gossip girl

When my son was in preschool he came home with this mantra one day, “Secrets, secrets are not nice… even for little mice.” When he came home with this little gem, I thought about my own secret keeping skills. But the more I thought about this little chant the more I thought, “This is SO wrong!” The leading sentence should be updated to: “Gossip, gossip, is not nice…” It’s not the secret that causes the problem but rather the spreading of secrets that does.

Gossip runs rampant in a school community. Amongst students, gossip is a behavior we try to abolish through education about empathy, open-mindedness, perspectives, and compassion. But gossip amongst the parent community can have detrimental effects on a school community and schools have limited ways to curb the tempers that ensue.

In my years of teaching, I’ve had a number of parents talk to me (as a teacher and parent) about other students in their child’s classroom community: “Can you believe that Ethan* has not been suspended from school after he kicked Janice on the playground?” or “I think Mrs. Smith lets that boy get away with anything he wants to in class” or ” We won’t be inviting her to our daughter’s birthday party because she is such a naughty child.”

The truth of the matter is–we all only know half of the story. And even if you were a participant in the event that has lead to the story that is being spread, you have your own perspective that can skew the story.

So here are my 4 best tips for curbing gossip:

  1. Avoid. Don’t participate in it! It’s as simple as that. If you hear someone start gossiping about a student, parent, or colleague you need to take control of your behavior and say something, change the subject, or walk away.
  2. Pause. Take a minute to reflect on why you are listening to the gossip. If you choose to  listen and/or spread gossip, consider what it say about you and your character.
  3. Empathize. Think back to a time when someone gossiped about you. How did it feel? Were you mad at the gossip creator or the one(s) spreading it? So why are you part of that same cycle?
  4. Speak up. I can tell you, this is the tip I find most challenging (as a parent) but quite easy as a teacher. When parents come to me as an educator, I sort of have the upper hand and can tell them that I need to listen to all sides of the story with an open mind. As a parent, I find that gossip is so pervasive at birthday parties and social events that it’s hard to avoid and even harder to quash. As often as I feel confident, I try to speak up and say something of value about the person they are gossiping about. Defending the person at the crux of the story often stops the gossipers in their tracks as people often gossip when they feel that their audience has a sense of disdain for the person being talked about. A compliment skews their perception of me and gives the person a good quality–and it’s hard to gossip about people who are good.

As a teacher, I would add one additional thought I’d like you to consider: If you are listening to parents talking about how that “Mean girl hits other students” keep in mind, you and your child may be the next target of such gossip.

What will you do differently tomorrow?

*Names have been changed for child protection.

Angela

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new year, new routines

Every December 31st, people around the globe write a list of resolutions that will help them be the best version of themselves in the year ahead. Unfortunately, by the end of January, most people have failed themselves by neglecting their resolutions. But if you have school-aged kids, you’re lucky… you get to reboot every September.

Each school year rings in “newness:” New teachers, new clothes, new school supplies, and new routines. So here are my top 5 routine busters to help you and your child(ren) get (and stay) organized.

calendarize your life: Calendars help people see what’s happening next. This, in turn, helps limit tantrums (from the kids and adults alike)! Depending on the age of your child and the chaos in your life, you’ll need a different type of calendar. For little ones, I always loved Melissa & Doug’s magnetic calendars because they allow kids to begin developing a mathematical understanding of numbers, months, and holidays. For older kids, a fridge calendar may be just what need to see the days’ events at a glance (our family’s calendar is color coded and added to as events come up). For tech-savvy families, create and share a Google Calendar. The events will be visible to all family members and will automatically update when someone makes a change.

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get everyone to pitch in: There is no rule in child-rearing that states that the adults have to do it all. Why do think the word “chores” was invented? That said, everyone has got to pitch in. It doesn’t mean the work load will be equitable, but each family member should pitch in and help in an age-appropriate manner. What is age-appropriate you ask? Well, you know your kids best so you decide. But Your Modern Family has some great ideas to help you get the ball rolling. With our older children, we discussed the chores that need to get done each day and then we divided them accordingly (keeping in mind the kids’ schedules). At our teens’ age, we decided to compensate with money which helps build about financial independence.

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stay connected: During the school year, days quickly turn in to weeks, weeks turn in to months, and, before you know it, we’re back around at summer again. Don’t let the time get away from you. Step away from the hectic reality of life (and the glow of your devices) to make contact with your child(ren), your partner, and your tribe! Go beyond the “How was your day?” gibberish because, really, there is no good answer to that question. Dig a little deeper and ask more meaningful questions. My favorites are:

  • What did you do to make someone smile today?
  • If you could do today all over again, what would you have changed?
  • What is one thing you want to remember about today?

