Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DELIBERATE PARENTING


Parenting is hard. But it helps to have a support system like Explorer, my parent participation preschool. 20 years ago, Marlin and I joined Explorer as young parents of two little girls. I’ve been reflecting lately about the impact Explorer, and its emphasis on parent education, has made on the life of my family.

As a mom (and a teacher) I also have many occasions to reflect on my own childhood, and I’m always interested in hearing the stories of the childhoods of parents in our school as well.Here’s a common theme: I turned out ok.  And so did you.  And so did most people that you know, right?  And this is because of (or is it “in spite of?”) the way we were all raised.  Our parents  loved us and did the best they could, and we all turned out ok.

The thing is, we are very likely to raise our kids in pretty much the exact same way as our parents raised us.  Our childhood experiences created our “Normal” setting.  The way we were raised is normal to us, including the parts of our childhoods and upbringing that no longer make sense in today’s world.  So if we don’t make a deliberate, thoughtful effort, we may sometimes make decisions in our parenting which are less appropriate for our kids than they were for us when our parents did the same thing 25 or 30 years ago.

The reality is that, as parents, we need to put some effort into re-thinking things that are a part of our “Normal.”  We need to re-evaluate, re-think, and re-calibrate what is ok and what is not, based on our adult beliefs and values (which may be different from those of our parents, as much as we love them,) and based on today’s culture and generational challenges.

Here are some examples of this type of Deliberate Parenting:

TELEVISION
-I watched quite a bit of tv as a kid, and “I turned out ok.” But tv in the 60’s and 70’s was very different from what’s on tv now. Just compare an episode of Glee to an episode of Happy Days.  Or Southpark to Mayberry.   And I didn’t alternate between tv, computer, and video games all day the way many unsupervised kids do today.  I played hard outside most of the time, and then when it was dark and I had to come inside, I vegged for a couple hours in front of the Brady Bunch. It wouldn’t be very responsible for parents today to allow a kid the freedom to turn on the tv pretty much any time they want, but in the context of that time period, my parents weren’t irresponsible or neglectful.  Just a little indulgent.  Kids who have free reign over the remote today will probably NOT “turn out ok.”

So think about it:  If I didn’t give this any deliberate thought, I might be of the mindset: “It’s ok for my kids to watch all the tv they want, because I watched it and I turned out ok.”  It would feel “normal” to me, based on my upbringing. When Emily and Audra were little, they were as interested in tv as most kids, and I was constantly faced with decisions about how much and what they could watch.  But even 20 years ago, we knew that unlimited, unsupervised access to tv is NOT good for kids. This is even more true in 2011, for all the reasons discussed above. In 1990, as well as in 2011, Explorer can be a helpful source of support for parents who want to create a life for their families that does not revolve around tv.

DISCIPLINE
-Even if we were disciplined with punitive methods or spanking, we may want to think carefully about how to set limits with our kids.  We will probably choose to learn more positive methods for achieving our goals for teaching our kids self-discipline.  But if our default-setting is “Punishment” that’s the direction we will always go when our kids need guidance unless we put deliberate effort into thinking about other options.

FATHERING
-Our dads may have been less involved and more distant, even though they loved us.  But times have changed, and most of us don’t want to let our kids grow up with an un-involved dad, so we have to carefully think about and constantly tweak the roles of both parents in our families.

FOOD CHOICES
-Even if I grew up on a lot of Wonder Bread, Oreos, and Koolaid, I am pretty sure I don’t want my kids (or my future grandkids) to grow up with these unhealthy options. And yes, it takes thought and planning to make healthier nutritional decisions for our families.

SAFETY
-Although I survived an “untethered” childhood (car seats and seatbelts were not the norm in the 60’s) it seems VERY irresponsible (as well as illegal) now for parents to drive kids around without making sure they are safely buckled in. Not that there aren’t moments when ALL of us feel tempted to forget the car seat when our toddler arches her back and screams about getting buckled in.


I’m sure you can think of a million things that your parents did well, and that you want to emulate.  But I’m equally sure that there are things you want to do differently.  In fact,  I’m guessing that your parents themselves will tell you a number of things they hope you will do better with their precious grandkids than they did with you!  I’m already making a list of these items for when my girls eventually become parents!

The key is to THINK.  We can’t run on autopilot all the time, or we risk making some mistakes that could be avoided.

On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense to be paralyzed by fear of making mistakes, or to neglect giving our kids a taste of the best parts of our childhoods.  This is where the support of other parents, parenting classes, a good preschool like Explorer, and resources such as good parenting books can help, too. We all help each other to continually re-calibrate our “Normal” setting, and the fact that it changes as we go along is actually a good thing.  That’s how we evolve.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  What “Deliberate Parenting” efforts are you engaged in, and why?

Ok, I gotta go.  I’m off to stir up a batch of my mom’s chili for my family.   That recipe, along with an appreciation for Explorer Preschool,  are a couple of the things I do want to DELIBERATELY pass along to my kids and future grandkids. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

HAVE YOURSELF AN OPEN-ENDED CHRISTMAS



 Let me be honest:  if you offer me a choice between a nice gooey Snickers Bar or a crisp, healthy carrot, most of the time I’m pretty likely to take you up on the candy, and defer the carrot to “later.” And I’m an adult who knows better.  But if sugary stuff isn’t one of the choices, I am quite happy with healthy rabbit food. Carrots are yummy, when you’re in the habit of eating them, and when you’re not comparing them to junk food.  Besides, I’ve learned by now that I feel better on a diet of good veggies and other healthy things, and I feel worse when I over-indulge in sweets.  But still…… if you give me the choice, I don’t always make the decision based on what’s best for me.

Similarly, many of the toys that are currently popular for young children just make me sad. That’s because they are the toy-equivalent of the above-mentioned Snickers Bar: they’re appealing and irresistible, but not nourishing. Many toys have features that immediately catch the eye and appeal to children, and therefore to parents. The challenging thing is to figure out which toys will “feed the brains” and stir the imagination of our kids, and which ones are intellectual junk food.

Here are a few of my “rules of thumb” when thinking about which toys are worth your children’s time. For simplicity, I’ll talk about only two categories:  “Good Toys” and “Bad Toys.” 

-If it needs batteries, it may be a Bad Toy, unless it’s a tool of some sort like a music player or a flashlight. Batteries mean that it will be producing some sort of action on its own, and therefore is likely to do most of the playing FOR the child, instead of allowing the child to play.

-Does it beep, flash, or make noises? Does it contain a computer chip?  Bad Toys often do, because toy designers and sellers obviously think kids are stupid and can’t have fun on their own, without the toy “entertaining” them.  Besides, think about how very tired YOU will get of those beeps and noises over time. Do you really need another irritation? Save yourself the anguish:  skip the beeping, blinking toy aisle entirely.

