July 28, 2015

Looking Ahead To The New School Year

Whether your child will venture forth on her very first school experience this fall, will transition to a new school, or will just start the next grade at her old location… now is the time to take some steps to get the year off on the right foot. Here are some thoughts:

Remember who’s going 
and who’s not. 
Even though it’s startling to realize you’re the parent of a child old enough to start kindergarten or middle school (or even college), going to school is your child’s experience, not yours. So while you might be inclined to dress for success the first few days on a new job, your child more likely wants to dress for comfort or dress to blend in. When you shop for school clothes and school supplies, practicality and your child's wishes are the qualities to shoot for.

Keep your worries to yourself. 
You might be anxious to know that your child was assigned your preferred teacher or gets into your choice of school or is chosen for a special program.  That’s understandable: most of us would like to be granted our every wish. But don’t share your anxieties with your child. As you know, not every wish comes true and if your child knows your wish was disappointed his perception of his new class will be tainted. Don’t set things up for a bad beginning.

Realize that every experience is educational. 
One of the great advantages going off to school has over home-schooling is the diversity of experience that school affords. Children have to learn to adapt, work things out, and make do. This is not a bad thing. Learning to get along with others on their terms is probably the single most-important part of the school curriculum. Don’t try to manage every detail or make things “right.” They may actually be right, right now.

Be hopeful and be glad. 
A cheerful, positive outlook is a great gift you can give your child. Help him start the new school year feeling optimistic and capable. Finish up the summer on a high note and look ahead with anticipation.

It’s going to be a great year!

(c) 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. Get free downloads and more at www.patricianananderson.com

July 01, 2015

3 Quick Tips To Get Kids To Read This Summer

Famed Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl was asked once how to get a middle-grades child to read. The child’s parent said she’d tried requiring a set amount of reading time in order to earn video game privileges but that her child wasn’t reading with any pleasure. Instead, he was reading in a mechanical way, as if he was being forced to eat his vegetables. What, the mother asked, was she doing wrong? And, more importantly, what could she do right?

Before I get to Nancy Pearl’s suggestion of what to do, let’s look at why what this mother did wasn’t working. The problem is economic. The child was having to pay for something he wanted by doing something it was assumed he didn’t want to do. Just as requiring vegetables to get to dessert sends the message that the parent  agrees that ice cream is more desirable than broccoli, requiring reading to get to video games sends the message that reading is a chore, like making the bed, that has to be dispatched before being allowed to go out to play.

Setting up these if-then contingencies creates a value system. The activity of greater value is what must be bought by a less-valued activity. In the parent’s scenario, reading can never be fun for her child, since she’s already designated it as much less-fun than video games.

The first step in the solution to this problem is to uncouple video game play and reading. Instead of insisting that reading be done before games can be played, just limit the amount of video game play per day  and require a certain amount of reading each day.  No activity –reading or video games – should dominate the child’s time. Every child should get outside, should make things, and should play with friends, as well as reading and enjoying screen time.

At the same time, act as if what the child is reading is interesting. Ask him about the plot, about the characters, what he likes or doesn’t like about the way the author writes, and so on. Let him read aloud to you a passage he thinks is funny. Value his reading, not just as a ticket to something else, but as something interesting all on its own.

And then, as Nancy Pearl suggests, get the right books in front of your child. Perl suggests concentrating on funny books, even if these aren’t always books of literary merit. In addition, books of amazing feats, weird science, and strange facts are usually interesting to middle school kids, despite their sometimes lack of reliability.  All reading is good reading. Let your child read what he wants.

What if your child is required by his school to read a list of books over the summer? And what if he thinks these books are deadly dull? Again, separate this task from his own reading for pleasure.  And  because it’s separate, do it differently. Read these books together, working together to get them all read by the start of the school year. Your child will get more out of the experience than if he plodded through these on his own, because he’ll be able to talk with you about the story and you’ll be able to add your own insights. Just don’t let this sort of reading be confused with his own fun reading. Let him feel a sense of accomplishment for completing this homework task and a sense of fun in doing his own reading of what he likes.

Most of all, don’t tie reading to any sort of rewards or punishment. Make some reading every day a requirement but also put books in front of your child that he wants to read.

(c) 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. Free downloads and other good stuff at www.patricianananderson.com

June 16, 2015

What Makes Sports Fun For Kids?

