Holiday Resources 2015


This week I want to call attention to some of the many resources available to families over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday. We all have ideas about what the holidays should (or should not) mean for our families; these resources can enable us to make them all that we want them to be.

Our own Parenting Success Network has an excellent and comprehensive list for Linn, Benton and Lincoln Counties, and it can’t be circulated enough, so here you go.

Here is another list that covers the state of Oregon, published by 211 Info Community Resources.

I also want to give my periodic plug for Community Services Consortium, which provides assistance with housing, jobs, utilities and education as well as operating the Linn-Benton Food Share, who reminds us that “Every $1 donated to Linn Benton Food Share allows us to distribute up to 15 lbs. of food to emergency food pantries and shelters to give out in food boxes or to meal sites, and ultimately to thousands of low-income families and children across our communities.”

We hope that you or someone you know can use these resources to help make the holidays everything they can be.


Mood Disorders and Parenting: It’s Terrible. It’s Awesome!!

This week’s guest post is by Jeni Jorgens. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts by Jeni.


For as long as I can remember, I have gone back and forth between extreme elation and extreme misery. Most of the time I felt flat, worthless, and confused as to why I had to feel that way. I felt selfish that I couldn’t get out of my head and appreciate all of the great things in my life. When I was happy, I was ecstatic. I would always think my depression was finally gone for good. I felt like I could do anything and be friends with everyone. I was excited for everything, and sometimes felt so overwhelmed with joy that I would cry. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I discovered I had been misdiagnosed with depression for all of my teenage and adult life. I have a mood disorder and was being given the wrong treatment.

Also, for as long as I can remember, I have loved being around and taking care of children. Their creative minds, curiosity and the somehow sweet contradiction of needing to be nurtured yet needing to be independent.

Having an untreated mood disorder has always been a struggle for me in my experiences as a nanny, preschool teacher, and a much older big sister. Sometimes I would feel so deflated it felt like I couldn’t do anything. I mustered the energy to be there with the children and make sure routines were taken care of, but I knew that my lack of emotional presence had an effect. When I was on, boy, was I on! I would take the children on amazing adventures, do elaborate art projects, and use every moment to teach them something. I always wondered if the ‘on’ times made up for the ‘off’ times, or if the vacillation between the two confused them and created some kind of emotional chaos inside of them.

The day I was correctly diagnosed and treated, something in me changed. I felt hope for the first time. That I wasn’t just a broken anomaly that would never make it. That, maybe, this experience had some benefit. Maybe I hadn’t ruined every child I had ever been around. Maybe it taught them acceptance and flexibility. Maybe there was some good in children seeing that adults are not perfect and struggle, too. Maybe it was possible that there was a sense of comradery in a child and adult both have to wade through thoughts and feelings that are constantly evolving and fluctuating.

A lot of us have to deal with mental illness and child-rearing. Sometimes this makes us feel like failures, like you want to give up because you worry that you’re doing more damage than good. But, just the fact that you worry about this shows a tremendous love that should not be discredited. You are trying. There are times that even getting out of bed is a success. Celebrate all the little things, even if it’s just the fact that you ate that day, or that you talked to your child. Be kind to yourself. Reach out for help, even though I know that can seem impossible. Keep pushing through, you got this.

If you need to talk to someone, please call the Mental Health Crisis Line (it’s not scary, I promise): 1.800.927.0197

Jeni Jorgens is the Infant Specialist at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings…

This week’s guest post is by featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts by Esther. 

Hispanic mother holding little girl

Many parenting education programs talk about feelings—why the emphasis? Are they advocating that we let our feelings dictate everything we do? Or that we encourage our children to let their feelings be their only guide?


Actually, by identifying feelings we help children learn to control their actions, and to behave in responsible and socially acceptable ways.

Here’s why it works: When we aren’t consciously aware of our feelings, or when we ignore them, feelings are more likely to influence our actions than when we identify them. We may act without thinking. Identifying feelings helps us calm down and think about how to act.

