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4 Things That Will Help Your Child Develop Early Reading Skills

Developing early reading skills in children ages 9-48 months involves enhancing cognitive skills such as sequential processing, simultaneous processing, focused attention, and inhibition.

Speaking with your child face to face, drawing attention to characters and actions on the written page and practicing how oral-motor sounds relate to phonemic representation, are skills we can model and teach through playful interaction. CLICK on the 4 Activities IMAGE below to download a printable version to help you keep these fun, yet meaningful activities front of mind.

Ages 9-18 Months, enhance visual tracking skills by reading picture books with your children for a few minutes daily.  Turn the pages of the books and use your finger to point out characters, movement, and action.  Talk about what the children see on the page.  “The doggie is running.”  “Where is he going?”

Ages 18-24 months, speak with your child face to face.  Children develop phonemic awareness by experiencing the kinesthesis of oral-motor movements.  When you speak with your child face to face and enunciate your words, your child watches how your mouth forms the sounds.  So sit face to face while you speak, playfully encourage your child to make the phonemic sounds with you,

Ages 24-36 months, reading fluency is correlated with rhythmic patterns and sounds.  When children are able to read with meter, the recurring pattern of stresses or accents that provide the pulse or beat of music, they become more fluid readers enhancing foundational skills that underlie comprehension.  As you read books like Dr. Seuss, enjoy the rhyme and rhythm.  “The more that you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Ages 36-48 months, sequential processing is a foundational cognitive skill that underlies both cognition and movement. We read, speak, play and even move in a sequential manner.  One step comes before the next.  So enjoy noticing and talking about patterns with your children.  Be it in the car, while cooking in the kitchen or on the playground, explore what you are doing in words and talk about what comes next.  “First we walk up the stairs, then we climb on the slide, then we slide down, Zoom!”

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bloom cover - 140x208Written for real parents with anxious, angry and over-the-top kids, Bloom is a brain-based approach to parenting all children. Taking its lead from neuroscience and best practices in early childhood mental health, it offers parents, teachers and care providers the words, thoughts and actions to raise calm, confident children, while reducing the need for consequences and punishment. The first book of its kind, it provides pages full of printable mantras you can carry with you, hang on your fridge or use in your classroom to raise emotionally competent kids. Stop second-guessing the way you handle misbehaviors, and learn why they occur in the first place. Bloom is available at amazon.com

 

 

Shame Nation: Choose To Be Part Of “The Solution”

It was July and I was at home when I got a call from my niece.  She and my sister were driving somewhere, and I remember this particular call because it went something like this…

    • “Hey Aunt Stef…you’ve got to check this out…it’s the funniest thing…You remember when we did that show Legally Blonde?  Well there’s this group of young kids, and I guess they did a performance of it too, only their teacher video-taped it and posted it on YouTube and oh my G-d Aunt Stef, it’s awful.  I mean it’s so bad it’s funny.  You’ve got to watch it.  Here let me text you some of it.” 
    • No that’s ok babe, I don’t need to see it”…
    • “Really Aunt Stef, it’s sooo funny, mom watched it and she thought it was hysterical.  I can’t believe their teacher posted this.  It went viral so fast it’s incredible.  Look I know it’s really long but you can fast forward through some of it, I’ll tell you where the funniest parts are”.
    • Honey…how old are these kids?”  
    • “I don’t know…I think they’re in middle school… Look Aunt Stef I’ve got to go, I just texted it to you…watch it later and tell me what you think. You’re going to die laughing…. I love you!!”

I didn’t check it out.  But I also didn’t tell her not to.  And that bothered me.  Something felt really wrong with this video. I was worried about those little kids…I was worried FOR those little kids.  How old were they.  How long had this been going viral, and how many people around the world were laughing at them.  I knew for a fact my niece and her friends at school were…and still, even though it bothered me…I said and did nothing.

When I look back at it now, I think it’s because my niece and her friends weren’t bad or mean kids. Actually quite the opposite. My niece is a gifted and talented young actress studying at a high school for the arts, and I am incredibly proud of her, but for a very different reason. I can say without a doubt that she is one of the nicest, kindest people I know, and she would NEVER deliberately hurt someone!  In fact, she feels things very deeply. Yet she missed this! She didn’t see the pain she and the other people watching and laughing over that video were causing.

How the heck did we get here??? To this place where we can sit in a room and make fun of someone who is not there to defend themselves and have no sense at all that our laughing at them could be hurting them.

