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Rethink your thinking- The Abortion Debate and Roe v. Wade

This essay was originally posted as various posts on Facebook. Here I have compiled all of my posts in one place.

I feel quite privileged to have such a large number of friends who have such differing and varied opinions. I really enjoy hearing others point of view, and I take all of your thoughts and feeling seriously and ponder points of view that are different than mine quite often. Over the last few days, I have seen quite an interesting array of posts and memes about the recent Supreme Court decision. While many of them make some good points, I think this issue is so multi-faceted and complex it is impossible to cover in a meme or brief post. Often these posts seem to only further divide us as people cling to what they know of the issue and believe to be true.

Thoughts and feelings about abortion laws are such a complex issue and are so deeply rooted in people’s basic moral understanding that it is easy to see why it is so hard for people to find areas of agreement. However, I would like to ask that my friends seriously consider looking at things a bit differently than you may have before. Over the last few days, I have read and pondered what people have been saying, and done my homework with some basic research on some details about the issue. I would like to share some things that I think and feel about the issue over several posts over the next few days. If you are interested read on. If not, just keep scrolling.

Feel free to share if you desire. I would love your comments, but if you chose to comment, please be polite. All personal attacks will be deleted and if a mud slinging war begins, I will close off comments.

Thanks for reading, and keep reading if you want to hear what I have to say. Just know that what I have to offer may get a bit uncomfortable no matter what side of the aisle you are on. So if you just want to read what you agree with and makes you comfortable you may want to skip it.

Rethink your thinking #1- About me and Abortion Definition

First, a bit about me. I am not an expert on abortion or the constitution. I don’t pretend to know what experiences people have had that shape their thoughts and views, and I often mis-guess what makes people do the things they do.

I am, however, a bit of an expert on being pregnant and childbirth, at least from the woman’s side of things. I know the joy of expecting a child that you desire to add to your family, and I know the panic of being pregnant when you didn’t expect to be. I also know the desperation of not knowing how you will support the kids you already have, let alone adding another.

I have not always been good at listing to others’ point of view, but I am getting better at it. I am learning to listen way more than I talk, and to start conversations with questions, rather than my point of view. I also am pretty good at internet research and fleshing out the more and less biased sources.

Now, on to the term abortion. One thing that has become clear to me over the last few days is that we don’t have a common definition of the word abortion. For some, it is an evil practice that murders a child, and for others it is a medical procedure that may be necessary.

The first I remember knowing anything about abortion was when I was a teenager. This was back in the day when Roe v. Wade was new, pre-marital sex and having a child before marriage was still taboo and most people in this country professed some sort of Judeo-Christian ethics. There were no early pregnancy tests, showing a pregnant woman on TV was still a new concept, and the word pregnant was a bit taboo as well. There were no fancy 3D images of unborn children, actually, no images at all, no fancy apps that told you that your baby was the size of a cumquat and expectant parents had very little sense or understanding of what was going on in there until the fetus became large enough to feel.

The definition that I understood for abortion at that time is the top answer if you Google the definition today, “the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy.” In my mind, that is what most people think of when they hear the term abortion today. And may I just add that the majority of controversary revolves around this definition, most especially the elective termination of a pregnancy for personal or social convenience.

I was well into adulthood before I fully understood that an abortion was actually the ending of any pregnancy, and was even a term for miscarriage. As a society, we don’t use that term in that way in casual conversation, however that is the correct, technical term.

Even though the term has its roots as a medical term, it is still fraught with controversy. Over the last few decades, we have coined some other terms to soften the blow of the controversial word. Those who support elective abortion as a choice say they are pro-choice, and those who say they would rather that legal restrictions be in place call themselves pro-life. But through all of the spin and word smithing it still comes down to a basic philosophical difference. Some of us support the legal right to elective termination of pregnancy for personal or social convenience, and some of us do not.

So, the first thing I ask of you is this, do you know where you stand on that controversy? Do you think it is fully a woman’s right to decide, or do you think it is a personal issue between her and her doctor? Or, do you think that the rights of the unborn child takes a high enough precedence to overturn the parent’s right to decide? Don’t think about the exceptions, the outliers, the reasons that someone may make that choice, just is it okay to elect to terminate a pregnancy for personal or social convenience?

If your answer is yes there is a part two. Is there a limit to how long this right is allowed? Take a bit of time on this, and really know how you feel, and why you make the choice you do. If you don’t know think about what factors may influence you to make a decision like this.

If your answer is no there is a part two for you as well. Are there any circumstances under which an elective abortion, besides the health of the mother being at risk, could be a valid choice? Be careful with this, and take some time to consider what may or may not constitute a valid reason to end a viable and physically healthy pregnancy.

I look forward to hearing your respectful, well thought out and honest answers. Or, just keep your thoughts to yourself, but really know what they are. Make sure they are your own, and not what someone else is telling you is the right thing to think or believe. Know it is true for you because you have seriously considered it and thought through the pros and cons. And, if you don’t know yet, read what others think, and keep an open mind. Better yet, keep an open mind even if you think you know. It is never too late you learn something new.

Rethink your thinking #2- Let’s face the first elephant in the room- Roe v. Wade

First, some history. Roe v. Wade was a Supreme Court decision that came down in 1973. It said that the constitution protected abortion until the fetus could live outside of the womb as a right to privacy. Roe v. Wade was a landmark decision that has been touted as a decision that guaranteed reproductive rights for woman.

At the time of the decision elective abortion was illegal in nearly every state in the country. Supporters of abortion have credited the constitutional right to an abortion with improved health for women as well as their families. Prior to safe and legal abortions mortality for women from unsafe abortions was quite high. Also, in studies of women who chose abortion vs. carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term the women who chose abortion were found to have higher economic outcomes as well as educational levels.

Interestingly, popular support for the decision has been mixed over these nearly 50 years. When the Roe v. Wade decision first came down there was roughly a 50/50 split in the country for abortion rights. As time as gone on, support has increased and decreased a bit throughout the decades, but multiple studies continue to show about half of the population is in favor of abortion being available in some circumstance.

Before we go on to discuss the recent overturn, as well as other issues related to Roe v. Wade, let’s take a minute to consider something here. Over the last couple of weeks my newsfeed has been chocked with posts lamenting the loss of reproductive rights, as well as those saying no rights have been lost at all, just shifted. Can I just say a word for those of you who feel the loss? I am of the firm belief that friends should stand with those who mourn, and support those in pain. For those who mourn the loss of reproductive rights, I wish to take a moment to mourn with you. Please know that my attempt to point out some things about Roe v. Wade in no way is meant to belittle the pain of your loss. More than 30 subsequent court rulings have been based on Roe v. Wade, so it is not beyond the scope of imagination that the ruling may not only have a sweeping effect on abortion law, but may topple or affect quite a few other laws as well. I feel your pain ladies and gentleman who mourn the loss, but I do see things differently. So do read on if you would like to know my thoughts.

First, while the numbers for general support for abortion in public opinion polls has remained roughly the same in the last 50 years, we have a society have not. Our views of birth control have changed, our views of pregnancy and childbirth have changed, our views of having children out of wedlock have changed, our views of an unborn child have changed and our views of abortion in general as much less of a black and white issue have changed. While abortion was illegal in virtually every state before Roe v. Wade, states have been gearing up for and preparing for this for a long time. With the overturning of Roe v. Wade the decision is now in the states ‘hands. Today, abortion is only illegal in 5 states. All have some provisions for exceptions for the life of the mother, and some have exceptions for rape and incest. Eight other states have trigger laws in place that do not go into effect right away and may take as many as 30 days to go into effect, and three others have laws that were overturned due to the Roe v. Wade precedent that they may try again to enforce. So, that leaves 35 states where abortion will remain legal, at least as far as present laws go. While many will say that is a far cry from allowing it in all 50 states, it is also a very far cry from where we were in 1973.

Can I also point out that this may not be as bleak as many abortion supporters may see these numbers. If you look at the typical women who has an abortion today you will find she is already a mother, is in her late 20s, attended some college, has a low income, is unmarried, is in her first 6 weeks of pregnancy, is having her first abortion and lives in a blue state. While I find many things on this list interesting and worthy of discussion, the one I want to bring up is the last one. If the typical woman who is seeking an abortion lives in a blue state, and blue states are likely to continue to offer elective abortion as a choice, there may not be quite as many women who will be unable to access an elective abortion as it may seem. Only time will tell, but perhaps values and belief systems in individual states are so diverse, that the state is a better place to make this decision.

