Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sassy Mouth!: Talking back, Respect, and Communication

We've all been there. Staring at that little face that once fell asleep in our arms, bewildered, thinking "did she just say that to ME?!"

Talking back is one of the top office referrals in many public school campuses. It is at those times that  we may hear/say the in-famous "Get out of my classroom, I've had it with you", which translates to: "I do not think you are worth it, I do not care about you, I lost control and now I need you to leave MY classroom." Don't feel bad, I've said it too. But somethings gotta give and ineffective is ineffective.  At home it might sound something like this "Get out of my face or I will loose it!", which translates to "I am not in control of my emotions and I don't want to talk with you".

Our children do not know how to communicate. So sometimes what sounds like "talking back" is really the child saying "You are making all the choices and I need to feel like I have power over something". I am going to share two personal experiences below.

At home:

Me: "It's time to take a bath!"
My child: "NO!"(she is not saying no to "disrespect" me, she is saying no to the bath, not to me. So I don't take it personal)
Me: "It sounds like you need help getting ready. (acknowledge her)  Will you take a bubble bath or a quick bath?" (offer choices with limits)
My child: "No! I am not your friend any more!" (She is three, has no clue what that means and right now she is resisting my limits)
Me: You are mad. It's okay to feel mad. (acknowledge) You will take a bath to be healthy. (redirect) Make a choice: bubble or quick? (parrot choices not engaging in power struggles she want to pull me into)
My child: "No bath! No no no!" (runs away. Again, the child is resisting my limits. This is not about trying to make me mad but to try to use her new found three year old independence to choose beyond my limits)
Me: You ran away from me. That is not safe. I will help you now by picking you up and taking you to the safe place.

There, She made a calming choice and after going back to calm in about 5 minutes, I repeated the same exact choices (never add a new one, or give in at this point just because they calmed down. Now is the time to teach, now that the brain is calm again).

My child: "Quick bath. I am tired. Sorry I yelled"
Me: I accept your apology. I do not like it when you yell at me. Next time, come to the safe place.
My child: "okay mommy"

After that, she took a bath and went to sleep without resisting the pijama choices and the new limit of not co-sleeping and sleeping in her new preschooler bed without any other choice expect with stuffed animal goes to bed with her that night. I went to sleep right away too. This is exhausting. I was not raised this way. I am learning too. Learning is some hard work people. Did not do the dishes that night LOL It took all my emotional energy not to just spank her like I was at that age. But I did it!

At school

Me: L. the timer went off. (reminder) What are you supposed to do? (provide opportunity to speak)
L: Switch stations. (he knows what to do)
Me: I need you to do that now. 
L: No. I like this one. (he is choosing not to do it.)
Me: L. I understand you like that one. (acknowledge) But now we need to switch. (restate directions) That is the kid choice to make. (link directions to a classroom rule "Make kind choices" is one of our 4 rules)
L: Leave me alone! I just want to do this! (child is loosing control. not to disrespect ME, but to gain control over a preferred activity)
Me: I will count to 5. Then you will chose if you switch by yourself or if you need my help. (Not switching is NOT a choice. I count)
L: Ok... (switches station lays his head on table)
(The child is off- task but he just followed a direction so I give him another choice)
Me: I saw you swtiched. That was kind. Now I will set the timer. Will you need 3 minutes or 5 minutes to go back to task on the new station? (opportunity to speak) 
L: 5
(when the timer went off he did not go back to task)
Me: I see you are not going back to work. Now choose: will you work on the station or a worksheet? I will count to ten and if you are still not working on the station I will give you a worksheet to work on. (provided a choice with limits) 
L: No, no worksheet, look I am working again. (gets on task) 

This may sound like a long process but due to the strategies, the child was not deprived from instructional time by going to the office. He learned that switching is expected and required, that there are real consequences, and that being on task is an expectation and not an option. Because this is a school age child, providing opportunities to speak generates a conversation where talking back IS expected and not an adult having a monologue where the child is expected to listen without speaking. 

