Author Archives: Rachel

Parenting children

Raising Children In This Brave New World

I've been noticing a disturbing trend among the parenting crowd.

I guess it took me a while to catch on; but it somehow it seems to be seeping up through the fabric of our society like sewer water creeps out from underneath a poorly sealed toilet base.

It's bad enough that we seem to have forgotten that children are not our personal ego machines, prepped and prepared at the tender age of two for Harvard-like preschools. And maybe it's more than the hysteria about our children's imagined inability to take care of themselves.

In Britain, a mother was fined and reprimanded for leaving her 14 year old son to watch her toddler for a half hour. Interesting how teenagers are incapable of watching a toddler but deemed fully capable of having one.

Perhaps I should have caught a whiff when helicopter parenting became the norm, and those parents who dare to treat their children with anything less than kid gloves are not only criticized, but harshly prosecuted.

Do we truly believe our children are so completely incapable? How can it be that parents insist on the importance of raising responsible children, yet deny them any and all opportunity needed to become responsible?

I suspect that there is a deeper issue here.

Although I don't pretend to psyhoanalyze this new breed of parents - that would be like reaching deep down into the infamously convoluted sewer systems of Paris-I have a feeling this is about more than just parents wanting the best for their children.

In fact, I don't think it has anything to do with our children at all. Is it our fears for ourselves in this growing amorphous mass of humanity?

It seems that this new "social connectedness" has in a lot of ways caused us to be more fearful and distrustful of the individual at the same time that we embrace the group.

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Sequencing

Hands-on Learning Games: Help Your Child Learn to Sequence

Looking to help your child improve his sequencing skills? Here is a fun hands-on learning game that will improve your child's skills using their favorite children's songs.

Why is sequencing important anyway?

Helping your child learn to sequence is important for several reasons. First of all, sequencing allows your child to manage his time effectively, and helps him see the relationship between actions and consequences. A child who has difficulty in this area will be consistently "time challenged."

They will be late to school, late coming home, or will take longer than necessary to complete an assignment because they are unable to estimate how much time something should take.

Strong sequencing skills allows him to communicate meaningfully with others, whether it is with words, sentences, or paragraphs. Children who are weak in this area will start a joke with the punchline. Their stories will be jumbled and difficult to understand because they find it difficult to present events in the order in which they occurred.

Good sequencing skills also means your child will be able to make a better connection between his actions and the consequences that naturally follow. Children with weak sequencing skills will sometimes appear as if they never learn from their mistakes. Despite warnings, threats, and punishments, they seem intent on repeating the same ineffective behaviors time and time again.

By playing this hands-on learning game with your child, you will find both your child's ability to learn and his behavior will show an improvement.

Materials:

For this game you will use songs which use sequencing, plus you will need to make pictures to go along with them. For children under 5, or more challenged children, try Raffi's "Brown bear." For children 5 and up, try Fred Koch's "I had a rooster," or "Today is Monday."

More advanced children can try "There was an old lady who swallowed a fly." Any song that uses a sequence of objects, and is easy to understand, can be used.

You will need to write down in order all of the objects that are named, and find clear pictures for each one. Each picture should not be smaller in size than a playing card. Each picture should also be on a separate piece of paper. You can laminate each picture or print it out on card stock for durability.

How to play:

Listen to the song once with your child in order to help familiarize her with the song. As each item is mentioned, lay it in front of your child. Most of the songs add a new item, and then repeat the previous ones. When this occurs, your child should point to each object in order.
For example, in "There was an old lady who swallowed a fly," by the time you get to the cat, you will have in front of you a fly, spider, bird, and the cat. You will add the cat when the singer sings it, and then you will point to the cat, the bird, the spider, and the fly. After you've done it once, let your child try it out. Here are some variations on the game you can use to make this game harder or easier:

    • To make the game harder, do not use pictures, but ask your child to tell you the names of the animals, forwards and backwards. You can make it easier for him by giving him a hint-the first letter of each word.

 

  • To make it easier, let your child sequence the pictures as the song is being sung. You can stop the song to give your child time to lay out the picture. You can make it slightly harder by asking your child to sequence the animals after they've heard the song.

 

 

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Parenting children

Parenting Solutions: 4 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Teenager

Parenting teenagers is definitely not a job for the faint of heart.  Gone are the days when your little one cradled your chin and gave you butterfly kisses on the nose. Instead, parents are faced with disdain, constant criticism, and even downright hostility: you are the "enemy," the other side, and will probably remain so until your progeny leaves the house in search of waters uncharted.

Until then, learning what not to say to your teenager can make this time period a little more bearable:

1) Don't take what your teenager says to you at face value. Teenagers are really 2- year olds in disguise. Do you remember how your 2- year old would automatically answer "no," even when you knew he really wanted to say yes? That was his way of reveling in the ability to say no: a recognition of his new ability to choose. All of the negativity your toddler showed was necessary in order for him to develop his own sense of self.

Your teenager is undergoing a similar process. He now realizes that he can judge, decide, choose, and evaluate. He is heady with his own sense of power. So heady, in fact, that he might say things he doesn't really mean. Sometimes this is just to get on your nerves, but other times he is afraid, confused, or embarrassed to say outright what he wants to say.

2) Don't belittle your teenager's feelings or opinions. How many times have you said to your teenager, "That's really ugly, " or "that's a real winner of an idea," or better yet, "That's really stupid." These are put-downs, and no self-respecting person, including a teenager, will react well to anyone who speaks this way to them.

Yet for some reason parents forget their teenagers are not only not immune to this kind of speech, but are even more vulnerable than adults. They are fighting to prove they are smart, good-looking, popular people, and your words will only make them fight harder.

3) Don't tell your teenager you absolutely forbid them from being friends with ... This is a controversial one for some parents, because legitimately there are times when your teenager's friends might be negative, perhaps even dangerous influences. You might feel you would be irresponsible if you didn't say anything about the relationship.

However, you need to realize that you will probably end up speaking very negatively about the other party. This will only serve to push your child closer to her friend. After all, you are on the outside.

The friend in question is a bit of an underdog, and becomes more so each time you criticize her. Your child will be forced to defend her friend, because she perceives herself as an underdog also.This only deepens her sense of identification and her need to stick up for her friend, pushing them closer together.

Your teenager is also old enough and smart enough to see her friend despite your disapproval. A better approach would be to say, "sometimes you don't seem so sure about that friendship," and leave it to your teenager to pick up the thread.

4) Don't give your teenager an ultimatum. Ultimatums are usually your response to what you feel is an intolerable behavior or situation. The problem is that usually you won't be able to stick to them. Your child might also call your bluff, and then you'll be left with an empty hand.

Instead, tell your child that his behavior is absolutely unacceptable, and that it had better not occur again. If he pushes you, and asks what you'll do if he does it again, you can answer, "Do I need to tell you what will happen if you do that again? I've already said that I don't want it to happen again, and I expect that it won't. In our home this is completely unacceptable."

The truth is that deep down teenagers really do desire the respect of their parents. If you can find a way to give it to them, on terms you both agree on, your teenager's path to adulthood will be a little less bumpy.
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Reading

Hands-on Learning Games: How to Teach Your Kindergartner to Read and Write 3 Letter Words

Help Your Kindergartner Learn to Read 3 Letter Words(Click here to download your free story paper)

This is a great game for pre-readers who have mastered the alphabet and are ready to start reading easy words. It's fantastic not only because kids love it, but also because it gives kids a chance to learn reading through writing.

It also allows you to see whether or not they understand what they’re reading without the tediousness of reading aloud.

Materials:

- Standard paper, cut into fourths. Make lines on the bottom of third of the paper for writing the word. It should like the paper kindergartners use to practice their writing. The top half should be blank, to leave space for your child to draw pictures.

How to Play

1.  Choose a word. Sound out the word carefully. As you sound out each letter, write it down on the lined paper. Place the paper so that your child can watch you write the word.

2. Have your child copy the word on their paper. Then they can draw a picture of the word on the top half of the paper. You can make it exciting for your child by letting her use special markers.

Note:

Technically your child is not reading, but writing. They only recognize the word because it was dictated to them. However, this gives your child an excellent way to learn how words are segmented, how letters are written, and helps them the written word with its’ meaning.

If you play this game regularly, your child will quickly get the hang of things, and will begin sounding out words on her own.

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Fine Motor

Hands-On Learning Games: Help Your Child Improve His Handwriting

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Have you noticed, or been told by your child's teacher, that he has trouble writing? If so, there are many different hands-on learning games you can do with your child that can help improve his handwriting ability.

Technically termed graphomotor weakness, handwriting problems are not necessarily related to general fine motor issues. Your child might be able to easily button up his shirt, or even be a talented cartoonist, and yet still be unable to write clearly and neatly. Graphomotor weakness also has nothing to do with a child’s intelligence.

Unfortunately, however, children are often quite self-conscious about their handwriting. Often they are told to simply “try harder” when writing. Sometimes this works-for a while-then usually the child goes back to chicken scratch. As one child explained, “sometimes I feel that my hand and my mind are completely disconnected. In my head I can see how the letters are supposed to look, but my hand refuses to listen when I tell it what to do!”

Children who suffer from graphomotor problems are generally easy to spot. Some hold their pen or pencil too close or too far away from the tip. Others grip their pen so tightly they sometimes develop cramped finger muscles, or hook their hand as if they would really be writing with the other hand.

If you or your child’ teacher notice any of these behaviors, you will of course need to seek the services of an occupational therapist. However, there are several activities you can do at home that can speed up your child’s progress in therapy.

One type of activity is common in Montessori schools. Referred to as practical life activities, these are activities that help a child learn to master his environment. Polishing silver, sorting different colored jewelry beads, sewing, or cutting celery sticks and then spreading them with peanut butter are several examples of practical life activities.

Maria Montessori, the founder of the Montessori movement, based her theories on watching children. She then created materials based on her observations, and tested and refined them even further in the classroom.

One of the principles that she noticed is that many skills can first be learned indirectly. Doing this allows a child to work on a skill without even realizing what they are doing; they simply absorb the principles of a particular body of knowledge while absorbed in a pleasurable activity.

With handwriting, Montessori schools give children numerous opportunities to exercise the muscles and practice the movements required for writing before they even pick up a pencil.

Children also absorb the proper method of writing individual letters through the use of  sandpaper letters. These are letters made of sandpaper and glued on a painted piece of wood. The child closes his eyes, and traces the letter with their index and pointer fingers. Then they practice “writing” the letter   in a small tray filled with colored sand or salt.

So by the time a Montessori child actually begins to write, she will have had numerous opportunities to practice her handwriting through practical life activities, the sandpaper letters, and other materials in the environment.

Even if your child is not in a Montessori school, you can still easily create the same types of activities in your home, using inexpensive and easy to find materials.  Take a look at  http://montessori-n-such.com/ for numerous ideas. You can either buy items from them, or make your own. Keep in mind this important points when presenting these to your child:

  1. Montessori broke everything down into small steps. If you plan on teaching your child to sew, make sure you show her all the steps involved.
  2. Be serious about the results you expect. If you are teaching your child to polish silver, make sure you show her what it looks like when it is really polished. Sometimes we allow children to do things because they enjoy it, but we don't really spend the time to teach them how to do it properly.
  3. Let the child do it. You already know how to do the task. Don't take away your child's sense of joy and accomplishment by trying to "help" them.
  4. Have a set place to keep the materials, so that the child can access them when she wants. Change materials weekly, to keep up interest. Your child will be happy to play on their own.

  5. Here are some links to some Montessori sites with specific lesson plans and ideas:

    http://mymontessorijourney.typepad.com/my_montessori_journey/

    http://www.montessorimom.com/

    http://edavenue.homestead.com/finemotor.html

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Expressive Language

Hands on Learning Games: Teach Your Child Words that Describe Space (Over, Inside, Below,etc.)

Often children with weak language development have great difficulty using words that describe where they or other objects are in space. You might find your child saying "inside" when she meant to say "outside," or substituting under for over.

Children easily confuse these words -called concepts of space- because it is difficult for them to form a mental image of what they represent. These are words have no meaning in and of themselves; they have to be followed or preceeded by another, more descriptive word.

One of the ways you can help your child understand and remember what you mean is to play games that help him visualize what these words mean. Here are 2 games you can play with your child to help them master concepts of space:

Twister Fister

This is a variation on the popular game "Twister." However, instead of getting all tangled up on a game mat, your child will fit themselves inside, under, over, etc. impossible spaces.

Materials:

- One set of cards with descriptive words on one side. Suggested words are: inside, outside, over, under, around, next to, beside, on, and  in.

- On the other side of each card, paste a picture of an object that's appropriate for that word. Then make an X to demonstrate where the child should place themselves.

For example, one card can have "under" written on one side, with a picture of a table on the other side. Under the table you would draw a large red X.

How to Play:

1. Put the set of cards on the table. Make sure that the side with the word is face-up.

2. Let your child choose a card from the pile. If they can read, they should read the word on the card. If not, you can read it for them.

3. They may then flip the card over and see what their task is. Explain to them if necessary that the X tells them where they should go.

Demonstrate if necessary. Be sure to emphasize the key word: "This is UNDER. Sit UNDER the table."

4. Your child can play this game with a partner. Deal the cards out between the two children. The child who finishes their cards the first is the winner.

TIP: You can make this game harder by making a separate set of cards with only the key words on it. Your child chooses a card, and then has to find (on her own) an item where the action can be carried out.

The Farm Game

This is a classic Montessori game that you can play at home. In it, you use a farm set to teach your child space concepts. You don't actually have to use a real farm set; you could make one out of cardboard, or you could substitute another setting, such as a police station, fire station, doll house, or other playset. You could also make up your own playset using blocks or Legos.

Materials:

-Play animals or people

- Playset, as explained above.

- cards with space words written on them (see above game for detailed list)

1) Set up the playset. Your child may arrange things as he sees fit, but just make sure he has items that are appropriate for each action.

2) Have your child draw a card. She then chooses an animal or a person, and decides where to place them. For example, if she draws the word "under," she can take the horse and place them under a toy tree.

3) Your child continues drawing cards and choosing animals or people until all cards are used up.

TIP: You can make this game a little more complicated by making up a little story as your child goes through the game. For example, you could say, "One day the little brown horse (your child then has to take the horse) was outside in the fields (she then has to place him outside in the "field").

"It started to rain, so she ran and stood under a tree." You and your child can take turns telling the story, if your child is able, or you can just let your child choose the animal or the action, if she likes.

 

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Language Development

Language Development: 5 Tips on How to Handle Stimming

Flapping hands, spinning, opening and closing doors, and saying the same words over and over again can try the patience of even the most tolerant parents. These behaviors, which are called self-stimulatory behaviors or “stimming” for short, are actually quite common in children with delays in language development.

Sometimes, though, they can be disturbing to watch, or interfere with your child’s ability to interact with the world around her.

What should you do? Is it best to let your child stim whenever she likes? Or should you put a limit on how and where she stims? And how do you help your child engage in more purposeful behavior?

Read on for 7 tips on how to handle stimming in the child with weak language development:

1) Turn involuntary action into voluntary action.

Ever watch a person with a facial tic? Calling their attention to it usually makes it worse. But if you engage the other person so that they smile, the tic goes away. That’s because they are now using those muscles in a voluntary act.

When your child starts stimming, think what you can do to engage them in voluntary action. If your child is flapping their arms, gently take their hands, and swing their hands back and forth as you sing a song together.

If your child insists on opening and closing the door, stand on one side of the door, and pretend to knock, asking, “Can I come in?” Or, you can gently push on the door, with a confused look on your face when you meet resistance.

If your child insists on repeating a word or a phrase over and over again, try to add on a word to theirs. For example, if your child keeps repeating, “The car,” chime in “the red car,” or “the car honks.”

2) Help your child strengthen his motor and visual-motor systems.

Even children who are warm, engaged children, or intellectually bright can sometimes experience a “motor overflow” when they are excited or tired.

Make sure your child is receiving occupational therapy, and be consistent about doing assigned exercises. As your child gains control of his motor system, you’ll see a decrease in repetitive behavior. Some children manage to drop stimming altogether as their language skills and motor systems improve, while others maintain a moderate level of stimming, particularly when stressed or excited.

If your child is one of the latter, you can place limits on where they stim- for instance only at home- but you will have to accept that this fulfills some important need for them, and so they won’t be able to give it up completely. Although you might feel any level of stimming is unacceptable, when you consider how much of an impact learning and communication difficulties present for your child, this level of stimming should be last on your list.

3) Take it in small steps.

Your child is stimming not only because of motor or visual challenges, but also because stimming provides some level of emotional security. That means your child has a lot invested in their behavior.

You won’t be able to eliminate stimming in one fell swoop: not only will you fail miserably, but you’ll have a very angry, unhappy child as well. Instead, choose one specific behavior, and pick the time and place that the behavior is most disruptive, and start from there.

Limit the amount of time per day that you work on this particular goal – 15 minutes is a good start- and try to tie it with a specific activity. For example, you could decide not to allow stimming at bath time. That means that you are committing to redirecting your child’s actions, as explained above, so that your child has an alternate behavior he can engage in.

4) Solve the problem symbolically.

If your child can speak, talk with them about their behavior. What triggers it? Does it usually happen at certain times of the day? Choose a time when you are both calm, and be careful not to lecture or scold. Phrase your questions in a nonthreatening manner; “I was wondering” or “ I noticed,” are neutral statements you can use to bring up the subject.”

Talking about it helps them become more aware of the problem, and also helps them understand why you (and others) find the behavior so objectionable.

If your child is nonverbal, you can use toys or puppets to help your child talk about what’s going on. Have your puppet flap their arms, open and close doors, or engage in whatever stimming behavior your child does. When your child takes notice, you can stop, and ask the puppet, “Scared? Mad?” Turn to your child and give your child a chance to ask the puppet too.

5) Give your child extra together time.

Whenever you need to spend more time correcting your child, you need to balance it out with more together time. That’s because you need to make sure that positive interactions with your child occur about 90% of the time. Correcting your child’s behavior is considered a negative interaction, even if you do it lovingly.

Spending extra time with your child, however, is not only for your child’s sake – it’s for yours too! By making sure you have time just to enjoy them, you’ll be able to maintain a warm and loving environment for both of you.

Flapping hands, spinning, opening and closing doors, and saying the same words over and over again can try the patience of even the most tolerant parents.

These behaviors, which are called self-stimulatory behaviors or “stimming” for short, are actually quite common in children with delays in language development.

Sometimes, though, they can be disturbing to watch, or interfere with your child’s ability to interact with the world around her.

What should you do? Is it best to let your child stim whenever she likes? Or should you put a limit on how and where she stims? And how do you help your child engage in more purposeful behavior?

Read on for 7 tips on how to handle stimming in the child with weak language development:

1) Turn involuntary action into voluntary action.

Ever watch a person with a facial tic? Calling their attention to it usually makes it worse. But if you engage the other person so that they smile, the tic goes away. That’s because they are now using those muscles in a voluntary act.
When your child starts stimming, think what you can do to engage them in voluntary action. If your child is flapping their arms, gently take their hands, and swing their hands back and forth as you sing a song together.

If your child insists on opening and closing the door, stand on one side of the door, and pretend to knock, asking, “Can I come in?” Or, you can gently push on the door, with a confused look on your face when you meet resistance.

If your child insists on repeating a word or a phrase over and over again, try to add on a word to theirs. For example, if your child keeps repeating, “The car,” chime in “the red car,” or “the car honks.”

2) Help your child strengthen his motor and visual-motor systems.

Even children who are warm, engaged children, or intellectually bright can sometimes experience a “motor overflow” when they are excited or tired.

Make sure your child is receiving occupational therapy, and be consistent about doing assigned exercises. As your child gains control of his motor system, you’ll see a decrease in repetitive behavior.

Some children manage to drop stimming altogether as their language skills and motor systems improve, while others maintain a moderate level of stimming, particularly when stressed or excited.

If your child is one of the latter, you can place limits on where they stim- for instance only at home- but you will have to accept that this fulfills some important need for them, and so they won’t be able to give it up completely.

Although you might feel any level of stimming is unacceptable, when you consider how much of an impact learning and communication difficulties present for your child, this level of stimming should be last on your list.

3) Take it in small steps.

Your child is stimming not only because of motor or visual challenges, but also because stimming provides some level of emotional security. That means your child has a lot invested in their behavior.

You won’t be able to eliminate stimming in one fell swoop: not only will you fail miserably, but you’ll have a very angry, unhappy child as well. Instead, choose one specific behavior, and pick the time and place that the behavior is most disruptive, and start from there.

Limit the amount of time per day that you work on this particular goal – 15 minutes is a good start- and try to tie it with a specific activity. For example, you could decide not to allow stimming at bath time. That means that you are committing to redirecting your child’s actions, as explained above, so that your child has an alternate behavior he can engage in.

4) Solve the problem symbolically.

If your child can speak, talk with them about their behavior. What triggers it?

Does it usually happen at certain times of the day? Choose a time when you are both calm, and be careful not to lecture or scold. Phrase your questions in a nonthreatening manner; “I was wondering” or “ I noticed,” are neutral statements you can use to bring up the subject.”

Talking about it helps them become more aware of the problem, and also helps them understand why you (and others) find the behavior so objectionable.

If your child is nonverbal, you can use toys or puppets to help your child talk about what’s going on. Have your puppet flap their arms, open and close doors, or engage in whatever stimming behavior your child does. When your child takes notice, you can stop, and ask the puppet, “Scared? Mad?” Turn to your child and give your child a chance to ask the puppet too.

5) Give your child extra together time.

Whenever you need to spend more time correcting your child, you need to balance it out with more together time. That’s because you need to make sure that positive interactions with your child occur about 90% of the time.

Correcting your child’s behavior is considered a negative interaction, even if you do it lovingly.

Spending extra time with your child, however, is not only for your child’s sake – it’s for yours too! By making sure you have time just to enjoy them, you’ll be able to maintain a warm and loving environment for both of you.

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Language Development

Language Development: 5 Tips on How to Help Your Child Answer Why and When Questions

Perhaps this has happened to you: your son comes home, looking battle weary and sporting a 2 inch rip in his new jeans. You, having assigned yourself the role of The Responsible Parent, are determined to get to the bottom of the matter.

Unfortunately, you forgot to take into account the power of The Silent One. The conversation goes something like this:

“Hi Mike. How was your day?”

“Fine.”

“Put away your book bag-wait, what’s that?

“What?”

“You have a tear in the brand new pants I bought you. How did that happen?”

“How did that happen?”

“The tear.”

“The tear?”

And so on, until you the parent decide to end the conversation before you go running madly into the night.

Children with weak language development often have difficulty answering what, when, why, where, and how questions. It can be frustrating for parents, especially when their child seems to be quite the conversationalist at dinner time. Often parents wonder if their children pretend ignorance on purpose.

In fact, for children with weak language development, it’s easier to initiate a conversation than respond to one. If you initiate the conversation, you’re in control (to a large extent) not only of the topic, but what details you discuss, and how long you discuss it. On the other hand, when children are asked a particular question, they need to be able to perform several complicated mental tasks:

1) Questions are abstract.

Most questions require your child to imagine a particular fact, concept, or event in their minds. When you ask your child “When do you want to eat your snack?” they need to picture a time in the future, and link that with wanting to eat their snack.

How will you get home?” requires your child to picture her actions sometime in the future. “Why do you want to go to your friend now?” means your child has to have an idea of how to satisfy his want.

Still, practice can help your child learn how to answer questions. Here are some tips you can use to help the child with weak language development learn how to answer why and when questions:

1) Ask your child’s opinions about everything.

When your child asks you for more juice, ask her playfully, “What you will do with the juice?” or “When should I give you another cup?”

If your child demands to wear his too-small red shirt, ask him, “What will you wear it with?”

2) Simplify questions.

Why questions are hard to answer. If you give a clue, however, it helps to narrow down the possibilities. Use your knowledge of your child to guide you. For example, if your child is angry, ask him, “Did you miss your turn to sit near the window in carpool today?”

3) Change why questions to what questions.

Instead of asking, “Why do you want to go to Dani’s house?” ask, “What will you do at Dani’s house?”

4) Give choices.

If your child has trouble even with what questions, change the question to multiple choice. For example, instead of asking, “What do you want for lunch?” ask “Do you want to eat hamburgers or tacos?”

If even this is hard for your child to answer, change one of the choices to a silly one: “Do you want to eat hamburgers or elephant ears?” will have your child laughing but will also help him respond correctly.

5) Rephrase her answers to why answers.

If your son answers that he’s tired, respond, “Oh, so that’s why you didn’t want to go outside. Because you’re tired.” This will help your child see the connection between what he wants and his actions. It also gives him numerous real-life examples of using the word “why.”

Just remember- answering questions is a skill that takes a lot of practice, but it can be done. You can use the many opportunities you have daily to practice, encouraging other members of the family to join in.

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School Tips

How to Talk to Teachers:

 

It's been about a week since we started the new plan for N. In my previous post on problems in school, I wrote that N. was having trouble settling down during her first class period in first grade. While I bandied around a couple of solutions (which you can read about in Part 2 of Problems in School), in the end I decided to have her do a worksheet until class started.

Since enough time has passed to let N. get used to the new system, I decided it was time to call the teacher,  and check out how things were going.

I don't know if it's because it feels like going to the principal's office, or because we as parents are so invested in our children's success, but calling the teacher is SCARY for a lot of parents. Over the years I've called numerous teachers and school staff, both for my children and as part of my work.

Those calls usually ranged from triage ("Jesse just ran away from the school and he refuses to come out of his hiding place... can you come?") to damage control ("Kelly keeps ripping up the other kids' art work. Their parents are started to get really annoyed") to behavioral issues ("Stasha refuses to do any classwork").

Through the years I've developed a method that generally works to gain the teacher's trust, and establish a working relationship:

Stay calm.

Try to put your fears aside. I know how easy it is to assume the worst - that the teacher hates your child, expects him to grow up to be the local garbage man, or thinks he's the devil's spawn. In reality, the vast majority of teachers don't think this way.

Most teachers are just as concerned about talking to you as you are to them. I know, because they've told me.

Mainly they worry about whether parents will be reasonable, or whether they'll start shouting and blaming the bearer of bad news. So if you can remain calm, cool, and collected, you will have already started off on the right foot.

Do whatever it takes to get yourself there, whether it's deep breathing, positive statements to yourself, or  a support team waiting on standby.

Start off with something positive about the teacher.

You do this with your kids, right? It should seem obvious, but no one likes to hear bad news right off the bat. Try and say something positive about the teacher, particularly with regards to your child.

You could talk about how carefully the lesson is planned, or how you notice the teacher keeps an eye on her and you're happy that takes the time to do so. But one caveat: whatever you say, make sure it's sincere. Otherwise it ends up feeling like the "You're great BUT..." which is probably even more annoying than just starting out negatively.

Watch your language.

No, I'm not talking about expletives. I'm talking about being careful to stay away from the word "you." Nothing will get up a teacher's back then feeling like they're on the People's Court. Be careful to use phrases like " I noticed that.." or " I've been wondering why.."

Keeping your statements in third person will help you do this more easily. For instance, instead of saying "Don't you think you give too much homework? Kaylee can't seem to finish all of it," state " I've noticed that the kids get about 2 hours of homework a day."

Talk about how you feel.

Talking about how you feel briefly will help you stay out of accusatory mode, as well as help the teacher understand why you object. For example, in the above example, you would say "I've noticed that the kids get about 2 hours of homework a day and I'm feeling kind of overwhelmed about trying to help her get it all done."

Listen.

I know, it seems obvious, but in the heat of the moment, and our rush to get the conversation over and done with, it's easy to blurt out everything you have to say before listening to the teacher's point of view.

Instead, after the above statement, pause, and wait for the teacher to answer. Don't rush in to fill in the blank space; she or he might just be taking the time to construct their thoughts.

Let them finish everything they have to say. Don't interrupt; wait until they ask you what you think. Only then, should you respond.

Think win-win.

When you talk to your teacher, it's not a matter of whether you or your child's teacher get their way. The only person who needs to come out the winner is your child. So be open to what the teacher has to say, and try and consider their side of things.

Teachers are often underpaid, tired out, unappreciated, and frustrated about not being able to solve a problem on their own. They want just as much as you for the problem to go away; they don't enjoy it either. They may be great teachers, or they may not be.

They may have reacted to a situation inappropriately, and will regret it as long as you don't call them on the carpet. Or they may not be repentant at all. Either way, you need to get what you want - a happy, successful child- so you need to be prepared to do whatever it takes to get what you need.

Once, I had a teacher tell me my child was " a bad child, and a bad influence on the other kids." I was shocked. I couldn't believe he actually said that to me, and stupidly I asked him if he really said that.

Of course he repeated it, and was adamant about his position even when I pointed out that until this year, my son was the most popular in his class. I'd never had a complaint from a parent or a teacher - in fact they used to stop me in the street and ask in awe if I was Y's mother.

With this teacher I soon realized there was nothing I could do to change his mind. He was threatened by my son's forceful personality, and even though my son was not a behavior problem, felt that he had to break him in order to mold his personality to what he felt was best.

It was a difficult year, to put it mildly, and the principal was unwilling to allow him to switch classes. But we made it through the year, in part because I bit my tongue and tried to sympathize with what the teacher was saying, behind his forked tongue.

I put myself in therapist mode; this is basically what I said: " I see. So you're worried he might encourage the class to get out of hand (it's never happened before you idiot)? And you're thinking that this is a bad habit for the future (you can't break my son - haven't you noticed yet? why not try and work with him??)

I then explained that we as his parents are also concerned about his future, and that we know with the right guidance he will grow up to be a leader. I added that in the future he needs to contact us if there is a problem, but he is absolutely not allowed to physically discipline my child in any way (another long story - it's more common than you think, and legal in a lot of places).

Stay in touch.

After that first big conversation it's easy to feel so relieved that you decide you don't need to speak to the teacher for a long, long time.

Don't.

Before you finish up the conversation, make sure you make a time that you'll touch bases, and follow up with that phone call. It will get easier as you go along, as long as you keep in mind the principles above.

What awful experiences have you had with your child's teacher? Why not share it in the comments below? I'm sure others would love to commiserate with you!


 

 

 

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Fine Motor

Hands-on Learning Games:Improve Your Child’s Fine Motor Coordination

When my foster daughter came to us, she had a lot of trouble holding a crayon, coloring in the lines, and drawing with a pen or a pencil. I used a bunch of techniques to teach her about drawing, but this (and some other hands-on learning games) was really great for strengthening those finger muscles.

Not only did she have fun, but I had all of her siblings demanding a turn also! It was cute to see her 2 year old brother and 3 year old sister so intent on their work.

They stuck to it even though it was clearly hard for them; probably because it gave them a legitimate reason to play with water. I didn't mind so much, because the mess is minimal (wait until they start washing out their own dishes- then you'll have a better idea of what I mean!)

Even though she ended up having to share this game as soon as we took it out of the kitchen closet, I still began seeing improvement in the first few weeks, and within about two months she was generally able to color in the lines most of the time.

You could extend this game and make it even more interesting by using different colors of water, and letting your child seeing what happens when they mix two of them. We haven't gotten to it yet, but we'll get to it sometime!

Materials:

-child-sized food tray

-2 or 3 pipettes or eyedroppers (you can find this at the pharmacy, or a well-stocked toy store in the science section)

-food coloring

- 2 very small containers such as egg cups, children’s tea cups, or tea light holders

How to Prepare the Game:

1)     Place both containers on the tray.

2)     Fill one of them about 2/3 full of colored water.

3)     Place a pipette or eyedropper on the tray. Provide a small cloth for spills.

How to Play the Game:

1)     Show your child how to use the pipette or eyedropper.

2)      Let them practice transferring the colored water from one container to the other.

3)     When your child finishes filling one containers, show her how to turn the tray so that the full container is now on the LEFT side (this helps prepare her for the left-to-right progression of writing).

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