Toddler Tuesdays: Master List of Parenting Strategies, 1-5

IMG_0171.JPGSo, one of the nerdy things I’ve chosen to do with my life is compose a list of parenting strategies that I find fall on the spectrum somewhere from ‘useful to keep in the back of your mind’ to ‘I don’t know how I’d parent without this’. (Right now, my list is mostly centered around dealing with toddlers and preschool-aged kids, but since I’m about to have a baby, I’ll be compiling a list of those strategies over the next year.) In the hopes that this list might be of some use to someone else, I thought I’d go through and share the items on the list, a few at a time, with my thoughts and experiences tagged on. Here are the first five:

  1. Use unconditional love and praise. “I love watching you do x.” “I love you because you’re mine.” “I love you no matter what.” “It’s nice to be here with you.” A little kid’s life is full of feedback, both positive and negative, verbal and nonverbal, where it’s easy for them to link their behaviour to how much their parents love them. I try to regularly use no-strings-attached language like this to express that my happiness in them isn’t hinged on their being ‘good’, but on their being my kid and being themselves. It’s especially nice getting this parroted back to you as a little blonde boy slips his hand into yours and remarks confidingly, “I like being with you, Mummy.”
  2. “Leaving well is part of coming next time.” For regular outings, remind them that if they aren’t able to leave a place well, you will pass up the next opportunity to go there. This is a great, great tool to have in your toolkit. It only takes a couple of reinforcements for your kids to learn that you mean business (for Scout Kid, it was missing out on a special bike ride with his daddy), it’s catchy and easy to remember, and it drastically cuts back on the amount of whining that comes at the end of a fun outing. I use it for screen time as well, as that’s another situation when the end of the time often results in a lot of whining.
  3. Involve them. A kid who feels they’re part of what you’re doing will have no desire to act out. For example, I can literally not recall one instance of the boys making mischief or being defiant while we were baking together. Although I can recall plenty of instances where ingredients were eagerly dumped in at random…
  4. When their behaviour makes life easier for you, pause and thank them, and tell them in specific terms how that behaviour benefitted you: “Thank-you for being so helpful in the grocery store. When you walked nicely beside the cart, it made it much easier for me to focus on getting the things on my list.” “Thank-you for cleaning that up without being asked. Now I finished my work more quickly so we can spend time together.” I don’t like using praise as a motivator all that much (see #1 above; I want them to know that my love for them isn’t hinged on how good they are) but I think expressing it as appreciation instead of praise changes the narrative such that they can see that they’re bringing me happiness without feeling the pressure of bringing me happiness or risking losing my approval and delight in them. I’ve seen their behaviour in a few areas really blossom because of this technique, particularly the areas of ‘not being little terrors at the grocery store’ and in the area of playing together peacefully.
  5. Introduce non-verbal communication, with which you can both encourage and check your child silently. You can use the I-love-you sign across a room if your child seems troubled, or in a situation where you can’t use words without sounding angry. A stern stare or raised eyebrows can be used instead of repeating an instruction. A thumbs-up can be a moment of encouragement and connection when you’re in the middle of something but they’re looking for some input. I love especially using a little hand-squeeze when we’re walking together to say something like, “Isn’t this nice, you and me?” They notice and smile up at me, and squeeze my hand back.

I’m always looking to expand my list, so do let me know in the comments if you have any life-changing strategies or tools!


365 Recipes: Fried Chicken Tenders

The Recipe:

One of the Christmas presents we received (well, technically, the Partner in Crime received it, but the two shall become one flesh and all…) was an adorably miniature deep fryer. It’s taken us a while, but we’re slowly venturing into the exciting world of deep frying things. Donuts are at the top of my list to try next, but for now, here’s my first attempt at fried chicken, inspired by the recipe from this amazing Cook’s Illustrated cookbook (seriously, buy it; you won’t regret it) and this Chowhound thread.

The Ingredients:

Chicken Marinade
10-12 chicken tenders
1/2-1 cup buttermilk
Salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne, to taste

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk

Peanut oil or vegetable shortening, for frying

The Recipe:

  1. Earlier in the day, combine all marinade ingredients in a plastic storage container or bag, toss to coat, and refrigerate.
  2. About 2 hours before you plan to eat, remove the chicken from the marinade, shaking off excess, and spread on a wire rack set on top of a baking sheet. Refrigerate an additional hour.
  3. Remove chicken from refrigerator and prepare two pie plates; one with the flour, and one with the baking powder, baking soda, egg, and buttermilk whisked together. Preheat the oven to 200F, and place another wire rack and baking sheet on the middle shelf. Place a paper-towel lined plate beside deep fryer. Pour oil into deep fryer to a depth of about 2 inches and heat to 350F.
  4. Working in batches of four, dip tenders into flour, turning to coat. Shake off excess, then dip into the egg mixture and turn to coat, allowing the excess to drip off. Coat in flour once more, shake off excess, and place in fryer basket.
  5. Fry pieces for about 4-5 minutes, until crust is golden brown and inside of chicken is no longer pink (you should only have to check one piece and use it as a guide as they will all be the same size.)
  6. Remove chicken to paper towel to drain for 1 minute, then place in warm oven and continue frying the remainder of the batch. Serve with your favourite dipping sauce. (I used buttermilk biscuits and coleslaw with buttermilk dressing as my sides for a pleasing round of buttermilk-based dishes.)