One useful way of looking at feelings comes from Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication.

He writes, “Feelings are like indicator lights on a car’s dashboard.” Unfortunately, feelings are not usually as specific as the light that signals the gas tank is almost empty. That’s why most of us need guidance and practice in identifying our feelings. And that’s why most parenting education programs spend time on identifying feelings.

It may help to think of our brain as having two parts: our emotional brain and our problem-solving brain. We need both parts of our brains. Feelings are in our emotional brain—our basic survival brain. They turn on like a warning light when something is important to our survival. When we let ourselves be aware of a warning light, we can use the problem-solving parts of our brains to figure out why it’s on, what we need, and what we want to do to meet that need.

Wait a minute—survival? My child is throwing a fit because her brother knocked down the tower she was building. That’s hardly a threat to her survival. Actually, from the emotional brain’s point of view, it may be. We all have needs: oxygen, food, safety, and many others. In order to get those needs met we have to have some control over ourselves and our environment. Children are born with a drive to gain control because that’s something they’ll need in order to get their other needs met. Not having control over that tower is a threat to her need for control. Because she is a child, her emotions and reactions are more primitive (that’s why she needs parents). According to Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, co-authors of No-Drama Discipline and The Whole Brain Child, at certain stages of development, the emotional part of the brain is more dominant, thus children are more likely to get upset.

Other threats to survival (hunger, fatigue, fear) contribute to an emotional reaction. And some people are more intense than others. (I confess to having similar reactions to trivial issues at times as an adult.)

Identifying feelings helps us (and our children) in several ways:

  • It requires us to focus attention on the child (or ourselves). We can’t assume we know exactly what’s going on, and our response needs to be tentative, “sounds like you are really frustrated.” Just being attentive, without directing or demanding, helps us figure out what’s really going on and helps a child to calm down.
  • Giving the feeling a name conveys that we understand what the child is experiencing and that we and others have experienced that same sensation. Learning that also helps the child calm down.
  • Giving a name to an emotional sensation engages our child’s thinking brain. That helps the child calm down and be better able to think and choose how to act.

By acknowledging the emotion, by giving the feeling a name, you can help a child to learn to control his or her actions and behavior. According to research by Siegel and Bryson, when we help a child in identify feelings, we help that child’s brain develop.

Yes, sometimes we have to intervene immediately to protect children from hurting themselves or others—but, once everyone is safe, we can help identify feelings. We can calm down. We can use our problem-solving brains to figure out what needs to happen next.

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to three boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

Yelling and Screaming and Time Outs (Oh My)


This week’s guest post is by Tara Webster. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Tara.


I was a mom of a very angry 3 year old, just a small time ago. My daughter was angry for many reasons and like most first time parents, I was at a loss as to how to help her. She would yell and scream, slam doors, and throw things, so I did what every “good” parent does, I watched Super Nanny. You know the show, where the British Nanny comes in and saves the whole family through time outs.  So I followed her example and used time outs regularly.

My poor daughter would be throwing a tantrum and I would pick her up and sit her in the “time out spot” and tell her that she could get up in three minutes. When she would get up–and she would always get up–I would put her back and add another minute. I remember at one point she was up to 15 minutes in the time out spot! I thought this is ridiculous. At that point I had no idea what she was in trouble for and neither did she. All I knew is we were both very upset and exhausted. That night I decided we both needed some help.

I found the most amazing counselor for my daughter. He taught me that there are other ways to handle difficult problems.  First he gave my child and me the language to keep each other accountable. He would ask my daughter, “When that happened and you were upset, were you growing up or growing down?” He told me that this was easier for children to understand because it was more visual. He even told me I could use it as a reminder: “Are you growing up right now, or growing down?” Now, when my child was super upset, she would say “I don’t know.” The response from her counselor was, “Oh well, you have time to think about it.” I thought, “Wow, what an idea, to give them time to come up with the right choice.” I started using it at home, and it helped so much.

