Tuesday, June 30, 2015

You give a little, you get a lot

Every Sunday morning, I give my son his allowance. He does a little song and dance he made up and races to his room to put the money into his three jars. So far, he's completely understood the purpose of his spend and save jars, but we haven't done much with his give jar. He knows that he has that jar in order to give back to the world, but we were waiting for enough funds to make an impact.

So after a few months of allowances, I invited him to choose a project from donorschoose.org to spend his "give" money on. I told him that Mommy and Daddy would match the amount of money he decided to give to teachers. And he ended up choosing a project for one of the teachers in his school.

The idea of giving is an important one for me. We aren't a religious family, so we don't give back to a church. Although we do support some community programs, there hasn't been something that my son gets to interact with and support until this. And, as researchers are discovering, the act of giving may make us healthier overall. After playing a few games with children so they could earn tokens, researchers gave children the opportunity to give some of their hard-earned tokens away to children who weren't there. They discovered a few things:
  • Children who had poorer backgrounds gave away more tokens than those from wealthier backgrounds.
  • The children who gave away more tokens had a greater sense of calm about them.
I'm not saying that altruism is the key to ultimate health, but I am interested in helping my son understand that he has a responsibility to take care of the world that he lives in.

What organizations do you encourage your child to support? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Dinner with a side of emails

"No phones at the dinner table."

On the surface, it seems like such an easy rule to enforce. But there are always exceptions: Like when my husband is on call and keeps his phone with him at all times, or when my phone has dinged eight times in the past three minutes so something is clearly going on, or when we can't remember the name of some show we are talking about and desperately want to look it up, or...

There will always be something. The trick is to remember the rule: No phones at the dinner table.

My family isn't alone: A recent survey by Workfront has found that urgent emails are responsible for ruining family dinner time for three out of five families. That statistic is worrisome for several reasons:
  1. It means that too many families are checking emails during family dinners.
  2. It means that two out of five families think that it is fine to answer emails during family dinners (I wonder if their spouses/children feel the same.)
In my view - this has to stop. Family time is for talking about our days, discussing funny happenings and planning upcoming adventures. Sometimes we don't have much to share (boring days happen to us all), but the trick is not to turn to the phone as a crutch. Play a game, ask questions from a prepared list or just take turns making up stories. Anything is better than letting work creep into family time.

What do you do as a family to keep your phones off the dinner table? Share your tips in the comments.

Friday, June 26, 2015

As seen on TV: Doofus Dads

I know a lot of sitcoms from the 1980s: The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Webster, Small Wonder, Whose the Boss?, My Two Dads, Diff'rent Strokes, Family Ties, The Wonder Years...there are a lot of them. Their theme songs get stuck in my head sometimes and I can recall a fair amount of the plot lines. I can also recall that they were fun for the whole family to watch.

Today, my husband and I have only a handful of television shows that we watch together. And of those shows, I have found that there are very few that portray Dads in a positive light. (But in fairness, I don't think anyone should look to the characters of Game of Thrones for parenting advice.) But this isn't just because my husband and I have a particular taste in shows. No, the issue of doofus dads has become an epidemic.

The study in the above link monitored more than a dozen shows for the interactions between the father and his children and found that most TV dads were portrayed as an aimless character who gets outsmarted by family. The TV fathers often said hurtful things to their children and were incapable of looking after their family.

Not a great set of role models for today's children.

I don't have the answer, but maybe it's time to turn off the doofus dads, open up the TV vault and haul out one of those classic television sitcoms where fathers were respected just as much as moms.

What was your favorite television Dad growing up? Let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Expecting your children to make the grade

As mentioned before in this blog, my Mom told me that my job was to be a good student. She expected me to make excellent grades, and she was clear on her expectations. (Not Tiger Mother level of expectations, but her point was clear.) She told me I was smart; I believed her; I did well in school.

Granted, I worked really hard for my excellent grades, but my Mother's expectation that I would do well in school was certainly a factor. This article in Time does a nice job outlining new research which suggests parental expectations may have an influence on their children's achievements. In the study, researchers looked at the grade point averages for pairs of siblings (mixed genders and ages) and compared them against their parent's expectations. It turns out that the biggest factor to determine how well a child will do in the following school year is Mom and Dad's belief in which child was the better student.

Strangely, they found this to be true even when parental belief conflicted with actual results. "The smart child" remained "the smart one" to their parents, even if report card data showed they had a lower GPA then their sibling.

But, as a parent of multiple children, it has to be downright impossible to hide your true expectations toward your child's academic success. Children are just so tuned into their parents, that they are able to pick up on those expectations or which child is the favorite - even if those thoughts are never vocally expressed.

(Makes me thankful to just have one child.)

But, for parent of multiples, there is hope. You can praise your children academically, but be more specific with your praise. Maybe one child is better in math and another is a Spanish wiz. The key is to individualize the praise and make sure your children understand that you expect them all to do their best.

Were you considered "the smart one" in your family? If not, who was? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Why you are your mother

Somewhere in the ever-growing list of apologies to my Mother, I am making a point. (It's subtle, but it's there.) The point is that my Mom knew what she was doing when she was raising me and that she showed me lots of love and support every day. Those are just a few of the reasons I find myself incorporating some of the things she did into my own parenting style.

But maybe that is inevitable.

Research published in the European Journal of Public Health suggests that our mothers have a profound impact on the way we parent our children. Almost 150 families were watched while parents interacted with their children. Those observations were then compared to the self-reported interactions parents received from their own Moms and Dads. The results showed that parents with affectionate Mothers tended to have a more positive parenting style with their own children. So, a Father observed to be very affectionate with his son, for example, was found to have memories of his own Mother being very affectionate with him when he was a child.

But wait, you ask...what about Dads? How did a Father's behavior influence his child's parenting style? Well...all I can say is that the sample size used for the study was fairly small, so the results on how much a father influences your parenting behavior seems to be negligible. (Sorry, Dads!)

This study doesn't reveal that Moms are more important than Dads (no non-traditional families were incorporated into the study, for example), or that one style of parenting is better than another. It just shows that Moms are influencing us for a long time after we leave the nest.

Thanks, Mom!

What's a fond memory you have of your Mother from when you were little? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Your on-screen purchases

You are in the store. You've been roaming the aisles for several minutes until you finally find the item that you've been looking for. So, what do you do next? Why, you take out your phone, of course. But the reason why you take out your phone depends on your gender.

Moms take out their phones to see if they can find a coupon or a better deal.
I've seen this in action: I've watched Moms scoff at the price of something on the shelf in front of them, whip out their phone, purchase it online and walk away.

Dads take out their phones to do research or find product reviews.
I've actually seen this one, too: A Dad trying to decide on two versions of a product looked to the online reviews to be his tie-breaker.

The study that figured out the above behaviors was trying to determine how people used their phones while in stores to better service customers. But what really interested me was reading that study in conjunction with this one claiming that Dads spend more in stores than Moms do. Although the main reason for the second study was to point out that millennial men are doing more shopping for their families overall, the research also shows that Dads are more willing to trust brand names and not hunt for bargains when shopping for their families, the way that Moms often do.

So maybe it's time to go shopping together: Mom can find the coupons and Dad can read the product reviews.

Which parent does the shopping (groceries, back-to-school, etc.) in your family? Do you like the way it works out? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, June 19, 2015

When your baby fat grows up

All mothers know there are two definitions of the phrase "baby fat." The first definition describes the extra roll of fat that clings to babies and is absolutely adorable. The second definition refers to those extra pounds that cling to a woman's body after she has the baby (and is considered much less adorable). Mothers usually blame their baby for their weight gain, and then try their luck at getting rid of it.

It turns out, however, that both parents can now blame their extra pounds on their children well after the diaper stage. The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics took a look at BMIs for parents and non-parents and discovered that the non-parent group was generally much healthier over the span of 20 years. Furthermore, the study showed that the reasons why parents packed on the extra pounds was due to the accumulative effects of a life with higher stress, sleep deprivation and mindless eating: Parents worry about their little ones, get woken up throughout the night and then end up finishing their children's meals to not waste food.

Sound familiar?

Sure, it's easy to pass the blame onto our children, but let's take a look at some ways to change our own behaviors instead.
  • Sleep more. Since I started tracking my own sleep, I have become obsessed with it and now know how much I need to actually be the best mommy I can be versus how much I need to just get by. So, figure out your bedtime and stick with it.
  • Less stress. Short of shipping our little ones to Grandma's house for a week, we need to find a way to deal with our stress. So, although I hate running, I recognize that I feel less stressed out when I suck it up in the morning and just do it.
  • Eat less. Better the food end up in the garbage than in your mouth. Also, teach your children portion control at an early age so they learn they don't have to fill their plates - just their tummies.
What are your tips for dropping the mommy/daddy weight? Leave them in the comments.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Women breadwinners don't have time to cheat

My husband and I have always had a dual-income household. We are fortunate to both have jobs that we truly enjoy. There have been a few times in the past where one of us was out of work and financially dependent on the other person, which naturally lead to stress in our relationship. But we got through it (for better or worse, right?) and moved ahead. At no point during those times did one of us consider cheating on the other.

But that isn't always the case for some couples. Researchers combing data from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth found that the husbands of female breadwinners are the most likely group to cheat on their partners. Speculation around the main reason for cheating centered around men trying to "feel masculine" again and gain more control in the relationship.

Conversely, researchers found that the group least likely to cheat were the women who were the primary income earners. The data showed that not only were women earning the family income but were still completing the housework, leading some researchers to speculate that the women in that group simply didn't have the time to cheat.

Whatever the outcomes, the study data shows that stereotypical gender roles still hold strong with young adults in the U.S. But with more women earning advanced degrees and more prominence in their fields, it will be interesting to see if both men and women can become comfortable with gender neutral thinking around family breadwinners.

Do you teach your children about gender neutrality when it comes to running a household? How do you approach the conversation? Leave your tips in the comments.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Parents just don't understand

On days of high stress at my office, my coworkers and I will message one another with phrases we've picked up from the younger members of our team:
This meeting: I can't even.
I literally can't with this person right now.
I have lost my ability to even right now...please leave a message at the beep.

While this makes us lol and breaks the tension, we recognize that we are making no sense. And that is kind of the point.

Somewhere along the line of parenthood, when my son turns older and I have trouble understanding his language or cadence of speech, will someone please kindly remind me that I am not supposed to understand what my teenager is saying? I think that as we get older we forget how we drove our own parents crazy with our mannerisms (Sorry, Mom!) but that was because we didn't want our parents to understand us. And, once our parents started to use our terminology with us, how it instantly became uncool.

And thus, the circle of language will continue...or whatever the kids are calling it these days.

What phrase does your teen use that you cannot stand? Leave the offender in the comments.

Monday, June 15, 2015

I'm not a happy camper

When I was a Girl Scout, my parents let me go to camps over the summer. Lots of camps. There was day camp and teddy bear camp, dance camp and biking camp and more. And camping was fun: We earned badges, made s'mores, sang dirty songs, made new friends and slept in very nice tents.

But if someone would ask me to go camping today, I would pass. My adult mind would think about bug bites, poor sleep, snakes and a lack of bathroom facilities. Maybe I've become spoiled, but I don't think I would be a happy camper.

I fully intend, however, to send my son to camp. The explorations in the wilderness, learning the survival basics and making friends are all important life skills. Of course, so is learning how to cope with homesickness, so I think he should go to camp by himself and write me letters.

There are families that enjoy camping together, and it turns out that those families believe camping makes their children healthier and happier overall. In this study, (which is funded by a camping organization, so take it with a grain of salt) children who camp do better in school and are healthier than their non-camping brethren.

I'm not convinced that is true - since there are lots of ways for children to be active and healthy without ever making a middle-of-the-night trip to a latrine guided only by a weak flashlight. But, if you are a camping family and you all enjoy it, then by all means - get your camp on.

I'll be by the hotel pool if you need me.

What was your favorite thing about summer camp when you were little? Tell me all about it in the comments.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The serious business of laughter

My son laughs at the slapstick pratfalls on a television show. He laughs at the goofy knock-knock jokes that I tell him. And he is super ticklish.

And all those things make me really happy.

I have this idea that I was a fairly serious child (Mom, is that true?), because I remember having fun, but never periods of a lot of laughter. As an adult, I can say that I am no longer ticklish, and although I enjoy stand-up comics and still engage in the social laughter needed to navigate the world and create connections with other people, I do not laugh easily.

But look at this: I can blame science.

Scientists have been able to link a genetic variant to the tendency to smile and laugh more often. So, maybe I just don't have the gene that amplifies my emotional reactions. The down side is that I don't laugh easily; the up side is that I don't get weighed down with negative emotions either.

But laughter is an interesting concept. This amazing TED talk by Sophie Scott delves into the lighter side of laughter and why we do it. I learned that it takes a lot to get me to laugh, but that is inevitable because the older we get, the less contagious laughter is.

Which brings me back to my son. He makes me laugh. And that is definitely what we all need to do more of.

What makes you laugh? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What I like about you

My son made me a notebook. It consists of six pieces of construction paper held together with copious amounts of tape. (Note to self: Skip presents this Christmas and just buy son jumbo rolls of tape.) He gave it to me because he knows I like to write and immediately asked me what I would write in it.

"I will write down all the wonderful things I love about you," I told him.

This earned me kisses and hugs (Note to son: This is all I want from you for Christmas this year). And so I wrote in the notebook. I wrote down for him all the things I love about him and his character strengths as a person. When he came home from a Daddy/son adventure, I showed him the notebook and we read it together. He was all smiles.

Of course he was happy: Strength-based parenting, a parenting style where you encourage your child's positive qualities, will help them become more resilient later on in life. So by encouraging a characteristic that your child has or is developing - humor, courage or kindness, for example - you are giving them a way to cope with stress.

I would have thought that would have been fairly obvious, but maybe it isn't. So, there you go: Encourage your child's positive traits.

After reading through the notebook, my son told me that he wants to make me a new notebook that I can write about him in. And I will. I will write about the way he is becoming a little gentleman by opening doors for ladies, and the way he still squeezes my hand because I told him it was a way to tell someone you love them. I will write about the way he amazes me when he reads, and how I love seeing him being extra gentle with our retired cat. And he will learn how much he amazes me.

It will probably take more pages than the first notebook. And we will probably need more tape.

What quality are you trying to encourage in your child right now? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Biting the hand that feeds you

Our family cat is 15 years old. She has been "retired" for the last five years and is no longer required to kill any bugs that creep into our home. She enjoys a life of relaxation, attention on her terms and pampered quiet.

I am thankful that she has always been affectionate toward us and our son. When he was a baby, she would sneak up behind him, rub up against him (which made him giggle) and then dash away quickly to watch him from afar. Today, she still enjoys rubbing up against him to remind him that he belongs to her, and I'll still find her sitting near him watching him play with Legos.

She is a really, really good cat and she has never bitten, scratched or hissed at us, but then again, we have all learned to play by her rules. From an early age we taught our son how to pet her gently, and - more importantly - where he's allowed to pet her. We also taught him to watch her tail for clues to her mood (up = happy and approachable; swish = walk away).

I mention all this because I've read the findings of the Mayo Clinic, which found that half of all children suffering from dog bites received them from the family dog. Although there is this thinking that the family pet is safe, it is important to reinforce rules around any animals. There are many cases where the pet may not have acted out of anger or fear but a game may have just gone too far.

So, we reinforce the rules at home with our son: Look to the tail, we remind him. He (and our cat) are happier for it.

And, of course, we also teach him: If you don't know the animal, hands off.

How did your family pet react to having a human brother or sister? Share your story in the comments.

Monday, June 8, 2015

1000 photos in five years

How many photos do you have from your childhood? I am lucky - I had two parents who weren't afraid to break out the camera for holidays, vacations or even everyday events and didn't let the price of processing film scare them off. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

Now think about how many photos you have of your child. With digital photography it probably numbers in the thousands. How many of those photos have you shared online?

The Parent Zone polled 2,000 parents and found that by the age of 5, parents posted around 200 photos of their children each year onto social media sites - that's 1,000 photos in 1,825 days. That's a lot of moments broadcasted to a wide audience. And that is a lot of unhappy children, since nearly a third of parents admitted that their child asked them not to post a photo online.

Further questioning in the study found that a significant number of parents have either never checked their privacy settings on social media sites or only checked it once and haven't kept up with the changes over the years.

So, do parents need to stop sharing pictures of their child's first day of school or that cute Halloween costume? No, but they do need to follow some basics tips for online safety:
  • Know the site you are sharing on. Do you retain exclusive rights to those photos? Do you have the right privacy settings in place?
  • Think before you share. Would you want your child's future employer seeing that photo?
  • Ask permission. Are there other children in the photo? Would their parents mind you posting that picture online?
  • Share smartly. Has the GPS data been included in your photo or did you wipe that information from the file? Do you have a backup image at home in case the site ever gets wiped out?
What tips do you follow when sharing pictures online? Leave them in the comments.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Are you really scared of clowns?

When asked what I am afraid of, I will list two things: Snakes and clowns.

I am afraid of snakes because I was raised Catholic and snakes are inherently evil creatures. Also, I have seen snakes up close, and they are creepy. Animals should have feet.

My fear of clowns, however, is a bit more complicated. I guess it would be more accurate to say that I have a general discomfort around clowns. I do not have the type of real phobia that would make me run screaming from the room when I see a clown, but I will definitely fade into the background if I am sharing the same breathing space with one. I could point to a time when a clown was invited to my birthday party and he freaked me out a bit, but I think overall that I am uncomfortable with the unnaturalness of clowns: The makeup, the over-zealous expressions, the over-the-top clothing. It's too much chaos for me.

But I understand that the element of chaos is why so many children like clowns. Clowns perform physical comedy like cartoons, they make fun of adults and their clothes do not match in a similar style to a young child who is learning how to dress themselves for the first time.

In this long piece by NY Magazine, we get a glimpse into the life of a clown - a really good clown - and how he has had to adapt his act in a world of adults who claim that they are afraid of clowns.

So there. I've said it. I am not afraid of clowns, but I am not comfortable around them either. The trick is not letting my son see my discomfort so that he can make up his own mind. I don't want him to inherit my fears.

(I'm still scared of snakes though.)

Are clowns funny or scary? Tell me your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What are your demands?

As a young teen, I once asked my Mom if I could get an after-school job. Her reply was: "Your job is to be a good student." So I tried my best to do a good job and balance my school work with all the other chores I did around the house.

I liked knowing that my Mother valued academic achievement, and she made it my primary focus. I also like that she never became overly demanding or involved in my schoolwork to put more pressure on me than I had already put on myself to excel. (Thanks, Mom!)

And that balance around schooling is what all parents should strive for, according to a study by Wayne State University. Researchers asked questions of teenagers and their parents to determine how parental pressure affects academic success. Interestingly, they found that parents of teenagers who were older than 50 were the least demanding group when it came to emphasizing academic achievement. Parents in that group tended to focus on the process of learning instead of academic skills.

Overall, the researchers found that some demands were necessary to provide teens the support they need for academic success, but that parents needed to be aware if their child did not work well under pressure.

So, I think for me, I'll be borrowing a page from my Mom's parenting handbook and make sure my son knows that school is important and it is his primary focus, but that as long as he is doing his best, I'm proud of him.

Did you have a job while you were in high school? What was it? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The questions around homework

I have some memories of doing my homework when I was little: The phonics workbooks at the small table in the kitchen while my mother cooked; math homework with a friend where we didn't understand what we were doing and later found out we did the homework completely wrong; studying spelling words alone at my desk in my bedroom (that last one never worked out for me).

I want to make sure that my son has a good foundation for homework habits.

Even though my son hasn't started preschool yet, he has had lots of homework to complete. The assignments have covered everything from "parental" homework, where we had to cut out and classify pictures in magazines at the age of 3 or even - and I am not making this one up - build a robot, to "actual" homework, where he is responsible for writing his name and that week's sight words.

Despite my best intentions, I think I've been doing homework with my son wrong. After reading this blog post by a former teacher, I have some habits to help him reform. The blog post covers:
  • Where you do your homework matters. The dining room table (where he's been completing those writing sheets) is a no-no. He needs a separate work area.
  • Independent work is important. I should let him do his homework without checking on him. He needs to learn to do it by himself.
  • Corrections are not needed. I'm actually happy about this one, since eventually I am pretty sure his homework will be too hard for me.
What is some of the worst homework you remember doing as a child? Pass along your notes in the comments.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Are you a digital girl?

For the past few birthdays, someone usually asks me if I want a kindle or other device to read books on. I always decline. I explain that I like my physical books and I spend too much time in my workday looking at screens. I understand that those devices are more convenient and can hold an entire library's worth of books, but I just like the feel of paper too much to give up the real deal.

But when it comes to my son, I will do whatever it takes to keep him interested in reading: He has e-books on his LeapPad and a few downloaded to an iPad and he has a full bookshelf in his room filled with books that he is responsible for picking out at our local used books store. So far, he seems to prefer real books.

And according to the latest research by the National Literacy Trust, he is not alone. The study polled students of all ages in the U.K. and found that girls were more likely to embrace digital media in all its formats, whereas boys tended to like printed materials more. The study also found that boys reported less overall enjoyment from reading than girls.

I find that the second part of the study around children not enjoying reading is the part that stands out the most for me. In our household, it doesn't matter what format our son chooses - tablet, game, book, comic - as long as he is reading.

Do you enjoy reading on a digital device or prefer a paper book? Tell me in the comments.