Category Archives: Relationships

“Little Ears:” The 2016 Election Results

Never do I recall teachers calming frightened students after an election. But that is what happened all day today in many, many schools.

Teachers reassured students from all kinds of families—some immigrants, some children of immigrants, their friends, their classmates, all while handling their own shock. In urban schools, administrators sent home letters and read announcements in many languages so everyone understood that their classrooms were places to feel safe and the adults would help keep it that way. american-flag

The harm and danger children feel is not just about racism and anti-immigration policies that have been made explicit for more than a year.

It’s also about how we adults behave and how we talk to each other. Attacking, bullying, blaming others, vicious name calling, derogatory chants, lying, verbal abuse, rampant misogyny, and deeply trenched xenophobia abound.

Under the guise of eliminating anything “politically correct”, children now see that speaking without a filter, without consideration for hurting others, gets a huge reward!

Years ago during adult conversations, my grandmother would sing in a whisper, “Little ears!” She knew, correctly, that I was sitting on the stairs listening to grownups talk. “Little ears!” was a warning to the adults to monitor one’s tone or words.

What steps can you take in your life to speak more kindly and discuss important topics more respectfully?  As I see it, that’s the only path forward.

How to Greet the Teacher

Greetings on auspicious occasions range from a quiet hello to a standing ovation.  For your family, a child starting or returning to school requires feats of readiness and coordination. Give yourself some applause!

How about paying it forward? Your child’s teacher is about to shape him for the next one hundred eighty days or so, for six to seven hours a day. That’s a lot of time and a lot of learning–especially when you consider it’s a serious part of building your child’s future. You will be a large presence during your child’s growth and as you know, good home-school communication is critical support for your growing child.

child writingI’d like to pass on some observations I’ve made over the years about parents and the first day of school. I’ve seen some parents help to establish a pleasant and open relationship with a teacher by making these friendly gestures:

  1. A handmade card by your child that introduces him and says what he hopes to learn.
  2. Alternatively, a note from you and your partner thanking the teacher in advance and saying you look forward to work with her.
  3. A small bunch of flowers–from your garden, if possible.

It doesn’t matter what you send in, because as with all gracious gestures, it’s the thought that counts.  Your child will notice your effort, too–what better way to model and reinforce manners?

 

 

 

Stargazing, Jupiter, Parents and Kids

Gazing at the night sky is one of the pleasures of summer. The best place to view it is somewhere away from city lights or the yellow-y glow from shopping centers. The darker and clearer the sky, the better.

Toward the end of this month, you’ll see five planets in the sky, including Jupiter, where the exploratory spacecraft Juno, after its five-year journey, is gathering information we’ve never had before.  Here’s a video from NASA that explains Juno and Jupiter:

It’s difficult for most of us to comprehend Juno’s 540,000,000 mile trip to Juniper, or even a five-year journey in a vehicle. Our journey to explore the universe is a marvel of humankind’s collective curiosity and imagination.

The important thing to do, though, is to revel in the wonder of space, to let your imagination tumble around ideas and questions. When you talk with your child about big ideas, no answers are right or wrong. It’s the open exchange of ideas–and growing closer–that matters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parents and Backyard Science

When I visit my father, I like to tell him about the wildlife I’ve seen in our yard. “Heard the coyotes last night,”  and he smiles upon hearing this. “This is a picture of the robin’s nest on our front door wreath” makes him shake his head in wonder.  “A little snake ran over my bare feet” prompts him to ask, “What did you do?” “Nothing–it was exciting!” I said.

He and I have broadened our conversations to include other wildlife.  Bluebirds. Bald eagles.  Red-shouldered hawks. A Cooper’s hawk holding its prey. Today I plan to tell him about the latest bobcat visit to our yard, and that the robin has laid two eggs.

As you can see, backyard science is for every generation.

When our children were young, I showed them how to listen for peepers in the early spring.  (If you live in the central or eastern United States and Canada, you know this magical sound that rings in spring.)  They learned to ask questions and find answers, used their imagination to think up answers, and discovered the peepers’ habitats.  Soon this became an annual home science experiment.

All of this noticing connects directly to what a child learns in school. Observing, listening, wondering, and critical thinking are some of the greatest skills you can help your child develop in relaxed, natural, disconnected-to-a-device ways.

One of the best parenting tips I know is to show your child how to notice things in the natural world.  Even if you’ve never done it yourself, it’s a beautiful and rewarding experience to share.

 

 

Who Was X in Your Family?

On the day I received my bachelor’s degree in music, my father told me that I was the first person in his family to graduate from college.  It was a fact I’d never known.

Years later, while digging into genealogy, I learned that my paternal grandparents–the generation that emigrated to Boston–received only a few years of schooling. Some of my great- and great-great grandparents had no education and used X to sign their names.

VG.PotatoDiggers.

This didn’t surprise me.  My family lived in western Ireland, the area hardest hit by potato famine. Somehow they suffered through severe poverty, cold, starvation, and disease.  Their lives were about survival, not adult and child literacy.  X spoke volumes to me.

My story is not unique. Most immigrants share a similar tale of escaping poverty and disease in search of a better life and education for their family.  Look back a few generations in your ancestry and you’ll discover where your X is.

 

The Art of Tinkering Teaches Thinking

It’s Saturday morning and you have a list of chores to complete.  One of them is to fix part of the backyard fence.  The wear of winter snow tore away some lengths of  wire from the wooden posts, which are somewhat rotted.VG.Blue.Fence

Your child tags along.  You talk to her out loud as you poke around in your workbench drawers.  Which would work best, nails or staples?  Should you try one first? Staple gun or hammer? Bungee cords? A tape measure? A shovel or not? A wheelbarrow? When your work apron and hers are full of supplies, out you go to fix the fence.

This scenario is the beginning of learning to tinker, to fix, to mess around, to try out an idea and then adapt it until it works.  It’s the foundation of problem solving and visualizing and talking back and forth about what might work and why.

When children use real tools to solve real problems, it creates an opportunity for a parent to help show that tinkering around is real life problem solving.  Find ways to involve your child in tinkering.  You’ll be well on your way to building a good, solid, parent and child bond.

 

 

How to Discipline Kids: Moving ON, Part III

In the last post, I gave you a good framework to use when addressing back talk with your child.  The last step to take is moving on, bringing her back into the family’s tasks and rhythms.

Of course, neither you nor your daughter may feel like falling into each other’s arms at this point.

That’s okay.  By moving on, you demonstrate a powerful love and respect for her. I know you will do better the next time.  I love you and will stick by you no matter what. I am here to help you even when the going’s tough.

A child’s development is rarely linear.  There are not neat stages through which children pass, with infallible instructions for each. Growth is arduous and messy, trial and error, and many times the path is bumpy and rough.

Be proud of how you are raising your children to be thoughtful, thinkers in our world.

 

How to Discipline Kids: Managing Lip, Part II

Your child is in her room, device free, cooling off during a time out.

Choose a reasonable amount of time to leave her alone. Don’t make it too long. You want to make a point without ruining the whole day.VG.two-women-crossing-the-fields

The biggest lesson you’re about to show her is that in your family, you recognize bad behavior, address it, and then move on.

Because you are the adult, you must teach her how to do this. It is difficult but healthy, from both an educational and a developmental perspective. It demonstrates respect for your child and the consistency shows her that you love her and commit to helping her.

  1. Choose a reasonable amount of time to let her cool off. About twenty minutes is right for most children this age.
  2. Find a quiet corner and ask her to return and talk.
  3. Revisit the issue of lip and what it means to your family. Avoid arguing about what happened. Focus instead on the behavior–giving lip, back talk—and speak calmly.
  • Olivia, do you remember the rule about back talk we have in our family?
  • Why do we have that rule?
  •  You seemed angry about —-. Let her give a short explanation. There’s no need to argue over details.
  •  I know that you can think about a better way to handle your feelings.
  •  What will you do the next time you get angry?

4. End with a hug and move on.

I’ll write more about the importance of moving on in Part III.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Kindergarten Skills for Children

Did you know that today’s kindergartens look like yesterday’s first grades? A kinder garten is supposed to be a “child’s garden,” which means that a kindergarten curriculum centers on child development rather than gulping chunks of academics.  Education policy makers and politicians started pushing this change years ago, with the result that everything is now driven by standardized test scores.

The case is made that children must do more, earlier, and that we must get on with delivering content.Two Children by Van Gogh  In many districts, if your kindergarten child isn’t reading by October, you can expect your child to receive endless assessments until he learns to read.

I call for the return of kindergarten to the social, emotional, behavioral, and developmental needs of children, learned through play. Skills for children to develop should center on the following:

Learn to listen. Wait your turn. Be kind. Do your work. Help others. Share. Take turns. Don’t hurt people. Play well with others. Speak nicely to all.

Children with a solid grounding in these skills will help to make the world a better place, because these skills matter in life.  Can you think of any relationship or career that doesn’t benefit from these strengths?

 

 

 

Writing a Love Letter to a Child

Some time ago, my husband and I agreed to stop spending more than $2.00 on a card. Later on, we scratched even the $2.00 and resumed our note writing. I say “resumed” because back in college, we wrote love letters to each other every week for two years.

I saved every one of his. Forty years later, I discovered them bundled together in our cellar.

His handwriting hasn’t changed much. He used his own voice, wrote in his style, from his heart. His love sings clearly and he writes about specifics—what he’s thinking of me as he rushes off for work, how he feels as he drives home. The letters said things that were meant only for me. Above all, he took the time to send it in an envelope with a stamp, something rare today.IMG_4572

Believe it or not, there’s a parallel here to home and the classroom. We educators are taught to give specific praise to a child. “You chose an excellent synonym for ‘yellow’” helps the child more than the generic “Good job!” Not that “good job!” is wrong, but it can mean anything to anyone.

It’s the same thing with Valentine’s Day cards. Why purchase generic messages? Write a handwritten love letter to your child, full of specific things that only you know and notice.

Also, remember that the best love letters are personal.  In forty years, your child might even have a bundle of them, in their own cellar, to rediscover.