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.


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.


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


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.