Category Archives: parenting

You’ve Got To Sing When The Spirit Says Sing – Music, Child Development & Raffi

Photo Credit Jon BenjaminSome say the first language of babies is music as they experience it in the womb.  From this early exposure, babies learn to love rhythm.  I noticed Bobby’s special connection with rhythm from the first moments of meeting him.  He was a bit of a fussy baby.  So, a constant dance-like bounce was all that would soothe him.  Once that stopped working, he would calm by listening to Yo Yo Ma.  The drastic impact music had on Bobby got me thinking about the relevance of music in his development.  I’ve learned that a connection with music plays an important role as the foundation for literacy and other social and cultural development.

Why is Music Important?

“The necessity of music in human intellectual development has been discussed as far back as ancient Greece, in the 6th century B.C. In Plato’s Book of Laws II, a discussion is presented between an Athenian student and his teacher, Clinias, that describes the ancient Greek views on the importance of music education.

Athenian: So, by the uneducated man we shall mean one who has no choric training; and by an educated man whose choric training has been thorough.

Clinias: Exactly.

Athenian: And, mark you., the choric art as a whole embraces both dance and song.

Clinias: No doubt.

Athenian: Thus it follows that a well-educated man can both sing well and dance well.

Clinias: So it would seem.” CITE

Many advocate for continuing a child’s early exposure to music.  One such group of experts explain: “Early musical training helps develop brain areas involved in language and reasoning. It is thought that brain development continues for many years after birth. Recent studies have clearly indicated that musical training physically develops the part of the left side of the brain known to be involved with processing language, and can actually wire the brain’s circuits in specific ways.” (Cite)

Music At Our House

Continuing Bobby’s exposure has been a bit tricky.   At 3.5 years old, he seems a bit young to sit through lessons.  But music is still on his mind.  The other day, he was in the backyard with two sticks.  One was double his height.  He held it upright in one hand and took another stick and began to strum the larger stick.  When asked what he was doing, he replied that he was playing the cello.  Later that night he pretended to play the flute.  And, his little brother, who we call Bam Bam due to his love of banging on everything and everyone, used two sticks to beat the ground.  Future drummer?  Maybe.  So, we had a delightful time singing songs amidst the trees.  After all, in the words of Raffi, you’ve gotta sing when the spirit says sing.

The favorite song these days is Baby Beluga. Thank you Raffi Cavoukian, the superstar of kids’ music, for creating this charming song that introduces lil ones to the wonders of the ocean.  Singing Raffi with my kids is nostalgic for me as I remember singing his songs with my six younger siblings.

The All Time Children’s Superstar, Raffi

Haven’t heard of Raffi?  Well he has been creating classic children’s music since the 70s.  I’ve been a fan since probably the 80s when his tunes entertained me and my little brothers and sisters.  For me, it is wild that now, I am enjoying his music with my own children.  What’s wilder than that? Well, letting them experience Raffi in concert.

Raffi will be on tour this year.  He will be in Berkeley on April 6, then hopscotching around the country.  Interested in more details, then check here.  The concerts will benefit Child Honouring, an organization founded by Raffi based upon a Covenant for Honouring Children, an absolutely inspirational movement to help make the world a better place for all children.  Check back for more information about the Covenant for Honouring Children as it more than warrants a separate discussion.

Ways To Introduce Your Kids To Music

There are so many ways to introduce young kids to music.  From streaming music in the background, asking them what they think of it, singing, dancing and playing instruments or sticks as the case may be.  In addition, concerts are a great way to let them gain another perspective.  Raffi’s concert is one such event and should be amazing!  But if you can’t make that, then check out your local community.  Consider attending a high school performance, church choir concert, music class or youth symphony.  Library storytimes also can incorporate music as well.

Thanks for reading!   Wishing you and your little ones magical times making music memories!

Pat Benatar Had it all Wrong – Birth is a Battlefield

birth is a battlefieldAfter months of anticipation, and ages of waiting, motherhood arrives.  Whether it is a scheduled C-Section, induced or natural labor, after all of the waddling it is here.   An intense journey that fully pushes us to our limits and shows us that we can do things we had no idea we could, we meet our prize.  Intrigue, love, wonder, amazement at the process and the joy.

