Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Have We BECOME?




It is with the heaviest of hearts that I write today's post. My blog is dedicated to helping parents navigate their way through the difficulties of parenthood. But the events that occurred yesterday in Newtown, Connecticut leave me searching for answers and depressed at the collective state of our American culture.

What have we become when a 20 year old (a whisper away from a teenager) takes a gun and shoots his mother, and then proceeds to drive her car to an elementary school and take his vengeance and hatred out on poor, little defenseless children, and educators who dedicate their life to them? I can't help thinking about the preschoolers that I teach and how I would do anything to protect them. Their little faces. Their little bright eyes and inquiring minds. How did this young man go from that innocence to a monster in the short years in between?

Our culture needs examination. We are headed in the wrong direction. When this happens and is cataloged against the backdrop of other recent events it has become startlingly clear. Shootings in movie theaters, shopping malls, houses of worship and now elementary schools! What have we become? We are all responsible at some level for this. And I am outraged about it. So what are the causes? Here are my theories:

Violence has been spoon fed to our children through video games, movies, television show and the internet has dulled our senses and lulled us into becoming more accepting of the unacceptable. It cannot be healthy for young children, and then preteens, and then teenagers to play violent video games for hours on end and watch entertainment that continually glorifies violence.

Families are fracturing. Two parent families are becoming less and less common. And although there are many excellent parents who bring up successful children in single parent homes, the fact of the matter is that it is EXTREMELY hard to be a single parent. And often times when both parents are still in the picture, there is still a great deal of unresolved anger and rage on the part of the children--who are always the casualties of divorce.

Lack of Spiritual Direction. Our society glorifies superficial successes and worldly possessions over character. What do we desire in the USA? We want a big house, expensive car, designer clothes and shoes. Where does a healthy, happy, well adjusted family rank on our list of wants? I am not sure. We hire nannies to raise our children, or just leave them to fend for themselves. And then wonder why they didn't turn out the way we wanted them to. We rank a spiritual life as something to discover during trying times, but do we take our children to religious education classes? Do we impart on them the importance of being a good, kind, loving person? No, we are too busy. But we allow Hollywood and gaming companies to shape their young minds with absolute dreck?

Think of what is glorified in our society? Jersey Shore? The "REAL" Housewives of multiple locations? Pro athletes? Rap and Pop artists? Where are the positive messages coming from any of those sources?

Lack of mental health services are another concern. Where do families turn when they know their loved one is capable of committing a crime but have no clue about what to do to stop it. We need facilities and legislation that will give us a safety net for deeply troubled individuals.

And finally. The Guns. Our society must get a handle on guns. If you don't believe me, look at the death by gun rates of other developed nations. You cannot convince me that the Constitution was meant to guarantee our right to carry concealed, automatic weapons that were manufactured to excel at killing human beings--including little children. Do you want to hunt? Fine. You may have a hunting rifle. But you should not be allowed to lawfully own rapid fire, high-powered, automatic weapons that can efficiently kill my children. And you should not be allowed to have a bullet proof vest and body armor. Good, law abiding citizens have no need for such items and as a society we should not tolerate their sale and possession. We must get serious about this! We need creative solutions to get the guns out of our homes and only in the hands of our law enforcement agents.

The time is now to do some serious soul searching about the direction of our nation. Take action. Write to your representatives about gun issues. Get involved on a community level to help struggling families. Give money to mental health organizations. Turn your televisions off and throw away your inappropriate video games. We must all do something so that events like Sandy Hook will never happen again! My prayers and deepest sympathy go out to the families of that tiny little school and all of the families that have lost loved ones to senseless violence in our country.
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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Best Christmas Tradition Ever!








I cannot take credit for this idea, I actually read it in a women's magazine many years ago.  But I can take credit for trying a version of it out on my family.  And now that my children are grown, they will be the first to tell you that it was their favorite family tradition of all time.  Your family must try this idea.  It has so many benefits. It is such a wonderful idea. 

So what is the tradition?  Well here it is...every December  1st, our family picked names out of a hat.  The name was Secret Santa Recipient.  You were in charge of performing random, small acts of kindness for that person everyday until Christmas Eve.  You were their "Secret Santa" and each time you did something nice, you tied a bow to our Christmas tree.  The trick was to not let your person know who was being kind to them.  It was a secret.  Then on Christmas Eve our family guessed who the person was that drew their name.

Why was this the best tradition ever?  Well, it was so much fun to watch the tree fill up with bows.  As a mom, it was so fulfilling to think of all the kindness being spread around our home.  Also, this tradition emphasized giving instead of getting.  And, what would often happen was our family members performed extra kind things for others in order to "fake out" their true recipient.  So the kindnesses were multiplied.  And each Christmas Eve was filled with laughter and joking about the kindnesses and who got spoiled the most or least.  The children loved the secret element to hiding a piece of candy in a brother's backpack, or performing a chore for a sister or leaving a loving note (computer printed of course to conceal one's identity) on Mom or Dad's pillow.

 As a preschool teacher, I know that the "elf on the shelf" tradition is going strong, but this Secret Santa idea trumps that one in so many ways.  Being someone's Secret Santa doesn't use negative reinforcement to get your children to behave ("the elf is going to tell Santa if you are naughty!"--say so many parents everywhere...).  This idea doesn't focus on what gifts your child is going to be rewarded with on Christmas morning.  Christmas is about giving and sharing and loving and family.  That is why I urge you to give the Secret Santa Tradition a try.  You will be so glad that you did.  My children are growing up, and with two of them away, we really don't have the time together to continue this tradition.  But someday, I have a feeling they might start it up in their own families.  And they will watch the kindness and love being shared throughout this magical season.

I received a message yesterday from a lovely woman who was my youngest daughter's fourth grade teacher.  She wanted me to remind her what our family's tradition was, because she remembered years ago when Claire was talking about in class.  That speaks to the enthusiasm with which my four children embraced this Secret Santa Tradition.  So do your family a favor and try this out.  I guarantee you will be so glad that you did!  And let me know how it works out, too!

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Focus on Family Friendly Holidays





Something about this time of year makes it feel as though we are moving at warp speed.  The messages bombarding us are that we need to be baking cookies, planning parties, decorating our homes, buying perfect gifts, sending holiday cards, volunteering at our children's school parties, attending their holiday concerts and on and on and on.

I want to whisper a secret into your ear.  Your children are only young once, so don't forget to focus on them while they are little and precious and (exhausting).  I am afraid we can get so caught up in "doing the season" that we forget what is really supposed to be at the heart of it...our family life.

So here are a few ideas to put you back on track, so that you can enjoy the holiday season with depth and meaning rather than kill yourself attaining superficial societal seasonal success.