-Is it something brand new that you’ve never seen before?  Sometimes Bad Toys are exciting because they are new and  novel.  But think about it:  many Good Toys are things that have been part of childhood forever, and will never be trendy, but will also never go out of style.  Think about balls, blocks, basic dolls, simple toy cars and animals, etc. Not to mention the very basic playthings like rocks, sand, water, magnets, crayons and paper, and the Good Old Basic Stick or Deluxe Cardboard Box.

-Is it based on a tv show, movie, or video game? Is there a ride somewhere in a faraway theme park based on it?  If so, be wary that Bad Toy-ness can be lurking beneath a seemingly innocent faƧade. When a toy originates with a media character, 90% of the imagining has already been done, by the “professionals.”  They even call themselves Imagineers! What 3 year old can compete with that?  Most of the time, kids love media-based toys, but it’s clear that their imaginations do not soar to new heights with this type of plaything.  They stick to the “script” when playing with this type of toy, and most of the benefits of pretend play are lost. We preschool teachers know that children are the “professionals” when it comes to play, and we look for toys that will be useful tools for their creative minds.

-Can it be used for just one thing, or can it be played with in many ways?  Good toys are usually what we in the kid-business call “open-ended.” This means that the child can play with the toy in many different ways, and almost any way the toy is used will benefit the child’s development.

-Would you see this toy at preschool?  (Meaning, a GOOD, developmentally appropriate preschool.)  If not, maybe we don’t have it at school for a reason.  Just like we try to discourage the serving of donuts and M&M’s at the preschool snack table. (Except occasionally to the grownups, when the kids are not looking.)

-Will your child be able to enjoy this toy for at least 3 or 4 years, or will the child become tired of it within weeks?   Open ended toys (Good Toys) have a very long kid-life.  They never go stale.

-Will it enrich your child’s life, or the toy company’s profits?  Good Toys don’t have to be expensive, and you don’t have to have lots of them to have fun. Just as junk food is expensive even though it has little nutritional value, Bad Toys are a waste of money.

-Who are you buying the toy for:  your child, or YOU?   If your grown-up heart secretly desires the latest electronic beeping, jumping, singing, dancing, hot rod space captain nuclear star wars race car bunny rabbit, go ahead and buy it for yourself.  But be sure to stock up on lots of batteries.  You’re a grownup, and your brain is already supposedly finished growing.  A Bad Toy probably won’t harm your development.   


With a little bit of extra thought and strength of character on your part, your child can have a calm, happy, satisfying, growing time this holiday season, and this year’s new toys will follow him or her into many new stages of development in the future.  But somebody probably needs to forward this message to Santa and Grandma, because they may not understand your child’s brain as well as you now do.

Ok, time to go raid the Halloween-candy-stash.  I’m a grownup, so I can eat what I want, even though I’ll pay for it later.  But while I nibble on chocolate, I think I’ll go immerse myself in a good book.  Even though it’s really easy and appealing to flip on another episode of my favorite mindless TV show, I know I’ll get more benefits and feel happier in the long run if I give my brain the nourishment that it really needs. 

Which reminds me:  Good books are the BEST gift for children! But that deserves its own blog post, so we’ll talk about books another time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

CHRONICLES OF A PRESCHOOL TEACHER





Ok, so indulge me with a little literary license.  I’ll make a point by the end, I promise.  The following conversation is fictionalized, but loosely based on a composite of many conversations I have every year in my work with parents. 

I firmly believe that ALL parents love their children, and MOST parents really do the very best they can with their kids.  But I also know how hard it can be, and I admire parents who look for help and answers.

However, see if you can tell me what “attitude problems” the following conversation might reveal.  Do you think that possibly, if the parent in this scenario could find a way to meet her own adult needs, and then work on those attitudes, the child-behaviors and overall family atmosphere would improve? 


THE FAKE CONVERSATION:

PARENT: “I need some parenting tips.  My three-year-old son is driving me crazy.”

TEACHER: “What kinds of things are you wondering about?”

PARENT: “He’s incredibly active, never sits still for a minute.  He wears me out!”

TEACHER: “Being extremely active physically is completely age-appropriate.  I’d worry about any 3 year old who isn’t! Developmental experts say that ages 3 through 5 are the most physically active humans will ever be throughout their entire lives.  But yes, it can be exhausting for parents to keep up with kids this age!”

PARENT: “But….. I don’t know, he’s driving me crazy.”

TEACHER: “Can you tell me some specific things that bother you?”

PARENT: “He never listens!  When I tell him to stop doing something he doesn’t stop!” 

TEACHER: “What kinds of things do you tell him to stop doing?”

PARENT: “Wiggling at the dinner table, for example.  He just won’t sit still.”

TEACHER: “Hmm….. sounds to me like this behavior is very much related to what we talked about a minute ago:  a 3-year-old boy’s intense need to move his body. How long is he able to sit still before he starts getting wiggly?”

PARENT: “Only about 10 minutes:  just long enough to gobble down his food, then he starts going nuts and he ruins our dinner every single night.  His dad and I would like to have a nice relaxing meal.”

TEACHER: “Wow- he’s able to sit still for 10 minutes!  That’s a long time for a 3-year-old. What would happen if you let him leave the table when he is finished eating his dinner?”

PARENT: “He would run around the house, getting all the toys out all over again!  I always try to clean up the toys before dinner,  so I don’t have to do it at bedtime. He would probably dump out all the block or legos. Like I said, he drives me nuts.  I worry that something is wrong with him.  Do you think he could have ADHD?” 

TEACHER: “Maybe you could try leaving out his blocks, and then excusing him from  the table to play with them when he is finished with his dinner.  Do you think he might play with his blocks while you and your husband finish eating?”

PARENT: “Well…… maybe, but he always wants to interrupt us when we are talking. He would want to tell us about everything he is doing with the blocks.  We could really use some peace and quiet.”

TEACHER: “Wow- he likes to talk about his work!  It sounds like his language development is really exciting right now!”

PARENT: “Yeah, he talks all the time, but that’s probably what makes me so mad when he won’t do what I say.  I know he understands the words.  Like when I tell him to clean up his toys, he usually puts 2 or 3 toys in the basket but then he runs off, and I have to clean up after him myself.”

TEACHER: “I’m impressed that a busy, active 3 year old has time to help clean up even 2 or 3 toys! He’s learning a lot about being clean and tidy from your example, but most kids aren’t able to be fully responsible for their belongings until they are much older.  What about other aspects of his behavior?  For example, how is he with his baby sister?”

