Thursday, January 28, 2010

Praise Yourself!

This week, I don't answer a question but write about an experience in my own home that reminded me of a practice I used when teaching.

When I was a student teacher one mentor said to me, "Do a self assessment each day. Review in your head what went well and what you would have done differently. Build a solution around the negative that you can implement tomorrow and make sure you praise yourself as you would your students for the positive." I never forgot those words and it helped me become a better teacher. It can help parents too! Read on!

So most of the sickness is out of our home from last week. While we slowly seem to get back into the swing of things there seem to be some minor bumps along the way. My oldest son wants to know "Why homework exists?" and states endlessly that "brushing his teeth" and "school" are the "worst things ever". My youngest son, who has always been super needy seems to have reached a new level of neediness and my daughter, who is on her way to losing her second pair of glasses, seems to be regressing (acting like a baby, wanting to be treated like a baby, etc.). For my boys, it seems that getting back into the swing of things is hard and the rigor of the daily schedule has to to be conquered step by step. For my daughter, perhaps it is because she detests her glasses and it is having an effect on her self esteem or it may be because most of the attention was lavished on the sick boys for the last two weeks. I'm sure it's a combination of things but no matter what, it's tough.

Well yesterday it all came to a head when she had a nice, juicy, long tantrum. I know with tantrums you can try to prevent them, diffuse them or have no choice but to go through them. Timing, place, age of child and intensity of the tantrum has a lot to do with the way in which you choose to handle it. In this case, I had no choice but to go for the painful ride. I decided I was going to keep my cool and use the strategies I know can work. I could tell she was tired as she whaled "but I want hot chocolate!" I kept telling myself, "I am going to keep my cool" along with the deep yoga-like breaths that I seem to recall working years ago. My sweet girl was practically spitting venom from her mouth, repeating that she wanted " hot chocolate" and throwing herself on me, the floor and everywhere. I stayed firm, kept my voice low and even continued to walk her back into her room over and over until she had calmed down. Did it take long time? Yes. Will I always stay this calm? No, but I have decided just as I compliment and thank my children when they demonstrate good behavior (It's a very meaningful thing to do) I will now congratulate myselffor handling tough situations well with my kids. We parents tend to beat ourselves up when we lose it or feel like we handled a situation poorly. We handle a great quantity of these episodes so well and never bother to praise ourselves or encourage our victories. So I hope you will join me in celebrating, or at least taking a moment to recognize (" I handled that well, go me!"), what we do with our children that works.

I will now take note of:

-The successful conversations I have with my children
-The times that I keep my cool
-The times I diffuse a tantrum
-Finding other solutions that keep both me and my kids happy
-The times when I try a new approach
-The times when I think on my feet
-The times when I stay firm and consistent
-When I create a successful experience
-When I create/recognize and discuss a teachable moment
-Prepare anything in a timely manner

I invite you to share a situation you handled well when dealing with your child.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kids and Social Action, Tips For Parents

So, it has been a tough day, here. My oldest son's eardrum ruptured and my youngest son has a high fever and has been crying all day long. I am hoping in my shoe box of an apartment that my daughter miraculously escapes the germs that are dancing around the bedroom that all three kids share. Not fun. When there are days like this I try to remind myself, this is parenting and we all know from the current events that it could be much worse. Much , much worse.

On another note, I was talking with a friend about this blog. While I know I am kind of the "mom and pop" store of the blogs, with few bells and whistles and awards from fellow mommy blogetts, I hope that the information is no less helpful and continues to do what it sets out to do: to answer your questions, honestly and with humor. I can't pretend that I have the time to post daily. I have to be honest about what I can handle and deliver quality versus quantity. As always, your feedback and responses inspire me to do better, dig deeper and stay committed.

A quick note: In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. My children attended the event in NYC. We have done it for 3 years now and each time it has been a wonderful experience. Please take the time to learn about the ways you and your family can get involved and please keep it in mind for next year.

On to the question of the week: "How do we talk to our kids about a disaster like the one that occured in Haiti and other disturbing pieces of news?"

When I was in the classroom I required my students to keep up with current events. I would tell parents to encourage their kids to read the news weekly and look beyond the all too often sensationalized news stories that tend to defame the famous and force us to look at gory details that can give even the bravest of adults, nightmares. It was important to me that my students would be exposed to stories about kids doing amazing things or some new and interesting discoveries that were being made. But there are times when a tragedy is so terrible that it cannot help but rock the very soul of the human spirit and would be considered burying our heads in the sand as parents, if we did not discuss it with our children. September 11th, the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, Hurricane Katrina, Haiti and stories such as these are hard to hide from our children and yet if not handled in the correct manner can leave our children feeling scared and anxiety ridden.

Keep in mind the age of your child and what they really need to understand.

According to the website, parents can take a number of steps to inform their children about the news on a "calm", need to know basis only "including the truths that a child needs to know."

