Posted tagged ‘parenting tips’

Don’t expect a silk purse from a sow’s ear

March 25, 2013

Perhaps one of the most valuable gift from other parents, parenting books, workshops and experience is adjusting your expectations and knowing the capability of your toddlers, preschoolers, school age, tweens and teens. 

 One of my guidelines for toddlers was, “Sharing is a 3-year-old trait.” The study from today’s Boston Globe might refute that. I know adults who have a hard time sharing! Imagine if someone told you, upon receiving a brand new i-Phone, “Share that with your little sister.” 


Having high expectations is critical in nurturing kids and teens toward independence, making good decisions and guiding them toward the people you want them to be. 

AND having reasonable expectations for their age is even more critical. Talk to other parents, read books, go to workshops and discern what is “normal.” Then take a deep breath and practice one of the most precious gifts my kids gave me, which took years to develop, PATIENCE.

Study reveals that when it comes to sharing, young children are hypocrites— and they know it

It’s both a scientific mystery and a parenting conundrum: How do children learn to share?

Children as young as 3 understand the concept of fairness. Fair means one child should get the same number of stickers as another. But put a young child in charge, and fairness seems to go out the window — young children tend to hoard when they are the ones who are deciding how much of their own candy or toys to hand over.

New research is beginning to untangle the disconnect between knowledge and behavior, with a surprising finding: Young children asked to predict how they will divvy up stickers already anticipate they will tip the scale in their favor. When it comes to sharing, the 3 – to 6-year-old set is — scientifically speaking — a bunch of selfaware hypocrites.

“They were surprisingly honest and self-aware. They said, ‘I realize I would keep more formyself,’ ’’ said Peter Blake, an assistant professor of psychology at Boston University and a co-author of the work. “Anything that involves giving up resources brings us into an evolutionary context, where kids might have a bias to be more selfinterested” in order to survive to reproduce.

The study, published Wednesday in PLOS ONE by Blake and colleagues from Harvard University and the University of Michigan, recruited participants from visitors to the Museum of Science in Boston.

First, researchers gave each of the children four stickers with carefully researched qualities that would be desirable to children ranging from 3 to 8 years old: their favorite color, smileyfaced, scratch-and-sniff. These stickers belong to you now, the researchers told the kids.

Then, they asked them to divide up the stickers, to share them with another boy or girl. Next, they asked the children how many of the stickers another boy or girl should share.

Children of all ages agreed that other children should split up the stickers evenly. But when it came to their own sharing, younger children were far more likely to keep more for themselves. To test whether this was a problem of impulse control, the researchers ran a gauntlet of tests designed to probe how well the children could inhibit impulses, seeing whether they could, for example, view a picture of the sun and say the opposite word, night, in a short time frame.

The ability to inhibit their first impulses seemed to have nothing to do with their decision to keep more stickers. The biggest difference that emerged was how children explained why they or another child did or did not share. The youngest kids talked far less often about sharing being fair as the reason for a decision to share, and far more often about their own desires.

In a second experiment, researchers changed the question slightly. They asked another group of children to imagine how many stickers they would give to another child. Despite the fact that children of all ages had made it clear they understood that splitting the stickers was fair, the youngest ones predicted they would hoard them — which is precisely what their peers had done in the first experiment.

It wasn’t amatter of trying to do the right thing and failing; those kids knew what they wanted. Stickers.

Now, Blake would like to test the behavior more broadly, in children from different cultures. He wonders whether in societies that place responsibilities on children earlier in life, the younger children will start splitting resources fairly.

He’s interested in understanding the cognitive processes, the mental machinery, that underlies behavior. But he says there may be a practical application, too. Understanding the behavior could provide an opportunity to improve behavior or education, by finding ways to teach kids to share more effectively at a younger age.

