Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back to School Night

You’ve met your child’s teachers, you’ve hung a dozen projects on the fridge, and your child is happy and enjoys going to preschool. So, what can you get out of Back to School Night? Quite a lot.

This is your chance to hear from your child’s teachers, first-hand, about what their goals are for the year. In our class, we are very specific in demonstrating the skills we are teaching the children. For example, we actually show them one of our science experiments, and point out how graphing in a three year old program is an important pre-math skill. We explain why we do the projects we do, and the skills each project is designed to help develop. For example, the day the children ripped paper strips to glue onto an apple shape, they were actually working to develop their fine motor skills. Ripping is a precursor to cutting with a scissor.

Of course, the most enjoyable part of the evening is the slide show, when you can actually see your child in action. Is he smiling? Is he eager to get his hands dirty? Is he playing alone in every picture, or he is enjoying being involved in small groups? Does he look happy?

While this isn’t a night to talk specifically about your child, it is the chance to get a broad view of what goes on in the classroom. Teachers are eager to have the opportunity to meet you, as well. We are professionals who take our jobs seriously, and we want you to know that we will give your children our very best.

We appreciate when you take the time to demonstrate the importance of your children’s education. We understand that getting babysitters isn’t easy, and we appreciate that you make the effort to come to Back to School Night. I am always disappointed when a parent chooses not to come, because I feel that they miss out on a valuable experience.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Beauty of Grandparents and the Special Bond they Form with Your Children

As parents of young children, some of us are very fortunate to have helpful grandparents who are eager to help out. Especially in this economy, a free night of babysitting with someone you trust implicitly is priceless. It is also wonderful to watch the bond your children form with your parents. There truly is nothing like that relationship. Grandparents are supposed to spoil the grandkids – that’s their job. And these two generations should love each other unconditionally.

By the same token, grandparents make wonderful classroom helpers. We’ve had fabulous grandparents in our classroom over the years who have found ways to lend a helping hand. One year, the students’ mothers and fathers were slow to help out. Fortunately, there was one particular mom who came in whenever asked, and as a bonus, she’d bring her mother, too. What a treat that was, having three generations of a family together, visiting the petting farm or helping the class bake cookies. Grandma was a fabulous baker who knew how to work a toddler crowd. She would teach the children silly songs as they helped her add ingredients into the mixing bowl. So she wouldn’t have to remember all of their names, she made up nicknames for each child, many of which stuck. Precious Penny, Haircut, and Angel Lips were among my favorites.

Granny, as our entire class affectionately called her, always had a surprise for the children when she’d come to visit. Once, she made crocheted hand puppets for each child. They were individual and unique and the kids were thrilled to receive such a special gift. Other times, she’d slip each child a Hershey Kiss, in a way that seemed like magic.

While every child loved Granny, watching the pride her actual granddaughter felt as she shared this woman with her friends was delightful to witness. Whenever Granny’s name came up, she would beam. Granny has actually been back to visit our classroom on occasion, even though she no longer has a grandchild in our class. All of the children adore her and we are lucky to have her.

So enjoy, appreciate, and invite your parents to share in your children’s lives. Everyone will appreciate their love and support.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What to do When Your Child Screams and Cries Every Day at Preschool

Some preschoolers have an extremely difficult time transitioning into preschool. It's tough on the child, parents, and teachers.

I got this comment from a reader:
Hi-I saw your article on another site when I was looking for advice with my son who is three and has just started preschool. He isn't normally a really clingy kid, but when we even talk about going to school, he starts to scream and according to his teacher (it's only has 4th time to go) screams and cries for the full 2.5 hours. What do I do?!? I'd love any advice. I don't want to take him out because then he'll never adjust, but is this normal or is he just not ready? Thanks so much!

Here is my response:
Unfortunately for you and his teachers, this is difficult, but not that unusual. I’m going to give you two conflicting answers because I don’t know your child. Think about each knowing that other parents have done both and felt confident in their decisions.

The answer I recommend most is to try to stick it out. I know how tough it is. A couple of things you might try, are to bring him to school during a time when he isn’t in class. For example, if he goes three mornings, bring him in the afternoon or on an off day. Let him show you all around his classroom, pointing out the things that he likes best. Make a big deal about his cubby, his circle time mat, etc. Let him play with you on the playground. If he isn’t anxious because he knows you aren’t going to leave, he may enjoy himself. Then, when you bring him to school the next day, be sure to talk about something specific that he showed you in the classroom. Tell him you can’t wait until he comes home to tell you how he enjoyed it in school.

Also tell him how lucky he is now that he’s a big three year old and he gets to have special time with new friends and new experiences. You have jobs you have to do (pick something he doesn’t like, such as going to a store) and he doesn’t have to go with you to do your job. School is his special time and you are so proud of him because you know it’s a little scary to go to a new place by yourself. Ask him to make you a picture that you can’t wait to hang on your refrigerator. Be sure to ask his teacher to give him time to make that picture. They should also make a big fuss over the special picture he is making just for you.