My second thought is it seems that placing so much hope and confidence in Roe v. Wade may have been an unwise choice. Legal pundits for years have warned that Roe v. Wade’s position as a constitutionally based decision was tenuous at best. Even some supporters of abortion as a right were not in favor of the ruling. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a staunch supporter of abortion as a right for women, but she was not in favor of the way it came about. Rather than allowing the practice as a matter for privacy, she felt it would have had more strength as a matter of equal protection. She felt more strength would have come from gradually developing laws that provided this equal protection, rather than one court ruling with a rocky foundation.

My last thought in regards to this ruling is the tendency by some to pit men against women. I have had more than one person make a comment about men taking away the reproductive rights of women. Can I just say quickly that I find terming abortion as a reproductive right strange. It seems that once the pregnancy has started, reproduction has already taken place, but I won’t argue that position right now. What I want to address is the pitting of men against women. It is true that due to their superior size, strength and power in society many men have taken advantage of, dismissed and belittled women historically. But do we really think the majority of the men in our society in this day and age feel that they can control and marginalize women? No doubt, men with that mentality still do exist, but I know so many kind, thoughtful, fair-minded and respectful men as a whole in this society that is hard to imagine that the majority of men are making laws with the express purpose to control women. This is not to say that I think a man can fully appreciate the plight of a women who is pregnant and does not expect to be. But to say that someone cannot make a moral value judgement on something without experiencing it seems disingenuous to me. For instance, I have never robbed a grocery store. But if I were called to sit on a jury for a robbery, I would be asked to make a judgement, despite the fact I have never been in that position before. Interestingly, in the original Roe v. Wade decision it was 5 of the 7 members of the all-male Supreme Court who gave the country’s women sweeping abortion rights, and the fathers of those conceived fetuses no rights at all. The current Supreme Court that overturned the ruling consists of 5 men and 4 women. While the majority of the woman opposed the decision, one woman supported the ruling. It seems that political party was a much better predictor of who would vote which way, then gender.

So, the bottom line for me here is I have two requests. First, to my friends who support the current Supreme Court decision: have some compassion. Realize that there is fear and uncertainty for our friends who feel the loss of Roe v. Wade. Try to understand and be compassionate. Be mindful of what you post and say, and how it may comes across to those you disagree with.

Then, to my Roe v. Wade supporter friends: try to look have a bit of faith in our society. We are not the same people or in the same place we were 50 years ago. While every woman everywhere will not have the same rights to abortion as they did before, look for positive ways to support what you feel would be a good cause. I have already had some friends do that, which seems so much more productive than trying to pit groups of people against each other.

Rethink your thinking #3- The second elephant in the room- Abortion as Murder

We’ve all heard about the multiple violent acts that anti-abortionists have launched on abortion clinics in recent history. Between 1977 and 2015 more than 7,200 acts of violence were reported at abortion providers. This included 42 bombings, 185 arson attacks, and thousands of death threats, bioterrorism threats and assaults.

I remember hearing about these attacks through the years and wondering, how could someone think that they can end abortion with violence and killing people? Aren’t they sending the wrong message? But the more I listened, and the more I started to understand the abortion debate, it started to make sense.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating bombing of abortion clinics, and I am pretty sure most people I know do not. However, I find the best way to understand your own beliefs is to often really get inside of someone else’s and try to see things from their point of view. So, I would like to ask my friends on both side of this issue to consider those abortion clinic bombers for a moment. Why would they do such a thing?

The answer is murder. Let’s say for argument’s sake that abortion is murder. If we knew that our neighbor down the street couldn’t afford one of her children so she planned to murder him or her, would we not take every step to try and stop her? If we knew a friend’s teen had given birth to a baby she couldn’t raise and planned to murder the child, would we not do all we could to save the child? Possibly even perform an act of violence ourselves to save the baby? Many of us would. If we would be willing to do anything to save a child from being murdered, why wouldn’t someone who holds abortion as murder be equally willing to go to extremes to save children from death?

I understand the temptation to call abortion murder, if you feel very strongly against the practice for personal or social convenience. After all, it isn’t hard to look at a tiny, perfect infant and imagine this precious child before birth. It isn’t hard to think that anyone who could take that life must be a murderer. But, is it really murder?

If you aren’t sure how to answer this question let me ask you this, do you support abortion in the case of rape or incest? I submit that if you believe that rape or incest would be a legitimate reason to abort a fetus, you cannot call abortion murder. Would you support killing a born child that was a result of rape or incest? Clearly most of us would object to that. If there is not differentiation in ending the life of a fetus than ending the life of a born child you cannot support abortion in the case of rape or incest.

Many of my friends, especially those who come from the Catholic tradition where life is believed to start at conception, may not be able to support abortion in the case of rape or incest. If that is the case for you, do you feel strongly that you should be going out and stopping abortions? If not, then I submit that you don’t really see abortion as murder.

My dear friends, if you have used the term of abortion being murder, or even entertained the thought in your head, I would ask that you reconsider. If you disagree with abortion for personal or social convenience, imagine what you think the moral consequence should be for women who choose such a course? Should it be the same as a murderer?

As I have stated before terms are important. Often in today’s society we use the most inflammatory term possible to get people’s attention and to make our point. But using the most inflammatory term is not a good way to educate others, find common ground or to dialogue reasonably. I think that is we want to better communicate with those who disagree with us on every issue, but most especially about very divisive issues like abortion, that we throw out the inflammatory terms and instead use terms that better spell out what we are really trying to say. You can hold that abortion for personal and social convenience is a morally inappropriate act, and yet not call it murder.

Rethink your thinking #4- An Observation, A Paradox and The Bottom Line

It was been a wonderful and enlightening experience for me to not only spend time researching Roe v. Wade and the facts about abortion, but also to hear the heartfelt stories from women who have had to make difficult child-bearing choices. In this final post I would like to ask that each side take a final look at a few of the ways we oversimplify this complex issue. I will also talk about a seeming paradox and then I will give you a bit of my own thoughts and opinions.

Today’s society is all about the sound bites. Tweets, memes and posts are at times our primary means of communication. When we find one that resonates with us, we smile or laugh. When we see one that we disagree with, we get annoyed or downright mad. I am as big of a fan of clever posts as anyone else. I find sound bites and memes to be funny, witty and even thought provoking. But quite often, they take a very complex issue and oversimplify it to a point that it loses it meaningfulness. In my opinion, nowhere is this more apparent than on the issue of abortion. This issue so strikes at the very core of people’s closely held beliefs that using statements that are oversimplified comes across as non-sensical to those with an opposing point of view.

Take for example the abortion is murder point of view. I’ve already discussed the problem with this point of view, but it seems that some people post memes or statements that use words they don’t necessarily fully agree with because they want to make a firm point. Using firm, precise words is a powerful strategy to make a point. Using imprecise words weakens your point and divides people. It is also hurtful to women who have struggled with difficult pregnancy decisions.

Couching anti-abortion messages in absolute and strong words brings with it such strong poor connotations that I have seen it make it difficult for some women to make informed choices. For others, I have seen women carry guilt unnecessarily. I have seen women struggle with the decision of abortion, even when the child they carried had no possibility of viability. And, I have seen women struggle with guilt or thoughts of being judged by others for even considering terminating a pregnancy long after the incident took place.

On the other hand, I think our friends on the other side of the aisle often treat abortion too lightly, and use statements that minimize the gravity of the decision. Take for example the statement, “Her body, her choice.” No sensible person disagrees that a woman should be able to make medical decisions about her body, but this statement totally ignores the fact that another body is growing inside of hers. I don’t desire to debate when a growing fetus becomes a human in this forum, and I recognize that an early term pregnancy consists of an organism that cannot live outside of the woman’s body. However, it is completely disingenuous to fully ignore the fact that a body is indeed growing inside of the woman. In my opinion a statement like, “Her body, her choice,” makes it sound like this decision should be taken as seriously as what color she should dye her hair or what clothes to wear that day. Even if you agree with the right to an abortion for personal or social convenience, please don’t promote thinking about this is a decision to be made quickly and easily. Please give the choice the respect it deserves.

And then there is the paradox. It includes some stereotypes, that I admit will not be true across the board, but go with me on this path for a minute, and tell me if you don’t see the paradox.