That is EXACTLY what nationally recognized speaker, parent advocate, and Internet safety expert Sue Scheff explores with the help of journalist, YA author, and blogger Melissa Schorr in her newly released book Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate. Sue knows firsthand how devastating cyber shaming can be. In 2006 she won a landmark case for Internet defamation and invasion of privacy. Now a leader in the movement against cyber bullying, she focuses on teaching others how to avoid virtual cruelty and how to effectively react when it occurs. 

According to Shame Nation, psychologists point to several factors that have allowed online cruelty like this to flourish:

  • the anonymity of the Internet;
  • the distance, or lack of face-to-face contact, with a victim,
  • mob mentality run amok,
  • lack of gatekeepers and
  • lack of consequences.

Taken together these factors have become known as the “online disinhibition effect”, the notion that people behave far differently online than they would in reality.

But it’s more than that. It’s also due in part to our failure to instill empathy in young people, and Shame Nation explores this as well. Parenting expert Dr. Michele Borba, EdD, author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World makes a strong case that a decrease in basic empathy has created a culture ripe for online attacks. The inability to see those on the other side of the computer screen as people deserving of our compassion is a huge driver. Instead of feeling sad for their pain, we make it funny. We sit at home and watch the “People of Walmart” and laugh as people are publicly shamed. You don’t see or feel the hurt…it’s so far removed, it’s not “real”.

That was what happened with the middle-school performance of Legally Blonde.  My niece missed the ball on this one.  There was an opportunity to be an “Upstander” …not just a bystander…or worse, add to the teasing and humiliation, and she missed it.  But whose fault was that really?  If I’m being honest, it was mine

I’m the adult, I set the example. This means I and the other adults in her life need to know what’s happening out in the cyber-world so I can educate her.  So she knows what to look for to avoid becoming a victim…or inadvertently a bully.

And while we’re on this subject, I know some of you may be thinking “lock her in her room and for anything other than schoolwork, shut off the internet and all those damn devices” is the answer. But while it may sound good on paper, realistically, I can’t tell her to stay off-line. No-one can. For better or worse, this is a connected world we live in…all of us… kids and adults. Going off the grid is just not an option – and it won’t save her. As Nancy Jo Sales describes in her book American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, “I spoke to girls who said, “Social media is destroying our lives.  But we can’t go off it, because then we’d have no life.”

So my niece is on the grid (and I am guessing if you are reading this, so is a child you care about), and she is not getting off any time soon – not as a child, and realistically not as an adult.  But I can help her. I can:

  • Teach her how to avoid trouble: give her guidelines for online sharing; show her how to protect her online identify and run regular checkups to make sure no-one is damaging her reputation
  • Teach her how to control a disaster if things go wrong: how to document, block, report and identify someone trying to harm her.
  • Teach her how to get support: to take advantage of resources like HeartMob and Crisis Text Line and Online SOS…and know there are systems in place providing help, from simple letters of support to full-on legal aid, if she finds herself a victim of a digital attack.

Because that’s what I learned from Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate

And finally, I can Teach her to be an Upstander. I can explain what that word is, why it’s important to stand-up for someone else.  And then I can apologize for not doing that…and for failing her and those kids. And that’s when I realized if I didn’t do something right at that moment, I would be failing them both again.

So I picked up the phone and called her.  And it was a difficult call. Because while it was about something she had done, in truth, it was more about what I hadn’t done. And my very sensitive niece brought up an excellent argument – one I’m betting every one of you will have to deal with at some point, because it’s really fundamental to the Upstander / bystander question:

  • “But Aunt Stef, I don’t think there’s really anything I could have done…there were millions of people…that post went viral”.

She had a point – but then again, that’s the battle every single person faces when they’re being bullied online.  They’re one person and it feels like they’re fighting the world. That’s what made this book so insightful, and so powerful, at least for me.  What do you do…what can you do…if you come up against this situation…  Whether you are living this or just witnessing this.  This was my answer…

“Well, hon, what do you think about this”…and I gave her an example I had read (thank you Sue) about a heavy-set middle-aged man who was being publicly humiliated.  All he did was dance at a local bar with friends, but someone captured it on video and posted it and the rude comments started coming in from all over.  Until two women in LA created a #FindDancingMan twitter campaign, said “I’d dance with that guy”, and created a movement that turned the shaming into a party of compassion.

    • “I’m not saying you have to create a “dancing man campaign” but do you think you and your friends could come up with something creative that might make those kids feel even just a little bit better?”

     

      • I don’t know…maybe”.

And just like that, this HUGE weight came off my shoulders.  She didn’t have to have an answer… that wasn’t the magic pill here.  She’s a brilliant kid with a big heart and this hit home.  I stood up for those kids…and for her …and I think when she has an opportunity, she will stand up for someone else.

It has to start somewhere…  That day, it started with us…

2017 Parent Empathy Pledge: Focus on the “Other” Report Card

Now that the fall semester is underway, it won’t be long until your child’s progress report arrives, revealing not only their academic proficiency, but their conduct report as well. Studies confirms that children today are more self-centered than ever—and it’s a big problem. It’s why I urge parents to recognize the importance of raising empathic kids, challenge them to teach their children about caring and kindness today, and then take The Empathy Parent Pledge which follows.

An Empathy Pledge for Worried Parents         

Do your kids really care about others? All parents want to be able to give a resounding yes without hesitation. Yet, if we’re honest, too many of us have to stop and think about it—and when we do, we often reach a troubling conclusion.

America is raising a generation of kids who can’t see past their smartphones and jam-packed schedules of “enriching” activities to notice the human beings in front of them who need kindness and friendship. (Real friendship, not the Instagram version.) In fact, studies show that today’s teens are 40 percent less empathetic than those of 30 years ago. Could it be that we’ve focused too much on grades and grit and neglected the other side of the report card—our kids’ ability to connect and get along with others?

To recognize this empathy deficit in young people in general is one thing. To see it in your own child is quite another.

If you’re deeply troubled by the realization that your kids don’t seem to care, you’re not alone. Over and over, researchers are finding that empathy is THE cornerstone for becoming a happy, well-adjusted, successful adult. Studies show without a doubt that possessing empathy makes you more likable, more employable, a better leader, more conscience-driven…and it even increases your life span.

Even parents who haven’t read the research instinctively realize that kids need the capacity to care. They’re living the problem. They know exactly how bad it feels. They deplore the endless duck-face selfies, the disrespectful remarks, the materialism, the unwillingness to help with chores, the elbowing-to-the-front competitiveness. And yet despite their best efforts, they simply can’t move the needle on their children’s behavior.

No parent wants to raise an uncaring child. Yet we feel helpless not to because we don’t raise our kids in a vacuum. There are very real forces out there crushing the empathy out of our kids: social media, the bad influence of kids whose parents don’t hold them accountable, our own tendency to helicopter parent. But there are some things we CAN control—and how we reward and recognize success in our kids is a great place to start.

That’s why I’m urging you to take the empathy pledge: This year I will pay more attention to the OTHER side of the report card.”

I’m referring here to your child’s literal conduct grade, yes, but not just that. I’m talking about whether your child is a bully or stands up for others, whether he snickers at mean-spirited jokes or denounces them, whether she works together with peers or undermines them, whether she shares what she has freely or hoards it.

Yes, academics are still the metric by which the world judges success. I get that and I’m sure you do, too. But this lopsidedness is beginning to change. In fact, some schools, including Harvard, are reshaping their admissions processes to reduce some of the academic pressure and encourage service, caring, and reflection.

I am hopeful that such moves to encourage empathy will multiply. We need to fan the sparks we’re seeing until they catch fire and spread. We need a national conversation about moving our focus to the other side of the report card. Like all conversations, it starts at home…and I can’t think of a better time to start than right now. There has never been a time when our children need to learn empathy.

A few tips to keep in mind as you take The Empathy Parent Pledge

Stop over-emphasizing straight A’s.

Your kids know when you value academic success over all else. When you harp on grades and test scores and rarely mention sharing, caring, and kindness, they get the message. (There’s a Harvard study that backs me up!) When your child walks in the door, what’s your first question? If it’s: “What grade did you get?” it may be time to ask: “What caring thing did you do?”

…And start talking up empathy.

Model caring behavior for your child (of course) but also talk about it. Explain what empathy is, what it looks like in action, and what she can do or say to express it. And tell her in no uncertain terms that you will be watching how she behaves toward siblings, friends, teachers, parents, and even strangers.

Don’t just listen to what they say; watch what they do.

Your child likely has two personas: the one he shows to friends and on social media and the one he shows to you and/or his teachers. Sure, he’ll tell you that he’s being kind and inclusive, but don’t take his word for it. Observe him when he isn’t aware. Listen to how other people describe your child. Help him develop a Caring Mindset so he does the caring thing without your reminders or presence.

Put kids in situations where they can practice empathy.

Empathy is a skill set, one that can be taught and nurtured at any age. Get kids involved in a service organization or just spend time baking cookies and, together, deliver them to an elderly neighbor. Make empathy-building a regular part of their life. You want to hardwire it.

When you see those traits like caring, kindness, and thoughtfulness…acknowledge it.

Don’t give your child money or “stuff” in exchange for showing empathy. (Talk about sending the wrong message!) Do praise her, hug her, or maybe even take her out for an ice cream date and tell her how proud you are to be the mom of such a caring child.

