March 16, 2010

To Stop Bad Behavior, Stop Reinforcing It

The other day at work, my husband saw a child with his father who was engaging in a common act of very poor behavior: he was saying, "Dad.  Dad.  Dad.  Dad," over and over while his father talked with another adult.  We've all seen this, been on the receiving end of it and probably on the giving end as well.

Then the boy upped the ante.  Tired of chanting, he punched his dad's leg as hard as he could.

The father's reaction?  He promptly turned around and said, "Yes, son?" as though nothing strange had happened at all.

There are a couple of things at work here, and therefore a couple of ways to stop the bad behavior all around.

March 9, 2010

Are We More Careful Feeding our Dogs than our Kids?

In the last few weeks I've been seeing a shocking number of pricey meals for dogs (and sometimes cats): organic, all natural, refrigerated or prepackaged fares are filling the shelves.  'Balanced' and 'wholesome' are the buzz words of this growing trend.

I'm not talking about a rare treat, a little wet food mixed with the dry, or any other vet-recommended diet.  So, let me first say that I love animals and I think they should be well fed, with food that is good for them and keeps them happy and healthy.  Second, let me say, give me a break!

March 5, 2010

Use Travel to Connect, Not Ignore

WebMD has an article with some advice on travelling with kids.  Most of it is pretty standard advice: bring new toys and books for long car trips; if you're flying, have your child drink something during take-off and landing to equalize ear pressure; and stay relaxed and keep your expectations on par with you children's ages and abilities.

All good advice.  The only thing in the article I really object to is the idea of giving your kid Benadryl on a long flight to 'help them sleep.'  Let's call a spade a spade here, folks: that is drugging your child.  Not right.  I have to say, that's also pretty disturbing advice to be written by a medical doctor.

Anyway, my suggestion to families this year for spring break: leave the technology at home.

March 4, 2010

Teachers Suggest How to Improve Education

This survey, commissioned by  Scholastic Inc and the Gates Foundation, asked teachers a number of questions about the current state of American education and how it can be improved.  The survey showed that, in terms of retaining good teachers, supportive leadership (68%), time to collaborate (54%) and high-quality curriculum (49%) all out-rank higher pay (45%).

The teachers' suggestions to directly improve student performance include: "clear, common standards; multiple measures of student performance; and greater innovation, including differentiated instruction and more use of digital resources."  I certainly agree with all of these things.  But I've got one to add.  

Child Directs Planes at JFK

We'd all like our kids to show an interest in what we do for a living, right?  After all, if you work outside the home, your job takes up a large portion of your time, energy and focus.  Whether your motivation is to show your child why you love or hate your job, how hard you work, or simply to make it clear how you spend your day, taking your child to work can be a great experience for all.

But letting your child do your job?  Maybe not such a good idea.

February 27, 2010

Fun in a Tough Economy

Last night as we watched TV and the third commercial in a row said, "In these hard times," or "In this economy," my husband looked at me and said, "I'm so tired of hearing about the economy."

I have to agree.  I'm tired of thinking about it and worrying about it.  I'm tired of people trying to sell me something to give me the illusion of security.  I'm tired of people trying to wring my last pennies out of me, or trying to tell me where I should spend them.  I'm tired of seeing how it has affected many people that I know and love.

But at least I understand what's going on.  It makes sense to me, and I can see the broad scope of influence the tough economy has had.  And that isn't necessarily true of kids.

February 26, 2010

Behaviors your Kids Will Imitate

Kids learn by example.  It's a simple fact of life.  When they see you writing thank you notes for gifts, driving defensively, keeping your cool under pressure, or problem solving calmly with your spouse, they learn.  They can see a positive way to deal with the situation in question; and when they see others behaving poorly, they'll think, "I know how to do that better."

Unfortunately, no parent is perfect.  You're not going to do everything just right, all the time, and that means that sometimes your kids are going to see a bad example in your behavior.  What can you do?  First and foremost: talk.  If you've realized you've made a mistake, talk to your kids and let them know that you did something wrong.  This turns a bad example into a good one: your child sees you analyze your own behavior and take steps to fix what's wrong.

Here are some behaviors to watch out for in yourself or your kids.  If your kids have any of these behaviors, ask yourself where they might have learned them.  And if it's you...take responsibility!

February 25, 2010

Picking the Perfect Preschool

Choosing the right preschool for your child can be a daunting task.  This may be your child's first experience with care outside your home, and will certainly be their first school experience.  It is important to get off on the right foot.  Yet there are so many programs to choose from, and even within a school, each teacher has their own energy and classroom philosophy.  What can a parent look for to guide them towards the right school?

