Friday, March 30, 2012

Teach Children Not to Bully
     A friend posted something on Facebook today that made me stop and think.  We really need to teach our children to put themselves in others' shoes before passing judgment on them.  Children can be mean.  Bullies can harm children for life.  Try reading these situations to or with your child and discussing them.  Teachers could discuss them with their classes also.

  • The boy you punched in the hall today committed suicide a few minutes ago.
  • That girl you called a slut in class today? She's a virgin.
  • The boy you called lame?  He has to work every night to support his family.
  • That girl you pushed down the other day?  She is abused at home.
  • That girl you called fat?  She's currently starving herself.
  • The old man you made fun of because of his ugly scars? He fought for our country.
  • The girl you made fun of because she cried in class?  Her mother is dying.
  • The boy you laughed at because he was reading haltingly?  He doesn't know how to read because his parents don't speak English.
  • The boy you beat up today? His father beat him up again when he got home because he had not stood up for himself in his fight with you.
  • The girl you called stupid? She is studying for several hours every night trying to be the first in her family to go to college.
  • The boy you refuse to pick for a team at recess? He has nobody to play with and would be a loyal friend if you would include him.
     As a parent, you can make up your own scenarios as appropriate for the age of your child. 


Thursday, March 29, 2012


How do we teach our children to forgive?  When they may be faced with bullying, teachers who will not challenge them in school, being picked last for the team on the playground, unkind taunts of other children, or a multitude of hurts, how do we teach them that they need to forgive the perpetrators or carry the pain with them for a lifetime?  Maybe the above quote is a great way to do it.  Maybe we teach our children that to forgive lets us gain peace instead of carrying around the pain.  It doesn't mean that what the person did was okay, it just means that we are not going to give that person the power to hurt us anymore.  We instill in our children a sense of self worth and the feeling that no one has the power to diminish them.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your permission."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Children Learn What They Live
We all know that children learn what they live, but how much do we think about that in our day to day lives?  Do we think about it when we become outraged by a fellow driver?  How about when we tell a friend on the phone that we have to go because the doorbell rang - and it really didn't?  Are we thinking about it when we watch television shows containing lots of violence or sexual content?  Are we even thinking about it when we become exasperated and scream at our children?  How can we remember to teach our children subliminally the lessons we want them to learn in life?

  • We are only human.  If we make a mistake and act in a way we would not want our children to act, we can calmly explain that the behavior was wrong - that even Mommies and Daddies make mistakes sometimes.
  • If we act toward our children or someone else in a way that we would not want our children to learn, we can apologize to the person we have offended, teaching our children that when we hurt someone apologizing is the right thing to do.
  • If we are tempted to tell a white lie to someone because it's the easier path, we can either not do it or explain to our children why we did it and help them to understand that sometimes we need to respect others' feelings and not say or do things that will hurt them.
  • If there is a television show that we would like to watch that is not appropriate for our young children, we can either not watch it, record it to watch it later, or give our children something to do in another room while it is on.  There is no reason to expose young children to gratuitous sex and violence.  
  • If we want to teach our children to be good sports, we can teach them that is okay to cheer for our team, but not to boo the other team.  Positively cheering someone on is encouraging.  Booing someone is unkind.
  • If we want our children to learn to be of service to others, we need to be of service to others.  Bake something for the holidays for a shelter with your child, shop for holiday presents for the down-on-their-luck family with your child.  Make blankets for the homeless with your child.  Clean out your child's toy closet with him and suggest that he go with you to donate the toys he no longer enjoys for children who will appreciate them.  Ask your child to go with you when you take outgrown winter coats to a shelter.  There are innumerable ways you can serve and provide that example for your children.
  • Sit and read in the evening instead of parking in front of the television.  Talk about your book or magazine or newspaper, exhibiting enjoyment in what you are reading.
  • Practice random acts of kindness: compliment someone who appears to need a pick-me-up, hold a door for someone, stow groceries in someone's car, take a shopping cart back to the store for someone, ask someone sitting alone to join you, smile and say hello to strangers, take the neighbors' newspaper up to their door for them.  Just do something nice every day for someone and let your child see you doing it.
Mostly, just remember that your children are watching you and listening to you.  How often do you hear something you have said or see something you have done come out of them?  If you truly want to teach them to be responsible, caring adults, keep in mind that they are paying attention not just to what you tell them to do, but to what you do.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Turning Wishes Into Goals
Often our children (and we) hope that something will happen, but we never seem to form a plan to advance that hope to a goal.  As Antoine de Saint-Exupery said in the early 1900s, "A goal without a plan is just a wish."  So how do we help our children to create those plans that change their wishes to goals?  One way is to actually write the goals down and think about ways to achieve those goals.  Teachers do this in school,  asking children to set out goals at the beginning of a school year, but we often don’t think to do this as parents.  Following is a form you may use to help your child figure out a few plans.

Following are several wishes you may have or do have.  Select three (or more) of them and see of you can devise a plan to achieve them, thus turning them from wishes to goals.

1. I hope I get a good grade on this test.
2. I hope school won’t be boring today.
3. I hope I get to school on time.
4. I hope I get my homework finished tonight.
5. I hope today will be a good day.
6. I hope I don’t get into trouble today.
7. I hope I don’t lose anything today.
8. I hope I remember to give the note from my teacher to my parent.
9. I hope I can pay attention in class today.
10. I hope: _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Personal Responsibility

“Mom, it’s all your fault.”
    How many times have you heard your child exclaim that something is all your fault?  He didn’t get his homework done.  She was late for school.  He received a bad grade.  She didn’t make the team.  Somehow, it is all Mom’s fault.  What I am wondering is at what point did Mom decide that she would take responsibility for her child’s successes and failures?  And how did we not teach our children a sense of personal responsibility?
    Today a friend told me a story about her college-aged daughter who had a report to do for school.  She was having a difficult time settling on a topic and called her mother for suggestions.  The mother, always willing to do whatever she can to help her child, offered a suggestion.  After considering her suggestion, however, she told her daughter that it might not be a great idea for a number of reasons.  Flash forward a few days.  The report is now due the following day.  The Mom is out of town.  The daughter calls her in a panic to bemoan the fact that she just cannot find enough information about the topic her mother suggested and now has only a few hours to complete the report.  Somehow, it is all the mother’s fault that she has not completed the report.
    So how does a child gain a sense of personal responsibility and what can we do as parents to teach it?  One important thing is to provide challenges for them along the way and allow them to fail.  That may sound unfair to parents who do not want to see their children unhappy or struggling; however, without challenge a person cannot learn how to overcome disappointments or failure. How about some specific scenarios?
  1. You tell your toddler to put his toys away.  He does not do it.  20 minutes later you walk into his playroom and he tells you that he couldn’t do it.  What do you do?   Do you simply put the toys away yourself because it is easier than arguing?  Do you raise your voice and start berating the child for not doing what you asked him to do?  Do you offer to help him put the toys away?  Do you keep him company while he puts the toys away?  Personally, I think that either of the last two choices work to develop responsibility, but the last choice is best.  Offer to keep him company while he puts the toys away and encourage him by praising his efforts.
  2. Your primary school child has a project to do for school.  She waits until the night before it is due and then complains that she can not get it done.  What do you do?  Do you tell her that it’s late and she needs her sleep; she should go to bed and you’ll finish it for her?  Do you raise your voice and start berating the child for not starting on the project sooner?  Do you offer suggestions and help her to finish the project?  Do you sit down to read a book and let her give it her best shot at the 11th hour?  Again, Letting her know that you are not deserting her but not bailing her out either is the best solution.  She needs to learn that taking responsibility for her lack of action has led her to this uncomfortable position.
  3. Your child forgets something at home (lunch, band instrument, homework).  He calls you and asks you to bring it to him.  Do you immediately take it to him?  Do you get upset and wonder how he can be so forgetful?  Do you tell him that it is his responsibility to remember to bring his things to school and that you will not take it to him?  As difficult as it is to do, the best thing you could do is to refrain from taking it to him.  He will not starve if he misses one lunch.  He may be sad to miss band and will probably remember his instrument the next time.  He may be  embarrassed if he doesn’t have his homework but will probably remember it the next time. 
  4. Your child has a piano lesson and the instructor tells her that she has not practiced enough during the previous week.  When she gets into the car she blames you for not making her practice.  Do you tell her that you will make sure she practices this week?  Do you get upset with her and tell her not to blame you?  Do you explain that piano is her activity and that practice is a part of the activity and she is responsible for doing it?  Do you offer to help her make a schedule for practice and then hold her accountable for sticking to it on her own?  I think the last two would work just fine.  The important thing is to help her to see that it is her responsibility to do what it takes to succeed - if success is her goal.
  5. Your son has soccer practice and he is playing video games.  You tell him that it is time to go to practice.  He does not move.  Do you tell at him and nag him until he gets in the car?  Do you remind him a couple of times and then go about your business?  Do you tell him that you are not going to nag him but that it is his responsibility to go to practice and that he has five minutes and then you will not take him?  By choosing this last choice you are giving him a few minutes to consider what you have said, letting him know that it is his choice, and reminding him that he has a responsibility to the team to be there.  If he then chooses not to go, you can remind him that it was his choice and he will have to live with the consequences - not playing in the game, having the couch angry with him, or having his teammates annoyed that he wasn’t at practice.  Note:  if you say that he has five minutes and that you will not take him after that, DON”T take him if he emerges 10 minutes later, ready to go.

    The bottom line is that to teach personal responsibility a parent must start teaching children at a young age.  By “saving” them and “bailing them out” throughout their childhoods, we ensure that they will become adults who blame others for their failures rather than taking charge of their own lives.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Siblings' Activities

    A friend provided inspiration today for this blog.  She has a child who has discovered a new passion.  She also has another child (younger) who is feeling somewhat left out as he sees his sister enjoying her new activity so much.  Of course, he already has an activity about which he is passionate.  As she describes it, “His face lights up every time he has a piano lesson.”  The mother is trying to decide whether to let her son try this new activity (even though he already has an activity about which he is passionate) or to tell him that this is sister’s special activity much as he has his own.
   What is a mother to do?  We know that activities are good for children. Should we allow our children to compete at the same things or insist that they each go in different directions? Should we limit the number of things in which they are involved at any given time? Let’s look at what some of the experts say.
    According to Mike and Renee Mosiman, husband and wife co-authors of The Smarter Preschooler: Unlocking Your Child's Intellectual Potential, “A sense of personal accomplishment can be achieved when a child masters a skill such as learning a new stroke in swimming or making to the next belt level in karate.”  
   Barack Levin, a stay-at-home dad and author of The Diaper Chronicles, suggests letting your child try activities on a month-to-month basis.  He recommends signing up for one month and then reassessing at the end of the month.  That way, your child is not quitting an activity before it is over, but is not required to stay with it for too long if he hates it.  Of course, this is not always possible.  Some activities require you to sign up for the season or for months long sessions.  
    Jennifer Fredricks, Associate Director of Human Development at Connecticut College, found that the positive effects of one to 13 hours of weekly extracurricular activities were clear in children’s exam performance. But for students taking part in more than 17 hours of lessons, clubs and classes outside school, their grades and overall well-being notably dropped. “Above a certain level, you see a decline in grades and a decline in achievement.” Read more:

HOW TO BE A WHOLE SMART FAMILY (Sylvia B. Rimm, Ph.D., The Effects of Sibling Competition, 2002)
1.  Cheer for your siblings and they'll cheer for you.
2.  You may be second best in your family but might be best if you were in other families.
3.  Even if you're best in your family, you might be second best compared to another family.    
4.  Doing the best you can do is more important than being best in the family.
5. Learn to enjoy your experiences and improvement without continually comparing yourself to your siblings.
6. Effort and attitude count.

    Debbie Eisenstadt Mandel, a stress management specialist, tells us that we should “encourage separate individual hobbies and after-school activities. For example, one child might attend music school and the other karate. Each one needs to find a niche that distinguishes subjective abilities. Also, spend time with each one—separately doing other activities. After all, each child represents another part of you, physically and mentally. Become a positive mirror. Affirm each child verbally, don’t anticipate the negative.” 
    Finally, some schools have started offering activities after school - a different activity each day of the week. These are a great way for children to explore lots of different things without a lengthy time commitment. If your school or local youth club offers this sort of structure, you might want to check it out. Children are able to try chess club on Monday, soccer on Tuesday, drama club on Wednesday, piano on Thursday, and ballet on Friday - without you driving any extra miles or them making a huge commitment and becoming overextended. These activities are usually pretty low key - more focused on exposure than on proficiency.
    Benna Golubtchik, a teacher and NYC Board of Education retiree, reminds us, “children have personal learning styles: auditory, visual and drawing-- siblings do too.’”
    So, after we have looked at what several experts have to say about children’s activities, what is my friend to do?  
    First she must look at this younger sibling’s motivation. Does he want to take part because the older sister is getting attention for doing something well and he is jealous?  Does he want to join because he truly would enjoy the activity?  Is he tiring of the piano?  Does he feel the need to take on more extra-curricular activities?  Is he bored? 
    Once the mother has ascertained the motivation, perhaps she should look at the overall picture.  Is he involved in many activities?  Does he have adequate free time to simply create, think, and play? Is he truly passionate about playing the piano, playing for enjoyment in addition to simply practicing lessons?  Does he have a history of wanting to copy his big sister?  Is sibling rivalry an issue?  What effect would his joining in have on his big sister’s passion for her new activity?
    Once Mom answers all of these questions, she should be able to make the right decision for her family. What it always comes down to is what is appropriate for a given family. The experts can offer opinions, research, and advice, but in the end each family must choose what is right for them.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bright Child or Gifted Learner?

Parents sometimes wonder if their children are bright, good students or truly gifted.  Let’s look at the differences. Janice Szabos compiled a comparison of characteristics that makes it easy to tell:

  • A bright child knows the answers.  A gifted learner asks the questions.
  • A bright child is interested.  A gifted learner is highly curious.
  • A bright child is attentive.  A gifted learner is mentally and physically  involved.
  • A bright child has good ideas.  A gifted learner has wild and silly ideas.
  • A bright child works hard.  A gifted learner plays around, yet tests well.
  • A bright child answers the questions.  A gifted learner discusses in detail and elaborates.   
  • A bright child is in the top group.  A gifted learner is beyond the group.
  • A bright child listens with interest.  A gifted learner shows strong feelings and opinions.
  • A bright child learns with ease.  A gifted learner already seems to know.
  • A bright child requires 6-8 repetitions for mastery.  A gifted learner requires 1-2 repetitions.
  • A bright child understands ideas.  I gifted learner constructs abstractions.
  • A bright child enjoys peers.  A gifted learner prefers adults.
  • A bright child grasps the meaning.  A gifted learner draws inferences.
  • A bright child completes assignments.  A gifted learner initiates projects.
  • A bright child is receptive.  A gifted learner is intense.
  • A bright child copies accurately.  A gifted learner creates a new design.
  • A bright child enjoys school.  A gifted learner enjoys learning.
  • A bright child absorbs information.  A gifted learner manipulates information.
  • A bright child is an excellent technician.  A gifted learner is an inventor.
  • A bright child is a good memorizer.  A gifted learner is a good guesser.
  • A bright child enjoys straightforward, sequential presentation. A gifted learner thrives on  complexity.
  • A bright child is alert.  A gifted learner is keenly observant.
  • A bright child is pleased with own learning.  A gifted learner is highly self-critical.

So, let me know what you think about this.  Do you agree?  Do you disagree? Feel free to post a comment of your personal experiences or professional opinions.