Category Archives: Parenting Advice

Chapter 11 Parenting Teens and Young Adults

            Just when you think you have it all figured out and decide parenting isn’t so bad, your kids turn into teenagers.  Teenagers can be a real blessing and a joy, but sometimes it seems as if aliens have inhabited your child’s body.  He looks an awful lot like your little boy, but what is coming out of his mouth is nothing that your sweet little child would say to you.  Many people are scared and intimidated by teenagers.  They look so much older and mature than little children that adults often assume they are similar to adults.  Don’t let their outward appearance fool you.  Young teens are actually much more like little children than adults.  Their bodies have grown, but research has shown that the adult brain does not fully develop until the early to mid twenties.  That is not to say that you should treat your teens like little children.  Teenagers have unique wants, needs and problems that should be looked at in a whole new light.  But don’t forget everything you learned when parenting your young children.  Many of the same techniques will work with your teens.  Some may need some tweaking and some will need to be changed quite a bit.  But all that you have learned about child rearing and know about your child will help ease you into the teen years.

Reevaluate Rules and Guidelines

            Family rules and guidelines that were useful when your children were young may no longer be adequate as your children hit the teen years.  You should constantly be reevaluating and revamping your rules as needed.  However, when your children begin to leave childhood an entire overhaul of expectations may be necessary.  Your family should develop guidelines on ages that it is appropriate for children to begin to be more independent.  For instance, our children were allowed to go to the mall without a parent at 13 years old, participate in activities with boys and girls as a group at 14 and could date at the age of 16.  The age at which some activities were allowed depended on the activity, the circumstances and the maturity of the child involved. 

If your family develops clear guidelines then there are no arguments about when children can do what.  It also helps parents to make decisions on allowing an activity.  As parents it is difficult to watch our children grow away from us and mature.  Most parents have some feelings of dread of their children growing up and moving away.  Sometimes parents deal with these feelings by sabotaging their children’s attempts to grow away from their parents.  Often these attempts are not planned and many times they may not even be conscious attempts.  In our family we made a conscious attempt to help our children mature and move into adult life.  We required them to take on responsibilities for many things with adult guidance.  We also required them to learn skills that they would need such as driving a car, writing a check and organizing their time properly.  If your goal is to help your teen to mature into a responsible adult then all of these skills, and more, will be needed.

To become a responsible adult your teen also needs to be able to make some decisions on her own and to spend time away from the family.  Social activities are very important for teenagers.  These activities help teens learn social skills and to find their place in the world.  We live in a world with increasing dangers and pitfalls for young people, however their need for outside social experiences and autonomy is very real.  Help your child find safe and appropriate ways to detach from you and go out into the world.  Do know where your teen is at all times, but refrain from calling constantly to check on him or following him around.  Do check to be sure that activities that your teen is participating in are safe and wholesome, however refrain from saying no to an activity without a good reason.  Do make sure that activities are supervised by an adult, however refrain from hovering or acting like one of the kids if you are supervising.

Choices and Free Will

            All humans need to have choices in their life, and this is never more important than with teenagers.  One of the jobs of the teen years is to begin to separate from their parents.  Remember that your goal is to raise well adjusted adults, so when your teen rebels or begins to assert her independence it is really a good thing.  These are the first steps to becoming an independent adult.  Teens and young adults do need guidance and restrictions, however they also need to be able to make choices.

            One way to start to give your teen some choice in his life is to structure time schedules more loosely.  Instead of saying, “Your room must be clean right now,” tell your teen, “Your room must be clean before you go out with your friends, so when would be the best time for you to do it?”  Give your child a list of responsibilities and a time frame, and then trust her to complete them on time.  Make sure that consequences are built into the accomplishment of the tasks so that your child will be rewarded if the tasks are complete.  If your child can show you that he can be responsible then give him more freedom.  If your child fails to maintain their side of the bargain, pull back and give less freedom.  Make sure she understands the connection.

            Another way to give your child more control over his life is to listen to his suggestions and take them seriously.  If you have done a good job of raising your child he has learned many things by this time in his life.  If your teen has a new idea of how or when to do something you need to listen, and take it into consideration.  If you decided not to take the recommendation tell your teen the reasons.  Make sure he knows that you really did consider his idea and that you would appreciate that he continues to share it.

            You can also help your child feel more control over her life by releasing control over things that don’t matter.  Some parents want to continue to tell their children what to wear, what friends to have and what activities to participate in far into their teen years.  While it is important to continue to teach your child about proper and appropriate dress and behavior, it is also important to let your teen make their own choices as much as possible in these areas.  Pick your battles.  You may want to make sure that your daughter wears a really nice dress to aunt Bonnie’s wedding, however you may let her have more choices as to what to wear to school.  Let your child have safe rebellions.  Severe clothing and hair styles are one way that children signal to the world that they are separating from their parents.  If the styles do not violate your family ideals of modesty and safety, allow it when you can.  Do not take these rebellions personally.  Remember, this is a natural stage and the less you let it bother you the quicker it will blow over.

Personal Space and Sharing

            When our children are small we teach them to share.  Little children need little personal space and their understanding about personal belongings can be fleeting.  As children age their needs for personal property and space grow.  The need for kids to have their own personal space and property is greatest among teens.  Sometimes our family practices and expectations don’t grow with our children’s need for personal space and property.  And sometimes our teen’s expectations and demands for personal space and property grow beyond our families’ ability to provide them.  It can be difficult to juggle the needs of individual children and the needs of the entire family, however parents need to be aware that teens do need to have some personal space and personal property that they don’t have to share.

            Sometimes families need to be a bit creative to achieve personal space and property for their teens.  Ideally each teen would have his own room, however many times family situation makes this impossible.  Use furniture configuration and simple dividers to help kids have their own space.  Also, teach your younger children to respect the space and property of teens.  Sometimes relationships between teens and younger siblings become strained due to changes in the teen’s needs and personality.  Younger children will often deal with this strained relationship by teasing the older sibling or disrespecting their space or belongings.  Set firm guidelines to help your teen feel respected.  Teach your younger child to give their sibling some space and then give your younger child some extra attention.


            I have one tip for parents of teens about lying.  Don’t ever say, “My child would never lie to me!”  Given the right situation nearly all kids will lie.  Sometimes we push our kids into lying.  When you walk into a room and see something broken and a guilty looking child do you ask, “Did you do that?”  That question pushes everyone into survival mode and the usual answer becomes, “No!”  A better question would be, “Tell me what happened here.”  No child is perfect, so expect that your child will make mistakes.  Everyone wants to protect themselves, so sometimes lying is a natural reaction.  No stage is more fraught with mistakes or self-protecting behaviors than the teen years.  There will be times that you must confront your child with a possible wrong that he has done, however do be careful not to push your child into lying.  Use the tips below to avoid this.

  • Keep your cool- As tough as it may be, it is very important not to get emotionally charged over a bad situation.  This is never so important as it is with teens.  Sometimes teens do unacceptable things just to get a rise out of their parents, so keeping calm helps avoid reinforcing poor behavior in your child.  You will also be better able to deal with the situation in a positive manner if you remain calm.
  • Assume the worse, but leave the option of the best open– If you come upon a situation where your child appears guilty, assume he is, but keep an open mind.  Comments such as, “Tell me what happened,” or “This looks pretty bad for you,” give the child the opportunity to tell what happened in a non-threatening way.
  • Don’t accuse, but teach– Sometimes it is impossible to tell who is lying and who is not.  This is particularly true when dealing with more than one child.  I find in these situations it is best not to accuse anyone of anything, but to use the situation as a teaching moment.  A sample conversation would go something like this:

Sue:     “Bobby called me a dummy!”

Bobby: “I did not!”

Mom:  “Bobby, what is the rule about calling someone a name?”

Bobby: “I didn’t call her a name!”

Mom:  “I didn’t ask if you called her a name.  I asked you to tell me the rule about calling someone names.  Can you tell me the rule?”

Bobby: “We are not allowed to call people names.”

Mom:  “Bobby, can you make sure that you don’t call Sue names?”

Bobby” “Okay.”

Mom:  “Sue, Bobby is going to be careful to remember the rule.

      In this scenario Mom assumes that Bobby did call Sue a name, however she never accuses, asks him to explain himself or reprimands him.  Mom simply checks with Bobby to be sure that he understands the rule and that he will be careful to follow it.  Bobby has been given a lesson on the rule and he is clear that Mom knows that he may very well have called the name, however he has not been asked to defend his actions so there was no need to lie.  The other plus to the way Mom handled this situation is that it is a positive situation for Sue.  If Mom believes Sue over Bobby it gives her power over her brother.  This may lead Sue to tattle on Bobby continually if he bugs her to keep her powerful position.  If Mom believes Bobby and not Sue no one is taught better behavior, and Sue feels mistrusted by Mom.

  • Give think time and leave a “Way Out”– Sometimes kids will tell a lie and then later decide to tell the truth.  Sometimes parental comments make this very difficult.  This is especially true if others are involved.  I can’t tell you how many times, as a teacher, I have seen a parent stand up for their child, only to find out later that the child was lying.  If you unequivocally believe and stand up for your child it can make it very difficult for the child to tell you later on that he was lying.  This is a very difficult situation because you do want to stand up for your child if he has been wronged, however you must be sure you have the facts before you pursue it.  If the facts do not seem to align with your child’s story don’t tell your child that you think he is lying, however leave a way out.  Investigate all of the facts fully before going after someone who you think may have wronged your child, and then give your child a chance to recant their story.  Tell your child that something doesn’t seem right about the story, and that if he changes his mind about what happened to let you know.  Make sure the child knows that it is okay to change the story and that you will understand.  Also, be sure to tell your child that you will be going after the perpetrator if your child was truly wronged.  Sometimes kids think they will just tell a lie to get their parents off their back, and the parents take it to a level that the child did not expect.  If your child knows your next step he can make an informed decision and you are more likely to get the full story.

Another thing to remember is that we all have clearer heads after we have had time to think things through.  Sometimes the best approach is to tell your child that you both need a few minutes before you talk about a situation.  Sometimes this method works well if you suspect that your child is lying.  Tell her that you are having trouble believing her under the circumstances.  Tell her that you both need a few minutes to think through this before you finish the conversation.

