Thursday, February 15, 2018

Bedlam?! What is THAT, you ask?

Bedlam is defined as a “scene of uproar and confusion.” Some synonyms are chaos, anarchy, pandemonium.

Does it ever feel like chaos or pandemonium in your house when it’s time for your kids to go to bed? Does your child have panic attacks accompanied by fitful sobbing and desperate pleas to NOT be left alone? Do they refuse to sleep in their own bed? Or refuse to go to sleep unless you are there, in the room, or in the bed with them? Or maybe they go to sleep reluctantly, only to make their way into your bedroom at some point in the night? Is this a silent, sneaky invasion? Or is it a loud, tearful, panicked, whole-house-waking event?

From conversations I’ve had with other parents, we are all in this boat at some point in our children’s young lives, usually for much longer than we would like – months and even years.

Sleep is very important for all of us, and especially our growing children. During childhood, sleep directly impacts physical and mental development. Sleep is also prime healing time for our bodies, which pump out growth hormones to assist in restoring our bodies and repairing any damage done during the day, like scraped knees, bumped heads and other boo-boos. More noticeably, if we don’t get enough sleep, we are grumpier, out of sorts, and our ability to make good choices and control impulses is compromised. This is a recipe for disaster for parents!

How do we tame the bedtime beasts so we are all getting enough sleep?

There are no easy, one-size-fits-all solutions to this problem. And a certain degree of trial and error should be expected.

Our kids are Casey, 5, and Austin, 10. Austin, in general, has always been a champion sleeper who never argues when it’s bedtime. He is asleep within minutes of his head hitting the pillow, and doesn’t wake up until he’s logged his 10-12 hours of ZZZ’s. When he was little, Austin even napped 1-2 hours per day until he was in kindergarten! Nice!!

Casey, on the other hand, has always resisted going to sleep. My earliest memory of Casey's bedtime anxiety was when she was a baby, still in her infant car seat, and we were leaving a restaurant after dinner. It was dark outside and dark in the car. She cried all the way home. There was no other explanation for why she was crying. We even turned on the overhead light in the car to test our theory. When the light was on, she was calm. When it was dark, she cried. On normal nights at home, she would cry whenever I put her in her crib at bedtime. So I chose to cuddle and rock her to sleep. No big deal, I thought! A little extra snuggle time couldn’t hurt! But I wonder: did I help create the bedtime beast Casey is today?

Honestly, the point is moot. Here we are, with a 5-year-old who cannot go to sleep by herself, in her own bed.

20 months ago we moved into a new house. Sleeping arrangements for the kids were very similar between the old house and the new house: each kid has their own room, with a connecting "Jack & Jill" bathroom between. The main difference in sleeping arrangements is that the master bedroom in the new house is downstairs. In the old house it was upstairs, just down the hall from our kid's rooms. Both kids were having a bit of trouble adjusting to sleeping in the new house. So we suggested Casey sleep in Austin's room, on his bottom trundle bed. Both kids liked the idea, gave us no problems at bedtime, and we parents had many blissful nights of peaceful, uninterrupted sleep.

Ahhh! Problem solved! Until.....

... about a year later Austin decided he was too old to have his little sister sleeping in his room with him. Plus, she would often wake him up in the middle of the night, talking in her sleep. We decided it was not fair to compromise Austin's sleep to accommodate Casey.

We knew Casey would not go back to her old room without some kind of incentive. So we found a really awesome deal on Craigslist for a "princess castle bed," with a slide - wow! Casey was thrilled!! I made sure Casey understood that if we got her this bed, she needed to sleep in it, on her own, no arguments. "Oh! I promise, mommy!"

Well, Casey was able to keep her promise for about 2 weeks. Then her bedtime fear started to get the best of her and she started crying when we tucked her in, and also coming down to our room in the middle of the night. We threatened to get rid of the bed. She didn't care. We installed multiple nightlights, and offered to leave the bathroom lights on. Nothing helped. And all professional advice warns that bright lights are not conducive to restful sleep. So, we were not headed in the right direction.

But there is a happy ending to this bedtime story! Several weeks, and lots of trials and errors later, I can pretty confidently say we are all getting better sleep than we were after moving Casey out of Austin's room, earlier this year. The best news is that Casey has been logging 10 hours of sleep consistently, for 3 weeks! The primary reason for this is that we moved up her bedtime, from 8:30 to 8. The secondary reason is our "every 10 minutes" strategy.

Here is how this works....We tuck her in, kiss her good night, and make a deal: we will promise to come check on her in 10 minutes if she promises to close her eyes and try to go to sleep. We read about this idea in a couple of different articles. And while the strategy has the potential of requiring parents to visit their kid's rooms many times before the kid finally falls asleep, Casey always falls asleep right away. Admittedly, Casey does not really know how long 10 minutes is, we don't set a timer, and it's usually closer to 15 minutes before we check on her the first time.

We repeat this process if/when Casey wakes up in the middle of the night and comes to our room. Without speaking, we take her hand, walk her back to her bed, tuck her in, and tell her "we'll see you in 10 minutes." It's worth noting that Casey is not usually upset when she wakes up in the middle of the night. She just wants reassurance. On these nights she goes back to sleep within 10-15 minutes. On nights where she wakes up from a bad dream or nightmare (and is upset), she does not fall back to sleep as quickly. It can take multiple visits for her to fall back to sleep. On these nights we will increase the time incrementally between each visit: 10 minutes for the first visit, then 15 minutes, then 20 minutes. It has never taken more than 4 visits, and this has only happened 2 or 3 nights.

In the past week, she has even gone 2-3 nights in a row without coming down at all! Yay! Progress!!

Here are some do's and don't's we learned during this journey that we feel are important to share.

DO make concessions. The real game-changer for us with Casey was promising that we would come and check on her "every 10 minutes" until we went to bed. AND agreeing to do the same thing when she woke us up in the middle of the night, without getting annoyed. Do we enjoy being woken out of sound sleep at 3 am? No! But we are keeping our eyes on the prize.

DON'T deviate from the plan. I can't stress this enough. Kids need routine and structure, and SLEEP! Commit to the plan and do not miss a night. I promise your hard work and patience will pay off.

DO use facts, logic and reason. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Tell them what you are doing and why, in terms they can grasp. It feels better when we can be honest with them about why we do or do not do certain things. We explained to Casey that having too much light on in her room at bedtime is not good for her, and the doctor told us that it's ok to only have on a small night light and/or a bathroom light. She argued. But we were firm. And to set the mood for bedtime, we turn off bright lights while we are getting on PJ's, brushing teeth and reading stories. We also explained the importance of sleep to her when discussing why she is going to bed earlier than her brother - sleep makes you grow taller, stronger, faster! What kid doesn't want those things?!

DON'T punish or threaten. Trying to force your child to overcome his or her fear or intense anxiety by punishing or threatening them will only make a bad situation worse. I could share some lofty psychology-speak about why this is. But please, just take it from parents who tried - it does NOT work! And you feel like a schmuck for making your child feel worse than they did before you threatened or punished them.

DO try and figure out WHY this is happening. Are they stressed about a change? Did they have a fight with a friend? Did they just start a new school? If you have more than 1 child, you have probably already realized they are very different. But it bears repeating – what caused a bedtime problem for one child is probably not causing the bedtime problem for the other child. Sometime during the day, ask them if something is bothering them. Try to get them to share what is making them afraid or worried at night, during bedtime. If a traumatic event is causing the bedtime problems, you may consider consulting a care provider to get additional support.

DON’T over-analyze. If your child doesn’t know or can’t explain the source of their fear, it’s ok. Sometimes kids are just afraid of the dark, or being alone at night. Often, the process in helping your child overcome their fears will be then same, regardless of the “why.” We found this was true for us.

DO listen to and validate your child’s fears. Everyone has fears, even adults. Try asking “What did you dream about?” Or “What are you afraid of?” if the anxiety is happening while you’re getting them ready for bed. And then after they share their scary dream or fear/worry, “Yikes! That’s sounds scary!” Or, “I have had scary dreams like that before! It’s no fun!”

DON’T get angry or make fun of their fears – they are very real to your child! Also, don’t prompt them or put ideas in their heads (Did you dream about a monster? A zombie? The scary show you watched earlier?) It may be tempting to THINK you know the fear, and understandable to try and get to the root of the matter as soon as possible. But trying to name their fear before they have a chance puts words in their mouths, and may make them start worrying about something they were not worrying about before.

