike it. Remember to turn to children’s librarians and other skilled adults to guide children’s reading and book selection. Allow children to spend as much time as they can with children’s books, including picture books. No good book is too young.

Don’t accelerate reading. Wallow awhile. There’s no rush.

More renegade ideas at

Posted in Books for Kids, Good Reads, Joyful Literacy, Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

7 Responses to Why Accelerating Reading Harms Kids and Books

  1. Marisol says:

    Thanks for sharing . You always interesting points brindas views about reading .
    I am reading but my children do not
    Freshly at that picture books comics process the routing will
    Forcing thought I could achieve something.
    Now with your contributions better I understand my children
    Congratulations on this special feeling for children

  2. Ariadne says:

    Heather, what a wonderful ideas you share here. I love this “Once they can read independently, kids should be able to move freely within the vast treasure trove of children’s literature.” and this is what we try to encourage in our home as well. Thank you!

  3. deidra says:

    Reading is such a complicated thing. I abhor the leveled reading books as they are boring and yes I will say TOO EASY. Typically they were all about working on a certain phonetic pattern and had no story whatsoever. BORING. I don’t think reading should ever be rushed EVER! It is a sure fire way to turn kids off reading forever. Your child will be your guide when it comes to reading readiness. Let them pick out whatever they want to read regardless of level or literary merit. so much more fun when you go to the library or book store and let them choose with no restrictions or judgement. So cool to see what book they come back with easy, hard, or just right!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes, I think we forget that teaching reading is also about teaching storytelling. A story worth telling should be engaging – no matter how simple the words. There are so many good picture book authors who understand this. Children who are independent readers and children who are learning to read deserve to read something worthwhile.

  4. Love the concept of Thinking Level vs Reading Level. Some of my fondest reads as a child were going back and rereading at age 8 a book I had first mastered at age 6, or rereading at age 10 a book I had first mastered at age 8. It was like getting reacquainted with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a while.

    It’s so frustrating that educators focus on the outcomes of education almost to the exclusion of the processes and progressions of education. Every individual learns uniquely, but still we try to achieve the ultimate one-size-fits-all solution. In my fantasy world, every child has an adult mentor who gently guides them through the childhood learning process and adapts any specific “lessons” that are presented to the child’s mindset and learning process at that precise moment.


  5. Shannon S says:

    I could not agree with you more. My 7th grade English class used the Accelerated Reader program. I was an enthusiastic, lifelong reader and an ambitious, eager-to-please student. Naturally, I gravitated to the books with the biggest numbers on the list – why would you not want the most points??

    I have no memory of those books.

    I was capable of reading the words and understanding the sentences, but I was still just 11 years old and just not ready to deal with the complexity of the ideas of the books yet. Bless my younger self for trying, I suppose, but it’s very clear to me now (20 years later) that no purpose was served by this correlation between books and points.

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Siblings as Friends for Life: Book Giveaway

New book to help sibling struggles. Book giveaway!

New book to help sibling struggles. Book giveaway!

When people heard I was writing a sequel, they begged me to write about siblings. Sibling fights and hard feelings seem to be a near-universal struggle for families. Luckily, there are good resources out there, including Faber and Mazlish’s classic Siblings Without Rivalry and now Dr. Laura Markham’s new book showing you how to raise siblings who can be friends for life.

Dr. Laura’s first book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Child, focuses on emotional understanding – both for the parent and the child. Her new sibling book is called Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life. Today I’m partnering up with Dr. Laura to offer a free book giveaway of her new book – AND – sharing a free audio recording of an interview between the two of us.

In case you’re wondering, I met Dr. Laura at a recent conference for preschool teachers and parents in sunny Silicone Valley. We both had a great time at the conference, aptly called “Unplug & Play.”

Here’s what I like about Dr. Laura’s new book –

It gives sibling advice for parents of older kids as well as parents with new babies. Whatever stage you’re in when it comes to siblings, there’s a section just for you.

Dr. Laura understands that emotions are at the heart of sibling behavior. Sometimes our own parental emotions are involved, too. We have the power to stabilize family harmony or feed the flames.

It covers all the common sibling battles – from who gets to push the elevator button to kids who say “I hate my brother/sister.”

Dr. Laura is one more voice who promotes renegade sharing – turn taking, and trusting children to know when they’re done with a toy. In fact, she even devotes a chapter to the “It’s OK Not to Share” philosophy and calls me a radical. What’s not to like?

Dr. Laura’s book comes out May 5. It’s available for pre-order now. The advantage of pre-ordering is you get a bonus gift of her audio course, Peaceful Parenting.

Audio Recording – Interview with Dr. Laura and Heather

Listen to this 30-minute interview recorded just for you! Dr. Laura Markham and Heather Shumaker share wisdom on conflict, feelings and siblings.

Ready to enter the book giveaway? Share your sibling experience or just enter a comment. (The winning name will be selected on April 23, 2015 at noon EDT using a random number generator.) The book giveaway is now over. You can still pre-order or order the book anytime.

It's OK Not to Share

Find out how radical real sharing is.

New book to help sibling struggles. Book giveaway!

New book to help sibling struggles. Book giveaway!


Posted in Good Reads, Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , | 97 Comments

97 Responses to Siblings as Friends for Life: Book Giveaway

  1. Sarah says:

    I would love this book! Heather’s book has already helped us so much with parenting and navigating our kids’ feelings and behaviours, and their sibling relationship, and I would love to add that with Dr. Laura’s new book!

