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How Money Messes with Parents’ Thinking

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How often do we allow money
to dictate our parenting decisions?

What if our current finances cloud our ability to make decisions about programs for our kids?

There’s a simple way to prevent that from happening. We can either take money entirely out of the equation, or we can actually make it the entire focus.

Here’s what I mean. When we take money out of the equation, we pretend we’re Bill or Melinda Gates. That frees us to review a program solely on its merit.  Since this is merely a mental exercise, we really don’t have to think about money at that moment.

We only bring money back into the equation if we conclude the program is something we’d like our child to participate in.  And yes, at this point, we have to consider our current finances.

But since we’ve already decided our child would benefit from the program, we’re now more likely to explore creative solutions to make it happen.  On the other hand, there’s no chance our child participates if we go straight to: We can’t afford it.

The opposite mental exercise (putting money into the equation) can also be helpful if our child is participating in or offered a free program.  Here, we ask ourselves: Would I actually pay for this service if my child couldn’t get it for free?  If the answer is no, then we may want to reconsider whether or not our child should participate.

You might be thinking . . . But why would anyone opt out of something that doesn’t cost anything?

If a program isn’t a good fit for our child (i.e. we wouldn’t pay for it ourselves), there can be a definite downside.  Our child probably doesn’t have more spare time to participate in another program that better meets his needs. Or, if we try to cram that better program in as well, we risk putting our child on overload.

And what if our child doesn’t benefit after participating in various free programs?  We may then shut down when we hear about yet another program.  We become like folks who resist riding in taxis because they’ve already spent so much time on free buses that took them nowhere.

So that’s why we need to “play” with money in our mind.  After all, it doesn’t cost us anything to do so, and it just may shine a new light on our decisions.

Tips for Emailing Your Child’s Teacher

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tips for emailing teacher

We want to avoid writing emails that escalate, rather than improve, a situation.

Sure, firing off an email now makes it possible to communicate with our kids’ teachers—at all hours—without ever setting foot on campus.  But if we don’t exercise some care with this instant form of communication, we may end up doing more harm than good whenever we push “send.”

To start, it’s helpful to remember that the classroom teacher is doing one of the following whenever she receives our email: She’s teaching (if she gets an email during school hours), preparing for that or the next day’s lessons (if she gets an email right before or after school), or living her “other” life (if she receives an email in the evening or weekend).

It’s also good to recall that we’re just one of 20-30 families in the class. That means our email may be the third, fourth or fifth one that the teacher has received that day.

So here are some guidelines to ensure that our emails are well-received.

1.  We keep it short.

We do this by limiting ourselves to no more than three or four lines, thereby eliminating any possibility of writing a long tirade (about what’s upsetting us).  Also, with a minimum line requirement, we have to get right to the point.

2.  We’re specific.

What do we want from the teacher?  In other words, what would we like to happen after our email is read?

3.  We ask instead of tell.

We put our concerns in the form of questions, rather than statements that could be interpreted as telling the teacher how to run her class.  For example, instead of writing there’s too much nightly homework, we might ask if the teacher is willing to explore ways to reduce our child’s assignments.

4. We make sure we haven’t already received the information we’re seeking.

Suppose we can’t find the paper listing what our kids need to bring for an upcoming class project. In such case, we’d email another parent in the class—not the teacher—to get that information (again).

5.  We sit on an email for at least 24 hours.

We establish a waiting period so that we then have a chance to re-read and edit our email with a different mindset.  And who knows? Maybe a day later, we no longer even feel the need to send the email.

6.  We also email when we’re pleased about something.

Was our child talking nonstop about the great field trip? Were we impressed with the teacher’s thorough, insightful comments on our child’s report?  If so, we share that kind of upbeat feedback in a quick email.

And so, what happens when we put the above ideas in place? Emailing becomes a way to ensure, rather than jeopardize, positive communication with our child’s teacher.

Five Ways to Quit Arguing with Our Kids

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It’s possible to end arguments in the home.

It’s possible to end arguments in the home.

How much time do we waste arguing with our kids?  And more importantly, how many of those arguments are just rehashed versions of what we argued about yesterday, last week, and last month?

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some ideas on how to end the arguing.

1. We establish non-negotiable subjects.

For example, safety issues were never open for discussion in our house. From the get-go, we made it clear that our parental perception of safety trumped everyone else.

2. We make sure our kids know which topics are open for discussion.

Initially, my sister said no when her thirteen-year-old daughter approached her about going on Facebook. But she also said she might change her mind—if convinced otherwise.  And that’s what happened. My niece wove her mother’s concerns into an impressive Power Point presentation that explained how Facebook would not be a problem in their home.

3. We hold back on unsolicited advice.

We may not even realize how many times a day we’re throwing out suggestions and opinions. So while our initial reaction might be to tell our kids to redo a homework paper that is messy and ripped on the edges, we don’t start with that. Instead, we’d ask: Would you like some feedback on your homework?  And if our child says no, then we really need to honor that (unless we want to start an argument).

4. We post a chart of repeated argument lines with our responses to such statements.

Suppose our kids always say, “Everyone else gets to . . . .”  So we’d write that line on the chart with something such as the following below it: No one in this house is named Everyone Else.  :-)

Then we don’t ever say a word (we just point to the chart) whenever our child says one of those lines. With no dialogue, a potential argument never even has a chance to get started.

5.  We ask our kids for their input on ways to prevent recurring arguments.

When my daughters were pretty young, clean up time potentially triggered an argument. So I challenged them to come up with a way that I could ask them to do this without sounding like I was nagging. They thought about it for a few minutes, and then told me I just needed to say “please” at the beginning of the request. Worked for me!  And now (since they thought of the solution), they were locked into complying whenever I would say, “Please clean up your toys.”

Guess what? When arguments no longer dominate our parent-child interactions, we get to enjoy spending time with our kids.  That alone truly makes it worth trying new ideas.

Unleashing Parent Power

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As parents, we may underestimate the power we have to bring about positive changes.

The Fialco family makes me wonder if there isn’t a lot more untapped parent power out there, just waiting to surface.

Their multimedia project, Starabella, features an unconventional heroine, a kindergartner with autism, who connects with her peers through her gift of music.  The trailer is a good watch for both parents and kids—especially since there’s a story behind the story.  The books were inspired by the experiences of Sharon Fialco’s daughter, Tara, who has autism.  The story behind the story gets even better: Tara composed and performed 17 of the 22 songs on the CDs.

I like the message of this project—one of acceptance—but I also like that it reminds us that, as parents, we can do more than just wish that something might be different for our kids. We may actually have the power to bring about positive change.

And, no, it doesn’t have to be some huge project.  For example, if we don’t like that kids are running “wild” at recess, maybe we can organize a group of parents to lead some activities for those kids who would benefit from a more structured recess.  Or, if we’re upset that the school bathrooms do not have soap (true example), we can offer to approach concerned parents to see if they might collectively donate a year’s supply.

When my kids were young, I wanted them to have a sense of school community, yet there wasn’t one school-wide program on their site to bring the students together.  So with the blessing of the staff and a crew of enthusiastic parents, we brought an amazing hands-on ocean program to their school.  Almost two decades later, all of the students still engage in this program each year.

So what are other examples of positive parent action? Share your experiences with us!  As parents, the more examples we learn about, the more we may be inspired to act on our own.

When Schools Don’t Take Care of Bullies

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Kids have the right to ride school busses without being bullied.

As parents, we’re wired to protect our kids at all times. But what happens when we react without thinking through the consequences?

Last week a dad was arrested for coming onto a school bus and screaming profanities to those who had been bullying his daughter who has cerebral palsy. Once the story hit the media, the man received a lot of support and empathy from other parents, especially after he stated that he felt this was his only recourse when the school and bus driver did nothing to help his child.

I’m with the group who doesn’t think the man should have been arrested for trying to protect his daughter. But I always find myself asking questions when situations are not so clear cut, and several come to mind with this incident:

• Was his daughter actually safer after he went on the bus?
• Since he threatened the kids collectively, could that also be considered a kind of bullying in itself?
• Did the other kids on the bus (who were not involved in the bullying) feel unsafe by the father’s actions?
• If his daughter was not safe on the bus, then why was she still riding on it?

So what might have been a different option when the school was not responsive?

The father could have written the school board that he was keeping his child home from school every day until they could prove that all kids were safe on the bus. He could have also solicited as many parents as possible to do the same, noting that any child on the bus could be the bullies’ next victim. This type of action would have likely caught the media’s attention to do a story, especially since bullying has become a hot topic.

And why might the school have responded to the above solution and not the father’s individual calls? Namely, unexcused absences cost the schools a lot of money that they cannot afford to lose. Also, school board officials are elected, so they try to avoid negative publicity whenever possible.

Sure, we’d all prefer that school officials would act solely out of sheer concern for a child. But we may have to settle for finding other ways to motivate them.

In short, there’s no getting around this truth: Ultimately, we’re the ones who have to ensure that our kids are safe. But to make certain that happens, we may first have to rein in the primitive part of our brain—where we’re wired to react and protect—so that we can then use the better part of our brain to come up with a good, viable solution.

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