Tips for Parents

Keeping an eye on kids' TV news habits can go a long way toward monitoring the content of what they hear and see. Other tips:

  • Recognize that news doesn't have to be driven by disturbing pictures. Public TV programs, newspapers, or newsmagazines specifically designed for kids can be less sensational — and less upsetting — ways of getting information to children.
  • Discuss current events with your child regularly. It's important to help kids think through stories they hear about. Ask questions: What do you think about these events? How do you think these things happen? These questions can encourage conversation about non-news topics too.
  • Put news stories in proper context. Showing that certain events are isolated or explaining how one event relates to another helps kids make better sense of what they hear. Broaden the discussion from a disturbing news item to a larger conversation. Use the story of a natural disaster as an opportunity to talk about philanthropy, cooperation, and the ability of people to cope with overwhelming hardship.
  • Watch the news with your kids to filter inappropriate or frightening stories.
  • Anticipate when guidance will be necessary and avoid shows that aren't appropriate for your child's age or level of development.
  • If you're uncomfortable with the content of the news or if it's inappropriate for your child's age, turn it off.
  • Talk about what you can do to help. In the case of a news event like a natural disaster, kids may gain a sense of control and feel more secure if you find ways to help those who have been affected.
By now, you probably know many possible ways you can help the people of Haiti. Please take advantage of these opportunities along with your children. My son's school was lucky enough to find a not-for-profit that will pick up everything from kitchen supplies to stuffed animals and have its staff hand it out, personally, on the streets of Haiti. This was a wonderful experience for my children to be able to make a decision to let go of some of their possessions in order to bring another child some happiness in their darkest hour.
    Again, I thank you for following my blog. I encourage you share it with friends, colleagues and education/parenting industry administrators.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Play-Dates: A Love Story

My oldest son and daughter attended a full day, pre school before they were a year old. The day would end at close to 5:30PM and they were tired when I would pick them up. We would pretty much head straight home. For my stay-at-home parent friends, play-groups and play-dates were coveted events and in many cases it was more for them then it was for the child. Since I did not come upon the play date scene until my oldest son was about 4 (considered pretty late here, in NYC), I am pretty terrible at keeping up with them. And while I feel we are all too tired to hang out after school, I sometimes feel like my kids and I miss out on the important opportunities that come with participating in the social phenomenon. So, I will be putting into practice the very advice I am writing in this post in this New Year. I am going to try to be better about scheduling more play-dates for my kids.

The question this week: Are play-dates really necessary?

From an educators point of view there is great value in hosting and allowing your child to have a healthy and ongoing dose of play-dates. Play-dates can facilitate strong relationships that carry over into school, foster important communication skills and can boost self confidence. However, I don't think it has to be referred to in a formalized way and carry the, "let's do lunch", air that it seems to have taken on. The fact is, positive social experiences are important for our children and for adults and it should not be treated as a status symbol or a requirement for an early childhood successful experience. When we invite others into our home we can take an opportunity to model positive behaviors for our children. We can show how to open our space to others, share our food, toys and even reveal facts and interests that our guests might not ever have known had they not come to your home. When our child goes to someone else's home they learn how to behave away from their own parents and school environment. Social-emotional play experiences don't have to be restricted to one-on-one traditional play-dates. Other experiences such as spending time with neighborhood friends, group meetings at the playground or even a day with cousins, help to foster language skills, social skills, problem solving skills, imagination, bonding and even open doors to understanding culture.

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when your child has a play-date:

Social Butterfly or Not?
For some children socializing comes easier than others. Some children love having many social experiences weekly, while others would rather have them much less often. Accept who your child is and what they can handle but don't be afraid to gently encourage/discourage if you feel your child could use some social adjustments. If your child has some genuine anxieties, be careful about which children you invite over. Seek out kids who seem to make your child feel good. Another alternative is to invite a few families over for a coffee and cake or for drinks, so children play in a group and have parents nearby.

Watch Your Time:
Be honest about how long a play date should be. Age and temperament of each child should be considered. Some of my kids' friends could stay all day and others need to go after two hours. When my children go to someone else's home for a drop-off play-date I always tell the parent that I will call to check in about an hour and a half into the play date. This will help to gauge pick up time.

Save the Micromanaging:
If you do not let your child watch television or play video games during the week and their friend does, don't attempt to instruct another parent to uphold your rules. Aside from restricting foods for allergy purposes and setting limits around excessive sweets or violent programming, let your child experience another child's environment. This is important for your child to learn that different families have different rules and standards and it does not mean that you have to change yours once they come home. If you are are firmly against something that another parent allows in their home then skip the play-date altogether.

