When Should Kids Start Organized Sports?
September 27, 2016 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Play, Pressure on Children, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on When Should Kids Start Organized Sports?

just-letem-playBy Dr. Andrew Jacobs

One of the most popular questions young parents are asking currently is what is the best age to sign my child up for organized sports participation? This is an issue I       have discussed for years with parents, sports administrators and coaches. In today’s social environment, there is more and more pressure to get your child signed up at earlier and earlier ages. Leagues are being formed in many sports for ages four and five, for both girls and boys. For many, the pressure to get their child signed up can come from a variety of sources. Often, parents of youngsters just starting nursery school or kindergarten will feel they need to sign their child up because everyone else in the class is doing it. Social media has made youth sports accessible to almost everyone and the benefits of youth sport participation in a healthy scenario tremendously outweigh the detriments. Many are inundated with information about youth leagues in almost every sport and often feel the need to get involved or face the stigma of having their child “fall behind”.

So if you are interested in signing your child up at an early age, what should you be looking for? There are several factors that can play a role for young children when they start a sport activity. First, I remember a discussion I had with a very prominent college basketball coach. He told me that he thought all young children should participate in both an individual and a team sport. He emphasized that he felt individual sports really helped develop self-confidence, self-esteem and independence, while team sports helped tremendously with learning about sacrifice, communication, selflessness and sharing. Second, there are several factors I believe you should look for when deciding what kind of sport and organization to sign up with.

Let’s say your child is interested in a team sport like soccer, basketball or softball at age four or five. First, find out why they are interested. Many kids get excited after watching a team play on television or at an actual competition. Many want to play because their parent or older sibling participate. Check out what is available in your area and school district. Look for sport programs that focus on teaching skills and development with an emphasis on having fun. Check out the background of the coaches. Speak with parents of others who have had children coached by them. Your first negative warning sign will be if the coach talks a lot about winning and beating other teams. Also, at this young an age, stay away from coaches that want more than two practices a week. Your child will quickly lose interest at that age. Initially, it will be best to give your child some private lessons at a club that specializes in that sport. It would be best to give your child the opportunity to learn the sport on an individual basis before signing up to be on a team. However, often that opportunity is not available or is a possibility financially. The next option is to sign up on a team through the school or park and recreation department. But, make sure you take the time to find out about the league and the instructor/coach. Find out about the coaches goals for the team. As I stated before, if winning and losing are emphasized, run away as fast as possible. I have seen children’s self-confidence destroyed and the desire to play again ruined by coaches who are interested in the score and results, rather than on teaching skills and HAVING FUN.

If your child is interested in an individual sport, find a program through a sport club that specializes in teaching that sport. Check out the instructors and make sure you stay involved. Many like to drop their child off and not stay involved as if it is childcare. Practice the sport with them when you can and encourage them to have fun doing it.

There is no right or wrong age to start your child in a sport activity. Don’t let the pressure you feel from others to result in signing your child up before they are ready or excited about it. Many successful professional and Olympic athletes didn’t start their sport until the end of elementary school or the start of middle school. However, lately I have been hearing from many parents and coaches about starting their child on an organized team at ages two or three. My personal and professional opinion is that children younger than four aren’t mature enough or emotionally, psychologically and physically developed enough. Give your child the opportunity to play with other children their age. There is no reason to have them on an organized team before kindergarten. One of the main reasons leagues are starting for younger and younger ages for boys and girls in many sports is because someone is making a profit on it. As I previously stated, I don’t believe there is a right or wrong age to start your child in a sport activity, but I feel most aren’t ready until they begin elementary school. In the end, you as the parent need to make the right decision you believe is right for your child and most importantly, it should be about learning skills and HAVING FUN. Perhaps the most important factor that concerns me in today’s society is that youth sports have become so structured and organized, that the concept of play has disappeared. Make sure your child has the opportunity to play with their friends. Obviously, safety is an issue, but encourage your child to play with their friends without a parent coaching or barking instructions. Give them the opportunity to create on their own with their peers, and they will probably stay involved in that sport much longer than getting burned out by 10, 11 or 12 from going to organized practices and games since age four or five.

You can learn more about Dr. Jacobs on his website www.winnersunlimited.com and read his book Just Let ‘Em Play

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Don’t Overdo the Prep for Going Back To School
August 19, 2016 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on Don’t Overdo the Prep for Going Back To School

school-colorful-colourful-colors

 

Finding balance between acknowledging that a new grade begins in a months’ time and reveling in summer fun is hard to strike. Here are some ideas about how to do it:

 

 

  • Don’t talk about school everyday. Let your child be in the present, without the new school year hanging over their head.
  • Do answer any questions that come up, like, “Will so and so be in my class?” or “Will you stay with me at school”, honestly and simply. No long monologues.
  • Do go and walk by school the week before class begins. Point out landmarks, like the pet store, the deli etc. so you can look for them on the walk to school the first day.
  • Do get a little back pack or lunch box to bring on the first day.
  • Do expect stomach aches, difficulty falling asleep or grumpiness around the first days of school.
  • Do tell stories about your first days of school.
  • Don’t talk about the beginning of school with your peers and assume the kids can’t hear.
  • Do remember that a parent taking their child to school is one of the most important jobs. Try to adjust work schedules so one parent can do drop off at least a few days a week.
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Shared Custody: The Kids Need Time To Settle and Resettle
April 6, 2016 · Posted in Communication, K-5 Kids, Pressure on Children, Separation/Divorce · Permalink · Comments (1)

pexels-photo-1When your children move from house to house whether every other weekend or every week, there is always a “settling-in time” at each home that is challenging for kids and parents. In spite of the excitement of seeing a missed parent or a loved bedroom, the switch is a reminder of the split and a heightened jumble of feelings. Kids often misbehave during this time and parents worry it is a sign of a difficult visit with the other parent, or take it personally believing their child isn’t glad to see them. While these are possibilities, the most common cause of acting out in the transition time is because the switch is hard, plain and simple.

Here are a few tips that have helped kids and parents alike:

  • Give them space. Let them settle in and approach you.
  • Don’t ask how their time was with the other parent right away. Let this emerge slowly and more organically.
  • Create rituals. Some kids love to take a bath when they arrive, to relax, to “clear the slate”. Some like to have a snack, some need half an hour in their room.
  • Talk to your child about how hard it is to go back and forth and that you realize they might be “grumpy” or not want to talk when they first get home. Your understanding of how things look from their eyes will help them feel known, loved and soothed.
  • Meet outside for the transition between parents, for instance at the park, or at a diner, so that you and your child re-enter the house together.
  • Handle your own guilt or sadness inside so your children can have room to react without experiencing a need to care for your feelings.
  • Schedule hand-offs with plenty of time before bed so kids can really settle in before having to manage going to sleep, which is for them, another separation.
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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 Child-Psych.org, 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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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.

KAREN GROSS

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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Ding, Ding! The Middle Way Wins Again
March 3, 2011 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Parenting, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on Ding, Ding! The Middle Way Wins Again

by Bethany Saltman

Two articles about parenting came to my attention recently and have gotten me thinking. Both are interesting in their own right, but side by side they are even more compelling.

The first one I came across is by Karen Maezen Miller, a Zen priest and author ofMomma Zen. It’s called “Not Teaching Children to Meditate” and was posted on her blog. Her main point is that “Children don’t need to learn to mediate. Parents do.” She believes that children are “exemplars in the art of being” already, and that “how you behave in your home is their spiritual upbringing. I think we have to be careful with all forms of ideological indoctrination, and that is what spiritual training is in children: the imposition of a set of abstract beliefs and ideals.”

The other I heard about on the radio. It is by historian and Yale Law Professor Amy Chua, and was published in the Wall Street Journal. Titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” the piece is an excerpt from Chua’s forthcoming book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In it, she describes how she, as a Chinese mother (the Jewish Dad seems to be in the background), has raised two Carnegie Hall, performing, uberkids, beginning with a list of things her girls have never been allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violinSo on the one hand: an American Zen mom saying that she trusts her child’s innate goodness and capacity so much that she doesn’t even want to meddle as much as it would take to teach her to meditate. (I am glad the Dalai Lama’s parents and handlers didn’t feel this way.) Miller writes, “Isn’t it funny that the fact that our children are undistractedly doing what we don’t want them to do absolutely drives us crazy?! They don’t yet have problems concentrating! We more often have trouble loving and accepting them as they are, trusting that they are changing and growing all the time, and usually doing what they need to.” I hear what she’s saying, but….full-body-and-mind begging to play ONE MORE GAME OF UNO, PU-LEASE, IT WILL MAKE ME SO HAPPY may well be what Azalea really “needs to do,” but as her parent, I believe that what I need to do is “indoctrinate” her regarding a few “abstract ideals,” spiritual and otherwise, such as: Enough’s enough.

And on the other: “There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids’ true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly.”And herein lies all the juicy assumptions: What does it mean to turn out badly, or goodly? Chua writes that “tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence.” I don’t think anyone could refute that, but am I just betraying my totally pedestrian nature when I ask, how important is excellence? Do we all have to be the best at something? Professor Chua and her daughters look happy (haughty?) enough in their publicity shots, but we all know people who have suffered at the hands of these kind of driven parents too. And when white folks do it, we call it neurotic, helicoptering, get-a-life overparenting.

And yet, Chua has it right when she talks about teaching children to do anything, which includes, in my opinion, spiritual things: “This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.”

Yesterday morning, as all of this was percolating in me, Azalea expressed a desire to earn some money for a toy she was craving. Honestly, I am ambivalent about having her “earn money” at this young age because she should be helping to help. However, I thought it might be interesting to see what would happen. So I said, hey, I could use some help with these mountains of laundry, which is outside of the realm of her usual chores.“Okay!” she said, and was ready for the fun to begin.
She started by grabbing random items from the pile and making floppy little packages with them. If I hadn’t been so aware of this whole question of acceptance of what is versus pushing for excellence, I might have just said, “Thanks, honey,” and waited for her to lose interest in the whole shebang and go off and play. But instead I decided to foster a little of my own inner Chua-style Chinese Mother and actually teach her how to fold, like for real. Not exactly math drills, but a start.

When I got serious and slowed her down, really explaining how to lay the front of the shirt on the floor, line up the hems, fold the sleeves in, etc., she bristled at first, saying, “No, Mama, I want to do it my way.”

To which I replied, “Nope. You are going to do it my way. The right way.”

And she squeaked a few more times, saying she already knows how to fold. Ordinarily, I might have thought this was kind of tender, that maybe learning makes her feel vulnerable, thus she wants to avoid it, thus I shouldn’t push the matter. But this time I said, “No, you don’t. But I’ll teach you.”

I have to say, it felt great. No fussing about, oh, well, gosh, this is just my humble way of folding and maybe they do it differently in other houses or countries, so maybe I shouldn’t be forcing my conditioned ideas about folding onto my daughter. It was just, hey, let’s get you down with the laundry program.When one of her shirts had two sleeves inside out, Azalea immediately handed it to me, saying, “I can’t get it right.”

“Yes you can,” I said.

She tried and tried, pulling sleeves through sleeves, even cried a little out of frustration, but I just sat there, not budging, until she figured it out.

And then she hopped along to pack up some dolls for a playdate—the No. 1, most gloriously ordinary girl on Earth.

This article first appeared in Chronogram Magazine on January 31, 2011.

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College Kids Are Struggling. How Can We Help?
February 22, 2011 · Posted in Mental Health, Parenting, Pressure on Children, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on College Kids Are Struggling. How Can We Help?

A study of the mental health of college freshman shows record low levels of mental health and record high levels of stress. In “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010,” involving more than 200,000 incoming full-time students at four-year colleges, the percentage of students rating themselves as “below average” in emotional health rose. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who said their emotional health was above average fell to 52 percent. It was 64 percent in 1985.

” The study also reports that our children are coming into college already struggling. This jives with anecocdotal reports from college guidance counselors. While the economy may account for some of this stress, the demands of college admission and the drive for achievement is taking a toll. “The share of students who said on the survey that they had been frequently overwhelmed by all they had to do during their senior year of high school rose to 29 percent from 27 percent last year.”

The positive take away from this is that parents of middle and high schoolers can actively comfort and reassure children that their worth is not equal to their achievement. Parents need to counter the prevailing cultural ethos, and even maybe their own beliefs, that academic achievement is the road to happiness. The trends are clear, the mental health of our children is declining and anxiety and depression are on the rise. While as parents we can only control so much, one thing we can do is not add to the stresses of modern life. We can consistently remind our kids, in word and deed, that there are many ways to a fulfilling life. We can give them a healthy does of skepticism about the “succeed at all costs” messages that bombard them. If they can internalize these values they can use them to counteract pressure they face.

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For the Mommy Dearest In Us All
February 15, 2011 · Posted in Anger, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (1)

Annie Lamott, author and mother, wrote a hilarious, honest and upsetting essay about motherhood in 1998. It re-surfaced last month and was sent, via email, to members of an ongoing group at Soho Parenting.

It was so appropriate because in that particular group we speak the unspeakable – the dark feelings that accompany the delight and intense love for our children. We talk about the rage and the out-of-control feelings that children of all ages evoke. It feels a little like a secret society where woman can drop the plastic smile and assurances to other mothers that everything is “Awesome!” and get down and dirty. What a relief. So Lamott’s essay is a window into the that secret place where the underbelly of the maternal belly lies. Read, laugh, and breathe a sigh of relief that you are not alone in the real world of raising children.

Mother Rage: Theory and Practice All mothers Have it. No one talks about it. That only makes it worse. By Annie Lamott

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