In real adult life we are expected to reply and to be assertive, flexible, good communicators  to grow in our careers and relationships. This situations are the opportunities for our children to learn and practice how that looks, sounds, and feels like. By providing choices with LIMITS, staying in control of the situation and our own emotions, by not taking it personal, by modeling respectful communication, we are providing children with the tools they need, decreasing inappropriate behaviors  and creating positive spaces for growth. 

Wishing you a happy rest of the week,

Liomarys R.S.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Spanking, "la chancla", and other "tools" we need to let go of

Oh, la chanclaaaaa!

I love Lejuan James. He has a genuine sense of humor, a lovely family, and a passion for what he does. In the midst of all the non-fiction I read, I really crave that daily dose of laughter that a funny video can provide. The funniest thing about his videos is how authentic and close to the experiences of so many they feel. Sometimes his videos are so close to home that I can't help but laugh out loud days after having watching them. Like when I try to make tostones and I can't because I am too scared of the hot bubbling oil and I make the exact same mannerisms he did in his video. 

However, he recently launched a video that I had a hard time laughing about. In the video, LeJuan plays the role of a boy/teenager who is playing games with his friends at home. His mom arrives, and after greeting him and his friends she offers to cook them all a meal. She asks her son if he took the meat down from the refrigerator, like she asked him to. It turns out he forgot, she then hits him about 10 times with a leather belt on his back for forgetting to take out the meat. The boy goes back to the room with his friend and complains about the beating stating he can't wait to be 18 to leave. If the sound of the belt is not a trigger for you, you can access the full video HERE 

 I went to the comments section and found a lot of interesting comments there. Most of the comments were of people sharing their own experiences of being beaten, hit, spanked, or in any way physically punished as a child or doing it to their children as a parent. The majority of the comments did this as a joke. I personally and professionally think that this type of video is a great opportunity to address this topic. A lot of content can be found online about the "chancla" and other physical punishment methods in a humorous way. A quick Google images search led me to these: 

In defense of the cocotazo, the chancla, and dad's belt

However, just because we choose to pick fun at these methods, it does not mean that this is really funny. Humor, rationalization, and idealization are all defense mechanisms. To read more about defense mechanisms you can access the Mayo Clinic Neurology Board Review HERE. That is where I got the following image from.

Humor, rationalization, and idealization is what can mostly be found in the comments section in this type of content.
In defense of the chancla the usual "arguments" in favor include:

  • "I was hit and turned out fine"
  • "I was beaten and I have a job and don't steal
  • "It's not abuse, it's called discipline"
  • "Without the chancla children turn out spoiled that's why society is a mess now"
  • "We deserved to be beaten, if not we would have turned out rotten" 
  • "They did it because they loved us. If your parents never hit you they did not love you"

I'm going to debunk these flawed arguments, give you some sad data, and then provide some tools. 

  • Personal anecdotes are SUBJECTIVE. You think you turned out fine simply because we all want to think that. Not going to jail and having a job it's a pretty low bar for "fine". We can do better than that and our children need more than that. 
  • All hitting is violence. There are other ways to discipline. We need to do the work and re-learn. When we have only been exposed to hitting and shaming as a way to raise children, we think there are no other ways. The good news is: there ARE! 
  • There is a difference between not hitting and not disciplining. Sadly, because most of us have never been exposed to anything but hitting, when we choose not to do that to our children we lack better models, and resort to not parenting at all. We turn to bribing, and giving in, and just letting the child parentless truly. So, children do "turn out spoiled" (lack skills to become healthy adults) when we don't substitute physical violence (hitting) with other ways of disciplining and simply don't do anything at all. But with help and willingness we CAN learn new ways and use them with our children. Research shows that positive behavior support strategies ARE MORE EFFECTIVE IN TEACHING CHILDREN POSITIVE BEHAVIORS than violence (yelling, hitting, shaming etc.) 
  • Neurologists have shown that thinking that physical pain is love, has actually hurt our mental health as a society in many ways that we can discuss in another post. But, getting into abusive relationships, not being able to trust others, lacking problem solving skills, and sadomasochism, have all been linked to pain inflicted to people during childhood and infancy by their caregivers. 