Mind Your Manners :
Remind your children to greet their friends, offer them something to drink and eat, walk them out and thank guests for coming and/or thank the host for having them over. While it is important for your child to learn to be a good host don't overlook the opportunity to teach the guest as well. I have witnessed many parents allowing a guest to treat the host child like a welcome mat in their own home, simply because "they are the guest". A play-date should be enjoyable for both parties and it is essential that children negotiate and get to each choose an activity and share the responsibility for cleaning up. A note about very young children: Children don't actually have the capability of understanding the concept of "sharing" until about age 5. While you can foster the idea of taking turns, telling a toddler to "share his toys", is really asking a lot. For older children, after your child's guest has left, talk about how it went and share what you noticed. If your child had some real problems create some goals for how to handle the next play date.

Summertime and the Living is Easy...
When the weather gets nice, encourage play in the playgrounds and make an effort to go on the weekends. I love when a parent has the courage to send out an email to an entire class stating they will be in the playground at a certain time and "come join us!" Since my oldest child tends to be a bit quieter, we made a plan that when we go to the park we bring an activity or item that can be played with by a group or engage a group. Items have included chalk, a bubble machine, a remote control car, water balloons (make sure they clean up the pieces, they are a choking hazard) a bug catching kit (this really worked!) and walkie talkies.

Finally, keep it simple. Children playing together comes with ups an downs. Gauge when you should intervene and how much. Discuss appropriate social strategies with your children if they are struggling and allow friendships that are not working to dissolve (even if you want to stay friends with the parents) and encourage friendships that are working to flourish.
I'll let you know how I am doing! Please let me know how you are doing too!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"... What's Wrong With These Kids Today!"

Happy New Year! The mantra for the year (no resolutions here) is the year to be the parent I want to be! Yes Siree! It's more like a life long mantra but one year seems to meld into the next. I do, however, have one New Year's request. If each of you could forward this blog to one friend, one online parenting group, I would really appreciate it.

On to the first question of the New Year: "Can you give some tips on how to help my children with their manners? I was a bit embarrassed at the holiday time. My children seemed particularly, rude to other adults."

Kids being rude seems to be a problem of modern times. The title of this post is taken straight from the "Bye, Bye Birdy" musical. Kids are kids, after all. It's many of the adults out there that I don't understand and have no excuse. While I think that it is unrealistic to make children "perform" their manners for other adults ( I even find it annoying when parents bark at their kids in public and overtly order them to act polite, in the end the kid is embarassed and the parent looks like a tyrant), I do feel it is essential for parents to demand that manners be practiced and discussed on a constant basis in your home. Before I would take my students on any trip outside the building I would discuss what I expected from them. I do the same with my children. I have learned how to anticipate my children's reactions from certain environments and from certain people. Before we leave the house for a big occasion a discussion is held such as "Remember you will see many cousins today that you do not know so well, be sure to say "hello" or shake hands when you meet them and make sure you look at them in the eye" You need not nag but make a concerted effort to prepare your child for how to use their best behavior and manners to handle situations.

While preparing for big events is great, manners have to be practiced and made part of your family's lifestyle. Below are some ideas on how to make manners a central part of you and your child's life.

1. Be polite yourself. Children learn behavior from watching adults. Parents should not only make a concerted effort to be polite to their children and their significant other (use "please", "thank you", "excuse me") but to the world at large. Children watch how you treat the store salesperson or cashier, the doorman or the bank teller particularly when you are frustrated by them.

2. Make sure you discuss with your children how you treat others. " Do you see how I went up to the manager and thanked her personally, after she solved my problem" When there is a situation that you handle badly be sure to discuss your mistakes with your child and ask your children maybe how you should have handled it or what choices you could have made instead. It's not just the words but being able to be in a situation and understanding what needs to be said and done. Being polite is an exercise in critical thinking.

3. Phone manners count. Children do listen when you are on the phone, and yes, even when the television is blaring and you think they are not listening. Using appropriate phone manners, getting names of individuals who are helping you and thanking them before you get off the phone are important skills for your children to understand and learn.

4. Always use real terms with your kids "make nice", "be good" or "share" are vague. Terms like " I appreciate", " I will try harder", "lets take turns", "I don't have the time at this moment", "I don't feel like talking, right now" or making a statement like "when you (hit your brother, leave your dishes, etc.), I feel _____" , are terms that have meaning and help our children to communicate effectively. Strong communication leads to good manners.

5. Thank you notes with limits. While it is nice to have your child write individual thank you notes (it can be a daunting tasks even for adults) you do not want it to turn into a fight or such a horrible task they refuse to do it . Set a time when your child can draw a picture with a general thank you message that can be copied , or take a photo with each gift and have your children write a simple "thank you so much, I love it". on the back.

A word about making your kid apologize. There is some real debate on this topic. I think there are good arguments on both sides and I really think it depends on the situation. You can read more about apologies and kids here.

Looking forward to receiving your questions, continuing to share great information and celebrating the educator in all of us!

Happy New Year!