children

Ways to Avoid Summer Academic Loss

Sisters reading book in summer park

Many studies site that children have an average of a two month academic loss over the summer months. With a little effort, you save their hard gained knowledge and may even help them make gains! Here are some ideas to support them while still having fun:

  • Practice school skills in real life – If your second grader was learning to count money, make them the “family cashier” for the summer. Stop using your cards and carry cash, let them count the money to and from at each transaction.
  • Play school – Little ones may willingly take turns being the teacher and the student. When they are the teacher, ask them to explain a math skill they recently learned. When they are the student, ask them to read aloud to the class.
  • Take field trips – My family is lucky to live in the Washington D.C. area. We have the Smithsonian Museums, National Zoo, Virginia battlefields and Baltimore Aquarium all within an hour drive. Within a day trip we can travel to Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Island and fantastic museums in Philadelphia. Take advantage of academically related field trips in your community.
  • Take nature walks – There is so much to be learned in the world around us. Summer is the perfect time to get them out in nature. A great book about this is Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Louv.
  • Make writing fun – When you travel, encourage them to write post cards and keep a daily vacation journal. Provide other writing activities like invisible books, spirograph, stencils, mazes and Mad Libs.
  • Challenge math in everyday ways – Talk about the math involved when you pump gas. For older children, teach them to calculate miles per gallon since the last fill up.  If you eat out, teach them to calculate the tip. Take them bowling and teach them to keep score.
  • Read aloud everyday – Reading aloud to children everyday is sited by the Department of Education as the single most important activity to build successful readers. Aim for 20 minutes a day and enjoy when it’s longer. Read aloud to them through high school if they’ll listen.
  • If they are reading aloud – Encourage children to practice their own read aloud skills. This can be reading to a sibling, to the dog or even a stuffed animal.
  • Encourage quiet reading time everyday – Again, aim for 20 minutes and appreciate when it lasts longer. Make this easy for them, bring books in the car or let them stay up later at night if they are reading.
  • Plan a book club – If they are at all interested, invite a few friends to read the same book with them. Then plan a party to celebrate.
  • Investigate library activities – Public libraries in our area host many fun children’s programs in the summer months. They also have a children’s reading challenge that ends with earning a coupon book for area businesses. Check out your local library!
  • Focus on vocabulary when you travel – There is new vocabulary available everywhere you travel. Discuss all the things you see with your children, provide definitions as you are able. There is beach vocabulary, zoo vocabulary, farm vocabulary, airport vocabulary…
  • Puzzles, board games, cooking and crafts – Play provides learning opportunities such as puzzles for spatial reasoning, board games for social skills and often math skills, cooking and crafts for following directions, tending to details, math and fine motor skills. Spend time this summer playing with your children.
  • Workbooks – My least favorite, but probably most reliable, way to do a little summer review work is workbooks. My children didn’t mind the Summer Bridge Activities workbooks. http://www.summerbridgeactivities.org/

Please share your own ideas below!

Tips to Enjoy Eating Out with Children

Family eating together in a restaurant

I have always loved eating out with the kids. Yes, there have been stressful times as Alicen threw up a LOT when she was two and three years old. And yes, occasionally we’ve had to cut things short over behavior or exhaustion. That said, eating out can be a very pleasant experience with children at any age.

There are several basic things to consider when choosing a restaurant with young children.

  • Kid friendly – Some children need more practice than others at learning to speak quietly and sit at a table. The idea is to start at very kid friendly restaurants. With little ones, we go to restaurants like Chili’s where it is okay if they are occasionally loud.
  • Kids’ menu – It may be helpful to check out menus online or to call ahead and ask about menu options. The best kid’s menus we’ve seen are at Legal Seafood and Firefly. Other times we just order them extra plates, and then split off our own.
  • Things to do – It can be so helpful when a restaurant offers some activities. Bertucci’s offers kids dough to play with, Macaroni Grill lets them draw on the paper table cloth and Cracker Barrel has the peg game and five page coloring book menus.
  • Things to look at –  In our area, Mango Mikes has a huge fish tank that children can see from the dining room or up close if their parents walk them near the bar. The National Gallery of Art Cascade Café has a waterfall outside a picture window to look at and moving walkway for something to do. The Rainforest Café has an amazing amount to look at.
  • Kids’ area –  Some restaurants go as far as having a kids’ area. This can be a play area like at IKEA or Generous George’s, or a seating area like at Paradiso. Paradiso has a kids’ room where children sit at small picnic table and eat while watching Disney movies on a big screen TV while parents have a nice meal in the next room. While this defeats the social piece and learning to sit with parents, it’s another fun option.
  • Kids’ trinkets – Mango Mikes has a wall full of party favor type toys for children to pick from. Stardust gave little plastic figures on their drinks. We grew a collection of their mermaids and elephants.
  • Plan to walk around – Sitting through the meal itself can be a long stretch for little ones. If you go in planning to walk around the restaurant or even outside with them once before and once after the meal, it may help them to sit longer and make the experience less frustrating.

