Reading Milestones

ROARlogo2-01This week’s blog comes curtesy of the Reach out and Read program.

Reading together is the single most important thing you can do to develop language skills and learning ability in your children, especially between the ages of six months and five years. Nothing will do more to prepare kids to excel in school: reading increases their vocabulary, their understanding of phonics, familiarity with the printed word, storytelling ability, and comprehension. Snuggling up and reading with your children will also help them feel loved and secure; do this at bedtime and it will help them sleep.

All this is before we get to the actual contents of the books!

For tricks on how to read to tiny people, check out my blog on Growing Brains.

Read, love reading, and encourage your children to love reading and their world will open up with possibilities.

The Reach out and Read people have come up with a very neat chart of reading milestones by age, from six months to five years. I thought I should share. Just click on it to make it bigger:

Reading Milestones

Domesticated Momster

Back to School: Time for Homework!

girl with books-01There are more than 2000 school days in your child’s life, most of which will end with homework. Over time that means you need to inspire your children to do about 4000 hours of schoolwork at home, when video games are calling their names.

I have a few suggestions on how to get that mountain of homework done with less argument and frustration.

First, establish the habit of homework long before they actually have any. When they are little, assign time in the evening when the TV is turned off, activities are done, and you as a family can sit and read, build things, or play games that involve a little brain work. Do this during the two hours before bed and the kids will also sleep better.

Why do we need homework?

Consider the goal of homework: what do we want our child to gain from doing it? Of course, we want them to learn the material. More importantly, we want them to learn how to learn, and to love doing it. We want to furnish them with skills that will prove useful in real life. If homework can teach your children to examine facts, explore knowledge, organize and take personal responsibility for their work, and manage their time efficiently – what might he or she accomplish in life? These are the very skills that form a foundation for success.

Where?

Choose a place. There is no “right” place. If your child does better in a quiet environment, a desk in his room would work well. If she needs a little supervision, the kitchen table might work better. Wherever you choose, turn off the TV, videogame, and cell phone (quiet music is usually fine, and sometimes can even help children concentrate). Make sure they are comfortable and the lighting is good. Have the supplies they need – pencils, paper, calendar, dictionary? – nearby. Get rid of any distractions.

When?

Pick a time. Again, there is no “right” time. Some kids will do better right after school; some will need to blow off steam and may do better after dinner. Choose the time that works best for your individual children, involving them in the decision. Then make this schedule a routine, because children’s brains accommodate habits well. Kids don’t argue over something they have done every day for years; they argue endlessly over change and unpredictability.

Give your children a warning a few minutes before their free time is ending, so they can finish whatever they are doing before you drag them away.

Keep your expectations appropriate for your child’s age. As a general rule of thumb a child should have about 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Children in elementary school will need help organizing their work and staying on task; teenagers should be able to do their work without supervision. If all goes well, somewhere in middle school they learn to take responsibility.

Start the hardest subjects first; position assignments which require memorization (spelling, math?) early and repeat after breaks.

Since you as parents won’t always be around to supervise, let your teenager fail in high school when they make poor choices. Summer school is cheaper and immensely less life altering than flunking out of college; repeating algebra is torture, but less traumatic than loosing a job. To paraphrase: give a child an organized notebook, and he will pass one test; teach him how to organize and he will have a skill for all of his life (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

Expect problems; they give you a subject of conversation to share with your child! Approach problems with diplomacy and respect for the person who is your child. Label the problem: “You get distracted by your cell phone.” Don’t label your child: never “You’re lazy.” Be wiling to compromise with your child to solve the problem. “If you will turn off the cell phone while you do your work, you can have 5 minute breaks between subjects to catch up, call and text.” Agree to the compromise; it is a contract with your progeny. If you need to, write it down and both of you sign it. Read last week’s blog on How to Fight with a Child.

Rewrite this contract when the first one flops, until you find an arrangement that enables your child to learn and you to not run screaming from the room.

Allow the child’s input as much as possible. Let him decorate his workspace up to the point where he puts in distractions. Let her decide subject order, as long as it works. Let them choose their break activity, up to a time limit.

Reward success.

We as humans are hard wired to respond better to rewards than to punishment. How long would you go to work if you did not get a paycheck?

