Susan C. Stone's Practical Parenting Blog dotcom

A good place to start to help your child succeed at school is to define for yourself what constitutes “success”! Is it getting all A’s? Is it getting into Harvard? We’ve tended to reduce the school experience to these goals. However, there is actually more to be gained – things that will benefit them well beyond those college years. For example, a love of learning. Hopefully we continue to learn all through our lives, and this is more likely to happen if the seed is planted early. We, of course, expect children to acquire knowledge but, just as importantly, to acquire the ability to think and analyze and the tools to achieve their goals – like perseverance and diligence. School is also a place where children can build their self esteem and confidence.

All this is best achieved if there is an alliance between the school and parents. Most parents are pretty clear on the school’s role, but less clear on how they can contribute to their children getting the most out of their school experience. The following is a blueprint for how you can make the best possible contribution to school success.

First, parents need to provide a beneficial home environment. Children should hear from you that  you value education for all the reasons mentioned above.  Beyond that, creating a stable home environment with schedules and routines sets children up to get the most out of their school day and teaches organizational skills. You can do this by regulating their sleep with set times to go to bed and wake up that provide them with sufficient rest. A set bedtime routine and consistent sleep environment will help you achieve this. Good nutrition is another important contributor. Have regular meal and snack times and watch the sugar and caffeine intake   (I know you don’t give your child coffee to jumpstart their day, but be aware that certain foods, beverages and medications contain a fairly good shot of caffeine).  Also, a calm, unrushed beginning to the day will help them arrive at school ready to learn.

A beneficial home environment also exists when you assess the strengths and weaknesses of each of your children and set your expectations of them accordingly – not too high or too low. Be open to accepting feedback from the school as to places where your child might be experiencing a lag so that appropriate intervention can begin. Also, let children know that you don’t expect perfection but rather “best efforts” and “personal bests”, that you value the attempt over the outcome. This means that you need to allow your children to make mistakes and fail. Then your job is to teach your children a “winner’s mentality”. This means that failures and mistakes are opportunities to learn they can survive and are empowered to make changes in future attempts.

Success in school also happens when parents teach good work habits.  Let your children do for themselves all they CAN do without excessive help from you. This builds a sense of competency which is not only a self esteem booster but good practice in functioning well in school.  Encourage perseverance and completion of tasks starting from a young age. Homework skills also need to be taught – decide where and when homework will be done, help children learn time management and the logical sequencing of a task. Remember also, this is not YOUR homework! You are there only as a resource. And watch the number of extracurricular activities your child engages in – they need adequate time to do their schoolwork as well as downtime to be ready for the next day.

Finally, home should be the first place that children learn that the adults are in charge. When children respect the limits and boundaries that their parents set, they come to school ready to cooperate with teachers and to take directions that enable them to learn. These are the children who get an extra self esteem boost because they know how to elicit positive feedback from the adults with whom they have to deal.

The following is the most up-to-date list of Parent Education Seminars I will be presenting for the 2014-2015 school year. If you would like to attend any of these, please contact the host venue. Please check back for additions to the schedule.

August 21 – Parents Education League – Dealing with Separation Issues – 7pm

August 27- Temple Emanuel Preschool – Dealing with Separation Issues – 6:30pm

Sept. 4 – Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church Preschool – Dealing with Separation Issues – 7pm

Sept. 7 – National Council of Jewish Women – Getting Through Life Transitions – 10 am

Sept. 10 – Carpenter Ave. Elementary School – Sibling Rivalry – 8am

Sept. 16 – Valley Beth Shalom – Dealing with Separation Issues – 9:30am

Sept. 18 – Parents Education League – Helping Your Child Succeed in School – 7pm

Sept. 23 – Brentwood Presbyterian Church Preschool – Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten? – 9:30am

Oct. 2 – Rustic Canyon Preschool – Raising a Moral Child – 7:30pm

Oct. 8  – St. Francis de Salles School – Stress-Proofing Your Child – 6:30pm

Oct. 9 – Christian Nursery School – Stress-Proofing Your Child – 6:30pm

Oct. 14 Maggie Haves Preschool – The Indulgence Trap – 7:30pm

Oct. 16 – Beverly Glen Playgroup – Talking to Children about Death and Dying – 7pm

Nov. 12 – Encino Presbyterian Preschool – Love and Limits – 7pm

Nov. 13 – Temple Isaiah Preschool – Love and Limits – 9:30am

Nov. 19 – Parents Education League – The Indulgence Trap – 7pm

Nov. 20 – Temple Emanuel Preschool – The Indulgence Trap- 9:15

Dec. 8 – Maimonides School – Understanding Adolescence

Jan. 14 – The 1ST School – TBA – 5:30pm

Jan. 15 – Maggy Haves School – The Indulgence Trap

Jan 21 – Parents Education League – Helping Your Child Succeed ion School

Jan. 22 – The Sherman Oaks Nursery School (TSONS) – TBA

Jan. 27- Circle of Children Preschool – Love and Limits

Feb. 5 – University Synagogue Preschool – TBA

Feb. 10 – 10th Street Preschool – The Indulgence Trap

Feb. 19 – Temple Emanuel Preschool

Feb. 26 – Maimonides School – Teaching Children Responsibility, Self-Reliance and Resilience

Feb. 26 – Woodland Hills Private School – TBA

Mar. 5 – Beverly Glen Play Group – The Indulgence Trap (FOR GRANDPARENTS!)

Mar. 10 – St. Francis de Salles School – TBA

Mar.. 19 – Temple Emanuel Preschool – TBA – 9:15am

Mar. 10 – St. Francis de Salles School – TBA

Mar. 19 – Temple Emanuel Preschool – TBA – 9:15am

How could there be a problem with praise? We all seek it, love it, even crave it! In fact, we value it so highly that we give it to our children in copious quantities, both to inspire cooperation and to build their self esteem. The current parenting wisdom is that praise cannot be overdone.  So, there is hardly a move our children can make without a parent exclaiming “GOOD JOB!!!”. “Good job getting up this morning!”, “Good job putting on your clothes!”, “Good job brushing your teeth!”, “Good job breathing!”.

Another trend in praising children is to attempt to boost self confidence by giving them superlative praise. How could you possibly demean  your child by saying something as lukewarm as “I really like your picture!” or “You really tried your best at soccer today!”? No, parents believe that their children are and deserve THE BEST! “You are the BEST artist in the world!” You are the MOST TERRIFIC athlete I’ve ever seen!”.

But are we really accomplishing our goals with this constant and overblown praise? And, more significantly, are we doing harm? The answers are NO and YES.

In the case of constant praise, the result is that we take away its specialness. Children don’t develop the ability to distinguish between commonplace expectations and exceptional efforts. They can come to believe that simple cooperation is optional. They then take this belief out into the real world and feel that their teachers, peers, and coaches should appreciate them simply going along with the program. Teaching them to expect positive feedback for behaving like a cooperative member of the community will both confuse and disappoint them. Those other people, who also have an impact on their self esteem,  won’t react so enthusiastically leading your child to believe they have fallen short. For parents, a more appropriate way of reinforcing cooperation is to say “I appreciate your getting ready without reminders this morning. It really helps me out.” or “I see that you are being really responsible about your homework”. Save praise for truly laudable behavior – “Wow! You got them all correct on your spelling test this week!” or “The way you organized your room is terrific!”. Be careful, as well, to praise progress rather than perfection. Setting a standard of perfect outcomes is not what you should be striving for. Instead, use and teach your children to use the standard of personal bests and best efforts.

Some parents also believe that praising their children’s accomplishments to the high heavens is a great way to build self esteem. They tell them they are THE BEST, THE MOST, THE GREATEST!!! Because children are literal and give great importance to your evaluations of them, you will end up creating an identity that won’t stand up outside the family. There is always someone who is better than we are. When your child realizes that, they will either knock themselves out trying to surpass others or will find out that you deceived them in your evaluation.

The bottom line is to keep praise proportionate, authentic and reserved for that which is not just expected. Additionally, make sure that praise isn’t given just for performances – whether this be remembering their backpack, doing their homework or helping out at home. Performance praise sets children up to think that only concrete acts are considered worthy of notice. Instead, be sure to praise children for positive intrinsic qualities they display. Comment on their displays of kindness, their sense of humor, their empathy, sense of fairness, loyalty, honesty and other characteristics you admire in them.

The following is the most current list of Parent Education Seminars I am offering this year. If you would like to attend, please contact the host organization. Please check back for additions.

Aug. 21 (pm) – Temple Emanuel Preschool – “Dealing with Separation Issues”

Aug. 22 (pm) – Parents Education League – “Dealing with Separation Issues”

Sept. 9 (pm) – Westwood Presbyterian Preschool – Love and Limits

Sept. 17 (pm) – Valley Beth Shalom Early Childhood Center  – “Dealing with Separation Issues”

Sept. 18 – Brentwood Presbyterian Preschool – “Is your Child Ready for Kindergarten?”

Oct. 3 (pm) – Rustic Canyon Preschool – “The Indulgence Trap”

October 8 – Westwood Methodist Preschool (am) – “Prepared for Life – Raising a Self Reliant, Responsible, Resilient and Confidant Child”

Oct. 17 (pm) – Christian Nursery School – “Love and Limits”

Oct. 31 (staff) – Beverly Glen Playgroup – “Talking to Children About Death and Dying”

Nov. 6 (pm) – Encino Presbyterian Early Childhood Center – “Keeping  your Child Safe”

Nov. 7 (am) Temple Emanuel Preschool – “The Indulgence Trap”

Nov. 12 (am) Carpenter Ave, Elementary School – “Talking to Kids about Sex and Drugs” – lower grades

Nov. 13 (pm) Parents Education League – “The Indulgence Trap”

Nov. 14 (pm) St. James Preschool – “Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?”

Nov. 18 (am) University Synagogue Preschool – “Is My Child Normal?”

Nov. 19 (am) Carpenter Ave. Elementary School – “Talking to Kids about Sex and Drugs” – upper grades

Nov. 19 (pm) – St. Francis de Salles School –  “How to Help Your Child be Successful at School”

Nov. 20 (am) – Brentwood Presbyterian Preschool – “The Indulgence Trap”

Jan. 15 (am) – Palisades Preschool – “Love and Limits”

Jan. 16  – Christian Nursery School – “Raising Responsible, Self-Reliant and Resilient Children”

Jan 23 (pm) – The First School – “Love and Limits”

Jan. 30 (pm) – The Sherman Oaks Nursery School – “The Indulgence Trap”

Feb. 3 (pm) – 10th Street Preschool, “Love and Limits”

Feb. 6 Curtis School – “The Indulgence Trap”

Feb. 8 – Leo Baeck Temple – “Understanding Adolescence”

February 12 (am) – Temple Emanuel Preschool – “Eating and Sleeping Issues”

Feb. 20 (pm) – The First School – “Love and Limits”

Feb. 27 – Beverly Glen Playgroup – “Parenting in Harmony”

Mar. 3 – 10th Street Preschool – “The Indulgence Trap”

Mar. 4 – Maggy Haves Preschool – “Prepared for Life”

Mar. 10 (pm) – St. Francis de Salles School – “The Uptight, Lowdown Adolescent Blues”

Mar. 12 (am) – The Buckley School” – TBA

Mar. 26 (am) – Temple Emanuel Preschool – “What Keeps you up at Night?” (Open Forum)

April 2 (am) Franklin Elementary School -“Stress-Proofing Your Child”

April 8 – Carpenter Ave. Elementary School – “Love and Limits”

May 13 (pm) – West Los Angeles Parents of Multiples – “Sibling Rivalry”

The following is the most current list of Parent Education Seminars I am offering this year. If you would like to attend, please contact the host organization. Please check back for additions.

August 29, 2012 (pm) – Temple Emanuel Preschool- “Making Separation Go Smoothly”

September 10, 2012 (am)- Westwood Presbyterian Church Nursery School-“Raising Responsible, Self-Reliant, Resilient Children”

September 27, 2012 (am)- Valley Beth Shalom Early Childhood Center-“Making Separation Go Smoothly”

October 4, 2012 (am)- Westwood Methodist Church Preschool-“Love and Limits”

October 4, 2012 (pm)-Rustic Canyon Preschool-“Sibling Rivalry”

October 10, 2012 (pm)-St. Francis School-“Building Your Child’s Self Esteem”

October 18, 2012 (pm)-Christian Nursery School-“The Indulgence Trap”

October 24, 2012 (pm)-Circle of Children Preschool-“What Keeps You up at Night? An Open Forum”

October 26, 2012 (am)-Franklin Elementary School-“Love and Limits”

October 30, 2012 (pm)-Maimonides School-“The Indulgence Trap”

