The Lies Children Tell… About Goats

Children lie. Does it make them social deviants who are undoubtedly raised by horrific parents, children who are simply being kids, or somewhere in between? Just the other day a local adventure for two sisters brought kids and lying to the forefront of public discussion. The headline read, “Girls get caught for late-night goat walk”. Honestly, my first reaction was that these were local college kids who were having a wild Saturday night. Not so – it appears two sisters, ages 6 and 7, were having an adventure of sorts and creating one lie after another to cover their goat tracks.

Here is a recap. These two young girls attended a party at the local park where several different animals are kept. They became infatuated with the goats and hatched a plan to return that night to steal one. At 11:30 that night a 911 call reported two pajama-wearing girls walking along a fairly busy street – with a goat. The responding officer questioned the girls, who explained their “plight”. According to them, their mother purchased this goat for them, but because their father is unaware of it, they must keep him in their closet during the day and take regular goat walks at night. Wow. The officer escorted the girls home, the goat was returned to the park, and the scrutiny has been laid on thick around here about the lies these girls told on their adventure.

It is one of the funniest news stories I have read in a while, and it happened just miles from my home, allowing me the rare opportunity to imagine precisely where these characters where and what they were doing (making me laugh even harder). After reading the facts of the story and then the comments and reactions, I was left wondering about the great debate: are these children doomed to be crafty liars or are they doing what most kids do and experimenting with life and their place in it?


What’s in a lie?
A scary statistic from NurtureShock, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, reports that an average 6-year-old will lie once every hour, and almost all children lie. Kids tell lies for varieties of reasons, but they can most often be grouped in the following categories:

  • To cover up a poor choice
  • To get out of punishment or deal with the consequences of the poor choice
  • To increase social power
  • To deal with frustration and overcompensate
  • To get attention
  • Because they have learned it from us, their parents.
  • For no apparent reason (Perhaps the most dangerous of the reasons because the cause can’t easily be identified and dealt with by parents.)


For the two girls who took the goat from the park, their lies to the police officer were apparently in efforts to avoid punishment for their choice, and perhaps as a way for them to be able to manipulate the situation and keep the goat. There has been public debate over whether or not this was a harmless act or a symptom of a much larger and more severe problem.

Bronson and Merryman also report that lying, especially those lies which evolve and include details, are actually signs of cognitive intelligence. The fact that these girls were in their pajamas, had not fully developed a plan for taking care of the goat, and could not even tell the officer their home address, might make some question their IQs. However, it is not until about age 11 that kids understand the repercussions for lying and grow to be aware of the impacts lying has on others. Public opinion includes sentiment that these children displayed egregious signs of negative character and are doomed to a life of crime. While I’m not ready to condemn them yet, it is important for parents to know the danger signs of lying from their children.

  • Your child’s lies put him in physical or emotional danger (these girls were in danger, but thankfully came to no harm).
  • Your child lies to get out of basic responsibilities in life on a regular basis.
  • Your child lies for no apparent reason.
  • Your child is older (elementary and above) and still resorts to lying to get what is wanted.
  • Your child is lying in partnership with other bad choices, such as stealing or bullying.


What can parents do about lying?

Yes- these girls do appear to have taken lying to a whole other level. There is concern for how they could be so confident in their abilities to sneak out of their home, walk a great distance away from home, steal a goat, and then present such a false scenario to a police officer. I would not want to be that parent who has to decide how to deal with all of those behaviors rolled into one very public stunt.

How we react as parents to the lies we find our children telling is just as important as why they are lying in the first place. Young children often lie out of fear of punishment or to avoid the consequences. Once we are able to create relationships with our children where they feel safe coming to us, honestly discussing their mistakes, and working together to make them better, we will reduce the likelihood that they will lie.

Who knows? Perhaps if these girls had felt able to just ask for a pet goat (and maybe they did), they wouldn’t have felt the need to steal one from the local park to keep in their closet. Although I wouldn’t have gotten such a good laugh, and chances are that the answer would have been “no” to the pet goat request, it is amazing that their desire for this animal reached such heights. Some are calling them creative and intelligent, while others are labeling them as criminals in the making. I am stuck in the middle – seeing two girls who obviously have some issues with rules, put themselves in a dangerous position, but aren’t really old enough to comprehend the full scale of their lies and actions. Hopefully this was an isolated incident and their goat-lifting days are over.

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How to Win the Homework Wars

How to Win the Homework Wars

Help Your Kids Manage their Homework without Losing their Love of Learning

The term homework might elicit frowns, groans, or perhaps on rare occasions, academically inspired smiles from your child. However, no matter their reaction to the task, there are several things you can do to help your child develop good study habits and complete homework with as little stress as possible. Some of the ideas are old standby approaches, but others are modern twists on old practices. No matter which ones you try to implement with your kids, make sure that you attempt methods that are appropriate to your child’s personality, academic needs, and learning styles. Homework might be a necessary evil in your home, but we can do several things as parents to make sure that homework doesn’t negatively impact our children’s views of learning.

