Talking To Your Kids About Sex in Spoonfuls
July 27, 2014 · Posted in Communication, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off on Talking To Your Kids About Sex in Spoonfuls

If you feel like everything happens to kids earlier now, you are right! Puberty now begins for girls as early as nine years old, and boys as early as 11. To ensure that kids are not more horrified than they need to be, parents should start talking about the changes their bodies will undergo much before they start to happen. One spoonful at a time. When the topic comes up, which it will given the world we live, you can be ready to take it just as far as your child wants.

Here is where our over-sexualized culture can come in handy. It’s pretty hard to get past kindergarten without being exposed to grown up bodies and sexual energy. So when the topic comes up, you can steer it to their growing bodies.

“Look at her boobies” your six year old daughter says while pointing to a billboard. “Yes, those are big boobies, boobies usually start growing in 4th or 5th grade.” Stop.

“Mom, those two are sexing!” your eight year old son exclaims in response to a smoochy kiss in a movie . “Those two were kissing in the movie. Not “sexing”. Stop.

If we stop after a statement like that, you get to take the temperature of the discussion. Does your son or daughter squirm and slip away, or do they have another question or comment. If you child has more interest give another piece of information and then wait.

“When will I get my boobies?”

“Well, I was about 13 when mine started growing, but it happens a little sooner now. I’m not sure exactly when yours will grow but we will know when they are starting because you will get little bumps under your skin called breast buds–that’s the sign that they are starting to grow.”


“Josh told me sexing is when a penis plants a seed in a lady.” He replies giggling and jumping around.

“Well Josh has the right idea, want me to explain it more?”

“Penis plant! Penis plant!..”, he chants and marches around the living room.

“Ok, buddy, we won’t do that now, but another time we can talk about it.”

These little spoonfuls of conversation show your openness, aren’t overwhelming and pave the way for more and more communication about a necessary and important topic.

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“Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire”: Punishment and Children’s Honesty
December 1, 2011 · Posted in Anger, Communication, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off on “Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire”: Punishment and Children’s Honesty

A recent article in Child-Psych gives important data about children and discipline and lying. In a nutshell, the harsher the punishments, the more kids lie. Yet another piece of date to support the goal of  approaching punishment from a calm, centered place instead of reacting in anger.

A study conducted by Talwar and Lee looks at two separate West African schools, one with punitive disciplinary practices, the other non-punitive. Children at both schools participated in an experiment to test resistance to temptation and honesty or lying about their success or failure to hold themselves back. While almost all children  failed the resistance portion of the program, the response afterwards varied greatly. Only half of the children at the non-punitive school lied about their actions, compared to the punitive school where nearly all of the children lied. Additionally, the children at the school with harsher punishments made up more elaborate lies as compared to the other.

Harsh and severe punishments will actually increase the likelihood of a child developing a habit of lying. Consequences to bad behavior is crucial, but it is also just as important to keep a level head when communicating it to your kids.

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Lessons From a Zen Mommy
September 29, 2011 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Lessons From a Zen Mommy

 Slowing down and taking a few deep breaths can change your relationship with your kids.

By Bethany Saltman

My husband, Thayer, and I are Zen Buddhists. Before we had our daughter we lived in a monastery in upstate New York. Life was simple there. We’d wake up every day before 4 a.m. in silence, and we’d spend the day working at our assigned jobs. Our meals were shared with 40 other people. One week every month was spent in a silent-meditation retreat. Now, years later, though we live just down the road, things are pretty different. We have a 3-year-old daughter, so while there are lots of early mornings, there isn’t much silence. But the Buddhist teachings seem more relevant than ever. The practice of simple awareness has helped me to be happier, kinder, and more relaxed. And I’ve realized you don’t need to have lived in a monastery or even be a Buddhist to apply the wisdom of Zen teachings to the ordinary mama-dramas we all face.

Zen Wisdom

Do what you’re doing while you’re doing it.