  • Allow your children to help you decorate your home.  Trying to achieve the "HGTV" perfection in domestic design doesn't belong in this season.  Paper chains and snowflake cutouts are more in order.  Revel in the rustic simplicity of children's artwork.  They will grow up sooner than you think, and you will have plenty of time to bring your own visions on decorating to life, when you are an empty nester. 

  • Say NO in order to say Yes.  In otherwords, turn down invitations that truly don't speak to you and feel like obligations in order to have more time to spend at home with your family.  Set limits to how many invitations or activities you will commit to outside the home in a week, and then stick to it.  It is not wrong to choose family over other things.  Your children should be your primary focus and need to make it on to your calendar.  Otherwise you are missing the opportunity to build family traditions and connections that will last a lifetime.  To be blunt: don't let your babysitter decorate the tree with your kids 

  • Unplug to tune in.  Turn of the tv, put down the I-Phone, hide the Kindlefire, and build a real fire in the fireplace, make some hot chocolate, put on some holiday music and spend an evening reading together, or baking cookies, or playing UNO, or doing a craft together.

  • Be a Gift to Others.  Give some thought to how your family can be a blessing to others.  Bring cookies to your local firestation, call a retirement home and ask if you and your family can visit someone who doesn't have anyone, donate food to your local pantry, the list goes on and on.  Talk with your children about performing acts of kindness and listen to their ideas.

  • Embrace Peace.  Take a moment or two each day, to sit quietly and reflect on your blessings and how you can be a blessing to your family.  Write it down or pray on it.  Do whatever it takes to drown out the madness of the season and revel in the peace.  This season where the days are short and the darkness is long, remember to be a light to others--to find peace and joy in within the four walls of your home, and lay the foundation for a family that strengthens its bonds during the holiday season instead of becoming frayed and frazzled.

Here's to you and your family!  May you enjoy your holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Crazy Parenting Top Ten List



Photo: Milwaukee Art Museum, Glass Work by Dale Chihuli


CRAZY ART REMINDED ME OF CRAZY PARENTING!


I work with parents a lot.  I speak to all kinds of parents.  There are a lot of mixed up parents out there that don't understand how profoundly their actions affect their children.  I have compiled a list of some of the crazy parenting ideas I have come across recently:

  • Parents who pay a personal trainer to exercise their elementary school age child, because the child only likes to play video games and never ventures outside.

  • Parents who pay their children for grades.

  • Parents who leave teenage children alone for weekends away, thinking that everything will be fine.

  • Parents who struggle financially, but equip their children with I-Phones, designer jeans, expensive footwear and anything else that the child feels the need to request.

  • Parents who fail to teach their children the first thing about how to clean a bathroom, empty trash, fill the dishwasher or perform any other domestic duty.

  • Married parents who make no attempt to keep the "spark" alive in their marriage because they are too consumed with everything to do with their kids.  Note to these parents: the children will grow up and leave and you will be left with a withered relationship.

  • Parents who forget to teach their children any manners.  Please and thank you are not out dated, and a child who constantly interrupts adult conversation is annoying.

  • Parents who sign their child up for multiple traveling sports playing in the same season.  This is not fair to the child, the teammates of the child, or to your family-- and results in exhaustion and frustration.

  • Parents who give unfettered access to media because they are too lazy to monitor their children.  It usually starts innocently with a TV in the bedroom for a toddler, but somehow the day never comes to remove the TV and the child is able to watch whatever he or she wants in the formative years of development.

  • Parents who still use physical violence to control their children.  Hitting, punching, slapping a child in anger is never okay.  It is using your physical domination to control the child, and consequently teaches the child that violence is the way to control others.  I know many parents who defend spanking and that is not what I mean here.  But I don't agree with spanking either.  That will have to wait for another post on another day.

Parenting is a difficult and exhausting job.  I know that it can take a lot of energy to make changes and become a better parent.  No parent is perfect, but a parent who is willing to try to improve is doing a great thing for their child, as better parenting will contribute the future success of your child.  And that is a very valuable outcome!  If you see yourself reflected in any of the craziness above, take some time to reflect on what you can do to carve a better path.  And just take one small step at a time on the road to becoming a better parent.

I welcome your comments and additions to the crazy list!
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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Isn't Cool






Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the USA.  It began as a day that we were to celebrate with our fellow Americans and remember to be thankful for our fruitful land, the harvest, the end of World Wars.  A day set aside for family, food, togetherness and remembrance of our blessings.  But somewhere along the way, Thanksgiving has been hijacked in to the prequel of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa--the holiday gift giving and Olympic shopping season.

For weeks already we have been seeing Holiday commercials on TV, Holiday lights going up in our neighborhoods, Holiday songs being played on our radios.  Also, we have been assaulted by the endless chatter about BLACK Friday shopping hours and Cyber Monday deals, and retailers deciding to move hours up and open on Thanksgiving night.--even McDonalds is open on Thanksgiving.

The only thing I can conclude from all of this madness is that being Thankful isn't cool anymore.  Cool is racing out to the mall to buy more stuff that you don't need and can't afford.  Cool is fighting the crowds at the 8PM Doorbuster Sale to buy another sweater or TV that you just can't live without.  Cool is going out for Thanksgiving dinner so you don't have to deal with the mess of dishes and you can get out shopping sooner.  Who cares that the people at the restaurant can't celebrate a quiet, simple Thanksgiving with their families.  That doesn't matter anyway.  And we might get hungry while on our way to the mall, so thank God we can grab a Big Mac if we need one!

I know I am sounding preachy, but I simply can't help myself.  I am pleading with all of you.  Enjoy your families on Thanksgiving.  Cook a meal at home and sit down and eat it together.  Don't stress that it is too hard to do.  Keep it simple.  Do what you can.  Invite people over to help you and share the day.  Be thankful for the people in your life that love you.  Be thankful for the food you prepare.  Give thanks for your children.  Play with them.  Take a walk. Watch a movie.  Tell stories. Look at old photos.  How can you expect your children to understand gratitude if you don't display it?  Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to illustrate to children how important it is to focus on the simple things in life and to be grateful.  At a minimum Thanksgiving encourages "glass half full" thinking--or best case "cup runneth over!".

To me, Thanksgiving is the best of all of the holidays.  It emphasizes things we already have, family, friends, food, fun.  Don't let the media mongers twist your focus to the next holiday.  Simply enjoy this one.  Let's all stand up and make Thanksgiving cool once again!

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Reading Is Not Obsolete!