Ask his teacher if he can bring a blanket, stuffed toy or other comfort item that he’s allowed to keep with him. Slowly his teachers can wean him off of that item. One more thing you can do is have a play date with a child in his class. If he develops a friendship, he might be more excited about playing with this child in school and may look forward to playing with him again after school.

Not to confuse you, but I know another parent who went through a similar situation, and after two weeks she decided to pull her son out of school. She believed he just wasn’t ready yet. He had some speech delays, and she chose to use that year to enroll him in speech. She also formed a play group so he could begin to meet and become friends with the children he would ultimately go to school with. She worked with him on the pre-reading and pre-math skills he would be missing in the three year old program, so he didn’t “fall behind.”

Her son is now in his twenties and she is sure she made the right decision at that time. In fact, she teaches in the same preschool where I teach. If you decide to do this, it won’t be popular among other parents. You need to be strong in your conviction that you are doing the best thing for your child. At three years old, he has plenty of time left for school.

I hope he makes it through successfully and I look forward to hearing from you in a month or so to find out how it went!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Really Bad Customer Service? Take it to the Top to Make it Right

We try to teach our kids how to handle problems for themselves, but in a world where customer service is often lacking, that’s not always an easy task. My son, who is in college, purchased a Polaroid TV from Walmart a couple of years ago. When moving from one apartment to the next, the cord disappeared.

He tried Walmart, Radio Shack and similar places, but it turned out the TV had been discontinued. He then called Polaroid and they told him they’d send him a new cord for about $30. That was a tough call given the fact that you can get a new TV pretty cheap these days, but he decided to buy the cord. The person who took his phone order had seemingly never heard of Washington DC before. He kept insisting that he was mailing the cord to Washington Minnesota (or some other state, I can’t remember for sure.) Despite my son correcting him, sure enough when the cord didn’t arrive, he called Polaroid and was told it went to Washington Minnesota.

Finally getting the address straight, the cord finally arrived to the right address, but it still didn’t work. When my son called again, he was told he only bought half the cord – the other half would cost another $40. At this point he knew he should just buy a new TV so he asked how he could return the first half to get his initial $30 back. The customer service representative was rude and unhelpful, insisting that my son should have known better in his order, and refused to refund his money.

He asked for a manager who gave him the same answer and finally called me in frustration. He had done all of the right things but without a positive result.

Unfortunately, I have had situations like this occur many times throughout my life, and I’ve learned how to ultimately get satisfaction. You have to go to the top. So, I googled “Polaroid executive phone numbers” and got the President of the company’s direct line. He answered the phone himself on the first ring.

I explained what had happened and that my son wanted to handle this, I was just trying to get him to the right place. The President was very nice and apologetic, and gave me the email address for the person who could help straighten out this mess. I also wanted him to know how his customer service representatives were treating customers.

The story isn’t over yet – we’ll see what the resolution is when my son sends the email, but my experience tells me it will all work out ok. It’s just a shame it had to go so far. In the past, I have spoken with either the top executive, or that person’s executive assistant, at many companies. When I had problems at Comcast, American Express, my mortgage company, and on and on, it finally took a phone call to the top to get satisfaction.

Of course, you have to go through appropriate channels first to try to get a resolution, but when you are at wits end, it usually helps to go to the top. When you get there, be calm, explain exactly what happened, and be appreciative that the person is listening and wants to help you. Top executives don’t often hear directly from consumers, and I have found that they are happy to have these conversations.

Good luck!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Superhero Smackdown and other Great Events at your Local Library

As the economy slumps, more and more people are discovering their local library and all it has to offer. Whether you want to learn new job skills, need a place to entertain your kids, or are searching to lose yourself in the latest hot book or video, your local library branch likely has something for you.

In the Vogelson Branch of the Camden County Library System in Voorhees, NJ, a Superhero Smackdown will delight the little ones. According to Linda Devlin, Director of the Camden County Library System, kids can come dressed as their favorite superhero and can make a cape and a mask. Talk to your local branch to find out if they have a similar program.

Of course, there are always reading hours for kids, and other unique programs that local libraries have to offer. Not only will you be able to find a free, enjoyable activity to do with your kids, but you can get them excited about books and literature, and start them on the road to reading. Most libraries also offer playgroups where you can meet other parents with kids your children’s ages. It’s a great way for your kids to make friends, and enjoy new experiences.

Riletta L. Cream, Camden County NJ Freeholder, has always been a champion of libraries. “Now, libraries have changed a great deal,” she explains. “They are great places for people to meet and engage in conversation. It’s not the very quiet place that it used to be one hundred years ago when you couldn’t even whisper. It’s a vital part of a community.”

Libraries offer programs for all ages, from advice on finding a new job to help filling out a college financial aid form. Even teens are being wooed with lock-in nights in which they spend the night in the library listening to music, playing video games, munching on snacks, and enjoying their friends.

So be sure to check out your local library with the entire family. You are sure to find something for everyone.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Be Careful About What You Say in Front of Your Children…They are Listening!