18 years and Up

            Legally your child becomes an adult at 18 years, however anyone who has ever been the parent of an 18 year old can tell you that most are not ready to take on all controls of their life at this age.  Add to this situation the complexity and expense of living in our society and you will realize you will not be finished raising your children when they turn 18.  Of course at 18 many of the ground rules change.  At 18 you are no longer required to provide support for your young adult, however he is no longer required to obey you.  The best way to deal with this situation is to be clear with your young adult as to what the new guidelines will be.  It is a good idea to begin to lay the groundwork for this early on.  During the junior and senior years of high school most teens are looking at plans for jobs, advanced training and college.  This is a good opportunity for you to make clear to your child what your expectations will be for her after graduation.  Do you expect her to attend college or is a trade school acceptable?  What about a job?  Will your child need to work when he hits young adult age or will you cover all expenses?  Under what circumstances will your child be able to remain living at home, and if he does remain at home what will be your expectations?

            Most of your early plans for your child’s young adult years will be a work in progress and some things can be negotiated as time goes on, so try not to be too stern about things you are unsure about.  Do, however, start early to lay the ground work for what the essential tasks will be for your child as a young adult.  Also, don’t negotiate on family values.  Make it clear to your child that continued support is contingent on your young adult following whatever family values you have previously instilled in your child.  Remember that legally you have no more responsibility to support your over 18 offspring.  If your young adult really wants your financial support she will comply, as long as you are clear early on as to what the guidelines are. 

In our family we have had extensive experience dealing with children as young adults.  We live in an area with many outstanding and affordable community and state colleges close by.  This has made it possible for us to support our kids in college as long as they live at home.  Through this process we have learned many things to make this relationship work.  Look at the list below before your child hits the young adult years.  Talk with your spouse about what your ideals, expectations and available resources are, and come to a consensus.  Then present your plan to your teen so that he can begin to plan for the young adult years.

  • Decide what is important and necessary- Just as you decide what is important for your little children, you should also decide what is important for your young adults.  If it is important for your children to attend and graduate from college, you should provide assistance and guidelines that encourage this.  In our family we felt it important for our kids to attend and graduate from college.  However, we found it necessary to set some limits on how and when we would pay college expenses.  We told our children that we would pay for tuition and books as long as they lived at home.  We would do what we could to help with college expenses should they want to attend a college not in our area, however additional financial assistance may be necessary.  When our kids transferred from community college to the state university we were no longer able to pay cash for tuition.  We found it necessary to ask our kids to take out a student loan, then we promised to repay it to the fullest extent that we were able.  Don’t feel bad if you cannot finance your child’s college expenses.  Financial assistance and student loans are always available for college students and your student will be able to repay loans at a low interest rate once his career is established.  Sometimes just the help of having a place to live rent free is enough to help a young adult choose college.  If you are paying for college or room and board don’t be afraid to set limits on what schools or types of schools you will pay for or support.  As long as you are footing the bill you have a right to set limits on what you will be willing to pay for.  You can also set other guidelines or limits on grades or other achievement measures.  In our family we agree only to pay for passed classes.  Some parents set the bar higher on this, but we try to be realistic and leave room for some mistakes.  My feeling is that as long as my kids are getting credit I am willing to pay.  Do ask to see a report card at the end of the term.  You will not be sent a report as you were when your child was in public school, even if you are paying for it.  Make it your young adult’s responsibility to give you a copy in exchange for continued support.

If you find it important or necessary for your kids to hold a job, don’t hand out cash freely to your young adults.  Room and board for your college student can be very reasonable if they live at home, however money for clothes, fast food, insurance and other personal wants and needs can be very expensive.  The reality is that young adults who learn to work for their own extras learn to be more appreciative and have a much better work ethic.  They are also often better students because they learn to really budget their time and money and tend to use them better.

If you find it important or necessary to charge your young adult rent make the guidelines clear early on, and be sure it is affordable.  In our home full time students are afforded free room and board.  Less than full time college admission would incur a rent charge.  So far all of our children have chosen to remain full time college students.   I am sure that this has been one of the contributing reasons.  Some families have a financial need for their kids to help with the expenses.  If this is true for you make this clear to your young adult and explain the reasons.  Also, spell out what their portion of rent pays for and what things are not included.

If it is important or necessary for your young adult to help around the house make this a part of the agreement.  Make sure your young adults understand that your home is not a luxury hotel with maid service.  If she had her own dorm or apartment she would be responsible for upkeep of the entire place, so you are not asking for anything unacceptable for an adult.  You will probably need to be a bit more flexible with job assignments and time frames with you young adult than you were with your child.  Give her more say in which jobs to do and give a large time frame in which to complete them.  In our family young adults are responsible for keeping up their own rooms and doing their own laundry.  They also have two jobs to do a week that benefit the entire family and we occasionally require ½ hour of work in the yard per week.

  • Assist with early plans for adult readiness- If you will be requiring your young adult to attend college or obtain a job you will need to do some work during the teen years to help him be ready for this.  Start early by helping your teen look at acceptable colleges and their entrance requirements.  Also, look at expenses and make sure she understands what will and will not work for your family finances.  Help your child look at possible jobs for an inexperienced teen and give him tips on how to apply and interview and what to wear.  Help your teen look at transportation options and choose one that will work for your family.
  • Ease into the young adult years- There is usually no clear cut time as to when this period of a child’s life begins.   Some feel adulthood officially begins at 18 years, others look toward high school graduation and still others look at beginning college or financial independence.  Except for financial independence, most of these milestones usually occur within a few months of each other, so a slow transition into the rules your family adopts for young adults works best.
  • Write a contract- Our family found that this is a good time to write up a new Parent Child Contract (although one of our kids insisted on crossing out the word Child and replacing it with Adult).  The contract (Appendix H) worked well in the same form (with the possible exception of replacing the word Child), but filling it out was quite different.  The list of privileges was quite different for a young adult than for a child.  For a child privileges included such things as TV, computer and playing with friends.  Young adults who live in your home should have free access to household amenities, and you really have no control over their friends.  The list of privileges for a young adult for our family included such items as free room and board, tuition and payment for books.  Responsibilities for a young adult are also quite different.  They tend to be more general, like complete all household tasks as expected, and young adults should be held to a higher level of expectations.  Make sure you cover things such as chores around the house, financial expectations, curfews and communication about their whereabouts and grades and school attendance.
  • Consequences- There must be consequences for your young adult violating the contract or the contract is useless.  Obviously you can’t ground your adult-aged child, however you can take away privileges that you provide.  This can include car privileges, cell phone or spending money.  Of course if your young adult has purchased his own car or cell phone you do not have this leverage, and taking away a mode of transportation poses other problems.  Some families have found that assigning extra chores or fining their young adults can be effective, but I always found it difficult to collect on these consequences. 

One thing you should not do is constantly threaten to throw the kid out.  It is a pretty drastic step to make a young adult move out just for leaving his socks on the floor, so once you calm down you will probably not follow through on your threat.  Be sure not to get mad, but do get busy.  Get busy to come up with a way to show your displeasure without a drastic threat.  Our family found that this turned out to be a good time to pull out the trusty Strike Chart (Appendix G) again.  In the past, 5 strikes equaled 1 privilege lost, however with our young adults most of the privileges were really a package deal.  We provided room, board, tuition and books in exchange for following family rules, performing a few jobs and staying in school full time.  We determined that 5 strikes would necessitate moving out of the home and providing their own support.  Because the consequence was more dire, strikes were awarded for larger infractions than before.  Strikes could be earned back, as before, however the jobs would be more difficult and more time consuming.  Generally, a job would be assigned for each strike, not for each privilege as before.  If a young adult did earn 5 strikes he was given a time period in which to either correct the infraction and earn all strikes back or make arrangements to live elsewhere.

If you’re young adult does make the choice to move out, accept it, and help him make arrangement.  Many times young adults make this choice only to learn that it is a lot more difficult to make it on his own than he expected.  If you maintain a good relationship with your child he is more likely to come to you if going it on his own doesn’t work out.  And if he does want to move back in, consider it carefully, and draw up a new contract with clear terms. 

Chapter 7 Jobs and Chores

            It is essential that children learn how to work.  There was a time when children worked as a family necessity.  Their labor was needed to keep the home going and the family fed.  Home businesses or family farms were a major source of support for families and often parents added children to their families specifically to increase the amount of labor available.  Those days are largely gone.  Mechanization and electronic appliances now complete much of the work previously performed by children and young people at home and on the job.  The family farm is all but gone as farming has become big business and most food and goods are now purchased, not produced at home.  The need for children to work to support life has vanished, but the need for children to learn to work has not.  In adult life work is essential.  Adults in our society are expected to work to support themselves, feed and clothe themselves, clean up after themselves and take care of their other responsibilities.  It takes work to perform all of these necessary tasks, and the ability to work is not learned overnight.  Some children are natural born workers and will desire to work hard no matter what their environment, but this is the exception.  Most children need to be taught to work, and the way to learn to work, is to work.  It is essential for children to have jobs or chores around the house or in the yard.

            People have different ideas about what chores and jobs children should do, how often they should do them and what the reward should be for completing them.  As long as children learn to work doing jobs that are appropriate for their age and ability and still have plenty of time to learn, grow and play there are no wrong answers on how to do it.  I would, however, recommend that every parent think about their family policies about work and chores and the lessons they are teaching.  At times parents teach unintended lessons about work by their actions and family policies.  The following are considerations that parents should take into account when assigning jobs and planning family policies for chores.  Just as discipline is a shared responsibility between parents, so should be the assignment of jobs and chores.  Parents should take some time to look at the list below and carefully consider what policies they will adopt for family chores.

  • Compensation- As adults we have jobs which we must complete for which we receive compensation and we have those for which we don’t.  I go to my job everyday to receive a paycheck, however I do the dishes at home with no hope of being monetarily compensated.  Some families adopt a policy of compensating their children for all chores that they complete around the house, either intentionally or unintentionally.  If you dock your child’s allowance for not completing chores or always provide a reward or payment of some sort for all chores completed you are providing compensation.  Compensation is not a bad thing, and it can be very motivating, but children do need to learn that there are some things that just need to be done regardless of compensation.  No matter what methods you use to motivate your child to complete his chores do be sure that some chores are required with no guaranteed compensation.  These are jobs that need to be done because you are a member of the family, not because you get something.  One way to separate a reward from the chore is to develop a hierarchy that provides a reward for completing a job quickly, and then moves toward requiring a punishment if a chore is not completed within a specified amount of time.  This sends a message to the child that the chore will be done, however there are rewards for completing it in a timely manner.  It also instills and understanding of deadlines and gives children a sense of urgency.
  • Responsibility- It is important that you make your child’s jobs your child’s responsibility.  Most parents intend to make their child responsible for her chores; however many parents inadvertently take on the responsibility for completing the chore.  You will take on the responsibility for chore completion if you constantly remind your child to do his chores or if you nag or beg him.  Your child has the responsibility for chore completion if you give clear instructions with age appropriate reminders.  Very young children will need frequent, verbal reminders.  Older children and teens should be given a longer time frame, and can be given written reminders.  You should also see that an appropriate consequence is attached to completing or not completing the chore.  Most parents fall into the trap of taking over their child’s responsibility at some point in time.  We want our children to learn to listen to us and to complete assignments we give them right away.  And when they fail to do so we start to assert gentle pressure, which turns into not so gentle pressure.  On the next page is a list of phrases that parents use to encourage their children to complete their chores or assignments.  Some of the differences in the phrases in the two columns may seem very subtle, however they are important differences.  Look through the lists and see which type of phrases you normally use with your child.
Phrases that communicate that the adult is responsible for completion:Phrase that remind, but maintain the child as responsible:
“Did you hear what I said?  Put that away right now!“Remember, you had 3 minutes to put the toys away, and you have two left.
“I am going to come over there and make sure you do that if you don’t get busy right now!”“Let me know when you’re done and I will come check your work.”
“Why aren’t you doing your work?”“Do you need a reminder that you should be doing your work now?”
“How many times do I have to tell you to get busy?”“Is there a reason that your jobs aren’t done yet?”
“Do I have to do everything myself?”“Is there something I can do to help you get your work done on time?”
  • Motivation – We hope our children will be motivated to work just out of a sense of responsibility.  However, children need to be taught to be responsible so other motivators need to be instituted until children thoroughly gain a sense of responsibility.  Sometimes children are motivated by the natural consequences afforded by job completion (my room looks really nice when it is clean!); however more often than not parents need to provide a consequence.  Positive consequences are the best (see chapter 4 and 5 for more on positive consequences), however sometimes it is necessary to provide a negative consequence or a punishment. Remember that natural or logical consequences provide the best results, so try to find a consequence that logically connects to the tasks not completed.  One logical consequence that my husband and I instituted with our children was to invent a “monster”.  The monster was sewn from an old sheet into a giant cloth bag.  Permanent markers were used to draw a face on the monster with the mouth at the bottom near the opening.  When the children did not clean up their toys they were told that the monster would come to visit the room at a certain time.  He just loved toys, and if all the toys weren’t picked up he would have a yummy snack.  At the appointed time the monster came out and “ate” all the toys that were not put away.  The monster then went away to his hideout until the children earned their toys back.  They could earn the toys back by doing extra jobs or keeping the rest of their toys neat for a specified amount of time.  If you use this method be careful that you find a hideout for the monster that the kids can’t find, but where you will not forget about him.  Once our monster had such a good hiding place that we didn’t see him for many months.  When we found him again we realized that perhaps we had a few too many toys as most of them had not really been missed! 
  • How good is “good enough?”- One big conflict that parents often have with their children when they are completing tasks is the level of perfection required.  Of course the goal is for your child to complete a task well, however no one expects that a toddler will be able to perform at an adult level.  So what should a bed that is freshly made look like if it is made by a two-year old?  What about a five-year old?  Should the bed be made at a level that is similar to an adult at age ten, fourteen or older?  One thing parents need to realize is that each child is different.  Some children will be able to perform a task as well as their parents at eight-years of age, while others will still struggle as they leave for college.  Parents should develop a policy of knowing what their child’s “personal best” is.  They should make a goal of helping their child improve on his personal best as he grows and develops.  Parents should clearly communicate when the personal best is expected, and when a job can be done “just good enough.”  We’ve all heard the adage, “a job worth doing is a job worth doing well,” however none of us does a job perfectly every time.  Sometimes I wash my sink really well, scouring it with cleanser and cleaning the faucet and all the nooks and crannies.  But sometimes I settle for “just good enough” and just rinse it out with hot water to kill most of the germs.

One way that our family chose to deal with teaching our children to complete a job well while still being reasonable was to adopt Mondays as “perfect clean room days.”  Our children were expected to clean their rooms every day, but on Mondays the rooms were expected to be really clean.  Usually this translated into the children just straightening their rooms most days of the week to whatever level their age, ability and time constraints allowed them, and then doing a really good job of cleaning out corners, vacuuming and dusting on Mondays.  This would usually required help or direction from a parent to attain this level of cleanliness.  Therefore, parental time constraints were factored in when considering just how “perfect” a “perfect clean room” would be each week.  I had a friend who adopted a similar attitude, however she communicated her expectations by saying, “Clean your room to look like I had cleaned it.”  Her children knew what this meant, and they also knew that this level of perfection was not always expected.

  • Example- It is great for children to work; it is better for children to work with their parents.  When parents work alongside their children they teach them what an adult level of work looks like.  They teach them that camaraderie can come with work and they teach that work is a life-long activity.  Children need to see what an adult level of task completion looks like.  Do help your child bridge the gap between a child’s level and an adult level of work performance, however be careful not to insinuate that your child is not capable of good work by redoing their jobs.

Work does not have to be drudgery, and working with your child can teach him that work can be fun.  Wouldn’t you rather work alongside someone than all alone?  Your child is no different.  Work together and use the time to talk to your child and build a better relationship.

One mistake that parents of teens often make when it comes to work is that they believe that their teens can and should complete large amounts of manual labor without adult help.  It can be a real help to a family to have a nearly grown child to do some of the heavy tasks that parents no longer can or want to perform around the house or yard.  Be careful about assigning these jobs on a regular basis for your child to perform without adult assistance.  When older children and teens are left to work alone for long periods of time the message that they receive is that the hard work is for kids and adults do not need to work.  When you work with your child you send the message that you will continue to work as long as you are physically able, and you expect her to do the same.

            Once parents decide the values they want to teach through chores it is time to put the nuts and bolts in place.  Assigning and supervising chores can be a real nightmare for parents without good planning and tools.  There are many techniques that parents can use to assist them in assigning chores, helping their children keep track of chores and rewarding their children for completing chores on time.  Below are many different tools for each of these tasks that we have used with varying degrees of success.  Remember when choosing and using these tools that they are designed to make your life easier.  If your life is not easier with a specific technique modify it or don’t use it.  Also, remember the principle that change is good.  If you or your children get tired of a technique it is likely to lose its effectiveness.  Change or modify often to keep you all on your toes!

Job Assignment-

            If you have just one child in your family chances are this will not be a difficult task, but as soon as you have more than one child, job assignments are always an issue.  “The job that Johnny has is always easier than the one that I have, and Mom doesn’t make him do it as often as she does me!”  Parents should be fair about assigning chores, but they need to keep in mind that equal is not necessarily fair.  Some chores may be set, with one child always completing them, while others may be rotated by one method or another.  Do be careful about assigning chores by gender, but keep individual differences in mind.  Boys need to learn to cook and clean and girls can work in the yard, but as they get older the sheer physical size of a teenage boy may make his tasks different than his sister’s.  Also, don’t be afraid to let your children discuss and negotiate chores and job choices.  Discussions and negotiations should not be done, however, when the child is supposed to be doing the job.  If you child wants to discuss job assignment, see to it that assignments are completed first, then the discussion takes place for the next time. 

When our older children reached their teen years we found their opposition to the chores we chose for them and the rotation method we designed to be a problem.  We had a family council and I asked the kids for their recommendations.  We talked about the jobs and why it was important for them to be completed and we made some minor adjustments that fit their views better.  My oldest son then recommended that instead of rotating jobs in an orderly manner, that everyone got to draw their jobs from a stack.  I argued that this would mean that someone may get all hard jobs while someone got all easy ones, but the kids applauded the idea of the chance of getting easier jobs.  I figured that this was an idea that we would try for a week or two, and then when someone cried that they had the hard jobs over and over the kids would agree to abandon it.  I was wrong.  We eventually did some tweaking so that no one had the same job for more than two weeks in a row, but this job picking method persisted for some time.  Even when we had two adult aged kids and two high school kids in the house they still wanted to pick their jobs at random every time, and no one complained about the system.  They even made it fun by having their friends pick for them.

Whichever method you use try to keep it simple, and don’t be afraid to change as needed.  Your children will be much more likely to complete their jobs if they are real clear on exactly what the jobs are, when they should do them and if the picking or tracking system is one they like.  All of the systems below have been tried with varying degrees of success.  Some work for some ages and temperaments of children, and some are more successful with others.  Feel free to try one, or more than one.

  • Job Wheels- There are two basic ways of using a job wheel.  The first way is to use it to assign jobs to individual family members.  With this wheel family member’s names are placed on a circle at regular intervals, and jobs are written on an inner or outer circle that lines up with the name circle.  If more than one job is desired they can be written on a third circle that is smaller or larger than the other two.  The three circles are attached with a brad in the middle to form a wheel and each circle is turned to line up jobs with names.  Each circle can be laminated separately for durability.

The second way a wheel can be used for jobs is for each child to have their own wheel.  This method is not really a job picking wheel, but a way for children to keep track of their own tasks and what they have complete so far.  All jobs that a child should do each day are listed around the wheel.  These can include personal care tasks (like getting dressed, eating breakfast or brushing teeth) as well as household tasks.  You can either use a large circle with a cutout window that only shows one task at a time or a spinner that points to each job for your child to use the wheel.  Either device can be attached with a brad in the middle of the circle.

  • Job Sticks or Cards- Job sticks or cards can be used in many different ways and provide much flexibility.  You can make job cards out of old playing cards, index cards or pieces of construction paper.  Job sticks can be made from tongue depressors, popsicle sticks or stiff pieces of paper or cardboard cut into strips.  Jobs can be written on your cards or sticks and various methods can be used to assign jobs.

Job cards can be made that list jobs that all family members must do daily.  These cards can be put into a pocket chart or stuck to the refrigerator with magnetic clips and children can move them from the “assigned” space to the “completed” space as they finish them.  Job sticks can be kept in cups or cans that are labeled with family member’s names and different cups can be used to sort assigned and completed jobs.

Jobs can be assigned using cards or sticks and rotated in an orderly manner to each family member, or they can be randomly drawn.  Assignments can be done on a weekly basis, or a daily basis.  You can also assign different cards for weekly or daily jobs and have children choose these differently.  Below are ways that job sticks or cards have been used.  Take any of these ideas, or take bits and pieces of ideas to make a plan that will work for your family.

  • Big Kid, Little Kid Jobs– When we had children that were old enough to really start to do jobs well around the house, but still had preschool aged children, we found we needed different levels of jobs.  Cards were made on the computer (see sample and template in Appendix L) and then laminated for durability.  Each child had his or her own card with specific task that would need to be done every day.  In addition, cards were made with jobs that were rotated.  Listed on the cards were instructions as to how and when to complete the jobs.  Jobs cards were color-coded by how often and when jobs were done and labeled as a big kid job or little kid job.  The jobs were rotated between the children on a weekly basis.  The cards were kept in a pocket chart, with one pocket of each child representing jobs that needed to be completed and one pocket for jobs that were complete.  A quick glance would tell us who had done their jobs and who had not.
  • Daily & Weekly Free Pick– We found that it was always best assigning jobs for daily and weekly jobs.  Some jobs needed to be done every day and others only needed to be completed once or twice a week.  When I made jobs sticks or cards I made daily and weekly jobs different sizes or colors to easily differentiate between them.  One way to assign jobs is a free pick each day or week that jobs are done.  This can be an interesting and motivating way to get children to do their individual work and to be excited about their jobs.  The way this works is that job sticks or cards are created for each job that needs to be done around the house.  When house work needs to be done cards or sticks are placed in a central location for each job that must be completed that day.  Children are told that they will need to complete a certain amount of jobs that day, but that their individual chores will need to be completed first.  As children complete their individual chores they can choose the job they want to do, or you can have them draw blindly.
  • Work Day/ Fun Day– This is a good tactic to use if your children have a day off of school and there is time for both work and play.  The chores can be the usual family chores, or extra big chores that need to be completed.  If the family is working on an extra big job, such as spring cleaning or a large amount of yard work, it may be best to break the work into little jobs and put each job on a card.  Job cards or sticks are laid out and children are told that all these jobs need to be done today, but when they are complete the family will have a fun outing.  Children then work cooperatively to complete the jobs before the day is out.  Children work best with this method if a specific time period is given to complete the chores and a parent guides the work and gives appropriate reminders of how the work is progressing.

Job Tracking-

            Not only is it a good idea to have an organized system to assign chores, it is also helpful to have a system to keep track of job completion.  A job wheel (described above) works well for young children and many children love to move job cards or sticks in a pocket chart or in cups.  As children get older they will need a more sophisticated method of job tracking.  Job charts have many different forms and can be used many different ways.  You can use an individual chart for each child that lasts for up to a week or a family chart.  Charts can be printed out on a piece of paper, drawn in a notebook or created on a whiteboard.  All types of charts have advantages and disadvantages.  Below is a list of types of charts that you can try with your family.  If one doesn’t work well change it so it works better, or you may want to try another.  Your children will be more likely to continue to be interested in whatever system you use if you use variety and don’t try to stick with the same thing forever.

  • Family Daily Chart– This was a method that I used for a long time to varying degrees with my children.  It worked best with kids of preschool age through early high school, but I occasionally used this method with my older high school and adult aged children.  This method is best if you have several children and you want them to complete many similar jobs and tasks.  For a lot of years we had a large whiteboard in our living room that we used as a chart.  I drew a grid on the board with a wide column on the left side to write children’s names and a deep row across the top to write job titles.  You can make your grid semi-permanent by using wet erase markers to draw the grid and write the names and use dry erase markers for the children to mark with.  A permanent grid can be made with permanent markers or with colored tape.

Each day I used this chart I would draw my grid and write the children’s names on the left column and the tasks they needed to complete across the top.  Tasks included everything they needed to complete that day, including personal care tasks (brushing teeth, getting dressed, etc.), personal jobs (make bed, put breakfast bowl in the dishwasher) and things they needed to do for activities outside of the home (practice the piano, do homework).  Jobs were usually listed as a category instead of a specific job so that each column could be used for each child (example: red jobs, daily jobs or trash jobs).  If there was a column for which a child did not have a task or job I would put a mark in that box to designate that it did not need to be done.  As the children completed their jobs they would put in X in the box so I could quickly scan down the list to see who needed to do what.  The children loved to use the whiteboard markers and mark what they had completed.

When my children grew older I used this same method with a spiral notebook.  This notebook was our family message center and each day I would open the notebook and use two facing pages for family communication.  On the right hand page I would draw the job grid and list jobs that needed to be done that day.  With this method I would write the children’s initials across the top row and jobs down the side column.  On the left page I would write any announcements for the family and important scheduled events.  At the bottom of the announcement page was a space for family member to write phone messages or other communications for each other.  This method worked very well when I had older children living at home who could all read.  Children had an easy reminder of what needed to be done and I could easily scan down the list to see who had completed their work.  It also helped our family communication to have everything in one place.  Every family member was required to read the spiral each day and was responsible for the content listed there.  On the next day I would turn the page of the spiral and we would use the back of our chart for our announcement page and the facing page for a new job chart.  Using this method of communication and job tracking allowed us to have a record of communications and jobs kept in a safe and orderly manner.  This allowed us to go back and look for phone numbers, other important communications or to see who did what job on which date.

  • Personal Weekly Chart– Personal charts were usually on paper and we used a computer to print them (see Appendix J).  This aided reproduction of the chart and made it easy to personalize each chart for individual children.  We used personal charts for all ages of children.  When our youngest were preschool aged we used pictures to illustrate the chart rather than words so that they could chart their own tasks and progress. 

This method worked best when we had a specific place to keep the chart so that it would not get lost.  When our children were young we had a large artist’s clipboard that we used to keep charts for the entire family.  This large clipboard held several pieces of paper and was too large to lose, although small enough to move around the house as needed.  As our children got older and more responsible we moved to individual clipboards with individual charts.  Children were required to mark their own chart each day, and incentives of some sort were normally associated with keeping the chart marked (see chapter 5 for more on token economies). 

Most individual charts that we used had space for a week’s worth of jobs, so this method had the advantage over family charts of only needing to be produced once a week.  This type of chart is especially good if you are linking children’s privileges, such as computer use or TV viewing time, to jobs completed.  Some of the charts we used were specifically designed to give points to use towards such purposes.  One disadvantage of this method was that it was more difficult for us to see what each child had completed.  We had to look at each chart to see what had been done instead of just looking down one list.

  • Job Procedure Charts- When I go into a department store I often see a chart posted inside the restroom door listing when the restroom was last cleaned and what tasks were completed during that cleaning.  When several people take turns with the same assignment record keeping is important so that all know what needs to be done, what was done and when it was completed.  With this concept in mind I developed a Bathroom Cleaning Procedures check sheet (see page Appendix D).  This check sheet specifically lists each bathroom cleaning task that needs to be completed.  It also provides a checklist for the child to check off each item as it is completed.  This has been an excellent teaching tool and resources for my family.  It gives specific directions for each task so there is no debate on what I mean when I ask if the bathroom has been cleaned.  It also provides an ongoing record of who cleaned the bathroom last and what they did.

This type of tool could also be used for other similar tasks.  Children work best with small, specific tasks.  A checklist could be provided for room cleaning (with tasks such as pick up toys or put dirty clothes in hamper listed) or for large tasks that are done infrequently.

Chapter 2- Next, Get Yourself in Control- The Silent Week

DSC_0161Don’t scream, threaten or plead.  None of these behaviors is effective in shaping behavior.  This is a lesson that I have had to learn over and over again, but the clearest lesson came during my pregnancy with baby number four.

With each pregnancy I spent between two and three months in bed with extreme “morning sickness,” but this one was the worse.  Even when I felt good enough to get up and around I was still nauseated much of the time.  As the nausea slowly subsided I became so large and uncomfortable that I didn’t want to do much.  The kids seemed to do okay with Mr. Mom, Dad, pitching in around the house and some friends and relatives took the girls part of the time, but as summer approached and the kids were home all day I realized that there was a problem; I had lost control.  My children had become used to a lump in a bed that barely had the strength to speak to them, let alone discipline them.  As I slowly became their mother again they did what any healthy child does, they challenged my authority!  I didn’t have the strength to get up and enforce my requests, or demands, so I did what most moms would do in the same situation; I screamed.  When yelling didn’t work I threatened, and when threatening didn’t work, I yelled louder.  The more I yelled, the less they listened.  How could they do this to me?  I’d been sick, and I was still weak, I was fat and uncomfortable, I didn’t want to move.  If they really loved me wouldn’t they feel compassion and help me?

One day I woke up with a scratchy throat and a hoarse voice.  As I went about my usual yelling, and screaming my voice quickly disappeared.  I had enough trouble getting my kids to listen before.  How could I ever get them to obey me with no voice at all?  My voice was gone for a week, and that week changed everything.  Instead of the mayhem I expected my house was now calm and relaxed.  My children were in control, and seemed much happier.  What was the secret?  The answer was so simple and it had worked in the past, I don’t know why I missed it.  The answer was silence.  When I stopped yelling so did my children.  When I whispered, they listened.  “Who was this quiet woman, and what is so important that it must be said in a secret?” they seemed to be thinking.  I learned some important lessons during that week.  None of them were new or revolutionary, but they do work.  I think many of us, in our hurried and hectic lives, lose sight, for a time, of our goal in raising our children.  If our goal is to produce well adjusted, productive adults, yelling and threatening never accomplishes the goal.  The suggestions below are a step closer to that goal, and some important tools to help you keep your cool.  Your children will never really be in control until you are in control.  These steps will help you be in control.  A parent that is in control will always remember to not get mad, and just get busy!


Psst!  Come here!- Children are more responsive to a quiet, interesting request than yelling.  It is easier to tune out a loud sound, and the louder you are, the louder they need to be to drown you out!


Get UP!- You can’t be an effective “armchair parent” any more than you can be an armchair quarterback.  As hard as it was for me to get up when I was pregnant, in the long run it was easier.


Don’t Threaten “I’m gonna break your arm if you don’t stop that!” I knew a woman who often threatened “bodily harm” to children in her care.  She knew she wouldn’t hurt them, and so did the kids, so why say it?  Even seemingly innocent threats can often backfire.  If you threaten to not take a child on a family outing if they don’t behave, and then they don’t, what do you do?  Keep the whole family home?  Try and find a babysitter at the last minute?  And if you take the child anyway what does that tell him?  You don’t want to leave him home, you just want him to behave.  Try a quick, short term consequence, “If you poke your sister again, I will take the pencil away.”  Or, better yet, just take it away, and give it back when better behavior is demonstrated.


Count to 3- This can be controversial, but I find counting works.  “Come in the house by the count of three,” gives a definite deadline as to when it must be accomplished.  “Let’s see if you can put all the blocks away before I count to 10,” gives a sense of urgency.  If you find they’re stalling, count faster, and be sure to follow through if your child does not respond appropriately.


Time Out- It doesn’t do much good to count if there’s no reward or punishment at the end.  Rewards work best.  “We can all have dessert if the toys are picked up by 10,” or an extra ½ hour of TV, or a star on a special chart.  And, it’s amazing what kids will do for a stamp on the hand or a sticker!  But, there are times when punishment is in order, and a “time out” is the best for young children.  Time out can be a very effective tool, but it must be used properly.  The key to an effective time out is that it ends the child’s disruptive behavior, excludes the child from the main activity of the family, and that it be quite brief.  You should tell the child precisely why he she is taking the time out, but refrain from long explanations.  An upset child is in no shape to hear a lecture, and too much time spent with the child can be a reward of more time with you.  Remember, your goal is to exclude the child from your attention.  Many families designate one spot in the house, such as a special chair or the bottom stair of the stair case, as the time out spot, however this is not necessary.  So long as the spot chosen is away from the main activities of the household and does not have other stimulating activities (toys, TV viewing, etc.) it can be effective.  A guideline that is sometimes used to determine the time limit for a time out is one minute for every year of age.  A three-year old, for instance, needs a 3 min. time out. Time out should be more of a time for a child to calm down and regroup than a typical punishment.

Chapter 1- First, Build a Home

DSC_0248Discipline does not work in a vacuum.  Before you can shape and guide your child’s behavior you must first build a home where the child feels safe and you must establish a good parent-child relationship.  There is a basic principle in discipline that states that you cannot effectively discipline a child who does not know you.

As a teacher I spend time each day for the first few weeks of school getting to know and building a relationship with my students.  I teach them my goals for them and my expectations for their behavior.  I also give them a glimpse of my personal life and personality.  By the end of the school year the majority of my students, even ones with severe behavior problems in other classes, genuinely want to behave in my class and please me.  They may not always behave appropriately, but when I need to reprimand them or correct their behavior they understand the consequence and learn from the encounter.

The same cannot be said for the average student I meet on campus who does not know me.  Even if I use the same techniques with a student that I see crossing campus and not obeying the rules, my actions are usually much less effective and short lived.  The same problem occurs when I have a substitute in my class.  The class who is normally polite and productive for me is often rude and non-productive for my sub.  Discipline cannot truly be effective unless there is a long established relationship between the child and the disciplinarian; hence it is essential that you build a good relationship with your child in order to effectively discipline him or her.

Start when your child is young to build a relationship by reading to her, playing games with him and going on family outings together.  Have conversations about what is going on in your life, and encourage your child to tell you about his or her day.  One of the best places to build positive relationships is at the family dinner table.  Don’t let outside activities or the TV set infringe on this valuable time.  Plan your week so the entire family sits down together at least a few times each week and lingers over dinner.  For every negative exchange that you have with your child you should have many more positive exchanges.  These exchanges should be fun and genuine, not stiff, contrived or scheduled.  Be yourself, and don’t be afraid to let your kids really get to know you.

One of the most important principles in building a home is to be sure that your child feels loved.  “But of course I love my child!” you may say.  But does your child know that he is loved?  Even the parent who neglects or abuses their child may loves him, so what you feel is not relevant.  What is relevant is how your child feels.  A child who does not feel loved will not feel safe and secure at home.  But if your feelings and thoughts are not relevant, then how can you know how your child feels?  You can never really be sure of how your child feels, but the following important steps will show your child that you love him or her and build the kind of relationship that will show love and build security.


Give Hugs and Kisses- Most parents hug and kiss their little children.  But as children grow and become less cute and huggable parents become less affectionate.  As a normal part of growing and separating from parents children in turn are also less affectionate.  They may also rebuff parents who try to show their love.  Paradoxically, at about this same point in time children may need more affection, yet they are getting less.  As children begin to grapple with peer pressure, increased stress in school, building more mature relationships outside of the family, and physical changes inherent with growing up, their self-image and security are challenged.  If your child balks at your attempts to show affection, don’t give up.  Be creative and more subtle, but do show affection.  Give your child a peck on the check or top of the head as he passes by, as she sits watching TV or is playing on the computer.  Don’t be afraid to add an, “I love you,” and do be careful around friends.  The goal should be to convey love to your child, not to grandstand in front of the friends or to embarrass.


Plan Fun Together- As children get older and start to develop outside interests and participate in more activities with their friends, parents often have less time to spend with their children just having fun.  Sometimes with older children and teenagers it seems that all of your time with them is spent in giving instruction and reprimands.  It is therefore important to plan time to have fun together, and it becomes even more important as children grow.  Eat dinners as a family at least a few nights a week and make a rule that conversations are to be kept to light topics.  Plan one evening a week for a family activity.  Plan dates with your kids one-on-one and let him or her pick the place to go.  Use this time to let your child talk, and ask open-ended questions to get the conversation going.  Listen more than you talk.  Take family vacations, even if the trip is just a campout in the backyard with no phones or video games allowed.


Communicate When your children are tiny it is hard to imagine that you will ever not feel close to them.  But somehow, between babyhood and the teen years, communication is often hampered and that little girl who told you every thought and feeling that she had refuses to speak.  Planning family fun can go a long way to help keep the lines of communication open.  Often a child who will not speak to you at home or under a stressful situation will open up and be himself at his favorite restaurant.  Be sure that you continue to communicate openly with your child, even if he or she shuts down.  Talk about your goals and aspirations and everyday happenings.  Just as you plan a time to have fun, plan a time to talk.  Talk over dinner, or plan a time just for communication.  Some families have regular parent child interviews.  The main goal of the interview should be for your child to share and look at goals.  Try writing down important things during the interview such as a list of your child’s friends, teachers names, interests, dreams and future goals.  You can write important facts about your child in a journal or notebook kept specifically for this purpose.  You can use some of the interview time to share ideas or concerns with your child, but this should not be the focus.  Be sure that your child is able to fully communicate their thoughts and feelings, and give your child time to air grievances or complaints about you.  Listen openly, not defensibly, and talk about possible solutions to problems.


Show increased love after discipline- No matter the age of the child it is sometimes hard for them to separate the discipline from the person administering the consequence.  It is important that children realize that parents discipline because they love their children, not because of a lack of love.  After you discipline a child always show an increase of love.  Not only do they need the extra attention to shape their proper behavior, they also need to know that you are not the enemy.

What is discipline?

DSC_0039When we think of discipline we usually think of punishment.  How many of our parents or grandparents exclusively used a “whipping” as a way to punish their children?  Child care experts now advise that physical punishment is not the best mode of discipline, but few of us have really been trained to use effective alternative methods.  Although punishment is often used in disciplining children, it is actually a very small part.  Good discipline will not just offer rewards and punishments for behavior, it will actually shape behavior.

There are many books available that talk about discipline and behavior modification techniques.  This book is not meant to replace any of those books, methods or theories.  This book is meant to be a companion piece to whatever method you choose to adopt.  I found as I read books and articles on parenting and discipline methods they advised over and over to set down ground rules, be firm and consistent, yet loving.  But with each book and article I was left with developing the actual, “how to” implement them with my family.  There were a lot of wonderful ideas out there, but none of them that I could just pull off the shelf and use.  I also found that there were charts and guides that had been developed and offered for sale, but none of them quite fit my needs.  This book, and the forms available to readers at the website, put at your disposal a large array of useful, tested practices that are easily adapted to your family and their needs.

Please note that I have done several things in the wording of this book simply to make my job as author easier.  First of all, you will notice that I have used gender words interchangeably.  I may use him one time, her the next and his or hers the time after that.  This is simply to ease the flow of the book and to add variety.  I am well aware that children and parents come in two genders, so please be aware that these methods will work for both genders, regardless of the wording in each particular part.

Next, I have written this book as if each child were being parented by a traditional two parent married couple.  Once again, this has been done only for ease of writing.  I am well aware that many children grow up quite successfully in a variety of different family configurations.  If your family is not headed by a traditional two parent married couple, please be aware that these methods will be just as effective.  Some of the recommendations may need to be adjusted to fit your particular situation; however all should be applicable for all who want to parent a child.

The Best Age to Start Swimming Lessons: Advice from a Veteran Teacher, Mom and Grandma

Swim Blog picI am often asked, “What is the best age for my child to start swim lessons?”  Typically, my answer is, “Not two,” as two year olds can be very uncooperative at times, but in reality the answer is very complex.  There are many factors to consider when determining when to enroll your child in formal lessons, but the most important thing is that your child does learn to swim.  According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) 10 people die of unintentional drowning per day.  The largest risk group is children ages 1 to 4.  Drowning is responsible for more deaths in this age group than any other cause except birth defects.  There are many factors that influence drowning risks, but one of the top factors is lack of swimming ability.  In fact, recent research has shown that formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning not only for older children and adults, but also for this high risk group of children between the ages of 1 and 4.

While it seems to make sense to provide lessons for your child as soon as possible formal swim programs vary on the age at which they provide lessons for young children.  Most programs do not recommend formal lessons for children under 6 months of age, and even at this age skills learned will be limited due to limited developmental ability.  Of course if you are going to invest time and money into a formal swim class you will want to see your child make progress toward becoming an independent swimmer.  There are four main factors that determine how quickly children learn to swim independently; developmental level, natural ability, instruction (formal and informal) and opportunity to practice.  With these facts in mind, let’s look at some common considerations to think of as you consider the best timetable for your child.

What to consider:

  • Exposure to Water Environments-

In some areas water activities are common and plentiful and in others they are not.  In terms of safely, if you live in an area where your child has easy access to water, the younger you start lessons the better.  While there are swim schools that promise to “water proof” your child it is important to remember that no child is truly water safe.  I like the term, “water predictable” better.  When your child is water predictable you know how he or she will typically react in aquatic environments.  While no child, especially a very young child, should be left unattended around water, a child who has learned basic rules and skills and knows how to behave in water environments will typically behave in a more predictable manner.  Not only will the child know and understand what he or she can safely do to save him or herself, but parents, having seen their child in aquatic situations, will know how the child is likely to behave.  This can buy you the seconds or minutes needed to save your child if necessary.

Not only is the availability of water important in safety considerations, it is also important to consider in light of practice time.  One of the most important factors in how quickly children learn to swim is the availability of practice time.  Formal lessons are of little use if the child’s only time in the water is during the lesson.  Swim lessons should happen in conjunction with plenty of supervised water play time when skills can be practiced.

  • Time and Availability of Appropriate Lessons

Swim lessons may be taught by large swim schools, community programs, backyard swim programs as well as schools, day camp programs and preschools.  There are parent and child programs, one on one classes, as well as large group classes.  I will cover the pros and cons of these types of programs below, but the first thing you must determine is what is available in your area.  It is important to consider the goals in the program you are considering to make sure they match your personal goals for your child.  While traditional swim sessions run for about 8 to 10 days with lessons lasting 20 min. to a half hour, more intensive programs can run for many weeks meeting several days a week.  Part of your decision on when and where to enroll your child is if the program meets your schedule.  Children will make the best progress with consistent attendance in the program of your choice.  Choosing a program that fits your schedule well will help alleviate absences.

Typical Features of Various lesson types:

Private Swim School:

  • Main goal is to make a profit, however many are also quite passionate about their particular brand of swim instruction
  • Lessons may be available year round
  • Lesson are likely to be offered many times throughout the day
  • Teachers may have more experience, as this may be their main job, and typically need some sort of certification to teach
  • May be quite expensive
  • Methods may be quite different than other programs with a specific focus, such as “water safe” skills or swim team skill development
  • All ages are typically serviced, and some provide lessons for very young children

Community Programs:

  • Main goal is typically safety and as a service to the community
  • Lessons are typically only available during the summer months
  • Lesson times can be very rigid and limited
  • Teachers may be young and inexperienced, however there may be a few veterans; They will be required to have some sort of certification
  • Usually reasonably priced
  • Methods are usually standardized and developed by large organizations (such as the American Red Cross) teaching well researched skills and with practiced methodologies
  • While some may offer parent and child or preschool classes the focus is typically on courses for school aged children

Backyard Programs:

  • These programs vary from organized groups that facilitate small groupings in neighborhood pools, private instructors who come to your home or individuals who offer lessons in their own or others’ pools; Goals vary based on the group type.
  • Lessons typically only during summer months
  • Lesson times can be quite limited, however may be more flexible and adapted to individual needs.
  • Teacher experience varies greatly, be sure to ask what experience and training the teacher has had
  • Fees vary widely, from free and low cost community sponsored programs, to expensive private lessons

Private or Semi-Private Lessons:

  • Goals in these programs vary; Most useful for adults or older children looking to perfect strokes (Typically, young children and children just learning to swim do much better in a group, where they can see other students in their general age group performing the skills they are working on.)
  • Typically, lesson times are tailored to needs of students
  • Teacher experience varies; Be sure to ask about certifications and experience
  • Quite expensive

Preschool or Day Camp Programs:

  • Main goal of these programs is typically to provide lessons for children who may not otherwise have access to swim lessons because they attend all day preschool or day camp programs
  • Lessons typically take place during the regular school or day camp hours
  • Lesson can be offered in large classes, small groups or in private or semi-private groups
  • Teacher experience varies
  • May be part of the preschool or camp fees, or may be an extra fee
  • No standardized methods, however many states require teachers to hold a water safety certificate issued by a authorizing agency, such as the American Red Cross, with standardized procedures

Another factor to consider when looking at swim programs is practice time.  Does the facility offer time for children to practice?  Is there an open swim time?  Can they stay in the water after their lesson, or do they have to get out immediately after?  Remember, a key to how quickly children learn to swim independently is practice time.  If children have an opportunity to practice their skills in the same location as they receive instruction this is a real plus.

  • Child’s Skills and Temperament

While every child can and should learn to swim, some children are naturally more adept at an early age.  Some of the hundreds of children I have taught to swim include my 5 children and 10 of my 11 grandchildren (the youngest being too young for formal lessons).  While all have been quite proficient swimmers by about the age of 4 or 5, some reached that level of proficiency at a much earlier age.  While there have been some variations in the availability of practice time, the main difference has been natural ability and temperament.

Some children take to a body of water as if they are part fish.  Holding their breath, moving arms and legs, jumping into the water and navigating entries and exits are quickly mastered and all that is needed is the development of the ability to lift their head to breathe and instruction in formal strokes.  These children are easy and fun to teach to swim.  When these children take lessons as infants or preschoolers they often master in one day what it takes their less adept peers to learn in an entire session.  While it is important to teach these children safety rules and basic skills, sometimes those can be easily taught outside of formal lessons.  The most important thing with this kind of child is for parents to have clear rules about when the child can and cannot jump in and swim and enforce them.  While some of the skills these children possess can help save them, they may also be very brave and jump in to bodies of water unexpectedly.  Even very young children can and should be taught to ask and get permission before jumping in and “swimming” to others.  If you or your child need formal lessons to master these safety skills then do take advantage of this.

Blake Swims still

Click here for an example of a natural swimmer.  This is Blake, my grandson, who at just 2  could easily and naturally swim across the pool.

For other children, however, every individual skill is difficult and laborious.  They are not fond of water in the face, and instead of holding their breath their natural inclination may be to suck up water.  They can move their arms or legs in the water, but don’t ask for both at the same time.  Jumping in is a scary proposition, and all water entries and exits take a while to learn and adjust to.  These children will take much longer to master basic swim skills, and will probably require several sessions of lessons to feel comfortable in the water.  Generally, these fearful children are a lot less likely to jump into a body of water unexpectedly, however a fearful child is more likely to suck up water if accidentally submerged and drown within seconds vs. the minutes that may be afforded with effective breath-holding.  Often, the parent with the brave child is more apt to pursue early swim lessons, however in some ways the fearful child can benefit more.

Another important factor to consider in this area is how well your child adapts to and learns from others.  For very young children parent and child lessons are often available, however once the parent is not involved in the lessons children react differently to a swim teacher.  Generally, the more friendly the child is with the teacher the quicker he or she will learn.  This is why I generally advise that children not start lessons at the age of 2.  While there are exceptions, most 2 year olds are not friendly with new adults and are often not even cooperative with their own parents.  For this reason, most children do better starting at a younger age or starting when they are a bit older.

  • Parent Goals and Desire for Child

So, what are your goals for your child?  Are you looking for the next big Olympic medalist?  Is safety your big thing, or do you just want your kids to have a good time?  You will want to make sure that your goals match the type of lessons that you choose.  As you look for available resources keep this in mind; look for lessons that match what you believe is important.  Don’t be afraid to share your goals with the school or teacher.  It will help them to tailor what they teach to your child.  And, if the direction the lessons you chose ends up not fitting your needs, feel free to choose another program.  The most important thing is that you do teach your child to swim!

Sorry Parents, but Common Core is probably not going away for a good, long time.

In my previous posts I talked about how we were doing Common Core wrong, and what teachers could do to make the transition easier.  Here is part 3, the part where I have some advice for parents.  Now parents, before you start to think I don’t get you because I am a teacher you need to understand.  I was a parent before I was a public school teacher.  Long before I held a parent teacher conference or consulted with parents as a teacher I was on the other side of the table.  I know that a lot of teachers have kids, but a large majority of them were teachers first, and parents second.  Trust me, it is different.  And, I had kids who struggled, so it required me to be pretty involved to get them through school.  And, that involvement was not always smooth and easy.  So, I totally get you.  I get how sometimes schools, teachers and parents don’t see eye to eye.  But here is the thing, now that I have been on the teacher side of the table, I get them too.  It puts me in the unique position to give advice, that I think is valid, to both teachers and parents.

So, parents, when it comes to Common Core I have three pieces of advice:

  • Realize Common Core isn’t going anywhere for a good long time.
  • Ask how you can help, before you complain. And, when you feel you must complain, know your facts, and be specific about the problem.
  • If you don’t get the homework, or your child can’t do the homework, feel free to send it back with a note.

#1- Realize Common Core isn’t going anywhere for a good long time

Surely, if we put up enough fuss, if we make our voices heard and if we complain to our representatives we will get rid of it, right?  Well, probably not.  True, there are some states that backed down from Common Core, but these states did not go back to the previous standards.  They adopted new standards, and most of the new standards are very similar to Common Core.  So, like it or not, these standards, or something very much like them, are here to stay for a good long time.  To help you better understand why this is true I would like to define a few things, and explain a few things that parents and the general public may not understand just because they don’t deal with the inner workings of public education.

What are standards?  Educational standards define the knowledge and skills students ideally should possess at critical points in their educational development. “Standards serve as a basis of educational reform across the nation as educators and policy makers respond to the call for a clear definition of desired outcomes of schooling and a way to measure student success in terms of these outcomes” (National Research Council 2001).  Let’s liken standards to developmental milestones.  Most parents are familiar with these milestones because when you visit your pediatrician for a well-child check up your doctor will ask you, is your child crawling yet, can he roll over, can she sit up on her own or can he say 10 words.  These milestones are based on the average age at which children typically acquire these skills.  So if your child is significantly behind other children at her age it signals to your pediatrician that there may be a developmental delay or health issue.

Educational standards are a bit like this.  They list the grade at which students should have the identified skills and knowledge.  There are some differences, however.  The first major difference is that standards are tied to grade level, not to student age.  The obvious problem of this is that students at any given grade level will represent a sizable range in age, as well as developmental level.  Of course the nature of our public school system requires this age range, but this fact makes it difficult to say that a child that does not attain a certain standard is behind other students when he or she may simply be younger or slower to develop than other students at that grade level.  The next major difference between standards and developmental benchmarks is that given a supportive and healthy environment and typical developmental abilities young children will automatically acquire the milestones.  Educational standards, however, represent skills and knowledge that students must be taught, not that they will acquire on their own.   So, the problem with judging children based on these standards is that attainment requires just the right mix of quality teaching and educational readiness, as well as student engagement.  The third major difference between developmental milestones and standards is that milestones are based on what the typical child has been shown to master.  Standards, on the other hand, are more arbitrary.  They are not necessarily developed with the typical development of children in mind.  In my opinion, this was one of the major problems with the previous set of standards in the state of California.  They did not seem to match what is known about child development.  The jury is still out on how well the Common Core standards fit developmental levels, but I do believe that one area that better fits development levels is in the area of 8th grade math.  The previous California standards required every 8th grade student to learn algebra.  This requirement in no way took into account the developmental level of the typical 13 year old and caused much frustration among parent and students, as well as teachers.

How did Standards across the nation Come to Be?  During most of the history of public education state and local agencies set standards of what would be taught when, but these guidelines were often very loose and unregulated.  So it was not uncommon for individual teachers to teach what they wanted, when they wanted.  In 1989 George W. Bush met with many of the nation’s governors at the Charlottesville Education Summit and developed educational goals.  Goals centered around targets to measure educational improvement that asked states to give up some of their autonomy to provide for more educational excellence nation-wide.  “There is a growing recognition that an essential next step for education reform is establishing consensus around a set of national goals for education improvement, stated in terms of the results and outcomes we as a nation need for the education system.”  From this summit sprang “No Child Left Behind” and the required standards and high stakes testing that states began to adopt.  The plan was for each state to determine what a “proficient” student looked like and how to assess it.  Seemed like a good idea to ensure autonomy of the states, while moving closer to accounting for what they taught, but in practice this plan did not work well.  Some states, for instance Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee, set their standards so low that a large majority of their students scored proficient on their state tests, while independent tests showed that their students were genuinely nowhere near the proficiency that their scores would indicate.

So the deal was this, every year states would be required to increase the number of students who scored proficient.  Little by little, we would give students the skills they needed to all reach proficiency.  2014 was the year this was supposed to happen.  Every student was supposed to be proficient across the nation.  Yep, every kids 100%.  Do you see a problem with this plan?  Well, there were many.  First, in order to get 100% of any group of people anywhere to be proficient at anything is a bit problematic.  I can’t think of a single skill that everyone on this earth is capable of showing complete proficiency in, not even breathing.  At any one time there is a sizable number of the population that needs a machine to breathe, so even something as essential as breathing, cannot show 100% proficiency.  And, this was 100% of the population enrolled in public school, yep, even students with severe learning problems.  The last major flaw in this plan was the disparity of standards.  Some states did reach or come very close to that 100% level, but their standards were set so low when compared to other measures they were really quite meaningless.  As the number of students required to be at proficient increased, and more and more schools and districts were unable to reach the standard it became increasingly clear that the plan was just not working.

This is the environment in which Common Core Standards were born.  Didn’t it make a lot more sense to measure the whole nation with similar standards instead of widely varied one?  A lot of people thought so, which is what spurred the spread of the new standards.

How is curriculum different from standards?  There seems to be quite a bit of misunderstanding on the difference between curriculum and standards.  I often hear and see people refer to books or specific curriculum and insinuate that those items are synonymous with the Common Core Standards.  Even many websites designed for teachers provide activities and worksheets labeled as “Common Core Curriculum.”  In reality, there is no such thing.  Standards are like a list of things that student should learn; curriculum is how it will be taught.  For instance, if I want to teach you touch typing I can use many methods, such as on-line games or programs, or yours mother’s old typing class materials.  Touch typing would be like the standard, what will be learned.  The method is like the curriculum, how it will be taught.

No matter how good or bad standards are, they are not designed to teach students anything.  What teaches are good teachers and good curriculum.  Great standards can be completely unsuccessful with poor teaching and/or curriculum.  And, by the same token, good curriculum and teachers can often mitigate the problems with poor standards.

Can we get rid of Common Core?  When I hear people talk about getting rid of Common Core I often wonder if they know what this really entails.  As an illustration, let’s think about the direction that public education is headed as a long freight train moving down the track.  It takes an awful lot to get it moving forward, and once it does it takes an awful lot to stop it or change its path.  You see, new standards take years and years to create.  Once they are created they need to be adopted and then synthesized into a usable state.  The standards must then be disseminated to districts, schools, administrators and finally to teachers.  Once everyone knows the new standards, how it will be taught must be decided.  People start creating curriculum and publishers begin to develop materials.  Adoption of new materials can take years, and often early curriculum does not do a very good job of teaching the new standards.  We are in the midst of this process of change.  It took a long time, a considerable amount of money and a great deal of effort to get this train moving down the Common Core track.  Some states are a bit further down the track than the State of California which is in the very early stages of adopting curriculum (publishers have developed and distributed transitionary materials only for schools to use until state adopted curriculum are available).  But the standards and especially the curriculum that would supporting teaching of those standards are still in their infancy.  States are unlikely to abandon something that has absorbed so many resources to implement, especially when you consider that it is way too early to determine the value of the standards or the efficacy of the curriculum.  That is also why states that have moved away from Common Core have adopted standards so similar.  The freight train has just picked up speed and it is difficult, and probably ill-advised, to stop or change the direction of that train.  States that have moved away from Common Core have just moved to a parallel track moving in the same direction.

#2- •      Ask how you can help, before you complain.  And, when you feel you must complain, know your facts, and be specific about the problem.

There was a time when parents had a lot of power over public education.  They hired the teachers, set the standards and determined a school calendar that fit the needs of their family life.  Although the days are long gone when parents have this much influence over schools, parents do need to understand that they continue to wield a good deal of power.  Many decisions are made based on the views of the public and the desires of parents.  However, parents also need to understand that there is a way to wield that power that is successful and builds collaborative relationships, and there is a way to wield that power that can be very unsuccessful and may build roadblocks to schools and parents working together.  The most important thing that parents can do to influence change in their local schools is to gain credibility in the sights of teachers and administers.  There are several things that parents can do to gain credibility and be able to influence decision making, but the most important thing is to make yourself known in a positive manner.  I cannot say enough about the benefits of parents becoming involved in their public schools by working with parent groups and committees, volunteering in the classroom or making themselves available to assist with school and extra-curricular activities.  Once you make yourself visible and helpful you are no longer just someone’s parent, you are a known, valued member of the school community.

It is quite unlikely that your child will make it through their years of public education without something that you need to complain about.  It is not uncommon for actions, policies and procedures to violate what parents feel are in the best interest of their child.  At those times parents should speak up and they can wield quite a bit of power.  However, public school policies are designed to keep the power in the hands of administrators.  They will not easily allow parents to come in and start directing how things should be run.  But if parents take the time to make themselves credible to school personal, it will increase the likelihood that their voice will be heard.  The first step is to become involved.  This should be done long before a problem arises so that the school sees you as a helpful asset, not as someone who is only helping because of ulterior motives.  The next step is to do your homework.  Whether you are complaining about standards, curriculum, a policy or an altercation your child had with an adult or another student gather as many credible facts as you can.  I cannot tell you how many meetings I have been in with parents that were very upset about something, only for the parents to find out that they completely misunderstood the situation.  Once these steps have been taken, be sure you present your concerns in a calm, coherent, specific manner.  Complaints such as, “We need to get rid of Common Core,” does not build credibility for your case at all.  What about the standards are you concerned about, and what do you think needs to change?  While it is unlikely that states will entirely abandon Common Core or standards that are very similar, there is a lot of room for input on how the standards will be implemented and what the adopted curriculum will look like.

#3- If you don’t get the homework, or your child can’t do the homework, feel free to send the HW back with a note

Changing standards and curriculum is a big deal and a long and difficult process.  One of the primary complaints of parents with the shift in standards is that they don’t understand the homework, and neither does their child.  Be assured, your child’s teacher is pretty frustrated by this too.  Not only is it difficult to learn and teach new materials in a new manner, but as I mentioned before curriculum has not even been fully developed, and many of the transitional materials are not very good.  This makes for a frustrating situation for everyone involved.  It is a bit like learning to drive a new car, when the car is only half built, and pieces are being added on as you drive.

But here’s the thing parents, remember the power you wield?   Here’s one place you can really exercise it, homework.  Parents, you are ultimately responsible for your children and for what goes on in the hours between the end of school one day, and the beginning of the next.  While teachers would love it if each and every child would complete the homework that were assigned each day, the fact of the matter is that it often does not happen.  Sometimes it gets forgotten, or there are other family obligations or emergencies and yes, sometimes they just don’t understand what to do.  And you know what, as earthshaking as this may seem, if the homework does not get done some of the time, life goes on.  Of course, it is a problem if your child never does their homework.  But, what would happen if when you and your child don’t understand the homework you just wrote a note explaining the problem and told your child we won’t be doing this tonight?  If you have already taken the time to build that relationship earlier with your school and your child’s teacher they would probably understand and find a better way to communicate with you and/ or your child what should be done.

In conclusion, I would just like to share some Common Core successes.  Teaching in a California school for the first year of full Common Core adoption has been frustrating and an awful lot of work.  But I am starting to see some of the benefits of being able to delve a bit deeper into topics instead of skimming the surface as our last set of standards required.  The old standards moved so quickly that students had no time to really master anything, especially in math.  So the 6th grade math teacher that I work with and I slowed down even a bit more for the class that I support because they struggle in math.  We took a bit more time to really understand some number concepts and how the whole system works, especially when it relates to fractional concepts.  And, you know what?  When we came back around later in the year to using those fractional concepts, for the first time in a long time I did not get blank stares when I asked what .5 meant.  They had actually learned it, and I had students who could tell me that .5 was the same as one half.  That may seem like a small victory, and they certainly don’t all “get it” but I can’t tell you how many times I have dealt with whole groups of students who had no idea that .5 is the same as one half.  I feel that Common Core math, at least at the level I am dealing with, will be much more successful in preparing our students for actually using numbers in real life.

Lastly, I would like to share an example, pulled from the pages of my Facebook Newsfeed.  These comments came from a post of a mom who felt frustrated about how her child was being taught math, and both she and her daughter were struggling.  Interestingly, this mom lives in a state that did not adopt Common Core, however their standards are quite similar.  These posts are from friends from several different states, in various stages of teaching math differently.  Names were omitted.

  • Responder 1 – I’ve been trying to teach myself a lot of these new algorithms that my kids have been learning….and my first reaction is to reject them as hippy dippy nonsense, then after doing it for half an hour, I wish they taught us this stuff when I was a kid.
  • Original Poster- For my daughter math has been a struggle. When they teach so many different ways to do the same thing it confuses her more- doesn’t help.
  • Responder 1-I also struggled with math so much as a kid and it wasn’t until I was teaching “new math” that I really got it and watched soooo many kids really begin to understand how math works instead of just regurgitating facts. I know it can be hard as a parent to watch but honestly, sometimes the brightest students will struggle with these methods at first but they come out so much more fluid and flexible in their mathematical reasoning skills.
  • Original Poster- I hope so!
  • Responder 2- Going through this from 1st to 3rd grade with my daughter was the real struggle. Now that she’s in 4th grade, it makes a lot more sense to me, and looking back, the 1st-3rd grade stuff was doing a good job leading up to what comes after. I think the hardest thing was that the instruction didn’t make sense, and that’s probably due to it being new to everybody, including a lot of the teachers.

So there you go folks, to take us back to our train analogy the ride may be long and bumpy, but eventually I think it will get us to our destination much better than our older standards were doing.  Of course, you are welcome to your own point of view; varying points of view are one of the things that make this country great.  However, I would admonish you to take my advice and realize that Common Core is probably not going anywhere, know when and how to complain and feel free to let teachers know when the homework just doesn’t work.  Parents, you can wield a lot of power, but doing it the right was will be much more successful.

What Happened to Being a Kid?

Spring is here, and as a middle school teacher this is always the time of year that we have to work on strictly enforcing dress code.  Skirts get shorter, short shorts get worn and tops get skimpier.  As I look at the way some of the kids come to school I often wonder, did their parents know they were wearing this to school?  Of course middle school has always been a time for kids to experiment with dressing in more provocative ways, but I think the more disturbing trend is that children of younger and younger ages are wearing clothing that was typically reserved for adults in times past.  As one elementary school teacher noted, “Seven seems to be the new 17,” (California Educator, February 2010).  Retailers and celebrities seem to be taking full advantage of this trend marketing clothing for young children with very sexual themes.

Not only has clothing becoming much more provocative, but children are behaving in ways that were once only seen appropriate for teens.  At ages where children once spent their time playing dress up or with cars and blocks, riding their bikes around the neighborhood and playing tag and hide-and-seek they are now watching shows and playing video games with adult themes, talking about pairing up with children of the opposite sex and communicating electronically with computers and cell phones.  One of the saddest developments of this trend is the role that many parents play.  Although it may be difficult for parents to monitor everything their teen wears and anywhere they go, parents can and should monitor their younger children.  Unfortunately, not only is monitoring sometimes absent, parents may be the ones encouraging the behaviors.  Some parents find it cute when their children behave in an older manner or dress in provocative clothing.

These behaviors are not cute, nor are they harmless.  Diane Levin of Wheelock College in Boston explains that this “age compression” is not healthy, especially when it involves sexual issues and behaviors.  She explains that children do not have the intellectual or emotional ability to understand these issues, and a blurring of the boundaries between childhood and adulthood can confuse and harm children (California Educator, February 2010).

We need to promote and encourage a full childhood for our children.  Children deserve to be protected from the damaging effects of our society for as long as possible and they need to be encouraged and allowed to play and participate in age appropriate manners.

Race to the Top of what?

President Obama’s new program for school reform has been announced and it is being called, “Race to the Top.” It provides billions of dollars to prospective schools that are willing to jump through the hoops that the federal government is establishing.  It is touted as a way to reform schools that “can transform our schools for decades to come.”

This started me thinking, what are we racing to the top of? Is the top that is sought really something that will benefit our nation’s children?  And, if so, why are we in such a hurry to get there?

As a teacher with a background in early childhood development I have had many years of studying how kids learn best.  No matter what expert you listen to, or the age of the child you are studying it boils down to one thing, kids learn best by doing.  And, kids are most likely to learn the most, and retain the most, when they are taught things appropriate for their developmental stage.  No one in their right mind would try to teach a 3 month old to walk, a 9 month old to write their name or a 2 year old calculus.  But, in some ways that is exactly what some of our school systems are trying to do.

Recently my daughter with a degree in early childhood education had a job interview for a position teaching preschool in a public school.  To the typical question, “How do preschoolers learn best,” she answered with the classic answer, “They learn through play.”  Play is the work of a preschool aged child.  They learn about their world through experimenting and manipulating materials, songs, games, stories and imaginative play.  “Well,” replied my daughter’s interviewer, “I used to think that.  Now we teach them to read and write.”  Huh?  Are preschoolers different now than when the interviewer began her career?  Does a preschooler really need to learn to read and write?  Am I a bad parent if I don’t teach my 18 month old to read?  Will my child be terribly behind if he cannot add at age 4?  Well for all you anxious parents out there, and for this misguided preschool professional, I would like to tell you that if your child is a normally developing child it makes no difference if they learn to read at 18 months, 4 or 7.

Traditionally in this country we have taught children to read at about 6 years of age.  When I was teacing kindergarten there was a big push for kindergarten aged children to learn to read.  It seemed that kindergartens, and in turn preschools, had become more academic in response to a push for children to have traditional academics at an early age.  I was intrigued with this trend, and went to a seminar that reported the results on a new study that had been done to find the best age for children to learn to read.  I was stunned by the results.  The study found that although a child could often be taught to read at a very early age, it really made no difference when this teaching began as long as it happened in early childhood for typically developing children, generally by age 7.  In addition, it was found that in third grade (when most children are 8 years) it was impossible to tell which children learned to read at 18 months, 4 or 6 years.  By third grade the child who did not learn to read or write until age 6 or 7 caught up with the others.  So when was this landmark study done?  This study was done in the late seventies and early eighties.  Yes, you are correct, this information was discovered over 30 years ago.  And many more studies have backed up this research in the ensuing years.

This misguided push is not only seen in the early grades, it is also seen in later years.  In the State of California there is a push for every 8th grader in the state to take algebra.  Algebra is an important subject that helps establish higher order thinking skills, however a push for every 13 year old to learn this skill is misguided and ridiculous.  Research has shown that the section of the brain that is responsible for abstract thinking is not fully developed until early in the 20’s.  Performance of algebraic skills requires high development of abstract thinking skills.  Some teens develop advanced skills at an early age and are able to understand the concepts necessary for algebra at an early age, however most have great difficulty with this.  When students are required to master concepts that are beyond their developmental  level  it leads to frustration and feelings of failure.  This is especially true for young teens who often suffer from feelings of inadequacy.

So, why then, are we once again pushing to teach very young children to read and write?  I think there are three major reasonsFirst, there is research that backs up early learning for children with disabilities.  I think that some overzealous educators and parents have decided that if this approach is successful for children with disabilities, it must also be successful for the average developing child.  Which brings us to the second reason for this early push; what parent does not want their child to be the best and the brightest?  If my baby can be the next Einstein by teaching him early, why not try?  Don’t I want my kid to be the first to master algebra?  Parents often push their children because they feel it will lead to their child being the best.  The third reason that I see for this push in early learning is due to politics.  Who hasn’t heard the news that the US is far behind other countries educationally?  Or that larger percentages of students do not graduate from high school?  But, did the news point out that our educational system is so vastly different than that in other countries that there really is no comparison?  Did it point out that in most other countries not every child is guaranteed an education?  And that often the students that our students are compared to are the best and brightest in the country who have passed tests to be allowed to continue on with their education, not every child in the country?  Or did the news tell you that the statistics used to determine what percentage of students graduate from high school is vastly flawed?  Did they report that the numbers they use to determine how many graduated only count those that graduate on the exact date of most students in that class?  And that the statistics do not take into account students who move, graduate even one day late or even those who graduate early?  Of course not.

So, this brings us back to Race to the Top. Politicians often use catchy names and cash awards to prove that they take education seriously.  But catchy names mean nothing, and the cash awards are often so small when distributed over a large number of schools that it is meaningless.  And have we really determined that what is at the top is really worth racing toward?

What I call for does not have a wonderfully catchy name, and it won’t get me elected to anything.  I call for a return to developmentally appropriate standards for children.  What children need is an educationally rich environment and plenty of time to develop at their own pace.  I have very intelligent children, but their intelligences are extremely varied.  I had one that taught himself to read at 4, and one that would not read a book to himself until he got to high school.  I had children who naturally understood high mathematics at a very young age, and I had children who did not really grasp algebraic concepts until college age.  I had children who had no difficulty earning high grades in school, and children who severely struggled to earn passing grades.  I had children who took 4 years of full time enrollment in a junior college to get through, and I had children who commented that college was really easy.  But guess what, none of that really mattered.  My children grew up in a home with a significant amount of daily stimulation to develop their talents, and an emphasis on continuing education.  There was no race to top, just a gradual climb to their personal best.  Now, my three oldest children hold degrees or are well established in careers of their choice and my younger ones are on the path toward their goals.  None of them was ever the top in their class, the first in their age group to master a concept or received a scholarship to a prestigious university.  But they are happy, well adjusted young adults working toward building their own family units.  Shouldn’t that be the goal, instead a race to an indeterminate top?  Slow down people, and give our children an environment in which they can develop naturally, and at the appropriate pace.

How do you set curfews?

One of the challenges with raising kids is that as they turn into teenagers their social life changes and they start to separate their identity from that of being your child to being their own person. It is our job, as parents, to allow and encourage this separation and growth. However, we must also factor in our responsibility to their safety. And safety includes physical as well as emotional protection. Part of the process of ensuring their safety is that we must be comfortable with the company they will keep, the activities they participate in, and when they come home. Each family will have to determine what activities are appropriate.

The issue that always comes up is curfew or when our child needs to be home. Many parents have a rigid approach and have a very inflexible rule. The problem with a strict and rigid rule is that life is composed of different activities and some of them do not fit into a rigid curfew rule.

In our family we NEVER had a set curfew. So what did we do to keep our kids safe? We talked to our kids about the particular activity they were participating in, who they were going to be with, and then we asked them for what they thought was a reasonable time for them to be home. We didn’t always agree with their time but we negotiated a reasonable time. There were even times when they would suggest midnight and we would counter with 11. If they countered with midnight we would often counter with 10:30. 😉 We also discussed the next day’s duties to determine if there was a reason to be home a bit earlier. When our daughters were going out on dates we would have the conversation with their escort so that all parties knew and understood our agreement.

Our children also knew that because this was an agreement with us that they had a responsibility to keep their end of our agreement. They also knew that to avoid negative consequences they had to notify us of any changes in activity, destination, people or the time expected home. In this manner we were able to evaluate their safety, with them, on an ongoing basis.

The final step of this process was that they were to check in with us when they came home. Even if we were asleep.

As our children got older (18+ and living with us) we still asked them to tell us where they were going and when they would be home. As adults they are no longer bound to us as children, but as courteous adults. We often get text messages updating us to their activities.

How will you set your curfews or limits?