Sunday, October 15, 2017

Hellyer Park Field Trip (10/11/17)

Last Wednesday the M/W/F morning class went on a wonderful field trip to Hellyer Park, about a 15min driving distance from the school. This was a chance for our children to get a taste of what the 4day program at this school offers.
 In the quiet and peaceful morning atmosphere students participated in story-time circles, art projects, and other learning/play activities.
After having time for centers and snack we went on a hike around the lake, stopping often for Teacher Jackie's explanations of the nature, or to play games.
The birds were particularly amazing!  Geese, duck, swans, cranes, egrets, and a plethora of others. They were quite unafraid of people, so the kids could get very near and friendly with them. 
Finally, there was an amazing playground area there, and many families stayed until close to 2:00!  Usually the fee is $6 to park there, but I'll certainly be going back as several hours well spent.

by Dave Pretre (MWF)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Considering Adult Development

A little understanding of your own development may provide insights that can assist you with the challenges of parenting or managing other life experiences.

Parenthood makes you smarter!
Even though we often feel behind the learning curve when it comes to parenting or understanding our children, adulthood is a time of growing abilities and expertise. In young adulthood, maturity provides for gains in focus and goal-directed behavior. In professional and home life, adults gain abilities in problem-solving, adaptability and creativity. Life experiences make some thinking more automatic or intuitive which leaves room for responding to and seeking new challenges. In addition, the accumulation of experience and knowledge can help balance out or buffer declines in other areas. So, acknowledge and embrace your growing competencies.

Children are distracting but adults can be easily distracted.
As we age, we have declining abilities in staying focused on one task, paying attention to the most relevant information, switching attention between tasks and attending to more than one thing at a time. So, multitasking becomes more of a challenge and distractions slip in. You may  find yourself thinking aloud, getting frustrated when trying to listen to or do more than one thing at a time or notice a greater level of distraction by  or difficulty disengaging from electronic devices. Interruptions in attention can be induced by normal changes in development. As if these changes were not enough, it is also natural for declines in eyesight (near & far) and hearing as we age. So, being distracted is not always the children’s fault.

It can be harder to go off-road when you are heading down a well-paved path.
While expertise is a benefit, it can also be a liability. It can take special effort to see the world from our children’s perspective because our ways of thinking have become more ingrained or rigid. As we age, our accumulated experiences provide wisdom and intelligence, yet they can also reduce flexibility in thinking. Not recognizing how we have changed in our thinking can also lead us to believe that children or teenagers today are not like we were.  In many cases, it is not a change in generations, it is that we don’t remember how are thinking used to be. We have to step back and see the world from the child’s continuum of knowledge or understanding.

Adults can suffer from disequilibrium too.
Adults continue to grow and follow a developmental path. We have our own cycles of equilibrium/disequilibrium which may be triggered by life events as well as development. Our children may be doing just fine and the challenges of coping, feeling out of sorts, not feeling capable or in sync resides within us and our own life cadence. As we age, we find greater satisfaction in intrinsic rewards and meaningful endeavors. This is supported by parenting or caring for family members but success or accomplishment of a task well-done is less distinct or obvious. Our cycles may not follow clear ages/stages as they once did and our joy may be gained from less tangible experiences.

Everyone needs sleep!
In addition to shifts in focus & attention, disruptions in sleep can occur due to aging.  Sleep deprivation or disruptions make all types of thinking more difficult. Lack of sleep can impede focus, slow speed of processing and reflexes as well as increase irritability and feelings of hunger. These effects can impact your parenting, relationships, appropriate expression of feelings, as well as management of daily tasks or broader life complications. Also, learning will be remembered and become part of your mental pathways only if you get some rest. You really do need to ‘sleep on it’.

Adults Benefit from Routines too.
Routines reduce the need to make decisions and provide the mind and body with a natural rhythm. Notice effects of poor nutrition or influences of caffeine. Limit caffeine in amount and lateness. Practices that promote sleep for children also work for adults. Provide a routine for yourself that includes winding down and limits screen time before bed. Screen time can interrupt circadian rhythms.  Get fresh air and exercise, plan ahead, make lists, set out things for the morning, so that you can rest easy with a clearer mind.

Identify the source: Recognize the agency in your responses or reframe interpretations.
Some parents offer tips or strategies that have worked for them because they hope they might alleviate some of your stress or provide examples of possible solutions. Others may seek validation for their own choices by encouraging you to follow their lead. In the end, you need to make choices that provide developmentally-appropriate care and guidance for you and your family. You can adjust expectations, interpretations, and frame interactions to reduce frustration, anger or pressure to do-be-sign-up-for more. Look at a stress and its source, with a new lens. Maybe something just is not a good-fit. Maybe an action was unintentional or a person has unseen reasons for their choices that are not relevant to you. In any case, you can reduce strain by identifying the source and determining what you need or what is most important to you. You may not be able to control events but you can control your responses or reactions to it.

By acknowledging and/or attending to your own developmental needs and progress, you can provide yourself with some well-deserved understanding and some wiggle room for being at your best.

Considering Adult Development, Paula Oakes, M.A. Child & Adolescent Development,

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Old Goodies

Well, the Holiday season is rolling in, and this brings to mind the fabulous "Auld Lang Syne", which reminds us not to forget old acquaintances, and if you are me, old books either.