Mom translation: Stop multitasking!

An important teaching in Zen is that our entire life is happening right now. The past is over and the future hasn’t happened yet. Therefore, all we have is the present. Our do-it-now, do-it-fast lifestyle tricks us into thinking we can do everything at the same time and not miss out. Who hasn’t tried to talk to a friend while playing Candy Land with her child? For me it’s always a fail. Both friend and kid feel ignored, and I feel inadequate. Then there are good days, when I remember to make a choice and stick with it. If Azalea and I are reading, I resist taking a call until we’re finished. Doing what I’m doing while I’m doing it makes us all happier.

Leave no trace.

Mom translation: Take responsibility for yourself and your mess. And teach your child to do the same.

In Zen we’re taught that the state of our mind is reflected in the way we create our home. Scary, right? A scattered mind likely equals a messy environment—and vice versa. This isn’t meant as a judgment—if you like chaos, no problem. But who can thrive in a house filled with piles of laundry, disassembled toy parts, and peanut butter smeared on the couch? Of course it’s not healthy to get all wound up about trying to keep everything spotless, but learning to notice all the stuff we leave in our wake is a good practice for everyone. At the monastery there were signs posted reminding us to “leave no trace.” Obviously, when you’re living with lots of other people, every stray item adds up. But even though there are only three of us, teaching Azalea that simple message is a great way for her to learn awareness and responsibility. For example, when she wants to dump all the Goodnight Moon game pieces on the floor, that’s fine. Let’s play! Oops, you changed your mind? Okay, but first let’s put the game away. If we don’t, the pieces will get lost.

Take just the right amount.

Mom translation: Limit acquiring too much stuff.

The question I’ve been taught to ask myself is: Do I really require as much (food, money, things) as I may think I do in the moment? Because we have no storage space in our house, we all have to periodically comb through our clothes, books, and toys. I used to do this behind Azalea’s back and then shrug sheepishly when she would ask, “Mama, where are my yellow shoes?” Then I realized, in the same way we shop together we need to give things away as a mother-daughter team. Just last month, our friend was sponsoring a toy drive. Azalea and I came home and went through our stuff, putting it all in piles. “Look,” I said, “you have three of those. You only need one. Choose the one you want and let’s give the rest to kids who don’t have any.” Using this method Azalea chose to give away a set of blocks, several dress-up items, a pile of books, and some stuffed animals. When we went together to put them in the box, I made sure to tell her that someone else would be able to play with them.

Practice patience.

Mom translation: Don’t beat yourself up over things.

I’ve been a Buddhist for more than a decade and meditated for thousands of hours, but I’m still a novice. Being a Zen student is a good way to be reminded that the journey is the goal. And it’s the same with being a parent. Of course we all want to be perfect. And we want our kids to be perfect too—responsible, generous, polite, nice. However, it’s a life’s work to become a decent human being. Because our kids are constantly changing, we’re always total beginners. We all need time to learn, make mistakes, and start over. But we live in an impatient world, and many of us—women especially—tend to beat ourselves up when we feel like we’ve fallen short. So it’s important to model patience. In our house, when Azalea makes a big mistake—like biting me when she gets excited or throwing a plate in anger—as much as I might have the urge to punish her, she usually gets a chance to “try again.” We redo the scenario and allow her to get it right. (My husband and I do this with each other too, as in, “That was a horrible goodbye. Can we have a do-over?” It works wonders!) If Azalea is totally unwilling to get dressed or sit down for breakfast, instead of getting irritated I try to take a deep breath and say, “Okay, come in when you’re ready.” Sometimes it takes several minutes for her to cooperate; other times, it’s immediate. Occasionally I’m really impatient and blow it. Then I get to model how I apologize. Being a good kid or a good parent doesn’t happen overnight. We all need to be gentle with each other and ourselves, practicing patience. Again and again.