Activity bag – It can be helpful to carry a “restaurant bag” in your car at all times. This is a bag that has small notebooks and pencils, stickers, small Playdoh and a few party-favor toys. This bag only comes out once menu items have been chosen, goes away when the food comes and can be available again once they eat. The trick is to not have it available at other times like when you are stuck in traffic. If they get to play with it other times, it likely won’t hold their attention in the restaurant.

Conversation WITH them – This is probably the most important point, spend your time speaking with your children. At any age, include them in the conversation. Ask them questions and share your time. Teach them that meals are a pleasant and social time.

Contribution during – Contribution in general is giving children jobs related to a transition or other daily function. At home, this includes them matching cups to lids or taking drink orders when you are making dinner. At a restaurant, this might include them folding and refolding napkins, buttering rolls, passing food or putting food on a fork for you.

Sit at a booth – If your kids are often up and down from the table, a booth might be helpful so you can box them in.

Sit outside – If it’s available, sitting outside tends to give kids lots to look at and others may be more forgiving of noise.

Plan dinner on the early side – Eating late, children are more likely to be tired and hungry which is a recipe for disaster. It’s better to go early when everyone is fresh.

In Discipline: Whoever Starts It Gets to Finish

There is a golden rule in discipline when you are parenting as a couple. It is simple, whoever starts it gets to finish. This means if the first parent is into a discipline exchange, as long as it’s not abusive, the second parent avoids intervening, correcting the first, rescuing the child, taking over or undermining in any way. If the second parent must say something, they should err on the side of supporting the first or offer to help. If the offer to help is declined, it’s declined.

When I have seen a discipline exchange going south fast for my husband, I have offered to help. Sometimes he says, “no thanks, I got it.” Other times he says, “yes, take them. It’s your turn.” If the former, I say, “listen to your father.” I reserve the right to make a note of the situation and discuss it with him after and away from the children. If the latter, I move forward in discipline.

If you don’t offer and just move in, or if you offer and move in even though you were declined, you are making your partner’s job harder the next go around. It can be very hard, but there is a need to let them build an individual parent-child relationship. Both parents should be able to feel confident in their interactions and discipline exchanges.

If you disagree often over discipline, you may want to spend time working through it apart from the children. You might read Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent Differently Why It Helps Your Kids and Can Strengthen Your Marriage by Pruett and Pruett. You might also take my live or audio workshop on Parenting as a Couple.

 

 

Teaching a Child to Greet Others

Dear Dr. Rene

My child is almost two years old, and she doesn’t always greet people she knows when she sees them. Sometimes she looks the other way as if they are not there, or she shows that she doesnt want to greet them. I dont want to stress on that, but I would like to somehow enforce positive social behavior nicely. I dont know why she does that.

Also, every time I pick her up from the nursery, she comes out, doesn’t greet me, doesn’t answer me and just goes out. Its as if she wants to tell me not to think that I am doing her a favor by sending her there on the contrary.

She is also very jealous when I give my attention to other people, or when I am working on my laptop. She often shuts it, tells me to put barney on or holds my head so that I look at her. I am scared that I might be doing something wrong. For example, I was at my mothers, and she has a french bulldog who was sleeping on my lap. When it woke up, I found her coming over trying to sleep in the exact same spot that it was sleeping in.

