Sunday, September 29, 2013

Family dinnertime: Mom, what's for dinner?

Do you eat dinner together as a family every night? No? That's OK.

Lots of families don't have the time or ability to have the entire family sit down and eat dinner, and it is causing them guilt. This post by Abigail Carroll suggests that when it comes to dinner, "perhaps it's time to revisit the script we've inherited and its weighted norms."

And she is right. Carpools, varying schedules, too much homework and other factors are all at odds with the family meal. Lots of families just don't have the time to sit together and eat, and when they do, they have to deal with smartphones coming out at the dinner table.

I like the suggestions brought up by Bruce Feiler in his book The Secrets of Happy Families. He points out that it's not the meal that counts; it's the time together. So, find another time to have that talk that you wanted to have with your children: Maybe wake them a bit earlier so you can take 10 minutes together in the morning; or use the time that you are all in the car somewhere to chat; or carve out some weekend time together. Brunch anyone?

Can family dinners be a wonderful way to bond with your family? Yes. But sometimes, they're just about getting some food.

Friday, September 27, 2013

No duh: Naps are good for children

I have a problem with this new study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It states that naps help children learn. That sounds right to me - there are similar studies linking sleep to adult learning as well. 

My problem is the way the study was conducted: They studied 40 children. That doesn't sound like enough of a sample size to reach conclusive results.

Although most parents would agree that children are better learners overall after a nap, I think that if scientists want to have measurable results on this correlation, they need to find some more children.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Teach your child to lose

In my house we play board games. My husband and I play them; and now that my son is old enough, he plays them with us, too. Candy Land, Hi Ho Cherry-O and the Sneaky Snacky Squirrel are all welcome activities in our evenings.

My son understands the rules, does a good job taking his turn and enjoys playing. But, one time after he lost, he glared at me and then flipped the board over. Whoa. 

So, now we are teaching our son to lose. Growing up, we lose a lot in life and it's important to handle it well. That makes me especially appreciate this piece prompting parents to avoid activities that give out a participation trophy.

Makes me wonder what kind of crazy participation trophies people have been getting.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Let's learn something: Write to your child

Background image by Shawn Campbell.
In just about every baby book, there is a blank spot for a letter from mommy and daddy. Mommy and Daddy are supposed to write a letter to their child so their words of love and wisdom can be preserved throughout the ages.

Oddly, the letter section for my son's book is blank. The reason that it is blank is because he has three journals full of letters from me.

I have written my son letters since the day I found out I was pregnant. At first they were filled with my hopes and dreams for him, my thoughts about getting to hold him for the first time and all the preparations we were making for his arrival. But, once he was born they became a detailed record of his life. I realized that I would have to be his memory for the first few years of his life - the time before he was able to retain memories of his own. And, as we all know, memory is a fleeting thing.

So, I write it all down: The big events, the small events, the funny things he says to me and even the mundane details. Because I want him to know what it was like when he was little (what it was really like, not just the "oh, you were an easy baby" comments you hear all the time).

Do you want to write your child, too? It's easier than you think to get started:
  1. Get a notebook, journal or whatever you feel comfortable writing in. I would say that personal handwriting is best, so make sure to write in ink.
  2. Designate a day and time to write down everything that happened (could be daily or weekly - depends on what you have time for).
  3. Write like you are telling the story to a friend. Use your everyday words and just start simply with phrases such as: Today we went to... or You are so funny when you... or Nobody ever told me you would...
  4. Have fun with it! You don't have to write all about your child - some days not much happens, but you can also mix in your own stories of what is going on with your life so your child understands that you are a person with your own thoughts and feelings, too.
Even when my son is old enough to retain his own memories, I'm not sure I'll give up completely on writing him. Sometimes it's hard to let go.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Spotting the difference: Introverted behavior v. autism

Image by Walt Stoneburner.
Like many parents, I think about my childhood and how it compare's to my son's.

Looking back, I can't recall any of my classmates being diagnosed as autistic or as having any other mental disorder. Yes, there were children who were slower learners and ones who acted strangely, but none of them were ever talked about as having a disorder.

Of course, today, most parents worry about learning disorders and diagnosing autism early so they can make adjustments to help their child better adapt to a world that they don't fully understand. That's why it is so surprising to read that a 2007 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study found that more than 30 percent of children diagnosed as autistic at age two no longer fit the diagnosis at age four. 

That's a lot of misdiagnosis, a lot of sleepless nights filled with worry for parents and a lot of problems with a system that is supposed to help children. Maybe we should all be taking a step back and comparing our child's behavior to a larger scale to find out if there is really a disorder or if the behavior is just a part of growing up.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Where are all the pictures of the second (or third) child?

I've heard from my friends who have several older siblings that there aren't too many pictures of them as children. And there are very few shots of them in which they are the only subject (those awful school photos aside). One friend showed me her baby book - there were only three pages filled out. (She was the third child.)

And I have memories of going through our family albums, pointing out that there were more pictures of my older brother than me in the photo album for the year of my birth (sorry, Mom, but seriously, the count was in his favor).

So, we all know this: The second and third child don't get as many photos taken of them. And someone decided to prove it with this recent U.K. study.

But I wonder if this trend needs to continue. When I was little and my mom was busy snapping photos of her adorable children, all the pictures were on film. Film took work to get developed. Now that we all have access to digital photos, we should all be taking more pictures of our loved ones. And it shouldn't matter if they are our first born or our fourth born. Snap away, Moms.

(At the very least, try for that daily picture.)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Let's all play together

Image by dacotahsgirl.
I have very few pictures of my son playing. Mostly because they would all be blurry.

When indoors, he creates these complex worlds that involve fast cars, things that fly and random pieces of furniture. He is up and down, hiding one moment and crawling around the next. When outside, his goal (as far as I can tell) is to run/gallop/ride/jump for as long as possible before it is time to go inside again.

It is beautiful to watch. (And I am jealous, because I really wish that I had his energy.)

So, when I read about how we are reducing children's play time over all, I get a little angry. I don't want my son to have a longer school day or to sit for long periods of time without stretching his legs (and his mind) with an impromptu game of "let's see who can pretend to be the fastest dinosaur race car." We already have lots of sources that tell us that play is a form of learning. In fact, one recent study has found that children who are physically fit are able to retain more information.

Yes, learning is complex and there are lots of different ways that people retain information. But let's let our children play. And, even better, let's play with them. Maybe all that play with our children will help us learn more, too.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Who paid for your education? Footing the bill for college

When I was a teenager and wanted to get a job, my mother said no. She said my job was to be a good student. (And I was.)

When I got to college, I did get a job to pay for my extracurricular expenses. My mom and I agreed that she would pay for my loans while I was in college, but once I was out, the loans would be my responsibility. That worked out well: To avoid paying more in loans, I actually worked harder and graduated in less than four years.

But I know a lot of students who got a free ride from their parents, and others who had to work several jobs to pay for college themselves. Everyone values their education differently, and I suspect a big part of that value may be dependent on who footed the bill.

I think of all these things as my husband and I set up a 529 account for our son. I want to help him defray the (increasingly scary) costs of tuition, but I will also want him to take some responsibility for his education. I think we need to split the costs.

Splitting the costs may be a good solution for more than just our household, as a recent study indicates that parents are setting aside less money for their children's college educations. I guess I should start talking to him about this next year when he is old enough for getting an allowance.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Achoo! Is the flu coming to your neighborhood?

Image by Walt Stoneburner.
I know that when my son moves to the next room at his school, he will get a cold. New room = new people, new toys and new germs. We accept the cold with as much grace as we can, wipe his nose gently and wait a few days for it to be over. Germs strengthen his immunity. Germs are shared constantly. Germs are good.

But that is a cold. What I tend to worry about more is the flu. My hazy flu memories from childhood involve me laying in my parent's bed (because their bed always made me feel better) not moving much and trying to keep down toast. (Thanks for taking care of me, Mom!)

That is why I am intrigued by Kleenex building a flu prediction tool for public use this fall. Instead of other sites which let us know where the flu is (too little, too late), it will try to predict where it is going. Nice idea, if it works. I am sure that my son will get the flu at some point, but the more I can postpone it, the happier we'll all be.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Can you help me with my homework?

Image by Hash Milhan.
My son is still a toddler and he has homework at school. I love his little projects: Build a beanstalk during Jack and the Beanstalk week, create a special family heart, dress like a favorite storybook character, share something that starts with the letter "N." I happily help him build, create and cut up construction paper. It's all good. 

But as he gets older, I worry about how much help I'll be with his homework. Especially after reading that 49.1 percent of parents admit they struggle to help kids with their homework. Yes, it is a small study by the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) and Google, but it's good to be prepared. I, for one, think I could have used more help with my spelling homework when I was younger (I love spell check.)

So, how will we be able to help our children with their school assignments? I like learning new things, but when I discover that the things I used to know were taught incorrectly, it worries me.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Let's learn something: Take a daily picture

Background image by Shawn Campbell.
When my son was born, my mother had lots of requests. One of them was to take a picture of her grandson every day and send it to her.

At first, I thought it was such a pain. Babies don't pose well and it seemed like a hassle to even get myself dressed, never mind take a picture of my little man. But it was such a small request, that I complied. So, every day, I posed my son and snapped a picture to send to her.

Some of them were a bit blurry. There were lots where he was laying in his pack-n-play or barely awake in his crib. A few featured bits of my body as well: my arms, legs or the shoulder he was sleeping on.

But something wonderful happened: By his first birthday, I had a record of my son's first year. I was able to see his daily growth on a scale that I couldn't imagine before. So, thanks, Mom. I'm glad I listened.

Since then, I still take frequent pictures of my son, but not every day. (They would all be blurry; that kid is going places.) But it might be something that I try again soon. I know of one parent who takes her child's photo every day before school. Not just for the record it gives her, but as a precaution. She says she will always have a recent photo of her child and a description of what her child is wearing should she ever need it. Hopefully, she never will. Hopefully, she'll just be able to enjoy all those daily photos for what they are: Her child growing up before her very eyes.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Maybe you aren't doing the voices right: Reading books with your children

By my estimates, I have read Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site 4,000 times to my son. It is an amazing book for any child who loves construction equipment and the rhymes are soothing and phenomenal. 

But I am not here to write a book report.

At about read number 1,442, I started making up funny voices for each of the different trucks. This innovation on my part (mostly to keep myself from settling into a droning, bored tone while reading it), was met with resistance from my son, who yelled at me to "read it the right way."

So, he's not interested in funny voices yet. I get that. (I'll try again in another 4,000 reads.) I am just thankful that he enjoys my reading to him. Especially when I read the Reading Is Fundamental survey indicating that only one in three parents read to their child at night.

I think we can do better.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bring your parent to work day - for real

I'm having trouble wrapping my head around the idea that some job applicants are including their parents in the interview/hiring process.

So, let me just say this: Sorry, Mom. I do not want to take you to work with me.

It's not because I don't love you, or because I am hiding something. I just need to be an adult and make my own mistakes and successes in this life. Also, I recognize that you also work for a living and you probably have other things in your life that require your time/energy/focus.

Am I missing the point? Is it somehow a good idea to take involve a parent this heavily in your career ( or am I a bad daughter)?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Does exposing children to allergens early help?

Image by Walt Stoneburner.
I am allergic to my cat. But I love her, so she stays and I take a pill every day to cope with my symptoms.

When I was pregnant, I often wondered if my son would inherit my dander allergy, or if the constant exposure to our cat would help him build his immunities. So far, so good. He adores our cat, knows how to pet her gently and he doesn't seem to suffer any symptoms after he spends lengthy periods of time with her. (Of course, she stays out of his bedroom and he does wash his hands after petting her.)

So, I am intrigued by the idea that early exposure to allergenic foods may be beneficial to our children. Obviously, there is still a lot more research to be done on this, but I am curious about parents who worry about passing their food allergy on to their child. Did you expose your child to the food early or have you been avoiding it just in case?

Update: Medical food-related allergies have risen to around $4,200 per child annually. Yes, that is a scary amount of money, but just think of all those poor children in hospitals due to their allergies. That's really scary.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mom, I don't want to go to school today

Overall, I was a really good student (you're welcome, Mom). I tested well, played well with others and took advanced classes. But I also realized that not everyone learns the same way.

I watch my son in his school now. Since he is still little, his classes are based on the playing-is-learning and self-exploration approaches. And that fits him perfectly for now, but I wonder how he will adapt to the learn-and-test model that most schools are centered on.

Peter Gray makes some good points in his long-form piece taking a look at self-motivated learners, but it also leaves me wondering about the children like me that learned best in a school environment. Would I have been self-motivated enough to seek out information about my least-liked subjects? (I'm looking at you, biology.) There's no easy answer, but as a parent, I will do my best to present my son with new information and pique his natural curiosity when I can.

What else can we do?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Clockwork households - Take part in a routine study

On weekdays, my son has a very set routine: Get up, dressed, brush teeth and hair, off to school with it's schedule, come home, play, chores, dinner, bath, bed.

On weekends, we are a little more chaotic. With all the articles on routines being good for children, I am sure that the pace of our weekends is throwing him for a loop. (I want to think that it teaches him to be flexible, but I am not that naive.)

But, here's something cool to see how routines affect children in general. The Learning Habit Study is looking for parents to fill out an online questionnaire (should only take about 10 minutes) so they can look at the relationship between children's routines and the way they learn. The study is open through the end of October; results will be available next year.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Milk still does a body good

Image by Walt Stoneburner.
I tried the Atkins diet once when I was in high school. I hated it, because I couldn't have milk.

I have always loved milk. (It goes particularly well with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.) I drink about a gallon a week and think about my strong bones and lowered risk of osteoporosis. If I actually spent more time outside, it would help me out with my Vitamin D deficiency, but that's another issue.

Because I love milk so much, it makes me happy to see this new study that links drinking milk during pregnancy to taller teenagers. As someone who is fairly tall (and definitely much taller than her mother), that news makes me extra happy. I hope my milk drinking ways give my son a couple of extra inches later on in his life, because (let's face it), life is a little easier for tall people.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Why are we looking for comformity in children?

My son is a typical three-year-old. One moment he will be happy and enjoying life to the fullest. The next moment, he will start crying because there are two pieces of sausage on his fork. I get it. All of his emotions are on the surface and he has trouble regulating between the extremes.

As a parent, my job is to help him navigate the various stages of these emotions. I help him label the ones he is feeling and talk him through the ones he doesn't understand. His school takes this same approach and it seems to work really well.

But I know that it won't always be the case. I know that when he enters public school he will need to be equipped with the skills to label his own emotions and act accordingly. This article on self-regulating behaviors on non-conformist children worries me about those who challenge the expectation of self-regulating skills. I remember the "disruptive children" when I was young. They were sent into corners or the principal's office. And I thought of them as trouble. (I wasn't trouble. I was the good child. You're welcome, Mom.)

As a child, I learned to label not only my emotions, but the other children around me. And those labels tended to stick. So how do we fix that pattern? How do we help our children identify behaviors but keep the labels from sticking?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Big brother is actually big parent

Image by apdk.
I can't tell you how many times I've had to reset something on my phone because my son has hit the wrong button while playing with it. So, I guess it is about time that we have some better lock-down methods for our phones and tablets if we are handing them off to our children. The patent that Microsoft has recently filed sounds promising.

In addition to locking down devices, I really like the idea of being able to monitor data and phone use better. What can I say? I'm a tyrant at heart.

Now, if we could only get some better protection for the outside of our devices. A recent study has just found that more than 50 percent of American parents have had their mobile phones, laptops, tablets and other devices damaged by their children. Yikes.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The lost art of writing

Image by Hash Milhan.
I made pretty good grades in handwriting when I was in school. Does that help me as an adult? Maybe. I do appreciate neatly written lists and signs, and I still like to write out my thoughts and ideas longhand. Like lots of people, I tend to remember things better if I write them down.

For a long time, I've heard the rumors that handwriting might be going away in schools, but that may not actually be the case as more states adopt handwriting as part of their curriculum. I'm not sure that anyone needs to be graded on penmanship, but I think it is still a good skill to learn. It requires discipline and care to craft cursive letters. I have artist friends who tell me about creating their own fonts in college and their calligraphy skills are enviable.

Besides, we will need future generations who know how to read cursive so they can decipher those well-written letters from centuries past. Or at the very least, so they can read the handwritten notes their parents passed around in chemistry class.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

When did the tooth fairy get rich?

When I was young, I snooped through my mom's things and found a box of baby teeth. And that's how I found out that the tooth fairy wasn't real. (Sorry, Mom. Also: Ewww.)

But up until that point, I thought the tooth fairy was really great. I loved seeing those shiny quarters under my pillow in the morning. And, although my son is nowhere near the age where he will start losing his baby teeth, I have looked into the going rate for teeth these days. It's getting expensive. I am not sure that I am ready to give out $5 per tooth.

But, I do want the experience to be special. I've read before about parents leaving small toys or other items under the pillow instead of money. So, maybe it should be special money - like a $2 bill or a Sacagawea coin. Or am I just being cheap?

One thing I don't think I will be doing is keeping my son's teeth. (Seriously, Mom?)