Denise Swanson - New York Times Best-Selling Author
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Skye Writing — by Skye Denison

Skye's the Limit!

Columns: click to select
  1: Skye's Six Rules to Connection  
  2: The Four Pitfalls of Parenting  
  3: Coping with the Holiday Season  
  4: An Alphabet's Worth of Books  
  5: Surviving Your Child's Homework  
  6: Five Characteristics of a Caring Person  
  7: Three Times Five: Ways to Help Your Teen  
  8: Self-Control for Teens  
  9: Parenting Grateful Children  
  10: Raise Children with Good Character  
  11: Five Tips for Children's Mental Health in These Trying Times
  12: Children and Sleep  
  13: Four Ways to Help Your Child Accept Change  
  14: Five Tips for Talking to Your Teens about Their Love Life  

Music: Prélude to a Muse (and to Amuse):
A Passacaglia for Rock Band, Percussion Ensemble and Harp

by David Stybr (3½ minutes, © 2005)

Performed by Vince Denison's band Pink Elephant (and friends)


Column No. 14: Five Tips for Talking to Your Teens about Their Love Life (October 2011) * Return to Top

Five Tips for Talking to Your Teens about Their Love Life

  1. Decision making. Ask your teens: How do you decide if you "like" someone? What is it about that person that attracts you? What do you admire? Where do you hope this relationship will go? How do you want to be treated? Do they treat you that way? Do they treat you the same way in public that they do in private?
  2. Watch TV and movies together. Many story lines deal with teenagers interacting with the opposite sex. These plots can be a good jumping-off point for a discussion. Questions to ask are: Do you think he/she did the right thing? What would you have done in that situation? Do you think she should have trusted him or he should have trusted her? What makes you think that?
  3. Practice what you preach. If you are a single parent, make sure your teens see you being careful with your relationships. Don’t think that they aren’t listening to you talk to your friends or love interest. This is also important if you are married. They are definitely noting how you and your spouse treat each other.
  4. Encourage your teens to tell you how they feel. You can do this by being nonjudgmental. You don’t have to approve, and later you can discuss why what they did is not a good choice, but at the time just listen and empathize.
  5. Look for opportunities make the point that: If your boyfriend/girlfriend threatens to end the relationship if you don’t have sex with them, they aren’t worth keeping.


Column No. 13: Four Ways to Help Your Child Accept Change (March 2011) * Return to Top

Four Ways to Help Your Child Accept Change

  1. If you have difficulty with change, so will your child. Use your ability to accept change as a teaching moment. For instance, the grocery store has rearranged the shelving of its products. Explain to your son or daughter that this gives you an opportunity to explore.
  2. Start with small changes. Say your daughter always wants scrambled eggs for breakfast. Try a plain omelet as a substitute.
  3. Offer choices. If you son wants to wear only a certain T-shirt, allow him to select between two similar ones.
  4. Some changes are huge in a child’s life. Moving, going to a different school, divorce, death. In these cases, try to give your child as much warning as possible. Talk about what is going to happen. Ask the child their biggest fear/worry. In the event of a move or school change, take the child to see the new house, neighborhood, building, etc - several times if possible.


Column No. 12: Children and Sleep (April 2010) * Return to Top

Children and Sleep

One of the first questions I ask parents who come to me about their children's academic and school behavioral issues is: how much sleep does your child get every night? It's surprising how many parents answer 6-7 hours. Anytime I observe in the classroom, there is always at least one child yawning or with his or her head down. New research has shown that are serious consequences for children who do not get enough sleep. These include problems in health (lowered immunity, weight gain, and asthma), emotion (ability to regulate behavior, depression, and anxiety), and school (poor memory, low grades and standardized test scores, and tardiness).

Helpful Hints for Parents

  1. Make sure your child gets enough sleep for his or her age. 5- to12-year-olds need 10 to 11 hours of sleep, and teens need 8½ to 9½ hours of sleep per night.
  2. Enforce consistent bedtimes.
  3. Supervise bedtime routines. Lowering arousal levels by prohibiting the use of phones, games, and TV for an hour before bedtime, and not allowing caffeinated beverages or late-night eating helps promote healthier sleep.
  4. If you are able, every child should have his or her own sleep space, or at least his or her own bed. Cooler temperature in the bedroom helps sleep.
  5. Set a good example by getting enough sleep yourself.


Column No. 11: Five Tips for Children's Mental Health in These Trying Times (April 2009) * Return to Top

Five Tips for Children's Mental Health in These Trying Times

  1. Limit/avoid exposure to the gloom-and-doom media. Television news and financial programs are planned for the biggest reaction, and often give the worst-case scenario.
  2. Communicate. Parents should make themselves accessible and explain the family situation (in age-appropriate terms). Explain that the family may need to cutback on expenses, but reassure them that you, as the parent, are dealing with the situation.
  3. Be a good role model. If you are stressed, your children will reflect that. Don't think that they aren't listening to you talk to your spouse or on the phone. Do what you need to for you to feel better. Make a plan.
  4. Encourage your children to express their emotions. Help your children understand what they are feeling. For younger children use drawings and play-acting; for teens, journaling is a good method.
  5. Monitor changes in their behavior. Look for trouble sleeping, change in eating habits, spending more time alone than usual, and fearful behavior.


Column No. 10: Ten Ways to Raise Children with Good Character (January 2008) * Return to Top

Ten Ways to Raise Children with Good Character

  1. Don’t let the media provide role models for your kids. Discuss which TV, movie, and sports stars are truly worth looking up to, and which are behaving badly. Share information about your personal heroes.
  2. Help your children contribute to the community, be it an organization or an elderly neighbor who needs his or her sidewalk shoveled.
  3. Create a code of behavior for your family and follow it. Don’t be a "do what I say, not what I do" parent.
  4. Choose a virtue of the month and see which family member is most successful at embodying that quality.
  5. When you witness a situation either on TV, in a movie, or in real life ask, "What would you do?" Follow up with a discussion on the right thing to do.
  6. Lead by example. Never let your children see or hear you being unkind.
  7. Use words and phrases such as "I have a responsibility to...", "The courage of her convictions caused her to...", and "My neglect led to..."
  8. Make your expectations regarding your children’s behavior clear, and hold your kids accountable for them.
  9. Admit your own mistakes and show how you correct them. It’s very difficult for a child to live up to a "perfect" parent.
  10. Be consistent. Avoid allowing feelings or convenience to interfere with fairness.


Column No. 9: Five Suggestions for Parenting Grateful Children (July 2007) * Return to Top

My last adventure, Murder of a Botoxed Blonde, shows what happens when women are valued only for their looks, and feel they have nothing to offer after they're replaced by the next big thing. There are many reasons girls grow up feeling that way: magazines, TV, movies and music videos, to name a few. But I think the programming begins even earlier, reinforced by parents who give their kids everything but their time. Without limits, it's hard to know right and wrong. If your child only needs to bat her eyelashes and smile pretty to make mommy and daddy buy her that new convertible, she never has to find her inner strengths and hidden talents. Your child won't learn how to cope with the real world, she won't value what she has, and she won't understand the consequences of her actions. With this in mind, I've come up with:

Five Suggestions for Parenting Grateful Children

  1. Limit the consumer items you buy for them. They do not need every new video game, designer purse, and makeup item they see advertised or their friends have. If they really want it, have them put it on their birthday or Christmas list. Even then, if it's something totally outrageous — say a new Lexus for their sweet sixteen — don't buy it.
  2. Just because they live a life of plenty, doesn't mean they shouldn't be aware that others don't. Younger children can help you gather clothes and toys for donating to the less fortunate. Teens can volunteer at shelters and soup kitchens.
  3. Chores are not a four-letter word. By the time they reach five years of age, you should start giving them age-appropriate tasks. By the age of twelve, they should have tasks that really contribute to the running of the household.
  4. Learning to respect property, including their own, is a valuable lesson. If they break or lose any nonessential item, do not replace it. If they want another, they must earn the money for it. If they break or lose someone else's property, loan them the money to replace it, but make sure they repay you.
  5. As Nancy Reagan taught us: Just Say No. Once you've made a decision, do not let them talk you into changing your mind.


