Isn’t that the truth! Parenting gets so exponentially harder when we are in a hurry or are tired. That’s why I’m such a big believer in creating systems and routines for as much of the day as we can. When we have good systems and routines to fall back on, we can let habit lead us.Read More
Joyful Musings--a weekly blog
Joyful Parenting Coaching is focused on clarity, consistency, connection, being an effective parent, finding balance as a parent, and above all being a confident and joyous parent. Topics include communication, having difficult conversations, having constructive conversations, chores, routines, family meetings,
Filtering by Category: Consistency
What are some bad sleep habits elementary school, tweens and teens have?
•Having their phones in their rooms with them. Yes, a smart phone makes a good alarm, but not if kids are texting and checking social media all night, so better to get your child a conventional alarm clock.
•Going fully speed ahead right up until bed time. People need wind down time. Just as when they were babies or toddlers, kids should have a routine that calms and soothes.
•Varying their bedtimes by a lot. While the occasional late night can’t be avoided, sleep experts agree going to bed at around the same time every night is helpful.
•Trying to make up for lost sleep during the week by sleeping until noon on Saturday.Read More
A recent Quora question was how do we teach our children priorities. The answer is simple. Every time you make a choice, you are teaching your child your priorities.
You are in the middle of cooking dinner, and your child demands that you stop what you are doing and come see this marvelous bug that he is looking at.
If you turn off the stove and go look, you are prioritizing curiosity, discovery, enthusiasm and in-the-moment excitement.Read More
People often ask me, what consequence should I give my child for situation X.
There is no one right answer for that because each family is different, but here are some guidelines:
Logical consequences should
•be related to the problem
•be age appropriate
•allow a child his/her dignity
And most importantly, you HAVE to be able to follow through with them or you are back at square one, so it has to work for your family and for that particular child (fair is not equal).Read More
Tantrums are a natural stage in every child's development. While some parents with easy going children may have fewer of them to deal with, no parent avoids tantrums altogether. However, there are steps we can take to avoid and/or mitigate tantrums.Read More
So far, everything you have done to build your consistency muscle has focused on the positive--you have modeled correct behavior, praised correct behavior and trained for correct behavior. But still your child is using disrespectful behavior! Now is when it get's real, when you are going to set an expectation and then hold the limit. This will probably mean that you need to have a consequence ready--one that you can absolutely follow through on.Read More
So, you have prioritized your values (If not, go to previous step HERE) and are clear about where you want to build your consistency muscle. That's hugely important.
HERE'S AN EXAMPLE
Let's say you have decided to consistently require your children to speak respectfully. Love that. But do your children know what it means to speak respectfully? Probably not, so you have to teach them.
STEP ONE: MODEL
Model respectful speech. I hope this is obvious, but how can you expect your children to speak respectfully if you are not modeling that in all your interactions with others? This includes how you speak about people. If over dinner you complain what a neanderthal jerk your boss is, your children are going to hear that, so while it is okay to criticize people, make sure that it is in respectful language. Perhaps you would say something like, "I wish my boss were up to date on the latest approaches and were more open to listening to fresh ideas." Little ears are listening all the time! How you speak to the people you love is even more important, so avoid the first two of John Gottman's Four Horsemen, criticism and contempt, at all costs. Finally, use polite and loving language with your own children is key.
STEP TWO: PRAISE
Catch Your Children Doing Good. Remember, you have been catching your children doing good in order to develop your consistency muscle. If the values exercise last week has you shifting your focus, go back to the step where you praise, praise, praise every time your child is (in this example) using respectful language. Say, "I heard you say Thank You to your teacher. That was so respectful." or "When you asked your brother, 'May I please have it after you?', that was exactly the kind of respectful language we expect in this house." Build up models for them so that they get a clearer and clearer idea of what you want before you make it a non-negotiable.
STEP THREE: TEACH
A bi-product of kids being technologically advanced is that many of them lag in their interpersonal skills. Compared to what you might have learned already at your child's age about how to get along well with others in the world, today's children spent many fewer hours figuring out how to speak in such a way that strengthens connections and warms relationships. The more we use our phones to deposit checks and order the weeks groceries, the less kids see us interacting with a wide variety of people. In the absence of daily modeling, we need to teach our kids skills explicitly.
One of my favorite teaching methods is role playing. Ask your kids what the would say in different situations and how they would say it. Start with people they know--their teachers, coaches, school personnel like the crossing guard or the office manager. Set the expectation that it is respectful to greet and acknowledge these people. Teach them stock phrases like, "Hello, Mrs. Stitt, how are you today?" Teach them how they can extend the conversation: "Isn't this a lovely day?" or "Did you have a good weekend?" or "Happy Chinese New Year! It's the Year of the Rooster, you know!" Tell them explicitly it is respectful to express an interest. When you pick them up for school ask, "Whose day did you brighten today?"
STEP FOUR: TRAIN
Once you have taught your kids what it means to be respectful, they will have an understanding of being respectful, but they still won't have the habit. Before you start reprimanding your children for being disrespectful, make sure that you have done enough training. Think about how long it takes to train yourself to do something until it is absolutely automatic. I am currently training myself to sit up straight. It didn't used to be such an issue because while teaching I spent so many hours on my feet, but now that I am in front of the computer most of the day, I have to think about it very consciously. Boy, is is a slow process! Your kids will need lots and lots and lots of gentle reminders, so when they do not speak respectfully (or clean up their toys or remember their chores, etc), do not assume they are being defiant! This is so important. You want your rules followed, and they will be, but it will take time before your kids are consistent.
Your job for the time being is to CATCH THEM DOING GOOD when they do it right and to gently remind them when they forget. Let them know that they are in training, and you want to do whatever you can in supporting their remembering. This is the time to brainstorm structures that will help them remember (I still have to set an alarm to keep track of which week is recycling week).
Next week we will get to what to do when training period is over, and it is finally time to add some teeth to your rules.
Teach your daughter how to study a textbook. Kids think they can just read a textbook the way they read a novel, but although both involve reading, they are really very different tasks.
Here are some guidelines on using a textbook:
Preview all the pictures and graphics (Some textbook companies include information in the pictures/graphics/sidebars, etc that they do not include in the body paragraphs, and often this information shows up on tests). Read the first paragraph, all the section headings and the last paragraph of the chapter. Go over and look up any italicized words in the text. STOP and summarize in your mind ideas like, “This chapter appears to be about…. The material I already know something about is…. The part that looks the hardest is….” READ the review questions at the end of the chapter. Make guesses about what the answers might be. Guessing will help you be on the look out for information as you read that confirms or denies your answers.
Read in sections. At the end of each section, close the book (using a bookmark to track the page) and try to summarize in your mind what you have read. Say any difficult or new words OUT LOUD to try to fix them in your mind. If you are having a hard time summarizing, reread. Finally, when you can generally summarize, take notes and/or draw pictures or diagrams of what you have read IN YOUR OWN WORDS. Only go back to the text to double check you’ve got it right. Proceed to the next section.
After reading: Whether your teacher requires it or not, go back to the questions at the end of the chapter and do them. If none of the questions asks you to summarize the main ideas of the chapter, write a paragraph of 5–7 sentences that will become your quick guide to what the chapter is about.
As you can see, studying a textbook takes much longer than reading a textbook, but when your teacher says, “Read pages 56–61,” she really doesn’t mean read. She means study. You might think, “Oh, that’s just 5 pages. That will take around 10 minutes.” It will not. Once you get good at this process, it will take you around 30 minutes for the before/while/after steps, but when you are first learning it, it will take much longer, so be sure to set aside some extra time.
LOOP YOUR STUDYING
Knowledge in the sciences is accumulative. Subsequent chapters require you to know the information from previous chapters. For this reason, keep your notes from all chapters for the entire year. (If you are taking notes on binder paper, you don’t have to carry the whole year around with you but can transfer previous chapters to a binder you keep at home.) Every time you sit down to study new material, take 5 minutes or so to review old material. Furthermore, a good teacher will ask questions from previous chapters on every test, so set a time in your schedule to go back and review them from time to time.
It can be hard to understand material two or three chapters away from the one you are working on, but there is still value in looking at ahead to those chapters. Look at the titles, graphics and photos. Start getting curious about what it means. Be on the look out in your current and past chapters that might connect to the topics and themes coming up.
Knowing how to be a good student is infinitely more valuable in the 7th grade than any particular knowledge gained of a particular topic. Because grades count relatively little, 7th grade is the perfect time to focus on learning how to learn. That is a skill that you will take with you no matter what classes you take in the future.