Hint: it’s not “winning.”

Winning not only isn’t “everything” or “the only thing” it’s near the bottom of what children say makes playing sports fun. Instead, kids say what makes sports fun is being a good sport, trying hard, and having positive coaching.

A research team from George Washington University led by Amanda Visek asked 142 youth soccer players, 37 youth coaches and 57 parents to brainstorm a list of everything that makes playing sports fun. All the ideas were pooled, then sorted into 81 factors of fun. Then all the participants were asked to rank the 81 factors based on importance, frequency of appearance, and feasibility for everyday sports. They came up with the top 11 items, including being a good sport, trying hard, positive coaching, learning and improving, game time support, games, practices, team friendships, mental bonuses, team rituals, and swag. Winning didn’t make the list.

The bottom line: having fun is fun. And what makes anything fun is being challenged, getting help when you need it, being nice to other people, and feeling good about yourself and your friends. Just because sports has an element of competition and winning doesn’t mean that competition and being the best matter most. They don’t.

So here are some ideas to consider, based on this information:
  1. Don’t ask about the score. This is a challenge. We’re so used to asking our kids first who won or if they themselves made any goals or runs. Just don’t do it. Ask instead if they had fun.
  2. Don’t obsess about your own child’s (or other children’s) ability. This means you don’t ask the coach to give your child extra playing time because he’s the best player and it also means you don’t put your child through hours of remedial practice to make him the best player. It means you don’t groan when less-capable children are put on the field when the game is on the line. This isn’t about winning. Really, it isn’t.
  3.  Don’t make a big deal out of medals, ribbons and trophies. Swag is important, as the study demonstrated, but swag really is a reminder of the fun the team had, not of how winning the season was. Separate fun and winning in your mind. Celebrate fun.
  4. Do ask your child what makes playing her sport enjoyable. Start her own brainstorm list and then chunk all the ideas into groups that seem logical to her and to you and then ask her to rank them. You and your child might find out something interesting about what’s important in playing the game. See if her results are similar to those of the study. 
The secret to keeping a child engaged in a sport over time – long enough to get really good at it, if that’s your wish – lies not in winning but in having a good time. Having a good time depends on feeling good about oneself and one’s team. It’s that simple.

Winning really isn’t the only thing. Having fun is.

(c) 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. More at www.patricianananderson.com

March 14, 2015

Helping the Child Who’s Not Invited

A mother told me recently that her second-grade daughter had been passed over when invitations were issued for several friends’ birthday parties.  She wondered what was going on and what she should do.

This is naturally concerning. One wonders if other kids or their parents are trying to send some sort of message. One wonders if other kids are engaging in passive-aggressive bullying.  One wonders if one’s child doesn’t really fit in with her peers. A parent quite rightly wonders who is at fault for this situation, other parents, other children, or her own child.

Any of these scenarios is possible, of course. It could be that other parents or other children are treating your family badly. It could be that your child rubs other people the wrong way. But it’s also possible that nothing at all is happening or at least nothing much.

The guest list for a party of seven-year-old children is understandably short. There is a limit to the number of second-graders a parent wants to have responsibility for, especially second-graders under the influence of sugary party foods and birthday excitement. The old rule-of-thumb to invite as many children as the birthday girl is old clearly works only in the preschool years. Once a child’s age exceeds five, the number of guests should depend only on her parents’ estimate of their ability to keep things under control.

So it may be that a child who is passed over for a birthday invitation just may not have made the short list. This might not be what her parents’ wanted or expected but it’s not an indication of something awful. It’s important to not make more of this than it truly is.

In addition, it’s important to notice whose feelings are hurt the most, your child’s or your own. Usually it’s parents who feel this slight most keenly. Parents of course want their children to be happy. But if not being invited doesn’t seem to bother the child, then there’s no need to fret to the point the child is bothered. Keep your indignation to yourself.

If your child is not invited to friend’s parties, take a careful look at things while remaining fair. There may be a problem if…
  1. Invitations were issued in class, when uninvited children could see they were not included. Most schools have rules against this sort of thing. If this is happening at your child’s school, complain to the teacher and the principal.
  2. Friends use party invitations as a way of controlling others, saying things like “If you don’t do as I say, I won’t invite you to my birthday,” or otherwise use the party as a way to establish an in-group. This is bullying and should not be tolerated. Again, if this is going on at school or on the school bus, tell the teachers and principal.
  3. Your child is continually left out, not just of invitations, but in many aspects of kid social interactions. If no one will sit with your child at lunch, or play with your child at recess, or work with her on a project, there’s something amiss. Take a long, hard look at your child’s social skills and help her to find a compatible peer group.

