November 21, 2013

Lies Parents Tell and How to Avoid Them

Face it: you don’t always tell your children the truth.

  • You might profess ignorance and puzzlement when a child’s favorite toy  – the one that makes grinding, beeping sounds that are eating into your brain – mysteriously disappears and is nowhere to be found.

  • You might suggest that what your child is doing right now will incur the wrath of a) her dentist; b) Santa Claus; or c) the police, resulting in a “logical consequence”  you are powerless to stop but which will cause her immense physical or psychological pain.

  • You might spin a cover-up, along the lines of the cat going to live on a farm, Grandma going on a long trip, or meatloaf containing no carrots whatsoever, that doesn’t just shade the truth but completely upends it.

  • The question is, “Is this a problem?”

    Well, yes, because truth will out, as the saying goes. Short-term gains in peace of mind and no-questions-asked will eventually be replaced by the realization that you cannot be completely trusted.

    Do not imagine that you can deceive your children forever. They  will put two-and-two together. Their friends will clue them in. They will eavesdrop on your conversations with your friends and family. Long before you expect it, the truth will be exposed and your credibility along with it.

    We parents are tempted to make two sorts of misleading statements: those intended to manipulate a child and those intended to protect him. How we begin to more consistently tell the truth depends on which sort of untruth we’re talking about.

    Lies we tell to manipulate our children – telling them they will go to jail for not using the potty or that their Halloween candy contains bugs – these are completely avoidable. We tell them because we’re out of better ideas for guiding children’s behavior so that scaring our kids or grossing them out seems easy and expedient. 

    Being patient and doing the hard work of toilet-training or being calmly parental in setting limits on candy will be more effective in the long run. Avoiding the truth derails the development of the sort of skills and decision-making ability we’d like our children to have. In addition, your lies will be exposed. So don’t manipulate your kids but tell the truth.

    Sometimes instead we tell lies to protect our children from unpleasant realities.  But if you stop and think about it, you’ll notice that we tell these lies to protect ourselves. We might be uncomfortable with the truth – Grandma has dementia and doesn’t recognize anyone anymore; the cat got eaten by a coyote last night. They are too young for such truths, we say. But, really, we are unwilling to explain things. We are sad and upset by events we ourselves don’t understand. We don’t have all the answers. How can we tell our kids?

    Remember that they will discover the truth on their own. Better by far to be the one they hear it from than to hear it from someone else, after having been told a falsehood by you. You don’t have to have all the answers. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” It’s okay to cry if the truth makes you sad. But telling lies is never a good idea, even with the best of intentions.

    Notice that when you tell your child the truth it doesn’t have to be the whole truth. You don’t need to go into detail. Tell what you know in simple terms suited to the age of the child and then wait for a question to arise. Answer that truthfully. Wait for another question. Some kids want to know everything and will ask questions endlessly as they work things out in their minds. Some kids want less information and will ask next to nothing. Either way is okay.

    One of the tough tasks of parenthood is the gradual revelation to our children of the hard truths of existence. Step up to this duty and fulfill it with grace. Along the way, don’t damage your street cred with falsehoods meant to manipulate and deceive. Honesty is the best policy.

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

    November 13, 2013

    Breaking the Budget for Your Kids: When to Say “No”

    “I’d do anything, for you, dear, anything, 
    for you mean everything to me….”

    This is what Artful Dodger sings to little Nancy in the Lionel Bart musical Oliver! It also might be the tune you sing to your own child. We love our kids. Our love has no limit. But our pocketbooks do.

    Even so, many parents go into debt over things their children want that don’t qualify as needs. As we approach the holiday buying season, now is a good time to remind ourselves of the difference and to strengthen our resolve to know when to say “no.”

    Understanding the distinction between wants and needs is not something kids are good at. A two-year-old needs a cookie before dinner. Just ask him! A nine-year-old needs a new package of Pokemon cards. A thirteen year old needs a cell phone with an unlimited data plan. These needs are strongly felt and kids can be very persuasive. Denying our children what they want and what they believe they need just feels wrong. It’s unpleasant. It’s easier and quieter to give in.

    But giving in gives the wrong impression. Even if we can afford everything our children wish for, it’s important to show some restraint. Here are some reasons why:
    1. Children must be able to evaluate their own impulses and develop some self-control. If not at home, with you, where will they learn this? The child who believes that everything has its price and everyone can be bought is not an asset to society.
    2. Making choices about what to buy or what to ask for is more important to a child’s development than being able to buy or receive everything imaginable. Evaluating, planning, and even saving, develop a child’s brain capacity for all sorts of decisions down the road.
    3. Being part of the family “team” is an important part of children’s self-concept, more than being the one the whole family revolves around. It’s a good thing for children to notice that others in the family have needs and wishes too and that sometimes others’ desires will come before their own. Not always, but sometimes.
    4. Giving children something while denying ourselves everything eventually leads to resentment, guilt, and anger. It’s unfair to the child, really, to let her get used to having her own way, only to tell her later that she’s too old for all that. It’s not going to be her fault that she’s spoiled but you might be inclined to blame her nonetheless.
    5. Instead of always supplying your child’s every want, give her an allowance so she can make her own spending and saving decisions. Doing this provides her with an appreciation of the value of things, helps her grow in responsibility and planning, and makes her feel independent and empowered.
    6. If your child wants something you approve that is way beyond his means, insist he contribute some portion of the price, even if it’s just a small amount, or contribute an “in kind” contribution of chores. Having some “skin in the game” helps him be a partner in the investment and feel grown up, instead being and feeling dependent on you.

    This is not to say that we can never indulge our children’s desires or that everything we give our kids has to fulfill a true need. This is not an orphanage, it’s a family. Buying our kids stuff that lights up their eyes is fun and makes us happy too.

    But overdoing the gift-giving and encouraging children to create wish lists that are unreasonable do no one any favors. If you find yourself maxing your credit cards for children’s holidays, there’s something wrong in the equation. But it’s not really about the money. It’s about the values.

    Value your children in incalculable ways.

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. 

    November 05, 2013

    Is It Ever Okay to Bribe Your Kids?

    Like you’ve never done it....
    Like you’ve never said, 
    “If you eat your vegetables, you can have dessert.”

    Like you’ve never said, 
    “Get an A in math this term and I’ll give you five bucks.”

    Like you’ve never said, 
    “Score a run today and you can stay up late tonight.

    There’s no denying it.  When we can’t think of any other way to get our kids to perform, we sweeten the pot. We offer a bribe. And usually our bribes work. Kids rise to the bait and do what we want.

    So what’s so wrong with that? If bribes work, why do they make us feel queasy? Why do experts – yours truly included – warn against relying on bribery to motivate children? Where’s the downside?

    There are a couple problems with making a practice of offering bribes. Bribes stunt a child’s development as a fully-functioning person and, at the same time, bribes undermine your authority as a parent. Not exactly what you expected. Let’s look more deeply.

    When we offer a bribe as a motivator, we change the dynamic of the experience. Now the person who is being bribed is acting, not based on his own values and interests, but based on the values and interests of someone else. He has been transformed into a puppet. He is not a fully-functioning person. This is why offering a bribe and taking a bribe are crimes for adults. 

    For children, who are learning how to make decisions intelligently, being bribed short-circuits this development. It detours the growth of the prefrontal cortex – the area of the brain needed for judgment and weighing consequences. The child who does something because she will be rewarded is unable to see past the reward to the true values the rewarded actions support. She is a less-moral person.

    The second problem arises the day she turns the tables on you. Sooner or later your child will say, “Eh. I don’t care about that reward.”  Or, she will start to run the bribe herself. When you ask for something, she will say, “What will you give me if I do?” Now her compliance is the bribe; she will do as you ask only if you agree to pay out. In both these cases, you are put in the position of having to up the ante to get the same results as before. Now it is you who are being manipulated. 

    While rewards work okay once in a while, they do not make a sound long-term strategy. Eventually the reward is no longer enough. Along the way, your child is diverted from growing into someone who can motivate himself.

    If you tend to use bribes, it will take some effort to get out of them. Your child is used to being rewarded and is used to you making all the decisions. You must switch to a system in which your child rewards himself.

    So ask him, “When you finish all your vegetables, how will you reward yourself?” Maybe he’ll say he gets dessert but maybe he’ll say he gets to play on the computer for half an hour. 

    Ask her, “When you work hard and get an A in math next term, how will you celebrate?” Let your child make the plan; if you make it, it is you creating a reward not her taking charge. Keep in mind that getting an A in math may not be entirely within your child’s control. Help her to set contingencies in case she misses her goal.

    And ask your child, “When you score a run today, how would you like to celebrate that?” Maybe your child will say only that he will do a little dance on home plate. Maybe he will plan to high-five everyone on the team. Who knows?

    The point here is that rewards that are important to the person (researchers say “salient”) are more effective than rewards set by someone else. Everyone wants to be her own boss and control her own fate. Children too. And setting goals for oneself and monitoring one’s own progress are key life skills.

    Don’t derail these skills by manipulating bribes. Instead, guide your child in managing himself.

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

    October 31, 2013

    Do School Anti-Bullying Programs Work?

    Being bullied is no fun and being a bully isn’t a great way to build a social circle. In recent years, parents’ and teachers’ concern about bullying has led many school districts to implement anti-bullying programs. In fact, parents often demand that such programs be instituted. 

    Now, a new study calls into question the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs in schools. It seems that there is more bullying in schools with anti-bullying programs than in schools without.

    The study by researchers at University of Texas Arlington and published in the Journal of Criminology, surveyed over 7,000 12-to-18 year-olds in nearly 200 U.S. school districts. 

    They found that older students were less likely to be victims of bullying than younger students but that the most pervasive bullying occurred at the high school level. Race and ethnicity were not a factor linked to more or less bullying. Boys were more likely to be party to physical bullying and girls more likely to be involved in emotional bullying.

    Most disconcertingly, the study found that the presence of bullying prevention programs was associated with more bullying, not less. The study notes, “Surprisingly, bullying prevention had a negative effect on peer victimization. Contrary to our hypothesis, students attending schools with bullying prevention programs were more likely to have experienced peer victimization, compared to those attending schools without bullying prevention programs.” 

    The authors speculate that bullies may learn better bullying techniques when schools focus so heavily on what bullies do and their effects. It may also be that schools that implement anti-bullying programs have more severe problems with bullying than schools that do not. The study reports that about 68% of American schools have anti-bullying programs.

    If bullying is a problem at your child’s school, what should you do?
    • Remember that anti-bullying programs are not enough to make a change. One cannot simply expect that having a program solves the problem. Bullying is not so simple as that.
    • Do what you can to change the culture of the school and the neighborhood. Bullying thrives in a coercive environment, where people in power wield power over others. Highly controlling teaching methods, zero-tolerance administrative policies, and blatant favoritism of some groups over others are methods frequently employed by the adults in schools where bullying is a problem. It makes sense that bullies learn by adult examples.
    • Listen if your child complains of being bullied. Just because her school has an anti-bullying program doesn’t mean you can imagine the problem no longer exists, or exists only in her mind. Remember that boys can be victims of bullies too (and girls can be bullies, as well).
    • Get help if you suspect your child is a bully. While many bullies learn how to be controlling and coercive at home, some bullies are children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and other mental health issues, raised in homes with responsive parenting. Don’t be embarrassed. Take action.
    The take-home message from this study is that parents cannot assume an anti-bullying effort at school solves the problem. Things may actually get worse or at least get no better.  

    As always, parents must still pay attention and take action to protect their children.

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

    October 23, 2013

    Is Your Child’s Favorite Book on the 100 Best Books List?

    The New York Public Library recently released its 2013 list of the best 100 books for kids.  It’s an interesting list and it makes me wonder what are your favorite children’s books? Which books have you most enjoyed reading to your kids – or are you looking forward to reading to them once they get old enough?

    You might be surprised to notice that most of these books were around when you were a child. In fact, many of them were around when even I was a child, old granny that I am! The oldest book on the list is Winnie-the-Pooh, first published in 1926. It’s a book still on my own bookshelf and that I remember having fun reading with my own boys, doing the voices for Kanga and Roo and Piglet and all.

    More than half (52) of the books were published before 1980. Here is my absolutely favorite book to read to small children, Caps For Sale, but also a close runner-up in Millions of Cats. Green Eggs and Ham is here, along with The Hobbit. The beauty of children’s books is that they do seem to unite the generations. Books your children’s grandparents enjoy are still likely to be ones the children will like too.

    The list includes books like Where Is The Green Sheep? that toddlers (and their parents) find charming and other books like A Wrinkle In Time that are appropriate for much, much older children. So there are ideas here for read-alouds at every age group through the elementary school years. Reading aloud to children is a great way to introduce early literacy, of course, but it’s also a great way to support older readers who have trouble “getting into” a book. No one is too old to be read to!

    But what’s missing from the list? A list of only 100 books, when there are about 30,000 new “juvenile titles” published each year, according to Bowker’s Books In Print database, is bound to overlook some truly excellent books that might be your favorites or your children’s favorites. 

    One entire genre that’s missing is children’s non-fiction. Books like David Macauley’s The Way Things Work are not included. These are books one might not read cover-to-cover as part of the before-bedtime ritual but they are books older children, including many reluctant readers, find deeply interesting.

    Poetry is also missing from the list, including Where The Sidewalk Ends, which you probably remember fondly. So this list, like any list, is incomplete. But if you’re at the library, unable to find something good to take home with your child, this list is a great place to start.

    Take a look at the list and check off the ones you’ve read with your children, the ones you read and a child, and the books you want to read together soon. Then think of what’s missing. I invite you to comment and tell us what books you recommend!

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. 

    June 26, 2013

    Can You Break Your Shushing Habit?

    One of my sons’ family recently moved from a second-floor condo (in a three-level building) to a single family home. My daughter-in-law told me she’s noticed how relieved she is to not have to constantly “shush” her children, ages 4 and 10. Now that there’s no one to disturb in a unit above, in a unit below, or in a unit to the side, she feels she can finally let go and let her kids be kids.

    A widely-distributed blog post this week addressed the same issue. The author makes the point that children naturally are loud. Trying to make them be quiet is frustrating… for everyone.

    So here’s a challenge: take note of how many times during a day you shush your kids. Is being quiet the most important thing in your family, at least as measured by how many times it’s reinforced? You might be surprised by how frequently you shush.

    In more formal times, the maxim “children should be seen and not heard” described ideal behavior. Children were expected to not to speak at all unless they were spoken to. But in a free society, shushing a child seems downright un-American.

    Keep in mind that learning to talk requires not just listening to others (though that’s important) but practicing speech by talking too. Children who are inhibited from talking may have smaller vocabularies and smaller command of grammar and pronunciation, and they may be overshadowed in school by their more vocal classmates. We cannot have it both ways: we can’t ask kids constantly to be quiet then cajole them to “speak up!”

    In addition, silencing our children silences more than their voices. It silences their opinions as well. The ability to think through problems and negotiate conflict requires freedom to speak one’s mind in a coherent argument. This is especially true when the speaker is younger and less capable than other people in the room, or when some groups of children (girls, for example) are shushed more than others.

    Finally, keeping children quiet teaches them to “play small.” It makes being less-than a habit. Parents who are eager for their children to stand out can start by letting them speak out.

    This isn’t to say that children have to yell all the time. Here are some suggestions that might make shushing a thing of the past in your house:
    1. Model what you want to hear. If you yell, your kids will yell, just to be heard. Instead of upping your volume to carry your voice over the din, speak more quietly. This means also to avoid calling loudly up the stairs… go to where the person is to speak with him.
    2. Turn down or turn off competing sounds. If the TV is always on, if video games or music is played at max volume, or if the dog barks constantly, kids will have to yell to be heard. Turn things off and train the dog.
    3. Get outside. What’s the point of having an “outside voice” if you never get a chance to use it? Make certain your children get outdoors every day and don’t make them be quiet when they run around and play.
    4. Listen to your children. Sometimes kids get loud just to get your attention. Don’t be too busy to listen, to admire, and to interact with them.
    5. Teach volume control. If you’re modeling your best indoor voice, your children will have an easier time knowing what speaking “normally” is. But they still will need to know – in a nice way – when they are speaking too loudly for the situation. Try suggesting, in a near-whisper, “Speak only to me” when your child is declaring things at the top of her lungs.

    No one likes to be shushed. But we parents shush an awful lot. See if you can break – or at least reduce – your own impulse to shush.

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

    June 11, 2013

    What To Do If The School Year Ended Badly

    A friend asked for advice recently about a second-grader whose final report for the year was a disaster. This came as a surprise, since earlier reports had included only As and Bs.  The final report, though, showed no good grades at all – everything was a C or D.

    Worse, the teacher provided no information. If you can imagine it, the teacher sent this report card home and walked out the door. The parents and this child were left on their own to try to figure this out.

    Maybe it’s easy for you to imagine something like this. Maybe something very similar happened to you.

    So now you’re left holding a burst balloon. Your confidence in your child and in her school progress has been completely deflated. What are you supposed to think about this and what should you do over the summer to get the next school year off to a good start?

    First, understand your child probably doesn’t know what happened either. She might, if she’s an older child who can reflect back on her performance, on her on-time submission of homework and on her behavior. But younger students – up through elementary school and maybe even in middle school – may really have no clue. So grilling your child about what went wrong will only increase everyone’s anxiety and frustration and really won’t help. Don’t do it.

    However, your child probably is just as dismayed as you are. So as you and she look over this report, it’s good to express your puzzlement and to confirm that this is unexpected. You and she both expected better because you know that she’s really a good student. It’s important that your child know you don’t accept this bad report as truly reflective of her performance and that, at worst, this report is a one-time occurrence.

    Next, though, you should plan this summer to do a couple things.
    First, support your child’s development of “executive processing skills” of listening, sticking with a task, evaluating his own performance, and controlling any impulsivity. These skills are essential to school success. The child who is weak in these areas may have been more scattered in the last months of school, as disruptions like testing, field trips, and so on interrupted the usual school day. Working with your child in chores around the house is the way to support these abilities, but make certain your child is not treated like a mindless drone but is encouraged to figure out how to do things and to evaluate his own success.

    Second, support your child’s independent reading during the summer. Remember that all reading is good reading, so reading comic books, non-fiction, magazines, and even the directions on video games is all fine. Read to your child every day, choosing chapter books you both enjoy (for older kids, this can be Sherlock Holmes, for example, and for younger students Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings or whatever else you both think will be fun).  Learning through reading becomes more important the higher children get in school, so being able to read unfamiliar words and make sense of complex sentences becomes increasingly important. This sort of skill comes through practice.

    Finally, integrate math into everyday activities. Measuring, estimating, calculating and so on are part of ordinary living and usually you just do these actions on your own, in your head. This summer, make your thinking process plain to your child and get him involved in solving problems along with you. Online resources like Mike’s Math Page on Facebook can get both of you busy figuring things out. This is not just about math, of course. It’s about tackling tricky problems, persisting even when things seem hard, and using brain power to solve problems.

    Don’t worry about the past, just get busy in the present.  And have a great summer!

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

    June 07, 2013

    “Our Little Secret” ... The Conspiracy To Keep Parents In the Dark

    "Psst... don't tell your mom!"
    Kim Estes, expert on child safety, relays this incident from a mother, who wrote, "I recently had to stop play dates between my child and a schoolmate when I discovered that the child's mother had not once, not twice but three times had either asked my child to keep a secret or had offered to ‘not tell your mom’ about something that had happened on a play date.”

    Would you have done the same? Is the impulse to keep secrets from you so serious a problem it’s a reason to limit a friendship?

    Well, yes. And here’s why. Anyone who asks a child to keep a secret is asking the child to lie. Obviously, this is a problem. In addition, someone who asks a child to keep a secret is teaching the child to practice deceit and trickery. This is confusing to child who in all innocence doesn’t see her parents as “the enemy” or as people from whom she needs to conceal what she’s doing.

    Children keep secrets, of course, and the older the child the more secrets he will have from you. Just as you have secrets you don’t share with your children – or even with your best friend – so will your older child or teenager grow to distinguish between facts she wants to share and facts she wants to keep private. This ability to edit information for various audiences is an indicator of her growing social sensitivity and it usually doesn’t mean your child has anything earth-shaking to conceal.

    But it’s different when the child who would share something with you is required not to. Sometimes a child is coerced into silence by a playmate who threatens to end their friendship if the child tells. Sometimes a child’s impulse to be truthful is held hostage by a friend’s parent or older sibling, who implies that telling will bring shame and unhappiness down on the child’s head. Embarrassment and shame are keen emotions among elementary school kids. The threat of exposure – even of something the child doesn’t understand was improper – is a powerful brake on your child’s conscience. Anyone who asks your child to keep something “our little secret” doesn’t have your child’s best interests at heart.

    And that’s the real danger. Even though the first secret your child is asked to keep from you may not be very important, the second might be. This is how child sexual abuse is perpetrated and this is how kids are introduced to pornography, drugs, and shoplifting. Children are easily led. They go along with something unwittingly, then find themselves committing to secrecy. Parents who said they never knew are parents whose children swore never to tell.

    You want to keep the lines of communication open. You want your children to believe they can tell you anything, anything at all, and you won’t go ballistic. You want your children to be able to look a would-be conspirator in the eye and think to themselves,

    “No, I can’t keep this quiet. My Mom and Dad will want to know.”

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

    June 04, 2013

    Should Daddy Stay Home?

    These days, in most newly-married households, both adults work. Then, when children come along, parents sometimes decide that one of them should stay home with the kids, either to reduce the cost of childcare or because quality childcare isn’t available. For as long as anyone can remember, that stay-at-home parent was the mom.

    But there’s a shift underway. These days, with women earning more college degrees than men and with the rise of service-sector jobs, increasingly it’s the mother who earns more than the dad. According to Stephanie Coontz of the Council on Contemporary Families (as reported recently by National Public Radio), in more than a quarter of families (28%), it is the woman makes more money than her husband. The old notion that  the parent with the smaller paycheck should be the one who stays home with the children is leading to a rethinking of parental roles and a new appreciation of what fathers can do.

    The U. S. Census Bureau reports that only 3.5 percent of families include a stay-at-home dad but this figure is thought way too low by most observers. It often misses fathers who work from home, either as telecommuting employees or as home-based entrepreneurs. Just as many stay-at-home mothers run businesses, many stay-at-home fathers have more than the children to think about during the day. In reporting their activities to the Census Bureau, stay-at-home dads are apparently less likely to credit childcare as their main activity than are stay-at-home mothers.

    Being children’s chief caregiver is not a well-accepted role for men. They may be viewed as filling in for mom temporarily by teachers and pediatricians, who are more familiar with dealing with women. They may be ignored by fellow caregivers at the playground. And men may be thought somehow deficient in parenting skills, even though the most respected and best-selling authorities on parenting are male. Even mothers may doubt that dad knows what he’s doing.

    But here’s the truth of the matter. While fathers typically interact differently with children than mothers do, this is simply a difference, not a deficiency. Men tend to be more physically active with their children and more supportive of exploration and problem-solving. According to the American Psychological Association, children raised with men as their primary caregiver have at least equal language skills, reading and math achievement, and social abilities compared to children raised by women. For parents of both sexes it comes down to who is more available and more comfortable in filling the stay-at-home parent role. If it’s the father, then that’s okay.

    One of the great advances of the past thirty years is a rethinking of what is “women’s work” and what is “men’s work.” Another great advance is the availability at home of all the technology needed to do many creative and vital jobs from the convenience of one’s spare bedroom. It should come as no surprise that both mothers and fathers are taking advantage of these two innovations to craft a family support system that works for everyone: the adults and the children.

    Should Daddy stay home? Maybe. It’s not a problem if he does.

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

    May 29, 2013

    10 Tips For Traveling With Baby

    Traveling with children under three is a challenge. Here are some thoughts to help your entire family have a good time with as little stress as possible.

    1. Start Small. Start with a visit to a homey destination only a few hours away from home. Traveling to Grandma’s works fine but you can also choose a hotel with a kitchenette. Bring along that movie you’ve been wanting to watch and lovely snacks for you and your partner, since you might not get out on your own after baby goes down for the night.

    2. Choose Electricity. A trip out with baby might work best with all the comforts and resources you’re used to.  While some hardy parents take their babies camping, you might find this works better when the kids are a bit older, more able to say when they’re too cold, and less likely to eat sticks and rocks.

    3. Consider Trains. If you don’t want to drive, see if Amtrak can get you to a good get-away. Some advantages over car travel are that both parents are available to help with the child and there’s more room to move around – especially lovely at the squirmy toddler stage.

    4. Take Only What You’ll Need. Every town has a place to buy diapers, formula, juice boxes and snacks. While you’ll want to have a day’s supply of everything, you probably don’t need to take a week’s supply even for a week-long adventure.

    5. Take Only What You Can Lose. Of course you’ll need to take your child’s security object but try not to take anything else that can’t be replaced or is easily broken.  Be sure to take an extra hat, pair of shoes, and spare jacket for your child, since these are the things that tend to fall out of a stroller without making a sound.

    6. Don’t Worry Too Much About Crying. If you’re traveling by air, there’s not much you can do if your baby starts crying at takeoff and keeps it up long into the flight. Apologize to your seatmates but let their snide comments roll off you. Ditto for crying in the hotel room.

    7. Keep Your Toddlers Under Control. While babies can cry on an airplane, toddlers cannot wander the aisles, kick the seat in front of them, or generally carry on. Bring along whatever sure-fire toys, DVDs and snacks will keep your little person happy. Make keeping her happy your mission on the flight – you didn’t bring along anything you wanted to do, did you?

    8. Remember Naps. Plan your sightseeing and visiting around a reasonable nap schedule. But your child may find napping difficult when you’re away from home, so a stroller or child carrier and a long walk through the countryside might need to become a daily pleasure.

    9. Choose Destinations Wisely. There is plenty of time to take your child to your personal-favorite theme park or that big city restaurant you’ve heard so much about. If your child is too young to have a good time there, then you won’t have much fun either. Better to wait.

    10. Be Determined To Have Fun. Your mother said it best: you have to make your own happiness. A good attitude will ensure you have a good time. But make certain before you go that you’re on the same page with your child’s other parent, especially about who gets to wrangle the kids.

    Babies are wonderfully portable and toddlers nearly so. There’s no need to wait until your children can run away from you to take them on vacation. Just think ahead a little bit and the whole family will have a lovely time!

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved. Read more in Parenting: A Field Guide and in Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, both available now from your favorite book seller.

    May 27, 2013

    8 Ideas to Try - At Least Once! - With Your Kids This Summer

    It’s right around the corner… that glorious time for staying up late, kicking back, and doing nothing at all. Make certain your children get all the summer that’s coming to them by including some of these ideas, even just once.

    1.       Have at least one real picnic. You know, the kind where you spread a blanket on the grass and eat food with your fingers. It doesn’t have to be fancy – in fact, the best picnics are not fancy at all. The best picnics are casual, fun affairs.  Be sure to have at least one this summer.
    2.       Watch fireworks at least once. Maybe it will be on the Fourth of July, maybe sometime else. But make sure you and your kids watch one professional fireworks display sometime this summer. Yes, I know, it makes the kids stay up late and, yes, I know, these events are crowded and buggy. But take a blanket to claim your space and some bug lotion and have a great time.
    3.       Get back to nature at least once. Take a walk on the seashore, row across the lake, explore the woods, or hike up a mountain. You don’t have to go far – with small children you might not get very far at all. But take time to really look at things, especially things down at your child’s level. Bring along a baggie for the pretty rocks and interesting sticks that will need to come home with you.
    4.       Enjoy outdoor entertainment at least once. Maybe it’s a ball game or outdoor concert. Maybe it’s a drive-in movie or a Renaissance fair. Sometime this summer, get out with the crowds and have a good time. Many of these events are free or low cost if you check around for what’s happening in your community.
    5.       Take at least one road trip. Go by car, by bus or even by bicycle, but get out on the open road and travel from here to there.  Use a map to plot your route and be sure to stop at historical markers and roadside lemonade stands. Remember it’s not the destination that matters but the getting there.
    6.       Camp out at least once. Even if it’s just in the backyard, sleep outside (or let your children sleep outside) sometime this summer. If you can have a campfire and roast hot dogs and marshmallows, even better! If you can stay up long enough to see the stars, double-good! Listen to the night noises and enjoy the peacefulness of the dark.
    7.       Play in water at least once. Go swimming, run through the lawn sprinkler, toss water balloons or shoot squirt guns. Be ready for the first really hot day of the year with whatever you need for water play.
    8.       Just once, do something you’ve never done before. Maybe you’ll go panning for gold or gems. Maybe you’ll visit an archeological dig. Maybe you’ll watch a demolition derby or a horse race or a dog show. Find out what’s happening in your area and do something new-to-you.

    Anchor your family’s summer activities with just one simple event every week.  Don’t be too busy or too sophisticated for downhome summer fun. The more you do, the more fun you’ll have and the more memories you’ll make.

    Good summers are full of good memories.

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

    May 23, 2013

    Moving Away: How To Help Children Move To A New Home

    Our family made a cross-country move the year our younger son was three. He left a best buddy who lived next door, a familiar preschool, and a backyard creek full of crayfish. He told me with all sincerity, “You’ve ruined my life.” 

    If a three-year-old can feel this strongly about moving to a new home, it’s easy to see how older children and teens can feel equally done-to. Clearly, my son blamed Mom and Dad for his forced removal. Moving is difficult enough for a grown-up, who at least chose to make the move or knows the reasons behind it. How hard it must be for a child who can never really understand. 

    But you should try to help him understand. It’s never a good idea to announce a move to a new home suddenly or casually. You don’t want your child to feel like just a piece of furniture that can be packed up and hauled off without explanation. The more time your child has before the move, the more included he will feel in the process. You can include him in finding out about the new town or neighborhood and maybe even take him along on house-hunting or apartment-hunting trips. Older children can research their new schools online and use maps to figure out the closest playground or sports center in your new location. 

    At the same time, your child doesn’t need to be privy to the ups and downs of your dealings with a mortgage lender, to family debates over money, or to arguments about the best neighborhoods and schools. Bring your child into the process over the fun parts, not the stressful parts. Bring your child in only after you know most of the details.

    Once you’ve signed a rental contract or had a purchase offer accepted, make frequent visits to the new neighborhood if you’re moving somewhere nearby. Get out of the car and walk around, visit the grocery store you’ll like use, attend services at what will be your new church. Do what you can to make the new place seem familiar.

    At the same time, help your child before the move to assemble memories of the old place. She can take digital photos of her favorite people and her old house. The family can make a sort of farewell tour of well-loved haunts before finally packing up and moving away. The places we’ve lived stay with us. Make your child’s final memories of her home happy ones. If your family moved during your own children, you know some of the emotions your child will feel.  

    Once you’re in your new home, move quickly to help your children get established.
    ·         Strike up conversations with other parents in the neighborhood and be proactive in hosting get-togethers with other kids.
    ·         If you move during the summer, when there’s no school, children can be especially lonely. Think ahead and line up team play or a class for your child so she is assured of at least some kid-interaction each week.
    ·         It’s okay if your child wants to maintain connections with his friends at his old home. Use Skype or email as a free way to keep in touch with old friends, particularly if the distance is too great for a visit. If an old friend is not too far, invite him to your new home; your child will enjoy showing him around.
    ·         Take these steps yourself: get involved, invite moms over for coffee, volunteer to host your neighborhood Christmas party, get involved in the neighborhood association or school. If you are active in the new location, it’s easier for your kids to get acclimated too. 

    Moving is a leave-taking but it’s also an arrival. Help your child see the silver lining and the new opportunities hidden in the move. 

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

    May 21, 2013

    Does Your Child Suffer from Cell-Phone Neglect?

    Years ago, researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that there are vast differences in the sheer number of words young children hear every day. They found that in some families, preschoolers heard on average 600 words per hour. But in other families, preschoolers heard about 1200 words per hour while in a third group of families preschoolers heard over 2100 words per hour.

    That’s a huge difference. It adds up to a difference of more than three million words by the time two-year-olds turn five. But the differences don’t end there. Hart and Risley found that children who heard fewer words had smaller vocabularies and knew fewer concepts. They were, in fact, less smart than other kids. A lot less smart.

    This study was conducted before the cell phone era. But imagine if it were conducted today and the differences between families was not on parent education or household income but on how attentive parents are to their children and how attentive they are to their phones. The fact is, children who used to hear over 2100 words per hour probably hear many fewer these days. Most of the time their parents are busy, talking to someone else.

    The key idea is that conversation matters only when it’s real and in-person. The talk that comes from the television or radio doesn’t count. The talk that is an overheard phone conversation doesn’t count.  It’s important that children be talked with directly and listened to. In order for conversation to contribute to children’s vocabularies and intellectual development is has to be about what’s going on. So when parents are distracted by their phones the child loses out.

    Modern moms and dads should be aware of the hazards their own distractions can pose. Here are some suggestions:
    •  Turn OFF your phone when out and about with your child. Notice what’s going on around you and talk about it. Sing. Talk with other people you meet. Walk with another adult and talk with that person. All this conversation is real and it contributes to your child’s development.
    • Wrench your attention away from your phone when you are texting, surfing, and otherwise not engaged in a real-time conversation. The person you’re with is more important than someone or something you can check back with any time. If a text is of immediate importance, say, “I’ll be right with you!” and then DO get right back to the child and give him your undivided attention.
    • When you’re at home, uncouple yourself from the television, talk radio, the computer, and your phone. Yes, hanging around a two-year-old is boring when it’s not frantic. True, your child doesn’t need your full attention every minute she’s awake. But if you are uninterruptable for long periods of time, your child is missing out… and it’s easy to let long periods of time go by. 

    Our devices have insinuated themselves into the fabric of our lives and they threaten to derail children’s development. This is such an unexpected idea that one might discount it. Don’t.

    Your child’s preschool years create the foundation for her future success. Hang up the phone and talk with the little person next to you.

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

    May 20, 2013

    Handling Others’ Envy When Your Child Is Just Perfect (and Handling Others’ Perfection Without Envy)

    Here’s what happened. You got the letter that says your child was admitted to the Gifted Program (or the traveling team, or the best preschool in your town, or Harvard). You’re filled with pride, of course. But you know what will happen when your friends find out. Your bubble will be burst. Your joy will be overtaken by other people’s envy.

    This doesn’t seem fair. Why can’t they be happy along with you? Why does their resentment have to ruin everything?

    Well, of course, they could be happy along with you. This would be the noble thing to do. This is what you would do in their place, wouldn’t you? … Wouldn’t you?

    Maybe not. Everyone wants his own child to shine. Everyone’s child deserves accolades. But there aren’t enough accolades to go around. And, quite frankly, most of the acclaim seems to go to the same kids, over and over.

    The truth is that some children seem to attract awards like a magnet. The same kids who are in the gifted program win the science fair (of course!) but they also take the blue ribbon in the art show, land the leading role in the school play, are written up in the papers for their volunteer work, are voted the most-good-looking, and are the star on whatever team they play for. Some kids seem to have it all.

    And that gets old after a while, for everyone else. Not only that, but there’s an odd thing going on: even if it seems like this is your child’s first award (finally!), other kids and their parents wanted it too. So even if it doesn’t appear to you that your child always wins, even one win can make others think he leads a golden life.

    Competition does strange things to people. And competition involving what matters most to us – our children and their happiness – makes everyone act strangely. What can you do? 
    1. Talk about your child’s accomplishments only if someone else brings them up. Don’t volunteer the fact that Suzette took first in whatever she took first in. Wait for someone to mention it. 
    2.  Be humble. When someone does say they read about Suzette in the papers,  join in on the admiration but only in a wondering tone. If your child is amazing, let yourself be amazed.
    3.  Avoid comparisons. The moment you even think, “My child is so much better than your child” you’re doomed. This thought will be obvious to everyone.
    4. Shut up quickly. Do not go on and on about how hard Suzette prepared for the competition, how things went against her early but she rallied, and finally how she pulled ahead and was bathed in glory. Don’t do it. Answer others’ questions and follow with a question of your own – about their children.
    5. Be honest. Your child’s success really isn’t something you did yourself. Don’t take credit for it or puff yourself up over it. Accept others’ admiration graciously and with sincere thanks.
    6. Be tolerant of others’ resentment. Be aware of others’ feelings. And if they never mention your child’s good fortune, it doesn’t mean they’re seething with envy. They might not even have noticed what happened for your child. They will have been caught up in their own children’s doings.

    Finally, keep in mind that parenting really isn’t a competitive sport. Gold medals and letters of acceptance are wonderful but they don’t actually mean much in the long run. 

    In the long run, it’s getting along with others that counts.

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

    May 17, 2013

    Addicted To Technology: What To Do If Your Child Is A Victim

    The jury is still out about technology being addictive – tech addiction hasn’t yet made it to the DSM-V, the handbook for psychiatrists and physicians. But we all know that games and the Internet can be habit-forming. We need only our own impulse to check our devices to see the truth of that.

    If your child’s attachment to his tech toys is starting to seem excessive, then he will likely need some help to broaden his interests. He’s unlikely to be able to do this on his own. How you help him depends on whose idea handling this habit is.

    If stopping the tech habit is your child’s idea, then your job is easier. You and your child can brainstorm ideas for substituting something else for video game play or cell phone contact. You and she can figure out a way to track her progress toward reducing her reliance on electronics. You can be part of the habit-busting team, but your child takes the lead. It was, after all, her idea.

    It’s more likely that it’s you, not your child, who wants to pull the plug. If this is the case, then you have two tasks: first you must make the child aware of when and how much he is connected to his devices, and then, you must help him to make the choice to do other things. Noticing that he has a problem comes first.

    If the child is old enough to talk about what he does all day, then have a heart-to-heart talk about his technology use sometime when both of you are in a good mood and aren’t in any hurry to do something else. Describe your concern about his usage and state clearly your desire that your child reduce it. If you get agreement, set clear goals for a gradual reduction over the next week or two. You cannot expect any habit to stop cold-turkey, but you can set up a time-and-place plan for daily reduction.

    Of course, something has to take the place of the technology you’re reducing. So your agreement with your child has to include what that something will be – or what it can’t be. Most likely you don’t want to replace handheld game play with computer game play or game-system game play: the problems that triggered your concern will not be resolved just by switching platforms. But something has to fill the gap, so talk together about what that could be.

    More likely, though, you will not get immediate agreement to reduce tech use. More likely, you’ll get loud resistance. If this is so, then you will need to exert your parenting authority while understanding the limits of your authority’s reach. You can forbid that your child connect to technology at home more than a set number of minutes per day and you can impound her devices to make your edict stick. Remove the TV and computer from her room, pocket her phone, lock up her tablet. Remember that your authority to do this comes from the fact that you are her parent (so don’t say your authority comes from who owns the house or who pays for the data plan; this isn’t about money, it’s about roles).

    Don’t imagine that you can control what your child does when she’s away from home. Realize that she will undoubtedly use her friends’ devices the minute she’s out of your sight. There’s not much you can do about this, so don’t try to follow her around and monitor her every move.

    Quitting a habit isn’t easy. It helps if the person who has the habit feels some positive result from quitting. Unfortunately, quitting a habit often leaves one feeling lost and depressed. There’s a period of withdrawal. Your child will need your support to get control of technology again.

    Two quick words: First, if your child is not old enough to talk about what he does all day – if your child is a preschooler or young child and tech play has gotten out of hand – then you have a responsibility to simply take action. Get your kid away from the devices without much apology and get him doing other things.

    And second, model what you want to see. If you are never without your phone and feel you have to check it constantly, if your day moves from one device to another without much else in between, then now is the time to set an example of sensible technology use. Don’t make excuses. Turn the things off.

    Finding the off button and realizing that the world really isn’t passing us by while our devices are off is a big step for many people. Help your kids – and you - to take that step.

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

    May 16, 2013

    Kindergarten Again: What To Do If Your Child Needs A Do-Over

    Your child’s teacher has made it plain: she’s not ready to move to first grade next fall and needs another year of kindergarten.  What now?

    Probably you’ve been expecting this. You might have noticed that your child isn’t doing well and that she’s not performing at the same level as other kids in the class. If you haven’t – if the decision to hold her back a year comes as a surprise – then now is the time to ask some questions, in a nice way:
    •  What seems to be the problem?
    •  What did the teacher do this year to help?
    •  What will be done differently next year to move your child ahead? 
    It’s important that you remain calm. Getting all worked up doesn’t solve anything. You need more information and to get that, you have to ask questions and then listen – really listen – to the answers.

    You need to know if the issue for your child is simply one of maturation, so that another year of the same sort of instruction is all that’s needed. But you also need to know if the issue for your child is something more complicated, so the solution might include more intensive remediation.

    The answers you get will show you what you should do next.

    If the teacher can tell you what sorts of difficulty your child has had and why, and if she seems to have a clear plan for getting your child on track next year, and if what she says makes sense to you, then probably things are in good hands.

    If the teacher seems fuzzy about the disconnect between your child and the expected level of achievement, and can’t really say clearly what the problem might be or why another year in kindergarten might help, or if she blames your child, or you, or the curriculum, or the principal, or the size of her class this year, then it might be time to find another school.  What you are looking for is professionalism. Your child’s teacher should be the expert. She should sound like she knows what she’s doing and takes responsibility for children’s success.

    The kindergarten year is more important these days than it ever was. A good start in kindergarten reading, math and organizational skills sets the stage for success throughout elementary school and beyond. Kindergarten used to be optional. It no longer is. So if your child struggled in kindergarten this year, then making another try at it next year is probably a good idea, in the same school or a better one.

    Being held back a year in kindergarten has fewer negative effects for children’s self-esteem and social skills than does being held back in any other grade. If a repeat will be needed, kindergarten is the time to do it.

    Which brings us to the prospect of repeating a year in a higher grade. If you’re being told that your older child needs a repeat, then there is cause for concern. Certainly you want your child to be successful in school. You don’t want him to continue to fail, year after year. But being held back is a blow to just about every kid. The shame and embarrassment some children feel in being retained in grade can poison school for them. Even though they may benefit in theory from another year, in actuality they may never recover from the experience of retention itself. 

    For an older child, then, the suggestion that your child should repeat a grade should mobilize you to get outside help, in the form of tutoring or other support. Try to arrange with his school to have another evaluation made in the early fall, before a decision for grade placement is made for certain. Then work hard to improve his skills in the meantime.

    The possibility of repeating kindergarten – or any other grade – is a reminder to keep on top of children’s progress in school from the very beginning of the year. It’s easier to fix things when a problem is identified early. That’s why your conversation with your child’s kindergarten teacher matters so much.
    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.

    May 15, 2013

    Preschool Dress Sense And Yours: Bridging The Divide

    You want your child to look nice: coordinated colors, well-cared-for clothes that fit well, that sort of thing. But your preschooler wants to pick his own clothes – and his combinations and obsessions are odd, to put it nicely. The favorite shirt – a couple sizes too small – that he pulled out from under the bed and put on inside out. The striped pants he paired with a clashing shirt. The shorts in the winter time. The sweater in summer.

    If your child looks like she dressed out of the lost-and-found box at her child care center and if this bothers you… you’re not alone! What can you do?

    First, apply some perspective. Style is personal and despite your close connection, your child is not you and doesn’t even represent you. I understand you might think this is silly. You might believe that your child is indeed a walking advertisement for your parenting skills and your fashion acumen. But, believe me, the sooner you give up these notions the happier both of you will be. Your child is her own person whose individuality will only increase. Start practicing a bemused shrug now so you’ve got it down before she hits middle school.

    Second, all the clothes in your child’s closet and dresser should pass two tests: comfort and durability. Comfort comes first, since the preschooler who isn’t bothered by tight sleeves and itchy tags is less irritable himself. Preschoolers often insist on dressing themselves, so make certain that the clothes he has access to are easy to put on and with simple fastenings, especially for frequently-removed bits like pants waistbands. You want using the toilet to be unencumbered by zippers and snaps.

    If your child is bothered by tags, cut them out. The impulse to retain tags so some future parent (or you with a future child) can know what size this item is sacrifices a child’s present comfort for an adult’s future convenience. This isn’t a fair trade-off.

    Children grow fast and it’s hard to keep up with sizes. But all a child’s clothing should be roomy enough for active play without being so overlarge that the kid trips over his pants legs or can’t find his fingers in the sleeves. A larger problem is retiring favorite clothes when they’ve become too small: sometimes children have trouble giving up the clothes they like the best. Maybe these can become garments for a big stuffed bear or can be given away successfully. Sometimes these garments just need to quietly disappear.

    Durability is the next requirement your child’s clothes have to meet. Your child’s everyday clothing should be
    unfussy, easy to wash and not needing any ironing at all. Because children are hard on clothes – getting them muddy, dripping spaghetti sauce on them, coloring them with markers and paint – what they wear to childcare or preschool should represent as low an investment as possible. If you have clothes you treasure and want to keep looking nice, put these out of sight and dress your child up for special occasions. It’s not fair to let a child wear something you love and then get angry when she inevitably ruins it. Smart parents shop for kids’ everyday clothes second-hand. Smart parents also find special occasions to wear those fancy duds before a child outgrows them!

    Finally, pick your battles. Set limits only based on practical concerns, like the weather or the sort of activities planned for the day. Slippers that are fun to wear to the grocery store might not be the best for running around the playground. Stock the dresser and closet sensibly so everything a child can see is okay for everyday use. 

    Then step back and enjoy. Remember that dressing a child is not a competitive sport. There’s no need to apologize for the goofy outfit your child is wearing because everyone knows your child dressed herself. You and her teacher and passersby on the sidewalk can enjoy her style and appreciate what this says about what she likes and how comfortable she is just being herself.

    That is the true reflection on your parenting… your courage and the pleasure in letting your child be who he is and dress the part!

    © 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.