When we speak to a friend over our ‘playdate’ lunch, or talk on the cell phone while we’re driving home from preschool, it’s easy to forget that anyone is listening in on our conversations. Yet, even our toddlers hear what we say, whether or not they fully understand what they hear. We need to be really careful about that.

Sometimes, parents will put down another child, parent, or teacher in front of their child. At three or four years old, the toddler doesn’t always understand their parents’ concerns, and they may take the conversation out of context. Whether they understand it or not, it is likely that they will share that information.

Cassie got into her mother’s car after a birthday party, with her lip quivering and tears in her eyes. Her mother asked her why she was so upset.

“Jared told me that he didn’t like the gifts I gave him for his birthday,” she said. “He said his parents said they were too young for him.”

Cassie was upset and now her mother was furious. Jared’s parents, probably overwhelmed after their son’s birthday party, didn’t think twice about discussing the gifts their son received. What they didn’t take into account is that their son was listening, and he certainly didn’t understand the intent that went along with their comments.

What Jared's parents did was wrong on many levels. Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth! This is a situation that never should have happened. It is unlikely that the parents were really upset about the gift, but they should never have discussed it in front of their child.

From the child’s perspective, the parents were dissatisfied with the gift. If that were true, they could have easily returned it without insulting the family who gave it to their son. But, if that really wasn’t the case, they could have prevented the hurt feelings that resulted from their misunderstood comments.

So, just think about what you say in front of your children. Even if your comments are misinterpreted, they may cause bad feelings.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Time to Get Rid of the Pacifier

Before preschool starts, our program offers a Meet and Greet, a time when the parents and children can meet the teachers and a few of the students who will be in their class. One child came to Meet and Greet with a pacifier in her mouth. At three years old, that is very unusual. We spoke with her mother about it, and her mother said that her daughter, Sasha, needed her “paci” or she’d cry. That was the only way she could keep her happy. We explained that our first task would be to wean her off the pacifier. She certainly could not participate in class with something in her mouth. Once a child is old enough to come to school by herself, she is too old to use a pacifier.

I explained to Sasha that she would need to put her paci into her backpack as soon as she got to school. It would stay very safe in there, and she was welcome to go check on it anytime she wanted. I also gave her a small stuffed bear and told her that she could hold the bear during circle time if she was willing to keep her paci in her backpack. After circle time, Sasha became so involved in playing and doing our projects, that she hardly noticed that she no longer had a security blanket. At first, she’d check on her paci once or twice during the day, but she soon forgot all about it.

I noticed that the first thing her mother would do after dismissal was give Sasha her paci again. We talked about it, and I suggested ways for her to wean her daughter from it at home, also, because she had responded so beautifully in school. First, they could have a conversation about the fact that Sasha was now a big girl, and pacifiers were for babies. They could come up with one time each day, maybe nap or bed time, when she would be allowed to use the pacifier. Other than that, it had to stay in a special place in Sasha’s room.

If Sasha became anxious and wanted the pacifier, her mother could engage her in a project. For example, if they sang the alphabet song, her mother could point out that it’s impossible to sing with something in her daughter’s mouth. Once Sasha became involved in singing, she would likely forget about needing the pacifier.

I recommend that parents wean their children from pacifiers as soon as they possibly can, and certainly, by the time they enter school.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Importance of Getting Messy: It Might Even be Good for your Sex Life

There are some children who just don’t want to get messy. They balk at activities that require hands-on involvement, including finger painting, kneading cookie dough, and pushing seeds into potting soil. Sometimes, they are just shy, and as the year progresses, they take steps to further their involvement. In other cases, their parents discourage them from getting dirty, and teach their children to be observers rather than participants.

Throughout the four years or so that I taught Mommy and Me classes, I worked with various teaching partners. While at least half the teachers in our school have teaching degrees, many are like me and come from other walks of life. One of my partners at that time had studied psychology.

During a particular ten week session, one year old Natalie and her mother always came to class dressed impeccably. They appeared to have just walked out of a magazine into our classroom. When it came time to create an art project or do anything that might be messy, Natalie’s mother held her daughter back. Despite our encouragement and coaxing, she preferred to watch. Though we sensed that she didn’t want Natalie, or herself, to get dirty, she claimed that her daughter simply wasn’t that interested in art projects. This child was only one year old.

I understand that parents have their own reasons for the things they do, but in this case we just didn’t buy her argument. It seemed to us that Natalie’s mother was not keen on getting within ten feet of paint, glue or anything messy in the least. Even baking was a problem because we encouraged the tots to stir the mixture in the bowl. Imagine a one year old holding a large plastic spoon, flinging with sheer abandon at a bowl full of flour. Quite a mess at times!

Week after week, we encouraged this mother to dress down for class so her child could partake in the fun. We offered her oversized smocks to keep Natalie clean, and even old doctor’s lab coats to keep herself clean. After about six weeks of this, my partner with the psychology background could no longer hold her tongue. She told me that she had learned that if kids aren’t allowed to touch messy things and get dirty, they’ll have bad sex lives when they grow up.

