Tuesday, August 31, 2010


A few days ago I read a blog written by a mother of a grade school child. She was complaining about homework that teachers assign. Her view was that if the teacher expects the parent to help with homework, then the parents should be put on the school payroll.

Hard to believe, but some parents feel they have no responsibility in their child's education. Two of my daughters are third grade teachers and I just need to say this: Parents - you are a partner in your child's education. Teachers have a heavy workload, so please work WITH them, not against them!

Homework is an important part of your children’s education. It teaches them responsibility as well as how to follow directions, get organized, manage time, begin and complete a task, to work on their own, and practice what they are learning in class. However, most children would much rather be playing or doing other things than homework. Many parents and children struggle over when, where, and how homework will be done.

At times parents may feel that it would be easier just to do the work for their children just to get it over with. However, the National Parent and Teacher Association advises parents to let children do homework themselves. Remember, it’s THEIR homework. You may need to sit with elementary school age children and walk them through the process of how to study, help them organize the materials they need, and complete all their tasks. As you do this, you are laying the foundation for good study habits.

Parents can offer to help check homework, but helping is very different from taking over. You can also reinforce good habits by helping your child find a regular space to work and a regular time of day to do homework. Instead of asking if your child has homework every night, always assume that there is homework, reading or studying of some kind to be done.

As time goes by and your children’s confidence and dependability improves, they will understand the link between school success and homework.

Monday, August 30, 2010

US Math Scores Not Keeping Up Globally

One of the greatest parenting challenges I experienced when my children were younger was helping them with math homework. Many parents like me have heard their children say, “but why do I need to know this? I’m never going to USE it!”

If you need help, Drexel University’s mathforum.org has numerous links that can help you answer that question for your children as they can see the use of math in daily tasks, in numerous career opportunities, even in art. And, if indeed math skills are necessary for our children to compete in a global economy, much less the local job market, recent research funded by the Department of Education might have parents concerned.

According to the report from the American Institutes for Research, U.S. math students are consistently performing below their peers when compared to 11 other industrialized nations including Australia, Japan and the Russian Federation. The study assessed students in grades 4 and 8 as well as 15-year-olds. The students ranked 8th or 9th out of twelve at all three grade levels.

The study also found that students who score well on higher level skills such as mathematical reasoning, also perform better on lower level skills. Compared to other countries, U.S. students didn’t score well on questions at either skill level. While educators are looking at solutions for U.S. math students, parents may also consider how they can help the next time their child asks for help with math homework.



“Reassessing U.S. International Mathematics Performance: New Findings from the 2003 TIMSS and PISA,” U.S. Department of Education Policy and Program Studies Service (PPSS); Prepared by American Institutes for Research.® (2005). Retrieved from http://www.air.org/news/documents/TIMSS_PISA%20math%20study.pdf on 01/10/06.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Getting Ready for Elementary School

School starts tomorrow in Hillsborough County! Kids have new clothes, new backpacks and supplies - and hopefully, new and bright attitudes. Be sure to take lots of pictures on the first day of school even if your children act like they don't want you to. It's exciting when everyone is ready for a new beginning - a new school year.

In recent years, there has been a great deal of discussion about school readiness that points to children, schools, families and communities all playing an important role in preparing children for school.

Certainly part of the transition to school involves being prepared with basic numbers, shapes and letters. But that’s not all. Kindergarten teachers surveyed “want kindergartners to be able to communicate needs, wants and thoughts and be enthusiastic and curious when approaching new activities.”

For young children starting elementary school the transition to kindergarten is a big change, even if the child has been in a preschool program. Stress may be brought on by longer days away from parents, a more structured classroom routine, and being separated from friends. Parents should be aware of signs of stress in their children and be prepared to help them make a comfortable transition during this exciting time.

To help your child prepare for school and help reduce their stress, go to the “meet the teacher” day or any special programs for incoming kindergartners. Keep lines of communication open. Help children see the upcoming changes as exciting and fun (but accept a child’s nervous feelings, too). And, be extra supportive during the several weeks of school. Being prepared to help your children navigate those first few weeks can help them get their school year off to a successful start.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Channeling Your Child's Creativity

Curiosity is a wonderful, inborn gift that seems to be at its peak during the preschool years. Curiosity promoted learning, but it can frustrate parents. Curiosity killed the cat and it can also put children in dangerous situations. So how do you handle the good and bad of curiosity? You can catch yourself when you say “No” or otherwise correct your child for something. Write down the behaviors you have corrected. Keep a list for a few days.

For example, several times you had to tell your preschooler not to move the kitchen chair to the sink. When you hear the chair you come running and yelling, “No.” The child may think he is being punished for being curious, for wanting to learn. Remember, he doesn’t know the danger of moving the chair to the sink and climbing on it. He doesn’t understand the mess that might occur if he slops around the sink, or how he might be hurt if he fell. He doesn’t understand the danger involved if he decides instead to pull the chair up to the stove. He just wants to see what’s going on.

Children need to be able to safely explore and develop their curiosity. That’s a big part of wanting to learn. Expect him to want to explore. Each day you might let your child move the chair and do some activity at the sink with your supervision. Tell the child, however, that he may only move the chair when you are with him or when it is time – that special sink time. This rule will allow the child to meet his needs and you to meet yours.

As you notice the activities you have kept off-limits to your child, consider if such a compromise could work. With adult supervision, preschoolers can learn to do thing that would otherwise be dangerous or destructive. Curiosity is necessary for learning. The last thing any of us parents would want to see is our children just sitting around, content to watch the word go by without them! How can you channel your child’s creativity this week?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hey Daddy - Read to Me!

I have very fond memories of my father on Sunday morning reading the comics out loud to us. All four of us would gather up on the couch, finding our favorite place on the back of the couch, on Dad’s lap, snuggled by his side, or balancing on the armrest. We were all squeezed in together, still wearing our footie pajamas.

He would “read” the comics to us. His idea of reading was to create long, elaborate stories that probably had nothing to do with the actual comic. But the stories were always funny and the couch was always warm. It was his way of showing us his love. Our lives were enriched because of those Sunday mornings.

One of the best and least expensive gifts fathers can give their children is the gift of reading. Many years of research show that a fathers’ reading to his children increases their success in school and later in life.

Our children “learn to read” well before their formal education begins. Many have a favorite book or story that has been read to them so, so many times. Even when we have read that book twenty times already in one day, they want it read to them again. They know the book by heart. They may even “read” the story to their stuffed animal audience. They correct us if we try to hurry through or modify the story - I admit I tried it more than once. Some even pick up a magazine and begin to “read” aloud a story that exists in their imagination. What smart children!

Fathers – it’s your duty and honor to help give your children a love for reading. Your children watch your every move – let them catch you reading.

Read the sports page, the gardening articles, the comic strips, or the latest car report to them. Sure, they may not understand every word, but they will see the excitement on your face and hear it in your voice and begin to connect that joy to reading. Visit your local library with your children and pick out a couple of books you will read together each week. Write a story together. Have your children make up a story while you write it down, then read it back to them and illustrate as you go.

Thanks, Dad!

Please share your stories of reading in the comment section.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Divorce and Children

In the past several decades, family researchers have given a great deal of attention to how divorce affects children. Although there is agreement that divorce can have many negative impacts on children, researchers have also identified qualities of what some call a “good” divorce.

Results from a recent study conducted by Elizabeth Marquardt, affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values, and Norval Glenn, a sociologist at the University of Texas-Austin, have generated a great deal of media interest – and controversy. Marquardt, argues that children of divorce have to navigate the beliefs and values of two very different households after divorce, and this creates inner conflict and fundamentally restructures their childhood.

Through surveys of 1500 18-35 year olds, the researchers found that even when children experienced what might be considered a "good" divorce, one where parents cooperate in child rearing matters after divorce, they often do worse than children of unhappy low-conflict marriages. I'm a bit skeptical of this. I would think that it's better to grow up in a happy household, than an unhappy one - even a low-conflict one. But I guess it depends on the individuals involved.

In contrast, other research conducted by sociology professor Constance Ahrons at the University of Southern California, found that as young adults, children of divorce grew up to be “stronger and wiser,” and that the majority believed that their parent’s divorce had positive outcomes for their parents AND for themselves.

Many scholars agree that the best thing for children is a happy household - or households. We do know that when two parents learn to co-parent, which means working together as a team to raise their children, the benefits are long lasting for everyone.

I now offer the "Parents, Children and Divorce" parenting class, required by the State of Florida when minor children are involved. This class offers ideas for co-parenting and helping your child through the divorce. For information and to register, pleae visit my webpage: http://hillsboroughfcs.ifas.ufl.edu/DivorceClasses.html

Ahrons, Constance R., Social Work; Nov80, Vol. 25 Issue 6, p437-441, 5p 1980
Amato, Paul R., Family Relations; Oct2003, Vol. 52 Issue 4, p332-339, 8p, 5 graphs

Amato, Paul R., “The Consequences of Divorce for Adults and Children,” from “Families in Transition” 12th Edition (2003). Person Education, Inc., Boston, MA
Ahrons, Constance, (2004)

We're Still Family: What Grown Children Have to Say About Their Parents' Divorce, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York, NY

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Avoiding Food Fights

When you think of food fights, you might recall a raucous scene in the classic 1978 film, "Animal House." However when raising a toddler, "food fight" takes on a different meaning. What's a parent to do with a child who refuses to eat meat or only eats PB&J for a week?

It's common for toddlers to go through a "food jag" stage, eating the same thing at every meal, or refusing to eat anything that's red or orange. There are several reasons for this, so don't take it personally if your toddler has suddenly taken a dislike to your cooking.

First, it's completely normal for a child's appetite to vary from day to day. They usually eat only when hungry and stop when full. As long as they are growing well, they are probably getting the nutrients they need.

Second, some children are sensitive to food textures and tastes. They may not like the way something (such as hamburger or chicken) feels in their mouth. They may also dislike the way certains foods look, for example, spaghetti can look like worms to a toddler. As they grow, this sensitivity usually goes away and they learn to enjoy a wider variety of flavors, textures and colors.

Third, a food jag is one way that a toddler has some control over his or her world. He is asserting his independence. I suggest you relax and allow your toddler a little power in deciding what he or she will eat. Often, the less attention we give to frustrating behaviors, the faster our children move through such stages.

Be sure to offer nutritious foods suitable for a child's age, set regular meal and snack times, and serve foods that look appealing to young children. As a parent, you are responsible for deciding what foods are offered, and children are responsible for deciding whether to eat and how much to eat. What a liberating concept!

And when they choose not to eat, tell them, "That's okay; just sit and keep me company while I eat."

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Cost of Raising a Young Adult

Can you believe the price of gasoline these days? Have you checked out the how expensive a gallon of milk is? School supplies and back-to-school clothing are going to bankrupt us! As a parent, you are well aware of the costs of raising a child today. Providing for a child’s needs (and wants) such as food, clothing, entertainment, school supplies and medical care is endless and expensive!

The average family will spend $221,000 to raise a child born in 2008 through the age of 17. When you adjust for inflation, expenses rise to about $292,000. Single-parent households spend only about 7% less than 2-parent households – around $271,560.

However, parents don’t stop spending when children reach young adulthood. New research from the University of Michigan finds that the giving goes on for another 17 years. Between the ages of 18 and 34, young adults receive an average of $38,000 in financial help from their parents. That figure doesn’t even count college costs!

That’s not all. Parents donate their time to their adult children, too. For those living with their parents after the age of 17, children receive about 9 weeks of full-time labor – per year- from their parents. No wonder I’m so tired (and broke) all the time!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Parental Monitoring Redefined

It's 10:00 p.m. . . . do you know where your children are? If you are old enough to remember that public address announcement, you probaby are raising a teenager by now. And you probably ask your child the same questions everytime he or she heads out the door, "Where are you going? Who are you going with? What will you be doing? When will you be home?" It's our job. We worry about their safety, yet at the same time, we understand their need for independence.

Research shows that teens who voluntarily communicate their activities to parents, allowing them to be aware of their activities and whereabouts, are less likley to be negatively influenced by peers or to get involved with problem behaviors such as substance abuse or delinquency.

Research also suggests that stringent parental control or tracking of teen activities is not the answer for preventing adolescent problems. Rather, its the quality of parent-teen communication and the strong emotional bond that make the difference.

Teens may be more likley to avoid the behaviors that parents disapprove of if they're worried about harming the good relationship and trust they already share with their parents. They also know they must be mature enough to make smart decisions in order to continue to have some freedom. If the teen has earned a parent's trust, they gain more independence.

This confirms that the parent-child bond that is built and maintained over a lifetime can be more powerful than parents suddenly enforcing strict rules and constant monitoring when their child becomes a teenager. And let's be honest, Mom and Dad, we can better enjoy those few quiet moments in the house when we feel good about our relationship with our teen!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Arguing in Front of Children

No family is an oasis of peace and harmony. In fact, all families have disagreements and arguments from time to time. As a parent, you may have asked yourself if it’s appropriate to argue in front of the children. Some experts caution that children might feel anxious when their parents disagree, which results in tension and uneasiness within the family. They contend that children need the security of feeling that their parents are a unified pair.

Dr. Gregory Ramey, child psychologist at Dayton Children’s Medical Center, suggests that this “protectionistic” view underestimates children’s resiliency. Ramey explains that children already know that their parents have different points of view and that arguing in front of children may be beneficial. He states, “Children and teens deal with disagreements all the time. Watching their parents argue and resolve issues teaches them a great lesson about how to deal with the real world.”

A few cautions to keep in mind about arguing in front of the children - steer clear of certain topics, depending on the ages of your children. Also, don’t make arguing a routine or argue over and over about the same topics without ever reaching a solution. Talk in a courteous manner and have a compromising attitude. Never use physical force. Avoid name-calling. If one of you is too angry to fight fairly, stop the discussion and agree to pick it back up when you are both calm. Then, listen effectively to each other, clarify what you are hearing and work towards a “win-win” situation.

Parental arguments can teach children that people who love each other can also disagree about issues, and yet eventually come to some resolution.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Five Ways to Show Love to a Child

While children aren't delivered with a "how to" manual, there are several great resources for parents, such as Larry Steinberg's 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting. Steinberg recommends a number of ways to show your children you love them. For example, shower them with affection. There's no such thing as being "too loving." Even teenagers benefit from this; no research has yet found praising and hugging to be harmful to teenagers!

Another way to show you love your children is to consistently guide their behavior using effective discipline and by modeling good behavior. How you walk, not talk, makes the difference. Research consistently shows that from young children to teens, youth imitate by example, not by what is told them without follow-through. In the presense of children, your actions matter.

Set loving limits on your child. Firm but fair rules and consequences for breaking rules need to be set in place. Most important, following through on consequences without compromising gives children a sense of boundaries and safety.

Be consistent, but not rigid with your child's schedule. Keep in mind areas that are non-negotiable. Have a set schedule for weekdays and weekend, yet be a bit flexible, including time for recreational activities and leisure.

Stay involved in your child's life. The definition of involvement changes as they age, but the amount of involvement in your child's life should not change. For example, most adolescents don't need micromanagement, but they do need monitoring. Some teens need a lot of monitoring!

Parenting can be one of the toughest, yet most rewarding and most important jobs you will ever have, with results that last far beyond your lifetime.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Talking With Your Baby

One of the most important things that your child must learn is how to talk. On average, a child will say his or her first word at 12 months of age and may start speaking anywhere from 8 to 18 months of age. Toddlers are capable of speaking two-word sentences. By the time your child turns three, he or she will have a rather large vocabulary. At six years, your child will know about 10,000 words and will be a capable conversationalist.

Your child’s language skills show how well his or her brain and thought processes are developing. Children also develop emotionally and build social skills through conversation. In fact, early language skills help children to adjust more easily to difficult circumstances. That’s how important it is to learn how to communicate with others.

Research shows that toddlers with advanced language development are more likely to do well socially, academically, and behaviorally in later childhood. How and when your child’s language develops depends on the circumstance. For example, girls’ vocabulary generally grows faster than boys. Cautious toddlers who are more reserved may take more time to understand words before they begin to speak.

There are many ways you can help your child learn to talk. This can be done by finding natural opportunities in everyday situations to encourage communication. Here are a couple of suggestions to help your child’s language skills:
  • From the moment your child is born, talk to your baby. You can call the child’s name, sing to him or her and read books out loud.
  • Use “child directed speech” or CDS. CDS involves speaking in a high-pitched voice, using short sentences, pausing between phrases, enunciating clearly, using expressive emotional tones, and repeating new words in different contexts.
  • Talk to your baby during daily routines, such as when you change diapers, cuddle and feed, bathe and dress baby.
  • Repeat the noises your baby makes and encourage him or her to imitate the sounds you make.
  • Point out objects to the baby and call them by name. Say to your baby, “See the chair, see the bird, see the truck.”
  • Refer to what you are doing during daily activities. For example, say, “It’s time to change your diaper.” Or “We’re eating breakfast.”

    Talking With Your Child: