Back To School Again

For many families the yearly ritual of preparing the return to school consists of buying new clothes, a backpack,  lunch bag, shoes, pencils and rulers. But for kids it can  be something more than the shopping spree handles. For  children, “back to school” means starting a new job. You  know that feeling you have when you start a new job? What  is my boss like? Can I meet the expectations? Will this  be harder than my old job? What are my colleagues like?  Will I fit in? These questions are not unlike the unspoken  questions that linger below the surface for most children  entering a new grade. How do we help our kids with these  questions?

The first thing we need to understand is that this is an  anxious time for children. That is the primary reason why  their behavior may be worse at the end of the summer (and  why we want them back in school). As kids try to stretch  out their fun, push our limits, and deny the inevitable  first day of school, our frustration rises. But we can  respond better to our kids if we understand their actions  in context with their anxiety. It may be appropriate for  kids to have a last hurrah of summer fun. But it is also  appropriate for them to prepare for the school year. Here  are some tips for getting your kids ready for success in  their new job.

  1.  Address their fears with confidence and  encouragement. All kids exhibit fears and doubts.  These are often an indirect way for children to ask  their parents “Should I be worried? How do you  think I will do in school, mom?” Viewing their  fears in this light makes our jobs as parents  easier. Even though we may be emotional about  our child’s next step in the progress of life (1st day of Kindergarten, to packing up for college)  these questions tell us what our job is. We must  reflect back to our children the confidence we have  in them. Clearly expressing confidence in their  ability in meeting your expectations is what our  children need when they express signs of fear about  a new year in school Of course, what you expect  needs to be appropriate for your child.
  2. Discuss your expectations for their school  year. What kind of grades do you realistically  expect your child to achieve? Express faith in  their ability to achieve. Then discuss other  expectations such as homework time, bedtime and  other house rules. The right structure at home  can help your child succeed. By setting the  expectations and ground rules at the beginning of  the year, we can help our kids succeed right from  the start.
  3. Ease your kids back to a school sleep schedule. It  is hard to start the first week of school too tired  to face the work. Towards the last week of summer  and Labor Day weekend, set bedtimes so that by the  first day of school your kids are “on schedule.”
  4. Plan on getting to know the expectations the school  has for your child. Talk to her teacher at the  beginning of the year. How much homework will  there by? How challenging will each subject be  for your child? Based on last year, what are  your child’s strengths? Weaknesses? How can you  support him best in those subjects?
  5. Set up an area for successful homework completion.  Find an area at home where your child is  comfortable working. It should be an area where  you can be close to help out when he needs it. All  the necessary supplies (pens, paper, glue, and  scissors) should be available at your homework area  just like at school or a home office. Discuss with  your child expectations for homework. It depends  on your child whether homework should be done right  after school or after some play time. Just make  it clear from the start that school doesn’t end  at the final bell. It must continue at home. By  setting some standards for homework with the right  supplies, space, and time frame, you give the  message that you value this part of their school  work.
  6. Check in with your child about his/her friends.  Children feel more comfortable in school if they  have a good group of friends. Conversely, children  have a harder time with school if they are lonely  or picked on. Bullying happens frequently in  schools. If you are worried about this with  your child, check in with their teacher and if  necessary, school officials. These issues need to  be addressed at every school and parents shouldn’t  handle it themselves.

We cannot take away the dread of the first day back to  school for our kids. But what we can do is be open about  realistic expectations and set up a structure for them  to achieve. Focusing on this can help our children feel  confident and ready for the new year’s challenges.

Avoiding The Blame Game

Who broke this plate? “I didn’t…. neither did I…. I didn’t either…. From now on all kids can use plastic plates only. You  people can’t be responsible for grown up plates. You always break them. Now all of you can clean up the kitchen!” But I  didn’t do it…neither did I…. Elena did it she just won’t admit it…” These kinds of scenes are commonplace in households. Does  finding blame and placing blame really help households?

Frequent blaming causes defensive denial. It creates a  house full of fear. It fosters household comments based on  criticism. Children operating in fear hide things and keep  secrets. There is a better way but parents have to work at it.

Parents can succeed in avoiding the blame game by following  a set of rules. First, be clear with your expectations. “I  want these ceramic plates kept safe. If you can’t handle them  please use the plastic plates.” Then correct witnessed  incorrect behaviors. “Dana, you just broke that plate. It is a  little heavy for you. Let’s put these plastic plates at your  level so you can use them.” Don’t battle denials and be firm in  your expectations. “I didn’t break it somebody else did it.”  “I don’t care who broke it, I just want you to use the plastic  plates from now on.”