The next step was addressing “time outs”. He told me that they don’t work. It only becomes a control issue; your focus is on time and control rather than the real problem. This is where he gave me the best gift ever. I can let go of the control and give it to my child. This may not sound like a good thing, but it changed my relationship with my daughter.

How I did it was the key. “Time outs” turned into “Taking a break” or “time away.” When my daughter was getting worked up and started doing things she shouldn’t, I would ask her if she was growing up or growing down. If that did not help her to calm down I would ask her to go to her break spot. (We had discussed with her counselor what was going to happen during these “growing down” behaviors. Then my daughter could choose her break spot). She did not take it as a punishment, because she got to choose when she was ready to come out and talk again. When she came out we would talk about what happened; she would give me a way to handle it better, and I would give her a way to handle it better (if you are trying this with your child and they cannot come up with a way, give them ideas). We always ended with a hug and “I love yous.”

The first time we did this, my daughter sat for fifteen minutes before coming out. Sometimes it was shorter. When she was really worked up, she would come back and still be upset. In that case I would give her a hug, acknowledge how upset she still was, and tell her that she may need more of a break to talk. She would always go back to the break spot until she felt better.


Tara Webster is the Home Based Supervisor at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

Self-care, Schmelf-care


I go to a lot of trainings as a parent educator, and a concept that comes up with some frequency is “self-care.” For some reason, this term fills me with a sense of dread (if a workshop can be a source of dread; I understand that there are scarier things in this world). It usually means that I am going to be given a bag with some pipe cleaners and a teabag in it.

In the “people professions,” as my supervisor puts it, we tend to want to give a lot to the families we work with, and often we neglect to give ourselves what we need to sustain this draining work. If you are a parent, you will understand this dilemma.

The work of caring for children, dressing and comforting and teaching and feeding them on a regular basis, leaves little time or energy for self-care.

But there is the maxim that in order to fill their cup, we have to keep our own cup filled as well. I don’t know about you, but this is usually the last thing I think about. Getting more than five hours of sleep a night is pretty much the extent of my personal cup-filling, and sometimes this doesn’t work out so well either.

What do we need in order to remain healthy and fulfilled as caregivers? My focus of late has been to stay connected with my wife, to be sure that the time we have together allows us to enjoy each other’s friendship and company. With four small children, this is easier said than done. After all, even when all the kids are asleep there is the chance that one of them will be up, and needing something, at any moment. Knowing a good babysitter would seem to be a key here, but given the emphasis we place on regular (and early) bedtimes in our family we don’t take advantage of this with any regularity. Weekends for my wife are a time during which, since I am home, she can catch up on planning for the next week of homeschooling and meals. I try to do most of the cooking and kid-watching so that she can do this.

  • I find time in the spaces between things. During my commute to and from work (26 minutes each way, traffic allowing) I listen to music, loudly. I understand that this is not always the best option, but I know from experience that if I don’t do this I will talk to myself incessantly. And I don’t find that relaxing.
  • When I was at a previous job, at a residential facility for children, I found a spot between work and home where I could stop and walk among the trees and spot birds. Fifteen to twenty minutes was usually enough to recharge my batteries. The secret was to leave my phone in the car and learn to accept the silence. These days, I sometimes park a few blocks from home, turn off the music, and sit and breathe for a while. When I walk in the door I will have freed myself of whatever worries I took with me when I got in the car.
  • Another thing with which I have become reacquainted is the luxury of reading in bed. Now that the girls are all old enough to have their own beds (though I do not expect them all to stay there), I realize that I will never take for granted the experience of settling back on my pillow with a book.

Because we’re parents, self-care is never an end in itself, but allows us to keep up with a job that never ends. What do you do? How do you keep your cup filled?

Rest Time, Anyone?

Miriam kicking it

A couple of weeks ago I told you about a typical day in home school. I stopped at what is, to me, the most amazing part of the day: what we call rest time.

