Ask the grumpies: Managing bedtime for an obsessive reader

zenmoo asks:

any ideas on how to manage an obsessive reader? My just 6 year old’s reading ability has exploded over our long holidays. This is great but she gets very caught up new stories to the extent of finding it hard to sleep… I was an obsessive reader at her age too (still am) but it never stopped me sleeping!!

Make sure that your 6 year old has a flashlight that doesn’t get too hot and that hir covers are the kind that won’t melt if say, they have a bare lightbulb touching them. Not that I ever accidentally melted a sleeping bag (much).

You can forbid reading after a certain hour and turn off the light, but one of the great joys of childhood is sneaking to finish a novel late into the night under the covers.  If it interferes with functioning the next day, eventually zie will learn how to regulate it, most of the time anyway.  So long as the next new book isn’t too enthralling.  Fortunately at 6, falling asleep in class is unlikely to result in damage to one’s permanent record.

You also may want to put bedtime a bit earlier so that when you head to bed you can check and remove any lit flashlights or open books from drooling children who have fallen asleep mid-chapter.

Ask the grumpies: When to start music lessons?

Alyssa asks:

When is it age-appropriate to put children into music lessons (piano/guitar at this point)? Son is 5 and a bit, and he says he’s interested, but not sure if we should wait a bit more?

Five is a great age!  To be honest, I started at 6 and DC1 started at 6 because of laziness on the part of parents, but 5 would have been fine.  (DC1 did start swimming lessons a lot earlier.)  Most music teachers in our area start accepting students at age 5, and Suzuki teachers will often accept children as young as age 3.  A bunch of the internet suggests that starting music lessons before age 7 is best for various quasi-scientific reasons I’m not entirely convinced by but may be true.

And if it doesn’t work out, you can always take a break and try again later.

Ask the grumpies: Help! Teething!

Leah asks:

How did you deal with teething? Was it horrible for your kids? Will I survive this?

Motrin.  Seriously, Motrin.  And alternate it with Tylenol when the teething is really bad.  Motrin is better for night-time because it lasts longer than Tylenol.

DC1 also enjoyed a frozen washcloth, but that didn’t do much for DC2.  DC2, otoh, liked those rings you can freeze.  Topical numbing agents didn’t help at all.

Yes, it sucked.  Without Motrin it would have been more horrible.  Yes you will survive, though you may have to wake up every 6(-8) hours when the Motrin wears off (or 4 (-6) hours for the alternating Tylenol).

The teeth do eventually come in!  (And this episode of teething has probably ended since you asked the question, but now the answer is here for posterity.)

Grumpy nation!  Any teething tips?

How to avoid pointless parenting anxiety

Here we’re talking about whatever the current guilt-inducing fads are.  I would give examples of what they currently are, but the truth is, I don’t know!  But like 5 years ago they were things like:  not bringing store-bought baked goods places, using the right kind of sunscreen, avoiding BPA, etc.  I think there were a lot more, but that’s what I remember.  (Disclaimer, we still use the old-fashioned neurotic fad approved sunblock, because DC2 is allergic to conventional kinds.)

There are many other paths, but here’s one.   Most of this stuff is really easy to avoid if you don’t live in NYC or the ritzy suburbs of Los Angeles (or similar enclaves).  But if you do live in those places, you can still do the following:

  1. Don’t read anything about parenting (mothering) on NYTimes ever
  2. Stay away from parenting (mommy) forums
  3. If you read parenting books pick them carefully (read: evidence based) and remember that one size doesn’t fit all
  4. Send your kids to a (high quality, obvs) daycare that caters to working parents.
  5. Avoid anxiety-inducing blogs
  6. Avoid anxiety-inducing playgroups

And there ya go.  No more worrying about pointless parenting stuff.

Do you get swept up into ridiculous parenting anxieties?  The kinds that come with, “worried about other people judging me” attached?  If so, where do they come from?  If not, how do you avoid them?

Ask the grumpies: When did perfectionism start?

Chelsea asked:

I was wondering when you began to notice DC #1 struggling with perfectionism – like how old ze was and how it manifested. I have a bright 3 year old who gets so incredibly upset if any little thing is not “right” – food, toys, clothes, the order things are done in, etc. But maybe that’s totally normal 3-year-old “threenager” behavior…

Honestly?  DC1 has ALWAYS been a bit of a perfectionist.  Like at 3 months zie crawled a little bit but hated it so much and it was so hard that zie refused tummy time angrily unless it was on daddy’s tummy after (crawling did not happen until much later, and then it happened perfectly and almost instantaneously).  I mean everything has been like that with DC1, something phenomenal happens but happens poorly and then months pass without it happening again and then suddenly DC1 is doing it perfectly without any apparent struggle.

DC2 isn’t like that.  We see DC2 learning and growing. The process isn’t hidden from us.

But, DC2 is also 3 and is totally being a “threenager” as you say.  With the everything needing to be the way it’s ‘sposed to be or zie lectures us about things being ‘propriate like one of hir preschool teachers must do.  3 year olds are just OCD by nature.  I would not worry about that kind of perfectionism at all.  Most likely you’ll be telling hir to clean up thoughtless messes and reminding about putting underwear on before the pants again in no time.

Note also that you can use this (temporary) rigid adherence to structure to your advantage by say, instituting bedtime routines and asking, “What comes next?”  DC1 also responded well to the tyranny of the clock at this age, “It is 3pm, time to go!” we would say.

And we’re also seeing DC2 getting the other kind of perfectionism where zie doesn’t like us to see hir struggle with learning (for example, zie will refuse to sound words out when zie hits a hard word and sometimes says zie hates books rather than read with us).  We suspect zie is picking it up at daycare.  DC1’s perfectionism has waxed and waned– a lot seems to have to do with specific teachers at preschool and school, but we’re not sure what they’re doing wrong or right.

