Category Archives: Social and emotional development

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Wondering why so many people are wearing eye patches today? Or have parrots on their shoulders?  Or have taken to growling Arrrgh! at unusual moments?

It’s because today is National Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Did you find his buried treasure?

Drag out your old copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and read it aloud to your children.  Point out the author’s phrases that stand the test of time–“Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum!”—is one that comes to mind.

My older daughter Jessica loved playing with Legos when she was young and her favorite was the Lego pirate ship.  Too pricey for our budget, we discovered her friend Alex owned it.  Their play dates became pirate ship dates that were never long enough for them to finish a story.

Pirate toys and stories spark a child’s imagination.  When you see children play with a pirate ship toy, you’ll hear them spin unbelievable stories, some which have recurring themes, particular characters, and amazing plots.  This is the sound of brain development!

Forget the “put away the toys” and let them leave the Lego or shoebox pirate ship out. Children return to continue their imaginative play when their creations are out and ready to go.

I read both of my daughters and all of my students plenty of gory, bloody, scary stories.  They thrill children and sharpen listening skills, critical thinking, the creative imagination, and the development of self-regulation skills.  (Watching scary, bloody, gory TV or playing video games loaded with violence do not do any of that.)

When you pick your children up at day care today or meet them after sports practice, give them an “Arrrgh!” to have fun and to celebrate the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parent Talk: Natural Catastrophes

Today I awoke to news of continuing devastation by several Atlantic hurricanes, a deadly 8.2 earthquake in Mexico, and tsunami warnings for the Pacific coast of Central America.

Forces of nature like these transfix children.  Their natural curiosity makes them eager to know and understand more. We parents, however, need to monitor the ceaseless stream of media that bombards our children through radio headlines, television reports, cell phone alerts, and internet streaming.

The best way to strike a balance between satisfying a child’s curiosity and navigating media is through you.  At any age, your child watches and learns by your example.  Your influence, whether you are a parent, grandparent, or caregiver, is always the most important one.

For example, it matters how you explain and interpret natural disasters for your children.  Whether you are experiencing the disaster firsthand or live far away, I think that the late Fred Rogers’ wise approach works best.

To build on “always look for the helpers” talk with your child about what kind of helpers live in your community. Encourage your child to draw pictures and write stories about what they see and read, because the arts provide a unique resource for expressing thought and understanding.

Your older children may decide to collect money and send a donation to areas struggling to cope. Ask an older child to explain to a younger one why money can be a better way to help, rather than sending clothing or blankets.

When you invest time in teaching your children social-emotional skills like empathy and understanding, you are helping to create a better world.  It always begins at home with you.

 

 

 

 

Parenting Teens and Saying “No”

The summer my fifteen-year-old daughter started her first camp job, she stepped into a fun, cohesive social scene with other teens, college students, and twenty-somethings. The kids hung out after camp, sometimes walking to a nearby ice cream shop.

It wasn’t long before the older kids organized a Saturday night party. She was thrilled to be invited. I knew that parents wouldn’t be present, that kids would drink, do drugs, and a fifteen-year-old girl would be vulnerable.lights-party-dancing-music

Not that I suspected my daughter would drink, or worse. She was a strong, smart person, who made excellent decisions. But it was our job as parents to assure her safety and set boundaries appropriate for her age.

It’s easy to write a sentence about it.  It’s a gigantic job to carry out.

“Fifteen-year-olds do not belong at parties with kids in their twenties,” I said, explaining why.

My daughter emphatically disagreed. She didn’t care that there’d be other parties, she wanted this one.  We were rewarded with a few days of pleading, pushing, arguing, bargaining,  She wanted to belong, I know.

Setting boundaries with teens requires parental fortitude and consistency.  Although it’s easier to give in–after all, what’s the big deal about one party, she’ll be fine–teens need to know we’re on their side, even when it’s not what they want to hear. It’s our job to teach them and not give up.

I think that saying “no” as a parent is very hard.  Many times while parenting teenagers, it’s hard to know what to do.  Teenagers are separating, growing brains and bodies, and their development is supercharged and fast paced.

That’s why teenagers aren’t always accurate in predicting safety.  We parents need to step up and do the tough work of “no,” even when it’s easier to give in, and hope for the best.

 

 

 

Children and Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Don’t you love it when your child plays with others and uses her imagination and creativity to act out stories?VG.peasant-woman

Then you must read aloud one of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s excellent books. They mix fantasy, adventure, mystery, and magical thinking in a way that children respond to.

A person’s imagination is not an isolated ability.  It needs to be fed, stoked, and given time and space to develop.  When we do this with our children, we’re helping them learn problem solving, thinking, and social skills.

There are two of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s book that I recommend.  One is The Velvet Room–a girl explores an old, abandoned house and discovers a room full of books surrounded by velvet drapes that becomes a special space to her. When I read it, I remember the feeling of becoming the character and thinking about solving the problems.Book_egy_2007

The other is The Egypt Game, a Newbury Honor Book.  If your child likes to read about Egypt, or is drawn to Egyptian relics, this is the way to explore it.  The Egypt Game is used in lots of schools today to teach about Egypt through a child who discovers an artifact, and draws her friends into a magical game about Egypt.

In my next post, I’ll say more about how to bring special book experiences to your child.

 

 

Venus in Music and Art

Your child read the book, did the research, wrote the report, and made the model of the planet now exhibited in the hallway.  What’s missing?

