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Are We There Yet?

Archive for November 2009

TV and day care

Some preschoolers in home-based daycares spend as many as two hours a day in front a television, according to a study that was the focus of an Associated Press article last week.

Seventy-percent of the home daycares and 36 percent of the centers acknowledged that they allow children to watch TV, DVDs and videos on a daily basis.

Babies and toddlers up to the age of 2 shouldn’t be watching any television, advised the American Academy of Pediatrics. Older children should have a daily limit of one to two hours.

The study, which surveyed 168 licensed child care programs in Michigan, Washington, Florida and Massachusetts, found that preschoolers in home-based day cares watch an average of 2.4 hours of TV. In comparison, those in centers spend about 24 minutes in front of the tube. The toddler average was 1.6 hours in home care and about 6 minutes in centers.

Instead of watching TV, children should spend their time being read to, playing outside, talking with other children and playing with blocks and other toys, advised Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle and a researcher at the University of Washington. Any time that a TV is on, kids don’t talk as much and are less likely to interact with adults.

What do you think? Is it OK for daycare centers to let children watch TV? How much television do your kids watch on a daily basis?

Financial Education

Students in Washington state aren’t required to take a personal finance class to graduate, but with the current economic crisis, more people want to make it a priority.

In response to an article I wrote this week for The Spokesman about financial literacy and children, Matt McAlvanah, press secretary for U.S. Senator Patty Murray, forwarded me some information about her efforts to make this happen.

The senator is currently leading the charge to pass major legislation that would help improve students’ and adults’ financial decision-making skills. Her website also includes information on financial and economic education.

Earlier this year, Murray along with two other senators introduced the Financial and Economic Literacy Improvement Act of 2009, which woud provide $250 million in grants annually to states to support teaching financial literacy in K-12 and two-and four-year colleges. 

Last year, Gov. Chris Gregoire also formed the Washington Financial Literacy Work Group to investigate ways to improve financial education throughout the state.

Only Utah, Missouri, and Tennessee require a one-semester course on financial literacy, while 18 states require personal finance be incorporated into other subject matter, according to this story from The Philadelphia Inquirer.

What do you think? Should financial literacy be part of basic education in Washington state? Should high school seniors be required to take a course on personal finance in order to graduate?

Homework Help

When your child is struggling with homework, what do you do?

All parents want to help, of course, but once in a while, it’s not unheard of for a mom or dad to give too much help. Instead of guiding their kids along, they end up putting words in their children’s mouths as they write an essay or give away the answers for the math homework due the next day.

Linda Cameron, a veteran teacher and professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, recently finished a major study on homework. In this article, published in Canada’s Globe and Mail, Cameron advised parents to “be at the elbow, but don’t hold the pen.”

Moms and dads should think of themselves as coaches providing support and the tools. And when a child simply can’t finish the homework, despite all the help and encouragement from his or her parents, it’s important for the parent to send a note to the teacher explaining why the task isn’t complete. It’s better than cheating by doing the homework for them, according to education experts.

“I wrote many notes to school, saying we spent this much time on it and enough’s enough, we need family time,” Cameron told the Globe and Mail.

The U.S. Department of Education publishes a guide called “Helping Your Child With Homework.” Here are some tips from the publication:

  • Set a regular time for homework — pick a place and remove distractions
  • Provide supplies and identify resources
  • Set a good example
  • Ask about the school’s homework policy
  • Be available
  • Look over completed assignments
  • Monitor time spent watching TV and playing video games
  • Help your child get organized
  • Encourage good study habits
  • Talk about the assignments
  • Watch for frustration and give praise 

How much homework does your child have to do each week? How much help do you provide?


Table Manners

I used to dread going to restaurants with my children. They could never sit still, even if I brought books and toys or paper and crayons. After five minutes, they would want to walk around or stand in the booth and bother the nearby diners. Inevitably, in the middle of a meal, one of them always had to go to the bathroom.

Now that they’re a little older, dining out is no longer quite as stressful as it used to be, but it’s still not easy for them to get through an entire meal without annoying others or making a huge mess. (That’s one of the reasons why I believe in generous tips.)

With Thanksgiving just a week away, I wonder if other families worry about their children’s behavior at the dinner table. A recent Washington Post article, “Mind Your Manners, Please,” emphasized the need for parents to teach etiquette to their kids. But does it work even with young children, especially when some holiday dinners last for more than hour?

In order to figure out how long your child can sit at the dinner table, multiply the child’s age by three, Jennifer Ricciardi, director of the Lifestyle Finishing School, told the Washington Post.

So my 6-year-old might last for about 18 minutes and my 3-year-old for half that time.

What do you do at your house to teach your kids proper etiquette? How do you encourage them to sit still and behave when sitting at the dinner table?

Food allergies and children

It’s become a common question when planning for family dinner parties, playdates or even when sharing snacks on the playground: Does your child have any allergies?

I always ask. At my daughter’s preschool, peanut butter isn’t allowed. Teachers also offer soy milk to the kids who are allergic to dairy.

Children with a peanut allergy can suffer from anaphylactic shock and die if they accidentally ingest peanut products, according to They not only have to be cautious around peanut products but also when they’re exposed to baked goods, candy bars, crackers and other foods and ingredients that are subject to cross-contamination.

According to a story this week in The Los Angeles Times, 4 percent of all kids in the United States have food allergies. An analysis of four national surveys also revealed that the number of children with food allergies is rapidly rising.

The cause of this increase is unclear although one theory suggests that children today live in an overly sanitized environment:

“A prominent theory is the hygiene hypothesis, which is based on the notion that today’s children are less exposed to germs and other disease-causing substances than were previous generations — preventing their immune systems from developing the same responses to protect against invaders,” according to the LA Times. “The immune system then overreacts to relatively harmless substances, causing allergies, eczema or asthma.”

Does your child have a food allergy? How do you ensure your child’s safety when he or she is at school, at a friend’s house or anywhere else you’re not? What can other families do during birthday parties or playdates in order to accommodate for children with allergies?

Stressed-out kids

With the economic downturn and the mounting pressures at school, kids are experiencing more stress these days than in the previous year, according to a new national survey released earlier this month by the American Psychological Association.

Parents, however, remain unaware of their children’s stress levels.

According to the APA, nearly half of teens ages 13 to 17 said they worried more this year but only 28 percent of parents acknowledged this increase.

“It’s clear that parents do not fully appreciate the impact that stress is having on their kids,” psychologist Katherine C. Nordal, APA’s executive director for professional practice, said in a press release. “What we’re seeing with stress is in line with existing research about parents’ perception of their kids’ engagement in risky behaviors. Parents often under report drug use, depression and sexual activity in their children. Now it appears the same may be true for stress.”

Children said the sources of their stress include their family’s financial difficultie and the pressure of performing well in school. The kids also reported they experienced headaches, changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping and other physical symptoms associated with stress.

I wonder if the parents themselves are under so much pressure that they don’t have the time to even consider that their own children are suffering from stress.

What’s the stress level like at your home these days? How has it affected your children? Can you recommend any ways to teach children how to cope with the pressures of their day-to-day lives? What can families do to eliminate stress?

“Parents More Comfortable Talking Drugs Than Math or Science”

I love math. Really, I do. I think there’s something comforting about the exactness of numbers and the way certain patterns are predictable.

I also love science and teaching my kids about the natural world. That’s why I was a little dismayed to see this Intel survey, which noted how parents feel more equipped to talk about drug abuse with their children than teaching them math and science.

“The survey found that although more than 50 percent of parents rank math or science as the subjects most critical to their children’s future success, they report discomfort talking to their children about these subjects. In fact, nearly a quarter of parents who admit to being less involved in their child’s math and science education than they would like say that a key barrier is their own lack of understanding of these subjects.”

My kids are really little right now so teaching math and science concepts at home seems pretty easy compared to the challenges that confront parents of middle school and high school students.

Do you like math and science? Are you able to help your kids with their homework? What do you do to brush up on your own knowledge of these two subjects?


Learning and teaching math to kids

Laurie Rogers, one of the original members of The Spokesman-Review’s Parents’ Council, requested that we post this information on the blog:

“Spokane Public Schools is undergoing a high school mathematics curriculum adoption process. District administrators have been intentional about inviting public comment before formal decisions are made. Two public forums are scheduled:

Nov. 10, North Central High School, 6-7 p.m.

Nov. 12, Lewis and Clark High School, 6-7 p.m.

 Please consider participating in these meetings - either by offering comment yourself or by notifying your students about these meetings. It could be helpful to the process, for example, if college students and graduates were to reflect back on their high school mathematics classes. Did they get the math they needed for a successful college experience? Did they require remediation in mathematics during K-12 or after they graduated? These reflections would help inform the selection process.

Parents can offer their thoughts on what they want from a high school mathematics curriculum, and also how they prefer this material be presented and taught. They’re welcome to bring their middle school and high school students. No doubt the students have experiences and preferences they would like to share with the committee.

Additionally, business owners and tradespeople can discuss the skills they require from students who complete the school district’s mathematics curriculum.

 Nov. 10 and Nov. 12 are your opportunity to be heard. Because each forum is just one hour long, it will be helpful to bring your comments in writing, just in case there isn’t enough time for everyone. If you cannot make it to the meeting, please feel free to submit any comments in writing to the school district or to members of the school board.

Thank you very much for whatever you can do to help inform the selection process.

Laurie Rogers

Team parenting

At my house, my husband is the fun guy – the dad who lets the kids climb trees, take risks and get a little wild. I’m the nurturer, I’d like to think, but I know my son thinks I’m a little uptight compared to his dad. I like schedules and routine so my husband’s creativity and penchant for risk-taking can sometimes clash with my desire for order and discipline.

Since we’re so different when it comes to child-rearing, we sometimes don’t present a united front to our children. It’s not a huge problem, but it’s something we’re becoming more aware of.

“When the parental unit in a household is weakened due to conflict, it can have a major impact on the children’s sense of confidence and safety,” psychologist Michelle Borba told the Associated Press in a recent story, “What Happens When Parents Clash Over the Kids?” “One minute parents are letting kids have free reign, and the next they are cracking down and afraid to let go. Not only are the mixed signals confusing and frustrating for kids, when the problems end up resurfacing down the road, so do the arguments with your spouse.”

The article noted how parents are feeling more stress than ever, which can exacerbate their differences and lead to conflict. Over time, the friction can take its toll, according to Borba.

Your kids will lose confidence — in you: Conflict leads to loss of confidence and feelings of safety in children, making it more difficult to discipline them but also “harder for parents to soothe a child who is upset or worried,” she says.

Feelings of powerlessness: Parents who feel unsupported by a spouse experience a dramatic drop in the ability to solve problems, search for solutions and communicate effectively — in parenting and in their marriages, Borba says.

Harmful alliances between parent and child: Taking a child’s “side” when two spouses disagree instead of presenting a united front is a protective instinct, she says. “Don’t do it. Doing so not only undermines the authority of the `opposing’ parent, it sets up a dynamic that encourages kids to play you and your spouse against one another in the future.”

Do you and your spouse or partner have similar or different parenting styles? What do you do in order to function as a team?

Pregnancy and work

When a friend of mine found out that she was pregnant, she wanted to tell everyone –friends, family, even strangers on the street. But despite all her excitement, she decided to wait a little while before sharing the news at work.

She knew that her co-workers would certainly be happy for her, but she also worried about the effects of pregnancy on her stamina, taking maternity leave and talking to her boss about her pregnancy.

In this article from DiversityInc., writer Lizz Carroll interviewed several women about this issue and came up a list of do’s and don’ts.

  • Wait until past your first trimester. When you break the news to your boss, be prepared by bringing a plan that includes a timeline, a list of upcoming projects and how co-workers will manage while you are on maternity leave.
  • Remind your co-workers that you are still committed to your job. “A lot of people immediately jump to, ‘Oh she’s pregnant, now we’re going to have to pick up the brunt of her work.’” Jennifer Williamson, vice president of internal communications for Sodexo told DiversityInc. “I think it’s important that you realize that you need to continue to be responsible for your commitments, your deadlines.”
  • Plan to take more leave time than you think you’ll need. It’s easier to come back early than to stay away longer.
  • After maternity leave, come back to work in the middle of the week. Also, prepare for the day by doing a dry run.
  • Figure out whether or not your workplace has a lactation room. If not, make arrangements to have a private room to express milk several times a day.

This piece of advice wasn’t in the article but I think it’s very important: Find childcare now while you’re still pregnant. Don’t wait until the baby is born or even later when you’re heading back to work. Visit as many places as you can and educate yourself about the kind of care you want and can afford.

I also found it really helpful to slowly ease back into work. When my eldest was born six years ago, my employer at the time was very flexible. After a six-month leave, I returned to work only two days a week. I did that for about six weeks and then added two more days for the next few months. I waited until my son was about a year old before I started working full-time again. This arrangement was such a blessing to my family – it helped with the transition, our family’s new schedule as well as with breastfeeding.

What advice do you have for women who are pregnant at work or returning to work after maternity leave?

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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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