Really?! While this seemed plausible to me, I wondered if it was really true. Sandra R. Leiblum, PhD, is a leading authority in sex therapy and has published more than 130 clinical and research studies and has edited ten books. She says that there is no objective evidence one way or the other, only conjecture. Yet, she addresses the theory in her book Getting the Sex you Want...A Woman's Guide to Becoming Pleased, Proud and Passionate in Bed, written with Judith Sachs.

“We start our first chapter off comparing two little girls, one who enjoys the experience of being muddy and wet and the other who is afraid to ‘get dirty,’ and suggest that it may have an impact on how they approach the rest of their lives,” says Dr. Leiblum. “But, it’s a literary example, not based in data. Certainly, though one could argue that being overly concerned about neatness and mess would not contribute greatly to feeling uninhibited in bed!”

So, please not only allow, but encourage your young children to explore the world around them, even though it means getting dirty at times. Smocks, soap, and water, are all wonderful inventions!

Friday, September 18, 2009

What Kind of Backpack Should I Buy for my Child?

Preschool children should bring a backpack to school each day because that is the most effective way for the teachers and parents to communicate with one another. Of course, that assumes that both the teachers and parents check the backpack every day!

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.

Of course, allow your child to help choose her backpack. If she loves Dora or Sponge Bob, 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.

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.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Volunteering in Your Child’s Classroom: Why You Will Get So Much Out Of It

As the school year is upon us it’s time for the teachers to ask for parent volunteers. When my kids were little, 15 years ago, there were more volunteers than positions, and many times my name wasn’t chosen out of the hat. Today, I find it more difficult to find parents who are able to help out in the classroom.

I understand that there are many reasons for this. Working parents can’t always take time off to come into the classroom. Non-working parents often need the time their children are in school to get things done during the brief time they are unencumbered. Yet, I urge family members to try to find some way to come into their child’s classroom, for many reasons.

First, your child will be so proud to have you there. He can show off his friends, teachers, and favorite toys to you, and you to them. Naturally, you’ll be equally proud of him as you watch him learning to become more independent.

Secondly, you will get to see his classroom in action. You’ll hear how his teachers interact with the children and get a feel for the atmosphere in the room. It’s entirely possible that your own child will act differently with you there, but that’s very normal. Sometimes it’s confusing for a child to know how to act with you at school.

You will also get to watch the other kids in action. That girl your son has a crush on, the boy who picks his nose – you’ll see it all! You may even discover that there are children you would like to invite over for play dates, and that’s always great to help develop your child’s socialization and communication skills.

There are many ways to volunteer, even if you can’t physically come into school. Bring in a healthy snack, send in your child’s favorite book, or ask the teacher if there is some other way you can get involved. If possible, plan ahead. Can you take an hour out of your schedule on your child’s birthday to bring in a treat? Can you go into work a little late one day so you can tell the children in school about your job? Be creative. The teachers will be very happy to have you, and so will your child.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Puzzles For Cures Releases Autism Ribbon Floor Puzzle

Though I am a teacher first and foremost because I adore the kids, I admit that a wonderful extra benefit is getting to know the children’s families. I was blessed to meet the Ambrose family when I taught two of their three children several years ago. Having one child with special needs, Susan Ambrose has worked tirelessly to help raise funds and awareness for other causes.

Her company, Puzzles For Cures, is pleased to announce that they have received written approval from the Autism Society of America (ASA) to use its patented ribbon, created with colorful puzzle pieces, to manufacture a puzzle of the well-recognized symbol. The puzzle has already been well received as an effective fundraising tool by groups including schools, therapy facilities and united groups of parents.

Today, 1 out of every 150 children (4 out of 5 boys) born in our country has been diagnosed with Autism, which is the fastest growing developmental disability. These puzzles have many benefits. Fundraising dollars are being used for therapies and professional seminars; children are enjoying this educational toy; and Autism awareness is being raised throughout many communities.

Susan fully understands that no disability comes invited and that acceptance is key. She has been faced with many choices and challenges with her own child, which resulted in a strong desire to do something positive to help meet such choices and challenges.

The idea for this product came about one day as she was stopped at a traffic light and noticed an Autism awareness ribbon magnet on the back of the car in front of her. Her Dad, a woodworker and woodcrafter for over 40 years, made the awareness ribbon into an actual puzzle, creating the first prototype.

Puzzles For Cures presented the puzzle to the Autism Society of America and received its approval. Though the puzzles were initially made of wood, the group struggled to keep up with a growing demand. They realized they needed to take it to the next level.

The idea of a floor puzzle evolved, and Melissa & Doug, a well-known manufacturer of high-quality puzzles and toys for children, signed on. The ribbon-shaped floor puzzle is comprised of 36 pieces of “Easy-Clean” surface, which keeps the surface looking like new. It measures 18” x 36”. All Melissa & Doug products are carefully crafted using “non-toxic coatings and meet or exceed all U.S. toy testing standards.”