Typically, those with strong religious beliefs tend to be against elective abortions. Typically, those with less strong or no religious affiliation tend to be more in favor of abortion rights. And yet, those religious, anti-abortionists typically believe in a happy, positive after-life. While many who don’t follow religious beliefs either don’t believe in an after-live, or have no understanding of what may happen after death.

To me it seems very strange indeed that many who believe in an after-life are so militantly opposed to abortion, while many who don’t hold such beliefs seem to treat abortion with little regard to the unborn.

So, here is my bottom line. I think we need to throw away the absolutes. I think we need to throw away the simple taglines and labels, even pro-choice and pro-life. I don’t think either label adequately describes either position, and it certainly does nothing to help us navigate the middle ground that many people find themselves in where they understand the necessity of some abortions, but uphold the sanctity of life.

I think we need to forget about Roe v. Wade and that precarious legal decision that did nothing to unite us, but much to divide us as a country. Personally, I am glad it was overturned. My feelings on that have really nothing to do with abortion or abortion rights. I am glad it was overturned because I think it opens the issue wide up and makes us take a real look at what we think. Personally, I don’t think it is a bad thing for states to make their own laws about abortion rights. Afterall, the large majority of abortions already do take place in states that will continue to allow abortion liberally. My hope is that with Roe v. Wade out of the debate, states will feel free to make sensible laws that fit their population best, rather than reactionary laws designed to make a statement.

Of course time will tell, but in the meantime I hope that we can have a bit of compassion and understanding for those who feel differently than we do. Only with compassion for one another can we open up real dialog and hope to understand each other better.

Chapter 12 Now What?

            So if you didn’t know raising kids is a lot of work, you sure know it now after reading about all of these ideas and systems.  If it makes you tired just looking at all of these ideas, don’t despair.  Just pick one idea or chart from this book and try it out.  If it works, keep with it for as long as it does.  If it doesn’t work, adjust it to fit your needs, or try another technique.  In a few months review some of the ideas again, and try something else, or do something just a little different. 

            In the appendices of this book you will find charts and forms set up for you to use.  Feel free to copy them and fill in the blanks, or go to our website and use the forms there.  The web version charts are easy to modify to fit your individual needs.

Parenthood is always a work in progress.  It is a 24 hour a day 7 day a week job that will never quite be complete.  It is all the joys you can imagine in life and all of the sorrows all rolled into one.  Your children will grow up just with the passage of time, and you don’t have control over all of what she chooses to do.  I do know, however, that if you take on the role of an active parent your child will be much more likely to make positive choices.  So don’t give up, don’t despair, and most of all, don’t get mad, get busy!


If you missed any parts of the book, click the links below to find what you are looking for.

Forward- Raising kids is a lot of work!

Prologue-What is discipline?.

Chapter 1-First, Build a Home.

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

Chapter 3-Now, Follow the Ground Rules for Proper Implementation.

Chapter 4-Start with Praise and Small Rewards.

Chapter 5-Token Economies.

Chapter 6- Allowance & Financial Extras.

Chapter 7- Jobs and Chores.

Chapter 8-School Performance.

Chapter 9-Family Communication.

Chapter 10-Helps for Problem Behavior

Chapter 11- Parenting Teens and Young Adults.

Forms & Charts.

The Day the World Stopped

A Photo Essay by Karen E. Dimick

On the day the World stopped…

Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, Clorox Wipes and bottled water became coveted commodities.

On the day the World stopped…

Schools closed, daycares closed and every parent became a home schooler and a child care worker overnight, some more successfully than others.

On the day the World stopped…

Church didn’t take place in a building, it happened on-line, in homes and in hearts.

On the day the World stopped…

Theaters closed, stadiums closed, play places closed, but Netflix, family game nights and creative ways to have fun grew in popularity.

On the day the World stopped…

Inclusion became a bad word and we learned that social distancing and face masks were a thing.

On the day the World stopped…

The positive influence of the internet took on a whole new meaning as we learned how to distance learn, distance work, distance socialize and distance entertain.

On the day the World stopped…

Gyms, playground equipment and pools closed, but people rediscovered biking, neighborhood walks and indoor fitness routines.

On the day the World stopped…

Travel became complicated, travel bans were enacted, trips were cut short, travelers returned to empty airports, some only after going to extreme lengths to come home, airplanes emptied out, flights were canceled, and we relished the few, remote opportunities we had to get away.

On the day the World stopped…

Actors stayed home, athletes hung up their gear, and musicians played virtually, if they could, but we found all new heroes in our grocers, our trash collectors, our truck drivers and our health care workers.

On the day the World stopped…

The mall parking lot transformed into a storage space and a drive up opportunity, store shelves emptied out, and our neighborhoods became places to share and care.

On the day the World stopped…

Dining in was out, dining at home was in and Chuck E. Cheese became a take-out restaurant

On the day the World stopped…

We learned the virus is real, it reached our friends and loved ones, people got sick, people got hospitalized, some even died, but we also learned miracles do happen.

On the day the World stopped…

Our events were cancelled, our calendars were cleared and we all learned its okay to slow down just a bit, to spend time in our houses and with our families, appreciate what we have. And maybe, just maybe we can get along with each other and we can all return to health and sanity.

Thanks to all of my contributors who shared what their lives looked like, with words and images.

Chapter 8- School Performance

            When parents imagine their ideal family the children are wonderful students, earning straight A’s easily and with no assistance from their parents.  They independently complete their homework on time, study for tests and flawlessly remember all that they are taught.  Unfortunately, the number of students who really fit into this dream is very small.  Some children come to this world with an innate knowledge of how to achieve in school and have the drive to do so, but this is the exception, not the rule.  Most public schools are run on the assumption that children all have the skills and desire to learn in a traditional classroom setting.  The teacher teaches, students complete and turn in assignments, then pass tests to show their knowledge retained.  The sad reality, however, is that only a small percentage of school aged children learn this way without a great deal of adult prompting and training.  All children have skills and talents, but not all skills and talents are evident in a traditional classroom.  Alternative schools of all different types have been experimented with, achieving varying degrees of success.  However, by and large most children in this country are educated in a traditional public school.  As imperfect as this system is, it does have a long history of giving the large majority of our population the basics they need in reading and math and the basic values of our society.  Good or bad, public education in its present form is probably here to stay for a good long time, so it behooves parents to make the best of what is available.

            I have been on all sides of the school performance issue as a parent, a teacher and an administrator in private and public schools.  As a parent I have had children for whom achieving high grades came naturally, and I have had children who struggled greatly at all levels.  As a teacher and administrator I have worked with children in private schools who have been given all the advantages, and I have worked with children in public schools for whom all the cards seemed stacked against them.  There is no surefire way to make sure that children learn and are successful academically, however there are many strategies that can help.  By and large the best way to help children be successful is to build a partnership between parent and educator.  Let your school administrators and teachers get to know you.  Volunteer in the classroom, and show up to open houses and parent conferences.  You would be surprised at how differently teachers look at children just based on how well they know the parents.  Teachers try to be impartial; however as human beings they constantly make judgments and decisions.  A good relationship with parents will often tip the scales in favor of a teacher giving a child extra help or extra consideration on timelines and grading.

            In addition to getting to know teachers, parents should also develop open communication between home and school.  This can be difficult on both sides as teachers and parents both have busy lives, but there are some tricks to achieve this.  In the following paragraphs you will find some strategies that I have used, or seen used, to establish and keep the lines of communication open.  In addition, you will find strategies to help your child learn to be organized and be responsible for himself.  Remember, your ultimate goal is to raise a responsible, independent adult.  The ideas below will help guide your child toward this goal.

The Backpack- The First Line of Communication

Backpacks are almost universally used by children today to carry belongings to and from school.  Plan to use your child’s backpack as a way to find out what is going on and to communicate with your child’s teacher.  You should also use the backpack as a tool to help your child learn to get and keep organized. 

The first day of school you will probably fill your child’s backpack with all of the items that your child needs to be successful from the start.  This starts your child off with an expectation of organization, and some simple steps can help continue this expectation.  The next step you should take it to look through the backpack every day after school.  Some children are born organized and will dutifully bring you important papers and notices, but most are not.  It is simply amazing what you can find in a child’s backpack.  Children who are not required to organize and take care of their belongings develop their own unique way of coping with all of the items they amass in a school year.  Children who do not have a natural talent for organization usually fall into one of two categories, “stuffers” (they just keep stuffing things in the backpack until no more will fit) or “tossers” (they throw everything away).  Stuffers cannot find anything because it is in a mangled mess at the bottom of the backpack, and tossers don’t have anything to find.  If you will take the few minutes to go through your child’s backpack and take out the items that need to stay at home and fill it with the items needed for the next day you will ensure better home-school communication and help your child learn to be organized.  As your child matures you should gradually have her take over the job of backpack management.  The goal is to teach your child to clean out the backpack each day, and get it ready for the next as part of their evening routine.  This will require adult instruction and modeling, however if these are done at an early age your child will learn to be organized and give you important communications from school.

The Planner

Today many schools provide a planner for their students.  If yours does not, buy one and require that your child use it.  If you purchase a planner get one that is specifically made for the age of your child.  It should include a section to organize daily assignments and have a place for periods for middle and high school students.  It should also include a monthly calendar and a place to keep a to-do list.  Young children can use individual pages to use as a weekly planner, but children in the middle to upper grades should have a school year planner.  Children need to learn what to write in a planner and how to use it properly.  They need to understand that a planner is more than a list of homework due, it is a way to keep track of all that is going on in class and will be an ongoing record of past assignments.  I require my own children and students to write in their planner every day for each class that they have.  If they are assigned homework they write what the assignment is and when it is due.  If no homework is assigned they are to write a brief note of what they did in class.  Teach your child that the planner pages should not be ripped out or destroyed after the days have passed.  Sometimes valuable information can be gained from past planner pages if assignments were missed or not turned in.

The planner can also be used as a great communication tool.  Teachers and parents can use this tool to communicate about student assignments and behavior.  One of the nice things about using the planner is that the communications are automatically dated and they are saved in a place that is accessible to all.  This assures clear communication between home and school and it makes it clear to the child that communication will continue between home and school.

The planner can also be used to help your child with long-term planning.  Many planners come with a school calendar printed at the front.  Go through the dates and make sure that important dates, such as school holidays and semester, trimester or quarter beginning and ending dates are written on the planner pages.  When your child receives an assignment that will need to be done over a long period of time help him break it into smaller parts and determine goals for completing each part.  Have him write these “due dates” into the planner, and work toward completing each part of the project in a timely manner.

Of course a planner is of no use if it is “lost” or adults do not look at it or read it.  Your child should be responsible for her own planner, however associate its use to privileges at home.  My children were required to show me their planner fully filled out each day as part of their daily jobs.  We would talk about what they did in each class that day, what assignments they needed to work on or study and then make a plan for using their time wisely.  Require that your child get a teacher signature if you send a note in the planner.  If your child’s teacher knows you use this tool it will encourage him to use it also.

Electronic Communication

            Today’s fast paced society has made it difficult for parents and teachers to touch base and keep in touch, however many schools try to keep pace with the newest technology to help open the lines of communication.  Voice mail, e-mail and on-line attendance and grading programs make it possible for parents and teachers to keep in touch without meeting face-to-face.  Find out what resources are available at your child’s school and take advantage of them.

Notes and Weekly Progress Reports

Sometimes you will find it necessary to communicate with your child’s teacher the old fashioned way, with a handwritten note.  If possible, use your child’s planner to communicate, however if a more formal note is needed feel free to write or type a message.  Try to be clear, specific and through in your notes, and always assume the teacher has your child’s best interest at heart.  Most do, and you are more likely to help your child if you and the teacher are a team and not adversaries.  Have someone else read the note to make sure it makes sense, and make sure the words are spelled correctly.  If you are unsure of your spelling or have messy handwriting use a word processor.  If you send the note to school with your child ask that the teacher sign it and return it so you know it was received.  With older children and teens be sure to explain clearly what the problem is and give the teacher plenty of time to look into and deal with the issue.  Remember that middle and high school teachers may have a hundred plus students in their classes, so they may need time to deal with your child’s issue.

            When children have difficulty keeping their grades at an acceptable level a weekly progress report can be a good tool (see Appendix E for example).  Schools usually send failure notices to parents if children are not making adequate progress, however often by the time the notice arrives children are hopelessly behind on assignments.  A weekly progress report can help with this problem.  One day a week should be designated as the day to bring home the report.  I liked to use Friday with my family so that I could tie privileges over the weekend to grades.  I required the report to be taken to school by children that had any classes with a grade lower than C.  It was their responsibility to take the progress report, give it to each teacher and make sure the teacher gave it back.  It is helpful to let the teachers know beforehand that you will be doing this.  If the teacher listed any missing assignments the child was required to bring home materials to complete any missing work.  Sometimes teachers, especially in middle and high school, do not allow students to turn in missing assignments.  In my family children are required to complete and turn in all assignments, even if no credit is given.  This was their ticket to family privileges.  An improved grade was simply a bonus.  I made sure to communicate to teachers my goal to teach my children responsibility.  I am yet to find a teacher who did not support me in this tactic.   


Parents need to understand their responsibility in educating their child. It is easy for parents to assume that the school will fully educate their child, however parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children.  As a teacher I have 20 to 30 students in my class.  I do my best to educate each one, however there is a limit to the amount of time my students spend in my room and the influence I have over them.  Also, next year I will have a whole new classroom of students.  I will be the parents of my own children forever, and have legal responsibility for them for 18 years.  My influence as a parent far outweighs the influence that any one teacher will have on my child.  Do not assume that the school will adequately teach your child all he needs to know; take an active role in being your child’s main educator.  This not only includes seeing to it that your child attends school and completes his homework; it also includes educating your child in areas that the school does not adequately teach.  This may include teaching your family’s moral values and religious education as well as teaching your child about sports, music or other hobbies.

            You are also responsible to teach your child to be responsible.  School work and assignments give you an excellent opportunity to help your child learn how to complete assignments outside of the home.  Most children will need you to be an active participant in order to learn this important trait.  One common misconception is that you teach children to be responsible by leaving themselves to their own devices.  I have worked with teachers who believe that they are teaching children to be responsible by not allowing them to turn in missing work.  The threat of failure is only a motivating factor if the child cares enough about success.  Many children learn to not care about grades and school because they see no link between their actions and the grades.  Students often think that grades are a gift from their teachers and that their grades reflect how well a teacher likes them more than how well they performed.  A child who learns to not care about grades will show little effort in school.  For this child the threat from a teacher that no late work will be accepted is a reward.  If the child does not complete the assignment on-time then he will not need to do it.  Why do it if no credit is given?  Children are taught to be responsible by requiring them to complete any and all assignments.  Make it a family rule that all assignments in school will be completed, and then give your child the help and tools that she needs to complete them.

Help, Don’t “do for”

            It is important to help your children to complete and turn in homework and assignments, however some parents have a difficult time differentiating between helping the child and doing the work for him.  The first thing that parents need to understand is that homework should be extra practice, not learning a new skill.  Research has shown that children do benefit from homework, but only if the homework is extra practice on a skill that the child has already learned.  Most teachers are aware of this and try to assign assignments based on this principle, however sometimes things go awry.  Teachers may give assignments that are not closely aligned to classwork, may overly rely on preplanned lessons that do not match the skills of the students or they may overestimate their students’ proficiency in the subject matter.  Sometimes teachers do an outstanding job of teaching a skill and aligning the homework to the lesson, however the students are still not able to complete the assignment.  Students may have difficulty applying the practice that took place in class to the homework or they just may not have paid attention during the lesson or may have missed instruction due to illness. 

If your child brings home an assignment that he cannot complete make an attempt at reviewing what was learned if you can, but do not do the work for your child.  Usually textbooks or worksheets will have brief instructions that explain how an assignment is to be done.  Use these tools to help your child go over the instructions to see if you can help him complete the assignment.  Teachers use scaffolding to help their students learn a new skill.  When parents learn this skill they can be excellent tutors as the child has one on one help.  Start by modeling one or two problems for your child.  If many similar problems were assigned you can do this with the first couple, otherwise use the examples in the book or make up your own similar problems.  As you model how to complete the problems “talk through” each step and explain why you are doing each thing.  After modeling a few have your child complete a few problems while you guide each step.  Slowly back off your guidance, and have your child begin to explain the steps.  When your child appears to understand the process have him complete some problems independently, and then check to be sure that they are done correctly. 

If you or your child are still struggling with the assignment write a note to the teacher and explain the problem.  Try to frame the problem from your point of view and refrain from blaming the teacher for not teaching your child.  Ask the teacher to give your child extra instruction or time to complete the assignment.  Be sure to follow up on the assignment and be sure your child received the help needed.

One of the biggest temptations for parents to do an assignment for their child is on large projects and reports.  Many students do have difficulty organizing and completing large assignments on their own, but teachers do expect their students to do their own work.  Parents are excellent resources to help their children plan all of the parts of a large project, gather information and materials and put everything together into a presentable form.  Do remember, however, that the report or project should look and sound as if a child produced it.  This does not mean that you should not teach your child how to put together a polished project.  However, it should be clear that this is your child’s work and not yours.

Set the bar high, but not impossibly high

            We all want our children to be successful, and school performance is no exception.  Let your children know that you expect them to do well in school, however be realistic.  Remember that you are raising children.  Children learn through doing and trial and error.  Children also need to have variety in their life.  If it takes a child all of her time to be a straight ‘A’ student it may not be the best use of her time.  She needs to have time to play and explore different activities.  Well rounded children tend to grow into more successful and happier adults.  Even the most focused and successful children rarely receive high grades on all assignments, and should not be expected to.  If your child performs on an assignment or in a class at a level lower than is the norm for that child treat it as a learning experience.  Ask him what the problem is and ask what he could do better next time.

            Be careful about how you respond to report card grades.  Children should be praised for the work they did do.  In some families ‘A’s are the expectation, ‘B’s are okay and ‘C’s are totally unacceptable.  Children who grow up in families such as these often believe that they could never be good enough.  ‘C’ is an average, and there is nothing wrong with being average in some areas.  In my family we regarded ‘C’s as acceptable, however improvement could be made.  ‘B’s were very good, ’A’s were outstanding and ‘D’s and ‘F’s were unacceptable.  It is also important to take into account personal differences.  What may be a low grade for one child may be an excellent grade for another.

            Be careful, also, about how you reward report card grades.  Some families give monetary rewards, some quite large, for high marks.  While rewards for good grades can be motivating, children who are constantly rewarded with large rewards lose the sense of value for the actual grade. In addition, in families with multiple children monetary often pit one child against another.  Also, for young children a quarter or semester grade is often too long of a time period for the child to really feel that he has control over the outcome.  Try giving smaller, more frequent rewards or just praise your child.  When report cards do come, recognize your children who displayed good effort with a small reward or night out.

Beyond the Norm

We all want to think that our child is just a normal kid, but many children have learning difficulties.  Learning difficulties can show up at any time and have many different causes.  They can be caused by learning disabilities, developmental delays, emotional difficulties, social problems, problems at home or normal developmental stages.  The treatments for learning difficulties are as varied as the causes.  If you have taken all of the steps outlined above and your child still struggles you may suspect that your child needs more help than you can provide.  The first place to look for extra help is through your child’s school.  Some private and church schools offer resources for extra tutoring and all public schools are required to provide help for students who are not adequately progressing.  Speak with your child’s teacher first.  Explain the problem, and be specific about when it began, how long it has persisted and the severity of it.  Also share your insights as to what you believe is causing the problem.  Most parents are not well versed in learning difficulties, but they are familiar with their own child.  Even if your diagnosis of the problem is not correct your insights will be valuable to help find the problem.

If you do not get the help you need from your child’s teacher contact the school administration.  Express your concerns and ask what resources are available.  Ask about extra help during school and outside of school hours, extra help that you can give at home and resource personnel that can assist you.  Try to be patient with the school as some things take time, but do not just assume the problem will resolve itself.  Stay on top of the steps your child’s school is taking and your child’s progress. 

If adequate progress is still not seen go back to the school and report that more help is needed.  Remember that the goal is to build a partnership with the school.  Your child will benefit the most if all adults work together.  There are times, however, when schools do not provide students with the necessary help.  Public schools are required to provide help to all students and to find ways to help every child learn.  If your school does not take the steps necessary to help your child do not be afraid to demand an evaluation of your child’s progress.  Public schools usually have a team of teachers and administrators who look for specific ways to help students be more successful.  If your child has not made adequate progress you can ask the neighborhood public school, whether or not your child is a student at the school, to look at your child’s progress and make recommendations.  Make your request respectfully and in writing.  Federal law specifies a timeline for the school to respond to your request so date your request and look for a reply within a few weeks.

While you are working on getting help from your child’s school look at outside resources.  Remember that you are ultimately responsible for educating your child.  The school has a much more limited number of resources available than parents do.  For some children medical solutions are successful.  For others behavioral avenues work better.  Counseling, outside tutoring or training and medication have all been successful to help some children be more successful in school.  Be open-minded but reasonable when looking for a solution.  Work with your medical professional to get referrals to reputable professionals.  If a recommended treatment seems unusual or untested ask for studies that show effectiveness and referrals to others who have tried the treatment.

Any time a treatment is tried with your child careful data should be taken to find out its effectiveness.  If your doctor does not provide tracking sheets then use the sample from Appendix B.  All treatments, whether medicinal or not, have some placebo effect.  Some people will show improvement from any ailment, even if they are only given a sugar pill.  In addition, parents and teachers often observe an improvement in a child’s behavior, just because an improvement is expected.  This makes it difficult to determine the effectiveness of a treatment.  Daily charting of behaviors will help mitigate this problem. 

To track behavior with the tracking sheets behavior should first be charted before the treatment is tried.  Ideally, parents, the teacher and the child will all fill out their own report, usually for about a week.  After the initial charting period the treatment is begun and charting of behavior continues.  Some medications take several weeks to begin to work in the child’s system, and all behavior systems take a while to show improvement. For these reasons behavior should be charted with the treatment in place for several weeks.  Behavior can also be charted during an optional third period with the treatment discontinued.  Ideally, each step would be done with behavior reporters not knowing when the child is receiving the treatment.  Sometimes this can be done with one parent administering the medication and the other charting behavior, but this is not always possible.  Charts are then compared from before, during and after treatment to see if the child really did show improvement with the treatment.  If one treatment does not prove effective try another.  Seldom is a first medication type and dosage or treatment effective.

If you have a child with learning difficulties please know that parental involvement makes all the difference.  Children with learning difficulties that are left to their own devices will usually turn to inappropriate ways to feel successful and important.  These children are at high risk for antisocial behaviors, committing crimes resulting in imprisonment, drug use, early experimentation with sexuality and teen pregnancy.  There are children who will just not be successful academically even with all the help in the world.  These children need supportive parents who will help them find skills in other areas and assure them that they are important and loved.  If your child has difficulty in school help him find something he can excel in.  Require your child to join a church or scout group, a sports team or musical group or pick up a hobby.  All children have talents and it is important for children, especially children who struggle in school, to find and develop their talents.  Help your child to become responsible, teach her to treat others with respect and help her become self-sufficient in other areas.  You may also need to focus less on school success and failure with this child.  See to it that your child is learning essential skills, such as reading and basic math computation, and lighten-up about the rest.  On these children you may need to change or ease up on the rules you would normally set for a child about homework or task completion.  Remember the goal is to raise a responsible adult, and adjust as necessary.  When your child is an adult no one will ever ask her what grade she received in 7th grade, so don’t put too much emphasis on grades.  People will notice if your child is responsible and respectful.  Your child will learn these things if you make family guidelines clear and reasonable and set and reinforce limits.

Raising kids is a lot of work!

Book cover FinalRaising kids was going to be a piece of cake.  I was the oldest of 4 children and spent most of my older childhood and teen years helping with my siblings and babysitting all of the neighborhood children.  My sister and I would watch several families of children at one time and take them on fun outings to the park or the ice cream store.  I studied child development in both high school and college and spent 5 years working as a preschool and kindergarten teacher.  I was also in charge of the after school childcare program at the school where I worked and was viewed by my co-workers as the best at handling the children that no one else could.  Yes, after handling a classroom full of children raising a family would be easy for me.  My husband, who loved kids and was the oldest of a large family, and I determined that we would have 12.  Well, maybe not 12, but at least as many as we could afford and handle.  We would be great parents!

Then my oldest son was born.  He was anything but your typical child.  From the day he was born Baby #1 seemed unhappy with being a baby and wanted to go out and see the world.  He was alert and bright and did everything early.  He rolled over at 3 weeks old, stood in his crib at 5 months and began walking at 6 months, skipping crawling altogether.  By two he had taught himself all of the letters in the alphabet and the sounds they make by watching Sesame Street and by 4 he taught himself to read.  Of course this bright mind and eager body was quite a trial for parents, even parents that were well prepared.  He had endless energy, was always getting into something and seemed to never sleep.  It is a real problem when your child needs less sleep than you do, especially when the child is so busy and energetic that you dare not leave him unattended.  Bedtime was a big problem.  On the average it took our son two hours past when we put him to bed for him to go to sleep.  And this was not a quiet two hours of patiently waiting for sleep to come, this was two hours of getting out of bed, getting into things, running through the house followed by pleadings and threats by my husband and myself for him to stay in bed.

When Baby #1 was two we welcomed Baby #2, a sweet daughter, into our home. Right on her heels Baby #3 came along, when #2 was just 15 months old.  Baby #2 was so different from older brother as a little baby.  She was petite and she actually slept at night and took naps.  She was content to sit in the playpen for part of the day, unlike older brother who wanted to be held constantly.  Not to be outdone by her big brother #2 soon showed that she was not going to be any less of a handful.  She was very busy and had a mind of her own at a very early age.  She seemed to hit the terrible twos at 15 months, just as her sister was born, and she continued to assert her independence and argue with me throughout her life.

After #3’s birth I had to admit I had no idea what parenthood would be like before I actually experienced it.  I thought I could handle it all, but I had no idea what a difference it was to be responsible for your children 24 hours a day, rather than just a few hours.  I couldn’t send these children home to their parents when I had had it; my husband and I were it.  On top of that I had to take care of all the tasks of running a home.  As a teacher I had been responsible for teaching the children.  Here at home I had to cook, clean and do laundry.  In addition to all of that, I had to help my husband support the family financially.  I felt it important to give my children as much of me as possible so I managed to find jobs I could do at home for most of my children’s young years.  With all of the demands on my time the strategies that I had used as a teacher did not apply here because my children were not my only responsibility.

So here I was with a very busy three year old who wanted my attention, a 15 month old who wanted nothing to do with me but wanted to go out and take on the world on her own and a newborn with colic.  Add to that mix three children that I watched to keep my family finances afloat and you can see that to say my life was hectic was an understatement.  I did what anyone would do in a similar situation, I lost my mind.

I knew I was at the breaking point one day when older brother and little sister wanted to play hide-and-go-seek.  The baby was asleep, and I had no extra children at my home, so I decided to take my turn to hide, and I hid in the closet behind the clothes.  It was a really good hiding place and they couldn’t find me.  After sitting there for a while I found I loved the cool, quiet solitude of being in the closet behind those clothes.  I knew the kids were okay because I could hear them looking for me, but they weren’t demanding anything of me.  I was congratulating myself on finding a way to get some peace when they started to cry.  “Where’s Mommy?” they sobbed.  It was then that I realized that parenthood was so much more than enduring our children’s lives, or controlling their behavior.  Parenthood is about loving and nurturing our children into adults.  Sure, this was a whole lot different and more demanding than teaching, but it was also so much more rewarding.  I wasn’t going to get a new class next year, my husband and I were responsible for these children into adulthood, and we would be their parents forever.  I needed to find a way to shape and mold these strong personalities into responsible adults.

When children don’t behave our first reaction is to get mad.  But getting mad doesn’t help.  Years ago parents knew how to handle their children.  The prevailing wisdom was that if you spare the rod you would spoil the child.  So when many of today’s grandparents were children they felt the swift and firm consequence of their behavior with physical punishment.  Most experts now agree that strong physical punishment is neither advisable nor effective.  The problem is that today’s parents have not been given tools that are as swift, firm, speedy and as easy to execute, as a whipping was.  We have been told to use time out or to ground our children, but many parents have found time-out to be less than effective and have found that when they ground their child they ground themselves as well.

After that day in the closet I set out to come up with concrete systems that I could use to shape my children’s behavior with love, but firmness.  I used my experience as a teacher and knowledge of child development and human behavior, as well as trial and error, to develop positive and negative reward systems and record keeping charts to help and guide me.  Many of the systems I developed were developed with the needs of a specific child in mind, but I found that they often worked for everyone.

Nearly 20 years have passed since that day in the closet, and a lot has taken place.  Baby #1 grew into a wonderful boy and young man, and is now a father himself, with an outstanding mind, but with many obstacles to overcome.  He was diagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder, dysgraphia (a writing handicap) and a visual processing disorder, which brought many years of struggle through school.  One daughter was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (which I describe as acting like a teenage for life, and yes, it is a real disorder) and being at risk for depression.  As she grew she was a master at making trouble with her best friend and sister and really had trouble being successful in school.  But now she is a beautiful college graduate with many talents and a knack for doing anything she puts her mind to.  Baby #3’s colic lasted for 6 months, even though all the baby books claimed it only lasted for 4, but when she quit crying we found that she was a happy, delightful, bright little girl.  She is, however, extremely demanding and driven.  She is the princess and I often thought she would have made a good only child, but somehow she was placed in the middle of 5 kids.  She seemed to resent all the extra time I had to spend helping her older siblings get through school and raising her little brother and sister, but she continues to be bright and bubbly and is an outstanding, driven and successful teacher and college student.

After 3 kids in 3 ½ years we took a four year break before bringing #4 and #5 into the world.  They proved to be surprisingly “normal”, although they, as do all children, have had their trials.  I found that many of the strategies that I had developed for my difficult children worked very well with them.  I also have had an opportunity to further use and refine many of the techniques in my job as a middle school teacher.  As I raised my children I had several opportunities to continue my work as a preschool teacher both through a home child care program and employed at various schools that allowed me to bring one or more of my children with me.  When my youngest went to school full time I was able to continue my education and seek employment in public education.  I now work as a Resource Specialist and work with middle school-aged children with disabilities of all types and severities.  Many of the techniques and charts I developed for my own children I have been able to adapt for use in the classroom and I have shared with parents.  These techniques have proven to be useful to help children with various disabilities control their behavior both in the classroom and in their homes.

Some people say my husband and I are nuts to have 5 children.  We may be because it is the hardest thing I have ever done, but raising them has brought me more joy and satisfaction than anything else.  Whether you have one child or ten it is a lot of work to raise children.  Kids may do things that will make you feel extremely mad, but getting mad will not shape and guide your children correctly.  Good hard work, a plan on how to proceed and some good tools will.  So look through the suggestions and guidelines in this book then try out some of the tools and choose the ones that will work for you.  Then, don’t get mad, get busy!

When Tragedy Strikes- Are we handling this right?

DSC_0269We are over reacting, we are not taking this seriously enough; when it warms up the virus will diminish, sunshine will not lessen the spread of the virus; stock up on supplies, don’t wipe out the markets; this will blow over in no time, it will take years to recover; this will wreck our economy, we have lots of support in place so we will be fine; our leaders are doing a good job of keeping us safe, our leaders are nuts, just what are they thinking? 

Likely you have heard all of this, and more, over the last few days. Truly, we are all in awe over the events of the last week or so. Last week, as I was finishing up some missing work with one of my 6th graders in my classroom on the last day of the trimester, and the last day of school until who knows, he and I talked. He had some questions about the virus, school and what was going to happen. I had to tell him I just didn’t know. He was shocked to find out that we haven’t had a pandemic of this caliber in modern times. This is new territory; none of us really know how to act, what to do or what is needed. Truly, our leaders, our communities, our churches, our work places and yes, even our doctors, don’t really know for sure what is the best course of action.  In truth, we may have some ideas and educated guesses, but really, we are all just making it up as we go along.

Wow, Mrs. Dimick,” said the 6th grader when I explained we don’t really know what we are doing, “this is really serious.” Yeah buddy, it is. In a world with so much information at our literal fingertips, it is pretty unusual these days to have a world-wide event that truly we don’t know exactly what will happen or how to handle it. We are so used to having experts and leaders with the answers and advice that really, we are all feeling just a bit anxious.

Some day in the not too distant future the hope is that we will look back on this event and say, “Remember when?” And we will be able to add, “That was a bit crazy, but we got through it, and we did learn something.” But, what will be learn? What are we learning? What are the lessons that will help us better navigate our world going forward? Well, no one knows for sure, but just from what I have seen so far, here my top 9 lessons.

9- Don’t put it off!  Whether it has to do with stocking up with emergency supplies, attending your house of worship or visiting that friend that you can’t get to now, I think we can all say there is probably something you meant to do before, that you can’t do now.  So when the store restocks and we can freely recirculate once again, grab a few more cans just in case, buy a few extra rolls to have on hand, and put a few more things in the freezer because you never know.

8- Appreciate Technology- Yeah, there is the bad side, but can you imagine all of this without it? I am just amazed how many different emails I got with offers of free things to do, or watch or, experience. All I can say is wow, just wow.

7- It’s Okay to Push the Pause Button on Life- Okay, face it people, we live fast paced, crazy lives. Can you not say that having a slower pace for a bit was not refreshing? Was it such a terrible thing to just have your calendar cleared for once? Would it be so bad to really just make that choice for yourself or your family once in a while?

6- Reach Out to Others- With time to slow down I keep thinking about reaching out to others, visiting others, taking them things. Well, that kind of defeats the purpose of where we are right now, so I had to rethink that plan. But it did get me thinking. We need each other, we need human contact. Do we really take the time to reach out when we can, or do we put if off until it is too late (see #9 above). I know I can do better.

5- Grow a Garden– My granddaughter and I have been working on a garden.  She was ecstatic when she found out food may be scarce because we could eat her vegetables! She was a bit disappointed when she found out that it will be many weeks until we have a harvest, but what a great way to be in the out of doors, spend time with your family and produce food that may come in handy when the next disaster comes along.

4- Learn to Cook– So, it is looking like if everyone has enough food in their house to eat at home for a couple of weeks the stores are empty. I was raised in an era where eating in was normal, eating out was for special occasions. When my kids were young I once had a woman ask me if I cook. I felt like answering, as opposed to, what, starving? I didn’t really get the question, I didn’t know there were people who didn’t, with the expectation of maybe the most rich and famous. Now, with just me and my husband home we eat out a lot, but I do keep a stock of food, and I have the capability to cook meals. This is a life skill people, figure it out, and teach your kids.

3- Some Necessities are not Really Necessary- Here is a news flash, life existed before bottled water, before baby wipes, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer and yes, even before toilet paper. Guess what people, we still have running water, electricity and natural gas available in our homes so we are actually way better off than those who had to live without those items.  Sure, it may be way easier and cleaner to wipe with something we can just toss, but I bet you have plenty of things right in your own home that you could substitute, if you had to.

2- You Are Ultimately Responsible for your Family- It is easy to think the government will take care of us, that the school will teach our kids or that someone will bail us out. But, when it comes right down to it, it is your responsibility. As a middle school teacher I am daily responsible for upwards of 100 kids a day. I take my charge seriously, and I think I do a good job. But guess what, when we had an emergency where did we send those kids? They went right back to their parents. When it is time to get back to basics in life, you are in charge, you have the responsibility to do what it takes to make sure your family is fed, clothed, educated and taught. Treat it like that.

1- Go forward with Faith, not Fear- This may seem religious, but it is actually biological as well. You see, fear does interesting things to us biologically.  There is a fight or flight response that we often have little or no control over when perceived danger is in play. Having faith and hope that things will work out, that you can handle this, that you can do what it takes keeps the involuntary responses turned off, and the brain turned on.  Stay in the game people, we can do this.


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Our Gun Fixation will NOT Fix the Problem!


Seventeen killed in a school shooting, it seems as if this last mass school shooting just pushed everyone over the edge.  “Enough!” everyone is saying, “We have to do something!”  Yet, while many agree with this sentiment, the “what” is a very disagreeable topic.  It seems as if the two top “whats” are more gun control or arming personnel to protect students on campus.  And, it seems as if the state of Florida decided to just go for broke and pass laws for both options.  Well, I am probably going to make both sides mad with my opinion, but I think you are both just plain wrong.  I just don’t think the solution as easy as passing more laws.  While I certainly see the appeal for both of these ideas, I don’t think either addresses the cause of the problem.  I will explain, but first an analogy.

I have always been intrigued by magic.  As a kid I collected magic tricks, and spent hours trying to perfect my skills.  I was never very good at it, but there were some tricks that I could successfully perform.  The real secret, I learned, to getting buy in from your audience was the distraction.  All magic tricks involve some kind of bait and switch.  The bait is the distraction, and once the audience is fixated on the bait, you can perform the switch.  I think some issues in our society have become this way.  In our quest for a simple solution we become so bogged down with the idea of that one thing that will fix the problem that we completely miss what the real problem is.  In my opinion, we are so fixated on the bait, the guns, that we have completely missed the switch, the complex issues that led to societal violence.

The issue of increased violence in our society is so much more complex, so much more messy than some of these solutions suggest and can’t be solved by a simple law or initiative.  Not that there are not solutions, but we need to stop spending all of our time and energy, and clogging our newsfeeds, with quick fix, one-size fits all get rid of or add  more guns ideas.  And, we need to start urging our leaders to invest our public funds in ideas that might actually work.  I will share a few, but first, let’s look at why I don’t think the quick fix ideas will work.

Gun control can seem like the obvious first line of defense, after all, if people can’t get the weapons, this won’t happen.  The first problem with this tactic is that those who are getting ready to shoot up a school are generally not worried about following the law.  According to Mother Jones data on school mass shootings (following the FBI criteria) 50% of these shootings were committed with a gun obtained illegally or stolen.  Now, one could argue that at least more stringent laws could prevent 50% of the shootings, but that does not necessarily follow.  Just because someone obtained a firearm legally to perform a crime does not mean they would not have obtained the weapon illegally had the legal path not been available.  So let’s look at actual data of states with restrictive gun laws vs. those without, specifically the top 10 strictest and 10 least restrictive.  According to Gifford’s Law Center 7 of 20 mass school shootings from which they collected data took place in schools from the ten states with the strictest gun laws.  And, from the ten states that had the least restrictive gun laws (by their criteria) zero of those 20 mass shootings took place.  This data would seem to indicate that not only is there no cause and effect of stringent gun laws in relation to school shootings, but there may even be a negative correlation (meaning a greater chance of a mass shooting).

No guns

Of course those on the other side of the aisle have a different plan: arm the teachers.  While on face value this may seem like a good tactic, after all we arm our military and our police offices, in practice I find it to be ill advised and impractical to really stop the problem.  First, teachers already have so much to do with so little time, just when and how would we train and prepare these highly trained pistol-packers?  I don’t think the general public realizes just how much is already on a teacher’s plate.  According to Susan Barrett, an expert on positive school behavior supports, school districts average 14 initiatives that require training and implementation.  The requirement for teachers to add these new initiatives to their repertoire in addition to learning new curriculum and standards, keeping track of new students and their progress every year, staying apprised of each students health and welfare, as well as keeping parents informed and updated of their progress taxes even the most efficient and capable individual.  If districts were asked to add a concealed carry initiative surely something else would have to go.  And that is assuming you could even find enough teachers willing to do this job on a large enough basis to make a difference.  Most teachers got into teaching because they want to spend their time molding young minds, not warming up their six shooters for the shootout at high noon.  Personally, I would find the idea of trying to protect a concealed weapon in a classroom full of children and adolescents exhausting and counterproductive to what my primary goal should be: teach.

Then there are those who suggest we protect kids a different way.  These ideas range anywhere from the placement of armed guards and metal detectors in schools to the installation of door blockers or safe houses within a classroom.  While I applaud the sentiment and range of ideas I just find these ideas to be a large expenditure for very little return.  First, we need to realize how rare school shootings really are.  During the 59 year period from 1959 to 2018 there have been 24 mass killings (according to FBI standards, including 1 explosion and 1 bomb) killing 247 people.  In the United States there are apx. 100,000 k-12 public schools, 33,000 private schools and 7200 colleges and universities.  While any number of killings is shocking and unacceptable, when you look at the actual numbers you realize schools are actually very safe.  Next, we need to realize that none of these methods are fool proof.  The Florida shooting on February 14th had an armed resource officer on campus, but that did not deter, nor did it stop the attack.  They had metal detectors on campus, and yet those were not even in use that day.

So, what will work?  First, I think it is important to realize that there are many societal problems at play here.  I think that family values, violent media, as well as the way society views the value of life all come in play in this issue, but this article is about solutions, not problemsPrimarily I think the solution lies in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of young people.  In a country where public education is compulsory we are missing out on a prime opportunity if we do not better prepare our children for adulthood.  Ideally, children would be fully supported by their families, but that just isn’t happening in many cases.  The good news is that lots of positive things are happening.  Lots and lots of research has been done on how to support and improve behavior and mental health.  Lots and lots of schools and districts have supports in place that are working.  And, lots and lots of people are working in the trenches, trying to support our struggling kids and reaching out to those in need.  The bad news is these voices are not the ones we hear.  The voices we hear are all about the guns, all about the distraction.  So let’s take a minute and look at the good news, the solutions that might actually work.  This is where we should put our money, time and focus.  This is where politicians and school districts should be calling for initiatives.  In the programs that actually support the health and welfare of kids.

The most promising public school initiative is school wide positive behavior supports (PBIS-  PBIS techniques support good behavior in the majority of students, while providing supports and teaching new skills to students who struggle.  Schools which have instituted PBIS techniques have been able to decrease suspensions and office referrals, while improving behavior in the majority of their students.  This behavior model, which has been around for some time, has now been expanded to include supports in academics as well as social/emotional well-being.  The goal of this balanced support model is to ground students in the social and emotional health necessary to navigate adult life.  In my mind, it makes a lot of sense to invest in this type of an initiative in schools in this country.  Every student in every school could use support in social emotional health and well-being.  Very few schools will ever encounter a gunman (thankfully).  Should we not use our public money to invest in the sure thing?

pexels-photo-207653.jpeg                   Next, let’s call on our communities to step up and help support the health and well-being of our young community members.  According to the Interconnected Systems Framework, a major researcher in positive behavior supports, community support is vital to the sustainability of Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.  There are lots of ways that communities can help support mental health and well-being, but I want to focus on some real-life programs that are really working.  Programs that are giving support to kids, mostly kids at risk. Programs that help kids who might otherwise have turned out to be disenfranchised gang members or school shooters.  This is the real deal, the things that work.

Hana BuildWhy do we think that everything has to be learned in a classroom?  Ma Ka Hana Ka ʻIke has turned that idea on its ear.  This program, located in a remote town on Maui, not only teaches kids on the job, it provides community building projects that enhance their entire community.  In addition, it gives young people a skill, education and a purpose.

Camden Sophisticated SistersWe often think of drill teams as fluff, extracurricular, non-essential activities that take the backseat to the main activities of learning and growing.  Camden Sophisticated Sisters (and their affiliates, Distinguished Brothers – DB’z & The Almighty Percussion Sound – TAPS) has turned things around and tied all that is needed to build skills and work habits in young people into activities they love.  Daily practices are interspersed by homework sessions and character and skill development.  Young people in Camden, New Jersey come from some of the poorest homes in America.  CSS is aimed at not only overcoming the results of poverty, but reaching out to their community.

Nascarz, of Vancouver, seeks to give former and would be car thieves the thrill of working on top performing automobiles and the chance to develop top notch mechanic skills.  The cars are the hook, but the real projects are the young people, shaping and teaching them that they can be productive, law-abiding members of society.

City of Angels Ballet– We all hear stories about prodigies, young people with exceptional talents at a very young age.  But what if a musical prodigy never met with a piano?  What if a brilliant mathematical prodigy grew up without any formal education and never knew of his skill?  And what if a prodigy in dance never had the opportunity to learn the basics to catapult her to stardom?  Mario Nugara seeks to solve this problem, at least in his little part of the world.  Trained in Denmark, Nugara provides high caliber ballet courses to some of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles.  Not only does this training give children the skills and talents of ballet, it gives them poise and self-efficacy that helps them better navigate their adult lives and become productive members of society whether or not they pursue dance as a career.

                The bottom line is, as disheartening is it is, we can’t really assure that bad things don’t happen to our kids.  We live in a world full of disasters, accidents and yes, just plain evil.  It would be wonderful if we could come up with a solution that would keep all of our kids safe, but unfortunately there is no way to do that.  And, while there are many things we can do, there are only limited resources on what we can spend our time and money on.  Doesn’t it make the most sense to spend our time and energy on things that give us the most for our money?  The things that really help?  The things I have suggested that may not assure that every child is safe (because there is no such thing).  But they are the things that will raise the social and emotional well-being of our children and provide our future with more functioning adultsDon’t be distracted by the guns, they are just a tool.  It is really about people, and teaching them to get their hearts and heads in the right place.  If you really want to help, encourage your lawmakers to support positive behavior support initiatives.  Seek out those who are making a difference and donate your time or money.  Or, just smile a bit more, reach out to those around you, and be aware of those in your community who may just need a friend.

Back to Blogging

This blog was born of my endeavor as an author of a book, Don’t Get Mad, Get Busy! A Handbook for raising terrific kids!” , as a way to promote my book and share my thoughts and ideas about topics I felt were important for parents, children and their education.

In 2010 I embarked in one of the most challenging teaching experiences I have ever had, short of the full time job of raising my own children; teaching early morning seminary.  As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon Church) I am a part of a lay ministry in which we lead and teach one another.  Part of our educational program for the youth of our church includes a 4 year seminary program for high school students.  Here in OC, CA classes are taught at our local church buildings before school begins, beginning in our area at the unearthly time of 5:45 am.  So, for the last 4 years I have spent much of my time studying, preparing, getting up early and catching up on sleep while serving as an early morning seminary teacher.  It was a wonderful, difficult, and rewarding experience, but after 4 years I was ready to have a bit of my time back.  With my release from that position this year I now have time to resurrect this blog and once again return to writing about topics that I find important to the growth and development of children.

I hope you can join me, or rejoin me, and read what I have to say.  I would also love your comments.

Why I Hate Car Seat Laws

Car seats in their present form were just becoming available and popular when I gave birth to my first child. As a child who had been raised in the day when many cars still did not have seat belts and when a car seat was only to give parents a place to put the kid, not protect the kid, I did not quite grasp the importance of their use. Don’t get me wrong, my kids rode in car seats, but before the days of mandatory car seat laws we did have the occasional time when we actually drove the car with the child not fastened. As time went on, and more children came into the family, we became diligent using car seats and seat belts, and I understood how important their use was.

Over the last 30 years I have seen an evolution of laws that began with requiring you to belt in your infant, then toddler, then 3, 4, 6, and now 8 year old into a child restraint system. When the first car seat laws first came out I was a big fan. I was not in favor of seat belt laws, but infants cannot make the choice for themselves as to whether they would prefer to be restrained or become a projectile in the event of a crash. I felt that our youngest citizens should be protected and that a car seat law helping parents understand this importance.

Unfortunately, I think as a society we have crossed a line from protecting the youngest children of society, to a plethora of laws that invades more than it protects. Sure, a 4, 6 or 8 year old will sustain fewer injuries in an accident with a restraint system designed for their size, but past the age of 2 there is no difference in mortality rates for use of a car seat vs. a regular car seat belt. Heck, all of us would fare better in an accident with a 5 point harness seat belt system, but at some point expense and logistics has to be balanced with the optimum of safety. How do the parents of today even follow the law when kids are required to be belted in until the age of 8? Does everyone have a car full of booster seats for their kids’ friends? Do you pick up the neighbors with a car seat in hand to drive them to school? Are cars even made big enough for multiple car seats in the back? Or, do we just ignore the law at times and use the next best thing, a seat belt?

All of these logistical problems seemed mute when I heard a news story that I found shocking about a current car seat law. So, apparently a law (I believe in the State of California) has been passed that a parent will have remaining living children taken away if their unrestrained child is killed in a motor vehicle accident. Sounds fine on the face, after all, a parent who would not properly restrain their child in the car is probably negligent in other areas. Well, the story goes this law was recently enacted when a father (no mother in the picture) lost 2 children to the state after his 18 month old daughter was killed in an auto accident. The accident was not the father’s fault (someone ran a light), but still it seems like no excuse for not using a car seat until you hear the rest of the details. The father was driving to the hospital because the young daughter broke her arm and her car seat was strapped into the father’s car, which he had loaned to a friend. So, Dad borrowed another car, presumable with no car seat, and had the child’s aunt hold the baby (presumably in pain) on the way to the hospital.

Have we lost our minds? Here this poor father is trying to do his best to raise his children, he is undoubtedly grief-stricken from losing one child, and now the others are taken away. What one of us in the same situation would not do that same thing? What one of us have not, in an emergency or unexpected situation, made a choice for our child that may not be the most safe situation, but for the circumstances at the time felt it the best choice?

I think it is time to step back and look at the purpose of laws. Laws like this are presumably designed to shape behaviors. Do they serve their purpose? Is this the best way to shape behavior, or is there a better way? Have we moved from behavior shaping to punitive measures? And if so, why do we want to punish a parent who just lost a child?

So, that is my take on current car seat laws. I think they are just one, of many, good ideas that have just gone too far.