Before your child lugs home her first over-weighted backpack and sighs with resignation at the mounds of homework before her, investigate her options and learn about the expectation of her particular school.

  • Obtain a clear understanding of what your child’s teachers expect from homework assignments, even meeting with teachers personally to get a clear vision of classroom goals.
  • Find out your child’s school policies on homework, anything from minimal standards to homework complaint forms.
  • Ask teachers and school administrators what are the average number of hours per day or week your child will be expected to devote to homework. Knowing this upfront can help alleviate struggles, help you plan your schedules, and alert you to learning issues if your child is devoting more than average and still not making the grade.
  • Determine if your school offers any homework help centers before or after school classroom hours. These can range from upper classmen volunteering to assist younger learners, to school provided tutors who can aid in subjects where your child is struggling. Some schools also have resource and study centers specifically geared towards homework assignments.

Once you have done assessments of the school’s expectations and homework guidelines it is time to focus on your child. There are several influencing factors that will affect how your child approaches homework and how often you have to battle through it with him. The following methods won’t all apply to every child, but it is important to find ones that work well with your child’s individual abilities and needs.

  • Space for supplies – Homework often requires additional supplies from home, so start a plastic tote or bin with the extras your child may need. Things like rulers, extra markers, colored pencils, protractors, glue sticks, scissors, and paper are all common items to keep in stock.
  • Space for your child – You might feel that her desk is the best place to do homework, but your daughter might prefer the living room floor. Try supplying things like lap desk pads (foam padding with hard surface boards) for homework without a desk, extra supplies of lamps and lights, and comfortable seating without too many distractions. Let your child study where she feels comfortable and can keep on task.
  • Favorite surroundings – Everyone has his or her own idea of what makes homework more approachable, and each idea is as unique as each person. For my oldest, she prefers music playing in the background. Some kids prefer to have complete privacy, while others want to remain close to the general family hub in the house. Sometimes kids want their cat or dog curled up with them while they work, or work on homework in a group setting with siblings or friends. Make sure the environment works for your child and that their personal preferences are taken into account – it will make for fewer hassles and easier studying time. 
  • Ample time – If your child tells you she only has 30 minutes of homework that evening, make sure you build in twice that amount. This will ensure that any unexpected bumps along the way won’t leave your child unable to finish her work, or push bedtime down the road too far.
  • Breaks – Once your child reaches an age where more than 30 minutes of homework is typical at night, encourage regular breaks to avoid burnout. Have kids take 10 minutes to play catch with you in the yard or just hang out with the family.
  • Nutritional support – Don’t underestimate the power of good nutrition in your child’s academic energy. Provide snacks like apples and fruit juices. These provide great nutrients and won’t leave your child crashing after a caffeine or sugar high.
  • Homework Games – Put a little fun into homework by using some easy game ideas.
    Tag Team – Have your kids a friend or two who also have homework to be their teammates. Each child can go online to a social media site like Facebook and log their start time, then work to see who can complete each task first. They can also post questions to each other when stumped. Just make sure to monitor the time online so they don’t get distracted.
    Fun Jar – Let’s face it – homework can be a drag for kids, but it has to be done when required by schools. Take a jar and fill it with fun coupons, jokes, or “reasons why you are a great kid” that you have printed from your computer. The coupons might be to redeem for 10 minutes extra at the computer, get out of unloading the dishwasher, or other small tokens to lighten your child’s load at the end of the day. Once a homework assignment has been completed, your child gets to draw a note or coupon from the jar.

If you don’t want to be struggling every night to convince your child to complete his homework, find ways to make homework less work and more about learning at home. If you feel that the homework amounts are too overwhelming for your child, don’t be afraid to speak with school officials about your concerns. Our children have the responsibility of working toward their educational goals, and we have the responsibility to help them reach them.

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Does Homework Help or Hurt Our Kids?

Does Homework Help or Hurt Our Kids?

Parents who have watched their children slugging overloaded backpacks through the front door or who have struggled themselves with balancing helping their children with homework and just wanting to do anything else at the end of the day, are no strangers to the debate about the value of homework. As Americans try to bring their students to the forefront of academic excellence in the global setting, there are real questions about the effectiveness of homework in achieving these goals. There is no denying that American students are not the top performers in test assessments and appear to be graduating high school with lower scores than their global peers. What is debatable is the true effectiveness of homework, and the research has conflicting, confounding, and questionable results on both sides of the debate.

The History of Homework

 A report published by the Center for Public Education in 2007 attempts to evaluate the history of and research surrounding the issue of homework in America. As a home school parent I have very mixed experiences and opinions on the topic, but this report does clarify several misgivings about the value of homework. According to this report, homework in America has taken several historic turns.

  • In the late 1800s children younger than grade 4 rarely received homework, while students in upper grades received 2-3 hours each night.
  • During the early 1900s the public seemed to revolt against homework, including going so far as to blame it for childhood mortality.
  • Moving into the Cold War led to a renewed respect for homework, as the public opinion changed to one worrying that Russian children might be smarter than American children.
  • Focusing concerns on the Vietnam War, public sentiment again swung away from the importance of homework and viewed it as too much pressure for American children.
  • The publishing by the National Commission on Excellence in Education of A Nation at Risk in 1983 again emphasized the value of homework, and many parents shifted their views in agreement. Through the 1990s homework was seen as clearly providing academic benefits and character building opportunities.
  • Currently, the debate rages on about the importance of homework, how much is too much, and how public policy affects how teachers teach. It seems that as political paradigms shift, so do the public opinion polls on the value of homework.

As more research is done on the topic there appear to be several ideas coming forth about homework and its place in academia for Americans.

The Benefits of Homework

  • Homework provides opportunities for delayed recall activities. It is one thing for students to regurgitate the information presented in class, but another thing entirely to retain that information and independently use it at home later.
  • It is a way for parents to be involved with their students’ education. Several studies cited in the report indicated that one of the benefits of homework is that students and parents have a reason to interact each day, therefore having positive family influences.
  • Homework gives students opportunities for responsibility and independent thinking skills. Corno and Xu (2004) found through their research that students who were given homework learned time management skills and independent study habits.
  • It can be a source of academic improvement in certain subjects for certain students. One 1995 study by Townsend showed that 3rd graders who received homework had higher vocabulary scores. In 2003 another study by Van Voorhis found that students who completed more science homework assignments achieved higher graders, especially if the assignments were interactive and required the aid of an adult at home.

The Dangers of Homework

  • There can be a stress on family time and resources at home. Several researchers cited in this report all found the same dangerous theme – students who were from lower socioeconomic backgrounds had much harder times completing homework well because their parents were often working multiple jobs. This stress on family resources leads to an increase in the academic gap.
  • Homework in some cases should just be labeled “busy work” that takes away time that could be spent on other worthwhile activities. Several studies indicate that homework takes away opportunities for outside activities, limiting exposure to other beneficial endeavors. By the time children come home from school, do their homework, and possibly have an extracurricular practice, there is little room for family time, physical exercise, or personal interests and hobbies.
  • The overloading of students with invaluable homework can also lead to negative attitudes about academics, increasing the likelihood that students won’t complete their education. Calling it the satiation effect, researchers say that too much homework leads to emotional and physical fatigue as students are overexposed to academic pressures outside of school.
  • Homework is sometimes not intrinsically valuable to academic achievements. In 1999 Swank found that there were no differences in math scores between groups of students who did and did not do homework.
  • One of the most outspoken researchers against the value of homework, Kohn in 2006 wrote The Homework Myth, where he argued that there is no evidence linking homework with any types of benefits whatsoever, either academic or otherwise. Kohn says that the research that does indicate value of homework is not sufficiently organized or originating from valid research methods.

Teachers who assign homework in order to fill a quota set by a school district or in order to achieve certain national test scores are not setting children up for tangible success in their real lives. Care needs to be taken that teachers are taught about appropriate homework types and amounts, focusing on the total academic results. Do our 3rd graders really benefit from extra hours each week outside of the full days they already put in at school?

There seems to be a different answer to the question of the value of homework in every corner of society. What does seem to be clear, though, is that homework is only valuable when it is thoughtful and students are supplied with the resources with which they need to complete it successfully. Homework should not result in children losing other “real world” opportunities outside of the classroom. There is too much to be learned every day outside of brick and mortar schools to allow homework to ruin it for our children.

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Attachment Parenting and the Adolescent Child

Attachment Parenting and the Adolescent Child

Creating Bonds that Will Support Teenage Development

Many people who have heard of the term attachment parenting probably envision babies cozied against their mothers in wraps or co-sleeping with their parents. However, this parenting approach of forming close bonds with children through consistent positive interactions is not limited to infants and toddlers. Research shows that adolescents go through a period of such tremendous change that they too require some of the same foundations that attachment parenting provides.

What is attachment parenting?

Obviously attachment parenting is not done the same for infants as it is for teenagers, but some of the same core principles are still present. Infants develop attachments to caregivers when their cries and other signals for needs are met. Caregivers, usually one or two involved parents, are present offering positive support, creating a strong bond with the infant. Contrary to some beliefs, infants do not then grow up to be too dependent on their parents and afraid of venturing into the world alone. Instead they learn positive self-images and gain confidence that allows them to step out and try new things, secure in the relationships they can reach back to if needed.

How can I use attachment parenting with my teenager?

Now imagine a relationship between a teenager and a parent. Aren’t these some of the same qualities we would hope to see between them? While adolescence is the time when children often seek independence, which can seem at odds with parental involvement, research shows that close parental attachments during this time are imperative for positive growth and development. What might be surprising to many is that teenagers actually want more time and attention from their parents according to a recent survey that showed 67% of teens polled craving stronger relationships.

Authors Marlene Moretti, PhD, and Maya Peled, MA thoroughly discuss the research that pertains to adolescent development in relationship to attachment parenting in their article, “Adolescent-parent attachment: Bonds that support healthy development”. The authors draw clear connections between the positive support that parents can give teenagers and the healthy maturing that these children display. Adolescents who have parents who use attachment parenting techniques appropriate to this age group tend to have higher levels of social skills, are more capable of social transitions, and experience less peer conflicts. Conversely, children who do not have engaged and connected parents tend to suffer from greater rates of mental illness such as depression, have lower self-esteem, and are more prone to eating disorders.

Moretti and Peled compare the support that parents need to give their teenagers as the scaffolding on which these children build their adult lives. How can parents of adolescents provide the attachment parenting techniques that will bolster their relationships instead of threatening their children with the suffocation that many envision?

Parents of teens need to:

  • be aware of the physiological changes occurring in the brains of adolescents.
  • be sensitive to both the physical and mental changes faced by teenagers.
  • be present in their daily lives, attending events, inquiring about their days, and genuinely displaying interest in the activities of the child (even if the only return response is a roll of the eyes).
  • allow their children to make their own decisions on small and medium risk issues, giving them opportunities to both fail and succeed.
  • accept that their children are facing new social parameters that often mean spending more time away from family. Securely grounded children will know precisely how to find their way home again.
  • provide discipline as needed, but be wary of the differences between discipline that addresses behaviors that need correction and punishment that negatively affects the individualism of the teen.
  • choose their battles carefully. This is a time of immense change. Consistent support and gentle leading will have farther reaching effects that are positive than ruling with an iron fist.
  • always let their children know that they love them and want to support them on their personal endeavors to reach their own goals.

One of the worst things parents can do is try to force their teens to comply with sets of rules that are so strict and unbending that there is no room left for the child to make mistakes. Making mistakes is how we learn, no matter our age, and we need to provide our teens with safe places to fall and guiding hands to help steer them in the right directions. When parents oppress their children and try to control their every move throughout adolescence, perhaps feeling that they are protecting or teaching them, they are actually taking away valuable opportunities for personal growth. Sometimes the harder parents try to make children to conform, the more children attempt to flee from that control.

Parenting a teenager is no easy task, and requires mental and emotional energy unlike any other times in parenting journeys. Using the model of attachment parenting during adolescence can provide teens with a secure foundation on which they can lean during those turbulent years. It can also lead to a solid lifelong relationship between parents and adult children.

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7 Ways to Build Vocabulary

Help Your Baby or Toddler Build Language Skills

If you are the parent or caregiver of a baby or toddler, you might be anxious about their language and communication skills. We love to hear their first words, relish in their cute descriptions of the world around us, and wait – not so patiently sometimes – for them to communicate their needs and wants to us verbally instead of deciphering their cries and gestures. A solid vocabulary and language foundation does not develop overnight, but through a process of interactions we have every day with our children. We can help them establish strong foundations by implementing some basic (and fairly easy) strategies into our daily routines.

1. Books, books, and more books!
Don’t wait until your baby is fully capable of turning the pages of a book before spending the time to read to her. Babies love the rhythm of voices, and at very young ages the words don’t carry as much meaning as the way your voice moves through the sounds of the words.

2. Read above level
Young children often have short attention spans, so we find ourselves resorting to reading short storybooks to them and leaving out more thoughtful and engaging stories. Very young children, even toddlers, can enjoy the story lines in many chapter books. You don’t even need to read a full chapter if their attention is fleeting, but try to find a chapter book with a few pictures that might hold their attention longer, and pause during reading to ask questions and even explain further what is going on in the book. Chapter books help children develop the understanding of anticipation, and teach them how to use and know words as clues to stories.

3. Sense and sensibility
Describe things for your baby such as the texture of the toy, the sounds of the birds, the smells from the kitchen, the taste of your dinner, and the colors in the room. Actively engaging your child in his senses will help him become more aware of his surroundings and be able to place appropriate labels on things in his environment.

4. Ask questions, but find answers together
Engaging your child in conversation is one of the best ways to get her mind moving and inquiring about the world around her. Don’t stop at asking questions that have obvious answers, such as, “Who is that?” when pointing at Daddy, and don’t just ask closed ended questions such as, “Is that yummy?” Phrase questions in open-ended formats that require more critical thinking. Instead of just asking, “Did the puppy leave?” when a dog walks away at the park, ask, “Where is the puppy going?” These subtle differences in phrasing are larger differences when it comes to involved thought processes. Even if your child is not old enough yet to respond, she can tell by your connotation that you are asking a question. You can answer the question for her if she is not yet speaking, saying something such as, “I think the puppy is going home to eat dinner.”  Providing a response lets your child take part in the ebb and flow of conversations and the adjustments in tones that people make when speaking.

5. Readers’ Theatre
It doesn’t have to be as fancy as dinner and a show, but providing your young child with a modern version of a readers’ theatre – books on CD – is another way to expose your child to storytelling and the intricacies of language. Often these stories for young children are done with sing-song rhythms that are almost more like poetry or music than stories. The character voices adjust with the dramatic interpretations, giving your child more opportunities to predict how language is used. Toddlers can even follow along in their own books for many of these, listening to the tone that signals when to turn the page.

6. Word play
Word games are some of the most effective and most enjoyable ways for children to develop their vocabularies. Before babies can clearly speak on their own, you can supplement the answers for them, giving clear examples of the rules to the game. For instance, describe things as opposites – this one is too hot, while this one is too cold. As your baby gets older and begins to speak, he can imitate the game by coming up with his own opposites, and then you can move beyond that to trying to come up with as many pairs of opposites as possible together. Use the same method for rhyming words, continually adding to the level of participation for your child. Many hours were passed while commuting with my young children playing these easy games, and eventually they would be able to stump me – their favorite thing to do!

7. Kick the sloppy slang
Young children pick up on our slang and sloppy speech all too easily. As your baby is developing speech patterns it is important to be extremely mindful of your own poor habits and to speak with clarity. I was reminded of the importance of enunciation one day when one of my young children randomly asked me if rip beer was made by ripping beer. Yes – much to my astonishment, all of his 4 years of life he thought that everyone was saying rip beer instead of root beer. Maybe it is a Midwest thing, but try saying root beer quickly and see how you sound – we tend to drop that “t” sound.

It is often from the mouths of children that we find how we actually sound to the world around us. Make sure that you are providing your child with many ways in which to explore language, both through mimicking, speaking, and listening. Engage your children in varieties of activities and help them to expand the words they can speak, but more importantly, their understanding of the meanings behind communication that occurs around them every day.

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3 Ways to Keep Your Child in the Game

Sport Safety Helps Kids from Being Sidelined

We can’t package our kids in bubble wrap before sending them out the door, but there are several things we can do to make sure our kids are ready to safely participate in sports and that they don’t get sidelined with injuries. School and community athletic programs offer kids opportunities to be physically active. As parents and caregivers we can help them play to their fullest potentials by supporting them in 3 specific ways.

Baseline Concussion Tests

New advancements in medicine have made baseline concussion tests available to young athletes. These tests do not measure IQ, but instead use a short series of tests, administered with the use of a computer. The tests include assessing verbal and visual memory, reaction time, attention span, and brain processing capabilities. These tests are administered long before a concussion ever happens, giving physicians a baseline against which they can measure in the event of a suspected concussion.

I recently took my son for his first baseline test, a fast, painless way to ensure that if he gets hit too hard this year in football, doctors will be able to compare the baseline test results with post-injury test results. The test was in the form of a computer game, took 20 minutes, and can provide us with valuable information if he ever receives a blow to the head and his concussion status is questionable. We are fortunate to be in a school district that requires these tests for young athletes before they attend their first practices.

While football is among the leading sports for concussions for young athletes, other sports such as baseball, gymnastics, and soccer are all examples of sports where adolescent concussions have been seen. Because there is no medication that relieves a concussion, prevention and due diligence for suspected concussions is essential. Athletes who receive a blow to the head can be reevaluated and the tests results compared to the baseline test, giving physicians clear guidelines for whether or not particular individuals are ready to go back on the field or into the gym.

Sports Precision Clinics

I never thought I was going to be one of those parents – the ones who take their kids to specialty sport clinics in order to perform better in adolescent sports. My son’s injured pitching arm made me realize that these clinics can be valuable, proactive ways to help our kids participate in sports successfully, and safely.

Athlete training facilities such as The Sports Institute offer classes in everything from nutrition, to specific sport training, to video skills assessments. These courses and consultations can seem expensive, but if your child is even moderately obsessed with athletics they can be very instrumental in athletic development. For our child it came down to a matter of choices – he was 11 years old and suffering from severe pain in his elbow from pitching last summer. I decided that I could take him to the doctor who could diagnosis what we suspected – overuse – and prescribe ice and rest, or I could take him for a consultation at a sports clinic. This consultation provided him with help in finding a new pitching routine that would take away the pressure from the elbow – no more side arm slinging. While this might seem extreme for an 11 year old, the final costs for me to take him for private assessment and coaching were actually less than the costs for a visit with his pediatrician and an x-ray. The results of the two options were dramatically different as well – the proactive visit with the sports coach resulted in my son learning a new pitching strategy that will enable him to continue with an activity he loves. The visit to the doctor would have resulted in a respite from sports and the likelihood that when he returned and pitched the same way, he would have been forced to stop playing, perhaps for good.

Communication with Coaches and Kids

Parents often want to protect their kids from every possible pain, but what is sometimes a better approach is teaching our kids to listen to their own bodies and decide when enough is enough. Instead of being the parent who runs on the field every time his child is injured, it is important to help your kids form relationships with their coaches where they can speak up for themselves. Effective coaches will learn to look to the children, who are the only ones who really know how their bodies feel. Parents can do their parts to make sure that coaches aren’t abusing the dedication of kids and putting their physical health in jeopardy. If you see or hear something that just doesn’t sit well with you, don’t be afraid to ask a coach for clarification, but remember to do so in a calm manner, preferably away from the intensity of a competition. Establish an open forum of conversation between yourself, your child, and the coaches, but encourage your child to take a leading role in these relationships.