If you are interested in learning more about how the Puzzles For Cures Autism Puzzle can be an effective fundraising tool for your group, while also broadening awareness and providing children with an enjoyable fine motor activity, please contact Susan Ambrose at 856-220-0404.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Coordinate Potty Training with your Child’s Teacher

It is very likely that you will be potty training your toddler while she is in preschool. There are some things you and her teachers can coordinate to help the process. Of course, be sure to let his teachers know when you begin potty training.

If your child is having a lot of accidents, it’s often effective to let her wear underwear, but then put a pull-up on top of the underwear. If she has an accident, the underwear will get wet, which she will feel. Pull-ups often absorb so much that the child doesn’t have the feeling of being wet, which is an important part of potty training. The reason you put a pull-up over the underwear is to protect her clothes and the classroom from getting wet. Teachers will appreciate that!

Remind the teachers to encourage your child to go to the potty periodically. Kids get so involved in play that they forget to go the bathroom until it’s often too late. The teachers will encourage the child to at least try to go, and will praise them for the attempt.

In our classroom children are allowed to go to the bathroom whenever they need to. While training, some kids go repeatedly. That is fine. Over time, the child will better understand when she really needs to go and that frequency will diminish.
Also be sure to inform the teachers of any kind of reward system you are doing at home. Giving a sticker when the child used the toilet is easy. It’s tougher if you give your child a treat, because a teacher can’t give just one child a treat when she has a whole class. Together you can coordinate a system that can work at home and at school.

Every child trains at his or her own pace, so be willing to be patient through the process. If many of the children in the class are trained, your child may be more eager to join their ranks.

Good luck!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tips for a Successful Start to Preschool

As I approach my first day of preschool today, I am excited for the new school year. We have a young class this year, including two children who haven’t turned three yet. Sometimes it’s more difficult for younger kids to make a smooth transition. At our Meet and Greet session last week, my teaching partner and I gave the parents a few tips for success, to help make the year get off to a great start. They include:

1. Please be on time. When children arrive at school, they have jobs to do. They hang up their coats and put their backpacks in their cubbies, and then sit at their spot in our circle. For a few minutes they get to enjoy what we call the “coffee klatch” when they can talk to each other without teacher involvement. They love this time to swap stories about their new clothes or favorite cartoon. It’s adorable to watch. After a few minutes, our lessons begin. If you bring your child in late, not only does he miss out on this great start to the day, but he disrupts the lesson that the other children are learning.
2. Leave your child at the door without coming into the classroom. It is so tempting to want to help your child hang up his things and give him an extra kiss goodbye inside the classroom but that is not a good idea. We urge parents to give a big hug and kiss at the door, and then let their child cross the threshold into the classroom on his own. Not only is it an obvious separation, but some children get upset when they see any parent in the classroom, especially if his mom has already left.
3. Label everything (even things you can’t imagine your child leaving behind!)
4. Read the memo board every day. When you ask your child what she did in school today, odds are she won’t have much to share. We take the time to write a fairly detailed note with details of our day and we hang it in the hall before pick-up time. If you know what your child did in school, you can ask her leading questions. Not only does this help build communication skills, but it shows that you are interested in what she did in school that day.

Have a wonderful year!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Parenting Advice: Guide Your Children Instead of Managing Them

When your kids are very young, you need to manage them. You must plan when they eat, nap, bathe and go to bed at night, and you must help them with these tasks. But as they get older, children need to begin making more of their own decisions. At that point you will become more of a guide than a manager.

Well-known family therapist Daniel Gottlieb, best known for his award-winning radio talk show Voices in the Family on WHYY, and his most recent book, Learning from the Heart, believes that parenting styles have to change as our children change. “As children reach grade school, they need more gentle management,” he asserts. “And when they hit puberty, now they need guidance more than management.”

It is important that parents lay the groundwork early on for open dialogue with their kids. That becomes most critical when a child hits puberty. Managing a child too tightly does not open a door for dialogue. “Then the only dialogue is right and wrong, obedient and disobedient or those type of simplistic black and white dyads,” he explains.

Instead, by keeping communication open as your children grow, they will feel comfortable coming to you when problems get bigger. “That will open the door for child to say, ‘Mom, Dad, I’m suffering,’ or ‘I’m feeling depressed,’ or ‘a kid offered me pot.’ These are the dialogues we desperately need to have with our children. If we’re busy managing, it’s not going to happen.”

Keep that in mind as your parent your toddlers. They will demonstrate when they are ready to take on more responsibility. Don’t be afraid to give it to them. A three year old can certainly put his toys back on the shelf with your guidance. A four year old can help put groceries in the pantry (preferably the non-breakable variety) and a five year old can determine if she’d prefer to try ballet or gymnastics. Help your children make decisions and discover new things that they can achieve on their own. Be sure that they know you will always be there to support them and their choices, and help them when things don’t go according to plan.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

“Kid Writing” Encourages Kids to Learn to Write and be Creative: It’s Not about Perfect Spelling

I listened to Eileen Feldgus, Ed.D. talk about her unique method of teaching young children how to write. Feldgus recognizes that even at four years old, children can imagine creative informational stories and write them down. She stresses the joy in writing and encourages broad topics, including earthquakes and dinosaurs. Heady stuff for a preschooler!

