Parenting News and Tips with Sonia Spackman

Better Parenting: Strengthening Your Stepfamily

For a stepfamily, the wedding is not the beginning – it’s the middle. There is a honeymoon for couples in stepfamilies – however, it tends to come at the end of the remarriage journey and not always at the beginning. You certainly don’t need to be reminded  that the remarriage journey always takes some unexpected turns.

#1 Make a plan, begin working on a tentative plan carefully with persistence and you will reap the benefits.

Most stepfamilies have come from the loss of a previous family. A new remarriage family can have both joy and hope with lingering sadness. You may feel down and your kids may seem sad- just when you hoped everyone would be happy. As changes take place try to imagine that everyone is facing loss in some way. Your losses are easy to identify. The hard part is stepping into the shoes of others to experience what is troubling them.

#2 Make a list of each family member and the losses you believe he or she has experienced. Try hard to imagine what it has been like to be that person at each step along the way. Read More

Better Parenting: 8 Tips for a Smooth Start of the New School Year

Starting school after summer’s end can be hard for kids. Many kids worry about fitting in and making friends before they start to think about learning and homework.  Here are 8 tips you might try to make the school year easier for your child and you.

#1 If your child is worried or nervous about school

Let your child know it’s normal to be nervous. Let your child share their feelings and worries while you just listen. I discovered with my own kids that I needed to let them “just talk” without trying to change their thinking. It’s OK to ask questions, what kids don’t want is lectures. Share some positive or funny stories about your back to school jitters.

#2 If your child doesn’t want to go back to school 

Elementary school:  Maybe you could call the grade school and see if the teacher is available to meet your child for a brief visit and see the classroom. If your child walks to school, walking your child to school a few times before and after school starts might help him or her become more familiar with the school. Maybe you can buy something special as a way of “looking forward” to the first day of school. You might say: “You can have your game, toy or book when you get home from school. When school starts give your child a family picture, or write a note to put in the backpack as a reminder of what time you will be back to pick up your child.

Middle/High School:  Stress can intensify when kids make the leap from grade school to middle school or middle school to high school. With older kids you can go over their class schedule with them so they know where each classroom is located, especially if this is their first year in the Vernonia School. Suggest activities your child might like to get involved in that are enjoyable to them. You could point out, “Next year you will be the experienced kid that can help the new kids around.

#3 Teach your kids to organize first

Tell the kids that you are setting aside part of a day to help them organize their rooms. Get rid of the clutter and have them organize their drawers and closets. With a clean room, you’ll get your kids started on the right foot. Train your children to keep their supplies in their backpacks. Make a habit with the kids to lay out their clothes the night before so it’s easier to get ready for school in the morning. Have them immediately put homework in the backpack with any books that were used and place in the same exact spot every day, such as by the door. This will save you and the kid’s morning panic trying to gather up homework and find the backpack. Also be sure to check the backpack each day for any information sent home from the school.

#4 Fuel the mind and the body

The most important way to ensure your child’s success is to make healthy meals and snacks for your kids and cut back the sweets and caffeine drinks. Eating too much sugar hinders their brain. It acts like a drug, making them tired, irritable and foggy or hyper. Brain healthy foods for breakfast might be oatmeal with raisins, string cheese with wheat crackers and fruit or scrambled eggs with cheese in a tortilla. Afternoon snacks could be string cheese, prepackaged fruit cups or oatmeal raisin cookies, air-popped or low fat popcorn with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. 

#5 Set a time and place for homework and chores

Before school starts set aside time each day your children will use for homework and chores. It is a good idea to have an hour of fun and a snack after school and then it’s time to do the homework. Homework should start before 5:00 p.m. This routine helps kids develop the habits for tougher and longer assignments that are required for middle school and high school. Help your child learn to be a self-starter when it comes to homework and planning for projects and tests. Post a calendar on a wall, door or desk just for tests and projects.

#6 Plan for enough sleep and begin quickly 

If your kids have been staying up later during the summer like most kids, start getting them to bed a little earlier each night and waking up a little earlier each day. The last thing you want is the hassle of trying to get them out of bed in time for school starting the first day. Kids need to be rested to do well in school. Start getting the kids into the routine by turning off the TV and video games 15 minutes earlier each night. Get them to bed another 15 minutes early the next nights and up an additional 15 minutes each morning until they are at the routine they need to get their rest.

#7  Help your kids develop a love for reading.

Make reading important in your home. Read aloud to your child or set aside time where you have your child read to you – or maybe your family can read silently together. Teach your kids to be interested in books – for every interest there is a book or magazine on it. Teach your kids to use the library to read or get their homework done.

#8  Teach your kids right from wrong.

This will improve peer relationships and grades more than anything else. The real world your child grows up in will punish crimes, so give your child a head start by teaching them right from wrong. It will be the best gift you can give your kids.

References: Steven George, Better Homes and Gardens, Laolan Madden, Mom’s Home Room, Maya Cohen, Family Education, American Counselor Association, Maya Cohen,, Patty Catalano, School


Better Parenting: Bedtime Do’s and Don’ts for Kids and Parents

It is inevitable that every parent will engage in their own fair share of bedtime battles. So let’s explore suggestions for some DO’s and DON’T’s for your infants, toddlers or preschool kids that might help lessen the conflicts.


DON’T wait too long to begin routines; it is much better to set your baby up for successful sleep from the very beginning than to introduce new sleep habits to a stubborn toddler.

DO start placing your infant in the crib when your infant is awake but drowsy so he learns to fall asleep on his own.


DON’T have a strict schedule. You can’t know for sure in the early months what the best bedtime is for your baby. Many times they regulate their own sleep schedules.

DO give your baby clues such as a bedtime bath and lullaby that it is time to go to sleep.

DO try to follow the same routine before sleep. This regularity will build a sense of security and predictability that will help your infant – and then as a growing toddler have good sleep habits.

DO help a fussy infant to sleep simply by stroking the baby’s back for a while. Read More

Better Parenting: Free and Fun Things to do With Your Kids This Summer

We can have family fun without leaving Vernonia, our houses or our back yards. This article is similar to the one printed last June. It was written to help parents create fond memories for kids without spending lots of money! We can show our kids and grandkids we care by taking the time to do special activities with them.

1.  Sleepover movie night.  Move your mattresses in the living room for a fun family sleepover night. The kids will love mom and dad joining the fun. Make popcorn, and watch a funny movie. Or better yet, watch family movies.

2.  Backwards day.  Reverse everything to create your own backwards day. Have breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast; put your clothes on backwards, watch a movie first thing in the morning and cartoons in the evening. Have the kids help with the planning and enjoy the ideas they come up with.  Read More

Better Parenting: Help For Parents With Spoiled Kids-Part 2

In Part I, “Spoiled Kids Now – Unhappy Adults Later” we reviewed the hidden cost of spoiling our kids and the toll it takes on a child’s self-worth and emotional development.

Dr. Harvey Karp,MD, creator of The Happiest Toddler on the Block DVD and book  says that the overall pattern is more important than any given moment. “Do it right 80% of the time and you will end up with a really good kid.”

So search your heart about the following Do’s and Don’ts of parenting today.

DON’T make your child the center of the world.  Making your child’s wishes a top priority teaches your child that the world owes him. This could prevent your child from learning to consider other people’s needs and wants.

DO  Ask yourself these questions:  “Am I doing this to meet my own need to be the perfect parent?” Or “Am I attempting to be in control of my child’s happiness?”

DO Help young children understand give and take.   Read More

Better Parenting: Spoiled Kids Now – Unhappy Adults Later, Part 1

What is a spoiled child?  

The sad truth is that for many parents it is easier to spoil our kids than not to spoil them.

How can I tell if I spoil mine? 

Ask yourself the following questions about your children:

Do they ignore home or school rules?

Do they keep going when you tell them to stop?

Do they seem to argue about anything?

Is it difficult to keep them happy or entertained?

Do they beg for things as though they are necessary as food?

Do they not seem to care about others feelings, wants or needs?

Do they throw tantrums on a regular basis?

Do they act like they should get what they want?

If you answered a solid yes to more than a couple of these questions, you have some work ahead of you.

Spoiling our kids is not about giving too much love. Spoiling them is providing too much care – care that may look and feel loving, but keeps a child from developing their own abilities. Read More

Better Parenting: 8 Questions To Ask Before You Criticize Your Kids

I cringe when I recall how I used to talk to my kids when I was a young mother. I didn’t realize then how critical I was. I wish I could go back and do it differently. If you are still raising your children you can do a better job. Here are some questions to ask yourself.

1.  Why do you criticize?  If you are like I was, you are attempting to get the kids to do better your way. Since kids are pretty good most of the time rather than focus on what they do right, we tend to focus on their mistakes. The kids might think or even say: “Leave me alone” Or  “Don’t you see the good things I do?” Let’s try to focus more on our kids’ good qualities and let go of fault-finding.

2. Does criticizing make you feel better?  When we become frustrated or irritated we might get relief by taking it out on our kids by criticizing or blaming. Criticism is always destructive.  Before we realize it our kids can inherit our negative attitude. I became distressed watching my sensitive son become an angry, critical adult. Read More