{FAMILY} How To Prep Your Kids To Stay Home Alone For The First Time

When I was a kid, playing outside and staying home alone without parental supervision was the norm. I learned from an early age how to fend for myself, recognize boundaries, and stay safe, and never found myself in harm’s way as a result.

I know it’s not the 70s anymore, but that doesn’t mean that we should trust our children, or our own intuition any less than our parents did when we were growing up.

My oldest daughter will be 10 years old in 3 months, and while the average family waits until at least the ages of 10-12 to leave their child home alone for the first time, we’ve decided to start a bit earlier. I believe that she’s old enough to start easing into the next step of independence, and with the right tools, I’m  confident that she can do so safely and successfully.

Here’s how I’ve prepared her (and myself) for this big milestone:

Suss it out.

The first step in determining whether or not your child is ready, is to ask them how they feel about it. For some kids, the mention of having the house to themselves conjures up images of them sitting in front of the TV watching inappropriate movies and stuffing their faces with candy-topped ice cream sundaes (thanks for that Home Alone). But it’s important to discuss the situation in more detail to really get a feel for your child’s comfort level. Ask them how they would feel if the power went out, or if someone they didn’t know were to knock on the door. Helping them to visualize the reality of the situation will help you to gage how ready they really are.

Related: Home Alone: How Young Is Too Young?

Hit the books.

My daughter and I were browsing the shelves of Chapters Indigo awhile back when we came across a great book that has become a valuable resource for us: A Smart Girl’s Guide: Staying Home Alone by American Girl. The book starts with a cute quiz called “ready or not?” where kids can take a self evaluation to determine their readiness, with real-life situations as examples of how they would react to sticky situations. Not only does the book highlight helpful tips on how to be prepared, responsible, and in control when home alone, but it offers fun tips like boredom busters and snack recipes that can be made without the use of appliances.  My daughter read the book from cover-to-cover, and likes to keep it by her side when we leave her home alone.

Establish rules and boundaries.

There are obvious rules and boundaries that should be established before you leave your child alone – don’t open the door for anyone, don’t use the appliances (unless they are seasoned experts), don’t leave the house without permission, and what to do in the case of an emergency. Not only is it important to list the do’s and don’t’s, but it helps to walk them through various scenarios. Quiz them on what they would do if they were hungry, or if someone knocked on the door and said that their parents gave them permission to come in, or if a power outage were to occur.

Practice makes perfect.

Before you leave your child home alone for the first time, do a test run. Do something in the yard and leave them in the house. Call to see if they answer. Knock on the door and practice a few scripts to see how they would respond in various situations. The more you practice, the more confident they’ll be when it’s really time to stay home alone.

I like to make sure that at least one of my neighbours is going to be home – just in case my child feels unsafe or unsure of what to do. We don’t have a home phone so I make sure to leave a fully-charged iPhone with my daughter so she can call or text me whenever she wants. We’ve been easing into it – leaving her home for only 15-20 minutes at a time, and never with her siblings.

Whether you decide to wait until your child is a teenager, or you feel comfortable doing so at an earlier age, independence is an important life skill that takes time to learn successfully. With the proper guidance, it can be a fun and easy transition for your family.

Check out these safety tips for more: American Red Cross Safety Tips 

{FAMILY} Why It Took Me So Long To Get A Trampoline

I grew up in a small apartment in Granville Island. No backyard, and definitely no trampoline to call my own.

I had friends who had trampolines in their backyards, and I did everything I could do to have playdates with those friends, just so I could feel the rush of bouncing high into the air – doing bum drops and summersaults as I reached for the sky on each ascent towards the clouds.

When I became a parent, fear and hesitation replaced my enthusiasm for trampolines. Having young children made me privy to the downfalls of trampoline play. Everyone seemed to have a story about a broken leg, an injured knee, a head injury or a chipped tooth that resulted from trampoline falls. I swore I would never get one, no matter how much my children begged and pleaded.