Here are a couple of very old goodies that if you haven't read, you really should.  Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf is a gem from 1938.  This story is about Wee Gillis, who can't decide which of his clans he should live with, as his mother and father come from different people.  This is great for 4+, but if you can make the Scottish accents, you will fascinate your children even earlier than that.  As an aside, Munro Leaf also did The Story of Ferdinand, the bull who likes flowers. 

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton is great for the younger set that are obsessed with construction sites, but for this story to really shine, 4+ makes it ring clear.  Mike Mulligan and Maryann are rendered obsolete by fancier and newer models, but using heart and hard work, they show that they still have a place in the world.

The Fire Cat by Esther Averill follows the story of Pickles the Fire Cat, who goes from being a menace to kittens and cats everywhere to becoming a fire cat, and a hero.  This has a great underlying message of how great things can still happen to those who have a rough start.  3+

A Fish out of Water by Helen Palmer should be billed as a child's first monster story.  A boy gets a fish and is warned not to feed it too much.  Naturally he does, and the fish won't stop growing.  When it finally exceeds the size of a swimming pool, he has to finally admit his misdeeds to have the situation fixed.  Absolutely captivating, and a great favorite of my girls from 18 months and up.

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion is a classic that is so fun!  Harry doesn't want to get a bath.  He goes rogue, and gets as dirty as he can, but will his family be able to recognize him again?  There is so much to look at in this book that while the plot doesn't really pull together for little kids until 2, I started my girls on this one earlier than that.

Kaye, 4 day mom

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Brave Hearts

Now that we are nearly past the excitement of Halloween, and headed towards the more comforting lull of fall, let's help all of our kids to dream big, and little.  Encourage heroism in your kids through fantastical brave deeds and everyday heroics with these books: 

Timothy and the Strong Pajamas: a superhero adventure by Viviane Schwarz.  I can't even begin to say how much I love this book, and my children love it too.  Timothy and his sock monkey save their corner of the world when Timothy's mother patches his pajamas so well that it gives him super powers.  Of course, even a hero needs help sometimes.  Perfect for ages 3 and up. 

Part-Time Princess by Deborah Underwood.  Ordinary girl by day, extraordinary princess by night, this royal can fight fires and organize balls.  This is a new and refreshing take on princess culture which may save you the more anemic and pervasive perception of fairy tale nobility.  Ages 3 and up.

Shake to Assemble by Calliope Glass.  This is an interactive story about pulling the Avengers together to fight crime.  It has virtually no conflict of any kind, and kids are amused by doing the actions (tap Bruce Banner to make him turn into the Hulk!).  Ages 2 and up.  

Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt.  Scaredy Squirrel is scared of virtually everything, but with good planning, he can distract himself from his distress.  This is good for the worrier in your family.  Ages 4 and up.  A younger child could read it, but may not find it very funny, although you will.

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes.  All of Henkes' books are a treat (yes, really!) but this one is great for your young one who is having school anxiety.  Ages 3 and up.  

Llama Llama Misses Mama and Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney.  With a pleasing rhyming structure and bold, large, and colorful illustrations, both of these Llama Llama titles address the fears of young children.  I read these to my girls probably from 1-3 years old.  The first tackle separation anxiety in the school setting, and the second, bedtime fears.  These newish titles are already a solid classic among the toddler set. 

Kaye, 4 day mom

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Happy Autumn

Happy Autumn, everyone!  As a librarian, I read a lot of books, which means my two young children are also exposed to a lot of books too.  The books that I am going to recommend to you have been tested by my kids in our readings, and perhaps I've even used them for a library story time.  In these posts, I will link the books to the San Jose Public Library catalog when available, and if not, to Amazon.

1.  The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree by Gail Gibbons.  This is a simple story that goes through the seasons of the year, using Arnold's special tree as a focal point.  My four year olds are wild about this simple book.  

2.  Little Goblins Ten by Pamela Jane is a sweetly illustrated Halloween themed book that uses monsters and smiling ghouls getting ready for Halloween night.  It is designed to be sung to the tune of "Over in the Meadow".  Two and three year olds love this one.  A note on singing to your kids, even if you are shy to do so: they love it.  They think your voice is beautiful.  Commit, and find the pitch that works for you.

3.  Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman is a Halloween classic.  It follows the same story line as the folktale, The Enormous Turnip, except the witch pulls a pumpkin and needs help from a vampire, a mummy, and other monsters that love pumpkin pie.  This works for littles, and bigger kids who will enjoy the repetition.

4.  And Then Comes Halloween by Tom Brenner does address Halloween, but more than that, it shows all the very best parts of Fall rolling in, but of course, in a more dramatic, non-California way.  
Happy reading!

Kaye - 4 day mom

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sharing Healthy Recipes

Sharing Healthy Recipes: Lacto-fermentation & getting good probiotics into your body
by Kate Skogen 

Lacto-fermentation!? What? Fermenting veggies is something I learned how to do this year and I couldn’t be more excited! It’s easily my favorite way to spend 20 minutes in the kitchen. And if you know me, I do not enjoy cooking. But I know that one of the best things I can do is eat well and feed my family well. Fermented foods is the next step beyond yogurt and your daily probiotic supplement. 

“It may seem strange to us that, in earlier times, people knew how to preserve vegetables for long periods without the use of freezers or canning machines. This was done through the process of lacto-fermentation. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria” -Weston A. Price Foundation,
Fermented foods are one of the greatest ways to obtain probiotics, alkalize your body, digest your foods, increase your B vitamins, and destroy bad bacteria, viruses, and yeast. Fermented foods pack a powerful punch of live cultures that many people credit for improved gut health immunity, and skin health.
This summer I’m going to delve in sauerkraut, kimchi, and I’m going to ferment every summer veg I can. My favorite easy way to start is with carrots. You can’t mess this up. They’re so easy and yummy. 


Fill quart jar with carrot sticks (no need to peel). Super fill the jar because you don’t want the carrots floating to the top.  Chop up some fresh ginger and place in jar (more like “shove” in jar.  Add a 1 tsp of salt and ¼ cup cultured vegetable juice.
If this is your first time, don’t worry about adding cultured veggie juice, just add an addition teaspoon of salt.
Fill with water to cover.  Leave 1 inch at top. Check the water and make sure it’s about as salty as the ocean. Add more salt if necessary.
Let sit room temp for at least 4-7 days. Check your sticks daily and when they’re yummy, stick them in the fridge. Technically, they’ll last for months in the fridge, but we eat ours in a week or so! 
Garlic Carrot Pickle Variation: Omit ginger, replace with slices of garlic.

Here’s a great recipe for pickles, too… our other favorite:
Want more? Check out Sandor Katz’s Fresh Air interview:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Painted Easter Eggs

Painted Easter Eggs

Easter is right around the corner!  The girls are getting excited and insisted that we do an Easter craft this week.  So, we decided to paint some eggs . . . paper eggs.  You will need paint in a variety of colors, white paint, Q-tips, paper plates or plain paper, scissors.  We began by cutting out egg shapes from the paper plates.  I made a template and used that to trace multiple eggs.  Alexandra enjoyed tracing and cutting out the egg shapes too. Then, we put a variety of paints in an ice cube tray, adding some white paint to each mixture to make the colors pastel.  The girls enjoyed mixing the paints to see the resulting pastel color.  After they got their desired colors, they began to paint their eggs using the Q-tips.  Alexandra experimented with polka dots, straight lines and squiggles.  Margo enjoyed painting a Michigan-themed egg with yellow and blue, appealing to her dad's alma mater.  Allow the eggs to dry.  Beautiful.

Kara Tuohy
MW2s and MWF



On a family drive recently, we witnessed the most beautiful rainbow!  The colors were vibrant and the arc of the rainbow was full.  It was amazing!  And, with St. Patrick's Day right around the corner, I knew we had to do a rainbow craft.  You will need tissue paper in the rainbow colors, glue, water, a paintbrush, white construction paper, and a pencil.  Begin by cutting the tissue paper into small pieces, no larger than an inch square.  I placed each rainbow color in its own container for easy gluing.  Mix glue with a splash of water, be careful not to use too much water as it will soak the paper.  For my older daughter, Alexandra, I drew a rainbow with 7 arcs, one for each color of the rainbow.  For my three year old, Margo, I drew one large arc.  We talked about the colors of the rainbow:  red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.  Alexandra carefully painted the glue mixture on the outer arc and placed the red tissue paper on it.  When she finished the whole arc, she painted the glue mixture on top of the tissue paper.  Be careful because the tissue paper might bleed.  Alexandra then continued with the next arc and filled it with orange tissue paper.  She repeated the process with each color of the rainbow.  Margo, on the other hand, placed her colors randomly around the large arc, being careful to paint the glue mixture on top of the tissue paper too.  When finished, we let the rainbows dry.  Then, we cut out our rainbows and taped them on our window.  Who knows, maybe we will find leprechauns and a pot of gold on St. Patrick's Day?!

Kara Tuohy
MW2s and MWF

Monday, March 10, 2014

Puppet Theater

Puppet Theater

Children love to play with puppets!  Puppet play allows children to think creatively, stimulates the imagination and encourages story telling and retelling which are important literacy skills.  We decided to create our own puppet theater to make playing with our puppets even more fun. You will need a tri-fold display board, a ruler, and a box cutter.  We bought a red display board for our theater, but you could paint yours whatever color you want.  I picked up some chalkboard paint too because I thought it might be fun to be able to write the title of the play on the board. Measure a 20 inch by 14 inch rectangle on the middle panel of the display board.  Cut out with the box cutter.  You could embellish the theater with curtains, if you like.  But, I know nothing about sewing, so that was out if the question.  Right away, the girls grabbed some puppets and began putting on a show.  My older daughter, Alexandra, is interested in fairy tales so we found some fairy tale printables online, colored and cut them out.  We then glued them on to craft sticks.  She really enjoyed retelling her favorite fairy tales in the puppet theater, especially Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  This activity was just-right!

Kara Tuohy
MW2s and MWF

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nonstandard Measurement

As we were enjoying a lovely morning drawing outside, the girls started tracing their feet.  I thought this was a great opportunity to explore nonstandard units of measurement . . . the teacher in me embraces authentic educational opportunities!  You will need construction paper, markers and scissors.  We started by tracing our feet and cutting them out. We labeled the feet with our names and right away the girls were comparing the size of their feet.  "My foot is bigger than yours," Alexandra remarked.  We also labeled the left and the right foot.  Of course, they wanted to trace their hands and cut them out too.  We labeled those as well.  Then, I asked the girls to find five items that were smaller than their feet and five items that were bigger than their feet. They had a great time wandering around the yard, exploring and testing objects. They each returned with ten items and showed me the five objects that were smaller than their feet and the five objects that were larger than their feet.  They were both so proud of their findings!  My older daughter, Alexandra, then wanted to measure how many "feet" our bench was in length.  I asked her to estimate or make her best guess before she measured.  She estimated 12 of Alexandra's feet. Then, she started lining up her feet and found that it measured 7 of Alexandra's feet and nearly 8 of Margo's feet!  What a great way to make math fun!

Kara Tuohy
MW2s and MWF

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Olympic Ring Toss

Olympic Ring Toss

We are getting in the spirit of the Olympics around here!  And, this is the perfect activity when you are cooped up indoors due to the weather, as we were today.  You will need six sturdy paper plates, a paper towel roll, red, yellow, green, blue and black paint, paintbrushes, scissors and tape.  We began with a discussion of the Olympic Games.  We brainstormed winter sports and I was surprised by how many winter sports the girls could name, especially given that we live in California. Cut out the middle of five paper plates. These will be your rings.  Tape the paper towel roll on to the remaining paper plate.  I cut small tabs in the bottom of the paper towel roll and used a fair amount of tape to keep it upright.  Paint each ring in the Olympic colors using the red, yellow, green, blue and black paint.  Paint the base however you would like.  Alexandra painted the paper towel roll with blue paint and Margo painted the plate with black paint. Teamwork!  Allow to dry. Set up the base on the floor and stand a few feet back. Toss the rings and have fun!  USA chant is optional!

Kara Tuohy
MW2s and MWF

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lunar New Year

Lunar New Year

We are excited to go to a Lunar New Year party this weekend to celebrate the Chinese holiday with friends.  In preparation for the party, we read a few books that celebrate the Chinese culture.  The girls became fascinated with dragons, so we thought it would be fun to make a dragon craft.  You will need an egg carton, paint (red, orange, yellow and black), paintbrush, googly eyes, red paper, glue and scissors.  Begin by cutting the bottom half of the egg carton in half, lengthwise.  This will be the dragon's body.  Cut one cup off, to be used as the dragon's head.  Paint the dragon's body and head, using the red, orange and yellow paint.  My girls liked to mix all of the colors together.  Paint the inside of the dragon's head black.  Allow the paint to dry.  When dry, attach the dragon's head to the body with glue.  Add goggly eyes to the top of the dragon's head.  Cut a dragon's tongue from the red paper and glue to the inside of the dragon's mouth.  Gung Hey Fat Choy!

Kara Tuohy
MW2s and MWF

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Good Reminder about Using Cell Phones around your Children

Blog Post

A Good Reminder about Cell Phone Use

Does anyone feel like they need to just put their cell phone down once and for all? Unfortunately, I feel this way sometimes. By chance, I just came upon this great article about cell phone use when with your kids. I thought that we could all use a reminder about this in the day and age of addictive cell phones.... miniature computers at our fingertips every second of the day. It's just too easy to access information with smart phones. I hope this article resonates with you all as much as it did with me.

Want to be a Better Parent? Hang Up the Phone
[ 28 ] August 5, (AD) 2013  | Brandon Vogt

About once a week, my wife and I take our kids to a local indoor playground. The scene is pretty consistent: dozens of kids running around, screaming chaotically, in a place indistinguishable from an orangutan exhibit during the apocalypse.

But something else strikes me each time we go. After setting our kids loose, I glance around at the other parents and almost to a person, each one sits in the same position. They lean forward with their head bent down, eyes glued to a small screen, fingers tapping quickly as if they were playing a miniature piano.

Despite the fact that the most wondrous creatures in the world are zig-zagging and tumbling mere feet away, their attention is locked onto their iPhones. In fact, one day I was sitting next to a mom who was playing Space Invaders on her phone for half an hour. Her son came up to her several times, tugging on her forearm and begging for her to watch what can only be described as a mix between Irish dancing and karate, but she waved him off again and again.

Because she was too busy. Too busy with Space Invaders.

Now I’ll admit that I’ve done the same thing many times. I’ve ignored my kids in favor of cell phones and computers. In fact, I remember one day I was so absorbed in writing an email, that I didn’t even notice my son who kept pulling on my forearm, begging me to play. Whether we’re talking about television, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or text messaging, I’ve chosen all of it over my kids at some point.

However in the past few months, I’ve tried to turn things around. I’ve learned an important key to being a good parent in today’s world:

Hang up!

This short but difficult command can be the hinge of quality parenthood. For example, picture yourself pulling in your driveway after a long day at work. There are two ways you to enter your house. One way is to open the door mired in a phone call, casually waving off the kids as they run to you. Another, however, is to walk in, fully present, ready to play and laugh and listen. If you choose the first way, you signal to your kids that a phone call is more important than them. If you choose the second way, you show, even without speaking, that nobody else matter more.

Now hanging up can be difficult. Sometimes there are calls you just have to take or emails that must be sent right away. But if you need a couple more minutes to finish a call, you might consider parking somewhere else for a few minutes to wrap it up. Sure, you may get home a couple of minutes later than planned, but you’ll be present to your kids from the moment you arrive.

