Understanding Baby’s Cries

Crying Baby Girl

I guess after having six kids (Jenni here), I’ve become pretty fluent in the baby cry language. It is an actual language, you know. Don’t believe me? Keep reading, and be sure to click on the video link below. You will be blown away.

I recently had two encounters with infants that left me feel terribly frustrated. The first happened in Walmart one night. I was in the bread aisle and I heard a very distinct baby cry. I spun around and saw a young dad anxiously bouncing a newborn, hopeless trying to calm the baby whose cries were escalating.

There was no doubt in my mind what was happening. I’d heard that cry countless times, and I knew exactly what that little guy was saying: “Feed me!” He was hungry…very hungry!

It Seems I’ve Become “That” Lady

In my older age, it appears I’m becoming that annoying lady who tells young parents what to do. I hated those people when I was a young mom, and I vowed never to be one, but alas, I can’t seem to help myself.

“Your baby is very hungry,” I told the young dad, as gently as I could and with as much compassion as possible.

“I know,” he said. “His mom is the only one who can feed him, and she’s not done shopping.”

As I weaved in and out of the next few aisles, I could hear that baby’s cries reach fever pitch, and my blood pressure seemed to follow the intensity of his little pleas for help. I could picture him gulping down the milk (and lots of air with it) once his mom finally heeded his cries. I imagined what would follow once the air traveled into his GI tract. It would likely bring a different kind of cry, perhaps one with his knees pulled up to his chest.

Later that same week, Jody and I were working at a local Panera, and next to us was a tiny little baby. He was there with his young mommy, a grandma and a great-grandma. He was so very little that we knew he had been born prematurely. His mom said he was 4 weeks old, but he was smaller than any of my babies were the day they were born.

As the ladies passed him around and studied his precious little features, he began to cry. Although it was nothing like the hungry cry I’d heard in Walmart, I was just as familiar with this one. Jody recognized it too. He was uncomfortable, and most likely it was because he was cold.

We do live in south Florida, and it is hot this time of year, but indoors it’s pretty chilly. This little guy was wearing only a onesie — no hat, no sweater, no pants, no blanket. His arms and legs were a mottled purple, and we were picking up the message of his cry loud and clear. Her was saying, “Help! I’m cold.”

On today’s radio show, we’re going to talk about a great resource for parents called The Fussy Baby Network, and we’re also going to share with our listeners the fascinating Dunstan Baby Language, which explains the five basic cries of newborns.

Dunstan Baby Language

A number of years ago I watched a fascinating episode of The Oprah Winfrey show that introduced me to The Dunstan Baby Language, which is basically a hypothesis that there are universal infantile vocal reflexes in humans that cause five basic sounds, each with unique meaning, used by infants of all cultures before the language acquisition period.

The hypothesis was developed by a former mezzo-soprano opera singer from Australia. Her name is Priscilla Dunstan, and she says that she has a photographic memory for sounds and that this, combined with her years in the opera and her experience as a mother, allowed her to recognize certain sounds in the human voice.

Priscilla Dunstan, founder of the Dunstan Baby Language

Priscilla Dunstan, founder of the Dunstan Baby Language

She released a DVD set in 2006 called The Dunstan Baby Language. The two-disc set covers the five universal words of the language, methods of learning how to recognize the vocalizations and sounds, numerous examples of baby cries from around the world to “tune your ear,” and live demonstrations of newborn-mother groups experimenting with the language.

Between 0–3 months, infants make what Dunstan calls sound reflexes. She says that we all have reflexes, like sneezes, hiccups, and burps, that all have a recognizable pattern when sound is added to the reflex. There are other reflexes that all babies experience, and when sound is added to these, a distinct, preemptive “cry” will occur before the infant breaks into what Dunstan calls the hysterical cry.

Dunstan states that these preemptive cries can indicate what the baby needs (food, comfort, sleep, etc.). But if they’re not answered, she says, they escalate to the hysterical cry, which is much less discernable. As the infant matures past 3 months in vocalization, the sound reflexes are replaced with more elaborate babbling.

