Archives for September 2013

The “Perfect” Parent

As I mentioned in last week’s blogs I was curious about what teachers would say makes the “perfect” parent. So I have spent the last week talking with various teachers and administrators in the local schools that my children attend (elementary and middle).

What I found was both interesting and inspiring at the same time. As many parents might have assumed, I thought the teachers would say that the “perfect” parent would: volunteer in the classroom regularly, attend to all parent-teacher conferences, volunteer to help with field trips and other school activities, and be a member of the PTA (if not the president). These are the things that many parents wish they could do more of, but have commitments such as work and siblings that fill the space of our days instead. And, for me, at times, I have felt that I was doing a lackluster job as a parent because of that.

But alas, these are not the things that the teachers that I talked with listed as qualities of a “perfect” parent. Some of the things teachers DID say were:

A “perfect” parent is:

*a parent that supports their child’s academic endeavors.

*a parent that promotes the value and importance of school.

*a parent that knows when to “let go” and allow their child to be responsible for their own learning and other self-regulatory functions.

*a parent that supports a balanced academic and extra-curricular schedule for their child.

These are all things that many parents are doing, or can do, successfully without having to make changes to our work schedule. They are easily “doable” and highly effective in supporting our children and their teachers. And this is great news to me because while I believe there is no such thing as a “perfect” parent or teacher, it’s comforting to know that we sure can come close by keeping a few important things in mind.

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The “Perfect” Teacher

The anticipation is over. Summer break has officially come to an end. As we watch our unstructured days give way to the hustle and bustle of stricter sleep patterns, homework, and after school schedules, I find myself swimming in a sea of mixed emotions. I am so excited to have three children in school all day. Now I can get my house clean, cooking done, and catch a morning news show (of course all of this is going to happen before I am off to work. No, really). And at the same time my mind is riddled with questions about the upcoming school year, such as: What will this year bring? Will my children have teachers that will both challenge and love them? What can I do to support my children’s success in the classroom? How can I support my children’s academic growth and their extra-curricular passions without over scheduling? There are two people that play an important role in the answers to many of these questions. Myself (the parent) and my children’s teachers. So I am going to take the next two blog posts and explore what makes the “perfect teacher” and the “perfect parent”.

School is now well underway and this week we are meeting our children’s teachers. This is a time to get to know the teacher’s style and expectations. I like to get clear on these two things quickly so that I can help my children navigate their new environment. The transition to a new school year is much easier for a child that understands what is expected of them. As a parent, I often find myself thinking about what type of teacher would be best for my children. Even though each of my children have unique needs, there are some basic qualities that might make a “perfect” teacher for any of them such as; someone that is loving/caring, holds high expectations, is consistent, has a knowledge of grade-level content and how to effectively teach it, is equitable and fair, and enjoys teaching and learning and wants their students to enjoy it as well.

Wait a minute! That sounds familiar. It sounds a lot like me (at least the “me” that I want to be for my children)! Can it be that the “perfect” teacher is not that much different from the “perfect” parent?

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post when I try to answer that question by interviewing local teachers and asking them to describe the “perfect” parent.

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When Adults Disagree: Making sense of it all

I was driving through downtown Corvallis this evening during “rush hour” (as a native of Los Angeles, I scoff at the idea of traffic congestion in Corvallis). As I drove past the Courthouse on 4th street my 12-year-old and I noticed that there was a larger-than-normal crowd of demonstrators with signs asking us to “honk” if we support peace and not war. My daughter read as many signs as she could as we drove by at 25 miles per hour. “Mom, are you gonna honk?”, she asked quizzically. “Well”, I answered hesitantly, “I am still unsure of how I feel about what the US role in this situation should be.” Of course, you can probably guess what her next question was.

“Why?” (This question is still at the top of the list even past the early childhood years.)

After a long pause and a quick internal check of my personal understanding of what is happening politically in the world and how much my tween daughter is developmentally prepared (or even interested in) to digest, I began a conversation about current world events by asking her what she understands about what is happening in Syria.

I quickly realized how seemingly-clear politics can appear for a adolescent that lives in her own personal glass bubble (where wrongdoers always get their due-especially if they have the title of “little brother”). “Why would someone do that? I can’t believe it. Of course they should be punished!”

So I started thinking about how effective conversations about the complexities of world unrest, war, and justice should sound between a parent and child. In the brochure titled “Talking with Children About War“, brought to you by ParentingPress.com, I found that many of the suggestions are things that have been mentioned in previous blogs in various contexts, including: accept children’s feelings, open the discussion, listen to kids, and limit the amount of war news. There are 12 tips listed in all and they provided me with a framework for future conversations with all three of my children about our current world events. This should be helpful for all parents because our children may be exposed to more news about political disturbances in Syria and the like in the days ahead.

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Navigating Tween Tantrums

Emotional 12-year-old daughter: ” Why can’t I have one?”

Thoughtful parents of 12-year-old: “We need time to think about it.”

Peer-influenced 12 year-old-daughter: “But everyone else in the 7th grade has one!”

Firm parents of 12-year-old daughter: “Give us some time to decide if this is a good purchase…”

Irrational 12-year-old daughter: “I can’t believe you guys won’t get me one! You don’t care about me! You never buy me anything! All my friends’ parents get them the things they need!” (all said in the loudest, most piercing tone she can muster as she stomps upstairs and slams the door to her room leaving her parents — and younger siblings– to simmer in the wake of her tirade).

This has become a regular event in our average American household. Living with a tween (ages 8-12) and the accompanying tantrums can be exhausting for the entire family. As a parent I find myself wondering when this parenting phase will be over. As an educator and someone who has studied child and adolescent development, I find myself wondering why this phase is not somewhat easier for me because of my studies and training. Adolescents are supposed to be irrational, emotional, egocentric, peer-influenced, and unpredictable at best. So what else should we expect from them when they don’t get their way. Right?

Maybe. But the more important question is: What is the most effective parental response we can have when we find ourselves wondering if we are interacting with our own child or some awkward misrepresentation of her (sometimes my partner and I have to keep ourselves from laughing at how unreal the entire scene feels)?

Recently our very own Parenting Success Network posted a wonderfully helpful article on our Facebook page titled Tween Temper Tantrums. In the article one of our guest bloggers and other local specialist give information, advice, and tips that can help parents of tweens and teens understand and navigate the tween tantrum.

Additionally MIT has an informative website titled Raising Teens. The website includes basic information about adolescent development and basic “rules” for parenting adolescents.

I found both of the above resources helpful in understanding what my daughter is experiencing and how I can support her as she navigates the next few years (or less if we’re lucky).

As I reflected on how I felt and behaved, and how my parents responded (we’ll save this for a future blog post) during my teen years, my daughter sauntered down the stairs and sat next to me on the couch. I turned and looked at her curiously awaiting the onset of the next storm.

Post-tantrum 12-year-old daughter: “Sorry that I yelled at you mom. It’s just that I want it so bad. I just have to have it.”

Calm parent of 12-year-old daughter (after browsing the above resources): “I understand that you really want it. Now that you are ready, we can discuss our options as a family.”

 

 

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Healthy Families

Today’s blog post is submitted by our summer contributor, Kara Olsen-Becerra.

Most parents today realize that our country is facing a severe health crisis. More money is spent on healthcare in the United States than in any other country, but we are not even close to the top of the list for quality or for being a healthy nation. This generation of small children could be the first that lives a shorter life span than their parents. Time for physical education in schools has been reduced, and many parents are less than pleased with the quality of food served in school lunches.

Many parents today are very concerned about what all of this will mean for the future our children. There is so much conflicting information everywhere about what is best for our children in regards to health, that even very thoughtful parents are finding themselves lost in a sea of information. As a parent, I have many concerns about the current condition of health in our country. I believe that as a parent, it is a gift to my children to try to instill healthy lifestyle and eating habits. It is a gift to encourage and participate in physical activity with our children. Healthier individuals and families can ultimately lead to a healthier community and country. Because the idea of managing and reforming the health of the whole nation can seem overwhelming, I would like to offer some tips about how parents can start making a difference today by promoting health in their own families.

  1. Even parents with good intentions often have a difficult time getting their children to eat the micro-nutrient rich foods that will help their bodies grow and perform at their best. Picky eating is something that causes stress for a lot of families. Parents often engage in power struggles with their children over eating, and it’s hard not to do at times. Even after doing my best to provide healthy food options at my house, one of my three children still tries his best to be picky, and it is hard not to be frustrated at times. Ellen Satter is one of the leading experts in the food relationship, and she suggests that there be a division of responsibility with eating.  Parents are responsible for what, when, and where their children eat. Children are responsible for how much and whether or not they eat. Research shows that forcing children to eat certain amounts or types of foods doesn’t ultimately help them become better eaters in the long run. Parents are responsible for providing healthy options for children. It may take several tries of offering a food to a child before they are willing to give it a try. Ultimately, even most adults who are healthy eaters have a few foods that they don’t prefer, so don’t worry if your child doesn’t like every single food they try. For more information on feeding practices, check out Ellen Satter’s book “Child of Mine.”
  2. Grow a garden. Even many families who live in an apartment or duplex, can grow a few tomato plants or herbs in pots. I know from experience, that even my pickier eater is more willing to try something if we grew it ourselves, and especially if he was a part of the process. My kids will go out in the garden and nibble on string beans or whole cucumbers. Many communities have community or family gardens where people can learn together.
  3. Eat meals together as a family whenever possible. There has been a growing amount of research done on the positive effects of family meals. Not only do families who eat together tend to eat healthier, but it serves as a great time to nourish with food and love.
  4. Think about the messages you send your children by the way you speak about your own body. Do your children hear you criticize the way you look often? If we are not kind with ourselves, it is hard to imagine that our kids will be kind with themselves. When talking to your kids about why we are healthy, don’t have the focus be about body size. If your kids asks why you eat healthy as a family, you could say: “We eat healthy so that our bodies will be healthy and strong for a long time. I love you so much, and I want you to live and long and healthy life.”
  5. Limit the amount of screen time that your children have access to. The American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends that children under two have no screen time and that even elementary aged children have less than 2 hours of total screen time a day. Less screen time means more time to play outside and to be physically active.
  6. Make sure that your children are getting enough sleep. Children who don’t get enough sleep don’t perform as well in school. This is common sense, and I know that I personally struggle to stay alert and perform my best when I am severely sleep deprived. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics: “An estimated 64 percent of school-aged children (ages 6 to 12) go to bed later than 9 p.m., and 43 percent of boys ages 10 to 11 sleep less than the recommended amount each night.”
  7. Make physical activity a normal part of your family. Work in the garden together, go on bike rides, hikes, and make it mandatory that your kids play outside each day. Children pick up on family norms, and when moving your body is a norm in your family, it will be a habit that is more likely to stick. Every child may not end up being the start of a sports team, but that doesn’t mean that he/she can’t enjoy some sort of exercise.
  8. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about additional vitamins or supplements. Most pediatricians will recommend some sort of daily multivitamin. In the Pacific Northwest, there is a great need for extra Vitamin D.
  9. If you are concerned with the lack of physical activity or poor quality of school lunches, voice your opinion. Even better than voicing your opinion, be willing to be part of the solution. There are most likely other parents who feel the same way that you do who would be willing to help out.
  10. Be a model yourself of healthy living. When you have a food that you don’t prefer, make sure to let your kids know, “This is not a food that I prefer, but I am going to give it a try, because I know that it will help my body to be healthy.” You can also model that it is possible to take time to exercise even when you are a busy adult. Kids are smart. They are really smart. They know when are actions do or do not match up with our words.

No family is perfect or perfectly healthy. We all have things that we are working on to do better. We don’t need to spend time being hard on ourselves. Instead of focusing on all of the things that you aren’t doing right, try focusing on what you are doing well and setting some goals to make improvements. We all love our children so much and want them to live optimal lives. I would love if you all would take a moment to share ways that your family is trying to be healthy!

Kara Olsen-Becerra loves working with children and families. She taught the Live and Learn with Your Baby classes in Corvallis for 6 years, and she is currently working as a nutrition educator with the Linus Pauling Institute-Healthy Youth Program. She loves being a part of this great community, and she loves being silly and playing with her husband and three young children.

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