It’s possible that when your child is left off an invitation list, there’s something serious going on. It’s possible that nothing serious is going on at all. It’s often difficult to tell.

But it’s very hard to sort things out if we’re blinded by our own hurt feelings and anger.  As you figure out what’s going on be careful to stay objective.  That’s the best way to help your child.

© 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

February 26, 2015

What to Do If Your Child Swears

Bad words are everywhere and it should come as no surprise that these are the favorite words of our children. Swear words very easy to learn, since they’re usually said with enough emotional force to stand out in a conversation. Tiny tots are sometimes encouraged to swear, by grownups who think it’s cute. Older kids are sometimes encouraged to swear by older kids and media stars who make swearing seem cool.

Cuss words are just part of the vocabulary these days but having a reputation as a potty-mouth doesn’t endear a child to many adults. Your child’s teachers or grandparents might object, and the parents of other children might avoid your child because she is just too vulgar. If your child swears and curses, you’ve probably been in a situation where what came out of your kid’s mouth embarrassed you greatly.

But what can you do? If swear words are everywhere, how can you clean up your darling child’s vocabulary? 
  1. If your child is very little, now is the time to mend your own speech and the speech of those around him. Your friends and relatives – and even you – might be more free with the curse words than any of you were as kids. Give your own child the more protected environment you grew up with. Set some rules about what can be said in front of your child.
  2. Don’t encourage naughty language in your kids. What’s cute at age two or three will be a problem when she goes to preschool. Don’t set your child up for punishment by teaching words now that will get her into trouble later. When your older child says words you don’t approve, say something, don’t just let it slide.
  3. Set standards for language during play dates at your home. You don’t need to be the Language Police but children are quite good at adjusting to the rules in a new situation. If you firmly discourage bad words among your child’s friends when they’re in your home, kids will go along with your requirements.
  4. Assume that the kid who swears doesn’t know any better. Instead of punishing a child for saying bad words, teach her what is offensive and even acceptable words to say instead.
  5. Teach older children to adapt to time and place. Kids ages 9 and older can learn to differentiate between what they say and do around their friends and what they say and do in school, when older adults are around, or in Sunday School. Instead of requiring that they never ever say a particular word, tell them that you never want to hear it coming from their mouth or never want to hear it in front of Grandma or never want to hear about it in a teacher conference. Knowing how to manage different social situations is a valuable skill and your older kid can learn this.
  6. If swearing is habitual in your home but you’d like it to stop, then call a family meeting and work out a solution. You might consider instituting a penalty jar (a quarter deposited for every bad word someone says) or in some other, reasonable way that’s appropriate for everyone. Notice that everyone is included here, grownups as well as children. Where do you think they learned such language, after all?
  7. Monitor media. This is not to say that your kids can only watch G-rated movies but it does mean that the media your children consume has an effect. Know what messages are being communicated in the media your children, especially your older children, are experiencing. Talk about this with your kids. Your silence is a signal of your approval, including approval of the words people say to each other. 

Speaking is an essential social skill but a complicated one. It includes not just the speaker but the listener too, and also the context, the situation, in which speech is shared. Helping your child know how to choose appropriate words and adapt a message to fit present company is part of this social learning.

Teach your child how to do this and you’ll help your child be welcome wherever she goes.

© 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at www.patricianananderson.com.

February 10, 2015

How Bribery Backfires

How do you get your children to do what you want? Do you offer rewards?

“If you eat your vegetables, you can have dessert.”
“If you clean your room, you can watch TV.”
“I’ll get you a toy if you stay in the shopping cart.”

If you do, then you’ve probably noticed that rewards don’t often work, or if they work once you have to keep doling them out to make them work again and again. Bribery has no power to teach good behavior, it can only engage a child’s attention for a little while.
Pretty soon the tables will turn. Your child will learn that he can extract a goodie from you by misbehaving until you give in and offer a bribe. Now you’re being manipulated by your child; he’s the one in charge of rewarding you.