Although her theory has not undergone rigorous lab testing, we couldn’t find any real criticisms of it.

The Five Basic Newborn Cries

Neh –  “I’m hungry”

Apparently, as a baby’s sucking reflex kicks in and the tongue is pushed to the roof of the mouth, the sound that comes out is a “neh” sound.

Owh – “I’m sleepy”

The “owh” sound is made in the reflex of a yawn.

Heh – “I’m uncomfortable”

Although the “heh” sounds similar to “neh,” if you listen carefully, you’ll catch it’s distinctive “h” sound at the beginning. This particular sound lets you know that the baby is uncomfortable – cold, itchy, needs a new diaper, needs a new position, etc.

Eair – “My lower tummy hurts”

The “eair” sound is a deeper sound that comes from the abdomen. There is often a kind of grunting associated with it, and although Dustan attributes this to lower gas pain, those of us who have used Elimination Communication with our babies, also recognize it as the “I have to poop” cry!

This sound is often accompanied by a newborn pulling his knees up or pushing down and out with his legs. The baby’s body, not only his face, will look uncomfortable.

Eh – “I need to burp”

This is similar to “neh” and “heh,” but remember that you are listening for those beginning sounds, not the ending sounds. When you hear, “Eh, ehhhhh” your newborn is telling you, “Burp me, please.”

It’s hard to communicate these sounds in writing, but we’ve included this clip from The Oprah Show, and it gives examples of babies making each sound. Check it out!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgkZf6jVdVg

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with ten kids between them (ages 5 to 29), including one on the autism spectrum, plus one baby grandchild. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to Parent On Purpose (POP) with the end result in mind.

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Help! My Baby Has Colic

Crying newborn

I have a distinct memory of my young husband (Jenni speaking here) out on our patio on his hands and knees hitting his head against the concrete in complete despair. Our firstborn was four weeks old at the time, and he had been crying — no … screaming — for hours.

We had tried everything — rocking him, feeding him, walking with him, changing his diaper, making him warmer, making him cooler — nothing we did helped. We had a colicky baby, and it was one of the most helpless and frustrating experiences we’ve ever faced.

Baby colic is defined as episodes of crying for more than three hours a day for more than three days a week for three weeks in an otherwise healthy child between the ages of two weeks and four months.

No one really knows what causes colic. Research has shown that it seems to be more likely to occur in babies whose mothers smoke, but they’re not sure why. Researchers also have found correlations between childbirth complications and the amount of infant crying. More stressful deliveries were linked to more crying, but other than that, there seems to be no consistent answers.

People used to think colic was caused by cow’s milk, but breastfed babies can be colicky too. It’s not necessarily linked to gas or reflux or to psychological or social problems.

So since we can’t exactly know what’s causing it, we just have to try different methods to manage it.

Suggestions for Managing Colic

Before you take ANY advice (on our blog or anyone else’s), talk to your doctor and make sure there is not a medical issue causing the crying. Once you get a clear bill of health, here are some things worth trying. Just keep in mind that what might work for one baby could make it worse for another. You’ve got to try a bunch of things and figure out what what works best for your baby. The most important thing is for your baby to feel safe and loved.

  • Ask your doctor to recommend a probiotic. Studies have shown that infants with colic have different intestinal microflora.

  • Place a warm water bottle on baby’s tummy.

  • Gently massage tummy or lay baby across your lap on her tummy and gently rub her back.

  • Place baby near white noise (vacuum, blow dryer, fan or TV static) or noise that emulates a mom’s heart beat.

TV static makes white noise, which can be helpful for some colicky babies

TV static makes white noise, which can be helpful for some colicky babies

  • Try a rocker, baby swing or car ride.
  • Try a new environment. If you’ve been cooped up in the house all day, take baby out for a walk and give her a change of scenery, smells, landscape and noises. On the other hand, if you’ve been on the go, try a quiet home with a serene atmosphere.

