Will What’s Real About Childhood Please Stand Up?
September 3, 2014 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Parenting, Preschoolers, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (0)

by Bethany Saltman

Last night I had the pleasure of sitting with Azalea and reading a fine book called The  World’s Biggest Tea Party. It is about the My Little Pony crew and how on “one bright spring day in Ponyville, a group of pony friends gathered at Sweetberry’s Sweetshoppe.” One pink pony named Rainbow Dash, Azalea’s personal favorite, posed the question of what they should do that day and they came up with the crazy idea of having a tea party, and not just any tea party, but, as suggested by Pinkie Pie, “the world’s biggest tea party!” Azalea was riveted.

It’s such a trip learning who my daughter is—what she likes and how her mind works. And the craziest part is that she really is just four and a half, meaning she’s not faking it. When T and I first got our Siamese cat Jimmy we used to joke that he felt to us so sentient, so totally aware, that he seemed like a human in a cat suit. And when I look at Azalea sometimes I see a grown-up in a kid suit. Not because she acts like an adult, but because I kind of can’t believe that her kidness is so real, so true, even honorable. Azalea really likes cartoons. She loves to put rings on her toes, a scarf around her waist, be tickled, and then jump from the couch to the chair, and then back again. Not only would I rather not do any of those things now, I don’t think I ever let it rip like she does; according to my family, I have always been pretty serious. It is just impossible to imagine myself popping up and down from the dinner table in order to check on my horses in the next room, or hiding under my covers, begging to be found. Again! To people who know what it’s like to feel that type of playful exuberance, perhaps my dawning realization that childhood is real might seem bizarre, or even absurd. But I actually think that we are all parenting based on some pretty funky assumptions about who our kids are and what they’re capable of.

The Buddhist term for these assumptions is conditioning. It often feels like what we believe about the world is utterly personal, idiosyncratic, and sometimes it is. But conditioning also comes from forces larger than ourselves or our families. One of my very favorite books about the cultural conditioning of children is called Preschool in Three Cultures, Revisited: China, Japan, and the United States. In the original edition of this juicy ethnography, the authors traveled (in 1984) to these three countries, spent time in preschools, interviewed teachers about their pedagogy, shot lots of video, then showed video clips to teachers in other countries, asking them to respond to what the other countries’ schools were doing. In the Revisited edition, the authors returned to the schools in 2002, asking the current teachers to reflect on their schools’ past practices, as well as what is presently happening in the other countries via updated videos. What results is a cornucopia of conversations about who we think children are, and should be.

In the 2002 edition, the authors discuss how, as they continued to travel around the world, one incident in the 1984 Japanese classroom persisted as the most controversial. The Japanese preschool was housed in a Buddhist temple, which is typical. The incident of intrigue, however, was not about Buddhism so much as Japanese ideas about children (though the two are certainly related), and involved a boy named Hiroki, who in our great land would have been given a hefty dose of Ritalin (or worse, see the New York Times article on medicating children, from September 1, 2010) right off the bat. He fought with other kids, pulled out his willie during circle, threw flashcards off the balcony, and sang loudly while other kids were trying to talk. And the amazing part is that the teacher did nothing to intervene. She sent the other children to fight their own battles with him and generally ignored his misbehavior. The authors, Western-trained educators, said it took everything within their power to not put their cameras down and tell the kid to cut the crap. Likewise, Chinese and American teachers who watched the video were appalled at the boy’s “spoiled,” disruptive behavior and what was seen as the teacher’s lack of control.

At one point the authors asked the principal of the preschool if the teacher ever punished Hiroki, and he responded by asking, “What do you mean? Like, tie him up or something?”

The Japanese teachers believe that deliberate and respectful waiting is the most effective strategy for working with children, and believe that Hiroki and his classmates benefit from learning how to deal with one another, becoming “more complete human beings.”  While we in the US tend to foster independence, Japanese preschools give kids as much space as possible to discover, for themselves, their amaeru, a word that describes the presumption of benevolence of others, and thus, dependency. Hiroki was not seen as a problem that needed to be fixed, but just a kid exhibiting tereru, the behavior of someone who is ashamed of his wish to be dependent.

When the authors asked the Japanese teachers what kind of children they thought they were shaping, they answered, “Kodomorashii kodomo,” which means “childlike children.” Cultivating child-ness in children. Something for me to consider.

And another thing to consider is how much all these people care. It’s heartbreaking, really. Human beings have wildly different opinions about childhood, education, and adulthood, not to mention radically different resources and capacities. And I think it’s really important to know where we are coming from and where we get our big ideas. And to ask questions. But it’s also incredibly healing to look around and see how many people try really hard to do the right thing for kids. Most educators just want a good life for their students. And parents love their kids! Around the world they get them ready for preschool, ribbons in their hair, favorite shoes on their little feet, little pockets stuffed with random things. Regardless of what I happen to think is real, there is something unconditioned there.

This article first appeared in Chronogram Magazine on September 28, 2010.

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Don’t Overdo the Prep for Going Back To School
August 13, 2014 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (0)

Finding balance between acknowledging that a new grade begins in a months’ time and reveling in summer fun is hard to strike. Here are some ideas about how to do it:

  • Don’t talk about school everyday. Let your child be in the present, without the new school year hanging over their head.
  • Do answer any questions that come up, like, “Will so and so be in my class?” or “Will you stay with me at school”, honestly and simply. No long monologues.
  • Do go and walk by school the week before class begins. Point out landmarks, like the pet store, the deli etc. so you can look for them on the walk to school the first day.
  • Do get a little back pack or lunch box to bring on the first day.
  • Do expect stomach aches, difficulty falling asleep or grumpiness around the first days of school.
  • Do tell stories about your first days of school.
  • Don’t talk about the beginning of school with your peers and assume the kids can’t hear.
  • Do remember that a parent taking their child to school is one of the most important jobs. Try to adjust work schedules so one parent can do drop off at least a few days a week.
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Talking To Your Kids About Sex in Spoonfuls
July 27, 2014 · Posted in Communication, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (0)

If you feel like everything happens to kids earlier now, you are right! Puberty now begins for girls as early as nine years old, and boys as early as 11. To ensure that kids are not more horrified than they need to be, parents should start talking about the changes their bodies will undergo much before they start to happen. One spoonful at a time. When the topic comes up, which it will given the world we live, you can be ready to take it just as far as your child wants.

Here is where our over-sexualized culture can come in handy. It’s pretty hard to get past kindergarten without being exposed to grown up bodies and sexual energy. So when the topic comes up, you can steer it to their growing bodies.

“Look at her boobies” your six year old daughter says while pointing to a billboard. ”Yes, those are big boobies, boobies usually start growing in 4th or 5th grade.” Stop.

“Mom, those two are sexing!” your eight year old son exclaims in response to a smoochy kiss in a movie . “Those two were kissing in the movie. Not “sexing”. Stop.

If we stop after a statement like that, you get to take the temperature of the discussion. Does your son or daughter squirm and slip away, or do they have another question or comment. If you child has more interest give another piece of information and then wait.

“When will I get my boobies?”

“Well, I was about 13 when mine started growing, but it happens a little sooner now. I’m not sure exactly when yours will grow but we will know when they are starting because you will get little bumps under your skin called breast buds–that’s the sign that they are starting to grow.”

 

“Josh told me sexing is when a penis plants a seed in a lady.” He replies giggling and jumping around.

“Well Josh has the right idea, want me to explain it more?”

“Penis plant! Penis plant!..”, he chants and marches around the living room.

“Ok, buddy, we won’t do that now, but another time we can talk about it.”

These little spoonfuls of conversation show your openness, aren’t overwhelming and pave the way for more and more communication about a necessary and important topic.

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“Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire”: Punishment and Children’s Honesty
December 1, 2011 · Posted in Anger, Communication, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (0)

A recent article in Child-Psych gives important data about children and discipline and lying. In a nutshell, the harsher the punishments, the more kids lie. Yet another piece of date to support the goal of  approaching punishment from a calm, centered place instead of reacting in anger.

A study conducted by Talwar and Lee looks at two separate West African schools, one with punitive disciplinary practices, the other non-punitive. Children at both schools participated in an experiment to test resistance to temptation and honesty or lying about their success or failure to hold themselves back. While almost all children  failed the resistance portion of the program, the response afterwards varied greatly. Only half of the children at the non-punitive school lied about their actions, compared to the punitive school where nearly all of the children lied. Additionally, the children at the school with harsher punishments made up more elaborate lies as compared to the other.

Harsh and severe punishments will actually increase the likelihood of a child developing a habit of lying. Consequences to bad behavior is crucial, but it is also just as important to keep a level head when communicating it to your kids.

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Thanks Giving
November 17, 2011 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (0)

Kids love traditions. The smells and tastes of the holidays, the family rituals, are stored in their little brains forever. Here is a great tradition to make Thanksgiving true to its name.

Using a sketch or scrap book start a Family Thanksgiving Book together. Give each person, large and small, a page to write or draw what they feel thankful for. From the sublime to the ridiculous, your health to your boots, from “Mommy and Daddy” to “my legos.” Do this each year at Thanksgiving and over the years it will become a real treasure.

 

 

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Don’t Skimp On The Nap
September 15, 2011 · Posted in Infant Development, Parenting, Preschoolers, Sleep, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (0)

The data just keeps pouring in on the importance of children’s sleep. Perri Klass MD, highlights the impact of daytime sleep for young children in her NYT article, “A Child’s Nap Is More Complicated Than It Looks” -

“Dr. Monique LeBourgeois, a sleep scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and her colleagues recently conducted the first study on how napping affects the cortisol awakening response, a burst of hormone secretion known to take place shortly after morning awakening. They showed that children produce this response after short naps in the morning and afternoon, though not in the evening, and it may be adaptive in helping children respond to the stresses of the day.

By experimentally restricting sleep in young children, and then analyzing their behavior in putting puzzles together, Dr. LeBourgeois’ group also is quantifying how napping — or the lack of it — affects the ways that children respond to situations. “Sleepy children are not able to cope with day-to-day challenges in their worlds,” she said. When children skip even a single nap, “We get less positivity, more negativity and decreased cognitive engagement.”

At least two naps a day for the first year, at least one nap a day until age three, and for some children, even up to age five is critical. Children experience a “pressure to sleep” and need to have the opportunity to release that pressure with regular naps. Remember this when choosing between a nap and baby class. The best thing for your baby’s brain development is sleep.

 

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How to Help Your Child Understand Mixed Feelings
June 14, 2011 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Teens, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (0)

Our children’s emotional inner lives are complicated. Even by the beginning of the second year you can see ambivalence emerging. “Pick me up, put me down”, all at the same time. As they grow and develop, blends of feelings, and even opposite feelings can — and do exist at the same time. This can be confusing. Imagine your preschooler wanting to go to a friend’s party and also being scared. Or your school-age child wanting to give up on learning something hard and feeling angry about not getting it easily. How about your teenager wanting to have sex with her boyfriend and worrying about how it will impact the relationship. These conflicts are the stuff of life.

As a parent you can help them by pointing out, “A part of you wants to go, and a part of you is scared.” “A part of you feels like giving up and a part of you is frustrated because this is so hard to learn.” Instead of seeing only one overriding sentiment and overreacting to it, it helps parents to recognize that our child is not, “a scaredy cat”, or a “quitter”, those are just parts of them.

As you teach your child about mixed feelings, they start to find center and are more able to find what they most want to do. “I can hear you have mixed feelings about having sex and I have faith that as you make room for all those feeelings, you will make the best decision for yourself.”  Giving a voice to these different aspects of your children calms them down as they feel known and understood.

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Change Kindergarten-Not the Age Cut Off
May 31, 2011 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (0)

In many states children can start kindergarten as young as four years old. A New York Times article recently reported on the challenges for these kids in, Too young For Kindergarten? Tide Turning Against 4-Year Olds. The article highlights teachers that advocate for an age cut off that would prevent 4-year olds from starting kindergarten.

“They struggled because they’re not developmentally ready,” said Ms. Ferrantino, 26, who teaches in Hartford. “It is such a long day and so draining, they have a hard time holding it together.”

Advocates of lower income children worry, rightly so, that these children, who benefit from an early start at school, will be cut out of public education for a year, while wealthier families will be able to pay for another year of preschool.

Nowhere in the article, did anyone advocate for changing kindergarten back to a play based, non-academic setting where children can socialize and learn in a developmentally appropriate manner.

A letter to the editor in the NYT a few weeks back that hit the nail on the head of our inability to see the backward thinking of our current educational ethos popped into my head.

To the Editor:

In your May 15 issue, I could not help but link Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Op-Ed article, “Your So-Called Education,” to the Sunday Styles article “Fast-Tracking to Kindergarten.” Mr. Arum and Ms. Roksa lament that college students do not improve their writing and reasoning skills while in school. Their answer: increase the time students spend studying and ratchet up the reading and writing assignments.

Then consider the pained and puzzled look on the face of a 3-year-old girl in the “Fast-Tracking” article as she struggles to match round orange letter discs with letters splayed across a cardboard sheet before her. Research shows that she will not gain much from her intense preschool efforts. Less formal education and more time playing are better solutions.

It appears, then, that we are paying big money to educate our youth but failing at both ends of the pipeline and for opposite reasons. Our college students are not dedicating enough time to studying, and our early learners are spending too much time in formal academic tutoring.

But, here’s the point: It’s not the amount of time that counts, but how we use it.

KAREN GROSS

President, Southern Vermont College, Bennington, Vt., May 15, 2011

Couldn’t have said it better!

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Why are our Children Their Worst with Us?
May 5, 2011 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Teens, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (0)

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How many times has your mother-in law said, “She wasn’t like this with me!” Or your nanny comments that your son goes down for a nap like an angel with her. Or you go for a parent teacher conference and the description of the child, “first to clean up, so empathetic to other children, what a helper!” is not the child you know. Parents come in for consultation time and time again embarrassed to report that they are in a deep struggle with their child–but that it doesn’t seem to be going on with caregivers, teachers or with other adults.

This is because our children are at their worst with us! They are supposed to be. Parents are exactly the ones you want your child to be struggling with the most. You mean the most, you are the safest person in their lives, and you are the person that can most teach them lessons about life and relationships.

Why bother struggling with your nanny over nap time? It’s not her that you are fighting sleep to see. Why whine and throw a tantrum with grandma, she is probably giving in to your every whim. Why show your tiredness, worry or frustration in school? Show your mom or dad so they can help you out with it without having to feel embarrassed in front of your friends.

The next time the comment tinged with judgement comes, “He was a such doll until you came in!” You can proudly say, “I know, he really knows how to behave out in the world, but with me he can show all his feelings!”

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Book Writing with Kids
March 31, 2011 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (0)

Parents say “Use your words!” to help children turn their raw emotion into understandable language. Here is another way to transform feelings, help children process events and support your child’s love of language, art and books. Make books yourselves, together. Nothing high tech – sheets of computer paper, a stapler and markers are all you need. Turn your life events- moving, saying goodbye, a new baby, fighting with friends, learning to control anger, into a narrative.

Here’s an example. You are moving and a bit worried about how your child will handle it. You want to be able to prepare and discuss, but kids need indirect ways of talking about big things. So, tell your four year old you two are going to write a book about moving. Show her how to make a book by stapling papers together and off you go!

“What should the cover be like? We need a name for our book and a picture. What should be call it?”

“James is moving.”

“Awesome title! I’ll write that and then you draw a picture now for the cover of our book…Is that our building?”

“That’s our house and I want to stay here!?”

“I know, let’s start the book with that. I will write the words and you can draw and write your words. So, page one. James lives at 332 West 24th Street. He has lived there since the day he came home from the hospital. He doesn’t want to move and leave his house! He says, “I want to stay here.”

It is the rare kid who won’t be hooked by the plot line here! You continue your book about moving with your story and blend in the language your child uses in the prose. You translate a life event into a story, and thereby give a way to process feelings for your children.

Let’s cut to the last page.

“So James and his mommy, daddy and Maggie the dog move will move to their new house at 112 West 89 th Street. They will always remember and miss their first house. The End.”

Your child now can look at this book of his own creation, his own words, his designs. He is in charge of his own story, which we all know, helps.

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