The Verdict:
It’s a good starting point. I was happy with the moisture of the chicken and the crispiness of the breading, and although the breading didn’t adhere to the chicken as well as it would’ve if I used skin-on pieces, the ease of prep and the uniform cooking time were good trade-offs. My big beef with this as a recipe was just that the breading was pretty bland. However, using the Chowhound thread linked above, I think I can work out a blend of spices to add to the breading to bring its flavour up to the level of the texture.

Also, fair warning: this is not one of those easy weeknight meals I love so much. These are the words that came out of my mouth as I served up: “Enjoy this, because I probably won’t be making it again until the baby is over 1 year…”

Meal Mondays: Slow-Cooker Ramen

The Recipe:
Adapted from this Chowhound recipe, this is my first attempt at a ramen more sophisticated than Mr. Noodle cups.

The Ingredients:
1 2lb. beef roast (choose a cheaper, tougher cut)
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 leek, halved lengthwise and coarsely chopped (white and green parts)
1 cup cremini or button mushrooms, chopped
Soy sauce, sesame oil, and salt and pepper to season
4 servings dried ramen noodles
8 large eggs (optional)
1 generous handful spinach, chopped
4 green onions, finely chopped (white and pale green parts) or 1 cup mung bean sprouts, to garnish

The Method:
1. Season the beef with salt. Heat oil in a large frying pan set over medium-high heat, then brown the beef on all sides, 3-4 minutes a side. Set beef aside. Add the onion to the pan and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, ginger, and 1 cup of the broth and deglaze the pan, stirring and scraping up any browned bits, then let simmer for 1 minute.
2. Transfer the beef and the onion mixture to the slow cooker. Add the leek, mushrooms, and the remaining 7 cups of broth, and stir to combine. Cover and cook on the low-heat setting for 8 hours. The pork should be very tender and the broth should be fragrant.
3.Set water to boil according to ramen package directions. In another pot, put on the eggs to soft-boil. Remove beef from slow cooker and shred with two forks, removing any large chunks of fat. Return shredded beef to slow cooker and add the spinach. Season to taste with soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, and pepper.
4. When the noodles are done, add them to the slow cooker. Serve soup into bowls. Peel the eggs, cut in half, and place on top of soup, along with green onions or bean sprouts. Serve.

The Verdict:
This is a recipe I’d like to play with. I didn’t love the heavy ‘slow-cooker’ taste that the broth and beef acquired after 8 hours in the slow-cooker. I might experiment with recreating this in a Dutch oven instead, or alternatively trying 4 hours on high instead of 8 on low. There are also  vegetable variations to think about– carrot, bok choy, etc. However. All in all, a solid step up from Mr. Noodle, and the Partner in Crime did have three bowls, so.

Homeschooling: Music: Classics for Kids

IMG_0169I’m very excited about this recent discovery I made via a homeschooling forum: Classics for Kids from Cincinnati Public Radio. I haven’t explored it very in-depth yet, but basically it’s a short podcast for kids on classical music appreciation and history. There is a composer of the month, with once-weekly audio ‘lesson’, and an activity sheet to go with it. We jumped in pretty much blind today, and I wasn’t sure if it would be at Scout Kid’s level, but we both really enjoyed just chilling out on the bed and listening to it.

This week’s broadcast was about Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Luckily, Scout Kid’s longstanding love of Peter and the Wolf meant he was tracking right along with the descriptions of the various woodwinds (“Oboe! That’s the duck,” etc.) and strings. We pulled out our visual dictionary at the same time, so he could see images of each instrument as it was introduced.

When it was over, Scout Kid instantly asked to listen to Peter and the Wolf, so I put that on (Leonard Bernstein’s excellent version), gave him his Peter and the Wolf picture book, left the visual dictionary open to the orchestra page, and enjoyed a quiet time to myself. All in all, a successful activity, and I think we’re both looking forward to next week’s broadcast!

October Dress Project: Boots’ Theory of Socioeconomic Unfairness

“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

Terry Pratchet

Georgia Book Reviews: Waters of Eden, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan

The Book: Waters of Eden: The Mystery of the Mikvah, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (linked through my Amazon Affiliates account.)

Summary: An exploration of the Jewish teachings on Mikvah (a special pool or body of water for ritual purification) in the written and oral Torah.

Recommended by: A messianic Jewish website I can’t seem to find now, sorry!

My Thoughts: This is the first non-fiction reading I’ve ever done on Judaism, and I found it fascinating. I was prompted to buy this book during my memorization of Matthew 3. I wondered where, exactly, the ritual of baptism had sprung from, when there was no record of it in the Old Testament and suddenly everyone was familiar with it when John the Baptist entered the scene. What was it about baptism that Christ needed to do in order to “fulfill all righteousness”? What was the Jewish understanding of baptism when Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan?

In some ways, the broad understanding discussed in Waters of Eden falls closely in line with New Testament teaching about baptism, and shed light on the historical understanding of baptism that would’ve been held in Jesus’ day. Kaplan talks about the connection of Mikvah to Sinai, conversion, and original sin. “How does immersion in a Mikvah change a person? This can best be understood on the basis of another Talmudic teaching that “a convert who embraces Judaism is like a new born child.” (page 12), and “…[A] Mikvah cannot be made in a vessel or tub, but must be built directly in the ground, for in a sense, the Mikvah also represents the grave. When a person immerses, he is temporarily in a state of nonliving, and when he emerges, he is resurrected with a new status.” It’s impossible to read this without thinking of Romans 6:3-4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

Did I find the answer to my questions in this book? Sort of. Better understanding the Jewish traditional roots and understanding of baptism at the time of Jesus’ baptism helped make it clearer to me the notions of purification, rebirth and repentance, and consecration that would’ve surrounded immersion. One interesting side note is that baptism was generally for converts to Judaism, so when John called for repentance and baptism, he was calling his fellow Jews to something radical.

So why did Jesus say, “It is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness,” when John objected to baptising him? I’m not sure. I think, though, of the roots in Sinai that Waters of Eden presents. In Matthew 4, right after his baptism, Jesus goes out into the wilderness to be tempted, and his responses to the tempter’s wiles are all taken from Deuteronomy, from areas where Israel failed their tests. If his baptism, then, represented his assumption of his active role as the bringer of the kingdom of heaven, the true child of God in perfect obedience, baptism could be seen as his commitment, and his wilderness trial the mirror of Israel’s. It’s admittedly only a theory, but either way, I’m glad I read this book, as I think it added depth and richness to my thinking; I’d like to do more reading on Judaism, the oral Torah, and the Second Temple period.

Kinderlove: Visualizing Kids’ Emotions

Recently enjoyed this post by Dr. Hazel Harrison about how to teach kids to understand what is happening in their brains when they’re experiencing big emotions. It’s a long read, but really worth it, with great kid-friendly explanations for fight-and-flight emotions and ideas for how to help your child visualize and problem-solve through these feelings. Here’s a quote:

“I tell children that their brains are like a house, with an upstairs and a downstairs… Really, what I’m talking about are the functions of the neocortex (our thinking brain – the upstairs), and the limbic system (our feeling brain – the downstairs). Typically, the upstairs characters are thinkers, problem solvers, planners, emotion regulators, creatives, flexible and empathic types. I give them names like Calming Carl, Problem Solving Pete, Creative Craig and Flexible Felix. The downstairs folk are the feelers. They are very focused on keeping us safe and making sure our needs are met. Our instinct for survival originates here. These characters look out for danger, sound the alarm and make sure we are ready to fight, run or hide when we are faced with a threat. Downstairs we’ve got characters like Alerting Allie, Frightened Fred, and Big Boss Bootsy… Our brains work best when the upstairs and the downstairs work together. Imagine that the stairs connecting upstairs and downstairs are very busy with characters carrying messages up and down to each other. This is what helps us make good choices, make friends and get along with other people, come up with exciting games to play, calm ourselves down and get ourselves out of sticky situations. Sometimes, in the downstairs brain, Alerting Allie spots some danger, Frightened Fred panics and before we know where we are, Big Boss Bootsy has sounded the alarm telling your body to be prepared for danger. Big Boss Bootsy is a bossy fellow, and he shouts ‘the downstairs brain is taking over now. Upstairs gang can work properly again when we are out of danger’. The downstairs brain “flips the lid” (to borrow Dan Siegel’s phrase) on the upstairs brain. This means that the stairs that normally allow the upstairs and downstairs to work together are no longer connected.”

I’m excited to talk this out with Scout Kid (I think the Feral Kid is still too young, and also too feral, for this talk, but I can definitely see him needing it later as his feeling brain is a big feeler!) and do some illustrations/visuals. I think I’ll lose the gender-specific names, though; that one:six gender ratio doesn’t fly with me 😉

We just watched Inside Out as a family, and although it’s a bit over Scout Kid’s comprehension level, I think it will help him understand these concepts too as he gets older.

Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles of Good Design

  1. Good Design Is Innovative: The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  2. Good Design Makes a Product Useful: A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  3. Good Design Is Aesthetic: The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  4. Good Design Makes A Product Understandable: It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  5. Good Design Is Unobtrusive: Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
  6. Good Design Is Honest: It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept
  7. Good Design Is Long-lasting: It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
  8. Good Design Is Thorough Down to the Last Detail: Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  9. Good Design Is Environmentally Friendly: Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  10. Good Design Is as Little Design as Possible: Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

I wonder what these principles would look like applied to a wardrobe? A home? I’m intrigued by the possibility of applying a sentence like, “A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic,” to the way I dress. If a person needs to be useful, in functional, psychological, and aesthetic ways, how can the way I dress facilitate my usefulness in my current situation while holding in balance the mental and visual aspects of what I wear? Or what would my home look like if I put into practice the idea of concentrating on “the essential aspects” and not burdening it with non-essentials?