  2. Blair Jackson says:

    My girls are 2.5 years apart. They adore each other but are intensely competitive, usually for our attention. I want to do everything I can to strengthen their bond for the long run! Can’t wait to read Dr. Markham’s book!!

  3. Tanya Ingram says:

    I work as a direct support worker and share the same beliefs as Dr. Laura. Our training through work follows Dr. Gordon Neufeld’s philosophy. It all really comes down to attachment. I am the oldest sibling of four and have 2 kids (one adult and one toddler). I would love to have this book as a resource for the families I work with.
    Love the aha parenting sight! Great info!

  4. Rebecca says:

    Really need this book! Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids changed my life. I’ve got 2 boys (3 and 5), and sometimes it feels like I’ve got 2 little monsters instead. Haha!

  5. Anne Marie says:

    Love Dr. Laura and I need this book. My kids are 4, 2 and 6 months. The older 2 are constantly at each other’s throats, and often physically hurt each other. I look forward to reading her advice on this.

  6. Christine Guptill says:

    Love Dr. Laura’s advice! The emails show up in my inbox and give me a little mommy boost every week. Our busy lives don’t allow a lot of time for critical reflection on how we nurture our kids, so it is so wonderful to have her there supporting us. My daughters are pretty good friends, but at times they are in each others’ faces… and since my hubby and I both had siblings of the other gender, I’d love to have more information about how to foster a great sister relationship!

  7. Sarah Zitterman says:

    Wow! This is exactly what we need right now. I have 4 boys who fight so much sometimes I worry that they will never grow up to love one another! This is honestly the number 1 biggest problem in our home right now.

  8. Christine Vaughan says:

    I have three sons in 5 years. Love that they’re close in age. However, I’m an only child with little to no clue about sibling dynamics. I would’ve loved having a sister or brother … can’t understand how some people don’t see the value in their sibling relationships.

  9. Angela meneghetti says:

    Very interested! I have two boys 3 and 5 yrs and a 7 month old girl. Would love some strategies to help the boys through their conflicts and also to help me with my eldest when he gets really difficult!

  10. Jenna says:

    Everyday I am in the throes of constant sibling arguments. I have Dr. Laura’s other peaceful parenting book and would love this one to add to my collection!

  11. Miet says:

    I loved Dr. Markham’s first book and all of her newsletters, and now that both of my children are mobile and verbal, this book comes at just the right time. They’re fighting constantly!

  12. Megan says:

    I have two boys and would love to nurture a loving relationship as they grow.

  13. Lisa k says:

    love dr Laura! My girls love each other but then seem to fight more when I am around. I need advice! Can’t wait for this book to come out!

  14. Chrysi Karpathiotaki says:

    Dr.Laura’s site, e-mails and book have been invaluable for our family.

  15. Lisa Withers says:

    I would love a copy of this book. I am the single mother by choice of 6 year old twins (boy/girl) who are sometimes absolutely inseparable and sometimes really sick of each other!


  16. Annette says:

    I’ve been a longtime fan of Dr. Laura and her wonderful, peaceful parenting advice. My kids are 22 months apart and the bickering and fighting has recently intensified. Dr. Laura’s book couldn’t come at a better time!

  17. Stacey says:

    Looking forward to this book. I have 4 children, 11, 6 and 4 year old twins. Twins have been challenging on sibling rivalry. Can’t wait to read!
    Thank you!

  18. Thuan Pham says:

    What an amazing conference, Unplug and Play was. It has inspired me to make so many changes with my parenting. I love that you and Dr. Laura Markham were able to have this meeting of the minds as a result of the conference! I would lover her sibling book because I have two kids, one that is almost 3 and one almost 8. There is such a big age gap between them that it’s hard sometimes for them to connect. I love some strategies to help them enhance their relationship.

  19. F.M. says:

    I’m the blessed mama of 3 beautiful girls who love each other immensely but who fight passionately. I myself have a sister who was my bestie growing up, but not as adults :( This book would be a wonderful resource in facilitating a strong lasting bond for my girls.

  20. LC says:

    I have a full sibling and a half sibling; both relationships have always seemed broken in different ways. I don’t want to make the same mistakes our parents did. I enjoyed Siblings Without Rivalry and am curious to read this book on the same topic.

  21. Cari Noga says:

    Slightly different take: I have an autistic son and typical daughter. While the battles are not fun, I am grateful for at least some engagement between the two. I’d be interested in this book if it offers advice I can implement in my situation. I would really like my kids to grow up friends since it appears my son will need an advocate after my husband and I can expect to be around…but that’s a lot of pressure to put on my six year old daughter. If this book doesn’t offer that, be interested in your or Dr. Laura’s recommendations for one that does.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for bringing this up, Cari. So many aspects of sibling dynamics. I’ll post what I learn from Dr. Laura about your question. From my knowledge of sibling books and special needs, there are several picture books explaining “why my sister’s different” and some how-to books for adult siblings on navigating care for a sibling with special needs. This doesn’t really address what you’re getting at. Sounds as if there may be a gap that needs addressing.

    • Cari,
      I wish I had a perfect book to recommend. I suspect it has yet to be written, by the parent of a child on the spectrum. I will say that I have seen many kids on the spectrum who have been parented as I recommend in this book, and they do respond to it and develop a more positive relationship. So while you will have to work harder to connect and to motivate your son to want to work things out with his sister, this approach will definitely help.