DO reassure them – “You are safe!” Let them know you will keep them safe, your house is safe and their bed is safe. And DO tell them monsters, zombies or any other creature they think are under their bed, in their closet or otherwise waiting for the lights to go out to attack are NOT real.

DON’T tell them you will beat up, kill or slay any monsters, dragons or creatures under the bed or in the closet. Saying such things reinforces for your child that these creature DO in fact exist, and therefore must be lurking in dark places, ready to eat up small children as soon as the lights go out.

DO create a happy bedtime routine that is conducive for peaceful sleep. Make your child’s room comfortable, with dim light, favorite stuffed animals or blankets. If you find that soothing music helps your child – go for it! Read one or two bedtime books, ask your child what was the best thing they did that day. Or if you know something great they accomplished, remind them of it. “You learned a new sight word!” “You learned how to tie your shoe….how to pour the milk…your street name…whatever!” This builds their confidence which will help them conquer their fears. Some friends have had success with using guardian angels or dream catchers to help their kids overcome their bedtime fears.

DON’T …give up! To tame the bedtime beasts you may have to devise a plan A, plan B and plan C. Then, months later, you may have to go back to the drawing board and start over again.

In conclusion, every bedtime beast is different. What works for taming one beast may not work for taming another beast. Hopefully my story will give you reassurance and hope that with lots of love, creativity and patience, you too can tame your bedtime beast!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Struggle with teaching your kids responsibility?

So it's a new year and perhaps you are thinking about goals for your yourself and your children. One common goal for many parents has to do with responsibility, and how to teach it. You've been trying to for years now and yet, somehow, your kids still aren't quite getting it. They still need to be pushed to get their homework done, to clean their room, or to do their chores around the house. It's getting harder and harder for you. What can you do?

We've heard it many times before, "It's hard to push a chain." This could likely be a problem of motivation. How can you make this a situation where your children are self-motivated rather than one where they are doing, or not doing, what you want?
The answer is "buy in." Your children need to feel that they are included in the decisions to do these things. They can pick which tasks need to be done each day, like homework, and which ones less often. If they help make a calendar for their tasks they are already taking responsibility.

Another way to motivate by pulling the chain is to change the consequences. Instead of taking things away, provide rewards when things get better. And let them pick the rewards from a list that you make with them. Again, this puts them into a position of making choices for themselves. And isn't that a large part of responsibility? You might want to use a point system where they earn more points for harder jobs, or getting them done in good fashion. But points are not taken away, only not earned when there is no effort made. Avoid the ego battle.

There are many ways to adapt these ideas to fit your family. You know yourself and your children. That's your job. I know you already spend lots of time and energy with your kids and might think that this is one more thing on top. But pulling the chain is much easier and works better. And it changes the interaction to a positive one. You will find your children talking with you instead of arguing. When kids participate in life decisions they become self motivated, and more mature.
Good luck to you in this important goal. It will help your children see that taking responsibility can be a positive experience for themselves. And for you too.

Fred Buschhoff
Author of The Constructive Parent
Families First Parent Educator

Friday, October 27, 2017

National Work and Family Month - 10 Tips for Moms Seeking Work-Life Balance

Tips for Moms Seeking a Work-Life Balance

1. Let Go of the Guilt
"Rather than dwell on how you're not with your child, think about how your role in the company is benefitting the family."

2. Find Quality Childcare
"Ask your network of friends and family for references to nannies, babysitters, and daycare centers."

3. Make the Mornings Easier
"Avoid starting the day on a frazzled note by getting organized the night before."

4. Create and Organize a Family Calendar
"Figure out your family's priorities. A calendar can include dates when bills are due, a chore chart for the kids, a list of school and family events, extracurricular activities, birthdays, and more."

5. Communicate with Your Employer
"Before talking to your employer or HR representative, construct a written plan detailing what you need."

6. Stay Connected During the Day
"Stay connected with your children even when you're not together."

7. Limit Distractions and Time Wasters
"Be disciplined and set time limits when checking email or making phone calls, things you can do when the kids are sleeping."

8. Create Special Family Activities
"Making time for your kids is crucial, both during the week and on the weekends, to nurture your family dynamic and allow everyone to bond."

9. Spend Time with Your Partner
"Remember to nurture your relationship with your partner, who will often be the number one person by your side."

10. Create Moments for Yourself
"By managing time wisely, you can fit in valuable "me" time regularly."

Call Families First for any questions, information or resources on parenting for the working mom. 877-695-7996

October is Bully Prevention Month

Being bullied by peers is the most frequent and damaging form of abuse encountered by children, having more severe long-term consequences than adult abuse, according to a recent study. One in three children report being bullied at some point in their lives. Of the children that reported being bullied, nearly half stated they were unlikely to tell their parents or a teacher about it. Instead, these children often internalize their emotions due to shame and suffer in silence.

Bullying is any type of aggressive behavior that is used repeatedly to dominate someone. It can result in physical and emotional harm that often lasts into adulthood—especially for those who were bullied more frequently or more severely. Researchers found that bullied children have an increased risk of developing anxiety disorders and depression in adulthood. They are also more likely to have poor relationships, few friends, low self-esteem, poor school performance, financial issues, difficulty keeping a job and poor general health, including a higher risk of psychiatric disorders and serious illness.

According to a study called The Youth Voice Project, students reported that having allying adults and peers that they felt comfortable talking to helped them the most when coping with bullying by providing positive support through connection, encouragement, affiliation, and listening.

Families First is here to support you if you suspect your child may be involved in bullying. We offer classes that teach communication skills to get kids talking. It is important for adults to have conversations with children about bullying so they understand that it is unacceptable. Every child deserves to grow up feeling safe and valued.

Call 877-695-7996 to receive help for you child or more information about bully prevention.

Find out more about bullying at

Domestic Violence Awareness Month

The frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically, but the unfortunate physical, emotional and psychological damage that can be caused by it can last a lifetime and often passes from parent to child, creating a cycle of abuse. An estimated 30 to 60 percent of people who commit violence against their intimate partner are also violent towards their children.

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence. Witnessing violent behavior has a huge impact on a child's health and can increase a child's risk for developing anxiety and sleep disorders as an adult. It can also lead to mental and behavioral health issues including, higher levels of anger, disobedience and withdrawal. Witnessing domestic violence is also a major contributor to it becoming passed from one generation to the next. Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own children when they become adults, according to the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Unfortunately, it is not always easy to know if someone is abusive in the early stages of a relationship. Abusers tend to become increasingly more abusive and controlling over time. It may start subtly with name-calling, threats, possessiveness, or distrust. It might be easy to dismiss or downplay this behavior at first, especially if the person is apologetic, but eventually it will escalate to extreme control and abuse, including intimidation, threats, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or emotional abuse.

The abuse inflicted by the perpetrator can cause victims of domestic abuse to experience a variety of emotional responses, both while in the relationship and once they leave. Since the victim knows the abuser best, it is important for them to think carefully through their situation and circumstances and do what is the best for themselves.

For support and assistance in finding helpful resources, call the Families First Support Line (877-695-7996).

Find out more about domestic violence at

For anonymous, confidential help, 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

Friday, May 19, 2017

Jeremy's Journey

When Jeremy first came to Families First his only coping mechanism was extreme anger and violence. Every time he became overwhelmed or agitated he would exploded violently, punching holes through walls, causing major destruction to everything in sight. Unfortunately for Jeremy he was never taught how to deal with his anger, and only projected what he had learned while growing up. Luckily for him Families First was there to help. After quite some time and extensive therapy and treatment provided at the Families First Treatment Center, Jeremy began to exhibit improved behavior. It wasn’t until Jeremy faced an overwhelming public moment that we knew how much he had truly changed for the better. During, what was supposed to be a fun afternoon shopping, Jeremy was faced with a tough situation that he would have normally acted out in a violent manner. Instead he remained cool calm and collected, processed his anger and overcame the situation. We are happy to report that Jeremy now lives in a happy adoptive home and continues to make strides in his progress.

For more information about Families First's Children's Treatment Center please visit our website.

For parenting tips, parenting resources, or support call the Families First Support Line at 877-695-7996 OR 866-527-3264 for Spanish-speaking parents. You can also e-mail with questions or concerns. Comments provided by non-Families First individuals are not the opinion of Families First.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The topics and suggestions in my Families First Circle of Parents® group have helped me significantly in becoming a better person and in learning how to treat my daughter in our daily exchanges. I'm in a Spanish speaking group at Families First. I am learning how to educate my daughters each day. Since I have attended the Tuesday night parent group, my life with my family is more beautiful because there is more communication between me and my daughters. I have two daughters aged 14 and 10 years. It is not easy being a parent, but thanks to this group, I am learning new tools on how to be a better mother and about dealing effectively with them at their respective ages. We also learn much more when sharing our parenting experiences of other group members. I came to this group experiencing problems with my daughter’s behavior and have gradually begun to find solutions that have helped modify her behavior in very positive ways.
– Circulo de Padres® group participant

For more information about Families First's Circle of Parents® program please visit our website.

For parenting tips, parenting resources, or support call the Families First Support Line at
877-695-7996 OR 866-527-3264 for Spanish-speaking parents. You can also e-mail with questions or concerns. Comments provided by non-Families First individuals are not the opinion of Families First.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Turning to Families First for Strength

Megan’s heart is in the right place. She has been legal guardian and adoptive mother to a twelve year old boy since he was two, and this boy is the son of a child Megan fostered years ago. The foster daughter had seen her share of troubles as she began using drugs when she was still a teen and ultimately was reduced to living on the streets. The little boy did not bond to his biological mother or to Megan in his early years and was subsequently diagnosed with attachment disorder.

Megan chose to attend Families First Circle of Parents® groups in the hope of finding the support she needed. She also wanted some guidance to help reinforce her parenting style. Megan now provides a firm, consistent and loving environment for this child and relies heavily on the group as a trusted gathering of parents who allow her to vent her frustrations and find companionship and support from the group as a whole.

For more information about Families First's Circle of Parents® program please visit our website.

For parenting tips, parenting resources, or support call the Families First Support Line at
877-695-7996 OR 866-527-3264 for Spanish-speaking parents. You can also e-mail with questions or concerns. Comments provided by
non-Families First individuals are not the opinion of Families First.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Charlene's Circle of Support

Charlene began attending our Circle of Parents® about 8 months ago. She is single, has two children and one has a very serious disease. This mom, just a short two years ago, packed up and left a very abuse relationship. She has been on her own to raise her young children since. The youngest has a rare disease and as has been in and out of the hospital many times. Charlene almost lost custody of her kids because of having to work and not being able to care appropriately for them.

Recently, her little one was hospitalized again and Charlene was beside herself. Unsure how to care for her other child and be at the hospital with her little one, the Circle of Parents® members came. They took turns helping her. One mom came and when Charlene woke up, she was embarrassed she had been sleeping while this mom came by to visit. The mom said to her, “Oh no, you needed the sleep, I watched over your little one. You need rest and I am perfectly fine to sit here so that you can get it.” The mom felt such relief, this group of people she hadn’t even met 8 months ago, had now become a very big support system. She exclaimed at the next group meeting, “I completely understand now why so many of you are “lifers”, I will be sticking around for a long time.”

For more information about Families First's Circle of Parents® program please visit our website.

For parenting tips, parenting resources, or support call the Families First Support Line at
877-695-7996 OR 866-527-3264 for Spanish-speaking parents. You can also e-mail with questions or concerns. Comments provided by non-Families First individuals are not the opinion of Families First.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Giving Katie's Parents Hope

Parents of six week old Katie, a little girl suffering from challenging physical limitations, found themselves overwhelmed with what they were facing. The mere identification of the disability afflicting their baby was enough to send the frantic parents into a panic. It wasn’t until the family turned to the early intervention services offered by Parents as Teachers, a program of Families First, that Katie began to respond well to treatment.

Families First made it possible for Katie’s parents to be given access to adaptive tools they can use to effectively manage Katie’s disability. The little girl is now thriving in a preschool program. Katie’s parents are now so fully engaged in the scheduled home visits, they report that they look forward to subsequent visits with enthusiasm.

For more information about Families First's
Parents as Teachers program please visit our website.

For parenting tips, parenting resources, or support call the Families First Support Line at
877-695-7996 OR 866-527-3264 for Spanish-speaking parents. You can also e-mail with questions or concerns. Comments provided by
non-Families First individuals are not the opinion of Families First.