But don’t give your child money or “stuff” in exchange for showing empathy. It actually decreases altruism!)

Start putting pressure on schools to emphasize empathy.

It’s possible your child’s school no longer measures conduct at all—or at least it’s seldom mentioned in the classroom. If this is going to change, it’s up to you.

When parents band together, we have tremendous power. MADD, for instance, dramatically lowered drunk driving rates. When parents set out to bring up our nation’s math and science scores a couple decades ago, they came up. What we focus on gets done—so let’s focus on raising a generation of kind, caring, empathetic, successful kids. Here’s a pledge to help us all get started. Please pass it on!

The 2017 Parent Empathy Pledge

  • This year I will pay attention to the other side of the report card.
  • I’ll reward kindness. Caring. Sharing. Teamwork.
  • I’ll make it clear that while grades do matter, empathy matters too.
  • I’ll teach my child to encourage the classmate who struggles,
    • To cheer on the kid who missed the goal,
    • To pick the kid who never gets picked,
    • To make friends outside the “exclusive” group,
    • To sit with the kid who’s shy or awkward or different,
    • To comfort someone who is having a bad day,
    • To notice when kids are hurting and try their best to help,
  • And I, as a parent, pledge to raise an Unselfie who thinks “we,” not “me.”
  • I’ll set the right example for my child in all I do and say,
  • Because I can’t talk anyone into caring…I can only walk the path and hope they follow.

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.  UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours.  It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!  UnSelfie is AVAILABLE NOW at amazon.com.

How Special Needs Kids Can Avoid the Lunch Box Blues

School is back in session! After the clothes, the supplies and the backpack have been purchased there is one big item left…the lunch box! We want to help our children feel more independent, but sometimes kids with special needs need some special assistance with this portion of their school day. Also, many in this population have very specific dietary needs and wants. Here are some tips for finding containers that will work for your child.

Special note: If your child has a feeding tube, do a search for Facebook groups or ask your child’s team for resources. It’s easy to fall into a rut but there are new ideas and breakthroughs happening every day.

Open and Close

Can your child open AND close the containers you pack? Should the covers be twist tops or snap-ons? Can they open a zippered baggie? Sure, these tasks sound easy but they can be real challenges if you have fine motor issues.

Different brands and styles of containers have different benefits, so do a little spying and trial and error. There is no point in spending an hour prepping a picture perfect bento box if your child is unable to get to it. My child could open the Ziploc divided container but never get it closed again, leading to tragically messy and stained lunchboxes!! This must have been a common problem, since the company has discontinued the item.

This year we are using Snapware, which seems to be working out nicely and doesn’t leak. Victory! But those side latches could be tricky for some kids so do a trial run before sending anything new to school. Hopefully the school has grown ups on hand to assist with these things, but better safe and full than sorry and hungry.

Touch and Go

Some kids with special needs will have a meltdown if their foods touch each other. Others will only eat from their favorite bowl or with their own spoon. This is another reason to be sure to have some trial runs or introduce the containers before school begins or on weekends. A child may need some transition time or a chance to get used to a change in a calm environment rather than under stress in a cafeteria.

Ask and Learn

Ask your kids what kinds of cool containers their friends use. Ask other moms what works best for them. Do a web search. But remember, what works for one child may not work for yours. Borrow containers to try them out or bring your child to the store and have them experiment before investing a lot of money in something that might be useless.

Might Want to Checkout

  • Snapware:  I got a big boxed set at Costco – which as all sizes and one size even has dividers.  Here’s the link to the set at Amazon
  • Sistema (people seem to like it – don’t have the link)
  • Easy Lunchbox: seems like a sturdier version of Ziploc
  • Planet Lunchbox:  some people say the latches are easy, but I haven’t tried them

Happy packing!

6 Reasons to Stop the “Every Kid Gets a Trophy” Epidemic

Just pretend:  The sports season just ended and you and the other parents are bursting with pride watching each child receive a participation trophy with their teammates. Of course, we hate to see our children disappointed, so when we notice every kid holding a golden statue, we utter a collective parent sigh: “Oh, good, they all feel special!” Phew!

But do our good intentions really help our kids? Not if we really want to nurture our children’s character and base our parenting on solid child-development research.

The “Every Kid Gets a Prize” is a staple of modern-day parenting. Even coaches and the sports industry are jumping on board. The local chapter of one national sports association spends roughly 12 percent of its yearly budget on trophies just to make sure that every kid feels special—even if it’s just for “showing up.”

But beware: our good-hearted trend may actually backfire and diminish-not nurture-our children’s self-esteem, character and resilience. Here are six reasons to stop the “Every kid gets a trophy” trend, and pronto.