  • Hold baby in a dark room and be completely still and silent.

  • Softly bounce while holding baby and gently whispering “shhhh,” keeping baby close to you so she can feel your heartbeat.

  • Swaddle your baby tightly. When babies are in the womb, they feel resistance every time they move. It can be scary in the outside world where there are no tangible boundaries.

  • Try a warm bath. It can sometimes distract your baby. She may even like the feeling of water being poured down her back.

  • Give her something to suck on — a pacifier or your finger. Non-nutritive sucking is both soothing and important for infants.

 Keep a Journal

Here are some things to track. Try to look for patterns.

  • How long crying bouts last

  • How often they occur

  • Behavior during the episodes (clenching fists, knees to chest, etc.)

  • What happened prior to an episode?

  • What happened directly after the episode?

  • What you did to try to sooth your baby and how long did you do it?

  • What were the results?

  • Record your baby’s diet and feeding schedule

  • Record weight loss/gain

Helping the Rest of the Family Cope

Colic can be stressful for everyone in the family. Here are some quick tips to help minimize the impact of colic on your household.

  • Keep routines in tact so the rest of the family feels secure in the midst of chaos.
  • Be sure to schedule one-on-one time with each member of the family so no one feels left out or ignored.
  • If you’re journaling, you’ll probably have a good idea when the bewitching hour is coming — that time when colic is at its worst — so prep your home. Get all the daily chores done. Have dinner ready to go (the crockpot is your best friend!). Have kids homework done, checked and school bags packed and ready to go for the next day. This way, when the crying comes, you can focus on soothing baby.

Letting Babies Cry It Out Is Dangerous

Research has shown that leaving babies alone and letting them “cry it out” can be damaging. It can damage neural interconnections (in layman’s terms, that means it can cause brain damage). Instead of helping babies learn how to comfort themselves, which is the general philosophy behind “crying it out,” it seems to do just the opposite. “If they are left to cry alone, they learn to shut down in face of extensive distress–stop growing, stop feeling, stop trusting,” says an article in Psychology Today.

That being said, if you are feeling extreme stress or even anger, the best thing to do is put the baby in a safe place and find a way to help calm yourself. You are NOT a bad parent if you feel this way. Sensory overload is one of the five causes of anger, and a screaming baby can be a HUGE burden on your senses!

Don’t beat yourself up. Just put the baby down for a few minutes and help yourself stay calm. If necessary, call a friend or family member and ask them to come over and give you a break.

It goes without saying, but just in case you grew up in a remote part of the jungle and missed all the media hype about Shaken Baby Syndrome, it’s worth repeating that no matter how stressed you feel, NEVER…EVER…EVER shake a baby in frustration.

Tune In To Learn About the Fussy Baby Network

This Saturday, May 31, 2014, we have a guest joining us on Parenting On Purpose who will tell us about The Fussy Baby Network and offer some ideas on how to handle colic. Sarasota listeners can tune into 1220AM or 106.9FM or 98.9FM at 10:00AM. Everyone else can go to WSRQ Radio’s website to listen streaming or get instructions on how to download a mobile app and listen on the go. If you missed the broadcast, check back next week. It will be in the podcast section.

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody

Jenni and Jody are Christian, homeschooling moms with ten kids between them (ages 5 to 29), including one on the autism spectrum, plus one baby grandchild. Together they host a weekly syndicated parenting radio show, write a weekly newspaper column, freelance for a variety of publications, teach parenting and homeschooling workshops and seminars, speak at conventions and conferences and coach individual families. They are passionate about encouraging and equipping families to Parent On Purpose (POP) with the end result in mind.

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DGT – Don’t Get Trafficked!

Skyler Serious

Maybe it’s because we’re connected to the people who started Selah Freedom (who, by the way, are guests on the radio show today — scroll down for info on how to tune in) or maybe it’s because human trafficking has been such a hot topic in our neck of the woods, but whatever the reason, it’s been on the forefront of our minds, and we are constantly talking to our kids about it. So much so that we have a little saying as the kids get out of the car or are heading out the door: “DGT!” which they know means, “Don’t Get Trafficked!”

I guess it’s a little on the morbid side, but we talk about it so often that we’ve had to lighten things up a bit.

In all seriousness, it’s super important for us to make our kids aware of this threat. Approximately 200,000 American kids are in danger of being trafficked every year — mostly to be sold into the commercial sex industry — and it’s not just our girls who are at risk; boys make up 50% of the sex trafficking industry.

Traffickers intentionally target kids who lack assertiveness, confidence and self esteem, so let’s teach our kids what confidence looks like — shoulders back, head up and attentive. Our kids need to become comfortable looking people in the eye and smiling to communicate self-esteem and assertiveness.

We also have to teach our kids how to recognize a red flag — that inner sense that something’s not right — and how to heed those internal warnings.

Let’s also use the obnoxious parade of sexual images in the media as a springboard for regular conversation about healthy relationships and a sober understanding of sexuality.

What does a trafficker look like? Well, I can tell you what they don’t look like — they’re not the creepy guy off in the corner staring at girls in the food court. Traffickers are savvy. They want their targets to trust them. Sometimes traffickers hire middle men to help attract victims, and these middle men can look like a peer — another teen or a young adult. They might be well dressed and super friendly. Traffickers might even be women or a young couple. Our kids have to be extremely careful.

Traffickers might offer to buy their targets expensive gifts. They usually ask for a teen or pre-teen’s phone number, and they often use flattery to build rapport. They may claim to know famous people and may offer to help the teen or pre-teen get into modeling or acting or offer to help them make money. Traffickers may also offer to help kids run away.

When my kids were little and we did the whole stranger-danger thing, I told them that if any adult who they do not know ever asks them for help, they should come get me right away. No sensible adult will ask a small child for help unless they have bad intentions.

Now that my kids are older, I tell them that they need to be very suspicious of anyone offering to help them make money or meet someone famous. Those people have ulterior motives for sure, and of course, anyone who offers to help a kid runaway is nothing short of a criminal. These are big danger signs, and our kids can be trained to spot them.

For more great tips to keep our kids safe, join us this morning at 10:00AM ET. Sarasota listeners can tune into 1220AM or 106.9FM or 98.9FM. Everyone else can go to WSRQ Radio’s website to listen streaming or get instructions on how to download a mobile app and listen on the go. If you missed the broadcast, check back next week. It will be in the podcast section.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Do You Know the Truth About Child Sex Trafficking?

Help Me

I grew up in the 80s, in the wake of the Adam Walsh abduction, which may have single-handedly kicked off the whole “stranger danger” campaign to keep kids safe from kidnapping. He was born the same year  I was, and his abduction from a Sears department store and subsequent murder hit close to home for my family, and it instilled a chilling fear in the parents of my generation.

Although Adam Walsh’s killer was never charged, it was believed to have been the act of a serial killer. It was one of the first widely publicized cases of its kind, and it freaked our parents right out!

Their fear led to a more conservative kind of parenting, and that was a good thing, but in actuality, those kinds of kidnappings — the kind that involve a stranger who either kills, ransoms or intends to keep the child permanently — are pretty rare. Out of 800,000 missing children under the age of 18, only 115 were that kind.

But there’s a relatively newer danger out there that is not as rare. According to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces, there was a 1,000 percent increase in the number of documented complaints of child sex trafficking from 2004 to 2008.

And in the U.S., sex trafficking accounts for the largest percentage of human trafficking cases. Approximately 200,000 U.S. kids per year are at risk of being trafficked for prostitution and/or child pornography.

Sex trafficking occurs when people are forced or coerced into the commercial sex trade against their will. Child sex trafficking includes any child involved in commercial sex.

Surprising Truths about Child Sex Trafficking in the U.S.

1. Boys make up 50% of the sex trafficked victims in the U.S.

Kids under 18 are sold into sex slavery as young as seven years old, and about half of all those trafficked for sex are boys.

2. Traffickers may go to great lengths to recruit victims

While illegal drugs and fire arms can only be sold once, sex slaves can be sold again and again, and traffickers are often willing to invest time and money in recruiting a victim who can potentially bring in large revenue streams.

Stop by on Friday. We’ll talk more about how some of the traffickers lure their victims, and what we can do to protect our kids.

3. Some children are sold into the sex trade by their parents or guardians

If you’re reading this post, it’s because you love the snot out of your kids, and you are deliberate about protecting them. I know its hard to imagine, but there are some parents who are so caught up in their own addictions or tormented by their own demons that they’re willing to sell their own children.

A few years ago, we heard of a case not too far from where we live in which a woman told her daughter to invite over a friend. This mom offered to take pictures of the girls that they could post on social media (what teen girl doesn’t like a fun photo shoot?), but she then posted the pictures of the friend on a site frequented by traffickers.

Once she made the sale, she arranged for the girl to come over again, and the girl was sold into the sex trade.

It goes without saying that we have to be so careful about who we allow our children to interact with.

4. Trafficked children are often treated as criminals despite a federal law that classifies anyone under the age of 18 involved in commercial sex as a victim

The laws in the country are deeply flawed. A couple of years ago, Jody and I saw a screening of the movie Nefarious: Merchants of Souls, where we learned that in Sweden it’s the sex buyers who are charged with a crime, not the sellers.

Prostitutes in Sweden are treated as victims, not criminals. And while the girls caught in prostitution are rehabilitated, the Johns are prosecuted. Since 1999, when this became law, Sweden has seen a 67% drop in prostitution.

Let’s face it — no little girl dreams of growing up and becoming a prostitute. Even those who are consenting are not really selling their bodies by choice. Typically it’s just the opposite — they feel as if they have no other choice. And that’s especially true when we’re talking about kids.

But in spite of the legal definition of sex trafficking that includes any commercial sex act involving a minor, many of these young people are arrested for prostitution and treated like criminals rather than being rescued by law enforcement and treated like the victims of a heinous crime (which they are). This is especially true for underage boys caught in commercial sex acts.

5. Women can be both traffickers and buyers

Although most trafficked victims service 25 – 55 year old white males (according to a study done by John Jay College of Criminal Justice), 40 percent of boys and 11 percent of girls studied say they’ve serviced women, and 13 percent of boys serviced women exclusively.

Not only are some women buying sex from kids, but some reports say that 35 – 40 percent of the traffickers are women.

6. Many kids caught in sex trafficking don’t see themselves as victims.

If you don’t think you’re a victim, you won’t try to get help. Many of these kids have been brainwashed to believe that their pimp is their greatest caretaker and they are selling themselves out of “love” for and an emotional obligation to the pimp.

Some of the kids are conditioned to believe that this all they are capable of doing. It’s their only hope.

And others, who have survived so much (witnessing beatings, murders, drug overdoses and more) shun the victim label. They see themselves as survivors who can take care of themselves without the pity of law enforcement.

Tune In To The Experts

We hope today’s post shed some new light on this threat. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts, and don’t forget to tune into Parenting on Purpose with Jenni and Jody this coming Saturday (May 24th). We’ll be talking to experts on this topic. Sarasota/Manatee friends can listen on 1220AM or 106.9FM or 98.9FM. Out of towner listeners can go to the WSRQ radio website to listen streaming or to get instructions on how to download a mobile app to listen on the go.

If you miss Saturday’s show, you can always listen to the podcast here at jenniandjody.com or on iTunes.

Stop back on Friday. We’re going to talk about how parents can take purposeful steps to prevent their children from becoming targets of sex traffickers.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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What Do You Know About Modern Day Slavery in America?

Modern Day Slavery

Slavery is alive and well here in the U.S. In fact, there could be someone in your own community who is being exploited against his or her will.

We are certainly no experts on this topic, but this coming Saturday, May 24th, on Parenting on Purpose radio show, we will be talking to experts about human trafficking. It’s a growing issue that is affecting Americans, and we need to be wise.

Although there are many forms of human trafficking, sex trafficking is the most prevalent in our country, and this presents a big risk for our kids. Approximately 200,000 American kids are lured into sex trafficking each year. As their parents, we need to be aware of what’s happening so we can protect them.

As we gear up for this Saturday’s show, we’re going to talk about human trafficking this week. Today is a basic overview. Stop by Wednesday — we’ll talk more specifically about sex trafficking, and then on Friday, we’ll offer tips to prevent your child from becoming a victim.

Human trafficking is basically synonymous with modern day slavery.

According the Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking is defined as the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining a person for labor, services or commercial sex acts by means of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of exploitation, involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery or any commercial sex act involving a minor.

Human Trafficking is divided into two basic categories: labor and commercial sex. Let’s look briefly at how those things play out right here on our own soil.

Forced Labor

This is slavery in its purest form — people being forced to work against their will without pay (or adequate pay). It’s more common in the hospitality industries, manufacturing and agriculture, but it can be going on just about anywhere, right under our noses.

For example, some farmers use contracted laborers from companies who traffic the workers. The farmers don’t ask questions because they believe they need the cheap labor to stay in  business.

Chinatown in New York City is becoming a hub for trafficking in the restaurant industry. People are being shipped out to different parts of the country, forced to work long hours in buffet-style and other restaurants with little to no pay and very few days off.

The victims in these situations are often foreign, and their captors have seized their passports and use fear and intimidation to keep them in servitude.

But our kids are not immune to being forced into labor. In October 2013, right here in Florida, two men were arrested for forcing underage kids to travel in a van and sell magazine subscriptions door to door. The kids were made to work long hours without proper food or water.

The sign on the van said Teens Against Drugs and Alcohol. People buying these subscriptions probably thought they were doing good, but in actuality, they were lining the pockets of the bad guys.

Bonded Labor

Here’s how it often goes down. A trafficker lures a victim to travel to the U.S. with promises of great work and an opportunity for a prosperous life. But when they get here, the trafficker tells them they have to pay off their travel expenses (and later on, their living expenses) by working without pay. Usually the trafficker withholds their identification documents and tells them that if they try to run, they’ll be imprisoned and raped or tortured by the U.S. government.

Involuntary Domestic Servitude

This can be either standard forced labor or bonded labor, but it applies specifically to victims who are being enslaved in a household. They are often foreigners who are forced to cook, clean and care for children without pay.

Read the story of Ima Matul — a survivor of involuntary domestic servitude who now helps other survivors at the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST).

Sex Trafficking

This is the biggest threat to our kids. So much so that we’re going to devote Wednesday’s post just to this topic. Sex trafficking is multi-billion dollar worldwide industry.

“Dealing girls is like dealing drugs,” says a 29 year-old trafficker. “The difference is the drug you can only sell once, but the girl you can sell a thousand times. Run away girls in America are such easy targets.”

Run aways are certainly at a high risk, but many girls (and boys) who are not runaways are lured into sex trafficking rings. Stop back on Wednesday, and we’ll tell you more about it.

And mark your calendar to tune into Saturday’s human trafficking show from 10:00 – 11:00am Eastern Time. Our guests are from Selah Freedom, here in Sarasota. They’re going to tell us more about this problem, how to recognize signs of a trafficking victim and ways to protect our kids.

Listeners in Sarsota or Manatee can tune in to 1220AM or 106.9FM or 98.9FM. Everyone else can listen live streaming on the WSRQ website. You can also get instructions on how to download a mobile app and listen on the go.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a free Human Trafficking Awareness Training. It’s short and easy to use. Check it out.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Party Photos

Photographer

I think one of my greatest lessons learned after more than fourteen years of party planning is that mom and dad can’t be in charge of pictures. Sadly, I was a bit slow on this one. It took way too long for me me to figure it out. But the truth is, mom and dad are super busy at a kid party. They are tied up welcoming guests, keeping everything on schedule, managing food and delegating jobs. 

Find someone who is both talented and willing to be the party photographer. Give them your camera, and ask them to document the day. You may want to consider sending a group photo in the thank you cards. For a few parties, one of our activities was a themed photo booth, and we sent each kid’s picture with the thank you.

A great present for your child is to upload all of the party pictures to Snapfish or Shutterfly, and make an album that will memorialize the day forever. I promise you that they will thoroughly enjoy going back over them year after year, and so will their friends. It’s a blast to see how everyone has grown, and it’s an opportunity to reminisce about the day and laugh as you remember the fun.

For all of your hard work and money spent, it’s all over in a day, and pictures are all you have left. Even the best memories fade over the years, but good photos will allow you to enjoy the experience again and again for years to come. So don’t let this part be an after thought. Plan your pictures well, and include plans for how you will showcase them to be enjoyed in the future.

 

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Party Thank You Notes

Thank_you_pinned_note

Every party in our house starts and ends with thank you notes. As we’re planning, we decide how we’re going to handle the thank you’s. Then, as the guests arrive, we have someone stationed at the front door to write out name tags, talk to parents about any issues such as food allergies and have the parents fill out an envelope with their child’s name and address. This helps us make sure we don’t overlook thanking anyone, and it makes thank you note writing a breeze!

I like to keep the thank you cards in my bag the week following the party, and have the birthday boy/girl write work on them during short moments of waiting (standing on a long line in the store, waiting for the dentist, on a commercial break, etc.)

When it comes time for presents, we assign one person the job of recording the gifts. Give the person a pen and pad, and after each gift is opened, hand the card to this person so he/she can describe the gift on the back of the card. The pad is handy for any gifts that don’t come with a card. Keep all cards in one gift bag, and after the party, take our your party planning notebook, and write the gifts next to the names of participants.

Not only is important for our kids to get in the habit of sending handwritten thank you notes, but it’s also a good educational tool. I give my kids a small spiral notebook with a photocopy of the guest/gift list clipped to the front. Then I have them write rough drafts of each note in the notebook. When they’re done, either my husband or myself or an older sibling proofreads the drafts, and then the kid copies their notes into the actual thank you cards.

 

Stop by tomorrow — we’re going to wrap up this series on birthday party planning with a look at the photographs!

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Kids Party Favors

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This past week we’ve been talking about planning kids’ birthday parties. Today we’re focusing on party favors.

As with decorations, invitations and activities, it’s great to tie these into the party theme.

Whenever possible, we like to incorporate favors into the activities. For example, at our Backyard Habitat party, the kids made mosaic designs on a terra cotta pot, built bird houses out of milk cartons, and made seeded bird treats. Those were the favors.

One year we had a car party, and all the kids took trucks and cars dipped in paint and rolled them across white t-shirts. It was a hit, so at a Bug Party, we had kids dip their fingers in paint and use their colorful finger prints to create bug shirts (lady bugs, caterpillars, spiders, etc.). Painting t-shirts is a fun way to make a wearable keepsake.

As you choose favors, look for things that kids actually enjoy having. It’s a sad day when a party ends in tears because the favors break before they even make it out the door. Punching balloons are surprising hit and are really inexpensive, and you can never go wrong with edible treats or fun how-to’s (i.e. a piece of origami paper with instructions from the internet). 

Tomorrow we’ll talk about Thank You Notes. We’ve got some fun tips to make this easier. In the meantime, leave us a comment with your favorite party favors.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Kids Party Decorations

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This week we’ve been talking about planning kids parties, and today, we’re turing our attention to decorations.

Decorations really anchor the theme. When you’re planning the decorations, think of the food and present table, centerpieces and hangables.

Start with colors that accentuate the party theme and then use those colors when planning balloons, streamers, table cloths, cups, plates and napkins. Walmart and the Dollar Store are good places to get these things inexpensively.

Think about fun ways to spruce up the tables. For example, at our Spider Party on year, we took silver Scotch-Brite scrubbing pads and wrapped lengths of solder around the middle of the pad to make funky looking spiders on the tables. For the same party, we found directions on Family Fun to make a few giant spiders out of milk jugs and pool noodles. We hung those in the corners around the room.

After years of doing really elaborate parties, we’ve scaled back some. This year, I made a simple but awesome looking balloon arch to hang over our sliding glass door. Get a bag of multicolor latex balloons. Blow them up, and tie each one to a long curling ribbon. If you don’t space them too far apart, they tend to cluster, making it look very full. Then just tack the ribbon up over an entry way or running up the length of a staircase.

Pinterest has more ideas than you could ever use for centerpieces and other decorations, and Family Fun is another great resource.

Stop by tomorrow. We’ll be talking about party activities.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Activities for Kids’ Birthday Parties

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Like decorations, activities for a kid’s birthday party can hinge on the theme. When you’re planning these, think of a welcome activity, an icebreaker and some theme-related games and projects.

Welcome Activity

As kids are arriving, we always have a activity that they can jump right into. This keeps everyone occupied while you’re welcoming guests and chatting with parents.

One idea that we’ve used a few times is to have each kid decorate something that you can add to a keepsake for the birthday boy or girl. At our Thomas the Tank Engine party, the birthday boy decorated an engine cut out of poster board, while his friends each decorated a train car with their name on it. At the end of the party, we hung the train like a border around his room as a reminder of his great day.

One year, our son had a Chef’s Party. As each guest arrived, we gave them an apron and let them decorate it with fabric puff paint. We got the aprons for a great price at Oriental Trading — an awesome resource for activities, decorations and favors.

During our son’s puppet party, we had a puppet show going on that kids could watch as they were arriving.

Icebreaker

Once everyone is there, consider playing a game that can help kids get to know each other. Team games are a good idea (three-legged or relay races, hot potato, tug of war or offer a group project). You can also do a memory game that requires everyone to learn and remember each other’s names. Baby shower games are great icebreakers. Do a Google search on these or team builders or ice breakers to get more ideas.

Games and Projects

Activities can tie in with the theme. At our Monster Party one year, the kids all made slime and fill buckets with it. Then they put on big monster feet that we’d made out of old cereal boxes and foam craft paper, and they raced one another to transfer the slime from one row of buckets to another.

At our American Girl party, we used the Hobo Code introduced in the Kit books to do a big scavenger hunt with each clue paying homage to one of the American Girl historical characters. And at the Puppet Party, kids made sock puppets and watched a puppet show.

Whenever we play games, we have a small prize for the winner and a candy bowl for the non winners. As someone gets out, they get to pick a treat from the candy bowl. It allows for friendly competition without creating sore losers.

Pinatas are always a big hit, and you can find (or make) one that coordinates with the theme. Plus, the candy or toys that the kids collect can be a part of the party favors.

As a homeschool family, we are BIG fans of fun (but also educational) activities. For example, our Backyard Habitat taught kids the essential elements of a habitat, and our Community Super Heroes Party introduced party goers to the local firehouse, ambulence corps and rescue squad.

We also like activities that double as party favors. My son recently had a big sleepover, and the kids made t-shirts. They drew pictures on white shirts with colored permanent markers, then they drizzled rubbing alcohol on the drawings to spread the color and make psuedo-tie dyed shirts. The shirt was their party favor.

Scheduling

As you plan activities, think about the timeframe for the overall party. Plan at least 15 minutes for the welcome activity, and then divide the rest of the party into segments, allotting an estimated time block for each activity, including cake and presents. Keep your schedule handy during the party to stay on track.

 

Stop in tomorrow. We’ll be talking about Party Favors!

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of six kids (ages 4 to 18) with #7 due in August and one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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