10 Steps to Giving Instructions

When giving a child instructions, it is a good idea to repeat them multiple times and ask for confirmation of understanding. 

Taking instructions on what to do when we see a car.

I teach English as a Second Language (ESL) at a local community college. Students will often say they understand instructions when they really did not. It is a normal thing a person does when operating in a new language. You need confirmation that they understand your instructions for the next activity or nothing will happen. The first step is to repeat requests three times. A person may only pick up on parts of the sentence the first time. The iterations provide a chance to put it all together. For example:

“Please take out a piece of paper and write your name at the top.” (Repeat)

Now ask the class: “What are you going to do?” Take out a piece of paper.

Follow up: “Yes. What will you do next?” Write my name at the top. 

Without taking this extra step to ask for confirmation you may have a class sitting quietly not knowing what to do. In my experience, this also works well with a toddler.

I have found success giving our child instructions with repetition and confirmation.

A great example of this is staying out of the street. I was digging weeds in the front yard and 2-year-old Boogie was walking in circles on a path. I could see that she wanted to go out in the street to make a loop over to where I was.

Here is an example of repetition and confirmation in 10 steps:

  1. Give the instruction using Stop, Look, Listen: “Stop. Look at daddy. Listen to me: stay in the yard.”
  2. Reinforce: “Boogie, stay in the yard. Stay out of the street.” (Repeat slowly 3 times)
  3. Ask open question: “What will you do?” Stay in yard (or some other form of confirmation.)
  4. Reinforce: “That’s right, stay in the yard.”
  5. Ask again: “What are you going to do?” Stay in yard. 
  6. Celebrate understanding: “Yes! High five.”
  7. You can add in an optional conditional: “If you go into the street, we are going inside.”
  8. Ask for confirmation: “If you go into the street, what will happen?” Go inside. 
  9. Reinforce: “That’s right, we will go inside.”
  10. Close with the full instruction: “Stay in the yard, honey. If you go in the street, we will go inside”.

Sometimes she makes a choice to test the boundaries, but it is not for a lack of understanding. When she doesn’t follow instructions I can calmly take her inside with the comfort that she knew what she was doing. This presents another time to practice repetition and confirmation, “Why are we going inside?” Me street. “What will you do next time?” Stay in yard.

Learning a language is so hard. Be sure to use step 6 as often as possible. Celebrate understanding every chance you get. This list may also look exhausting on paper. Trust me, though, once you get in the habit of this process it will not only work but also be fun.


The Family Change Jar

I heard this idea from an old work colleague. He did it with his two kids. Here is his version:

Everyone in the house put their change in the same jar. Each child had a turn with the jar. When it was your turn you could decide when you wanted to empty it. You could do it right away or wait for it to build, conceivably forever. Once you cashed in your turn was up. Since there is no time limit on the waiting it created an interesting dynamic of having your fortune dependent on someone else’s actions, and developing patience along with politics to urge the dumping of the jar sooner than later.


When my children are old enough to play this game I will add my wife and I into the picture. During my turn I can model how the change jar works. When they come at me with begging, pleading, or questioning I can explain my position and what I am doing. I envision some expert testimonies, power point presentations, or backroom deals to convince me that now is the time to empty the jar.

If you have older kids now and can give this a try before I can in 5 years, please let me know how it goes or how you modified the format.

Mold Your Child’s Play with Clay

Make a gallery of different play dough shapes for your child to use in their creations before building along side them.

I used to sit with Boogie and build along side her. From “doggy” to “cat” I would build what she asked while she attempted to do the same. Each time I would feel bad because I could make an animal or jet plane way better than she could. I also noticed that she would lump something together and call it a shape without much effort. Then one day I spent my energy building different shapes she could then incorporate into an idea. It worked wonders.

I now roll lo20150922_165322ng tubes, cut cylinders, and form balls creating a gallery of items that she can choose from. These are also the things she has the hardest time doing at 2 years. I do the hard work for her and she can build.