Sadly, it is not realistic to expect a better grade to be your child’s only reward. That grade is too far into the distant misty future, over a mountain of hard labor.

Rewards work best if they are small, and given for small increments of good behavior. A hug, a smile and pride in their accomplishment is all they need when they are small. When they are a little bigger, take time to read a book together or play a game. Keep rewards simple, small, and frequent.

Older children also need small, frequent rewards, though probably not as simple. They always have items that they want, but don’t need; these items make great rewards. Study time, completed homework and test grades can all earn them points toward a goal. There is no need for an argument when he or she doesn’t do their work before picking up the phone; they just won’t get that essential point.

Homework is training for life. Choose the place and time, working with your child to fit it to your family routines, your child’s personality, and his or her age. Endeavor to teach self-discipline, time management and responsibility equally with reading, writing, and arithmetic. Reward success. Keep in mind that the goal is not to learn how to spell that list of words, but rather to inspire a love of learning which will propel your child to succeed, now and into the future.

Domesticated Momster

Parenting: How to Fight with a Child

kidsfightingThe most basic principle of conflict resolution, that both parties in the conflict have to be treated as equals, flies out the window when that conflict is with a child or between children.

Equality is a tricky area in parenting. Yes, this child is in every way your equal in humanity and way ahead of you in potential. He or she is undeniably not your equal in size, power, or – for a while – intelligence and experience. If we allow a child equal power in a conflict what we get is a spoiled, obnoxious child who will put his or her own future in jeopardy by making bad decisions.

Equality is likewise tricky between two children, because we cannot count on children not to take advantage of their greater size, intelligence, or experience. A referee is needed.

When we are in conflict with our children, or they are in conflict with each other, we must treat them with respect as the complete human beings they are, while we decisively withhold the power they are grasping for.

The standard steps to conflict resolution apply, but they must be adjusted for the relative sizes of the combatants.

First, listen. It is all too easy to dismiss a child. You are the parent, you know what they are going to say, and you know what your decision is going to be, so why waste the time, right?

How did that attitude make you feel the last time you were on the receiving end of it?

Take a moment to listen to their side, even if it is ridiculous, because just knowing they are being listened to is a win for a child. This is much easier to do when your 4 year old is explaining to you why she thinks she should have ice cream for lunch, than it is when your 13 year old is explaining why it is not a problem that you caught him smoking. Give them the time to speak, no matter how tempting it is to cut them off.

Actually focus on them and pay attention to what they are saying. Don’t let your mind wander into thinking about what you will say next, or the errands you have to run.  The prize you get for listening is a better understanding of your progeny; as a bonus, they then have to listen to you, to be fair. Another win!

Sometimes it helps to set a timer prominently between you and give each person a minute to speak without interruption.

After one contender has their moment to speak, their opponent should repeat back what they heard. Sometimes what we mean to say is not what comes out of our mouths, and sometimes what we hear is not what was actually said.

Communicate, and insist that they communicate. Don’t fling insults and accusations. Don’t bring up past history. Don’t yell, because yelling looses it’s power quickly. Don’t threaten with ultimatums – they backfire. Never denigrate your child and never label them: labels stick, and children sometimes try to live up to them.  Sit down at their level, look them in the eye, speak at normal volume, and stick to the subject.

Don’t make assumptions, or jump to conclusions. Slow down and give yourself the time to fully understand, or mistakes will be made.

Summarize. After everyone has had a chance to make their points, sum them up. Name the problem, list the arguments on each side.

Start with areas of agreement. In every discussion there are points of agreement. Start with those points, and work from there. We agree that ice cream is delicious, and it does have calcium in it for your bones, but…

In the end, you are the parent and must make the decision that you feel is best. Listening to your children along the way does no harm, strengthens relationships, will make them feel valued, and will nourish their self esteem. Understanding their thought processes and point of view may also help prevent later conflicts. Avoid the pitfalls – jumping to conclusions, towering over your child, name calling – and you will not have damage to repair later.

The experience of being treated fairly and with respect will carry forward and encourage your children to demand respect as they become adults. And learning how to argue without destroying a relationship? Priceless.

Domesticated Momster

Parenting: How to Fight Like a Grownup

CinemaUsher-01Children thrive in a home where they feel secure: security that is based in large part on their parents being sane and reliable. It can be terrifying when parents argue. If Mom or Dad act crazy when they fight their daughter, watching from around the corner, or son, lying in bed with a pillow over his head, will believe their world is falling apart.

As a result, an important part of parenting is learning how to discuss and resolve differences of opinion without devolving into screaming insults and accusations.

The goal of any parental conflict is to reach a compromise with which both parties will feel that they have won something, and both parties feel that they have given up something to the deal. If one party wins everything the compromise will not hold, because the other will have nothing to loose and will either keep fighting or just give up. We are looking for a win-win.

Parents are individuals first, with unique histories and priorities. There are bound to be disagreements over the decades it takes to raise a child. (Last week’s blog outlined common areas of disagreement; after this is how to fight with a child.) Since these disagreements happen between two people, the personalities of those people will impact the process. A little self examination is in order before we move on to how to fight like a grown-up.

There are three common personality styles that can negatively affect – umm- discussions:

  • The avoider: this person will not bring up the problem, will change the subject when they can, try to make jokes, deny that there is a problem… The problem will not get solved unless they can be brought to ground. (My husband is nodding and pointing at me.)
  • The nice guy: this person will give until they can’t give any more and then they explode. They will yield all points and agree to whatever their partner wants. Said partner will be completely blindsided when the divorce papers come.
  • The competitor: this is the person who will argue for points they don’t even care about, because they just want to win. Sometimes they can go over the line and and get nasty, flinging insults and accusations.

Parenting is too important to allow personality style to impact decisions. Figure out how you and your partner argue, and realize that your child is important enough to force yourself out of your comfort zone and let go of whatever habits you have indulged in until now. Face whatever the issue is, stand up for what you think is right, but don’t steamroll over your partner. Discuss the issue with the goal of compromise and cooperation.

People smarter than me have studied how to resolve conflicts in politics and business. The same principles work for relationships and parenting. The process can be divided into steps:

  • Listen. This means not interrupting until your partner in life, that person whom you love most in the world, has made his or her point. So hush! If you have trouble staying quiet, place a timer prominently between you and give each person a few uninterrupted minutes. Listening also means hearing and trying to understand what their words actually meant. This is difficult to do when all you are thinking about is your own point of view and what you are going to say next. You need to know how your partner in life sees the problem in order to fix it.  Sometimes it helps to repeat back what you heard, because what one person says is not always what the other person hears. “I’m frustrated and angry because we can’t pay our bills” can sound like “I want out of this marriage” if you are not careful.
  • Communicate. Talk about the actual issue. We want the best education for our child, but we can’t agree  on priorities. Don’t detour over to how you feel, other issues, or past history. Don’t try to assign blame. We never should have moved, or You should have taken that other job, won’t help.
  • Summarize. After you’ve both had a chance to make your point, sum it up. Name the problem, list the points on each side. Write it down if it helps.
  • Start with agreement. In every discussion there are points of agreement. Start with those points, and work from there. We both value education, but we know we cannot afford the private school we love… You want to work more so we can come up with the money, I want you home more and think we can teach them by reading, traveling, going to the library.
  • Don’t make assumptions, or jump to conclusions. Slow down, give yourselves the time to fully understand. Don’t let emotions and the thrill of drama get the better of you.
  • Realize that you must come to an agreement, there is no other option. We can work a little more to pay for math camp during the summer, and carve out extra time to hit libraries and museums.

Both sides must give a little and both sides must win a little, because you are in this together. One partner cannot overpower the other, or the partnership will not last, and your children need your partnership to last more than they need whatever you are arguing about.

In a conflict between parents either both parents win or both, in the end, loose.

Domesticated Momster

Conflict Resolution in Parenting: Prevention

CinemaUsher-01A good friend of mine, not realizing how complex a subject it was, and how much work it would be, asked me to write a blog about conflict resolution.

He may no longer be on my good list (coal for Christmas, you!), but for the next few weeks I will be blogging about conflict resolution because he got me thinking. This week is for the groundwork: exploring the issues that are at the root of many conflicts between parents. Next week will be about the most (and least) effective ways to fix those conflicts; after that we can expand into parent-child conflicts and those between children.

The first, most important, and absolutely non-negotiable concrete foundation of conflict resolution between parents is that parents are equal partners, and have to respect each other as such. You chose to have a child together. It is the privilege and responsibility of both to parent. It does not matter if you are married, partners, or single, or if one parent is taller, stronger, richer, smarter, more talented…. That child belongs to both of you and needs both of you. I once saw a child in the post office with a parent on either side holding onto an arm and pulling. Don’t do that. Your child is not a rope in a tug of war.

Conflicts can only be resolved by compromise. If one side wholly wins, the other has no choice but to keep fighting. Both sides have to give a little; both have to feel that they have won something. None of us are always right; we can afford to be flexible. In the end it is far more important that your children see that their parents respect each other, can listen to each other and discuss problems, and are able to compromise, than whether or not their bedtime can be changed, or they can go to a party.

If parents cannot respect each other as equals, that is the lesson their child will absorb, and someday he or she might accept something less than respect from their partner.

The structure we build on that foundation is agreement on common goals. It seems, going into parenting, that we should all have the same obvious goals. We want our child alive, healthy, happy, self-confident… Obvious, yes? It’s amazing how much variation there is within these bounds. Ideally, parents discuss and agree on goals for their children before they actually have any. In reality, many parents discuss religion and not much else.

So, ten things to talk about with your partner before things go ka-BOOM:

  1. Where you will live: Having a child is a lifetime commitment, so this means 20 years of where you will live, not just right now. Talk about location, type of home, whether you want to be near family, if you will move for a better job…  whatever is important to you. Things change, and it is nice to know where your partner stands on the subject ahead of time.
  2. Finance: Children need security to feel safe enough to explore and grow. Financial worries can plant their lives on shifting sands. Sit down together and figure out how much money you make, what you will spend it on, and how you will save for an emergency and the future. Make a budget. Your child does not want to loose a parent over the electric bill.
  3. Diet: You want them to be healthy, right? Not to have diabetes at 12, back pain at 15, and heart disease at 40? That means agreeing on what to feed them, and on being a good example yourself. It also includes not using food for emotional support or rewards. And don’t get me started on using food so that your child will like you better than the other parent.
  4. Routines and schedules: How obsessive are you going to be about homework, meal times, and bedtime routines? Routines can be incredibly helpful: kids don’t argue over something (like bedtime) that is a habit. On the other hand, routines can become rigid and squash all random opportunities and creativity. Where do  you put that balance? Routines work only if both parents are in agreement on them, so talk.
  5. Sleeping arrangements: I have seen more than a few marriages end in an ugly divorce over this one. There is really no moral right or wrong on it, but you must both agree. Just don’t co-sleep with a baby under 6 months. I’ve lost two small patients that way, and never want to lose another. Just don’t.
  6. Education: How important is school? (Guess which side I took on this one) Are some subjects more important than others? Do actual grades and the particular school matter, or is it learning and inspiration that is important? How about learning technical skills versus book learning? How about “useful” skills versus not so obviously useful? Did I mention that I also have an a degree in anthropology? I am married to an engineer. We have discussions.
  7. Careers: Which career choices are acceptable, and which are not? You might want to write these down and then switch lists – surprise! When I was a child, my options were nurse, teacher, or housewife. My mother had crossed “nun” off the list and not replaced it with anything. I was a big surprise.
  8. Athletics: How important are sports? Life ending? Or just done to be well rounded and get exercise? Any particular sport in mind?
  9. Criminal behavior: This is a biggie. Children start out as small barbarians, travel through self-involved, and wander into insecure before they become adults. They will try out hitting, biting, lying and stealing along the way. How will you react? What will you do to discourage this behavior?
  10. Privacy: Children have no legal right to privacy. They have what you give them, and they deserve your protection from their own … lack of insight, so their privacy cannot be absolute. Where is that line? How much do you trust before you verify?

So, I have managed to write a blog on conflict resolution without ever discussing how to resolve a conflict. Hmm. We will do that next week. First and foremost: respect your partner and set common goals. Once you have that foundation and framework, everything else falls into place more easily. With a little nudge. Or two.