 
Tree Bookshelf: Designer Shawn Soh was inspired by childhood memories of sticking letters on tree branches.
from Bookshelf by Alex Johnson via Pinterest


 Now that my children are older, I can reflect on some of the best of times when they were small.  Make no mistake, I still remember the hectic daily grind and the never ending lists of chores, which have lessened quite drastically now that one of my children is living and working in the "real world" and another is away at college.  With only two children left at home, who actively help with chores, and are out of the house at school and activities more than at home, things are much quieter and calmer around here.  Hence the time for reflection.  And one of my conclusions has been that the time I spent reading with my children resulted in some of the happiest moments of motherhood.

I really miss the feeling of little warm bodies, cuddling close and listening with rapt attention to a storybook.  I miss holding little hands as we marched into our local library, and the excitement in their eyes as they chose a stack of book to borrow and take home.  Reading time meant we could often share a giggle, or learn something new.  It meant we could experience new books together and decide if they were worth reading a second, third or fourth time.  I know our reading time shaped them as well, because one of their favorite traditions is on Christmas Eve, when we all are at home, we come together to read a few favorite stories from their childhood.  They are grown now, but it wouldn't be Christmas Eve without our books.

Our modern lives are so hectic and busy and stressful.  We have increasingly become dependent on electronic devices for reading.  But I am urging parents to not lose sight of this simple pleasure.  Visit your local library.  Get yourself a library card.  Spend time with your child, enjoying books together.  In the future, you will be so glad that you did.
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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Inspire Our Future Voters



When election day finally rolls around, do you take your children to the polls?  Do you discuss the ads you have been watching endlessly on TV?  Do you share any of this process with your children?  Did you discuss the campaign with them at all?  If you did, be sure to let them know the results and how you feel about them.

I know that there are some of you who didn't even get out and vote yourselves.  Can't you respect the process enough to take the time to vote?  I heard on the radio today that if you didn't vote you can't bitch...so true!  Shame on you.

The freedom that our country gives us is a gift that should be appreciated.  Many people living in other parts of the world, dream about the freedoms that our citizens take for granted.  And the only way for our nation to remain strong, is to have educated and involved citizens.  Our children are the future this nation, and they need to be taught to appreciate the freedom we enjoy and taught to value our right to choose our leaders.  The nonviolent transfer of power is an amazing accomplishment that we have been able to rely on for the last 238 plus years.  Please spend a little time talking to your children about this unique and wonderful country we live in; and the important responsibility we all have in using our vote and our voice to keep it strong now and in the future.

If you don't know how to start this conversation, try a book from your library like "Duck for President" by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin or "If I Ran For President" by Catherine Stier and Lynne Avril.  This is important.  Please be the parent who cares enough to teach these lessons.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

When You Find Yourself in Times of Trouble...





 I cannot write a post today, without thinking of the millions of people affected by Hurricane Sandy and the super storm that it morphed into as it slammed the east coast of the United States last night.  My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the individuals who are dealing with the destruction and massive cleanup that faces them in the coming days.

The families that are facing a day or days without power and the tough job of cleaning up homes, businesses and communities, I say to you:  Remember your children are watching.  During times of stress and disappointment: your children are watching.  When you feel and anger, fear and helplessness: your children are watching.  When you take your stress out on your husband, wife or neighbor: your children are watching.

Children get their cues on how to behave from you.  So if you are stressed, overwrought, angry or depressed, you can expect the same from them.  This can be your finest hour of parenting or your worst.  The choice is yours.

During times of difficulty, choose to rise above the situation.  Choose to be the parent who can smile in the face of adversity.  Choose to be the neighbor who is reaching out to comfort others.  Choose to lend a hand, or a meal or a kind word to those who were hit harder than you.  Choose to be the person who creates a feeling of warmth and calm in the midst of frustration and chaos.

You will be teaching your children such a POWERFUL message.  Everything will be fine.  Everything will eventually be normal again. And while things are not how you would like them to be, you are able to choose to make the best of it--for you, for your family, for your neighbors, for our future!
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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Games Parents Play







We all know that good parenting is a difficult game.  The hours are long, and the tasks are mentally and physically exhausting.  But when parenting is done right, the rewards are magnificent.  Parenting small children is more physical and older children more mental, but in my 10 years of working with parents and as a result of being a parent for 23 years, I have formulated a short list of the most common parenting mistakes I routinely see and hear about. 


1.  The Blamer:  This parent finds an external excuse for anything and everything that his/her child finds difficult.  Problems at school?  "The teacher doesn't like my kid!"  Child having social issues?  "My child is being picked on."  Child uses foul language?  "Where did he learn that fu#$%^@ language!"  This parent cannot turn the lens and examine any problem that may be caused by his/her child.  Unfortunately, the child learns this behavior and has difficulty problem solving for him/her self.

2.  The Angry Parent:  The Angry Parent (usually carries this parenting style from his/her upbringing) and cannot seem to have a conversation with the child.  Interactions often times, involve yelling, name calling and other insulting behavior.  This type of behavior damages a child's self concept and leads to many other issues.

3.  The Doormat Parent:  This parent has never learned the word "NO".  He or she cannot bear to bring even the slightest discomfort upon the child.  The child is in control of the household and although keeping the child happy is the ultimate goal of this parent, the child ends up pushing limits in an effort to find where and when the parent will finally draw the line.  Kids need and want limits.  Without them, they feel a lack of confidence and don't think that their parent's really care about them.

4.  The Shopper:  These parents love to spend money (whether they have it or not) to make up for the guilt they feel at being inadequate parents.  The thought process goes something like this:  If I buy you things, I am showing I love you and therefore you must appreciate and love me.  The problem lies in the fact that the parent is conveying love and happiness through material possessions and ultimately, there will never be enough to satisfy the child.  Someone will always have something newer, better or cooler that their child will covet.

5.  The BFF:  This parent wants their child to fill social and emotional needs that should be met by other adults.  Parents who play the role of the child's friend often continue in the role well past the point of mortal embarrassment of the child.  Healthy parents do not unload adult problems on to children's shoulders, nor do they engage in trying to cultivate the social life of the child and be popular with the children's friends.  It is important to know your children's friends, but not to be one of them.

Healthy and fulfilling parent/child relationships are not easily accomplished.  I have found myself tempted to fall in to more than one of these categories.  But ultimately, aiming for the balance of being the authority in your child's life and the primary nurturer constructs the foundation for long term success of you and your child in the game of life!

Photo Credit: Kelly Knize

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

You Give Your Children Everything, Really?






I will boldly admit that this is the most difficult blog I have ever written.  It has been an emotional week.  A week that I would rather forget than ever live through again.  Every time I spoke with someone this past week, I heard catastrophic news.  A father in law dies in a helicopter crash, a daughter fights malignant cancer, a young mother stricken with a stroke, and the worst, most personal news of all, the sudden and utterly unexpected passing of the dear mother of my teenage daughter's best friend.

