Notes on Parenting

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

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Praise, Persistence, and Grit: Key Research Findings for Kids

How many times a day do you find yourself saying, “good job” to your young child? I know for me, this clique phrase slips out numerous times a day. We all know that praise and encouragement (especially for good behavior) can be a strong motivator for children, especially around the preschool years. Preschoolers are in a stage of development where they are learning what it means to be them—self-concept.

New research is showing that the particular ways in which parents praise their children can influence, at least to some degree, how children come to understand themselves and their efforts. The key, it seems, is to help kids develop a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset” when it comes to how they think about their intelligence and ability to grow and learn. A “growth” mindset is one in which the child believes their efforts and trying new skills are what helps them learn and conquer new challenges. In contrast, some kids learn to think that their skill and intelligence are “fixed” and cannot be expanded with effort.

According to researchers, the preschool years are a key time to help kids understand this difference and how parents’ use praise may play a role. The commonly used comment, “good job” is generic praise in that it doesn’t inform the child what specifically they did well. On the other hand, “process praise” like the comment, “good job sharing with your friend” is the type of praise that helps the child understand what they did right so that they know what to focus on in the future.

In research studies, this difference in the types of praise used by parents was predictive of children’s “motivational framework” years later. That simply means that the children had more of a mindset of growth. Process praise that emphasized the child’s effort, strategies, or actions helped the child understand that their intelligence is not fixed but they can achieve new skills by trying.

This growth mindset is all part of a larger set of “non-cognitive skills” that help kids learn and achieve. These skills, like resilience, self-control, and persistence have little to do with their innate cognitive ability. Many researchers in the last few years have begun to emphasize these skills. In his recent book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough explores many of these traits. He cites many research studies that illustrate the value of helping kids deal with failure and overcome it to move on with a task or class. Perhaps most importantly, he explains the difference between helping kids develop self-esteem and character,

I think there is a real difference between developing self-esteem and developing character, and in the past few decades we’ve become confused about that. Yes, if you want to develop kids’ self-esteem, the best way to do it is to praise everything they do and make excuses for their failures.

But if you want to develop their character, you do almost the opposite: You let them fail and don’t hide their failures from them or from anybody else – not to make them feel lousy about themselves, but to give them the tools to succeed next time.
What a gift we can help our kids develop! I think this message is so powerful because it can apply to so many aspects of life. In school, kids need these skills to persist in a hard class or sport. Consider later in life, when your adult child is faced with a tough job situation or even a difficult personal relationship. I can easily see how these character traits like persistence, dedication, and passion can serve them well. Even in their own personal development as a person, these traits are crucial to overcoming bad habits or staying healthy.
So the next time your are tempted to say, “good job” to your persistent preschooler, try pointing out how well she/he stuck with the task at hand. The language we use really can make a difference in our children’s future mindset.


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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

5 Ideas to Keep Kids Occupied During the Witching Hours: Without using Electronics for Entertainment

by:Dyan Eybergen

When my boys were young I use to pride myself on "only" using the electronic babysitter of TV and videos for the Witching Hour: that time between 5 and 7 pm, when the wheels seem to come off the cart for every child and their behaviour. It was often convenient to plop them in front of the Disney Channel so I could get supper on the table and prepare for the evening's bedtime routine. It wasn't the only source of entertainment I resorted to with my children; but I admit, I used it on many occasions in that space of an hour or two. That was a long time ago when all we had to contend with in the fight against the use of electronics was the television and VCR. Nowadays, it's not uncommon to see toddlers using iPads in the grocery cart or gaming on mom or dad's cell phone in a restaurant.

According to the American Accreditation Health Care Commission (URAC) too much screen time can make it hard for children to fall asleep; can raise a child's risk of attention problems, anxiety, and depression; and can increase the potential for weight gain and obesity due to inactivity. The URAC'S guidelines suggest that children under the age of 2 should have no screen time at all and children over 2 should be limited to 1-2 hours a day.