Build that foundation. If parents endlessly argue and fight, marriages self destruct; if parents cannot treat each other with respect and decide on common goals, children self destruct.

Have that conversation before you need it.

Letting Go: Being a Parent

boy with baloon2-01Many parenting issues seem to be all about control. Parents make rules and then enforce them; cook food and convince the children to eat it; educate young minds and teach them right from wrong. Being a parent brings with it a mountain of responsibility, and the authority needed to do the job.

I’ve been thinking lately about the other side of the coin. What role does letting go of that control play in parenting?

When we are pregnant or our progeny are small, we are completely responsible for those small creations, and we make all of the decisions about their lives. Remember the terrifying responsibility of holding a tiny, fragile new being in your arms? At least that small person didn’t argue with you over the necessity of being in a car seat, or sleeping on their back! Later, we put their small arms and legs into clothes we like, and hold their hands as we walk them to the dance or art class we choose. We choose the home in which they grow, the religion they practice, and the school they attend.

Somewhere along the line that absolute control begins to evaporate, we loosen our grip and our children begin to choose their own direction.

Perhaps it starts with that first strident “No!” to the clothes we have chosen, or evolves later with a demand to take a course in auto mechanics instead of ballet. Perhaps they refuse to study in a class they hate, or ask to go to their friend’s church instead of yours.

They become increasingly independent, take on more responsibility for their own lives, and our influence wanes.

Life itself has more of an impact than we would sometimes choose. Disappointments and loss are inevitable, and possibly essential for normal development. Nothing can make a parent feel more powerless than when a child is injured or sick. Heartbreak strengthens our souls and allows us to appreciate real love later, but it is hard to watch it happen to the one you never wanted to see hurt.

Worse, how do you manage when your child is simply not built in a way that coincides with their dreams? When they are not tall enough, or pretty enough, or talented enough, and they have to realign their futures to a different reality? How, when random chance throws them sideways? There is sometimes simply nothing in your parenting arsenal that will help.

How do you manage when, in order to build their future, they have to leave another part of their lives (perhaps the part in which you are standing) behind?

They will never know who they truly are and be able to choose the direction of their lives if we dictate all of their decisions. So we as parents need to learn to step back and empower them, rather than holding all that power close ourselves. We need to allow them to risk hurt, while we place the weight of their lives on their own shoulders, so that they can become our equals rather than our dependents.

Over time, we assume more of a supporting role. We are there if they need love, if they ask for help, or if they want to bounce ideas, but we no longer determine and fix their lives. Powerlessness is proof of successful parenting.

So, letting go.

Perhaps we start when we hold up two outfits and ask them which one they want to wear. We keep control of the things that keep them safe, making them wear seat belts and bike helmets, locking up guns, making them get their shots – but let them choose which sport they want to play, what they want to learn, and who they want to associate with. We let them fail a test or loose a friend, even though we can see it coming and they cannot. We protect them from choices that will destroy their future (drugs, sex, destructive relationships…), but accept their decisions in other areas. It is their life, not ours.

We force ourselves to let go, and step back. We will no doubt be angry, or sad, over some of  their choices. We may feel guilty when they fail and we could have helped. We will have trouble finding where the line is, where that point is that we need to step back.

I have no clear answers, no surety of right and wrong. The most important thing is simply to be conscious of what we are doing, and why we are doing it – to realize that our impact as parents is as great for what we choose not to do as it is for what we do.
Domestic Momster

Pesticides: Not a Major Food Group

bleach boy-01A recent statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that we should limit our children’s exposure to pesticides.

It turns out that chemicals designed to kill insects and rodents are not good for children. Who knew?

In large doses, pesticides cause acute poisonings, with symptoms including dizziness, nausea, headaches, twitching or weakness. Smaller doses over a longer time can harm your child’s brain or hormonal systems. When pesticides injure a child’s brain they can cause developmental delays, and attention and behavior problems. Hormonal effects can impact your child’s growth and perhaps his or her reproductive ability. We do need to limit our children’s exposure!