Now that my oldest children are in school, my resistance has started to subside, replaced with curiosity and a whole lot of research.

One night my husband and I were discussing the options, and came across the Springfree Trampoline. We watched their safety video, and this unique story about how a Springfree trampoline saved a family’s house, and thought it sounded like a safe and feasible option for consideration – so we bookmarked their website for future reference.

The next day (no lie), I received an email from my friends at Vancouver Mom. They had partnered with Springfree and were looking for some blog ambassadors to try out the trampolines and share their experiences. I applied and was selected as the North Vancouver ambassador (squee!), and my large oval trampoline was delivered and set up shortly afterwards.

Why did it take me so long to get a trampoline?

After hearing a slew of trampoline horror stories, I was afraid of the possible accidents that could occur. I didn’t want to put my children in harm’s way, and didn’t want to be held liable if their friends were to get hurt on my watch.

I’m still a little nervous about adding a trampoline to my family, but I feel safe knowing that the construction of the Springfree trampoline is far more advanced and safety-tested than the net-free, broken spring bouncers I used to play on when I was a kid.

Are they as safe as they say?

I guess I won’t know until I try it, and today, we tested it out for our very first time.

This afternoon two Springfree employees came to my home, and manually set up our brand new tramp. After each adult bounce-checked and gave it their thumbs-up of approval, I zoomed off to school to pick up my kids – I couldn’t wait to reveal the surprise that waiting for them at home! Here’s how it went:

They jumped on that trampoline until the sun set. Happy kids = happy mom.

Springfree trampoline

Springfree trampoline

Springfree trampoline

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes and will share my honest feedback on our Springfree trampoline along the way. I welcome any questions you may have as we embark on this jumping journey, and look forward to a whole lot of outdoor fun on our new toy this Summer!

{FOOD} What To Feed Your Child’s Gluten-Free Friends

Let me preface this by saying that until recently, I had no idea what ‘gluten’ even was. I figured it had something to do with bread, but other than that, I was completely (and embarrassingly) clueless.

A few of my children’s friends have celiac disease (an intolerance t0 gluten). And while eating a gluten-free diet has become somewhat of a trend these days, celiac disease is not a lifestyle choice, and definitely not something to be taken lightly.

When one of my daughter’s friends came over for a play date the other day, I wanted to make sure that I only offered gluten-free snacks, but I didn’t know which foods to avoid. After a series of lengthy texts with her mother (and with a little help from ‘Dr. Google’) I did my research, and was surprised by some of my discoveries.

Some sneaky foods that actually aren’t always gluten-free (check the labels!):

  • chocolate
  • pickles
  • hot dogs
  • soy sauce
  • sushi (not just soy sauce, but imitation crab and wasabi)
  • liquorice
  • french fries

What to look out for:

With so many foods on the “not safe” list, I found it helpful to reference a list of ingredients to avoid when preparing food for my child’s gluten-free friend. Here’s a great resource for both ingredient-checking, and learning more about the impacts of celiac disease: Celiac Disease Foundation.

With all this new information in mind, I wanted to feed my daughter’s friend without making a big deal about her dietary restrictions. For snacks, I stuck with fresh fruit (strawberries and blueberries are definitely a safe option), and a bowl of Boom Chicka Pop sweet & salty kettle corn (it says “certified gluten-free right on the bag – easy peasy for moms like me!).

For dinner, I grilled some chicken on the BBQ (lightly seasoned – but no BBQ sauce, because upon reading the label I discovered that was out too!), served with broccoli and plain rice.

 

I was happy to have fed my daughter’s friend without slipping up on the gluten-free front, but I felt as though I could have done better. I’m sure the dinner was bland and thought I could definitely have done better to satisfy her palate. So to prepare myself for next time, I’ve pulled together a great list of gluten-free recipes from some of my favourite mom bloggers. I’m going to file them away, and hopefully this will give you all some new gluten-free snack ideas too!