After the sessions at theMuseum of Science, “the parents seem relieved, to some extent,” Blake said. “They say, ‘I’mglad that they know what the right response is, but how can I get them to be more fair?’ ”

The long-term benefits of family meetings

February 20, 2012
Here Ian is shovelling snow, an excellent activity for a 20-something who lives at home. Adults who live at home can be expected to pitch in. Use family meetings to stay in contact, set expectations and encourage each other. Mutual respect is key to discipline for teens, tweens, school age and toddlers

Ian shovels snow -- when we had some last winter -- during a long visit. Family meetings are key to setting expectations and open communication with "kids" of all ages.

My son Ian, 27, left, has no health insurance. We’ve had several discussions about the merits of health insurance.

During his last visit home, he said calmly, “Mom, I don’t want to talk about health insurance any more. I have decided to pay later instead of paying before.”

I listened. I didn’t like it. I heeded his boundary, set respectfully. I was grateful that he told me, instead of calling his girlfriend and complaining, “My mother won’t get off my case about health insurance! I can’t wait to leave.”

I credit our tradition of family meetings for Ian’s ability to respectfully communicate his feelings to me.

When I ask parents to list the attributes they want their children to develop, the list usually looks like this. Happy. Have good friends. Good social skills. Have a good job. Good relationship with me. Confident, capable. Don’t abuse substances. Find work they enjoy. Good self-esteem. Live independently and not in my basement.

I guarantee that family meetings will provide the foundation for every one of those attributes. Family meetings are the most effective discipline method  for toddlers, school-age, tweens, teens and young adults.

Notice I didn’t say “speediest” or “easiest.” Discipline means to teach. Family  meetings teach children the skills, attitudes and attributes we want them to absorb and use for life.

Read the attached notes from a first Family meeting held by a single parent and her two daughters, ages 13 and 10. Their agenda is on the second page. They held the meeting at 8:30 am on a Sunday morning, the time the 13-year-old agreed to in advance.

Here’s what worked about their first family meeting.

  • Mom asked what time they wanted to hold the family meeting, and then followed through even though the 13-year-old was lying on the couch during the meeting. (Teens can’t been seen as too cooperative.)
  • Mom posted the agenda in advance, which gave the kids time to post items, such as “Star Wars symposium outfit for Johanna.”
  • Johanna also posted, “Spend more activities together.”
  • Mom didn’t overload the agenda with problems and demands. She started small.
  • Mom followed the format. Someone took notes to keep for posterity, (humor later on), and to record their agreements. They had a snack and family fun.

Two big wins: Johanna posted two items; the 13-year-old showed up. It’s easier to set up the habit of family meetings when kids are 3 to 12 years old.

Kids will want to come to the meetings when they have a turn to run the meetings, there’s a snack, and family fun. Fun is like a magnet for kids, and long-term family glue.

You can do it. Family meetings reap huge rewards forever. They are worth the time and effort. See my tip sheet on how to get started and read about them in my book “Raising Able.”

Thanksgiving Day can last all year round

November 21, 2011
family dinner is one of the best ways to connect with each other at tHanksgiving and every other day of the year. Family dinner with toddlers, preschoolers, school age, tweens, teens, teenagers and adolescencts means less drug abuse, less alcohol and tobacco abuse. Family dinner is one of the best ways to connect with your teens and children and keep them off the street and out of trouble. Family dinner is  place to absorb manners, values and behavior.
Family dinner isn’t only for Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving on Thursday is the ultimate family dinner of the year. Thanksgiving is a reminder to keep family dinner — or breakfast — sacred, even if your kids/teens resist.

Every family dinner will not be perfect. I can remember many the argument among the kids or me falling prey to a power struggle with my oldest daughter during a family dinner. Family dinners are worth the effort even if they’re not Thanksgiving Day-perfect because they keep kids connected to us.

When kids have a strong connection to parents they are less likely to use and abuse drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Study after study has demonstrated the efficacy of family dinner. This study is famous and persuasive.
Having family dinner or breakfast three or more times a week connects families AND it insures kids receive better nutrition.

Family dinner benefits kids socially, psychologically and physically. How can you go wrong? Start with the goal of having one family dinner a week. Use a family meeting to get the kids involved in planning, preparing and cleaning up the dinner so it doesn’t all fall on mom’s or dad’s lap. Encourage your kids to cook something for the dinner, either with you or independently, depending on their age. Make it their responsibility to help clean up.

Make family dinner or breakfast a habit. Turn off the electronics (parents, too), tell stories, look at each other, enjoy and appreciate each other and the food. Fight if you must — it shows you are emotionally connected. Take the time to resolve it, too, and come up with a plan to keep the peace during dinner.

Thanksgiving Day tips for families

1. Remember to involve the kids and teens when getting ready for the big meal this week. It won’t feel like a chore when they are contributing with the adults to create a wonderful meal, day and memory. The kids will feel connected, capable and creative.

2. Don’t force them to eat anything. Offer new foods and keep a neutral expression if they reject them. You can say, “Taste buds change.”

3. Teach them before Thursday how to say, “No thank you,” instead of, “Yuck, I hate that!” and how to say, “Aunt Sue, please pass the butter,” instead of standing up to get it. Even little kids can learn basic manners when parents model them.

Make peace with your mini-tyrant

March 23, 2011

If you’re in a constant power struggle with your mini-tyrant, learn some positive parenting strategies tonight at Arlington Community Ed, 7-9 pm at Arlington High School, 869 Mass. Ave. $20, walkins welcome.

Big lessons from little ones

February 28, 2011

slowing down, conscious parenting, savoring the moment, appreciating everything that children can teach us, living in the moment can all be learned from children. Children can be wise teachers. Carl Honore wrote about about being in the moment because of what his son taught him about bedtime routines and bedtime stories. Slowing down is an important lesson of parenting. Having patience is one of the most important things a parent can learn from their children. Parenting is about patience, love and forgiveness.Welcoming my firstborn into my world when I was 22 years old changed the course of my life and taught me more about life and love than I ever imagined.

Casey Anne and her three siblings put every human excrement imaginable on my narcissism and flushed it all down the toilet. She forced me to think about someone else besides me, and to put me second. Ironically, that became a habit. A decade later, I had to resurrect my needs from the toilet and take better care of me.

My children taught me how to be interrupted and still get something done — in addition to taking care of them. The hardest jobs are when you’re constantly interrupted — like secretaries, teachers, nurses and mothers.

Bob and I bought a house that had been neglected when the children were 4, 2 and 6 months old. The 35 windows were so gray with dirt that you couldn’t tell the weather outside. Every day for a month, I plopped them in front of Sesame Street and washed three windows until chaos erupted and I surrendered — another lesson from three children born in three-and-a-half years.

The most valuable lesson was patience, to slow down to their pace, to revel in the present moment. To appreciate humongous earth movers and construction sites; wild animals like squirrels, ants and robins; the wonder of a train station or airport.

Bob and I spent more than a decade giving the kids a nightly bath, reading a book, singing a song and tucking them in. It was like a meditation, and it worked, because they stayed in bed and went to sleep early. It bonded us for life.

In a lecture on Ted Talks,  journalist Carl Honore said that reading a bedtime story to his son taught him to slow down his hectic life. It inspired Honore to write a book “In Praise of Slowness,” a valuable lesson to most 21st century Americans.

Now in their 20s, my “children” continue to teach me different lessons about relationships, technology and  life. They’ve returned the favor — I was their most important teacher because humans learn more in the first four years than they do for the rest of their lives.

When my children were little, they patiently allowed me to make the same mistake, over and over, until I figured out to do something different. Nowadays, they could have more patience now with their ol’ Mom, but they haven’t had any children to teach them — yet.

What have your children taught you?

The apex of family dinner is Thanksgiving

November 22, 2010
manners, table manners, etiquette, family dinner, conversation skills and consideration all com to a head on Thanksgiving where children show what they have learned all year round. parents can work on manners every day. Family dinner is an excellent venue to teach and model manners on a daily basis. Family dinner is the anti-drug. Regular family dinner correlates to lower rates of drug, alcohol and tobacco use among tweens and teens. Family dinner is worth the time and effort.

Dramatic storytelling is a big part of family dinner, as is laughter.

Family dinner is a sacred tradition in our house. My husband and I both grew up with it and we sustained it through years of soccer practices, concerts, teen work schedules and their objections.Stuck to this mantra: “You will be home for family dinner.”

On Friday nights we often made homemade pizza and watched a G or PG movie together. I can still see my son Ian when he was in high school, arguing with me in the kitchen.

“Do I have to be here for family dinner?”

The answer was unequivocably, “Yes. You must” with no room for negotiation in my body language.

Do you know how Ian celebrated his 26th birthday last month? By preparing 12 homemade pizzas for his friends.

Dozens of studies have correlated the value of family dinner to keep kids connected to parents and family, to reduce the rate of drug/alcohol/cigarette use by tween and teens, and to reinforce family values. My children learned to make pleasant conversation, use pleasant table manners and be part of a group at family dinners.

The worst trouble one of my teens ever got in was at 5:30 pm on a Friday night, when that teen should have been home with us having family dinner. It was a painful price to pay to be reminded of the value of family dinner. Not only does it cut in half the time they can stray between school dismissal and midnight, family dinner anchors them.

Family dinner is worth the time and investment — especially this time of year when our children are “on display” at family and community gatherings. They will demonstrate the cumulative what we have taught them at home every day. 

We had the tradition of saying this non-denominational grace to start our meal. No ne could eat before saying grace. I was reminded of it when my son’s former girlfriend sent me a message on Facebook.

Hi Susan! I was thinking about you guys with Thanksgiving coming up. Your family’s grace was always my favorite, would you mind sending me the blessing?

Here it is Kendra. We hold hands and say the following.

Thank you God/Goddess/Great Spirit/Earth
For the food on our table, the roof over our head and love in our family.
Help us make peace on Earth and at home.
Amen. E tadaki mas. Bismillah. L’Chaim. Namaste.

The end of the prayer is almost as long as the body thanks to spontaneous additions from friends over the years.

“E tadaki mas” – Japanese  for“Let us receive this food” came from Tomoko and Noriyuki, summer visitors through the 4-H summer exchange.

“Bismillah” – Arabic – “In the name of God” is from Zoe of Senegal in the Muslim tradition.

“L’Chaim” – Hebrew, used as a toast — “To life!” Our friend Barry blurted it out spontaneously after sharing in the prayer. I love the guttural feeling of “l’cha” in the back of my throat. It’s fun to say.

“Namaste” — Hindu — “I bow to the divine in you” came from Lezli. She and her son Dontanno lived with us for three months. It ends the prayer in a solemn peaceful note and sums up everyone else’s contributions.

I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving.

The best things in life are not things

August 27, 2010

The New York Times says money can’t buy happiness, and money is better spent on buying experiences. The reporter interviews several people and psychologists about how money impacts happiness — or not.

After people have enough money to meet basic needs, money doesn’t buy happiness, experiences do.

Which is why I’m glad I made the sacrifice to stay home with our four children. We had less money and more time. I don’t think my marriage could have survived the stress of two high-profile careers — and hiring a nanny to make it work.

Other people would have raised my children. I’d have missed the bulk of the most rewarding — and most challenging 🙂 — experience of my life. Paid jobs will always be there. Babies and children won’t.

Young mothers struggling to meet the social expectation to be employed have fatigue in their voices and faces. I wonder how they find me-time and deal with the stress of chasing a shrinking pool of time and money.

Children can be taught to value going to the mall, Disneyland and Chuckie Cheese. Children can also be taught to savor a good yard sale, homemade pizza and a family hike in the woods.

One of our traditions was Friday night pizza and a family movie. We made the pizza from scratch together — an experience in itself. When I ask my 20-somethings “What do you want me to cook for your birthday?” Their answer is often, “Pizza.”

My mother had a bumper sticker – “The best things in life are not things.” Embracing the truth of that statement makes my life simpler and richer, in ways money can’t buy.