I haven’t cornered the market on great thought-provoking queries as I sometimes find myself asking the banal, “What did you learn today?” question. …And I’m not sure these moms have figured it out much better than I have, but they’ve got some prompts that might help you get started (though I would avoid any “tattle-type” questions myself). [Questions from Motherly and FabulesslyFrugal]

Here’s a bonus idea for staying connected with tweens. This idea directly correlates with the calendarize suggestions mentioned above: keep each other in the loop. Back in “little kid” days, my husband or I would be asked to “Bring the family ’round for dinner.” “Sure, no problem” we’d respond with the assumption that kids would enjoy the night out.  We’d load up the kids, grab a bottle of wine, and be on our way. But that is not the way to do it with tweens and teens. They’ve got their own agendas. So I suggest you start a family chat to help with those “I was just invited…” plans that come up at school and work. We’ve observed that the chat has alleviated a lot of stress because everyone knows what is coming (“We are going out to dinner with the Smith’s on Friday”) and reduces the inevitable parental taxi strain (“Can you drop us off at the movies at 7? Her mom will pick us up!”).

set up a lunch line: With the invention of refrigerators, lunch-making has never been easier. But I’m shocked at how many parents I catch complaining about having to wake up early to put together the day’s lunches. Stop it. There is a better way! Get everyone involved in making their own lunch. We started getting our kids to make their own lunches when they were 3 years-old. My husband would cut up stacks of veggies (and the kids would pick two different kinds) while I helped the kids slop mayo, mustard, and veggies on bread. The kids would fill reusable containers with yogurt, fruit salad, and/or fruit juice and they’d toss in some cutlery. Done! Now that they are teens, it’s even easier. I make the salads (for the adults) while one kid makes sandwiches or portions out leftovers (for the kids). My husband is still on veggie duty, and the other kid helps where needed: fruit duty, extra protein on sport’s days, or a bonus treat from the weekend’s baking extravaganza.

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The main reason my family keeps me around–I’m the only one who can Tetris the fridge so a week’s worth of shopping, pre-cooked dinners, and all of our lunches fit inside.

don’t sweat the small stuff: It’s OK if the laundry doesn’t get done tonight. The memory of cuddling up with your child and reading a favorite book, drawing a picture for grandma, or listening to them play an instrument (no matter how good or bad) is far more important in the grand scheme of things. Choose to live the best life in the moment and let the rest go!

Angela

 

 

time to start anew

Every January 1st, many adults make New Years resolutions to begin the year anew. But setting goals is something we can all do. At any age and at any time of year! By helping your child to create an age-appropriate resolution, you will help them learn the importance of reflecting on the past, setting goals, and working towards success (despite the pitfalls) for the future.

Some ideas for resolutions which can include your entire family:

power down: turn off technology more often. Carve out family “sacred time” where technology is not allowed. Spend time being together as a family and reconnect with one another. Whether it’s daily dinner time, weekly game night, an activity in which you and child work together to learn something new, or take the dog for a walk on the beach– this quality time with your family (and not your mobile or tablet) will be invaluable.

say NO to sweets: whether you’re trying to exercise more or eat healthier this new year, your child’s healthy eating habits begin at home. Make sweets a “special time treat” instead of a regular part your day. Substitute a bowl of ice cream for apples or yogurt. Make sweets a weekend-only or “party” food and never make dessert an incentive to clean their plate. Don’t bargain with your child. Set the tone because you’re the boss.

have more fun: sometimes our daily routines are SO stressful that we forget to take time out and enjoy the people we love the most in this world. Make a decision to stop this vicious cycle. Take time to get silly with your child. Have a dance party or pillow fight. Draw together or tell goofy stories at bedtime. Let your children see you smile, laugh, and bring out your own inner child!

If these ideas aren’t quite inspiring you…PBS has some great family-focused ideas for some other family resolutions. Happy 2018!

Angela

costume creativity

With just days before the Halloween festivities commence, many parents are frantically searching for the perfect costume for their child.

In a Fortune.com article, with Harris/CIT data, Americans will spend over $15 billion dollars this holiday while the Christian Science Monitor puts that number at around $7 billion ($350 million of which is spent on pet costumes!). So how can you avoid being part of the buying super-hype?

It’s not that hard!

Look around your house for creative ways to use what you already own. An apron and a wooden spoon can make a chef costume, while a tie and a briefcase create a convincing business man. Spike your child’s hair and raid the toy chest for an instrument to invent a rock ’n roll superstar or wear shorts and a vest with a stuffed animal on your shoulder and be a zoo keeper ! Be creative to avoid overpriced (and generic) store-bought costumes.

For more ideas, here’s a parenting website that has helped me in the past…and present!

This year, my children used their creative thinking skills to make their own costumes (with help from mom, dad, and Bomma!) My son used a cardboard box and turned himself into a working vending machine (with proceeds going to his LaunchX MIT entrepreneurship club) while my daughter went to the 2nd hand shop and turned a €1 sweatshirt and a men’s polo shirt in to the Undertale (role-play video game) character, Chara.

Angela

use your words!

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This image, mouth of amanda by Bradley Gordon is licensed under Creative Commons CC0 from flickr.

Words are important. But as adults, we sometimes assume a child’s needs instead of waiting for them to articulate themselves. It’s faster. It’s easier. And it often alleviates a lot of stress on both of our parts.

For me, I did it all wrong! (…And after last week’s discussion with my pubescent teen, I still haven’t perfected the art.) When my son was a wee one I gave in to his tantrums and screams by learning his language or anticipating his needs instead of challenging him to use words to communicate his desires. In the long run… I didn’t do him (or my family) any favors.

For the Wee Ones:

It’s crucial that we encourage children to use their words rather than grunting, pointing, or resorting to tantrums and outbursts. You can help your young child meet these goals by saying, “I don’t understand you when…”, “Mommy can’t hear you when you yell…” or [when pointing] “Do you want the milk or juice?” to prompt word usage. If tantrums persist, model the words you’d like your child to use. Approximating or attempting to use words is the beginning of communication. As long as you’re not pedantic about your expectations, your child will continue to practice and improve.

For more information read this article from the Hanen Centre for language development.

For the Puberty Stricken:

For our tween and teen children, choices don’t work as well. It can often give kids a way out. The best solution is to first empathize with them, “I know you’re sad about missing the birthday party…” or “I imagine you are hurt when you learned that people gossiped about you…” Empathy often promotes trust which will give your child the confidence to open up and share their real feelings. If not, some open-ended questions may help, “What other ideas do you suggest?” or “What alternatives would you make to your friends?” You an also utilize your own village to help you engage with your child. Having a dear friend or family member to dinner and having them gently probe your tween or teen for information can open up a world of conversation. For some parents, meeting their kids where they are with tech tools is a good solution. Creating a WhatsApp or chat group for the family can maintain open communication without face-to-face communication. Whatever solution works this week might not work the next, but keep at it. Your kid (and you) need it!

For more information on communicating with your teen, here’s a source my husband and I have turned to.

Angela

break it down

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This image by Insights Unspoken is licensed under Creative Commons CC0 from Flikr.

As adults we take for granted all the tasks we can do with ease. For you little ones, the simplest task requires a lot of thought, many (in order) steps, and a lot of patience.

Take, for instance, a simple school task like gluing two pieces of paper together. You and I can do it in mere seconds, but a young child can take up to 5 minutes to complete the job because of the sheer number of steps required. Break it down and look at all that you’re asking a child to do:

  1. get the glue stick
  2. take off the top
  3. put the top on the table flat so it doesn’t roll away
    • if it does roll away, you need to find it
  4. twist the bottom of the glue stick to release some of the glue
    • but if you unscrew it too much, you have to twist the other way to put the extra glue away
  5. hold down the paper with one hand
  6. position the glue stick in your hand so it touches the paper flat
  7. roll the glue across your paper
    • don’t push too hard or too light… you have to rub it just right
  8. now you can finally stick something to your paper
  9. tidy up after yourself

 

9 steps! Ridiculous, right? So why do we adults not just take the silly glue out of their hands and do it for them?

By doing menial tasks for our children, we’re telling them they are not big enough, not capable enough, or not good enough to do it themselves. And that’s not the message we’re trying to send.

So here’s today’s teacher pro-tip: slow down and let your child do the job themselves. You will need to show, teach, model, and reteach again and again and again, but once they get it, they’ll feel accomplished. And you will save yourself time as well.

Here are some of the things you can teach (and then expect) your 3-4 year old to do:

  • “make” the bed (not well, but they can pull up the blankets and make it “look” tidy–you can come back later and do it properly)
  • put on their clothes (with some support)
  • brush their teeth
  • go to the toilet (including taking off/on clothes, sitting/standing, flushing, and washing hands)
  • tidy up their toys
  • take their plate to the sink
  • put dirty clothes in the laundry basket
  • help set the table

My tweens are able to do all of the above and:

  • do laundry (wash, dry, fold, and put away)
  • make a balanced dinner for the family
  • make a healthy lunch for school
  • write a blog post or vlog to YouTube to teach the world something new
  • take out the trash
  • help take care of a pet
  • babysit a neighbors toddlers

So now the question is, what are you going to task your children with today? Start slowly by introducing one task at a time. If you want to know more about what you can expect your child to do at each developmental stage (from toddler to teenager), read about what the experts say.

You can thank me later.

Angela