Anne Tomkins* was the epitome of a loving and caring mom.  She was quiet and calm.  She was a teacher by education and worked as a loving teacher's aide in a special needs classroom.  A job that she was over qualified for, but that she did in order to devote herself fully to her own teenage children.  She was a believer in reading and education, the arts and religion.  She was Jewish, and elegant, and kind.  She required her children to go to Saturday School, and make their bat and bar mitzvah's.  She shared her faith with them, and yesterday I saw the impact that it had.  Her children were thrust into an uncomfortable situation.  Grieving the sudden loss of their mother.  And yet, they were in a place that they could experience comfort.  They knew this synagogue.  It was familiar to them.

I am a Christian and my husband and I have raised our four children in the Catholic faith.  I am not always comfortable admitting that I am a Christian--which I am sure is sinful.  Christians can be so boorish, so judgmental, so closed minded, so out of touch.  And Catholics? What about the abusive priests, the male dominated culture, the mistreatment of nuns, the closed mindedness on relevant issues such as birth control, gay marriage, abortion?  Honestly, I am uncomfortable on many of these topics.  So you could brand me as a hypocrite.  You could call me out on so many levels.  But my faith is strong, and raising my children to discover their faith is one of my proudest accomplishments.  Yesterday, I witnessed the same in a synagogue.  These two teenagers are "good" kids.  They are kind to others.  Have caring hearts.  They have friends who love them and are there for them, and that is a testament to a good teenager in this day in age.

Children are born into our world as innocents.  They are beautiful and miraculous.  They make us swoon and giggle and sit in awe as they learn to smile and take their first few precious step.  And yet, by the time many are teenagers, they have lost their way.  Yesterday, I read a post online about a girl who committed suicide due to bullying.  And the comments on the post were more than shocking.  Young people cursing this girl.  Evaluating her looks, and commenting on her behavior.  Calling her names.  She had killed herself to escape this world and yet the ugliness and hate raining down on her continued.  I was horrified.

The contrast between the world of teenage hate and of loving kindness is dramatic.  So in this parenting post I am loudly proclaiming that parents need to gift their children the gift of faith.  Help children discover and develop their spiritual lives.  Do you want to protect your children from bullies?  Help them develop social and emotional skills? Learn life lessons that will benefit them all of their days, like empathy, honesty, and devotion?  Then get your family back to church, synagogue, mosque or temple.  Embrace what is good in this world, and teach loving kindness.  Do what Anne Tomkins* did.  Live by example and teach your children to have faith.  Before it is too late.

*Not her real name out of respect for her surviving family

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Stop The Good Cop/Bad Cop Parenting



I was speaking to a group of young parents recently when the discussion turned to the "Good Cop/Bad Cop" Style of parenting.  Often times, couples fall into these roles of parenting without any conscious decision making.  One parent is the softer touch, the good cop, who is "easier" on the kids and their behavior.  And one parent is the disciplinarian, the bad cop, who is left with the limit setting and enforcement of family rules.  This dynamic-while wildly popular, has been shown, through research at the University of California, Berkley, to be less effective than parents who have a united plan of action regarding the behavior standards they require of their children.  Here are a few reasons why the Good Cop/Bad Cop Method is not the best choice for parents:

  • Unfairness: One parent shouldn't be the one to do all the heavy lifting in relationship to disciplining the kids, while the other one only gets the "fun" role of saying yes all the time and ignoring all the rest.  In addition, one parent shouldn't be associated with serious trouble.  You know the old "Wait until your father gets home strategy".  This strategy is as outdated as it sounds.  Parents need to present a united front in dealing with the discipline of their children.

  •  Confusion: By sending mixed signals, children do not have a clear understanding of the family's rules and expectations.  If one parent says yes, and the other says no.  Children are left caught in the middle.

  • Manipulation: Children are very clever and will quickly solve the confusion by figuring out which parent is more likely to give them what they want.  It is much better for the children to understand what is expected of them by both parents, than to learn how to manipulate situations in order to get what they want.  Children need limits and develop important social and emotional skills when they understand that there are rules at home that they are expected to follow.

  • Conflict:  Research tells us that children brought up in homes that use the Good Cop/Bad Cop method are more likely to fight about parenting approaches, and fighting between the parents hurts the child.  Parents need to agree on what to do with regard to discipline issues and if there are disagreements, handle them in a mature fashion outside of the earshot of the children. 
 Parents can get on the same page by drawing up a list of "House Rules" and agreeing to enforce them both equally.  In this way, parents will be building a foundation of harmony and teaching their children valuable lessons about teamwork, family identity, and respect for one another.


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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

5 Secrets About Your Child's Friendships








 Everyday we see articles and reports about children being bullied at school.  And as parents, I think we all believe that friendships are the perfect antidote to bullying.  If our kids have friends, then whether or not there are some mean kids picking on them is immaterial.  So our quest is to guarantee that our children have friends.  There is a problem with that logic.  And therefore, I have created this short list of secrets about what do in regard to your child and his/her friends.  I am quite knowledgeable on this topic, as I have raised four well adjusted and happy young adults.  I have witnessed loads of hurt feelings, cattiness, invitations that were expected and not forthcoming, and online bullying.  My husband and I have spent many a sleepless night, debating friendship issues.  I have earned my stripes on this topic...so here are my simple secrets that I learned the hard way...

1.  Avoid Criticizing Your Child's Friends.  Instead of criticizing, it is your job to get to know them.  Get to know them, by inviting them over frequently.  Learn what it is your child likes about them.  When you are critical of their friends, you are criticizing your own child's judgement and pushing them away.  They will hold back information about the friends you have criticized in an effort to stop your criticism.  This is exactly what you don't want.  So hold your tongue.

2.  Teach Your Children The Characteristics Of Friendship.  Talk about characteristics such as loyalty, being a good listener, caring about each other's feelings, and honesty.  If children are never taught about these character traits, they don't understand how important they become in a friendship.  Also, your children need guidance as to how to be a good friend to someone else.

3.  Parental Friendships Don't Always Transfer.  Often times, we believe that if we like someone, our children will like their children.  This is not always the case.  Let your children choose their own friends, just as you choose yours.  Sometimes the apple clearly has fallen very far from the tree.  I will leave it at that.

4.  When It Hurts, There Is Always Home.  Home should be a nurturing place that a child knows he/she can find everlasting support and love.  A child struggling with friendships, needs to know that his/her parents never waver in their faith in him/her to find the right friends, and the fact that he/she is worthy of peer relationships.  Parents who criticize children because they don't have friends or the right friends are as guilty as the bullies in school.

