The Handwriting Debate

Yes. We will be doing a disservice to our brains and the functioning and growth of our children’s intellect if we forget about penmanship and push for keyboarding. As schools develop future curriculum plans, statistics show that many states are reducing their requirements for handwriting courses, especially cursive writing. In fact, a new push referred to as the Common Core standards is close to being implemented in at least 44 states. This plan does not require schools to teach cursive writing, and handwriting does not get mentioned in the curriculum goals either. Keyboarding, on the other hand, is considered to be an important skill.

How can penmanship improve my child’s brain?

Studies clearly show a relationship between the action of physically forming letters and the cognitive development of deeper thoughts. Not only are fine motor skills increased, but the abilities to form higher level ideas are improved when handwriting is involved. Through the use of MRI studies, researchers have shown that when children experience physically writing out letters there is increased neural activity.

Professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, Virginia Berninger, reports that there is a relationship between the brain and the hand that is unique to handwriting. Where handwriting utilizes the skills of forming letters stroke by stroke, keyboarding involves single touch letter formation when the keypad is touched once for each symbol. Not only does the brain require more complex activity for forming the letters, but practicing penmanship also gets the portions of our brain active that are involved with thinking, language, working memory, and our overall ability to manage information.

Berninger supports this research with a study of children at various grade levels who were able to write more words, write them faster, and more clearly express their ideas when writing by hand as compared to using a keyboard. While keyboarding is increasingly a necessary skill in the classroom, the focus on technology might leave children without these valuable tools for clear communication.

Not only does penmanship show to improve cognitive abilities, but it still truly reflects on a person’s commitment and abilities. Dr. Steve Graham, a professor of education at Vanderbilt University, cites studies that show a significant reader effect. Whether we like it or not, people judge the content and validity of ideas based on the penmanship. The quality of one report can be perceived to be immensely higher with neat penmanship, yet lower when letters are written poorly.

As schools reduce in-class time devoted to penmanship and provide iPads for students, we risk removing a skill from their academic tool belts. While I admit that I find it much faster to complete my work via the keyboard, I can’t imagine a world where the written word is, well, no longer written, but instead pounded out, copied, pasted, deleted and spell-checked. Besides, what work would all of the handwriting analysts do instead? Keep your kids writing and you will keep them thinking.

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Healthy Hygiene Habits for Kids

Brush your teeth. Wash your face. Scrub your nails. Comb your hair. The list of personal hygiene needs we throw at our kids goes on and on, and the number of times we have to remind them of these things is probably even longer! Have you ever sent your child into the bathroom to wash his hands, only to have him emerge 5 seconds later with very dry hands; the kind you know never saw a drop of water? Teaching children to care for their own personal needs, and do it well, is something parents often struggle with as their children move toward more independence. Thankfully there are a few tricks parents can use to help their kids learn these necessary skills, make them positive habits, and do them without us screeching in the background.

Basic Hygiene for Kids – Creating Good Habits

There are no magic ages when our children should have hygiene skills mastered, but from the time they are babies we can get them used to the habits and routines of personal hygiene. Don’t wait until your child can completely master the task independently before allowing him to try. Allow them to do the activity first, such as brushing teeth or combing hair, and then you can do a final run-through after they have had their opportunity. The only way they will learn how to care for their own needs is to do them.

Your children won’t form habits, for anything, overnight. Research shows that it takes 66 days of repeating a behavior for it to become a habit, programmed into our brains. Not only will it take on average 66 consistent days for our kids to learn a habit, but the action needs to occur within the similar setting. Use this knowledge to help your kids master basic hygiene skills.

Teeth Brushing

Start Young. Evening babies have dental care needs, and dentists recommend using a wet washcloth to wipe out the inside of your baby’s mouth daily, then add in a soft toothbrush when the first tooth appears. As your child gets older, encourage independent brushing by making it a natural step. As soon as breakfast is finished, the teeth get brushed, before anything else happens. Make certain it is a priority to keep that routine, as it offers the best way for your child to learn the habit of doing it himself.


Again, routine is key. Young children don’t need daily baths unless they become visibly dirty or your just know they need a good washing. Dry winter months can be hard on children’s skin, so over-washing can actually cause more problems like extremely dry skin that is cracked and painful.

