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I had this idea. A fun, whimsical baking sesh with my uber-helpful daughter, Jackie, baking a beautiful, homemade, delicious, vegan Frozen-themed cake for her 4th birthday party. I was determined to make it happen. I was going for “super mom” status as I prepared for a small family get together–turned elaborate Frozen-themed birthday extravaganza. I had already sent out the FB event invite. This was Jackie’s “un-FOUR-gettable” birthday. It was too late. I had to make it unforgettable. 

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Are we there yet?

He’s touching my side of the seat. 

I’m hungry. 

I need to go to the bathroom. 

If you’ve ever taken a family vacation, you know these words are part of the package when it comes to taking a trip with children.

Whether you’re taking a two or 10-hour adventure, families can actually succeed in spending lots of time together in a small confined space, create great memories and share some good laughs. 

Although there’s no guarantee you’ll have a perfect trip, these suggestions can help along the way:

  • Include your children in the vacation planning process. Even young children can help find information about your destination on the internet or in books. Whether you plan to camp for the weekend or take a long trip, let them help you choose the activities.

  • Mark off the miles. Once you know where you’re headed, ask the kids to draw a map from home to your final stop. As you click off the miles in your car, have them fill in the road on their drawing. This will help them visualize how far away they are and may help curb a few of those, “Are we there yet?” questions.

  • Allow each child to assemble their own trip kit. Make sure you give them a size limit, like a backpack, for their goody bag. Ask them to include games and toys they can play by themselves and at least one game they can enjoy with the entire family. You can even put together your own trip bag with surprise activities or treats to share. Rand McNally has fun travel games for families, including a scavenger hunt.

  • Create tech-free time frames along the way. Remember the license plate game, road trip BINGO, Name That Tune and add-on storytelling? All of these would be great to teach your kids while giving them a break from DVDs or video games.

  • Start a daily “Positive Attitude” contest the minute you pull out of the driveway. Select a family mascot, then award the it to the person who has had the best attitude of the day every evening. The selected family member can keep the mascot until it’s someone else’s time.  

  • Plan “play breaks” into your allotted travel time. Even adults can find it hard to travel for long distances without a break. Instead of taking the quickest route to your vacation destination, plan some stops along the way so the children can run off pent-up energy. Have lunch at a park. Look for educational points of interest along the way and give the family a break from the cramped quarters of a car.

All of this may require a little extra planning, but the outcome will be worth it. Since families get to spend so little time together these days, it’s especially important to make the best of the times you do have with each other. Here’s to happy travels and making great memories.

Carol Dweck is a pioneering researcher in the field of motivation. In her book, “Mindset,” she  addresses why people succeed or don’t, and how to foster success through  the power of yet.

She tells the story of a Chicago school where students had to pass a series of courses in order to graduate. If they did not successfully pass the courses they were given the grade of “not yet.” Dweck thought that was brilliant. 

“If you get a failing grade, you feel like a failure,” she says, “But if you receive a not yet, it means you are on a growth track.”

In an effort to more fully understand how children cope with challenge and difficulty, Dweck gave a group of 10 year olds math problems that were slightly too hard for them. Some of the children said things like, “I love a challenge,” or “I was hoping this would be informative.” Dweck says they had a growth mindset because they innately understood their abilities could be developed. 

Another group of students thought their inability to solve the problems was tragic. They believed their intelligence was up for judgment and they failed. In fact, Dweck shared that in one study the young students said they would cheat the next time instead of studying more if they failed. They also looked for someone who did worse than they did to make themselves feel better. Dweck refers to these students as having a fixed mindset – believing that personal qualities are carved in stone, which creates an urgency to prove one’s self over and over. 

In a TED talk about mindset, Dweck asks, “How are we raising our children? Are we raising them for now instead of not yet? Are A’s so important to them that they have no idea how to dream big dreams? Are they carrying the need for constant validation with them into their future lives?”

Dweck contends that choosing to praise wisely would be helpful to children. Instead of praising intelligence or talent, praise progress, effort, strategies and improvement. This helps build children who are hardy and resilient.

She also points out that equality occurs when teachers create a growth mindset in their classrooms. For example, in one year, a kindergarten class in Harlem scored in the 95th percentile on the National Achievement Test. Many of those kids could not hold a pencil when they arrived in school. Also in one year, fourth grade students in the South Bronx who were way behind became the number one fourth grade class in New York on the state’s math test. And, in a year to a year and a half, Native American students on a reservation went from the bottom of their district to the top – and that district included affluent sections of Seattle, Washington. Dweck believes this happened because the meaning of effort and difficulty were transformed. Before it made them feel dumb, but now effort and difficulty enable their neurons to make stronger connections.

“We can change students mindsets,” Dweck says. Every time children push out of their comfort zone the neurons in their brain form new stronger connections. Students who weren’t taught this growth mindset continued to show declining grades, but those who were taught the growth mindset strategy saw their grades improve.

Dweck received a letter from a 13-year-old boy which said, “Dear Professor Dweck, I appreciate that your writing is based on solid scientific research. That’s why I decided to put it into practice. I put more effort into my school work, into my relationship with my family and into my relationship with kids at school and I experienced great improvement in all of these areas. I now realize I wasted most of my life.”

Are we raising children in the environment of yet?

Once we know that people are capable of such growth, it becomes a human right for children to live in places filled with yet. Let’s not waste the time we have with the kids in our sphere of influence. Let’s teach them the importance of mindset, praise their efforts and give them amazing opportunities to grow and become the resilient children we all know they have the potential to be.

Even before Halloween is over, store aisles are packed with Christmas everything. Mail catalogs arrive and television commercials promote things we supposedly can’t and shouldn’t live without.

Ikea is one of the stores getting into the Christmas spirit with a commercial called The Other Letter.

Ikea had children write a Christmas wish letter to The Three Kings and a second letter to their parents. The letters to The Three Kings were filled with items the children wanted, but the letters to parents were quite different. The children didn’t ask for things at all. Instead, they said things like:

  • I want you to spend more time with me…that we do more experiments at home.
  • I’d like it if you paid a little more attention to us.
  • I’d like it if you would have dinner with us more often.
  • Read us a story.
  • I’d like us to be together for a whole day.
  • I want to play. I want you to play cowboys with me.

The majority of the parents were not surprised by what their children said they wanted for Christmas. But most of them read the second letter through tears. One said she couldn’t read anymore.

Parents thoughtfully acknowledged their children’s wishes by saying:

  • To spend all the time we have with them is the most we can give to our children.
  • You want to give them the best you can and the best is yourself.
  • The feeling of trying to substitute that vacuum with a toy.

While the children’s letters were thought-provoking, the biggest surprise came when the children were asked, “If you could only send one of these letters, which one would you choose to send?” Each child chose the letter to their parents.

Before your blood pressure goes sky-high about how to give your children everything they “want” for Christmas, consider their true wishes. Perhaps the most valuable gift you could give your children is your time.

As you prepare for the holidays ahead, consider these ideas:

  • Make gift certificates for special outings with family members.
  • Buy a game to play together like Clue, UNO, Skip-Bo or Catch Phrase.
  • Learn a new family hobby together.
  • Make a video scrapbook by asking family members questions like, “What’s your favorite family memory, family vacation or family tradition, and why?” Tell your children how things were different when you were little. Open and watch it on Christmas Day.
  • Schedule a family progressive dinner in your own home where each family member is responsible for a course. Have the courses in different rooms, decorated by each preparer.
  • Create a family photo album. Include old photographs alongside more-recent pictures. People rarely make family photo albums anymore.
  • Write a letter to family members. Tell them why they are special and what they mean to you. Put the envelopes on the tree for Christmas morning.

Families who spend time together make memories and feel a sense of belonging you can’t buy in a store. Funny things happen when you laugh, start traditions and really get to know each other as family members.

People long and crave for intimacy in their own families. Store-bought gifts will never fill the void of precious time, so give it freely. It will last for a lifetime—no batteries or assembly required.

Scott (not his real name) will get his fill of turkey this Christmas at three different homes with different sets of parents and relatives. He’s not happy about moving from place to place, but he really doesn’t have a say.

“It is not unusual for children of divorced parents to celebrate holidays multiple times,” says Rev. Dick Dunn, retired minister of singles and stepfamilies and author of New Faces in the Frame and Willing to Try Again: Steps Toward Blending a Family. “Often, parents are so caught up in their own feelings of grief and loss or wanting things their way during the holiday season, they forget how hard it is on the children.”

For example, one child said she wanted to go visit her non-residential parent, but when she is with that parent, she misses the other parent. Going back and forth is better than nothing, but it is very hard on children. It’s helpful if parents recognize this.

“Every time they go back and forth, they relive the divorce,” Dunn says. “A lot of the acting out that occurs in preparation for a transition, especially around the holidays, is a reaction to the gut pain, hurt and anger children feel. The best thing parents can do is help their child make the transition from one house to the other as smooth as possible.”

To help children have the best holiday celebration possible, Dunn offers these suggestions to parents:

  • Acknowledge that transitions are difficult. Talk about holiday plans ahead of time and get your child’s input. Sometimes acknowledging the reality of the situation can make things better for your child.
  • Strategize with your child. Ask them what would make the transition easier. They may not know at the moment, but asking them can make them feel good. When they suggest something, try it evaluate how it worked together.
  • Keep commitments. Your children are depending on you to do what you say you will do.
  • Don’t play games with your child’s emotions. Children learn relationship skills from watching their parents and they often question their parents’ love and care when things do not go as planned. Do not put them in the middle or use them to hurt the other parent.
  • Be prepared. If plans change often, get your child ready for that. Then make a back-up plan and understand their disappointment.
  • See acting out behavior for what it is. Ask your child, “What would make going easier?” or “How can we make your return go smoother?”
  • Stay in the parent role. It’s normal to want to be your child’s best friend, especially when you only have him/her for a day or two. But once you cross this line, it is very difficult to go back to the parent role. Your child is depending on you to be their parent.
  • Remember, you can celebrate the holiday when you want. Celebrate according to what works best for you and your child.
  • Consider how making or changing plans will affect your child beforehand.

“The key to pleasant holiday memories for children who are moving back and forth between homes rests in the hands of the parents,” Dunn says. “Regardless of the situation, focus on solutions and staying whole in the midst of craziness. Parents have the responsibility and privilege of setting the mood for the holidays. Being considerate of your children as they adjust to this situation will help them create pleasant memories. Including them in the planning process will encourage communication that makes the holidays easier for everyone.”

Where did I come from? What are the birds and the bees? What is sex? Sooner or later, your child will begin to ask questions about sex.

The mere thought of that makes some parents blush and get sick to their stomach. It sends others over the edge. Isn’t it interesting that we don’t hesitate to talk to our children about crossing the street safely or the dangers of playing with fire, but the thought of talking to them about sex – something equally as dangerous – send shivers up the spine? Why?

Many parents have concerns about talking with their children about sex.

Perhaps you fear the discussion will promote sex instead of discourage it. Or that your child might ask you about your past. Maybe you’re concerned about the potential for questions you can’t answer. Some parents say that it is just too embarrassing.

These are legitimate concerns. However, there is no evidence to suggest that talking about sex encourages the act.

Consider the facts:

  • 41.2 percent of high school students (grades 9-12) have had sex. Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2015

  • 11.5 percent said they had had four or more sexual partners. Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2015

  • 30.1 percent said they had had sexual intercourse in the past three months. Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2015

  • 3.9 percent of U.S. teens said they had had sexual intercourse for the first time before age 13. Centers for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2015

  • 15 to 24-year-olds account for nearly half of the 20 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections each year. Centers for Disease Control 2015 STD Surveillance Report

The Information Highway 

If children aren’t learning about sex from you, where do they look for the answers? When Barna Research group asked, “Who should be responsible for teaching young people about sex?” respondents overwhelmingly said that parents should be the ones to teach their children about sex. But numerous surveys of teens and young adults say that television and the Internet are their top sources for information and ideas about sex, usually followed by schools, parents and peers.

Today’s children are hearing about sex much earlier and are exposed to sexuality at virtually every turn in our society. Research has shown that by the time a child turns 18 he/she has witnessed 250,000 sexual acts on television. Interestingly, more than 75 percent of the videos on MTV show some sort of sexual act in which the woman is a sexual object. In 2009, approximately 92% of the 174 songs that made it into the Top 10 contained reproductive messages. (None of these figures include images on the Internet and social media.)

YES! Parents Really Can Make a Difference!

Studies show that you can most dramatically impact your child’s behavior by clearly defining your expectations within the context of close family connectedness. According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (and many other studies), perceived parental disapproval of teen sexual activity and contraceptive use significantly influences the delay of risky sexual behavior in teenagers.

Simply put, parents should be the first and best educators of their children in all matters. This is especially true about human sexuality, growth and development, and healthy attitudes and values about relationships. Although young people tend to act embarrassed, research has shown that teens do want accurate information and they prefer getting the information from you.

The best time to start talking with children about sex is when they are young. Look for teachable moments, such as when you see a pregnant woman or a peer’s new brother or sister, as a natural discussion-starter.

The Talk

Focus your conversation with elementary-age children on:

  • the correct names of sexual organs and body parts,

  • explaining sex and reproduction,

  • personal boundaries,

  • pregnancy, and

  • building healthy relationships.

If they are old enough to ask questions, they are old enough to receive correct answers. Make sure to clarify your child’s question. When you understand the question, answer it briefly and simply. If they want to know more, they’ll ask additional questions. You might want to practice talking privately with your spouse or another adult.

Middle school students need to talk about:

  • sexually transmitted diseases and infections,

  • emotions,

  • the consequences of sexual relationships, and

  • the benefits of abstinence.

As embarrassing as it may be, it is crucial that you talk with your teen about all aspects of sex, including oral sex. It’s also a good time to discuss why people date and what healthy dating relationships look like.

Discussions with high school students should continue to be about:

  • sexually transmitted diseases,

  • healthy dating relationships,

  • wise decision-making when it comes to sex,

  • setting a standard and living by it, and

  • self-discipline, in addition to everything listed above.

For tips on parenting get our E-book “How to be a Guide for your Teen” Download Here

According to Dr. Kathy Koch, educator, founder of Celebrate Kids, and author of 8 Great Smarts, every person, young and old, needs to know they are smart.

“Smart is a powerful word,” says Koch. “When children discover that they are smart, they are more willing to engage with all of life, including school. Children who don’t think of themselves as intelligent don’t tend to engage. They say to themselves, ‘I’m not smart enough, so studying won’t help.’ Children who believe deep down they have a brain and they are supposed to use it are children who will have more joy and purpose, and their lives are more vibrant.”

When Koch taught second grade, she became concerned when she realized some of her children were already classifying themselves as not intelligent. Even some of the parents doubted their child’s ability to do well at a very early age.

“The wrong question is, ‘Am I smart?’” Koch says. “Stupid is a choice. We were not created that way. Early on in my work, I discovered research conducted by psychologist Howard Gardner from Harvard University, who found that all of us have one brain divided into eight parts, and there are eight different ways of being intelligent. The better question is, ‘How am I smart?’”

Eight Different Ways of Being Intelligent

  • Words – power of language – talking
  • Logic – power of questions – asking
  • Picture – power of observation – seeing
  • Music – power of sound and music – hearing
  • Body – power of movement – doing
  • Nature – power of patterns – collecting
  • People – power of people – relating
  • Self – power of quiet – reflecting

“There are many children who are smart in ways that don’t make school easier,” Koch says. “For example, if your child is self-smart or nature-smart, the classroom experience could be challenging for them. For a child who is picture-smart, when his teacher describes a historical reality, he pictures it in his mind. Many children will say, ‘You mean because I draw well, I am smart? I thought I was just a good drawer.’”

Additionally, body-smart children are athletic, can dance or can kick the ball through the goal post with both feet. Music-smart children aren’t just talented. Those who are people-smart think with other people, brainstorm, network and read body language well. For someone who is word-smart, words are a big part of their existence. They can gossip and tease well and often arrange conversations so they have the last word. They must be taught self-control.

I want to equip parents to recognize that their children do what they do because of how they are smart,” Koch says. “Then I can help guide them to help their children do what they do well. Children who know they are smart are more likely to flourish.”

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on September 25, 2016.

When tragedy strikes, it seems to bring out the best and the worst in people. One tragedy after another – fires, shootings and a horrific bus accident – has left people reeling in pain and raw with emotion.

While some experienced personal loss and/or injury, these events have impacted everyone in the community. In most cases, adults have words and the mental ability to process what just happened, but it is a different story for children.

“Children watch their parents’ or caregivers’ response,” says psychologist Dr. Gary Oliver with the Center for Healthy Relationships. “Even if their parents didn’t say a word about the anxiety they felt, their children could feel it. Anxiety and fear are contagious. Children are very good at reading facial expressions and noticing a change in the tone of voice used by their parents.”

Situations like this are an opportunity for parents to teach their children how to handle tragedy. What do you do in the midst of crisis? How do you practice good self-care? How do you move forward even when it’s painful?

“In many instances adults can make a difficult situation worse by our own lack of self- awareness,” Oliver says. “Thinking about your own fears is important. Listening to your children and what they are thinking can be very helpful.  Tragedies like the bus accident, a death in the family or the loss of a home can become a great opportunity to build trust and communication, and to increase a child’s sense of security, continuity and stability.”

Oliver has these suggestions for walking through tragedy with your children:

  • Listen to your kids. Let them talk. Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers. Extroverted children will usually tell you what they are thinking.  Introverted children probably won’t, so it is important for you to understand the nuances of your child’s personality. Help them to share their thoughts by sharing your own thoughts and feelings appropriately. Comfort them and remind them that they are safe, secure and loved.
  • Be honest. For example, it is okay to say something like, “I’m not sure where we are going to live for a while.” Or, “Our lifestyle is going to change a bit.” Being honest can be very healing and therapeutic.
  • Seek to respond with patience instead of react. Children may ask lots of questions and become clingy. Model the steps that will move them toward hope and recovery. Reacting creates panic, often results in poor decision-making and tends to make things worse over time. Responding is more of a process where you acknowledge that what is happening is awful. In other words, you feel the loss, but have hope for tomorrow.
  • Focus on what you can do. In the midst of the greatest tragedy, we always have choices. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the grieving and rebuilding process, but remember that the process is unique for everyone. Don’t be afraid to seek help for you and/or your children when you feel it is necessary.

In demonstrating these steps for your children, you will give them skills for the future. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed in the midst of tragedy, your example can guide them to keep perspective and continue to put one foot in front of the other with hope for the future.