Column No. 8: Self-Control for Teens (May 2006) * Return to Top

Self-Control for Teens

  1. Be aware when you are becoming too wound up or "hyper" and are having difficulty focusing.
  2. Take deep breaths, count to a hundred, and relax.
  3. Take a few minutes to get organized. Put things back into place and get rid of anything that you don't need. If you can't throw it away, put it out of your sight.
  4. When making a decision, think of three options before deciding.
  5. Make a schedule for each day. Even if you get off schedule, try to get back on.
  6. Examine your feelings when something is bothering you, and talk to someone about them.
  7. We often don't really "hear" what others say. Listen carefully and repeat back so you know you understood what that person was really saying.
  8. Personal space is very important. Learn to recognize the amount of distance needed between you and another person for them to feel comfortable. An arm's length is a good rule of thumb.
  9. Make a list of what you need to accomplish, then write how you're going to do that task. Separating big tasks into easier to accomplish smaller steps can help, but make sure you do the steps in order.
  10. Pat yourself on the back when you accomplish a step toward self-control, and encourage yourself to try again when you don't succeed. This is hard. No one gets it all right the first try.


Column No. 7: Three Times Five: Ways to Help Your Teen (January 2006) * Return to Top

Hi, it's me, Skye. Sorry it's been so long since I've written my column, but The Scumble River Star got a new owner in November 2002, and it's taken me this long to convince her that she should continue my column. Plenty has happened in between, but my biggest news is that I inherited a big old house. It needs a lot of work, but unfortunately I hired Beau Hamilton as my contractor. You can read all about it in Murder of a Real Bad Boy.

Three Times Five: Ways to Help Your Teen

  1. Five Ways to Help Your Teen Make Good Decisions

    1. Give your teen practice in making decisions. Use non-critical areas such as food and clothing choices.
    2. Allow your teen to find his or her own way to solve a problem, even though you could find it quicker or easier. Explore together the possible consequences if certain choices are made.
    3. Let your teen learn from his or her mistakes. Allow poor decisions (if they are not life-threatening), then let him or her learn from the consequences.
    4. Make it a family practice that no one, including you, is allowed to make decisions when angry or upset.
    5. Acknowledge your teen's good decisions. Point them out when made, and refer to them when future decisions are required.

  2. Five Ways to Help Your Child Enter Middle School

    1. Throughout fifth grade, talk about the differences between elementary and middle school — number of teachers, classrooms, etc.
    2. Help your child understand that students have to adapt to different teachers, not the other way around.
    3. Visit the middle school several times together, and attend all the orientations and open houses.
    4. Discuss the fact that your child is moving from being the "top dog" to the bottom of the ladder.
    5. Together make a list of your child's expectations for middle school. Make a plan on how to ensure those expectations are met.

  3. Five Ways to Communicate With Your Teen

    1. Get in the habit of talking. Try to have a time set aside each day when neither of you have any distractions. Use good eye contact.
    2. Find something to praise, and remember to express your love.
    3. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification, and don't jump to conclusions — give your teen a chance to explain.
    4. When the consequence of a conflict won't harm your teen, give her or him the opportunity to disagree without being accused of "talking back."
    5. Don't feel like you have to know everything. It's okay to say, "I don't know. Let's find out together."


Column No. 6: Five Characteristics of a Caring Person (June 2002) * Return to Top

Hi, Skye Denison, here. Well, my second year as the school psychologist for the Scumble River School District was just as eventful as my first. You can read all about it in Murder of a Sleeping Beauty. One thing I learned is that we all have to take care of each other better. To the end, I came up with:

Five Characteristics of a Caring Person

  1. Reliability. If you say you'll do something, do it.
  2. Courage. Do the right thing, even if it isn't popular.
  3. Nurture Others. Share your time. Share yourself.
  4. Positivity. Think the best of everyone.
  5. Believe. In yourself and in other people.


Column No. 5: Surviving Your Child's Homework (September 2001) * Return to Top

Hi, Skye Denison, school psychologist, here. Hope everyone had a great summer. I spent mine as a lifeguard at the recreation club beach. It was pretty boring, except when the monster* was sighted. But it's back-to-school-time, and as usual I have a little advice for you.

*"Not a Monster of a Chance" is a short story which appears in the anthology, And the Dying is Easy.

Surviving Your Child's Homework

  1. First, help your child find a place to work that is right for him or her. If your student is easily distracted, a desk or table in a secluded area is best. If you need to keep an eye on your student, the kitchen or dining room table is probably more practical.
  2. Next, to avoid wasting time, keep your child's study area stocked with materials such as paper, pencils, rulers, dictionary, pens, highlighters, scissors, glue, tape, colored pencils, stapler, etc.
  3. Most children need help organizing and setting priorities, especially with long-term projects. Start each night with a review of their homework, and make a prioritized list of assignments.
  4. For long term projects, use a large calendar, and write in which part of the project needs to be completed by what date. Studying for tests would fall into this category.
  5. It is important to establish a routine for homework completion. Pick a time, and then sit with your child for the first few minutes to get her started. Check to see if she will need help with something. About midway through the session, check progress. A small reward, such as a cookie or hug, will keep them motivated. If your child needs a break, set a timer so she returns to work at the sound of the bell.
  6. A general rule of thumb as to how much homework a child should be expected to do is: ten minutes per grade level. So, a first grader should have no more than 10 minutes of homework per night, and an eighth grader should have no more than 80 minutes per night. Of course, if the student saves up all his work for the night before a project or test, this rule is thrown out the window. Good luck with the 2001-2002 school year.


Column No. 4: An Alphabet's Worth of Books (May 2001) * Return to Top

Hi, it's Skye Denison. Sorry I haven't been able to write my weekly column for the Scumble River Star, but when my grandma died this spring, I felt I had to put everything aside and concentrate on solving the mystery. But now school is almost over, and parents have been asking me what to do with their kids this summer. Since I've just agreed to be a lifeguard at the area recreation club, and don't want the beach to be over-run with bored kids, I thought it best to give you some suggestion.

An Alphabet's Worth of Books

  1. First, have your child pick a theme. It could be mysteries (my favorite), science fiction (Simon's choice), sports or biographies, basically anything that captures his or her interest. Next, go to the library and ask the librarian to help pick books within your child's reading level. Now, offer a small reward for completing titles from A to Z.
  2. Another thought for a summer project is to make a book called Alphabet of Feelings. Kids can use a nice notebook and cut out pictures, draw or write poems about that day's feelings.
  3. Summer is also a good time for kids to do increased chores. Gardens need weeding and watering, lawns need mowing and surfaces need fresh paint. This is a perfect opportunity to teach them the lesson of help they neighbor. Maybe there's an elderly or handicapped person near you who could use a hand one morning or afternoon a week.
  4. If your kids still come to you and say, "I'm soooo bored." Well, then I guess I'll see you at the beach! Oh, and bring plenty of sunscreen.


Column No. 3: Coping with the Holiday Season (December 2000) * Return to Top

Hi, Skye Denison here. This is my first Christmas back home. Believe me, I know how hard it is to come "home for the holidays" or any other time, so here is a column I wrote for The Scumble River Star newspaper. Thought it might help some of you cope with the holiday season.

Too often, the holiday season brings more stress than celebration. The expected good times are tinged with tension. There are not enough hours in the day to handle the hectic demands of the season on top of one's normal busy schedule. This results in a state of exhaustion.

Coping with the Holiday Season

  1. Time constraints increase Stress, so:

    1. Make a list of all the things you need to do.
    2. Prioritize the items, and get rid of activities you do not feel are essential. Be realistic about what really has to be done.
    3. Cross off the activities as you complete them. Go ahead, it feels soooo good.
    4. Share your list with your family, and tell them that you expect them to pitch in and do their share.
    5. Don't forget to put "time for self" on your list!

  2. Money is another source of holiday Stress. Impulse buying, stores, and credit cards entice us to spend more than we have, then punish us with high interest rates, so:

    1. Use deferred billing only if you know you can pay off the charges before interest starts to be added.
    2. Make a list of items before going to the store, and do not buy items that are not on the list — this cuts down on impulse spending.
    3. Reflect on the true meaning of the holidays, and keep within your budget. Don't let love be confused with money. People, even children, will forget what you bought them, long before you pay off your credit card charge for that item.
    4. Whenever possible, use only cash.

  3. Relative is just another word for Stress. Too much unwanted extended family togetherness can lead to tension and hard feelings. Long-repressed feelings of favoritism and perceived past injustices may emerge.

    1. Try to limit time spent with family members who tend to agitate or cause ill feelings.
    2. Steer conversations around unpleasant topics or past indiscretions.
    3. Maintain a pleasant, cooperative, approachable façade, even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom once an hour and scream.
    4. This is not the time for overnight guests, but if you must have them, provide as much privacy for yourself as possible.

  4. Children can be the biggest causes of Stress, even though we love them. Their school schedule has ceased, and their home schedule is often unpredictable at this time, causing them become out of control.

    1. Try to set and keep a daily schedule for the children, with regular bedtimes. Let them know in advance what the day's plans are.
    2. Be sure to allot rest time in the plans.
    3. Make sure to save some time to enjoy your children — time with mom and dad playing a board game, reading a book, or just talking are what the kids will remember, long after the last toy is broken or lost.

Most of all, do only what you are comfortable doing. Happy Holidays!


Column No. 2: The Four Pitfalls of Parenting (October 2000) * Return to Top

Hi, Skye Denison, school psychologist here. Boy, have we had a lot of excitement in my hometown of Scumble River, since I moved back a few months ago. I wasn't too thrilled to have to return to Scumble River. I had been gone for twelve years and had not left on the best of terms. (Don't ask.) So, even though I expected things to be a little uncomfortable when I returned, I never expected murder. At least I was able to find out who really killed Mrs. Gumtree. Now that things have calmed down, I was able to write my second column on parenting tips for the local paper. Thought you might be interested in a seeing it too.

The Four Pitfalls of Parenting

  1. Director parents are strict disciplinarians who are both angry and rigid. They don't listen to their kids, nor credit their kids with having any common sense. The children's individualities are swallowed by the parents' rage. They see their children as no more than extensions of themselves. This tends to cause rebelliousness in most kids, although some react the opposite way and become so insecure that they can't make decisions to save their lives, which makes them vulnerable to peer pressure. Hey, I'm not telling you to let your kids run wild. Discipline is a good thing. I'm just saying choose your battles. Don't get bogged down with the little things.

  2. Don't Ask, Don't Tell parents are powerless and submissive, often having low self-esteem, and in a constant state of denial. They are permissive and easily shocked. The children end up taking control of the home. These are the mothers or fathers who deny that their "little darlings" could ever do anything wrong. They abdicate control and decision-making to their kids. There is no limit-setting in this house. These are the toughest parents to deal with as a school person.

  3. Guilt Inducers are another of my favorites. These moms or dads create dependencies which suffocate the children. These parents are so needy themselves that they use guilt and shame as a way to control their children's behaviors. Kids who are raised by this type have difficulty leaving home.

  4. Believers are rigid, and see things only one way: no shades of gray for these parents. They follow some type of doctrine or religion. The belief itself becomes more important than the family.
If you see yourself in one of these types, don't be too upset. There usually is a little of each of these in all of us. The thing to remember is moderation. It's okay to set limits, defend your children, and have strong beliefs — just not to the extreme.


Column No. 1: Skye's Six Rules to Connection (May 2000) * Return to Top

Hi, my name is Skye Denison and I'm a school psychologist. Recently I was forced to return to my hometown: Scumble River, Illinois. Having escaped from here twelve years ago, this was not a voluntary move on my part. The whys and wherefores that forced me back to Scumble River are too sad to talk about. Let's just say that none of it was my fault, and someday the people whose fault it is are going to pay.

Anyway, I'm thirty, single, and broke — just the circumstances in which everyone wants to return to their hometown. Oh, yeah, I gained a little weight too, and believe me everyone in town feels the need to comment on that. As if this weren't enough, my first week back I found a body. My Uncle Charlie would say that if I didn't have bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all.

One good thing has come from all of this. The local newspaper has asked me to write a column with parenting tips. I love to give my opinion, so here goes.

A lot of Scumble River parents tell me they don't feel they "connect" with their children. So I've come up with:

Skye's Six Rules to Connection

  1. Listen to what your child is saying to you. Sounds easy, but many of us listen with half an ear to adults, and a lot less than that to a kid. A good way to check this out is to paraphrase back what your son or daughter just said. Believe me, they'll correct you if you're wrong.

  2. Plan regular times when it is just you and your child. A good way to do this is to take only one in the car when you run an errand. You wouldn't believe how much a kid will tell you in a moving car, especially if you have a no-radio rule.

  3. Don't interrogate your child. When he or she walks in the door say, "Hi, glad you're home," rather than a barrage of questions about their day. Leave interrogation for the police. If you tell them about your day, chances are they'll tell you about theirs.

  4. Criticize less. Praise more. Some parents should cross-stitch this saying into their foreheads. Hey, it's okay to have consequences for a child's actions, just don't talk the thing to death. Notice the good things they do too.

  5. Don't try to change a child's feelings or dismiss them. If he hates his dumb older brother, find out why. Don't just tell him he doesn't really hate him.

  6. Treat your child with respect. I've seen some parents treat their dogs better than their kids. And I'm not just talking about the Scumble River Doozier family!

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Created 25 December 1999 * Updated 29 February 2012
© 2012 Denise Swanson * Der Webmeister: David Stybr

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