Anti-Bullying Video “To This Day”

It’s Mother’s Day, so one reason I recommend viewing this anti-bullying video by the stunningly brilliant poet Shane Koyczan is for a line: “The definition of ‘beauty’ begins with the word ‘Mom.'” But you have to see the animated version of Koyczan’s poem “To This Day” because you need to hear and see and feel the context of what it’s like to be bullied, yet grow up to be so strong. Please trust me when I say that, even if you totally get that bullying is a problem and are making efforts to protect your kids and those of others, this video offers perspective so exquisitely presented that you will have at least a few minutes of feeling transformed. Shane Koyczan also has a Web site worth visiting to hear/see more of his powerful work.

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What Dads Need to Know: The Trouble With Why

By Betsy Brown Braun

You tell your child it’s time for bed. Instead of the pitter patter of feet running up the stairs, you get “Whyyyyyyy?”  All parents have heard it.  The funny thing is, you know your child isn’t really looking for an answer.  “Well, dear, your body needs sleep in order for the all the cells to grow…” certainly isn’t what your son is expecting to hear.

To the child, Whyyyyy? can serve many different purposes, the least common of which is actually finding out information.

Why? is most often a form of protest.  It‘s your child’s way of saying that he doesn’t like what you’ve just said or what is happening.  The synonym forWhyyyy? in this case is Wrong answer! And what he is hoping to hear is, “Okay, never mind, you don’t really have to go to bed.”

Sometimes Whyyy? is a stalling technique. It buys the child time before he has to comply with whatever is being asked of him.

Why? can be a means of holding your attention. You know, when your child repeats Why? in response to every answer you give, and then you realize you’re being duped?   This form of  Why? is often typical of 2.5 to 3.5 year old children, who are genuinely curious and look to you as the knower of everything.  At first it is kind of cute, watching your toddler’s curiosity grow. Then you realize he has discovered the key to keeping your attention. Not so cute, as he drives you nuts.

And of course, there are those times when your child actually does seek information. Those are the good Whys?, the ones we welcome as opportunities to learn and grow. Those Whys? have a beginning and an end.

Whyyyy? as a form of protest does not require an answer. So, why is it that parents commonly take the bait?  (And that was a real Why?)  It is faulty thinking that reasoning with your child is going to work. True, once in a very long while, it might work. But not often.  I know we all think our children are gifted. Regardless, reasoning with your child, gifted or not, doesn’t work because your child’s need to have his way trumps his desire to be reasonable. And even if the child might actually see the logic in your reasoning, in his world his desire outweighs yours.

He doesn’t actually care about the reason.   He wants what he wants.  Period.

Parents often work over time attempting to get their child to see things their way. They think that they actually can convince the child that they are right and to give up what the child is wanting.  Or they think that if they give enough reasons they will hit on just the right one. That cookie that you really want right now will ruin your appetite and you won’t be hungry for dinner. The only possible response from the child?  No, it won’t!

Here are some tips for dealing with Whyyyyy?

  1. To the overly inquisitive three year old with his repetitive Why?, it is okay not to answer. “I am all done answering your questions for now” works.  Ignore the next 100 Whys? They will stop.
  2. Do not take the bait when your older child protests your direction or response to a request. Do not even attempt to answer a Whyyyy? by reasoning. Your chances of reeling your child back in from the dark side are slim and none, regardless of how reasonable your answer.
  3. In response to Whyyy? calmly and confidently restate your request.  “It’s time for bed now. This is not a debate.”
  4. Stay on target.  No comments on what he wants or on his attempts to derail you.
  5. You can acknowledge his feelings. “I know you don’t want to go to bed, but it IS bedtime.
  6. Withstand the barrage of negativity about you, about you being the meanest mommy in the world, about how much he hates you, about his wanting to live in another family, and simply say, “Regardless of how you feel about me, it is bedtime.”
  7. Mind your anger. Stay level and calm. Your anger will only serve to fuel his battle. Remember, the warrior wants what he wants, and that includes most of all,winning.
  8. Despite your exhaustion over hearing his complaints, excuses, and arguments, you must not give in, thinking it would just be easier.  It will, in fact, be worse the next time.
  9. “Well, just this once” is never a good answer. It will backfire for sure.

Betsy Brown Braun, is the bestselling author of the award winning Just Tell Me What to Say (HarperCollins 2008), and You’re Not the Boss of Me (HarperCollins, 2010), also a best seller. A child development and behavior specialist, popular parent educator, and mother of adult triplets, and grandmother, she is a frequent speaker at educational and business conferences, has been a guest expert on Today, the Early Show, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Entertainment Tonight, Rachel Ray, Fox and Friends, and NPR, and has been cited in USA Today, the New York Times, Family Circle, Parents, Parenting, Woman’s Day, Real Simple, and Good Housekeeping among countless other publications and websites.  As the founder of Parenting Pathways, Inc., Betsy offers private consulting and parenting seminars as well. She and her husband live in Pacific Palisades, California.

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The Devilish Advocates

By Gregory Keer

I spent much of my life in the kind of self-debate that puts Hamlet to shame. While my penchant for over- analyzing decisions sometimes yielded good results, I also wasted a lot of time failing to trust my instincts and experience.

There are all those open jump shots I didn’t take because I pondered too long.

There are all those job interviews during which I came off as wishy-washy.

There are all those girls I didn’t date because my hesitation let the other guy swoop in.

Fortunately, I didn’t waffle about pursuing the woman who became my wife, a swift decision that worked out pretty well. Yet, even after marrying Wendy, I suffered from paralysis by analysis regarding stories I wrote and career problems I had.

It took becoming a father to put me firmly on the path of confident thinking. As a dad, there’s little room for hand-wringing when faced with having to take a pee-pee dancing child into a public restroom or enforcing the rule of wearing a bike helmet.

As a dad, one of my goals is to teach my children the lessons I’ve fought to learn so they can lead more productive lives than I did at their age.

So, two years ago, when I asked my eldest son what he thought about the decisions of a 20th century president he researched for a class, he held a long pause and said, “I don’t know.”

It was a moment I had rehearsed for years, so I delivered it in my best Hal Holbrook impersonation.

“Son, never say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t care.’”

“But I really don’t know what I think,” Benjamin (then 12) replied.

“Yes, you do,” I said, hearing the music rise on the soundtrack in my head. “You have to be willing to take the risk. People respect you more if you have something to say.”

Well, my son definitely has opinions now that he’s a teenager.

The following comes from one eight-minute conversation:

“I don’t like vacations. I don’t see the point.”

“I hate Shakespeare.”

“Chinese food is disgusting.”

“I never enjoyed playing sports.”

“Dressing in nice clothes is stupid.”

My son is allowed to have opinions, but I felt compelled to say, “You’re entitled to be wrong, especially about Chinese food.”

Of course we argued for a while longer, making me wonder why I ever encouraged my son to have viewpoints. However, he’s only part of my problem.

Jacob (11) causes plenty of high blood pressure for battling with me over leaving the house on time and wearing t-shirts that fit him, but when it comes to being a contrarian, my eight-year-old takes the cake, if not the entire bakery.

Upon serving him dinner, any dinner, Ari tells us, usually with tears in his eyes, “I told you I hate chicken/turkey/fish/vegetables/potatoes.” You name it, he makes a federal case out of us trying to feed him anything but what he deems suitable for that very moment.

On weekends, when we offer to take him out to play or visit people instead of having him lie on the couch in front of the TV, Ari will protest, “I should be able to relax once in a while. I work really hard during the week.”

When Ari is asked to clean his room, he reasons, “I shouldn’t have to. You guys are the ones who put stuff in my room.”

“You mean, the clothes, furniture, books, and toys?” I reply.

“Yeah, you should really clean this up.”

It would be easy to blame family sitcoms for the smart-alecky words my son fires like a fully loaded Nerf gun, but I have mostly myself to blame.

In my effort to encourage each one of my sons to start earlier than I did on the path to definitive thinking, I’ve been drilling them since they were infants.

With baby food, I experimented until I could elicit an excited response as to which mishmash they preferred. Over the years, I also reinforced their decision to cuddle with a favorite blanket, supported them when they picked their friends for birthday parties, and high-fived them for focusing on a book series rather than hem and haw over their choices or, God forbid, not read at all.

While I may have had difficulties in making decisions, my sons boldly choose with little hesitation. As such, they have strong opinions, albeit many that run against my preferences. Still, as long as I help them work out the nuances of respecting others’ opinions and rules, I’m confident their decisiveness will serve them well in life.

I’ve made at least one decision, recently. I resolve to not get so caught up in arguing with my sons over being contrary to me. I’ll still think they’re wrong, some of the time, but I’ll take the high road of pride that they are flexing their convictions.

Posted in Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Ethics, Family Communication, Values | Leave a comment

Celebrate Music Education Month

Self-expression is more important than ever, which is one reason why giving kids an education in the arts means so much. As parents, my wife and I have regularly donated to our children’s school to keep music (as well as other arts) being taught to all the kids so they can sing, play instruments, and just have fun doing more than just fiddle with an iPod. Music benefits children’s minds in so many ways, including the improvement of their math skills as well as their communication abilities. March is Music in Our Schools Month (spearheaded by the Nation Association for Music Education). For just a sample of what teaching music to children can accomplish, watch this video of kids from the Manassus, Virginia school system –

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What Dads Need to Know: Be the Person You Want Your Child to Be

By Betsy Brown Braun

“You will not believe this story,” began the email from a client who had just returned from family services for the Jewish New Year.  She described the mother and three children sitting next to her own family. “She was knitting!”  (Yes, you read it correctly, knitting.)  “And when she was done knitting, she pulled out her Blackberry and began texting.”  I queried as to her guess of the ages of the children. Elementary and middle school, was her reply.

There really isn’t more I need to write here. You who are taking the time to read this blog know exactly how I feel and what I am going to say.

When I was writing the Introduction to my book, You’re Not the Boss of Me, I seriously considered having only a single sentence on the page:  Be the person you want your child to be. We all want our children to be honest, respectful, self reliant, and manifest all the myriad character traits that put them in the position to have options and lead a satisfying life.  Can’t you hear the woman from temple lecturing her children about paying attention and showing respect and all the rest!

Being a parent is a job; it isn’t a birthright. It comes loaded with responsibilities (and yields tremendous pleasure.)  You might as well have signed the contract right after the doctor handed you that tiny newborn. I accept the responsibilities that come with being a parent.

After Love your child, number two on that list is Be your child’s teacher.  Seems obvious I know. But there are those who just don’t get it. There is the mom who insists on respectful talk and yells at the parking attendant… in front of her child. There is the perfectly healthy dad who preaches honesty and tells his colleague that he can’t make the appointment because he isn’t feeling well…in front of his child. You know the mom who demands that her child not use the word “stupid,” the one who screams out Stupid driver! to the car in front of her.  And we all know the dad who insists on his child’s full attention who himself can’t resist looking at his BlackBerry at dinner, during story time, or when he’s just walked into the house.

Children are the first to spot character and value hypocrisy. In fact, they learn by noticing consistency in the world.  Oh Daddy, you said the S word! They look to you, their first teacher, for validation of what you have taught.  Every day in so many ways you have the chance to model your expectations for your children and bring the lesson home.

Remember this, your children will do what you do, not what you say.

Betsy Brown Braun, is the bestselling author of the award winning Just Tell Me What to Say (HarperCollins 2008), and You’re Not the Boss of Me (HarperCollins, 2010), also a best seller. A child development and behavior specialist, popular parent educator, and mother of adult triplets, and grandmother, she is a frequent speaker at educational and business conferences, has been a guest expert on Today, the Early Show, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Entertainment Tonight, Rachel Ray, Fox and Friends, and NPR, and has been cited in USA Today, the New York Times, Family Circle, Parents, Parenting, Woman’s Day, Real Simple, and Good Housekeeping among countless other publications and websites.  As the founder of Parenting Pathways, Inc., Betsy offers private consulting and parenting seminars as well. She and her husband live in Pacific Palisades, California.

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Night of the Shrinking Bed

By Gregory Keer

It was a cold, eerie night, eight years ago, an evening that still sends chills up and down my spine. My wife and I had endured a fifth straight evening of multiple wake-ups from our newborn. After two feedings, three walks around the house, and four false-alarm cries, Wendy and I trembled with exhaustion. This was compounded by the stress of having just moved to a new home, my starting a teaching gig, and our older sons kicking off a new school year.

Finally, sleep came and, when it did, I went down hard.

That was until I felt a “presence” hovering over me. Dog-tired, I kept snoring. Then I heard a faint wheezing. The wheezing turned to heavy breathing, which got louder and louder. High-pitched moaning pierced my eardrums and my eyes snapped open.

A dark shape stood next to me, holding what looked like an axe!

I screamed. “Ahhhhhh!!!!.”

My wife jumped up and shrieked, “Where’s the baby?”

The figure screamed back. “Dadddeee!!!”

Bolting upright, I recognized the shape as my son, Benjamin. The axe I imagined was his tattered blanket.

My son burst into tears and fell across me in the aftermath of what had been a twisted recreation of the movie scene in which Drew Barrymore sees E.T. for the first time. In this case, I was Drew Barrymore.

“What were you doing standing over me like that?” I said breathlessly.

“I – just – wanted – to – cuddle,” Benjamin blurted between sobs.

And there it was. The dramatic comeuppance for two parents who had long struggled with the issue of a family bed.

Before my wife and I had children, we swore we’d never let our kids sleep with us. We judged others who let their kids in the bed, thinking that kind of arrangement could only create intimacy problems for the couple and therapy sessions for the children.

Sometime later, we found ourselves changing our tune. It began when Benjamin, then almost three and new to a “big boy” bed without rails, started sneaking into our room in the middle of the night. Due to fatigue and the sheer joy of cuddling, we let him snuggle with us for a few hours each night. This went on for a couple of years until Jacob got old enough to leave the crib and want his own time in Mommy and Daddy’s bed.

So we started a campaign to keep the kids on their own mattresses. We told them that they could crawl in with us in the morning, when it was light outside. Jacob, always a deeper sleeper, was easier to keep to the new rule. But we had to experiment with all kinds of tricks to keep Benjamin in his room. Over time, we tried clocks, a sleeping bag on our bedroom floor, extra stuffed animals, a special pillow, and just plain begging with intermittent success.

Then, there was the previously mentioned night of all that wheezing and screaming.

After we all calmed down, I escorted Benjamin to his bed, reminding him of the house rules. A little later, he returned. I got crankier and he went away wailing again. This back-and-forth occurred every 10 minutes, as he tried to gain our sympathy and we used every tactic from yelling to listing all the playdates he was going to lose.

Then, my son Jacob joined the fray, shouting out like a lost child that his pull-up needed to be changed. Jacob fell back asleep but he was replaced by the dog that scratched at the door to go outside and the cat that upchucked a fur ball on the bed. All the while, my wife and I bickered about how to handle the whole mess.

I pleaded with our first-born. I even cried when he cried, asking for mercy on his exhausted father who had to wake up to teach cranky high-school sophomores in the morning.

Finally, with Benjamin as worn out as I was, I found clarity – kind of like a Bugs Bunny horror spoof in which the rabbit realizes the way to stop the monster is by complimenting him (“Gee, Doc, you got really big muscles.”) So, I appealed to Benjamin’s desire to feel like the big boy he was.

“You graduated from kindergarten and now you’re a first grader,” I explained. “It’s time to graduate to sleeping the whole night on your own. You can do this.” I then promised him a reward chart that would track how many nights he could stay in his bed.

Things got a lot better after that. For a while thereafter, Benjamin still crawled into bed with us at 6am or so, but he was proud of himself for becoming more “sleep independent.” Eventually, he stayed in his bed all night and my wife and I got our bed back…That is until kid number two started haunting us.

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What Dads Need to Know: Roughhousing Benefits

By Heather Shumaker

My neighbor is a stay-at-home dad. When he heard I had written a parenting book – one that included chapter titles like “Ban Chairs – Not Tag” and “Bombs, Guns, and Bad Guys Allowed,” he perked right up. “I was always being told I was “bad” as a boy because I needed to move my body,” he said.

Movement, action and rough physical play are an essential part of early childhood, for boys and girls alike. Instead of banning high energy, find ways to welcome it.

Here’s an excerpt from the book It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and
Compassionate Kids
(Tarcher/ Penguin, 2012. Reprinted with permission). The book contains a whole section called “Running Room” which explores action, power and movement. This chapter celebrates roughhousing.

Renegade Rule 17 – Only punch your friends

Dan punches Leo, and Leo punches right back.

Nearby, an adult looks on, but doesn’t interrupt. These two four-year-olds are having fun. Dan and Leo are both wearing pint-sized boxing gloves, purple and red, and standing barefoot on a tumbling mat. They are giggling and having a marvelous time.

Renegade Reason – Roughhousing—even play boxing—is social and healthy. But it has no place if someone’s angry.

When I told a fellow mother that I was writing a book which included boxing at preschool, she was shocked. “Boxing? You’ve got to be kidding me. I spend my time trying to keep their hands OFF each other!”

That can be a problem. Young kids are physical creatures. They like body contact and have a deep need for touch. Especially since verbal skills are still developing, one of the ways children show interest in a friend is through physical contact, sometimes hugs, sometimes play fights.

Lee and Janet, the founders of my childhood preschool noticed this. They watched kids play and saw how much young kids liked to wrestle. Children would roll around together like little lions or puppies. They thought: if kids want to play that way there must be a reason. Well, why not? Lee and Janet equipped rooms with wrestling mats and boxing gloves. Rough-housing games blossomed into a 40-year tradition at the School for Young Children.

Rough-housing games, like boxing and wrestling, give kids outlets for high energy and boost friendships. But only when everyone is having fun. If someone’s angry, it’s not a game. Rough-housing is not a way to settle a conflict. Games should be between willing partners who are in a playful mood.

What’s more, it turns out that boisterous play like preschool boxing is not only a legitimate way to have fun, it also plays a positive, important role in child development.

Renegade Blessings

Rough-and-tumble play helps our kids grow on many levels. A child can learn:

–       I’m strong and powerful.

–       It feels good to use my body actively.

–       I can make friends and take on new challenges.

–       I can set limits on other people and stop something I don’t like.

–       I can listen to my friends and know when to stop.

–       I can cope, even if I get hurt a little bit.

–       If someone gets hurt, we can make new rules so it doesn’t happen again.

Why it works

Whether it’s called rough-and-tumble play, boisterous play, horse play, puppy play, or rough-housing, this kind of play is a vital part of childhood. Rowdy puppy play helps bodies and brains develop. When two kids tussle on the floor, or roll around together, they are showing the need to wrestle. If we say ‘no’ to rough play, we are thwarting this need. Instead of issuing a ban (Get your hands off of him!  Quit hitting your brother. I don’t want to see any bodies touching.) think how you can best meet this age-old need.

Horse play may look like out-of-control goofing off, but it serves a deeper purpose. Studies by Dr. Jaak Panksepp show that rough-and-tumble play helps to develop the brain’s frontal lobe including the prefrontal cortex. This is the area of the brain that commands Executive Function, controls impulses and regulates behavior. The more the prefrontal cortex is developed, the better kids do in all areas of life, whether it’s social, emotional, or academic. On-going research by Dr. Adele Diamond and others suggests that Executive Function is the top predictor of kids’ success.

Roughhousing Benefits

–       Friendship

–       Energy outlet

–       Chance to experience power

–       Impulse control

–       Risk-taking

–       Building brain power

–       Body and spatial awareness

–       Need for motion

–       Need for physical touch

–       Practice setting limits on peers

–       Negotiating skills

–       Building trust with peers

–       Self-esteem

–       Reading emotions

–       Showing empathy

–       Joy

Since this part of the brain is so important, is it really any surprise that kids develop it by doing simply what kids do best? Rolling about the floor and tussling with squawks of high excitement. Rough-and-tumble play must be welcomed.

As early educator Dan Hodgins puts it: “It’s just as important to rough house with kids as to read them a story.”

More on welcoming rough-and-tumble play into your family or classroom in It’s OK Not to Share, including:

–       staging a wrestling match

–       getting hurt

–       setting kid-based rules

–       winners and losers

–       power actions

–       welcoming movement

–       benefits of risk

Heather Shumaker is the author of It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids (Tarcher/ Penguin, 2012). She’s a journalist, blogger, speaker and mother of two young children, whose work has appeared in Huffington Post, New York Post, Parenting, Pregnancy and Organic Gardening. She’s a frequent guest on radio and TV shows about writing and parenting, and blogs at Starlighting Mama. You can learn more about Heather’s book at

Posted in Child Development, Featured Moms & Dads, Gender, Siblings, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: Say No Without Saying No

By Dr. Jenn Berman

DoctorJennimages (1)Kids need boundaries and limits. Saying no to your child helps build her char­acter and provides discipline. It teaches her to tolerate not getting what she wants and to handle delayed gratification—and ultimately it will teach her how to say “no” to herself (“Do I really want that second piece of chocolate cake even though I am full? No, I think I’ll pass on that.” Or “I’m tired—maybe I’ll skip calculus today. No, actually that’s not in my best interest. I should go to class”). That said, you should never say “no” to your child just for the sake of saying “no” because that would be disrespectful.

I say “no” twenty times a day but I almost never say the actual word “no.” Why? If you say “no” all day long, the word loses its significance and power, and kids start to tune it out. I save “no” for a child who is reaching to touch a hot stove or about to run out into traffic. Used selectively, “no” is taken very seri­ously.

A study done by Drs. Betty Hart and Todd Risley found that three-year olds who were exposed to constant reprimands such as “No,” “Don’t,” and “Stop it” had poorer language skills than kids who received less negative feedback. They also had lower IQs — perhaps because they were exposed to less language. If you just say “no,” your child hears one word, whereas if you say, “Please don’t do that” or “How about if we play with this toy instead?” you’re exposing her to multiple words, increasing both language development and IQ.

Here are ten ways to say “no” without actu­ally saying “no”:

– Tell your child what she can do instead.

– Try “I won’t let you because…”

– Distract and redirect.

– Substitute an acceptable object for an unacceptable one.

– Offer two viable choices.

– Clarify the rules.

– Explain your reasoning using age-appropriate language and examples.

– Postpone the request.

– Use humor.

– Validate the desire behind the request without granting the request.

One other tip: Baby-proof the rooms in the house that your child has access to and you won’t have to say “no” quite as much.

Dr. Jenn Berman is a Marriage, Family and Child Therapist in private practice in Los Angeles. She has appeared as a psychological expert on hundreds of television shows including The Today Show, The Early Show, and CNN. She hosts a live daily call-in advice show called “The Love and Sex Show with Dr. Jenn” on Sirius/XM’s Cosmo Radio 5-7 pm PST (heard five hours a day seven days a week). She is the author of the LA Times best selling books SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years and The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy Confident Kids, and the children’s book Rockin’ Babies. Dr. Jenn is also on the Board of Advisors for Parents Magazine. In addition, Dr. Jenn has an eco-friendly clothing line for adults and children called Retail Therapy. All the tees have positive “feel good” messages and are made of organic and recycled materials. Dr. Jenn lives in Los Angeles with her husband and twin daughters. For more information on go to or follow her on Twitter at and

Posted in Child Development, Family Communication, Featured Moms & Dads, What Dads Need to Know | 2 Comments

What Dads Need to Know – Prep for Preschool

By Michelle Nitka, Psy.D.

Preschool-images (1)Never mind college. How do you get your kids into preschool?  In many cities, choosing a preschool, and being chosen, has come to feel like a competitive sport. Several articles and news shows have fanned the flames of parental panic. Nightline aired a segment entitled “Inside the Cutthroat Preschool Wars”, the San Francisco Chronicle headlined with “Preschool Wait Puts Parents In Panic” andThe New York Times ran an article entitled “In Baby Boomlet, Preschool Derby Is the Fiercest Yet.” Even without articles and news shows like these, the process of applying to preschool  is enough to push parents of hearty constitutions to the edge.

But it does not have to be this way. Despite what some overachieving parents think, admission to the “right” preschool will not set your child on the road to Harvard. What is vastly more important is to finding the preschool that fits your child and your family. Given that the preschool search often begins when a child is not even a year old many parents may well ask, “How do I know who he is yet?  He can scarcely eat without drooling!”  It is important therefore to pay attention not only to your child’s needs but also to your own. The following tips will hopefully start you in the right direction.


1)  Do you want your child in a half-day program or a full-day program? How much flexibility do you need in terms of number of days your child is in school and hours your child is in school?

2) How far do you want to drive? There are many outstanding preschool programs, and unless you have a pathological desire to listen to Barney or Elmo during long car rides, the closer the better.

3) How much do you want to spend on preschool? Don’t forget hidden costs like the annual fund drive, capital campaigns, endowment funds, galas, etc. They all have different names but add up to the same thing – you are writing checks which can add thousands of dollars to your tuition.

4) What is the educational philosophy you are most comfortable with (remembering of course that you are looking for the best fit for your child)? There are lots of choices out there, including but not limited to traditional academic, developmental, cooperative, Reggio Emilia, Montessori, and Waldorf.

5) Would you consider sending your child to a preschool affiliated with a church or a temple? Remember that just because a preschool is affiliated with a religious institution does not necessary mean it is a religious preschool. If you are interested in a preschool affiliated with a church or temple, joining the congregation can give you an advantage in the admissions process.

6) Is diversity important to you, and if so, what kind of diversity is important to you?  Some schools are founded on the idea of having a diverse student body, while others are extremely homogeneous.

7) Does your child have any special needs that might affect whether a preschool is a good fit? Some preschool directors are exceptional at working with and including children with special needs, while others seem to regard it as a burden.

8) How much parent participation do you want to see in the preschool? What are the opportunities for parent involvement, and what are the expectations? There are some preschools, for example cooperative nursery schools, that by definition require a good deal of parent participation. If you have a very inflexible work schedule this may not be a good choice. On the other hand for a parent who has quit their job to be involved in their child’s early education, a school with little to no parent involvement might be quite frustrating.

9) What is the school’s policy on toilet training? Some preschools have a very strict requirement that a child must be toilet trained to start preschool while others are far more lenient and realize that peer modeling will probably accomplish the task rather rapidly.

10)  After preschool do you plan to send your child to public or private school? There are some preschools where everyone will graduate and attend private elementary schools. Those directors typically help their families with this application process and are very well versed in it. On the other hand, there are many excellent preschools where no one continues on to private school.

11)  Apply to the toddler program of the preschool you are interested in. Many preschools have toddler programs that start when the child is about 18 months old. Toddler programs generally meet once a week and the parent stays with the child. These programs are an excellent way of getting to know a preschool program. Although it is not a guarantee, many preschools acknowledge that attending their toddler program does afford the child an advantage in terms of admission to the  preschool.

Finally, try to remember that although these first decisions regarding your child’s education are important, no preschool can ever replace you. There are no golden tickets – no preschool will guarantee success. It is far more important to be a loving, involved, present parent.

Michelle Nitka is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in children and families. She is the author of the book Coping With Preschool Panic and maintains a private practice in West Los Angeles. She is also the mother of two small children and has survived the preschool application process twice. Her Web site is and she can be reached at

Posted in Child Development, Education, Featured Moms & Dads, School | 1 Comment

Best Places to Be a Mom: U.S. Ranks Number 25

One of my favorite philanthropic organizations, Save the Children, just published its annual report on the State of the World’s Mothers. The report is intended to raise awareness about the need for health care and other means of support which mothers require to raise their children. The United States ranked number 25 in the world for its “scores for mother and child health, educational attainment and economic status.” The top-ranked nations for mothers include Norway, Iceland, and Sweden.

In a time in which our country must tighten its belt on so many expenses, it is also a time to prioritize where our money goes. On this Mother’s Day, let’s resolve to show our support for moms in this nation and around the world so that our children may be raised with the resources to help them grow healthy and strong. In this way, we can better ensure a future of healthy and educated adults who will better care for us and the world in general. As fathers, let’s also make the effort to provide for our women and our children, as caregivers ourselves. I look forward to a day when we have our own report on the status of global fatherhood.

Posted in Blog, Child Development, Health, Mother's Day, Newborns, Protecting Children | Leave a comment