Monday, January 31, 2011

Playdate - home alone?

If you're the parent of young children, you've undoubtedly arranged numerous playdates for them. When the playdate is at your house, you're responsible for keeping the kids safe and helping them with any conflicts. Likewise, you expect the same care of your children when they are at a friend's house.

Karen told me her playdate horror story. After picking her 5-year-old daughter up from her friend's house, Karen learned that the mother had left the two 5-year-olds in charge of a 3-year-old while she drove to pick up another child. While she was only gone about 20 minutes, leaving the kids alone in the house was completely unacceptable to Karen. From that point forward, Karen asked a few more questions before leaving her daughter at a friend's house!

When you drop your child off for a playdate, it's a perfect time to spend a little time talking to the other parent:
  • When would you like me to pick my child up?
  • Do you need to run any errands this afternoon? I could stop by and watch the kids if you need to leave. 
If you are just getting to know this family, you may also want to ask if there are guns in the house and if so, where they are kept.  Although these questions can seem a bit intrusive, it's hard to make decisions about your child's safety when you don't have enough information.

Friday, January 28, 2011

DVDs and language development

A mom asked "Can babies and toddlers learn language from DVD's or TV?" Although it might be great if you could just sit your youngster in front of a DVD and have him learn to speak and read, the research doesn't show that this works.

Researchers Fredrick Zimmerman, Dimitri Christakis and Andrew Meltzoff reported their findings in the article "Associations between Media Viewing and Language Development in Children Under Age 2 Years". They found "Among infants (age 8 to 16 months), each hour per day of viewing baby DVDs/videos was associated with a 16.99-point decrement in CDI [Communicative Development Inventory] score." and "Among toddlers (age 17 to 24 months), there were no significant associations between any type of media exposure and CDI scores."

John Medina, author of Brain Rules for Baby, discusses some of the issues in his video "Kill Your TV?" He reports research showing an increase bullying and attention disorder by first grade for every hour young kids spend watching TV.

Young children learn best from interacting with caring adults, not TV.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Challenging behavior from adopted children

A dad was recently telling me about his 9-year-old son Luke’s extremely difficult behavior. His behavior was so intense that he was expelled from public school. After that they enrolled Luke in a private school where the class sizes were much smaller. He lasted a few months there before those teachers couldn’t handle his behavior. He’s now being homeschooled.

The dad went on to explain that they had adopted Luke when he was just over a year old from a Russian orphanage. When I asked about the conditions in the orphanage, he explained that there were about 30 cribs in one room but the adults in charge were very loving. Sadly we know this is a recipe for problems. Babies need lots of one-on-one loving interactions to develop appropriately and Luke did not have this.

Unfortunately, many children in orphanages share Luke’s experience and later problems. A survey by the Eastern European Adoption Coalition in 2005 found that almost 50% of the 293 children adopted from Eastern Europe had emotional problems and developmental delays.

In his book, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Dr. Bruce Perry discusses the case of Peter who was adopted from a Russian orphanage. “From the outside, Peter looked like a seven-year-old boy, but in some ways he was only a three-year-old. In terms of other skills and capabilities, he was eighteen months old, and he was eight or nine years old in still other respects.” No wonder Peter’s parents, teachers and classmates were having difficulty relating to him.

Dr. Perry goes onto explain the effects of the early deprivation on Peter’s brain. He even goes to Peter’s 1st grade classroom to help his classmates better understand Peter. Armed with this new perspective, the kids went from rejecting Peter to protecting and helping him.

Parenting any child is filled with challenges. Parenting children who spent their early months in an orphanage requires an even greater set of skills plus often outside expertise.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bullying in Young Children

A number of preschool teachers have expressed concern to me over the bullying behavior they see in their classes.  While it can be debated as to where these young children are learning to bully and tease other children, it's clear that it is happening.

How can teachers or parents approach the topic of bullying in a way that young children will understand?  One place to start is by reading Kevin Henkes' book Chrysanthemum together.  This book is filled with Henkes' charming mouse characters including Chrysanthemum who is carefully named by her parents after a most beautiful, precious flower. 

All is well in Chrysanthemum's life right up until she starts kindergarten.  When the children hear her name, they find many ways to make fun of it.  Her teacher isn't very helpful in dealing with the teasing and replies to the girls taunting with "Thank you for sharing."

This book lends itself to discussion:
  • How would you feel if you were Chrysanthemum?
  • When the teacher responded to the mean girls with "Thank you for sharing."  how do you think those girls felt?  How did Chrysanthemum feel?
  • What might the teacher have said to stop the teasing? 
  • Have you ever been teased?  What was helpful to you in that situation?
It's a rich story for opening the important topic of bullying and teasing with young children.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Helping Kids Control Negative Thoughts

Who will criticize your children the most as they grow up? They will! It is their own negative self-talk that they will hear most often.

Everyone’s mind produces a steady stream of thoughts. When these thoughts turn negative, fear, doubt and frustration quickly sets in. Stopping negative thoughts isn’t easy and it starts with actually noticing those thoughts.

What are your kids saying to themselves?

What your children say out loud gives you insight into what they are thinking. You know they are engaging in negative self-talk when you hear things like:
  • “I’m never going to get this!”
  • “Nobody likes me.”
  • “I can’t do it!”
Whether our children are struggling with school work, relationships or athletics, their thoughts can help or hinder them. Peter McWilliams put it this way, “Our thoughts create our reality -- where we put our focus is the direction we tend to go.”

Dr. Alison Arnold came to my daughter’s gymnastics center to work with the kids on the mental side of gymnastics. Like so many athletes, gymnasts need to be in control of their thoughts if they are to give their best performance.

(read the rest of the article at Priceless Parenting)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Handling teenage problems

Teens are known for behaving in ways that provide challenges for the best of parents! Laura Kastner, a psychologist who helps families with teens, is very familiar with the problems many parents encounter.

Kastner and writer Jennifer Wyatt's book, Getting to Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens + Teens, provides great ideas for handling tough situations like these:
  • Your teen tells you he's sleeping over at a friend's house but he actually went to a concert
  • Your daughter refuses to do her chores
  • Your son is skipping classes and doing poorly in school
  • Your teen is acting demanding and unappreciative
  • You find out your teen is drinking or using drugs
There are realistic dialogs between parents and teens throughout the book.  These dialogs include comments analyzing some of the reasons behind the statements and the impact of those statements.  If you have a challenging tween or teen, I'd highly recommend reading this book.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Are Chinese mothers superior?

Amy Chua discusses her answer to this question in her article "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior". Chua's highest aspirations for her children are being the #1 student in all subjects that matter (this doesn’t include gym or drama), amazing musical performances and complete dedication in achieving these goals. Part of the dedication includes no play dates, sleepovers, TV or computer games.

She makes some interesting comparisons between Chinese and Western parenting which explain why so many Chinese children excel musically and academically. Although I appreciate musical and academic excellence, my fundamental view of the goals parenting is very different from Amy Chua's goals.

While I believe there is merit in doing well in school, this is not a focus of my parenting perhaps because …

• Some of the people I respect the least are extremely intelligent and use their intelligence to belittle and take advantage of other people.
• Someone very close to me attempted suicide after being unable to live up to his parents’ expectations.
• Although my parents did not push me, I pushed myself and did extremely well in school. I learned to give the teachers exactly what they wanted which sometimes meant holding my differing opinions to myself. Ultimately my focus on grades slowed me down from developing my own voice.

For my own children and what I teach in Priceless Parenting, the goal is to raise children who have a heart and find a way to use their passions and talents to improve the world. While my children happen to do well in school, I’m most proud of them being selected to represent the 6th graders at their school as Humanitarians.

I want to have a loving relationship with my children for the rest of my life. It’s up to them to decide how well they want to do in school and musically. I’ll love them regardless!

Is there a dark side to the relentless emphasis on academic excellence practiced by mothers like Chua? This article, “Asian Americans' Rising Suicide Rates -- Three Students Take their Lives”, describes some of the downsides.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, January 10, 2011

I sound just like my mother!

Have you ever found yourself saying something to your children that your parents used to say and that you swore you'd never say?  A little scary isn't it?

What you heard as a child is deeply embedded in your memories.  Even when you think you don't remember much from your childhood, it's somehow in there and you realize it only when you catch yourself acting just like your parents!

This can be a very good thing if your parents did an excellent job parenting.  On the other hand, if there are things you'd rather do differently with your children, you have to work extra hard to make those changes.  Part of the extra work is figuring out how you want to respond to your children's inappropriate behavior.

Reading parenting books and taking parenting classes are a couple good ways to get new ideas.  You can also take an excellent online parenting class specifically for your child's age:
These classes can be started today from the comfort of your own home!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Stomping creativity out

Where do children learn they aren’t creative, can’t draw or sing? Although most young children gladly draw, sing and act, somewhere along the way many become self-conscious and judgmental of their efforts.

These negative self-evaluations may start when a parent, teacher or sibling criticizes a child’s writing or art work. Soon children learn that there is a “best” way to show creativity and their attempts don’t measure up and so they stop trying.

Sir Ken Robinson told this story at the 2006 TED Conference: “A little girl was in a drawing lesson, she was six and she was in the back drawing. The teacher said that this little girl hardly ever paid attention, but at this drawing lesson she did. The teacher was fascinated and went over to her and she said, ‘What are you drawing?’ The girl said, ‘I’m drawing a picture of God.’ The teacher said, ‘But nobody knows what God looks like.’ The girl said, ‘They will in a minute.’”

Wow! What confidence! How do we keep that bold certainty and creativity alive in our children? To the degree we can encourage our children's imagination instead of judging their efforts, they will learn to trust their creative impulses.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Problems leaving fun activities

It’s hard for children to leave fun activities. Recently I saw a couple parents walking away from a sledding hill with their crying young child in tow. They were explaining to him that he had been sledding enough for now and could come back again tomorrow. They also told him about the snacks they would enjoy once they got home. Do you think he stopped crying upon hearing this? No!

What he wanted to be doing right at that moment was more sledding. Their logical arguments didn’t change his feelings about wanting to go down the hill some more. He was upset and he wanted his parents to know!

His parents may have been more successful by acknowledging his feelings by saying something like, “You really feel sad. You wanted to keep sledding.” If their son continued crying, they may need to repeat this a few times. By showing empathy, their son is more likely to feel understood and be able to move on.