Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hurry up! You're killing me!

I am at work. An email arrives in my inbox. About two minutes later the person who sent the email is at my desk to discuss the email they just sent me. This drives me crazy.

And yet, here I am at home, trying to get my son ready for school. He dawdles coming down the stairs, insists on hugging me a bunch of times before putting on his shoes and generally doesn't care about how long he is taking to get ready. I am trying so hard not to encourage him to hurry up, but in the same breath I wish he knew how to tell time so I could point out how long he is taking.

I really don't want him to be like me: I walk fast, I eat fast, I have had slowpoke rage at strangers who take too long in line. I need a cure.

Actually, we all need a cure.

Scientists have been studying why our brains hate slowpokes. Part of the reason is left over from evolution, when we had a balance of patience and impatience and knew when a hunt would be fruitful and when it should be abandoned. The other part has to do with heightened expectations: I know that a website should load in half a second, so when it takes longer because it is bogged down by ads, frustration immediately kicks in.

When it comes to my son getting ready in the mornings, I am the one who needs to look at the clock. All of his delays - although they seem like a lifetime - really only put us only a few minutes behind. My sense of internal time has been warped.

According to his internal clock, he is right on time.

What do you take too long to do? Confess to me in the comments.


Monday, March 30, 2015

All tech is not created equal

When I asked my son what he wanted to save up his allowance for, he told me he wanted to buy a tablet. When I asked him why, he listed all the games he could play on it that he couldn't play on his LeapPad.

I was impressed.

Had we waited until he was older, maybe we would have taken his tech preference into consideration when buying him his first technology. At least, that is what a recent study by PlayScience reveals

The PlayScience Parents and Platform Perceptions study has found that parents have an unconscious gender bias toward technology use and their children. With sons, parents often take their preferences into consideration, but with daughters, parents take online safety and protection more into consideration. This translates to more boys receiving smartphones or video game devices, and girls getting a kid's tablet.

The study also indicates that tablets are the clear winner overall, as both parents and children prefer their use over any other type of tech device. Smartphones lagged to the bottom of the list, which makes me wonder if our children think we are foolish for spending so much of our free time using them.

I guess my son had better start saving his money. I haven't told him how much tablets costs yet and we'll see how badly he wants one.

What technology do your children prefer using? Share with me in the comments.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Free labor: The case for childhood chores

Here's why I don't like Batman: He has Alfred. Because Bruce Wayne is well off, he doesn't have to sort his own socks or cook his own meals or really do any chores. He is a horrible role model for my son.

I like Spiderman. Peter Parker has to get good grades, maintain an after-school job, save the world and still take out the trash. That takes good time management skills. 

But, for now, my son is still in love with Batman. I'll have to slowly bring him over to the ways of the webslinger.

As my son has gotten older, we've allowed him to have more responsibilities. And part of those include giving him chores to do. Because something odd happened with children and chores in the past fifteen years - they seem to have gone away and been replaced by way too many after school activities. The Wall Street Journal has a comprehensive piece on the disappearance of household chores from a child's week and why they need to make a comeback.

My son has chores around the house, and they are not linked to any type of allowance. (Think about it: Do you get paid to wash the dishes in your house? No? Neither should he.) Instead, we focus the conversation on how we all live in the house and it is all of our responsibilities to take care of it.

It's time to bring back childhood chores. Here are some ways to go about it:
  • Frame the conversation: Do not complain about your chores unless you want to hear your children complaining about theirs. Neutral language only.
  • Give regular responsibilities (as in: You are responsible for keeping the family room clean) and then additional ones as needed (as in: Today we are all going to work in the yard so we have a nice place to play).
  • Make it a game. Yes, some of my games are silly, but they work really well with children.
  • Don't micromanage. Maybe it takes your child longer to sort the socks or he doesn't fold the towels the same way you do. So what? Let them complete the chore without hovering over them.
 What chores are your children responsible for? Share with me in the comments.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Blinding them with science

One day far into the future, when my son accepts his Nobel Prize in chemistry, I fully expect him to thank his Mom for doing all those "way cool" egg experiments with him on that one rainy Saturday afternoon. "Because of her," he will say, "I learned to look at the world as a place filled with answers. You just have to know the right questions to ask." And I will tear up, and it will be lovely. (Trust me.)

My Mom always helped me with science when I was younger: All those last-minute science fair projects (sorry, Mom!), the bug collection (really sorry, Mom!), the tree log (in retrospect: not as bad as the bugs) and various projects in between. She helped me, but neither one of us enjoyed it. The first bit of science I enjoyed was chemistry class in tenth grade: I didn't need any help for that one and it was a fun class.

So, that is the science I am starting with for my son: Chemistry. A study conducted by George Mason University recently attempted to find out what sparked the interest for today's greatest scientific minds. Researchers were attempting to zero in on a new way to foster a love of sciences in earlier grades. But it wasn't school or teachers that provided the catalyst: It was families. Most participants cited doing experiments at home or a field trip with their family that gave them a lifetime interest in science.

So what does that mean for our house? It means I am going to break out those easy science experiment books and start combining ingredients that make a big reaction. It means that we are going to grow our own slime and crystals and that the kitchen is going to get messy. And it means that I am going to watch my son closely to see what he wants to explore next. And hopefully, we'll find some science that we both enjoy.

What was your favorite science class in school? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The case for more cuddling

One day when I dropped my son off to school, a little girl in his class came over to greet him with a giant hug and some happy words. My son bared it, the girl walked off and my son looked up at me and said, "These girls - they always want to hug me."

My son's school is technically a hug-free zone (for the students - teachers are definitely allowed to fulfill the children's hug requests because it is still pre-Kindergarden). On this particular day the teacher ignored the little girl's hug because I was standing right there and my son didn't push her off. But, we did have a conversation around hugging later that day to make sure he understood that it was OK to say "no" if he didn't want to be hugged.

"The only girl I want to hug me is you and Nana," he told me.

My response back to him was that I love hugs. I love them from him, from Daddy and even from my coworkers (we ask people before they join our team if they are huggers or non-huggers and respect those wishes, but I for one love working somewhere where I can get a hug whenever I need one.) I told my son that the reason I love hugs so much is that because they help keep us happy and healthy.

Which is mostly true. It's really touching that keeps us healthy, but I thought I would stick to hugs. In this long piece by the New Yorker, you can read about several studies that involve the power of touch and the way that our brains can tell the difference between a massage chair and an actual hand massage. (Warning: The first part about the babies in Romania is really sad.) It was fascinating to read about the ways touch is needed to keep us at our peak condition - from infancy all the way through advanced age.

So, for me, I will keep accepting (and dishing out) those hugs and home and in the office. And I will take every opportunity to cuddle up with my men at home.

Are you comfortable with hugs from friends and coworkers? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, March 23, 2015

You aren't that good at this; and that's OK

You're at a party. Not a children's birthday party (for a change) but a party with only grownups. Some of the guests are talking about politics, others are talking about their new hobbies or careers and still others are discussing literature. You find yourself chatting with a person who has lived an extraordinary life. As they continue talking you learn how they have had success at sports, in the business world and in their family life. They tell you about the places they've traveled to. The person tells you about the wine that you are drinking and can tell you everything about the place you've chosen to take your next vacation and wants to solve all your problems for you. That's right: You are stuck talking to the person who is good at everything.

But here's the problem: No one is good at everything. And the people who think that they are good at everything are horribly boring to talk to. We know this as adults, so why are we forgetting to teach that to our children?

By now you've probably seen the study on how we are all raising narcissistic children by overpraising their talents. We know that their little egos are fragile and we want to bolster them up, but we need to learn how to do this without letting them think they are better than everyone else.

So how do I tell my son that I value him - that he is special to me - without letting him think that he is special to the whole world? Here's my plan.
  • Let him see the bad days, too. I have good days at work and I have bad days. On bad days I usually try to push it all away so I can focus on him, but I think I need to let him know that not every day is perfect and that is OK.
  • Praise specifically. I am definitely guilty of telling my son what a good boy he is, when I should be more specific with my praise and tell him he does a nice job helping me clean up around the house or that I like the way he colors in the lines.
  • Point out our differences. I am a pretty good storyteller, so if my son wants someone to make up a story with him, I'm his go-to gal. But if he wants to build a space ship out of Legos, he is better off asking Daddy who is much better at engineering and design.
What are you really truly good at? Go ahead and brag a little in the comments.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Taking your coffee in a sippy cup

My son is not a morning person. I am fine with that. I am fine with talking gently to him in the morning, making his room brighter and even helping him get dressed on the days when he is really not into getting out of bed. I'll do whatever it takes to help him start his day.

Well, almost anything. I draw the line at giving him coffee.

Evidently, there are a number of parents that do give their children coffee to drink at some point in the day. A recent study of the Boston area found that around 15 percent of toddlers are having a little cup of joe during their day. The researchers at the Boston Medical Center who led the study mentioned that cultural practices and gender seemed to be the biggest contributors of whether a tyke got their own cup of coffee or tea in the mornings.

I'm not saying my son has never tried a sip of my daily cup of hot tea. He has. But it's definitely not a regular occurrence, and when it does happen, it's definitely just a sip (once it is significantly cool enough to drink). But, I am certain I don't want to introduce any forms of caffeine into his diet on a regular basis.

How about in your household? Does the entire family sit at the breakfast table with their coffee in the morning? How young were you when you started drinking it? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why I'm "mean" to Girl Scouts

I was getting some exercise with coworkers a few weeks ago when I saw a Girl Scout. She was about eight years old and with her daddy and absolutely adorable. She was also selling cookies.

I flagged her down and asked her if I could buy some cookies. She beamed at me. She didn't realize that I was a crazy customer until I made her do the following:
  1. Recite the Girl Scout pledge with me. (Get those fingers up!)
  2. Solve a math problem based on the amount of cash I had and how many boxes of cookies I could buy and what my change would be. (Don't help, Dad!)
My coworkers laughed when I explained that I am that way with all Girl Scouts. I had so much fun in my own days of scouting and learned so much. I want the girls of today to learn how to boat as well as how to do algebra in their heads.

As it turns out, those girls might not need my help. You see, there has been a major shift in education gaps - it turns out that girls are far outpacing the boys. This piece from the Economist delves deep into several studies over the years that have found a widening gender gap in literacy and other academic pursuits. The article takes a look at how 50 years ago, boys had the upper hand in amount of schooling and the reality of today where girls are doing more homework and reading for pleasure more often. The piece attempts to take a stab at gender bias with female teachers and female students, as well as provide the type of environment where boys still outpace girls, but the point remains: Girls had no where to go but up.

Which gender makes for the better students in your child's classroom? The boys or the girls? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The cost of family planning

Well-meaning friends and family members always have questions. When you start dating someone for a while, they want to know when you are getting married. When you get married, they want to know when you are going to have a baby. When you have a baby, they want to know if you are going to have another baby. (And, if several years go by, they really want to know if you are going to have another baby. If you hedge at all, they are happy to remind you that you should do it now.)

In the last line of questioning, I am very fortunate, because I have finally figured out how to answer that question gracefully. And (and more importantly) because I have the ability to control how big or small our family will be.

But that isn't the case for a lot of women who do not have access to family planning. The Brookings Institute confirmed what seems like some very common sense: Low-income women are often unable to afford quality birth control and unintended pregnancies result. The study also determined that low-income earners are also less likely to have an abortion, so they end up with additional children which further strains their family's resources.

It's a scary cycle to be involved in, and one that needs to be addressed. Yes, there are people out there who would love to have a large family with lots of children. But for others, they want to make sure they are able to support the children they have. And that starts with better access to family planning resources.

Have you been fortunate enough to have the exact number of children you've always wanted? Share with me in the comments. If not yet, then when are you going to have another one (your mother really wants to know).

Monday, March 16, 2015

You are your father's child

Once a baby is born, all parents/friends/relatives start playing the same game: Who does the baby look more like? Mothers will point out that the baby has her chin or her eyes. Fathers will point out the baby has his hair color or his lips. Serious players will pull out old baby photos and do side-by-side comparisons.

But the research is in, and it turns out that we use more of our father's genes than our mother's genes. So, yes, you may be the spitting image of your mother, but your DNA actually contains more genes from your father.

Yes, yes, science is neat, but what does this mean for you? Well, at the moment, not a lot, since the research is still relatively new. (It's so new, I wonder how long science classes will be teaching the idea that you get half of your genes from each parent and move on to the idea that it's not exactly a 50/50 split.) On a more personal scale, however, before you have a baby, you could do a little more research on the diseases and genetic predilections on Dad's side of the family, so you are better prepared.

What family traits run in the patriarchal side of your family? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Bring on the peanut butter

I recently introduced my son to the joys of peanut butter and banana sandwiches (he wasn't ready to switch up his jelly game for a long time.) Upon trying a bite of mine, he declared me to be the best Mom ever. Then he stole my sandwich.

We are a peanut butter family. And we are fortunate to not have any peanut allergies that run in our family. But for those who do have nut allergies to worry about, there is a new study advising that you expose babies to peanut butter rather than avoid it like the plague. Several researchers not involved in the study corroborate its results, indicating that the early introduction of peanut buttery goodness helps prevent allergies from developing later on in life.

Which is a huge win as far as I am concerned, as I have been saddened over stories covering peanut-butter-free lunch rooms for some time. Think about it: How many children did you know with a peanut butter allergy when you were little? Way too many children are afflicted today. It's time to bring back the peanut butter.

I'm not advocating that you just start spoon feeding the stuff to your child, though. The key to this study is to pay attention to the age range. The doctors involved in the study recommend introducing peanut butter to children between the ages of 4 months to 11 months. Older children who are already at risk for developing an allergy should be tested beforehand.

So, Moms, what do you think? Are you ready to bring peanut butter back? Tell me in the comments. (I'll be making a sandwich.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Dealing with that stubborn parent

My parents are relatively young. They had my brother and me in their early 20s, and I am fortunate that they are both in good health and should be with me for many more years. Some of my friends, however, are later-in-life children. I hear the guilt/sorrow/frustration in their voices as they discuss their parents. One of the topics that comes up the most often is when they have a parent that doesn't want to change their routines.

"He is as stubborn as my four-year-old daughter," they tell me.

But that may not actually be the case.

Researchers have recently published findings in The Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences & Social Sciences that indicate stubbornness is really in the eye of the beholder. While questioning adult children and their elderly parents, researchers found that neither party could agree on what behaviors were stubborn, especially when it came to long-term care decisions. Adult children would label their parents as stubborn when parents outright rejected ideas around bringing in external care services. Elderly parents, however, did not see those behaviors as stubborn.

I am fairly sure this study could be projected the other way in which parents see their young children refusing to follow directions as "stubborn" but children not labeling their own behaviors that way at all.

But, I digress.

The long-term advice is to plant the idea with your parent, step back and then bring up the advantages of your idea later on. It's more about lengthening the conversation and not making swift decisions, say the experts. Even better, have the conversation about long-term care when your parents are still young.

Can't hurt to try it right? (If you are not willing to at least try this, then I will be forced to point out that stubbornness must run in the family.)

Do you have older parents and young children that you are responsible for? How do you balance everyone's needs (including your own)? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

When to talk about pornography

When I was eight years old, my friend Annie told me about a movie she saw at home. She described scenes of a naked woman riding a horse and a man peeing in a woman's mouth. Many (many) years later I realized Annie had watched one of her father's porn videos. (Is this a Sorry, Mom moment? I don't know.)

As countless comedians have pointed out, porn is so much easier to come across these days - both for adults and children. And because of that, we need to be able to talk to our children about it.

(And you thought having the sex talk with them would be hard.)

The good news is that your children are listening. A recent study by Texas Tech University has found that parents who outline the negative messages of pornography and indicate that they do not approve of it in an open manner reap results later on. By the time they reach college age, children who understood their parents' views on pornography were less likely to view it themselves, and they were less likely to have self-esteem issues later on if they ended up in a relationship with a partner who used it.

But the problem with pornography is knowing when to talk about it. Surely, the sex talk with your child should start first. And from there, most parents find it easier to prolong the conversation when there are opportunities: If a student is sent a questionable link by a friend or if something is referenced on television or a movie.

The important part, researchers point out, is that parents create the atmosphere that pornography is just another topic that can be discussed in the household and that they relate their views clearly and age-appropriately.

Did you ever come across pornography when you were young and didn't really know what it was yet? What were the circumstances? Tell me in the details.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Knowing your body's clock

I am one of those dreaded morning people.

But let's start at the beginning: It's 5 am when my alarm goes off (yes, even after the daylight savings time switch). The cat is demonstratively happy to see me get out of bed. She gets fed and I go for a run. After I return, I am able to shower, get dressed, complete some kitchen chores, and post to my blog before it's even time for my family to get up.

To my family, I seem annoyingly chipper, encouraging them to get up and start their days. (I know that they are not morning people; they are bears. I honestly do try to tone the happiness down, but sometimes I can't help it.) They get up; while they get ready, I complete a few more chores; the day moves on.

Once at work, I know who I am allowed to talk to in the mornings and who I have to wait to engage in conversation until they have fully woken up. We all work hard all day only to leave and battle traffic home. Once back at home, after dinner, evening chores and our son is in bed, I crash fairly quickly. My bedtime is 10 pm. My husband is usually still awake. Strangely, so is the cat.

The point of all this is that I know my body's clock. I know when I need to get stuff done and when I'll have the most energy to do it. It just so happens that mornings are my time to shine.

This article from the New Yorker does a great job explaining the differences between morning people and night people and the science that fuels our most productive hours. Interestingly, the article takes a look at the longstanding cliches that morning people are more moral. And that is something that I never thought of before. I love that I am able to get so much done in the mornings; I try not to brag about it, but I am sure all that time I spent writing about it above probably upset a few people.

So, for the record: No, I don't think I am a better person than you because I happen to like the amount of energy and productivity I have in the mornings. I just hope that you learn your body's clock and use it to your advantage.

When's your most productive time of the day? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Money talks

At about this time last year, I wanted to introduce my son to money. But it was too early for him, as evidenced by the fact he would still mix the play money in his cash register with the real thing. So, we took a step back and waited.

Since then, a few really great things have happened:
  1. He learned about money in school. His homework had him differentiate between the values of different coins, so he has a better grasp on what money is worth.
  2. I started using cash in front of him more often.
  3. He got a real dollar. A magician we saw told the children in the audience that if they put his card under their pillows they would get a dollar. (Thanks!) My son was floored by the dollar being a "real one."
I thought about starting the conversation around money again, but then read this article by Slate outlining the "right way" to do an allowance. The article advises parents to not link the money to chores, and to start it when children start asking about money or around the same time the tooth fairy comes.

I think we are close to having the conversation again, but this time I want to be better prepared. So tell me, what have you learned about giving your children an allowance?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

When your bully lives at home

My son likes to tell me stories about his classmates' behavior at school. (He's a bit of a talker.) I know all about the children who use too many paper towels, or the ones who never sleep during quiet time, and even about the ones who have too many "hateful words." I remind my son that I am only interested in his behavior. Then I remind him that if someone is being mean to him that he knows to walk away and when to escalate the issue to his teacher.

There is a lot of talk about bullying in the classroom - even at the young age he is at - and what children should do when they encounter a bully. But, surprisingly, there is not a lot of discussion when bullying behavior happens at home.

Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln asked undergraduate students about their childhood experiences and found that many experienced bullying behaviors at home from older siblings but never reported it. The researchers who conducted the study were careful to use a list of bullying behaviors to qualify their report, so the results couldn't be chalked up to cases of sibling rivalry.

The researchers pointed out that experiencing bullying at home normalizes the behavior for children and makes them less likely to report those behaviors at school. In lots of cases, participants in the study reported that their parents didn't see those behaviors as bullying but just natural interactions between siblings.

As someone with an older brother and a single working Mom, I did get picked on a lot by my brother. Was it bullying? The researchers might say yes; I might think about it differently depending on my age. After reading the results of the study, it makes me thankful that my son doesn't have a younger sibling to pick on. It's a hard judgement call to make: Where's the line between sibling squabbles and bullying?

Was your older sibling a bully? Tell me about it in the comments.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I know what's in your garage

As I've previously complained, I run in the mornings. I try to stay focused on my breath and my stride and not slipping on unseen ice on the sidewalk and falling on my butt (again), but sometimes I get distracted: Mostly by people's garages.

First of all, I am amazed at the amount of garage doors that are open in the morning with little-to-no supervision. (Were they open all night long? Is someone about to come out and warm up their car? Did a bunny just hop into that garage?) But that thought is usually quickly replaced with, "Look at all the stuff crammed into that garage!"

There is no car in sight. Boxes are usually stacked to the ceilings, and there is usually a small walkway carved out between mountains of stuff. It makes me wonder why people are holding onto it all (do you really need everything in there?) or if they've just had it so long, they don't even see it anymore.

In our household, our two-car garage holds more than our vehicles: There are also tools, bikes, our trash bin and our son's outdoor toys in there. But, overall, it's a clean space. Maybe this is because I have such fears around hoarding that I try not to hold onto things I don't use often. Happily, my husband has the same philosophy, so we find ourselves cleaning out the house (and garage) at least once a year.

But maybe we're in the minority when it comes to thinking of the garage as a place for vehicles. As it turns out, a study in the U.K. revealed that lots of homeowners used garage space to expand their living space (with a new bedroom or spare office) or as overall storage space. Their cars ended up in the driveway or the street. In the past year my parents converted their garage into additional living space as well.

Are we alone in wanting to keep our cars in the garage? What's currently occupying the space in your garage? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Before you upload that picture...

Let's start with privacy basics: The bathroom door.

After several years of repeated discussions, my son has finally learned to knock on the closed bathroom door. About 60% of the time he also waits for acknowledgement before trying to come in. It is (in my head) a parenting triumph.

So we move on to phase two: The bedroom door.

After many reminders that everyone's body is private, my son no longer complains when I send him out of the bedroom when I get dressed. Sure, he is sitting outside the closed bedroom door waiting for me, but I count this as victory on an unprecedented scale.

The next step: Privacy by example.

This is a conversation many years in the making, and I am still learning the rules as I go. It's mostly about online privacy, but in order to teach my son about it, I have to learn more about it. And that is hard to do since companies keep changing the rules. This piece in medium, for example, lays out some shocking examples of companies profiting off baby pictures uploaded by parents to flickr. The parents who uploaded them may not have realized the images were marked as available for commercial use.

For me, this means that I need to start reading those terms and conditions closer. A lot closer. And then teach my son how to do the same when we spend time online together. I've already (mostly) won the battle for privacy at home; I think with enough determination and patience I can teach him to win the one online as well.

Are you up-to-date on all the terms and conditions of your social media sites? Tell me in the comments.