Tag Archives: parenting

Vulnerability, Joy and Over-Programmed Kids

Three cheers for the Huffington Post for bringing this thought provoking and parenting significant TED lecture to my attention– and I pass it on to you. And if you’re not familiar with TED, “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”, you should be.

Brene Brown is a vulnerability researcher, and her comments about being vulnerable in this lecture highlight the price we pay as individuals for dulling our senses to the world around us. She explains how our fear of not being right enough, or extraordinary enough, pushes us to an extent where we overlook and even lock out the everyday joys and in fact become numb to them.

We become buried in busy. We lower our expectations so we’re not so disappointed. We all know all the ways we buffer ourselves from the world, build walls so we’re not so vulnerable.

Here’s what I didn’t know and never would have guessed: when we dull the senses to the negative, we equally dull our senses to the positive. When you can’t fully feel the pains of life, neither can you fully feel life’s joys. And that’s sad.

As a parent, the more we busy up our kids, the more we’re enabling them to build these same walls to ward off their vulnerability. As we sign them up for more piano lessons, more soccer practice, more math Olympiads, more opportunities to become extraordinary, we need to ask ourselves ‘why?’.

When we know now that pressure to perform contributes to an overall reduction in their ability to feel real joy, the decision equation is quite different. Do spend 15 minutes listening to this enlightening talk and thinking about how it could or should effect your parenting decisions. And any insights you have would be appreciated here as a parenting comment.

Your Princess as Marketing Target

Little PrincessNot as furious as the Tiger Mom debate, but another new book has sparked a media conversation that you, as the mother of a daughter, should be aware of.

Peggy Orenstein’s book, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” was published in January and if you’re like most moms without enough time to do many of the things you want to do, I at least want to bring the discussion of this book to your attention. It’s something you should be aware of as a parent because you CAN influence things.

There’s a good synopsis of the argument, both sides, on the Omaha.com blog.

The whole ‘conversation’ was re-started with Disney’s push into hospitals with give away’s for new mothers. Follow that with the 26,000 Disney princess items on the market aimed at young girls and it’s practically a cradle to puberty force to be reckoned with.

Here’s the really scary part: “Market research shows that infants as young as 3 months can recognize media characters, and by the time they’re verbal, they can articulate the preference.” And these kids are being pushed to idolize a perception of  ‘beauty’ that almost no one can live up to, and at way too young an age.

Not to take away from our daughters that they are all special and beautiful, but with all this marketing coming at them they perhaps also need to hear balancing messages from their parents? Be aware that all this ‘princess’ stuff they’re getting from the media isn’t necessarily innocuous or without consequences.

This isn’t an easy subject as we all want our children to enjoy fantasy while they can and to believe they can do or be anything they want, but this new ‘conversation’ does highlight some of the risks.

Got ideas about what parents should do about it? Please share them here.

To Open Or Not to Open?

Birthday GiftsAn interesting insight about opening the birthday gifts at the birthday party was posted in the on-line Sacramento Bee newspaper that makes me think perhaps I missed a teaching opportunity when my kids were little. So, I’ll pass it on so maybe you don’t.

I always kept the present opening out of the actual birthday party and did it after all the guests had left as a sort of sit down, wind down. My reasoning was to focus my children on the fun of the party and the celebration of their milestone, rather than on the receiving of gifts and the accumulation of toys and stuff. Seemed like there was already enough ‘I’ in bIrthday.

The Sacramento Bee post rightly points out how important it is for the party guests to experience the ‘giving’ and to experience the good feelings that giving engenders, but what about the birthday child?

Perhaps the present opening ‘rip and shred’ is exactly the right time to teach how to receive from others in a gracious manner. Talk about it ahead of time. It’s cliched, but help your child to see that each gift is an expression of someone’s feeling for your child. That your child’s reaction to each gift is a response to those feelings as much as it is to the gift itself. The gifts will be there after the friends have left- the chance to recognize their feelings is fleeting.

Learning to think about others feelings, even at a time of high excitement, can be a very important social skill. So every opportunity to help them learn is important. It doesn’t have to take away the fun and the excitement of the present opening, if your child is made aware before hand.

Do you have any good suggestions for helping kids deal with all those presents in a better way? Please share them here.

iPad Free Reading Assessment App

Girl ReadingWhen it’s for free and it can help kids learn to read, I can’t help but pass it along to my readers even if it’s not birthday party related.

One of our big parenting jobs is helping get our little ones ready for school and ready to read, and then helping them to actually read when they’re ready. But unless you’re a trained teacher, knowing how and when to do what to help them isn’t so clear. This new free iPad app steps into the breach.

Called Smarty Pants School, download it through iTunes where you’ll find it in the Education section of the App store. I recommend any preschool parent with an iPad to give this a go.

Using fun interactive activities on the iPad that take just 10 minutes, this App will evaluate your child’s reading readiness based on 5 skills: 1- letter knowledge 2- phonemic awareness 3- phonics 4- deciphering regular ‘phonetic’ words 5- decoding irregular ‘sight’ words. These skills were chosen for measurement based on the newest scientific reading readiness research, including the US Department of Education’s National Reading Panel’s recommendations.

Once parents have a sense of where their child needs the most help in getting ready to read, our efforts can be properly focused to be as effective as possible. The app’s assessment of these skills comes with recommended Smarty Pants School classes to address each skill as well as links to non-computer based skill building activities for parents to do with their child at home.

You’re going to be reading to your child and helping them with letters and numbers and sounds anyways, so if you’ve got that iPad, why not get some free help so you can do the best possible job. Sounds like a no-brainer to me! Parenting is tough and we can take all the help we can get, so when I find good parent ideas to help out I’ll be passing them along here.

If anyone has tried this App and has comments to add, please comment here about it.

Giving the Giving Lesson

GivingUsing the traditional birthday party gifts as a way to teach our kids about giving and helping the less fortunate is a great thing to do, but not so easy. The problem has always been making it something our children WANT to do. It’s hard to ask a child to give up receiving the birthday party gifts. In short- you can’t ASK, but you CAN set the stage for them to make the decision all on their own.

And perhaps this lousy economy has given parents a good way to get their child thinking in this direction. Two sisters from Youngstown Ohio came up with the idea to raise money for others with their birthday gifts all on their own, but their reasoning is telling:

“I know what it’s like to not have a lot of food and to think about what you have and what you need to get,” said Abby, a fifth-grader at Western Reserve Middle School. “We just want to give back because so many people have done so much nice stuff for us.”

Chances are pretty good these days that your children know someone, perhaps someone quite close, that has suffered in this economy, and been helped by others. That’s the perfect foundation for teaching the ‘Giving Lesson’. As time marches toward the next birthday in your house, make sure your kids are aware of the generosity of others. Talk about what you do to help others, no matter how small a thing it is. Ask them, point blank, what they might be able to do to help others- get those wheels turning inside their heads. Even mention how they don’t really need, or often even want, all those birthday party gifts they get. And, of course, they will get birthday gifts from you and the family.

The older the child, the more success you’ll have with this approach. Preteens and teens, and older elementary school kids (ages 9 and 10) are good candidates.

The results might just surprise you, and turn your next birthday party into a charitable event. And that is a great way to give your kids the ‘Giving Lesson’, one of the best birthday gifts you can give to them.

Have any other ideas as to how to help kids decide on their own to use their birthday to help others? Please add them here in a comment for other parents.

Commitment or Quit?

ViolinThe media won’t let the Tiger Mom debate fade into the background, so I feel justified in continuing here as well with this parenting tip. Especially since this question is at the very core of the discussion: Do you let your children quit an activity or do you force them to honor their commitment and stick with it?

Education.com has a good article on this question- linking to two other articles, each of which has a different take on the question. And a lot of thoughtful comments from parents that I encourage you to read.

The two sides of this argument are easy to see, it’s the balance between them that’s hard for parents to find. Quitting a chosen activity teaches kids that quitting is OK, that they don’t have to work hard to get good at something, and doesn’t help the child learn to cope with frustration. Conversely, time spent doing something that isn’t paying off for the child is time not spent finding the activities that will. (I’ve always regretted that my daughter’s passionate commitment to soccer, something she never wanted to quit, did prevent her from exploring other sports and activities that she might have also loved and could have enjoyed for a lifetime instead of just through college.)

One parent comment has what I find to be a particularly good suggestion. Limit the child to just 2 after school activities in any year along with a solid one year commitment; no quitting during that year. With these restrictions, the child should take the decision quite seriously and have all the benefits of sticking with it for that year, but the ability to make a change at the end of the year if that’s appropriate. You might end up with some real ‘Tiger Mom’ battles during the year if things don’t work out as planned, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel for both of you.

Whenever we find good solid parenting tips while we look for new birthday party ideas, we pass them along to you.

More about the Chinese Tiger Mom

TigerThe WSJ article entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” has sparked non-stop controversy since published on 1/8 and since I wrote about it on the 10th. Reaction to the self-described Chinese ‘Tiger Mom’ has been in the paper every day, even on the national news, so you know it has sparked a lot of debate and soul searching. I again encourage you to read the article.

And one of  the most thoughtful responses I’ve yet seen was from one of my favorite New York Times columnist David Brooks on yesterday’s editorial page. While most of the world has been raging about the author’s extremely strict approach to child rearing, Mr. Brooks’ take on the subject is entitled “Amy Chua Is a Wimp”. (FYI- Amy Chua is the Chinese Tiger Mom and author of the original article and book).

A ‘wimp’ for protecting her children from the toughest learning experience of all– getting along with others (playdates), working well in a group (sleepovers), cooperating to accomplish a task (school plays). These are skills that will, in fact, never be learned in music lessons or practice or by doing math problems.

In other words, academic achievement isn’t the only thing necessary to success. As Mr. Brooks points out, most people work in groups, because groups are more efficient at solving problems than are individuals. And working successfully in a group is hard- it’s a skill that’s never formally taught. It’s a skill that’s learned navigating the social norms and boundaries and friendships and moods around you when participating in group activities as a kid.

The debate over child-rearing practices and assumptions will never be over, but right now when both sides on the issue are speaking aloud there’s a lot for us to parents to hear and think about as we go about our own parenting. Finding the right balance between the ‘Chinese’ and the ‘Western’ ways of bringing up children is difficult, but nobody ever said raising kids was easy.

Do you have strong feelings, one way or the other, regarding the ‘Chinese’ and/or the ‘Western’ approach to child-rearing? Please share them with others and leave a comment below.

Mom Camp for School Breaks

Building SnowmanA simple yet brilliant idea from a  Florida mom for getting through those week long school breaks- think the upcoming Presidents Week and Spring Break.

For working parents these vacations can be a nightmare- can’t get the week off or just don’t have the resources to take it off unpaid or to pay to keep your children occupied all day for 5 days.

Co-operation can solve this problem. As suggested in the Kansas City Star blog, get 5 moms all with the same problem together and run a co-op camp for the kids. 5 moms probably yields 10-12 kids, a manageable number for one mom each day PROVIDED the activities are all planned out ahead of time.

Have a planning meeting/lunch/dinner and schedule out activities for each day, and each mom sign up for their day. Have everybody bring ideas with them to the meeting- remember that the internet and even the kids activities category here on this blog are great sources for things to do with kids.

Just to get you thinking in the right direction, here’s some quick ideas: have the kids make pizza for their lunch (including shaping the dough), snowman or igloo building contests, a complicated craft can take a good bit of time, board games like monopoly, a favorite movie complete with popcorn and sodas. And remember, vacation IS vacation and kids should have fun and they need time to just play.

Think 10-15 kids all day is too much for one person? Got any friends or aquaintances who are out of work and might relish some income? Or an active grandparent that would love the chance to be helpful, be with children and make a few bucks? Spread between all the 5 moms in the co-op group, one extra person for a week would probably be way cheaper than the alternative of sending the kids to some expensive week long activity camp.

This is the kind of community thinking that sadly seems to have disappeared from American life- gone the way of the barn raising. But it still works to help us all get done what needs to be done. In this case, it can keep those school breaks from breaking the bank.

Make a Book

BookLooking at maybe 2 feet of snow here in the Northeast today, so it seems the perfect day to share this literacy building kids activities idea for housebound kids. Thanks to wilton.patch.com for this good idea.

Help them to make a book. Do it on the computer or by hand on nice paper, whatever’s easier for you.

Start with a ‘story starter‘ from Scholastic.com, or make up your own prompt.  For example, “The stray dog grabbed the bone and ran out the garden gate toward the river.” Just pick a topic that you know/think will interest your child.

Even preschool kids can do this if you be the scribe. Whether scribing or just peeking over the shoulder, toss out questions or ideas as the story develops to keep the juices flowing and the activity moving forward.

Leave enough room on each page for your child’s drawing to illustrate the story.  Or, use cut outs from magazines for your illustrations if your child isn’t into the drawing.  Or, each of you illustrate different pages. Whatever works.

Make a secondary project out of the cover for the completed book. Wrap the cardboard covers with cloth or wrapping paper (glued to the cardboard) and create a paper label for the title and author. Or, use plain white paper for the cover with a special drawing, in addition to the title and author. Again, whatever works.

Snow days can be long and tedious, so make it constructive and fun with literacy building activities for the kids like making a book.

Questions to Ask Yourself about your Parenting Assumptions

Mother and ChildLiving outside NYC, I’m a New York Times reader, but my husband is addicted to the Wall Street Journal so I pick that up occasionally and today it had a real surprise waiting for me.  One that I want to share with any parent that’s willing to take a serious look at the assumptions they make about raising their kids and parenting.

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” is a WSJ essay by a Chinese American mom, also a Yale professor, that highlights the VERY different assumptions held by many Chinese parents that determine the way they parent their children. Given the academic, musical, mathematical and other achievements of many asian american kids, these assumptions are worth your consideration. The essay brings the differences between our ‘western’ and these ‘chinese’ assumptions into sharp relief, and highlights the differing results. Since no one can say with certainty which is right and which is wrong, you owe it to yourself as a parent and to your children to at least understand this ‘chinese’ alternative to your own ‘western’ parenting.

Here’s an example from the article. If my ‘western’ child gets a ‘B’ in whatever, I’ll ask if it’s a hard subject for them, encourage my child to do better but make sure I don’t discourage my child by making them feel stupid or that they’ve failed. A Chinese parent, according to the essay, will tell the child they’re lazy and that all the other kids are getting ahead of him/her. “In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.”

Given that we all want our children to be strong, and given that our western culture also admits that expectations do profoundly effect results, all parents need to look at their own  assumptions very carefully. By highlighting the Western-Chinese differences at play in child rearing, this essay will help you to do just that. This is about what we believe as parents and how we translate that into raising our kids.