Athletics and sports are not for every child, but as parents we can take steps to make sure that when our kids choose to pursue sports that we give them every opportunity to succeed. While most young athletes will not become professional stars, providing our kids with safe tools to succeed in sports at young ages can have far reaching effects. Maybe your child will pursue a career in sports medicine, physical therapy, or sports psychology. Or maybe your child will simply learn to pursue positive tools for improving situations.


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Choosing the Right Path for Your Child’s Education

Assessing School Options

The last few decades have produced many changes in the scope and landscape of modern education. Perhaps one of the biggest changes has been the evolution of options from which families can now choose, providing tailored opportunities that can fit more precisely with the individual needs of families. Choosing which option to pursue, however, can be an overwhelming process for families, and not all options are created equally.

Traditional Classrooms and Public Schools

These are still the mainstay sources of education in America. Governmentally funded and nationally regulated, public schools provide educations to children from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, across all landscapes of neighborhoods. Recent debate has stirred on the topic of paying teachers for performance, one of the ideas discussed in efforts to improve the quality of classrooms in public schools. Opponents argue that the diversity in classrooms is a variable that cannot be overcome by even the best teachers, and that it is unfair to punish teachers for having a classroom full of children who are struggling with things like divorce, illness, or social struggles, which might make academic progress more difficult. There is no doubt that public schools serve a need in our country, but there are varying opinions about which schools are making the grade.

Charter Schools

Even though many people may not realize it, charter schools are public schools, with different budgeting and managing strategies. In 1992 the first charter school opened in St. Paul, MN, paving the way for more than 5,000 of them to open across the country in 39 states and the District of Columbia. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools must raise larger portions of their funding, often through business sponsors, and the schools must prove their success rates in order to stay in business. Charter schools operate with 3 basic elements of consideration: choice, accountability, and freedom. These 3 elements are intertwined, combining the choice that parents pursue for their children’s education with the freedom schools employ to develop their specific strategies and plans, and adding in the accountability that students have for their studies as well as the school’s managerial skills.

Private Schools

This term often conjures up images of school uniforms and stuffy hallways of ancient buildings. Sometimes this is an accurate portrayal, but there are many private schools that don’t appear too different from public schools, especially those public schools in wealthier neighborhoods. Besides the extra expenses and admission guidelines for students, private schools often also provide faith based instruction, a draw for many families. Within the walls of private schools you can also find teachers who are paid higher salaries, often invoking higher levels of teaching, another benefit for students. While the academic benefits many times give students real advantages in future pursuits, the costs associated and the rigors of private school life, especially boarding schools, are out of the reach of many average students.

Montessori Schools

The Montessori approach to education was first developed in 1907 in Italy by Dr. Maria Montessori, and has spread to the United States and beyond. This approach is perhaps most well-known for the framework where children are grouped in ages of 3 year spans, where children are encouraged to learn from each other perhaps more than they are from a teacher leading the classroom. This approach often includes larger classrooms, but supporters of this method feel that there is less emphasis on singularly directed classroom activities by one teacher and instead shared learning experiences that incorporate all of the 5 senses of children. Repetitive busy work homework is not assigned, and shorter, more meaningful homework assignments are typically only given when they are truly valuable to the classroom experience, and not done until the upper grade levels.

Online Academies

Perhaps one of the most innovative changes in academics in recent years, online education is a recent phenomenon that is taking the academic world by the horns. Even kindergartners can attend virtual classes, led by public school teachers who connect with them every day. Older kids are turning to online education options for reasons ranging from bullying, to academic choices, to travelling and work issues. Virtual schools can be either public or private and range from the earliest years through college. Some brick and mortar schools are incorporating virtual education by offering half-days to students where classes are attended online for a portion of the day, and the other part of the day is spent at a central school location. These bridges in education give students the social interaction that some say is lacking in a virtual education, while offering reduced building expenses and meeting the demands of modern families.

Home School

As the home school mother of 4 children who has always been on this road with her children (my oldest is 15 and dual enrolling in college this year), I can speak personally to the benefits and challenges of this educational option. The product of a public school system myself, and the daughter of two teachers (1 public high school, 1 public university), I can attest to the strengths and opportunities that public schools offer, especially in light of the tools with which they are provided. However, I always just wanted something more for my children, and didn’t want to play what I felt was a game of chance with their education and development, hoping they got the right teacher each year. Home schooling is not for everyone, certainly not the faint of heart. It does, however, provide parents with the amazing possibilities of growing with their children, providing them with the tools and experiences to develop into truly independent thinkers and doers. There are no shortages of curriculum offerings for parents, and the styles and methods of home schooling are as various as the families who choose to pursue it.

There is no typical school day, but families often strike a balance between work, household responsibilities, and academic life, combining all three of these into a melding pot of options. The kids are socialized, often in ways that parents of public schools students tell me they wish their kids were. They are socially conscious, morally responsible, and less likely to experiment with risky behaviors. Studies show that home school students often excel academically, and go on to lead successful and full lives.

Successful and full lives. Isn’t that at the core of what parents want for their children and their education? As technology, the needs of families, and the interconnections of societies are developed even further, the paths to academic and life sucess are becoming more varied. Parents no longer just choose between private and public schools, but are instead faced with many directions in which they can lead their children. Whichever approach is chosen, it is imperative that parents lead with conviction and confidence, supporting their children and their activities, remaining involved in their studies, their pursuits, and their lives.

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Are You Raising an Overprotected Wimp?

Are You Raising an Overprotected Wimp?

There it was among the bibs and BPA free dishes, hanging in the isle innocently among the various products for our young children – the product that I knew meant we have gone overboard as parents and are dooming our families to raising wimps. An insulated “koozie” to protect kids’ delicate hands from the cold of an ice pop treat. Seriously? Are our children so overprotected that they have to have a protective wrap on their frozen treats so that their fingers don’t get too cold? What are the costs of insulating our children from every discomfort of the world that we possibly can?

I revisited the work of Hara Estroff Marano who wrote the book A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting, and is the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today. She describes the modern trend of parents who are increasingly becoming helicopter parents, consistently and constantly regulating and trying to control every possible uncomfortable issue their kids might face. Some parents feel that wrapping our children in every measure of protection is the equivalent to wrapping them in our love. The more we protect, the more we must love our children. Marano would disagree, saying that these efforts actually make our children more fragile and less likely to develop into successful, independent adults.

The Dangers of Helicopter Parenting

Children need room to discover on their own how their environments truly work. If every time they are presented with new challenges we jump in and intervene and make a safe choice for them, or try to buffer them from every pain, they lose the opportunities to weigh the risks and benefits. This approach removes the ability of kids to think for themselves, taking away their opportunities to assess situations and determine for themselves how to approach the problems or issues.  

This is not to say that we should just let our children figure everything out on their own, remove safety measures from the lives, and forget the potential true consequences. Car seats, electrical outlet covers, and other safe options for our children’s environments offer families needed and valuable precautionary measures. Somehow koozies for ice pops just don’t seem to fit this description.

There is a difference between providing a safe, loving, and secure environment for our children and having them live fully padded lives of overprotection. In the simplified example of the ice pop protector, the child who uses it is set up for unrealistic expectations. There are many uncomfortable issues that people face and it is not possible, and not valuable, to take away every level of discomfort. Discomfort helps our children to learn right from wrong, safe from unsafe. It also makes them use their own intuition and forces them to form their own ideas for solutions. If we take away all of their discomforts, we take away their motivations and opportunities to come up with possibilities for change.

Maybe in this case it would simply be that a child would decide to grab a washcloth if the freeze pop was too cold, but it would still be up to the child to choose if the treat was worth the pain of the ice between their fingers or not. Sometimes the best ways to love our kids are when we support their own, independent thinking and let them struggle with the little things. Nations are not developed and frontiers crossed by the easy, paved road, but by forging over rough terrain and facing challenges head on. Who knew a freeze pop koozie could take away so much?

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Send Your Spouse on Vacation Alone

Separate Vacations Can Be Just the Right Thing for Your Family

Moms and dads should always vacation together and share hobbies, right? Let’s change the question. How boring would we be if we only loved the exact same things, only wanted to do them with each other, and always felt we needed to share every activity? Separate mini-vacations can provide parents with the opportunities to pursue their own favorite things to do. They should not be replacements for time together or requirement to survive life at home. Instead, they should be additions to your family life that make your marriage and your family more fulfilling.

Why Taking Care of Yourself is Not Selfish

Marriage requires work, commitment, compromise, and trust that allows for both partners to have individual space. In 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage, by John and Julie Schwartz Gottman, readers are introduced to a married couple who are like so many parents – they have become so child-centered that their own needs have been pushed aside and their entire family is suffering for it. The Gottmans remind parents that problems can develop when well-intentioned parents actually end up using their kids as excuses for neglecting their own relationship needs.

Their research has also shown that children who have parents who place priority on their own marriage and respond to their partners’ needs give their children the examples of healthy relationships that their children need in order to eventually have their own healthy relationships. There is less family tension and children are less likely to develop depression or become withdrawn.

The Gottmans encouraged this couple to take time for their own marriage and their individual adult needs. As part of this the husband planned a separate vacation doing an activity with a friend. While this required the wife to be responsible for the children and household duties during this time, it was also a way for her to acknowledge her husband’s needs and express her love for him by wanting him to do something for himself.

How to Make Separate Vacations Work

Make certain each partner feels that the decision is fair. The vacations don’t have to be for the same length of time or even cost the same amount of money. The most important thing is that each partner feels that he or she has an equal opportunity for his or her own activities and interests. For my husband this means looking forward to his hunting and golfing each year. He doesn’t really understand why I don’t take my own “girl vacations” and has told me several times that he wishes I would each year. However, for me the best vacations are my short strolls through the nursery inhaling the scents of the flowers, the afternoons spent Christmas shopping for exactly the right gift for my children, or an evening out with girlfriends for coffee and pie. I truly treasure these moments and savor my time spent doing what I choose, and feel like I can take more of these very mini-vacations throughout the year because they can happen more easily.

While one parent takes a short vacation, the other can provide care for the kids, saving babysitting costs and general concerns about childcare. When the vacationing parent comes home, it is good for him or her to give the other parent a break, acknowledging the extra time and energy that was spent parenting solo for that period of time. It is also important that there is still time, energy, and funding for joint vacations or time away together as a married couple to refresh and renew that committment.

Twice a year my husband takes his own mini-vacations, one for the elusive deer he hunts on his childhood farm, the other for a steak eating, golf club swinging guy adventure hosted by his uncle. These give him the opportunities to spend time with family and friends and continue traditions that were started years ago, some before I ever met him. These individual vacations also give him the time to recharge his batteries (his own descriptive cliché) and are activities that he truly enjoys. I’m not a hunter (unless it is for a bargain at the mall), and my golf swing is scarier than my tennis swing. I know that supporting him in his own interests is a gift I can give to him and to our children, without sacrificing my own needs. Marriage is really a two-way street, and it is OK to send your spouse down the road alone once in a while.

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Why Your Child Needs an Older Friend

In our fast paced lives it can be difficult to make caring for grandparents, great-grandparents, and elderly neighbors a priority for our children, but we do an extreme disservice to all of them if we don’t place value on these relationships. Some of the greatest lessons we can teach our children are about caring for older generations, learning from them, and easing the age gap by increasing shared experiences. It is important that we help our children create relationships with the elderly populations in our communities.

The Lessons That Older Generations Can Teach Our Children

Not all children have grandparents who are close in proximity or parts of their families, but nurturing and encouraging bonds between your kids and older generations is valuable to their development of emotions and social awareness. There are numerous benefits that your kids will receive from these relationships.

  • A true sense of and appreciation for history
  • Wisdom from people who have made mistakes and lived to tell about them
  • Supportive adult role models who are interested in their lives
  • Lessons about practical tasks such as cooking, vehicle maintenance, and many other skills
  • Realistic expectations and lessons about the aging process
  • Experiences with individuals who might otherwise be out of your kids’ comfort zones – in wheelchairs, struggling with memory problems, and other age related issues

Children who have relationships with the elderly have opportunities to gain perspectives and knowledge about a very large population in our society. The economy, healthcare, politics, and community resources all have various focuses on older generations. As children learn more about the needs of this population they can deepen their understanding of these issues and broaden their definitions of their social worlds.

I have heard from parents who prefer to keep their children at more than arms’ length from the elderly population, worried that their children will be uncomfortable around or even have poor social skills with that population. They sometimes also worry that their children will experience too much sadness or loss by befriending someone who most likely will not outlive their child’s adolescence. The risks are far too greater, however, if we don’t make relationships with the elderly valued parts of our children’s lives.

My sons have all learned that chivalry is alive and well for older generations, and they are able to charm the women with their smiles and talk about fishing or building tree forts with the men. Recently my 10 year old son held the door open for an older woman (thankfully a fairly automatic gesture for him), and he was surprised at how this stranger took several minutes to tell him about how wonderful it was for him to do that, and that many kids “nowadays” don’t pay any attention to “old people”. I am thankful that her words made an important impression on my son and reminded me that we can’t allow our children to miss out on treasured time with the elderly in our communities.

The Gifts Our Children Give in Return

In turn your children will provide many gifts to the older adults in their lives, whether they are grandparents, great-grandparents, friends, or neighbors.

  • A connection to youth that helps them to feel involved and invigorated
  • Lessons about things that might be intimidating such as computers and technology
  • Companionship that can increase mental and physical health through conversations and shared activities (going for walks, playing games, etc.)
  • Decreased dependence on only one or two family members or caregivers as older children can even give rides for grocery shopping or help with home maintenance

Help Your Children Reach out to Older Generations

Don’t forget the importance of taking your children to nursing homes and assisted living facilities, even if you don’t have any family or friends as residents. Many of these places welcome visitors who can come and interact with residents and provide sources of conversation and friendship. When children are exposed to these environments at early ages they are more likely to become comfortable in such settings and be able to understand issues that the elderly face, such as immobility, deteriorating health, and communication barriers.

Encourage your kids to help their elderly neighbors with yard work or household errands or chores. Get young children involved with making snacks for and delivering them to the elderly. When they see you actively caring for older generations they will see the importance of the time invested. Teaching our children to value life, even when it might make them uncomfortable, helps them develop deeper connections to their entire community.

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