Rewards turn everything into an economic transaction. When you offer a reward, you’re paying your child to do as you wish. Just as anyone in a purchasing situation can decide if the product is worth the money it costs, so a child will decide if complying with your wishes is worth the bribe you’re offering. Sometimes it is; sometimes choking down that broccoli is worth the promise of ice cream. Sometimes it’s not.

When your child asks you what’s for dessert, she’s asking what the payoff will be for sitting through dinner and trying everything on her plate. You can get a child to clean up her room by promising to take her to the movies. But you won’t develop her sense of responsibility, only her sense of power. The next time you want her to clean up her room, she will ask, “What will you give me if I do?” Kids can be bought, yes, but only so long as they agree to be your pawn.

Bribery is as corrosive to your relationship with your children as punishment is. Both rewards and punishment are intended to control a child against his will. Both make you into the enemy. Both inspire your child to sneak behind your back, lie, subvert your efforts, and challenge your authority. When your authority as a parent is based on your ability to deal out rewards, then you’re on very shaky ground.

So what can you do to get your kids to do what you want?
  1. Say what you expect, clearly and with kindness, but say it. If you expect your child to have a clean room before going out to play, then say that. Say, “In this house, we put stuff away before we do something new. Please put away the Legos.” This statement of fact is different from an offer of a reward. It’s a truth, not a bribe. The child can look to see if the basic truth has been fulfilled and then know he can go out to play.
  2. Be consistent. One of the problems with expectations and statements of truth is that they apply to everyone. They apply to you. So you also must put away your things from one activity before moving on to another activity. You also must eat your broccoli before having dessert. In addition, the expectations and statements of truth are the same every day. They don’t change.
  3. Notice what your current truths are. If you’ve fallen into the expectation that children will misbehave in the grocery store and then that you’ll give them a toy to keep them in line, you’ve created this truth. No wonder your child acts up frequently! If you want new behavior, you must create expectations to match, and you should expect some push-back when the old truths are replaced by new ones.
  4. Celebrate collaboration. There’s no reason why you can’t say, at the end of a marathon cleaning job, “Whew! We did great, didn’t we? Let’s have a great snack!” Celebration is good. It’s manipulation and the setting of conditions that works against you. Celebrate collaboration, not compliance. Celebrate responsibility and helpfulness, not being good. There’s a huge difference and your kids know exactly why that difference matters. 

No one likes to be manipulated. Everyone prefers to be treated with respect. When you avoid bribery in favor of clear communication and consistent standards, you develop your children’s best qualities. You permit them to be responsible people who can see ahead and know what to do in any situation.

That’s what you want, isn’t it? More than toys and ice cream, it’s what children want too.

© 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at www.patricianananderson.com.

January 29, 2015

Do You Invite Your Kids to Lie?

A parent at the grocery store the other day confronted her child in a very intimidating manner and demanded, “Did you poke a hole in that package?”  The boy – maybe eight years old – seemed to physically shrink. Guilt was written all over his face but he whispered, “No.”

Of course. Who would admit to making a mistake under such circumstances? Clearly his mother was upset with him and clearly he knew that admitting he’d damaged the package would lead to more anger, more yelling, maybe even being shaken, hit, or humiliated in front of all the other shoppers. Answering “no” was the safest option, even though it was a lie.

This is how it goes. We paint our children into a corner, confronting them with their errors in the most threatening way possible, and then we’re surprised when they lie to us about whatever it is we think they did. We make lying the only sensible action. We teach our children to lie.

Is this what you had in mind?

Our need to assign blame is endless. We want everything to be someone’s fault so we can be appropriately angry or disgusted with them. We do this when someone pulls in front of us on the highway, we do this when our spouse forgets to bring home the milk we asked for, we do this when a child brings home a bad report card. Someone is a fault and we want to identify the culprit. And then we want to punish him. Since the adults in our lives are unlikely to accept our controlling, blaming ways, we control and blame our children. Especially our children. Then when they lie to get out from under our anger, we blame and control them some more.

It’s time to stop the madness. Here’s how to teach your children that truth-telling, not lying, is the way to go.
  1. Make the truth unpunishable. If a child tells you the truth, you may not punish her. This is so sensible, we wonder why it’s so rare. Obviously, if you want the truth to be told when you ask for it, you cannot then punish the truth-teller, no matter what it is she’s done.
  2. Focus on solutions not on punishment. Punishment is never the solution, so don’t even go there. If something bad happened, affixing blame won’t make the bad thing go away. Since everyone makes mistakes, children need to know that it’s up to them to fix the mistakes they make. You do this by working together to find a solution to what happened.
  3. If you know the truth, don’t ask a question. If it’s obvious to you that your child poked a hole into a package of $20-a-pound steaks, don’t ask if he did it. Acknowledge the problem and move on to the solution. It’s the question “Did you do that?” that forces a child to lie, so if you know the answer, or have a good guess, then don’t ask. Just say, “Uh-oh! You poked a hole in that. Let’s tell the meat man about that and see what he can do.”
  4. Unsupport tattling. One of the many downsides of blaming people is that others feel encouraged to tattle on them. In an atmosphere of blame, bystanders want to deflect any suspicion from themselves onto the guilty party – or to frame someone else even if that person is not to blame. If you’ve been focused on blame, your other children may have become tattlers. To stop tattling, stop blaming but also stop acting on tattling. Don’t encourage your children to participate in the blame game.
  5. Forget trying to be perfect. Like our tattling children, the reason we blame a wrongdoer and try to force a confession is because we don’t want other people to think we are raising our kids to be hooligans or that we tolerate mistakes. We want to be perfect parents of perfect children who never do anything wrong. This is a fantasy.  A perfect parent (if there is such a thing) wouldn’t make a scene in the grocery store over a damaged package. A perfect parent would model responsibility and truth-telling and engage the child in finding a solution to the problem that just came up.

A package with a hole in it isn’t the end of the world. It’s not worth ruining your day over or ruining your children’s day or making a scene in the market and gathering the stares of all the other shoppers. The parent I saw could have said, “Uh-oh! That package has a hole in it. It looks like it’s really easy to put your finger through that thin plastic.”  I imagine that at this point the child will nod but if he didn’t poke a hole in the package, he might say, “No, it was that way already,” and the parent could believe him.

We can believe our children are telling the truth if we make the truth easier to tell than a lie. You could easily do that. Truly, you could.

© 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Find out more at www.patricianananderson.com

January 15, 2015

Is Your Child Afraid of Failure?

When something doesn’t work on the first try, what does your child do? Does she stop and figure out what might work better? Or does she give up or ask for help?

And what do you do, when your child attempts challenging tasks but then struggles? Are you quick to step in to complete the task for him? Do you even avoid letting your child try tasks that might be difficult, because you want to avoid the frustration?

Here’s the thing: everything we know how to do we learned the hard way, through trying and failing and then trying again. That’s really the definition of learning, to figure out something we didn’t know before we started. So when we only let children do things we know they’ll be successful at or when we step in to do things for them once they encounter a setback, we derail the very thing we’re supposed to be all about. We derail learning.

Carol Dweck, the noted expert on children’s motivation and learning, studied fifth grade children’s reactions to tricky math problems. She found that some children acted helplessly and quickly quit trying but that other children seemed to relish the challenge and enjoyed applying their thinking to working out a solution. The two different approaches to hard tasks didn’t seem to depend on what we might call “intelligence.” Kids in both groups were equally smart.

What seemed to matter was children’s expectations for their own learning. Kids who think things should be easy for them and who are praised for getting the right answer to easy questions balk at even trying to work out answers to hard questions. This makes sense: if your belief in your ability depends on always getting the right answer, even trying to answer a hard question has the potential to reveal you’re not so smart as you thought you were. But if your belief in your ability depends on your resourcefulness and persistence and dogged determination to solve problems, then the harder the problem, the smarter you feel.

The question for us, then, is how do fifth graders get this way? What went wrong in their past experience to convince them that trying is dangerous?  I may not be able to tell you what happened, precisely, but I can tell you when: in their preschool and early elementary school years. Children form their ideas about themselves and their abilities long before we think they do. And we’re the ones who influence those ideas, for good and for bad.

So take a look at the tasks you let your kids take on. Look at their reaction – and your reaction – to struggle and frustration and failure. Make certain you support effort and persistence. Try not to be too quick to step in to help.

At the same time, avoid praising right answers and easy successes. When children think our opinions of them depend on  their always being right, they’ll be less daring in tackling challenging problems. Congratulate your child on a good try. Help him to try again.

Do your children love a challenge? I hope they do.

© 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at www.patricianananderson.com.