      I also want to share this note I received the other day from the mom of a boy with Autism:

      Hi Dr. Laura… I am so grateful to have found your site when my son was 2 years old. Your advice was essentially what I had done with him since he was a baby and then when, at 2 he started to have some challenging behaviors I started getting advice that he needed more “consequences” and just needed to learn and follow directions, that he needed “time outs” etc. I knew deep down in my heart that my son was a “cranky” baby and was now showing challenging behaviors because something in world just wasn’t right, not because of a lack of limits or “consequences”. Finding your site gave me permission, courage and tools to parent him the way I knew he needed to be parented despite all the advice I was getting. Fast forward a few years and we now know that my son has a rare speech disorder called Childhood Apraxia of Speech, Autism spectrum disorder and sensory processing challenges. My heart knew he didn’t need punishment and I am beyond grateful for the tools you gave me to help him navigate his world, which is clearly a very difficult and different world from the one you and I are in. I am now immersed in a world of therapists and even more advice, some helpful, some not, but I always fall back on your teachings. Your lessons and words provide the underpinnings of how I approach everything with my son. Some days it feels like an impossible task to keep calm but then I remember how overwhelming his world must be. Not everything you advise works perfectly for us because of some of his challenges but parenting him with love and compassion has fostered in him a sense of confidence in spite of his challenges. He is a loving, sweet, sensitive little man but it takes time and real connection to see just how sensitive he is and how much he wants to connect. I really wanted to reach out because maybe there are other special needs parents out there wondering…but he/she has (fill in the blank), will this work…the resounding answer for us has been YES! I feel like because empathy is hard for him, because connection is hard for him, because he struggles in social situations that it is EVEN MORE important that we set loving limits and TEACH him about emotions and about how to be connected and how to express love. I don’t know where we would be without you. I can’t wait to read your book on siblings. We also have a beautiful 21 month old little girl who is happy and sweet and just filled with empathy and love. Thank you so much for all you do.”

      This mom does not address the sibling issues, but you can see that this kind of parenting will work with your son.

      Dr. Laura Markham

  22. Shannon says:

    I haven’t read wither book yet, but would be so greatful for a copy. I have a 1 year old and 3 year old and the feeds are increasing along with my loosing my temper more often. I don’t like raising Mt voice at all bc I know it simply causes more stress. Would live a copy!! Pick Me

  23. Amy Garrett says:

    I would love to win this book!

  24. Adriana S says:

    I was an only child, so raising 3 kids has been interesting. I would love this to help with the daily battles! It’s so important to me that they love and nurture each other because I won’t always be here for them.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes, being an only child and then navigating sibling interactions – so many parents share this with you.

  25. Cori says:

    Thank you – so excited to hear you two together. Love It’s Ok Not to Share and love my Aha! Parenting newsletters. Great tips.

  26. Maria says:

    Awesome !

  27. Genevieve says:

    I hope to learn ways to encourage my kids to be more cooperative with each other.

  28. Tania Watkins says:

    Yes please. I find it hard as my son a always bends to appease his sister who is 4 years younger.

  29. Naomi says:

    How do I teach her to love her sister and not simultaneously smack her sister over the head with a book, doll, truck, shoe, etc. that’s what we’re currently working on over here :)

  30. nicole says:

    I could really use this book. My girls (9 and almost 4) constantly battle and I am at my wits end. I am a single mom Thanks!!! :)

  31. Naz says:

    constant battle between my 5 and 2 year old this book will help me loads

  32. Jo says:

    Having had only one son for 15 years I never thought I would need to read a book on parenting. I now realise how much I need one ! I now have a 7 year old girl and 9 year old boy and Its a totally different ball game and I am older so need all the help I can get ! Many thanks

  33. Suzie says:

    Liked the interview and would love to win a book!

  34. Karen says:

    I am expecting my second child soon and I would love this book so we can get started off on the right foot in facilitating a great sibling relationship between my boys who will be about four years apart.

  35. Rebecca says:

    I would love this book. I have number two on the way and a very high needs number one :)

  36. Jamie says:

    Pick me! Pick me! ….wait now I sound like my little tiny boys! I would love a copy of the book! I want my two boys to be able to create & sustain a loving relationship. It would mean the world to me. I want to know when my husband and I are gone they will always have each other.

  37. zanele says:

    We live on a farm in South Africa with two of our children 2 yr old boy and 3 month girl. My husband and I practice Vipassana meditation so it was natural for us to be drawn towards compassionate communication. The arrival of our children deepened this aspiration. Today, my heart leaps with joy when I see my son showering his sister with kisses and love. But sometimes he pinches her and hits her and the agony, anxiety and fear that rises within me when he does that is calmed through remembering that his actions are communicating his feelings and needs, deep gratitude to Dr Laura’s book Calm Parents, Happy Kids. I remember how I danced like a child when the book arrived after I had bought it as my birthday gift last year Nov. I had waited three months for it (SA postal services were rioting) and I had surrendered that I might never see it. Yet it arrived and we are all loving it, we are turning our aspiration of living a peaceful, loving and connected life into an everyday reality. Our son now will say “I hit baba because I am angry” and I now have the wisdom to hold him and love him whilst guiding him towards being the naturally caring being that he is!!

  38. Melissa Vig says:

    I have two boys and I think this book would be a blessing to our family!!

  39. Susan K. says:

    I so need this book for my sanity!

  40. Mariko says:

    I need this book! My sons are 4 and 2. My husband and I are not very young so we really want them to be friends for life so that they can help each other after we pass away.