PARENT: “It’s cute how he says he loves her, but he won’t stop touching her and patting her. I tell him over and over to leave her alone, and when he doesn’t listen, I tell him it’s naughty to ignore his mom, and that nice boys listen to their parents.  But he still wants to stay right next to the baby, and he always brings all the teddy bears and other toys to her.  And then like I said, he won’t listen when I tell him to put them away.  And when she is napping,  he won’t be quiet.  I turn on the tv really quietly and tell him to sit still and watch cartoons, but he keeps jumping up off the couch to run around.”

TEACHER: “He sounds like a very loving brother who is trying to be nurturing. And he sounds like a very sweet, normal little boy.  I’m wondering about how much time he gets to play outside, or to run and climb at a park or playground.  When 3 year olds have plenty of outdoor play, they seem to be able to settle down a little bit more when they go inside.”

PARENT: “Sigh….. I just wish he were still the cute, cuddly little baby he used to be when he was his sister’s age!  When he was little, I didn’t have to worry about taking him outside, or worry about his behavior at all. Now I’m always exhausted just because I try to make him do the right things all day long, and half the time, he won’t do what I say.”


Whew….. I’m exhausted too, after this conversation. Imagine what it would be like to be this little boy.  His beloved mother is never satisfied with him, even when he tries to help.  She always wants him to sit still, but his body just CAN’T.

So tell me:  who has the problems?  The child or the parent?

Parents often want “tips” and quick-fixes for behaviors that they find difficult in their children.  But what about fixing the parents’ expectations first?  There is absolutely nothing that improves the (perceived) behavior of young children as much as helping the parent learn about child development. Once a parent has begun learning even a little bit about age-appropriate expectations,  the entire atmosphere in a family changes.  Frustration,  anxiety,  and anger can soon be replaced by joy in the child’s ongoing growth, and by the relief that comes from knowing that you’re experiencing normal things that are universal to children and families everywhere.  The most important “tip” I could give this mom would be to give her son the time he needs to grow.  She seems to want him to be able to behave like an adult, even though he is only three.

Knowledge is power:  even a little knowledge of child development can give you the power to relax, and fully appreciate your child’s growth.  Equally importantly, it can give you the power to enjoy your role as a parent.

Even though I’m sure that some of you (you know who you are!) were certain I was writing about you, please realize that I try hard to be non-judgmental with all my parents.   The parent I was thinking about most when I wrote the above scenario was myself, when my sweet daughters were little. I was the world’s worst when it came to expecting-too-much. Sorry, girls. I loved you very much, but I just didn’t know then what I know now.

But I promised you A POINT, and my main point is this:  

Sometimes it’s a good idea to look for the answers within ourselves.  

There is no job that requires as much self-reflection as parenting.




Sunday, October 24, 2010

IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU

Sometimes I can't believe the things I say to parents in my class at preschool.  The other day I told a terrific mom, "It's not all about you, y'know." Her child was screaming about something, and as parents often do, she was sort of taking responsibility for his behavior. She was talking to me about her worries that somehow, it was her "fault" that he screams when he's frustrated.

"It's not all about you." Me and my big mouth:  that doesn't sound very professional. But thank goodness, this mom knows me really well and I think she understands the respect that's behind the sarcasm.  But let me explain.

What I mean is:  Kids are themselves.  Period.

Parents are very, very important in helping kids to grow up happy and healthy.  Good, earnest parenting is essential, and terribly hard to do.  If kids have inadequate nurturing, they usually don't grow up to be happy with themselves, and often find many ways to make other people miserable as well. Parents have many vital roles in the development of children, starting with helping them develop a healthy sense of self, and learn the beginnings of self-regulation.  Children NEED loving adults to steer them in the direction of productive lives and fulfilling relationships.

However, as parents, our magical powers are limited. Every child comes into the world as himself or herself.  We can't change that underlying personhood, and shouldn't even try.  The developmental theorists call this individuality "temperament" and it's been studied extensively.  One set of research identifies nine distinct temperament traits that all people have in some degree, and they state that your temperament is the degree to which you possess each of the nine traits. The research shows that our temperament is inborn, and stays with us through our entire life.  The person we are as toddler is still the person we will be when we're ninety years old, even if we have learned to hide or suppress it in many ways.  Our temperament traits are neither good nor bad, neither positive nor negative.  We are who we are, and our temperament is what makes each person unique.

Adults play a vital role in helping kids discover who they are, and learn about their own unique selves. We can often help children learn ways to "smooth the rough edges" of some of their more extreme traits.  Parents can help children learn to cope with life, to appreciate themselves for who they are, and to use all their temperament traits in positive ways.  A wonderful by-product of all this, is that children can then learn to appreciate the uniqueness in other people.

What adults cannot do is make an intense child into a mild one.  Or an active child into a mellow one. Or a persistent child into a compliant one.  What we can do is help our kids learn to thrive in spite of frustrations, and gradually learn how to meet their own emotional needs, as well as get along with other people.

In an ideal world, parents, teachers, and all adults who have contact with kids, are patient and ready to help in all situations.  But in the un-ideal world in which we live, adults are just as tired, cranky, moody, and irritable as kids, and sometimes even more so.  (Of course we are:  and who do you think made us that way??) Living with kids can be exhausting, even though we love them dearly.  So we CAN'T always do or say the right thing, and thank goodness, we don't have to be perfect.  But sometimes we are able to calmly reflect back to children the "self" they are showing us at any moment through their behavior, instead of simply reacting with annoyance to the behavior. This reflecting helps our kids learn how to "be."  Even though we can't do it all the time, due to the fact that we are grumpy or tired, the times we are able to do that are Golden Parenting Moments, and have a huge impact.  When we're accepting, non-judgmental, and when we observe and listen, we are helping our kids become their best selves.

Your children will fuss, whine, hit, shriek, and cry.  It's not your fault.  They're not behaving that way because you did anything wrong.  And by the way,  you don't deserve all the credit for those moments when they are behaving beautifully and make you proud.  Well, ok, you can pat yourself on the back a little, but the truth is that the child is the one responsible for his or her behavior.  Some children happen to feel compelled to do more of the negative things than others,  especially in the toddler years,  and this is usually due to their inborn temperament.  No biggie.  Gradually they will outgrow most of these behaviors and learn better ways of coping,  as they gain experiences with other people and with their own emotions.  Your guidance and example will help.  But you can't give them short-cuts through the learning process.

"It's not all about you."   Jeeeezz.... I gotta be careful how I talk to parents.  I'd hate to jeopardize my high-status gig as a preschool teacher!    But sometimes I pack a lot of meaning into just a few words, and those words don't come out the way I intend.  Thank goodness I have parents in my classes who give me the benefit of the doubt, and let me get away with it.  But then, it's not all about me, is it?

Monday, October 11, 2010

NURTURESHOCK PARENT STUDY GROUP

The book, NurtureShock,  is an eye-opener! Each chapter is full of well-researched, meaningful, and surprising information.  All parents will find that NutureShock contains information to ponder, as well as ideas that they will want to implement with their children TODAY.