Another way I make sure I’m off the phone is to not accept any phone calls on the drive home. If you pick up a call, you’ll likely continue it. On those rare occasions when I do answer, though, I politely wrap it up as I enter the neighborhood, saying, “Well, I’m just pulling up to the house and the kids are waiting outside…” If you’re talking to a family member or friend, they’ll get the hint.

No child ever says to his or her dad, “You spend way too much time with me! Why don’t you take a couple hours to fiddle with your iPhone or pop off some emails?” But many children grow up wishing their dad or mom had paid more attention to them.

So when you’re talking with your kids, turn off your phone. When it’s time for dinner, put your devices away. If you’re at the park, the playground, a restaurant, or church, choose to unplug.

Pocketing your phone and closing your computer are simple things to do, but they’re some of the most powerful ways to show your kids how much you truly care for them.
Originally posted at

Activity of the Week from Children's Ed Committee

Lego Land

We are big into Legos at our house.  Big!  My girls like to build using Lego sets and then play with their creations.  They rarely take them apart to build other things or rebuild.  Consequently, our house is teeming with Lego creations.  We thought it would be fun to build our very own Lego Land.  You will need Legos, large paper and markers.  We began by laying a large piece of paper on the floor.  The girls had various buildings and houses, as well as vehicles.  We noticed that they had beach vehicles and accessories, as well as mountain vehicles and accessories (from the Lego Advent Calendar).  So, we drew a beach scene and a mountain scene on the large paper.  The girls were having a hard time working together on one paper, so we decided to make two lands, Alexandra-land and Margo-land.  They connected the lands with a Lego bridge.  Problem solved!  The girls enjoyed playing on their very own Lego Lands.  They even added more details to their scenes as they played.  Fun!

Kara Tuohy
MW2s and MWF

Saturday, April 27, 2013

10 Things to Stop Saying to Your Kids (and What to Say Instead)

0 annotations

10 Things to Stop Saying to Your Kids (and What to Say Instead)

Current research shows that some of the most commonly used and seemingly positive phrases we use with kids are actually quite destructive. Despite our good intentions, these statements teach children to stop trusting their internal guidance system, to become deceptive, to do as little as possible, and to give up when things get hard.
This is a guest post by Shelley Phillips via
Here’s a list of the top ten things to eliminate from your vocabulary now. I’ve also included alternatives so that you can replace these habitual statements with phrases that will actually encourage intrinsic motivation and emotional connection.

“Good job!”

The biggest problem with this statement is that it’s often said repeatedly and for things a child hasn’t really put any effort into. This teaches children that anything is a “good job” when mom and dad say so (and only when mom and dad say so).
Instead try, “You really tried hard on that!” By focusing on a child’s effort, we’re teaching her that the effort is more important than the results. This teaches children to be more persistent when they’re attempting a difficult task and to see failure as just another step toward success.

“Good boy (or girl)!”

This statement, while said with good intentions, actually has the opposite effect you’re hoping for. Most parents say this as a way to boost a child’s self-esteem. Unfortunately, it has quite a different effect. When children hear “good girl!” after performing a task you’ve asked them for, they assume that they’re only “good” because they’ve done what you’ve asked. That sets up a scenario in which children can become afraid of losing their status as a “good kid” and their motivation to cooperate becomes all about receiving the positive feedback they’re hoping for.
Instead, try “I appreciate it so much when you cooperate!” This gives children real information about what you’re wanting and how their behavior impacts your experience. You can even take your feelings out of it entirely and say something like, “I saw you share your toy with your friend.” This allows your child to decide for himself whether sharing is “good” and lets him choose to repeat the action from his internal motivation, rather than doing it just to please you.

“What a beautiful picture!”

When we put our evaluations and judgments onto a child’s artwork, it actually robs them of the opportunity to judge and evaluate their own work.
Instead try, “I see red, blue and yellow! Can you tell me about your picture?” By making an observation, rather than offering an evaluation, you’re allowing your child to decide if the picture is beautiful or not, maybe she intended it to be a scary picture. And by asking her to tell you about it, you’re inviting her to begin to evaluate her own work and share her intent, skills that will serve her creativity as she matures and grows into the artist she is.

Stop it right now, or else!”

Threatening a child is almost never a good idea. First of all, you’re teaching them a skill you don’t really want them to have: the ability to use brute force or superior cunning to get what they want, even when the other person isn’t willing to cooperate. Secondly, you’re putting yourself in an awkward position in which you either have to follow through on your threats—exacting a punishment you threatened in the heat of your anger—or you can back down, teaching your child that your threats are meaningless. Either way, you’re not getting the result you want and you’re damaging your connection with your child.
While it can be difficult to resist the urge to threaten, try sharing vulnerably and redirecting to something more appropriate instead.“It’s NOT OK to hit your brother. I’m worried that he will get hurt, or he’ll retaliate and hurt you. If you’d like something to hit, you may hit a pillow, the couch or the bed.” By offering an alternative that is safer yet still allows the child to express her feelings you’re validating her emotions even as you set a clear boundary for her behavior. This will ultimately lead to better self-control and emotional wellbeing for your child.

If you _____ then I’ll give you _____”

Bribing kids is equally destructive as it discourages them from cooperating simply for the sake of ease and harmony. This kind of exchange can become a slippery slope and if used frequently, you’re bound to have it come back and bite you. “No! I won’t clean my room unless you buy me Legos!”
Instead try, “Thank you so much for helping me clean up!” When we offer our genuine gratitude, children are intrinsically motivated to continue to help. And if your child hasn’t been very helpful lately, remind him of a time when he was. “Remember a few months ago when you helped me take out the trash? That was such a big help. Thanks!” Then allow your child to come to the conclusion that helping out is fun and intrinsically rewarding.

"You’re so smart!"

When we tell kids they’re smart, we think we’re helping to boost their self confidence and self-esteem. Unfortunately, giving this kind of character praise actually does the opposite. By telling kids they’re smart, we unintentionally send the message that they’re only smart when they get the grade, accomplish the goal, or produce the ideal result — and that’s a lot of pressure for a young person to live up to. Studies have shown that when we tell kids they’re smart after they’ve completed a puzzle, they’re less likely to attempt a more difficult puzzle after. That’s because kids are worried that if they don’t do well, we’ll no longer think they’re “smart.”
Instead, try telling kids that you appreciate their effort. By focusing on the effort, rather than the result, you’re letting a child know what really counts. Sure, solving the puzzle is fun, but so is attempting a puzzle that’s even more difficult. Those same studies showed that when we focus on the effort — “Wow you really tried hard on that!” — kids are far more likely to attempt a more challenging puzzle the next time.

"Don’t cry."

Being with your child’s tears isn’t always easy. But when we say things like, “Don’t cry,” we’re invalidating their feelings and telling them that their tears are unacceptable. This causes kids to learn to stuff their emotions, which can ultimately lead to more explosive emotional outbursts.
Try holding space for your child as he cries. Say things like, “It’s OK to cry. Everyone needs to cry sometimes. I’ll be right here to listen to you.” You might even try verbalizing the feelings your child might be having, “You’re really disappointed that we can’t go to the park right now, huh?” This can help your child understand his feelings and learn to verbalize them sooner than he might otherwise. And by encouraging his emotional expression, you’re helping him learn to regulate his emotions, which is a crucial skill that will serve him throughout life.

"I promise..."

Broken promises hurt. Big time. And since life is clearly unpredictable, I’d recommend removing this phrase from your vocabulary entirely.
Choose instead to be super honest with your child. “I know you really want to have a play date with Sarah this weekend and we’ll do our best to make that happen. Please remember that sometimes unexpected things come up, so I can’t guarantee that it will happen this weekend.” Be sure you really are doing your best if you say you will too. Keeping your word builds trust and breaking it deteriorates your connection, so be careful what you say, and then live up to your word as much as humanly possible.
One more note on this, if you do break your word, acknowledge it and apologize to your child. Remember, you’re teaching your kids how to behave when they fail to live up to their word. Breaking our word is something we all do at one time or another. And even if it’s over something that seems trivial to you, it could matter a lot to your child. So do your best to be an example of honesty, and when you’re not, step up and take responsibility for your failure.

"It’s no big deal!"

There are so many ways we minimize and belittle kids feelings, so watch out for this one. Children often value things that seem small and insignificant to our adult point of view. So, try to see things from your child’s point of view. Empathize with their feelings, even as you’re setting a boundary or saying no to their request.
“I know you really wanted to do that, but it’s not going to work out for today,” or “I’m sorry you’re disappointed and the answer is no,” are far more respectful than trying to convince your child that their desires don’t really matter.

"Why did you do that?"

If your child has done something you don’t like, you certainly do need to have a conversation about it. However, the heat of the moment is not a time when your child can learn from her mistakes. And when you ask a child, “Why?” you’re forcing her to think about and analyze her behavior, which is a pretty advanced skill, even for adults. When confronted with this question, many kids will shut down and get defensive.
Instead, open the lines of communication by guessing what your child might have been feeling and what her underlying needs might be. “Were you feeling frustrated because your friends weren’t listening to your idea?” By attempting to understand what your child was feeling and needing, you might even discover that your own upset about the incident diminishes. “Oh! He bit his friend because he was needing space and feeling scared, and he didn’t know how else to communicate that. He’s not a ‘terror,’ he’s a toddler!”

Shelly Birger Phillips is passionate about being the best human she can possibly be and supporting others to do the same. She has helped hundreds of clients overcome personal challenges and develop the skills to live happier, more authentic lives. You can find her conscious parenting blog here, and Her Authentic World team here: Follow her on Twitter here or email her at shelly at
Images via Katsiaryna Pleshakova, Ilike, and Inara Prusakova (Shutterstock).
Want to see your work on Lifehacker? Email Tessa.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