Here are 5 ideas for keeping kids occupied (and out of trouble) during those Witching Hours:
  1. Get the children involved in domestic activities. Even a toddler can help put napkins on the table or move a dust cloth across a coffee table. It may not be as efficient as you would like but it is a practice in teaching helping skills and increasing self esteem.
  2. Give your child age appropriate puzzles, Lego®and crafts to work on where they can foster their imagination and express their creativity.
  3. Put on some music and encourage your child to dance and sing or play old fashion musical chairs or name that tune.
  4. Insist on quiet time where your child can curl up on the couch to look through picture books/photo albums; practice counting or identifying colours and shapes,or look out the window and cloud/star gaze.
  5. Listen to books on audio.
Parent modeling will go a long way in teaching children how to entertain themselves so evaluate how much time you are spending in front of your electronic devices. For more ideas on how to keep children entertained during the Witching Hours and beyond, check out the article: 50 Things to do Instead of Screen Time in Calgary's Child Magazine.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ways to Prevent the "Summer Slide"

 Most of us around the country are heading into the final week or two of school for our kids. While many of us look forward to summer break as a time for playing, summer vacations, and pool time, the lack of structure can also be a bit challenging. Most of you have probably heard of the “summer slide” in academics. Children tend to lose a bit of what they have learned over the summer unless we as parents do things to help them keep their minds active.

Until I researched this topic, I had no idea the summer slide could be so dramatic. One report stated that,

It is estimated that school summer breaks will cause the average student to lose up to one month of instruction, with disadvantaged students being disproportionately affected. Researchers conclude that two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years, with nearly one-third of the gap present when children begin school.”

Of course one of the best ways to prevent summer slide is reading…and a lot of it. Most public libraries have free summer reading programs for kids of all ages, with some really fun activities to go along with it. Some libraries even have “reading buddies” programs in which an older child (6th grade or above) listens to a younger child (K-3rd grade) read and reads along with them. Personally, my son loves this program. I think it makes the younger kids feel “grown up” to have an older friend.

Here are a few great book lists if you need some help finding books appropriate for your kids’ age level:

-         Summer Booklist by age (from Imagination Soup)

I think it’s also important for kids to be as physically active during the summer as possible. If you are a stay-at-home parent (like I am) then you know there are a lot of hours to fill during those long summer days. I have found that allowing the kids to be outside and active as much as possible keeps things fun and their moods in good spirits. Besides parks and pools here are a few ideas for fun, somewhat educational activities that allow for a lot of movement:

-         water balloon toss or water balloon piƱata
-         baking soda and vinegar volcanoes
-         backyard scavenger hunt
-         sack races
-         build a homemade fort or teepee (outside or inside)
-         try out camping in a tent (can be done inside too)

While the days are mostly unstructured, you can build a little structure into your time so as to allow for outside time, reading time, and rest/quiet time.

If you are like me, summer was when some of my best childhood memories were made. Let’s keep our kids active and have a fun summer full of good memories.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Top 10 Signs and Symptoms of Child/Adolescent Mental Health Disorders

By: Dyan Eybergen BA,RN,ACPI

For parents, the key to handling mental disorders of children is to recognize the problem and seek appropriate treatment. Early support and intervention are vital, as research shows that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14. Mental illness in children can be hard for parents to identify. As a result, many children who could benefit from treatment don't get the help they need.

  1. Mood changes. Depression in children and adolescents often manifests itself in irritability rather than sadness.
  2. Listen for expressed feelings of hopelessness and watch for social withdrawal and a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that lasts at least two weeks.  Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships at home or school is also a good indicator of a developing mood disorder.
  3. Intense feelings. Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason — sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing — or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with activities of daily living (going to school, playing with friends).
  4. Difficulty concentrating. Look for signs of trouble focusing or staying on task to complete projects/assignments. A sudden drop in school performance is a red flag that something underlying is going on.
  5. Behaviour changes. These include drastic changes in behaviour or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behaviour  Outbursts of shouting, complaining, unexplained irritability, or crying. 
  6. Fighting with others frequently, using weapons and threatening to hurt others.
  7. Unexplained weight loss. A sudden loss of appetite, frequent vomiting or use of laxatives might indicate an eating disorder.
  8. Physical symptoms. Compared with adults, children with a mental health condition may develop physical symptoms: headaches and stomachaches, they may constantly complain of aching arms, legs with no apparent cause rather than sadness or anxiety.
  9. Use of alcohol or other drugs.
  10. Physical harm. Sometimes a mental health condition leads to self-harm. This is the act of deliberately hurting your own body often by cutting or burning yourself. For people between the ages of 15 and 44, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death and the sixth leading cause of disability and infirmity worldwide (Canadian Mental Health Association).