Good ol' DATA

Hispanic children in the US already have it rough out there as it is. I guess we aren't "just fine" after all. Check this out:

  • Among adults age 25 and older, the percentage who had not completed high school in 2013 was higher for Hispanic adults (35 percent) than for any other racial/ ethnic group.
  • Among full-time workers ages 25–34 who did not complete high school, median annual earnings of White workers ($30,000) were higher than median annual earnings of their Black ($20,500) and Hispanic peers ($22,800) in 2013. So, Hispanics have the lowest median annual income of these groups. 
  • In 2013, among those with a bachelor’s or higher degree, median annual earnings of Asian full-time workers ages 25–34 ($59,900) were higher than median annual earnings of their White ($50,000), Black ($44,600), and Hispanic peers ($45,800)So,  AGAIN, Hispanics have the lowest median annual income of these groups. 

Data retrieved from: U.S. Department of Education. Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2016. 

There are many variables in our society that affects student performance in school for minorities. However, the "chancla" is not helping our children and not giving them the tools they need to face these realities and make it out there. So maybe, instead of idealizing our upbringing it's time to make the difficult choice of getting to a place in our journey where we can say: " My parents did what they could with what they had. It was not the best way to do it. I choose to learn better and do better".

BRAIN research shows that pain and fear are not as good teachers of new connections in the brain as other strategies. When the fear centers of the brain are active, the learning center is DE ACTIVATED, so you are going to end up hitting and yelling a lot more for the exact same thing than you would if you use other techniques that do not involve hitting and yelling. Dr. Doidge in "The Brain that Changes Itself" says: "positive bonds appear to facilitate neuroplastic change by triggering unlearning and dissolving existing neuronal networks, so the patient can alter his existing intentions." In other words: Love -not fear- is the most powerful teaching tool. 
(image from: 

Good bye chancla...

Personal experience as a teacher, behavior consultant, and a Puerto Rican daughter and mother, has showed me that most of the resistance to accepting that physical violence is not the most effective way to raise successful and healthy adults is due to: (1) emotional fear of accepting that what was done to one as a child was not discipline but physical violence, and (2) the fear of doing our children a diservice because if we do not hit them, how will we discipline them?

The emotional fears can be worked through in different ways, and forgiveness and reframing is a big part of it. I am not a therapist and but I think we can all benefit from therapy at one point or another of our lives. So, if you are having trouble healing your childhood, I suggest you reach out to a counselor or spiritual coach.

I will, however, address the second fear: the fear due to lack of any other strategies for teaching children appropriate behavior.
If we go back to LeJuan's video and use it as a skit to reflect on different ways to modify behavior using real life consequences, coaching, and assertiveness, we can reimagine the scene. Maybe instead of hitting the child with the belt, the mother can:

1) State expectations: "When I tell you to do something, I expect you to cooperate with the household and do it. Taking the meat down was your responsibility". 
2) State and enforce an immediate logical consequences: "Since you did not take down the meat, I will not cook today. You may make yourself a sandwich if you wish".
3) Use a consequence to motivate the child to fulfill the expectation in the future: "Since you say that the games distracted you, I will remove the games from your room right now. We will talk when your friends leave to discuss ways you can earn the games back again". 
4) Problem Solve. Later during the conversation DO NOT give the game back until the child fulfills his responsibilities. Also, ask the child for ideas and ways to remind himself of his responsibilities in the future (example: having a task list in his room, or reminders in his electronic devices etc.) 

We can use these strategies in a wide variety of situations. They are my go-to when working with children and teenagers to develop responsible and cooperation behaviors in micro communities such as classrooms and households. Give them a try this week and share your experience on the comments below. 

And remember: NO PARENT, NO CAREGIVER, NO TEACHER is perfect. We all make mistakes. When raising children, we are also raising ourselves and learning from the experience of teaching them. If you slide and hit your child, or yell, give yourself some grace and remember that there is always the next time to do better and remain in control of the situation and your emotions about it. 