  41. Miranda says:

    Great advice and really works…when you use it!

  42. Sounds like an important book! My sons are only 3 and 9months but still important info. Love her blog:)

  43. jessica says:

    That book is just what I need, right when I need it.

  44. Kelly says:

    I just finished reading Siblings without Rivalry for the first time, and I’m itching to get my hands on more tools for sibling harmony!

  45. Lisa Farr says:

    I would love to receive this book, I struggle to know how to deal with my children’s constant fights and jealousy in a loving, constructive way.

  46. Amanda says:

    I hope I win! I have a deep desire to help foster a close bond between our children!!

  47. Grace says:

    One of THE best parenting tips I was given when I was expecting my second son, was that when there was a conflict, to remind my boys (ages 5 and 7) that they love each other, and that being kind and patient is part of that — to focus their energy on love. That has been a great help!

    Yours and Dr. Markham’s advice have provided invaluable scripts and new perspectives on how to teach and model that love! Thank you!

  48. BJ says:

    I loved her first book and am looking forward to the sibling book!!

  49. BJ says:

    I loved her first book and am looking forward to the sibling book!!!

  50. Christal Lepak says:

    My brother and I were all each one of had to rely on. After the death of my father, my mom lost it and was institutionalized for a bit. I had to grow up really fast and watch out for us. My brother had a speech impediment and b/c of that, the school stuck him in Special Ed. He didn’t need that and was academically average and above average when it came to engineering/electronics. He was picked on every day, so we had to look out for each other. Of course siblings have good and bad times in getting along with each other, but we knew we were each others shoulder to cry on. Today we are very close and I am so proud of the man (brother, husband, father, veteran) that he has become. Proud of you Robert Lepak Jr.

  51. andrea bisogno says:

    I would love this book! My kids are 16, 8, and 4. They have such sweet moments sometimes but I am so surprised how they fight and I am due for a new approach and understanding.

  52. Monica says:

    I loved Dr. Markham’s first book, Peaceful Parent… Would love to have similar tools for working through tough spots with my kids so that they continue to enjoy, love and protect each other as they get older.

  53. Jennifer says:

    I can’t seem to stay consistent in my parenting ways….I could use some help!

  54. sara says:

    I have an 8 year old daughter and a 7 year old son who get along fairly well most of the time. I struggle with their insistence on things being “even”; the same amount of time spent doing activities, being allowed the same privileges, etc. It always seems like a fight to stay even. I want them to understand that each one of them with have different experiences because they are individuals. I worry that we grouped them as a pair too often when they were younger, and now it’s a fight that we inadvertently created.

  55. Carolyn says:

    Can’t wait to apply what I learn with my children of 7,5, and 3 years!

  56. Sarah Hoops says:

    My sister is five+ years older than me. I mostly remember admiring her constantly and wanting to replicate her every move in childhood, and her fiercely recoiling from every effort. We have since become close friends in adulthood (after not speaking to each other for six months as a result of trying to travel in foreign countries together for two weeks, me in my late teens and her in her early 20s), and one memory stands out from my junior high years:
    One day she offered to put makeup on me. (shock… and elation!) After what I remember being ages and so many brushes and applicators, she showed me a mirror… and… I looked exactly as I did when we started? Yes, in the midst of all that show, she had put as close as possible to no makeup on me really. And she told me it was because, “you’re beautiful, just the way you are.”
    Please, don’t start believing we actually had an amazing relationship as children! I think I remember that moment because it was the only time she ever said anything nice to me (until adulthood and years after me prodded to find the weak spots in her armor where I can poke humor and love in!).
    I share this because it gives me hope! Focus on love, because it really is there even though siblings push each others’ buttons.
    Thank you, Heather, for hosting a day of Dr. Markham’s blog tour. Dr. Laura, your book has come out not a moment too soon. The strategies from your blog and first book give me an important element of hope and the tools to stay there with my husband and three children (8, 5.5 and 3). Thank you both for doing what you do!

  57. Amy Sue says:

    We have 6 children, aged 8, 10, 16, 19, 22, & 27. So far the oldest 4 are all very close, but our youngest 2 get along like baking soda and vinegar. I don’t know why, but obviously what we’ve always done isn’t working with those two. :p

  58. Raluca says:

    I have two kids almost 5 and 2. Dr Laura’s emails keep me going every day. A book on siblings would be a great addition.

  59. Sondra Laurent says:

    I would love to win this contest!

  60. This looks like a wonderful book. My girls are 16, 12, 7 and 4. You would think after 4 kids I would know what I am doing but I am still learning every day. As a homeschooling mom , I long for my kids to get along and for us to have a home filled with peace:)

  61. Lili yen says:

    i grew up as an identical twin with lots of emotional suppression from our parents. Would love this book to teach me how to raise my 2 little ones better.

  62. katrin says:

    Such an important topic as sibling rivalry can cause so many psychological wounds. And whatever the tone of the book, it must be awesome with a chapter about not sharing!

  63. MM says:

    Really liked “Peaceful Parent Happy Child” and looking forward to your new book! Really look forward to all the articles on your website too.

  64. Erin Huie says:

    I grew up with a lot of sibling conflict. We didn’t get along at all, and I don’t want that for my children. I want my children to be close from the start and to not wait until they’re adults to start talking to each other (like I did with my siblings).

  65. karen says:

    I have been trying to follow AHA Parenting principles, but have a 3 and 4yo who like to push each others’ buttons. Can’t wait to read this book!