Her teaching process has kids writing with just a letter or two at first per word. For example, ‘colors’ may be written as ‘klrz’ initially by a young child, because that is how the child sounds out that word. Feldgus’s focus is on the phonetic sounds, not the actual spelling.

It was fascinating to me as a teacher and writer to discover a way to encourage young kids to write. What’s so important in her process is that while spelling doesn’t matter initially, her process leads the students toward proper spelling down the road.

Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that concept is very difficult for some parents to grasp. In my school we have artwork hanging in the hall that the children have created on their own, mistakes and all. Too often, a parent is embarrassed by her child’s mistakes, and in some cases, she insists that either the teacher or her child correct them.

The national expectation is that children should leave Kindergarten reading and writing. Kids certainly can accomplish this goal, but learning correct spelling takes more time. The danger in focusing on your child’s spelling errors is that his focus will shift from creativity in his topics to a narrow approach about something he knows how to spell. It’s easier to spell “I love Mom” than “earthquakes make loud booms.” It’s more about the substance of the writing than whether or not the words are spelled correctly.

Feldgus compared learning to write to a baby wanting a bottle. When your baby cries, you ask him if he wants his bottle. You model the word bottle for him, and that’s how he learns. Of course, you would never say, “Get the word right by Thursday if you want me to give you your bottle.” The same goes for learning how to write. Once we encourage the child’s creativity, we can help teach him how to properly spell the words. But that’s a time consuming process and we don’t want to discourage that creative thinking along the way.

If you do want to help your child learn his letters, start with lower case letters. Most of his writing will involve lower case letters, and the upper case ones will come in time. And remember, use praise, and be sure to totally accept and encourage your child’s creative writing. Don’t concentrate on misspelled words and don’t compare your child’s work to his peers. Give him the unconditional support to express himself in his way. The spelling will come.

For more information on Kid Writing, visit

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Swine Flu (N1H1 Flu) is Hitting Kids: Please Take Your Child’s Symptoms Seriously

I am not the type to worry about flues and colds, but something happened yesterday that opened my eyes about the severity of the flu. In the preschool where I teach, we had our back-to-school meeting. Our Preschool Director presented the guidelines for how we will handle kids’ illnesses this year. Unlike previous years, there will be no latitude given with regard to a sick kid. That means that if a teacher suspects a child is getting sick, or hasn’t been home long enough to get over being sick, it is our responsibility to ask the parent to take the child home. The swine flu is contagious, mostly affects young people, and is expected to affect about half of the US population. Teachers are on the front lines of protecting our students as best we can.

What happened next is what shocked me into reality. A guest speaker listened in on this conversation as she waited to start her presentation. Fighting tears, she shared her heartbreaking story about her five year old granddaughter. The child went to preschool on a Friday, a healthy, happy kid. She developed a sore throat over the weekend, and didn’t wake up Monday morning. Her cause of death was the flu. That is certainly enough to make us all take this more seriously.

Many families need to have their children in school, and a sick day brings all kinds of problems and stress. Who will watch the kids? Will their boss let them off work? Can they reschedule an important meeting? It is certainly not easy, especially when there is no warning. Even with the best of intentions, some parents hopefully believe that their child’s sniffle is no big deal, and that a little Tylenol and cough medicine will get him through his day at preschool.

The problem is that you are exposing him to all the other kids in his class who will become susceptible to catching his illness. I urge parents to take this seriously, for the protection of their children and others.

I remember another story I heard about a parent who showed up at school to administer medicine to her child, but took him in the bathroom where no one would know. When his teacher asked him what his mom was doing with him in the bathroom, he admitted that she gave him medicine but said his mother told him not to tell his teachers. Clearly, this parent knew that what she was doing was wrong, and she asked her child to lie for her. She was putting her child at risk because kids who are sick have less immunity to other illnesses and can get sicker. She was also putting his classmates at risk.

So, if your child’s teacher says that she thinks you need to take your child home because he looks like he’s getting sick, take a deep breath and think about what she is saying. Yes, you will be inconvenienced. But think about how great it will be to take care of your child, maybe play some Go Fish!, watch a favorite movie, or just let him snuggle in your lap. Once his fever is gone for at least 24 hours and he is feeling himself again, everyone will be better off for his teacher’s vigilance.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Carpooling: How to Learn Your Kids' Inner Secrets, Meet their Friends, and Monitor Where They Are

When your kids are very little, say preschool age, carpooling is tough. Just fitting that extra car seat into the car is a challenge. Yet, it’s well worth the effort. Carpooling has value when your kids are little, and that value only increases as they get older.

When they’re young, there are a couple of benefits to carpooling. First, you get to have an extra amount of time to work, shop, hit the gym, tool around on-line, or do whatever it is you like to do given the time. A half hour is precious when your kids are little. Beyond that, you get to hear your child interacting with a peer. When they are safely and comfortably sitting in the backseat, they lose all track of time and space. They don’t remember you are their chauffeur…they are too busy socializing. Keep the radio volume low, and just listen. Enjoy what they have to say. Learn by it. You may have no idea what your child is thinking when she isn’t talking to you. And, what does her friend have to say? It’s often eye-opening.

As your kids get older, the conversation becomes juicier. Again, unless the kids are calling for a particular station on the radio, keep the volume low. And, stay quiet. This time isn’t about what you have to share - it’s about what your kids are thinking when they forget you’re in the front seat.

My carpooling preference has always leaned toward driving up to wherever the kids are going. I prefer to go to bed on the earlier side, and staying awake long enough to cart the kids home is not my happy place. So, I’ve learned to volunteer to drive first, when I have the chance to “take up” versus “take home.” It doesn’t always work that way, but it’s worth a try.

I do admit though that the conversations on the way home are often more interesting. Your kid may not tell you about his evening, but you'll learn a lot as the kids discuss it in the back seat.

I’m happy to fill as many spots in my car as I have available, because the dynamics change as each seat is filled. My youngest child is a son, so I especially love picking up the girls. It’s amazing what you learn when you make yourself invisible. Don’t sing, don’t ask questions, don’t change the radio station. This is your opportunity to be that fly on the wall. The quieter you are, the quicker they forget you are there and the more they are willing to say.

Carpooling allows you to learn a lot about your child’s friends. Who is the obnoxious one, the sweet one, the suck-up, the ring-leader? It is incredibly insightful. Just be careful how you use the information you learn. Find another time to casually bring up something mentioned in the car.

My youngest child is about to get his learner’s permit. While I am proud and excited for this rite of passage, I know that our lives are about to change forever. Once he’s literally in the driver’s seat, my role will instantly change. I am now his teacher, not his chauffeur. And, a short year from now, he’ll have access to the keys, and my time driving the carpool will be history.

So, take advantage of this time. Drive the carpool with a smile on your face, and enjoy the backseat banter. You’ll be amazed at what you learn.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Why Our Children are at Risk for the Swine Flu and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids

We keep hearing so much about the swine flu and how it’s mostly affecting children, so what can we do to protect our kids?

Unlike other flues, the N1H1 flu, or swine flu is hitting young people, generally under 24 years of age. I spoke with David Condoluci, DO, Chief of Infectious Diseases for Kennedy Health System in NJ, to find out why.

He explained that it’s young people who are getting this, not the elderly who we most commonly see in a given year. The people most vulnerable are those born after 1957 because the 1957 outbreak of influenza had some similarities in its immunity to the N1H1 flu we’re seeing today. People born before that time would have likely been exposed and have a little more immunity for this particular strain than those born after that. Subsequently that older group has had a lot of exposure through vaccinations and other strains of influenza, so there might be some minor background immunity that’s helping protect them to some extent. People born between 1957 and 1985 are at risk as well, but it seems that there is a little bit of immunity in that intermediate group. It’s the younger group that is basically virgin to this strain of the flu and that’s what it seems to be focusing on.

So, what can parents do to keep our kids safe? Dr. Condoluci believes that the best thing is to be protective with good hygiene. First of all, you want to stay away from places where there might be an opportunity to get infected, such as crowds, if the flu is in the area. Personal hygiene is very important. When you sneeze, you should sneeze on your sleeve and not on your hands. You should wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer, especially if you’re in a situation where you have a lot of contact with people. The safest place for you to be when the flu is out is in your house because you’re less likely to get it in that setting.

What if you suspect that your child has the N1H1flu? Dr. Condoluci says that if your infant under three months of age should get a fever or what resembles the flu, you should see your pediatrician immediately, because they’re so young and vulnerable at that time. For those who are older, it would depend upon the severity of the illness whether they should go to the emergency room or see their pediatrician. If the child has other ailments (as mentioned above,) parents should probably bring them to the emergency room for an evaluation, but most of the time your pediatrician and let them know the severity of the symptoms. Generally speaking, in most of the cases you’re going to have a sick child for a couple of days, but the child should get better. Most of the cases can be handled between the parent and the pediatrician. Beyond that, it’s good hand washing, fluids, Tylenol, and rest, as the main treatments for flu that is not severe.

Don’t panic. Mostly, it’s common sense. Wash your hands, teach your kids to sneeze in the crook of their elbows, and if it’s going around your neighborhood, avoid crowds during that time.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Transitioning into Preschool: What to do if Your Child Kicks and Screams

You are working hard to prepare your child for her first day of preschool, but you have a nagging feeling that despite her brave face, she’s never going to walk through that door without you. Some children have a very hard time on the first day, especially if this is their first school experience. Don’t worry. I’ll tell you about one of the toughest kids I helped transition into the classroom, as proof that your child will make it, too.

Mackenzie probably had the hardest time transitioning among her peers. She held onto her mother so hard, that we weren’t sure we’d be able to detach her. Mackenzie’s little fingers were tangled in her mother’s hair and her legs wrapped tightly around her mother’s waist. Mackenzie had older siblings, so her mother knew what to expect. Though she hated to see her child so upset, she knew that she couldn’t give in.

It took two teachers to peel Mackenzie off of her mother. When we finally got her into the classroom, she threw herself onto the floor and cried very hard. My teaching partner scooped her up and put her on her lap at the circle. She rubbed Mackenzie’s back, smoothed her hair, and reassured her that Mommy would be back soon.

It took Mackenzie about a half hour to finally stop crying. When she realized that she was there to stay, she allowed herself to explore what was going on around her. That was on a Monday. Our class meets Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Wednesday morning, Mackenzie behaved the exact same way she had on Monday. It still took two of us to peel her off her mother and about a half hour for her to calm down. Friday saw a little progress because only one teacher was required to get her into the room and she calmed down in about 15 minutes.

The next Monday was bad again. After being home for two straight days with her family, she was not eager to come back to school. After that, it got a little easier every day. It probably took a full month, but eventually, she walked into the classroom by herself with a big smile on her face. On those days we would tell her how proud we were that she walked in like a big girl and brought her smile to school.

So, please don’t get yourself all worked up if your child takes some time to adjust. The more she sees your optimism and excitement that she will get it together, the quicker that will happen. Assure her that she is safe, that you will always come back, and that once she calms down, she will love school.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Breast Cancer Awareness: Moms Need to Take Care of Ourselves Too

I need to periodically tell my story, because, as a mom, I know that we need to take care of ourselves in order to be the best mothers possible for our children. I am now three years cancer free, and I want to share my story in hopes of reaching other moms who face a similar ordeal.

According to the most recent stats from the American Cancer Society (ACS), the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer some time during her life is about 1 in 8. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about 1 in 35. Ladies, that means that when you're in your Little Gym class and you take a look around the circle of 8 women, one of you will likely get breast cancer. Please don't think it can't happen to you.

My cancer was detected through a routine mammogram. I never felt a lump or any pain at all. In fact, after the doctors knew exactly where the lump was, they still couldn't feel it. Believe me...they tried! Because my little lump was detected so early, my oncologist dubbed it an "excellent little cancer." As cancer goes, that was a nice diagnosis to have. It was excellent because it was found early was extremely susceptible to treatment.

I went through a few surgeries and a summer of daily radiation and have been in tip top shape ever since. There is little history of breast cancer in my family - it just happened and no one knows why.

So, to be the best parent you can be, you must take care of yourself. The ACS recommends that women without a family history of breast cancer get their first mammogram at 40. If you have a history, you need to talk to your doctor about the appropriate age to begin. A mammogram is a walk in the park compared to breast cancer treatment. Take a girlfriend, build in a lunch out at a real restaurant to celebrate your health.

I'd love comments from other women, especially those who for some reason refuse to get a mammogram. I want to try to change your mind before it's too late.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Have Faith in Your Children: If You Taught Them the Lessons, Be Confident That They Will Remember Them

I constantly preach consistency when raising children, from the time your kids are very little. Though each child has her own personality and a sense of her own beliefs, she will be molded by the lessons you teach her. If you consistently follow through, and demonstrate your beliefs through your own actions, your children will incorporate these values into their own personalities.

The hard part for a parent is recognizing that you’ve done your job and you must trust that you did it well. That means trusting your children.

According to well-known family therapist Daniel Gottlieb, best known for his award-winning radio talk show Voices in the Family on WHYY, and his most recent book, Learning from the Heart, the most important thing parents can do is have faith in their children. “Have faith in your children’s resilience, their capacity to heal, their creativity to solve problems, their intellect, kindness and their ability to grow into the adult they were meant to be,” Dr. Dan explains.

How do you that? Dr. Gottlieb says that to have faith means to take less action. “I think most harm done to our children is due to parental anxiety,” he insists. “For example, we hear phrases like ‘stranger danger.’ What’s the message there? I’m worried about you, my child, and you have to worry about the world. The fact of the matter is there are no more kidnappings and child abductions than there were in 1960 and 95% of them are done by family members. That’s what I mean by parental anxiety. By and large, our kids are fine, yet parents feel stress about everything their children do, and they pass that stress down to the kids.”

Parenting isn’t easy and many of us wish we could just live our kids’ lives for them in order to keep them safe. With our experiences, we know what’s best. Yet, we must give them our faith and trust to do the right thing. Of course they will make mistakes along the way – that’s how we all learn. We make a mistake, figure out where things went wrong, and are able to do better the next time. Give your children the opportunities to make a few mistakes along the way, and remember that you taught them well. They are likely to follow the example you set.