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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Let Kids Be Kids!
February 1, 2011 · Posted in Parenting, Play, Pressure on Children, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Let Kids Be Kids!

It’s amazing how sophisticated and knowledgeable kids are. Middle schoolers can seem like adults with their vocabularies and knowledge of both current events and celebrity gossip. We can easily get pulled into treating them like adults both with expectations that are too high while exposing them to too much information. Here are some things to consider and compare:

Take some time to think about yourself when you were 11 or 12. What did you worry about? What was school like? Friends? Did you have too much freedom or not enough? What was home like? What did you do after school? How much homework did you have?

Chances are life was different. Familial issues may have been complicated but school life and outside pressure to achieve and excel were probably less pronounced. We can’t change the way the world works for our children but we can remember that they ARE children and they deserve to operate as children do.  No matter how sophisticated our children may seem, they still need lots of comfort, down time, play and silliness. Even as adults, we do too!

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Skins: Watch The Show
January 27, 2011 · Posted in Parenting, Pressure on Children, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Skins: Watch The Show

The new MTV series Skins has created much buzz since the January 17th premier with allegations of actually being child pornagraphy. The show really pushes the envelope. The first episode is filled with an abundance of flesh, drug use and teenage despair. Here is our best advice for parents: watch the show.

Rather than just banning it in your home, or surrendering to the fact that we ultimately can’t prevent kids from watching it, we can educate ourselves and enable an open and honest dialogue with our teens about the content.

Longtime Soho Parenting colleague Terry Real was interviewed on Good Morning America about his response to the racy show. His insightful and down to earth take on the series is helpful to parents. Watch Terry here as he explains the impact of the show on budding teenage sexuality. Both Terry’s and Soho Parenting’s message to parents is that communication with your teen is more important than whether they watch the show or not.

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A Yin Yang Childhood
January 12, 2011 · Posted in Anger, Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (1)

A self-proclaimed “Asian mom-in-recovery”, in one of my groups, sent me the link to the Wall Street Journal article, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, by Amy Chua, with the note, “Something you might enjoy. Amusing and also illuminating.” Of course, she was 100% correct. It was amusing and illuminating. The article is a no-holds-barred peek at the intensity of the beliefs and practices that characterize  ‘the Chinese mother’. The author quips, “I’m using the term ‘Chinese mother’ loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too.”

If you look beyond the provocative nature of  Chua’s strict, demanding and insulting behavior with her children you will read an essay that takes a poke at the differences between Chinese and Western styles of parenting. And the extremes in approach and behavior are hilarious.

“If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child “stupid,” “worthless” or “a disgrace.” Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child’s grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher’s credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.”

The Soho Parenting staff, huddled around the Mac, got a kick out of reading Chua’s characterization of Western precious parenting. One psychologist, a young mother herself, laughingly relayed a story about her playgroup in which her toddler grabbed something from another child. “A hush and gasp fell over the room. I felt the weight of the question, ‘OH MY GOD, SHE’S GRABBING!! WHAT DO I DO?”  Thankfully, I snapped myself back to reality, and into my role as mother. Despite the fear of being kicked out of the group, I did what any self respecting ‘Chinese mother’ would do–I took the toy out of my child’s hand, gave it back to the marauded child, and told my little one, “No grabbing!” with all the sternness I could manage.’

We found the article so refreshing, in contrast to the scores of “Western parents” who ask, “Is it Ok to tell a two year-old not to hit me in the face?” Chua is not paralyzed by the idea that one false move will be psychologically traumatizing. Her focus is on the strength, not the vulnerability of the child and on her  role of parent; leader and teacher, not friend.  Obviously, we do not agree with punishment that humiliates, or undue expectations of perfection, but like with sleep training, children need their parents to provide structure and tighter parameters even in the face of a child’s protest. Holding a higher bar for our children, whether in relationship to manners and socialization or in helping them persevere in the face of frustration, boredom or insecurity will build resiliency and pride.

And let us not kid ourselves. In the privacy of our ‘western’ homes there’s a whole lot of  pressuring, shaming and  demanding going on. We just keep it a dirty little secret. So how about trying to balance east and west, embrace both your Chinese and American mother and give your children the benefit of a yin yang childhood.

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Siesta Time
December 2, 2010 · Posted in Parenting, Play, Pressure on Children, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (1)

A mother in an ongoing group was discussing her “spirited” and adorable 3 1/2 year old. She had come to a decision that after preschool, no matter what, they were coming home, and having “Siesta Time”- two hours of down time. Since her little girl rarely naps anymore, the “Siesta” is spent playing quietly with toys, spending time on her own and generally chilling. Later in the afternoon, they might see friends, or go to the park or take a class together but “Siesta Time” has become sacred. The mom hadn’t correlated an easier and more enjoyable phase with the addition of this new routine, but as we talked she discovered it was definitely associated.

This mother is on to something. Children need plenty of downtime during the day.  They can go along with a hectic schedule of school and classes, playdates and outings, but notice how much more pleasant they are when life slows down. In this hectic and pressured world we need to safeguard our children’s need for unstructured time at home. It is nutrition for their body, soul and brain. Building it into the schedule, naming it and sticking to it yields benefits for all.

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Don’t Let Picture Books Fade Away
October 14, 2010 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Don’t Let Picture Books Fade Away

This is the sorry state of the MIS-education of our children. The New York Times article, Picture Books No Longer A Staple, October 8th, 2010, reports that publishers are scaling back a staple of early childhood, illustrated picture books.

Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.

“Parents are saying, ‘My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore,’ ” said Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. “There’s a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier. We’ve accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books.”

The magic of learning to speak, let alone read, happens when words as a sounds and symbols come to represent objects. Much of the early intellectual dialogue between parents and children begins with a child on the lap and a picture book in hand.  From infancy into elementary school listening to, looking at and reading picture books with a grown up or alone sets the stage for the love of reading later in childhood. Do not drink the Kool-Aid. Read picture books with your children!

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We All Have Little Mean Girls Inside
October 12, 2010 · Posted in Bullying, Communication, Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on We All Have Little Mean Girls Inside

Mean girl bullying is showing up in younger and younger age groups. An article by Pamela Paul, in Sunday’s New York Times tackles this complex topic. Let’s look at some of the key issues. First, is the labeling of “mean girls”.

Paul writes,

A kindergarten teacher at one of New York City’s top private all-girls schools observed, “The mean girls are often from mean moms.”

Now that is a pretty big statement. Mean girls, mean moms. Nice girls, nice moms.  Seems too broad and more importantly, what do we do with that?

Who of us has not made many a snarky comment about how someone looks or acts? Or not had zillions of mean thoughts about someone?  Not you, not me. All of us have a mean part. Too often we label the whole person by looking at just one of their characteristics. No one is defined by one quality- we are all made up of a multitude of parts. A care-taking part of our personality, a sad part, a courageous part, and a part that lashes out.  This mean part develops to protect us- to make us feel better and to shield us from feeling shame, rejection, or loneliness.

Take this scenario: You show up at the park with your kids and see two mothers from school sitting together on the bench talking. You automatically feel nervous because you are a lone adult and would love some company. In a nano second the following inner experience takes place: You wonder if you should approach the two mothers. You think one of the women sees you but turns away. Immediately, the mean part jumps out to protect you by thinking, “They are such snobs, and their kids are out of control. At least I pay attention to my kids in the park!” You walk to the other end of the park.

When looking at it closer, that mean part just doesn’t want you to experience those uncomfortable feelings. It wants you to feel strong, better in fact. The same is true with children. Imagine the same scenario at the writing center at school. The mean part in a little kid is just as protecting as an adult, and an intimidated child will likely have the same reaction.

Talking to kids about their mean parts -not telling them that they are mean- will help them to stop bullying.

But here’s the really tough part.

“The mean girls are often from mean moms.”

Parents of kids that bully or condescend to others need to hold up a mirror to their own behavior. One-upsmanship, criticizing others for not being as smart, as rich, as pretty, as athletic, etc. in an ongoing way will create children who feel they have the freedom to do the same. Parents that have a strong mean part will most likely have kids that develop one too. So the first step in combatting relational bullying is to shine a light on your own need to put others down. Take that mean part in hand, recognize that it is protecting you and help that part of you to stop hurting other people.  This is the key to making our children safe psychologically, emotionally and physically.

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Praise is Pressure
August 3, 2010 · Posted in Communication, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on Praise is Pressure

Low_Pressure_Capsule_GaugeHow could praising your child be anything but good for them? Here’s how. It turns out that praising a child’s intelligence or performance too much backfires in several different ways. With too much performance focused praise – kids will start to shy away from doing things that they are not naturally good at. They begin to see their worth in terms of stellar accomplishment and fear the loss of approval if they perform in a mediocre or poor manner.

The other is that they start to relate accomplishments to their intrinsic abilities and not effort. In a sense, the idea that effort has to be made is seen as negative or unnecessary. In many developmental studies, children whose effort is praised over ability actually do better on tasks.

Of course all praise isn’t bad. Sincere, specific, praise like “You can climb like a fast monkey on those bars!” or “Your paper is so well-written, awesome job!” does make children feel seen, appreciated and loved. Just don’t overdo it!

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Make The Big Picture, Little.
May 18, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Parenting, Pressure on Children, Relationships, Work/Family Balance · Permalink · Comments (1)

In the last year the most used piece of advice I have given is this – ‘The little things matter.’  The walk on the way to school, eggs together at the diner, the conversations at bath time – all of these seemingly simple activities mean so much in your relationship with your child.

Parents are sadly bombarded with pressure about which school, what activities, feeding only breast milk-the list goes on and on. Many get a skewed sense of what is important about being a parent and get caught up in the sweeping tide of anxiety about over achievement for their children and for themselves. They will admit, “I spend more time pumping when I get home from work than hanging with the baby, I have to get the milk.” “I leave the bath to the babysitter so I can check my email when I get home so I am not over-run with work when I get into the office the next morning.” Or “I spent every night in the last two weeks working on the school auction, I want her to see how dedicated I am to her school.” The frantic energy and the desire to do a good job is palpable.

We are on the wrong path here. The culture is pushing us to ignore the little things. Small opportunities for closeness with your child, looking at the world with them, just being. The big busy picture means nothing to them. And when you slow down and take time to think about it–it isn’t that important to you either.

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Slowing Down The Morning Rush
April 13, 2010 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (1)

ME/METROMornings are hard for families.  There is always so much to get done. The clock is ticking as mom, dad, kids – all need to get up and get going. The ‘Morning Rush’ can feel very hectic especially if you expect children to move at the rate of adults. By honoring the pace of children in the morning, you are more likely to walk out the door without feeling like a week has passed between 6:30 and 8:30 am.

While adults have big goals in mind, kids are living in the moment with their own smaller goals. Mushing the oatmeal, zooming the trains on the floor of their room, the water flowing from the faucet. Wherever they are in their morning, they are in the moment and unaware of the next thing to get done. Parents can experience this as dawdling, not listening, and of course sometimes it is. Regardless, keeping the child’s experience in mind while you keep your eye on the prize – getting out the door – helps the morning feel less like a battle.

Here are a few tips parents have found very helpful for pain-free mornings:

  • Set your alarm at least 15 minutes before you need to wake your children or they would normally wake you.
  • Get yourself up first and take care of at least one big task: make breakfast, hop in the shower, get the lunches made.
  • Don’t let your kids drag you out of bed. You will end up rushed and impatient.
  • Make getting dressed the first task for kids so that they are motivated to get it done and go have breakfast. Most fights happen over getting dressed.
  • Don’t expect your young children to move the morning along on their own. They need you to shepard them through the morning.
  • Make a list with pictures of everything that needs to get accomplished so you can ask your kids to check and see what they need to do. It encourages independence and ownership of their own self-care.
  • Unless you have more than one and a half hours don’t use TV on a weekday morning – it creates more problems than it solves.

Remember to allow enough time, be ready yourself and don’t take it personally if your kids sometimes lose themselves in their teeth brushing or in selecting a book or toy to bring to school. Kids hate the rushing around that we get caught up in.

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