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Are We There Yet?

Spanking

I honestly don’t know any parents who spank their children – or any who will at least admit to it. Although once a common practice in many American homes and even some schools, corporal punishment is now generally viewed as an ineffective means of disciplining children.

 

It’s also considered a human rights violation in many countries worldwide.


A recent study, however, found that corporal punishment is actually still common in the United States. In fact, about 65 percent of 3-year-olds had been spanked by one or both parents within the previous month, according to a report known as the “Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study.”

The research – conducted by the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans — involved nearly 5,000 families in large U.S. cities. According to the Fragile Families website, about 75 percent of the children who were part of the study were born to unmarried parents, which put them at greater risk of breaking up and living in poverty.

The researchers also found that there was a link between spanking and intimate partner violence.

 

“The presence of even minor forms of aggression between parents, such as criticism and controlling behaviors, were linked with increased odds of using corporal punishment with young children,” the researchers wrote.

 

Another study, published last year and conducted by researchers from the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University, also found that spanking makes children more aggressive and can have negative, long-lasting effects.


“We’re talking about infants and toddlers, and I think that just, cognitively, they just don’t understand enough about right or wrong or punishment to benefit from being spanked,” Lisa Berlin, a research scientist and the study’s lead author told CNN.

Parents who were spanked as children are more likely to use spanking as a form of discipline, according to the study.

Many experts and professional organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics have discouraged the use of corporal punishment at home. Still, some moms and dads as well as grandparents and other guardians say spanking can teach a lesson – but only if it’s used on very rare occasions and it doesn’t serve as a family’s only and most commonly used form of discipline.

What do you think?

Working teens

I started working when I was about 12 years old. Like other girls my age at the time, I babysat younger children in the neighborhood. I also made money by watching neighbors’ pets when they were on vacation, washing cars or weeding people’s yards. During my high school years, I spent many weekends and summers scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins.

 

Work was never really a choice. My parents paid for things, of course, but they didn’t a lot of extra money so I was never one of those kids who received a weekly allowance. If I wanted cash to spend, I had to make it on my own.

 

Having a regular job taught me the importance of showing up on time, being organized so I wouldn’t fall behind in school, and the need for fiscal responsibility (especially when one makes only minimum wage).

 

I was certainly a responsible teen. But I didn’t play sports or participate in many extracurricular activities at school. Looking back, I’m also not sure if I had a lot of fun.

 

And now that I’m a parent, I don’t think I want my kids to have to do what I did.

 

Steve Yoder, who writes a regular column for the Wall Street Journal with his teen-age sons, Levi and Isaac, asked readers earlier this spring if parents should insist that their teens find regular paying jobs. (He was wondering if his 14-year-old son, Levi, needed to work.) Yoder was torn. Having a job teaches young people to develop a work ethic, he wrote. At the same time, he also wanted Levi to focus on school and family activities.

Levi, in his section of the column, didn’t think he needed a job – at least, not yet. “Working might get in the way of track, studies or other obligations,” he wrote. “A regular job would force me to make some hard decisions between things I want to do, such as track practice or hanging out with friends, and things I have to do, such as my homework…. The most important job for me right now is school.”

Fewer teenagers nowadays are actually working or looking for jobs, according to a recent article from the Chicago Tribune. Part of it is the economy. But teens these days also are more likely to be involved in sports and extracurricular activities that they really don’t have any time to work. Using figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Tribune pointed out that only 33 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds are employed or looking for work. This is significantly lower compared to 30 years ago, when almost 60 percent of teens were employed.

 

What do you think? Is it worthwhile for teenagers to find a part-time job? If your teen has a job, what do you do as a parent to make sure she or he doesn’t fall behind with schoolwork and still makes time for family, friends and fun?

Beyond Time Out

Like many parents, I try really hard not to yell at my kids. But once in a while, I just lose it.

 

If my son is being especially difficult after a long, hard day, I’ll find myself making orders: “Go to your room!” Even worse than yelling, I’ll hear myself nag in an attempt to change his behavior.

 

Yelling rarely works at my house. It only scares my kids and I end up feeling terribly guilty. Hearing my voice go up a couple of decibels also exacerbates my own frustration and anger.

 

Moms and dads who have had similar experiences might be interested in a free workshop next month that will offer parents and guardians some tools and strategies for positive discipline.

 

Susie Leonard Weller, a local parenting instructor and author of “Why Don’t You Understand? Improve Family Communication with the 4 Thinking Styles,” will use a “whole-brained” approach to discuss how each of the four thinking styles contributes to providing guidance for children. In fact, she’ll help participants explore 27 discipline tools to do this.


Every person is hard-wired to think in a particular way, according to Weller. Problems come up when we become annoyed or frustrated with people who have a different approach to thinking. Understanding and knowing when and how to use the whole brain – all four thinking styles – can mitigate conflict and promote healthy relationships, according to Weller, whose work is based on the latest brain research.

“There’s a time and place for each thinking style,” she said.

Parents who are able to use a “whole brain” approach experience more satisfaction and success as they discipline and impart life skills to their children, Weller said. They also argue less with their kids.

Weller’s workshop will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 1, from 10:30 a.m. until noon at the Liberty Lake Library, 23123 E. Mission Ave. It’s sponsored by the Mindful Mamas and all parents and caregivers are welcome to attend. For more information, e-mail Weller at

Taking care of other people’s kids

Stay-at-home parents and others who work from home usually have some flexibility when it comes to scheduling and childcare. But sometimes, they end up taking care of other people’s children, too, according to this Wall Street Journal column written by Jeffrey Zaslow, “Yes, I’m Home. No, I Can’t Pick Up Your Child.”

 

“To those who leave their neighborhoods to work, stay-at-homers look like easy marks for all kinds of requests: car pooling, errand-running, church-volunteering, school-committee-leading, and being the go-to neighbor for every UPS delivery,” Zaslow wrote.

 

There’s a perception out there that moms and dads who work from home don’t have nearly as much as to do as people who go to an office every day, he pointed out. That’s why other parents might ask them to pick up their kids from school or babysit for a few hours. Some of these moms and dads are listed as emergency contacts even without being asked.

 

According to Zaslow, some of these stay-at-home parents are beginning to feel  resentful. They want to be nice and help out their friends who work 9-to-5, but they’re also sick of people taking advantage of them, especially when it comes to childcare.

 

“You’re expected to pull the weight of all the people who can’t,” Diane Fitzpatrick, a freelance writer who works from home, told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s as if I have to explain what I do all day.”

 

Unfortunately, these arrangements can take a toll on friendships. Sometimes it’s hard to say “no” when a neighbor or friend asks you to walk the dog or to look after their child for an hour or two after school. At the same time, some people just don’t realize that they might be imposing on someone else’s time.

 

This fall, a neighbor who is working on a graduate degree and has a child attending my son’s school graciously agreed to look after my son for about an hour before and after school. At first, I thought I could reciprocate by offering to take care of his kids in the evenings or on weekends. But when it came down to it, I realized that my son would be spending more hours at his house compared to the amount of time his children would be in my care. I didn’t want him to feel as thought I was taking advantage of him so I offered to pay him for looking after my son. We both felt awkward about it at first, but in the end, we agreed that it was a fair way to deal with the situation. I also didn’t want to put our friendship at risk.

 

Have you ever asked a neighbor or friend who works from home to take care of your children? If you work at home, do you sometimes find yourself looking after other people’s kids? What types of arrangements do you make to ensure you’re not being taken advantage of or imposing on someone else? 

The benefits of having siblings

Siblings who stay connected as they grow older not only support each other emotionally, studies show; they also help improve each other’s physical and mental health.

 

The benefits of having brothers and sisters are evident at even an earlier age, according to recent research from Brigham Young University. Ten- to 14-year-olds with a sister are less likely to feel lonely, self-conscious and fearful, the BYU study shows. It doesn’t matter if the sister is older or younger, according to a story in Science Daily, which provided some details about the study.

The research was conducted by BYU professor Laura Padilla-Walker, who teaches in the university’s School of Family Life. The study is part of BYU’s Fluorishing Families Project, which examines the importance of families to individuals and assesses how families deal with the daily and extraordinary stresses of life.

 

According to Padilla-Walker, having “a loving sibling” – brother or sister – also encouraged children to help others and take better care of themselves. “In fact,loving siblings fostered charitable attitudes more than loving parents did,” wrote Science Daily. “The relationship between sibling affection and good deeds was twice as strong as that between parenting and good deeds.”

Even though most siblings have a tendency to argue and fight, lessons are actually learned from all that squabbling. Another study from Ohio State University, which examined the behaviors of more than 20,000 children nationwide, found that kids who grew up with more or more siblings get along better with their peers in kindergarten. They’re also better at getting along with people who are different and show sensitivity to other’s feelings as a result of learning how to resolve conflict at home.

 

What are other benefits of having brothers and sisters? How about the benefits of having or being an only child?