She turned this collection of tubes, cylinders and purple discs on the left into the creation below, what she called a “rain puddle”. I didn’t ask her to make a puddle or give her any idea of what it should look like. I think the access to materials made a difference. This way of playing play dough also took up way more time. We played together at least 10 minutes more that when we built side by side.

You too can build from these gallery pieces and have a conversation about “what did you build?’ given the same set of input materials. I opted to make jewelry with the items above. She wasn’t impressed but I thought it was fun. (Isn’t rolling out the longest string you can the most fun thing to do with play dough?)

Give this a shot next time you are working with play dough. Build a range of support pieces into a gallery and see what he or she comes up with!


“Fair Game” Playground Parenting

How you approach an unattended toy on the playground can say a lot about your parenting style. 

At the park with our community toys.

You find toy on the playground that your child wants to play with that has no clear owner. What do you do?

  1. Allow your child to play with it.
  2. Look around. Find the owner and ask if you can play with it.
  3. Tell your child she can’t play with it because it is not hers.

If you read this blog you can probably guess that we at Tinkerbell Road believe in the first response. There are benefits to treating toys on the playground as fair game for both children and parents.

Quick Overview of “Fair Game”

Any toy brought to the park is fair game when unattended. If your child doesn’t want others to play with it, he or she shouldn’t bring it to the park. The owner of the toy can come back and request to play with it, but it is not cool for the owner to take it back but then go play with something else leaving the toy alone again. Toys parked off the playground are not fair game. This primarily applies to vehicles like scooters, trikes, and bikes used to get to the playground. If you brought a truck and stash it under a tree thinking it will be left alone you might be surprised at who will find it. Books are generally considered not fair game. In our experience, books require a level of permission that left-alone trucks or other small toys do not.

Here are three benefits to fair game toy use on the playground:

1. Children learn the concept of community. 

You can have the conversation ahead of time about what taking a toy to the park means. This is a rich topic that delves into concepts of possession, sharing, and ultimately what is personal and community space. Our culture has a strong bent towards possession and property rights. The playground can be a great place to practice the idea of community and the benefits from social capital, or the idea that we can find benefit from something that someone else has without needing to possess it ourselves. What we really want is for a child to get pleasure out of seeing someone else enjoy something he or she owns. This is the spirit of community that can be a foundation for a life of rewarding relationships.

2. Children can practice negotiating with others.

This philosophy of fair game allows for more interaction than answers 2 and 3 to the quiz above. If the toys stick with the owner we miss out on so many learning opportunities. The playground is a place where kids of all ages are open to play together. They are not in a grade or other similar age class. This creates some interesting dynamics when a five year old has to communicate and bargain with a two year old on the use of his toy. A good practice that comes out of this for the older kids is mentoring and leadership. As a rule, they have to give in because they are older and better understand what is going on. Your more eager leader can take on the role of managing turn taking for the group. For the younger ones, they can learn how to get what they want by being nice and patiently waiting for a turn. If all else fails the older children have a quick introduction to what community space means and the implications of bringing a toy into it.

3. Fair Game is the easiest way to manage toy use on the playground. 

I will agree that the approach of look around and ask is not bad. The problem here is that it is time consuming and confusing. I have seen many parents find the toy we leave for others to play with fighting off their kid asking “whose is this?” A person could spend hours asking around for the owner. We parents don’t have time for this. Let’s agree that toys are open and parents can relax (until we have to step in and help with negotiating use!)

If you choose number three and force your kid to stay away you will more than likely have a difficult tantrum on your hands. It is like taking a kid to a candy store and saying no to candy. It isn’t fair to bring a fun toy to the park where anyone can touch it and say that no one else can play with it. Keep that toy at home if you or your child don’t want to open it to the community.

Abiding by the third philosophy usually comes hand in hand with “don’t go up the slide” or “use the equipment only as it is intended” or “stay out of the puddles.” The point isn’t to judge but to simply state the facts: your child and my child will be raised with a different set of values. A community toy on the playground can be a good indicator, actually, to help parents know a bit about each other early on and find like minded parents.

Preparing Our Toddler for a New Baby

Our first child will be 22 months old when baby number two arrives in a few short days. The stories of sibling rivalry and general stress during the first few weeks are too numerous to count. “Is your daughter ready for the new baby?”  has been the soundtrack to our summer. What could I do to help her get ready for the new baby? I came up with one idea that I believe will make a difference.

I printed a picture of a baby boy as a stand-in for the future baby. 

It’s not your crib, honey, it’s your brother’s.

She is only 22 months old which is quite different from a three or four year old who has a stronger grasp on the world. She is, however, getting good at identifying who we are and who she is. We like to play the game “Who is that?” Anytime we are in the living room or at the table we go around and say who is who. “Daddy!”, “Mommy”, and even her own name. This recognition extends to pictures. Looking at the photo gallery on a phone she can label each of us.

She knows who the grandparents are even thought they don’t live with us. So who is to say she can’t know about “a brother” who also lives somewhere else but will be coming to live with us one day? We also quit talking about the new baby coming from Mommy’s belly. My thinking is that it is hard enough to comprehend a new baby let alone where it comes from. (Aren’t there much older children who don’t know where babies come from? Why should I expect my 22 month old to get it?)

Using some sort of visual reinforcement is also important because at 22 months she is squarely in the “mine” phase. Learning about possession and independence is now center stage. Our main concern is that she will have issues with possession with the new baby. Our photo of the baby can be used to reinforce who the crib belongs to, who will be on mommy’s lap, and who will be eating dinner with us. The concept of a brother is quite nebulous and hard to grasp. My hunch is that putting a photo with the term will help her understand there is a recognizable person behind the term “brother”.

The second thing a person will tell you when you have a small child and one on the way is “She is probably too young to know what is going on anyhow.” True, she doesn’t have an idea of what it means to have a baby in the house. But I do think she can comprehend a new member of the family that is coming to live with us, especially when we use this visual representation. I will let you know how it goes.

10 Ways to Enjoy the Grocery Store with a Toddler

20140814_135705Taking your child to the store is a necessity. It can also be fun and enjoyable. In this post I will share a few tips I use to get the most out of this experience.

1. Never go to the store at peak time. 

If you are a full time parent, why on God’s green earth would you go on weekday evenings or weekend afternoons? Go during the weekday at 10:00 am or 2:00 pm, or a weekend day at 7:00 am. This is also the time you will find the “professional” coupon shoppers on the hunt. They have coupons in folders, shoe boxes, and photo albums. Talk to them. Let them meet your child. Ask about how they do it and get their help. They will give you great tips and a few extra coupons. For those of you that work during the day, I can’t tell you how revolutionary this is. Go early on the weekend or take time off work to shop.

2. Shop on Wednesday for the best deals and samples.

Grocery stores have a sales cycle. In most places a sale will run from Wed. to Tues. The freshest produce will also be out on Wednesday. If they are out of a sale item you can request a rain check voucher to get the sale price later when it is back in stock. This is more about saving money and getting the best product but it can also apply to Toddler timing. This is also the day that the store may have free samples set out that will help give your little one a nibble here and there on the trip.

3. Get your wiggles out before the store. 

The supermarket is full of stimulation with new colors, sounds, smells and people. It is wide open. A child itching to run will do just that. Play at the park first or otherwise wear your little one down a bit before attempting the store.

4. Bring a snack.

You should always go to the store on a full stomach. Even so, any child exposed to so much food stimulus will want more. Can you blame her? There is so much! So bring a snack to tame the wantsies.

5. Park near the cart return. 


This has to be one of the first things I learned as a new parent. It is fairly self explanatory. On the same note, if you don’t have your kid with you, be kind and don’t park near the cart return.

6. Let your child walk in the produce section. There is nothing at kid level.

The hardest part of going to the store is preventing your little guy from pulling things off the shelf. In the produce aisle or section you don’t have to worry about this. You ever notice? Everything is waist high at this part of the store.

7. If you didn’t bring a snack, go find individually packaged snack items. 

There are times I forget to bring something. There is nothing wrong with giving your child a snack from the store. It does, however, have to be something that you can account for and not technically steal. Grapes that are charged by weight? Not cool. So beat it over to the applesauce or fruit pouches. You were going to by a box anyway, give her one to snack on while riding. The unit box will cost the same with or without the one you eat.

8. Let  your child walk in the frozen section. This another safe place.  

If she is particularly rambunctious I will put the cart to the side and play a few games. You can play a little tickle here without worrying about items knocking on the floor. Of course you tighten up when other customers come around. Please refer to Number 1. If you time it right, there will be so few people in the store this is not an issue.

9. Stand on the pull-out shelf for differently-abled customers. 

20140911_161921This allows you to do a few things. One, she can watch the action. Two, there is usually disposable clothes there for cleaning. We take a minute to clean the keypad for fun. Third, she can learn to push the buttons. Most of the time she chooses Spanish so I have practice running my card in another language. You can start with the big red and big green buttons.

10. Practice interacting with strangers. 

Compassion is one of the greatest human traits one can have. A simple way to build compassion is talk with people in the community, especially those in customer service. They are usually treated like dirt. They have name tags. Use them. Here your child can practice saying Hi and Good Bye. It brightens everyone’s day when your child leaves the store saying bye-bye.

Bonus tip. Get to know the store managers by name. When they are on duty they can open up a line for you. Trust me on this. I have been saved a long wait by the simple act of the manager knowing who I am and that I am a nice customer.

3 Quick DIY Toddler Activities

Here’s what we were up to this morning. Some self directed play ideas that worked. I got 20 minutes to do the dishes.

  1. Masking Tape
  2. Screws
  3. Buckles


Masking Tape

She needed help getting started, but then was off to the races. You can pre-cut a dozen pieces or so to help your little one out. Soon she will be hanging her own artwork where she likes.


Here I found a part to our high chair that worked fine. I needed the screws in there anyhow.


She is way into buckles right now.  I don’t even know if she has successfully put them together but keeps on trying. She quits on Duplo blocks in frustration quicker than a buckle.

There you go. Three quick things you can do with a little free time around the house!

Start Saying Stop

The word “no” doesn’t give a child any information on what you want them to do. No is not an action word and action words are the ones that change behavior. We have to use better language to help our children take action to stop doing something wrong and start doing something right. Let’s all start saying “stop” as a way to change behavior.

I have written about using affirmative words in parenting before. Remember, “don’t think of a pink elephant” immediately causes you to think of a pink elephant? When you say “don’t touch the plant” all your child’s brain can hear is “touch the plant.” Here are two simple things you can do that will get us off the “no” track as a society:

  1. Say “stop” instead of “no”. This is the perfect place to start.  We use it in our first step of our strategy in leading our toddler. It will take a while, but once this becomes second nature you will see better results than no.
  2. Rephrase your command into a positive action statement. Don’t touch the plant becomes “keep your hands off the plant.”

Caveat: No does has its place. For example, when a child wants a cookie right before bed. Or in a situation where they have not given consent for a hug, kiss, or other physical interaction.

3 Important Insurance Changes to Make as a New Dad

This is a quick post about 3 things any new parent should do with insurance that I forgot to do. I am no insurance expert. This is just what makes sense to me in my situation.

1. Change your health insurance to a plan with a lower deductible. 

When you were in your roaring twenties without a care in the world, you didn’t use health insurance as much. The smart money was choosing a higher deductible and lower premium. With a child you will have more visits to the doctor and potentially have a reason to make a claim and use up that deductible. If your deductible is $1,000, you will need to pay up to that amount in cash. You should change your plan to the higher premium/lower deductible. In most cases, the monthly premium only slightly goes up while a $1,000 out of pocket is a harder hit financially. Your employer usually offers two plans. From here on out, bubs, you will be in the higher monthly bracket.

This is important because you can only make the change at two specific times: 1. once a year during enrollment, and 2. when a child is born.

2. Increase your auto insurance coverage.

I don’t know about you, but having children makes me want to be covered well. There is so much more to lose. In my life before the goal was to have the lowest monthly premium possible. To do this, companies lower your coverage amounts. A big place this happens in Auto is the bodily and property coverage. You should have at least $300,000 in bodily for each occurrence. Also, property should be at least $100,000. Crash into a BMW and $50,000 goes out the door pretty fast.

3. Increase your home insurance coverage.

With home or rental insurance the same rule applies: less coverage means lower monthly payment. (You do have rental insurance if you rent, right? Get this now if you don’t. It will cover you as a renter and also help your rates when you do buy that home.) The big place insurers will lower your monthly premium is in the replacement cost of your home. This is not a bad practice. It is simply how you can get your premium lower. But now you have more to cover, right?

Create your own estimate of the replacement cost! Do not rely on their estimate. You know your house and the cost of local services. Give them the replacement value you want. You can always compare rates based on a number of costs. Pick a high total cost and your lowest comfortable one and see what their rate calculation gives you.

In my case, they came up with a value for our home that I think is way low. I want $40,000 more than they quoted. That increase in value of the home rebuild increased my annual payment by ONLY $40. I believe that $40 is worth an extra $40,000 in case my house gets hit by a freak lightning storm and burns down while we are far, far away.

I could say more about these 3 important changes, but I was updating coverage this morning and wanted to share my tips with you all.

You Can Control the Stress of Time

Spend the limited time you have with your little ones well. When you feel rushed, stop and ask yourself if hurrying right now is absolutely necessary. I know this has been said before, but it is always good to hear again.

The other day we were leaving play group and Boogie wanted to walk up and down some steps. “C’mon. We don’t have time for that! Let’s go!” Mom was going to be home in a while and I wanted to get home to clean up a little before she got there. Boogie looked at me and kept on climbing. I stopped. Did I really have anywhere to be? No. I put things in the car and then joined her. She spent 5 minutes on this and was ready to go. (We need to come up with some time conversion like we have with dogs and their 7 years to our 1 year thing. I will go with 10 minutes in kid world is like 1 hour in ours.) I told Mom that I spent time with Boogie doing her thing instead of cleaning up. Interaction with our child wins, an should win, every time.

20150611_085421Another example: this morning we made bread. Someone wanted to play with toothpicks. All good, we moved them from one box to another taking up an hour (in toddler minutes). We were getting ready for a play date, but the same someone wanted to make toothpick bread. Why not? We really have nowhere to go. Any stress about leaving the house is created by me alone. We were done with that and then on our way. If it is a situation where being late is rude? We have cell phones now. Send a text to keep your folks informed but don’t get stressed about it.

Of course there are times you do need to be somewhere: doctor’s appointments, the bank is closing, the post office is closing. For the most part, however, your need to be somewhere is manufactured. This is the thinking behind Slow Parenting, or the practice of scheduling less and having free time more.

A few tips:

  1. Live the slow life. Schedule less. If you still want to have scheduled events have fewer of them. Or, schedule free time.
  2. If the scheduled event is a loose playgroup or other social engagement you can take it easy. Everyone knows what it is like. Don’t create your own stress around these meet up times. If you show up at the end, folks will be like “Hey good to see you!” If you miss completely everyone will all be meeting up next week. If someone chides you for being late you should leave and never come back. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
  3. If you absolutely have to be somewhere, and you know that ahead of time, factor in 10 minutes of free space before the event. Give your little one some decision in play before you take the lead with your decision to go do this urgent task.

Time is your currency as a parent. Spend it well. Don’t choose the stress. Stop and assess how urgent your need is. If you don’t have to be somewhere indulge your kids and go with the flow. They will be onto the next thing soon enough (about 10 minutes in our world).