Monday, November 13, 2017

A Thoughtful Alternative to Elf on the Shelf that Will Teach Your Kids Lifelong Lessons

Today is World Kindness Day! Who knew such a celebration existed? Really, though, shouldn't every day be kindness day?

As parents, I think one of our main goals is to raise kids who care for others. But, guess what? Our kids don't always get that message. Several surveys have now shown us that despite our words, kids think we value other things over kindness. Results from this year's Highlights State of the Kid report illustrate this:

- almost half of kids surveyed (44%) said they think their parents' top priority is their happiness

- 33% of kids thought doing well in school was their parent's top priority for them

- only 23% of kids said that they thought being kind was their parent's top priority for them

In other words, it seems like there is a gap in what we think we are communicating to our kids and what they are hearing.
Kids are hearing that we want them to be happy and achieve more than we want them to be kind.

This Holiday Season Introduce Your Kids to a Kinder Alternative to Elf on the Shelf

Kindness Builds True Happiness

Of course, we parents know that being kind and being happy are not mutually exclusive. They go hand in hand. As study author Christine French Cully points out,
“Maybe part of the message we aren’t always sending to our kids is that yes, we want you to be happy, but part of being happy means thinking about the needs of others sometimes.” 
We know from experience that being kind actually makes us feel happier. Now research is backing this up too. New studies show that compassionate or kind acts do spark connections in the brain that promote feelings of pleasure and happiness.

This Holiday Season Introduce Your Kids to a Kinder Alternative to Elf on the Shelf

Fostering Kindness

The holiday season is just about upon us. This is a perfect time to help our kids see, in a lovely hands-on way, how kindness builds on itself. The Kindness Elves are a wonderful way to do this with our kids.

Let's face it, The Elf on the Shelf is a popular holiday tradition, but what does it really teach? I don't want to get too serious here, but really this tradition focuses on encouraging good behavior as a way of avoiding negative outcomes (no toys!). In other words, fear becomes the motivating force here. Kids want to do good for fear of getting no presents at Christmas. Deep down, we know (and research backs it up) that fear is not really an effective long-term strategy for teaching moral lessons. As this great article points out, we want to "raise a good person, not just one who's afraid of being bad." 

The Kindness Elves focus on the opposite--kindness for kindness sake. They offer wonderful ideas for everyday acts of kindness that kids can do. With this approach, kids learn quickly that kindness is it's own best reward. The feelings of happiness and joy you feel when you do something helpful for another person is the best type of positive reinforcement.

The Kindness Elves bundle

The holiday season is the perfect time to introduce your kids to the Kindness Elves. You might want to get yours soon so you'll be sure to have it before the holiday season really gets underway. They come in several different varieties (e.g., skin tone, hair color, etc.). The best part for parents is that the kindness ideas and cute cards are already done for you. No scouring Pinterest to find ideas each day.

We started introducing the Kindness Elves a couple of years ago in my house. The boys love it! In fact, my 8-year-old asks when "Elfie" is coming back each year. The acts of kindness are simple but meaningful. We also have a lot of fun figuring out where in the house Elfie hid each night while we were sleeping.

The Kindness Elves

Curious about how kids develop empathy (the basis for kindness) over the course of their development? Check out this post:

Related posts:

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A Thoughtful Alternative to Elf on the Shelf that Will Teach Your Kids Lifelong Lessons

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Secrets of Pre-K that Every Parent Should Know

Before I get into this week's post, I wanted to share a wonderful podcast I found just this week. It's called Dream Big and it's actually hosted by 8-year-old Eva (with a little help from her mom). My kids and I just started listening to it in the car and it is really inspiring and entertaining. In each episode, Eva interviews a person who dreamed big and is now living their dreams with a cool job like neuroscientist, astronaut or entrepreneur. If you're looking for non-screen time entertainment that actually inspires your kids and sparks conversation, check out Dream Big!

The Secrets of Pre-K that Every Parent Should Know

Now on to this week's post...
You walk into a pre-K classroom and you see several groups of 4-year-olds playing at different areas in the room. One group of students is playing at a pretend grocery store. They are deeply immersed in "buying" and "selling" toy fruits and vegetables. A teacher stands nearby and asks them open-ended questions like, "what does the cashier do?" or "how much does a banana cost?" 
Another group of students is building with blocks on the floor. They are working together to build a tall tower. Another teacher is asking probing questions like, "how many blocks do you have stacked so far?" and "what will happen if we stack another block?"

As a naive bystander, you wonder if the kids here are really learning anything? I mean, aren't they just playing? What are the teachers doing just playing with them? You start to wonder if pre-K is really worth the money you are paying for it.

As a parent, you may have had an encounter similar to this one. Maybe you were touring preschools in search of the right one for your child. Perhaps you saw this as you watched your child at preschool prior to pick-up time.

As adults, we often have preconceived notions about what "schooling" should look like and include. Doesn't preschool mean a teacher in front of a group of kids instructing them in the ways of ABC's and 123's? What is often missed is the subtlety of how children learn and the beauty of children's development. Research and real-life experience tell us that all people learn best when they are actively engaged with whatever it is they are learning. This is especially the case for young children. And what engaged kids more than anything else? Play! Although kids can learn through worksheets and flashcards, the lessons that benefit them the most and that they will keep in their little brains for years to come are those learned through hands-on engagement, which usually happens through play.

The Secrets of Pre-K that Every Parent Should Know

In her new book, The Most Important Year: Pre-Kindergarten and the Future of Our Children, author Suzanne Bouffard brings to light these issues of learning, play, and child development. As I mentioned on my Facebook Live last week, this book is must-read information if you have a child approaching pre-K's why:

** Packed with research, but still approachable. It takes real skill to pack lots of research into a book and it not sound like a textbook. However, Suzanne Bouffard does it! She uses a wonderful storytelling style and incorporates the top research in the field in such a way that it's enjoyable to read. You feel like you are just following along with a few families as they visit preschools.

** Explains play-based education. For me, this was one of the big highlights of the book--a detailed explanation (with examples!) of play-based education and WHY it is the preferred method for teaching young children. As a parent, this is what you want to know--how is my kid learning through play and what does it look like in real life. This book delivers on this point.

** Why education policy matters. I think many parents struggle with understanding how national education policy and funding affects their local schools. This book explains in real-life examples how national policies towards early education and K-12 education impacts preschools in our country. If you want insight into how schools in lower SES neighborhoods struggle or why staffing in preschools is so difficult, this opens the door to all those issues.

All these points are wonderful, but perhaps the best lesson I learned from the book was one that may not be so easy to see. Her discussion of how preschoolers learn and examples of play-based learning gave me more confidence as a parent that I can help my child learn through play at home. Many of us send our kids to preschool (myself included) but the other 5 or 6 hours of the day I sometimes struggle to know how to engage him in play and not allow him to zone out in front of a screen. This book really offers insight into the use of open-ended questions, open-ended toys and an understanding of how preschoolers learn to help parents incorporate guided play at home. After reading this, I realized all the little things I do with my 4-year-old at home or while running errands really do help him learn important lessons. Singing songs, asking him questions, teaching him about how things work in the world, are not just wasted words...this is actually the best way for him to learn.

This video explains the benefits of play for learning:

Hopefully, you will find this aspect of the book helpful as well and gain confidence in your ability to parent your preschooler in such a way that incorporates a bit of playful learning.

Are you searching for a preschool or pre-K program for your child soon? Not sure what to look for?

Sign up and download this FREE Parent's Guide to Pre-K. Take it with you on your preschool tour!

Share this post with your parenting friends!

Click below to see related posts:

The Hidden Effects of Early Childhood Programs

Why Preschoolers Don't Follow Instructions (and ways to help)

The Subtle Beauty of Child Development: What is Lost When We Push Too Hard

The Most Important Year

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The Secrets of Pre-K that Every Parent Should Know

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Truth About Trying to Make Kids Happy (and what we can do instead)

Remember how you felt when your kids were babies and they would cry? Other people might be bothered by crying, but we moms are undone by our babies' crying. I remember being shocked by my physiological reaction to my son's crying--I would become so distressed I could hardly carry on a conversation and my blood pressure would rise. It was like nails on a chalkboard.