The “friendly divorce” movement

Divorce continues to be a fact of life for many American families. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the world for the kids.


Of course it’s terrible when mom and dad can no longer live happily together in the same house. However, experts say that children can survive as long as their parents remain respectful to each other and behave in a civilized fashion.


More moms and dads are making the effort to co-parent and support their kids even though they’re no longer married to each other. According to this recent story originally published in The Arizona Republic, a growing number of couples are seeking ways to part amicably for the sake of their kids.

Reporter Karina Bland noted that they’re doing this by opting to go through mediation or collaboration – without having to step foot in court and also by trying their best to stay on respectful terms as they undergo the painful process of divorce. Then, after they’ve established their own lives and households, they continue fostering a partnership for the benefit of their children.


“This new kind of divorced mom and dad might attend parent-teacher conferences together, work jointly to get one kid to Little League and the other to piano lessons — even if it’s not technically their visitation day — and share calendars electronically so Dad can arrange to take the kids when mom’s out of town on business,” she wrote.

Earlier this year, I interviewed Diane Hornbogen, a psychotherapist who specializes in marriage and family issues at St. Joseph Family Center in Spokane. She also facilitates a class called “Parenting Children of Divorce.”

“The divorce doesn’t end the relationship,” she stressed. “They are co-parents for life.”

For those of you who are divorced with children: Is there really such a thing as a friendly divorce? What’s your relationship like with you ex-spouse? What can divorced parents do to reduce conflict and ensure that they create a supportive atmosphere for their children?

Teaching creativity

The cover of the July 19th Newsweek immediately caught my eye: America is suffering from a creativity crisis, according to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, authors of the bestselling book, “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children.” Children, particularly those in kindergarten through the sixth grade, are experiencing the most serious decline.

 

The authors defined “creativity” as the ability to produce something original and useful. It requires problem solving, focused attention and the ability to use both left and right hemispheres of the brain.

 

While the article describes in detail what schools can do to foster creativity, I was especially interested in the role of parents. Bronson and Merryman examined the work of two researchers who spent decades studying the childhoods of highly creative people. They found that these individuals grew up in households where “parents encouraged uniqueness, yet provided stability.” Their mothers and fathers were quick to respond to their children’s needs but they also encouraged them to be independent and acquire new skills.

 

“This resulted in a sort of adaptability: in times of anxiousness, clear rules could reduce chaos – yet when kids were bored, they could seek change, too,” the authors wrote. “In the space between anxiety and boredom was where creativity flourished.”

 

The highly creative adults that were part of the study also experienced hardship, which led them to become more flexible – a trait that encourages creativity.

 

Bronson and Merryman also dismissed the stereotype that creative children tend to be depressed or anxious. If they behave in such a way, they’re simply bored, they wrote.

 

“When creative children have a supportive teacher – someone tolerant of unconventional answers, occasional disruptions or detours of curiosity – they tend to excel. When they don’t, they tend to underperform…”

 

To nurture creativity, Bronson and Merryman offered several tips including:

 

-          reduce children’s screen time and encourage free play

-          improve cognition by getting at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise

-          allow children to follow their passions instead of giving “superficial exposure to many activities”

-          explore other cultures

-          learn the art of flexibility

 

What do you do at home to help your children become creative, problem-solving individuals?

Children benefit from childcare, studies show, but how much is too much?

Guilt.


Many parents who work outside the home know the feeling – especially during the toddler and preschool years.

 

Six months after my eldest child was born, I went back to work. Two to three days a week wasn’t too bad. In fact, the part-time schedule proved to be a blessing since it gave me a chance to earn some money, use my skills and establish balance in my life. When I had to start coming into the office 40 hours a week, however, everything changed. I was constantly torn between my job and family. I was wracked with guilt over the fact that someone else was taking care of my child. I had great childcare, but I still felt bad because my son spent most of his waking hours without me.

 

Most of us don’t have a choice. We have to work to pay the mortgage or rent, to buy groceries, to access healthcare and other needs. And no matter how emotional we feel about putting our children in childcare, there are some benefits – for the family as well as the child. According to a recent Reuters story, a long-running U.S. National Institutes of Health study has found that children who have high-quality childcare see academic benefits lasting into high school.


“High quality child care appears to provide a small boost to academic performance, perhaps by fostering the early acquisition of school readiness skills,” James Griffin of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development told Reuters.

The keyword, of course, is quality. Our children make gains only when they receive excellent care, which the NIH measured by how much time the provider spends interacting with the children, as well as warmth, support and cognitive stimulation. (Previous studies have shown that children who spend long hours in low-quality childcare settings are more likely to experience aggressiveness and peer conflicts.)