Perfectionism does seem to increase when the work they’re doing at school is too easy.  When they don’t get challenges.  When they’re praised for being smart and not encouraged to make mistakes during the learning process.

But if it’s just fussiness about things being in the “right” order… DC1 grew out of that too soon and really I think DC2 has just recently grown out of that, like in the past week (in fact, DH and DC2 are currently having a conversation about DC2 not ‘preciating DH stepping on hir stuff that was lying in the hallway and DH not appreciating hir leaving things on the floor in the hallway to be stepped on).  (Update:  I take it back, DC2 is still a rules-monger.)

Age 4-6 are LOVELY, and then age 7 is kind of obnoxious (or so has been our experience and so I have been told by others).  We’re enjoying 8 and 9!

Good luck and don’t worry too much about threes.  Here’s some more tips (do read the comments in that linked post as they’ve got a lot of great suggestions as well).

More on math and perfectionism

Combating perfectionism and its sequelae is an ongoing battle at houses with gifted youngsters.  It is hard to provide continual challenges for smart kids that allow for failure but also allow for recovery from said failure.  When life gets too easy, failures seem to become that much more devastating when they do occur.

I really like math.  And math is nice because it comes in different levels which can provide different kinds of challenges and generally there’s going to be a solution.

We really enjoyed the workbook, Hard math for elementary students, though when I say “enjoyed” it was kind of a love-hate relationship for DC1.  There were sometimes tears.  But in the end, zie always triumphed, and that was exciting for DC1 and created true pride (though an odd consequence was that when DC1 cranked through a page easily, zie decided that page was too easy!).  It truly was a hard math book.  We were thinking of going through it again, but DC1 hasn’t wanted to.  Since DC1 just got into brain teasers and is spending hours on them on hir own, I ordered Aha and Gotcha and am going to let hir explore by hirself.

One of the really good parts of math for perfectionist people is that sometimes in order to get things right, you have to get them wrong a lot first.  There’s a method of solving things called “brute force” in which you just methodically try all of the possible answers to see which one(s) work.  You *have* to get things wrong.

The game Mastermind is another example of needing to get things wrong in order to find information that gets to the right answer.  You guess and then get feedback that helps you guess again until you narrow down the answer.  The game just isn’t that much fun if you guess right on the first try.  This game too initially caused tears in DC1, but coming back to it later it has been fun.

Finally, a fun (free, online) game recommended by school is fire boy and water girl.  This is another one where you learn about the world and have to try again and again in order to get the solution.  This one has never caused tears to my knowledge, though zie has stopped playing in frustration and come back later, which is totally valid.

It would definitely be nicer if there were never tears, but the pride that happens after figuring out something that previously seemed impossible might be worth it.

Do you have any suggestions for challenges, math or otherwise?

Ask the grumpies: TV Policies for kids

The frugal ecologist asks:

Curious about what your tv policy is for your kiddos. We have done zero screen time for our 2 year old. That’s been easy, and I’m not sure when/if we want to break the glass…as a kid I had a limit of one 30 min show per day, but I remember zoning out to hours of tv if my mom wasn’t home…

When did your kids start watching tv? Do you set limits? Do you treat it as a reward? Do they watch on a regular set or on a device – tablet etc. maybe this should be an ask the grumpies!

No judgement, just curious how other folks approach this…

Well, nursing time was Comedy Central time for me, so DC1 started out from almost day one really liking The Colbert Report and to a lesser extent The Daily Show.  As for when did DC1 start watching tv hirself, it took a while for DC1 to be able to concentrate on shows by hirself without screaming, and we did have shows in moderation because when zie was able to watch shows by hirself, we wanted to be able to put a show on and have hir captivated.  We had friends who always had the tv on and the kid would just ignore it.  So they didn’t have a magic bullet when the baby-sitter called in sick or what have you.  Tv time went up probably around age 3, but by that point zie was reading well too (helped by Starfall and the Talking Letter/Words Factory videos).

DC2 has probably never not had screen time.  The amount went up dramatically after we got an ipad because kids are really good with ipads and ipads are way more interesting than say, Reading Rainbow.

We are really lazy parents.  So we don’t have the tv on by itself.  (Technically we haven’t owned a tv since early grad school, but we have had a movie projector and we do have computers and now the ipad, so it’s essentially the same thing.)  But we also don’t really limit things either.  DC1 has to do hir chores before even thinking about using the ipad.  DC2 gets to use it if DC1 isn’t using it for chores and if we feel like zie hadn’t been watching too much or not getting enough parent time or what have you.  I do suspect that this may be part of why DC2 isn’t dramatically improving with reading skills the way DC1 did at this stage (the other part being that this preschool isn’t academic like the one DC1 went to at this age/stage).  We were also much better at controlling *what* was watched by DC1, so there was a lot more educational programming.  There are a lot of things I really dislike about netflix, and not being able to keep specific shows from appearing on the kids screen is a big one.  (We did eventually get rid of the youtube app because that always ended up either with someone twerking or, worse, with one of those women advertising for toys talking about how princesses/girls/women really enjoy shopping and make-up.)

So I don’t know.  We sort of set limits but they’re not hard and fast limits, they’re lazy limits that have a lot to do with how busy we are and what else is going on.  We don’t treat it as a reward.  They watch it on a device these days and used to watch it on the movie projector.

There are a lot of parents who would condemn us, and a lot of people who think we’re hippie weirdos.  We are what we are, which is mainly lazy.  Our kids are going to be amazing no matter what, so whatever, yo.

What were your parents’ policies growing up?  If applicable, what are your policies now?  How do you access media?