Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Videos entitled "How to Get Your Kid Into Harvard"? Not!

Having a bit of a hard time getting this post going this week, lots of stuff going on. I have many different questions on a range of topics sitting in front of me and well, I'm feeling indecisive, dare I say "unmotivated". I think I will rip a page out out my son's recent work habits, "book" and take the easiest way out.

Before this weeks post:

apple seeds
10 west 25th st ny, ny 10010

On November 7th, 10:00AM-12:30PM apple seeds, will have me as a guest at their facilities! Parents can come on down and ask any question about their kids and their education, face to face with me, Ask the Educator!

apple seeds is an award winning, beautiful enrichment facility and play space. Check out their boutique and super classes! appleseeds

So, rather then answer the question of the week, I will make some short statements about the Baby Einstein , class action suit. You can read the article, here.

First, did they consider that using these videos in moderation (one video a day) has given countless tired, sleepless and overwhelmed parents a much needed break for a half an hour? I looked forward to my showers, preparing bottles and even resting when I popped in the video for my children!

Second, are parents that naive to think these videos would actually make their babies smarter?

Finally, watching TV or videos is not the enemy as some pediatricians and parents see it. In fact, if used correctly it can even become an extremely valuable tool. But I'll answer how, on another post!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Educator Is In!


Do you remember Lucy from the Peanuts Gang with her famous booth that said " The Psychiatrist Is In, 5 Cents"?


Pop by apple seeds on Saturday November 7th from 10:00am – 12:30pm and have your most pressing parenting questions answered by an expert (for free).

Sara Lise Raff (www.artsedconsultant.com) is an educator, artist, parent and creator of the blog "Ask The Educator". Sara answers parent’s questions weekly on her blog on all types of topics. They range from setting up reward systems at home, creating routines, understanding developmental milestones, developing reading and math skills with your child, parent/teacher communication, dealing with transitions and a myriad of concerns that parents face. Sara also facilitates various parent and teacher workshops for schools and cultural organizations throughout New York City . Sara will be stationed across from the apple seeds front desk. Come in and meet her!

apple seeds is a beautiful child enrichment facility with super programs, a boutique, a cute cafe filled with goodies for the kids and coffee for the adults!

Come down and ask away!


Monday, October 19, 2009

Picking the Right Battles Can Win You the War.

I'm in a bad mood tonight after leaving my buildings' co-op board meeting. Not the right blog to vent, so I'll leave my expletives out of ear shot of my kids and spare you the gory details. Which leads to our question of the week:

How do you pick and choose your battles with your kids?

When I was a classroom teacher I felt my students in East Harlem needed firm rules and clear directions to keep them on task (I have been referred to as a reincarnated nun). I was tough and stayed on top of my class relentlessly which left me exhausted most of the time. I remember when I began my position as a sixth grade teacher I had 38 students, many of whom were extremely tough. One day my class was giving me a particularly hard time and my colleague, who was standing in the gym while I was getting my students in line, said "You may be losing the battle now but you are going to win the war".

Some days my three kids feel like 38 of them and leave me exhausted.
Children at different stages have different requirements, limits or directions that you expect them to adhere to. Some parents are extremely laid back when it comes to setting limits with children while others are way too strict but the ultimate goal most of us should strive for is somewhere in the middle. The idea is to decide what is most important in order to teach your child and shape them. In order for the "shaping" to take place you want to be consistent and follow through while making sure children understand that the requirements that you set for them is what you expect at all times, everyday.

There are days or even periods in your child's life that they are no longer adhering to your directions. It seems as if they have tuned you out or maybe even act like it is the first day they have ever heard your rules as if they were rude guests who entered your home from outer space. You know what I mean! What then? Do you just give up? Beat your head or better yet beat their head into the wall? (kidding) Yell? Punish? Needless to say you will not ruin your kid if they get away without brushing their teeth one night or not zippering their jacket. But when do you have to re-evaluate what you expect from your children? Or change the way you are handling a situation or just plain let it go?

If You're Not Committed, They Won't Be Either
We need to look first at what we are asking of our children. Why is it important that my child follow the directions that have been set up for them? Is it important for their well being? Is it teaching them an important value or lesson? Is it because "I said so!"? There is a place for each and every request and the key is to make sure we use each one for the right reason and with balance. If you don't have the patience to follow through with a request or make a half hearted attempt, your child will most likely respond the same way. If you don't really care or really don't have the strength to go the distance then don't ask in the first place. In many cases it only diminishes your authority.

Know Your Opponent
Second we need to look at if our request fits with the individual child. If you have more than one child you know that children even in the same house have a different response to directions and guidelines. One child has no problem with the the night time routine and the other you might have to work a bit harder to get them into bed. Sometimes you have to be creative and look for new strategies like changing your tone of voice, or rearranging a schedule to get children to do what they need to do. Consider posting rules or directions in your home, creating a reward system or trying to make the task more fun or play a more active role. For example, some children need you to help clean up as opposed to them doing it by themselves.

Are You, Your Worst Enemy?
Third, are you working yourself up over something that is not really important, adding fuel to the fire, picking at a behavior or even worse, trying to argue to win a battle not worth winning? Case in point: My son, who is going through a period of some fresh language and even some talking back was having a fit the other day. He was ranting that "we were mean parents" and that he "never wanted to see us again." Initially we responded with humor, even laughing but I quickly realized this was adding fuel to the fire and leading to a battle we would not win. We could have also gone the route, scolding him for speaking to us so rudely, giving him warnings and following up with a punishment. Instead, I whispered to my husband, "Let him vent and just say 'we are sorry you feel that way'". Within minutes our son calmed down and we moved on.

I truly believe had we kept pushing rules and even taken disciplinary action in this case it would have made matters worse. It just was not worth the battle. Some days kids are more emotional, are releasing pent up stress and frustration or are just tired or not feeling well. Staying rigid with rules and punishments and being inflexible will only lead to disaster.

Nix the Mutiny
Finally, you must have clear ideas about what is important to you and your partner and discuss a flexible plan on the days or periods when your child does not respond. If children know that their mixed messages sent or that parents are engaging in a power struggle it opens the door for divide and conquer on the part of the child and in many cases sends a stressful message. If you find you and your partner are unable to agree on the discipline of your child look at various strategies laid out on the internet or look for books. If you are still unable to agree on a discipline strategy seek professional help.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Burning out on After School Programs

When I was a child I was, well, not the best student. I excelled in two areas, socializing and the performing arts. I was signed up for music, dance and drama classes at least 3-4 days a week. My folks had seen the original movie "Fame" and even after Coco was lured into a pornographer's den, Leroy impregnated his fellow dance classmate and Doris Fensucker got high at the Rocky Horror Picture Show, somehow this did not dissuade my parents from preparing me to go to the "Fame" school. In fact, it encouraged them and it was their priority to prepare me from the time I was eight, to attend Music and Art High School, the school that the movie was based on.

While after school programs provided me with much needed self esteem and gave me great pleasure they also probably contributed to the fact that I almost never completed my homework and that I was always disorganized when it came to school. My parents knew that academics eluded me and they just encouraged what I was good at. Nowadays the world of education has changed. School is more academic then ever, tests mean much more than they should and the competition to get into specialized schools and programs is fierce.

The question of the week comes from Marilyn, "How do I enrich my child's education without overdoing it?"

While we would all love our children to participate in something we, ourselves care about or never had the opportunity to engage in as a child, there is a fine line between pushing and gently exposing. Some children seem naturally connected to one activity while others just don't know what they like. Create opportunities for your child to be involved and exposed to an array of activities. Taking your kids to sporting events, shows, museums, etc. can open up interests and even if they do not wish to pursue these activities in an after school class they can develop an appreciation for them.

Choosing activities can come from your child or from you. It should be a discussion and children's maturity, temperament and the type of facility and instructor (if known) should be considered. Some children can handle more than one activity a week and others can just handle one. Some children might be more suited to no programs after school but would prefer to take a class on a weekend. Be honest with who your child is right now and find activities and class time that will create the most optimal success for your child.

Can they Handle It?
I was recently quoted in an online article in which I answered a similar question. Read my answer below:

Educational consultant and former teacher Sara Lise Raff, a mom of three, says that the demands of school and how the activity is impacting the child's life should be factors in choosing activities. "Children may feel tired but should not be exhausted after participating in an activity. A child is doing too much if they are unable to eat dinner, finish their homework or required studies on a regular basis, or if they are extraordinarily angry or have tantrums or just want to go to sleep after they come home from doing an after school activity," says Sara.

When it is not working out
After school activities can teach many valuable lessons. Not only do children come out with new skills that stimulate learning and thinking but they engage in a commitment that is of their own choice and requires them to stay focused after school hours. When choosing a new activity for your child to participate in, a discussion should be had about how long the class will be (use a clock), how many weeks it will run (use a calendar) and the importance of fulfilling the obligation.
There is a difference between a class that does not work for your child and your child just being plain fickle. When your child wants to "hang out" on a beautiful day instead of going to class, remind them that they wanted this and they need to follow through. Also watch and see if your child seems to complain going into class and walks out happy. I used to know this feeling when I actually had a gym membership. In the case that your child is truly unhappy make sure you talk with the instructor and share your child's feelings with them. Parents must evaluate the importance of allowing their child to feel and cope with a reasonable amount of discomfort and really having their child be taken out of a program that their child just can't handle. In other words, help your child find coping skills before being rash and letting them just quit.

I also feel that after school programs should be discussed and continually evaluated for effectiveness by you and your child. Particularly if you sign up for a next semester you should ask questions like :

-Are you still enjoying yourself?

-Are you learning new techniques?

-Do you get directions from the instructor?

All after school instructors should let you know their contact information so you can stay in touch and answer questions about your child's progress.
As for the over-scheduling discussion. Use common sense. Read your child's behavior and make sure it is about them and not yourself.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Sticker Earned, is a Parent Saved

Today we celebrated my daughter's 4th birthday. I have always said "the days are long but the years fly." Each day I get a better understanding into what other parents of older children have told me: "It does not get easier, it gets different." Oy!

I have received a great deal of verbal praise and email feedback from many of you. While I really appreciate and look forward to your comments please try to share your thoughts directly from your feed to the blog or via facebook or twitter. It will help generate more buzz on the blog and make me feel good! Which leads me to,

The question of the week!

Tara would like to know, "How do I use a reward system to get my girls from engaging in tantrums and other less desirable behaviors?"

What is a reward system?
Reward systems or incentive charts are extrinsic motivational tools that help children to tangibly recognize and monitor their progress when refining a new skill or habit. Probably your earliest experience with a rewards system began in your elementary school classroom. Your teacher might have given stars, stickers or filled a jar with marbles everytime the class behaved. Once the jar was filled or a desired amount of stars was reached, the entire class got a pizza party or some other reward. In some cases, children with severe behavior problems or if you were like me, had trouble getting their homework done, they also might have had their own personal rewards system set up. Many parents use an incentive chart when potty training. If the tool is used correctly, charts can be created to help children to practice and master various behaviors.

Isn't that like Bribing?
Yes and no. It would be nice if we lived in a world where we were intrinsically motivated. Where we followed all the rules simply because it was right and we engaged in tough yet courageous tasks just because the joy of doing right was enough of a reward. If you think you can convince your two year, three or four year old and in many cases even older children, that cleaning their room, wearing a winter jacket when it is 40 degrees F, brushing their teeth, doing their homework or any other "not fair" task you assign your child can get it done through intrinsic motivation, I say "go for it". For the rest of us, we may need some help and that is where a reward system comes into play. Think about it, would you do your job as well as you do without a paycheck? Do you look forward to a bonus or a raise when your work is exemplary? You are not aiming to bribe your children but setting up a system of rewarding children for changing or developing good habits. If you look at my post about Praise and Encouragement it will shed some light on how to not over do it. The hope is to encourage your children to handle themselves differently, not to use the chart as a bribe. For Ex, "If you don't clean your room, you won't get a a sticker."

How is it done?
First focus one one or two habits that you want to work on with your child. Cleaning up their room, being a a good host or hostess, reading or doing homework proficiently, etc. What ever it is, you must make it clear to your children that your are developing a chart that will help you both to keep track of important behaviors. Create the chart in front of your child and if they are old enough they can help too. The chart can read: Each time ______ cleans up her room without a tantrum she will receive one sticker. Once ______receives 5 stickers she will be able to: ____________________. Reward choices should be agreed upon before the chart is completed. The chart should be hung up in a visible space so children can view their progress. Stickers should be kept in a specific place and be given to the child to stick on only when a desired behavior is performed and approved by a parent. Start by making it not too difficult to achieve the desired behavior make it possible for young children to complete the chart by 2 or 3 days. Older children may be spread out over a week . It takes about 21 days for a behavior to become habit for adults. Give at least 10 to 21 more days for children to create a new habit. Important rule: Children may not ask for stickers. Parents must decide when a sticker is rewarded. Do not take stickers away. Once a sticker is earned it stays.

What types of rewards?
For young children, rewards must be tangible, meaningful and immediate. Keep rewards small and simple. A small train, a tiny figurine, a book, playing or earning time to play a specific game or watching a video will be enough. Pre buy all rewards and keep them in your home away from childrens' view. When children reach their goal you can present them immediately with the prize. Stay away from big tagged items, unrealistic trips or food. While children view the prize as the means to an end at first, your goal is simply to recognize a change in habit.

Look for what's Right and Not for What's Wrong
It is so easy to focus on the negative. What is important about rewards charts is that it forces us to look at the positive. Make sure to tell your children or even better catch your children doing the right thing. "You cleaned your room up without me having to ask you . Thank you, please give yourself a sticker." Be clear and specific about why you are rewarding the new habit and not just throw empty praise such as "good job", "you're awesome", etc. Read blog post on Praise and Encouragement.

Finally, if a reward system is really not the route you would like to take then a great alternative might be to just write up a directions or rule chart. Some children just forget or need a reminder of what you expect from them. A chart that simply states, "bedtime is at 8:00PM sharp." "Teeth need to be brushed both in the morning and in the evening." "We use words like 'I need help or I am angry' instead of having a tantrum." Stick to only three to five statements, keep them positive (refrain from words like "no" or 'don't"). Hang the chart in a place that children can look to for reference.

Everything takes time and just remember: Every stage good or bad, ends!

Good Luck!