We were and continue to be lucky enough to have quality childcare for our children. But we also made some career and lifestyle changes that allowed me to spend more time with my kids.

As a result, they received the best of both worlds: time with their parents but also two to three full days each week at a wonderful children’s center where teachers nurtured their natural curiosity, love of the outdoors and other gifts. They also learned how to collaborate and coexist with other kids – a skill that they don’t necessarily acquire when they’re hanging out with me at home.

What do you think are the benefits of placing a child in a childcare setting? How many hours a week is ideal for your children and family?

Getting parents ready for college

Freshman orientation used to be just that – a chance for incoming students to learn about campus life and what to expect when they enter their first semester of higher education. Now, more colleges are hosting orientation sessions specifically for parents and families.

 

According to this recent AP story, “Empty Nest 101,” these events invite moms and dads to come to campus during the summer for two to three days to take part in tours, listen to speeches and participate in workshops on a variety of topics that include financial aid, campus safety and “letting go.” Some parents have the option of spending the night in a dorm and sample campus cuisine to get a feel of their children’s college life.

 

Northern Michigan University takes it a step further by playing recordings for parents of upperclassmen re-enacting their phone calls home during freshman year. In one phone call, the student is sad and homesick. In another, a girl tells her parents she’ll be spending Thanksgiving with her boyfriend. The recordings also included a call from a boy who tells his mom and dad that things aren’t going well and he’s in trouble for alcohol violations.


“You might think parents facing massive tuition bills would balk at more demands on their budget and time,” wrote AP reporter Beth J. Harpaz. “But many colleges report that well over half their freshmen have family in attendance at these events, and lots of parents think the orientations are the greatest thing since ‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting.’”

Many moms and dads are willing to take time off work and pay the airfare to attend parent orientation at their children’s colleges and universities. One university reported that these orientations have even been attended by grandparents and “as many as nine family members.” Knowing that their child is safe and getting the chance to see their new environment first-hand is worth the extra expense, according to some moms and dads.

 

Did you attend an orientation specifically for parents at your child’s college or university? What was the experience like and what did you learn?

Family-friendly Spokane

Now that I have two kids in tow, Spokane has become the ideal place to live.

In a mid-size community like ours, we have all the benefits of downtown and other big city amenities but at the same time, we’re still only minutes away from places such as Riverside State Park, the South Hill bluff, the new Fish Lake Trail and other areas where our entire family can hike, bike and enjoy the outdoors.

I’ve always told my friends in Seattle and Portland that Spokane is one of the Northwest’s best kept secrets, but apparently people from all over the country are finally discovering that, too. In the past decade, families from California, the East Coast and other areas have made Spokane their home. Many are astounded at the affordability and the quality of the schools. Others tell me they’re happy to find a community where strangers take the time to say “hello,” where neighbors support one another and where people seem to have a sense of place and history.

Every year, Parenting.com conducts surveys of parents from all over the country to come up with a top 10 list the editors call “Best Cities for Families.” They base their rankings on health, safety, education, economy and recreation. Among the top five this year are: Arlington, Va.; Austin, Texas; Madison, Wis.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Lexington, Ky.

They also thought highly of our fair city – which ranked seventh overall. Impressively enough, Spokane was ranked at the top in the schools category for being “education friendly” and for having highly quality schools. The editors also described Spokane as “a pristinely clean, friendly and very affordable city.”

Here are some other notable qualities that made Spokane stand out:

-          an average commute of 19.7 minutes

-          Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital and Shriners Hospital for Children

-          Parks, playgrounds and pools

-          Places to enjoy the outdoors including the Centennial Trail

-          Mobius Kids

-          The Radio Flyer wagon, the carousel and other kid-friendly features of Riverfront Park

Parents: What does your family love about Spokane? Do you agree that it’s a great place to raise families? If not, what needs to happen to make it better?

The Financial Cost of Having a Child

It costs more to rear a child than to buy a house in Spokane.

 According to the latest “Expenditures on Children” report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average expenditures on a child in a middle-income, husband-wife family is about $222,360 – that’s $57,000 more than Spokane’s median home price in 2009. This average also doesn’t include college tuition and other expenses for children older than 17.

The “Expenditures on Children” report, which was released this month, shows that the expense of rearing a child has increased about 22 percent (in 2009 dollars) since 1960, when the USDA first started providing estimates of child-rearing expenditures.