  66. Louisa says:

    Yep, it’s a big issue in our household too – the whole sibling getting along thing. I’m always on the look out for new ways to improve the relationships in our household – after all, we only get one shot at this parenting malarkey. I would love a copy of this book. It looks fab!

  67. Jaime says:

    I am excited for this book! I have an 8 year old and 4 year old who fight constantly it seems. My 8 year old can be so mean and hurtful to her little sister, which makes my 4 year old react by hitting or screaming or sometimes just breaking down in tears. :( Then they make up and play nicely for a millisecond, and before I even have time to enjoy the peace they go right back to fighting. I need some new techniques because obviously what I’ve been trying isn’t working!

  68. Susan Ehlers says:

    Could really use this book! I have 2 girls 5 and 9 and boy 20 months. The girls are constantly fighting over everything.

  69. Krista says:

    I would love to win this book, as we are at the relative beginning of the sibling relationship with my two daughters, aged 3.5 and 11 months!

  70. Mary says:

    siblings should be friends for life. sounds like a great book!

  71. Hannah Williams says:

    Would love to get advice from this book to help my children (9 boy, 7 boy, 4 girl, 3 boy, 10wk boy) to get on better and really value and appreciate their siblings. So they can be a support to each other when my hubby and I are long gone.

  72. Megan says:

    This will be very relevant when our next baby arrives so we have a smooth start. Thank you!

  73. Julia says:

    I have two sons and I´d love to get some help handling their fights…
    I´m looking forward to this book and would love to win it.

  74. Bilyana Bawden says:

    Would love to win this book. I have 2 daughters (7 and 9) who are very close, best of friends but also rivals at times.

  75. Clarissa Gimbel says:

    Loved the soundbites about Dr. Laura Markham’s new book: parents need to regulate their emotions first in order to cope with our children’s emotions and conflicts – definitely struck a chord with me

  76. Brandi Wilcox says:

    Thank you so much for this! I have not read either book but they are both on my list now :) The last bit really hit home which is the good experiences outweighing the bad. Our brains are hard wired to remember the bad so that we do not go back and do it again. To hard wire a good experience we need to really be with it for 30 seconds. So I ask my daughters to really feel into their bodies and I will count to 30 so that experience is now in their memory. As a Craniosacral therapist I am helping my clients learn to regulate but it is so much harder to regulate when you are in it with two little girls who are having big emotions!
    Thank you both so much.

  77. irene says:

    Heather, you are such an inspiration 😉 Literally the day after the Unplug & Play Conference in San Jose, inspired by you, we met at a local creek and created a “free play in nature” group… an now the group is growing and growing! It is amazing to see what hours of unstructured play time in nature, child directed and child led can do… it even helps siblings deepen their relationship… my kids (age 4 and 9) are fighting way less at home now 😉

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Irene, Wow. Your note made my heart glow. So fantastic to hear you’ve created a “Free Play in Nature” group. The best of both worlds! Enjoy the time outdoors together – I’m not surprised to hear the benefits already showing. What a wonderful new venture. All my best, Heather

  78. Mrs Thanvi says:

    What a treat !!

  79. kelli says:

    I just heard Dr. Laura at a conference. I would love to read her book.

  80. Olga says:

    I love Dr Laura Markham’s advice and would love to own this new book of hers.

  81. Sarah Cleaver says:

    Dr. Laura’s first book transformed my parenting and changed the way I see my children’s behavior. I have 4 children (10, 8, 6, 3) with way too much arguing, fighting, teasing, and tattling. This book is just what I need! Thanks! :)

  82. Larissa says:

    I’ve read many of Dr. Markham’s books/articles, and appreciate her insights as I parent my 3 young kiddos!

  83. Richele says:

    It seems as if all our three Littles do is battle and I’m less a Mom, more a referee. I love Dr. Laura’s first book and emails, and I’m sure her newest book will be every bit as helpful!

  84. Nadine says:

    I’d love to get my hands on this book.
    I have a 3 year old boy and an 18mth old girl who are awesome kids except they don’t get along (yet). Little sister wants to play with big brother’s toys and follows him everywhere which annoys him so he often pushes her over or hits her. I have tried to implement some of Dr Markham’s strategies from her website already and my son actually told me the other day that he doesn’t want ‘baby’ in the house, so I know that he’s struggling to have to share me with her. It’s sometimes hard not to lose your cool when there are two shrieking little people in your face but reading Dr Markham’s weekly emails always puts me back on track.

  85. Jessica says:

    This book would give us great direction for our 3 toddlers. I feel like I keep chasing all the resources I should have had knowledge in years ago. I would love to start building good memories between them. To guide the peacefully.

  86. Ali Hassan says:

    Would like to get recommendation from this book to assist my kids (9 boy, 7 boy, 4 girl, 3 boy, 10wk boy) to urge on higher and extremely worth and appreciate their siblings. so that they will be a support to every alternative once my married man and that i ar long gone.

  87. Aaren says:

    I would love to win this book! Thanks so much for offering it! I have a 3-year old and a new one on the way…

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Escaping Supervision


Sometimes kids need “No parents allowed.”

Writers of children’s books have always struggled with a challenge: how to get rid of the parents.

Have you ever noticed how many children’s books feature orphans? Now authors have a new layer of challenge: how to get rid of cell phones and other technology tethers. How can a child have an adventure when she is too supervised?

Unsupervised time and space is rare these days, but that’s where so much growing, learning and discovery takes place. And yes, misadventure. Kids need ample misadventures to understand the world and its thorny side, too. That’s why authors try every trick they know to get kids to stand alone, without parents or cell phones beside them to prop them up.

It’s hard to think of a children’s book where the parents have a main role. Children are either orphans or are whisked away to a magic land. Kids in Narnia are wartime evacuees. Kids in The Penderwicks have a mother who’s dead and a father who is absent-minded. Some children are given surrogate parents – Charlie gets Grandpa Joe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – since aunts and grandparents tend to allow kids greater freedom. As for technology, authors throw cell phones from trains, drain batteries and resort to time travel to eliminate that crutch.

Kids desperately need unsupervised time in real life. Time to play where parents can’t see them. Time to talk to friends without adults listening. As they grow, kids need an ever-expanding range of unsupervised space. For young kids, this means playing alone in the next room or in the front yard. For older kids, the range may be the neighborhood block or local park. Soon it means the town.

Technology extends the parental reach into children’s private time. Their movements and very conversations are tracked. They are expected to be “on call” to their parents night and day. Besides being obtrusive, this constant attachment can stunt kids. Each generation needs time to figure things out, make mistakes, get a bit lost, and rely on themselves to sort out problems.

That’s hard when adult help is hovering, only a phone call away. Kids need to rely on their own resources. Their first instinct should be: what can I do? Not: Dad! Mom! Besides, it’s safer, too.

When we put risk and safety into children’s hands, they tend to perform less risky behaviors. Research from Adventure playgrounds shows that accidents go down when kids are allowed to take risks in their play. They learn to make choices. Learn to judge risks and evaluate their limits.

Adventure should not just be for storybook characters. Where can you add some degree of adventure to children’s lives?

What level of adventure and non-supervision are you comfortable with? Are you letting your child do things you did at the same age? Is there any training you need to do first before letting her explore?

More on RISK and its many benefits in childhood in the sequel to It’s OK Not to Share, coming in March 2016.

Posted in Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

3 Responses to Escaping Supervision

  1. Rosalie Talarzyk says:

    This email sent from me to Joanne Frantz (SYC) and our group of grandma aged friends.
    Joanne suggested I send it on to you. Enjoy my grandma saga of unsupervised adventures of three eight year old and one ten year old grand girls written in response to your article:

    ok… i have to share my latest adventure with my grand girls.

    after our easter egg hunt at westover park where my six plus our chinese friend were joined at the end by maggie and rees…….
    the girls all asked if they could sleep over since there was no monday school.
    i claimed some time for clean up and quiet. they were to come back at 6:30 with sleeping bags and having had dinner.

    they arrived.

    we went straight to play in the creek….since it was SO WARM.
    three ended up shoeless in the water.
    they all shed jackets.
    abby found a quarter in the water.
    lauren found a big blue shooter marble in the water.
    they performed gymnastics and musical pieces LOUDLY from the top of the culvert cover at the east end.
    we came home at 8pm for showers and general mayhem till lights out at nine for their basement sleepover.

    abby came up crying at midnight with an accident….but went right back to sleep.

    at five i heard them in the front hallway.
    i flipped on the light and went down.
    i wished with all my heart that i had had a camera.
    three of them were dressed for the day in same clothes from creek play.
    they all looked like deer in the headlights…..or night at the museum just before dawn…caught in the act.

    i sent them to different corners of the house and they all promptly went back to sleep.
    two woke up at 7:30, one at 8:30, one at 9.

    we walked to chef-o-nette for breakfast where chris met us after her morning IPE meetings at barrington.
    on the walk, evan shared that they had all gotten up at 3:00 and played till 5.
    abby shared that grace was sad and they talked it out.
    they got out a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle but decided it was too hard.
    they shared their animals….etc.

    while the waitress was taking orders evan announced to her mom and the waitress that “it was all fun till we got busted.”
    the first of many times….i am sure.
    i am still laughing at the looks on their faces when i came downstairs.
    they kept saying, “we thought we were being so quiet.”

  2. Grace says:

    Wow! Amazing! Thank you so very very much. Because yours and Dr. Laura’s advice has been so meaningful and transforming (to myself and my family), receiving this book through you makes it that much more special. Happy Spring! Patience, Hugs & Kind Words, Grace ^_^

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Happy Homework: When is elementary homework OK?

Does homework in your family meet the happy criteria?

Does homework in your family meet the happy criteria?

If you’ve read my “No Homework” post, you know that our family has banned homework for our elementary school-aged kids for several years. Is homework for kids K-6th grade ever OK?

Yes. There is such a thing as “Happy Homework.” But it’s exceedingly rare.

In fact, being rare is the first element of happy homework. It’s not appropriate to be daily, weekly or even monthly. For young children to gain from a home assignment, the project needs to be very once-in-awhile. Once a semester rare.  Maybe 1-3 times a school year.

Remember, the purpose of homework is gain. Gaining knowledge and confidence. Gaining a connection between home and school. Most of all, gaining a deeper love of learning.

Research on homework’s impact is clear: there’s no academic benefit to doing homework for elementary-aged children. Equally clear: homework sours children’s interest in school. It’s a lose-lose situation. As educator Alfie Kohn says, “All pain, no gain.”

We’ve switched to a school that largely agrees with this philosophy. Recently my first grader was invited to do a project on a favorite book. He built a cardboard drum happily. This met the definition of “happy homework” for our family. It was rare (twice a year), age-appropriate (he could do all the work), project-based, optional, and, most importantly, deepened his love for school rather than hurt it. He couldn’t wait to show it to his classmates.

More and more wise teachers are rethinking traditional homework. New York City made news this week when a courageous, principled principal banned it in her elementary school, P.S. 116.

Happy homework for elementary-aged kids is possible, but few schools get it right. Here’s what it looks like –

  • It’s joyous
  • It’s optional
  • It’s occasional (1-3 times a year; once a term).
  • It’s independent. Children can do the entire assignment on their own.
  • It’s age-appropriate.
  • It promotes greater love of school and learning.
  • It’s project-based OR reading for pleasure (reading for pleasure can be daily, as long as it’s being read to, or truly for pleasure)

Worthwhile homework makes children more excited about a topic than before. Worthwhile homework makes children more excited about reading and school, not less. Why do it at all if it’s not worthwhile?

What else do you think makes “happy homework” for kids? Is homework at your child’s school optional? Is there talk about banning traditional homework in your area?

It's OK Not to Share coverInterested in homework issues?

Read more in my upcoming book IT’S OK TO GO UP THE SLIDE, soon to be published by Tarcher/ Penguin.

Currently available: IT’S OK NOT TO SHARE: And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids.

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

One Response to Happy Homework: When is elementary homework OK?

  1. Pingback: Why We Say "NO" to Homework - Starlighting MamaStarlighting Mama

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Reading Aloud for a Lifetime

When your child begins reading, it's NOT time to stop reading aloud.

When your child begins reading, it’s NOT time to stop reading aloud.

My first child learned to read early. Soon after, he announced, “I don’t need bedtime stories anymore. I can read by myself.” He made the same mistake many adults make: that reading aloud is only for the very young.

Reading aloud can be a crucial part of parenting – and you’re never too old. My mother read to me all the way through high school. I read bedtime stories to both my children. One is heading to middle school next year; he’s not too old.  Reading aloud is a beautiful way to share the world, and it gives kids a second level of literacy.

Children can read at one level. They can comprehend story and grasp vocabulary at a much higher level when being read to. Both are needed to get excited about books.

Being read to is a lovely and loving experience. My husband and I read to each other while courting. My parents still read books to each other after 50 years of marriage. At family get togethers, my children listen while grandpa reads them story poems. I hope they’ll always remember his resonant voice and love of language. You’re never too old to be read a story.

Reasons to celebrate reading aloud –

Joy and interest – Learning to read can be hard work. Reading aloud keeps stories pleasurable.  Kids who are working hard to master reading crave stories beyond “The bug is on the rug.” They also love stories with much more complex characters and plot than simple readers offer. Reading aloud lets kids fall in love with books at their listening age, not their reading level.

Expanding literacy –  Together you can decipher the vocabulary in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The learning level kids can handle when being read to is far higher than what they can read on their own. Five-year-olds can glory in complex story and vocabulary. Sometimes the rhythm of the words alone excites them. For teens, try reading a difficult-to-get-into book for the first few chapters until they get into the story and take off on their own.

Introduce new books – Kids love series partly because they feel comfortable with a cast of familiar characters. Rereading old favorites is wonderful, but reading aloud lets you introduce your child to new favorites. One good way is to read the first book in a series together, then let your reader explore the rest of the series on her own.

Complex topics – Reading aloud lets you introduce topics like facing death (Tuck Everlasting) and injustice (Bud, not Buddy). If you don’t know which books to choose, ask a children’s librarian. There are books on all sorts of tough topics.

Supplementing school – Schools fit in a lot, but they can’t cover everything. Reading aloud lets you add to your child’s world, say by reading a children’s version of the Hindu epic of the Ramayana.

Closeness – You loved snuggling with your preschooler on your lap as you shared a good book. Reading aloud to your 10-year-old or teen lets this closeness keep going.

There’s no upper age limit for reading aloud. It’s not just for children and not just for picture books and early chapter books. Reading aloud can last a lifetime.

Have you stopped reading to your children? Do you read aloud to anyone in your life? What age were you read to as a child?

Posted in Our Bedtime Story Book, Parenting with Renegade Rules | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

4 Responses to Reading Aloud for a Lifetime

  1. deidra says:

    Thanks for the reminder. I have kind of stopped reading to my 8 year old, mostly because he devours books on his own. I will have to start again.

  2. Shannon says:

    Thank you for this. My mom and I went through so many children’s classics — and later, adult classics — together. We read every morning before school all the way through high school. It’s very much a comfort activity for me now. We still try and get together around Christmas and reread some of our favorites.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Ah, lovely. What a wonderful way to start the day, and what a wonderful gift for a lifetime. Thanks for sharing your family’s reading tradition. Inspiring!

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Of Blankies, Bears and Loveys


There’s no such thing as “too old” when it comes to teddies and blankies.

Sometimes we adults get worried about a child’s attachment to a favorite blanket or toy. “He’s too old for a blankie,” people say. “She’s got to stop carrying that old thing around,” or “It’s not the lovey I mind, but she sucks her thumb when she holds her lovey. We’ve got to wean her of it.”

Not every child attaches to a blanket or special object, but for those who do, the love is fierce, deep and necessary. Who are we to break up the relationship?

A child’s love for his teddy or blankie is indeed a relationship. The object is part of the child’s soul. For some children, they see little difference between themselves and the blankie object. They are both “me.” Taking a blankie or lovey away, for short times or forever, can be like ripping a piece of the child’s soul apart.

A child who needs a lovey is practicing two wonderful emotional skills – self-comfort and love. We should not get in the way. Instead of worrying about a child’s constant need for the love-object, we should rejoice. This child is demonstrating that she is capable of deep love and attachment. For now, the attachment is to a blankie. Years from now, the attachment will be to a person, cause or place on earth. A lovey can bring deep satisfaction and emotional grounding, especially in the early, wild years of swinging emotions.

IMG_1393Some grown-ups dislike blankies because they see it as a crutch the child uses to hide from fears. Blankies and loveys are often used when a child feels scared. That’s OK. Overcoming fears does not mean pulling a comfort object away. Overcoming fears involves taking risks in independent play. Overcoming fears also means trusting a child and giving him time to be ready.

What about thumb sucking? If thumb-sucking continues late into childhood, we legitimately worry about dental bills. It’s fine to encourage a child to put her thumb in the “thumb garage” or “thumb bed” (have her tuck her thumb snugly inside her fingers), but if she’s not ready to do that, don’t push it. A child will be ready in her own good time. If this means dental bills later on, so be it. Teeth are easier to fix than emotional chaos inside.

Meanwhile, don’t blame the lovey. Don’t tease the child about the lovey. Don’t steal the lovey. Don’t lie that “teddy had to take a trip.” Don’t cut the blankie down in size.

Talented children’s author Kevin Henkes, got it wrong in his picture book Owen, a story of a boy and a blankie. Owen loves his blankie and uses it for comfort or superhero cape as his mood changes, but adults in his life think he’s too old to bring a blankie to school. His mother comes up with a solution and cuts Owen’s blankie into small squares he can use as pocket handkerchiefs. Owen is all smiles in the end, but this is a false ending. Any solution should be the child’s. It is their soul we are talking about. A love-object should never be mutilated by cutting it into pieces – unless, of course, that is the child’s desire.

How old is too old? There is no upper age limit. Teens and twenties stop carrying their loveys out in public, but many treasure them at home. Gradually, the intense need will fade, and love can be transferred to future partners and family, but a first friend is always good to have around.

Instead of scheming to banish the lovey, respect your child’s deep attachment. Maybe you never found a soul-mate in a toy or piece of cloth, but support the child who has. Find and store away a second, identical blanket or object if you can, in case of loss. Label the lovey with “beloved blankie, please return” and give your phone number. We can’t keep physical objects 100% safe anymore than we can keep living beings 100% safe, but we can love and respect the relationship as long as it needs to last.

What about you? Did you ever have a deep love for a blanket or toy? Is your child getting “too old” for a blankie? Tell us your story.

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

9 Responses to Of Blankies, Bears and Loveys

  1. deidra says:

    My child has a lovey and as far as I am concerned he can get it for as long as he wants. It was a gift from my aunt and I am as attached to it as he is. I brought my lovey with me to college and it stayed on my bed until I got married. My best friend in college also brought her lovey to college.

  2. Briana Feinberg says:

    Thanks for this. My son has a monkey that goes everywhere with us (and we have a “deputy monkey” so I can occasionally throw him in the wash!) I kept my beloved bear with me through my whole life, and in October, I posted this anecdote on Facebook:
    Ellias has suddenly developed a friendship with Barney, the bear who was my constant companion through childhood. Barney was with me at home, during hospital stays, and later on my travels across the ocean. My family used to joke that he would be walking down the aisle with me… so it is very gratifying to watch Ellias asking him if he’s “been to the moon” (because the bear on his pjs is dressed as an astronaut) or if he’s been to the zoo, or the children’s garden, or the train station, and for Barney to reply, “No, but I’ve been to Paris, France and seen the Eiffel Tower.” Ellias asked Barney if he would come to his crib with him tonight, and as I closed the door, I overheard him saying, “Barney, do you like fish sticks?” This is some serious Toy Story stuff going on here, people.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I love the “deputy monkey!” Always good to have a stand-in. How heartwarming that your son is developing a relationship with your childhood bear. Sounds as if they will get on famously!

  3. Celine says:

    Thanks Heather for talking about it today. It comes just the day as I’ve been watching a French Nanny show, where there was a five-year-old with a pacifier in her mouth all day long (or so it seemed). Nanny obviously ordered her to throw it in the garbage, and… by the end of the show, the same little girl was definitely sucking her thumb. Just shows you there is not much you can do to avoid dentist bills.
    Interestingly, two of my hubby’s workmates shared how jealous they were of those who had braces at school, as they did not need them themselves…

  4. Sarah says:

    Recently on holiday in India our daughter’s “Baby” was forgotten at our hotel lobby when we set out for the airport, 2 hours away. We realised half an hour into the journey. We phoned the hotel & Baby was sent in a separate taxi to meet us at the airport! The taxi cost more than Baby had in the first place but thank goodness it was India & the cost was in rupees – negligible in £s compared to our daughter’s need for her Baby.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      What a lovely story! I can just picture the extra taxi rushing to meet you. Glad she has Baby back with her again.

  5. Pam says:

    I gave my 7 yo son a blankie when he was about 6 months old. He has loved it since, and he continues sleeping with is blankie. He also used pacfier, but that one we sent it to the pacifier heaven. As a result, my son started sucking his thumb and hasnt stopped since. I was very worried, until I read this article. I can understand my son a little more now. Thanks.

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