There are other rules for parents who are avoiding the  blame game. Don’t berate your kids into admitting guilt. It is  hard for kids to admit guilt and berating them belittles their  egos unnecessarily. Stay calm. Believe in your expectations.  And work with consequences when expectations are not met. “Mom,  how come we don’t get those freeze pops anymore?” “Too Many  wrappers were left around the house, so I am not buying them  anymore.”

In looking for blame and fault we condemn our children to a  life of continually being in the hot seat – continually on the  defensive. By using clear expectations our kids grow up  learning the proper boundaries of good behavior without shame  and guilt, which hide children’s personalities and potential.

Anger Management In The Home

Experiencing anger is a normal part of life. But if children experience too much anger what happens to them?  If they are yelled and screamed at too often, how do they  respond? This is easy to answer. We might have  experienced this in our lives. Or we may see the results  in our kids when we have been too strict with them.

When children live with too much anger in the home,  they live in fear. They withdraw. When things get tense,  they try to be invisible. Many times they fight back as  hard as they can. And nobody wins. Ultimately they can’t  express themselves or show their skills completely. They  feel blamed. It is logical then to recognize that it is  important to reduce anger and its expression at home.

Where does anger come from? Why is it there? And how  can we modify how forcefully we express it? Anger is the  result of an unrealized expectation. It is as simple as that. We expect our children to act a certain way or do  certain things. When they don’t live up to these  expectations we become frustrated. Our frustration results  in anger. Fault and blame soon follows. But rarely do we  as parents blame our expectations. Children will not meet  our expectation thousands of times before they are adults. But a major part of not realizing expectations is the  expectation itself.

The reasons why children don’t meet our expectations have little to do with our children. The reasons have to  do with us. Are we treating our kids at an appropriate developmental level? Are we expecting too much? Do we  really know their skills? Have we taught them what we expect them to do? Have we communicated fully what our  expectation is and the timeline we expect the task  completed? Before you can be angry with your child, you really need to ask yourself these questions. If you can  successfully answer these questions, then you can be annoyed with your child . . . . or you can readjust your  expectation.

We certainly need outlets for our anger and  frustration in dealing with our children. Hobbies,  exercise and time away from our kids can help. But if you really want to reduce anger at home you need to do more.  Know your child’s developmental level. Know their skills. Communicate what you expect in simple terms. Forgive  failure and readjust your expectation. Accept their  fallibility. Evaluate your expectations for parenting. Do  you live with the myth that children should be seen and not  heard? Do you operate too much on your agenda instead of theirs? Evaluate your tolerance, your triggers. This  seems like hard work and it is. But we are adults and this work must be done so our kids can grow up with less anger in their homes.

A True Drug Prevention Program Begins At Home

The perils of drug use are taught in schools across the  country. DARE programs continue to be well funded in school.  Most kids I talk to at age 12 say alcohol & drugs are stupid and  that they will never use them. Yet our kids are still using  alcohol and drugs by 18 in numbers that distress families,  police, teachers and pediatricians. Experimentation is even  more common then chronic drug use. As our kids grow, alcohol  and drug use becomes the biggest fear for parents. The key  question is what is the common denominator for those who stay  off drugs.

There are many factors that contribute to drug prevention  in our teenagers. Knowledge of drugs and the toll they take is  only one factor, perhaps the smallest one. Kids are getting  that kind of education. But it is certainly not enough.

Knowledge of family history is another factor that families  tend not to talk about. Addictive behaviors to drugs and  alcohol are strongly inherited. Even though kids may not need  to know their parents experimentation history, (what we did in  college is irrelevant to today’s alcohol and drug environment  for many reasons), kids do need to know how many family members  are afflicted with alcohol and drug problems. If you have  breast cancer in the family, your daughter needs to know that.  If you have alcoholism in the family, all your kids need to know  that.

How we provide examples for partying is another factor. A  cavalier attitude to your own alcohol or drug use is a direct  permission slip to teens to try it out themselves. If you are  responsible to yourself, your body and to others who drink at  your house, your kids are more likely to mimic that behavior  over time. This is why there is less alcoholism in Italy where  the family dinner with a glass of wine is the norm for drinking  versus the U.S., England, and Australia where partying during  sport events are the norm.

Stress and pressure is another factor. This cannot always  be controlled especially in our society. It is just important  to note that stressful family times may result in greater  experimentation. Healthy outlets for stress are important to  cultivate so that kids learn that a good workout is better then  tying one on.

Even after covering all that, parents need to recognize  that the greatest factor in teens drug and alcohol use is their  perceived value of themselves. I am not talking just about ego  or pride. There are plenty of football stars, class presidents,  and cheerleader captains who crash and burn over drugs. Many  big drinkers have big egos. I am talking more of a sense of  true value. How is your teen valued by others? How much does  your teen feel valued and loved by you? I feel this is the key  factor in drug prevention.

Remember when your kids were two and you saved their lives  several times a day. You kept them from running in the street  or falling off the slide. You didn’t allow them to bike ride  around the block or separate too far from you in the  supermarket. You did this because you valued them. Well, teen  years are not the time to stop. Parents often say, “I love you”  in negative ways – by limiting freedom to keep our kids safe.  As we parent teens, we need to continue to set limits to keep  them safe. Supervision is important to prevent alcohol and drug  use. We must say “no” to underage drinking and unsupervised  parties. The key factor however, is to let them know why we  limit their freedom. We value and love them. We care about  their safety. Because we care and always will, it is the nature  of being a parent.

Yes, we need to educate our kids about drugs. Tell them  our family history. Be a good example. But we also need to  stay involved. We shouldn’t be overly reactive. We need to  respect their need for more freedom. Value them for who they  are and what they do. Respect their interests and acknowledge  their accomplishments. Be there to supervise and prevent their  experimentation as long as you can because you love them and you  care.

A Message To Grandparents

As a pediatrician it is not unusual for me to hear from grandparents about parents today. “They spoil their kids so much. I can’t believe what I see. Back when I was  raising my kids if they spoke to me the way that kids speak to their parents today, I’d  give them a good pat on their bottom. Boy when I was growing up I would never speak  to my father or mother that way. We were a lot stricter back then.” Those grandparents  are absolutely correct. But you must understand the cultural context – Parenting is harder today.

Today most families need both parents working to make ends meet. There are  also more single parent families then ever before largely due to the pressures of family  living. There is a constant barrage from TV and the internet telling families what they  need to have. Much of the force of this barrage is directed toward children. Advertising  to children has reached epidemic levels. There are more products made for kids then  ever before. Meanwhile, due to work lives, families spend less time together and kids  spend more time watching TV or surfing the net. Not all of this is under the parents’  control! So what can grandparents do?

Grandparents, today, play an important supportive role for the families of their  children and grandchildren. As our world has changed, so has the role for grandparents.  Traditionally grandparents were the ones who had the right to spoil their grandchildren.  But today, I can guarantee you your grandkids can be spoiled very well without you!  Grandparents should aim to simplify their spoiling of their grandchildren. Emphasize  spending time playing with your grandchildren. My grandfather played checkers with  me every time he came over. What game will your grandchildren remember playing with  you? Have games at your house that they like to play.

Encourage a simple life at your house. Cut out the TV. Go for walks, cook, or do  projects they like. A real treat for grandchildren is to have the grandparent’s house  different from their house.

Decrease the treats at your house. Cook and eat healthy meals. One of the  biggest ways kids are spoiled today is with food. Food advertising has had the biggest  influence on children and their diets. The traditional role of spoiling grandkids with ice  cream and treats needs to be modified in this era of childhood obesity. I remember going  to my aunt and uncle’s house where they always had ripe bananas – and that was my  “treat”.

One of the biggest areas where grandparents can help their children parent is with  discipline. Discipline today is different and kids are suffering due to the lack of it.  Today parents cannot threaten or use corporal punishment. The issue of abuse has  changed our society permanently (and that is good). As a result parents are at a loss  today. If you had an authoritative style when you raised your kids, you may have to learn  a new style to help your children parent your grandkids. No matter what, support your  children’s parenting styles. Help your kids to say “no” to their kids. Don’t undermine  them by saying “yes” behind their backs. Without corporal punishment, isolation and  ignoring children needs to be done at times. Support your kids in using techniques such  as “Time Out”.

Extended family is a value to families today. Grandparents provide daycare,  meals, experience and family history to their grandchildren. But today’s parents are in  crisis. “Two popular shows, Nanny 911 and Supernanny, demonstrate the general need  for parenting advice. You, grandparents, have a history of parenting. Yet, you, too, have  to learn to adjust your style of parenting and grandparenting to today’s world. There are  new challenges that you didn’t need to face. The overall challenge to parents and  grandparents is to learn how to raise kids who are generous, healthy, and educated  instead of what society is promoting – self-centeredness, poor physical health, and  constant entertainment.

A Display Of Emotion May Be Just A Behavior

Sensitive and attentive parents do not want to dismiss their child’s emotions. But that sensitivity may cause other  problems for a parent. Kids often demonstrate an emotion with a  behavior. When children are denied things they want, some  children cry. Others get angry and yell back at their parents.  Others can have full-blown fits over not getting a toy at the  store, or being denied a play date. Though as parents today we  want to pay attention to the emotions that our children display, we do not want to be controlled by the behavior their emotions bring with them. In other words, our children cannot learn to  get things from their behavior brought on over an emotion. If  they get something for their behavior in these situations, the  behavior may become a means to an end in and of itself. The  emotion becomes a secondary issue for the child. It becomes a  vehicle to bring on a behavior that may win for them some  consolation from their parent. This is something children back  into depending on their parents response to them. Children  don’t maliciously plan this out. It happens by accident for  parents and children alike. Over time we realize that when our  children get emotional they act like “a sobbing rag doll” or “a  screaming banshee” or “a tantruming two year old”.

It is important for parents to be able to separate the  emotion from the behavior around the emotion. The emotion may  be disappointment, or sadness or anger. The behavior is the  yelling, crying or tantruming. Kids need to understand the  emotion they are experiencing. They also need to know  appropriate ways of expressing their emotion. These are things  parents need to explain to children. “I can see that my  decision disappoints (or fill in another emotion word here) you.

By going through your child’s outbursts with a system like  this, you express empathy and understanding while instructing  your child about their behavior. This can be effective in  dealing with behaviors that start due to your child’s emotional  response. This way you are separating the emotion and the  behavior and may get away from responses that perpetuate the  behaviors. And your child can learn to handle emotions more  appropriately.

4 Kindnesses Everyday

Families need to teach values. I am not talking the “family values” that politicians speak about but don’t carry out  themselves. I am talking about values that families show by how  they live. How we carry ourselves and act in our daily life  demonstrates the true values we have. If you aren’t showing  enough value in your life, this is a call to action. We teach  values by how we live so I have a suggestion for families.

Imagine if all family members tried to reach a goal of four  kindnesses a day. I believe we would make great changes in our  culture if all families strived for this. Our culture pushes  self-centered individualism. Events in our world necessitate a  change in this attitude in America. We can change this attitude  just by changing actions in our homes.

So let’s talk about the four kindnesses. We can start with  ourselves. We can start each day with a kindness to ourselves.  I don’t want to foster more self-centeredness. But I do think  it is important to do something positive for oneself everyday.  Do something healthy. Ten minutes more exercise. Eat an extra  piece of fruit. Don’t spoil yourself in a negative way. But  show yourself some kindness. By showing our kids respect for  self we teach them that we value our bodies and souls.

The second kindness gets us out of oneself but stays in the  family. Do an act of kindness for a family member. This does  not mean you need to be cruel to other family members. “I can  only be kind to one family member today and today isn’t your day  so get outta my face.” This is not the right spirit. Our  kindness theme should spread and not be limited. But for  starters, do something kind for a sibling, your mother, your  daughter, son or husband. They don’t even have to know it.  Perhaps they don’t see it or acknowledge it. But you know you  did something nice.

Next, move outside the family. Complement a friend. Talk  to the cashier at the supermarket. Somehow, someway brighten  the day of someone you see. Again, don’t look for appreciation  or acknowledgement. Just do it. People might think you’re  crazy. But my hope is we all turn crazy in this way. Finally, do something positive for the world community.  Walk more, drive less. Pick up some litter. Donate some  clothes. Write a letter to an orphan in a third world country.  (Check out www.NPHHonduras.org) Support a process of change in  politics. Join a campaign!

I wish the world were better. And so do you. And this  will help. Four kindnesses a day – self, family, neighbor,  world. Imagine. We can all do this. It really isn’t asking a  lot. Spread the word. Clip this article and send it along.  Copy it for everyone at work. I promise some extra smiles and  more joy in your life. Start today! (By the way, what do you  think your kids will learn from this?)