I Think I Know Why You’re Yelling

“I find that I become one of two moms when my children are upset. I’m either Mary Poppins — kind, loving, patient — or I’m completely intolerant and prone to yelling and screaming.”
–Concerned Mom
If you’re yelling at your kids, you’re not alone. In fact, my own empirical research suggests yelling has become something of a parenting epidemic. Some are even calling it “the new spanking”. Why are so many dedicated, intelligent, aware parents losing control?
My sense is that parents often end up yelling because they’ve actually made the very positive decision to give their children boundaries with respect rather than punishments and manipulation. These parents are working really hard to remain gentle and kind, and yet their children’s testing behaviors continue. They become increasingly frustrated, even fearful, feeling they’ve lost all control without any way to rein their children in.
And it’s no wonder! If I attempted to absorb all the vague, contradictory advice I’ve seen and heard regarding discipline, I’d be blowing a gasket on a regular basis myself. So many of these theoretical ideas are seductively warm and fuzzy, but they come with a whole lot of scary don’ts (“don’t punish, reward, control, give time-outs or consequences, use the word ‘no’, expect obedience, be authoritative, etc”), and very little in the way of practical tools.
If you’ve been yelling, here are some thoughts to consider:
1. You aren’t taking care of yourself
A long soak in a warm tub, getting away with friends or your spouse are always good ideas, but what I’d suggest is far more basic and crucial: know your limits and personal needs, and establish boundaries with your child from the beginning. Yes, even with your infant.
For example, in the context of a respectful relationship (which means perceiving your infant as a whole person and communicating with her as such), it is okay for your baby to cry for a few minutes while you make your regular morning trip to the bathroom to brush your teeth. You leave your baby in a safe, enclosed place, tell her you will go and always acknowledge her feelings when you return.
Since you are respecting your baby’s need for predictability, you’ve made this activity a habitual part of your day together, and your baby learns to anticipate that you will go and return. She still may complain, which is her right, but you confidently let her know you hear her and accept her expression of displeasure. “You didn’t want me to go. That upset you. I’m back.”
If you are a sensitive person who can’t sleep deeply with your baby near you, but you’re co-sleeping because you think you should, you are not taking care of yourself.
If you want to wean your child or limit your toddler’s nursing, but you feel guilty about that, you are not taking care of yourself.
If you need to go to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, but you’re afraid to leave your fussy baby or screeching toddler, you are not taking care of yourself.
In fact, if you feel guilty about any self-care moment, you are probably not taking care of yourself.
We all give up much of our lives for our children, but it is unhealthy for us (and even less healthy for our kids) to become an egoless parent, neglecting our needs and virtually erasing ourselves from the relationship. We need personal boundaries, and our children need us to model them. This is what it means to have an honest, authentic, respectful relationship that will make limit-setting in the toddler through teenage years clear and simple (notice I didn’t say “easy” — because it’s hardly ever easy).
Parenting fact: Our babies and toddlers will never give us permission to take care of our needs. “Go ahead and take a little break, mom, you deserve it!” will never be said or implied through our young children’s behavior, even on Mother’s Day. Quite the opposite, in fact. These boundaries must come from us, and our children will do their job by objecting, rebelling, making demands and more demands, and continuing to feel around for our limits until they are firmly and consistently in place.
2. You have spent your baby’s first year distracting, appeasing or otherwise manipulating her rather than speaking honestly about limits.
It disappoints me to hear some of the non-punitive discipline advocates I admire making statements like this one:The bad news is that babies often want everything they see. The good news is that they’re generally distractible during the first year.”
Your baby is a whole person ready to engage actively and honestly in a relationship with you at birth.  When you distract, you are practicing avoidance – denying an honest connection in order to side-step your child’s healthy feelings of resistance. The pattern this creates for both of you will make it so much harder for you to feel comfortable setting respectful limits later on.  This formative first year is a crucial time to set limits honestly, because this is when we will establish what will always be the core of our parent/child relationship.  (For more about setting limits honestly with babies, please read 5 Reasons Toddlers Don’t Need ‘Redirection’ (And What To Do Instead)
3. You feel responsible for your children’s emotions
Here are the main reasons parents neglect to establish personal boundaries with their children or use manipulative tools like distraction (all of which often lead to yelling):
  • They don’t believe a baby is really a whole person who can understand words and interact honestly.
  • They can’t make peace with the discomfort they feel surrounding their child’s emotions.
  • They perceive all crying as something to avoid or fix, “one-note communication”, rather than a nuanced dialogue.
  • They ride the whirlwind of their child’s disappointment, sadness, anger, etc., rather than being an anchor with the understanding that it is essential to emotional health for children to express themselves.
This unhealthy perception of children and their feelings thwarts the development of emotional resiliency, creates the need for even more limit-setting in the toddler years, and will exhaust you every time you have to say ‘no’ or insist upon something (which will be often). The toddler years, especially, are a limit-pushing, resistant period. Your child needs to behave this way in order to individuate in a healthy manner. If you feel pained about or responsible for your child’s daily roller-coaster of emotions, you’re going to be reluctant to set honest limits, get tired, and probably end up yelling…or crying, which isn’t healthy for your children either.
Repeat after me: Once I’ve fulfilled my child’s basic needs, my only responsibility regarding feelings is to accept and acknowledge them.
4. Your expectations are unreasonable
You also might be yelling because you are expecting the impossible. Children are explorers. They need safe places where they can freely move, experiment, investigate. Asking a toddler not to run, jump or climb is akin to saying, “Don’t breathe.” Create and find safe places for your children to play. Don’t expose them to materials or equipment they can’t use as they wish and thereby set yourself up for frustration and anger when they don’t comply.
It’s up to us to avoid situations that will try our patience rather than get caught up struggling to keep the peace and make it work.
5. You are confused about setting limits gently with respect
Join the club, and please allow me to introduce you to the most well-tread section of my blog: (HERE) I also recommend the blogs Regarding Baby, Not Just Cute, Abundant Life Children, Mama Eve, Aunt Annie’s Childcare, Core Parenting and Teacher Tom for their wealth of helpful advice and advocacy for respectful limit-setting.
6. You needlessly enter into power struggles
It takes two to struggle, so don’t engage. You are not your child’s peer; you are her capable leader. So, instead of taking your child’s healthy, age-appropriate button-pushing behavior personally and going to that “uh-oh” place that leads you to yelling:
a) Make eye contact with your child and confidently state a limit: “It’s time to brush your teeth.”
b) Give a simple choice or opportunity for an autonomous decision: “If you can come now, we’ll have time for a second book.”
c) Acknowledge your child’s feelings of disagreement (and welcome those feelings to continue as long as they need to, while you continue to acknowledge them). “Oh, I know you are having so much fun with the dog and it’s hard to stop, but it’s time. What a bummer! You are really upset and disappointed that it’s bedtime. I know the feeling.”
As completely counterintuitive as this is for most of us, it works. The more you are willing to agree with your child’s feelings while calmly holding on to the boundary, the easier it will be for her to release her resistance and move on. How can your child continue to fight when you won’t stop agreeing with her? This parenting “white-flag” of empathy will miraculously dissolve the tension for both of you.
d) If your child still does not comply for whatever reason, follow through by taking her hand (literally or figuratively). “You’re having a hard time coming upstairs to brush your teeth, so I’m going to help you.” You calmly take her hand, and then perhaps you add, “Thank you for letting me know you needed help.”
This by the way, is exactly what she was doing.  And once you’ve recognized that all of your child’s resistant, impulsive, objectionable behavior is really just an awkward request for your help, you’ll probably find it easier to stop yelling about it.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Preschoolers at play show science skills

When kids incessantly ask "Why?," mess around in the dirt and run their hands over everything within reach, they're not just being kids. It turns out they're also being scientists.

Until recently, preschoolers were widely believed to be irrational thinkers. For most of the 20th century, the prevailing theory pioneered by cognitive development expert Jean Piaget held that children roughly ages 2 through 7 cannot understand concrete logic or other people's perspectives.

Although young children are the only ones who truly know what they ponder, research conducted over the past decade has led many psychologists to see infants and toddlers as, in fact, capable of thinking logically and abstractly.

"The main thing is that they're drawing conclusions from data and evidence and experiences the same way scientists are - by making hypotheses, testing them, analyzing statistics and even doing experiments, even though when they do experiments, it's called 'getting into everything,' " said Alison Gopnik, a UC Berkeley psychology professor and one of the field's leading experts.
Better understanding of how children learn about the world could have important implications for their formal schooling, Gopnik argued in a recent paper published in the journal Science, which summarized studies by her and other researchers.

Kids don't have to wear lab coats to act like scientists, Gopnik said.

Teaching can backfire

In one study, Gopnik and her colleagues showed children ages 3 through 5 a machine with a switch on one side and two disks that spun on top.

By playing with this simple device, the preschoolers were able to figure out and distinguish between the many ways it worked: The switch made one disk spin, which made another disk spin; the switch made both disks spin; and so on.

In another of Gopnik's experiments, 4-year-olds were able to figure out how to make a toy light up in just two steps instead of several. But "they only did that if the (researcher) said, 'I don't know how this toy works,' " Gopnik said. "If the (researcher) said, 'This is my toy, I'll show you how it works,' they just imitated whatever the experimenter did."

In other words, children who were led rather than turned loose didn't devise the more creative solution - an "example of how, ironically, direct teaching ... can sometimes sort of backfire," Gopnik said. "It leads to a kind of narrowing of what children are thinking about, instead of an extension or broadening of it."

Other studies show that young children, in addition to being able to ponder their own actions, are also capable of weighing the actions of others.

That was the heart of a 2010 experiment involving rubber frogs and ducks run by Tamar Kushnir, an assistant professor of child development at Cornell University.

Social, statistical cues

In the study, 3- and 4-year-olds rummaged through boxes with either mostly toy ducks and a few toy frogs, or mostly toy frogs and a few toy ducks. After an adult picked up ducks from a frog-dominated box, the children were asked to choose one of the two animals to give to the adult. The children generally chose the duck, inferring based on statistical odds that the adult preferred ducks over frogs, the researchers said.

"The amazing thing is that children didn't just pay attention to what you were picking and why you liked it," Kushnir said. "They paid attention to what you left behind."

The study demonstrates that by an early age, children can already pick up on all kinds of social and statistical cues, Kushnir said.

"We know other people think and feel and want and know, and might have different perspectives from our own and different ideas from our own ideas," she said. "These are the different kinds of things children have mastered by age 4 or 5. That's remarkable."

And kids don't need fancy toys or bright screens to learn those lessons, said Barbara Bennett, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and head of the Child Development Center at California Pacific Medical Center. They just need simple props, blocks and books.

Vital lessons from play

Bennett cited a patient of hers, a boy, who recently stacked big pieces of foam into an arrangement that he called the letter "T."

The freedom to play and imagine "allows them to really use their mind and look at things from their perspectives and make their own judgments and scientific thoughts, even though it may not look like science to us," she said.

Overall, experts say, there are plenty of studies that make the case for educating very young children by focusing more on imaginative play - and less on traditional reading, writing and arithmetic.

"The most important lessons children learn early in life," Kushnir said, "don't happen in a classroom."

Read more: