Susan C. Stone's Practical Parenting Blog dotcom

With the new school year beginning, all parents are hoping this will be a great year! They’re hoping that their child will enjoy learning, grow in their skills and have positive social experiences. How can you help make that happen? There are lots of contributions you can make and none of them include doing your child’s homework!

First, you can help ensure success by creating a beneficial home environment. This means showing that you value the educational experience not just for grades, but for the ways lessons can be applied to your daily life. It also means having both schedules and routines. Making sure your child has sufficient sleep is very important for learning. Bedtime and wake up time should be set including a bedtime routine and an environment conducive to sleep. Take advantage of the start of the new year to establish homework routines (time and place) and a fixed and strategic place for backpacks full of homework to be taken to school the next day.

Another aspect of a beneficial home environment is setting limits and boundaries with predictable outcomes that you enforce. Respect for adult decisions begins at home and benefits children in the school setting. Finally, be aware of the emotional tone of your household. Try to limit disharmony and stress caused by parenting issues, schedules, responsibilities and siblings. Make sure to establish a morning routine that provides a calm start to your child’s day.

Another way to help your child succeed in school is to help self esteem and confidence to develop. One important way to do this is to set realistic expectations for each of your children, neither too high or too low so they can experience success. Take into account the strengths and weaknesses of each child. Don’t expect perfection and emphasize “best efforts” and “personal bests”.

Encourage competency by not doing for children what they can do for themselves – including homework! Be available only as a resource. Children need to learn how to problem solve, how to prevail through perserverance and how to survive and recover from failures.

At the beginning of the year, promote good work habits. Decide where and when homework will be done. Teach the logical sequencing of a task. Teach “task reduction”, time management list making and use of a calendar for planning.

Hopefully, with homework under control, children will have some FREE TIME! Scheduled activities can be overdone. Free, unstructured time WITHOUT SCREENS allow children to hone their imagination, initiative and creativity and learn to rely on their internal resources – all important for school success.

Social skills are another important ingredient for school success. Children who lack these skills tend to be preoccupied with social isolation or become victims of teasing and bullying. Help your child learn to read both the verbal and nonverbal cues from others and to respond appropriately. Teach empathy, compromise, negotiation and inclusion, rather than hostile competitiveness, bragging, bossiness and aggression. Make sure your child has experience with taking turns and conversational skills. Provide playdates with classmates to encourage connections.

Finally, build a strong alliance with the school and the teachers. Be as involved as time allows. Make sure that you communicate to the teachers any changes at home that will effect your child’s classroom performance as well as any struggles with schoolwork. And, please, be open to and welcome any feedback about your child that the school provides. Potential problems can be averted or corrected by working jointly with the school on such issues.

For many generations,  punishing a child physically for misdeeds was not only accepted practice, but approved and universal. As parenting has become more thoughtful and as we have become vigilant about child abuse, views on this have been changed. There has been an evolution in what are considered appropriate ways to modify a child’s behavior, and as a therapist in private practice, I have had a unique opportunity to watch and advise on this. There are three issues to consider:

First, schools and most parents are teaching their children from early on to “use their words” to  set limits on another’s behavior. “Instead of hitting Johnny when he takes your ball, tell him to STOP IT!”. A child who doesn’t learn this lesson will have problems with teachers, other kids and their parents. Hitting at school is universally unacceptable. If a parent uses physical means to discipline their child at home, they are modeling unacceptable behavior.  I’ve even heard parents say to their kids, “I’ll teach you not to hit your brother –WHACK, WHACK!”. What you model at home is what your child will learn to do with their angry, hurt or frustrated feelings out in the world.

A second problem with physical means of discipline is the message it sends about the position  your child holds in your estimation. A parent’s physical actions  may send the message that they are bigger, stronger, “own” their children and can do what they like. This was illustrated beautifully for my by an 11 year old girl I was seeing in my practice. Her mother was suffering through the pre-adolescent sassiness of her daughter. At one heightened point of rudeness, the mother slapped the girl across the face. The girl very perceptively protested that, “When you’re mad at Daddy, you don’t hit him and when you’re mad at Grandma, you don’t hit her! Why do you think you can hit me?”.  These practices have the potential, years hence, to help your child decide that they don’t like you very much and would prefer to  put emotional or geographical distance between you. Now, I know some of you were physically disciplined and have a great relationship with your parents. The problem is that others do not, and  you won’t know how it will turn out until it’s too late.