Keep a routine of bathing every other night for younger children, and at least once a day for tweens and teens, more if they are involved in sports or physical work. For children old enough to be bathing on their own, but young enough to space out under the shower head and forget to ever touch the soap bar, use a top-down sequence reminder for them. Remind them that there are 3 basic tasks they need to do – 1. Wash their hair, 2. Wash their face, 3. Wash their body. If you start this washing habit with them when you are still bathing them in the sink, you will find that it is easier for them to remember. You can even place a time on the counter and they can see that each 2 minutes they should be able to move from one to the next.

Hand Washing

Cold and flu season always gives parents shudders as we think about where our children’s fingers are throughout the day, then see them stick those fingers in their eyes, up their noses, or suck on them as they gobble their snacks. Make it a rule from baby-hood about hand washing and establish those habits early.

  • Hands get washed before any food is eaten.
  • Hands get washed when you change locations, from outside to in, from the store to home, etc.
  • Children can use instant hand sanitizer when on the go, but just remind them to let the cleaner dry before touching anything.
  • Give your child a song to sing or a phrase to repeat X number of times. Happy Birthday sung 2 times, the ABC’s, or other comparable length songs will help them establish the right amount of time for scrubbing.

The Extras

As your child moves into the years around puberty you will notice a need for deodorant, special face washes, and perhaps cologne or perfume. Don’t wait for your child to come to you asking for these supplies. Make sure that even before they really need them you have them ready for them in the bathroom closet.

Your child won’t learn how to take care of her own personal hygiene needs if she doesn’t have the opportunity to do it for herself. Once she has made the attempt, you can help finish the job, but always make sure you are giving her the chance to take the lead. Most of all be consistent with your expectations and keep a routine going – for more than a few weeks. It will most likely take at least 2 months of regular and consistent attempts before your child is ready to fly solo. And you’ll still probably have to keep a watchful eye out for skimping on the soap!

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Tips for Raising a Confident Child

Your palms get sweaty and your heart races as you try to stop the trembling in your knees. Have you ever felt these paralyzing emotions before or during public speaking events? Does your child seem to be overly anxious when faced with the task of speaking in public? As parents there are things we can do to raise confident and capable kids, free from these anxiety ridden symptoms, who can tackle the world from a podium.

From the earliest elementary years through the classes at colleges, our children are given opportunities to speak in front of groups. I call these opportunities, because that is what they truly are – they are the practice times for real life. In college I once heard that the worst class for students was Speech 101. It was not for the homework load, a boring instructor, or the costs of the books. It was because it required each student to speak in the auditorium in front of class. Speak coherently and get an A. Not as easy as it sounds for some people.

How to Raise a Confident Public Speaker

Don’t leave speaking in public up to the classrooms of formalized school. While these are valid opportunities, there are many factors influencing the effectiveness of relying on in-class speaking to boost experience and confidence. If your child is being bullied, or once accidentally left his fly down during his book report – causing a torrent of nicknames for the rest of the week – classroom presentations might be more like a torturous milestone to be survived.

Instead of relying on your child’s classroom to develop his speaking skills, take him into situations where he is already confident and eager about the environment. This might be among his Boy Scout Troop, his church youth group, or at the community center where he helps coach soccer. The more natural the surroundings are, the more your child will feel like a member of the audience.

Help your child find a topic she loves, and then find a way for her to share that passion with others. My 8 year old is not fearful of public speaking, but can be an observer in classes, waiting for his moment to pounce. Last week when the project was to create a frog origami creature, his face lit up like lightening – he LOVES the craft of origami. He moved from hanging on the sidelines to center stage as he directed kids and adults how to complete their projects. Passions are powerful motivators.

Make certain that your child has varied opportunities, especially at young ages, to be engaged in conversations with crowds of people. These can range from dinners with the neighbors, to church functions, to community service activities. You don’t have to leap into an auditorium to practice skills. Start small and move on from there.

Don’t focus on your own fear of public speaking, and don’t play into your child’s nerves by getting nervous for her. She can sense your fear a thousand miles away. Now is the time to fake it if that is what it takes. The more laid back you are about the public presentation, the more likely she will see it as low on the anxiety scale.

Start early. Don’t wait until your child is a teenager to prod her before the microphone. The earlier you expose your child to situations where she can have the opportunity to speak in front of others, the more natural it will feel to her. My daughter was recently giving tours with a friend at a local historical home (one of her passions), and happened to present the tour to two Toastmasters who were in town for a convention. These two men later wrote a note to the historical society expressing their admiration that the society encourages young people in speaking roles, and that these two young women were so poised and capable. These girls have grown up spending many hours in this historical home, so speaking with others about the history of it is natural and easy.

Public speaking is a skill that will not only get your child through Speech 101, but it will open doors in all venues. Effective speaking is a powerful tool that can be used to live a more successful life, socially, academically, and in business. Individuals who are experienced and confident with public speaking can be persuasive and influential. Give your child the tools to succeed and help him avoid the fear of the podium. It won’t bite.

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Teach Your Child to Tell Tall Tales

Teach Your Child to Tell Tall Tales

Children who are able to tell tales and verbally share stories with others are doing more than practicing their speaking skills. Storytelling is an intricate combination of vocabulary, inflection, emotions, concepts of time, and social awareness. In yesterday’s post I described the value and importance of storytelling when it comes to adults sharing tales with children. Encouraging children to tell their own stories and retell familiar ones help build important academic and social skills that will benefit them in numerous ways.

What Can Storytelling Do For Your Kids?

There are several benefits for kids who learn how to tell their own stories and retell ones which they have already heard. The more obvious ones are the practice it gives them speaking to others and the opportunity to further develop their language skills. Storytelling can do more, however, than reiterate these academic skills.

When children tell stories they learn how to recognize sequences. Transition words such as first, then, next, and finally become a part of their vocabularies and help them to keep the details straight. Kids have to put events in order in their thoughts before they share them in stories, reinforcing the need for organization of details.

One of the biggest benefits of encouraging your child to tell stories is that you can get a true sense of their emotional intelligence and help them develop it to a deeper level. When a child tells an exciting, dangerous, or scary story it allows him to use language and voice inflection that reflects real emotions. This is a safe way for children to live vicariously through characters in a story and still relate to the emotions involved. Children also learn to be attuned to the needs and reactions of their audiences when storytelling, developing a low level of empathy.

The processing of having children retell stories depends upon the age of the child, but the benefits are similar. When kids retell a tale they have already heard, whether it is a classic fairy tale or something you made up while driving with them, they learn to pay attention to details. These details can include the big ones such as the conflict or central theme, but also the sequence of events, defining characteristics of characters, and moral dilemmas and resolutions. Go ask your child to tell you a story! Then, ask yourself some of these questions to further understand the academic and emotional intelligence levels of your child.

  • When your child retells a story, is it evident that he had the same interpretation that others did?
  • Was his perspective unique? Why or why not?
  • What can you learn about your child from the details he remembers (or forgets) in a story?
  • Are there issues with assembling details in sequential order?

How to Help Kids Tell Stories

Storytelling does not seem to be a natural inclination for some kids. This could be because of confidence levels, lack of opportunities, or because they are more inclined to be visual learners. However, there are some easy ways to help kids come out of their shells and share a tale or two.

  • Use props for visual learners. If the story is about a magic shoe, make sure they can have a shoe to use in their tale.
  • Try puppets to take the focus off of your child’s face if he is insecure about storytelling. The puppet can give him things to do with his nervous hands and eye contact from listeners will often be directed to the actions of the puppet. Puppets can just be decorate brown paper bags, socks, or paper dolls glued onto wooden sticks.
  • Encourage her to retell a story she loves. When the topic is familar and favorite kids are more inclined to be enthusiastic about the activity.
  • Record your child’s voice as she does storytelling. Kids often find it funny to hear themselves and might be more inclined to tell stories if they get to be their own audience of one.
  • Don’t interrupt your child’s storytelling and suggest different ideas. Let them finish their thoughts and then you can ask them questions at the end of the story.

Storytelling can be the opening into our childrens’ hearts and minds. Give them plenty of opportunities to tell tales and encourage them to retell stories. Take the time to listen to their words and you might be surprised at how much you can learn about their souls.

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Don’t Read Your Child a Bedtime Story

Don’t Read Your Child a Bedtime Story

Books are wonderful tools that can lead our children on adventures, teach them moral lessons, and help them discover the complexities of their world. However, the art of storytelling is sometimes left by the wayside and our children then miss out on important academic and social developmental opportunities. Storytelling is a natural way for children to have active engagement of their imaginations and is the perfect way to complement story-reading.

Why Storytelling is Important for Children

When children listen to stories without the aid of written words, pictures in books, or even audio recordings, they are exposed to stories in slightly varied ways that influence how they receive the information and perceive the story.


  • Is an active event, where story reading is more passive. A picture book is presented, with the vivid details of the characters coming to life visually, while storytelling relies more on individuals to use what they already know about life to fill in their own blanks.
  • Requires more imagination when there is the absence of pictures. Children must conjure their own images in their minds and create their own unique visual perceptions.
  • Allows for the opportunityof children to be engaged and a part of the story. Storytellers are more likely to ask for input with phrases such as, What do you think happened next? and, Has anything like this ever happened to you? Story readers more often follow the written words precisely, leaving little room for interactions.
  • Is flexible to the needs of the audience in duration and details. If children are getting restless a storyteller can move on, shortening the details. However, if children are enthralled the storyteller can build on the excitement.
  • Is the opportunity for passing on history and heritage. Storytelling has for centuries been used as entertainment as well as historical record keeping methods for preserving the cultural history of groups of people.
  • Is the opportunity for children to be exposed directly to the passions and excitements of the storyteller. Storytellers often use memories or experiences around which they build stories.
  • Is inexpensive and easily available. Parents can use storytelling to entertain children while driving to a friend’s house, teachers can utilize it in the classroom, and people with specific interests in topics can use it to reach others and share their knowledge and ideas.
  • Exposes children to an art form. Storytelling in certain cultures is a revered ability, and the most accomplished storytellers can be synonymous with Hollywood actors of other societies.

The Problems with Storytelling

Research has shown that there is an interesting discrepancy between the types of presentations of stories that children prefer and the actual benefits of what is used. Compare this idea to one where you serve your child vegetables not because it is his favorite, but because you know that there is nutritional value to what you are giving him. In surveys, children tend to prefer media related stories, such as books on audio recordings or those presented online. However, studies show that children who are exposed to storytelling actually have higher rates of retention of details when compared with those who were exposed to story reading or media reading. Children who experienced storytelling were more likely to recall character and plot details.

Choosing the Best Approach

Authors Kaderavek and Justice report that storytelling is a valuable addition to any language and reading program, as roughly 10% of kids do not enjoy being read to (for various reasons), but who will positively accept storytelling.

Like so many things in parenting and teaching, there is no one perfect method that will give children all they need to succeed and thrive. Study after study show that listening to books read aloud have numerous benefits for the language development of children. It is important, however, not to diminish or forget about the contributions that storytelling can have on these same developmental achievements for kids. Active involvement through storytelling allows for children to experience the same story in different ways, stimulates their imaginations, and furthers their language development skills.

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Is Your Child’s Coach a Bad Influence?

Is Your Child’s Coach a Bad Influence?

Whether your children are athletes or musicians, their coaches play extremely important roles in their participation of the activity and beyond. Researchers have identified that coaches have such overwhelming influences on children that they can either be the positive catalysts who encourage and assist those children in reaching goals or can be destructive powers who reduce our children’s passions and energies for once loved endeavors. While most of our kids probably fall somewhere in between these two extremes when it comes to their experiences with their coaches, there are several things parents can do to make sure that their children are getting the most out of their extracurricular activities.

  1. Meet the coaches. Know who is spending hours each week with your children and ask them what their plans are for the year, their methods, and their experiences.
  2. Regularly check in with your kids and ask them about the coaching approaches being used, the words being spoken, and the reactions of the others on the team.
  3. Don’t be afraid to stop in unannounced at practice and see the coaches in action. Understanding the methods of the coaches will help you understand the actions on the field and the reactions from the participants.
  4. If you hear something that makes you uncomfortable, talk with school administrators or other leaders. If more than one parent voices a concern sometimes there is more attention paid to the situation – be the ball that gets rolling.
  5. Don’t discuss your frustrations or concerns with the coach in front of your child or other teammates. Keep your cool and respect for the coach.
  6. Remember that most school coaches and community education coaches are underpaid, if paid at all, and their time is their gift to the team. If you feel you have what it takes to coach, be sure to volunteer at the beginning of the season.
  7. Remind your children to respect the coaches and their plans. This doesn’t mean that your child has to give carte blanche to the coach, but should attentive, participatory, and willing to work hard for the team or the activity.

The Power of Coaches

Not all coaches are created equal, so when you choose your child’s activity you need to ask questions about how the coaches are chosen, what type of training they received, and what types of expectations there will be for the children. Children are extremely vulnerable and impressionable and coaches are in positions of authority and influence. I recently heard from parents whose children were being coached by a woman who discussed her personal intimate relationships with her high school athletes. Unfortunately, coaches do not always receive the type of training that would teach (for those who somehow missed the appropriate button) how to be a good role model and positive influence.

Research shows that most coaches of public youth sports have limited athletic experiences in the sport actually being coached, and are rarely given training on the rules, techniques, and necessary guidelines for the sport. What we are sometimes left with are coaches who are in charge of controlling chaos more than actually positively influencing the strength of the sport. In one community education program where our family used to participate, the coaches were almost entirely high school students who used the field time as social time, keeping the kids corralled, but doing little to actually build their skills.

If you are going to make the commitment, both financially and with your time, to take your children to participate in extra activities, take a few minutes more to assess the program and coaches involved. If your child is ready for more than social time on the field, you may want to consider programs that are not school or community based. Usually the fees are a little larger, but the time commitment is generally the same and the payout is much higher in skills learned.

Coaches can be powerful people in your children’s lives. Researchers Amorose Weiss, 1998, claim that coaches can be some of the most significant sources for childhood development. They help youth form their self-perceptions and the feedback they give are prime resources for how children evaluate their own abilities and achievements. Through all of this, coaches are closely tied to the emotional and psychological development that our children go through, often at the ages when this development is at its highest. Given the high importance that coaches have in the lives of our children it is imperitive that we make sure these people of influence are helping us to raise successful, capable, and compassionate individuals. Put yourself on the coaches’ teams and help them make a difference for your kids.

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Free The Leash Kids!

Free The Leash Kids!

Tips for Keeping Your Sanity and Kids Safe in Crowds

Taking children into extremely crowded situations can be daunting for parents. Suddenly the airports, fairs, and shopping malls seem more like tests of parental abilities to keep track of lightning-fast children. There are ways you can enjoy and survive the throngs of people without losing your child, or your sanity, and you can do it all without tethering your child by a leash (even if it has a cute bear for a backpack to distract from the idea that it is a leash for humans).

  • Make sure the activity or event is really appropriate for your kids. Heading to the airport can’t be avoided if you want to visit relatives – together – but your 2-year-old might not really feel left out of the festivities if you don’t take her to the mall on Black Friday.

    Several years ago my husband and I ventured with our very young children to the state fair, using a double stroller for 2 of the kids, wearing the youngest in a pack, and holding the hand of the oldest. We made one wide sweep through the fair, our children for the most part staring at the hind ends of the adults walking by, and vowed not to do that to our kids again. Until they could manage through the crowds without having slushies dripped on their heads and actually care if the princess had her likeness carved in butter, there was no real need to take them back.

  • Establish ground rules and expectations for your child before entering the crowd. Explain that the crowd will make things more difficult, but that makes it more important to listen well and stay with an assigned person. If you make certain rules before passing through the gates and explain their value, such as always holding hands, it will be easier to remind the kids of the rules instead of trying to flounder to create new ones in the midst of chaos.
  • Have a back-up disaster plan. Kids will be kids, and in crowded places like fairs and malls, it is easy for them to get distracted and lose you in a split second. Teach them how to react when that happens. Some of the basic rules we set up for our kids when they were barely old enough to walk included:
    • Freeze like a statue and count to 20 or sing a song. In crowded places it makes it so much more difficult to find your kids if you are both wandering. Teaching them to freeze narrows down your search location and increases the likelihood that someone will notice their plight.
    • Teach them to ask another mother for assistance. Often other moms are the best people to look to in times of crisis and they will understand what the child is going through – and you.
    • Keep it loud. We taught our kids to feel free to make some noise if they ever got lost. Our daughter tested that idea at the mall one holiday season when she toddled off to go around the counter, and realized we didn’t follow. In 1 split second we heard, “Moooooommmmm!” at the top of her lungs, and knew instantly where she was. We found her (she wasn’t really lost, but felt like she was), and praised her for letting us know where she was.
    • Establish a meeting place with older kids. Pick out a clearly visible landmark where everyone can meet if you get separated. For us at the state fair last year it was the DNR tower, visible from any location at the fairgrounds.
  • Dress for success. Since the kids were tiny tots I have used a color code system to help me keep track of them in crowded places. At the zoo they might all wear their tie-died t-shirts, or everyone might wear red shirts to Underwater World. It is not a fail proof plan for keeping track of them but I can quickly scan for them via their wardrobe. And if anyone ever does get lost, it will be that much easier for me to describe what he is wearing in my moment of panic.
  • Always bring along a current photo ID of your child, especially to places like the airport or other locations far from home. Fast access to accurate descriptions can lead to faster, happier outcomes.
  • Consider and then reconsider ideas like leashes. While some parents swear by the use of leashes for kids, there are both safety concerns and learning disadvantages that you risk when tethering your child to you. The leashes can be a danger for kids who get tangled as parents enjoy false senses of security. I recently came back from the state fair where many parents were using leashes with their kids. Most of those kids wandered at the full distance the leash would allow, and the parents were oblivious as to their actions at the end of the tether. Kids who are regularly tethered are also at risk of failing to follow their parents’ instructions for safety and instead learn that being close to Mom and Dad is a forced affair, one from which they should try to escape (if it wasn’t for that cute little bear on the back keep guard).

    On the other hand, parents who were attentive to their children by either hand holding or walking right next to their child seemed to be truly present with their kids during the day. The taught leashes also make for difficult navigating for others around the child, increasing the likelihood that someone will trip. If your child is not ready to enjoy the event or activity without being restrained by a leash, perhaps she would prefer a rousing afternoon of Chutes and Ladders with a beloved babysitter while parents roam the fair solo.

Parents face so many struggles with their kids. Surviving crowds shouldn’t have to take away the family fun. Try to keep your sanity, enjoy the day, and prepare for the unexpected. And free the leash kids!


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Raising Your Daughter to be Superwoman

What do mothers teach their daughters about their roles as women in life? There are innumerable pressures on mothers to raise Superwomen – confident, capable, caring daughters who are loving and nurturing, yet strong and independent. When it comes to encouraging daughters in their endeavors for the future, moms might automatically push for the path they have travelled. It is imperative that daughters are taught to pursue their own dreams and explore their own options.

Studies have shown that it is not just about which path your daughter chooses, but more about her expectations for what life will be like once she gets there. It appears that the largest risk for depression for women around age 40 comes not as much from which path they chose, but about their preconceived expectations for how that path should look.

Working moms who had the preconceived notions that they would be able to be Superwomen and “do it all” were more likely to suffer from depression than mothers who had developed more realistic ideas about the balancing acts involved in motherhood and outside work. Conversely, stay at home mothers often suffered higher rates of depression than working mothers. The true key component appears to be the expectations about the life choices and the acceptance that having it all isn’t always what it is cracked up to be.

Redefining Superwoman

My mother once told me that a part of her wished that my generation didn’t have the immense pressure that it does to prove that women can do it all – careers and families – all of the time. While it might be a gift to know that the glass ceiling is lifting for women, especially mothers, it does come with a crystal weight that women wear. The weight comes from the expectations put upon them by bosses, partners, spouses, families, and themselves, to be the next supermom.

How to Teach Our Daughters to Live Balanced Lives as Women

  • If you are a stay at home mom, do you teach your daughter that she shouldn’t work outside of the home?
  • If you are a working mom, do you teach your daughter that her value is less if she chooses to stay home as a mother?
  • If you are a work-at-home mom do you worry that your daughter will be confused in her future roles and abilities?

Daughters often look to their mothers as their sources for imagining their own futures. It is important that we set realistic expectations for them and provide them with the emotional skills to handle whichever paths they choose.

Allow for your daughter to do something different. Let her know that she can choose differently from you – she can stay home, work, or combine the two. Teach her what you can about your path, and introduce her to other women on different paths to expose her to various experiences, trials, and challenges that women face.

Make sure you always set a tone that is respectful of women from all backgrounds. Several years ago a young boy asked me what my job was (his mom is a divorced parent who works full-time outside of the home). I told him that I stay home with my children, homeschool them, and work part-time at home writing and editing from my computer. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “That’s not a real job. That must be easy.” His mother, who was standing by, said nothing to correct his idea, which was more disappointing that his own words. Make sure you acknowledge the sacrifices, struggles, and triumphs that woman make.

Remember that your daughter is an entirely unique human being, and her individual experiences will shape her decisions. Maybe she will be an entrepreneur and open her own business at age 21, perhaps her husband will stay home with the kids, or maybe she won’t ever have children. Make sure that your attitudes and personal choices allow her to grow up to be the woman she wants and needs to be. Be careful not to confuse the reasons why you made a certain choice with reasons why she should make a certain choice.

