When I’m 100

By Gregory Keer

My first grader came home recently with a completed assignment called, “When I Am 100 Years Old.” For it, he had drawn a picture of himself at the century mark, looking pretty much the way he does now, but with a long gray beard. Apparently, this is all it takes to distinguish a seven year old from a centenarian.

Under the picture was his life-topping accomplishment, “I will be a riter.”

In five words, my youngest son managed to reveal a treasure trove of insight. He told me his lifelong plans. He revealed that these schemes have to do with his connection to me, the guy he sees scribbling stories. And he showed he can’t spell worth diddlysquat.

This month marks my birthday. Because I am a “riter,” I’m spending time reflecting on how I’m doing goal-wise on my marchtoward (God willing) 100 years. There are areas I’m on target with, including keeping my marriage healthy, doing meaningful work, and making efforts on behalf of social causes. Among the aims I still want to achieve are learning to cook really well, playing at least one musical instrument, speaking Spanish, living in another city (if only for a season), and improving my free-throw shooting.

Above all, the category in which I’d like to improve most is fatherhood. It’s one reason I write these self-indulgent columns that chronicle the tinkering I do as a dad. While some of this labor is just me being nitpicky, a lot of it has to do with being better at following the biggest lesson I’ve learned about parenting – my children’s lives cannot be scripted. I cannot mold them in my image or in the image of someone I’d like them to be. I can give them plenty of good materials, but they have to craft themselves.

Having Ari say he wants to be a writer is nice now, but it’s likely he’ll do something different for a living. Ari loves to build stuff and take things apart to see what makes them tick. I have zero mechanical ability, so it’s hard for me to relate or even play alongside him when he reconfigures a door handle or surrounds his bed with various pulleys and other contraptions. My job is to let him horde boxes, tools, and various bits (which drives me nuts in that he keeps his room like a junk yard), so he can develop into who he wants to be. I’m fairly certain he will be some sort of engineer, though I’m trying to keep this kind of guessing to myself.

My middle son is most like me in his passions for writing stories, remembering lots of entertainment trivia, and having his feelings easily hurt. At the same time, his penchant for taking charge of situations and doing all his homework well ahead of schedule are far from my personal tendencies. Jacob currently thinks he’ll be an artist (architect, painter, or performer), while I imagine him becoming a creative businessman. Yet, he’s so full of interests and willingness to soak up information, he may be the kind of person who tries out a lot of things out. This could be difficult for making a consistent life, but it could also mean he’ll never be bored.

My 13 year old is the most open book of my three. He loves imaginative books, but prefers computers and science over discussing human nature. He doesn’t mind sports, though he veers away from competition. And he’s efficient at getting assignments done — when he feels it’s worth his time. As my eldest, he’s borne the brunt of my clumsiest parenting as I’ve pushed him the hardest on everything from studying more to maintaining better posture. Yet, this kid is more at ease than I ever was with a variety of friends and has a better sense of enjoying the world’s simple things. I worry he may lead a fairly modest life, but I’m confident he’ll rise to the level of happiness he wants for himself.

Too much of my early fatherhood years have been anchored in feeling I only have value if I show my sons the right way to do things. It’s often made me too intense in getting them to follow instructions and too judgmental of mistakes when I’ve warned them of pitfalls. All of this has been about making me more important to them than necessary.

For a dad – or any parent – that is a tough insight to internalize. I don’t know all the right answers, and even when I think I do, there is wisdom in keeping most of them to myself. Although I am bound by the parenting code that compels me to keep my kids safe and armed with good resources, I hope to mark the road to 100 with much more observing and cheerleading as my sons grow their own gray hairs.

Posted in Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Humor, Perspective | 6 Comments

What Dads Need to Know: Fostering Initiative in Children & Adolescents

By Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell

I have to admit, I’ve grown uncomfortable with the word happiness. Used to describe a myriad of good things in life, including love, fleeting moments of joy, and chocolate bars, we often talk about it as a destination just down the road.

But happiness is part of a journey – and helping kids navigate the journey with courage and optimism is part of raising healthy children.

Alfred D. Souza made a great point: “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”

Indeed, obstacles are a part of life. And often they seem endless. So wouldn’t our kids be happier adults if they learned how to overcome challenges and obstacles? These questions led me to discover the meaning and importance of youth initiative development.

What is Initiative?

The ability to propel life forward in purposeful directions, initiative directs our attention toward a challenging goal and helps us overcome obstacles. It encompasses both an inner energy and an outer action. Initiative is an important part of positive youth development.

Initiative is developed in late childhood and adolescence through mastery experiences and relationships that help kids believe in themselves. Since initiative can be used to accomplish good or evil, it also involves instilling positive values in childhood, like kindness, compassion, and empathy for others.

Initiative is developed through internal rewards, like creativity, dignity, autonomy, making a difference for others, and activities that help kids create their own futures. It is not developed through external rewards like grades, winning, awards, and money.

Initiative-Building Activities

Researchers have identified three important elements of initiative-building activities during childhood and

  • Kids must choose it for themselves because it gives them “internal” rewards! Examples include music
    , service-learning, and a myriad of other after-school activities.
  • The activity must take place in an environment that contains rules, challenges, and complexities inherent in the real world. They must face intellectual, interpersonal, and intrapersonal challenges that go beyond grades, winning a game, and other external rewards.
  • The activity must be sustained over a period of time. Rather than doing lots of activities, it is better to focus on a few for longer periods of time so kids learn to persevere despite challenges.

Compelling Facts

  • IQ accounts for less than 25% of life success. Emotional intelligence, including initiative, accounts for the rest.
  • Boredom is the antithesis of initiative. Both honor students and those involved in delinquent activities report the highest levels of boredom in the U.S., many more than 50% of the time.
  • Kids who lack initiative are more prone to depression.
  • Children and adolescents with high levels of initiative spend twice as much time in hobbies and sports than kids with low levels and they spend more time with their families.
  • Traditional classrooms and homework, activities that account for more than 30% of kids waking hours, have limited potential for experiencing initiative.

Communication Tips that Foster Initiative in Children and Adolescents

  • When children blame, moan, or whine, turn it into an opportunity to find out what they care about! Uncover hidden convictions that can fuel initiative and action in the world.
  • Shift from a language of “Prizes and Praising” to a language of “Ongoing Regard.” Instead of giving praise for all the things children “do,” communicate appreciation for who they are.
  • Help kids learn to solve their own problems and navigate obstacles. Allow them to fail. Be a mentor in the process!

How Parents and Educators Foster Initiative through Mentoring

  • Be on the sidelines to help facilitate children’s learning.
  • Encourage children to get back on their feet after a fall – because you believe in them.
  • Be a helpful guide as children identify challenges, reflect on their choices, arrive at decisions, adjust strategies, and plans next steps. Listen and encourage.
  • Be a role model. Show them how you get things done but don’t do things for them that they can do for themselves.

I plan to spend a lot more time discussing the topic of initiative and other character strengths in future blog posts. I’d love to hear from you about your experiences as parents, educators, and mentors of young people. How have you fostered initiative in children? What kinds of activities bring the highest internal rewards? Why? How do classrooms
foster initiative? Lots to discuss! Stay tuned!

©2012 Marilyn Price-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell is a developmental psychologist and researcher. A mother, stepmother, and grandmother, she is founder of Roots of Action where she brings evidence-based research on youth development to popular audiences. She writes a column for Psychology Today, The Moment of Youth. She is president of the National ParentNet Association, a nonprofit organization devoted to building parent-school-community partnerships that help kids succeed in school and life. Connect with Marilyn on Facebook, Twitter or at www.mpricemitchell.com.

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

April Highlights Autism Awareness and Child-Abuse Prevention

April is both Autism Awareness Month as well as Child-Abuse Prevention Month. Both of these concern the welfare of children and deserve our attention whether they affect us directly or not. As a father and educator, I have met a number of children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism. As I write this posting, I know I need to teach my own children more about the friends they have who are affected by autism, though we have had discussions about the need to include people with differences in our lives rather than separate from them.

The Autism Speaks site explains that, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.” The site goes on to explain that “the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 88 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years.” The CDC also cites statistics to show that autism is diagnosed more commonly in boys than in girls. To learn more about autism, a couple of key Web sites include the one for Autism Speaks and the Autism Society.

With regard to child-abuse prevention, this topic is more relevant than ever, given our needed increase in sensitivity to children bullying other children. One reason bullying exists is because kids are abused, either physically or psychologically by the adults in their lives. A new book is coming out that has an interesting approach to making us all more sensitive to the subject. Written by Magdalena Gómez and María Luisa Arroyo, Bullying: Replies, Rebuttals, Confessions and Catharsis (Skyhorse Publishing, May 2012) is an anthology of stories, poems, and plays that help illuminate the experience for children, from an inter-generational and multicultural perspective.

Please share your thoughts and suggestions about these topics by posting a comment whenever you wish.

Posted in Anger Management, Blog, Books, Child Development, Health, Protecting Children, Special Needs | 1 Comment

Would You Make Your “F” Student Wear a Sign?

Recent parenting news focuses on the dad who shot bullets into his daughter’s computer for misusing Facebook and a father who sent his 7th-grade kid with a sandwich board announcing the three F’s on his report card. In an interview, the Miami-area 7th-grader, Michael Bell, Jr., said he planned to do a lot better after spending time at a busy intersection where people could see him in all his shame.

Is this tough love or too tough? While I accept that it’s entirely possible that the two aforementioned dads might have felt that the ends would justify the means, my worry is that, whatever short-term gains a parent might get in pushing a child to act more responsibly, the long-term reality is that more bad stuff could happen. Much of this feels like parenting theater, discipline for a YouTube world rather than truly effective character building.

Like a lot of parents, I get to the end of my rope. I’ve yelled, jumped up and down, even tugged out the power cord on my teen’s laptop (while making sure I wasn’t actually damaging it). What did it do for me? It scared my child for a minute and made me look foolish and out of control. So, I apologized for my behavior without condoning my son’s (he had played a video game instead of doing homework for one too many times). And then we talked about ways he could balance his priorities better. This included my commitment to checking his daily planner more regularly to help him manage his time. I won’t do his homework for him, but I can assist in getting him more organized, at least for a little while.

My plan — my hope — is that by returning to a calm, civilized approach, I’m teaching my son how to weather frustration as well as mistakes in judgement. I don’t want my child to feel shame — I want him to feel in control of his responsibilities for his own sake.

Posted in Adolescence, Anger Management, Child Development, Perspective, Tweens | 1 Comment

New Michael Gurian Book on Helping Boys

As the father of three boys and a longtime educator of high school students, I see the challenges boys face in growing up amidst changing ideas about male identity. This is not to say that girls have it easier, certainly not, but there is clearly a need to approach the uniqueness of gender as kids grow up, which is something often lacking in the worlds of education and even psychology.

This is why I highly recommend the books of Michael Gurian, who has become one of the foremost gender experts as a result of decades of work as a family therapist, researcher, and educator. Gurian has written such tomes as The Wonder of Boys , Boys and Girls Learn Differently, and The Wonder of Girls, and has now released How Do I Help Him? A Practitioners Guide to Working With Boys. This book is not just for mental health professionals, though, as it offers assistance for parents who are seeking help for their sons, fathers who need help, and couples looking for marital or relationship counseling that includes men. Gurian’s writing goes beyond the usual pop-culture obviousness and offers real insights for those who want to help raise healthier boys and make the lives of men better in general.

Posted in Adolescence, Blog, Books, Child Development, Gender | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know – Raising Kids With Values

By Dr. Jenn Berman

When it comes to instilling values, parents face greater challenges than ever before. Children today are bombarded with anti-values messages all day long through television, movies, music, the Internet and billboards. Kids have fewer young role models that demonstrate valuable contributions to society than they did in years past. Instead they have people like Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and Brody Jenner, kids who are known for, respectively, her buttocks, a sex tape, and dating other reality stars and for their parents’ money. As though that is not enough of a stumbling block, kids today also suffer from a lack of meaningful adult and peer relationships. So many of us, young and old, tend to be focused on Blackberries, laptops and television screens at the expense of meaningful connections and relationships.

According to a poll by Parents Magazine, the top five values that parents want to imbue in their children are: honesty, self esteem, kindness, self-reliance, and concern for others, qualities which are the building blocks for a moral person and a decent society. However, despite the fact that 70 percent of those polled said that they want to instill self esteem in their children, most parents don’t realize that giving kids the ability to make a difference is the greatest single inoculation against poor self esteem they can give. In addition, giving back to others and knowing that you can positively influence the lives of other people creates a sense of self efficacy while the meaningful activities themselves decrease isolation and self centeredness which in turn helps to build self esteem.

Where to Begin

When most parents think about teaching their children to give back, they tend to think about teens or even elementary school kids. But as Oprah Winfrey said recently, “You are never too young to make a big difference in somebody’s life.” By teaching this lesson to children as young as two or three years old, you help them develop at an early age the habit of giving and helping others which causes this way of thinking and behaving to become deeply ingrained.

Three great tools to start with are:

Books – Books open doors to new concepts, cultures and traditions. It is easy to start young since there are so many great values related books out there for young kids. Early on, start reading books about issues and qualities you value. Check out great toddler books like: The Story of Rosa Parks, The Peace Book, The Snail and the Whale, and Little Bear’s Little Boat.

Discussion – Look for opportunities for meaningful discussions and show your child that you value her opinion during conversations. Use books to open values based conversations. I recently had a conversation with my three year old daughters about peer pressure after reading Hey Little Ant where a little boy’s friends try to pressure the boy in the book to step on an ant.

Modeling Behavior – For many parents, this is the greatest difficulty of parenting. Our kids are always watching us and what we do is far more impactful than what we say. Not only do we have to be role models, but also leaders. Next time you are making a charitable donation, instead of doing it quietly at your computer where your kids can’t see, let your children be involved. Let them pick the charity to which you send your donation. Next time you are thinking of a family vacation, consider planning a volunteer vacation. You can build an orphanage in China, teach English, or help save an endangered species. Work together as a family to make an impact on the world and you will help your child while you help others.

Making New Traditions

Sure it is wonderful to go and feed the homeless around Thanksgiving but people are hungry all year round. Think about making a family New Year’s resolution not only to give back on a regular basis but also to have discussions about important issues and values. As children get older the conversations become increasingly complex and their ability to volunteer becomes greater. Try making one of the following a year round tradition:

  • Make a Kindness Scrapbook. Create a scrapbook to document things that family members do to help others. Since we started ours, my daughters have made cards for sick children, donated money to save an endangered species, and sent their favorite books to a child in need.
  • Start a Dinner Table Foundation. Every month save up twenty dollars or more to donate to a charity. Let each of your children “pitch” their first choice charity.
  • Collect Something for Others. Collect canned food for a food bank, DVDs for donations to a charity like KidFlicks.org, or clothing for a community homeless organization. Each month, with your kid’s help, find something new to give to others.
  • Be Generous to Public Servants. Drop off some baked goods at the local fire station. You can use this as an opportunity to talk to your kids about people who help keep us safe and giving back to the community. Just make sure you call your local fire station to make sure they are open to receiving visitors.
  • Volunteer together. There are so many opportunities to volunteer, especially for older kids. Try food banks, homeless shelters, hospitals, and old age homes. For a great selection of possibilities in your area check out VolunteerMatch.org, a free online service that matches people with appropriate volunteer opportunities.

Keeping Your Family Connected

Kids learn values best when they feel close and connected with their families. Three things you can do to make that happen are:

  1. Have family dinner together. Studies show that kids who eat with their family are less likely to try drugs or alcohol, are more physically fit, experience more academic success, have more nutritionally balanced diets, and have a reduced risk for eating disorders. According to a University of Minneapolis study, the more frequent family meals were eaten together and the more connected a family felt, the more self esteem went up while negative factors like depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts went down. This underscores the importance that strong connections have to creating meaningful relationships and generating real influence over your child’s values.
  2. Turn off the TV. Media has become a replacement for family interaction. Given the excessive number of hours adults spend watching television, experts report that parents now have more eye contact with television characters than they have with their own family members. Television can decrease communication with one another and stunt the development of family relationships, which are the foundation for a child’s relationships outside of the family.
  3. Have family meetings. Family meetings are a great way for children to feel heard in their family. A good family meeting serves as a microcosm of the real world, giving your child the opportunity to influence others, develop empathy, and learn cooperation, which are all important values.

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 Oprah Winfrey Show and is a regular on 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. In May 2011 she will be releasing her first children’s book Rockin’ Babies. Her award winning “Dr. Jenn” parenting column is printed in Los Angeles Family Magazine and five other magazines is read by half a million readers ever month. 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 www.DoctorJenn.com or follow her on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/drjennberman and www.Facebook.com/DrJennBerman.

Posted in Child Development, Ethics, Featured Moms & Dads, Morals, Values, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

Guest Blog: 3 Most Common Parent-Kid Fights and How to Stop Them

By Vanessa Van Petten

When I was a teenager it felt like my parents and I got in the same fights over and over again. After working with thousands of teens and parents I have realized that there are several common fights parents have with their teens. Below, I have described these three fights and offered some solutions for stopping the argument cycle.

1. The “It’s Not Fair” Fight


– Older brother gets to stay out late with his friends. Teen finds this grossly unfair.

– Parent gets to have soda, child does not. Teen finds this grossly unfair.

– Teenager cannot buy new outfit for dance because it is too expensive. Teen finds this grossly unfair.

Emotional Intent: When you hear a teen talk about how unfair something is, what they are often feeling is, “I am not important or special enough.” If you feel like your teenager is constantly arguing about justice or fairness, they are most likely feeling like they are not being heard or cared about enough to get what they want. Of course, this is usually not the case. In the examples above parents would be worried about safety, health and money, while teens feel like they are not as important as their sibling, that their parents do not understand how important the dance is, and so on.

Solutions: The best way to stop the “it’s Not Fair” fight is to address the emotional intent. The best way to do this is for parents to push into the “it’s not fair” feeling from their children instead of pushing against it. For instance in the new outfit example a parent might say to their teen, “I hear you think this is unfair, will you tell me why?” A teen will most likely respond, “You buy stuff for yourself all the time,” or “But I deserve this dress.” These answers are important because it will show the parent the emotional intent behind the upset and feelings of injustice. If a parent addresses these by saying something like, “I could see how you feel like us not buying this for you is about you not feeling worthy. But the truth is we are trying to save for the big vacation we are taking this summer—which is for all of us. I know how important this dance is for you. Maybe we can get you a new pair of shoes or…” then the fight is stopped.

2. The “Treat Me Like A Grown-Up” Fight


– Teen wants to be able to stay out late with friends. Parents say no. Teen thinks they are being treated like a child.

– Teen wants to go away for Spring Break, parents say no. Teen thinks they are being treated like a child.

Emotional Intent: Most fights during the teen years are actually based in this ‘treat me like a grown-up’ motivation. The earlier you can catch and address it the better it will be. It derives from the fundamental pulling away that comes with a teen trying to assert their independence.

Solutions: It is very important for parents to discuss reasons for decisions that are making a teenager angry. This way teens are sure to understand the real reasons for a parent’s choice. Another great way to help teenagers get less upset in fights surrounding their maturity is for parents to help teens feel mature in other ways. For example, perhaps parents do not want their teen to go away for the whole Spring Break because they want to have family time. A great way to address this with teens is to say clearly, “We really want to have family time with you, but we know you are getting older, so how about you do a weekend camping trip with your friends for one of the weekends.” This teaches teens you trust them, but it is all about balancing needs.

3. The “We Are a Different Person” Fight


– Parent wants their teen to join band, teen doesn’t want to.

– Parent expects higher grades and when teen doesn’t do well, a huge fight ensues.

– Teen does not keep room tidy, parent gets upset when guests come over.

Emotional Intent: Often times teenagers tell me that they will purposefully keep their room dirty or choose unapproved hobbies just so they can be different from their parents. Parents frequently misinterpret room cleaning or bad grades for laziness, when something deeper might be going on. Teenagers often will ‘misbehave’ or fight with parents simply to show them that they are their own person—even if it gets them into trouble.

Solutions: First, it’s important to make sure that you do want your child to be their own person. Be careful not to push expectations or your own goals onto your kids. Second, make sure teenagers know that some of the requirements you have for them (good grades a tidy room for guests) are not to make them feel less like an individual, but for them to have more choices in their future and to present a nice home to guests. I recommend parents being very direct with teenagers about their need to be ‘their own person’ you might be surprised what common fights are actually based in this emotional intent.

Overall, fighting can be stressful, but teenagers often tell us that ‘fighting’ with their parents is their way of discussing issues. Look at fights as a way of getting to know a new aspect of your teens and be open with them about hoping to stop harmful cycles. 

Vanessa Van Petten is one of the nation’s youngest experts, or ‘youthologists’ on parenting and adolescents. She now runs her popular parenting website, RadicalParenting.com, which she writes with 120 other teenage writers to answer questions from parents and adults. Her approach has been featured by CNN, Fox News, and Wall Street Journal. She was also on the Real Housewives of Orange County helping the housewives with troubled teens. Her new book, Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?, was just released in September 2011 with Plume Books of Penguin USA.

Posted in Adolescence, Blog, Books, Child Development, Family Man Recommends, Teens, Tweens | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: Helping Kids Learn from Mistakes

By Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell

PriceMitchelldownloadAs adults, we all know that making mistakes is part of life.  What’s important is how we learn from them.  Yet, many children are growing up in a society that pressures them to be perfect – to get the highest SAT scores, to land prized scholarships, to get into the best universities.  Some parents complete or correct children’s homework to get them a better grade. So how does all this focus on testing and perfection affect kid’s learning?  And how can we help them learn from mistakes?

I recently came across an article in Scientific American, Getting it Wrong: Surprising Tips on How to Learn that supports a number of learning and developmental theories.  Historically, many educators have created conditions for learning that do not encourage errors.  And parents have followed suit.  For example, if we drill children over and over again with the same math problem, they will eventually remember the answer. And if they are lucky, they will remember the answer on a standardized test.

This approach to learning assumes that if students are allowed to make mistakes, they will not learn the correct information.  However, recent research shows this to be an incorrect assumption. In fact, studies have found that learning is enhanced when children make mistakes!

Whether it involves homework, developing friendships, or playing soccer, learning is enriched through error.  Learning from mistakes is part of how kids are challenged to learn to do things differently. It motivates them to try new approaches.

Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford, studies the importance of challenging children, even if they get things wrong.  Her research shows that praising children for their intelligence can actually make them less likely to persist in the face of challenge.  She and her colleagues followed hundreds of 5th grade children in New York City schools.  One group was praised for their intelligence while the other group was praised for their effort.

When the 5th graders were challenged with an extremely difficult test designed for 8th graders, a surprising result occurred.  The students who had been praised for their effort worked very hard, even though they made a lot of mistakes.  The kids praised for being smart became discouraged and saw their mistakes as a sign of failure.  Intelligence testing for the kids praised for their effort increased by 30% while the kids praised for their intelligence dropped by 20%. I’ve written before about the value of specific rather than general praise in relation to developing character strengths.  It’s the same concept — and an important one.

Expressing Unconditional Love

I will never forget a ParentNet Meeting I facilitated when my daughter was in 8th grade.  One father in the group, a business executive with Microsoft, asked the other parents, “How do I let my daughter know that I still love her even if she makes mistakes?” There was a brief silence. Then someone said, “Have you ever told her?”  Another silence. Then tears came to this father’s eyes.  “No,” he said, “I haven’t. But I will now.”

That moment of simple realization was profound for all of us. Do our kids really feel that our love is dependent upon being a perfect student?  I’m sure we all went home and reinforced this message of love to our kids – just in case it wasn’t already loud and clear!

Children make many kinds of mistakes – some are simple and some are more complex.  For example, some mistakes, like forgetting a homework assignment or not studying for an important test, have expected consequences. Others like lying, cheating, or actions that negatively affect friendships, have more complicated causes and are more complex to remedy. But all mistakes contain seeds of learning.

Learning from Mistakes: Ten Parenting Guidelines that Foster Positive Youth Development

  • Acknowledge that you don’t expect them to be perfect.
  • Let them know your love is unconditional, regardless of their mistakes or lapses in judgment.
  • Don’t rescue children from their mistakes. Instead, focus on the solution.
  • Provide examples of your own mistakes, the consequences, and how you learned from them.
  • Encourage them to take responsibility for their mistakes and not blame others.
  • Avoid pointing out their past mistakes. Instead, focus on the one at hand.
  • Praise them for their ability to admit their mistakes.
  • Praise them for their efforts and courage to overcome setbacks.
  • Mentor them on how to apologize when their mistakes have hurt others.
  • Help them look at the good side of getting things wrong!

©2011 Marilyn Price-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell is a developmental psychologist and researcher.  A mother, stepmother, and grandmother, she is founder of Roots of Action where she brings evidence-based research on youth development to popular audiences.  She writes a column for Psychology Today, The Moment of Youth. She is president of the National ParentNet Association, a nonprofit organization devoted to building parent-school-community partnerships that help kids succeed in school and life.  Connect with Marilyn on Facebook, Twitter or at www.mpricemitchell.com.

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

Too Many Cookes – Down at the Zoo

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

Although Mick Cooke took his own sweet time to join the Scottish pop group Belle and Sebastian — he started with their third disc, 1998’s marvelous The Boy With the Arab Strap — the origin of that band is somehow linked to the work Cooke has done for his new album. It seems that B & S based their name on a 1960s French children’s book. Indeed, Belle and Sebastian have maintained an air of playfulness in their melding of classic and cutting-edge pop, and the same can be said of Cooke’s Down at the Zoo project.

While most kid albums are geared to the elementary-school crowd — and their parents who are looking for grown-up touches in the music — Down at the Zoo plays to the heart of the birth to preschool set. Filled with fantastically catchy tunes, the recording takes children on a musical tour of the zoo. Starting with “The Zookeeper’s Song,” kids are treated to a counting ditty that has a decidedly UK flair, including the Scottish-accented narration (by Richard Colburn, the drummer of B & S) and Gilbert and Sullivan-esque melody. “We Are the Tigers” is one of the most fun tracks with its B-52’s (think “Rock Lobster”) sound and the line,”We like to roam around/And eat chocolate pie.” “Yvette the Vet” uses wordplay to teach young ones about a key professional in the zoo world.

Cooke and his players borrow some tricks from the Dixieland jazz genre on “Playtime for the Penguins.” “Cecil the Saddest of Snakes” gets the lounge-act treatment in this song about a reptile who needs some cheering up. The album is never short on humor, as evidenced by “The Crocodile Synchronised Swimming Team” (a New Wave-y song about some shape-making snappers) and “The Monkeys Are Breaking Out the Zoo” (a popular track that appeared on Colours Are Brighter, the children’s album Cooke assembled with music by the likes of B & S, Franz Ferdinand, and Snow Patrol).

Down at the Zoo, already a hit in the UK, gallops, flies, and swims to our American shores with 14 tracks of preschool rhythm and rhyme. Take a break from the Wiggles and Raffi and visit this Zoo.

www.wearethetigers.com – $7.99 (download) – Ages birth to 5

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Sing To Your Baby on Father’s Day

As a parent and music lover, I have long been a fan of Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, the Grammy award-winning duo behind such albums as Pillow Full of Wishes and the recent EP Banjo to Beatbox. While these highly lauded ladies have long been leaders in innovating new music to help parents and educators connect with kids, they’ve outdone themselves with their newest project, Sing to Your Baby. Based on audience requests and scientific backing that explains how vital it is for babies to bond with the voice of their parents, this is a combination picture book and CD ($19.95 from the Web site) which offers songs that any parent or child guardian can croon. In fact, Fink and Marxer recorded each song in two different keys to make it easier for parents to find the most comfortable way to sing. For the male versions of the songs, Michael Stein, a cantor and original cast member of Jesus Christ Superstar shows the way for dads, grandpa’s, and uncles to sing such sweet tunes as “Love Is What I Feel For You,” “Rockin’ My Baby,” and “Baby’s Got a Giggle.” This is empowering stuff for parents and a powerfully emotional tool to connect with your baby.

Posted in Babies, Blog, Child Development, Family Man Recommends, Family Music, Father's Day, Newborns | Leave a comment