I would do anything to help him stop crying.

We now know that this reaction is not just new mom craziness. It's actually a physiological reaction that all moms experience due to an interesting mix of hormones and brain chemistry.

The Truth About Trying to Make Kids Happy (and what we can do instead)

Fast forward a few years and we learn that not every cry from our child is as pressing as the next. By the time they are toddlers we learn that sometimes they cry out of frustration or boredom. We start to realize that we can't always make them "happy." We can't make the tears stop by simply feeding or changing a diaper. They now have bigger emotions that they need help managing.

It was at this point in my parenting journey that I realized that maybe my child's "happiness" shouldn't even be my goal in parenting. I slowly started to realize that there were some bigger emotional goals I had for my children than just happiness.

The Lesson of the Old Boots

This idea has stuck with me and came in handy the other day with my 8-year-old son. He was getting ready for school on the first snowy day of the season. It came a bit early this year and I was not prepared with new snow boots, gloves, etc. He started putting on last year's boots and they were a bit worse for wear if you know what I mean. Some parts were torn and the strap didn't tighten as well as it should. He was getting more and more frustrated, complaining about how he needed new boots. I explained that I was planning to get new ones, but I just hadn't gotten to it yet. He was about to start to "lose it" when another thought popped into my mind.

Before even thinking about it much, I blurted out, "you know, some kids in the world don't even have boots. They have to walk to school in the snow with just regular shoes on."

The Truth About Trying to Make Kids Happy (and what we can do instead)

Okay, I realize I just sounded like my mother (or grandmother). The words just came pouring out of me before I even could consider them. worked! He settled down, put his boots on and went to school quite nicely.

Looking Beyond Happiness

"Why was this helpful to him?" I wondered. Then it hit me. He didn't need for me to "fix" the situation of the boots. He was old enough and capable enough to deal with torn boots for one day. He needed me to hear his feelings and most importantly, he needed me to provide a context of meaning. By giving him some meaning for his frustrations, I gave him an emotional coping strategy for his situation.

This is ultimately what parents do--we are the meaning-makers for our kids until they find ways to make meaning for themselves.

Now this situation was minor and almost insignificant, but consider all the other situations that he might face in the future that I will not be able to "fix": the first time a girlfriend breaks his heart, that time he bombs a test in college or that first job that he doesn't land. Even if I had all the resources or connections in the world, I would not be able to take away these struggles or moments of suffering.

The Truth About Trying to Make Kids Happy (and what we can do instead)

Unlike when he was a baby, I can't "make" him happy by stopping the source of his discomfort. The discomfort I feel because of his suffering is not easily pushed away either. This is why I quit making his happiness my main goal. I started looking beyond happiness at some deeper emotional skills that will serve him better.

A Hand to Hold

This reminds me of all those research articles I read while working on my dissertation (I knew those would come in handy someday). I was working on a project that studied how moms coped with divorce, so I read a lot of research on stress coping and meaning.

What we see is that one key way people cope with stressful events is by making some sort of meaning from it. 

Most of this research focuses on very stressful life events like divorce, death, or being the victim of a violent crime. But the lesson here for smaller stressful events is the same--finding meaning in our suffering is perhaps one of the best coping strategies we can employ.

For parents what this means I think is that we can't always take away our children's suffering, but we can help them find some meaning in it. In other words, we can't stuff down their emotions--but we can hold their hands and walk beside them while they walk through those difficult emotions to find some peace on the other side.

Ultimately, meaning, not happiness, is the best gift we can give our children.

Why I Quit Trying to Make My Kids Happy
Related Posts:
What is the Goal of Childrearing?

We Want Our Kids to be Kind...But How Do We Foster It?

4 Parenting Lessons Research Taught Us in 2016

Related Resources:

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen

Coping Skills for Kids Workbook: Over 75 Coping Strategies to Help Kids Deal with Stress, Anxiety and Anger

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Research Uncovers the Truth Behind Why "Smart" Kids Cheat

When I was in graduate school I worked as a teaching assistant for various professors in the department. This job entailed the usual responsibilities—grading papers, helping students with assignments, etc.

One particular semester I was an assistant for one of the senior members of the faculty in a child development class. Most of the students that semester were sophomores in our department and so they had limited experience with academic journal articles which they were expected to read and analyze.

As I helped guide discussion during class, I noticed this one particular student. She seemed as though she actually read the articles and was fairly eager to participate in the discussion. Having her in class was a nice change from my past experience with students who were often apathetic and did not read the material.

As I sat down to grade the first round of student essays I was not surprised to find that her paper was one of the better-written ones. Analyzing and interpreting scholarly research was not an easy task for these students and many were at a complete loss. She, however, seemed to have a good understanding of the assignment.

When the next assignment came around I again saw that her paper was well written. Then I read closer and I realized that some of the text seemed familiar. I went back to our journal articles and compared the text. I realized then that she had plagiarized whole paragraphs of the journal text in her article. No wonder I thought it was so well-written! Even worse was the fact that the article which she had plagiarized was written by our own professor of the class!

Research Uncovers the Truth Behind Why "Smart" Kids Cheat

What’s Going On: Why Kids Cheat

I went on to work as a teaching assistant for several years and caught other incidents of plagiarism. There’s nothing like some cheating college students to question the future of the well-being of our country! This particular student’s story stuck with me, however.

Why would a student who seemed so intelligent and engaged bother to cheat? She seemed to have strong skills and be reading at least portions of the texts, why not take the time to do the assignment correctly?

What the Research Says

A recent study of young children actually may help inform our understanding of this situation and children’s behavior in general.

This study considered how the type of praise that kids receive might influence whether or not they cheat. We don’t often think of this, but sometimes we praise kids for their intelligence (e.g., “you’re so smart) and other times we raise them for their performance or effort on the task (e.g., “you worked so hard on that project”). The results showed that kids who are praised for intelligence are more likely to cheat on a later task, compared to those praised for performance.

Research Uncovers the Truth Behind Why "Smart" Kids Cheat

Why Would the Type of Praise Matter?

Well, it seems that praising intelligence sets up a mindset in which kids feel that this is some innate part of their personality—“you are smart.” Whereas praising effort sets up a mindset in which effort is always possible so changing the outcome is probable. As many of you probably know, this distinction is known as a “fixed” versus a “growth” mindset.

Much research has already considered the difference between fixed and growth mindsets, but few other studies have looked particularly at cheating. In this case, it seems that kids who think that are innately “smart” feel they have a reputation to protect so they are more inclined to cheat to maintain this. In contrast, kids who are praised for effort, understand that their hard work is what produces the good grade or high score and thus do not feel this same pressure to maintain a reputation of intelligence.

So was the girl in my class a case of too much “intelligence” praise? Well, we will never know for sure, but it does make you wonder if the pressure to seem “smart” overwhelmed her in a new situation where the expectations were higher than she was accustomed to in high school. The lesson it seems is that no matter how brilliant we think our children are, it’s perhaps better to praise them for their hard work and effort. 

Research Uncovers the Truth Behind Why "Smart" Kids Cheat

Tips and Resources:

1. For younger kids, try to promote positive self-talk. Kids will often say things like, "I'm just dumb, I will never learn this." Offer them language or little mantras to replace this negative talk with positive self-talk. In our house, we say, "everything takes practice." Another good option is focusing on the word "yet." As in, "I haven't mastered this skill yet."

2. For older kids, discuss famous failures who had to keep persisting over and over again until they were successful--Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison. Here's a good list.

3. Bring in examples from your own life. Did you experience a time when you thought you'd never succeed at something but kept persisting? Recall a time when your hard work really paid off. Your kids will probably love these stories and it's great bonding time too.

Books that Promote a Growth Mindset

Check out my Pinterest board all about Growth Mindset  

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