November 5, 2012 (pm)-La Playa Cooperative Preschool- “Getting the Inside Story – Communicating with your Child”

November 7, 2012 (am)-The First School-TBA

November 8, 2012 (am)-Temple Emanuel Preschool-“Losing Battles:Eating, Sleeping, Toileting”

November 14, 2012(pm)-Encino Presbyterian Preschool-TBA

November 15, 2012 (am)-The Buckley School-TBA

December 18, 2012 (pm)-Maimonides School-“Embracing Each Child’s Individuality”

January 10, 2013 (pm)-Christian Nursery School-“What Keeps You up at Night? An Open Forum”

January 17, 2013 (pm)-The Sherman Oaks Nursery School-TBA

January24, 2013 (am)-Temple Emanuel Preschool-“Sibling Rivalry”

February 6, 2013 (pm)-Maimonides School-“Limiting Stress and Anxiety in Children”

February 11, 2013 (am)-University Synagogue Preschool-TBA

March 7, 2013 (am)-Temple Emanuel Preschool-“Love and Limits”

March 14, 2013 (am)-The Buckley School-TBA

April 17, 2013 (pm)-Maimonides School-“The Low-Down, Up-Tight Adolescent Blues”

April 24, 2013 (am)-Temple Emanuel-“What Keeps You up at Night? An Open Forum”

Now that school has started, your children will be learning all kinds of things – how to read, do math, learn history and science. However, there are very important lessons that can only be taught at home. One of them is manners.

If you would like to give your child a very significant and lasting gift, consider giving them the information and practices they need to be considered mannerly. Now, I really don’t mean which fork to use (though later in life this may be important!  Who knows if they’ll be invited to dine with the Queen?). Instead, the manners that matter are behaviors designed to take care of the feelings of others and to grease the wheels of sociability. Teaching good manners used to be a routine part of raising a child. However, beginning in the 60’s with the rejection of formality and respect for authority, traditional manners were one of the casualties. Social  expectations were relaxed and democratized. It became a mark of coolness to address everyone by their first name, regardless of status. Instead of greetings, it was much more hip to smile and mutter “peace”. Speaking one’s mind was considered preferable to discretion and caution. People were even “PRIMAL SCREAMING” (look this one up if you missed the craze.).

If you are  raising children now, you are part of the first generation to be brought up on these more informal practices. For example, you are most likely accustomed to children addressing teachers and other parents by their first names – it’s  just your norm. I use this particular example because it goes to the heart of manners – which is respect for other people and their feelings. Now, using a first name instead of Mr. or Mrs. does not necessarily imply disrespect, but it became the top of the slippery slope of treating each other more casually. This casualness has crept into many of our social interactions and even become rudeness. You might be noticing that more and more people don’t RSVP to invitations, whether it’s for a 3- year- old’s birthday party or for a wedding.  When was the last time you wrote or received a thank you note for a present? When have someone called you to thank you for having them to dinner? When was the last time someone ahead of you allowed a door to close in your face instead of holding it? How many formal or religious events have you attended and seen people dressed as if they’ve just stopped in from a jog? And…DOES ALL THIS REALLY MATTER?

YES –  actually, manners now make more of an impact on someone’s impression of your child than ever before. When everyone was mannerly, it was taken for granted. Now when a child engages in considerate behavior,  people notice and the child is  seen as special! This specialness can translate into being more sought after for playdates, being viewed as a more active participant in the classroom, making the cut for a play or a team, enlisting extra consideration for special accommodations at school, making a good impression at an interview, etc., etc. It not only reflects well on your child, but on you as well as a good parent! You have the opportunity to take an unformed human being who is only aware of his/her needs and turn them out, 18 years later, as a civilized member of society who has the heart to relate to others and the skills to enlist  these others in pleasant, cooperative and even loving relationships.

If not the difference between a fish fork and a soup spoon, what should you be focusing your efforts on? With young children, making eye contact and saying “please”, “thank you” and “no, thank you” is a good start. Teaching children to respect authority by having them follow your rules and boundaries will serve them well in all sorts of settings.  Teach them how to be social – how to start a conversation with a peer, how to stay on topic in that conversation, how to take turns speaking and not to interrupt the conversations others are having.

Teach them how to greet someone new by shaking hands and saying “nice to meet you”. Let them know that some adults prefer to be called Mr. and Mrs. and that the adult is the one to give them permission to use their first name. Teach them telephone manners. Teach them to share, compromise, be inclusive and take turns. Teach them how good winners and good losers act. Use their own experiences to help them realize that making rude remarks or stating negative observations about others is hurtful and unacceptable. As children get older, holding the door for others, letting their elders pass through first and standing up to greet an adult guest are sure to make a big impression.

Show them that you respond to all invitations in a timely way and don’t retract your acceptances because a “better offer” comes along. As casual as we’ve become in our dress, having them dress appropriately for special occasions is another way to convey respect for others. Make sure they know how to thank someone for having them over for a party or playdate and don’t say it for them! Practice with them what to say when opening a present so that they take care of the feelings of the giver even if they hate the present or already have 27 of the same toy! Have them write thank you notes even if they can only sign their name. Let them experience the excitement of giving, as well as receiving, holiday or birthday gifts with others, especially within the family.

This may seem like a long list or an incomplete one. (I refer you to “Miss Manner’s Guide to Rearing Perfect Children” by Judith Martin for more suggestions.) Feel free to add your own personal and cultural practices and, remember, your behavior is their most potent guide. Even though you have 18 years to get the job done,  it’s not too early to start giving your child the tools to be special!

Susan C. Stone is a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Los Angeles for 33 years.She speaks widely to the parents and teachers of children of all ages. Ms. Stone appears regularly on both radio and television as a parenting expert and is the author of THE INDULGENCE TRAP – When too much is not Enough!

With Easter and Passover around the corner, it seems like a good time to talk about the importance of tradition to children and to family life.  If you ask an adult – or yourself – what positive memories you have from childhood, the answer will often be about things that the family did together on a regular basis – RITUALS and TRADITIONS. These might be ways of celebrating birthdays, vacations, the specific rituals followed on a holiday, Sunday dinners and much more. There are several reasons people remember traditions and rituals as such an important and memorable part of their childhood:

1. Children find security and comfort in repetition. It gives them something to count on in otherwise unpredictable world ( that’s why we’ve all read Good Night Moon hundreds and hundreds of times!). Your traditions give children touchstones that the family returns to despite the continuing changes in your child’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive world. Recreating a family activity over and over gives life a rhythm and markers on which children can rely. This creates a sense of stability.

2. A very basic need of children  – and, indeed, even adults – is a sense of belonging. Doing things as a family, that are unique to your family, builds this sense in children. Children need the sense of security that no matter what issues they have to confront in the world, they have a family to which to turn.

3. Rituals and traditions are an important  way of passing culture and values to the next generation. When parents do this, they often experience the richness of repeating their family’s history. Realistically, there are parents who would rather forget how their parents did things! In this case, establishing new traditions with your own children is a way to break a best-forgotten chain and write your own family history.

4. Family traditions and rituals are important in helping  children with the task of building an identity. They  help create for your child a sense of who they are and who their  family is. They become able to say, “We are a family that…”.  They also experience the roles and responsibilities of family members and are given their own role in that mosaic. This inclusion helps to establish their identity and a sense of purpose or usefulness in the family.

5. Traditions also bind children to you and to the family. Even during the adolescent years when their task is to establish their independence and claim in individual identity, children crave the traditions they have grown up with. The same teen who doesn’t want to be seen in public with you will all of a sudden demand that “traditional” foods you prepare for holidays or expect that grandpa will tell his story about celebrating the holiday when he was a child. It ‘s been demonstrated that teens who are connected to their families are less likely to engage in dangerous behaviors.

6. Don’t think that you have to create elaborate celebrations, birthday parties, outings or vacations in order to have traditions. This misses the point entirely! The activity you select to make a tradition isn’t important – choose what  you value and like:

  •  It can be a family dinner every Friday or Sunday night.
  •  You can choose to ride bikes together every weekend.
  • It can be going to the mountains every summer or planting a garden in the spring.
  • Have a game or movie night with popcorn or pizza
  • Have a traditional way that you celebrate the particular achievements of anyone in the family
  • Donate your time or items to needy families every Thanksgiving
  • Have family dinners as often as possible where you take turns sharing something from your day and receive attention and support from the family
  • Establish a special family tradition for saying good night or goodbye which your children can help to devise

Clearly, I could go on and on! What’s important is that through RITUAL and TRADITION you and your children will reap the benefits of stability, security and closeness to the family.

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