For those of you who find that the best way to enjoy a book and to absorb interesting material is through discussion,  you may want to consider signing up for my Nurture Shock Parent Study Group.

We will be meeting at my home every other Wednesday evening, for four sessions, starting next week, October 20.  The fee is $65 per family and one or both parents may attend. During these four evenings, we will discuss NurtureShock chapter by chapter.

Please pass this information on to anyone you know who may be interested.

For more information, or to sign up, contact me at Annie@TeacherAnnie.com

Thursday, October 7, 2010

THE LONG, LONG LEARNING CURVE



If I decide to learn something that’s rather inconsequential, such as how to use a new feature on my phone, for example, it doesn’t take long.  Well, compared to how fast my kids adapt to new technology all the time, I guess I’m kind of slow.  But within a few minutes, I can master a new simple widget, for the most part.  Piece of cake. 

But that’s just for the easy stuff.  Learning the important lessons in life is harder and takes WAY longer. 

I remember when Emily was three and we signed up for the parent participation preschool.  I had high hopes and shining ideals as a young parent.  I expected this to be a wonderful experience, and anticipated many fulfilling moments as Emily and I experienced “teachable moments” together.

Unfortunately, the first few months in this new endeavor were not exactly as rewarding as I had hoped.  When I look back on that time, I still feel the deep frustration that I seemed to be experiencing constantly.  Poor me. It was hard. I imagine it was hard for Emily too.

Emily was not at an easy stage at that time, and she readily shared her frustrations with me.  She went in and out of “separation anxiety,” or whatever you call it when a three year old gets upset when Mom leaves. Starting school that year, she loved Teacher Diane immediately.  (It would have been hard not to:  Diane was wonderful.) But every time I was supposed to drop her off at school, she screamed and fussed and I felt like the only parent who had a child with “issues.”

Even worse, on the days it was my turn to stay at school and work in the classroom, Emily was like a very loud and incredibly irritating ball and chain.  She wouldn’t leave my side, and she hung on me, cried, whined, and made it almost impossible for me to do my job or interact with the other children. I began to dread school days.  To add to the chaos, Audra was about 13 months old at the time, and was also fussy.

After a few weeks of constant struggle, I was ready to give up.  But then, I would talk to other moms who had older kids or who had already been through this type of thing.  They encouraged me to hang in there, and insisted that things would get better. Teacher Diane and Teacher Konne both informed me that I would soon find that the struggle was well worth it. So we stayed, and I persisted in my duties as a preschool mom, even though I wasn’t a very happy or effective one. I hoped that my inability to function and my daughter’s annoying behaviors weren’t ruining the experiences of other kids and parents in the school. 

Further conversations with the teachers began to give me more inspiration and hope.  I remember when Konne told me that I was giving my daughter a very important message when I hung in there even when she fussed and clung to me at school. She said I was conveying to her that her education is so important that I will stick with it, even when she makes it frustrating.  Konne taught me that it was very important for my child to see that I could be more persistent than she was when it came to something important. But honestly, even though I believed all this in a cognitive sense, I was still in a very emotional place, and continued to struggle for quite awhile.

But then, magically, things did gradually begin to improve.  (Now I know that it wasn’t magic.  It was helpful mentoring that made the difference.) Towards the end of the first year in the preschool I began to understand what we would have missed if I had given up months ago.  And I was able to reflect back over the year and see real growth in myself and in my kids.  (Yes, even the little sister was benefiting from all these experiences.)

The learning continued into the next year and the next. In spite of normal ups and downs, and inevitable frustrations, I found myself KNOWING that I was learning and growing in important ways, and I was equally firm in my knowledge that my kids were gaining lifelong learning from our preschool experiences Gradually, Emily and I both began to really enjoy preschool. We both began to look forward eagerly to school days instead of dreading them. 

I had felt so impatient in those first months.  I wanted to learn it all NOW.  I wanted to rush through the hard parts, and get on to the fun.  But guess what:  that’s not how learning works. At least not when you’re learning some really important things.  I understand this now, because 20 years of parenting and teaching since then have given me many educational experiences, and this lesson has been reinforced over and over. 

The most important things take the longest to learn.  Patience is often hard to come by, but will always pay off when we find the strength and persistence to allow our learning to unfold over time.

Now my girls are young adults and I still see in them many reasons to be thankful for and appreciative of the wonderful start they had at preschool.  They will always be curious, self-motivated learners, and I credit their first teachers for helping them begin down that exciting path.

I’m just glad I didn’t give up.  Waiting it out was worth the struggle. Learning takes time. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

BE-AN-ANIMAL-DAY 2010


October is here.  Time to think of Fall, and all the special celebrations that are coming up soon. I’m strongly suggesting to my 1’s and 2’s parents that for “costume day” this year, right before Halloween,  we make it Animal Day.  Everyone dresses up as an animal! 

Costume Day isn’t a big deal for toddlers, because really, when you’re 1 or 2, every day that you put on clothes is sort of a "costume day" already. But sometimes Costume Day can be a big deal to parents, who remember the fun and excitement of Halloween costumes when they were children, and who want to participate in this tradition with their own kids.  These little ones may or may not want to wear something other than their regular school clothes, but they enjoy seeing some of the other children, the teacher, and the parents playing dress-up!   

So why is Teacher Annie messing with all this fun and suggesting that we only dress as animals on Costume Day? I have several reasons.


Why I Want Your Child To Dress As An Animal On Costume Day At School:

-It’s more creative, and therefore, more fun!  One of the main things I’m trying to help your child avoid is dressing up as a character from tv or movies. These characters are very popular, but this type of costumes allows for no creativity. A child pretending to be a spider (and wearing a spider costume) has innumerable ways they can play and pretend.  Their imagination can soar and they can stretch their minds in new ways. But a child wearing a Spiderman costume has very little pretending to do.  They are limited to the script that comes from the movie/tv show/video game. They know from watching the show what Spidey does and what he does not do.  Children seldom branch out from the scripts that  the media gives them, when it comes to role-playing and pretending about media-based characters. I was talking to a parent in one of the older classes the other day, and she had been assigned to help the children “write” (dictate) stories.  She said that the main stories children were telling her were about the Disney Princesses, Dora, and other well-known characters from movies and tv.  The stories all followed the script of the shows, and the characters did not deviate from the role that the Disney (or other) creators had assigned them. So children were not engaging in creative thinking at all, but rather just repeating and reciting stories they had seen on tv.  Remember what we all read last year in Taking Back Childhood?  (Talk to me if you are new to our school or want to know more about this very insightful book.) 

-Children love animals!  They identify very strongly with them. It’s easy for young children to imagine themselves as a horse, a cat, or a bluebird.  In interactions with real or pretend animals, children learn empathy and social skills.

-Language development! Animal play lends itself well to language development. As children talk about, learn about, and pretend about animals, they are first very inclined to make the sounds that animals make, and then they move on from there to learning about other aspects of language.

-Literacy!  Animals offer many opportunities for literacy development as well.  There are millions of excellent books about animals, both fiction and non-fiction. 

-Science! Pretending about animals leads to a curiosity about science and the natural world.  Once you’ve dressed up as a ladybug, you want to find out more about what it’s really like to be one.

-Lots of options! There are thousands of animals to choose from!  And even if your child isn’t the only dog on Costume Day, every dog will be different.

-Parent-Friendly! Animal costumes can be very simple or very elaborate, allowing for the parent to choose how much time, money, and creativity they wish to put into it.  You can be a rabbit with some paper ears and a cotton ball for a tail.  Or you can go all out and order the $50 peacock costume online.  Neither one of these is better, cuter, or more desirable than the other.  And your child will quite likely have more fun in the cheap-bunny costume than in the expensive one. 

-Happy, not scary! Traditional Halloween characters can be scary for toddlers.  They can be scared of witches, skeletons, and ghosts, because at this age they still don’t have a very solid idea of where to draw the line between pretend and real. It’s ridiculous to think about having a day that is supposed to be for the kids to have fun, but instead, making them frightened.

So, help me create Costume Day at school this year,  and  walk, talk, and dress like a duck or any other animal.  We’ll all have a wonderful, child-centered day. 


I stole this great idea from Teacher Jackie, who borrowed it from some other teacher. Hmmmm...... I wonder what animal Jackie will be? 

My daughters no longer let me “dress them up,” but unless my dogs, Gretchen and Timothy, protest too loudly we will be enjoying Animal Day at my house this year, for sure!


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

WHO'S THE BOSS?




Don’t let their tiny size, cherubic faces, and sweet voices fool you:   toddlers really like to be in charge.  This is as it should be:  they are in the middle of working on developing their sense of self, their personal identity, and their understanding of themselves as a separate person from mom or dad. But admit it:  the bossiness can be pretty annoying to even the most patient parent.

It’s hard to understand the best response when a toddler wants to control you.   Good parents try to be good listeners, and they want to empower their children.  We also like to make our children happy as much as possible.  And honestly, the extreme bossiness kind of sneaks up on you.  It starts when your child is an adorable baby, just learning to walk and talk.  No one minds being ordered around by a 12-month old:  he  is just so cute you are completely in his power. But before you know it, that darling baby is a big bossy kid who is capable of throwing the biggest fits you ever saw, if you don’t give them their favorite sippy cup or if you can’t let them play with your keys.

Is there any way to prevent this?  Or to somehow empower your child, while not becoming a slave to her whims? Well, like everything else in parenting, there are no easy answers. 

I just have one tried and tested “rule of thumb” that seems to work fairly well:

When you feel that perhaps you are being manipulated, you probably are.  

When children are in a position to control and manipulate adults, it’s bad for everyone. The adult becomes resentful and grumpy, and suffers from a sense of helplessness. A child who has been granted too much power becomes insecure and fussy, as well as very unlikable. They need to know that WE are in charge, because deep down they know that they are not qualified to run the show. With only a couple of years of life-experience behind them, they simply aren’t ready for world dominion yet.. 

So how can you be an in-charge parent, while still offering your child some appropriate autonomy? 

It helps a lot if you ask yourself, “What can I let my child control?” and “What are some examples of appropriate power for my child right now?”  Some examples might be:

Some examples of appropriate power for a toddler:
-“Do you want to brush your teeth BEFORE your bath, or AFTER?”
-“Which one of these two shirts would you like to wear?”
-“It will be time for a diaper change (or potty break) in a couple of minutes.  Finish a little bit more of your play and then we’ll take care of it. Tell me when you’re ready.”  (And if they don’t take this opportunity to choose their time, YOU go ahead and do it for them.)

Some examples of inappropriate power for this age:
-“Is it ok if Mommy and Daddy go out?”
-“Do you want to go to school?”
-“Ok, I won’t talk if you don’t want me too.”

Or….. think about that too-familiar scenario in which the family is held hostage while a toddler changes her mind six times about which outfit to wear, or which favorite plate to eat dinner from.

There’s a fine line between being a caring, respectful adult and a good listener, and giving away too much adult power. It’s hard to find the right balance.  But parenting is all about balance. Sure, they’ll fuss about it when you first begin to take back some appropriate parental power, but under the surface, they are actually relieved

So here’s your cheat-sheet to use as a reminder:

“If I feel as if I am being manipulated, I probably am.”

“What are some choices that are appropriate for my child at this stage of development?”

“It’s ok if my child is unhappy with me.”

Thinking about these three simple things can really help you focus on your long-range goals as a parent. It’s great to let our little ones gradually become the “boss of themselves” but it’s just not a good idea to let them control the rest of the world.  Not yet.  There is plenty of time for your toddler to hone those “leadership skills,” on her way to becoming a powerful CEO, a senator, or a  terrific parent like you!



Wednesday, July 28, 2010

JUST 3 MORE DAYS


I’m usually pretty careful to guard against using dog-analogies when talking about parenting or child development.  But once in awhile, I just have to.

K.J. and I were talking about our dogs the other day.  She was talking about  her aging dog Fabby’s puppyhood, and how difficult it had been at times.  I sympathized, having just recently survived Gretchen’s youth.  I hate to say it, but I’d be hard pressed to say which is harder:  raising a human baby or a training a puppy.

Anyway…… K.J. said that at one point during the first six months, she was extremely sleep-deprived due to her efforts to crate-train the puppy. I could relate to this.  I remember well those exhausting nights a couple of years ago, hoping to help Gretchen feel secure enough eventually to sleep on her own, by sleeping with my hand in her puppy-crate next to the bed all night. Gretchen was able to settle down finally, because she could cuddle against my warm hand. But it’s a little hard to get a good night’s sleep with your hand hanging out of bed and into the dog crate.  Every time I moved an inch, she would wake up and howl, and we’d have to start all over again.  I was determined to stick to the plan, but it was an incredibly tiring and difficult process.  K.J. also talked about how hard it was when puppy-Fabby was still chewing on everything, as well as peeing and pooping  in all the wrong places about every ten minutes.  I remember all this with Gretchen, also, and have no idealism about ever again having a “cute little puppy” to raise, although there’s truly nothing to compare with the joy of puppy-kisses.  Their adorable-ness and devotion is how they suck you in!

