Phoebe Prince’s Death: A New Look At Bullying
April 8, 2010 · Posted in Bullying, Child Abuse, Communication, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Media, Mental Health, Parenting, Pressure on Children, Relationships, Social Action, Technology, Teens · Permalink · Comments (1)

bullyingPhoebe Prince, the high school girl who hung herself last week, was purportedly “bullied” to death. Tortured is more like it. Hounded, cursed, humiliated in school and on-line. Defining bullying clearly is critical. Many adults think of bullying as a rite of passage in childhood. Clearly there is a difference between being picked last in gym class and being targeted by an individual or group of kids whose aim is to intimidate and shame.  Today’s landscape for children is also markedly different in that Facebook and email amplifies and exacerbates the intensity of peer relationships.We need to take a fresh look at bullying.

“Peer Abuse” is a phrase that more clearly defines the difference between teasing and belittling. “Peer Abuse” includes not only the physical aggression most associate with bullying, but also the verbal and emotional abuse that are a part of situations like Phoebe’s.

“Peer Abuse” are repeated acts over time of physical assault, psychological manipulation, name calling and using social power to ostracize an individual or group. This goes against our commonly held belief that bullies are loners, having been rejected socially. New research shows that it is often popular kids that use subtly abusive tactics to put down others to maintain their social status. Becoming the victim of malicious bullying can happen for a variety of reasons.

The message here for parents is that any of our children can, and most likely will be aggressive or cruel to other children at some point. Make this an open discussion in your family: Model respectful behavior, take seriously claims that your child is being bullied, talk about the pressure and responsibilities that come with popularity. Teach your child to speak up and stand up if someone is being abused. Adults need to do the same. The stakes are too high to be complacent.

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Elementary, My Dear Watson?
March 16, 2010 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Pressure on Children, Social Action · Permalink · Comments Off on Elementary, My Dear Watson?

Sherlock_HolmesPresident Obama is focused on supporting reforms in our educational system, but what if these reforms are based on faulty assumptions?  Susan Engel, head of the teaching program at Williams College, writes a simple, straightforward recipe for elementary education in her Op-Ed Play to Learn.

She argues that, based on developmental research, children should not be forced to accomplish the “laundry list” of tasks now present in many classrooms.  Instead, they should be immersed in language and literacy, collaboration and experimentation and steeped in play. Our current focus on early academics, testing, testing, and more testing is not what sets children up to be great learners in middle and high school. On the contrary, present day curriculum “is strangling children and teachers alike.”

“In this classroom, children would spend two hours each day hearing stories read aloud, reading aloud themselves, telling stories to one another and reading on their own. After all, the first step to literacy is simply being immersed, through conversation and storytelling, in a reading environment; the second is to read a lot and often. A school day where every child is given ample opportunities to read and discuss books would give teachers more time to help those students who need more instruction in order to become good readers.

Children would also spend an hour a day writing things that have actual meaning to them — stories, newspaper articles, captions for cartoons, letters to one another. People write best when they use writing to think and to communicate, rather than to get a good grade.

In our theoretical classroom, children would also spend a short period of time each day practicing computation — adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Once children are proficient in those basics they would be free to turn to other activities that are equally essential for math and science: devising original experiments, observing the natural world and counting things, whether they be words, events or people. These are all activities children naturally love, if given a chance to do them in a genuine way.”

Parents need to push their schools, Boards of Education and their representatives in government to change the direction of our educational system. Let’s put our focus and our money, not on propping up a broken system, but toward creating a new one that supports how children learn best.

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Kids and Meds- “We’ve Got Issues”
February 25, 2010 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Pressure on Children, The Environment, Therapy · Permalink · Comments (1)

9781594487545

Judith Warner, author and columnist on parenting issues, has just published We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents In The Age of Medication. She began her project with the commonly held mindset that children are over-medicated through a collusion between parents, who want their childrens’ behavior to change, and psychiatrists, who are more than happy to whip out the prescription pad.  What Warner discovered, and what our experience at Soho Parenting has been over the last two decades, is actually the opposite. Parents go through excruciating conflict, ambivalence and worry about using medication with their children who are suffering from a psychiatric or neuro- biological illness.

Contrary to the “over-medication” hype, parents often have a hard time accepting that their child’s symptoms are an indication of a serious departure from typical development. When a children have depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, or autistic spectrum disorder it is unbearably painful to accept. Decisions to use medicine to treat, or ameliorate symptoms is a huge choice.  The known risk of leaving these problems untreated sometimes feels less risky than taking medicine. This is often the wrong call.

In our clinical practice, we have seen a rise of developmental delays as well as a rise in mood disorders, behavioral and emotional struggles in children. The causes are most likely multi-determined. The impact of toxins in our food supply and environment, the unhealthy pressured culture our children must conform to, and the marriage of genetics in parents who also may struggle with significant levels of anxiety and depression all lead to more vulnerable systems in our children.

Having this awareness allows parents to make healthier choices about their lifestyles and practice preventative care.  Acknowledgment that your child struggles with mood or reactivity issues is necessary to fight stigma, advocate for kids and to counter the feelings of failure that parents and children alike experience if these issues arise. Treating such childhood problems with effective therapies, and yes, many times, with medicine, can be the difference between utter suffering and a calmer, more productive and functional experience for affected children, their siblings and parents.

In almost 25 years we have met only one family that seemed blithe about using medicine to maintain a child’s enrollment in a high pressured and “prestigious” school.  All other parents have approached the diagnosis, starting therapy, and possibly medicating their children as a truly serious decision–usually leaning toward under-treating. The stories of children being helped by a combination of therapy and medicine abound. The relief and hopefulness is always tempered by worry over the long-term effects, but children who need medicine and receive the correct medicine are freed from a dark place. Kudos to Warner for her open-minded research, her hard work on the book, and her contribution to parents –to help them make the best choices for their children and their families.

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Monkey Bars
February 9, 2010 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Play, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (1)

TB-1402_monkeybar1A recent article on the effects of switching the order of recess and lunch by Tara Parker Pope makes great sense. Moving recess earlier and lunch afterwards affected both kids well being at school and also resulted in the waste of food. At a time when some schools decrease recess time to fit in more academics, it is another reminder of how important play time is for children. Pediatrics reports that a new study confirms the idea that having recess versus not isn’t in the best interest of a child’s academic performance. Parents must protect the needs of children by remembering that old fashioned running around and climbing the monkey bars is an important part of a school day.

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Talking to Kids about the Foiled Terrorist Attack
January 5, 2010 · Posted in Communication, K-5 Kids, Media, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on Talking to Kids about the Foiled Terrorist Attack

6a00e5517d263f8833010536b401ba970b-800wiMany of the families we have worked with lived through 9/11 and therefore don’t have to start from scratch when it comes to explaining this frightening event. They have a framework to discuss terrorism in general, and this failed terrorist attack in particular. Those children already know the cold hard fact that bad things don’t just happen in remote places-things happen in America as well.

Parents with children who were born more recently have a new and difficult task added to their job description; talking to kids about terrorism. The first most important thing to remember is that it is almost impossible to shield children from hearing about it. If they have not already seen it on the news, heard grownups talk, or read headlines and pictures on the newspapers, then the first day back at school will change all that.

Parents are often surprised to learn that children as young as three and four years old will inevitably be exposed to some aspect of this news story.  Best for you to be their main source of information and reassurance rather than hearing bits and pieces or distortions of the truth when they are not with you. Look for an opening in their play. They could be crashing cars and “killing” someone, they could be drawing a picture of a plane. Or watch your child for symptoms of anxiety–nail biting, more agression than usual, worry about being alone.  It could start out as simple and straightforward for young children (3-6 years) as, “A bad man tried to hurt a plane and the people on it, but all the people jumped on him and the plane and all the people are safe. The man is in jail.” Talking with tweens and teenagers about the Taliban, suicide bombers and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will be more complicated.

Then be prepared for questions. For all children their first worries will be about themselves and their own family’s immediate safety.  Just like with 9/11, it will be important to focus on the heroic measures that real people took in combating the violence.  This is when you say, “All the police, and fire fighters and soldiers and President Obama are working very hard to make sure this does not happen again.” If you are actually flying in the next few days and your children are nervous (or you are!) point out all the security measures at the airport to check for dangerous materials or people on the plane. Try to keep a calm and positive demeanor.

No matter what your particular political beliefs are, this is not the time to undermine your child’s sense of confidence in our country’s leadership.   What you can tell them is that hurting people is wrong and that this man was caught and put in jail. That is reassuring to children. What is  not reassuring to your children is venting your own anger at either jihadists, or the incompetence of our own government.

The hard thing is that this terrorist attempt, bungled as it was, really reminds us that this violence is very likely to become more common here. The safety we felt as kids, at least about war here on our own soil, is over. We do have to remember that most children in the world live with fear and violence as an everyday reality.  We can help our children tolerate their fear if we make sure we are not in denial about how much they know and help them make sense of this frightening reality.

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The Disconnect Between Parents and Kids on Stress
December 17, 2009 · Posted in Communication, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children, Relationships · Permalink · Comments Off on The Disconnect Between Parents and Kids on Stress

istockphoto_6173824-disconnect-iconThe American Psychological Association has released its Stress in America 2009 report.  We all know there has been more stress in the last year, but there was a troubling finding in the study. It seems that there is a significant disconnect between parents perception of their children’s stress and their children’s actual experience. Here are a few examples from the report:

•Children were nearly two times more likely to say they worried about their family’s financial difficulties than their parents perceived (30 percent of youth say they worried about their family having enough money when only 18 percent of parents reported that this was a source of stress for their child.

•Children were more likely to report that they worry about things related to school than parents perceived. Forty-four percent of all children ages 8 – 17 reported that doing well in school was a source of worry compared to only 34 percent of parents reporting this as a source of stress for their child. Over a quarter (29 percent) of children ages 13 – 17 reported that they worry about getting into a good college and deciding what to do after high school, when only 5 percent of parents of 13 – 17-year-olds agreed that this was a source of stress for their child.

•Nearly half (45 percent) of teens ages 13-17 said that they worried more this year, but only 28 percent of parents think their teen’s stress increased, and while a quarter (26 percent) of tweens ages 8-12 said they worried more this year, only 17 percent of parents believed their tween’s stress had risen.

“Nearly a quarter of Americans reported experiencing high stress levels in the past month (8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale), yet, many parents seem unaware of the impact that their stress has on their children. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of parents reported that their stress levels have a slight or no impact on their child’s stress levels, which is concerning when considering the number of young people who view their parents as their primary teachers as it relates to learning about healthy habits. Nearly 80 percent of young people say they learn about healthy living from their parents or guardians, suggesting that parents are important role models for children. Yet parents are not modeling healthy behavior when it comes to stress management. Half of parents (50 percent) say their stress has increased in the past year, but less than half of moms (45 percent) and just over half of dads (56 percent) say they’re doing enough to manage their stress.”

Even now, in the 21st century, the idea that children don’t really understand what is going on in their immediate world persists.  And it is such a stressful century so far.  Children have a deep emotional world with a wide variety of feelings including anxiety.  They are completely aware of the ups and downs experienced by the adults in their life. By denying this, parents limit their capacity and opportunity  to soothe, reassure and show them how to tolerate stress.  So the next time you think, “I don’t think it’s affecting the kids.” Think again.

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It’s Really Outer-Parenting vs. Inner Parenting
November 26, 2009 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Media, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children, Spoiling · Permalink · Comments (1)

1101091130_400Over-parenting has made it to the cover of Time Magazine! An easy read, the article outlines how an over-investment in childrens’ “success” coupled with exaggerated worries about safety has lead to an odd combination of pressure and coddling.

What is really fascinating is that at the same time the American Psychological Association has released Stress in America 2009,  showing that parents are very out of touch with their children’s anxiety. Distracted by the focus on achievement and sheltering children from pain, parents are missing the point.  Children are capable of more independence and very much need our emotional support for their inner lives.

Since no parent wants to be unaware of their child’s emotional life this is a great wake up call. A reorienting of our values toward the inner life rather than the outer trappings will help children feel a real sense of protection and support.

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The Dinosaurs Have Come Back From Extinction
September 24, 2009 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Play, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (3)

overscheduled-thumbWe often feel like dinosaurs at Soho Parenting. Over the last twenty five years we have watched a couple of trends really take hold. One is that younger and younger children are scheduled for more and more classes.  We saw the birth of the Baby Einstein phenomenon become the norm.  We observed that the busy, busy lives of adults began trickling down to become the busy, busy lives of children. We began ringing the over-scheduling alarm bell.  We heard ourselves saying, “All they really need is the box the toy came in!” We have felt concerned that our culture’s ideas about what children need to learn, grow and thrive has been transformed into a performance based, pressure-filled embarrassment of riches.

The article, Babies Are Smarter Than You Think, by research psychologist, Alison Gopnik provides a big piece of research-based evidence that validates our concern and supports our philosophy. Gopnik sites important developmental research showing that children learn most from what occurs in the natural world of people and objects.  She writes:

“The learning that babies and young children do on their own, when they carefully watch an unexpected outcome and draw new conclusions from it, ceaselessly manipulate a new toy or imagine different ways that the world might be, is very different from schoolwork. Babies and young children can learn about the world around them through all sorts of real-world objects and safe replicas, from dolls to cardboard boxes to mixing bowls, and even toy cellphones and computers…But what children observe most closely, explore most obsessively and imagine most vividly are the people around them. There are no perfect toys; there is no magic formula. Parents and other caregivers teach young children by paying attention and interacting with them naturally and, most of all, by just allowing them to play.

Sadly, some parents … conclude that they need programs and products that will make their babies even smarter. Many think that babies, like adults, should learn in a focused, planned way. So parents put their young children in academic-enrichment classes or use flashcards to get them to recognize the alphabet.”

I am struck by how hard it is for parents to resist taking kids to these classes, purchasing “educational” toys–buying into this idea that children will be deprived if they don’t do or have everything.  Here are two of the biggest culprits: Boredom and peer pressure. We know these two forces in adolescence are a dangerous duo –here they are again in adult form.