With New Year’s here, I imagine that you are setting resolutions around your parenting. Among your resolutions, perhaps you have a goal of being more consistent. Great. I’d like to help with that. However, becoming a consistent parent is almost impossible if you leave to will power alone. It is much easier if you build for success step by step. I have a plan for doing exactly that.Read More
WE CARE SO DEEPLY, IT IS HARD TO SHIFT OUR POSITION
Ideally, spouses will agree with each other. Indeed, were the world ideal, that would be easy. Parenting is so personal, however, that it really is hard for parents to have worked out ahead of time what they want their approach to be. Parenting decisions are arguably the most important you'll ever make! Talk about pressure. It is hard to give up your own point of view.
FIND AREAS IN COMMON AND HAVE EACH OTHER'S BACKS
I find it helps when parents focus more on what they agree on than on what they disagree on. The first key is that the core values are the same. I find it very constructive when parents narrow in on 3-4 absolutes. For example, “In our family we are kind” or “In our family, we take care of our things.” Which values parents focus on is less important than the power of a consistently presented message around agreed upon ideas. If parents have a lot of agreement and emphasis on the biggies for their family, there will be less need to micromanage each other. I coach most parents to give their partner more space to parent the way each wants to.
The second key is that at least there is an agreement in place to support each other. In my blended family, my husband and stepchildren agreed to eat at the table with the t.v. off when I was there. Nights I wasn’t home, they ate in front of the t.v. When my younger stepson asked why they didn’t when I wasn’t home, my husband said, “What matters is that Elisabeth cares, so when she is home, we do it for her.” In this case, my husband didn’t share the value of sitting at the table, but he did have my back. I, for my part, let go of trying to convince him that I was right or even why it was important to me. It was enough that he supported me. By each giving each other some space, we both kept peace and presented a united front.
ACCEPT DIFFERENCES IN THE LITTLE THINGS
As long as the core values are in place, it is okay for parents to have different approaches. If Dad is supervising homework and he says yes to 15 minutes of shooting hoops before getting started, Mom should walk away, even if she has a problem with it. In the same vein, if Mom is happy to have all the toys thrown into one big bin, Dad needs to wait until he is in charge to have kids sort the toys into separate bins. Kids can handle two standards to some extent. That being said, I do find it useful for spouses to have a rule that says kids have to take the first answer they get. Of course, sometimes this will just mean that kids will go to the parent from whom they can get the yes. In my own family growing up, that meant that my father always defaulted back to, “Ask your mother” or “Yes, if Mommy says so," but what is really important is that one parent's yes cannot fall to the other parent. In other words, if mom says yes to a sleepover at Annie's, she cannot now expect dad to drop what he is doing to drive their daughter to the sleepover--or to be the one to pick her up in the morning. Or if dad says yes to watching a movie that will keep kids up after bed time, it is not fair if mom is the one dealing with rude, grumpy children in the morning.
MAKE SURE THE DOWN SIDE OF YOUR PARENTING DECISIONS DON'T FALL TO YOUR PARENTING PARTNER
Similarly, for parents co-parenting from two separate households, I like the rule that dad cannot say yes to something that is on mom's day. If my daughter wanted a play date on my weekend, she had to call and ask me. That made it simpler as for the most part as we didn’t have to agree. On the other hand, we had little control over what the other spouse did—and sometimes that made it really hard for me to hold my tongue. For instance, my daughter's dad said yes to her going rock climbing with friends. That freaked me out, but in the short run a) it was too late for me to do anything about it, and b) it was more important to back up my trust in her father than to make a big scene.
IN MOST CASES, RELATIONSHIP SHOULD TRUMP PARENTING STYLE
The bottom line here is that the relationship between the parents is usually more important than a particular parenting decision. Children can thrive with a wide variety of parenting styles as long as they feel safe and secure. They get that from having their parents on the same page.
A client recently asked how she could avoid her kids having meltdowns at the supermarket.
PLAN WHEN TO SHOP
1. Try to plan your shopping for a time of day when you don’t have your kids with you. (Maybe you can trade babysitting with a neighbor and watch her kids one day while she shops, so that you can leave your kids with her the next day while you shop.)
2. If you must shop with your kids, try to shop at a time of day when they are most likely to handle it well because they are rested, fed and ideally have had some unstructured play time.
SET CLEAR EXPECTATIONS IN ADVANCE
3. If there is no “ideal” time in your family and you have no option but to take your kids with you, it is KEY that before going to the supermarket, you set expectations.
Here’s what I did those days I went pick my child up from after school care, know we were going to have to go to the store. (Note: By five, most children will be a lot less likely to tantrum than when they were younger, but some kids take longer to learn to regulate their emotions, so while tantrums are tapering off, don’t worry too much if your child is still having them at five.)
• I would start by pulling her aside at childcare into some quiet corner. I would get her on my lap and hold her until I had her attention. Sometimes, this meant a tantrum right there at childcare. It was a break from her routine. I was springing on her that her evening routine was going to be altered. She wouldn't get her playtime with mommy before dinner. Sometimes just holding her on my lap and not letting her run around the center would set her off crying. That was okay with me. Remember, even on a good day a child is more likely to cry between 5:00 and 6:00 o'clock than any other time. It's as if all the emotional stresses of the day have built up in children by then and they are just looking for an excuse to cry them out. Frankly, if my daughter was going to have a meltdown, I would rather that she have it at the center where we could sit on a beanbag in the corner than that she have it in the middle of the cereal aisle. Yes, a tantrum takes time. You cannot hurry it along, and I admit that while I was sitting there letting her wail it out, I was mentally revising my shopping list down to the bare essentials I could get away with without making tomorrow a hard day, too. On a happier note, the miracle of a good cry is that it really is like letting the storm wash through with its thunder and lighting. At the end of it, my daughter's tension would be spent and almost without exception she would be ready to calmly go to the store.
Although it might seem counter intuitive, the last minute trips to the store when she hadn't had a chance to cry were by far the trickier ones, the ones that required every bit of patience and creativity on my part to move us along without upset.
•On the way to the store, I would use the time in the car to set the expectations for what would happen once we got to the store: I would explain, we were only getting a few things (could she hold the list for me?); we weren't getting anything that wasn't on the list (that meant no requests for raspberries, dinosaur pasta or "special treat" cereal); but we were getting apples (did she want red or green?). I would acknowledge that she didn’t want to go to the store and ask her what might make going to the store easier? Did she want to walk or sit in the cart? Would she keep her bottom down? Otherwise she was going to be walking. How could she help Mommy? Could she count the apples? Sort the food by whether or not it went in the fridge or the cupboard? Hold the reusable grocery bags and hand them to the bagger? My main aim here in addition to letting her know what kind of behavior would be expected was to make her feel needed and included. Instead of my dragging her to the store because I had no choice, I would pose it as how lovely it was that she was there to assist me.
MAKE THE TRIP FUN
4. Once at the store, be all about cheerful confidence that the trip was going to be quick and fun. Often, I would turn it into a song and we would skip through the parking lot (Yes, I skipped in public. If it made a five o'clock shopping trip go off without a hitch, dignity be damned). We would sing: We're going to the store/We're going to the store/Hi Ho the Merry-o,/We're going to the store. If it was working, we'd add more verses (We'll buy the apples first/We'll buy the apples first/Hi Ho the Merry-o/We'll buy the apples first). As we were singing, we wouldn't have to stop to have conversation about whether she would walk or she would sit because we had already worked that out in the car. If she did decide to resist, I wouldn't let her change her mind because I knew that if I gave in on that first agreement, all I was doing was putting off the inevitable battle for later inside the store. Instead, I would get down to eye level, hold her hands or stroke her arms and gently remind her of her agreement. Sometimes that brought on a crying jag right there outside the store [Let me offer up a small prayer of thanks here that I was parenting in California. The weather was rarely so bad that we couldn't take the time to have the tantrum outside the store. If it had been, I suppose I would have had to go back to the car and let her do her crying there.]
STICK TO THE PLAN
5. Stick to the plan. You know as well as I do that a grocery store is specifically designed as a land mine that a parent must negotiate through. Yes, the store does deliberately place toys and yummy snacks right where a child is most likely to see them. That's why I would use the shopping list plus empathy. My daughter would cry out in great need for something--bubbles, maybe--and I would say, "Aw, too bad it is not on the list!" And then as I pushed by the bubbles, I might add in my most energized voice, "I love bubbles! They're so much fun!! I like the way they shimmer with different colors!! Don't you think bubbles are just the prettiest?" At this point, on a good day, my daughter would get excited just talking about bubbles. By the time she got back to wanting to buy them, we would be aisles away and looking for the next item on the list. On a bad day, this might be where the tears finally appeared. Remember, some days there are just tears that need to fall. A child has been keeping it together all day at school, but now that she is with you, her parent, she can safely fall apart secure in the knowledge that you won't abandon her. At this point, you have to make a decision. It might be possible to keep offering sympathy while at the same time going down your shopping list: "Aw, Sweetie. I know you really wanted those bubbles, You really like them and really wish you could get some. I know that's hard, Pumpkin. I wish I could make it easier for you." For my own part, if the crying was at a reasonable decibel and I didn't think I was making the other patrons suffer too badly, I would push through my list, continuing to murmur comforting sounds, taking her hand if she would let me. If it was really bad, I would ask the clerk at the front of the store to watch my cart and head outside until she finished crying. Once she was done--and that could be a while--we would head back in and finish. As much as it might have helped me get through the shopping list without a tantrum, I made sure not to give in to the bubbles or whatever it was she wanted.
KNOW THAT THIS STAGE WILL PASS!
6. When all else fails at the end of the day, know that this is just a developmental stage your child is going through. With each passing month, she will be better able to handle herself and will be more and more able to help you. Soon you will have your kids so well trained that you will wait until your kids are with you to shop. While you work your way through the vegetables, they will be your gophers running to pick up more butter and some milk. They will know which bread, cereal and crackers your family favors. They’ll be so helpful, the days of tantrums in the store will seem a distant memory.
Where are you getting snagged by your kids?
Hi. Every parent has some parts of the day that she does well. Every parent has some parts of the day that just don't seem to work. Wouldn't you like to know what's the one change you could make that would smooth out the rough patches? That's what my Harmony at Home Family Assessment does--identify the sticky points so that you know where to focus your parenting energies most efficiently. TEXT me with some times that work for you, and we'll find you a date.
Joyful Parenting Coaching
There can be lots of reasons why your child is out of control. What you should do depends on why he is out of control. (For the purpose of simplicity, I am going to address this with the masculine gender, though it could just as easily be a girl who is out of control.)
Is this his first experience with school? These days, Kindergarten can be a real shock for kids who have had not gone to childcare or preschool up until now in their lives. It could just be that he is totally unused to having restrictions placed on him. Other children may have already learned “school” skills like lining up quietly, taking turns, sitting still, listening to the teacher’s directions. If your son has not, start by reassuring him that he will learn these skills and it will get easier and easier to control himself.
If he is not out of control at home, is it because you always accommodate him? Perhaps he has never had to throw a fit to get what he wants, because it has always been easy to give him whatever he wants. Again, sometimes with an only child, a parent does not even realize how often he is giving into his child’s demands because there is no other child making counter demands. If that is the case, although it might make life at home harder in the short run, you can lovingly teach him about limits by beginning to set some expectations. Perhaps you are going to ask him to sit at the grown-up table and turn off the tv during dinner. If he has always eaten in front of the tv, this could be a big battle. That’s okay. Right now, you are trying to teach him that life will not always be arranged just as he would like it to be. Just offer him lots of sympathy that it is hard when expectations change but assure him that you are looking forward to having him at the table so that there can be pleasant conversation at dinner. If he has a tantrum, stay with him, empathize that change is hard and keep repeating that it will get easier. The day will come when he will sit happily at the table and share in the dinner conversation. Learning to do this at home will help him to learn to do it at school.
Kids can also lose control at school because they are overstimulated. Again, if he has not been in a group setting before, the shear number of kids could be overloading his system. Or the noise. Or the lights of the classroom. Or the many transitions. Talk to your son. Say, “You seem to be having a hard time controlling yourself at school. Why is that?” If he has a clear answer, go to the solution phase. Talk with his teacher and get her input on ways to give your son some relief. Ideas might include permission to go to a quiet corner, to step outside, or to find a desk that is away from everyone else (or at least is together with quieter students). Some teachers might allow him to wear ear plugs or ear buds (that aren’t attached to anything) if noise is an issue. If light is an issue, maybe he can work underneath his desk. Keep trying different solutions until you find one that allows him to remain in class without over loading.
Does your child lean towards anxiety? This could be another reason he is out of control at school. If this is the case, yelling and running around may be an effort to calm his nervous system. He can learn to replace out-of-control outbursts with other calming, anxiety reducing techniques like deep breathing, closing his eyes, squeezing a ball or stuffed animal. At home you can help him by training him to be able to imagine a calm, safe space so that he can call that image up in his mind when he gets stressed at school.
If none of these possible reasons for his out of control behavior feel right, see if you can get permission from the teacher to observe him at school some day. Just sit in the back of the room and take notes. Write down the time and what you see in language that is neutral as possible (ie, what any objective observer would, not what his loving mother would intuit). Share these observation notes with the teacher and principal of your son’s school. They are experienced professionals and this data will help them make recommendations tailored to your son.
You have probably heard of the benefits of routine meditation practices. Studies have linked meditation to decreased stress, decreased depression, anxiety, pain and insomnia, and an increased quality of life. Studies have even found that people who practiced meditation regularly had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision making. A parent asked me how young you can start meditation with children. I don’t know, though there are studies on kids as young as second grade, and my guess is there is no reason not to start sooner—as long as it is does not become one more thing parents feel they should do with their kids. With one in five children saying they worry “a lot or a great deal” about their lives, meditation may be one way for them to calm their monkey brain.
The question is how to teach very young children to meditate. I would start by saying it is a process!
An important aspect of meditation is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is really about paying attention to the moment by opening one’s senses fully. Ask children to sit and close their eyes. What do they hear? smell? What textures are they aware of? Can they feel their bones on the ground? Can they feel the movement of their body as they breath in and out? Can they hear their heart beating? Can they slow their breath but breathing in? Over time have kids extend the number of seconds it takes to breath in, pause, and then breath out, pause, breathe in, pause, breath out, pause.
Get kids to become aware of when and where they are tense.
The next approach might be teaching them to tense and relax different parts of their body. (In a classroom, this can be done sitting at their desks). This helps them learn to focus and it helps them feel the difference between tense and relaxed muscles. Work from the toes up to the head. Ask children to curl their toes as hard as they can and then relax, flex their feet as hard as they can and then relax, tighten their straight legs as hard as they can by pulling them together. Continue to work in this way up through the top of their head. Then work back down to their toes. Then ask them to take a deep breath in and out and as they let the air out to let their whole body relax.
Kids are naturals at guided meditations as they already live in their imaginations.
As a third step, have kids do a guided meditation. I have introduced kids to this as an eyes open exercise. I have allowed them to draw or color as I imagine them walking through nature. With a recording of sounds of nature playing in the background, I guide them down a woodland path to a glen with wild flowers and birds and a still pond with water bugs making the only movement on the water. As I describe it, they draw whatever they are inspired to draw.
With kids at home, choose a time when your kids are sleepy and you can go straight to going to eyes closed on the floor or even in bed and just have them imagine the journey. If you have the space in the classroom for your kids to lie on the floor, then work towards having them do the guided meditation not drawing but just with their eyes closed. Start with short ones and then as they learn to settle into it, you can make them longer. (A guided meditation can be an excellent introduction to a writing exercise. You might ask them, for example, to describe what they see in the glen when they get there. Or if there is a river in the guided meditation, ask them what they find further down the river.
If none of these techniques work, don't worry. Modeling meditation through developing your own daily practice might work. Or you might just wait six months and try then.
A combination of these ideas keeps things fresh for kids while at the same time helping them get the benefits we associate with meditation. Again, take it slow! Keep it light and playful. You might scoff at the idea of a first grader worried because she has not been able to meditate right, but I have stood in line at the grocery store as one mother complained to another about her own meditation and watched the expression on her little girl's face. To me it seemed to say, "Oh no. One more thing for me to worry about!" So, have fun with it. If it helps your family--or one particular child--great! If not, LET IT GO!! Playing outside on the grass or climbing a tree will also go far to restoring kids' equilibrium.
In the way that sometimes happens, I finish writing a blog and then I find another someone else who had covered the same material but even better! You might enjoy this INFOGRAPHIC.
Considering I taught in the public schools for 25 years, you would expect me to be a big proponent of homework. At the end of the day, I am not, as it might be a waste of time and in some cases might do more harm than good. Here are 5 considerations regarding homework.