Rest time is a magical thing. It serves as a sort of hinge upon which the whole day turns. And I don’t know how or why it works so well. But I’d like to tell you about it.

Rest time, as I understand it, grew out of the days (actually the several years) during which we had one or more children young enough to need a nap in the middle of the day. As you probably know, it’s kind of important for the kids that are not sleeping to be, you know, quiet, and not jumping on their younger siblings’ beds or undertaking construction projects right outside their door. So, that’s a challenge.

The solution was to set up a routine for the others in which they had the opportunity to engage in a quiet, peaceful activity for the duration of naptime. As the little ones grew older and the need for naps subsided, we continued the practice of rest time for the whole family. Here’s how it works:

Like any routine for children—or anyone, for that matter—the transitions are the tricky part. It’s hard to move from one place or activity to the next, and this is precisely where many behavioral issues, tantrums, and resistance to adult expectations come about. So there are built-in rituals for moving into and out of rest time.

  • To set the stage, the kids know there are certain things they have to do when lunch is over: wash hands and face, make their beds, and tidy the area. Those that need help with these things may receive it, but at this point even the four and six year-old are able to undertake these tasks with minimal interference.
  • Once everyone is ready, rest time can begin. In our house the two youngest and two oldest share a bedroom, so there are two separate activities going on at once. Many parents find it easier to give everyone a separate space, or to keep them together; in our case, this is what works best.

The idea of rest time is spend an interval in some form of tranquil concentration, without a lot of movement and without noise or talking. We listen to a lot of audiobooks in our family, and rest time is a good opportunity for them to catch up on their stories. Right now the younger pair is listening to The Secret Garden, an old favorite, while the two oldest are deep in the latest book in the Redwall series. While they listen they remain in their room, and may have paper and drawing supplies, or books to look at, or puzzles to assemble. On other days, this would be a good time for them to watch something: a movie on Fridays, or a couple of episodes of Sesame Street or (for the eldest girls) a documentary series like Edwardian Farm (their choice, I swear).

  • If you are wanting to establish a routine like this, you might try starting out with smaller chunks of time—15 to 30 minutes, especially if you have toddlers or preschool aged kids. At this point, our grizzled veterans engage successfully in rest time for an hour to 90 minutes a day.
  • It’s just as important to have a way out of this activity and into the next, so in our house the end of rest time means afternoon tea (or snack, as the Americans call it). After that there is usually an outing of some sort, or it’s time to play outside. The upshot is that now it’s time for some movement and activity.

How does this work so well for us? Frankly, I’m baffled every time. Like any routine, consistency is the key. And of course, for a homeschooling family this is more or less a daily practice; you might want to try it on the weekends and experience the magic for yourself.

By the way, while the kids are in rest time, this is a great time for the adults to catch up on housework, pay the bills, or paint the porch, right?

Not so fast, pal. You should be resting.

Taking a Breath


A funny thing happened on the way to my blog post last night.

One of the things about homeschooling is that the kids are all home, together, and they get to share everything. So when someone gets sick, everyone is in on the experience. If you have a family, you know how this works. The constant laundry, the cleaning supplies, the probability that with four sick children one of them is likely to be up at any given time of the night. Parenting does not stop for illness; on the contrary, it shifts into a higher gear. The vigilance, the worry, the lack of sleep pile on and everything is more challenging for the duration of the crisis. And all of this is assuming that you don’t get sick as well.

I like to be useful, so I tend to appreciate this more immediate, concrete mode of parenting. Taking care of someone in need is a good way to feel that I’m doing my job. It’s less complicated, somehow. More elemental.

Maybe it’s the lack of sleep talking.

Anyway, last night my ten year-old’s asthma, which she has had since she was a baby, was triggered by her cold and went into overdrive. Her inhaler didn’t seem to be working and she couldn’t keep anything down. When I got home from work she was ghostly pale.

