Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Teaching Our Children Values

Teaching our children core values has never been tougher. With pop culture’s mixed messages and poor examples from many of today’s musical and media heroes, it’s difficult to find good role models.
Medford, NJ’s Carole Gold, author, inspirational speaker, and mother, offers a top ten list of the most important values that all parents must teach their children, including honesty, self-reliance, personal responsibility, fearlessness, forgiveness, compassion, trust, humility, perseverance, and authenticity.
“Honesty is the most important,” says Gold. “It is not a new concept, but we are nothing more than our word. Honesty and integrity have to be the basis for all of our relationships.”

Teach Through Example
“It’s not about what you say, it’s about what you do, how you live, and the examples you show,” suggests Gwen McConnell, who lives with her husband, John, in St. David’s, PA. One of the McConnell’s core values is charity, a lesson that all four of their children, ages 21 to 29, have taken to heart. Twelve years ago, as a senior in high school, their oldest son rode his bike with a friend 75 miles to their shore house in Avalon. Since that time, he has continued that ride, growing it into a fundraiser that recently earned $20,000 for a local school.
Gold stresses that children watch everything their parents do, and hear everything they say. “Regardless of what we say, children give much more weight to what we do,” she explains. “Values must be something that you live, not just something that you speak.”
Another important value the McConnells have instilled in their children is the importance of family. Though John travelled extensively for work, he made sure to be home for as many of his kids’ important moments as possible. “He would make these super human efforts to get back, and if he couldn’t, he would make it a priority to talk to them on the phone,” recalls Gwen. Though family members live in different states, they continue to make time together a priority.

Find Worthy Role Models
In spite of headlines showing many famous people’s bad behaviors, there are people, both throughout history and in today’s world to emulate. That person may even be part of your own family.
“John’s dad was someone who my kids knew well, and in spite of being brilliant and very successful, he was the most humble and understated person who did all kinds of volunteer work and was one of the best examples for my kids,” says Gwen.
Adds Leslie Slate, a mother of four children between the ages of 12 and 22 who reside in Wilmington, DE, “We focus more on everyday people and how we all can be heroes.”

Mistakes Happen
No one is perfect, and your children will likely make mistakes, crossing the boundaries you set. You must have an open line of communication with your children to understand why they behaved the way they did. Next, there must be a consequence for the action, and it is best to tie the consequence to the behavior whenever possible.
That’s exactly what Slate did when one of her four children came home with a D on her interim report card. After a heart-to-heart conversation, her daughter explained that she hadn’t completed a project because she found the subject boring. Together, they came up with an appropriate punishment.
“I reminded her that she didn’t hurt anybody but herself and it was really disrespectful to the teacher,” says Slate, who had placed respect as a core value. “She ended up writing a letter of apology to the teacher.” The child regretted her actions, and worked extremely hard to bring her grade back up to a B.
When your child makes a mistake, Gold urges parents to say to your child, “I love you and I find the behavior unacceptable. Then show them that their behavior is a choice they made and they can choose better.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How to Tell if Your Child is Lying

We try so hard to pass our values down to our children, and honesty is right at the top of that list. So when your toddler’s teacher tells you that your son lied, you are horrified. He has never, ever lied to you. Or has he? Look for the clues.

Like most parents, Alissa Marcus, the NJ mother of 3 kids between the ages of 6 and 11, has eyes in the back of her head. She says can tell 100 percent when her kids are lying, although the clues each child provides differ from one another. When her fifth grader can’t look her in the eye, that’s the telltale sign that he isn’t telling the truth.

Her third grader becomes emphatic in her denials when she tries not to admit a wrong and her kindergartner starts to laugh. Case in point – the time 6 year old Jonah came out of the bathroom and Alissa asked him if he had washed his hands. “He said ‘yes’ with a big smile on his face,” she recalls. That meant he really hadn’t washed his hands.

If you haven’t figured out your children’s telltale signs yet, Melissa Brand, Psy.D., Equilibria Psychological and Consultation Services, Philadelphia, Pa offers some hints:
• Poor eye contact. They also may smile, look guilty, or even become defensive and angry because they feel “caught.”
• Trouble staying still. They may literally squirm with the discomfort of lying to you, or are avoiding your questions and stalling for time.
• React defensively. Always be suspicious when it seems that your child “doth protest too much.”
• Changing the story. Do you detect inconsistencies in your child’s story? Compare notes with the caregiver of the person your child is claiming to be with. Are you getting the same story?
• Long Pauses. Hesitation before speaking may be time used to fabricate an alibi.
• Facial expressions. Watch for a brief expression of guilt, fear, or even a smirk.

Lie Prevention Tips
• Give your children the message that they can come to you with anything.
• Be an open listener. Try to keep your own reactions in check until you’ve heard the full story.
• Reward the truth. When children confess, don’t immediately move to punishment. Acknowledge how much you appreciate that they told you the truth, then, decide together upon an appropriate consequence.
• Children lie to avoid punishment. Avoid being too harsh or too rigid, and have a few important rules that you enforce consistently.

Don't freak out the first time your child lies, but be sure he understands that lying is unacceptable. Find an age-appropriate punishment and stay resolute. It is best to nip this behavior in the bud early on.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Help Your Toddlers Learn to do Things for Themselves

I often preach the importance of encouraging independence in your toddlers. They need to try things for themselves to discover what the world has to offer. Oftentimes, they will try something new but won’t succeed. Part of the lesson is in figuring out how to do something differently the next time, until they ultimately figure it out.

Kudos to 2 year old Cody’s mom. Her little guy so desperately wants to be just like his 4 year old big brother, that he is constantly trying to do things he isn’t yet ready for. For example, Brady was convinced he could brush his own teeth, and he actually succeeded…sort of.
Cody hopped up onto the bathroom stool and grabbed his brother’s toothbrush from the stand. He found the white stuff that he was sure goes on toothbrushes and began brushing furiously. At that moment, his mom stepped into the bathroom and realized that Cody was brushing his teeth with hand soap!

It’s not so easy to get an overabundance of hand soap out of a two year old’s mouth! Though Cody’s mom was somewhat exasperated, it was actually a wonderful moment for her son. He may have been confused about the toothpaste, but he was successful in brushing his teeth all by himself.

On another occasion, Cody observed his older brother blowing his nose into a tissue. Cody’s mother found him sitting next to an empty box of tissues and a toilet bowl filled with the ones he’d used in blowing his own nose. My own kids were pretty old before they could blow their own noses, but Cody figured this difficult skill out on his own. Sure, he used up an entire box of Kleenex, and there could have been a nasty overflow in the toilet, but he taught himself an important skill.

Nice job to Cody’s parents and all the other parents out there with the understanding necessary to allow toddlers to learn new things. It takes a sense of humor of to be a parent. Remember that in the moments when it’s easy to forget.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Family Vacations are Not Just About the Kids

Family vacations are a great way to spend quality time with the whole family. It’s certainly nice to have the kids all to yourself without the distractions of friends, homework, and activities. You can have the time to find out what they are thinking and to forge a stronger bond. Yet, don’t forget about your spouse.

Vacations offer a chance to rekindle your marriage, and remember why you fell in love in the first place. During a time without the pressures of work and carpooling, you can enjoy each other fully. A romantic dinner, walk on the beach, or any activity that the two of you can enjoy together and alone, will do wonders for your relationship.

After 30 years of marriage, I have the hindsight to think about the things that have made our relationship work. For one, time spent just with each other was always a priority. We enjoyed regular weekly “date nights” and always one night alone on the family vacation. Those times gave us a chance to connect and appreciate each other without distractions.

It has also provided a great example for our children, who have learned the value we’ve placed on maintaining a strong relationship. Another bonus has been the bond the kids created on their own when we weren’t around. When they were little and had babysitters, they did things with the sitter that were fun and different. They learned how to go to sleep without their parents around and discovered that their siblings were pretty fun to hang out with.

My husband and I share many interests and can look back on special moments that didn’t only revolve around our children. So many of our friends are now divorced, and I feel especially lucky to have nurtured our relationship as our children grew. Now that our youngest child prepares to go off to college, I am fortunate to have a strong relationship with my husband.

Monday, August 8, 2011

What to do When You Don’t Like Your Child’s Teacher Assignment

You’ve just gotten the letter in the mail that you’ve been dreading all summer - your child has been assigned to the teacher that all the moms on the playground have warned you against. You immediately go into protective mother mode, planning how to fix this wrong. Yet, before you call the Principal or check out private schools, take a deep breath and think it over. Like you, I personally experienced that sick feeling with my own child, and I’m happy to share what I learned.

First, how bad can it really be? This teacher must possess some redeeming qualities. I admit my kids had a couple of below average teachers in their long educational careers. But now that my son is a young adult in the workplace, how horrible was it really that I found his grade school teacher lazy? Would I have I preferred the spunky teacher just out of college instead? Definitely at the time, but in hindsight, my son learned ways to compensate. We can’t always make life right for our kids. This was a good lesson that real life isn't always perfect and they will have to figure out how to adapt.

Schools spend a lot of time forming classes. They must match students to both the appropriate teacher and the best class for that child and that is not an easy process. Students’ personalities, temperaments, and learning styles must be considered, but there must also be a broader picture of the entire group.

Think about why your child might have received that placement and question why you are so sure he won’t succeed in that class. If you still feel uncomfortable, call the Principal and politely share your concerns and listen to why she believes your child will be successful with that teacher. Listen to what she has to say and consider if you have over-reacted. If you still feel strongly, point out your concerns rationally, and give examples of how your child will benefit from moving to a different teacher. Use specific examples, not things you heard from other parents.

If in the end, you are unable to switch, try to make the situation work as best you can. Communicate with the teacher when you feel it's appropriate and keep an open mind. Hopefully, you’ll look back on the year and realize it all worked out for the best. But, if you don’t, chalk it up to a learning experience that will benefit your child in the long run.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Back to School Shopping: The Preschooler’s Backpack

As stores bombard you and your toddler with many choices for backpacks, choose wisely. This investment should be able to last the full year, not cost too much, and make your child proud and excited with her choice. Believe it or not, something as seemingly insignificant as a backpack can actually help your child’s transition into preschool.

Though remembering a backpack may seem like one extra thing you don’t want to have to deal with each morning, it is the most effective way for the teachers and parents to communicate with one another.

Please allow your child to help choose her backpack. If she loves Cars or Dora, she will be excited to bring it to school and show it off to her friends. It is also a great way to allow your child to make a decision about something that is important in her life. It is fine for you to limit her selections to just a few to choose from that you feel are appropriate for her but it is important to allow her some independence with this decision.

Today, many backpacks are available with wheels on the bottom. For a middle or high school student who is lugging 25 pounds or more of books, that’s a great idea. But for toddlers, wheeled packs often become troublesome. Sometimes, the backpacks are as big as the child, and it isn’t easy for a toddler to navigate them through narrow doorways and around chairs and toys in the classroom. There is very little weight among the notes and art projects that the backpack must hold, so wheels are just not necessary for a preschooler.

Try to choose one that will easily hold an 8 1/2” by 11” piece of paper. Sometimes, we use larger paper for projects, but we can easily fold those to fit. The backpack must also be able to hold whatever the child chooses to bring in for show and tell. I’ve taught students who came with adorable tiny backpacks, which were easy to carry, but pretty much useless for their intended purpose.

And I urge all parents and teachers to check the child’s backpack every day. Sometimes there are important notes that should be reviewed right away. If your child had a rough night for some reason, it makes sense to give her teacher a heads-up, and the backpack is a great place for such a note. From the teacher’s perspective, there are times we want to inform you of something that occurred in the classroom, and it may be important that you know something that same day. It is a shame when a child doesn’t bring in a show and tell item because her parent never read the note in her backpack.

This is the time of year when you are building up preschool and preparing for a smooth transition. Allow back-to-school shopping to help in that preparation.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How to Talk to Your Young Kids About Drugs

Eleven year-old Aaron Finkelstein remembers his parents talking to him about drugs when he was in pre-school. They didn’t sit him down for a serious talk, the Cherry Hill, NJ fifth grader recalls; it was more informal. His mom, Sally says she and her husband have used opportunities that crop up in daily life to discuss drugs, alcohol, and cigarette use with Aaron and his siblings, Mitchell 13, and Natalie, 6. According to experts, the Finkelsteins are right on target.

Start the Conversation Early
Today, kids begin experimenting with drugs younger than ever before, with 8% of 12 year olds using drugs, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) Even children as young as 8 and 9 years old are getting in on the act, trying drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. Alcohol and cigarettes are also drugs, and need to be included in any conversation about drugs.
Michael Bradley, Ed.D, a psychologist specializing in children and adolescents and author of four books, says that a parent must start the conversation when the child is very young – even toddlers - because our kids are raised in a drug culture. Parents must help develop their child’s belief system that drugs are something to avoid.
“Controlling is easy, it’s short-term, and it doesn’t work,” insists Dr. Bradley. “You want to get them to have a belief system that drugs are really stupid. It’s not cool, sexy, fun, or harmless as it’s presented in the culture.”
The D.A.R.E. program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), a school program designed to give kids the skills they need to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs, and violence, starts in the fifth grade. “While most kids don’t get involved with drugs at that age, when they get into middle school, they really start getting exposed to it,” explains James McGivney, Regional Director, D.A.R.E. America, Mid-Atlantic States (PA, DE, NJ, VA, WVA.) “This prepares them for their entrĂ©e into middle school.”

How to Start the Conversation
As the Finkelsteins have figured out, an out-of-the-blue conversation won’t work, it needs to be relatable for your child. When you see a character on television drinking or an article in the paper about someone overdosing on drugs, use that opportunity to begin the conversation. “Say to your kids, ‘What do you think about this?’” suggests Dr. Bradley. “Try to get them to start to share their beliefs.”
Take advantage of teachable moments when they present themselves. Having an open rapport with your children is especially important, and that often comes from spending mealtime together. “It’s been proven that if you have dinner with your kids every night, that’s the best prevention tool that there is,” adds McGivney.
Show your children facts about the effects of alcohol and drugs on teen brains from sites such as www.samafoundation.org/youth-substance-addiction/effects-of-drugs-on-adolescent-brain. Or, join your child in playing games related to the topic at www.teens.drugabuse.gov/havefun/index.php.
About 50 percent of fifth graders in the region are visited by a D.A.R.E. police officer each year. That is a great time to have a conversation with your child about what he learned in the program. If you don’t have D.A.R.E. in your school, there are many opportunities to casually get the conversation started at many age levels. Check out www.getsmartaboutdrugs.com/prevent/getting-started-talking-about-drugs for more tips on how to get the conversation started.
Then, when your child is older, you will be prepared to set ground rules. Remind her that your expectation is that she is not going to use drugs. Create a plan together to help her get out of uncomfortable situations. For example, Dr. Bradley recommends that if she encounters alcohol at a party, she can text you ‘911.’ That will be your cue to call her and say that there is a family emergency and she must come home right away. She won’t have to explain to her peers her true reason for leaving.

What to Do When You Find Your Child Has Used Drugs
First, you need to figure out how serious the situation is. The trend today is to mix alcohol with energy drinks, which allows the teen to drink a lot without seeming very drunk. Watch to be sure the child is getting increasingly intoxicated. If you feel secure, both of you should go to bed, knowing that you will have a conversation in the morning.
The next morning, when the child is sober and you are calmer, ask your child what she learned. Avoid losing your temper and be sure to maintain a line of communication. If you are lucky, she will say she was really stupid and she’ll never do it again. In the worst case, you will have do decide if your child needs treatment and explore those options. Your child’s guidance counselor is an excellent resource.
Sally Finkelstein hopes she is never faced with her children experimenting with drugs, but she hopes they will come to her if they find themselves in trouble. “We try to promote open communication,” she says. “If one of my kids experiments with something and isn’t feeling right, we hope he calls us and knows we’re there for him.”

By the Numbers
• Marijuana use increased among 8th graders between 2009 and 2010
• In 2010, 21.4 percent of high school seniors used marijuana while 19.2 percent smoked cigarettes.
• Past-year nonmedical use of Adderall and over-the-counter cough and cold medicines among 12th graders remains high at 6.5% and 6.6%, respectively.
• Alcohol use decline among high school seniors falling from 43.5% to 41.2% and alcohol binge drinking (defined as 5 or more drinks in a row in the past 2 weeks) declining from 25.2% to 23.2%.

source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2010