There are obvious issues such as safety and cleanliness, student-to-teacher ratios, travel distance and cost.  But I think that parents also need to seriously consider the way their children are taught, and perhaps take the road that is currently less traveled: a preschool curriculum that focuses on play.

February 22, 2010

How to Keep Kids Interested in Reading

Reading and learning to enjoy reading are some of the most important skills a child can take away from elementary school.  Holding on to an enjoyment of reading is vital to a child's success in high school and beyond to college and career.  Reading is a key to relaxation, learning and pleasure for many adults, and I don't think anyone doubts its value.  So how can parents and teachers keep kids interested, especially during late elementary school?

February 19, 2010

Pennsylvania School Allegedly Spies on Students At Home

A school in the Lower Merion School District of Pennsylvania has been accused of activating webcams on the laptops issued to students while the students were at home.  A sophomore student at the school became aware of the surveillance when he was called to the principal's office and told he had been engaging in "improper behavior" in his home.  The principal proceeded to show a photo snapped on the webcam as evidence.  A law suit has, understandably, been filed.

This case is truly shocking, and the implications are enormous.  I know of many businesses and schools that have issued laptops to students, faculty or employees, and I honestly don't want to think about the fact that this technology is available to any immoral authority figure that wants to use it.

February 18, 2010

Soda Tax Proposed

Yes, you read correctly.  A tax on soda.  Politicians are comparing soda to the "Big Tobacco" of old, pinning the blame for the obesity and diabetes epidemics on soda.  They draw parallels between the youth driven advertising and health problems in both.

Their plan includes: eliminating soda and candy from schools; placing a tax on soda and other sugared beverages to increase their price significantly; requiring tobacco-inspired warning labels about the sugar and calorie content; and creating a marketing campaign to educate the public on the evils of high sugar consumption.

Officials say that sugar consumption is much higher than it should be, which I don't think anyone can deny.  They say that part of the problem is the relative cheapness of unhealthy food and the relative expense of healthy food, like fresh fruits and vegetables.  They say that the proposed taxes could be used to subsidize fruits and vegetables, fund their marketing campaign and pay for health and nutrition classes in public schools.

February 17, 2010

The Article Every Expecting Parent Must Read

This article absolutely blew me away.  It is about the heel prick that is commonly done minutes after the birth of a baby, and is meant to test for genetic disorders.  You can read the article here.

Basically, I have never thought too deeply about this simple test or weighed its pros and cons.  Its detractors claim that it allows the government to maintain genetic information on the child; that it involuntarily includes parent and child in genetic research; and that it may lead to future discrimination by a theoretical insurance company, if a problematic gene is discovered.

Ok, those could be some significant problems, especially for the paranoid.  And nobody wants to hear their newborn cry when their heel is pricked.  So what's the benefit, and why am I still for it?

February 11, 2010

For Kids, Keep the Romance Out of Valentine's Day

We all remember exchanging cards with our classmates at school on Valentine's Day.  I grew up after the implementation of the "fairness rule:" if you give something to one, you must give it to all.  And I think it's a good rule.  It takes away the chance of one child being snubbed by the class; how many cards you got can't be made a popularity contest; and it helps teach children to be inclusive and sensitive to the feelings of others.  Plus, a big benefit to me, it takes some of the romance out of Valentine's Day.

February 10, 2010

Telling Kids What to Do is Hard

One piece of advice I have read again and again is that for the toddler and preschool age groups, telling them what to do is much more effective than asking.  This is because children of these ages hear the rhetorical "Will you please pick up your toys?" as an actual question.  They think you're giving them the option to say either yes or no.  Not very surprisingly, the finer points of polite wording have not been learned yet.

I know this is good advice; I've even seen it in action as a substitute teacher.  But for me, it is difficult advice to follow.

February 8, 2010

Boy Almost Suspended Over Lego Gun

I came across this little gem of a story a few days ago: a 9 year-old boy narrowly avoided suspension after he and some friends brought some Lego toys to school and his Lego man had a gun.  Give me a break.

This is absolutely ridiculous!  The boys were even sharing the toys at an appropriate time: during lunch at the cafeteria table.  Apparently the threat of suspension was removed after a meeting with the boy's mother, which isn't all that surprising; I hope she gave that principal a piece of her mind.  The mother was even quoted as being confused why her child was targeted: another boy had a Lego man that was brandishing an axe.