Thank you, Mitchell

Hi Mitchell,

The best way to teach her to greet people and encourage the behavior to happen more often is to model it yourself. When she is with you, greet people warmly, smile big and model language you would want her to use. This teaches her without pressure. Also, greet her directly often. Greet her with a smile and “hello” whenever you enter the room.  When you do suggest she greet someone else, give her choices about how to do this. You might offer that she smiles, waves, says “hello,” shakes hands or high-fives. When she does greet someone nicely, provide descriptive praise. This is along the lines of, “that was nice to say ‘hi’ to them!” or, “you waved, that made Grandma happy!”

As long as she’s not very unhappy at your nursery pick-up, try to let this one go. Often parents will get warm greetings the first few days or weeks of being at school. Once children have settled in to the habit of school, the need for big greetings can subside.  This means they have created positive relationships with teachers, and, while they are happy to see parents, it’s not the big relief that came before they were comfortable with such a separation. This is normal. If she is very unhappy at pick-up, write again with those details and I will answer.

That she seems jealous when you share your attention with others means she loves you and enjoys your attention herself. When she tells you to shut the laptop or holds your head, at least validate her wants with your words. You might say, “I know you want to spend time together,” and then either do spend time or follow with, “I love you too and I have to finish my work right now.”

I hope this helps.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

 

 

Ownership in Potty Training

Dear Dr. Rene,

My almost two-and-a-half-year-old decided she wanted underwear 11 days ago. So, we are 11 days into potty training. She goes to daycare, and is now fully potty trained at
daycare (at least barring any regression that could happen.) At home, I still
have to take her to the potty every hour, or she’ll have an accident. She rarely
initiates on her own, and often tells me she doesn’t want to go on the potty. We
had her choose her brand new potty seat, and we offer her “potty treats” after
she goes. We tell her she is a big girl, and we’re proud of her. Any other tips
to help my very head strong little girl with potty training at home? Or is this
just normal for a young girl, and I just need to be patient? (FYI – my older
daughter did the three day method when she was close to three years old, so this is all
new to me.)

Sincerely, June (mom of two)

First, I would ask for what they typically do and say at daycare. If this is going smoothly there, maybe replicate what they are doing. Also, take her to the potty there yourself at drop-off and pick-up. It may be helpful for you to be associated with that success. If available, maybe purchase a similar potty seat or ring for home.

At home, I would do all the small things to encourage interest including reading potty training picture books, watching the potty videos, letting her observe while others potty and playing potty with doll babies or a dollhouse set.

Bigger things to encourage her to more fully participate include offering her choices, descriptive praise and language of ownership. Choices include, “would you like to use the upstairs or the downstairs potty?” or, “do you want to sit on the little potty or the big potty?” Here is a link to a previous post on choices: https://parentingbydrrene.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/how-choices-work-in-positive-discipline/.

Descriptive praise is being behavior specific when you catch good behaviors. This sounds like, “you knew you had to go. You got to the potty quick!” or, “you were taking care of your body. You put all your poop in the potty!”  Here is a link to a youtube video on descriptive praise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LH6Y-qPnAo&feature=relmfu and the differences between descriptive and evaluative praise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rn2Ddh16xIY.

The language of ownership is saying something along the line of, “do you know you are the only one in the whole world who really knows when you need to pee? I don’t really know that from out here. That’s your job.” or, “you are in charge of when you go potty. When you feel that pressure on your bottom that you need to poop, it’s your job to go potty.” The idea is to encourage them to take ownership without adding pressure. Use this langauge maybe every other day and not around the time of an accident, it shouldn’t sound like discipline.

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Thanksgiving Day Parenting Tips

Thanksgiving day without children can be hectic between travel time, visiting family, cooking and cleaning. Add a seven, four and two-year-old to the mix, and it can feel overwhelming. Here are a few ideas to help with the day:

  • Do what you can ahead – This may be baking desserts, making and freezing side dishes the days before or really cleaning the house over the weekend.
  • Hire out what you can – I cheat. Each year I have at least one store bought dessert and side dish that I may claim as my own. Not a luxury I have often, but occasionally we have a housecleaning service before the holidays and out of town guests.
  • Keep children busy during prep – If you have an extra adult who is available outside the kitchen, have them lead a nature walk or help children to browse toy catalogs to cut and paste a Holiday wish list. If they are really gung-ho, provide a pre-formed ginger bread house with frosting and decorations (left over halloween candy in my house) for the children to make a centerpiece.
  • OR Involve them during prep – If they are old enough, include them in the preparations. Children can color placemats, write menus, butter vegetables, knead pie crust, take drink orders and set tables.
  • Stick to normal routines – This means mealtimes and naps as much as you can.  This can go a long way towards a pleasant day for all.
  • Include kid-friendly food – I tend to think traditional Thanksgiving food is pretty kid-friendly. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be sure there will be mashed potatoes or mac and cheese if it’s a favorite.
  • Use contribution during the meal – Children love to help. Encourage them to butter rolls, carry plates or refold napkins as needed.
  • Discipline in private – To provide a pleasant mealtime for all, step away from the table for discipline.
  • Set expectations a bit lower – Remember they are children. It can be a challenging day particularly if they’ve travelled, are not sleeping in their own room or sharing their room with a cousin.

Child Says Caregiver Hit Him

Dear Dr. Rene,
My son, who is almost three and is quite verbal, just told us that his daycare provider hit him. It sounds as though she hit him during nap time when he was “moving around too much.” He said it hurt him, and he didn’t like her. The comment was unprovoked, and came as we were playing at home today (Saturday) – no discussion of daycare, no discussion or recent episodes of him hitting anyone and needing to be disciplined. In other words, I believe him (we have seen him make stories up about what other people have done a couple times, but it’s always been in the moment and for a direct gain, like getting a toy from another kid).
He’s been going to the same in-home provider since he was six months old, and he has always seemed very, very happy there. My husband and I think the world of her and are quite pleased with her and with the loving environment she provides the children. That said, we never had a conversation with her about discipline (since he started with her as a baby), and she comes from a fairly traditional background.
I suspect that she spanked him to discipline him with no intention of harming him, but we do not want him to be spanked. Do you have any suggestions for how to approach her about this? Or for how to talk about this with our son, or look for signs that things maybe aren’t as great as we thought they were? As further background, my son will be leaving her care soon to go to pre-school, but we now have our seven-month-old with her as well.
Sincerely, Karen
mom of two
Dear Karen,
I am sorry for this. It means the world to trust our children’s caregivers and feel confident as we drop them off. I want to start by saying, I believe him too. Part of the difficulty here is your child is shy of three years old, and children under six years old tend to be poor reporters, so, while I do think he was hit, getting any meaningful details beyond that is difficult at best. It may have been a light tap that startled him, or a real spank out of frustration. Asking more questions also easily leads his answers.
I think my best response would be to have a direct conversation with the caregiver. Start by letting her know what was said, ask about her discipline for small and big behaviors and let her know your guidelines. Be clear and firm in your limits of not spanking or otherwise using physical discipline. If you feel comfortable with her response and decide to stay, plan to be a good, open listener moving forward.
Honestly, I wouldn’t stay. Whatever her response, my concern is that the spanking seemed to happen over moving too much at naptime which in the big scheme of things is a relatively small behavior. My concern would be for her handling bigger behaviors such as pushing or biting. This is such a personal decision and difficult because you have a long history and otherwise high regards for her level of care. I hope this is helpful.
Sincerely, Rene

Vacation Pool Safety

Dear Dr. Rene,

We are going to the beach this Friday with two other families. 11 kids, ranging in age from 14 to two-and-a-half. Megan, my youngest is two-and-a-half years old. The next youngest is six, and all of the older kids can already swim well. The house has a pool, and I’m scared to death about it. Megan is a bit fearless, and my fear is that she will wonder down there, and no one will notice. We obviously plan to watch her closely, but I know that my eyes can’t be on her 24-7. I know of two people that lost kids right around this age to drowning. How do I talk to her and emphasize that she is never to go near the pool without one of the adults without scaring her? I want to scare her a little, but not too much.

Sincerely, Sarah

Dear Sarah,

Part of the difficulty here is at two-and-a-half years old you can teach them about safety, talk, warn them and review, but you can’t rely on them to be good at it at all. I would find a few key phrases, stated in the positive and start saying them now with lots of repetition. My sentence might be along the lines of, “you go to the pool with mommy,” “mommy must go to the pool with you,” and, “you must have mommy at the pool.”  When you get to the beach house, go down to the pool together and talk about how she has to have mommy to go to the pool. You might ask, “do you go alone?” “no” (in a light tone). “Do you go to the pool with a friend?” “no.” “Who do you go to the pool with?” “Mommy! You only go to the pool with mommy.” I would review this with her, in a light tone throughout the vacation time. This does put pressure on you to be available for the pool often, but better to narrow it to you rather than say an adult in general which relies more on her for safety. She may think if there are adults or the 14 year old around the pool that’s enough.

The next thing I would do is lock the gates and doors in and out to the pool. If a door leads straight from the house into the pool area, I might block it with a dresser. I would also let all the children know, Megan is ONLY allowed to be at or in the pool with you. If any of them see her at or in the pool, they should lead her out and come get you. If you still feel worried, you might ask if they provide or provide your own pool alarm. Gate alarms starts at $30, pool-wave alarms at $70. All that said, watch her like a hawk.

I hope this helps!

Sincerely, Dr. Rene

Stop the Whining!

It costs children nothing to whine all afternoon. If you try to ignore it, they will outlast you. They will outlast you because whining requires so little effort on their part. You will break before they will stop whining and when you break, however you do it, you are likely reinforcing their whining.

First, fix the situational conditions. If they whine because they are hungry, feed them earlier. If they whine because they are tired, change their nap schedule. If you don’t know why they whine, chart it for a while. You might get to the end of the week and realize you need to shuffle things around.

If children are always whining when you are on the phone, get them settled into an activity before you make a call. You might realize they are always whining over buying things. If that is the case, address the problem before you shop. Be proactive. You might explain there will be no extras. When one of my girls asked for an item, we added it to a “birthday wish list” I kept in my purse. You can also distract children by giving them a scavenger hunt for the necessary items on your shopping list. Look for the triggers and then avoid or fix them.

There is a whining trap when children are young. When they are two years old, and they whine when asking for a cookie, we think, “oh, it’s just a cookie,” “she’s only two,” or, “wow! She used her words to ask for something.” In any case, we often let the whining go. When the child is a year older and continues to whine, we find it incredibly annoying. Unfortunately, we’ve already told the child that whining is an acceptable behavior. It’s better to address whining as it starts.

Whenever your child asks for something in a nice voice, catch them being good. Notice and describe that voice that you like. You might say, “hey, that was a lovely way to ask,” or, “what a grown up voice. That sounded nice.” It doesn’t matter whether your answer to their question is “yes” or “no.”  It does matter that you take the time to reinforce the voice you want to hear more of.

Staying ahead of the whine means you respond more promptly to a child’s normal tone of voice.  This might seem difficult, but realize that a child is probably not whining on her first request; she is whining on her third or fourth request. Answer her on her first. Not allowing children to escalate means once they do start whining, intervene on their first sentence not their fourth. If they continue, they are just practicing whining.

Never reinforce whining. Intermittent reinforcement works the same for whining as it does for tantrumming. If you give in to whining every tenth time because you are tired, busy or it’s just a cookie, you are more strongly reinforcing whining than if you gave in every time right away. Again, I am not saying to give in; I am saying to be consistent and never give in.

To curb whining, there is a series of steps you can take. The steps are logical negative consequences that gradually get more intense. They add a cost to the whining behavior. These are the same steps whether you have a two-year-old who is just starting to whine or a six-year-old who is whining out of habit. The only difference is that younger children require more time to practice each step.

The first step is to have them consistently fix their voice. The next time a child comes to you with a whiney voice asking, “can I haaaave a cooookieeee?” you say, “oh!  I can’t hear that voice. Try again with a nice voice.” Most six year olds know what you mean, and they restate in a nicer tone, “can I have a cookie, please?” Most two and three year olds have no idea what you mean. For them, at least initially, you have to model the language you want by adding in a cheery tone, “you could say, ‘cookie please?’” Even the younger ones should be able to restate after being given a model. When they do restate in a nice voice, catch the good behavior. Say, “wow! that sounded lovely, that was the voice I was listening for.” And, then “yes” or “no” to the request, or just continue the conversation. It’s not if you ask in a nice voice that answer is yes, it’s if you ask in a nice voice, I can hear you and answer. If you only have them fix when the answer is “yes” you are intermittently reinforcing by sometimes participating with the whining voice.

I want parents to stay at this step until their children really get it. When the parent says, “I can’t hear…,” children should to be able to fix their voice right away and come up with the better language on their own. For six year olds, this should only take a few weeks.  For two and three year olds, it can take months. This is fine. It is a far better practice to have children continually fixing their voices rather than practicing the whining.

Once children completely understand that the whiney voice won’t be heard, and they can fully come up with the improved tone when directed to do so, parents can increase the cost through a delay or repetition. To use a delay and increase the cost, parents can say, “you know that’s a voice that I can’t hear. You’ll need to find another way to say it. From now on, when I hear that voice you can fix it, but in a minute.” This increases the cost of whining. When the child whines, there is now a delay before his request can even be heard. For this tactic to work, parents must be consistent. Every time there is whining, no matter how inconvenient, parents must follow through with the delay. Intermittent reinforcement makes parenting harder.

So when children whine, parents might say, “oh! I can’t hear that voice. Try again in a  minute.” Be prepared that, at first children will fix their voice immediately and expect you to respond. When you remind them of the delay, they may get frustrated. They may tantrum. They may follow you around the house asking in a nice tone for the several minutes they are supposed to be waiting. Don’t be caught off guard.

The alternative would be to use repetition. The parent can say, “you know that voice that I can’t hear. Starting today, you’ll need to find two nice ways to say it.” A few weeks later three nice ways. So when the child whines, and you have them fix, follow it with, “that’s one nice way. What’s another nice way?” Children don’t want to ask in two nice ways, and the answer might still be “no.” Children are also getting a lot of practice at the nicer voice.

When you increase the cost, most whining stops. That can be the end of this process for most families. Actually, the first step may be the end of this process for families. There is nothing that says you have to increase the cost. Whining may not be so problematic; you may always have them fix their voice without a delay. In my house, whining is a bit more problematic. I spend most of my mornings with families and their young children. My husband has an exhausting job. We are on the go. By the time we are all home, there isn’t much energy left to manage whining. We increased the cost again. When my kids reached six years old, they’d had a great deal of practice at each step before we increased the cost. In our house and beyond six years old, if you whine, the answer is no. As much as I might want to, I can’t. That voice means the answer is no. When whining becomes a completely ineffective behavior, children basically stop. When my children do whine, I know it is time for them to lie down and rest; they are at the end of their rope. I would never do this with a younger child, and it’s not fair to start there even with an eight-year-old. To be fair, all children start at step one.

Calm Parenting – Shift Your Responsibility

Staying calm when your child is misbehaving can be a difficult thing to do. I think part of the answer lies in where you place your focus. Often parents feel responsible for their child’s behavior. The misbehavior feels like a direct reflection on you. If you think other’s are judging your parenting based on the child’s behaviors, it is easy to lose your cool. To calm, shift your focus. Think of being responsible to them rather than for them.

For example, you and your three-year-old are having lunch together at a restaurant. They are busy eating their mac & cheese when all of a sudden, they fling a forkful and hit a person at the next table. You are not responsible for them throwing food. You didn’t arm and aim them. You are responsible to model, teach apologies, to address and curb the behavior. You are responsible to teach them how to behave in restaurants moving forward.

Another example, your eight-year-old decides to skip spelling homework and studying for a week and gets a poor grade. You are not responsible for the grade. It is not your homework. You are responsible to help them understand the importance of homework and studying moving forward. You are responsible to check their homework completion in the next few weeks while they get back on track. You are responsible to sort out whether this was truely a dip in effort or a bigger learning difficulty.

Overall, this means to focus your efforts on what you can control. If you are so narrowly focused on changing their beahavior, you are likely to feel frustrated. Focus on the piece you can control. Rather than focus on changing their behavior, focus on changing your reaction to their behavior. Focus on building skills to better address, manage and teach about behavior.

%d bloggers like this: