Notes on Parenting

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

School Start Times and Zero Tolerance Policies.

AAP Policy Statements

School Start Times
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the professional organization of Pediatricians, has the reputation of distributing periodic policy statements. These statements are used to clarify the stance that this collection of Pediatricians thinks parents, pediatricians, school officials, and any other person who associates with children need to know. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, a researcher, and a parent, I pay attention to these policy statements, and read through them to understand the justification of why the AAP thinks that a particular topic would require a policy statement. At the beginning of this month, the AAP distributed yet another important policy statement. Building on the already solid foundation of how teenage bodies develop and the amount of sleep teenagers need, the AAP advocates and recommends middle and high schools delay their start times to no earlier than 8:30 am, and sometimes later due to local circumstances. In addition to advocating schools change their schedules, the AAP policy statement recommends parents take more responsibility and accountability in, "setting bedtimes and in supervising sleep practices, such as social networking and electronic media use in the bedroom (CITE)." This is an important first step toward greater physical and mental health for adolescents.

Zero Tolerance Policies
Just over a year ago, the AAP distributed a policy statement that could have just as much impact on adolescent physical and mental health as the school start times policy. Compiling and sifting through the research on the effectiveness of "Zero Tolerance" policies, the AAP recommends a preventative approach over a "reactive/punitive" approach. When expulsion or suspension are used, the AAP recommends it should only be after all other approaches have failed to work. Recognizing the quickly rising tide of news stories where kids are suspended for drawing a gun, or pretending to play war during recess, I thought this policy statement was timely. Amazingly, it seems that some school districts are listening, either to the AAP or to the research evidence, and are starting to shift their policies to reflect a more proactive approach.

What Does This Mean for Home

School Start Times
Since it is unlikely your school district is going to make changes this year (if they already haven't), the only line of defense to protect your child's sleep is you. The AAP recommends between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of continuous sleep per day (naps, and sleeping in on the weekends don't count). If you child's school starts at the same time as the high schools in my area (7:30 am), meaning a 6:45 am rise at the latest (taking into account average commute times and morning routines), putting bedtime right around 9 pm or 9:30 pm, if they fall asleep within 5 minutes. Accounting for some wind-down time, and night time routines, a 8 pm or 8:30 pm bedtime is safer. Let that sink in for a minute. What teenager do you know likes to or is ready to fall asleep at 9:30 pm? How about being told to get ready for bed at 8 pm? With that in mind, think of ways you can change your schedule to allow for more consistent sleep for your child. Consider reducing the amount of electronics in the child's room to eliminate chances for distraction from sleep.

Zero Tolerance Policies
While most parents do not generally have 'zero tolerance' rules in their home, there is one thing that parents do do that can contribute to the problems created by these policies. Most often when a child is harshly punished in the home (grounding for a week, or a month), the punishment not only affects the child, but the whole family. Harsh punishments have been proven to be the least effective at reducing problem behaviors in children. Sure they might work in the short term, telling a child their grounded for a week will elicit immediate compliance, especially if it is grounding from something they really enjoy doing. Typically, however, three days into the grounding the parent often find themselves wanting to give their child a break for "good behavior". This leaves you and the child on a roller coaster of punishment and reward, with ever increasing climbs and valleys, until one of you (usually the parent) can't stand the ride any longer, ending in complicity to child non-compliance. Just like zero tolerance policies, harsh parenting causes more long term damage, at the expense of short term peace. Parents can check out the following blog posts for more guidance on appropriate parenting techniques:
Tells me what you think: 
  1. What do you think you can do to help increase your child's positive sleep patterns?
  2. What techniques have you used that have decreased problem behaviors, without harsh discipline? 

Au, R., Carskadon, M., Millman, R., Wolfson, A., Braverman, P. K., Adelman, W. P., Young, T. (2014). School Start Times for Adolescents. Pediatrics, 134(3), 642–649. doi:10.1542/peds.2014-1697

Board, T. T. E. (2014, August 20). Moving past zero tolerance in L.A. schools. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from

Lamont, J. H., Devore, C. D., Allison, M., Ancona, R., Barnett, S. E., Gunther, R., Young, T. (2013). Out-of-School Suspension and Expulsion. Pediatrics, peds.2012–3932. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-3932

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Infant Babbling...It's Not Just Baby Talk

Is trying to understand your infant’s babbling an effort in futility? Turns out, the answer might be, “no.” A new study published in the journal Infancy puts into question the notion that children’s language development is innate and we cannot do much to alter its path. 

The researchers closely observed interactions between mothers and their 8-month old infants over the course of six months. What they found was that among children whose mothers responded to them by trying to understand what they were saying, they developed more advanced language sounds sooner. Children whose mothers responding by directing the child’s attention to something else, developed language sounds more slowly.

It’s important to note in this study that all the mothers responded to their infants’ babbling, but it’s a difference in how they responded that seems to make the difference. The mothers who actively engaged with their child’s babbling and responded to what they thought they were saying seem to promote the child’s learning to communicate. For these children, by 15 months of age, they had more words and gestures compared to the other babies.

What the researchers believe is happening is that, by responding to the infant’s communication, the mothers are reinforcing within the child that he or she can communicate. Over time, they learn more and more how to refine that communication with constant-vowel sounds which are the beginnings of word formation.

Once again this reiterates the importance of parent-child interactions at the most in-depth level. All that babbling your infant does really is the beginning stages of learning to speak. By responding to your child as if you know what they are saying is just one step along path of them learning language.
Julie Gros-Louis, Meredith J. West, Andrew P. King. (2014). Maternal Responsiveness and the Development of Directed Vocalizing in Social Interactions Infancy, 19 (4)

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tips for Cultivating a Working Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher

by: Dyan Eybergen BA, RN, ACPI

Working With the Teacher to Promote Positive Learning Experiences
When parents and their child’s teacher cultivate a relationship of mutual respect and cooperation, it is the child who benefits.

With the first month of school underway, now is an ideal time for parents to assess just how well their children are adjusting to the school routine and its curriculum. Should any problems be detected there is still a sufficient amount of time left in the term to address a child’s specific needs and get him/her the help he/she needs.

In today’s school environment, with a demanding curriculum, restricted budgets and limited teacher resources and assistance, teachers are often overwhelmed by the prospect of talking with a parent who is less than happy with regards to the child’s progress. Teachers feel powerless in their efforts to assist every child. Raising issues with teachers in the spirit of cooperation can go a long way in helping to set a child up for success.

How to Communicate With a Child’s Teacher
If it hasn’t been done already, parents should make arrangements to meet with their child’s teacher. Introductions are important to open communication. The parents should indicate their desire to be involved in their child’s education. Asking for suggestions for how they can best support the school’s learning environment at home is a cooperative approach that will open the door to a respectful relationship between the parent and the teacher. A teacher will be most grateful to parents who reinforce their efforts to sustain learning for their students.

How to Address Problems
Ask the child’s teacher how he/she would prefer to be contacted: by phone, email or in writing should problems arise. Parents should also inform the teacher how they can be reached, and convey the fact that they want to be advised if their child is struggling academically or socially at school. Inviting open communication about their child will help a teacher feel a sense of cohesiveness. The teacher will get the message that the parents are willing to work together as a team to ensure the success of their child’s school experience. If a problem does exist, parents should approach the teacher as a team player by asking how parents and teacher can work together to solve it. Blaming the teacher for a child’s difficulties will only provoke a defensive reaction and does not lend itself to finding a solution to helping a child.

How Parents can Help Teachers Know Their Children
Parents know their children best. Parents have specific information that will benefit their child’s teacher in terms of how that teacher will relate to their child. What is the child’s learning style? Is the child more of a visual learner than an auditory one? Does the child get anxious before having to write a test? Does the child appear overwhelmed if there are too many questions written on one page?
Are there strategies the parents have implemented at home that will give the child’s teacher insight into managing the child’s classroom needs? Anything a parent can tell a child’s teacher about how their child learns will promote positive interactions between the teacher and the child.

How Parents can Help Their Children in the Classroom
Parents should let a child’s teacher know of anything that may be going on that would cause the child’s behaviour or academic performance to suddenly change. Is there a pending divorce? Has mom or dad just lost a job? Is mom away on an extended business trip? Did the family pet just pass away? Is the child being bullied? A teacher’s compassion and understanding through such circumstances can prevent an emotionally struggling child from feeling alienated by school, especially when school may be the child’s only refuge if things at home are not going so well.

Parents need to inform the teacher of their child’s strengths and weaknesses. Parents should develop goals with their child based on the child’s strengths and inform the teacher of what those strong suits are. Notifying the teacher of areas of improvement they are working on with their child at home can also be helpful. A teacher who can easily recognize the strengths and needs of a child can more readily set realistic expectations for that child’s academic development.

The Benefits of a Working Parent-Teacher Relationship
Disagreements between parents and their child’s teacher may be unavoidable at times. If parents can approach these situations believing that the teacher wants their child to succeed in school just as much as they do, it will help them to find ways to amicably work together to ensure the child’s academic achievement. Letting the disagreement become bigger than the objective of ensuring school success for a child will only serve injustice to the child. A child can only thrive in an environment that is conducive to his/her learning style and strengths. Parents have that information and teachers know how to use it to the child’s learning advantage. It’s imperative then that parents and teachers develop working relationships that benefit the children whom they are all helping to prepare for the future.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Art of Grocery Shopping with Kids

If you're like most parents you prefer to do your weekly shopping alone, as in: without kids. It's easier and faster and sidesteps potential irritations, such as: Don't touch! - Stay close! - Don't yell!
     But then again, sometimes we don't have the luxury of going solo and we find ourselves navigating the isles with one or more kids in tow.

     Here's how you can make that experience a positive one, so much so that in the future you may decide to bring your kids along just for the fun of it. When you bring positive energy to the experience and share that with your kids, all of you will benefit.

The Art Explained

     Just as there is a recipe for preparing lasagna, there is a method to this miracle of shopping with kids. 
     First and foremost: remember the three key features that make up an inspiring environment: relationship, autonomy, and competency or skill, and put them to use. Effective teachers use this triad daily in their classes and it is just as helpful in family settings. These three features influence and affect each other positively when consciously engaged, as you shall see.

Change your frame of reference from 'shopping' to 'family-together-time'. Throughout your expidition your focus is first and foremost on your kids' well-being. Talk with your children, listen to what they have to say and respond adequately and appropriately throughout the time you are together. Mentally switch from 'I have to get this done in time' to being 'allies' in this trip - you and your kids are on the same side: their side.

     Approach and view everything from a child's perspective as much as you can. That way you are on the same wave-length and in a much better position to anticipate a possible mishap and deal with it adequately.

     Make sure you have plenty of time and are not in a hurry. Calculate about double or triple the time you would need when shopping alone.

Ask your child or children to help you and allot age appropriate little jobs to them. There are tasks they can fulfill, such as pushing the cart (or a kid's cart), selecting products and putting them in the cart, putting items on the check-out counter, etc. Involve them in the various processes of shopping, allowing them as much autonomy and responsibility as possible. Allow choices whenever possible and walk/talk those choices through together (this ties in with relationship).

Kids love to become 'good' at something, even if it is pushing a cart straight along the floortiles in the cereals isle. Notice and compliment your kids on every little contribution, reinforcing their positive involvement in the shopping expidition (this ties in with relationship and autonomy).

     In addition to mastering shopping skills kids will want to 'do' much more. If you channel their creativity, rather than wait for them to explore in ways that are not supermarket-friendly, you can make the shopping experience a fun time for all. Consider the following two activities to get your creativity flowing:

  • Feel the wonder of a long empty isle with a shiny floor and create a game to go with it, such as counting steps to go from left to right, skipping squares, letting the cart roll as gently and smoothly as possible, etc. Participate and be available to them.
  • Notice the stack of plastic bags for produce? Take one and inflate it to create a balloon, tying it securely at the opening with one or two tight knots. Invent games to go with this, such as keeping it afloat with only two index fingers, heading it as high as you can, etc.

     I'm not saying this approach is easy - at first it certainly isn't. You'll need to develop a two-track mind, doing your shopping adequately and being available to your kids. Practice makes perfect, and this art of grocery shopping with kids is no exception. Make sure the order of items on your list matches the layout of the store; that way you only have to go through each isle once, saving you unnecessary trips back and forth.

Positive Energy Field

Next time you're scheduling a trip to the store, consider lifting the experience from a chore to 'together-time' with your kids. This is a chance for you to get to know them better and for them to get to know you better: a person who is able to transmogrify an ordinary trip to the store into a rich experience in which you seize the opportunity to invest in your relationship.

     To be even more specific: this approach allows you to augment the quality of the energy field that exists in and around you and in which your kids participate, for the benefit of all - not least of all: you yourself. It puts you in the position of creator of your own experience, an experience that greatly affects the quality of life of both you and your kids. 
     Eventually, your role-modelling will inspire your children in turn. They will have learned how to consciously focus on the quality of their own energy field and enlist it in order to create more mutually satisfying and inspiring relationships.

     If you'd like to share about how you view the process of enhancing your own energy for the benefit of both your kids and yourself while going about your daily business, let us know and use the comment box. If you have any questions, that's the place to ask them. Thanks!

Adapted from a blog post previously posted on the author's blog
Image (adapted for this article) courtesy of
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Friday, September 5, 2014

How To Cope With The Beginning Of School

This is one of the most stressful times of the year for me.  Not only is it the start of school again, we moved to a new school district.  This meant filling out lots of forms weeks ago and receiving even more forms after school started.  I have four kids in three different schools.  Next year my kids will be in four different schools and we'll have our baby by then too.  Each of the schools does things differently and I have so much to remember.  If you're feeling overwhelmed, the following things help:

1.  Use your calendar. If you use your phone, have a paper back-up.  You don't want to lose everything because your toddler threw it on the ground.  Or in the toilet.  Maybe even in a lake.  (That happened to my husband.)
2.  Compile your kids' school supply lists into one master list or else you'll wander all over the store.  Just make sure it's detailed.  One kid might need a box of 24 colored pencils and another might need 12.
3.  Divide and conquer.  You and your spouse can split up Open House night, which our old schools called "Curriculum Night".  I go to the one for sure for our son who has the most issues because I will end up doing the most communicating with his teachers.  I leave easier children to my husband, especially if we have to go the same night.  This year we have four different nights.
4.  Have a lot of easy meals on hand.  You're going to spend a lot of time filling out paperwork.
5.  Make a document with all important information you need.  Mine contains my kids' bus routes, times, their alternating class schedules, teachers' names, school hours, etc.  I simply can't remember everything and it's better to have it all in one place.  Even better, print it out when you think you're done adding stuff to it. 
6.  Commiserate with friends.  They understand.
7.  You might feel really sad if your child is starting Kindergarten.  Get together with friends and do something fun!  Or just do something for yourself that you can't normally do when your child is home.  Like take a nap.  ;)
8.  As soon as you can, put all of your kids' teachers' email addresses in your contact list in your email.  It's better than shuffling through stuff to try to figure out who you need to email.  Our 9th and 7th graders have twelve teachers between the two of them and they received a syllabus from each of them with contact information.  I really don't want to keep those papers stacked on my desk the whole school year. 
9.  If they are old enough, have your kids make their own lunches.  It's harder for them to complain about what they made for themselves.  It also gets them in the habit for when they are on their own.  Of course, buying lunch is an option, but that gets expensive.
10.  Take some deep breaths and try to take a break from the chaos that is the beginning of school.

What do you do to cope with the beginning of school?  Last year my friend went to Hawaii with her husband and skipped all of the open houses.  I like her idea. 

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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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