If you're concerned about your child's mental health, it is advised that you speak with your child's teacher, close friends or loved ones, or other caregivers to see if they've noticed any changes in your child's behaviour. Consult your child's doctor and discuss what options are available for assessment and treatment. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Dealing With Bullying

Image courtesy of Prawny at
As a parent, I have now been on both sides of bullying.  Years ago when my oldest son went to Scout Camp, some boys who didn't have as much supervision as they needed now felt free to mistreat him in ways they were never able to do at Cub Scouts or at church.  It's pretty pathetic to say that the only kids who did these things to him were the ones who sat side by side with him for years as they received lessons on being charitable, kind, loyal, trustworthy, Christlike, etc.  Up until Scout Camp, their behavior involved things like moving to the other side of the room after he sat down.  He never did anything to them.  He just didn't fit in.

During his almost week at Scout Camp, he was roughed up by one boy as another one laughed, a lit match was thrown at him while he was using the bathroom, he was pelted with small, hard objects, and during the last 10 minutes a boy decided to grab his genitals. That's not all that happened there, but I'll leave it at that. An older friend who was there responded by punching that kid in the crotch as hard as he could.  I admit, I had a good laugh because judging by the way he had been disciplined in the past (which appeared as if there was no discipline), I figured that was all the punishment he was going to get.  I asked my son, "Why didn't you punch him?"  "Because he was too fast and beat me to it!"

To make a long story shorter, after talking to his leaders and hearing about the many other things that happened like these same boys stealing from the Trading Post, I opted not to call each parent because we were going to have a meeting.  What a fool I was to think that any of these boys' parents would actually show up.  Of course, they didn't.  That left me just ranting about people who act like their kid can do no wrong and don't want to hear it when they do.  Being too afraid that they would blow me off, I never talked to the parents because I knew I wouldn't be able to keep my emotions under control if they minimized what happened and I still had to go to church with these people.  My son never received any kind of apology from those boys. 

So when I found out my youngest son was involved in an incident two days ago where a boy decided to shove another boy while he was going to the bathroom and that two other boys joined in, I came down pretty hard on my son.  From what I gathered, this wasn't someone he considered a friend, but a kid who annoyed him on a regular basis.  He is in 5th grade and had never, ever been in trouble at school before, so I was completely shocked.  He was new at the school this year because we moved, so I don't know what was going through his mind. Was he trying extra hard to fit in?  I told my oldest son that when I was growing up, I preferred to have no friends than the wrong friends.  Always do the right thing no matter how unpopular it is. Maybe I haven't done a good job driving this point home with my youngest, but I couldn't be more disappointed.

I let him know that my first concern was for the boy they did this to.  I reminded him of what happened to his brother and how awful it felt as a mom.  I contacted his teacher and she too was shocked he was capable of joining in such a thing.  I asked her to please let me know if his parents wanted to talk to me.  I wanted them to know how seriously I was treating the situation.  You won't hear things like, "Boys will be boys" coming out of my mouth. 

To make matters worse, my son wrote him a pathetic apology.  You can't really call it an apology because he added, "P.S. My mom made me write this."  I was furious.  Maybe he was trying to ease his own discomfort with "humor" or is saving face, but I told him that's even worse than not getting an apology at all.  By the end of our discussion, he was sobbing his eyes out, but I think that started when I told him he was grounded for a week. 

How do you help a child feel true remorse?  I think that's another article.  I told my son that I can't make him like anyone, but I do expect him to treat everyone with respect.  Every day this week he will be reading about bullying, apologizing, and other related things.  He typically tries to buy his way out of trouble and seemed to think writing an apology for his "apology" would be enough.

I also asked his teacher to keep him in from recess for at least a few days.  I think it would be good for this boy to see that he's not just getting a slap on the wrist.

If your child has been bullied, I encourage you to talk to the parents no matter how awkward it's going to be.  I regret not doing that.  If your child has bullied someone else, please take it seriously.  Please let the parents and their son or daughter know that you are doing everything you can to make sure it never happens again.  You're not a failure if your child makes the wrong decision.  You fail when you give them no consequences.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Element of Surprise Helps Babies Learn

If you have been around babies or young toddlers for long, you know they love the element of surprise. Games like peek-a-boo bring squeals of laughter for many young children. Have you ever wondered why youngster love surprise and novelty? I had honestly not ever considered it much before but new research is showing us that the element of surprise may actually help babies learn.

In a new article in the journal Science, researchers explain how babies use the element of surprise as a moment of learning. They explain that as new little ones to the world, babies do not know what is important to focus on and what information could be ignored. To help sort through all this, they rely somewhat on the element of surprise. In other words, when an object or person does not act as they would predict (i.e. a surprise), they use this as an entry point to explore more.

Researchers conducted a clever lab experiment to test this hypothesis. Babies that were around 11 months old were give two events to view--a predictable event and a surprising event. A predictable event might be a ball rolling down a ramp and hitting a wall. A surprising event might be a wall rolling down a ramp but magically going through the wall (thanks to a little slight of hand by the researchers). The scientists discovered that babies were much more likely to explore and investigate the ball that did the surprising action (went through the wall). They not only picked up the ball, but they would try to test is abilities by banging it on the table or similar actions. Scientists believe these responses show that the babies are not just responding to a surprising event but actually using the unpredictable behavior to learn more about their world.

This research is not only fascinating but it does give us some greater insight into how babies learn. At times I think we as adults seem to think that babies learn things the way we do, but most research indicates they learn in different ways. Their little brains are so active and less focused (in a good way) than ours. This study illustrates how surprise and novelty play into babies unique learning style.

This also made me consider the role that toys can play in babies learning. Many baby toys do things or illustrate object movement in a way that is predictable. This is helpful in a way because it helps babies learn how things like gravity works. However, this study makes me wonder if some toys should cater to this attraction to surprise that babies seem to have. If some toys were created in this way, maybe they would hold babies' attention longer and encourage learning.

Photo credit

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The 6 Do's and Don'ts of Parenting and Sports

By: Dyan Eybergen

"It doesn't matter whether you win or lose, as long as you are having fun". We have all heard that one before and for most of us we have probably said it once or twice to our own children; but do we really mean it? Especially in the arena of competitive sports are parents really practicing what they preach?

Here are 6 DO'S and DON'TS for being a good Sports Parent.

DON'T over-identify with your child. You naturally identify with your child, of course, but over-identification may lead you to ignoring your child’s wishes for how and why he/she is playing a sport and focusing instead on your own desires. It is normal as a parent to dream of your child’s future and who doesn't want the next Wayne Gretzky or Clara Hughes as a son or daughter? However, when the parent's dreams of what they want for their child in sport get projected on to their child the reasons why the child is playing a particular sport loses its meaning. Then it really isn't fun whether they are winning or losing.

DO allow your child to fail. The most successful people in and out of sports do two things that inevitably secure their happiness: First, they are more willing to take risks and therefore fail more frequently. Second, they use their failures in a positive way as a source of motivation and feedback to improve.

DON'T compete with other parents. Its tempting to get caught up in trying to keep up with the Jonse's; even in sport. Comparing your child's success, or lack thereof, to an other's, puts undue pressure on children. Refrain from those conversations with other parents that compare your children and stack them up against each other. We want our children to do well on their own merits, not in light of another child doing better or failing in comparison.

DO teach sportsmanlike conduct. Encourage your children to root for one another. The true definition of competition is a seeking together where your opponent is someone to revere, not hate! The better your child's opponent performs, the more chance your child has of having a peak performance.Teach your children to rise to the occasion of competition and strive to be the best they can be and learn from those who are better.

DON'T undermine the Coach. If you are on the sidelines shouting out instructions to your child that differs from what the coach is saying, your child may be more inclined to obey you the parent. The consequences of this from the coach's perspective might not bode well for your child. Even if you don't agree, the parent who remains calm and thoughtful in game situations models respect for the game, coaching and officials.

DO compliment the officials and coaches: Parents who resist the urge to criticize a bad call, who can even compliment the officials/coaches for their hard work after a game (especially if their child’s team loses), teach that playing organized sports comes with having to deal with winning and losing and that in life, things will not always go the way we want them to no matter how hard we try. Winning in sports is about doing the best you can do, separate from the outcome or the play of your opponent.

As a parent of a child playing sports, do your job of supporting and encouraging your child and let the coach do his/her job. Not everyone has an “ideal” coach or team situation. If you have concerns, make sure they are discussed with the intent of helping to find a solution and improve the situation. If difficulties remain, help your child use the situation as a growth experience. If the problems are serious (harassment, abuse, etc.), report them to the sport’s governing body or appropriate authority and remove your child from the program

Monday, April 13, 2015

The A to Z of Getting Fit with Your Children {INFOGRAPHIC}

Here comes an interesting infographic from Giraffe Childcare...


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