As a comic relief, here is the video of LeJuan's super funny video about that oil popping as he fries something (I swear I make the exact same whole body movement including the facial expression LOL).

As usual, wishing you the very best,
Liomarys R.S.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Safe Place/ Calm Down Area/ Cool Off Spot


Developing Self-Regulation is a big goal for all human beings. It is no small task. However, it is -I believe- the most important lesson of our Emotional skills journey in life. Our brains are pretty complex. I am not going to go into the neurological aspects of self-regulation in this post (if you are a a parent chances are you are hiding in the restroom to read this), but I will say that self-regulation is a big component of our being and it implies many skills. It requires us to learn strategies, to TRAIN our brain to use those strategies, PRACTICE the strategies so that we can ACCESS them in times of need, and Practice some more until we can transfer the use into different situations. I just got tired just thinking about it.

Self regulation is something that is not developed over night, and contrary to popular belief it is not the by product of spanking, punishing or shaming people when they loose control. There is plenty of research to back this up (look for links at the end of this article) but I want to use a personal anecdote, partly so you can laugh at me, and partly because I have a feeling most adults out there will find it a common ground.


A couple of weeks ago in the midst of the last few weeks of school (oh yeah! I have been teaching for five years in schools) one of my students was having a particularly challenging couple of days. He had some regression in his progress due to the changes in routine, a special need he has been diagnosed with, and a new baby brother. One of those days, he ran away during Gym class, flipped chairs in my classroom, and finally cried loudly for over 30 minutes. He was exhausted and so was I. So, I broke my gluten & sugar free diet I'm supposed to follow to kill some disgusting thing that is growing in my gut, and ate FOUR, yes numero 4, donuts. A parent was so very kind to drop donuts of at school that day and I so happened to put my hand in that box FOUR CONSECUTIVE times in less than 30 minutes.
Oh yeah... Shipley's donuts are delicious.... Anyways, later during a meeting I was super bloated and had to put up with a horrible head ache due to the sugar and flour intake. It was horrible.

Let's think about this incident. I did not use my strategies. I am an adult with formal education in the field of education, human development, behavior and emotional management strategies training, special education graduate coursework, I have a functional family, a strong network of friends, all my needs are met, etc etc etc but I DID NOT USE MY STRATEGIES. I did not self regulate. Those 4 donuts were my tantrum, my meltdown, my kicking of chairs, my yelling, my crying, my kicking, and my bitting (literally). No one spanked me afterwards, no one shamed me, no one yelled at me. All my co-workers patted me on the back at the end of the day and said "you did your best. it's okay to slide sometimes". Why are we any harder on our kids than we are with ourselves?

I did have a natural consequence: a horrible bloating episode that translated later into a whole other mess I will not describe here.
My natural consequence motivated me in the moment to vow to make a better choice next time. However, to be realistic there is a high probability that I will slide again sometime. Maybe not so badly, but if I don't actually work on the ROOT of my inability to use my strategies at that point and time, I might actually repeat this whole thing over again. So, I had to identify the triggers, sit down and think about what I would have done differently, practice those things in my head, forgive myself and cross my fingers for next time.


Self regulation requires a cool head and a space to reflect. This is true not only for adult teachers trying to stay sane. This is true for younger humans as well. So, here is my very own daughter's Safe Place at home. The Safe Place or cool down corner is a area that is designed to invite your child to go back to a calm state before making choices. Would I have sat at a calming area to take a couple of deep breaths chances are I would not have eaten 4 donuts in a row.

The rocking chair cost about $5 dollars at a Wal- Mart. The basket, mat, and stress ball are from the dollar store. The rest of the stuff we already had around the house. Below is a description of how we use all this stuff at home:

1) relaxing lotion: softly massage the upset away (sensory stimuli in form of massage or touch) 
2) baby doll: for hugging (increases feeling of safety)
3) bell : ringing into balance (auditory stimuli) 
4) brush: brush your arms or legs (sensory stimuli)
5) car: roll in on your legs, arms, or grown up rolls it on your back (massage, sense of touch helps increase feeling of safety and bonding)
6) book: read to yourself (redirect thoughts) 
7) we also have a pillow laying next to the safe place. That one is for hitting instead of hitting someone of something unsafely. 
8) the Star: for breathing like a star (Stop Take A deep breath and Relax) 

