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How to Respond if Your Child Messes Up

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How we react to mistakes may dictate whether our kids come to us with a problem.

Suppose you discover your child deliberately kept you in the dark about a bad test grade or a concerning note from the teacher.  Before concluding that your child is untrustworthy, here’s an important question to consider:  How are mistakes handled in your home? In other words, what reaction has your child come to expect if he had shared that grade or note?

For example, did your child anticipate (correctly) that he’d get a speech laced with disappointment, exasperation, and irritation, followed by some kind of punishment? If so, maybe your child’ reaction was more about self-preservation that dishonesty.

Ironically, we may be concerned about our child’s trustworthiness because he no longer trusts us to respond in a way that’s helpful when he’s messed up.  So here’s how we may avoid that from happening.

1. Reassure your child that everyone makes mistakes.

Tell your child that you’re glad he makes mistakes—otherwise, that would mean he’s not human . . . and then that would mean he’s an alien from another planet!

2. Tell your child that you’ll stay calm whenever he approaches you with a problem.

Since that may not have always been the case, establish that if you do not stay composed, your child gets something that he likes.  That helps ensure you don’t revert to old reactions. And if you do, then your child figures at least he’s still going to get something good by coming to you.

3. Ask questions that prompt reflection and positive action for the future.

In lieu of giving a speech, ask questions such as: Why do you think you reacted that way? What other options could you have explored? What will you do differently to avoid this from happening again?

If there was another person involved, you might ask: How would (name of that person) describe what happened? That open-ended question then becomes a non-threatening way to hear a different perspective of what happened without anyone confirming that the other person’s account is correct.

4. Avoid “prosecutor-type” questions.

You’ll get immediate feedback if you start doing this because your child will become defensive, rather than reflective. Note that our tone often dictates whether we’re coming across as a prosecutor drilling a witness or a concerned parent who wants to prompt some insightful thinking.

5. Ask your child how he’ll accept responsibility for whatever happened.

With a generic knee-jerk reaction (“You’re grounded for a week!), there’s little chance that our child reflects and learns from any particular mistake. So it’s important that we also ask our kids what they think might be a good “natural cause and effect” for whatever transpired.  For example, a child may conclude, all on his own, that he’s spending too much time playing video games instead of studying. If so, it’s going to carry a lot more weight if he decides to limit video games to the weekends until his grades improve.

So yes, we all mess up.  That in itself is not newsworthy.  But how we deal with our mistakes may actually define us.

What Parents Need to Know About Grades

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When students receive a failing grade, does it motivate them to do better--or do they just shut down?

When parents become upset over their kids’ grades, there’s one rarely mentioned fact they need to recall: The only grades included in college applications are those from 10th and 11th grade.

That’s right. Those two high school years are the only ones that count when it comes to college admissions.

That sobering fact should help put things in perspective when 7-year-old Joey bombs his spelling tests or 10-year-old Kate fails her math test.  Knowing this, we may also consider the long-term effects of making too much out of a bad grade.

For example, if we focus too much on grades when kids are young, will they burn out by the time they actually count?  Instead of becoming motivated to work harder, will they decide (early on) that they’re just not smart—and “check out” when it comes to school?

There are other considerations when looking at grades.  Teachers get to choose how they present their lessons. So a child who is a kinesthetic learner may have difficulty learning new information from a teacher who relies on a lecture format and worksheets. But that doesn’t mean the child isn’t smart or motivated to learn.

It’s also possible that the child learned the information but wasn’t able to demonstrate that on the test. That scenario is more likely when kids feel test “pressure”—since such angst often causes them to temporarily forget what they know.

So, I have an idea on how to improve grades for all kids, but I don’t think it would go over well in schools.

What if teachers and kids “shared” the grade?  In other words, if a teacher puts an “F” on a child’s paper, she, too, gets that “F.”  After all, isn’t the grade equally reflective of how she presented the information and whether the content and format of the test actually evaluated what was learned?

And it that ever became the norm, do you think we’d see kids getting much better grades?

Fostering Kids’ Creative Thinking

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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?

How to Decide if H1N1 Vaccine is Safe

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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.

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