Take boredom. A great day for a young child  is pretty uneventful for a grown-up. We are not used to living slowly and quietly. Prior to having children, most adults had long, challenging but interesting workdays. They played by eating out, meeting with friends, going to the gym–time seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. Now enter baby –life takes a 180 degree turn. Boredom has always been part of motherhood, but when you are accustomed living such a fast paced life, hanging around the house and neighborhood with young children can feel mind numbingly boring and downright depressing.

Sitting on the floor for a while to watch a child fill and dump a bucket of blocks is repetitive. Taking young children on a trip to the pet store to look at the fish tanks or gerbils seems pretty “low tech” but these blocks of time are precisely what help them learn about the world in a relaxed and organic way. We as parents need to be able to tolerate the slow and small steps necessary while raising children.

And now about peer pressure. Parents tell us about the pressure they feel to compete and keep up with what seems like the most enriched and exciting schedule for their kids. They battle feeling embarrassed and sub par when they decide to go a different route and slow things down. One mom reports:

“It sounds pretty dull to describe the day with… ‘Well, we crawled around a lot and then played with blocks and ate lunch with a little friend at the park and then took a nap.  We also took a trip to the grocery store, came home, had dinner and a bath and went to bed.’ It feels better somehow to say ‘We had gym class in the morning and went to spanish playgroup in the afternoon.’ Of course sometimes I feet bored–but isn’t that supposed to be part of the package?”

So take the advice you know you will give your own kids- “No one ever died from boredom.” AND “If your friend told you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge would you?” Boredom leads to creativity and going against the pack means you chart your own course. Don’t be afraid to take it a little more slowly and let your children discover the world at their own pace. All the excitement and the pressure in the world will be waiting for them.

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There’s No Place Like Home
August 27, 2009 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (4)

OGRUBYSLIPPERS071708With their trusted and loved caretakers by their side, home is the best place for children to explore, play and learn.

Let’s take art for example–glue, paint, stickers, play dough, markers, pastels–all things that can be used at home, so do them at home.  Little art projects here and there are a wonderful way to enrich your child’s world by creating things together. When you do this at home with just your child alone, or with a little friend– the pace is theirs, the product is theirs and when they are done– the time to stop is theirs. No pressure, no “Jenna needs to sit in the circle.” Art can be part of any day. This approach keeps play in its proper place: a low key, organic part of their day. It eliminates the stress of traveling to and fro and avoids a calendar full of classes that have expectations of kids that may be more appropriate for older children.

You can extrapolate this advice to other activities:

If your child likes music-turn on the cd player–you can dance, sing, play little maracas or bells.

If your child likes dance-buy a tutu and turn on a Nutcracker CD.

If your child like to pretend- make a dress up box with old shoes, shirts, ties, necklaces and Halloween costumes from all years past.

If you child likes balls, kick them around the yard or the park–no need to sign such littles one up for team soccer at such an early age.

This helps to keep play, play. Not a performance, not  adult directed and and not over scheduled. You may get grief from other parents, but as you will certainly tell your child, “If your friend told you to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you?”

Preserve your child’s childhood!

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A Funny Spoiling Post
August 18, 2009 · Posted in Discipline, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Play, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (1)

We thought this was very, very funny!

Fussy’s Five Ways to Spoil Your Children

1) Spend more money than you make to give your children everything their hearts desire. Tell yourself that you do this because you want to give them a happy childhood. If all their friends have it, it would be wrong not to give them the same things. Even though the more you buy for them, the more they complain of boredom.

Advertising_from_ap

(associatedpress)

2) Schedule every free moment with ‘enrichment’. If they get bored, make sure to fill their time with every possible activity possible. You may also want to get a second job to cover the cost. Hey, it’s for the kids, right?

Overscheduled_from_albanyedu

(albany.edu.net)

3) Give constant praise and compliments. Constantly work to reinforce your children’s self-esteem. Lavish praise and compliments of all kinds. Tell your children how special, smart and wonderful they are with out any effort put forth.

From_360dgrsnet_princess_rooms_2

(360dgrs.net)

4) Always take your children’s side, no matter what. When any problem arises in your child’s life be sure to always take the position that your child is a victim of other’s misdeeds.

Childhood squabbles? Tell your child how awful the other child is and call the offenders parents and let them have it!

Teacher is mean? March up to the principle and file a complaint.

Be sure to disregard any evidence that refutes your position!

Let ’em have it, Mamma!

Woman_yelling_black_and_white_5

(stock xchange)

5) Take away all chances your children have for personal growth. Take away the opportunity your children have to overcome obstacles and for learning to tolerate frustration and delay gratification. Look at childhood as a time of pure bliss and without responsibilities. Give your child the childhood you wished you received.

The best way to remove all opportunities for growth is be a proud Helicopter Parent and hover above your children ready to take away all stress!

Helicopter_moms_2

(dubuque.k12.ia.us)

Enjoy the fallout from these tips!

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