1. Homework Does Not Give the Bang for the Buck You’d Expect
Considering all of the emphasis put on homework, you would expect it to make an enormous difference in student outcomes. And while homework can improve student performance, there are a lot of guidelines for what makes effective homework and how much should be given. In my experience, teachers mostly do not give homework that meets researchers’ recommendations for kind and amount. Furthermore, I think most teachers—especially those without children of their own—have only a vague notion of the impact their assignments are causing at home.
2. Most Teachers Assign Homework That Is Easy to Grade—Or They Don’t Grade It Properly
I was an extremely hard-working and effective teacher. I actually did assign writing assignments that actually did take me hours to grade. I kid you not. An essay took at least 20 minutes to read, write comments on and assign a grade. With 90-150 papers depending on the week, grading took a minimum of 30 hours to grade. If I assigned an essay every three weeks or so, that was 10-15 hours of grading a week minimum. That alone might have been manageable, but that did not include the vocabulary, spelling and grammar work that I felt compelled to assign along side of that. Swamped by the piles of paper I needed to process, those secondary assignments got short shrift (which students took full advantage of, writing ever more meaningless sentences such as “The boy was lethargic”).
3. Homework That Is Not Thoughtfully Graded and Returned to the Student Promptly Does Not Fulfill Its Purpose.
Let’s take the vocabulary sentences example again. A teacher assigns using the weekly vocabulary words in a sentence in order to show understanding of the words’ meanings. Either the student writes a sentence so banal and without context that the word could mean anything (In “The boy was lethargic,” lethargic could as easily mean fat or kind hearted as apathetic) or the student uses the word incorrectly because he does not understand the meaning of the word. If the teacher does not correct his paper and get it back to him the next day, he will not be able to correct his understanding before he fixes the word in his mind for a test. In this case, not only has homework failed in its positive benefit, it has actually hurt the student be reinforcing a false concept.
4. Teachers Mostly Do Not Assign Recommended Amounts of Homework
I used to tell my students to work 25 minutes and stop. Seventh graders at my school were supposed to get 25 minutes of work in each core subject (math, LA, social studies and science) adding up to a total of 100 minutes. [Note: research recommendations would be 70 minutes.] With the understanding that students took different amounts of time, we assumed that we were giving between an hour to two hours of homework a night. (After two hours the efficacy of doing homework falls off completely). The reality was that kids were spending much longer on some teacher’s homework—either because they were struggling with the material and needed the time or because they were super conscientious and wanted a top grade no matter how long it took them. The longer I taught, the more anxious kids got about their grade, and the more kids I had that fell into the last category. But mostly, teachers didn’t know how long assignments took because they didn’t ask.
5. Parents give the wrong kind of help with homework.
Ideally, assignments would be just long enough to test or reinforce a concept. Kids would do homework on their own; teachers would grade it immediately to assess whether or not the kids got the concept. Parents would support the homework process by providing a quiet place to study (away from electronics) and asking open-ended questions like, “What strategy could you use to approach this problem?” or “Did you go back and review the material?” Ideally, parents’ focus would not be on the specific content but on helping the child develop strategies for breaking down and managing the work.
6. MY RECOMMENDATION
If homework in your house is taking more than the recommended 10 minutes per grade, I would start by keeping a log for a couple of weeks. Write down how much time each child is spending on each subject. Make note of how much help you need to give and what kind of help you have had to give. If you end up regularly teaching concepts at home, ask to have a parent-teacher conference. Ask the teacher if your child is paying attention and asking questions in class. If no, that is where you need to help your child make changes. If yes, then share with the teacher how much teaching you have had to do at home and ask her what her expectation is. A good teacher will say, “If you teach at home and your child comes to school back with perfect homework, I assume I have taught the concept effectively. I will not know that I need to adjust my teaching or leave more time for review.” A poor teacher will complain about the number of standards she has to teach and whine that there is no way to get through them in a single year. At that point, you might consider a conversation with the principal (bring your log). In any case, I would put my foot down in my home and limit the amount of time students could spend on homework. Children need play, they need downtime, and they need to participate in helping out with family life. When we let homework dominate the day, we do a grave disservice.
If Homework has taken over your home and you'd like some help putting it in its place, Sign up HERE for a "sample session" and we can make a plan that works for your family.
Here are some of my guidelines for getting kids to sleep and to stay asleep
•Consistency, consistency, consistency
The actual practice that a parent sets up for getting a child to fall asleep independently is less important than that he sticks with it from as early an age as possible. At heart we are creatures of habit, and like Pavlov’s dogs, given stimulus A we will react with response A. That means the same general sequence of events—done night after night--will signal to our body, sleep time is coming.
•Put your kids to bed earlier than you might think.
If your child needs to up by 7:30 a.m. in order to get through the morning routine and off to childcare on time, she should probably be asleep by around 7:30 p.m. That means starting bedtime around 7:00 p.m.! That might seem impossible. By the time you are coming in from work and picking your kids up from childcare, you might be lucky to get dinner on the table by 7:00 p.m. If your child is a really solid napper (at least 2-3 hours a day), you might be able to fudge this, but if you have a kid like mine—who was down to one hour-long nap after lunch at around 18 months—you are going to need to protect her nighttime sleep. The inherent problem in this is that it gives you very little time to actually interact with your child. Unfortunately, our children’s need for sleep has not caught up with our modern day schedules. Furthermore, if your child is cranky and having tantrums because she is overtired, not only is she going to have a harder time falling asleep but the time you spend together is going to be tense and stressed.
• Find 2-3 markers for a bed time routine.
For my kids “bedtime” was change into pajamas, one story and one song, and then a sleepy time music track that played for around 45 minutes that got turned on as the parent walked out the door. Changing into pajamas and reading a story was done with reduced lighting. The song (including a little back rubbing) was done by the light of the night light. Parents should beware of a too long list of bedtime rituals as it makes it very hard on a night when you come in late from an activity or having gone to dinner at a friend’s. Tasks like taking a bath can be on a list I call “Before bedtime tonight we have to….” By phrasing it that way, if it should happen that you come in too late for a bath, you aren’t changing the bedtime routine.
•Ideally, train infants to fall asleep by themselves so they are already in the habit as toddlers.
Parents who give their infant her last feed of the day while she is still awake (I advise doing it in a different room from where her crib is) may have a harder time teaching her to fall asleep alone in her crib in the short run, but they will have much better sleepers as toddlers. These babies know how to put themselves to sleep and back to sleep when they wake in the night.
•Kids can “practice” good sleep habits at a time when it is not bed time!
What do you do as an adult to help you fall back asleep? Somewhere along the way, you developed a trick—and I bet that most nights it works. I don’t count sheep but I do do my times tables. Other times I practice meditative breathing—Breathe six counts in, hold it six counts, breathe six counts out, hold it out six counts. Kids can start with three counts and work their way up. Even 18 month olds can learn to do belly breaths by placing a pillow or stuffy on the stomach and practice watching the stuffy go up and down. Kids can also learn to do progressive relaxations by tensing and then relaxing different parts of their bodies working from their toes to the crown of their heads. All these techniques can be practiced in the middle of the day where you are there to guide them through it. You can set them up for success by asking, “If you need help falling asleep, which technique are you going to use?”
•Once it is sleeping time, interact with your child as little as possible
If you have a toddler with challenging sleep habits and you are just getting started at establishing good ones, know that it is going to be a slow process. The trick is to take baby steps forward, but no steps backward. The first step is to make yourself minimally interesting once you have gotten up to leave the room. Even if you have to physically put your child back in bed, do so with as little comment and eye contact as possible. (On a side note, if you were someone who could let your children “cry it out,” you probably would have done that already. It only works if you are absolutely 100% consistent, so unless you are 100% committed, I don’t recommend it.)
There are, however, ways of weaning your child from his need for your presence as he falls asleep. If you have been lying down with your child in order for him to fall asleep, tell him that from now on you won’t lie down with him, but you will sit next to him. When he is accepting that without tears and tantrums, tell him that from now on you won't sit next to him where he can still touch you, but you will sit at the end of the bed with your hand on his foot. Once he can fall asleep with you at the foot of the bed, move to sitting next to the bed on the floor or on the chair. Progressively you are going to move closer and closer to the bedroom door. Eventually, you are going to sit outside the bedroom door as he falls asleep and one day (miracles of miracles), you are going to close that door—maybe even all the way!
This process might take 3-4 weeks and feel like torture to you (after all, when you lay down with your kids while they fell asleep, there were no tears and you probably got a little nap, too!), but imagine that three weeks from now bedtime from start to finish takes around 15 minutes and your child puts himself back to sleep when he wakes up for the night! Imagine your kid not waking up tired because he has gotten enough sleep. Imagine spending time connecting with your spouse in the evening. Or taking a long shower. Or going to bed on time yourself!
Good sleeping habits support a good future
Good sleep is so important for learning. Establishing good habits early on can support good study habits for school all the way through. Despite taking hard classes and getting good grades, my daughter had relatively few moments in high school where she was completely stressed. Even in college she goes to sleep by 10:00 p.m. She organizes her studies so that she does not have to pull all nighters and gets 8-9 hours of sleep a night. Good sleep wards against depression or a dependency on caffeine or other stimulants to perform. Putting in the work now to develop good habits, might be one of the most important parenting steps you take.
Teaching your children to be good sleepers might be the most important thing you do for your marriage.
Admittedly, I do not have any studies to support this claim, but my personal experience in dealing with families is that households where "bedtime" takes a couple of hours are more stressed than ones where kids go to bed relatively quickly with minimum support from their parents. Parents need time to regroup, to be "off the clock." They need time to connect each other and to connect to themselves.
NEED SOME HAND HOLDING WHILE GOING THROUGH THE PROCESS OF ESTABLISHING NEW HABITS?
Let me help! As much as you are retraining your kids' expectations around bedtime and falling asleep independently, you are retraining yourself to stand firm and committed to valuing good sleeping habits in your house. Regular coaching calls give you a place to vent and to strategize. Sign up HERE for a "Getting to Know You" call and we can make a plan that works for your family.
Lots of kids lie, and often lying is particularly upsetting to parents. I think that one reason lying affects parents so strongly is because we want to keep our children safe. As long as we think we know what is going on in our kids’ heads and what they are actually experiencing, we figure we can take action to protect them. When our kids lie to us, however, we find out that perhaps our kids have been exposed to dangerous or negative situations out of our control.
WHY LYING UPSETS PARENTS
Let’s say for example, that you find out your nine year old has ridden her bike outside the agreed upon streets. She has been lying to you by omission, and then one day you find out that she has crossed some major streets with a lot of traffic. A big part of why you are upset by her lie is your fear about what might have happened to her—the accident she might have had, or whom she might have encountered so far outside your sphere of influence. Plus, in the face of one lie, you begin to doubt what you can trust about other parts of her life: Is she telling you what is going on at school? What happens when she plays at her friend’s house?
WHY PEOPLE LIE
People lie to get some kind of emotional need met. We all have needs for a sense of security, autonomy, attention, status, acceptance, excitement, intimacy and love, connection to others, self-esteem, and so forth. We lie, then, either when we think telling the truth will get in the way of having one of those needs met or when telling the lie will get the need met.
In the example above, for example, the nine year old is more than old enough to know that she is lying. Perhaps she has lied because of her need for autonomy. She feels she is old enough to handle crossing a busy street and she wants to test it out. Perhaps she has lied to gain status, and another child has dared her to cross the forbidden street or she has bragged that she is allowed to do so and now must show that she can.
WHAT PARENTS CAN DO ABOUT LYING
The question remains what should a parent do in the face of a child lying? Certainly it is reasonable to have a consequence for breaking a family rule (and ideally that consequence has been worked out the same time the bike riding boundaries were set up). But in order for a parent to feel secure her child won’t lie again, it is important that she take the time to figure out what emotional need was the child trying to meet by engaging in the behavior which required the lie (including the lie of omission). Only then can parent and child work out more acceptable ways of getting the need met.
WHAT ROLE PARENTS PLAY IN THEIR CHILDREN'S LYING
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary says, "There is only one reason a child lies to its parents: the conditions for it to feel safe have not been created.” You may well bristle at the idea that you have caused your child to lie, but having dealt with kids’ lying at school over the years, it feels possible to me. When I talked with kids about why they lie, these are some of the answers I have heard over the years:
•My parents will over react and won’t listen to me.
•My parents just won’t understand.
•If my parents found out I did that, they’d judge me.
•All my mom cares about is X; she doesn’t understand that X isn’t that important to me. (Or that Y is more important).
•All my dad cares about is how it will look to other people.
He doesn’t actually care about what happens to me.
I have certainly seen parents over react, and with some parents I do feel that the parent cares more about his own reputation than about what his child is thinking and feeling. But in most cases, lying occurs in households where communication has broken down. Because kids have not felt seen, heard and valued, kids have stopped sharing. They don’t want the hassle of arguing with their parents because they feel they don’t get anywhere with it, and at the same time they still have powerful unmet needs. The drive to get their needs met—even if it means accepting negative consequences—makes lying worth it to them.
The next question, then, is how do you keep the lines of communication open. I think first and foremost, you own up to your own foibles as a parent—own that sometimes you do over react. Own that you get triggered—by safety concerns, by fears for the future, by wanting to seem like a perfect parent. Own that you grew up in a different generation and/or a different culture and that what seems okay to your kids feels really wrong to you. Own your own hang ups. Maybe your parents didn’t let you drive into the city on your own, so now your automatic response when your child asks permission is to say No Way without even giving it any real thought.
IDENTIFYING THE NEEDS BEHIND THE LIES
Next, even if you do end up saying no to your kids (and I fully support your right to do that), really take the time to listen to what they want. Be curious about why they want it (what need would get met if they got to do whatever it is they want to do). Then, work to see if the underlying need can be met in some other way. Maybe you can find a compromise. Let’s say, for example, that you catch your son stealing money to buy junk food at school. He knows you have a strong value about healthy nutritional choices, so he sneaks behind your back. The first question is what is the need—sweet food? Or is it to have the cool packaging of snacks from the vending machine? Or does he like having the whole vending machine array to choose from without having to agree with his siblings? Each of these is a very different need and requires a different approach. That’s why it is so critical to putting your own concerns aside so you can first be open and curious.
BRAINSTORMING ALTERNATIVE WAYS TO MEET NEEDS
Once you know what the unmet need is, you can work on that. Brainstorm ideas. What sweet foods would be acceptable? Is the need to be cool about the need to fit in, and if so, why is that so important? How else could a person find a group he feels included in? How could the family provide more opportunities for the son to have some things just as he wants them without having to consider the rest of the family?
Even the act of brainstorming and trying to find a solution acknowledges your child as an individual with his own needs, preferences and desires. In a particular case, you might not find a way to compromise. If you have found workable solutions other times, however, your child will be able to accept when no compromise is possible. He will know that you care about his feelings and are not shaming him for having those feelings.
In summary, I would let a consequence for the poor choice stand, but I would go deeper to find out the underlying motivation for the poor choice.
STAYING CONNECTED EVEN THROUGH CONFLICT
Lying is complex. We lie for so many reasons, and I have really only addressed a few of them here. No matter what the reason, though, I urge you to approach your child as a work in progress and use the lying incident as an opportunity for growth and self-reflection. Finally, assure your child that as he matures, he will find it easier to find ways of getting his needs met that do not make him feel that it is necessary to lie.
Okay, I can't guarantee the happiness promise but a recent article called "Science says parents of successful kids have these 13 things in common" published in Tech Insider does list chores as one factor that might lead to children's success as adults. They quote author Julie Lythcott-Haims (How to Raise an Adult) as praising chores because it teaches kids that that they "have to do the work of life in order to be part of life."
Let's look at the benefit of chores a little more deeply (and I will put forth my not-scientifically-proven theory on why it also makes kids happier).
1. Doing Chores Raises Self Esteem
Self Esteem is confidence about one's own worth and abilities. Little kids may not have learned to read and older kids may be struggling with long division or quadratic equations, but most kids can learn to make their beds and sweep the floor. Are these worthwhile tasks? Of course they are. And it is much easier for a child to understand the usefulness of a clean floor than to grasp where algebra is going to work for them in their lives. Kids who feel capable and competent have higher self esteem. Chores are one area most kids can develop competency relatively easily.
2. Doing Chores Makes Kids Feel Needed
When we wait on our kids hand and foot, it gives kids the wrong estimation of their own importance. Ironically, just like praising kids too profusely, doing everything for kids does not build their sense of being important; rather it leaves kids feeling adrift and disconnected. What kids want to feel is that the are important because their family needs them. When the character Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird explains to Scout, the main character, why he runs away from home, Scout asks herself, "what I would do if Atticus [her father] did not feel the necessity of my presence, help and advice” (143). Scout firmly recognizes her place in her family and knows how essential it is to her to feel needed by them. Contributing to the well being of the family by doing household chores is a great way for kids to feel they are an integral cog in the wheel of a smooth family life.
3. Doing Chores Shares the Work
In previous generations, families had a lot of kids precisely because a large work force was needed just to keep the family farm or business going. As soon as they could toddle, children were given simple chores to do. In this way, all the tasks of life got done and families thrived. Today, although more tasks are mechanized and there are fewer chores to do at home, people are also a lot busier outside of the home. With parents working and kids going off to a schedule packed full of extracurriculars, there is very little time left to what chores they are. And yet, "according to a survey by Braun Research in 2014, 82 percent of grown-ups polled said they had regular chores when they were growing up, but only 28 percent reported asking their children to do anyP (July 12 2015). Wow! Instead, imagine a home where the work was shared as equally as possible among the family members. Kids would have a much greater appreciation for what it takes to keep everyone fed and dressed in clean clothes. Appreciation is linked to happiness!
4. Kids Doing Chores Reduces Parental Stress
With only 28% of the kids helping out on a regular basis, parents are coming home after a full day's work and are facing a full evening of chores. Just thinking about it is exhausting. Parents complain to me that they have no time to just hang out with their kids. But is that because their kids are watching t.v. or playing video games while their parents fix dinner? How about having the kids in the kitchen with you? One child can grate cheese while another cuts up vegetables. (While kids' hands and attention are busy is a great time to ask more in depth questions, open ended questions. Chore time becomes connection time, and human connection is one of the most important factors for happiness. One last hidden factor in reducing stress is that parents who are not up washing the dishes or folding the laundry after their kids have gone to bed might actually have time to sit down next to each and connect themselves! Connected parents do a better job supporting their kids and making them feel secure.
5. Doing Chores Teaches Kids at Home Skills They Can Use at School
Uh? How does doing the laundry help with writing a clear, well-supported essay? Well, doing laundry teaches responsibility, accountability, planning, attention to detail and follow through (Did you ever have a bunch of clothes go moldy because you forget to transfer them to the dryer?). Aren't those all skills that you need in essay writing? Of course! And in all kinds of school related tasks like doing homework on time, turning homework back in, chunking assignments into multiple steps, etc. Kids who have learned to take on tasks as their own are the same kids who are independent learners. They are also great team members for group work. They know that many hands make light work and they stand at the ready to do their share. They do not expect someone else--much less Mom or Dad--to do their work for them.
And that's not all!!
So here you have four arguments for chores increasing your kids' happiness and one argument for chores increasing their success in school (not to mention later in life). And here's one more argument: Doing chores as children helps teach kids early on about work/life balance. Life is not just about doing school work, dutifully practicing piano and going to soccer practice. It is also about creating a salubrious space in which to live and cooking nutritious meals that bring the family together. Those have long been considered mainstays of a happy home. Oh, and did I mention that kids who take part in the cooking have more varied, nutritious diets? And that kids who sharing in the washing and cleaning take better care of their clothes and toys? Really, the more I think about it, the longer the list gets.
So what's stopping you? Need some advice on HOW to get your kids to do chores? You might try my friend Elva Anson's very comprehensive book How to Get Kids to Help at Home: Help Your Children Become Capable, Responsible, and Independent--And Have Fun Doing It! Or if you want hands on support, you might consider signing up for my 5-week Harmony at Home ONLINE Group Coaching Class that starts August 10th.
(Part I of a two-part series on Stopping Bullying From Home)
I am guessing that one of your most heartbreaking concerns is when your kids get wrapped up in painful social interactions with their friends or classmates. You hear the stories about bullying and fear your kids are being bullied and that it will scar them for life.
In my experience, most of the mean behavior among kids is mutual. Sometimes it will be your kid behaving hurtfully and sometimes it will be someone else. This is not, of course, because they are bad: It is because they are still learning the skills they need to be able to advocate for themselves while at the same time reaching out generously to others. These kinds of social emotional competencies take lots and lots of practice.
That’s where you come in!
Next week I am going to go over some skills kids can use at school to smooth over or avoid conflict, but this week let’s focus on what you can do at home to help kinds with their EQ.
Learning how to be in touch with and verbalize your emotions so that you can make clear request of what you want or need is first and foremost learned from you. Start by helping your kids identify their emotions. When siblings are fighting, don’t take sides. Instead, help them label how they are or might be feeling and what they need to feel better.
Let’s look at how this might go:
George: She came in my room without asking and that is against the rules!
Anna: You, slime ball, you drew on my picture!
Mom: Anna! In our family we speak respectfully. George, it sounds like your sense of fair play and what you can count on has been violated. Anna, you sound really angry that your brother would ruin something you care about.
George: Yeah! She wasn’t being fair!
Anna: Well, he wasn’t being nice!
Mom: Anna, let’s let George tell his bit. George, you’re mad because you want to trust that your room is private. What would you like Anna to have done?
George: She should have knocked!
Mom: Can you ask her to please knock next time?
George [to Anna]: Would you please knock next time?
Anna: Yes, I should have knocked, but I was really mad.
Anna: Yes, I will knock next time.
Mom: Thanks, Anna. Now, it’s your turn. You were mad enough to ignore one of our family rules. You must have been ready to spit nails.
Anna: Yes, I was! He drew on my picture, and now it is ruined and I had worked really hard on it. That is so mean.
Mom: What do you need from George?
Anna: I need him to apologize and never come near me again.
Mom: I hear that you are still really hurt and maybe even wish right now that you didn’t have a brother, but you do, and we are learning to live peacefully with each other in this house, so what request can you make of him?
Anna: To not draw on my pictures?
Anna [to George]: Please don’t draw on my picture or anything else that is mine.
George: But you said your picture was better than mine and that was mean. Really mean.
Mom: George, I hear that you were hurt and you can say more about that, but first can you respond to Anna’s request?
George: Sorry, Anna. I shouldn’t have drawn on your picture.
Mom: George, can you tell Anna more about how it felt to have her compare her picture to yours?
George: It wasn’t nice and it made me mad. She always thinks she’s so perfect.
Mom: George, stick to your feelings right now. Don’t worry about the past.
George: It hurt my feelings.
Mom: Tell Anna. Use an I-Statement.
George: Anna, when you said your picture was better than mine, it hurt my feelings because I really liked my picture. Next time please find something nice to say about my picture.
Anna: Sorry, George. You did do a really good job with the shading on your picture.
George: Thanks, Anna!
Now, you might be shaking your head thinking a) my kids would never calm down and forgive each other that quickly and b) no way do I have enough time to walk them through that kind of conversation every time.
Certainly, when your kids are first learning these skills, it may take them longer to cool off and they may need more of your help to know what to say to each other. But the more you do it, and the more practiced they become, the more you will hear them going through these conversations by themselves.
And yes, walking your kids through these kinds of conversations will take your time—probably when you are right in the middle of getting dinner ready or helping another sibling with a school project—but what is the cost of not doing the work? Slammed doors? More hurt feelings? Yelling, screaming, threats? Punishments that take you even more time and energy to follow through on but do nothing to assuage your children’s tender feelings? Hate and resentment that builds up among siblings?
I would like to argue that teaching kids to resolve conflict peacefully is some of the most important work you do as a parent. As a teacher, I could always tell which kids came from families where these skills were being emphasized. Those were the kids who did not get bullied because when other kids did something mean or hurtful, those kids knew how to address the problem head on and to defuse the bully before he or she could even really get started.
Come back next week for more tricks you can teach your kids for dealing with mean and hurtful behavior at school.
If you yourself would like more practice with how to conduct these conversations with your kids, sign up HERE for a 20-minute complimentary Harmony at Home Strategy Session.
Using technology to babysit buys a moment’s peace at dinner: Developing conversational skills gets a lifetime of delightful dinnertime companionship.
I witnessed two father/child conversations this week.
On Tuesday, I was eating in a restaurant next to a father and daughter out to dinner. My guess is that the daughter was around four. The pair sat down, and Dad immediately pulled out the iPad and set it up for her. Dad quietly sipped his glass of wine. For the moment I will put aside my own personal rant about the blurps, bings and dings from the video disturbing my own meal and focus on the idea that ten years from now this father is going to be lucky to get any conversation out of his child at dinner at all.
The Cost of Relying on Technology to Parent
Obviously, I don’t know what their day or their week has been. Perhaps Dad and Daughter have already spent a couple hours playing together. Perhaps the iPad at the dinner table is screen time she earned for being cooperative about doing her chores all week. Perhaps they had a long conversation while driving to the restaurant. Perhaps going out to eat is a big treat and it is the only time Daughter is allowed screen time at the table.
But for the moment, let’s go with the assumption that as Dad was in his business clothes, he probably picked his Daughter up from Child Care at 6:00. Hopefully they did have a good conversation about her day in the car. But it would not surprise me if she had access to the iPad in the car, too. And just as at dinner, Dad was not watching it with her. He was not engaging with her about what she was watching. Not commenting, not asking questions, not explaining what might be new concepts.
Now don’t get me wrong. I have certainly gone to dinner when my daughter was young and brought coloring books or other quiet games with the hope that she would quietly entertain herself. Especially as a single mom with just one daughter at home, I spent a lot of time playing with my kid, and if I could snatch a moment of self-absorbed contemplation, I certainly did. Likewise, we go to dinner with my nephew almost weekly and for much of the meal he is absorbed in whatever book he is reading. That is okay with me because I recognize that sitting at the table for more than an hour—as we do most weeks—is a lot to ask of a nine year old. Nonetheless, once the food does arrive, we do get his attention and he joins in the family conversation.
Conversation Is an Art
Conversation is an art. Children need to practice it. Adults have the responsibility to scaffold the learning by helping kids structure their answers. Later in the week I saw a dad do this beautifully with his daughter. She was also around four—maybe a little younger than the girl from earlier in the week. He started by asking her what she had done during Outside Playtime at school. She answered I don’t know. Instead of letting that stop the conversation dead in its tracks, he asked her to think a moment and assured her that she would remember. Then he just looked at her quietly and patiently. When she said she still didn’t remember, he coached her: He said, “Start by saying, ‘Usually during Outside Playtime at school, I _______.'” She filled in the blank and said “go on the slide.” He praised her, but had her repeat her answer using the whole phrase. She repeated the complete sentence, and then without prompting she continued on saying, “but today I played in the sand box with Jesse.” Then Dad said, “Oh! Tell me about that!” By now Daughter was off on a roll and she shared quite a bit about her sandbox play. Clever Dad. Chances are if he had asked, “What did you play?”, he would have gotten a one-word answer.
Conversation is a Two-Way Street
Now, what happened after this conversation was the part that impressed me the most. When Daughter had finished telling about her day, Dad said, “I had a good day, too.” When his daughter didn’t pick up on his conversational gambit, Dad reminded her, “Honey, when you are talking to people, the conversation has to go back and forth. I asked you about your day. Now you should ask me about my day.” Daughter perked up and looked right at her dad: “Tell me now, Daddy!” While Dad shared a few details, she kept her attention on him the whole time.
If Dad keeps up gently prompting his daughter through having a full conversation, imagine the benefits they will both reap. Not only will he stay in touch with his daughter as she grows up, she will have an awareness of him as a person who also does interesting things and has thoughts and feelings of his own as an individual. No doubt, over the years, their conversations will range far and wide. Remember, connection is a key to effective parenting, and conversation is an easy way to feel connected with a person.
In January 2015, Mandy Len Catron wrote an essay published in The New York Times called, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This”(http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/fashion/modern-love-to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html). In the essay she tells how she and a mutual acquaintance increased their trust and intimacy using the 36 questions from a study done in the 90’s by Arthur Aron et al designed to see if you could make people fall in love with each other. The study found you could. Carton found she did. Imagine using these questions—or questions like these—over the years to connect to your kids.
The Cost of Not Developing Conversational Skills
Now let’s ago back to that other Dad from earlier in the week. Presently he has the easy love that a small child gives her parent. To a four year old, you are the sun, the moon and at the stars all connected. But over the years, as a child makes the shift to peers, parents who have not already established conversational habits have to work much harder to not drift apart. Just because you are physically at the table with your kids does not mean you are reaping the many (many!) benefits of eating together. Harvard professor and researcher, Dr. Anne K. Fishel, points out that, "the real power of dinners lies in their interpersonal quality” (http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/food-for-thought/science-eat-dinner-together/). The more we get sucked into our electronic gadgets, the more parents have to systematically teach their children good interpersonal skills. In less distracted eras, family members looked to each other for entertainment. Card games, board games, story telling, and singing together were some of the only sources of entertainment available. All of these required families to not merely be near each other, but to actually talk to each other.
Keep the Flow of Conversation Going
Once you have gotten them to the table (and banned the distractions), getting your kids to talk to you is a two-part process. First, help your kids give detailed, complete answers to daily questions like, “How was your day?” Teach them that while that might be a courtesy question out in public to which a polite “fine” is acceptable, when you ask it, you are looking for some real sharing without having to pull teeth. Of course, for your part, you have to be a good listener who absorbs what your kids are telling you before you jump to criticize or solve. Your primary job is to keep the flow of conversation going. Use prompts like Really? What else? Tell me more. How do you feel about that? Especially in the short run, listening is much more important than your response. If you are really worried about something that comes up, I suggest you circle on back to it at a later time—maybe in private at bedtime.
Getting Creative and Thinking Outside the Box to Get to Your Kids Talking
The second part of getting your kids to talk is coming up with good questions. You want to balance questions about daily life with questions that will expand your kids' thinking. The Family Dinner Project ( http://thefamilydinnerproject.org/conversation-2/conversation-starters/ ) suggests questions like, “If you joined the circus, what would your circus act be?” As someone who long had fantasies about running away to join the circus, I love that question. (I would have definitely chosen being a trapeze artist, in case you were wondering!)
TiffinTalk—A Tool to Help
Another fabulous resource is a company called TiffinTalk. TiffinTalk creators Kat Rowan and Michael Friesen have written over 4000 cards each with a question that provides "thought-provoking, open-ended questions that prompt meaningful conversations – no matter what the age of your child.” 4000! And every card is different. That is extraordinary. The cards are boxed into groups by age from preschool through high school. Like Arthur Aron’s questions designed to help two people fall in love by increasing intimacy, TiffinTalk’s questions start out more general and broad and go deeper over the course of the each themed week. Themes from the boxes for 6-9 year olds, for example, include topics like Clean or Messy, Homes & Houses, Being More Than You, How to (Not) Argue with Adults, and Firsts. These cards are not games; each are meant to be personalized cards from parent to child and are meant to be shared in one-on-one, face-to-face discussions.
In June 2015, I interviewed TiffinTalk Creative Director and CEO Kat Rowan. One of the points we touched upon was how opening the lines of conversation on a host of topics makes it much easier to bring up more difficult topics like death or sex education. If you and your child are not used to talking about touchier topics, when the time comes to bring them up, they feel much heavier and weighted than they need to be. In fact, some parents never do have “the Sex Talk” because it seems too overwhelming—a mountain when it could be a mole hole. On the other hand, parents who have been exploring a range of themes like the ones TiffinTalk provides have likely already dealt with a lot of related topics, having discussed questions about relationships, friendships, how dress affects how people see us, our bodies, etc. TiffinTalk’s boxes of cards (beautifully produced) are complete and comprehensive. By the time you work your way through the whole series, there will be very little you have not touched on. The inclusion of blank cards allow parents lots of flexibility to address questions that occur to them, while the themes give the parents something concrete to fall back on.
Of course, you may be able to come up with lots of topics on your own. If that is the case, you probably already know the joy of having kids who are mentally present and eager to join you at the table—a daily touchpoint of love, warmth and connection.
You will never regret putting energy into teaching your children the Art of Conversation. Well, you may regret how much you miss their sparkling wit when the grow up and go away, but I trust they will come home to visit!
Reposted from October 18, 2015
It used to be that kids were treated as mini adults, and now the pendulum has swung the other way and young adults are being treated (and acting) as overgrown kids. You have probably heard about the damage of being a too intense parent--whether that means tiger mom or helicopter parent. Now you may be wondering what should you be expecting of your child? The early childhood markers of independence--sitting, walking, potty training, etc.--get talked about a lot, but what is reasonable to expect of our older children is not as clear. Just what should our early adolescent/ middle school kids be able to do on their own?
I started thinking about this from the kids' point of view. That made me remember the children's literature I grew up on. Many of my favorite books were about young people taking charge independently--often away from their parents. Let's start with Enid Blyton's The Famous Five series. Beginning with Five on a Treasure Island, five cousins spend the summer having one adventure after the next. There is home base where meals are offered and the children check in, but the assumption of the adults seems to be that as long as they are out in the fresh air, together, that they are generally fine no matter what they are getting up to. In the Swallows and Amazon books by Arthur Ransome, six children are given permission to camp on an island in the middle of a lake. They cook over open fires and deal with the local "natives" (as the children refer to the adults) to procure supplies. Another popular example of kids on a mission is From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. It is about two children who run away from the suburbs to New York City and who handle themselves very well. In all these books, the children are supported by friends, cousins or siblings and range in age between around 9 and 13. For me the common themes are that a) children are generally seen as very capable and b) they relish in the opportunity to show how able they are to take care of themselves.
When kids are very little we are aware of teaching them what they need to take care of themselves. We do not expect infants to learn to sit, to walk, to talk, to use the potty by themselves. Day after day, month after month, we train them and encourage them to take things one level further. We also give a lot of enthusiastic reinforcement for each new thing they learn. These days, however, as soon as kids hit school--whether that is preschool or Kindergarten--we tend to focus solely on their academic and extra curricular progress. Once they learn to tie their own shoes, it is like they get frozen in childhood where we are still taking care of everything else for them. The result is that we leave them to do a lot of learning on their own when they get to college or out into the world. Doesn't it make more sense to bring them along a continuum of self care and autonomy right from the start?
Based on twelve years as a middle school teacher, I have a good idea of what 11-14 year olds are capable of if it has been expected of them and their parents have taken the time to teach it to them in stages. Here are my Top Ten Responsibilities Kids Should Be Taking by Middle School.
1. Get up, dressed and washed on their own.
Do you still wake your child up for school? Stop! It should be their job to set their own alarm, to pick out appropriate clothes, and to have good routines for washing and brushing themselves. Your only job should be to introduce deodorant when the need for it arises and to support the school's dress code.
2. Make their own breakfasts
Kids are certainly capable of getting their own cereal, toast, frozen waffles, etc. If your family manages a hot breakfast, that's fantastic. Kids can also learn to make pancakes and eggs and the like with practice. Starting around eight or nine, have them work alongside you. Model the steps. I hear you saying, they don't have time to get ready. It is easier if I just do it for them. Of course it is easier and faster not to take time to give kids the skills they need in the short run. In the long run, it doesn't pay off. (And while I'm talking about food, teach your five and six year olds to cut their meat with a knife. With care and attention, they will not hurt themselves).
3. Make their own lunches
Are you under the illusion that your child is eating her lunch? I spent years--years!--lecturing students about not throwing away perfectly good food. You know what their answer was? My mom doesn't like it when I come home without eating what she packs me. So, rather than deal with the conversation about why they didn't eat what was provided, kids throw away the evidence. Children who pack their own lunches pack food they know they'll eat. They know what to pack and how much to pack.
4. Get to school on their own
Okay, you may balk at this one. I know that lots of kids no longer go to their neighborhood schools and few school districts provide busses. There are still ways to give kids their independence. For one, stop being in charge of checking if they have remembered everything they are going to need for the day. They are big enough to keep track of that on their own--and if they are not, suffering the natural consequences of not remembering will be a much faster teacher than your nagging and reminders. Even if you are driving your kids to school, give them the anonymity of dropping them off three or four blocks away. This ten minute walk will allow them at least a little taste of freedom--and you will make the school happy by improving the drop off/pick up congestion.
5. Do homework on their own
The sooner you let your kids manage homework on their own the better. So how do you scaffold that? Help them set up a place and a routine for doing their work. When they ask for help, encourage them to attack it on their own by asking supportive questions: How could you approach this? What is the assignment asking for? How does this assignment look like other assignments you have done? What strategy could you use here? Ask--and then back off. Give your child a chance to do it on his own. Offer a lot a reassurance that he will figure it out. If he has worked on it a reasonable amount of time (ten minutes per grade level total is a good overall recommendation--but that's a whole other blog), let it be okay for him to go to school without it done. Help him set up a method like a folder for homework to turn in. Initially you can check that it gets into the folder and the folder into the backpack, but by third or fourth grade, if kids do not have the system down, they have not been taking responsibility for their own learning. (That is not to say that as each new school year begins it might not be necessary to check in with your child's system again.)
6. Do some cooking and some cleaning
It used to be that kids had to help out with chores just to keep the family alive. In fact, the need for extra hands was one of the reasons for having large families. Then for a long time, that was not true. Modernization meant that machines started taking over some of the work and there was less to do. Many mothers were able to stay home to take care of their households and their families. Now that the pendulum has shifted back and 70% of mothers are in the workforce, families where everyone pitches in are much happier. Children may groan about doing chores, but they hate having stressed out parents even more. Get your kids involved in the daily tasks of cooking and cleaning, and they will have the pride of knowing that they have contributed positively to the family. Being needed means that you are important, that your family couldn't get by without you. That gives children a tremendous sense of security. Knowing you can take care of yourself also reinforces your own self worth.
7. Choose their own electives and extra-curricular activities
Parents have a tough job finding the fine balance between encouraging kids to try new things and at the same time to stick with activities long enough that they have the satisfaction of feeling truly accomplished. At the end of it all, though, don't you want to know that your kids have found something they really love? Not something that will look good on their college apps or will help them as adults--or even something that they are really good at--but just something that has them fully engaged and alive. I had a sad conversation with a teen this summer who started off playing two sports: Her mom loved one; her dad loved the other. When she needed to choose just one do just one because of time constraints, she felt like she was choosing between making one parent happy or the other. I asked if she is just crazy about this sport. She said she liked hanging out with her friends on the team but that no, she doesn't just love it. Imagine, she has spent hours and hours of her life pursuing something she only likes.
8. Talk to teachers to get clarification on assignments, to ask for help, to ask questions about comments and grades received.
Your child's teacher is his first boss. There is no academic lesson your child will learn that is more important than learning to negotiate his relationship with his teacher. Learning to communicate with people in more powerful positions than you is an essential life skill, and practicing with one's teacher is the perfect opportunity: The teacher may have power, but she is highly motivated for your child to be successful (after all, his success is her success). Support your child in this relationship by role playing and rehearsing what he might say when he needs something from his teacher. The more he can interact with his teacher, the easier it will become. Only step in on your child's behalf if your child has tried a few interactions and hasn't gotten anywhere. Again, the goal is not to swoop in and rescue your child from any feelings of discomfort. Rather it is to support him through an uncomfortable situation so that he will be more at ease next time.
9. Be able to handle money.
Personal finance is not my area of expertise, so for this one, I'm going to connect you to Bill Dwight, CEO of a nifty website/product called FamZoo (FamZoo.com). Read his blog here on 7 Practical Tips for Raising Money Smart Kids (http://blog.famzoo.com/2014/09/7-tips-for-raising-money-smart-kids.html). This was the area I failed to scaffold and had to scramble to fill in the gaps as my daughter went off to college. How I wish I had been developing her independence in this area all along.
10. Get around by themselves.
These days it seems like kids sit in the back seat of a car glued to an electronic device, oblivious to where they are, trusting their parent will get them to where they want to go. When my stepson was learning to drive, my husband and he went to a store they often had gone to before in the next town north. When they got back into the car, my husband said I want you to take us home without any help. The ten minute trip took forty-five minutes because even though he had made the drive north, my stepson hadn't really paid attention to where he was beyond the step-by-step instructions my husband had given him. Meanwhile, my daughter, two years away from being eligible for her driver's permit, was able to describe perfectly how to get home. I chalk this up to the fact that because she and I had taken public transportation--and she had taken it on her own once I had done it with her--she had learned the major streets and landmarks near by. Knowing she could find her way home--whether driving or on foot or using public transportation gave her enormous confidence.
Teaching your kids these lessons and setting these expectations for them for middle school means they will have time to master them by the time they hit high school. Armed with self sufficiency and self efficacy, your teenager will be able to focus on expanding into the world--for jobs, for internships, for summer travel programs, to be leaders on school teams and in school clubs. Most importantly, they will be ready to go off to college as the 18-year-old adults the state considers them to be. They will have skills to handle roommates, a large campus with lots of buildings, clean clothes, getting themselves fed, handling their money, talking to professors, deans and resident assistances, etc. etc. They will not find the need to text their parents every day just to stay on track. Can you imagine checking in with your parents every day when you were in college? No way! To set your kids free, train them up bit by bit.