5.  Facilitate Positive Relationships.  If or when your child is struggling with friendship issues, it is vitally important to help them find environments that make them feel accepted and affirmed.  Try to get them in to a church group, volunteer opportunity, scouting or sporting group, somewhere that they have relationships with peers or others that appreciate them and make them feel worthy.  This will help build confidence and expose them to an environment outside of school.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Intelligent Toddler








I spent my morning as a substitute teacher at the preschool.  I worked in the 2 year old classroom today, my normal assignment is as a lead teacher with 3's and 4's combined in an enrichment program, so working with the 2's is always eye opening.  Keep in mind, this is the beginning of the school year.  So we preschool teachers expect some tears, some tantrums, some bathroom issues, and some challenges in trying to get 16 barely verbal little beings to come for a simple circle time, try a craft, or dance to a song.

This morning did in fact start off with some tears.  I watched one mother tear herself away from her crying daughter with my assurance that everything would be fine, and remembered just how hard it was for me to leave one of my own children at that age if they were crying and upset.  The mom was wrestling with the voice inside telling her to grab her angel and run home-where everything is safe.  And yet, once the day started, the little girl stopped crying and even went on to have loads of fun.  She played in the house with a baby doll, dipped her fingers in the water table, and became thoroughly engrossed in a dinosaur puzzle.  It was joyful to watch her transformation from nervous and scared to trusting and curious.

This episode was such a metaphor for the struggles of parenting.  We all want to protect and comfort our children.  We want to be there for them as well as keep them close to us.  And some would say that in our current society we have forgotten the strength that comes from letting them go.  Letting them figure things out.  Letting them grow in confidence that they can do it.  I heard that refrain so many times this morning.  It is a phrase every 2 year old loves to exclaim.  "I Can Do It!".

Maybe, we as parents need to listen to them a bit more closely and remember this in all the years to come.  If we believe in our children and their competence, they will become competent.  If we shelter and protect them, and fix all of their challenges, they will become dependent. 

It was a wonderful morning, spent with darling, tiny, curious, talented, amazing children.  And their boundless energy, zest for life and laughter, and unbridled curiosity inspires me.





SplashParentingPrinciples

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Parents: 5 Ways to Keep it Real!








At my preschool, we keep it real.  We don't have any computers, iPads, or other electronic devices for our little students to use.  Instead we have blocks to build, puzzles to solve, paints to create with, and dress ups to transform ourselves into new and exciting roles like police officers and chefs and space travelers.  I get so much joy out of watching our young students interact with one another and learning to play a new game, master a new skill or make a new friend.

Clearly, I am not a technology hater.  Not many bloggers and twitters are.  However, I have concerns about the long term effects of over reliance on technology; especially when it comes to young children.  So I have made a simple list of five steps parents can take to responsibly manage their children's technology exposure or screen time.  I know through observation at my school and through my parenting seminars that good parents are making grave mistakes when it comes to monitoring their children's media consumption both from a frequency and content standpoint.  So here are my tips:

1.  Make A Diary
Take a week to record all of the technology exposure your children have through out the day.  Simply put a pad of paper in a convenient spot and write down a close estimate of when they play video games, watch TV, or are on the computer.

2.  Take a Technology Vacation
Decide as a family to take a break from technology for a weekend.  Do this as a family, don't make it a kid's only thing or it will feel punitive and that is not the point.  This unplugged time will give you perspective on what else you can accomplish with out technology.  Have some plans in place, such as baking a cake, or an art project, or a trip to a museum or forest preserve.

3.  Celebrate Your "Keeping It Real" Weekend
Have a special dinner to celebrate your weekend without technology.  Ask the members of your family what they missed most.  Talk about how much screen time is the right balance for you and your child.

4.  Post Limits And FUN List
Create a poster that outlines the technology limits that you are setting for your family.  When it is written down and posted, it will be a reminder that real experiences trump virtual ones.  Right next to the plan, keep a list of real FUN experiences that you would like to share as a family.  Ideas might be heading to the beach, visiting a new park, checking out books from the library, playing a board game, baking a treat, shooting baskets, making a craft, visiting a relative, or even just taking a walk.

5.  Congratulate Yourself On Good Parenting
Children learn through experiences in the real world.  Virtual worlds are fine for entertainment.  But raising a healthy, happy, well adjusted child means exposing him/her to more than just entertainment.  Children need to learn about the world around them.  They need to see, feel, smell, touch and taste things.  They need to be in nature to learn to love it.  Think of their brains as Facebook pages.  If all of their "likes" are technology related rather than reality based, it does not bode well for the future of our planet.  They need to fall in love with nature in order to understand the importance of being "green".  Experience is our greatest teacher, so be a great parent and help your child gather all the experiences he/she needs in order to develop into his/her greatest potential.


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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The (Sometimes Frightening) Roles of Siblings



Have you ever given much thought to the birth order of your children? I hadn't until I attended a seminar given on this topic by Dr. Michael Maniacci, a clinical psychologist who counsels families in Chicago and Naperville, Illinois. After his talk, I started to think about the gender and family placement of the family I grew up in, and then turn a critical eye to my own four children.


My husband and I have four (almost grown) children. We have three daughters and one son. And the sibling with the toughest road would have to be my second daughter. Why? Because children want to differentiate themselves from their siblings, and she was the second daughter. Considered the "not so special" placement in our family. Next came my son, who was special in the fact that he was the only boy (a fact that he still resents) and finally our "baby" daughter. The youngest and oldest have a special place guaranteed by their placement in the family.


So what difference does all of this make? Well, being the second of the same gender sibling sets up immediate competition within the family. Daughter or son number two is inherently driven to compete with her predecessor, and due to age and maturity, often times the older sibling has the advantage.


Many of the parents that I have worked with over the years see this competition manifest itself in family difficulties. The older child is usually is comfortable with authority and may be a "people pleaser" and the younger one makes his/her mark by being rebellious, and thumbing his/her nose at how the older child behaves. This is where the sibling rivalry can get ugly and also the role that the second child is ascribed is a negative one. The "black sheep" role of the family is usually a second born and many times second born of same gender.


So what is a parent to do? First of all understand the compelling drive of each of your children to stand out and be noticed. Secondly, train yourself to recognize the unique gifts and talents of each of your children and help them nurture these gifts. Thirdly, try not to verbally compare your children, with the phrase "Why can't you be more like _____________?". And finally, don't assign negative roles to your children. Kids will live up or down to your expectations, so consistently expect the best and communicate your expectations.


The true joy of parenting is to see your children grow into adulthood with grounded confidence in who they are and the motivation to reach for their dreams. And you as their parents play a role in helping this scenario to become a reality by nurturing them and allowing them to embrace their uniqueness while downplaying competitiveness.

Photo Credit: Kelly Hopper Knize

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Warm Heart and Back Bone Required






This weekend I had the opportunity to attend my nephew's peewee football game.  As I arrived and parents were unpacking their folding chairs and settling in to watch the game, I heard a child screaming and yelling behind me.  I glanced back in time to see a boy about seven or eight years old, having a full blown tantrum, and his mother bearing the brunt of it.  The boy was very upset about something.  And although he was school age, he was carrying on as if he was a preschooler.  I happen to understand preschoolers quite well, because I teach them twice a week.  This boy was no preschooler, but he certainly could impersonate one!

Anyway, the tantrum continued for at least 10 or 15 minutes.  The mother walked down to the end of the field, presumably to get out of earshot of the other parents.  The child continued to rant and rave, and then started physically assaulting the mom.  He started to slap at her.  Then he tried a few kicks.  And soon, he threw a few punches to her back as she spun around.  All the while, he was continuing to scream and yell and she was trying very unsuccessfully to talk with him, reason with him, plead with him.  I could not hear her words but from her body language she was fully engaged in trying to calm him down.  And sadly, she was so ineffective.

This exchange left me feeling so sad for both the mom and the boy.  I know that kids can get frustrated and act out.  I know that kids can have a bad day and do things they shouldn't.  But I also know that this mother had never fully established herself as an authority figure to this child.  He had no respect for her.  And I am guessing that he has a difficult time in school where he is expected to respect and listen to teachers and show self control.  The long term effects of raising a child with no limits and respect for authority are documented.  Children will have higher incidences of risky behavior and run in to all kinds of trouble down the road.  Children who are raised by parents who combine nurturing and authority are the ones with the lowest incidences of risky behavior and depression rates.

Parenting is difficult.  No one is the perfect parent--they don't exist.  But striving to combine a loving heart with a strong backbone will offer your child the brightest future.  And just as a start, do not tolerate physical abuse from your school age child.  It is unacceptable, just as it is unacceptable for you to slap, kick and punch your child.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Casting Your Children In Positive Roles









Parents of multiple children learn very quickly that baby number two does everything differently than baby number one.  It doesn't take a nuclear engineering degree to figure that out.  Basically, after you have been a parent for a while and find yourself getting comfortable with the role, you introduce a new child to the mix and are humbled once again with the feeling that you might have learned something the first time around but your parenting approaches are now being tested by a new individual, with a new disposition and frankly everything seems confusing and different.

That is the way of the world.  Siblings are created by the same parents, and join the existing household, but nobody told you they would be soooooo different.  Well really they did tell you but you really didn't believe it until now.  You know you are not at all like your sister or brother, you like them but you are not like them.  Well, your children are no different than you.  They are not like their siblings.  In fact, they usually are direct opposites.  So what is a parent to do?

Well, first of all recognize that this is not a bad thing.  Just different.  If you first child is a cooperative, pleasing child, your second child will probably be headstrong, stubborn and a little outrageous.  But the key for parents, is to recognize what is actually going on here.  Siblings are born to compete with each other for your attention.  They want to stand out.  They want to matter.  They want you to recognize them.  And they will strive for that attention all of the time.  The key is to be able to give all of your children the positive attention they deserve.  And to actively avoid casting them in negative roles.  NONE of this Good kid/Bad kid stuff.  Don't cast any of your children in the role of the proverbial "black sheep".  Kids are smart and they will live up or down to your expectations of them.

A helpful exercise is to sit down and write out a list of 5-10 qualities in each of your children that you admire.  These positive traits should be what you concentrate on with each one.  Let them know that you think they are wonderful and special in their own skin.  By doing this, you will cut down on the competition within your family and decrease the sibling rivalry.  And above all, if you currently think of one of your children as the "problem" or "challenging" child--retrain yourself and (your partner) to overcome that thought pattern and look at each child as a wonderfully talented and unique individual.  This advice can literally transform your household.  You have no idea how powerful your perceptions of your own children are and how much these perceptions shape their self identities.  So commit this minute to only casting each of your children in a positive light.  The long term benefits of this simple advice will be huge!

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Kayaking Strategies for Parents






I recently returned from a wonderful vacation in Door County, Wisconsin.  One morning, a group of us booked a kayaking tour through a local operator.  The tour was in Lake Michigan and we were to visit caves that are accessible only by water.  When we arrived, the water was quite rough, and as I stared at the white caps and waves pounding the shore, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  After a brief lesson on kayak paddling, we paired up and headed out into the unsettling surf.  My daughter and I have really never kayaked before, and our maiden voyage was quite enlightening.  As I wrestled with my understanding of this activity, I discovered that it truly is the perfect metaphor for parenting.

Kayaks only head in the "right" direction when both persons are paddling with a common goal.  One cannot paddle alone in a kayak and expect to get much of anywhere.  And if your kayaking partner is paddling opposite you, the likelihood that you end up in a disaster is very high.  Also, in order to navigate through rough waters, a kayaker must keep stay loose and keep one's head still, because if you move your head around too quickly, the balance of the kayak is thrown off.  And finally, a sense of humor can really come in handy, when either rower is experiencing frustration.

Parents can learn so much from thinking about parenting as a kayaking adventure.  Parents are much more successful when they "paddle with common goal".  Parents need to be on the same page when it comes to discipline issues, chores, expectations, and life in general.  This kind of commonality helps children to understand their world and helps them to grow in confidence.  Parents who constantly paddle against one another are in truth, harming their own children, by causing stress, anxiety and misunderstanding.  Parents will undoubtedly face challenges, but if you relax, stay calm and keep your head about you, these challenges can be faced without capsizing the family boat. And having a sense of humor is truly what it takes to calm the waters.

We had a wonderful time in our bright yellow kayak, although we were unable to visit the caves, as the conditions were too hazardous.  We ended up taking a break on a gorgeous, sandy beach instead.  This adventure created wonderful memories of conquering rough waters and enjoying the ride.  A great metaphor for life in general!


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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Censorship is a Good Thing!






I am afraid that many times parents forget that children are not little adults.  Children are born in to this world unstained, unblemished, untainted, pure, naive, and full of awe and wonder.  Children are the anecdote to our often dark and disturbing modern world.  Gaze at the sweet face of a baby or small child delighting in a game of peek a boo, or sleeping peacefully in a parent's arms and one cannot help being moved at the sight.

So where am I going with this mini-sermon on the beauty of children?  Well, dim the lights and roll the camera. It's movie time.  Last weekend, my husband and I went to see "Bourne Legacy".  It is a movie that is rated "PG-13".  Although to me, it felt like an "R" rating was warranted because of the violence.  We went to a 9:00pm showing.  And, as you probably already suspect, there were more than a few kids in the audience.  In light of the recent shootings in our country, and as the mother of  a teenage son.  I have to wonder, WHAT ARE THESE PARENTS THINKING?????????  Don't people understand that movies like this are made for adults?  The movie is filled with suspense and action and a lot of violent acts.  One scene depicts a man systematically shooting all of his coworkers.  A scene like this is completely lacking in empathy or social responsibility.  As adults, we can process that this is all fantasy.  We already have our moral compass and self identity in place.