I took her to the emergency room and she was given a nebulizer treatment. She was a champion. Her relief at being able to breathe again freed her up to tell me all about what she had been reading. We discussed Kit Carson and the Oregon Trail. She regretted having ignored my advice to bring a book (you should always bring a book). So she took my sketchbook and drew a still life of the medical instruments in the triage room.

As a parent you will understand the value of this moment: of being close to your child and knowing that she is going to be okay; that she is free to be the person she is and to share it.

It should be easier for me to appreciate these moments when they happen. My children do something astounding every day. But sometimes it’s important to start with just being there, just being present with them.

Just breathing. That’s a good start.

A Day in Homeschool


I called in sick to work today, which means that I was granted the rare opportunity to experience a day of homeschool with my family. I wanted to report on what I saw there.

My wife Kyrie has been homeschooling the kids for a few years now. She has been switching things up as she goes, as new and better ideas come to her. Kyrie is trained as a Montessori teacher, and taught for several years in both Montessori and public preschool. She recently attended a weeklong Waldorf homeschooling conference in Portland. And now she is integrating elements of the Charlotte Mason curriculum. Honestly, I don’t know how she does it. But what she’s doing now is what she has determined is best for the needs of each child (remember, we have four girls, aged 4, 6, 8 and ten).

We got up and made breakfast (pancakes) and the girls worked on their chores, got dressed and made their beds. School started promptly at 9:00. Kyrie had everything on a timer, so each subject or activity went on for the scheduled time and then we switched to the next. My times are approximate, as they are from memory. Be patient with me.

9:00 Circle time; greetings, prayer and Scripture reading.

9:20 Math for the 8 and ten-year old; worksheets at different levels with Kyrie available to help. The 6 year-old took this time to draw while I helped the 4 year-old occupy herself in the play kitchen in her bedroom.

9:35 Read Aloud. Kyrie read from Mary Pope Osborne’s retellings of American Tall Tales: today was Davy Crocket, and all the kids found this highly amusing.

10:00 Copywork. Girls took out their notebooks, whose pages have space for both drawing and handwriting. They copied out a short passage and illustrated it.

10:15 Morning Tea. Tea with milk and honey, and cookies!

10:30 Play time. We’re big on play time.

10:50 Nursery Rhymes. Kyrie read some assorted nursery rhymes and we ran outside to play “London Bridges.”

11:00 History. I was recruited to read from Ingri & Edgar Parin d’Aulaire’s illustrated biography of Benjamin Franklin. It was a hit.

11:50 Science. Kyrie read the excellent children’s book Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies. Girls did an exercise in which they took a sheet of paper and cut it into increasingly smaller pieces to simulate the rapid division of microbes. We discussed the importance of air and sunlight in keeping microbes at bay.

12:45 Lunch.

This ended the school day proper. After lunch girls have “rest time,” which usually consists of dividing into older and younger pairs and playing or drawing while listening to an audiobook. On special days they watch a movie.

In the afternoon they took a trip to the library in Corvallis, and played at Central Park.

It was a breakneck day! I was surprised by a couple of things. One was how engaged all the kids were in each activity. Kyrie reports that keeping everything to the timer helps to prevent burnout. They packed up whatever they were doing when it was time to move on to the next thing (that was the other thing that surprised me).

So, that’s what I’ve been missing out on. I kind of wish I could be going to homeschool every day. But I’m glad to let Kyrie run it.

Reading, and What Comes Before


“Daddy, do you think I’ll be able to read when I’m a grownup?”

This question came from my six year-old daughter. Her eldest sister, now ten, started reading when she was six, and moved straight from picture books to the Narnia series. The next oldest, now eight, endured similar frustration until everything clicked for her this year. Now she’s unstoppable and reading space on the couch is at a premium. I don’t think the six year-old has much to worry about.

My children are home schooled, and their mother is a skilled and experienced teacher, but there’s really no secret to how reading came to be a prized experience in our family. We have books. Lots of books. Books on the shelves, books on every flat surface, books on the floor and under the beds. Books we sought out and books that were gifted; books from frequent trips to the library and books that appeared mysteriously without explanation. Books that fall out when we open the car door.

The presence of books in the home is probably the most powerful way to encourage literacy in children. After all, kids learn what’s important from what is in their environment. A long-term study found that having books on hand is a more significant indicator of a child’s future academic success than the parent’s level of education (which was previously though to be the most important factor). According to the study, “Having as few as 20 books in the home still has a significant impact on propelling a child to a higher level of education, and the more books you add, the greater the benefit.”

Reading to your children is important, of course. After all, they have to know what those leafy things are and how they work (and why nothing will happen when you swipe or click them). There are a variety of preliteracy activities that help to ensure that kids will read at the appropriate time.

  • Oral language skills. Children listen to adult conversations. They learn to ask questions. They tell stories, especially if we tell stories to them.
  • Play. Left on their own, children will naturally create their own narratives through the very important activity of playing with one another.
  • Language is everywhere. According to this article, “While it’s important to understand preliteracy skills and behaviors, you don’t have to directly teach them. Instead, try to follow your child’s lead. For example, interesting experiences like grocery shopping, bank visits, and trips to the veterinarian encourage children to talk. These informal occasions allow them to take risks using language, particularly in new and creative ways. They will play with familiar words, explore new meanings, and test uses of language in different settings.”

Having books around? Talking to kids? Is it really that easy? Not for everyone. My six year-old is still a little concerned that reading won’t happen during her childhood (I give her six months to a year). But reading, in this environment, will happen when it happens. Every child is different, and the skills will fall into place when they’re ready (as any parent who has struggled to potty train their child can attest).

We are fortunate to have much more than twenty books. Of course, this increases exponentially the possibility of library fines. Somehow, it’s always worth it.

Packing and Unpacking


There is an activity from the excellent Make Parenting a Pleasure curriculum that has been on my mind recently. It’s something we use in the parenting classes at Family Tree Relief Nursery.

The Suitcase Activity goes like this: draw a suitcase on a piece of paper. Be sure to leave plenty of room inside. Now think of your children as they are grown into young adults and ready to go out into the world. You are ready to send them off, but you have one task left as a parent: what do you want them to bring with them in their suitcase? What will they take with them throughout their lives that you have provided for them?

This activity, though simple enough, is interesting in a couple of ways. One is the way in which it inspires me to think long and hard about what, as a father, I have been teaching them, and the connection—if any—between my way I am raising them and the kind of people I want them to be. I’m sure you have found that what you think you are getting across to your kids may not translate as directly as you would like.

For example, if I want my daughters to be independent and self-sufficient, am I giving them the space that they need to investigate and discover things on their own, rather than dictating information? Do they feel a sense of wonder at the world and the way it works? Do they want to seek things out? More importantly, do I make them feel comfortable with experimenting even when they may come up with the wrong answer? Do they feel they can make mistakes? Are they ready to try something else instead? As you can see, this can get complicated. It can even, if you do it right, get a little unsettling.

So, if I want my children to be able to explore and come to informed conclusions, what do I put in their suitcase?

A drawing pad and pencils? My girls like to draw what they see. They like to tell stories with their pictures, and they like to portray things as they could be (climbing to the top of the mountain) or even as they couldn’t, just to see what it would look like (using their wings to land there).

Books? My eldest daughter is into reading herbalist tomes; they all like to pore over their huge natural history book and my wife’s hefty Art Through the Ages. Maybe they need a library card.

Tools? Definitely a screwdriver. Lots of tape. A compass, a flashlight and a magnifying glass. A mirror, so that what their actions and words can reflect what they mean to do and say (something their father is still working on).

What else? A key to my house. The phone numbers and addresses of their sisters. Knitted items. Snacks.

The other interesting thing about this activity is that, as you can see, it’s much more about us as parents—our hopes, fears and expectations, our strengths and limitations—than it is about them. And yet…there’s still time. If I want to put these things in their suitcase I’ve got some gathering to do.