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Should You Spy on Your Child?

Where is the line drawn between spying on children and protecting them from themselves? With the influences and possibilities afforded by technology, parents today are often faced with this question. Thirty years ago it might have meant a parent deciding to read a child’s diary, while today it means possibly spying online in order to keep track of friends, choices, and dangers lurking around the corners for our children. While we do have the responsibility to keep them safe with whatever means we have available, parents need to be careful when using spying as their method of protection.

How Do Parents Spy on Their Kids?

For every social media site, virtual relationship, and even the tangible local mall, there are ways to keep track of children. Senator Eric Adams of New York even went so far as to create a You Tube video instructing parents how to spy on their kids, specifically those parents on the lookout for drugs and weapons. He gives details on how to search your child’s room and what types of signs to look for in your own home, and promotes regular and thorough searches. His motto is, “Expect your children to do what’s right, but you always have to inspect what you expect.”

Beyond the walls of the home, many parents are using technology related controls and measures to monitor their children’s behaviors. These can include hidden web cams, tracking devices on phones and other electronics, and online monitoring devices. A recent study reveals that while 84% of parents feel confident in the responsibility levels of their children’s online activities, 72% of parents monitor their children’s activities online. Compare this to 80% of teens reporting that they used privacy settings to hide things from either their parents or certain friends, and there is a definite grey area of awareness between what children are doing online and what parents are actually seeing.

The Dangers of Spying on Your Kids

The whole phrase, “spying on your kids” does not give a warm and fuzzy feeling to parents. Instead it invokes distrust and wariness on both sides of the aisle. We work for years as parents to develop relationships built on trust and respect and put forth efforts to raise children who will make safe, sound choices, but we also know that they are kids, and that kids make mistakes. Sometimes it feels like we have to protect them from themselves, and the only way to do that is to go behind their backs and make sure that the choices we want them to make are actually the choices they are making.

The biggest danger of spying on your child is what to do with the information you gather without destroying the last bit of trust that might be present between you and your child.

For example, let’s say you spy on your child while she is supposed to be at the mall with her girlfriend, and you instead see that she is going to a movie with a boyfriend she hasn’t told you about yet. How will you let her know what you found out without either lying to her or pushing her further away? Chances are if she didn’t tell you about the boy it is because there is already a low level of confidence or trust between the two of you, and admitting that you are spying will only increase the likelihood that she hides more from you and just gets better at covering her tracks. On the other hand, if you decide to entrap her with the information so you don’t have to admit that you were spying, you will not be building a solid foundation of trust and your own reliability and credibility deteriorates. Building strong relationships with kids, especially teenagers, is almost impossible when parents are spying on children and maneuvering their ways through the tangles of lies and deceit.

Alternatives to Spying

A better approach to spying on kids is to establish clear expectations and consequences long before you actually are faced with these complicated situations. The standard line I use in my house is, “Remember what I expect of you, and remember that I will find out in the end.” I also am upfront with my kids about the measures I take to make sure that they are safe and following the guidelines we have established. This includes mandating that I have access to any and all internet sites, to check whenever I need to. It also means that things like cell phones, bedrooms, and gatherings with friends are not off limits to me. We use an internet monitoring and blocking system for the kids’ computer, giving us information about the types of sites they are visiting and how much time they are there. The kids know about this feature, and understand that in order to have certain privileges, there are certain parental access features that we reserve the right to practice.

Through all of this, our kids also have earned our trust and are respectful of our parenting. I also emphasize it is not just a matter of me needing to know that they are making good choices, but I need to be aware of the choices that others around them are making. If their friends have histories of poor choices, it is my job to make sure these choices aren’t putting my kids in danger. There are ongoing, fluid conversations in our home that support our relationships of trust and respect. While these are not guarantees that my kids will make the choices I hope they do, it is a solid foundation from which our family can grow.