The art and music that the planet inspired, of course! And it’s not limited to the composer Gustav Holst, whose composition The Planets consists of familiar melodies to many people. You can listen to the section “Venus, The Bringer of Peace” starting at 8:11 in this video.

Vincent Van Gogh created more than one painting that included Venus, including this one, The White House at Night.VG.White House Nigh.  Venus is so bright here that it illuminates the landscape as if it were day.

It’s one thing for your child to learn facts and gain knowledge.  But how do you know when your child really gets its?

It happens when you  deepen your child’s understanding by looking for links to music and art.  There isn’t a subject too dry or too complex that hasn’t been brought to life through an artist’s or composer’s eyes.

 

Understanding “Politically Correct”

In our homes, what we say and how we say it matters. Children hear everything and understand more than we think they do. We’re the ones who help explain the world for them as they grow. And there is plenty to help them understand  during this election season.VG.Country.Rd.Prov

In school, your child learns to understand today’s politics by thinking, reading, writing, and discussion.  We teachers guide students toward carefully considered, informed opinions expressed with appropriate vocabulary.  Most teachers do this without inserting their opinions to sway a student’s mind.

This year, though, parents are needed more than ever.  The accepted–even admired–communication style consists of rudeness laced with vulgarity and crudeness, with the disclaimer, “This isn’t politically correct, but…”

Our language and its phrases change over time. Not long ago, being politically correct referred to the act of being sensitive to expressions that disparaged people or ridiculed groups.  But now, thanks to the media, we’re able to hear these vicious statements blared over and over and around the clock.

When you get your child thinking about politics, I urge you to teach him that being politically correct is not wrong. Teach him to understand that respectful disagreement is fine, healthy, and sheds better light on ideas.

How Parents Should Ask Schools Questions

When it comes to visiting school, we educators know that some parents bring with them their own mixed experiences–lots of them negative–about school.  In some cases, these feelings are so strong, they can cause a parent to avoid going to  concerts or attending spring conferences.

VG.PainterOnWaytoWorkI can help you with this, because schools have changed.  Today, there are no stupid questions you can ask about your child’s education.   No parent is expected to keep up with the latest trends and research–it’s hard enough for teachers, believe me. It is fine to bring along a list of questions you want to ask.

Here’s an example.  It’s spring, you’re at a parent conference, and the teacher is raving about the book report your child did on Susan B. Anthony. You think, a book report? What book report?  When did he read the book–I didn’t see that at home. And remind me who Susan B. Anthony is?—I’m working ten hours a day and am exhausted.

Go ahead and ask every question you have.  You won’t look stupid.  Your child’s teacher should easily answer every question without you feeling judged.  We school people need to find more and better ways to communicate with families, and this may be one area for improvement.

A final word of advice about your questions.  Sometimes the best or most important follow-up questions arise later on.  Also, you may realize you don’t understand or remember what the teacher said about something. Don’t hesitate to call or email to follow up.

We want parents to ask us questions about their child because it shows that the parents are committed to their child’s learning.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Discipline Kids: Giving Lip, Part I

There isn’t a child on earth who hasn’t given lip. Or back talked and made nasty remarks at you, their parent.

Developmentally speaking, children mostly use this language (or the accompanying tone of voice) as part of their separation from you.VanGogh_Bedroom_Arles1 At the time, they have a strong reaction to something, or feel peevish or mean–and punching a pillow isn’t going to make them feel better. They lash out at someone close to them and usually it’s someone they trust.

It’s important to understand as much as possible about your child’s context when she gives lip. However, effective discipline means that you must follow through every single time.

Imagine that your fifth grader daughter talks back when you ask her to help with something:

“No! That’s stupid. You can’t make me! I hate you!” Her nasty sneer gives way to angry belligerence.

What do you say and do? Don’t let it pass. Drop everything and address it calmly whether you’re in public or private.

“That talk and tone is unacceptable in our family. You know that. Leave your [phone or electronic device] on the table here and go to your room.” Let her stomp away and slam her door.

Addressing lip in this concrete way does several things:

  1. You address it immediately and calmly. There are no exceptions.
  2. You take away something of value immediately, like electronic devices. This is better than “no TV for a week,” or ”You’re not going with your friends to…” because you are dealing with it right away, and moving on.
  3. You direct her to a place where she can cool down and so you can calm down. Let her stomp and slam to get some of the anger out.

Inspiration and Perspiration

I’m reminded of inventor Thomas Edison’s words:

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.*

For some time, educators have discussed how students need to develop “grit,” that quality of tenacity, stick-to-it-tive-ness, and “perspiration.” VG.StarryNight The term has a particular edge to it that means to encourage students to work through difficulties–say, in following through with a big project, or puzzling out a complex math problem.

Grit is good.  But what about inspiration? I think there’s more to inspiration than one percent.

When you surround your family with music, art, books, travel, being outdoors, and opportunities to play, you help inspire children.  For example, if you watch and listen when children play dress up or Legos, you might hear bits of stories and experiences woven in to their play.  Those bits are inspiration that feed your child’s creative imagination.

Some children become so inspired to continue this kind of play that they stick to it until they feel finished.  That’s grit or perspiration.  And it always begins with inspiration.

 

 

 

Bartlett, J. (1968). Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. 14th Edition. Boston: Little, Brown.