February 5, 2010

Will Kids Imitate Adults Behaving Badly?

People who live in a haze of self-importance will do some truly shocking things in public purely out of feeling entitled.  And, as you may suspect if you have read my blog before, I have a story of such a self-important individual.

Unfortunately, the person I observed had a child with them.  That always makes it worse.  Whenever I see adults behaving badly, I glance around for children.  Will seeing adults behave poorly affect them?  Will it make them think being rude is ok?  I think I have an answer.

February 4, 2010

Education Optimism

As a substitute teacher, I have a peek inside a variety of schools and teaching methods, as well as age groups of children.  Sometimes the teacher remains in the room for a while after I arrive, and at such times, I try to glean as much information as possible by watching them: how they deal with the children, which students are trustworthy, which ones whine or instigate trouble, what the discipline system is like, what the feel of the classroom is.

Even a five minute observation tells me a lot about a teacher and their classroom.  Often, I critique internally whether I agree with the teacher's methods, tone and general manner with the class.  But sometimes, on a rare, pleasant occasion, I find myself becoming a student of the teacher's method, an avid observer of the details, in awe of the smooth way a classroom can be run by a good teacher.  I was in such a classroom yesterday.

February 2, 2010

Fight the Extra-Curricular Avalanche

It's hard to find the balance these days with extra-curricular activities. It seems like everyone who's anyone has had their kids playing soccer, violin, piano and baseball or softball, not to mention ballet, gymnastics, karate, football, basketball, voice, guitar and other instruments. And that's not taking into account some of the other unique activities kids are trying, everything from golf to cooking lessons to raising show dogs.

So what's a parent, or a kid, to do?  Hit the link to check out the tips.

February 1, 2010

Why You Should Get Rid of Antibacterial Soap

In our society right now, there is a strong emphasis (and capitalization) on a broad fear of germs.  More and more schools and parents are teaching proper hand-washing procedures, and that's great.  But we need to stop doing it with antibacterial soaps!  

I know, they kill 99% of germs, and reading that on the label makes everyone feel safer and cleaner.  But we don't actually need them.  In fact, by using them we're making the germs worse.

January 31, 2010

Lead by Example: Eat Your Veggies!

There has been a commercial on lately for one of those fruit/veggie drinks to trick your kids (or spouse) into eating their veggies.  This commercial shows a family sitting at the table, and they pass around a delicious-looking plate of steamed broccoli, which no one (not even the parents) touches, before gulping down glasses of the advertised beverage.

And I don't like it one bit.

First of all, that broccoli looked really good!  But I won't get bogged down in details.  The real issue is bigger than this ad, so I'll look at the big picture.

January 29, 2010

Your Baby Can Read! But Should They?

We've all seen the ads and seen the trends:  Infants who can barely sit up that can recognize 100 basic flash cards.  Toddlers who can "read" a shockingly large number of words.  Parents who park their little ones in front of the TV for hours of educational programs to give them a step up in school.  Does it work?

Well, yes.  You can see the results all around you, from the baby in the infomercial to your neighbor's little reading prodigy.  The real question is, should we be pushing our children to this extreme?

January 28, 2010

Debate on Discipline

Reading up on parenting ideas, I came across this debate on the Genius Child Program blog.  The question presented is whether or not a parent should have to reason with a child to get them to obey.  As I began to read the responses, I was largely disappointed.  The majority of parents gave a simple, black-or-white answer that their child should always simply obey.  That no matter what the circumstance, if their child doesn't listen, they get punished.  That the parent, as an authority, must maintain their authority by demanding blind obedience.

How disappointing!  Let me ask every parent and teacher to look back at your own childhood.  Do you remember your frustration with parents, teachers or coaches who never listened to you?  These people did not show you any respect, and they probably didn't get much of yours.  They were tyrants.

On the other hand, we have all also experienced a parent, teacher or boss who had no authority.  They allowed their homes, classrooms or workplaces to deteriorate into anarchy.  They were walked-on and taken advantage of.

What's a parent to do with these two extremes?  Find the golden mean.

January 27, 2010

Your Children Reflect You: Apologies

Every parent wants to see their child to grow up to be a "good person."  What this means, exactly, varies slightly from one culture, family and individual to another, but I would think that every parent would want their child to be able to develop deep, lasting relationships with other people.

In order to maintain a healthy relationship with a friend, family member or significant other in the long run, children need to learn how to apologize.  The reality is that things go wrong and people make mistakes; handling them in a sensitive, caring way is what makes the difference in a relationship.

Just like learning good manners, children learn to feel comfortable with apologies when they have seen them and been exposed to them on a regular basis.  And that brings me to a sticky question: when is the last time your kids heard or saw you apologize?

January 25, 2010

Teachers: Help Your Students Cope with Disaster

Seeing the footage of the disaster in Haiti on the news these last few weeks has been difficult.  It is hard for adults to wrap their minds around such disaster, poverty and pain.  Yet I remember how much more difficult it was to watch the news during my childhood; I was a sensitive child, easily affected by the intense words and images.

There was an earthquake in California during my early childhood; misunderstanding the wreckage I saw on the news, I wrote in my school journal entry that millions of people had died.  My teacher wrote a note on the entry, explaining that in this instance, no one had died but many buildings had been destroyed.  While teachers can not offer this comfort to students in the case of the earthquake in Haiti, they can help their students deal with various kinds of tragedy.

January 20, 2010

Answering Tough Questions

Every parent will have that moment: a very private question asked at the worst time, or a question they didn't expect to answer until years down the road asked casually at the dinner table.  Whether the question is the legendary "where do babies come from?" or the heart-wrenching "is Santa real?", parents have to take a deep breath. 

Follow the link for a few tips for dealing with that moment in a way that's good for you and your child. 

January 19, 2010

Protect Your Kids From Real Dangers

I spend a lot of time thinking about safety.  Especially when I'm by myself, but with my husband as well, I remain consciously aware of everything around me: animals, people, their direction of travel, the security of the path I'm walking.  As I approach my car, I look underneath it and as I get in, I take a peek in the backseat.  When I go into a public bathroom, I make sure no one follows. 

This is not paranoia (paranoia is when I check for baddies in every closet and under the bed upon arriving home).  These small precautions give me a step up on possible dangers.  If a situation were to occur, I would have a few more precious seconds to react; plus, being so obviously aware of my surroundings keeps me from looking like an easy target. 

As kids get old enough to learn about being safe out in the world on their own, parents can begin to teach them.  But until that time it is a parent's responsibility to keep their children safe.  And that brings me to the incident I witnessed over the weekend. 

January 15, 2010

Every Parent and Teacher Must Teach Tolerance

Today is Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday.  Happy Birthday to a great man, a powerful speaker, an inspiring leader. 

This is, naturally, a great time of year to talk about race relations, prejudice and tolerance; it is a time to take stock of our progress as people and families, as well as nations.  While there have been many steps forward, there is still a long way to go. 

And that brings me to something a bit controversial that I believe needs to be said: Racism is not a one way street.

January 12, 2010

Continuing Education for a Lifetime

Have you stopped learning?

It's a strange question to pose to an adult, isn't it?  Yet it is an important one.  In the last several years, studies have shown that people of all ages need to keep their minds active and engaged to remain happy and healthy into their golden years.  It's not a very surprising finding, but it is one that adults should bear in mind.

If your child stopped learning at any stage of development or had no interests outside of school, that would be a serious cause for concern; yet when adults find ourselves in that rut, we make excuses: we're busy, our careers are important, someone has to pay the bills, etc.

January 11, 2010

"Casual Dining" Does Not Mean Parents Can Ignore Children

This issue is fresh in my mind tonight because of an incident I witnessed recently.  I was waiting at a casual dining restaurant with my husband for an old friend to arrive for a lunch date.  I would have liked to enjoy my husband's conversation until my friend arrived, but this was rendered impossible by the child at the table next to mine.

She looked to be 4 years-old.  And she refused to sit still.  She was not running around, not throwing things, nothing quite so blatant; she was writhing on her chair.  One moment sitting on her bottom and leaning far to the side, the next laying across the seat on her belly, then kneeling and facing all different directions.  She was constantly in motion, and somehow, it was more annoying than if she had been walking around.

And what were the adults doing about it?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Two couples, who looked to be her parents and grandparents, sat and chatted, ignoring her completely.  The grandmother made one half-hearted attempt to set her on her bottom in the chair, but nothing further was done.

Stranded in the Airport

I am now safely back home, but I happened to be travelling internationally by airplane shortly after the recent terrorist attack at the end of December.  As a result, several hundred other travelers and I had the joy of sharing a terminal over nearly 12 hours of delays.

This is never a pleasant circumstance, but I have to say that it was made easily tolerable by the very kind people we met in our various lines and hours of waiting.  Nothing brings people together quite like a common problem.

But now to the issue at hand: with 12 hours of observation time, how did the behavior of parents and children hold up in these unexpected and stressful conditions?