All of these items have the purpose of helping the child learn how to self regulate when I say "first clean up, the tv", "no ice cream today, would you like to pick a fruit instead?" or the dreaded "it is time to take a bath". Once the child goes back to calm, the choices/the situation is still the same (we don't give in on the ice cream, or whatever triggered the tantrum in the first place), but your child's brain state has changed. This takes COACHING. So, your child will need to you teach them how to use it. It is SO worth it! Not only does it decrease the amount and durations of tantrums/meltdowns NOW but it actually helps your child develop self regulation skills needed in the future as an adult. 

Here are some basic guidelines for the Safe Place:

1) It is NOT time out. We don't yell "go to your safe place, I'm done with you". Instead, try something in the line of "You are yelling, let's go to the safe place to calm down".
2) It is NOT a reward. A lot of parents and teachers have this paralyzing fear when I teach about the Safe Place/Cool Off Spot. Children have access to the safe place anytime they want, especially at home. So, since they have access to it without the need of a "misbehavior", it does not become necessary to "misbehave" to get access to it. Therefore, it does not reward the tantrum. Also, the child is still not getting what they wanted in the first place. After helping them calm down the situation or expectations is still the same (e.g. you still have to take a bath). 
3) It is a tool. It is not a punishment. It is not a reward. What is it then?!!!! A tool. It is a teaching tool. It takes practice to learn how to use it and your guidance to learn it. Children do not have tantrums to get rewarded, they have tantrums because they loose control. So, using the cooling off area helps then learn how to cope when they don't get exactly what they want. 

Have you used a cooling down spot at home with your child? What kind of items do you include there? What have you both learned from it? What is YOUR cool down spot/activity as an adult? Please join the conversation in the comments area!

Access a peer reviewed article supporting the calm down area HERE
For more Information about the Safe Place click here HERE
Visit Pinterest for a wide variety of Ideas for Cool off Area HERE

Stay calm (or at least sane) ;) 
Enjoy your week!


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Summer at home with the kids!

Summer at home with the kids!

This summer we've decided to only send my 3 year old child to camp part time 2 weeks in June and 2 weeks in July. The rest of the time, she will be with me (a.k.a. Mami). In this entry I am sharing some ideas that have helped use both make this enjoyable and beneficial.

The first thing I decided to do was write a schedule. I took a picture of her schedule at her pre-school and made some modifications for it to fit life at home. Here is a whole article of how routines are good for children: Why Kids Need Routines.

Routines are different at different ages, but here are some of the routines I have had with her so far as well as her current one. Also, your routine CAN look different from mine. Do you! But I know when I was getting started I appreciated all the other momma blogs about it so, here is my contribution now.


Basically: Sleep 2-3 hours, change diaper, feed, play, relax, replay. I cooked or did tasks around the house during 2 of these naps. I slept the rest of the naps because I was exhausted. 
The first few months I did not have times written down. I followed her rhythm and eventually she had communicated to me her schedule. During the day, I woke her up around every 2-3 hours if she did not wake up by herself, but at night I allowed her to sleep up to 6 hours. At night, we changed diaper, feed, and slept. No play time at night.

 Some activities I did with her during the day during the "playing time" included:
- playing music in English and Spanish and dance with her in my arms
-reading books to her and showing her bright-color pictures from the books
-tummy time toys like mirrors, etc. 
-taking her out and naming everything in sight in English and Spanish (e.g. tree, arbol)
-making funny faces to her
-playing peek-a-boo

To relax we liked to:
-get her in the stroller and take her out for a walk
-play relaxing instrumental music
-rock her
- prop her on the breastfeeding pillow next to me and gently touch her hands
- turn on some white noise (there free apps for that in your phone) and not talk at all

To help her fall at sleep:
During the first year we co-slept. She fell asleep in my arms.
During the second year I provided a blanket, a pacifier and my voice to help her fall asleep. She fell asleep in her crib next to my bed. 
During her third year she is now sleeping in her own toddler bed with lullabies in Spanish I play for her on my phone. The pre-sleeping routine is the key. We always follow the same steps so now she naps and sleeps without any problems. I miss co-sleeping but she says she is a big girl, so I respect that. However, on stormy nights, co-sleeping it is!


2-3 years old

9:00 AM Wake Up
9:15 AM Breakfast (non-cooking breakfast: yogurt, fruits, cereal, cheese and bread etc.)
9:30 AM Walk outside (allowing the child to walk even if we are going slow) 
10:00 AM Inside Physical: Yoga, exercise, dancing, playing with a ball etc.
10: 30 AM Snack (non-cooking: animal crackers, goldfish, fruits, bread with peanut butter etc.)
11: 00 AM  Books or quiet toys
11:30 AM TV (educational monitored. I recommend PBS kids) at this time Mom/Dad can take a moment to do a task in the home in the same room as the child
12:00 LUNCH (simple lunch: e.g. left overs from dinner and milk)
12:30 Stroll outside (to relax) 
1:00 NAP time (some children requiere a longer or a shorter nap time, 1-3 hours is the range. This is the time I used to cook dinner, read or watch something, and take a short nap myself)
3:30 Wake up 
4:00 Snack 
4:30 Music with instruments child can play with
5:00 Free choice of any toys or a Sensory activity (we LOVED sensory bins at this stage, more about those later) 
5:30 Another walk outside 
6:00 DINNER 
6:30 Floor toy with Dad (mom takes a bath and relaxes)
7:00 Bath, brush teeth, read a story, turn off all lights  
8:00 Bed time 

(the one we are using this SUMMER)
3-5 years old

At this age you can make a visual representation of this routine using free clip arts from your Word Processor and refer to it to help your child use transitions. Also, we use a kitchen timer to help her self-regulate transitions. 

8:00 AM Wake Up
8:30 AM Breakfast (cereal, yogurt, a sandwich etc. Allow child to help out)
9:00 AM Calendar discussion, morning songs, Loving Rituals (from Conscious Discipline)
9:20 AM Morning Work (she has Montessori inspired Phonics, Writing, Numeracy lesson home-made trays in Spanish and English she can choose from. They become independent with this and at this time I can do my own preferred activities next to her, such as reading or writing)
10:30 AM Playground (we go to our community playground), ride bike, ride scooter, etc.
11:00 AM Yoga/Indoor Physical activities/ guided Dancing (Just Dance Kids on You Tube or GoNoodle)
11:30 AM LUNCH (left overs from dinner, etc. Allow child to set up the table) 
12:00 Clean Up (child helps with dishes)
12:30 NAP (at this time I cook dinner, do a house chore, and then nap myself)
2:30 Wake Up 
3:00 PM TV in English and Snack (I continue to recommend PBS kids at this age. Also, there are some great appropriate educational choices on Netflix. Setting up a kids account is very useful)
3:30 PM Walk outside 
4:00 PM Book, quiet toys of choice
4:30 PM Art or Science Activity (we do a new one per week) 
5:00 PM Music 
5:30 TV in Spanish  (Netflix has choices in Spanish. I also found some PBS kids shows in Spanish in You tube) 
6:00 PM Dinner (child sets table)
6:40 PM Do dishes  (child helps with dishes)
7:10 PM Bath time, then read a story
8:00 PM Bedtime 

If I need to run a errand I run it with her in the morning before lunch. I have noticed children tend to have more trouble with changes of routine if they are tired, so morning time is optimal for routine flexibility. Also, remember that the goal of the routine is to meet your child's needs while helping you stay sane. Do not feel like it is a cage, but more of a tool for you and your child to plan your day together and enjoy it. 

In the future, I will share some TV shows that foster emotional intelligence. I will also share the steps we follow to identify and work though emotions during the day. I will also share some free field trips you can enjoy with your child this summer.

I hope this proves useful for staying at home mothers, father, aunties, and grandparents who provide caregiving to children this summer. Enjoy the season!