When Spying is OK

No matter how hard we try, sometimes our children just make mistakes or fall into poor decision making patterns that warrant deeper involvement by parents. Some examples of when spying is a legitimate option for parents include:

  • A strong history of dangerous behaviors such as drug abuse, where trust is no longer an option
  • Strong indications of negative relationships, such as when dating violence is suspected
  • A serious history of lying and deceit by the child
  • The presence of mental illnesses in the child

Spying on children should never be the first method used by parents to keep their children safe. Focusing in the early developmental years on building strong, respectful relationships will reduce the future need to go behind your children’s backs and spy on their every move. Talk more, be there for them, and give them opportunities for independence. Leave spying up to the Mata Haris of the world.

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Don’t Let Your Child Suffer From Shyness

Don’t Let Your Child Suffer From Shyness

Do you worry that your baby will grow up to be shy because you were as a child? Do you struggle with encouraging your preschooler to overcome shyness and gain self-confidence? Shyness can be paralyzing for children, and difficult for parents to deal with the emotions and practical implications of it. Research has narrowed down some of the basic causes of shyness, giving us as parents the tools we need to raise confident and outgoing children who are free of the anxiety that shyness can bring.

The Causes of Shyness

According to author and psychologist John Malouff, Ph.D., J.D., the causes of shyness can be grouped into 4 basic categories:

  • Genetic predispositions
  • Inadequate social skills
  • A relationship with parents that is not based on supportive attachments              
  • Experience with teasing or criticizing, especially directed towards shyness or lack of self-esteem

Authors and contributors to the Center for Effective Parenting agree with these classifications, adding the following reasons as well:

  • Limited exposure to diverse social situations
  • Reinforcement (often unintentional) by parents – not addressing the behavior or encouraging it by doing things such as answering for the shy child, telling people the child is shy, or coddling when the child appears shy
  • Modeling of shy behaviors from parents and older siblings – the child learns this is the way to interact with others
  • Overprotective parenting methods where the child is not allowed to be adventurous or try new things independently, teaching the child that he is not capable

Overcoming Shyness

Understanding the multiple reasons why children develop shyness is the first step. Next it is important to do something about the reasons and help children avoid the pain and anxiety that shyness brings.

  • Don’t buy into the hereditary factor. While it can play a role, it shouldn’t be allowed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • When your 5-6 month or 2 year old go through the common points of development where shyness can appear, don’t let these phases determine their futures. Remain calm and supportive, allowing them to move through these natural developmental phases without reinforcing the shy behaviors.
  • Expose your child to many different social settings and experiences, but be watchful for signs of stress. Remember that for children almost everything is new so we need to be mindful of the stress that this newness can cause, but not let it prevent our kids from participating.
  • Introduce your kids to new situations gradually – don’t throw them into the chaos and walk away.
  • Talk about what to expect in new or typically stressful situations, emphasizing the positives of each activity.
  • Include your children in your conversations with others, teaching them how to communicate in social settings.
  • Don’t tease your children for shy actions as it can negatively reinforce their behaviors.
  • Make sure you have eye contact when you are speaking with your child, and display that same behavior when you are speaking to others. Eye contact is an important part of communication and can make speakers feel more connected.
  • Don’t speak for your child if he is acting shy. It only reinforces to him that he doesn’t need to or perhaps isn’t capable of speaking for himself.
  • Make sure that your provide opportunities for your children to succeed, especially in front of other people, building their confidence levels.

Shyness doesn’t have to limit your child or make her lose out on opportunities. There are ways to prevent and overcome the stress of shyness, and your DNA doesn’t have to dictate your child’s independence. Take it from a former shy girl! I literally almost froze because of my shyness, staying outside in a frigid Minnesota snowstorm as a preschooler in order to avoid the guests in our home. When I met my husband, he shared woes of childhood shyness, telling similar tales of shyness induced hiding. For him it was in a truck on the farm when cousins came to visit. We thought we were doomed to have shy children, as did everyone who knew us as kids. Boy – were we thankfully wrong!

I proactively made a decision to home school, and along with that I decided that I didn’t want my children to live through my childhood shyness (which I thankfully overcame as a teenager). I also didn’t want people to assume that because my kids were home schooled they were socially awkward and shy. As a shy girl, I remember the anxiety and pain that can feel overwhelming. I made a commitment to show the kids the energy and joy that adventures in life can bring (which doesn’t leave much room for shyness). So far, so good. In 2 days I will watch 2 of my kids compete at a state level for public presentations and demonstrations. All 4 of my children are more confident than I could have ever hoped for, and shyness is no longer in our family character. And it all started from a timid girl hiding in a blizzard who never wanted her kids to feel that cold shyness.

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