Sunday, October 24, 2010


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


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

Thursday, October 7, 2010


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


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!