How are your kids getting along this holiday season?

if you'd like to bring a little peace and good will to your home, I'd recommend Adele Faber's Siblings without Rivalry. Faber is philosophically descended from the Adler-Dreikurs-Ginott school of thought on childrearing which looks at children's behavior as a rational response to perceived situations, and offers concrete steps to teach children better choices.
To help parents understand the jealousy between siblings, Faber asks parents to imagine how they'd feel if their partner brought home a cute new spouse for them to love and share and care for.
Faber recommends what I call the "fair vs equal" doctrine-- in other words, the doctor doesn't put a splint on a child with the flu, he deals with what each child needs when she needs it.

Faber goes beyond Dreikurs' advice for parents to step out of the way and let children solve their own squabbles, recognizing that can lead to a spontaneous re-enactment of scenes from Lord of the Flies in your family room. Social skills must be taught, and Faber helps parents "step in so they can step out" -- teach the skills, and let the kids work on it on their own.

There are good books on this topic and on more complex rivalry issues, but none top Faber's concrete and down to earth advice for siblings across the range of childhood.


Anger management skill for teachers and parents

As rewarding as it truly is, it can be frustrating to spend long periods of time with any number of kids. Teachers and parents need a toolbox full of skills to help them stay calm and reasonable during long days-- and those sudden moments that spring up during a day.

One of the easiest things to do is just take a deep breath and count to ten slowly. While you're counting, try to look at things through the other person's eyes. Both sides (almost) always feel justified in their choices of behavior. If you're calm, it's easier to find a positive solution everyone can live with.  Feel yourself relaxing when you count. If you need to, imagine someplace nice and soothing. Once you have your resources gathered, you can check your own perceptions: does the situation really warrant what you're feeling? Are you assuming something, imagining the worst, misinterpreting? Look at the situation, and the person on the other side. Remember, if you're calm, and talking in reasonable, gentle tones, the other person will calm down too. And that means you have a better chance of a constructive solution.


Paradise needs you.

I've been in Bali for the last two weeks, enjoying the sun and learning about local culture. The Balinese are lovely, kind and generous people, who genuinely like to meet and spend time with newcomers. In 2005, there was a double bombing in one of the tourist areas, carried out by extremists from another island. Local justice has done an excellent job of making sure things like that don't happen again, and now all of Bali is quite safe and pleasant at all hours.

The local religion is Balinese Hindu, and the gods are everywhere. You will see people putting offerings in tiny woven leaf trays, three times a day. They speak with the god and leave the offering on the street afterward (kind of like leftovers!). If you ask, locals are happy to explain their beliefs and ceremonies, which are unique to Indonesia and profoundly connected to their way of life.

Balinese are also very concerned about their poor. Because there's no free public education, it's very difficult for the poor to move up the socioeconomic ladder. People volunteer time, effort and what little money they have to help families educate their children, build decent housing and start small businesses. But resources are extremely scarce. Just to find an old magazine to help a teen learn English can be difficult. I spent a day at a wonderful pair of programs, the Learning Center and H.E.L.P. afterschool program in Singaraja in northeast Bali, teaching a class and learning how the programs help extremely poor Balinese boys and girls of all ages.

The Helen Flavel Foundation funds the work of the Learning Center, which provides free education including books, to the poorest Balinese. They send "Frontliners" around the community to find which families need the most help, and coordinate with a program similar to the US Habitats for Humanity, and a microcredit lending group to help these families help themselves.

One of the most important things to Balinese is that their children learn proper English. It's considered one of the pillars of a secure future here. Volunteers from the local university and all over the world come to teach at the HELP center, but it's a difficult language to learn for many kids, especially with limited resources. If you're interested in volunteering, donating or just learning more about these wonderful, nondenominational and nonpolitical education programs, please contact me at kmk10016@hotmail.com for information on HELP,  or you can contact the Helen Flavel Foundation at helenflavelfoundation.org for more information on the Learning Centre. Whether all you have is a few books to send, or a week to donate, or a few dollars, you'll know it's going to a cause that will change children's lives.

Learning and development

While each child is unique, they have a lot in common at a given age. It helps to be aware of what's important to your child at each stage, as well as what her skills and abilities are. There are plenty of books available to help you understand how your child sees the world, and how to help her grow. But the most important tool you have is your own relationship with the child. Teachers who pay attention and have a warm connection with their students, and parents who maintain an attached parenting style (see my link to Dr Sears Web site for this topic), can sense when a child is ready to learn new things, when a child is challenged, and what kinds of activities or style of learning will work. By seeing what the child is interested in, what (or who!) engages her and keeps her attention, you can find a starting point to guide the child toward learning the skills you need to teach. Toddlers learn by exploring. Older children may learn better through hands on activities, by seeing someone else act, by listening or reading. Certainly by teen years kids are greatly affected by peers, and popular culture. Use your understanding of your child to guide you in choosing resources and methods for encouraging learning academic and pro-social skills.


Communication is the cornerstone of emotional growth

Understanding, and being understood are essential to emotional development. We communicate with more than words: how we say them adds a layer of meaning. Our body language, tone, facial expression and actions are all part of our message.

Through the layers of meaning in words, actions, expressions, and tone of voice, we make our needs, preferences and desires known to others. And through these forms of communicating we get a chance to understand others better. Developing your skills at reading the message behind the acts and words means you can be a better friend, parent, spouse, or family member.

Even before children are born they begin the process of discovering and exploring themselves and their relationship with the world. The sound of mother's heartbeat, the rhythm of her walk, her cycles of waking and sleep, the distant sound of her voice, and those around her, the taste of amniotic fluid, the sensation of his thumb in his mouth, all are part of the unborn child's environment. He's already learning.

The newborn moves from this knowledge of the womb and his body within it, to a new environment of information, light, sound and actions. He's ready to start learning to be your child, but your adventure together has already begun.


Happy Thanksgiving

Whether you're heading over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house, or heading out for a vacation somewhere warm, and even if you're alone this year because it's your ex's turn to have the kids this year, I wish you all a warm and lovely Thanksgiving, and a peaceful and happy holiday season.


How expensive is a rich environment?

Whenever I hear a young couple fret about the cost of raising a child these days, I cringe a little. Sure, there are some unavoidable expenses, like a good sturdy stroller, a crib that isn't on a recall list, and of course, the right car seat. And a good doctor. And a trustworthy sitter. But what about the rich learning environment? How expensive are the best educational toys, and how many should you buy in order to keep your child on an optimum learning curve?

Oh, brother. You may not realize this, but you already have pretty much all the tools you need to help your child learn at his developmental stage. Look around the kitchen. Budding scientists love to play in the sink, so fill it part way with water, pull a kitchen chair over and stand with your toddler as he uses your measuring cups and spoons, filling and emptying cups and pans. What is he learning? Different size cups hold different amounts of water: that's the concept of "conservation" toddlers must learn in order to judge volume. But he's also learning other great scientific concepts, like the difference between solids and liquids, between warm and cold, on and off, fast and slow, and so on.

Make playdough with your child from the classic recipe:

2 cups flour
1/2 cup salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or baby oil for a scent)
1 1/2 cups water
food coloring

Blend the dry ingredients together (even small children can do this with a wooden spoon in a plastic bowl), add the oil and slowly dribble in the water (or let your child ladle it in as you knead) until you get that playdough texture. Divide into 4 equal size balls and add a few drops of food coloring, and knead it in. Voila! As much fun to make as it is to model.

Even toilet training can get a low-cost boost from your household supplies. Cut a circular "target" out of colored tissue and drop it in the potty, and encourage your child to "hit the target" -- this works with girls too (it's just a tad more complicated, since she'll want to see where she's aiming).

Back issues of magazines can make a great sorting game for older toddlers. Cut out colors, shapes and sizes and let your child play a matching game. Or make it a lesson on emotional intelligence: cut out faces that express different feelings. Name and label these expressions, and talk about what they mean with your child. Ask your child what she thinks the person is feeling, which face matches how she herself feels.

Keep a box of old clothes for "dress up" games. There should be assorted outfits, accessories and shoes. Role playing games are a vital part of learning: kids not only learn how to imagine what other people do and act it out, they also learn vital thinking skills, including planning, decision making, memory or retention, and cooperation. It even helps your child's early literary and language skills.

Of course there are some great educational toys out there, but not one of them beats a good imagination and a little ingenuity.


The case against Princesses

It's understandable that parents want to give their daughters a sense of self esteem and self confidence, and there are many tools to do so. There are also some short cuts, and the "princess" trap is one of them. Unfortunately, short cuts in parenting often lead to trouble. It's one thing for a child to play princess as part of a game, but things get out of hand when the child comes to believe she's to be treated like royalty wherever she goes.

Children need to do for themselves, and that means parents are wise to avoid catering to them. They also need to learn that everyone around them has feelings and needs just like they do. The princess treatment works against this natural part of emotional development. Princesses don't play in the sandbox, share their toys or cooperate with commoners. They have extremely high expectations and demands.

It's better to let your daughter be the real child she is, with lots of roles to try out, and things to explore, than to teach her that she's better than anyone else (including you).

Remember, while that pretty princess is adorable as can be, she's also a tyrant. And that's not going to be so pretty when she's trying to land her first job.


Toddler Proofing

One of the easiest ways to develop a good discipline strategy with your baby is to make sure that wherever baby goes, the area is safe to explore and investigate. While some may tell you that there's no reason you can't just teach the child not to touch things that are dangerous or fragile, think about what that really means. You'd have to have your eye on your child every second, and follow behind them, moving them, warning them, essentially preventing them from doing the very thing they need to do most: learn. It may feel like you're teaching them to behave properly, but toddlers can't remember that many rules. When you baby proof, you simplify the environment to help prevent unnecessary negative interactions with your child. You can then focus on positive, encouraging words and actions, creating a space for your child to share her enthusiasm and discovery with you.

There are lots of things to think about for your baby proofed area, but the easiest way to do it is to just get down to your baby's eye level and look around. Sharp corners? Fragile or heavy things on shelves within reach? Even if your baby can't climb yet, think ahead as you look. Maybe he can't reach the top shelf, but can he get up onto the bottom one and reach up? Could he grab the table cloth and pull dinner down on his head? As your child grows you can adjust your methods to adapt to his new skills and height.


Can Toddlers Problem Solve?

One of the questions parents often ask is, how can a toddler possibly learn to solve things for themselves? Fact is, even babies are beginning to use reasoning skills, as they work by trial and error to master their world. It takes patience on a parent's part to encourage children to figure things out for themselves, but keep in mind, this is what your baby's meant to do! Whether it's figuring out how to bring that toy to his mouth, or how to get her choochoo train out from under the kitchen chair, your child is using the same problem solving processes that you do, and you can use these early lessons to help develop self discipline skills.

Engaged parents, happy babies

Engaged parents, happy babies