The process is physically and mentally taxing.  At times, I think that Mother Nature is cruel to place so many physical requirements on the mother.   The pregnancy, the birth, and then the physical care of the newborn.   Add to that the physical requirements of a postpartum body, needing simultaneously to recover, restore and supply for a baby.  The entire process is nothing short of amazing and draining.

This may sound like a bit of a rant.  To be honest, it is.  There is a point to it.  There are things us moms can do to take care of ourselves and prepare ourselves for this journey.   As moms we often forget about ourselves.  In a life where getting a shower is a luxury, can we really take care of ourselves? Well, maybe not to a level we did pre-kids, but there are things we can do to get off on the right foot.

Before having the baby, plan & prepare.  Stock your freezer with prepared or purchased meals.  Collect lists from your favorite take out restaurants.  Make lists of things that folks can do to help you when they visit.  Plan help – friends, family, neighbors.  And, check out my article on the gear to have on hand.

Get back up.  Plan who is going to help you when you get home from the hospital.  Don’t end up like me after my second child.  My first day home, my husband was back at work and I was taking care of both boys.  My older son was in the process of weaning off a medication that caused him to have uncontrollable crazy tantrums.  Sometimes they’d last for over an hour.  No joke.  Anyways, by the end of that day, I was so exhausted physically and mentally.  A friend came by and brought dinner.  I was so grateful and thankful for the mere presence of my friend, but embarrassed that my house was a mess, my son was having a tantrum and the baby was screaming.  That said, her being there was a gift.  Later that week, I asked another friend to come by to help with bathtime.  Again, I was grateful beyond belief.

My point is simple – secure help.  If you don’t have family in the area or if they were like mine unavailable, then call upon friends to come help or if you are in a position to hire help, then hire as much as you can afford.

When you are in the hospital, get all the help you can.  There are tons of resources while you are in the hospital.  From lactation consultants to the nursery, there is a huge support network there to help you recover.  My biggest advice is to utilize the professional babysitters and get some sleep.  It could be months or years until you’ll get to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time.  I’m sure Dr. Sears, the proponent of attachment parenting would disagree with me, but seriously, adjusting to life with a newborn and taking care of one is so difficult.  Why not get some sleep?

With my first son, I kept him in the room with me the entire time.  I felt a duty to care for him every minute (and I still do).  But with my second son, I still feel this connection but knew that I’d be going home to taking care of two boys.  So, I took advantage of the newborn nursery.  The first time I sent him, I was a little hesitant.  But as soon as he was wheeled out, I crashed.  He was brought back in three hours later.  And, then after a bit he went back.  I crashed again.

Use a lactation consultant – Another huge resource at the hospital are the lactation consultants. Before I tried nursing, I had friends who made it look so easy.   It was like something out of a movie – the baby  calmly and happily latched on.  Mom had a conversation while nursing.  Then baby detached in a happy milk coma.  With my first son, I had major issues getting him to latch properly.  Nursing was a bloody and painful experience.  Who knew it didn’t have to be that way? I sure didn’t.  With my second son, it was much easier, which I attribute to the refresher course given by the lactation consultant while I was in the hospital.  Whether you’re a veteran nursing mom, or not, using a lactation consultants is totally worth your while.

Going Home

No one talks about it.  So here goes – You go from being able to control your schedule to having to spend endless sitting on the couch, laying in bed or rocking in a chair feeding baby.  When you’re not feeding the baby, if you have a fussy baby, you are soothing the baby.  With my first son, this meant spending hours bouncing him on an exercise ball. The ball was fabulous at first as it made him so happy, but as the months went on, I began to loathe that ball. It was a bit like a prison, but the only thing that made him happy.  So, anyone who came to visit took a turn on the ball.

How do you make this easier?  Well, why not have books downloaded on your kindle or smartphone so that you can easily access them during those late night feedings.  You’ll eel more connected anyway.  In addition, like I said above, plan for help.  One of my girlfriends put it best when she said get all the help you can afford.  Whether you hire a nanny or swap I owe yous with your girlfriends, there are tons of creative ways to make it work.