K.J. told me how one morning she took Fabby for a walk after another nearly-sleepless night.  She sat down on a park bench, exhausted and dispirited.  She was ready to give up.  Why was she doing this to herself? This was not a human baby, it was a dog.  It was OPTIONAL.  She was ready to admit defeat, and was realizing that she was on the verge of taking the puppy back to the breeder.  Her exhaustion, frustration, and sadness showed on her face as she sat there. Even the puppy looked discouraged, I imagine. After awhile, an older gentleman sat down on the bench next to her and starting petting the dog.  He looked at her and said, “You’re ready to give up, aren’t you?”  She said that she was indeed, just about to her breaking point with this whole puppy-thing. He made sympathetic noises, and said he understood very well.

Then the man said, “But listen:  just hang in there three more days.”   He promised K.J. that she was currently, at this very moment, experiencing the worst of it.  Within three days, things would begin to turn around.  She would see the light at the end of the tunnel very soon.  If she gave up now, she would have gone through a lot of frustration for nothing, and that both she and the puppy would grieve for each other.  “Please try to hold on for three more days, and then you’ll see,” he implored.

K.J. thought about this, and about the fact that she had wanted a dog for years and years.  Finally getting a dog had been the long-deferred fulfillment of a life-long dream.  She is a tenacious person, not easily discouraged, so she resolved to stick with it for three more days, but NO MORE. Fabby looked up at her with big “I’ll be good” eyes, but K.J. wasn’t optimistic. She was too tired to be hopeful.

Lo and behold, the next day, things started to get better.  Fabby only had a couple of potty-accidents, and showed great joy several times in pleasing mom by pottying in the right place at the right time. At bedtime, instead of crying for hours, Fabby howled in her crate for  only 10 minutes and then settled down and went to sleep. 

Woo-hoo! Three magical ingredients (puppy brain-development, appropriate training methods, and patience) were all beginning to come together at last! 

 The second day, things improved still further.  By the third and fourth days, even though life with a puppy was still not a piece of cake, K.J. was convinced that she had the world’s best dog.

Boy, does all this sound familiar!  I remember when my girls were little, we went through one “crisis” after another:  excessive crying, not sleeping, whining, fighting with sister, ongoing separation anxiety, etc.  And every time, just when I got to the point where I thought I couldn’t stand the frustration for another minute, things began to slowly improve.  Sometimes, I was fortunate enough to bump into my own version of K.J.’s dog-man, someone who encouraged me to hang in there.  Eternal thanks go to those blessed preschool teachers Konne and Diane, and to my mom, and to friends like Denise. 

In spite of my exhaustion, I did gradually learn the priceless lesson that things are often at their worst right before they get better. 

That’s what human development is all about:  experiencing a developmental crisis, and then allowing the frustration of this crisis to propel you into the next new level of growth. 

Think about how frustrated your baby must feel right before she takes those first steps.  It must seem to her that she will NEVER learn to walk.  But then…. energized by the frustration and the anguish of limited mobility, she keeps pushing herself, and all of a sudden, her feet seem to have a mind of their own!

I’ve seen this principle at work dozens and dozens of times over the years with families in my programs:  parents who are at their wits’ end find that the day AFTER the worst-day-of-their-parenting-career-so-far, things get better. We just have to hang in there, keep on doing the best we can, and have faith that eventually our efforts will show results. 

Thank goodness K.J. didn’t give up on Fabby that day:  the two of them have been inseparable for all these years, and now that Fabby is entering Old Doghood, K.J. can’t imagine how life would have been without her.

Thank goodness, K.J. stumbled, bleary-eyed out of the house and made her way to the park bench that day, and that the dog-guy saw that she was on the verge of giving up. Most importantly, thank goodness she was willing to trust that what he said might be true. 

Maybe someone reading this today will hang on to their sanity and their faith in their child for a couple more days. I hope I can be someone’s “dog-guy,” and give them the little bit of strength and hope they need. If you’re that person, write me a "comment"  and tell me about it! 

Besides, with kids, what choice do we have but to hang on?  It’s frowned upon when people take their kids back to the hospital for a refund. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

TRUST VS. MISTRUST


“Trust me.”  Call me skeptical, but I hate it when people say that.  Trust must be earned.  And once it’s earned, the trusted person has to behave in a trustworthy manner, or the trust will be lost. 

Trust is the foundation.  It under-girds everything that happens in our lives.  We need to learn trust very early in life.  Having the capacity to trust makes us capable of successful relationships of all types, and is the foundation of our sense of self.

Erik Erikson theorized that people go through a number of psycho-social stages in life.  During each stage, we have a “dilemma” to solve. The very first stage, according to Erikson, happens from the moment we’re born until around our first birthday.  He calls this stage Trust vs. Mistrust

During our infancy, we are helpless, and depend on someone for everything we need.  This gives us many opportunities to discover whether our world is trustworthy and safe, or if it is a scary and dangerous place, full of people that are not to be trusted.  When infants are treated with love, warmth, and respect, and when their needs are met consistently and promptly, they easily resolve their first psycho-social dilemma by making the decision to TRUST. 

 Then, around the time they are one year old, they are ready to begin tackling Erikson's   2nd dilemma:  Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. If they have successfully mastered Trust vs. Mistrust during infancy, they are then able to go into this second developmental stage with confidence and optimism, and to have a much greater chance of successfully resolving it. Erikson also theorized that his stages are foundational:  each stage lays the foundation for the next one.  If the previous stages are shaky and precarious, it will be harder to build a solid psychological structure in the current stage. Each stage builds on the foundation of the stages that came before. But of course, we never completely finish our work on any of the dilemmas, but continue to re-visit them over and over as we collect life experiences that either reinforce or challenge our beliefs. 


Erikson’s ideas make a lot of sense to me.  I reflect on this every day in my work with children and parents. I've been immersed in this, and other important and universally accepted theories of human development  for the last few months, as I've been teaching several sections of basic child development.  The more I teach about the theories, the more I learn about them. And the more I know,  the more I see child development principles  in living form at preschool and in my own family. 

I think back to my own early childhood.  I know that my mom and dad prioritized my care, and the care of my older brother, above everything else. When I was a baby,  I know I was held, rocked, walked at all hours,  and fiercely loved from the moment I was born. I have had the privilege of growing up in the cozy nest of trust that my parents helped me build during that first year, by consistently meeting my needs and by always sharing their warm feelings openly.

I also know that my parents trusted others to help care for me.  In my baby book I found pages of hand-written notes, placed there by my mom, which document my first few weeks of life, with notations of every time I ate, slept, or had a diaper change, around the clock.  (Apparently I was a bit fussy.  So out of character...... ha ha....)  The thing that warmed my heart when I discovered this baby-journal several years ago is the fact that I recognized lots of different handwriting in it.  I saw Grandma’s and Grandpa’s writing, along with aunts and uncles, as well as mom and dad.  Everyone pitched in and helped me get a start in life, after a rocky beginning due to rh incompatibility. (Not long after I was born, medical science created treatments for this problem, and now It’s almost completely preventable or treatable.  But in 1959, it was life-threatening.)  I saw that Mom and Dad not only worked together to take care of me and my brother, but they also trusted other people to help.  I still remember the names of the doctors who cared for me during infancy:  they were the main characters in the family legends that I was told over and over. 

My mom and dad also wrote in the hastily-scribbled baby-feeding journal silly and cute little facts and notations about my brother, who was two.  He wasn’t old enough to help much, but he was there,  a part of the team. I remember hearing stories about how he tried to help, and about his protective two-year-old love for his baby sister.   

As I grew, the circle of trust widened: When I was three, and experienced my first separation anxieties when dropped off at Sunday School for an hour, my Mom made it clear to me by her words and her actions that she trusted the Sunday School teacher to take good care of me until she came back. I will never forget the names and the love of my first grade teacher, and every other teacher I had in my first school years.  Again, my parents conveyed to me their trust in these teachers, and I absorbed those messages.

All of these experiences served to reinforce my feelings of trust, and my belief in the goodness of the world. Having the ability to trust has allowed me to be a hopeful and optimistic person,  and  to be able to relate to others with respect and love throughout my entire life.  It is a very basic underpinning that has made me “Me.”

My parents were wonderful, but they were not super-heroes:  they just gave me good, basic loving care. They loved me the way they had been loved by their parents.  Many babies experience this level of trustworthy care.  But, unfortunately, around the world, and in our community, many, many do not.

It’s also troubling to me that many children who have very loving  and responsive parents are, unfortunately, receiving the message from their parents that most other people in the world are suspect.  “You can trust me, but no one else can meet your needs” is the message that some parents convey to their child, and the same message of mistrust may be directed equally toward total strangers or trustworthy teachers, caregivers, friends, or relatives. The message comes through loud and clear to children, whether it is communicated through words or actions. 

Children are building their lifelong foundations when they are little. Most of these foundations are built through the values and feelings that we communicate to them, through what we do as well as what we say.  Teaching our children to trust is the first, and perhaps the most important, gift we can give them.  Children build happy and productive lives upon the cornerstone of trust.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

DO-OVERS

If I could do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.  My daughters are perfect just the way they are. I mean that.  They're almost grown up now, and they are turning out well in spite of my many parenting mistakes.  If I had done things a lot differently when they were little, they may not be the amazing young women they are today.  Who knows?

But on the other hand,  I am aware that I did a lot of stupid things back then.  I know I was doing the best I could do at the time, but looking back at those years sometimes I sort of shake my head and wonder what I was thinking.  For example,  I always tried so hard to get them to dress in matching sister-dresses for special occasions. They weren't thrilled with this and let me know it, but I was so into silly things like this that I sometimes bribed them to get them to dress up in cute outfits so I could take pictures.  Now I am pretty sure I would let go of things like that, and realize that all little kids are gorgeous no matter how they're dressed.

I have learned a whole lot of things about kids in the last 20 years or so. Here are a few other things that I think I would do differently if I could rewind the clock to 1987:

-No TV.  My kids didn't watch a lot of TV.  Even back then I realized it wasn't the best thing for them.  But still, I let them watch a lot more than they needed. Now I know that screen time is a vacation from brain development.  And I also understand a lot more about the brainwashing that happens through  advertising, even on kids' channels.  (Especially on kids' channels!)

-Let go.  Now I think I understand a little better how to let go of things that used to make me crazy and stressed:  like what other parents thought of me, what my house looked like,  and other things that really don't matter very much.

-Take care of myself.  From this vantage point, I can now see that the stress I felt when the girls were little was mostly self-induced.  I didn't know enough to realize that not taking mommy-breaks when I needed them was hurting my kids even more than myself.  I really didn't need a lot back then:  I wouldn't have wanted spa weekends or anything extravagant.  But I definitely needed short daily breaks to read a book or go for a walk.  I usually just ignored my rising blood pressure and increasingly short fuse,  and kept trudging through my days.  Of course,  the result of this was that my kids had to deal with a mom who was cranky and "on her last nerve" a lot.  Sorry, girls.

-No guilt.  Take it from the Queen Of Mom Guilt:  indulging in this feeling gets you nowhere, and it's all too easy to pass it on to the next generation.

-Lower my standards.  Or at least figure out which parts of parenting are really worth putting lots of effort into.

-Raise my standards.  I would re-prioritize laughter, down-time, and fun and make sure they're much higher on the to-do list every day.

-Read.  I read to my kids a lot, as all good moms do.  But during those years I let go of my own love for reading.  When I did read books, they were, naturally, parenting books.  I now know that in order to be sane, functional, and fully present for those around me, I need to be in the middle of at least one good book at all times.  (Preferably a book that is not particularly good for me. )  I made a rule about 10 years ago that I would NOT read anything just because I thought I SHOULD read it.  I've pretty much stuck to that rule, and I'm a happier and more relaxed person. Paradoxically, I'm more productive as well.  (Konne taught me this, and I thank her for that.)

-Get a dog.  Now that my two little mutts rule the house, I realize that this family has been needing a dog the whole time!

I'm sure there are a few more changes I would make, but that's all water under the bridge now.  But oh well, I can always test my ideas when I become a Nana in a few years!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

IT'S REWARDING


The other day,  I had a fascinating conversation with several Together Time moms about the topic of “praise vs. encouragement.” (This reminded me of a previous blog post:  “Say Anything,” from August 2, 2009.) That conversation left all of us with a lot to think about. Sometimes it seems that it’s very counter-intuitive to avoid being the world’s peppiest cheerleader as a way of motivating our kids.  But according to many experts, and according to my own long experience, the type of feedback that helps kids feel both encouraged and motivated is very different from the “Awesome!” or “Good job!” that rolls so easily off the tongues of many positive parents. 

Why is this so true? One of these terrific moms said that she always gives a lot of excited attention to her toddler’s interest in letters and numbers because she “wants her child to love learning.” But somehow, as we sat there discussing this, we all agreed that it seems that excessive cheerleading usually tends to have the opposite effect. 

One of the moms came back to school the following week with the excellent book, Positive Discipline For Preschoolers by Dr. Jane Nelsen.  She said she had been thinking all week about our discussion and had been reading about this topic in the book.  She reminded me that in this book, Dr. Nelsen describes a good way to determine if your responses to your kids fall into the “encouragement” category, or are actually well-disguised praise, and therefore less helpful. 

Dr. Nelsen says that if you can only use your comment with this child at this time in this situation, then it is specific enough to be considered ENCOURAGEMENT.  If your words are multi-purpose and could be spoken to any child in any situation, then it’s just fluffy, useless praise. Hmm…. so it sounds like one component in high-quality encouragement is specificity, and another important ingredient is authenticity along with your undivided attention.  You can’t give specific feedback when you’re just not paying attention.

I’m as needy as anyone, when it comes to encouragement.  Thinking back over the years, some of the best “compliments” I’ve ever gotten, and the ones that have stuck with me the longest, are extremely specific and unique to my skills and qualities.  For example, a “fan” (whom I happen to be married to) recently told me that he enjoyed reading my blog because the ideas made sense and the writing was clear and fun to read. 


This comment made me jump for joy for many reasons. It made me happy and motivated me to write more because he reflected my own desires for my writing:  I had been trying hard to make my writing clear as a bell,   and to make sure that I only write about concepts that will “make sense” to parents.  The other reason this was an especially yummy compliment is that this guy of mine does not often fall all over himself handing out compliments at all.  Positive feedback from him, I’ve learned after several decades,  is somewhat rare, but completely heartfelt.  If he says it, he means it. How might I feel if he routinely said, “you’re great,” “your’re the best,” or “love the blog?” Those words would have little meaning to me because he could say them at just about any time without telling me the specifics of what he loves about the writing or of why I’m “the best” in his eyes. But since the positive comments he offered were authentic and specific, I could then see myself in a new way:  as a person whose clear writing makes sense! 

Applying these ideas to the accomplishments of toddlers, some examples of meaningful ENCOURAGMENT come to mind. Try putting yourself in the sneakers of a toddler and ask yourself how these statements would make you feel:


“You washed your hands all by yourself!  And you remembered to turn off the faucet. Thanks!”

“You used a lot of different colors in your painting.” 

“I watched you when you were drawing and I saw that you were working very hard.”

“You are learning to write your name.  That must feel really good for you.”

“It looks like you felt your picture needed one last patch of red right there!”

“I can see that you’re ready to get rid of the diapers now and wear underwear all the time!  How does that feel?”

“Last week you couldn’t hop on one foot, but now you can!  You’re learning new things every day.”

“Thank you for feeding the dog. She appreciates the food and she knows you care about her.”

“You are painting with big brush strokes, and your sister is making her picture with dots.  It’s interesting how art is different for everyone.”

“You have a big smile! It looks like you feel very good about learning to hang from the monkey bars by yourself.”

“It’s so helpful when you take your dishes to the kitchen.”

“When your block tower fell down, you just built it right back up again!”



If you compare the effect of these honest statements to the way it feels to hear “Awesome!” many times every day, I think you’ll have to agree that the specific statements offer much more useful information and just plain feel better. We all love knowing that someone is blessing us with their presence and paying close attention to us. High-quality encouragement makes that abundantly clear. 

So….. if you find that this post “makes sense” and that the writing is “clear,” you can thank my biggest fan.  His specific encouragement helps me feel like writing. Having him as my ever-present Tech Support Department helps a lot too.  Thanks, Hon. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

CHANGING THE WORLD

I've been yelling about this for years:
Parent education could change the world!
Maybe you've heard me.

In my humble opinion, most of the world's most difficult problems could eventually be solved if ALL children were raised in environments that nurtured all aspects of their development.  Well-nurtured children grow up to be productive, contributing adults. They're ready to be people who solve problems, create new ideas, and change the world through whatever work their gifts, passions, and interests lead them toward.

However, most children will not have the optimum environment for growing if their parents do not have support, education, encouragement, and help along the way.  I will tell you from my own experiences as a mom: good parenting is learned, not innate.  Most of us do not come into parenting already having the natural instincts to get it all "right."  As an educator, I've found that good parents are those who make a deliberate effort to learn about their children's development, and then try use that knowledge every day in real life with their children.

Another "annie-ism" you may have heard from me:
The first three years are the most important stage of life.  
Infancy and toddlerhood lay the foundation for everything else!

More and more scientific research is being done all the time that confirms both of my convictions.  The most current brain research continues to prove that the earliest experiences create neural pathways which will be used throughout life, and that PARENTS are the most important people to provide the right experiences.

Last week, I heard a great audio story on one of my favorite NPR programs, This American Life. It talked about a program called Baby College, which is a parent education program for parents in impoverished neighborhoods in New York.  Baby College is part of a very successful comprehensive program that works with families from pregnancy through adolescence to help break the cycles of poverty.  An emphasis is placed on "a culture of success." Parents are taught ways to help their children succeed at all stages of childhood and to plan for college and a career.

Check out the Baby College program:
http://www.hcz.org/programs/early-childhood#baby

This American Life Episode 364: Going Big.  Act One. Harlem Renaissance:
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=364

I observe it every day:  the power of good parenting.
I'm not saying perfect parenting.  Good is good enough and effort counts.
But in order to be good parents, everyone needs help, support, and information.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

EYE ON THE PRIZE


“Stop whining!”
“No more fighting!”
“Don’t spill your milk!”

Pretty typical parent-ese, right?  But think about it…. When you are saying “Stop whining!” you are putting the emphasis on WHINING.  The main focus in the command, “No more fighting!” is the very child-intriguing concept of “FIGHTING.” And,  what toddler could resist the great idea to “SPILL YOUR MILK,” conveniently forgetting to listen to the “Don’t” that preceded it in the sentence?

In other words, have you noticed that children usually respond to these “don’ts” by doing exactly what you don’t want them to do?  How could they help it when you brought those interesting activities to their attention so effectively?  They might not have even thought of them until you brought them up! Great ideas!

Its not easy to figure out how to avoid these sentences and commands that invite bad behavior.  But I was thinking…..to shoot a free throw, you have to keep your eye on the rim.  To hit a baseball, you keep your eye on the ball. When you shoot a bow and arrow, you keep your eye glued to the target,  and most certainly do NOT let your eye wander to all the places you do not want the arrow to end up. And, to help your child reach a goal of appropriate or helpful behavior, you need to keep your eye on the goal, and stop paying attention to (and  talking about) the old behavior that you’re trying to decrease.

When you focus on the negative, you are assuring that you will only achieve negative results. But when you turn your attention instead to your goal, the entire focus and atmosphere changes to one of productivity, growth, and cooperation. 

“I can understand your words better when you use a quiet, clear voice.”

This simple statement is much more effective at helping a child gradually give up a whining habit, because it gives the child as well as the adult a positive behavior target to shoot for: speaking in a quiet, clear voice.

“Let’s work together to figure out ways you can both get what you need.”

This is a positive way to help children begin to replace nonproductive fighting with useful problem-solving.

Thinking and speaking this way takes practice. Face it, we don’t always live in a positive world. The world around us often operates with the focus on the negative. But over time you can learn to use these skills, and you’ll see a very positive result. 

If improving our golf, tennis, or basketball game is worth our time and attention, certainly we can also devote our energy to learning to focus on positive behavior when we speak with our children!