 Housing and food continue to be among the largest expenses, but health care expenditures doubled as a percentage in the last 29 years. The biggest change, is the cost of child care and education. In 1960, child care accounted for only 2 percent of total child-rearing expenditures but rose to 17 percent in 2009.

The amount families spent on their children also depended on their household income and the child’s age.

Families with a before-tax income of less than $56,670 spent about $8,330 to $9,450 each year on a child while those whose incomes were more than $98,000 spent as much as $19,360 to $23,180. Child-rearing expense patterns of single-parent households with a before-tax income less than $56,670 were 7 percent lower than those of husband-wife households in the same income group.

 “On average, households in the lowest income group spent 25 percent of their before-tax income on a child; those in the middle-income group, 16 percent; and those in the highest group, 12 percent,” according to the report.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to parents of teens, but the annual expenditures on children generally increased as the child got older. The annual expenses also were highest for families in the urban Northeast followed by families in the urban West and urban Midwest. Families in rural areas and the urban South had the lowest expenses.

The joy children bring to our lives, of course, is priceless, but it’s always interesting to check out these figures.

How much do you spend on your children each year? 

Quitting

It’s a message we often hear from others and also impart to our kids: If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

Giving up is just something we’re not supposed to do.

Sometimes, however, I wonder if some things are just not meant to be, no matter how hard we try. Is it possible that because of our determination to stick to something – a sport, a hobby, a job, perhaps a relationship – do we end up missing out on other opportunities?

How do we know when to keep our noses to the grindstone or when it’s appropriate to stop and try an alternative approach or perhaps something completely different?

Los Angeles Times staff writer Lisa Boone wrote about this dilemma in a column, “When is it OK to let kids be quitters?” She cited a 2005 statistic from the Citizenship Through Sports Alliance, which found in 2005 that 70 percent of youth stop playing sports by the time they’re 14.

Boone wrote about her 8-year-old son, Bob, who had begged to play tackle football. But the practices were too intense and the coaching less than stellar that just before the season ended, her son expressed his desire to leave the team.

So she interviewed several experts, including Billy Strean, professor at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation. Strean told her that kids often quit at a young age because sports have become too competitive and organized. Instead of focusing on fun and team-building, it’s all about winning, he said.

Moms, dads and other guardians need to ask themselves why they signed up their children for a particular activity in the first place. If that goal isn’t met, then perhaps it’s not worth sticking it out.

At the same time, parents need to stress the importance of commitment, other experts pointed out. It’s impossible to be good at everything or even be the best in just one sport or activity. Children shouldn’t expect that they will always come home with a medal or trophy.

In some cases, it’s the parents who put too much pressure on the child, Betsy Braun, author of the new book “You’re Not the Boss of Me: Brat Proofing Your 4 to 12 Year Old Child,” told the LA Times. Kids are asked to commit to a number of activities and sports at such a young age, she noted. Parents want to give them as many options as possible, but sometimes, this leads to too much pressure.

“Refining their skills does not speak to the joy and relaxation that makes us people,” Braun said. “It makes for a burned-out, deluded kid.”

Have you ever let your child quit a sport or activity? How do you teach your child the values if consistency and commitment while at the same time knowing when it’s healthier to stop and try something else?

The unique needs of firstborn children

They’re the kids who get the most attention, some studies show. Firstborns are likely to be natural leaders. They tend to be driven, assertive and task-oriented. They also have perfectionist tendencies and like to have thing their way. At least that’s what the literature on birth order theory states.

When it comes to parenting, we all know that one size doesn’t fit all. That’s also the case within families. Being fair and equal doesn’t necessarily mean treating each child the same, I’ve learned. Although my kids are still really young, I’ve noticed that I have a different relationship with each one since my son and daughter have distinct personalities, aspirations and needs.

Some experts say that birth order — plus the way parents treat their children as a result of their position in that order – explains some of these differences.

Firstborns have some very specific needs, according to several studies addressing the general characteristics of the eldest child. They tend to become “mini-adults” far before their years, according to this article on the website for Parents magazine. A USA Today article even described them as “CEO material” since they’re over-represented among entrepreneurs as well as American presidents and Rhodes Scholars.

Not every firstborn will match these stereotypes, of course. (That’s certainly not the case in my family or with my kids.) But if you subscribe to the birth order theory, here are some tips from several online parenting sources to help you nurture your eldest child’s gifts and deal with his or her personality quirks:

-          Let your child make her or his own decisions

-          Don’t expect your firstborn to be accountable for the younger kids

-          Encourage them to compromise and to see the big picture (since they have perfectionist tendencies and often want things their own way)

-          Praise your child with “We’re proud of you” instead of always focusing on the straight As, the home run during the baseball game, the stellar piano performance, etc.

-          Spend time with your eldest, especially if the younger siblings require more of your time since they’re less independent

What’s your first-born like? How about the rest of your children? Does birth order have anything to do with your kids’ personalities and how you raise them?

Competitive parenting

I don’t say it out loud but every once in a while, as I watch other families, I catch myself thinking, “Oh, I wouldn’t do it that way.”

I’ve also found myself on the other side, as the recipient of other people’s advice. “He’s too old to nurse,” my relatives often told me when my son was still breastfeeding at  age 2. “Put him in his own bed and let him cry it out,” they would tell me when I described how difficult it was to get him to sleep through the night.

Since then, I’ve been very careful about doling out advice to my friends. After all, what works for one family doesn’t always work for another.

In this USA Today article, “Why do mothers judge one another and their parenting?” reporter Liz Szabo writes about a problem called “competitive parenting” and why moms (and dads) sometimes undermine each other’s confidence during discussions about giving birth and raising kids.

Other parents are often the best source for recommendations on baby products, practices and all kinds of advice, but once in a while, they inadvertently put down other parenting styles, which can lead to hurt feelings.

“Being a mom can be scary and isolating, and we’re all insecure about the job we’re doing,” Andrea Moleski, a mom and blogger, told USA Today. “It’s rare that someone tells you you’re a good mom. That’s why we get so defensive. It confirms our worst fears.”

The judgments and competition begin even before the child is born. Some moms end up feeling bad about getting an epidural during the birth of the child. Then there’s the guilt that comes with the inability to breastfeed. Or the fact that cloth diapers became too much of a hassle. Or having to go back to work full-time. Moms can easily compile a long list of things to feel bad about.

“Parents who have researched and agonized over their choices — such as whether to use a pacifier, co-sleeper or baby sling — may feel a need to defend them,” Szabo writes. “Parents may wonder: If I’ve made the wrong choice, does that mean I’m endangering our children?”

Probably not at all. But in our insecurity and state of sleep deprivation, some of us can’t help but get a little touchy once in a while.

What do you do to offer support and helpful advice to other parents?

More conversations about race

One of the things that I love about the elementary school that my son attends is the diversity. As we checked out his kindergarten class photo this year, I was surprised – and also relieved – to see that one out of every four children in his class is a student of color. His school isn’t just racially diverse; every day he’s in the classroom with kids whose families speak other languages besides English and who come from all socio-economic backgrounds.

As a parent, this means a lot to me. Throughout all my years in school, including my years as a college undergraduate, I never had a teacher of color. Until recently, I never gave it a second thought, nor have I considered its implications. I was often the only student of color (or one of two or three) in predominantly white classrooms. We did have at least one thing in common: We were all comfortably middle-class. Fortunately, I often had teachers and professors who welcomed diversity and who did their best to be inclusive of all students, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or how much their parents made for a living.

I thought of the ethnic and socio-economic make-up of my son’s class while watching CNN’s special report, “Black or White: Kids on Race.” In the first report, a mom watches a video of her 5-year-old daughter who is asked to look at five cartoons of girls. They all look the same except the color of their skin.

When asked which girl was the smart child, the 5-year-old points to the light-skinned girl. The good child, she said, is also the white girl because “I think she looks like me.” From the girl’s perspective, the black child is the one who is mean and ugly because “she’s a lot darker.”

“Shocking to you?” CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien asked the child’s mom, who started to cry as she watched the video.

“I just think it’s because she’s not exposed,” said the mom, who lives in Georgia.

I felt so sad for this mom, but I bet she’s also grateful for such an eye-opening experience. According to CNN, white parents do not talk to their kids about race as much as black parents. The CNN report also quoted Po Bronson, author of NurtureShock, who noted that white parents “want to give their kids this sort of post-racial future when they’re very young and they’re under the wrong conclusion that their kids are colorblind. … It’s in the absence of messages of tolerance that they will naturally … develop these skin preferences.”

As a parent, I think we need to do more than just talk about race. I think our children need to be exposed to diversity as much as possible. But how do we do that? If I have to be honest with myself, our friends are just like us — families who are middle class and who often share the same values, experiences and even political preferences. That’s why I value the ethnic and socio-economic diversity of my son’s school — it’s a place to learn about life and the different people with whom we must coexist.

I know this is a hard topic to talk about, but what are your thoughts on all this? Does your family talk about race? How important is diversity when choosing a school or extracurricular program for your child?

Gearing up for summer

Brace yourselves, parents, grandparents and guardians. In roughly two weeks, your children will be out of school.

Are you ready for summer?

In the past, summer often caught us by surprise. We always had a list of things to do – from tending the vegetable garden, going camping, fixing up our century-old house, catching up with relatives and friends. But we often went about things in kind of a haphazard, last-minute way. I thought we were being spontaneous and carefree, but clearly, we suffered from procrastination and lack of organization.

 

For many families, summer often means precious time together. So to make the most of the vacation season, I’m beginning to think it pays to have some plans.

 

Here are some tips from several websites to help families stay organized while having fun:

 

-          Keep a family calendar posted in the kitchen or another high-traffic area to keep track of kids’ summer camps, activities and everyone’s schedules

-          Involve the whole family in making plans

-          Maintain a routine, even if it’s tempting to let the kids stay up late and sleep in

-          Have balls, bats and other sports gear ready in a convenient spot so that kids can easily head out the door to play

-          Pack a bag with snacks, water, sunscreen and other necessities so that you’re always ready to go for a hike, a bike ride or some kind of adventure

-          Collect rocks, shells and other items and get the craft supplies ready for rainy days

-          Make a list of all the activities and classes that you would like to do this summer – individually and also as a family

-          Make plans now with other families to go on a day or field trip, camping, share a meal and other activities instead of just talking about it all summer.

-          Create a “Fun Things to Do” jar by writing down activity ideas (ride the Carrousel downtown, go on a picnic, bake cookies, etc.) on pieces of paper and pulling one out each day or whenever someone gets bored

-          Make a list of all the books you and your children want to read this summer

 

What do you do to prepare your family for summer vacation?


Playing favorites and sibling rivalry

“I love you all equally.” At least, that’s what most parents tell their kids. But at some point in their life, children who have grown up with siblings will probably question whether or not that’s true.

As the black sheep in my family, I was definitely not the favorite. But now that I have children of my own, I really don’t want to create an environment in which my children feel like they have to compete for my time and affection.

It’s natural for mothers and fathers to have different relationships with each child, according to psychologists. But when a parent — especially the mother — prefers one child over the rest, it can be detrimental to the less-favored kids. It might even lead to low self-esteem and behavioral problems that affect them well into adulthood, acccording to this recent USA Today story, “Mom’s favoritism can affect kids, sibling rivalry as adults.”

 

The article noted that this was more often the case among American families since our culture is focused on the individual instead of being “communally oriented.” Favoritism also isn’t as prevalent in large families. Brenda O’Shea, a mother of 10 from Munster, Ind., told USA Today: “We try very consciously not to compare grades, abilities, talents, any of that sort of thing. We don’t encourage competition between the kids. We find they encourage each other.”

One way to prevent sibling rivalry is by explaining to children why some siblings might be treated differently and to talk to kids about their understanding of fairness, clinical psychologist Laurie Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggested in the article.

“Families don’t tend to talk about these issues. They don’t explain it and kids are left to their own imagination.”

Which then leads to: “I’m not as good as my sister,” or  “She likes my brother better than me.”

 

Another expert interviewed in the story also suggested that families need to mix it up a little bit so that one parent isn’t always with the same child.

What do you do at home to prevent sibling rivalry? Some children have more needs than others. It’s also natural to want to spend time with people who share your hobbies or whose temperament matches your own. So what do you do to show your children that you love them all equally?

Multigenerational households

During my childhood in the Philippines and then later in Seattle, I was lucky enough to live in the same house as other relatives. At one time or another, we had an aunt or uncle living with us. For a few years, we also lived in the same house as my grandparents. They helped my parents — who both worked full-time — by preparing meals and taking care of us. I have memories of my grandmother sewing the buttons and mending the hems of my school uniform. She was also constantly cooking in the kitchen and making sure all of us were well fed.

When I was in high school, I was a little embarrassed by the fact that we all lived together. I figured only recent immigrants like my family lived this way and that most Americans lived independently of their families and in-laws. Now that I have children of my own, I can fully understand the benefits of a multigenerational household.

According to this recent Parade Magazine story, “Happiness is a Full House,” more families are moving in together — for reasons that include love, convenience and the economy. The story uses statistics from a recent an AARP study: About 6.6 million U.S. households had at least three generations of family members in 2009 — an increase of 30 percent since the 2000 Census. Realtors are also recognizing a demand for homes that accommodate multiple generations.

The story also quotes Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University. “Parents and grandparents are like the National Guard—they’re called up to active duty when there’s a crisis,” he says. “But while families may be moving in together to save money, they’re discovering the advantages of shared child- and elder-care and an enriched family life.”

I’m really interested in pursuing a local story about this. Do you have other family members living in your house? What’s the key to finding harmony in these extended-family living arrangements?

Mentors in our community

The obituary caught my eye just as we headed out the door last week for America’s Kids Run. Frank Edward Petek, 59, was the guy at the starting line of the annual event who would share a joke, give kids a high five or calm their nerves with a few words of encouragement. I didn’t know him at all but I remembered him after covering numerous Junior Bloomsday/America’s Kids’ Run events while working as the Saturday reporter for The Spokesman.

My son, who’s 6, participated in the event for the first time this year. When he sprinted across the finish line and jogged back to us at the other end of Joe Albi Stadium, he was grinning from ear to ear. He was so proud to be part of this run.

As I watched my child along with dozens of other 6-year-olds make their way back into the stands to reunite with their parents, I immediately thought of Mr. Petek and the many other volunteers who have devoted so much time and energy to America’s Kids Run. Some of them don’t even have kids. Other volunteers have children who are now grown but they continue to show up — to support other people’s children and to help raise awareness of the importance of exercise and a healthy lifestyle. According to his obituary, Mr. Petek didn’t have children of his own. But one of his “greatest joys” was volunteering as an assistant coach for the North Central cross-country team.

“Whether it was the fastest runner or the 27th kid near the back of the pack, you could hear him yelling encouragement on the course,” according to the obituary. In 2006, the last time I covered America’s Kids’ Run, I remember Petek telling the kids to check their shoelaces at the starting line and to always try their best.

“We hope these kids adopt a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “We also want to provide them with an alternative to Nintendo.”

We’re lucky in Spokane to have had Mr. Petek and to be surrounded by many dedicated teachers, coaches and volunteers who help care for our kids. My son’s T-ball team, for instance, is coached by two 16-year-old girls from Ferris High School who simply want to share their love of baseball with children learning to play. Every day at school, he and other students are so fortunate to be surrounded by caring parents and grandparents,  friendly neighbors and other volunteers who believe in young people and the need to invest in their future. I know it’s a cliche, but it really does take a village.

How about you? Who are the people besides your own family who have made a difference in your child’s life?

Friends without kids

These days, my social life revolves around my children and their activities. The people I spend the most time with end up being other parents — usually mothers — who have preschoolers and kids in kindergarten or the first grade.

It wasn’t always this way, of course. There once was a time when my friendships had nothing to do with playdates, school or family dinners. Instead, they were based on work, common interests and hobbies, similar schedules that allowed us to gather regularly at a pub or a restaurant. Don’t get me wrong. Of course, I still have friends who share my interests. Butcoincidentally, or perhaps inevitably, they also have children who are roughly the same age as mine.

What happened to all my friends without kids? Some ended up getting pregnant and having kids, but those who didn’t no longer seem to be part of my everyday world.

This line from a recent Chicago Tribune story probably explains it best: “Kids can do a number on friendships — eating up the time previously reserved for lengthy phone calls, girls’ night out, basketball with the guys. When a circle of friends starts having kids around the same time, the pals tend to give each other a pass. But when one friend has kids and the other doesn’t, the dynamics of that friendship get trickier.”

The article points out that people with kids have completely different schedules compared to the child-free. For most parents, meeting for drinks after work is never an option when you have to rush home, make dinner, help with homework and catch up with the family. Exercise and regular workouts with your buddies also take a backseat, unless working parents and their friends are willing to get up at the crack of dawn or hit the gym after the kids go to bed. I also can’t help but think that I’ve become kind of boring to my old friends, who travel quite a bit and seem to have a lot more intrigue and excitement in their lives. 

In order to maintain friendships, it’s important for both parties — the parent and the individual without kids — to admit that their relationship has changed, but it doesn’t have to end.

The article quoted Irene S. Levine author of “Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend.” Levine advised to focus on things you still have in common and to to make time to cultivate your friendship.

“The life of a mother is so much in flux, but before you know it that baby will be in nursery school and then elementary school and you’ll have time you never dreamt you’d have,” Levine told the Tribune. “If you don’t nurture the friendships you had, you’ll find yourself bereft of friendships when you want them most.”

Parents: What do you do to nurture old friendships — particularly with people who don’t have children?

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This blog is intended to provide a forum for parents to share knowledge and resources. It's a place for parents young and old to combine their experiences raising families into a collective whole to help others.

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