Lastly, parents have to be aware of the extreme governmental focus on child abuse. Because this has been ignored for too long, Children’s Protective Services are doing their job passionately, and you can end up in BIG trouble. I have dealt with three families – all very nice, educated and well-meaning but OLD FASHIONED parents – whose children inadvertently “spilled the beans” on a parent to a mandated reporter – a teacher, a therapist, etc. – who must report potential child abuse. In one case, a child away at camp shared with her bunkmate that her father used physical punishment. The bunkmate told the counselor, who told the director who called the police. The other children in the family were taken into protective custody until the father was removed from the household. After many months, many thousands of dollars in attorney fees, and tragic emotional consequences for the family, the situation was righted. In other cases, small children who come to school or camp with a bruise or mark that they “explain” was caused by a parent set off similar investigations and actions.

For all these reasons, correcting behavior using incentives and/or consequences ( that are not physical) can teach the lessons you want your children to learn and maintain a rational and loving relationship between parent and child.

If you would like to attend any of these events, please contact the host organization. You will be welcomed. Please stay tuned for additional events.

August 30 –  Temple Emanuel  Preschool, Beverly Hills CA – Helping your Child Make a Smooth Separation Starting School

September 12 – 10th St. Preschool, Santa Monica CA – The Indulgence Trap

September 26 – Woodland Hills Private School – Achieving Parent Harmony

September 27 – Encino Presbyterian Church Preschool, Encino, CA – What Your Child Needs to Know to Succeed in School

October 19 – Temple Emanuel Preschool, Beverly Hills, CA – Topic TBA

October 24 – Bel Air Presbyterian Preschool – Love and Limits

October 25 – Oakdale Preschool, North Hollywood, CA – Achieving Parent Harmony

October 26 – Franklin Elementary School, Santa Monica, CA – Prepared for Life, Self Reliance, Responsibility and Resilience

November 8- Beverly Hills Presbyterian Preschool – The Indulgence Trap

November 2 – Temple Emanuel Preschool – Prepared for Life, Self Reliance, Responsibility, and Resilience

November 14 – University Synagogue Preschool, West Los Angeles, CA – Prepared for Life, Self Reliance, Responsibility, and Resilience

November 17 – Carpenter Ave. Elementary School, Studio City, CA – Prepared for Life, Self Reliance, Responsiblity and Resilience

 November 30 – The Indulgence Trap

January 12 – Franklin Elementary School – Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll

January 18 – Temple Emanuel Preschool, Beverly Hills, CA – Sibling Rivalry

January 25 – TSONS, Sherman Oaks, CA – Prepared for Life, Self Reliance, Responsibility, and Resilience

February 1 – Rustic Canyon Preschool – TBA

February 14 – Maimonides – Teasing, Bullying and Exclusion

February 22 – Temple Tifereth Israel – Talking to Children about Difficult Topics

March 15 – Temple Emanuel Preschool, Beverly Hills, CA – Topic TBA

March 20 – Brentwood Presbyterian Preschool – Dealing with Sleep Issues

April 25 – The First School – Prepared for Life, Self Reliance, Responsibility and Resilience

April 26 – University Synagogue – TBA

 

If you have interest in attending any of these workshops, please contact the host school.

July 19 – Beverly Hills Presbyterian Preschool – “Love and Limits”

August 12 – Sunnyside Preschool – “Prepared for Life –   Self Reliance, Responsibiity and Resilience

August 31 – Temple Emanuel Preschool – “Dealing with Separation Anxiety”

September 13 – Encino Presbyterian Children’s Center – “Love and Limits”

September 15 – Valley Beth Shalom Children’s Center – “Dealing with Separation Anxiety”

September 21 – West LA Parents of Multiples – “Sibling Rivalry”

October 6 – Rustic Canyon Preschool – “The Indulgence Trap”

October 20 – Woodland Hills Private Preschool – “Prepared for Life – Self Reliance, Responsibility and Resilience”

Nov. 3 – Christian Nursery School – “Prepared for Life – Self Reliance, Responsibiity, and Resilience”

November 4 -Carpenter Ave. Elementary School – “The Indulgence Trap”

November 9 – LAPP (Santa Monica United Methodist Preschool, Crestwood Hills Preschool, The First School, Westwood Presbyterian Preschool, Cassidy Preschool, Circle of Children, Early Years Preschool, Sunshine Preschool, Brentwood Presbyterian Preschool) – “The Indulgence Trap”

November 10 -Temple Emanuel Preschool – Topic to be announced

November 17 – University Synagogue Preschool – Topic to be announced

January 12 – Oakdale Preschool – “Prepared for Life-Self Reliance, Responsibility, Resilience

January 19 – Temple Emanuel – Topic to be announced

January 26 – The Sherman Oaks Nursery School – Topic to be announced

February 3 – Franklin Elementary School – Topic to be announced

February 22 – Colfax Elementary School – Topic to be announced

March 23 Temple Emanuel Preschool – Topic to be announced

March 28 – Bel Air Presbyterian Preschool – “Prepared for Life – Self Reliance, Responsibility, Resilience”

March 30 – Oakdale Preschool – How to be Parental

April 26 – Beverly Hills Presbyterian Preschool – “Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?”

April 28 – Franklin Elementary School – Topic to be announced

May 25 – Beverly Glen Playgroup – “Love and Limits”

 

We are living in a dangerous and scary world. As adults, we struggle with carrying on a normal life while seeing the possibility of random terrorism. While most adults develop coping strategies, what are our children to do with the information they inevitably receive? Even if you attempt to shield them, children as young as preschoolers are exposed – through television, radio, newspaper photos and playground chatter. What can you do to recognize if your child has been exposed and how can you help them?

Being appropriate and aware of how you act and react is the key to your children feeling safe, secure and optimistic about life in  an uncertain world. The following are 8 ways you can help:

  1. BE PARENTAL – convey that you are in charge; make clear the distinction between adult and kid decisions; continue with the same rules and limits and their enforcement;  let children know it’s YOUR responsibility and that of other adults to keep them safe. They only believe this if they perceive you as “the big person in charge”.
  2. CONTROL THE FLOW OF INFORMATION – control access to the news according to the age of your child and their need to know. Very young children should be protected, as well as you can, from any information about events. Older children will receive information and need you to put it in context for them. Avoid constant, repetitive news viewing which increases anxiety for both adults and children. Do not have adult conversations about frightening events in front of children.
  3. COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR CHILDREN – to answer questions, correct misconceptions, and to provide education, perspective and reassurance. Be available for children to express their feelings and concerns. This will most likely happen when children have alone time with you. Also, be aware of children’s non-verbal expressions of concern and fears – play themes, changes in their habits, signs of stress. If it seems they have concerns, you need to bring up the topic – “It seems like you’re worried about something” or “You’re not wanting to sleep alone. Why do you think that changed?” Do not answer their questions in a dismissive or minimizing way. Instead, acknowledge and label their feelings. Explanations and answers should be honest, simple, accurate and age-appropriate; answer only what they want to know. Below Grade 2, help them distinguish between reality and fantasy, between cartoon villians and heroes and real terrorists, soldiers and rescuers. Their imaginative play themes, drawings and story-telling are opportunities to correct misconceptions. For older children, incorporate events, issues and geography into your responses. Teach media literacy so children understand why news coverage is so intense and on-going. For all children, it’s important to provide perspective. Put information they receive into a broader context beyond their literal and limited viewpoint – there are very few terrorists, they are unlikely to be present at an event, war does end, good guys win.
  4. PROVIDE REASSURANCE – Young children only need to know that  you can and will protect them. Older children benefit from understanding the actions adults are taking in response to terrorism.
  5. MAINTAIN ROUTINES – Keep to normal daily schedules and activities. Continue normal expectations for children’s behavior and schoolwork. Help children restore a sense of control – give them age-appropriate decisions, plan proactive activities for them such as collecting money or toys for victims, sending letters to rescuers or military personnel. Keep family traditions and plan for future activities.
  6. BE  AWARE OF YOUR REACTIONS – Don’t fall apart in front of children – present yourself as being calm and in control. Be aware if you are acting more impatient, yelling more or being preoccupied. Do not discuss events on an adult level when your children can hear you – this includes phone conversations.
  7. COORDINATE EFFORTS BETWEEN HOME AND SCHOOL – Exchange information with teachers about children’s displays of stress at school or at home. Schools should inform parents of social studies, current events lessons or relevant discussions which may be reflected in concerns or behavioral changes at home.
  8. BE ALERT TO ONGOING STRESS IN CHILDREN – Children can suffer from PTSD as can adults, If this is the case, seek professional help. (Please see my upcoming blog of signs of stress in children.)

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.

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.

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