Well, thanks for reading.  I appreciate having this platform to share tips from the trenches.  I’d also love to hear yours.

Picking a Preschool

The preschool hunt, for some begins as early as they are pregnant, for others long after the child is born.  For me, the thought process began when Bobby was merely weeks old hanging out in a baby carrier.  I was shopping for apples at my corner market in Oakland when a fellow mom stopped me.  She asked whether baby was on a list for school.  A little shocked by the question – I said no.  At that point, I was really thinking about buying produce, not about preschool options for my little guy.   Since Bobby was not even old enough to hold his head up, I thought it was a little early to start thinking about it.  What I learned was that the waiting lists at some schools start as early as when kids are in utero.  Yikes, I was already behind the ball!

Researching Different Options

With this in mind, when I moved to Sonoma when Bobby was six months old, I began the hunt.  In foreign territory as neither child development nor teaching is my profession, I searched for information.  Looking for expert opinions I consulted books and numerous articles (like these 1 and 2) detailing different educational philosophies like Montessori, Waldorf, Emilia.  There is only so much you can surmise from a book though.

The best advice came from local moms at the playground as they had actual experience with kids at the schools.  As I learned that there were different degrees with which the philosophies would be implemented at particular schools.  From strict implementation to lax, from focusing on daycare to the preschool program, there were so many things to consider.

Visiting the Schools

A shopper by nature, I visited the top schools that I had heard about.  Armed with my lengthy list of questions in hand like student to teacher ratio and schedules, I carefully observed what each school had to offer.  As I became more educated about programs, my list of questions evolved.   What were their goals for their graduates? What approach did they employ? How did the school develop confidence in the child? How did they engage children?

Of course, practical considerations like location and schedule came into play as well.  As one particular school that I fell in love had a very short program.  The short program coupled with the travel time to get there was impossible for my work schedule.

The decision involved other things more specific to Bobby like temperament and handling food allergies.  In addition, Bobby’s reaction to the school was key.  This even required a separate visit for some schools.  When Bobby visited, there were some schools where he immediately seemed comfortable.  There were other schools where wanted to be held the entire time.

Factors to Consider

Ultimately, the following factors helped me compare schools and make a decision:

  • Kids – did the kids seem engaged?
  • Teachers – what was their approach to teaching? How did they interact with the kids? How long had they been there?
  • Structure – what schedule did the day follow?
  • Art – what was the school’s approach to art? Was it free form or worksheets?
  • Curriculum –  what was the curriculum? Was it play based, Montessori, Waldorf or a hybrid like High-Scope?
  • Environment – was it organized, bright & cheery?
  • Play spaces – how did the space seem? Was it safe, clean, inviting?
  • Approaches to Discipline – what was the approach to discipline?  Would kids be in timeout chairs wearing a cone of shame? Or is there another more positive approach?
  • Socialization – how does the school encourage socialization?

Shortcut for Sonomans

With so many great options, picking a preschool can seem like such a tough and even overwhelming decision at times.  The good news is that there are resources out there to make it easier.   Cindy Studdert, owner of FarmTots, put it best when she described her decision not to open a formal school due to the great and numerous child centered programs in town.

In Sonoma, the Sonoma Valley Mother’s Club hosts a preschool fair every other year.  As a past coordinator of the fair, I can say firsthand that it is a unique and fabulous event.  Numerous preschools and other kids’ activities attend to showcase their programs.  It is the event where you as the shopper can comparison shop for preschools under one roof.  Take your list of questions and go booth to booth!  It is a fabulous way to start comparing different schools.  This year, the Preschool/Tot Fair is on Saturday, March 16, from 10 – 12 at the Veterans Building.

If you’re outside of Sonoma, check your local mothers club to see if they host such an event.  If they don’t, maybe start one.

 

Thanks for reading and letting me share my musings with you.  I hope this article is helpful.  I’d love to know what helped you pick a school?

Bath-time Commandments

Do tidal waves hit your bathroom too?  It’s amazing that after bath-time there is always water splashed about my boys’ bathroom.  Encouraging fun and water play is important over here.  After all, the boys have such a fabulous time fishing for toys, pouring water and playing water instruments.  That said, I am starting to need to put some limits around this spash zone.

Somewhere between bath-time exploration and the  splash zone has to be a middle ground.  I am waiting to find it.  In search of it, I’ve implemented the following golden rules.  We’ll see how long they last.  I’d love to hear your ideas too!

Bath-Time Commandments

  • Bath toys stay in the tub
  • Water stays in the tub
  • No dumping water on siblings
  • No pooping in the tub
  • And, last but not least don’t drink the water (see above)

2012, Where did you go?

It’s so hard to believe it is January. 2013 – yikes, where did 2012 go? Reflecting on the last year, I was shocked at how much of a blur it’s all been.  It occurred to me that having baby numero 2 created more of a mommy fog than baby numero 1. Why? Well, with two boys racing around – time just doesn’t stand still.  I’m left in the dust behind two roadrunners.

Maybe it’s just me, but time seems to fly faster the more children I have.  It didn’t seem to go as fast with just one child.  Bobby’s first year, my husband and I relocated to Sonoma.  I can vividly remember exploring the town with my then 6 month old Bobby, introducing him to music classes and story-time.  I did similar things in 2012 with CJ, but its such a blur.  maybe it’s that the visits to the parks have taken on a new persona, instead of sitting playing in sand or with leaves, it’s a more interactive experience – playing hide and seek, tag, freeze dance, and chasing after Bobby as he climbs trees or (to be honest) tries to run into oncoming traffic.Again, left in the dust.

The quandary becomes how to slow things down for 2013.  Over the holidays a friend and also a mom of 2 wrote a beautiful piece about slowing things down.  She vowed to create stillness in her life.  To enjoy, embrace and extol the simple moments. Through these moments like reading stories, singing songs, and playing games, she saw her kids shine.

After much reflection as to my own blurry 2012, I do think there is something to slowing things down.  For isn’t it in the everyday moments where we really see our children in a new way.  Letting them explore things thoroughly without the pressures of hurrying about to get to X, to accomplish Y, or to finish Z.  I’m starting to think so anyway.

http://mothering-matters.com/10-tips-for-easier-laundry/The other day when faced with piles of laundry to fold, I tried something new.  Rather than wait until my roadrunners were sleeping, I decided to pull out the laundry baskets and actively engage them in folding. Here’s what happened.  Bobby was thrilled to get to help.  CJ was happy to pull clothes out of the basket and then climb in it.  Rather than get frustrated about the mess and inefficiency of the process, I let it go, trying to enjoy the moment.  I focused on letting the kids just enjoy the process.  After all, did it really matter if it took a little longer to fold?  Or if a towel had to be folded 3 times?  What I learned about my boys in that hour couldn’t be replicated anyother way.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be making this laundry folding a daily activity.  Nor will I be slowing things down completely as it’s not in my nature.  But I will be carving out time and creating space to enjoy life in a pure and simple way.

If the Twos are Terrible then What the Heck are the Threes?

For years I have been hearing about the terrible twos.  And, yes, with little ones finding their independence the twos can be and were most challenging.  Now though that I am experiencing the threes, I am wondering why the twos got so much hype.  Why isn’t anyone talking about the threes?

Today must have set some sort of record.  The day started off with what was supposed to be a lovely short trip to the store which quickly reminded me why I prefer to shop solo. Bobby wanted to hold the box of kosher salt, then he wanted to throw it on the floor, then he wanted to grab something else, then he screamed for no reason.  All within a ten minute period.  I won’t go into what happened after the grocery store, but let’s just say more of the same thing.

Wanting some guidance, I did a little research to help me understand what this behavior is all about.   Some articles on websites like BabyCenter explain that tantrums are about the child gaining independence and that children will tantrum as a result of being unable to express how they feel.  These articles were totally unhelpful to the parent of the child who knows how he feels but just seems determined to pitch a fit.  After digging some more, I came across an article on WebMD that was informative.  Children between the age of 3 and 4 have a hard time knowing the consequences of bad behavior.  Allegedly after awhile a tantruming 3 year old will learn that the behavior results in a some sort of consequence and as a result they’ll tantrum less.

What should the consequence be?  Some experts suggest time outs, others just a lack of attention.  Apparently ignoring the tantrum can work well.  And for me, it has worked.  But what do you do when they’re tantruming in public.  One expert advocated for the parents to remain calm and detached.  After reading that, I started to wonder if they had kids.  It’s so hard to stay calm when your child is sprawled out on the ground somewhere with a group of onlookers.

Lucky for me, I got to try to stay calm. On the way to the park, Bobby had a meltdown. At first it was about a green dinosaur – he wanted it, then he didn’t want it, then he wanted something else, and went back to wanting the dinosaur.  Usually, I try to talk him down from his tantrum.  This time it was clear that my usual approach wasn’t going to work. So, I tried something new.  I ignored him.  I tried to keep my cool and counted to ten.  By the time I got to ten, he simmered down and was looking out the window.  So, maybe there is something to ignoring the tantrum.

Trading Pumps for Pumas

We moved recently.   And in the boxes lie my collection of stiletto heels.  Beautiful leathers, bows of all sorts, silks, cheetah prints, sparkly bobbles – ohh the days of past.  Those shoes will probably stay in their boxes for awhile as I’ve swapped them with some sporty pumas equipped for running after energetic boys, climbing trees and exploring zoos.  Yes, mom shoes.

The funny thing is that more than my choice in shoes has changed these days.  My boys have turned me into a bit of a tomboy.  It may have started with trading my pumps for pumas, but honestly I think it started before that. There’s something about just needing to dress boys in jeans and vintage t-shirts that puts life into a different perspective.  I must say life is much much more full.  After all, who doesn’t love chasing dump trucks or waiting for the garbage truck to arrive?  For moms of boys, garbage day is akin to the superbowl.  Thank goodness garbage day is weekly rather than yearly!

Embracing this transition is fun.  Sure, I may not be sporting three inch heels and feminine apparel on a daily basis, but you know I am sporting two life loving bustling boys.  Nothing can compare to that.

Raising Awareness – Pinatas, Peanuts & Epi Pens

With eight percent of children having some sort of food allergy, raising awareness is important. After all, you don’t want to be the one innocently giving a child something that could trigger a life threatening reaction.

It seems that food allergies are here to stay. A 2008 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed an 18% increase in food allergy between 1997 and 2007. Peanut allergy also tripled during that time.

Some kids can react to an allergen being in the air or a handprint on a play structure, others need to ingest it. For those who have more tactile allergy triggers, the world can be a dangerous place. I’ve heard of moms leaving playgrounds when they see kids eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Imagine peanut butter getting on one child’s hands and then transferring it or traces of it to the playstructure. Such a result could present a serious danger to some children.

A small number of foods are responsible for 80% of all allergies (milk, wheat, soy, eggs, fish and nuts). The most common childhood allergies are to milk, wheat, soy, eggs. These allergies are likely to resolve during childhood. Other allergies, like to nuts and fish are said to be more long term.

With food being such a part of our culture, a restricted diet presents challenges especially for young kids who are too young to regulate their own food intake. From birthday parties to playgrounds, the snacks offered can pose serious risks. For kids with egg allergies, innocent foods like French toast, mayonnaise, quiche, custards and meringues, are problematic.

Being the mom of a child with food allergies is a nerve wracking anxiety provoking experience. Bobby first showed sign of being allergic with a light rash on his face. As he got older his reaction intensified – vomiting, tongue swelling and trouble breathing. So, as his mom, I’ve learned to watch him like a hawk. You could say I am a helicopter parent on steroids.

When a piñata breaks at a birthday party, I have been filled with a sense of dread as I look to make sure I am able to monitor what candy my child eats. Of course he goes for the candy in shiny packages. Explaining why some kids are able to eat peanut butter cups or why the Easter Bunny would leave candy that can’t be consumed has been a bit of a challenge. The good news is that as he get older, he will be better able to understand the result of his allergies and self regulate his intake.

Not knowing when a new food allergy will show itself is a challenge and downright scary. Such has been my experience lately, requiring the inaugural use of the Epi Pen and resulting in Bobby’s first (and hopefully last) ride in an ambulance. Holding Bobby as he struggled to breathe was my worst nightmare. For seconds, I contemplated whether to subject him to one of the things he hates most – a shot. As much as I hated him having him the shot, I knew he needed it. I held him, my brave husband gave it. Within seconds, that shot somehow helped him breathe. After being able to breathe, he thought it was so “cool” an ambulance and a fire truck came to his house. I thought it was so “cool” that they arrived so quickly. But – Bobby, yes, this was an impromptu party.

For parents of kids with allergies, there are things we can do to. We can educate others about our children’s’ allergies. In fact, I hesitated to write this article as I want so much for Bobby to be treated just the same as the other kids on the playground. The reality is that he can be treated that way, but that the adults caring for him need to know how to use the Epi Pen should the need arise. On that note, Bobby’s school actually invited me in to talk to the teachers. They even practiced using the Epi Pen. Here in Sonoma, two schools are at least partially nut free – Valley of the Moon (entirely nut free) and Sunshine School. Old Adobe Preschool is also attentive to children with allergies.

There are little things we can all do to make the world a more allergy friendly place.

  1. Before giving a child a snack, ask their parents if it’s ok.
  2. Have kids wash their hands with soap and water or wipes after eating. There is research to suggest that hand sanitizer won’t get rid of trace amounts of food.
  3. When hosting a party, make sure food is on countertops out of the reach of young kids.
  4. When your child is done eating, make sure uneaten remnants make it into a trash can.
  5. Be supportive of parents whose kids have food allergies. If you think they are overreacting or being overprotective, then check out a video on youtube of a child having an anaphylactic reaction or just ask me what it’s like. I’m happy to tell you.
  6. Remain positive. Stress the strengths of kids with allergies.

So where’s the silver lining? Current scientific studies may hold promise for the future. For example, there are studies currently as to introducing trace amounts of foods to develop a tolerance. Also, kids with food allergies learn to be tough. Heck, I’ve heard of an Army Ranger who has a peanut allergy. So with the right support, our kids can have the option of being rangers too.

For more information about food allergies – check out FAAN (www.foodallergy.org), the Food Allergy Initiative (www.foodallergyinitiative.org) and the Food Allergy Project (www.foodallergyproject.org).

Applauding Bebe: The Battle Hymn of the Eagle Mom

There has been a lot of hype about the different ways to parent.  Not only does the discussion go significantly beyond spanking or not spanking, foreign cultures are being praised for their different, more intuitive approaches.  Now the question becomes does one subscribe to the Tiger Mom mentality, or the French, ‘Bringing up Bebe’ parenting style?   Before answering that, we should stop and ask what ever happened to the good old American Mom?

The book ‘Bringing up Bebe,’ by Pamela Druckerman, does offer much to think about.  By praising the laissez-faire style of French parenting, the book in essence criticizes American parenting styles, much in the same way as ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’.

With stories lauding infants who sleep through the night by four months of age, children who dine patiently during multi-course meals, and kids who play independently at home while parents have adult time – the laid back parenting style supported by the book begins to sound attractive.

The thought of being able to sit down at a playground and have a conversation with a fellow mom rather than chasing after my little sprinter (who has been complimented by strangers for his speed) struck a chord.   After all, it would be nice to enjoy a bit of an adult life amidst the chaos of mommyhood.

Then, I read on.  As a foodie, I took to heart the discussion about how the French encourage children to eat a variety of foods.  Described as a “cultivating a child’s palate,” Druckerman gives examples of how the French diversify a child’s culinary tastes.   French children experience a variety of foods in not only their home but also school.  In fact, there are government meetings, Commission of Menus, during which time multicourse meals are charted out and scheduled.   For example, one meal would start with a salad of shredded red cabbage and yogurt, proceed with white fish with dill sauce with a side of potatoes, after which the children would enjoy brie cheese, and lastly, a baked apple for dessert–straight from the wish list of Jamie Oliver, and drastically different from the pizza and hot dogs we Americans are known for.

After reading about children who enjoy fish mousse, I started to become a convert.  It wasn’t until the end of the book where things got a little more interesting and, for this mama, the proffered parenting style became less attractive.

The role of praise within French parenting struck a dissonant chord.  According to Druckerman, French parents “don’t believe that praise is always good.  The French believe that kids feel confident when they’re able to do things for themselves, and do those things well.  After children have learned to talk, adults don’t praise them for saying just anything.”

Another approach was recently described by the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, who explains how children can develop  their own personal inner praise.  Basically by having children work hard to accomplish things, they develop an inner praise and confidence when they reach their goal.

Druckerman kindly jokes about how Americans praise the smallest things like kids jumping on trampolines.  Yes, I am guilty of cheering on Bobby as he jumps.  What is the harm? Arguably doing so will encourage children, i.e. Bobby, to do things purely for praise.

This is compared against the French model where praise is intentionally withheld.  Praise is not only withheld by parents, but also doctors and teachers as well.  In fact, children are to expect criticism.  Now mind you, Druckerman throughout her book gives examples of French toddlers doing exceptional things.  She describes in detail a   three year old making yogurt cake entirely by herself  –  measuring ingredients, cracking eggs, and even filling muffin tins.

So why not praise the cake-making child for accomplishing these things?  By praising the little things are we really hindering more than helping our children?  But what is the alternative?  Acting indifferent to the cake making child, or criticizing the eggshell in the batter?

It would seem that actively withholding praise and promoting criticism would lead to having children work harder to seek approval.  And, it seems that some experts out there agree.  The Raising Children Network out of Australia is an impressive partnership of organizations addressed the issue by acknowledging parents who praise children “might be worried that [their] child will start needing the approval of others to feel good.”  According to the Raising Children Network such an approval response isn’t the case.  “

In fact, children who are criticized all the time are more likely to seek approval to feel good.”

From experience with my two-and-a-half-year-old, Bobby, I can say that that praise seems to be everything.   I can even see at his precious age how happy he is when he accomplishes something – when he pieces together a train track or whisks pancake batter, Bobby has a distinct smile.  Often he exclaims “I did it!”  With so much confidence, he tells the world about his triumph.  If I were to subscribe to the French view, then I would respond by acting disinterested or pointing out that the train track isn’t quite finished.

So, I had to ask myself, what is the real harm of praising his accomplishments? Where will this lead?  Or the converse, where will withholding praise lead?

Encouraging accomplishment whether it is putting away a toy or later getting good grades, would seem over time to encourage productive behavior.   Work hard and secure good results to obtain a reward.  This is a quintessential American philosophy, dating back to the Puritan culture that landed on Plymouth Rock.  Maybe this is why American workers have been found as being more productive than others internationally — This is after Japan’s productivity boom of the 1980s and the recent productivity surges by Chinese and Indian workers.

It turns out that praise is important in developing confident children.  In the Right Way To Praise Your Kids, Heather Hatfield, explains that “not giving enough praise can be just as damaging as giving too much.  Kids will feel like they’re not good enough, or that you don’t care, and may see no sense in reaching for their accomplishments.”

The question becomes what is the right amount of praise?  According to Hatfield, “Experts say that the quality of praise is more important than the quantity: if praise is sincere and genuine, and focused on the effort, not the outcome, you can give it as often as your child does something that warrants a verbal reward.”    The article goes on to list examples of ways to praise your kids.  Giving descriptive praise – praising the effort that went into the action is singularly the best way to praise your child.

It seems by praising specific efforts and actions, a parent can help their child cultivate an inner sense of confidence.  So, American mamas like me are on to something.  From now on, I will continue to praise Bobby’s accomplishments.  I’ll be more descriptive though –  be applauding Bobby’s determination in piecing those train tracks together, or the coordination and focus in whisking batter in a bowl.   And, even if it’s not on the same level as making a cake from scratch, I’ll let him share his triumphant smile with the world.

Keeping Kids Safe In Public – Teaching Important Lessons

Recently, police reported another incident in which a strange man offered a ride to a child.  It was the third or fourth such incident in recent months in Sonoma.

Our idyllic town is so kid friendly that it seems shocking that horrible things could also happen here.  As a mom with two young boys, the recent incidents raised questions about when to start teaching about “stranger danger.”

Are children ever too young to start learning this concept?  After all, I hold childhood innocence as something to be guarded, nurtured and protected.  But my two and a half year old, Bobby, is quite friendly.  He loves meeting friendly folks at the grocery store, in the store and around town.  The recent happenings got me thinking though that maybe this is the sort of thing that I as a mom should be avoiding.

Since I am in no way an expert on the subject, I consulted with a few experts.  They had some great ideas.  First, explain to your child in a simple way what a stranger is.  A stranger is anyone who mommy and daddy do not know.  And, while not all strangers are bad, strangers require ground rules.  Then, explain some ground rules.  Children are to ask mommy or daddy first before interacting with a stranger. This can mean just plain conversations, taking something like a gift or a treat from a stranger, or getting into a car with a stranger.

Silvia Floriano the community outreach officer from our local Sherriff’s Office  put it best when she said that Children normally will not yell and run at the sight of a stranger when they are under 5 since they have started to be social, especially when they are with an adult they trust. But it’s important that they learn who they can go with and who they need to stay away from when they are alone or at a distance.  Especially since some kids, like Bobby, are very friendly and will talk to anyone in the grocery store.

Officer Floriano reminded me of the importance of us as parents understanding that young children may not be able to understand what we are telling them.   It becomes our role as parents to be patient, use simple words and be willing to repeating things over and over again.

Second, introduce the concept of a stranger to your child through Play.  Play is a great way to teach kids.   Make a game using pictures of strangers from the web, newspapers or magazines and those of family and friends.  You could even just save a few photos on your phone.  Have your child pick a picture of the safe adult (family/friend) and someone they don’t know (stranger).  When they do it you can reiterate the ground rules (i.e. ask mommy before taking anything from someone).

Third, explain to your child the appropriate response when they are approached by a stranger.  This can be a game as well.  When your child is approached by a stranger they need to run back to mommy, daddy or whomever is taking care of them.  They can yell, scream, kick, etc.  You can make this a game as well.  Role play with your child.  Have them pretend someone in the family is the stranger.  Then, when the stranger approaches the child, have the child run to find mommy or daddy.  You can also use this to teach how to respond if they are grabbed by a stranger – i.e., kick, bite, yell, scream.

Fourth, there are two other topics related to strangers that are important to introduce – secrets and appropriate touching.  As Officer Floriano put it “A good secret will not make you sad or make you feel bad.  Such as a birthday gift.”  Whereas, “A bad secret will make you sad, scared and will make you feel bad.  And can hurt you like bad touches.” Of course, it becomes important to teach children that bad secrets are not to be kept from mommy or daddy, especially if they hurt or make them feel scared or bad.  Someone may tell your child that you will get upset, angry, mad when your child tells you a secret.  So, you can explain to your child that you will never get mad or angry at the child for telling you a secret.

Fifth, teach them about their Personal Space (the space around them that only safe people can be in) also talk to them about the Safety Circle and the Safe Area.  Make it a game. Show them that they need to yell, run and tell.  You can do this at the park.  A child’s personal space is that surrounding them when he/she stretches out their arms.  A safe area is the area that is open and makes it easy for a safe adult to see and hear the child at all times and for the adult to see and hear them.  This is opposed to trees, bushes, buildings, etc., places where it is difficult for children to be seen.  You can explain the concept of a safe area at a park.  Have your child point out safe areas to you.

Lastly, keep in mind that potential predators know what they are looking for.  Officer Floriano explains that “a bad person, who will hurt children will look for the child that seems to be alone, isolated, quiet and is not making contact of any kind with the adults around. So event when your child is playing and you are just sitting on the bench watching… be watchful and always make sure your child sees you and responds even if it’s just a wave. Also being aware of who is hanging out and looks out of place is important.”  In addition, she cautions parents “When you are going to spend time at any public place with your child make sure that you pay attention to them. A simple distraction can have a devastating result.”

published also in the Sonoma Index Tribune, 5/22/2012