Curtails Character Development

Our children develop crucial character traits like perseverance, dependability, and trustworthiness by rolling up their sleeves, practicing hard, and giving tasks their personal best. Awarding kids for putting on a uniform is honoring mediocrity-not excellence-and it robs them of the opportunity to strengthen their character. Character is what helps our children become good people and handle life.

Short-Changes Real-Life Preparation

Life is tough. Success is hard work. So truth be told: the real world doesn’t give out ribbons, medals, awards and trophies just for participating. Ask yourself: “If my child thinks that all she has to do is show up to earn the prize, what message does she learn?”

Let’s not allow our kids to believe that they can take the easy way out, cut corners, and rely on others to do the heavy hitting. Doing so won’t prepare them for the real world.

Robs “Authentic” Self-Esteem

In all fairness, a big reason many parents joined the “Trophy Bandwagon” is because they assumed that it would nurture their children’s self-esteem. But research tells a different story.

Authentic self-esteem is comprised of two parts: A Feeling of Worthiness (“I am a worthwhile person”) and A Feeling of Competence (“I am capable to handle life.”)

While that trophy may make a kid feel “special” in the moment, it doesn’t endure. Real self-esteem is gained from praise, pats on the back or trophies that are earned, and kids are quick to recognize they did nothing to warrant the award.

Curtails Resilience

Helping kids cope with adversity must be part of our parenting agendas. After all, life has bumps and our children must learning coping skills to ride them out.

Children become more tolerant to frustration when they are exposed to setbacks in small doses.That way when those bigger challenges come along they realize they can handle them.

Giving every kid a trophy as a means to cushion disappointment from not “being the best,” only reduces their chances to realize that they can bounce back and curtails their capacity for resilience.

Devalues Real Success

 I’ll never forget when my college-bound son handed me a box of his trophies culled from being on dozens of teams. “They don’t mean anything,” he explained, “everyone has same trophies.” He saved just one medal from a team History Day competition that was well-earned from hard work and passion.

If every kid gets the trophy, then their “real win” isn’t special and they fail to reap the joy that comes from realizing that their hard efforts actually paid off.

It’s natural for parents to want to help their kids feel good, but what we may be missing is helping them care about others and support their teammatesThe real world isn’t about “Me” but “We.” In today’s diverse, global world our children must learn to collaborate and support each other. And we must switch our kids’ from thinking, “I, me, mine,” to “we, us ours.” One way to do so is by encouraging them to recognize the strengths of others, and to congratulate their teammates for their talents. To prepare them for today’s world, we must help our kids think “WE,” not “ME.”

Let’s stop this craze of giving every kid a trophy just for showing up and breathing. The practice is not beneficial to children’s character development. Instead, tell your son or daughter that you are proud that they were a team player and that you loved going to those games or event.

Do snap that photo of your child, but make sure your son or daughter is in a group shot with all his or her teammates. Now there is the memory that both you and your child will want to preserve! And it’s also one of the best ways to raise a generation of kids who think “WE,” not “ME.”

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UnSelfie 140x210Teens today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—along with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, it hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy. The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured.  UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want activate our children’s hearts and shift their focus from I, me, and mine… to we, us, and ours.  It’s time to include “empathy” in our parenting and teaching!  UnSelfie is AVAILABLE NOW at amazon.com.

Teachers, Want to Help A Child Learn? Encourage Wiggling!

The research is clear, many of us move to think, that means we can cheer for kids who like to wiggle while they learn.

Large motor movement such as walking 15 minutes before school, doing moderate-intensity exercise before a test and peddling or bouncing before academics have been shown to improve performance. Small movements such as fidgeting, squirming, leg-swinging, foot-tapping, and chair-scuffling may help us learn new knowledge and work out complex tasks. The research is reviewed in 70 Play Activities.

Here are 8 science-based ways to improve thinking, learning, and behavior in your classroom.

70 Play Activities – Kenney & Comizio 2016

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70-play-hi-res-150x197Written for teachers, educators, and clinicians whose work involves playing, talking or teaching children who would benefit from better executive function and social-emotional learning skills, 70 Play Activities incorporates over 100 research studies into printable worksheets, handouts, and guided scripts with step-by-step directions, to empower children to learn and behave better. “With 70 Play Activities we aim to improve the trajectory of children’s learning by integrating the newest neuroscience with activities children love!” With over 70 activities designed to improve thinking, self-regulation, learning and behavior, your tool-kit will be full and your creative brain will be inspired to craft your own meaningful exercises. 70 Play Activities is available at amazon.com