Children are more vulnerable to poisons than adults, not less. Their bodies are actively growing and maturing and are thus easier to damage, like a gymnast caught mid leap. They have faster metabolisms: their hearts beat more quickly and their lungs breathe more rapidly, allowing chemicals in more quickly and in larger amounts. Also, their protective systems aren’t mature and don’t work as well as those of adults to stop the damage.

So, how do we lower children’s exposure in our day-to-day lives? The most common place for your child to ingest pesticides is in the food that they eat, particularly the fruits and vegetables. This does not mean they can skip their veggies! Just wash them first, eat a variety of different produce (different vegies have different amounts of pesticides), and buy organic when you can. Your local farm stand is, of course, your best friend.

Children are also exposed to pesticides in their homes and yards, so we may need to make some changes there. Keep all of your household pest products in their original containers with child proof caps intact. Just today I had a child drink a degreaser because her mom had stored it in a soda bottle! Store poisons out of reach and out of sight in a locked cupboard. If you are using a pesticide and the phone rings, close the container and put it out of reach while you are out of visual range. I have seen more than a few kids poisoned when mom went to see why the baby was crying, or to answer the door. Kids are quick.

Read and follow the directions on the container. Use pesticides only when there is a problem, never to just prevent one. Less is always better. When you do use them, use crevice and crack treatments, not bombs. Think about how your kids live on the surfaces to which you are applying the treatment: kids lie on the ground, crawl under things, and touch stuff and put their hands in their mouths. Don’t put the rat poison behind the couch – your 2 year old will find it. My amazing, brilliant grandchild found the mouse poison behind the dishwasher. World’s worst grandma.

Change your clothes after you use pesticides, and store your shoes outside.

If you have a wooden play structure that was built between 1970 and 2004 and not made of cedar or redwood, the wood was probably treated with chromated copper arsenate. Arsenic also is not good for children, so you may want to replace the structure.

Read the ingredients on lawn and garden products and any pet products. Organophosphates (most commonly malathion, but there are dozens) were banned from home use in 2001, but many people have old products sitting around, or use commercial products at home. They are also still used in public parks and schools.

In America we use more than 1 billion pounds of pesticides every year in our farms, homes and public spaces. Ask what is used by your city and at your child’s school. There are many newer, safer products that have been developed in the last few years, so suggest alternatives and avoid the organophosphates when you can.

Stay safe and be healthy!

How to Nurture Self-confidence in Your Child

skateboarder-01In the last several weeks I have seen a mother trying to make her daughter look prettier (she was beautiful without the make-up), a father pushing a son better built for track into football, and a parent making fun of a son’s drawings.

These parents might someday wonder why their children did not have the self-confidence to achieve more in life.

Let’s not do that.

So… top ten ways to nurture a confident child

  1. The most important single factor in building a child’s self esteem is unconditional love from their parents. Children need to be certain that no matter what dumb thing they do, or how badly they fail, you will love them. You may not always like what they’ve done, but you will always have their back. They will have the courage to try, when they are sure you will catch them if they fall.
  2. Give your child a chance at success by laying out clear expectations; they need to know what success is in order to achieve it. Nothing will destroy self-confidence more quickly than trying to shoot at a moving target. What do you hope to see in your child: honesty? hard work? creativity? Be consistent. If you want them to be honest, then you need to be stringently honest in your own life, and require it of them in every part of theirs. No telling your child not to lie, then suggesting a fib about their schoolwork! Expect hard work? Work alongside them, and let them know how much you appreciate their labor.  Exhibit, and reward, the behavior you want to see.
  3. Make your expectations something at which your individual child can succeed. Any child can give their best, work hard, be true to themselves, and be honest. Not every child can be a football star, brilliant musician, or great artist. If your expectation is that your child try new things and do his or her best, then they can succeed at putting paint on canvas, and they will feel pride in their accomplishment.
  4. Find activities in which your child will thrive. You may have to try a few new things; break out the ballet classes and art lessons. Learn to throw a ball. Read books, tour a museum, travel… Explore the world in which your child will live his or her life. Nothing will build self-esteem like success, so seek out and encourage activities they love or for which they have a talent.
  5. Be interested in what inspires them. It’s impossible not to be: you are interested in their hair color and their height, how could you not be interested in their minds and talents? In the end, if mom or dad is interested, they will know that their accomplishments – and they themselves – have value.
  6. Allow time for free play and creative activity. Children do amazing things when they are allowed access to their own imaginations. Freedom will allow them to get in touch with their innate abilities, so that they can discover their best future. Self-confidence thrives when we do work at which we excel.
  7. Examine your own mind. Any left over preconceptions that might injure your child? Your small human is new. He or she embodies a combination of mind, talent, and ability that has never existed before. If you think science is the most important subject, but gave birth to a poet, you need to make sure that small poet doesn’t get the idea that you would have been happier if he or she could grasp algebra.
  8. Expect them to fail: the only people who do not fail are those who do not try. Show them with your own behavior that failure is a learning opportunity, so they will not think that they have less worth when they, in turn, fail. Let them watch you try new things. When you fail, make sure they see you accept that failure and learn from it, so that you can succeed next time. When they fail, tell them it was great that they tried, and redirect them to what they can do differently next time, so that they will get better. No defeatist talk, for the entire duration of their childhood!
  9. Spend time with friends with like interests, and friends who are completely different. Friends who value the same things your child does will reinforce his or her worth; friends who are very different will teach your child that every person has equal grace, whether their talents lie in building an app, a home, or a business.
  10. Be true and honest. Your children know you, and will know when you are not being real. Children do amazing things every day: there is no need for fake, meaningless praise. You love this child, therefore you love and will value the things that he or she is good at, even if you never thought you would before you became a parent. True praise builds healthy self-confidence.

While you’re at it, work on your own confidence. The world has probably battered it a bit. Children will always follow our example. If that example is self-confidence, courage, and honesty, how far might they go?

What To Do When the Screen Goes Off

girl with plantMedia addiction in children and the importance of limiting their screen time is a big topic in pediatrics this week.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has always recommended no more than two hours of screen time per day for children over 2 (none for those under 2), and they have lots of data to back that up. Adding to this was a recent study suggesting that toddlers who watched more TV than average were more likely to be bullied later in life: reported bullying went up 11% for each additional hour of TV viewing, over the average of 1 1/2 hours. Scary.

Time spent watching TV is not spent developing social and verbal skills, and not spent using and exercising young bodies.

Children sitting in front of a screen develop a disabling habit of being more passive in their interactions with others.

They put on weight because while they are sitting, with their metabolic rate near what it is when they sleep, they are frequently munching on snack food.

They are more likely to have attention problems because TV teaches them to experience the world in 5 minute pieces.

Last, their perceptions are significantly skewed because they take the behavior of characters and people on TV as normal. Which they are not.

It seems reasonable that since I am one of those pediatricians constantly nagging people to turn off their screens, I have a responsibility to come up with some activities they can do instead. All those hours to fill, and all those useful skills to learn!

Our children need the abilities that excessive TV viewing destroys: social knowledge and the ability to interact with actual humans, verbal skills, an attention span adequate to complete a project, and physical exercise. Let’s throw in knowledge of the real world too, just to be complete.

So, ten things to do after you turn off the TV:

  1. Read a book. I know, it’s obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less important. The most rapid development in the brain’s language and learning centers occurs between 6 months and 3 years of age; we need to take advantage. Just 15 minutes of being read to each day between 6 months and 5 years adds up to 500 hours of reading before they even enter kindergarden, boosting development in these areas. Daily reading in older kids improves their comprehension and speed, in addition to adding to their store of knowledge. Hit that library!
  2. Experiment with science. My all time favorite science site is at Roots of Action. They have experiments in all kinds of science, organized by children’s age and type of science, from astronomy to zoology. There is enough there to keep your kids busy all summer long.
  3. Be creative. Break out the crayons or paints and draw. Make music. Write a story. Perform a theatrical: what kid doesn’t love performing in front of their most supportive audience? Creation exercises and stimulates the brain, making it more imaginative and receptive to new ideas.
  4. Garden. Not only does your munchkin get to play in water, dig in dirt and make a mess, but he or she will also have the pleasure of seeing their plants grow and flower. There is self confidence to be grown along with those beans for diner, and those flowers for the kitchen table. Also, they learn a little responsibility along the way, because they won’t want their precious plants to wither and wilt.
  5. Have a cooking class. Again, you get pride of accomplishment (they peeled those carrots!). They will eat better, because they won’t want their own hard work to go to waste, and they will learn an undeniably necessary skill.
  6. Make a chore list. Exercise, a sense of accomplishment, and lessons on responsibility all wrapped up in one. Give an allowance for completed chores and you can have financial lessons as well.
  7. Play a sport. With them please and have fun, so you have family time and everybody gets some exercise.
  8. Learn a new skill. Summer is the traditional time for classes and camps. Learn to draw, play an instrument, ride a horse… Anything your child has shown an interest in, someone is out there teaching, if you cannot teach it yourself
  9. Volunteer. Aiding others in need will help them appreciate what they have, and will feed their souls. The right sort of volunteer activity can also teach useful skills: Literacy promotion (reading), working with the elderly (communication, patience),  hospital work (medical knowledge), food banks and kitchens (cooking and nutrition), and Habitat (building and repair) are all enriching.
  10. After all this activity, take a backyard vacation. Put out the blow up pool and some beach towels, and drink things with tiny umbrellas. Have a trail hike through the neighborhood with a campout at the end. Have a day in Paris, with a home made Eiffel Tower and a French dictionary. Go to a Broadway show produced by your favorite tiny actors. Backyard vacations are limited only by your imagination, never your wallet.

Who has time for a screen? There is just too much to do! Turn that box off and put away that phone!

Anonymity and Denial in the Twitterverse

turtle2-01Playwright Tom Stoppard said, “Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.”

I am old enough to be amazed by social media, with its multitude of words and pictures. It did not exist when I was new. If we wanted enlightenment, we went to the library or read the Post. By the time we found our information, the events were already in the past. We knew people of different cultures existed, and events happened, but it was knowledge that came at a distance, blurred by its time-consuming transformation into letters and pictures.

When we curious children wanted to see what a woman looked like without her clothes, we stole our parent’s National Geographic and leafed through it for pictures of deepest Africa. Kennedy and Lennon were shot, but there were no cell phone videos or instant interviews. The stories unfolded over weeks, with time to adjust and get a little distance.

Social media now comes with immediacy and savage intensity. People’s lives are flayed open and placed on the screen for my perusal. If I presume to know anything about that woman in Africa, she can knock me upside the head minutes later, because she is in reality just a hairsbreadth away. If I pretend to wisdom, the whole world can judge me and let me know where they think are my errors in judgement.

This brilliant transparency should make us more authentic, more determined to write nothing that we would not stand behind to our deaths. We should claim our words without reservation. These words. are. me. Sadly, from a place of weakness and fear it can instead make us deny what we know, as we buffer our truth so as not to be responsible for it.

We write, “Tweets do not replace medical advice, retweets are not to be considered an endorsement.” We backtrack, and pad ourselves against risk. The most powerful thing we can do – put our thoughts into words for other people to see – we disclaim and weaken with “tweets are not meant to be advice.”

Of course they are! What would be the point, otherwise?

If we give thought to and write words down then they need to be true. Words are sacred. We record our words in the hopes that they will “nudge the world a little.” If our words are our truth then they have earned our faith: we have to stand behind them with our names and our identities.

Weakening our words by buying into a fear of lawsuits and judgement is a betrayal of our selves; it costs us a piece of our souls. Our words are us and denying them, even in a small part, allows decay to eat away at our own value.

Conversely, since we wrote those words with our very own minds and hands we should never, in the rush to say something, write down what we know is not truth: those words will also follow us through our lives. People sometimes feel that they can be nasty, petty, or judgmental on the internet because they are anonymous. They can twist the facts just a little to make their point. We must realize that there is no such thing as true anonymity. Even if no one else ever knows who wrote those words, you yourself do.

Persian poet Hafez wrote, “The words you speak become the house you live in.” Write only words that have a strong foundation and the solidity of truth, so that your house is yours alone and can hold up to the hurricane force winds of opinion. Hafez’s words are as true on the internet today as they were in the fourteenth century in ink on paper. Such is the power of words. Believe in them, and in your self.