Sleep and the Lawnmower Parent

In Lawnmower Parents Don’t Hover, They Mow, we described the way that lawnmower parents run interference during daytime, removing obstacles and challenges from a child’s path. But lawnmower parents are also active at night, which can turn their children into poor sleepers!  Here are some of the ways that lawnmower parenting might be a problem at bedtime.

Three Basic Bedtime Mistakes

Lawnmower parents tend to make three basic mistakes at bedtime:

  1. Lawnmower parents attempt to turn the child’s bedroom into a perfect sleep environment. They do this by adding sound machines that play the sounds of relaxing ocean waves or rainfall to a child’s bedside table; or they set up essential oil diffusers to waft the scent of lavender through the night air. They might install special light bulbs in their child’s room that block the “blue light” part of the spectrum and cast only a warm, amber glow. Some parents add starlight projectors that make constellations dance on the bedroom ceiling.

Perhaps they play meditation tapes or soothing music as their little ones are drifting off. Some leave the television or a video on each night and turn these off later on, once the child is asleep. They might even try to block every sliver of light from entering the bedroom or install blackout curtains on the windows. Lawnmower parents add all of these things because they think that the bedroom will then be very conducive to sleep. They add them with the hope that their child will then be a wonderful sleeper.

Too Many Sleep Aids

While there is not much of an issue with adding one or two of these items to a child’s bedroom, adding too many of them can definitely lead to sleep problems. A child can become accustomed to having these “sleep aids” available every night, and this can make it hard for a child to sleep anywhere else, without them. It’s almost like building the perfect greenhouse for a special flower. The flower may flourish in that greenhouse, but may do poorly anywhere else.

If their child goes to her best friend’s home for a sleepover, her friend’s home will almost never have these things (and will certainly not have all of them). And, if the child goes to Nana’s house for the weekend, her house almost surely won’t have these items. Summer camp won’t, either. Even luxurious hotels won’t have all of these niceties, so lawnmower parents may find themselves trying to pack up all of these items to bring along on family trips. Most parents, once they consider these drawbacks and inconveniences, would agree that it’s best to help a child learn to sleep in a simple, basic bedroom.

Simple Basic Bedroom

What is in the simple, basic bedroom? Bedrooms should have no electronics at all and this includes TVs, video game players, tablets, and cell phones. If parents are unwilling to remove these completely, they should at least remove remote controls, game controllers and DVDs at bedtime. And from the time a child is first given a cell phone, it is wise to have a “house rule” that this is left to charge overnight somewhere outside of the bedroom.

Bedrooms should have a night light along with a reading light somewhere near the bed along with a basket with some books, drawing pads, and coloring books for older children who need a few minutes to relax and get drowsy enough to fall asleep.

2. Lawnmower parents often stay nearby at bedtime to help their children relax into sleep. Once this job is done, and the children are asleep, parents usually leave the child’s bedroom to finish up their own evening activities or to go to bed themselves. All children, however, wake several times a night and, when they awaken and find their parents “missing,” may need to “find” the parent again in order to get back to sleep.

Even children who co-sleep with a parent might awaken if the parent moves a little “too far away” during the night! The practice of being nearby when a child falls asleep can also lead to bedtime routines that last a long time because children will stay on guard at bedtime to make sure their parents don’t leave before they, the children, are deeply asleep. This can also lead to more frequent nighttime awakenings which require parental help to get the child back to sleep.

lawnmower parents take their children into bed to sleep with them

Lawnmower parents who have fallen into this pattern may want to gradually taper off their presence in the child’s bedroom at bedtime, perhaps by sitting in the doorway and reading until the child is asleep rather than lying in bed with the child. Once the child can fall asleep easily with a parent in the doorway, the parent can usually leave the room entirely at the end of the bedtime routine.

3. Lawnmower parents often respond to all of the child’s extra requests even after the bedtime routine is meant to be over. They do this with the hope that, once the child has everything he or she requests (another cup of warm milk, a different stuffed animal, a special blanket tuck, just one more backrub), he or she will finally fall asleep. This is, however, almost never the case. In reality, of course, responding to all of these callbacks night after night at bedtime actually encourages more and more such requests. Parents end up rewarding the child (unintentionally, of course) for staying awake!

Other children may make “curtain calls,” leaving the bedroom after the bedtime routine is over, suddenly appearing once more before their parents, who may inadvertently reward this behavior, too, by letting children curl up with them on the sofa until they “get sleepy.” This, again, usually leads to extended bedtime routines that can take an hour or two to run to completion.

Getting Kids to Sleep

Bedtime tickets are a quick and easy way to manage the callbacks and curtain calls that most kids like to make after the bedtime routine is over. A bedtime tickets is a small card good for one more callback or curtain call. Parents can make simple bedtime tickets by decorating index cards with their child during the day.

Parents should also ensure that the bedtime routine addresses all of the child’s usual needs: a final bathroom trip; a cup of water on the bedside table; a favorite stuffed animal retrieved from behind the sofa and brought back to the bed. The bedtime routine can be concluded with some cozy reading time followed by a final hug and kiss.

Once the bedtime routine is over, parents can give the child one or two bedtime tickets along with a reminder that the child can trade one ticket each for any further requests occurring after lights out. These callback requests should take only a minute or two to grant (in other words, bedtime tickets can’t be redeemed to hear another bedtime story or, as one child requested, to order a pizza!). If the child calls the parents back to the bedroom, the parent should ask for a ticket and quickly grant the request.

Curtain Calls

If the child makes a curtain call outside the bedroom, the parent should ask to see one bedtime ticket and then walk the child back to the bedroom for another tuck into bed. If the child makes more than two curtain calls, the child should be walked back to the door of the bedroom only and once there, should be asked to get back into bed on his or her own steam.

To make sure that the child doesn’t hold onto the bedtime tickets for an hour or more and only then make a request, parents should explain that the tickets expire within ten minutes and unused ones can be traded for a small reward in the morning.

In summary, most parents (even lawnmower parents!) want their children to be great sleepers. They want them to sleep well wherever they are so they can participate in all of the fun, age-appropriate activities that come their child’s way. That would include, for example, summer camp, sleepovers, and school trips.

Lawnmower parents, like all parents, mean well. it’s simply a case of doing the wrong things with the right intentions. All parents want their children to fall asleep quickly and independently at bedtime, and stay in bed all night long. Which is why it’s a good idea to take a step back and consider: how much  “help” is too much, when it comes to a child’s bedtime routine.

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Lawnmower Parents Don’t Hover They Mow

Lawnmower parents, as a concept, is so new, that when querying experts for this article, one respondent asked, “Do you mean a helicopter parent?”

No. We did not. Helicopters hover. Lawnmowers mow. Hence the difference.

Lawnmower Parents Hamper Independence

Helicopter parents are never out of the picture. They hover over children so they are always in sight, always there to offer support. The helicopter parent hampers a child’s development by shadowing him and preventing his independence.

Lawnmower parents are actually worse. They remove all obstacles from a child’s path. Here is a kid who will never have to experience or deal with anything unpleasant or difficult. When you’re the child of lawnmower parents, it’s all smooth sailing. (And dare we say it, boring.)

Lawnmower Parents=Curling Parents

Kathy Fray, author of OH GROW UP … Toddlers to PreTeens Decoded, explains that while the term “lawnmower parents” is relatively new, the concept is not. “The old term was ‘curling parents’—taken from the Scandinavian sport of throwing the curling-stone to slide across the ice, and the parents running ahead of it with their broom to clear its way smoothly across the ice. But the term ‘lawnmower parenting’ is easier for the majority to understand,” says Fray.

Is this really so bad?

The answer is yes. It is bad. It’s a crippling experience to be the child of a lawnmower parent. The child of lawnmower parents arrives at adulthood with no clue how to handle the inconveniences and difficulties of everyday life. His mom or dad always did it for him.

Finagled Friendships

A child of lawnmower parents, once grown, is completely unprepared to write a check, earn a living, or navigate a highway, or develop intimacy. Intimacy?? He’s never had to work at relationships. Lawnmower parents arranged his playdates, and wangled invites to the important parties so he never felt left out.

The children of lawnmower parents are afforded no opportunities to develop social skills. Should there be a spat at the playground, lawnmower parents are there to swoop in and waft the child away to a calmer, less-challenging environment. How then, can a child learn to work things out with others when there is conflict? How can he or she grow to adulthood and have meaningful relationships?

Lawnmower parents don’t believe in leaving kids to face challenges. Kid doesn’t feel like going to school? Lawnmower parents will let him stay home and write a sick note. Kid calls you because he doesn’t like the lunch being served that day in the school cafeteria? Lawnmower parents rush over from meetings with important clients to bring the child takeout from his favorite burger joint. Kid, on the spur of the moment, doesn’t feel like going to her piano lesson? Lawnmower parents call the piano teacher and cancel on her behalf.

No School of Hard Knocks

The thing about being the child of lawnmower parents is that you never learn the things you need to know. There is no school of hard knocks. No way to understand life if you haven’t ever grappled with its ups and downs, its unpredictable nature.

All parents, lawnmower parents included, take measures to protect their children from danger. We childproof our homes and plug up electric outlets. We pad sharp corners and furnish our homes with an eye to safety for our children. We breastfeed to protect them from allergies and strap them firmly into car seats.

These are sensible measures. Our children are not Mowgli, left in the wild to his own devices. But parenting isn’t only about protecting children from danger, disease, and death. Parenting is also meant to nurture children, and foster their development. And we need to be realistic: if children never get a booboo, never confront pain or injury, they won’t learn how to keep safe. If children never touch something hot, they won’t come to understand the danger that fire represents.

By the same token, if you bring that burger to school instead of forcing your child to manage, he won’t have to adapt. He won’t learn to make the best of things and eat the fruit, if not the sandwich, drink the milk, and ignore the gloppy stew congealing on the tray.

Robbing Children of Opportunities

If you call and cancel your child’s piano lesson, you’re robbing your child of an opportunity to take responsibility for her actions. You haven’t taught her that a piano teacher’s livelihood involves the student’s commitment to showing up at the appointed hour for lessons. You’re making your child selfish, and turning her into a helpless infant, besides.

“The problem with lawnmower parenting is that it takes away opportunities for children to learn coping skills, dealing with differences, problem solving, and how to be resilient in response to difficult situations and, yes, even failure,” says Developmental Psychologist Stephen Glicksman, Ph.D., an adjunct professor of psychology at Yeshiva University and director of clinical innovation at Makor Disability Services. “Think about every hero, real or fictional, that you have ever heard or read about, and then imagine what that hero’s life would have been had someone removed every obstacle in their way; you probably never would have heard of them.

“Every parent wants, and should, try to protect their children from danger, but when protecting from danger shifts to protecting from any feeling of discomfort, challenge, or uncertainty, that’s when problems can arise. And, if you are very demonstrative in your lawnmower parenting and present the world to your child as one in which there are numerous obstacles and dangers to be avoided at every turn, you could even be sowing the seeds for an anxiety disorder,” says Glicksman.

What if some of this sounds familiar to you? Are you concerned you’re a lawnmower parent and hampering your child’s development? Be assured that it’s natural for parents to be protective. We probably all have a little bit of lawnmower parent in us, at heart. We have all been the parent who takes the cop out and makes things easy for our children to make things easier for us. Especially when we’re tired or stressed.

Rising to Challenges

What we need to remember as parents is that a challenge doesn’t have to be a bad thing. One can rise to a challenge. So don’t clear that challenge from your child’s path. Instead, be bold, and give your child a chance to rise.

As you let your child meet life’s challenges, ask yourself:

  • Is this something my child can do on her own?
  • What lesson might my child learn from handling this situation on her own?
  • How can I encourage my child to be independent in this matter?
  • What is the worst that can happen if I let my child handle this?
  • What will happen if my child fails?
  • How can I support my child without taking over?

The lawnmower parent asks, “How can I make things easier for my child?”

If instead you ask, “How can I help my child grow?” you’re more than halfway to healthy parenting and the most terrific, resilient kids.

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Getting Silly With Kids has Proven Benefits

A recent study suggests that parents just getting silly with their kids can prevent problem behaviors like ADHD and aggression. Children, as it turns out, love it when their parents get silly with them. That could mean anything from using funny voices for characters in a storybook, or tapping the child’s nose when reading the word “nose.” And it seems that the benefits of getting silly with kids aren’t exclusive to story time. Any time you are playful with your children, you’re helping to shape their social and emotional development and behavior in a most positive way.

The study, Reading Aloud, Play and Social-Emotional Development (Pediatrics, February 2018), offered a special invention called the Video Interaction Project (VIP) to 225 families with children aged newborn to five years. In the VIP intervention, a program dating back to 1998, a parenting coach spends time with parents discussing their developmental goals for their children during a regular visit to the pediatrician. Parents are given age-appropriate educational toys and books to take home for their children. Then parents are directed to read to and play with their children and the session is captured on videotape. The parenting coach then has the parents watch the videotape, pointing out how children respond to the different thing parents do as they spend time with their children.

“They get to see themselves on videotape and it can be very eye-opening how their child reacts to them when they do different things,” said Adriana Weisleder, a co-author of the study, speaking to the New York Times. “We try to highlight the positive things in that interaction—maybe they feel a little silly, and then we show them on the tape how much their kid loves it when they do these things, how fun it is—it can be very motivating,” concludes Weisleider, who serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northwestern University.

Mother reads to two laughing girls
Getting silly during story time is a good thing.

As it turns out, the Video Interaction Project had already proven its worth before this most study took place. An earlier study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that 3-year-olds who had received the intervention had better behavior than those in the control group. They were far less likely to be hyperactive or aggressive than the children who received no intervention at all.

What the new study did was look at those same children a year and a half later, as the children neared the age of school entry. Were those early improvements in behavior still there? Did it really make that much of a difference in a child’s behavior when the playfulness of a parent/child interaction was pointed out to parents? The answer turns out to be yes, absolutely. The children whose families took part in those early interventions had better behavior. They didn’t have attention difficulties, weren’t hyperactive, showed less aggression. And these are the behaviors that can get in the way of a schoolchild’s learning.

The new study also had older children (3-5 years) receive a second intervention. The positive benefits of intervention were all the stronger for the extra “dose” the children received. After all, the intervention pushes positive parenting and the more of that, the better. Fact.

Little Girl touches smiling mothers nose as mom reads storybook
Getting silly during story time is as easy as letting your child “honk” the horn during story time. Your nose, of course, is the horn.

This is important because the children who take part in the VIP intervention are from low-income families. These children are at greater risk for ADHD and other behavior problems. Children who come to school with behavior issues are less likely to do well in school and get ahead.

What parents should learn from all this is that even if you have no money to spend on clothes for your children or fancy private schools, you can read to, play with, and get silly with your child and it will have a huge positive impact on your child’s emotional and social development, and his or her academic success, too. Dr. Weisleder explains that when parents read to and play with their children, they confront challenges that are outside their everyday experiences. Adults can help children think about how they can deal with these situations.

It could be simpler than that, of course. Getting silly with your kids means bonding with them, having a good time together. “Maybe engaging in more reading and play both directly reduces kids’ behavior problems because they’re happier and also makes parents enjoy their child more and view that relationship more positively,” says Weisleder.

Mother Reads to Daughter in tent with both holding flashlights and smiling
Getting silly can be all about location, location, location. Plus flashlights.

10 Suggestions for Getting Silly

We absolutely agree. And maybe we don’t need to analyze this so closely, but make sure instead to spend lots of time both reading to our children and getting silly with them. To that end, we offer 10 suggestions for getting silly with your kids (feel free to add to our list!):

  1. Hand-washing Fun. Sing “Happy Birthday” twice every time your child washes her hands (you too!). This is the amount of time needed to rinse off those germs with hot sudsy water. But a song makes washing fun and there’s just something ridiculous about singing happy birthday out of context.
  2. Dance Out Your Emotions. Put on some music and dance it out together with your child! Or call out emotions like “Happy” or “Sad” to your child and have her dance the different feelings as you name them.
  3. Tell A Silly Story Together. Take turns telling a story, breaking off at random with one of you taking up the narrative where the other leaves off (and so forth).
  4. Have a water balloon fight! Fill a bucket with tiny water balloons (water bombs). Then go to the nearest sports field and have at it. See who can throw the farthest. Getting wet is all part of the fun.
  5. Turn Getting Dressed Into a Game. For a toddler who hates getting dressed, turn it into a game. “Here comes the Zipper Monster” you can say as you pull up that zipper and make your child squeal with happy surprise. Or tease, “Where’s your head? Where are your arms?? Oh my, I can’t find them at all!” as you pull your child’s sweater over her head and arms.
  6. Use Funny Voices During Story Time. Use different voices for the characters (including animal characters!) in your child’s bedtime story to make the story come alive for her.
  7. Make a Silly Shadow Show. After you turn out the overhead lights leaving only the night light, make an awesome animal shadow show with your child on her bedroom wall. Make those shadows talk to each other, bump into each other, and fake yell at each other.
  1. Compose a Silly Family Symphony. At the dinner table, nod at each member of the family to add a phrase of made-up music or percussion. As each person joins in, you’ll have a crazy music round that sounds like a broken symphony! Keep it going until you all crack up laughing, then begin again, with new sounds and melodies.
  2. Speak Pig Latin. Teach your child Pig Latin and then have an entire conversation in that language!
  3. Make Silly Orange Wedge Smiles. Cut an orange into wedges. Eat the fruit, leaving the rind intact. Put the peels in your mouths over your closed teeth. Orange you glad you smiled? For a variation on this theme, top fingers with raspberry “caps” for instant “manicures.”Man getting silly with orange wedge smile

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Getting Kids Used to a Stepmother

Getting kids used to a stepmother is the kind of thing people dread—and with good reason. Whether the new stepmother comes into the picture after divorce or death, she’s seen by the children as a usurper: someone who stole the real mom’s place. Someone who sleeps with their dad. Even if a child has longed for a new mom, it’s awkward letting this new person into your everyday life with all its small intimacies. This situation requires major adjustment.

Mothers are sacrosanct, irreplaceable. And you’d be surprised at the strength of a child’s loyalty and rebellion against any attempts to offer a substitute. Even where the child maintains a good relationship with the biological mom, there’s bound to be a defensive reaction against a stepmother’s attempts to fit in.

Stepmother as Cool Aunt

When she became a stepmother, Jessica Thompson of California adopted a mantra that served her well: Don’t try to be Mom. Thompson found it was better to think of the stepmother to stepchild relationship as “different.” “The child may want to relate to you as a mother, but not necessarily. Do not force the issue, or take it personally if she never embraces you as a mother. You don’t have the same standing as a mother, so don’t try to discipline as if you are one,” says Thompson, who suggests the natural, biological parent take the lead when it comes to the difficult area of rules and discipline.

“Sometimes stepmoms get the awesome deal of being the ‘fun,’ ‘cool,’ or neutral parent. Aiming for a ‘cool aunt’ type of relationship is a good initial goal. I quickly became the confidante, and a safe place for my stepdaughter to voice frustrations when things got challenging with dad, or at school, and that was a really rewarding relationship. You can be a neutral escape valve and voice of reason, as well as be the one to take the lead in fun activities,” says Thompson.

Age Matters

Parenting Coach Dr. Richard Horowitz, feels that adapting to a stepmom depends, to a large measure, on the age of the child as well as the child’s relationship with the biological mom. “If the biological mother is not part of the child’s life and the child is fairly young (not yet preteen) the stepmother can assume the full role as a mother (nurturing, discipline, etc.). The older the child and the presence of a biological mom makes the situation more challenging. In this case the stepmom along with the biological father must discuss with the child what the stepmom’s role will be and what expectations there are for both parties. This is especially crucial in setting household rules and in determining when stepmom will have standing in regards to rule-setting and enforcement,” says Horowitz.

Have the Talk

Psychologist Wyatt Fisher says that if at all possible, there should be a discussion with the child before the stepmom assumes her new role. This helps prepare the child and lessens the shock of receiving a “new” parent. Once the stepmother comes into the picture, Fisher offers four tips to new stepmoms:

  1. Go slow. Wait until the child warms up to you rather than force the relationship.
  2. Be inviting. Greet the children with smiles and warmth.
  3. Encourage father/child time. It’s important to encourage your husband to spend lots of quality time with the children so they don’t see you as taking their father from them.
  4. Be respectful. Always speak with respect when referring to the child’s biological mom.

Rosalind Sedacca CCT, founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network and author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? agrees with Fisher that adapting to a stepmother is a slow process. Sedacca offers the following six tips for making the transition as smooth as possible:

  1. Introduce children to a potential stepmom very slowly so they have a chance to get acquainted and develop a caring relationship.
  2. Never insist that a stepmom is a replacement for their own mom. Children will be more resistant if a stepparent is imposed upon them or their biological mom is removed from their life.
  3. Stepmoms should never be the disciplinarian to the children. Give Dad that responsibility.
  4. Stepmoms need to earn the trust and respect of the kids which is a gradual process. Dad can be very helpful with this process.
  5. Talk to your kids, listen to what they say, validate their right to feel the way they feel. Don’t make them feel bad or wrong if they are having trouble accepting their new stepmom.
  6. Seek out the support of a family therapist or coach experienced in working with step family dynamics.

In the case of divorce, the main issue with getting used to a stepmother is the fact that “every child wants, wishes, and longs for their mothers and fathers to stay together,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author, The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors and CBS TV. “The breakup of the family unit is traumatic—even in the most amicable divorce.

“Kids have a range of feelings that can change at any given moment. Emotionally, children feel sad (about the loss of the exiting parent); angry (‘Why my family?’); worried (about logistics including where will ‘I’ sleep?;  who will take me/pick up from school?; will I still see both sets of grandparents?; and on and on). Behaviorally, you may see your child’s academic grades drop. You may observe her sad (not smiling) or angry, resisting, opposing, or defying you and your rules and expectations,” says Walfish.

Permission to Feel

“As her stepmom, you need to give her permission to have powerful emotions about the huge disruption in her life. Encourage the open direct expression of these feelings,” adds Walfish, cautioning, “Stepmoms, don’t be afraid of her anger. The more comfortable you become with her verbalizing her anger the more validated and accepted she will feel—flaws and all.”

Walfish treats many kids from separated and divorced families and like Sedacca, suggests that counseling can make a difference. “Sometimes, it helps your child to talk to someone outside of Mom, Stepmom, and Dad, like a teacher, counselor, or therapist. Kids may feel worried and guilty about hurting their parents’ feelings. Talk with your child about whom he can go to for comfort and support. Ask him to name people for instance, Grandma, Aunt Susie, Uncle Bob, teacher, or best friend.”

Children are going to have strong feelings as the stepmother enters the scene. “Offer karate, dance, singing, art, or gymnastics classes as a physical outlet for expelling strong feelings,” says Walfish, who says the most important thing is to grant kids permission to love and respect both biological parents. “She is half her real mom and half her real dad.

“If she hears you or her biological mom put her father down it is putting down a part of her. If her biological father makes derogatory remarks about her biological mother tell your stepchild that divorce is a grown-up matter and sometimes moms and dads are mad at each other, but it is not the kids’ fault or responsibility to fix things.”

Blending the Family “Soup”

Parenting Expert Donna Bozzo suggests that finding ways to include children in the process of blending the family is the way toward acceptance of a new stepmom. “Include the kids in the wedding ceremony. Instead of a bride and groom cake topper, how about a full-family cake topper, with kids in tow?” says Bozzo, who suggests that families find fun ways to make things work going forward.

“Think of your new blended family as a kind of soup where different members of the family add their own favorite ingredients to the pot. Like peanut butter and jelly sometimes the sum of two (or more) parts, is greater than the whole,” says Bozzo.

Taking Your Child to the ER

Taking your child to the ER can be a nerve-wracking experience. It’s hard to be rational and calm when your child is injured or experiencing frightening symptoms. The first thing to think about is which emergency room to choose. If you live in a city with a choice of emergency rooms, pick an ER you know to be child-friendly. Or call the doctor’s office for advice on the best ER for your child.

The ideal time to study up on the right ER for your child is actually before there is an emergency. Ask friends about their children’s ER experiences to get recommendations. At your child’s regular check-up ask your child’s pediatrician for advice on the most child-friendly, area ER.

Another way to prepare in advance for emergencies is for parents to keep and maintain a notebook with all the child’s health information. In the notebook, you can list all past and present illnesses, vaccinations, allergies, current medications, and the time of your child’s most recent dose of medicine. These are things the ER staff will want to know. Keep the notebook in your bag so you never lose it and will always have it close at hand, even (and especially) when you’re running out the door to the emergency room.

By the same token, always keep your child’s health-insurance card or information in the same space in your wallet. That way you’ll never have to waste precious time searching for the card during an emergency. It will be one less thing to think about.

Not sure whether your child should go to the ER at all? It could be a call to the doctor can help you decide. For more on this topic, read When to Take a Child to the ER.

Expect a Long Wait

Two kids and a dad (from waist down) in ER waiting room

Once you decide to go to the ER, be aware that a visit to the emergency room may mean a wait of many hours. Make sure you bring change with you, as cell phones are sometimes banned in hospitals. Change is also handy when you want something from the vending machine. Bring toys or activities, and something to eat and drink (check with hospital staff before offering a child food and drink).

Unless your child is three months old or younger, you can feel free to treat a child’s fever before you leave for the ER. It helps the child feel better and can make the wait easier. Bring some more fever-reducing medication along with you to the hospital, in case the wait is many hours long. Your child may need another dose before he is seen.

Try not to bring brothers and sisters to the ER. If you can find a sitter or someone to watch your child’s siblings, it’s best not to bring them along to the ER. Your child needs your full attention. Also, why expose children unnecessarily to diseases that are floating around the hospital?

Review the Facts

As you make your way to the ER, mentally review the facts of your child’s illness or injury, and write them down in your child’s health notebook if your hands are free. That way you’ll be ready to tell the nurse or doctor what has happened and how you’ve treated your child until now. Think back to when your child became ill or injured and make a note of the day and time. If your child has swallowed poison, bring the bottle with you to the ER.

Think over the progression of your child’s illness or injury: how has it changed over time? Has your child had a fever or a rash? Has your child gone to the bathroom? How many times a day? What medications, if any, has your child taken? Does your child have any allergies? These are all things the ER staff will want to know.

Prepare your child on the way to the ER. Tell the child that a doctor (not the pediatrician he knows) will be examining him. At each step of the ER experience, explain the truth about what will happen next. A clear, honest explanation makes your child less anxious. Anxiety over the unknown worsens pain and fear. Knowing what will happen next, even if it’s going to hurt, relieves that anxiety, and helps your child feel better.

Eating and Drinking

On arriving at the ER, ask if your child is allowed to eat and drink. Sometimes you’ll be asked not to give your child food and drink. Some procedures, for instance some CT scans and blood tests, have to be done while fasting. It can be difficult to ignore a child’s pleas to drink and eat, but remember it’s in her own best interests. Reassure her as much as possible.

Remember that a long wait is a good sign. It means your child’s condition isn’t so serious that it cannot wait a bit for treatment. Try to be patient and calm. If your child seems to be getting worse, ask that he be reassessed.

ER waiting room animation

Never lie to a child. Don’t say, “It won’t hurt,” if you know it will. If you know something will hurt, say so, but add something to give the child hope. You might say, “It will hurt, but only for as long as it takes to blink your eye.”

Your Child’s Advocate

If your child needs stitches, a shot, or a blood test, ask if numbing cream can be applied to the area, first. The cream takes about 20 minutes to kick in. If your child’s pain medication is wearing off, let the staff know. Remember that you are your child’s advocate, if you don’t speak up, no one else will.

Do what you can to comfort your child and ease her fears. Hold her, talk to her. Try to keep her from seeing anything scary, such as a tray of instruments or a bloody patient. Read to your child or play a game like “I Spy” to take her mind off of her pain and fear.

Stay by your child’s side as much as possible. Ask if you can stay with your child for procedures like blood tests and x-rays. But if you feel like you’re going to pass out from seeing blood, for instance, make sure you inform the staff.

Your ER Questions

Doctors and nurses seem so busy parents may be afraid to disturb them with their questions. But it’s a parent’s right to ask questions and receive answers. If you want to know why this or that test has been ordered, go ahead and ask. Just be polite.

Make sure you understand the discharge instructions. Are you sure you know when the bandage can be taken off? How to clean your child’s wound? Do you know what to do if your child’s symptoms don’t get better or he feels worse? Do you know how to give your child his medication?

The hospital often recommends a follow-up visit with the child’s pediatrician. Bring your child’s discharge papers with you to the visit. Even if your child needs no follow up visit, drop off a copy of the child’s discharge papers at the doctor’s office. That way, a record of the visit will be included in your child’s medical history.

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When to Take a Child to the ER

Should you take your child to the ER, call the doctor, or wait and see? When you’re just not sure, call the doctor. Even if the pediatrician can’t speak with you, someone in the office should be able to advise you. And if you do need to take your child to the ER, the doctor’s office can call ahead and let them know you’re on the way. That’s a plus.

But let’s back up a bit to the original question: ER or pediatrician? It’s a dilemma just about every parent wrestles with at one point or another. And it’s so hard to think straight when your child is injured or ill.

To the ER or Not? Three Deep Breaths

Even when you’re frightened and anxious, sometimes you can figure things out on your own. That is if you can calm down enough to do a proper assessment of your child’s condition. To help calm down, take three deep breaths. Then remember that being calm and in control of your emotions means you’ll be better able to take care of your child.

Sometimes making decision of what to do next is easy. If your child is just lying there completely out of it, or has severe injuries, don’t wait. Call 911. Ditto if your child’s lips are turning blue. That’s not only the ER, but a ride in an ambulance, most likely. So pick up the phone and dial 911.

Just do it.

Going to the ER Means a Long Wait

But let’s say none of this applies to your child’s condition and it’s the middle of the night. And you know that going to the ER is unpleasant, with a long wait and procedures that might make your child cry. Your child is uncomfortable enough. Do you really need to add to her discomfort? How do you know whether to wait until morning when you can have the doctor decide for you, or whether you need to get moving to the ER now?

Let’s take a look at some common events that may mean a trip to the ER:

Dehydration

Lots of viruses cause diarrhea and vomiting in children. When your child gets a bug with these symptoms, you have to worry about dehydration. Dehydration is definitely a reason to visit the ER, even in the middle of the night. But it usually takes about 24 hours of vomiting and diarrhea to cause dehydration. So the first thing you want to consider is how long your child has been vomiting and experiencing diarrhea. If it’s under 24 hours, you can probably wait.

If your child has been sick for over a day with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea, you need to watch for signs of dehydration such as:

  • Cracked lips
  • Cold skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased urination
  • Low energy

If your child’s tummy trouble persists, and she can’t keep down even small amounts of liquid, call the doctor. You should try to get the child to take two teaspoons of fluid every 30 minutes. If your child has almost no saliva, can’t make tears when crying, and isn’t peeing at least twice a day, it’s time to go to the ER.

Fever

In small infants (newborn to three months), a rectal temperature of over 38C or 100.4F means: go to the ER now. In this case, don’t give your baby medicine to reduce the fever. The ER doctor will want to see the baby as is, without the effects of medication.

Babies and children three months and older can be given a dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever according to the dosage instructions on the bottle. Then wait 30 minutes. If your child looks a lot better, is responding to you, and is drinking fluids, you can continue to treat the child at home.

If the child’s symptoms continue, the fever continues past 72 hours, or there’s wheezing, a strange rash, or extreme lethargy, call the doctor.

Breathing Issues

When a child is wheezing or grunting, or her breathing is noisy, fast, or high-pitched, it means your child is having trouble getting air. This can happen when there is a respiratory infection or during an asthma attack. But panting or fast breathing can also occur when kids get fevers. So if your child has a fever, give fever-reducing medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen and wait 15 minutes. If the fever goes down, and her breathing settles, you can stay home.

If your child has a cough so severe that she cannot sleep or eat, or she has a barking cough, call the doctor.

If the child has so much trouble breathing that she cannot speak, go to the ER.

If the child’s lips are turning blue, call 911.

Odd Rash/Stiff Neck

Does your child have a rash? Press on it. The rash should go back to normal skin color for a second or so. If it does, this means your child has a simple virus and will get better in a couple of days. You can stay home.

If the rash doesn’t pale when you press on it and your child has a fever, this may mean a more serious illness, for instance meningitis. Call the doctor. If your child has neck pain, finds it hard to move his neck, and also has a fever, go to the ER now.

Bad Cuts

Clean the cut well with soap and water. Put pressure on the cut with a clean towel for 10 minutes and then reassess. If the bleeding is under control, but the cut is deep, call the doctor.

Go to the ER if:

  • The child can’t move the injured part
  • There’s lots of bleeding
  • There’s numbness
  • There’s severe swelling

Bump On the Head

A bump on the head isn’t always an emergency. If your child has no dizziness, headaches, or vomiting, you can stay home and the child can return to normal activities. But if your child passes out within a couple hours of bumping his head, call the doctor. Check the child’s head with your hands. If there is a part that seems squishy, go to the ER. If the child can’t stop crying, vomits more than once, or you see blood or fluid coming from the ears or nose, or bruising around the eyes or ears, go to the ER.

Remember that your child takes her cue from you. If you remain calm as you assess your child, your child will feel less anxious and find it easier to cope with the fear and pain of illness. Cuddle your child, and do what you can to distract her from her worries and discomfort.

Mother feels little girl's head for fever, keeps her calm

Next week: Taking Your Child to the ER

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What to do if you Suspect Your Child is Gifted (Part II)

You always thought your child might be gifted, so you’ve gone ahead with testing. You’ve also gone beyond testing to provide, to the best of your ability, for your gifted child’s educational needs. But you still have questions. Lots of questions. You wonder, for instance, how to provide for your gifted child’s emotional needs.

In Part I of this two-part series on giftedness, experts described the general tendency of the gifted for loneliness and depression. Some spoke of keeping a gifted child’s ego in check. Others alluded to the keenness with which gifted children sense cruelty and world indifference.  Shandy Cole, executive director of Fountainhead Montessori School in Dublin, CA, in the San Francisco Bay Area, has seen this painful hyperawareness both professionally and as the mother of a gifted child. “Parents need to understand that their gifted child has unique needs. They are socially children, but have worries, concerns, and interests far beyond their years. It can be very overwhelming, and anxiety is typically high in such children, as they bear adult concerns and a child’s psyche (i.e., they take in real world concerns, but have no filter or adult understanding to process them.)

“My 6-year-old, for example, cried about the possibility of World War III, and what if all the polar bears went extinct? She took the average human life span and figured out roughly when I would die. This caused many nights of crying and fears that really have no answer,” says Cole.

Gifted Child Concerns

Cole suggests that we reassure children that it’s okay to worry, while providing them with the tools to understand their feelings. “Just telling them everything will be okay discounts their concerns and heightens those same anxieties. The main thing is to not discount the fears of a 4 year-old who is worried about global wars, a 12 year-old worried about cancer, and etc. They understand things far beyond their years, and you have to really explain things and not gloss over events or frightening concepts. Tell them it is okay to be afraid, but this is what is being done to reconcile these risks, for instance.”

Shannon W. Bellezza, Ph.D., of Triangle Behavioral and Educational Solutions, is more concerned about boredom. “Many students who are gifted have difficulty in the classroom with regular instruction because they are bored and under stimulated. Reports of a child demonstrating mildly disruptive behaviors that might indicate boredom could be a sign that a child is gifted. Counterintuitively, bad grades could indicate giftedness as well, particularly if parents know that their child is smart and that the grades their child is receiving do not reflect their intelligence.

“This happens as a result of boredom – the child, being under stimulated, puts forth little effort on their graded work because it’s boring and seems remedial or repetitive and unnecessary; they see no benefit in putting forth effort,” says Bellezza.

On Feeling Different: Quality, Not Quantity

“Regarding a child feeling different once identified as gifted:  Parents want to make sure that the enrichment their child is being provided is in quality and depth, not quantity. Many teachers mistake enrichment and differentiation for ‘more;’ rather than addressing gifted instruction with the depth of content, they address it simply by providing more work,” says Bellezza, who concludes, “This can make a child stand out from his peers and have a negative effect on his love of learning.”

Laurie Endicott Thomas, MA, ELS, feels that placing gifted children among their gifted peers addresses a multitude of problems. For Thomas, it’s not just about the potential for boredom and lack of stimulation in the regular classroom, but about learning humility. In regular classrooms, gifted children are often all too aware that they are the smartest people in the room. But move them into a classroom for the gifted and all of a sudden they’re not: a humbling experience.

Thomas feels the move to a gifted classroom or school is best tackled in elementary school. “It is far better for the child to clear that hurdle in K-12 than to slam into a wall when he or she gets to college. When I went to Penn, I saw a lot of kids who had been big fishes in their small hometown pond were stunned to find that they suddenly were small fishes in a big pond. They lacked the emotional resilience or the moral and intellectual discipline to compete with other gifted people, or even with people who were merely bright but studious,” says Thomas, who adds, “To learn how to treat other people as equals, they need to know what it feels like to be around people who are even smarter than they are.”

Tell Them They’re Gifted?

Learning how to coexist with others is important for all children, part of a child’s social emotional development. That’s true across the board, whether or not a gifted child’s peers are equally blessed. Should a parent refrain then, from telling the child that he or she is gifted? Does doing so help the gifted child make sense of his differences or underscore them even more?

Bellezza says it depends. “Whether parents tell their child or not, the child will eventually notice that the instruction she is receiving is different from a large portion of her peers. No matter what parents decide to tell their child, it is important to emphasize a growth mindset; that intelligence and ability are not fixed but are affected by effort.”

Alina Adams, on the other hand, is adamant that parents not tell their children they are gifted. Adams cites Dr. Carol Dweck on the subject. “Bright children who are told they’re bright have a tendency to decide that being smart means never putting in any effort. So when they encounter something truly challenging, they shirk away from attempting it, for fear of appearing less smart than everyone believes them to be (not to mention as smart as they believe themselves to be).”

Emphasize Strengths

Janet Heller, President of the Michigan College English Association, comments that, at any rate, very few children are gifted in all areas, which means that to stress giftedness as a distinction is perhaps not so important. “Some children, for example, may be excellent at music and mathematics but not in literature and writing—or vice versa. Parents may tell children which areas they are strong in; however, adults need to emphasize that everyone needs to work very hard to develop potential talent. Talent does not grow by itself without effort.

“Thomas Alva Edison said, ‘Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.’ I think that this is true. Good athletes, musicians, writers, artists, dancers, scientists, etc. must practice skills and develop new abilities every day in order to succeed,” says Heller.

Cole, meanwhile, says that rather than point out a child’s giftedness, it’s more important to stress that—to paraphrase Monty Python’s Life of Brian—we’re all individuals.

“I think you gain nothing by telling the child. But it is a personal choice. Along with challenging them, I think it is also important that parents help these children understand that not everyone performs at the same level, and that everyone has different abilities with regard to the same tasks, thinking about the same concepts, and so forth,” says Cole.

“This knowledge helps ease their frustrations and develop empathy. It can teach them to be more patient with others, including with adults. It can also help develop their social skills, which may be out of sync with their peers.

“These children are assessing the world from a limited field of experience, and can feel disconnected from others without knowing why. They need the reassurance that they are not ‘odd balls.’ And parents need this reassurance too. A good resource would be A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, since it provides practical guidance from an expert perspective,” adds Cole.

For some parents, the question of whether to tell a child that he or she is gifted, is moot. Tobi Kosanke, mother of a gifted 13-year-old girl never bothered to tell the girl she’s gifted. She didn’t have to: “The fact that she was enrolled at a school for gifted children was a dead giveaway,” says Kosanke.

“Normal” Sibling Issues

Gifted children not only struggle socially and emotionally in the classroom, but in the case of those with “normal” siblings, in the home, as well. What should parents do to minimize issues between gifted and non-gifted siblings? Cole says parents should treat them exactly the same. She points out, however, that the “normal” child may end up being the one who feels different. In this case, says Cole, “I would emphasize that everyone does their best—that you are your own person and etc.—but not make excuses for the ‘normal’ child to not do his or her best. This helps every child find their own unique interests and motivations.”

Heller says that instead of thinking about sibling rivalry issues, we should instead think of the benefits of nearness to the gifted and even perhaps, gifted education. “Normal siblings can often benefit from the extra enrichment experiences provided to gifted students. My fourth-grade teacher recommended that I be placed in a ‘special abilities’ class. This class got the best teachers and most stimulating curriculum in my elementary school.

“I loved it!” says Heller. “Some of the students in this class were not really gifted: they got into the special abilities class because their mothers were very active in the P.T.A., for example. However, these students’ exposure to the enriched curriculum and instruction resulted in their having unusual careers, such as becoming judges and detectives.”

These are career choices these “normal” children might not otherwise have considered.

Different Strengths

Adams says parents should look for opportunities to demonstrate that “normal” siblings have strengths their more gifted siblings might lack. “At one point, my middle child was doing his older brother’s math homework, and my youngest daughter was doing her middle-brother’s English assignments, each three grade levels above their own. It was actually an excellent example of how different people have different strengths and weaknesses, and no one excels at everything.

“I recommend seeking out as many examples as you can of how the other sibling can do something their gifted one can’t, be it sports, music, social skills, and etc.,” says Adams.

Not Gifted? What Now?

Let’s say you have your child tested and it turns out he’s normal, and not gifted, as you had anticipated. Where do parents go from here? Cole is prosaic, “Be thankful you have a wonderful child. I say we should challenge all children to the best of their abilities: every child needs to be challenged in order to help develop the skills that power successful lives.”

But Bellezza wouldn’t let things rest here. “Get a second opinion. If the child’s results on the school’s testing did not meet the threshold for giftedness, parents can seek out private testing through a psychologist. Depending on the school’s giftedness screening policies, parents might be able to try again the following year as well.”

Alina Adams stresses that the various tests for giftedness aren’t particularly valid until the child reaches the age of 10 or 12. Even then, “Different tests will produce different results depends on the day your child took the test and what mood they were in then.

“The fact is; no test result will change the behavior that prompted you to get your child tested in the first place. If they are passionate about a subject or activity, keep encouraging them, no matter what some number on a piece of paper says.”

Effort Over IQ

Adams takes the opportunity to once again emphasize a mindset of effort over IQ. “If, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, ‘stupid is as stupid does,’ then so is ‘gifted,’” adding that many in the gifted community disagree. To illustrate her personal philosophy, Adams relates this anecdote about her own three children. “Each one took the tests at age 4 that NYC requires for school placement. One was deemed not gifted, another gifted, and a third profoundly gifted.

“Which of my children is my worst student? The gifted one.

“Which of my children was my latest reader? The profoundly gifted one.

“Which one is starting Princeton this September? The non-gifted one.”

It’s a lesson we can all understand and learn from.

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What to do if you Suspect Your Child is Gifted (Part I)

You suspect your child is gifted. Actually, you pretty much know your child is gifted. You know it from observing your child. And you know it from all those articles you’ve found with their bulleted lists of gifted children behaviors—you’ve mentally ticked off most of the items.

So okay, now that you know, what should you do?

Dr. Shannon W. Bellezza of Triangle Behavioral and Educational Solutions, suggests that parents find out how schools in their area test for giftedness. “Some schools do universal screening around 3rd grade to see which children may be gifted. Sometimes there are options for parents or teachers to nominate children for testing to qualify for acceleration in certain subjects. Parents should find out how their school screens for giftedness and follow through with the appropriate procedures.”

Testing For Giftedness

Can’t wait that long? You don’t have to, if you don’t mind paying out of pocket. “Many private psychologists offer IQ tests for children as young as 3-4 years-old, including the Stanford-Binet and the WPPSI tests,” says Alina Adams, a school consultant and author of Getting Into NYC Kindergarten.

Adams cautions that there are many variables to these tests, which means the results will vary, too. “An important thing to remember is that the tests are different, and it’s entirely possible for a child to test gifted on one, but not on another. Also very few IQ tests are reliable before the ages of 10-12, so it’s possible your child will test gifted one year, but not the next,” says Adams.

Before having children tested, parents should consider that “gifted” means different things to different people, says Parenting and Family Coach Dr. Richard Horowitz. “At times parents with reasonably bright kids latch on to the label ‘gifted’ without actually getting confirmation by a teacher or psychologist. There is no universally recognized standard for gifted. School districts will set criteria for admission into a gifted/talented program but again it is the school’s arbitrary standard rather than a definition based on research.”

Fostering The Gift

Some parents don’t bother with confirmation. Tobi Kosanke, for example. She and her husband just assumed their 13-year-old daughter girl was gifted and ran with it: did what they could to foster their child’s development. “We nourished her intellect as a baby and toddler with toys, music, and books.”

“Gifted,” by the way, is not the same as “genius.” Alina Adams points out that unlike the lack of universal school standards for giftedness, there are actual accepted distinctions that separate those in the category “genius” from the merely “gifted.” “Giftedness can be anything from the top 90th percentile, to the top 95th or 97th. Genius is the 99.99 the percentile. The needs of the two groups are different.”

“Those with IQs between 125 to 145 can basically handle anything they decide to do. Those with IQs of 145 plus often have a harder time making themselves understood, which can get in the way of achievement. There is also the concept of multi-potentiality. When people are good at most anything they try, it becomes harder to narrow down exactly what they want to do. So they end up doing nothing, like the metaphor of Buridan’s ass,” says Adams.

Gifted=Special Needs??

Laurie Endicott Thomas, author of Not Trivial: How Studying the Traditional Liberal Arts Can Set You Free, has a different way of looking at IQ. She thinks that children on either end of the IQ spectrum should be thought of and treated as special needs children. “Keep in mind that a gifted child’s IQ is at least 30 points above the average. You would not dream of putting a child with an average IQ (100) in a classroom for mentally retarded children (IQ of 70). Yet gifted children are expected to thrive in a classroom that is geared to children whose IQ is 30 points below theirs. Not only will the gifted children be miserable from boredom, they will be wasting their time and developing bad study habits. (There’s no need to take notes if you know that the teacher is going to repeat the same boring thing 10 times!)”

Here Adams disagrees. “It really depends on the child. Some children who have tested gifted are so used to being the smartest kid in the room, the one that everyone fusses over and praises, that being put in a situation where everyone else is as smart—or even smarter—than they are, is a horrible experience. Some kids shut down completely, and become depressed. If their entire self-image is based on being the best, learning that there are others like them can be devastating.

“Another problem with gifted programs,” says Adams, “is that most public school-based ones operate on the assumption that all gifted children are gifted at the same things in the same way on the same schedule. The whole point of being gifted is that you are uniquely talented in a particular area. I’ve worked with families where their extremely verbal child struggled in advanced math, while other children with incredible math skills floundered in advanced English classes where their very literal-minded approach made parsing the nuances of texts nearly impossible.

Adams gives the personal example of her gifted son, who, when faced with Hemingway’s iconic six-word short story, For sale: baby shoes, never worn, insisted that there simply weren’t enough facts available to draw a definitive conclusion. “Sure, you could assume the baby died. But you could also assume it was an ad from a baby shoe factory that was closing down.”

Educational Needs

Horowitz has a more general view of gifted programs versus mainstreaming gifted children. “The best advice for a parent is to make sure that their child’s individual educational needs are being met and the parents should arrange a conference with the teacher or teachers early in the school year to make sure this is occurring. If the teacher can meet the child’s needs in the regular classroom than there is no need for an additional program,” says Horowitz, adding this caveat: “If, however, the school has identified a child as eligible for a gifted program, I believe the parents should take advantage of the offering.”

Whether or not to mainstream your gifted child is likely to be determined, says Bellezza, by school policy and availability of resources. Bellezza details the various types of school instruction that might be available to a gifted student depending on the school. “Pull-out enrichment (when the child is removed from the classroom for specialized instruction), push-in enrichment (when the child remains in the regular classroom and is given specialized instruction via differentiation by the classroom teacher or from another teacher who comes to the classroom), or some combination are usually offered by schools.”

William Schlitz of Keller, Texas, and his wife, Dr. Myiesha Taylor, decided to bypass the school system altogether. “My wife and I have homeschooled our 3 children here in Texas. We did not make the decision for religious or conservative political reasons. The decision was made to specifically address the gifted status of our two oldest children and tailor their education to create an academic environment that allowed them to thrive. Part of that was our desire to create a secure environment where our kids felt safe, free from bias, and could focus on their education. Like many who start this process we were concerned if our decision would hurt our children’s future (college?). But in reality it served as a launching point for all of them to thrive.

Education Disinterest

Schlitz’s and Taylor’s eldest daughter, Haley Taylor Schlitz, is today a 15-year-old senior at Texas Woman’s University. “Haley made the jump to homeschool when we became concerned about her academic progress at a local middle school. It was Haley’s growing disinterest with her education that led us to have her formally tested for giftedness. Her tests demonstrated a very highly gifted person.”

Haley went on to become a Davidson Young Scholar, and a member of both MENSA and Intertel, graduating homeschool high school at age 13. The young woman has been on the Dean’s List of TWU for the past two years with a GPA of 3.7. Haley will have her BS degree in May 2019, when she will be 16 years-old, and plans on attending law school starting the following Fall semester. Another son is about to follow in Haley’s footsteps. Ian, at 12, has just passed the entrance exam at a local community college.

Having taken the journey of homeschooling her children, Myiesha Taylor has developed insight into gifted education processes around the United States, and has served as a resource for families traveling a similar path. To this end, Taylor created a Facebook group, Brilliant In Color, that helps families of color discuss how to navigate giftedness for their children.

Testing, confirmation of giftedness, and education aside, some parents wonder what being gifted will mean for their child’s emotional makeup. Will being gifted mark a child as different? Do gifted children have difficulty finding and making friends, and cultivating relationships? Will a gifted child, of necessity, always be lonely? How will being gifted affect the child’s world view?

Social Skills

“Gifted children are prone to problems with loneliness and depression. Often, the gifted children themselves are blamed for having ‘poor social skills.’ Yet the real problem is that children generally develop real friendships only with other children whose IQ is within 15 points of theirs.

“If your child’s IQ is 100, then 68% of the population falls within his or her ‘friendship zone.’ As a result, your child is likely to have lots and lots of (rather dim-witted) friends. But if your child’s IQ is 140, less than 2% of the population falls within his or her ‘friendship zone.’ You may need to get involved in some organization for the gifted in order for your child to find children whom they can befriend,” says Endicott Thomas, who suggests parents of gifted children visit the SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) website.

Endicott Thomas describes the emotional downside of being gifted. “Because of their abilities to use abstract reasoning, gifted people are often keenly aware that the universe is indifferent to human suffering, that many social institutions are stupid and cruel, and that many adults are hypocrites. For this reason, gifted people need to find some way to make a positive difference in the world. Otherwise, they can suffer greatly from a problem called existential depression.”

On Being Different

Alina Adams disagrees, suggesting that the real problem with being gifted (and knowing it) is watching out for inflated egos. “Professionally, I can tell you that gifted kids love feeling different, and knowing things other kids don’t. Personally, I can tell you my husband and I tell our kids, ‘You’re not that great. Even if you’re one in a million, there are 6000 people out there just like you. And many more who are better.’

“Some parents like gifted schools and programs so that their children can be with like-minded peers. We like them because they prove to our kids just how not special they are,” says Adams.

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Hot Car Deaths Survey: It Can Happen

Hot car deaths, according to a June 2018 Kars4Kids survey, are thought to be something that happens to other parents and other children. That’s despite a large body of proof that shows hot car deaths can happen to any parent’s child. The widespread refusal of parents to believe hot car deaths can affect them is so pervasive that only 16 percent of parents surveyed expressed concern over the issue.

The survey showed, moreover, that parents continue to believe hot car deaths are related to poor parenting. Of those surveyed, 78 percent expressed negative thoughts about parents whose children die due to being left behind in a hot car. Worse yet, 11 percent of those we surveyed, continue to believe that it’s fine to leave a baby in a hot car for a few minutes. (It most emphatically is NOT!)

It’s frightening to learn that 83 percent of parents surveyed don’t think it could happen to them: they don’t think their children could die of heatstroke due to being left behind in a hot car. The reason this is frightening is that we know this statistic represents the percent of parents who refuse to take simple precautions to keep their children safe from hot car deaths. In other words, most parents aren’t going to do anything at all to ensure their children don’t experience a tragic and preventable hot car death.

That is why we performed our survey in the first place. We accompanied the survey with our It Can Happen campaign. We did these things because we don’t want to see even one more child die in a hot car because a parent doesn’t think it can happen. The theme of this new campaign is to actively illustrate the type of parent who forgets his or her child in a car. That type of parent, to be specific, would be any parent.

While hot car deaths can happen any time of the year, we see the number of infant heat stroke deaths rise especially high in summer. That is why each summer, we step up our efforts to educate parents on the dangers of leaving children, even for a few minutes, in a hot car. Our survey and the It Can Happen campaign are designed with the hope that more parents than ever before will take precautions against the worst tragedy that can happen to a family. If you’re already taking those precautions, we thank you with a whole heart. Keep up your fabulous and life-saving work.

We appreciate your efforts because hot car deaths have been a hot button topic for us at Kars4Kids for the past four years. That was the year we first began our campaign to raise awareness of these tragic and preventable deaths. It was also the year we created our free Kars4Kids Safety app that uses a car’s Bluetooth function to help alert parents to the presence of a child left behind in the backseat of a car. And finally, it was the year we first encountered the phenomenon of readers and parents who insisted that they could never ever leave a baby or young child behind in their cars.

We could understand them, being parents ourselves. What we couldn’t understand was the refusal of some parents to take the simplest of precautions on the off chance that it could indeed happen to them and to their children (Heaven forbid). And so we have tried ever since to prove to them that it can happen to anyone, hoping they’ll put their phones or wallets in the backseats of their cars just to humor us—and perhaps save a young life.

To that end, we created our Hot Car Challenge, offering $100 to anyone who could stand to sit in a hot car for ten minutes without wussing out.

Then we invented our Hot Cars Cookie Challenge to show that the interiors of cars get so hot you can totally bake chocolate chip cookies on your dashboard. (If it’s hot enough to bake a cookie, you so don’t want your child in there.)

We also worked to create partnerships with the media and with popular bloggers and websites, to further spread the word about the dangers of leaving a baby behind in a car for even a short period of time. We gathered statistics on hot car deaths, updating you from time to time. And we kept you apprised of the science of hot car deaths as our understanding evolved.

In order to better understand why hot car deaths occur, we reached out to psychologist David Diamond and meteorologist Jan Null, arguably the two most important names connected to the phenomenon of hot car deaths. David Diamond outlined for us the psychological process that causes parents to “forget” their babies. Diamond has testified as an expert in several hot car death-related homicide trials. Jan Null tracks patterns related to hot car deaths at his website noheatstroke.org and has amply demonstrated that not all of these deaths are due to memory failure.

It is our intention, at Kars4Kids, to keep on raising awareness and educating the public on the dangers of hot car deaths in any way we can. Don’t take our word for the fact that it can happen to anyone. Just humor us please, and take precautions. Even if you don’t believe you’re that kind of parent.

It can’t hurt anything but your pride to take the extra step to ward off danger.

And it may just save your child’s life.

Teens: Saying No When Other Parents Say Yes

How do you say no to teens when their friends’ parents say yes? If you think the activity is dangerous, you’re right to say no. But if all the other parents say yes—that their children can participate in an activity—you end up looking like the bad guy. You look like you’re saying no just to be arbitrary or mean.  It makes you seem like a control freak. Or just too strict.

Take the example of Lynn, age 51. Lynn’s 16-year-old daughter Randi begged to attend a weekend at a friend’s house. The weekend was to conclude with an all-night party. But there was a catch: the friend’s parents were out of town.

The friend’s parents had all given their permission for the weekend and party. The other invited guests, another eight children, had all received permission from their parents to attend. Lynn and her husband Jordan were the only hold outs.

Saying No For Protection

Lynn knew that her fun-loving daughter might be persuaded to take part in activities that could hurt her. There might be alcohol or drugs at the party. There could be, for example, a game of Truth or Dare involving risqué behavior.

Randi is a great kid, but she likes to have fun. She’s game to try anything once. Her parents imagined her at the party, surrounded by friends urging her not to be a prude. In this environment, would Randi have the strength of will to say no to drinking, taking drugs, or engaging in sex-tinged activities?

Lynn and Jordan weren’t judging the other parents for agreeing to allow their children to have a fun weekend. But they knew their daughter and didn’t think it a good idea to put her in a situation where she could end up getting hurt. They knew that the right thing to do was to say no: to forbid Randi from spending the weekend at her friend’s house.

They tried to be gentle and diplomatic as they said no, while being firm and absolute. The results were predictable. Randi pitched a fit. The girl screamed and cried. She accused her parents of being unfair. She dragged in the fact that all the other parents had said yes. That she alone had monstrous parents who were control freaks. She said it wasn’t fair. Randi also reminded them that her friend’s parents trusted the friend to keep things clean and safe.

Saying No: The Right Thing to Do

Randi begged, yelled, cried, and slammed doors. But Lynn and Jordan were determined to stick to their guns. They decided they didn’t care about anything but keeping their daughter safe. They knew that saying no was the right thing to do.

Lynn and Jordan made a wise decision. The teenage brain is undergoing changes, pruning away gray matter on the way to becoming fully mature. These changes mean that teens have stronger emotional reactions and may feel a sense of urgency about situations, a need to act. A teen’s impulse control is weak, compared to that of an adult. That tendency for poor impulse control is the things that worried Randi’s parents most.

Lynn and Jordan knew that when teens drink, they drink too much. Teens don’t know how to stop once they get started. The same with taking drugs or making out. Teens also have poor planning skills which is why so many teenagers get into dangerous scrapes.

But saying no to a teenager is different than saying no to a toddler having a tantrum. A teen has the endless ability to twist facts and lay guilt trips. It’s hard for a parent to stand firm in the face of a teenager’s crazed reaction to a parent’s dictate.

Saying No Can Be a Conversation

Dr. Ari Yares, a licensed psychologist, parent coach, and nationally certified school psychologist, believes that how you say no, and how you involve your child in the way the decision plays out, makes a difference. “When having the conversation, share with your child your reasoning and be as transparent as possible within the circumstances. Allow them an opportunity to voice their objections and, when possible, engage in some problem solving that might lead to a modified answer.

Family therapist Elisabeth Goldberg, LMFT, says the trick is to keep going over in your head the reasons why you said no. This can give parents something to do as the teenager screams and yells and help the parent remain firm in his or her resolve. After all, if you have a good reason for saying no, there is no reason to change your mind. The issue is wanting to avoid feeling bad as a teenager yells at you.

“It must be very hard to own your parenting style. With constant comparisons of wealth, health and happiness, it’s no wonder why so many parents give into their kids and go against their better judgement. Technology has made our culture obsessed with popularity like never before, and parents are not immune to that competition in the least,” says Goldberg.

Yares suggests parents minimize the embarrassment of being forbidden an activity by speaking to the child in private. “It can be tough when you are the parent saying no when everyone else says yes and your child may be mad at you for the decision that you are making. It’s important to make sure that when saying no in a situation like this that you minimize the public embarrassment of saying no. Pull your child aside for a more private conversation by saying, ‘We need to discuss this.’”

Saying No: Poor Distress Tolerance

Dr. Goldberg, meanwhile, feels that the most important part of saying no is to resist all the pleading and crying, to learn to let it roll off a parent’s back like water off a duck. “What makes parents say yes when they should say no is poor distress tolerance. The child asks and the parent is initially annoyed, then it progresses and goes deep, cutting into their core of self-worth as a human. When parents can’t say no to their kids, it’s because they can’t tolerate other discomfort; their threshold has already been crossed,” says Goldberg.

Any parent whose teenager pleads and cries for a long enough time is going to question whether they are doing the right thing in saying no. This is normal. But it’s important to remember that if you give in, your child will only make a stronger fuss the next time you say no. She already knows you’ll give way if she screams long enough and loud enough.

And of course, if you show weakness, you teach your child weakness. Standing firm, on the other hand, is a good example for your teenager. “Parents who stand firm and present themselves as authority figures through positive messages of respect and experience raise more secure children than those who fall apart at small signs of aggravation. Distress tolerance is a very undervalued skill for parents. Parents who cannot tolerate distress will teach this to their kids, who will grow up believing that hardship past a certain point is unacceptable. They won’t be very adaptable, and tend to make poor partners,” says Goldberg.

But how should a parent steel himself against all that begging and crying? “Saying no comes down to training yourself to tolerate various levels of distress by reflecting on the thoughts and feelings that come up when you try to say no and don’t,” says Goldberg.

Colorful animation of parents standing firm against annoyed teenage boy
The hard part is standing firm

In the case of Lynn and Jordan and their daughter Randi, though the girl reasoned and cried, her parents stuck to their original position on the subject of the weekend house party. No remained no and Randi stayed home. The girl moped and complained but once the party was past tense, she and her parents got past their relationship hump. It was only a few days before things were back to normal.

The moral of the story is: stay strong and remember why you’re saying no. If you wuss out and give in, you’re only setting yourself up for failure at a later date. And your child will have had a really bad example of weak character to follow.

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Serve and Return Parenting

Serve and return is a term coined by Harvard researchers for the back and forth interactions between a parent and a child. To understand the concept of serve and return, imagine a game of ping pong or tennis. Someone hits the ball, sending it over or serving it to the second player. The second player hits the ball in turn, returning it to the first player. Now substitute a conversation, a smile, or a gesture for the ball, and you’ve got an idea of serve and return.

As parents, we know that when a newborn looks deep into our eyes, he is asking us for some kind of attention. Depending upon the look in his eyes, it could be the baby just wants a smile. Or maybe he wants us to talk to him or play with him. We may not even know exactly what he wants, but we know he wants something. Most of us, as parents, will try hard to figure it out and give him what he wants, even if it takes some trial and error.

That look the baby gives the parent is a “serve.” To respond to it is the “return.”

Serve and Return Builds Brain Architecture

Serve and return interactions like this one have been studied by researchers. Studies show such parent child interactions are critical to brain architecture, or the shaping of the infant’s developing brain. Serve and return parenting is so important that a baby who does not experience this sort of back and forth with caregivers is likely to have stunted development.  According to Harvard:

Because responsive relationships are both expected and essential, their absence is a serious threat to a child’s development and well-being. Healthy brain architecture depends on a sturdy foundation built by appropriate input from a child’s senses and stable, responsive relationships with caring adults. If an adult’s responses to a child are unreliable, inappropriate, or simply absent, the developing architecture of the brain may be disrupted, and subsequent physical, mental, and emotional health may be impaired. The persistent absence of serve and return interaction acts as a “double whammy” for healthy development: not only does the brain not receive the positive stimulation it needs, but the body’s stress response is activated, flooding the developing brain with potentially harmful stress hormones.

Erika Christakis, writing in The Atlantic, speaks about the high-pitched, grammar-simplified, over-enthusiastic baby talk a parent might use in response to a baby’s cooing. This sort of “conversational duet” is a type of serve and return parenting. According to Christakis, one study found that “Infants exposed to this interactive, emotionally responsive speech style at 11 months and 14 months knew twice as many words at age 2 as ones who weren’t exposed to it.”

In other words, if a child lacks serve and return parenting, the child may end up with developmental delays and worse. This would be a tragic outcome. The kind of outcome that happens to kids who are abandoned and end up in the foster care system. Not the kind of outcome we’d expect for our own children.

The only problem with this idea—that it can’t happen to our kids, we’re not those kinds of parents—is that increasingly, that’s not true. The thing that makes this a lie is our smartphones and screens. Our devices have turned us into distracted parents. The kind of parents who all too often miss a baby’s glance in favor of a Facebook PM or Whatsapp message.

Serve and return interaction between mother and baby girl
If your phone were to ping, what would happen to this moment?

Imagine your baby offers you that serve and return glance but at the same time, you hear a “ping” from your phone. How likely is that to happen? And how will that ping affect your serve and return interaction with your baby?

Let’s say you choose to ignore the ping and wait until the serve and return with your infant is complete before checking your phone. As you interact with your baby, the ping of your phone is still on your mind. It’s there in your head in reserve, reminding you it’s waiting for you to pay attention to it instead of to your baby. That’s got to affect the quality of your serve and return interaction with baby.

But what if you attend to the ping first, so you can then give your full attention to the baby? What happens to the serve and return interaction as a result of this delay? Is baby affected by being made to wait a bit longer?

The simple answer is that timing is everything. There’s a rhythm to serve and return interactions. As in tennis or ping pong, miss the moment, miss the serve, and the game could be lost. The baby’s glance or coo, unreturned, may mean baby gives up, acknowledges that a parent’s return just isn’t happening. The baby may look away, or space out, a kind of retreat from the perceived rejection of the parent.

Serve and Return Requires Full Attention

A father and baby serve and return interaction
This father is fully “present” for this serve and return interaction with his child.

There’s another possibility. You multitask! You ignore neither ping nor baby’s serve, dividing your attention between the two. No one gets your full attention. No one wins. Psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek comments that, “Toddlers cannot learn when we break the flow of conversations by picking up our cellphones or looking at the text that whizzes by our screens.”

Baby feels the difference, feels you are distracted, as you switch back and forth between the screen of your smartphone and your baby. Perhaps baby doubles down, tries harder, becoming even more attractive to you by doing something extra cute. Or perhaps the serve and return remains a lackluster failure so that it just sort of peters out. FAIL.

What about children beyond babyhood? Do they still require your full attention? Christakis mentions two studies that illustrate what happens when parents are too distracted by technology to engage in serve and return parenting with their children. In one of these studies, 225 moms and their 6-year-olds were videotaped as the kids were given new foods to try. A quarter of the moms used their phones, which resulted in fewer interactions with their children.

Phone Use and Learning

A second study tested the impact of a parent’s phone use on a child’s ability to learn new words. Moms were told they had to teach their 2-year-olds two new words: blicking, which was supposed to mean “bouncing,” and frepping, which was supposed to mean “shaking.” The researchers rang some of the moms from another room.

When the learning sessions were interrupted by a researcher’s phone call, the children didn’t learn the two new words. When left undisturbed, however, the new words took root. As it turns out, seven mothers were excluded from the analysis of the data, because they didn’t answer the researchers’ phone calls. In other words, they failed to follow the protocol! Christakis says, “Good for them!”

Indeed.

More Time for Children

It’s interesting to note that parents have never been so free to spend so much time with their children. Technology has made chores like cleaning clothes and keeping food fresh so much easier. We can walk into a supermarket to buy food, and clothing is ready-made. No one needs to milk a cow or churn butter. There are no longer accidents of the sort that were commonplace when moms were too busy to give baby much attention.

Those moms had no choice but to leave their babies alone much of the time. But our smartphones make us distracted moms by choice, limiting serve and return interactions with our children, and affecting their brain development. And make no mistake, it is a choice. Because it would be the easiest thing in the world to turn our phones off.

Minimizing Phone Distractions

With this in mind, parents would be well advised to do exactly that: shut off those phones when spending time with children. It’s the only way to be there for those serve and return moments. Here are 3 tips on how to minimize phone distractions:

  1. Put your phone on silent and out of sight in your bag or pocket when spending time with your child
  2. Experiment with shutting your phone off for a fixed time, say two hours in the afternoon, and try to be really present with your child during this time
  3. Stay off your phone while nursing or bottle-feeding your baby and during mealtimes for older children since this is an important time for socialization

That doesn’t mean you have to turn your phone off for your child’s entire waking hours. Nor must parents martyr out and feel deprived. It’s okay to check your voice mail and notifications from time to time. And it’s certainly okay to take time for yourself. It makes you a better parent.

Christakis says it best: “Parents should give themselves permission to back off from the suffocating pressure to be all things to all people. Put your kid in a playpen, already! Ditch that soccer-game appearance if you feel like it. Your kid will be fine. But when you are with your child, put down your damned phone.”

Because the stuff on your phone? It’s just virtual smoke and mirrors. While in the real world, nothing could be more important than those serve and return moments with your child.