Home Practice for Zen Moms


In the morning, after getting dressed, Azalea and I sit on the floor and make a vow for the day. I usually say something like, “I vow to be gentle with myself and Azalea today,” or “I vow not to raise my voice,” and Azalea usually says something along the lines of, “I vow, Mommy.”


Realize how fortunate you are. In the midst of the eighth load of laundry that week, I try to bring to mind how wonderful it is that I can keep my child clean and comfortable. When the boredom of cooking noodles threatens to overwhelm me, I take a moment to really feel in my body how grateful I am that I have enough to feed her. Not every mother is so lucky.


Often. And deeply. Maybe you have to make a pact with yourself that every time you do something routine (flush the toilet, open the fridge door, change a diaper) you use it as a cue to remind yourself to take a slow, deep breath. There is no underestimating the power of truly allowing yourself to simply be a few times a day.

 This article appeared in the August 2011 edition of Parents Magazine. 

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Emergency! Get the iPad
July 28, 2011 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Technology, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Emergency! Get the iPad
With all the worry about the negative effects of “screen time”, finally a study that supports the use of the iPad for children. A recent post in Behavioral Medicine Report speaks of the positive effects of iPad use for children in hospital emergency rooms. These devices helped manage pain and fear in relation to medical procedures. “Whether a child comes to us with a broken arm, severe asthma or any medical emergency, we need to do all we can to eliminate the pain they are feeling and get them the care they need,” says Bernadette O’Brien, R.N., vice president of operations at NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “This program has been very successful, with positive feedback from parents and improvements in Press Ganey surveys of pain management.”

The anxiety that children experience in anticipation of a procedure can both worsen their hospital experience and make it more difficult to complete the procedure. We all know how engrossing an iPad can be–great to put it to good use to lessen trauma for children in a scary situation.

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Knit 1 Pearl 2, Hand It Down
July 7, 2011 · Posted in Adult Children, K-5 Kids, Parenting · Permalink · Comments (1)

by Jean Kunhardt

One of my fondest memories of childhood is my grandmother teaching me how to knit. I was 8 and spending the summer with her. Nonie was a master knitter; could “turn a heel of a sock in a dark movie theater.” She had bony arthritic fingers and her knuckle bumps, which I envied, served as perfect yarn holders as her fingers flew and her needles clicked. As expert as she was, she was also a devoted teacher with the time and patience for my inevitable fumbling and dropped stitches.

Over that summer and for the rest of my childhood, she not only taught me the basics but also how to understand the process; how to “unknit” and correct mistakes and follow complicated patterns and make my own designs. I have been knitting for my whole life and it has brought me years of pleasure and comfort. It gives me a feeling of creativity and productivity and it is a way to relax. I in turn have taught both of my daughters and they too enjoy having projects for long car drives and making handmade gifts for their friends.

Recently I went into a knit shop and met a young girl named Romy whose mother had  just taken over and reinvented the store. Romy is an incredible kid. She confidently introduced herself, answered questions, explained designs and stitches and at her young age ( I think 12) had me taking on a difficult golden lacey scarf project.  As we talked she told me of her plan to run classes for kids to teach them how to knit clothes for their dolls. She introduced me to her store mascot (an American girl doll)  who will be displaying the outfits she makes. I was so impressed with Romy’s confidence, skill, friendliness and entrepreneurial spirit.

Not to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but in this age of technology, where we can all get gratification so instantly with the press of a keypad, I fear the loss of the tradition of passing down crafts to our children and grandchildren. More and more in this highly stressful world, our children need ways to sit with themselves and feel calm and content. So parents, if you are not knitters yourself, think about having your kids join Romy’s classes.

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Has the World Gone Mad?
June 28, 2011 · Posted in Adult Children, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on Has the World Gone Mad?

You can always count on the NYT for a splashy parenting story. This one is a real doozy. The Times reports in, “Push for A’s in Private School is Keeping Costly Tutors Busy” that some parents are paying tutors amounts equal to their child’s private school tuition! Since it is hard to believe, here is a quote from the article-

“Prepping”…did not start the week before the exams, the mother pointed out. She said she had paid Mr. Iyer’s company $750 to $1,500 each week this school year for 100-minute sessions on Liberal Studies, a total of about $35,000 — just shy of Riverdale’s $38,800 tuition.

Last year, she said, her tutoring bills hit six figures, including year-round SAT preparation from Advantage Testing at $425 per 50 minutes; Spanish and math help from current and former private school teachers at $150 an hour; and sessions with Mr. Iyer for Riverdale’s equally notorious interdisciplinary course Constructing America, at $375 per 50 minutes.

Forget high school, let’s focus on toddlerhood tutoring. In, a terrific blog on parenting and child development research the author writes:

Junior Kumon program enrolls students from two to five years of age and primarily utilizes a drill and kill methodology designed to provide early reading and math enrichment.  The primary problem that I saw was that the author could find no evidence that this method actually leads to these little people  growing into big people with greater chances for professional success.  In fact, the research overall seems to be lacking.

On the other hand we have plenty of research that shows the ill effects of hyper-focus on performance in children. Jean Twenge, research psychologist and author of Living In the Age Of Entitlement, analyzed the results of years of study on whether people feel that their sense of control over life comes from the internal or external forces. Intrinsic or internal goals are those that have to do with one’s own development as a person–such as becoming competent in a chosen endeavor and developing a meaningful philosophy of life. Extrinsic goals include goals of high income, status, and perfect appearance. Scores shifted dramatically for children aged 9 to 14 as well as for college age students from 1960 – 2002.  The average young person in 2002 was more External than were 80% of young people in the 1960s. The rise in externality 42-year period showed the same linear trend as did the rise in depression and anxiety in children and teens.

“Twenge’s own theory is that the generational increases in anxiety and depression are related to a shift from “intrinsic” to “extrinsic” goals. Twenge cites evidence that young people today are, on average, more oriented toward extrinsic goals and less oriented toward intrinsic goals than they were in the past. For example, a poll conducted annually of college freshmen shows that most students today list “being well off financially” as more important to them than “developing a meaningful philosophy of life,” while the reverse was true in the 1960s and ’70s.”

If parents continue communicating to children that worth is in their performance by spending untold sums of money for tutoring, when the child is already at the top of the class, or that math skills must be learned as young as two years old by signing them up for kindergarten Kumon, they are not helping fight the tide of American culture that says your worth is in how pretty, rich and skinny you are, and where you go to school. Our children need our balanced perspective, a focus on loving the person they are, not on their accomplishments.

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Rejoice When There Are No Letters From Sleep Away Camp
June 23, 2011 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Rejoice When There Are No Letters From Sleep Away Camp

Sleep away camp is one of the most wonderful ways for children to form lifelong friendships, enjoy their independence and to just plain have fun. When it comes to getting letters, no news is good news!  The obligatory once a week, “Camp is good. I miss you,” letters are just fine. Try not to get pulled into the thrice daily checking of camp websites posting pictures of activities. You want your kids to really feel that other worldy feeling of summer camp.

So, if your kids are away, here are some do’s and don’ts:

Don’t call camp and complain that your child isn’t been photographed in more activities.

Don’t worry if you get minimal contact by mail, it is a good sign that your child is having a great time.

Do take adantage of your freedom and enjoy the time with younger kids, spouse and friends.

Do remember that the independence, skills and experiences that kids get at camp are some of the most beloved–so relax.

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Homework Mutiny
June 21, 2011 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Play, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (1)

All the push back about too much homework is finally paying off. Parents and school officials are taking an earnest look at the pros and cons of overloading children with homework. We hear about the prolonged battles and stress about homework constantly. Parents are not sure how much they should be involved, kids breaking down in tears if they can’t finish, or don’t think they’ve done well enough, and a unfortunate and unnecessary preoccupation with the product and not the process of learning. This excerpt from the recent NYT front page article frames the conflict well.

“…the anti-homework movement has been reignited in recent months by the documentary “Race to Nowhere,”about burned-out students caught in a pressure-cooker educational system.

“There is simply no proof that most homework as we know it improves school performance,” said Vicki Abeles, the filmmaker and a mother of three from California. “And by expecting kids to work a ‘second shift’ in what should be their downtime, the presence of schoolwork at home is negatively affecting the health of our young people and the quality of family time.”

So teachers at Mango Elementary School in Fontana, Calif., are replacing homework with “goal work” that is specific to individual student’s needs and that can be completed in class or at home at his or her own pace. The Pleasanton School District, north of San Jose, Calif., is proposing this month to cut homework times by nearly half and prohibit weekend assignments in elementary grades because, as one administrator said, “parents want their kids back.”

Ridgewood High School in New Jersey introduced a homework-free winter break in December. Schools in Bleckley County, Ga., have instituted “no homework nights” throughout the year. The Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a gifted and talented program, has made homework optional.

“I think people confuse homework with rigor,” said Donna Taylor, the Brooklyn School’s principal, who views homework for children under 11 as primarily benefiting parents by helping them feel connected to the classroom.

In this time of both high pressure and lower academic standing of American students it is well worth looking at this issue on a large scale.

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Change Kindergarten-Not the Age Cut Off
May 31, 2011 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on Change Kindergarten-Not the Age Cut Off

In many states children can start kindergarten as young as four years old. A New York Times article recently reported on the challenges for these kids in, Too young For Kindergarten? Tide Turning Against 4-Year Olds. The article highlights teachers that advocate for an age cut off that would prevent 4-year olds from starting kindergarten.

“They struggled because they’re not developmentally ready,” said Ms. Ferrantino, 26, who teaches in Hartford. “It is such a long day and so draining, they have a hard time holding it together.”

Advocates of lower income children worry, rightly so, that these children, who benefit from an early start at school, will be cut out of public education for a year, while wealthier families will be able to pay for another year of preschool.

Nowhere in the article, did anyone advocate for changing kindergarten back to a play based, non-academic setting where children can socialize and learn in a developmentally appropriate manner.

A letter to the editor in the NYT a few weeks back that hit the nail on the head of our inability to see the backward thinking of our current educational ethos popped into my head.

To the Editor:

In your May 15 issue, I could not help but link Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Op-Ed article, “Your So-Called Education,” to the Sunday Styles article “Fast-Tracking to Kindergarten.” Mr. Arum and Ms. Roksa lament that college students do not improve their writing and reasoning skills while in school. Their answer: increase the time students spend studying and ratchet up the reading and writing assignments.

Then consider the pained and puzzled look on the face of a 3-year-old girl in the “Fast-Tracking” article as she struggles to match round orange letter discs with letters splayed across a cardboard sheet before her. Research shows that she will not gain much from her intense preschool efforts. Less formal education and more time playing are better solutions.

It appears, then, that we are paying big money to educate our youth but failing at both ends of the pipeline and for opposite reasons. Our college students are not dedicating enough time to studying, and our early learners are spending too much time in formal academic tutoring.

But, here’s the point: It’s not the amount of time that counts, but how we use it.


President, Southern Vermont College, Bennington, Vt., May 15, 2011

Couldn’t have said it better!

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The Storm Before The Calm
May 10, 2011 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (1)

May and June are always jam packed months for parents. Book publishing parties, teacher appreciation luncheons, end of the year picnics–there seems to be an event for every day. While many families can manage all the activity, some families, parents or children or both feel overwhelmed by the never ending “celebrations”. It is a good idea to really take time to think about which of these events is important. Remember you can say no to some if the pace is creating too much stress. It’s great to mark the end of the year, but there is no need for a crash landing.

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