Children's brains are not fully matured until their mid 20's.  We have learned a lot about brain development in the last few years.  If a child's brain is still forming, does it strike you as a wise decision to expose them to content that is dark, violent and disturbing?  What movies did James Holmes see as a child?  I am not saying that violent movies create violent people because I know violence has existed in movies for a long time.  But I am advocating that we, as parents, try to protect our children from such dark and disturbing themes until they are old enough to handle them.  I don't think the 6 or 7 year olds belong at the "Bourne" movie, or playing extremely violent video games, or having unlimited access to the internet.

Childhood is fleeting.  It only lasts a very short amount of time relative to an average lifespan.  You are doing your child a disservice to cut this special time in life short by allowing exposure to adult themed entertainment.  STAY STRONG, parents! Set media limits that are in the best interest of your children and their development.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

School Bells Are About To Ring...Are You Ready?




With the school year about to begin, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan was interviewed by the Associated Press.  In his comments he made the following statement:
"I always say parents are their children's first teachers, and I think, by definition, their most important teachers,"
So how are parents supposed to get the school year off to a good start as their children’s primary teachers?  The following ideas might help:
1.      Set a schedule for mealtimes and bedtimes and stick to it.  Especially during the transition time from summer to school year.  Children benefit greatly from routines and knowing what to expect.
2.     Discuss expectations:  Have a conversation about school work and homework.  Let your children know that you expect them to do their best, and that they might not always love all of their teachers or assignments, but you expect them to always persevere.  And that you will be available to help and support them.
3.     Build excitement for school by allowing them to participate in the choices of school supplies, backpacks, or other school related items.
4.     Edit your comments around them.  Children who hear their parents complaining about the teacher they were assigned or students in their class will no doubt be complaining back to you about the very same things.  Don’t share all of your feelings about the school experience with your children, and as the saying goes “little pictures have big ears”.
5.     Celebrate achievement.  Let your children know how proud you are of them when they get up on time, get dressed and eat breakfast without delay, don’t fight with sibs in the morning, etc.  A bit of praise on those banner days will cause them to repeat the good behavior and is much more effective than screaming at them on the days that everything goes awry.
By being mindful of the important role parents play in our children’s lives, we can lovingly support them in their new school year and help them enjoy the wonderful year to come.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Are You In The (Comfort) Zone?






Have you ever had the feeling your life is on autopilot?  You do the same chores, drive the same routes, talk to the same people, eat the same food, have the same arguments--you get the idea.  Parents can often feel this way, as the demands of successfully raising young children require a certain amount of repetitiveness.  Young children thrive on structure.  It helps them understand their world and gives them security in knowing what to expect.  But what can happen is that parents get stuck in the routine of our roles as parents, and forget to leave any room for our personal development.  Sometimes, our roles as parents become our entire joy and identity, and then when our children fly the coop, we are left trying to understand the depression and loneliness that sets in.

I still have two teenagers at home.  And although I will admit to wishing at times that they could disappear for an hour or two (like when my son is sprawled out on the couch, napping right in the middle of our family room).  My own fear about the emptiness of our house when they too have gone has had me thinking lately.  And reflecting on my own personal development.  And the messages I have been sending them about who I am and what I love.  I decided that I have not asserted myself into our family calendar lately, as I am the designated scheduler and not the predominant schedulee.
I decided that I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone, and show my children that I had interests and pursuits away from my beloved home and family.  So in the last week I attended a Blogging Conference (BBSummit12) and took an over night road trip with my 81 year old mom and teenage daughter, to revisit the vacation homes of our past.  We headed to Michigan for a one night stay and explored the rediscovered some areas that had been very special to both my mom and me.

Both of these experiences have left me refreshed and enthused about what is to come.  And have reminded me and my family members that I have a life too, beyond the laundry and meal preparation that they have come to expect of me.  I have always wanted my three daughters and my son to realize that they are strong, capable individuals who can have anything they aspire to; but I need to also show them that I am doing the same.  Hopefully, as I reach out for new experiences, my family will find more to  to ask me than "Hey Mom, What's for dinner?"; and I will have more to answer.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Evolution of Family Dinners




We all have busy lives.  And modern day families are among the busiest.  When a family has active teenagers, life seems to accelerate to new heights of hyper-speed.  So what usually disappears among the chaos of practices, homework, school meetings, and job obligations?  The Family Dinner.  The Family Dinner used to be a regular in households.  Although it seems a momentous task to keep the "old fashioned" tradition alive, I would like to advocate for this very practice.

Recently, I heard Aaron Sorkin interviewed.  He is a famous and award winning screenwriter/producer of titles like The Social Network, Moneyball, and The West Wing.  Aaron remarked "I loved the sound of our dinner table!" as he was reminiscing about his experiences growing up.  That quote struck me.  It hit me like a thunderbolt.  Here was this uber successful "Hollywood" type, referring to the positive influence the family dinner table had on shaping who he was to become.  He also mentioned that his siblings and parents discussed all kinds of subjects and viewpoints during these special moments doing a very ordinary thing.  But the very ordinary thing is becoming rather extraordinary in our fast paced lives.

Sitting together and sharing a meal is a practice that is threatened.  In the worst case, we don't share any time at all as a family.  We just grab what we can and plunk ourselves in front of the nearest TV or computer screen.  In some cases, we join together at the table but the location is all we are sharing, as our cell phones or I Pads are really hijacking our attention.  My hope is that if any of this rings true to parents, they might resurrect the family dinner.  They might elevate it to it's proper revered position.  Maybe not every night.  But at least a few nights a week.  Sit down as an unplugged family and engage in conversation and debate.  Get to know each other.  Listen to your children and teenagers viewpoints and allow them to question you about yours.  Time marches on and before you know it, those teenagers will be out in the world and you will at least know that during dinner time, you shared the deliciousness of true family life.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

R E S P E C T shouldn't be a dirty word...




In our fast paced and cynical society, respect has fallen on hard times.  We love to criticize politicians and celebrities and anyone else who comes into our public conciousness.  But does this culture of criticism extend its' ugly grip into our own homes?  I think that unfortunately, it does.  And as parents, we need to beat it back by ACTIVELY teaching children to respect us as their parents.  Let me make my case...

I often work with parents who have a tough time disciplining their young children in even the simplest of ways.  I am horrified to watch as their children are allowed to hit them, yell "shut up" or call them unkind names. Some even actively cover their ears and hum when being reprimanded.  These behaviors are all strategies that children use to divert attention from the matter at hand, or to command attention from the parent.  Respect for parents should be a house rule in every happy home.  And it takes consistency and patience to teach your children that certain behaviors cross the line and will not be tolerated.

But the burden of parenting does not stop there.  Parents also must be worthy of respect.  Kids are smart and see right through the parent who yells at them about telling a lie and then turns around and lies to get out of a ticket or considers it a blessing to have a waiter miss an item on the restaurant bill.  Parents need to earn the respect that they expect from their children by trying to be good examples in all ways.  From the soccer field, to the fast food window, to the annoying neighbor next door, your children are studying your behavior and learning how you handle yourself.  This helps them to determine how they act.  So if you are unkind, dishonest, impatient, or worse, your kids will follow you down that path.  And it will make it very difficult to demand respect from them that you don't earn.

No one ever said parenting is easy.  But tackling respect from both the earning and teaching sides will benefit your family immensely!


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Friday, July 13, 2012

Televillan or Television

Most children love to watch television.  Most children are drawn to television.  Some children even get into a trance like state when watching and tune the outside world off.  I have witnessed this with my own children, my nieces and nephews, and my students.  Television viewing is not in itself, inherently, a bad thing.  But...there is a lot of bad television out there.  And too much of anything is not a good idea.  That is why, as a parent educator, I constantly remind parents of the two "Q"'s of television viewing: Quality and Quantity.

Let's look at Quality...unfortunately, there are a lot of awful programs on TV.  Some are specifically aimed at children.  Just because a network has the reputation of being "kid friendly" does not mean that all of it's programming is good for children.  Some shows are aimed at older children, and should not be viewed consistently by younger children because the messages and themes are inappropriate for a younger viewer.  And some shows are just plain bad.  They promote bullying behavior, cast adults as idiots, and make any one in authority look like a fool.  Other shows promote materialism and lifestyles that can cause a child to feel inadequate, jealous, envious or depressed.  These messages should be contemplated by parents.  The best way to judge the quality of the programs that you allow your children to watch, is to sit down and watch them yourself.  Take the time to examine the messages of the shows that your children are drawn to, and make sure that these messages are ones that you feel comfortable with.  If they are not, simply do not allow your children to watch certain shows.  Remember, you are the adult in the household and limits should be set and enforced by you.

Quantity is the other "Q" to be examined.  Pediatricians recommend that children under the age of two do not watch television.  I know that this rule is hardly ever followed.  Most mini vans have video screens in them and families play movies on a short ride to school.  I see this often.  But if your child is plugged in for more than two hours in a day, he or she is missing out of the kind of experiential learning that is truly healthy and beneficial.  And placing a television in your child's bedroom is NEVER a good idea.  By allowing this, you are neglecting your duty as a parent, which is to help your child to develop to his/her fullest potential.  Television viewing in a bedroom allows your child to access inappropriate programming and also shows that you are unwilling as a parent to take on the adult role of limit setter, which is key to good parenting.  Study after study has shown that children want parents who set limits and monitor their behavior because then the child knows that you are in control--which fosters feelings of security and confidence in your child.  Children may act as though they want to run the show, but really, they want you to be a parent and be in charge.

So monitor your children's television habits.  Protect them from negative messages.  Treasure and guard their childhood by censoring what they are exposed while they are young.  Childhood is precious and fleeting, so help them hang on to theirs' without the negative and inappropriate messages so easily accessed on television.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lessons From A Farmer's Market

Over the weekend, I had the chance to take a bike ride with my husband and two daughters to a local farmer's market.  The outing, although hot, turned out to be a wonderfully simple way to enjoy some time as a family.  It got me thinking about how a trip to a farmer's market is such a simple teaching opportunity for parents of young children.  By setting aside a morning to explore the different fruits and vegetables at the market, you are able to convey so many important and over looked messages in our fast paced world.

First of all, it is a great opportunity to teach kids to connect the dots when it comes to food that they eat.  All food comes from somewhere.  Often times, children don't give any thought to what food they eat other than how it tastes to them.  In their minds, food comes from out of a box, or out of the refrigerator, or through a car window in a bag.  By exposing them to tables of colorful produce, you are able to stimulate their senses and get them excited about trying some new things.

Secondly, buying fresh produce opens up the discussion of how to use the produce.  Fresh strawberries could mean strawberry shortcake or smoothies or muffins or pie.  You get the idea.  Taking the produce home and transforming it in to something delicious to eat, is another simple yet powerful learning experience for children.

And finally, taking your children somewhere that you are exploring together, creates a connection or strengthens the bond that you share with them.  Parents sometimes fall into the habit of believing everything is easier without the kids in tow.  And from a practical sense this is true.  But taking children with you and exploring a place from a new perspective can make it all the more special.  So grab your bike helmets and pedal off to your local market, and later in the day you will be able to enjoy the "fruits" of your labor!

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Technological Tragedy



 While celebrating the Fourth of July, a friend of mine and her family traipsed to a city park in Madison, Wisconsin, and staked out a spot for a premium fireworks experience.  Sitting next to her was a young family.  The fresh faced Dad and Mom arrived about the time that my friend and her family did, almost three hours prior to the show.  My friend shared these observations with me about this young couple and their child.  They had brought some snacks and had their adorable little boy sitting comfortably in his stroller.  Their arrival was based on where the two of them could find cellphone service, as they walked around the area, cell phones in hand, checking for the strongest signal.  They figured that perching next to my friend's blanket was a desirable spot to receive the fastest internet connection.  This was to foreshadow their fireworks experience. 

The little boy was unstrapped and given a slushie to drink and the two parents proceeded to "plug in".  They sat on their phones for the remaining two plus hours, until the fireworks actually began, without hardly uttering a word to each other or interacting with their darling little boy.  He was desperate to engage with them.  He crawled up into their laps, trying to engage.  He barked like a puppy.  He started interacting with my friend as she had been smiling at him and giving him some attention. This continued for two plus hours.  No conversation, no play, no interaction between the little boy and his parents.

This scenario is tragic on so many levels.  The parents are missing out on a wonderful experience with their son.  Instead of enjoying their time together, playing, teasing, conversing, interacting.  They forfeited these experiences for the sake of whatever was capturing their attention on their I-Phones.  This will impact their child.  I can only hope that this was an exception rather than the norm for this family, as the little boy will not develop social skills, much of a vocabulary, or any type of warm and fuzzy memories from eternally plugged in and disengaged parents.  

Parents, please hear my call as an experienced parent and preschool teacher.  Put down your phones.  If you have to, schedule phone free, family time.  Your children need it and your relationship with them will benefit from it.  And next year, leave the phone at home when you go to watch the fireworks.  You might just find you enjoy the show!

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