What Dads Need to Know: I Don’t Want to Go to School!

By Betsy Brown Braun

BraunNow that the school year has begun, it won’t be long before one morning you’ll awaken to the declaration, “I don’t want to go to school.” It’s a cry, actually more of a plea, which every parent is likely to face at least once, if not ten times, each school year.  It’s never music to your ears.

Not wanting to go to school for the younger child or proclaiming “I’m not going to school” for the older ones, can challenge even the most savvy parent.  How easy life would be if there were a one size fits all answer that you could whip out of your back pocket.  But the response to this showstopper will be different for every child.  It will depend upon your child, upon what’s going on in his life, and upon you and what’s going on in yours.

“I don’t want to go to school” seldom means just that. It is usually the tip of an iceberg.  There is either a need that is not being met or a cry for help about something. It is your job as parent to play sleuth and figure it what is really going on.

Here are a few tips for figuring out what’s behind “I don’t want to go to school.”

Ask yourself how long it has been since school began. It takes 6 full weeks for a child of any age to dig in and get comfortable in school.  Give it time before assuming the worst. The child may not have adjusted to a new schedule, may not know the ropes and feel overwhelmed, may still be in transition. Give it time.

It is not likely about school.  With preschool age children, the issue is often about separation. Learning to attend school without a parent is very different from being left at home with a sitter but without you. Remember, the process of separation can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. It takes time to form a trusting relationship with a teacher and to make new friends. Your child just might prefer to be home with you.

What is going on at home?  If grandma is visiting, if Mommy is taking a sick day, if little brother is having a playdate, if the workmen are at his house, the child might want to be at home where the action is.

Is she not well? Your child just might be coming down with something. You know that when you feel sick, your get up and go is gone!  But beware of the child who feigns illness to get out of school.

With elementary school age children, all of the above may be at the source, but any of the following may also be the cause:

Does your child feel that she doesn’t fit in?  As children mature, so too grows their social awareness and their need to fit in. Does she feel that she has no friends?  It’s no fun to go to school if you feel out of it or feel like you have no one with whom to eat lunch.

Friend trouble?  It can be difficult to face social issues. Things that you might brush off can deeply affect a child and make staying home a much more appealing option.

Is there teasing or bullying going on?  You’ll have to do a lot of fishing, as it can be hard for children to ask for help with teasing or bullying. Elementary school age children often think they should be able to tolerate or solve these problems, but they can’t. Staying home enables the child to avoid them all together.

Is the course material too difficult?  Fear of failure is enough to make a child want to stay home. And her pals’ awareness that she is having trouble makes it even worse.

Is your child bored…really bored?  There are some students who are just that advanced. Without a challenge or new material, school can be pretty dull. Teacher trouble? The child who has gotten in trouble, has had a consequence imposed, is embarrassed to be outted, just may not want to go to school and face the music.

With middle and high school age children, all of the above may apply, but in addition:

Social issues are the number one cause of a child refusing to go to school.  There can be bullying or teasing on the campus or via cyberspace.

Genuine fatigue can be debilitating.  Teens need much more sleep than their interests and life styles allow them.  You child may be exhausted. Period.

The method for uncovering what is underneath your child’s school refusal will be different for every child.  What is the same, however, is every child’s need to be heard, acknowledged, and understood.  That is the first step in solving the problem.  When the child knows that his feelings and problems are heard, he will be much more open to brainstorming about a solution.

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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What Dads Need to Know: The Role of Heroes for Children

By Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell

For thousands of years, heroic stories have been used to inspire, motivate, and transfer cultural values to children. The stories have a common pattern.

They begin with a likeable hero who encounters a challenge or roadblock in life. And then, with the help of others, the hero emerges from the difficult situation transformed by his or her experiences.

Heroic stories are found everywhere in modern media.

Beautiful Snow White is protected from the wicked queen by the seven dwarfs. Her life is threatened when the queen, disguised as a peddler, finds Snow White and poisons her with an apple. Rescued by the Prince, she is transformed by true love.

In Avatar, Jake Sully is a paralyzed ex-Marine who has an opportunity to walk again through a proxy Na’vi body in the world of Pandora. But he encounters an unexpected challenge. He falls in love with a Na’vi woman, Neytin, and is forced to choose sides in an epic battle between the humans and the Na’vi people. With the help of many, Jake’s leadership prevails and the humans are defeated. Jake is permanently transformed in a Na’vi body where he lives the rest of his life with Neytin.

We Are Heroes for Children

Years ago, I had the privilege of studying with Joseph Campbell, renowned mythologist and author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He believed people created heroes and myths out of their own human experiences. Why? To constantly remind us that anything is possible! When we face difficult life challenges, we draw on heroic stories for inspiration and to help us persevere through obstacles.

Heroes show us a way to overcome life challenges through the use of a variety of character strengths and virtues. Their stories also show us that we cannot accomplish great things unless we open ourselves to being helped by others.

Too often, children, teenagers, and adults view heroes as myths or legends rather than the representation of mere humans who succeeded in breaking barriers that previously limited them. Campbell saw this as a deep problem with modern-day individuals who failed to see the value of heroic stories in their own lives.

For parents and teachers, these stories can be tools to teach young people how to face and overcome challenges in the real world. But to take these modern-day films beyond entertainment, adults need to have conversations with youth that delve more deeply into meaning.

When watching movies with children, parents can engage in family conversations about heroes. What strengths and virtues did the hero exhibit? What challenges and obstacles did they overcome? Who were their helpers? How was the hero transformed? What strengths of character does your child share with the hero?

Classroom teachers can use heroic stories to instill character strengths and values in children. In addition to movies, books contain heroes of all kinds. Historical figures are heroes too. Use them to inspire and to illustrate the human journey of struggle and reward.

In addition to heroes themselves, the heroes’ helpers are vital to the journey of transformation. These people can be compared to modern-day role models. Children and teens need role models to help them in their own journey. They are the people who inspire others, live their values, give freely of their time, and show us how to overcome obstacles!

©2013 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 theNational ParentNet Association, a nonprofit organization devoted to building parent-school-community partnerships that help kids succeed in school and life. Connect with Marilyn on FacebookTwitter or atwww.mpricemitchell.com.

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What Dads Need to Know: What Does Mommy Do?

By Betsy Brown Braun

The mom’s tears at the end of the session spent counseling this soon-to-be separating couple were not surprising. Divorce is never easy. We had begun to discuss custody schedules, always a prickly topic. That’s when the dam broke. My empathetic comments about how painful these things are bounced right back. “That’s not it!” the mother unequivocally declared.  “What will I do?” she cried, emphasizing the word “do.

There were so many divorce related changes-to-come that had to be flooding this mom’s mind. But for her the tsunami was the revelation that she was about to be out of a job, at least a few days a week.  She had devoted her entire mom life to her kids—carpools and taxi service, homework and school projects, play dates and extra-curricular activities, house care and meal prep. The kids’ lives and needs were her job 24/7. That was about to change. And Mom didn’t have anything else to do, or so she felt. She could not even imagine being without her children, and she was terrified. Who would she be? Her identity was MOM, period.  At that moment the stark realization was about her, not her kids.

This plaintive comment, “What will I do?” reminded me of a blog by Leslie Irish Evans recently posted on The Huffington Post, “5 Reasons ‘My Kids Are My Whole Life’ is a Stupid Thing to Say”.  The author put forth many sound reasons for a woman not to make her child her whole life. But the last reason, “It sets you up for a big fall,” herein relates. Evans is referring to the time when the children go off to college, and mom no longer needs to be mom 24/7.  But what if it happens sooner, like in divorce?

I would like to add  three more reasons to Evan’s 5  for cultivating a life nowthat includes more than all things mom-related.  These additional reasons deal not only with the messages we give our children through our life choices, but also with how we position ourselves to live.

6.  Children need to know that moms (and dads) wear many different hats. Today’s kids need to see that there are lots of things that mommy does in addition to being a mom, many by choice and some by default.  Just like the child is a son, a brother, a cousin, a student, a karate guy, and a baseball player, Mommy does lots of things too. She is a mommy, a wife, a daughter, a lawyer, an artist, and bike rider, and a gardener. Mommy is just one of the many things you do.

7.  Mommy likes all the things that she does. So often a parent answers the child’s complaint about Mommy going to work by saying, “I have to work” or “I wish I didn’t have to work.” While that may be the case for some, many moms actually like their work. Working in addition to her work as a mom is a choice, and the child needs to know that reality. What a good idea it is to raise children to look forward to their grown-up work, seeing it modeled as aget to and not a have to. The same goes for making the choice to go work-out or take a knitting class and leave the kids at home.  Mom has lots of things that she likes and chooses to do in addition to being a mom.

8. Cultivate the YOU who isn’t a mom. While it is easy to mold your life around your kids and their friends’ families, take pains to have a non-mom social life and do non-mom things. Maintain your BC (before children) and non-mom related friends—from work, from your past, from your own interests. Take that class, cultivate that hobby that always interested you. These people and interests will remind you of your identity separate from mom and will remain long after your 24/7 mommy hat gets put higher on the shelf.

My client could not answer my question, “What do you do for yourself?”  Don’t let that be you.

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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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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What Dads Need to Know: Tips for Raising More Charitable Children

By Alison Smith

Children become more charitable when they believe that their actions have impact. A few small, yet tangible ideas, put into action early on in life, can set the stage for a more charitably spirited and rewarding future.

1.      Pass it On

Nothing is better than receiving a completely unexpected, delightful, surprise.  Next time when you are at your favorite coffee shop with your kids, let the cashier know that you would like to buy the person behind you a cup of coffee or a muffin.  No need to let them know. The cashier can let the person know that it was a gift from the person who just left.   Your child will see how nice it feels to put a smile on an absolute stranger’s face.

2.      Cookie Delivery

At some point in time, we all have friends who could use a hug or need a little lift.  Why not bake cookies with your kids, have them draw a “happy” card and deliver an unexpected package to a friend’s doorstep.  This act of kindness will allow you to have the compassion conversation.   Being aware that grownups have feelings too helps kids to think outside of themselves and be more aware of the world around them.

3.      Plant Seeds and Give Them Life

What could be better than watching a little garden grow (especially in the dead of winter?) Give your little ones a pot, some earth and seeds to water and nurture.  Seeing the progress take shape before their very eyes shows kids that when they are patient and nurturing, beautiful things occur.

4.  Allowance is for Sharing

One of my personal all time favorites is encouraging kids to give a small portion of their allowance away.  Setting aside a small amount each week can quickly turn into to a sizable amount after a few short months.  Together you and your child can discuss where that money can go. It begins the dialogue of giving and sets your child on an early path that places giving as a party in their everyday

Alison Smith, a mom and  former kids furniture and clothing designer, is co-founder of ECHOage.com, a company that does good for children and charities by splitting birthday gift money between the two.

Posted in Activities With Kids, Charity, Featured Moms & Dads, Morals, Social Action, Values, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: How Is the Strong-Willed Child Wired?

Adapted from You Can’t Make Me by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias

I’ve been writing and teaching about the strong-willed child (SWC) for more than twenty-five years. During that time I’ve talked to hundreds and hundreds of strong-willed people of all ages on six continents, in all walks of life. What you are about to read is a consensus among this diverse population of strong-willed individuals (including me) who agree on some basic fundamental truths about how strong-willed minds are wired.

Three crucial truths about how we think

1. It’s not authority we have trouble with; it’s how the authority is communicated.

Even some of the most openly rebellious strong-willed kids insist they don’t have trouble with authority. We SWCs wouldn’t respect our parents if they drew the line and moved it. We wouldn’t respect the government if there were laws, but no one enforced them. It’s not the issue of authority; it’s how the authority is communicated. What sets us off is your finger in our face as you tell us to “do it or else.” SWCs know you’re not really the “big boss”; we always have a choice whether to obey or take the consequences. If you use your authority in a way that suggests we don’t have a choice, there’s almost always going to be trouble.

We usually don’t respond well when you simply issue orders to be obeyed. We want to be treated with respect, and we respond best to a voice that’s calm and firm. If your authority is transmitted to us by shouting or with angry words and gestures, we tend to simply tune you out—and prepare for battle.

When I was growing up, my dad was the ultimate authority in our house. My SWC nature did not question him when he laid down the law. But you see, Dad intuitively knew a parenting technique that is critical for dealing with the SWC. If he said, “Stop now!” I just stopped. I didn’t question or argue. I knew my dad wouldn’t talk to me like that unless it was essential that I obeyed. And that could save my life if it stopped me from stepping in front of a speeding car. If he had talked to me with the same urgency and firmness all the time, I would have tuned him out and probably not done much of anything he asked.

Here’s the point: If you use the same angry tone of voice for everything—“You get upstairs to bed!” “You eat the rest of that dinner!” “You get dressed right now!”—you’ll find your SWC arguing with you about everything.

Some parents think it will signal weakness if they speak politely to a child instead of bluntly “laying down the law.” The fact is, you may be amazed at how much easier it is to get strong willed children to cooperate when, instead of angrily shouting,

“Get downstairs right now and get in that car!” you calmly say,

“The car leaves in two minutes—let’s go!”

2. Strong-willed children don’t need to control you; they just can’t let you take all control away from them.

Remember, we know we always have a choice. That means we have ultimate control over what we will and will not do. When SWCs are told, “You will…” or “You’re going to…” or “This is how it’s going to be…,” we may interpret that kind of speech as an attempt to take all control away from us, and we can’t let you do that. SWCs need to keep at least some control over our own lives. So when we feel cornered, we may end up exercising the only option we have left—even if it’s unpleasant or harmful.

3. The quality of the relationship we have determines the effectiveness of your parenting strategies.

In the heat of the battle, parents often forget the most critical component of effective parenting: if you have the kind of relationship with your child that she wants to preserve, you have some valuable leverage. If SWCs really enjoy spending time with you when we’re not in trouble, we’ll do our best to stay on your good side. On the other hand, what do we have to gain by obeying if you’re always yelling at us anyway? What’s the up side? One bonus here is that you don’t have to be the best parent in the neighborhood; you don’t have to be the most creative, energetic, or intelligent adult in your child’s life. The other bonus? If you work at keeping a healthy relationship, your child will have the best reason in the world to obey you and follow your guidance.

When it comes to building and maintaining a quality relationship, here are three key elements to remember:

Relationships will always matter more than rules. If we have a good relationship with you, we’ll follow your rules even if we don’t agree with them. We do it because we love and respect you.

Home should be a place we always look forward to coming back to—a safe harbor where we are understood and valued for who we are. We know you want to prepare us for dealing with a hostile world, but if you don’t provide a safe, warm place for us, who will?

We need to know that you’ll always be there for us, no matter what. That doesn’t mean you should let the SWC take advantage of you. It means your love for us is unshakable and unconditional. That same love must sometimes be tough, and it doesn’t just bail us out when we get in trouble. Above all, no matter what we say or do, no matter what consequences must be faced, we have to know your love will never disappear.

Excerpted from You Can’t Make Me by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Cynthia Ulrich Tobias is the founder, manager, and CEO of Apple St. L.L.C. (Applied Learning Styles) and president of Learning Styles Unlimited, Inc. Cynthia is a popular speaker and the best-selling author of The Way They Learn, They Way We Work, Every Child Can Succeed, Bringing Out the Best in Your Child, and Do You Know What I Like About You? Cynthia, her husband, and their twin boys live in the Seattle, Washington area.

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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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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 www.heathershumaker.com.

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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 www.DoctorJenn.com or follow her on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/drjennberman and www.Facebook.com/DrJennBerman.

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 PreschoolGuide.com and she can be reached at mnitka@preschoolguide.com.

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