4 delicious gluten-free recipes to bookmark for later:

(click on the images to link to the full recipes)

{FAMILY} Teaching My 8yo Daughter About Self Confidence

Eight seems to be an age of self-awareness and unbridled insecurity. My 8-year-old daughter has suddenly become so self-conscious – constantly questioning her looks, her physical abilities and her mental intelligence. I always reassure her that she is beautiful, talented and smart, but it’s tough for an almost pre-teen to believe those words when they come from her mother, who of course loves her unconditionally.

I’ve always focused on teaching my children to be self-confident beings (and I do my best to be a self-confident mom as well, because it’s important to practice what you preach). But a big part of self confidence, is actually believing in yourself, not relying on others to believe for you.

The other day, my beautiful girl – eyes welling up with tears – asked me why she was finding it so hard to remember the steps in her ballet class. “I try so hard to get them right” she said softly. And I completely understood where she was coming from. Choreography is hard! I told her that I was also struggling to remember the steps in my adult ballet class, and that learning new moves is something that just comes more naturally to some people than it does for others. I went on to explain:

“Dancing is like learning how to play a musical instrument. You have to start with learning how to play the notes before you can learn how to play a whole song. With dancing, you have to learn the steps before you can master the choreography of a whole dance. Keep practicing, and before you know it, you’ll be playing your song.”

I’m not sure if she fully understood the message behind my simile (because I love a good comparison), but I think the empathy in my personal story and in my comparing dance to music, made her realize that she wasn’t alone in her struggle.

I hope that she’ll continue to come to me when she’s feeling down or insecure, and I hope that I can find the words to help lift her spirits.

self confidence

{FAMILY} What To Expect: Leaving Your Toddler Overnight For The First Time

With my first child, it took me almost 3 years to warm up to the idea of leaving her overnight with my parents. Leaving my toddler overnight was a scary thing! I was afraid that she would experience separation anxiety – that she would reach towards me with her arms outstretched as tears streamed down her face, sobbing uncontrollably and begging for me to stay as I walked out the door.

I imagined that she wouldn’t sleep, crying for me throughout the night, calling out “mommy” to the dark and empty room in which she laid her head. I feared that she wouldn’t eat, hanging her head low as she wandered aimlessly through each day, convinced that I had abandoned her for good. And most of all, I worried that I wouldn’t survive the separation – that I would yearn for her day and night, and that the guilt of leaving her parentless for the weekend would forever damage her fragile little soul.

toddler overnight

 

They’ll be alright, I promise.

All of this of course was ridiculously untrue. When I finally did leave her, she waved happily goodbye and went on to play gleefully with her toys. While I was gone, she enjoyed new adventures with her grandparents, and when I returned, she was excited to see me – not broken, but possibly more whole as a result of our time apart.

With my third child, I’m more than confident in our overnight separations. Perhaps because I know that valuable time spent with my parents is almost as important to her well being as spending her time solely spent with her parents. Perhaps it’s because I know that having time away makes me a better parent, and that exposure to varying environments is important for early childhood development. She feels comfortable with our nights apart, as do I.

The one thing that might take awhile to accept…

But there’s one thing that sometimes comes with overnight separation that took me awhile to accept. When I returned from my time away, my children weren’t always excited to see me – at first. They would reach for my parents, rejecting my outstretched arms in favour of Nana and Papa. It wasn’t because they had grown to love my parents more than their own, or because they were traumatized by the experience of sleeping in a different place.

According to my Mama Dina, it’s natural and completely healthy for children to “punish” you for being away. While at first they may seem to reject your advances, they quickly learn that you come back. Which is a good thing. After a few experiences with being apart, they grow comfortable in their new environment, and confident that their parents will be back soon.

And the “punishments” will quickly pass, I promise.

How to make it easier?

I’ll leave you with some quick tips on how to make an overnight stay a little more comfortable for your toddler:

1) Make sure that you are leaving them with someone familiar. Leading up to the overnight stay, pay a few visits to the place where they will be staying and enjoy some time together in that new space. It’ll be easier to say goodbye if they feel comfortable where they’ll be.

2) Bring comfort toys. My youngest has a favourite stuffed bunny that she likes to sleep with, so I make sure to always pack it for her. I also include a photo of the family so she can see our faces regularly (my mom tapes it near the crib where she sleeps).

3) Let them hear your voice. If you aren’t able to call, leave a little voice recording for them to listen to – there’s nothing more comforting than the sound of a parent’s voice when feeling unsure of a new environment.

4) Prepare them for what to expect. Talk to your child about how long you’ll be gone and when you’ll return.

Good luck, and don’t fret, your little one will be just fine.

 

{FAMILY} Take Care Of You

For that past two weeks I’ve been wholly consumed by the dizzying chaos of back to school and back to work. My days have been jam packed with onboarding new clients, attending conferences, workshops, and networking events, taxiing the kids to and from soccer practices and dance classes, catching up on neglected housework, and keeping my toddler entertained amidst it all.

All the while I have been fighting what I had assumed to be the inevitable back-to-school bug – resisting submission to my body’s cries for rest. Loading myself up with nasal spray and Tylenol so that I could get through the day without an overabundance of hack attacks and nose-honking blows.

In the back of my mind I knew that my body needed attention – that I wasn’t my full self, but I shook off those feelings and kept my focus on my kids. Making sure that their needs were being met. Making sure my work was up to par.

When I realized that I was feeling more and more physically depleted, the thought crossed my mind to pop into a clinic to make sure that I didn’t have an infectious bug – you know, so I could make sure my kids didn’t catch whatever it was that was bringing me down.

It took me 3 days to actually make that visit, and when I did, the doctor was not too pleased with me.


 

“In the back of my mind I knew that my body needed attention – that I wasn’t my full self, but I    shook off those feelings and kept my focus on my kids.”


 

I hurriedly told her that I had had a cold for about 2 weeks, and that it was likely nothing but that I had a nagging cough and aching/rattling in my chest that just wouldn’t subside, and I wanted to just double check that it wasn’t anything that I could pass on to my three kids. When she gave my chest a listen, she shook her head and said “Oh honey, you are so sick. You were definitely right to come in – you should have come in a lot sooner.”

She said that I had an abundance of fluid in my lungs – that it was definitely pneumonia, and that if I had waited much longer I would have ended up in a hospital bed. She shook her head and told me that as a mom, I should be taking better care of myself – that putting my own needs aside could be worse for my kids in the long run.

She sent me home with a prescription for antibiotics, and 2 different puffers to help settle the swelling and fluid build up in my lungs.

I left feeling a bit ashamed. I’m always writing about how important it is to take time out for yourself. Preaching about how moms need to be a bit more selfish. And there I was, being gently reprimanded by a doctor (and fellow mom) for doing exactly the opposite of that.

I’ve been told to rest, and this weekend I plan on doing just that. And while it is impossible to completely toss aside the daily responsibilities of a self-employed career mom of three kids, I’m going to do my best to take the doctor’s (and my own advice) to heart – and you should too. Take Care Of You.

take care of you quote

{FAMILY} What Makes A Mom

This year I had the opportunity to work on the fourth annual Leading Moms event – a day full of inspiring talks from extraordinary moms. As always, the speaker lineup was filled with an array of  diverse women, all invited to share their stories and experiences with an engaged audience. Every year, whether I’ve attended as a guest or as a member of the event organizing team, I’ve always left the event feeling connected and inspired, and I’m sure this year’s event did not disappoint.

While I was unable to attend the actual event this year, there were some negative comments shared on the event’s site that left a bad taste in my mouth, so I wanted to share my thoughts.

One of this year’s speakers was Morgane Oger, a transgender activist, leader in social change, and mom of two young children. Some commenters questioned her validity as a “mom” and challenged the Leading Moms event team on the choice to include a trans mom on the panel of speakers. And everyone is entitled to their own opinion – if they don’t like the choice of speakers, they are not obliged to attend the event.

Haters gonna hate.

When the speaker lineup was first revealed, the thought that Morgane was a trans mom didn’t even cross my mind. My only thought was that I was excited to hear her story, to learn more about her perspective as a mom and the experiences, struggles and successes she had faced on her journey towards motherhood.

I can understand the fear of the unknown. I know that not everyone is inclusive, and that some people feel the need to express themselves when they are strongly opposed to another person’s opinions and perspectives. But what I will never understand, is the need to attack another person’s personal choices – choices that in no way affect their own lives – in a way that is so hurtful, and on a platform that is so public.

Many poisonous words were slung on the topic of trans moms, but what bothered me most about the backlash was the argument that the only thing that makes a person a mother is the ability to physically give birth to a child. As an adoptee, this comment hit me on a personal level.

In my eyes, it is not only the hours that it took to push a baby into the world that makes a person a mother, but the hours – days – years – lifetime – afterwards that earns the title of ‘mom’.

There are so many babies who are brought into this world by women who did not intend to become mothers. And if those children were as fortunate as I was, they were connected with people who devoted their lives – their hearts to those children. People who committed to nurturing those children, loving those children, and providing for those children unconditionally. And those people are equally as deserving of the title of ‘mom’, or ‘dad’, or ‘parent’.

Not everyone can have babies naturally. And not all people can love and care for a child naturally either.

A person can become a mom biologically, or emotionally – how that mom came to be is not what matters. What matters most is that the child who calls that person “mom” knows that they are loved.

A lifetime commitment to loving a child unconditionally – that is what truly makes a mom.

 

 

 

{FAMILY} First Day of Kindergarten (Round 2)

No matter how hard I try, it’s simply impossible for me not to compare my second child’s first experiences with those of my firstborn. Because when you experience something brand new for the first time – especially those bittersweet monumental childhood milestones – the memories of those very first experiences stick with you. They tuck themselves in your back pocket like little reminder notes, and you just can’t toss them away.

But that doesn’t mean that experiencing those moments with the children that follow are any less significant, or anything the same. My second born and only son started Kindergarten today, and it was equally as monumental, emotional and memorable a milestone as when his sister took the leap into the world of school-aged childhood.

I was just as nervous as I was for Emma’s first day of Kindergarten. I couldn’t sleep the night before – tossing and turning, my mind racing with worrisome thoughts of how his first day would go.

After his less-than-successful Kindergarten orientation, I feared the worst. I prepared myself for tears and persuasive talks and sideways glances from the unfamiliar faces of new parents. I imagined holding my youngest under my arm – kicking and screaming – while I attempted to coax my little guy into his new classroom.

I had countless talks with my son about his first day. I walked him through the steps of how his first day would go, led him through the school on practice visits, and even promised a treat if the day went well.

And you know what? He nailed it.

Kindergarten

My little guy walked right into the classroom, gave me a confident wave goodbye, and sat right down on the mat as directed by his new teacher. He watched intently as she read him a story, and a wide grin spread across his face. I was so proud of him that tears welled up in my eyes. My sweet little boy had done it. He had willingly and enthusiastically stepped across the threshold between nervous little child to confident big boy Kindergartener, and my heart was full.

Two down, one to go…

 

 

{FAMILY} In My Daughter’s Shoes

I have vivid memories of what it was like to be 8. I can still remember how it felt to curl my tongue into the gaps of my missing teeth. I remember suddenly feeling butterflies in the pit of my stomach while talking to a boy in my class that I had known for years, unsure of why I was having those funny feelings. I remember feeling self-conscious about my knobby knees, and I can still remember conversations that I had with my best friend.

My oldest daughter is now 8, and I can’t believe that I’m the parent of an 8 year old. Now that she’s at an age that I can remember, parenting somehow feels a bit different to me. My daughter is developing her own personality, experiencing feelings and emotions that I can remember feeling, and I feel more confident as a mother – because I once walked in my daughter’s shoes.

Sure her experiences as an 8-year-old are different than mine were, but I’m hoping that I can help her to navigate through the confusing, exciting, overwhelming, challenging waters as she transitions from child to tween.

mother daughter

The challenge though, is that as she matures, I feel as though my status as “mom” in her eyes is maturing as well. I feel like I’m slowly moving from mom-with-an-enthusiastic-exclamation-mark, to mom-with-a-sarcastic-eye-roll, and I know that it’ll only get more difficult as she moves towards her teen years.

I can still remember suddenly feeling a tinge of embarrassment when my mom kissed me goodbye in front of my friends at school. I can remember rolling my eyes when my mom interrupted my friends and I during a play date, and I can remember crying in my pillow, convinced that my mom was ruining my life because I couldn’t watch TV until my homework was complete.

But I also remember feeling confused about my feelings towards my mom. I remember feeling guilty when I pulled away as she leaned in to give me a kiss, or rolled my eyes, not completely understanding why I was suddenly being so mean to the woman who I looked up to the most. I was suddenly annoyed by my hero – my best friend, and I didn’t understand why.

I’m learning that it’s important to give my daughter the space that she needs to mature. I need to be more conscious of how I speak to her and act around her in the presence of her friends, and most importantly, I’m realizing that it’s more important now than ever to establish a trusting relationship with her that goes beyond the because-I-told-you-so status of mom.

I’m doing my best to teach her that it’s alright to be honest with me about her feelings, even if it means that mine might get hurt. I hope that I’m doing it right, and that I don’t forget that I was once in her shoes, and that my mother was once in mine.

{FAMILY} Parenting: Who’s The Boss?

When I was a kid, if I fussed and complained about wanting something (or not wanting to do something), my whiny why’s were immediately put to an end when my mom replied with a finite “My saying so is reason enough!” (her version of the infamous “Because I said so”). When those words were uttered, that was it. I knew I wasn’t going to get my way – my mom had made a decision, and I honoured it.

Nowadays I am constantly witnessing parents who are addressing temper tantrums and disrespectful behaviours with coaxing negotiations, bribery and hugs, and I’m left to wonder – who’s the boss?

I’m not judging the parents who are using these tactics, I know all children are different. I’ve definitely learned through the years that what works with one child, certainly doesn’t mean that it’ll work with all children. When my firstborn acts up, a few stern words about expectations and unacceptable behaviours calm her down.  I explain why her words or actions are not acceptable, and she understands, learns from the experience, and moves on. But my second child, he’s a whole different story.

Tantrum

As I navigate through the challenging waters of parenting, I’m constantly coming across articles and blog posts on the detrimental effects of time outs, consequences, and discipline tactics. And while the idea of correcting the undesirable behaviours by using those moments to teach important life lessons seems ideal, those tactics simply don’t work with every child. If I were to address my son’s screaming and flailing tantrums with a calm discussion about appropriate ways to use his words and communicate his feelings, my words would be met with louder screams and more undesirable behaviours. I confess, I’m not always the boss – but how do I regain my parental control?

I read so much about what we shouldn’t be doing, but I have yet to find a definitive solution to the problem that can be applied to all children. And I know why: because there is no one definitive solution.

What works with one child, will not always work with another. As parents, we know our children best. We know what sets them off, and we do what we can to dissolve the difficult behaviours. If time outs are working for you, do it. If hugging it out calms your child down, hug away! If you’ve discovered a new groundbreaking way to get your children to listen to you – keep on keeping on! But I think the ultimate goal as we raise our little humans is to make it understood that they have to listen to us – that we as parents are the boss.