Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Moral Messages We Send Our Children

I would guess that if we asked parents what kind of adult they want their child to be when they grew up; many would mention qualities like, “successful,” “happy,” or “high-achieving.” Would many parents mention qualities such as, “caring,” “kind,” or “unselfish?” I sure many would, but according to new research, many children are not getting this last message.

A compelling new study from Harvard University researchers shows that among American students (middle and high school), the majority (80%) say they value high achievement or happiness over caring for others (20%). While this is important in itself, perhaps more interesting is the fact that the majority of these youth also report feeling that their parents value achievement or happiness over caring. This is despite numerous other research findings showing that parents cite raising caring kids as a top priority. In other words, parents say they want to raise caring kids, but the kids are not getting this message from parents’ daily actions. The authors of the study call this a rhetoric/reality gap.

If you are like me, I find this report more than a little disconcerting. The thought that we could be raising a generation of kids who so overwhelmingly value achievement and happiness over caring for others is first problematic on a moral front. Even if this aspect does not bother everyone, the authors also point out that the result of focusing so intensely on achievement and happiness is ultimately a less happy child. Several studies have found that in communities where students are pressured to perform at high levels, there are higher rates of depression and behavior problems. Similarly, when children’s achievement or happiness is prioritized over caring for others, they often fail to development relationship skills that are needed to sustain long-term relationships.

What can we, as parents, do to close this rhetoric/reality gap? The researchers give several good suggestions and many of them focus on simply setting a good example of caring for others, being respectful and fair and most importantly, demanding that our children do the same, even if it makes them unhappy. Other ideas include:

  • Ask your child’s teacher if they are kind to classmates, in addition to how they are performing academically
  • Have children practice expressing gratitude to others in their lives (waitresses, grandparents, etc.)
  •  Use news stories about others who are suffering to explain to children how other people face challenges and struggles in other settings or other countries
  •  Give children opportunities to reach out to help others in the larger community (e.g., help at a food bank, assist an elderly neighbor)

For more tips and research on this important topic see the Making Caring Common website.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

LDS Divorce Experience Survey

I (Josh Lockhart) have partnered with LDS Living to do a survey on members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have been divorced and their experiences going through the divorce as an LDS member. If you have experienced this or know of someone, please participate or share the survey. Thank you!

If the survey below doesn't work, please visit

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Preparing for the back to school routine

Your Twitter and Facebook feed may soon be cluttered with meme’s about Christmas being under 20 weeks away. Which for me means it is time to start doing my Christmas shopping, in about 19 weeks. However, with the red and green season already being advertised, we are well into the back to school movement.

If you have been like me, you have let certain school routines slip during the summer. Sleeping in, staying up late, more snacking, later meals, more screen time, and so on are now happening daily.

The struggle is, especially with school starting in about three weeks, is figuring out how and when to get back into the school groove.

The following are just some ideas of how to get back into the school routine (I recommend only doing one or two a week, so you don’t stress yourself or your children out):
  1. Wake up earlier. If you have been sleeping in until 9:30 try waking up at 9am next week, 8.30 the week after, 8 the next, and then 7.30 for the first week of school. This allows your body to slowly ease into getting up earlier.
  2. Go to bed earlier. This is ideal to do once you are getting up earlier, as you and your children should be tired earlier. Try the same method as waking up earlier.
  3. Bed time routine. Re-establishing your past routine, or starting a new one. By having a bath, getting in pj’s, brushing teeth, reading stories, cuddles and so on, in the same order each night develops an indicator for the body to know that it is time to get ready for sleep.
  4. Structuring meals. Start having meals at a set time, or as close to the same time as possible. Note that children need a hearty and healthy breakfast.
  5. Start reading. Substitute reading books alone or together instead of screen time.
  6. Have weekly family calendaring. So often scheduling is left do the day off, and it creates frazzled parents and children.  Now don’t have too rigid of schedule, have flexibility in it.
  7. Start deciding on extra-curricular activities. Investigate or start generating interest in what after school programs your child wants to be in, whether it is gymnastics, piano, or chess.
  8. Have a weekly family activity. When the school year starts, balancing life, work and school becomes difficult. By starting a family activity before school starts it creates a tradition that can be carried through the school year.

Again, slowly adjust into a back to school routine. Trying to do it all at once is exhausting. Which might just happen for some of us on the first day of school.

By Josh Lockhart

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bilingualism: Raising Kids With Two Languages

Did you know that more than half the people in the world speak more than one language every day? 

     In Asia, Africa, in many European countries, not to mention parts of Canada, bilingualism is often seen as the norm, while in monolingual countries such as the US and England, the dominant view of the world is monolingual.

     In a predominantly mono-linguistic society like the US, bilingualism is a choice parents consciously make for their kids individually as well as for their family as a whole. If you are considering raising your child bilingually, this blog post might be of help. It focuses on some of the most important aspects of bilingualism that you would need to be aware of, based on research findings as well as my own experience as a mother of three bilingual kids. Let’s first look at what bilingualism really is.


The most commonly used definition of bilinguals is: those who use two or more languages in their everyday lives. That leads to the following definition of bilingualism: 
We speak of bilingualism when a person uses two or more languages in their everyday lives.

Benefits of bilingualism

You might rightly wonder if bilingualism has anything to offer growing kids; what are the advantages over monolingualism? Research into this question is mostly limited to the development of cognitive ability and is not entirely conclusive - apart from the obvious fact that kids end up fluent in two languages. Bilingual children seem to do better than monolingual children in some areas (attention span), equally well in others (analysis), or less well (vocabulary tests in the non-dominant language). For more on this, see reference 1 below.

     However, there are advantages that have not yet been researched, but are heard often among bilinguals. These do not relate to cognitive development so much as to overall personality development. I can attest to each and every one of them based on my personal parenting experience of using two languages in the home when my kids were growing up. As you read through the list  I’m sure you’ll agree that they make sense:
  • Ability to speak to relatives and friends with whom one would not communicate otherwise
  • Opportunity to become literate in more than one language as well as gain access to the (literary) culture as represented by that language
  • Ease of learning a third or fourth language
  • Open-mindedness and ease of switching among different perspectives on life
  • Increased job opportunities

How to Go About Raising Your Kids Bilingually

Research seems to indicate that balanced bilingualism does not just ‘happen’ in a monolingual setting – it is a conscious choice parents and kids make, a choice that needs consistent effort during a prolonged period of time. Following are three aspects, gleaned from research as well as  my own experience, that help foster bilingualism in kids:

1) Daily exposure

Kids need daily (or almost daily) exposure to both languages, preferably in monolingual form, meaning: there have to be moments each day when kids are fully immersed in one language without the other language coming to the rescue. Some kids use two languages on a daily basis as a natural outcome of their family’s specific situation. Immigrant children, for instance, will use one language in monolingual form at home and another language, also in monolingual form, at school and with friends. 

     If your kids aren’t in this category, you will have to create a second language immersion situation that occurs regularly if not on a daily basis, where they interact with people: talking, playing, reading, and are not just watching DVDs or TV, without the help of their first language.

2) Need

Your child will have to feel a need for the second language. Children will quickly drop a language when they sense that the need for it has fallen away. In the ideal situation, where one language is spoken at home and the other language is used outside, the need for both languages is obvious.

     Parents who know a second language well enough to comfortably speak it on a daily basis with their child and who have decided to use it for the purpose of a bilingual upbringing, will need to rely on contact with friends and/or family in order to immerse their kids in monolingual situations so they will feel the need to maintain their ability. 

     Bilingual parents would also do well to arrange for monolingual situations involving other people, as kids quickly circumvent difficulties they might have in one language by borrowing  from the other, knowing that the parents will understand anyway. Even though borrowing will happen naturally in bilingual families and is not a problem in and of itself, when the goal is balanced bilingualism there should be monolingual moments for each language .

3) A Positive Attitude Towards Acquisition of Both Languages

A positive attitude towards the acquisition of both languages is crucial in achieving balanced bilingualism. Being able to speak two languages fluently is fun! If children sense that either the parents or their environment is biased against either language, they may choose to drop it in favor of the one that is socially more acceptable. 

     Ideally, parents and children should talk openly about their bilingual upbringing, especially when the development in one language is lagging behind. Then the support of parents, friends and family becomes even more important.

Benefits of a Second Language

If the benefits mentioned above appeal to you, but raising your children bilingually is not a viable option, you might go for the acquisition of a second language without it becoming a native tongue. The time and effort expended would be considerably less, yet your kids and you would stand to gain from each and every advantage listed. Perhaps some of them is lesser degree compared to a bilingual situation, but still, understanding another language and culture from the inside out, even in moderate measure, is definitely worth the effort.


Often the acquisition of a second language brings with it the exposure to another culture. As is the case with the development of a second language it is vital for both parents and the environment – school, friends, etc. – to have a positive attitude towards the kids becoming acquainted with and appreciative of the two cultures. Again, when kids sense a bias towards either culture they may feel compelled to reject it as well as the language associated with it.

An Extra Tool

Lastly, I’d like to emphasize that the ability to speak two or more languages - or the effort to achieve it - is not a sign of superior intelligence, neither is it an indication of political disloyalty. For millions of people all over the world, a second language is simply an extra tool with which to navigate the journey called life.

Are you raising your kids bilingually? Please share your experience with us. We'd love to hear from you.

Check out the sites and books below for more information:

2) Biligual: Life and Reality, Francois Grosjean, Harvard University Press, 2010
4) Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, Colin Baker. Multilingual Matters, 5th ed., 2011

Image courtesay of (adjusted for the article)

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Friday, August 1, 2014

How To Survive A Move With Children

1. Don’t move.

The end!

OK, if you absolutely have to move, which we just did, I have some actual advice. We finally bought our first home after living in the same two bedroom apartment for 12 years and I learned some things.

1. Declutter first. You have more stuff than you realize. Even if you’re not officially moving, start doing it. If you think you’re moving months from now, declutter. Decluttering is always good anyway. I did some decluttering, but not enough. I’m now kicking myself as I unpack things that don’t matter to me that much. I begged my husband to declutter the storage unit, which was filled with his construction stuff, drums, and much more. He said he would deal with it when we moved, but he had no idea just how much work it was going to be. We had so much stuff in there, we couldn’t fit it on the 26 foot truck we rented. We had to go back for several more loads using my van, his truck, and a trailer we borrowed from a friend. Thank goodness we were only moving 45 minutes away, or we would have had to dump some stuff. Decluttering will ensure that your most valuable possessions make it on the truck and to your new home. Get the kids involved. They probably have plenty of things they don’t play with anymore.

2. Have your least helpful children go somewhere else maybe a night or two before if you can. Our kids weren’t all going to be able to even find some floor to sleep on once we took apart the bunk beds and other furniture. Also, there was a lot less fighting with our younger two gone at Grandma’s.

3. Hate accepting help? Accept help. Come on, just this once! I am 6 months pregnant and had to accept help. Sometimes I had to lie down on the floor and drink water because I was having contractions. I felt guilty doing that while everyone else was working, but it was necessary. I never would have made it through without my friends.

4. Paper plates, cups, etc. before and after the move. I try to avoid eating out too much because it’s just too expensive and the cheaper food is unhealthy. We were lucky to have some wonderful friends who brought us dinner! Otherwise we survived on frozen pizzas, microwave burritos, etc.

5. Teach the kids how to pack. It’s a great opportunity and maybe they can help someone else sometime. My kids learned how to tape up boxes and about the best things to put in large or small boxes.

6. Take pictures. It’s a chaotic time, but still quite the memory. I wanted to remember those who showed up to help. I’m glad I remembered to do this.

7. Make a list of the really important things you want to find the night you move in or very soon after. Get some colorful tape and put it on the boxes you pack them in so you can find them easily. I found some rainbow duct tape, which made it possible for everyone to shower. And I didn’t have to run out and buy a new shower curtain that night. One time we had to buy new sheets because we couldn’t find them.

8. Label everything and make your kids label everything. I don’t just label what stuff is in it, but which room I want the box to go in. For example: Kitchen – pots and pans, cutting boards, etc. I don’t want to open a box that I don’t really need at the moment.

9. Make sure there’s plenty of water for everyone, especially in the summer and snacks for helpers too. I wanted to show my appreciation, so I picked up some gourmet bagels, doughnuts, chocolate milk, juice, and more.

10. Join a group on Facebook or something where people offer things for free. I was able to obtain boxes with much less work than usual. A few times I just ran by people’s houses to pick up boxes they had just unpacked. Until then, I was running from store to store trying to find some they hadn’t gotten rid of yet. I will do this next time, if there is a next time. I hope there’s never a next time. I’m a part of “Buy Nothing” which they have in various cities. I was able to help two people by giving away the ones I unpacked so far. It’s so much better than just putting them in recycling. It’s also another thing I had my kids help with by putting them outside when someone is going to come by. If you’re moving, I’m really sorry to hear it, but good luck! I hope some of these tips are helpful.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Too Hot...

Too Hot… 
I had the idea to write on this topic at the beginning of the summer, to prepare for the hot days that were sure to come. Sadly, since the beginning of the summer it seems like a week has not passed where the news has not reported on the death, or near death, of a child due to heatstroke caused from being left unattended in a car. In 2013, there were 44 hyperthermia related deaths of children in hot cars, and so far this year, 18 have occurred since mid-April. You can read the stories about 17 of them in this article reports that currently 19 states have laws that make it illegal to leave a child unattended in a motor vehicle. The legal ramifications, though, are the least of concerns for a parent who experiences such a tragic loss. Whether the mishap occurs though a lapse in memory or through not realizing the potential danger, most parents would be devastated for life in the event of this occurrence.

Many parents today likely grew up like myself in a world where seatbelts were optional and riding on the back dash of a car was like getting to ride in the Millennium Falcon with hyperdrive; so, sometimes we may need to be reminded of the dangers that could occur to our children—our most precious cargo. A few days ago, the temperature was about 90 degrees here in Dallas, Texas, and my phone did not appreciate me leaving it in the car. You can see the message it gave me when I returned to my car in the picture posted above. When I had realized about an hour later that I did not have my phone in my pocket, I went to get it and saw the temperature on my car thermometer spiked to 109 degrees! It really did not take long to heat up inside my car. As easy as it was for me to assume my phone was in my pocket or backpack, it often happens that parents assume that they’ve already dropped their kid off at daycare, or they may think their children will be fine if they are only gone for “just a minute.”  (It’s rarely never “just a minute.”)

What are some things we can do to help reduce the likelihood of this tragedy occurring?

Some very innovative people have come up with some interesting solutions.
  1. recommends putting something in the backseat with our children that we will obviously need upon parking the car. While their list included phone and briefcase, as evidenced by my experience the other day, I think leaving a shoe is a much better recommendation. 
  2. adds to that list by suggesting leaving a stuffed animal in the carseat and placing it in a visual place in the front seat when a child is occupying the vehicle
  3. Last year an 11-year old named Andrew Pelham from Nashville won a contest for his invention called the E-Z Baby Saver. Check out his website to learn how to make your own.
  4. There are some other high tech ways under development that provide reminders including this range of devices from a special car seat accessory to a phone app. 

The one thing that I hope all the readers of this article do is to talk about this issue with other parents. Just bring it up casually in conversation with your friends. Spreading awareness of the danger is perhaps one of the most needed aspects in helping prevent these tragedies. I know many young parents who haven’t even thought about this issue yet or considered the danger. Just like we try to warn our children before they find themselves in a bad situation, we can help one another by spreading awareness of the potential harm.

Some great information about how to protect children from these and other dangers can be found on the following websites:

And, for those nerdy parents that like to know why a car interior heats up so quickly, here’s an article explaining the Greenhouse effect that is occurring.

Who can you help by sharing information about this topic?

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How Do I Teach My Kids Not to Lie?

Every now and then I get clients who are very concerned about their child telling them lies. Many parents want to teach kids honesty and think if their child is starting to tell lies, that they are on the road toward a criminal lifestyle. However, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (2009) discuss the research on why kids tell lies, and what parents can do to better teach honesty in their book, NurtureShock. Bronson and Merryman (2009) detail their interviews and interaction with Victoria Talwar, PhD who specializes in the lying behavior of children. Dr. Talwar informs the reader and Bronson and Merryman that lying in children is considered a mark of intelligence. According to the research cited by Bronson and Merryman (2009) around 96% of children will lie. In home studies seem to point out that 4 years olds lie once every two hours and 6 year olds lie once every hour. That's quite a bit of lying. So why do kids lie? For the most part children lie due to one of the following reasons:

  • A coping mechanism to deal with frustration or to get attention from peers. 
  • A way to cover up real or perceived failures. 
  • To please a parent or caregiver.
  • Avoid a punishment.
  • They learn it from parents.
According to Talwar, Bronson, and Merryman, children younger than 5 are more likely to label a broken promise as a lie, even though there might be justifiable reasons for breaking the promise. Even telling your children, "Just kidding" could be interpreted as a lie. When children start to lie and develop higher moral reasoning skills, they are better able to account for extenuating circumstances. 

One classical way children learn that lying is okay is the parent asking the child to lie for them. For example and unwanted phone call occurs and the parent tells the child, "Tell them I'm (not home, in the shower, busy, etc.)." This behavior, and any form of it, teaches the child, "Lying is okay when I don't want to do something unpleasant." 

However, the biggest factor for lying was trying to please a parent. Children know that if they do something that upsets their parent, it will make their parent unhappy with them. In order to salvage their parent's feelings of happiness toward the child and possibly avoid getting punished, children lie. 

An interesting finding highlighted in this chapter was what helped increase honesty. Researchers read two different stories to two different groups of children; The Boy Who Cried Wolf and George Washington and the Cherry Tree. After reading these books to the children, they tested the children for their lying behaviors. The first group (Wolf) were found to lie just a little more than previously, whereas the second group (Washington) actually reduced their lying by between 50-75%. The authors believe that the difference between the stories created the change. In the Wolf story, the boy is punished and humiliated for his lie, in the Washington story, the boy (George Washington) is rewarded for his honesty, and receives immunity from punishment for the lie.

To test this assumption they had parents and researchers interact with children according to the George Washington story, granting immunity for telling the truth. However, this didn't decrease the lying behavior in children. What did reduce lying was immunity for honesty AND expressions of praise and authentic happiness from the parent toward the child for honesty. 

The take home message from this chapter in the great book NurtureShock, is if you want kids to tell the truth we need to value the truth: 
  • Be more honest as parents.
  • Don't put kids into situations where they are tempted to lie.
  • Praise honesty and grant immunity when kids do tell the truth.
  • Realize that on average most parents can only tell a child lies about 40% of the time, sometimes you will never know!

What have you found to be helpful to teach honesty? 
What will you use from this article to help with your child? 

Bronson, P. and Merryman, A. (2009). NurtureShock: new thinking about children. New York: Twelve.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fidgety Kids: It’s About the Brain, Not Just the Body

If you have a youngster at home, you probably notice they like to move…A LOT! I have two young boys and in recent months I have especially begun to notice how much they like to fidget and move. My older son is almost five years old and I was beginning to worry about his ability to sit in a kindergarten classroom next year. Then I came across this great article that has been floating all over the internet entitled, Why Children Fidget: And What We Can Do About It. Given that it was written by a pediatric occupational therapist, I felt pretty good about the validity of its content. The author makes the point that many children today have a very difficult time sitting still in classrooms. They are constantly fidgeting. Some teachers or parents start to think many of these children may have ADHD due to their inability to sit still. According to this article, there may be something much more basic and simple going on in these situations—the children need to move much more to adequately develop balance and strength. This movement, as the author describes, helps “turn on their brains” so they can focus on academic topics. Here’s how the author describes it,
 Children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before. With sensory systems not quite working right, they are asked to sit and pay attention. Children naturally start fidgeting in order to get the movement their body so desperately needs and is not getting enough of to “turn their brain on.” What happens when the children start fidgeting? We ask them to sit still and pay attention; therefore, their brain goes back to “sleep.”  

Wow, what an eye-opener. I had a sense of this issue before but I never thought of it in these terms before. Have you ever noticed how much better your child sits still or focuses on school work (or similar task) after they have played really hard? I certainly have noticed this with my son and this makes think this issue is really at work for many children.

We have known for years that there is a “movement crisis” in the United States. Rising child obesity rates is some evidence of this (although multiple factors may be at work), but now it seems that rising rates of ADHD diagnosis may be related to a lack of movement and open-ended play time. Of course, there are children who have clearly-defined and diagnosed ADHD, but this article makes me wonder if some kids may just need much more exercise and movement in their lives to help them focus better.

This recognized need for more movement for our children is not new. At least one recent pediatric study showed the benefit of recess time (even 20 minutes) for improved classroom behavior. Hopefully, as more research of this type comes to the forefront, more schools will maintain or perhaps expand recess or break times to allow children more time to move.

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