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Advice for New (and Experienced) Moms

July 9, 2008 · Filed Under Behavior, Parents' Corner · Comment 

I attended a baby shower last weekend for one of my daughter’s friends, and of course, we played all of the silly games that people do at those events.  One activity, though, got me to thinking quite a bit.  I’ve never actually done this one before, but I hope it catches on.  I was really impressed.

After the silly games were over, several pieces of note paper were started around the circle with brightly-colored gel pens, and all of the guests were asked to write down their best advice for the new mom-to-be.  There was a wide range in ages of the guests, from other young girls her age (22ish, I think) to grandmotherly-types and everyone in between.  Some of us had numerous children and loads of experience, and others were just as new to the mothering game as the guest of honor was going to be.  Still, I’m sure she ended up with several pages of keepsake snippets that will remind her of her friends and family for years to come. 

I hope I gave her good advice.  I just sort of wrote off the cuff, the way that you do when you’re not planning to write. 

On her paper, I wrote about the importance of being careful what funny baby actions you allow.  What’s cute at six months, I wrote, may not be funny when the child is still doing it at two years old.  Things like spraying the beets by blowing raspberries when eating are hilarious at the time, but if we applaud or smile or show approval, baby can easily get the wrong idea and repeat the performance ad nauseum.  Then parents have a hard time breaking a bad habit.

So what else would I say to new moms if I could?  Like all experienced parents, I suspect I could write a book.  I’ll limit myself to a post instead.  Here are some of the top things that came to my mind.

Children begin to learn responsibility for their behavior as soon as they can do things voluntarily.  So we adults need to begin teaching the word ‘no’ just as soon as they try to choose unexceptable actions.  And it’s important to teach the word ASAP, preferably on something that’s not life-threatening.  For this reason, I told my babies “no-no” for tearing books and taking things that didn’t belong to them.  They tried these things long before they tried to mess with outlets or pull cords or touch hot stoves.  By the time they were tempted to put themselves at risk, they already knew the meaning of the word NO and what consequences awaited disobedience.  It worked.  No one was seriously injured whilst toddling.

I really hate the trend of ‘baby-proofing’, too.  I removed the really dangerous hazards, like put plugs in the outlets and moved the cleaners higher up, but I didn’t ‘baby-proof’ the house.  Number one, I saw way too many friends who became complacent about safety that way.  They felt that their home or room was baby-proofed, and so they didn’t need to keep as close of an eye on the little one as they should’ve.  One particular mom scared me to death when she suggested we leave our toddlers alone in the other child’s bedroom.  After all, it was ‘baby-proofed’, she said.  I was far more used to watching for hazards and one look told me it wasn’t a good idea.  She didn’t notice that the small trash can near the changing table had a plastic diaper sack in it.  It was just right for suffocating or choking.  But because she had babyproofed, in her mind, the room was safe and didn’t need any further inspection.  Whew!  The second problem I had with the practice was that it limits where you feel you can take your children.  Your babyproofed house is one thing, but how will you manage when you go to visit Great Aunt Sylvia whose house isn’t one bit baby-proof?  Watching out for your little one is a habit that needs to be developed.  You can’t turn it on and off like a light switch.

My last bit of advice to parents would be to follow through on consequences.  If your child misbehaves and you promise a certain outcome, you had better be prepared to make sure it happens that way.  That’s the only way to build credibility, and the only way to end up with well-behaved kids.  If you’re not willing to ‘throw all the toys in the trash,’ then don’t say it.  If you can’t follow through with ‘we’ll leave here this instant’, then don’t say it.  Whatever you DO say, be sure to follow up with action. 

Just my two cents, but I hope someone benefits.  Good luck, parents!

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Study Skills Start in Preschool

July 4, 2008 · Filed Under Parents' Corner, Readiness, Study Skills, Tutors' Corner · Comment 

As a tutor, I often work with high schoolers who are behind in their studies.  They come to me with concerns about grades in their classes, test anxieties, and difficulty learning the material that they are expected to master.   It’s hard to help them.  Most of the time, I feel we just barely keep their head above water and have a goal of trying to prevent them from dropping out before they get that all-important high school diploma.  I wish I could’ve seen them years ago.

If I had known these kids in preschool, and had some influence with their families, I would’ve had a message for them.  When your child is two, three and four years old, you are building the foundations for the skills that kids need for successful high school learning. 

Perhaps the most important gift you can give your young child is a love of and appreciation for learning.  This attitude can only be fostered by example.  You have to show, every day, that learning is a huge part of your life and your child’s life.  Make it a priority to answer questions, to teach skills the kids are interested in, and to let them see you using learning skills whenever you can.  Read and read to them.  Fill your home with learning materials, like books, references, newspapers, magazines, and learning toys.  No matter what you thought of school, make it a point to stay positive with your child.

Encourage reading and math and science and writing-not with formal “lessons” or “practice,” but through play and life experiences.  Take your child to parks, museums, historical sites, and stores.  Look things up at the library and on the internet.  When your child expresses interest, help him or her to accomplish the goal.  There’s no need to sit around a table using flashcards to help your child learn.  He or she will gain so much more by DOING things.  Try experiments, put on a play, build a carnival in the back yard, design an obstacle course, or write a story.  Hands-on is the best way to learn.

The preschool years are also the time to train memories and build language skills, which relate directly to study skills in high school and beyond.  Encourage your young child to retell stories, to relate events in sequence, to describe and to converse.  Play memory games that require recall of increasingly larger chunks of information.  Play word games and number games. 

The long and the short of it is that the preschool years are formative, not just for character and physical development, but also for later learning.  Give your child every chance to succeed-lay the foundations for school success!

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Readiness Corner for June 30, 2008

June 30, 2008 · Filed Under Parents' Corner, Readiness · Comment 

Welcome to the first feature at the Learning Nook!  The Readiness Corner is a series of ideas to use with your young child as you share stories and learn together.  Watch for fun ways to help your little one grow and learn and get ready for school in the next year or two. 

Reading aloud is more than simply saying the words, you know.  For your child to get the most possible benefit, you BOTH need to be actively engaged.  As the reading adult, you need to be excited and into the story.  Your child needs to be attending and interacting with the book.  It’s not enough just to repeat the words and hope your child is absorbing them.  Here are suggestions:

Be sure to read the words exactly as printed!  No fair shortening the story because you’re in a hurry or because you’re a bit bored.  The repetition of the same words that match the print will help your child understand that print is a permanent way of communicating.  If you change things around, this vital concept will take longer to develop and your child will be at a distinct disadvantage in school.

Stop and ask questions along the way.  Ask what will happen next or recall what already happened in the story.  Ask about the pictures and ask about the characters.  When you involve your child like this, you will be boosting listening comprehension and you will be laying the foundation for understanding printed material in the future.

Play with the words a bit.  Stop at the end of a rhyming line and see if your child can fill in the correct word or any word that rhymes.  Ask him or her to find words that start with B or end with M on a page.  Let your child say the repeated part of the book when you pause at the appropriate point.  When sharing a familiar book, sneak a totally nonsensical word into the end and then the middle of a line, like “Mary had a little HAM” or “Little Boy RED, come blow your horn”.  See if your child notices the change, and laugh about it together.

Above all, keep reading fun and light-hearted.  If your youngster isn’t in the mood to listen or play with you right then, don’t push.  Also remember that some children, especially active ones, may want to listen while they do other things, such as play with blocks.  Just pause occasionally to check to see if they are attending from across the room.  HAVE FUN!

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