Preschoolers’ TV Viewing Time

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any TV during the first two years of life and recommends no more than one to two hours of quality programming for older children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any TV during the first two years of life and recommends no more than one to two hours of quality programming for older children.

A recent newspaper article reports that preschoolers watch as many as two hours of daily TV when they’re at home-based day cares. That means some preschoolers are watching twice as much TV as originally believed.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician, is quoted in the article as saying, “It’s not what parents signed up for.  I’m not sure how many parents are aware of this.”

Really? It’s a shocking revelation that home day care providers place kids in front of a TV when parents admit their kids watch two to three hours of TV at their own homes?

If parents are truly just learning that TV time is part of their kids’ day care, how about switching to one that doesn’t allow it?  If parents don’t want to do that, how about reducing the child’s TV time while at home?

In other words, parents have the power and responsibility to decide how much time their kids are in front of a TV.  Such decisions take into account research that links excessive TV watching during preschool years with language delay, obesity, attention problems, and aggression.

Yet this really isn’t about TV’s adverse affects. There’s a bigger picture here. When we point at a day care provider or classroom teacher or someone else as causing a problem, we usually don’t move forward.  On the other hand, when parents keep sight of who’s the captain of their ship, they never drift off course.

Fostering Kids’ Creative Thinking

Innovative adults were first creative kids.

Innovative adults were first creative kids.

What skills do children need to become innovative adults? Turns out American and Chinese parents don’t agree. According to a Newsweek survey, 45% of Chinese parents marked creative approaches to problem solving as their number one answer, but only 18% of American parents agreed.

Responses as to whether math and computer skills drive innovation were even more surprising. Just 9% of the Chinese parents placed that those skills as important, whereas it was the number one answer for American parents (52%).

So what’s up with American parents? Are we so immersed in our current academic-based curriculums that we no longer value creative thinking?

As parents, we don’t have to wait for educational standards to shift to foster creative thinking. In fact, we can cultivate that right in our very own homes.

Here are a few suggestions to get kids thinking creatively.

1. Present easy science experiments.
• Discover if different liquids (including those like shampoo) change when beaten with an electric mixer.

• Think of a variety of unusual places to store balloons in (e.g. refrigerator, clothes hamper) for a week and then compare how they look.

• Determine whether it’s possible to prevent water from freezing by mixing a different ingredient (e.g. salt, baking soda, sugar) into the water of each ice tray section.

2. Give kids opportunities to engage in whacky activities.
• Dress up furniture with articles of clothing.

• Plan and host a birthday party for a favorite stuffed animal.

• Participate in a family backwards hour (i.e. everything is backwards—clothing, names, order that dinner is served, etc.)

3. Throw out creative thinking challenges.
• Create a new cookie that has at least one novel ingredient (e.g. pretzels? orange slices?)

• Figure out different ways to paint with an ice cube (e.g. sprinkle jello powder on paper lining a baking pan and then rotate the cube from side to side).

• Invent an original bubble-making machine (e.g. use common objects to replace traditional wands and power the bubbles with a fan).

Having trouble thinking of more ideas to introduce? Well, once you open this door, your child is probably the best resource for thinking of new activities. Other parents are also good resources. So share! What are some simple creative activities that you’ve done with your child?

Responding to Relatives’ Criticism

The cortex parent responds to<br /> relatives’ criticism with questions.

The cortex parent responds to relatives’ criticism with questions.

Sometimes in the midst of a nice family gathering, a relative drops a comment that sounds like criticism of our parenting skills. So what do we do?

If we ignore such a remark, there’s a possibility the others will hear the comment as fact. We also risk harboring some long-term, not-so-nice thoughts about that relative. Yet if we become defensive, then we’re responding as though we really do have something to explain.

That’s why the cortex parent takes a different approach. Such parents hear critical remarks as being 100% about the person who said it—and never about their child or themselves. With that perspective, the parent’s response becomes a question that immediately shifts the focus right back to the commentator. Sometimes, such questions can even include a little humor.

Here are example responses to some stinging comments.

Comment: I can’t believe you’re still nursing him.
Response: Are you concerned I’ll be nursing your grandson when he’s at college?

Comment: She’s so skinny. She has zero meat on her.
Response: Are you afraid I don’t feed Lindsey three meals a day?

Comment: She’s such a messy eater.
Response: Are you feeling anxious that Kristen might stain your tablecloth or carpet?

Comment: He has no table manners.
Response: Are you worried people will think you didn’t teach me manners to pass onto Jake?

Comment: He’s such a loud child.
Response: Is Shane’s volume louder than what you’re accustomed to?

Admittedly, the perfect reply doesn’t always come to us when we need to say it. So, until the above become natural, it’s also helpful to have a standby response. Here’s one that works for all occasions (and is especially appropriate at Thanksgiving). At any time, the cortex parent can proudly proclaim to all: I’m so grateful to have my child in my life.

And that truth overrides anything else a relative may have to say.

How to Decide if H1N1 Vaccine is Safe

The cortex parent uses analysis instead of fear<br /> to make H1N1 vaccine decisions.

The cortex parent uses analysis instead of fear to make H1N1 vaccine decisions.

Is the H1N1 vaccine safe for kids? That’s usually the fear-based headline we see, and it’s intended to trigger a knee-jerk reaction from those for and against the vaccine. It’s also the kind of headline that sells a lot more newspapers than those that say: “An Analysis of the H1N1 Vaccine.”

Yet the cortex parent does just that. We begin this analytical process by temporarily forgetting everything we think we already know about H1N1. That way, we can truly be open to whatever information we acquire.

Next, we ask questions and seek answers to them from both sides. Since unbiased reporting is kinda rare today, we need to go to sources beyond the ones we ordinarily rely on. Otherwise, we’ll only likely get a diluted (at best) version of the “other side.”

Here are some possible questions when exploring H1N1 vaccine safety:

  • What is the history of the vaccine?
  • What kind of testing was done prior to releasing the vaccine?
  • Was funding for the vaccine research and testing independent or industry-based?
  • How were dosages determined for children?
  • What are the known and unknown risks associated with the vaccine?
  • Who supports getting the vaccine? What is their primary argument?
  • Who is against getting the vaccine? What is their primary argument?
  • How do variables such as age and weight factor in vaccine protocol?
  • What are the actual risks and probability of getting the H1N1 virus?
  • How do fatality rates of children with the H1N1 virus compare to the fatality rates of children dying from the general flu?
  • What statistics are available on kids who received the H1N1 vaccine and who became ill with the virus in the southern hemisphere? (They’ve already been through their winter flu season.)

Once we’ve gathered all the information — from as many diverse sources as possible — we’re now ready to ask a question that’s more inclusive than just whether the H1N1 vaccine is safe for kids. Instead we ask: Which has more overall risk for my child: the H1N1 flu or the H1N1 vaccine?

Guess what? It’s very possible that parents from different families will come to opposite conclusions. But even thought their final answer may differ from each other, such parents still have this in common: Their decisions were based on solid cortical reasoning versus a fear-based reaction — and that’s always the goal of the cortex parent.

Keeping Teens Safe

We can increase the odds of keeping teens safe.

We can increase the odds
of keeping teens safe.

There’s no getting around it: The teenage brain is a mess. At the beginning of adolescence, the brain has a ton of neural connections. Then it goes through a period where it starts pruning away some of those very same connections.

To make life even more confusing, the part of the brain dealing with emotions is working overtime, and the part moderated by reason is taking a back seat. Unfortunately, that means teens probably aren’t thinking much about safety.

Can we change the teenage brain? No. Can we act in ways to keep teens safe? Yes. Here are some ideas.

1. Have your teen drive a slow, safe car.
Who cares if your teen thinks your old Volvo isn’t cool? Make that car the only option . . . or he can walk or take the bus.

2. Limit the possibilities.
When our family stayed in that remote cabin over New Year’s, logistics ensured that my girls weren’t going to that “big party.”

3. Keep all your ducks in your pond.
While there’s admittedly a downside to having your teen’s bedroom close to yours, it’s much harder for a teen to engage in suspect activity when you’re right across the hall.

4. Rehearse ready-to-use excuses for unsafe situations.
Some standbys might be, “Sorry, I’m training for (fill-in-the-blank)” when offered alcohol or drugs, or, “I’m feeling sick and need to go home” when things are getting out of control.

5. Check out the parents of your teen’s friends.
Parents often have different ideas of supervision, so it’s helpful to know if everyone is on the same page.

6. Make everything related to safety not open for discussion.
If you initiate this policy when they’re very young, it will transfer into the teen years.

7. Stick to Cinderella (and earlier) curfews.
Even if your teen drives responsibly, what about those other folks on the road after midnight?

8. Strive to be the unpopular parent.
The more your teen thinks you’re not cool, the more you’re probably keeping him safe.

9. Work together to set online guidelines.
Discuss with your teen how to reap the positive benefits of the internet without the negatives (e.g. inappropriate sites, predators, etc.).

10. Replace lectures with hands-on experiences.
Have your teen volunteer somewhere she’ll interact with people facing the consequences of drunk driving and using drugs.

11. Ensure your teen completes her lower brain development.
If the lower brain is developed, your teen won’t make poor decisions based on distorted information (for example, choosing not to wear a seatbelt because his brain is continually distracted by how that feels against his body).

While safeguards are important, we also need to give teens some freedom and independence. We just have to be smart about it.

For example, at 15, my daughter told me she didn’t know how much longer she could be the “only one” not drinking. It wasn’t so much about wanting to be drunk. Rather, she just felt she needed to do something rebellious.

So she became the first kid in her group to get her bellybutton pierced. She told everyone of our deal: She traded drinking for piercing. Did it last forever? No, but that response kept her alcohol-free for two years.

As parents, we just want to make sure our teens become adults who live long, wonderful lives. My 92-year-old father is often asked the secret to his longevity, and his response indirectly relates to teens. He says, “You need good health, good attitude, and good luck – and two out of three are not enough.”

Unfortunately, it’s that “good luck” variable that keeps us up until our teens are home, safe and sound.

Getting Kids to Open Up and Engage in Conversation

Critical and creative questions engage kids in conversation.

Critical and creative questions
engage kids in conversation.

Sometimes it seems like “I dunno” and “nothin’” are the only two phrases kids know. So how can we help children share more of their thoughts?

First, we gotta toss the prosecutor approach.  Sure, we’re asking questions because we’re interested in their lives, but they often hear us as interrogators or as testing them to say the “right” answer.

So to get kids to open up and talk more, first tell them that most of life’s questions don’t really have one right answer. Then start asking them questions where any answer is game.

Initially, some kids may shy away from even creative, open-ended questions. If so, they can first listen to conversations where everyone is giving a different answer to the same question—and all answers are treated with respect.

Also note that responding “Great answer!” is counterproductive. Kids may interpret that to mean, “Oh, that person got it right.”  In contrast, if we praise the thought process (i.e. “I’m impressed with your thinking”), then we encourage kids to share even more.

Open-ended questions can range from silly to serious. Here are some examples of a variety of critical and creative-thinking questions to get your kids talking:

  • How do you think socks got their name?
  • Since they don’t use pans to cook on the planet Zala Mala, what do they use them for?
  • Would Goldilocks want to be friends with Little Red Riding Hood? Why or why not?
  • What would a queen’s bathtub look like?
  • How do you think the idea of toothpaste began?
  • Do you think kids should have a bedtime? Why or why not?
  • Do you think schools should have a dress code? Why or why not?
  • What might frighten a parent?

What are some other open-ended questions to ask kids?

Celebrating Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences are always cause to celebrate.

Parent-teacher conferences are
always cause to celebrate.

Sometimes, parent-teacher conferences don’t turn out as everyone hoped.   Here’s why conferences often go south and how they can be tweaked to ensure a positive experience.

1.  Report cards are often top-secret.

What’s the downside of waiting to reveal report cards at conference time? Well, a lot of kids (and parents) develop pre-conference anxiety. Parents will also be unprepared for the unexpected.

Tweaked: Ask if you and your child can see the report card prior to the conference. That way, if something unexpected appears on the report card, you have time to reflect, rather than react.

2.  Conferences are often exclusive.

Not sure why the child is regularly left out of a meeting that is all about him. (Don’t think any of us would go for our boss asking us to stay home while she discusses our performance with another co-worker.)

Tweaked: Ask if your child can also attend the conference. Regardless of the answer, your child will appreciate that you wanted to include him.

3.  Conferences are one-sided assessments.

Since we all benefit from feedback, why not ask everyone to reflect?

Tweaked: Challenge your child to create and mark a report card that assesses her teacher’s effectiveness. You, too, can evaluate a number of areas such as parent/teacher communications and clarity of assignments.

4.  Conference discussions often forget who’s in charge.

The teacher says Billy pushes kids while standing in line. Is she hoping the parents will solve a problem that happens at school?  The parents share that Billy takes forever to get dressed in the morning. Are they hoping the teacher will solve a problem that happens at home?

Tweaked: Propose that teachers and parents are each in charge (i.e. comes up with the solutions to move forward) whenever the child is on their watch.

It’s also helpful to come to the parent-teacher conference with questions. That’s because questions shift a discussion back to the brain’s cortex, thus bypassing potential defensive reactions (someone starts arguing his point) or retreat reactions (someone shuts down and is no longer processing any info).

Here are some generic questions that parents or teachers can ask whenever they sense a conference needs a little positive nudge.

  • How do you see moving forward?
  • What were you hoping I’d do with that information?
  • How are you thinking I’m hearing that information?

After the conference, go celebrate with your child. That goes for all report cards, regardless of the grades.  And what will you be celebrating? You’ll be toasting that learning is an on-going process. You’ll be celebrating that there’s more to your child than what’s noted on the report card.

To underscore that point, hand your child another report card that reflects what your child already shines in.  There’s nothing phony or condescending about this.  After all, a child who earns an A+ in Lego Construction may just end up being a world-renowned architect.

How to Stop Kids’ Whining – Part 2

There is a lot more smiling when the whining ends.

There is a lot more smiling when the whining ends.

On a 1:10 scale, how badly do you want to end whining?

If you paused or said anything less than a ten, then the tips below probably won’t be useful to you.  No whining is an all-or-nothing deal.  However, if you’re game, here’s how you can end whining today.

First, we gotta chuck prior advice. How many times have you tried to ignore whining–only to have your child’s endurance outlast yours?  Second, no more telling kids: “Use your words.”  That’s about as effective as telling someone who’s upset to calm down.

Some parents may also need to do something overt. For example, families can bury all their (imaginary) whining in a hole in the backyard, or parents can post Whine-free Zone signs around the house.  Most of all, parents need to tell kids it’s not in their best interest to clutter prime cortical real estate with a whining brain map.

With the above in place, here are three effective ways to respond to whining:

1. Make the situation worse if the child whines.

Suppose a child is told to clear the table, and she responds with:  “Why do I have to do it? It’s not fair. I did it last night.”

The parent responds: “Now you can also sweep the floor. Was there anything else you’d like to add?”  If the child whines yet again, the parent says, “Great. Now you can also take out the trash.”

2. Teach the child to explore options.

Suppose a child complains he’s too tired to get his homework done on days he has soccer practice. Help the child start thinking in terms of solutions by asking questions:

“What are your options? Could you go to bed earlier and do your homework in the morning?  Could you talk to your teacher to see if there’s any flexibility in homework deadlines? What else is possible?”

3. Use humor.

We’re all cranky at times.  When my girls were little and we took long car trips in a jam-packed car, they’d sometimes start to complain about being so cramped.  So my husband and I would start whining with each other over who would end their whining. That made the girls smile, and the whining ended.

If we believe we can eliminate whining, we really can make it go away. And then . . .the  only “whine” in our house is the kind that comes with cheese.

How to Stop Kids’ Whining-Part 1

We Can End Kids' Whining.

We can end kids' whining.

In Vegas, 30:1 odds are not considered good.  But to a kid who’s known to whine?  Hey, those odds are great.  That kid doesn’t care if 29 out of 30 times his whining falls on deaf ears. It’s that one time when it works—that keeps whining alive on a regular basis.

But there’s a downside to the occasionally effective whining.  It gets registered in the brain as being useful, so the child tries it again and again.

However, I don’t think people aspire to have whiners in their lives. Ever heard of someone looking for a spouse or boss or in-law who whines?

The truth is . . . whining children often evolve into whining adults.

It’s not just the bleak prospect of whining kids becoming whining grown-ups that should make us pause. Whining is the polar opposite of a cortex response, which is the kind of answer that we actually want our children to give.

For example, when our kids perceive something as unfair, we hope they’ll communicate in a way that shows reflection and thought.  When our kids are frustrated by something troublesome, we hope they’ll explore options and creative solutions. That’s a cortex way of looking at a situation or problem.

In contrast, whining skips over all that cortical thinking and leaps right to holding someone else responsible for the present misery.  And when that person doesn’t respond in kind?  Well, more whining (of course).

The good news?  Whining is not related to some neurological underdevelopment of the lower or higher centers of the brain.  Whining only happens because we allow it.

Interested in eliminating whining from your life?

How to Stop Kids’ Whining-Part 2 will appear in the next post.

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