Praising Daddy’s early attempts at parenting a baby can be a boon to the quality of his parenting later on. So says a study on maternal gatekeeping conducted by researchers at Ohio State University. Fathers who felt criticized for their early parenting efforts six months earlier, got lower marks parenting their 9-month-old babies. In other words, the way a new mom reacts to dad’s interactions with a newborn, affects his later parenting skills. Or dumbed down even more: Moms are still the gatekeepers of parenting.
Now this study didn’t involve just any old parents, but two-income first time parents who were both highly educated and relatively well off. The kind of people you’d expect to be enlightened enough to be sharing equal responsibility for parenting and housework. The point of the study was to show how a mother’s attitude and behavior can either support or limit a father’s involvement in the rearing of his own child. Lead author of the study, Lauren Altenburger, who did this work as a doctoral student in human sciences at OSU says that, “Mothers may not even be aware of how their criticisms of the father may end up negatively influencing how dads parent.”
The study was published May 9, 2018, in the onlineJournal of Child and Family Studies.
Moms As Gatekeepers
Co-author Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, professor of human sciences at Ohio State says the study results show us that moms are still the gatekeepers, still queen when it comes to deciding who has the most power and influence in raising a couple’s children. “Many fathers may be more vulnerable to criticism than mothers are because there is still less support in our society for fathers as active, involved parents,” says Schoppe-Sullivan.
The data used for this study was culled from the New Parents Project, a long-term research project led in part by Schoppe-Sullivan. The New Parents Project aims to find out how dual-income couples cope with first-time parenting. It’s a smallish study with just 182 couples, most of them married. The participants in this project are assessed twice: when the baby is 3 months old and when the baby is 9 months old.
Dads And Maternal Gatekeeping
During the two assessment periods, dads answered questions designed to show just how far moms “opened” or “closed” the gate to their involvement in baby’s care. A father, for instance, had to note how often a mom took over a baby-related task because he wasn’t doing it right, or how often mom cast an irritated look at dad in relation to his parenting. Taking over or using negative facial expressions or body language were deemed examples of mom “closing the gate” to a father’s parenting involvement. Examples of opening the gate might include mom encouraging dad to help her bathe the baby, or words of appreciation for a father’s help in parenting the child.
In addition to the questionnaires, the researchers watched fathers interact with baby for 3-minute intervals at 3 months and 9 months. Dads were given marks according to how they responded to the baby’s facial expressions and gestures; how engaged they were with the baby; and how often they smiled at or spoke with warmth to baby.
The study findings show that the more gate-closing by a partner when the baby was 3 months old, the worse the marks fathers received on parenting when baby turned 9 months. “If fathers feel their partners don’t have confidence in their parenting, they may withdraw, and become less positive and sensitive with their child,” says Altenburger.
Maternal Gatekeeping Over Time
One theory this study looks at is whether moms close the gate on dads because of a father’s poor parenting. According to the researchers, if this had been the case, moms would still be closing that maternal gate, that is to say turning away a dad’s help, at 9 months, which was not the case. But to this writer’s mind, this argument is flawed. There are many reasons why a mom would be more accepting of a dad’s parenting help with an older baby.
For one thing, new moms are nervous in general, whereas by 9 months, a mom is no longer “new.” She feels more confident and has a routine going. For this reason alone, a mother is more likely to “close the gate” to a father’s involvement with a three-month-old and more inclined to accept his help with an older baby.
Then again, a newborn is not a nine-month-old. Parents, even those who are not new to parenting, are more nervous about newborns. With a newborn, you worry about supporting their heads, not dropping them, keeping them warm enough, and trying to understand their unspoken needs. A three-month-old seems fragile compared to a nine-month-old. A mother may not trust anyone else’s parenting with a new baby, believing that only she can provide for her infant.
With a nine-month-old, on the other hand, there’s more room for letting dad give parenting a whirl. A nine-month-old is not as fragile as a three-month-old infant. There’s not the same fear involved in, for instance, bathing a nine-month-old, as there is with bathing a three-month-old.
For these reasons, it seems easy understand why a mom would be more accepting of a partner’s parenting help as a baby grows older. There are, in fact, few reasons to suggest a mom would regard a father’s help in the same light at these two very different stages of a child’s development. Asked to comment on this point, Altenburger declined to respond.
Schoppe-Sullivan, meanwhile, notes that dual-earner couples may differ from other families in regard to co-parenting. “We might see more evidence of protective gatekeeping by mothers in more distressed families,” she said.
Schoppe-Sullivan and Altenburger say that both parents need to be supportive of each other during a first child’s first few months. It’s a time when parents, no matter whether they are moms or dads, are feeling vulnerable. They’re both trying to work out who they are as parents.
But fathers, in particular, are vulnerable to criticism, says Schoppe-Sullivan. “There still is an assumption in our society that mothers are the primary caregivers and that they have the power to determine the involvement of others in child care. Fathers may feel they should withdraw if they don’t have their partner’s support.”
If parents are to learn anything from this study, it is that moms should stop and think before criticizing a dad’s parenting choices, especially when it comes to little things like what the baby should wear on a trip to the supermarket, says Altenburger. “It is about giving fathers the space to parent, too. Both parents need to keep communication open and not be so quick to criticize.”
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Ohio State University. (2018, June 11). Fathers’ early parenting quality affected by mothers: Study shows importance of maternal ‘gatekeeping’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 24, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180611133434.htm
Talking to kids about the Orlando Pulse Massacre—and yes, that’s what I call it, a massacre—is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever have to do. And talk about it, you will. You’ll have no choice. Because it’s been plastered all over the news. It’s what people are talking about. Unless you blindfold your child and stick earplugs in his/her ears, there’s no getting around it.
Why don’t we want to talk about the Orlando Pulse Massacre with our kids? Let me count the ways. For one thing: there’s the problem of intolerance. We don’t want to teach our children to be bigots, and Radical Islamic terror is at the heart of what happened in Orlando.
Then there’s the fact that it, the Orlando Pulse Massacre, happened in a gay bar. The murderer, Omar Mateen, purposely targeted homosexuals. At what age do we want to speak with our children about matters sexual? How much do we need tell them? Do we use euphemisms, talking about love when we really mean “sexual preference?”
Orlando Pulse Massacre: Innocent Victims
And of course, there’s the violence: the brutal murder of innocent people, just out having a good time, by someone who didn’t know them. Someone who didn’t know, for instance, Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, there to celebrate her victory over cancer and to support her openly gay son, and who ended up shielding him from gunfire with her own body. How do we explain how someone brave and nurturing like that, a mom, gets shot to death in a case of mistaken identity?
How does God and/or society allow something like that to happen to a mom?
How do we explain violence and evil? How do we explain the pros and cons of gun control in a fair manner, so they can learn to use their critical thinking skills? How do we discuss a passionate issue with both compassion and logic?
These are just some of the challenges we have as parents when we begin to talk about Orlando. (Remember when “Orlando” was just a reference to a fun time at an amusement park?)
The most important piece of advice I have for parents is to let your children be your guide. Listen to their questions. Answer their questions with honesty, giving them the facts they’ve requested and no more. Your children’s questions tell you what they are ready to hear. In fact, they may want to hear more than you feel comfortable discussing. Nonetheless, a child’s questions are your best guide in choosing what to share and what to keep to yourself.
If that question and your response bring further questions, continue to provide factual information, keeping your responses to the point. The point being to answer the question and not give a long, drawn out lecture. Keep it short and sweet. If they want to know more, they’ll ask, but only so long as you prove to them you’re not going to drown them in data or tell them things they’re not ready to hear.
What does it mean to give factual information? It means that if your child asks why the murderer did what he did, you tell them the truth: Omar Mateen believed in killing those who were different from him in some way.
At some point, your values system may dictate how the conversation goes, and that’s fine. But remember to preface any statement of belief with, “I believe that,” or “I feel that” or “Our religion says such and such.”
There may be gaps between questions as your child thinks things over. Be ready for questions to come out of the blue. And always serve the truth straight up.
If you sense your child is distressed, try to offer your child an outlet for his/her feelings. For instance, ask the child how s/he feels. If it is difficult for your child to express emotions, give the child paper and crayons and let them draw how they feel. Then look at the picture together and let your child explain what the drawing is about. Try not to freak if there’s blood or violence in your child’s drawing. It’s there because your child is upset about that, about the blood and violence that are part and parcel of the Orlando Pulse Massacre.
If your child has trouble sleeping at night or has his or her sleep disturbed by nightmares, try to include some calming rituals before bedtime to soothe your child’s troubled thoughts. A warm bath scented with chamomile flowers, some soft music, a cuddle: all these things are very concrete ways to help your child find comfort and a way to sweeter dreams.
As part of your conversation about the Orlando Pulse Massacre, you’ll want to discuss how to prevent such a thing from ever happening. You may also want to help your child do something kind to counteract the cruelty. Perhaps your child could write a letter to the survivors and remaining family members, expressing condolences. You might suggest your child might give charity, or do an act of kindness for a neighbor, and dedicate these acts to the memory of the victims. There are many creative and proactive ways your child can memorialize the massacre and this can’t help but be healing, both for your child, and for the world at large.
If your child remains disturbed about the Orlando Pulse Massacre for a lengthy period of time, or continues to ask questions every day, often, remember that grief and loss have no set time frame or expiration date. People need to wrestle with things for as long as they need to wrestle with things, and children are no exception for the rule. It’s all a process and it’s how we arrive at acceptance.
As parents, we might wish this subject would go away. But we don’t always get what we wish for. This is one of those times that parenting just really seems to suck eggs. Because we feel like we’re destroying our children’s’ innocence, like we’re robbing them of their childhood.
But actually, that would be Omar Mateen doing that to them.
In fact, when your children grow up, they’re going to remember how you helped them understand the Orlando Pulse Massacre, forthrightly, but with compassion. They are going to love you so much for getting it right. Because it’s times like this that build your legacy as a parent. Times like the Orlando Pulse Massacre.
What kinds of questions has your child asked regarding the Orlando Pulse Massacre. How have you answered your child’s questions? What have you done to soothe your child’s fears and concerns?
Body language could fill in the gaps between what your toddler says and what you actually understand. That is if you understood his body language any better than you understand his attempts at speech. Beyond “NO,” that is—everyone knows what that means.
Okay, sure. You understand your child’s speech better than most. But you sure do spend a lot of time guessing and guessing again, what it is your child wants. And your toddler spends a lot of time acting out his frustration. Because dang it’s frustrating! He knows what he wants—why don’t YOU?
By the age of two years, most children have about 200 words at their disposal. That sounds like a decent amount of vocabulary until you consider that they only use about 50 of those words on a regular basis. When those 50 words fail to cover a given situation, you stare desperately at your child, trying to read his body language, trying head off the meltdown you just know is coming if you can’t figure it out.
It’s not easy for either of you. Unlike your toddler, however, you can read words. Which means you can read this article and learn about four common toddler body language signals you think you understand and what they actually mean. Learning how to interpret these four major body language signals is going to help ease your child’s frustration as much as it eases your own, leaving your home a calmer, more peaceful space for everyone.
The scenario: You bought your child this funny windup toy. You wind it up and it’s going across the room. You’re sure your child is going to love this thing. But he just stands there with his arms folded across his chest.
You think: “Ugh. He doesn’t like it. And I was so sure he would!”
What it actually means: “This toy makes me nervous. It moves and makes noise. I’m not used to that.”
The crossed arms body language shows you your child feels uneasy about this unfamiliar toy. He doesn’t know how to say, “I am uncomfortable being so close to this scary toy.”
Since he doesn’t know how to say this with words, he uses body language instead. He crosses his arms over his chest to shield himself and create distance.
How to handle it: Your toddler may just need some time to get familiar with the idea of this new toy. Don’t push it, but instead, leave him alone for now and let him play with something else. Later on, once he’s forgotten about the toy and it’s no longer a threat, you can sit down and play with it yourself, without saying anything. Let him see that you are comfortable with this toy, that you don’t feel threatened by it. You see the toy as fun and interesting.
Signaling your casual response to this toy through your own body language, may help your child overcome his worry and fear. Once he sees you’re not afraid, his natural curiosity will kick in and allow him to explore this new plaything. In the end, it may be that all he needed was a bit of distance, time, and encouragement to enjoy the lovely gift you bought him.
The scenario: Your college roommate comes to stay with you for the weekend. You can’t wait to show off your little girl. But the minute she sees your old roomie, your child pulls her shirt up over her head.
You think: “She doesn’t want to see my old friend. Her body language shows she’s taken an automatic dislike to her.”
What it actually means: “I don’t want this new smiling person to see me.”
How to handle it: This is a confusing situation for your toddler. Here is a new person she’s never met, smiling at her as if she knows her. It’s overwhelming.
You can defuse the situation by giving your child her space and making light of her behavior. “You don’t want to say ‘hi’ right now? That’s okay. Maybe you’ll say ‘hi’ later on.”
It’s important not to put a label on your child’s behavior, even as a way to make your friend feel better. For instance, you don’t want to say, “She’s just being shy. She’ll come around.”
That would be putting ideas into your child’s head when all she might need is some time to sort out her thoughts and get comfortable with the idea of this new person you like so much.
What you can do is let your child see you and your roomie enjoying each others’ company as you play catch-up. Let your daughter see the two of you rehashing old times and laughing. She’s watching your body language, too. Eventually, she’ll come around when her curiosity gets the better of her, and when that happens, don’t make a fuss over her, but just act naturally glad to have her there with the two of you.
The scenario: You’re in the kitchen preparing supper, and your toddler is in the next room playing. You become aware that he’s a little too quiet. Suspicious, you come into the room to check on him but he won’t meet your eyes.
You think: “Uh oh, that body language sure does look sneaky! What is he trying to hide from me?”
What it actually means: “I did something wrong. I feel so bad about it, Mommy.”
How to handle it: Your child isn’t being sneaky, he’s experiencing remorse, shame. He did something he wishes he hadn’t. He is developing a conscience, and that’s a good thing.
It’s natural for you to wonder what it is he did but you don’t want to make a big deal of it. He feels bad enough already. It may have been something pretty innocent. Perhaps he fed the dog his peas under the table. He knows he shouldn’t do that, but really, it’s not the end of the world, from your standpoint.
What you want to do is show him your unconditional love. If you know what he did, you can say it in words, remind him it’s a no-no, and tell him not to do it next time around. If you have no clue what he did, you can simply say, “I know that something happened and I want you to know that I love you even so.”
Being kind and understanding and positive will encourage your child to be truthful with you. He sees you’re not angry. That will make him feel confident that he can tell you all sorts of things and you’ll still love him no matter what.
The scenario: You walk over to your toddler daughter to play with her but she pushes you away or runs away from you.
You think: “Wow. She used to drive me crazy, clinging to me. Now she can’t seem to get far enough away from me.”
What it actually means: “I’m a big girl! I can play by myself.”
Your daughter is becoming independent. Her body language is signaling to you that for her, the world is no longer this big scary place, but a place that is interesting, and cool, and fun to explore. She still loves and needs you, but feels secure enough to check things out on her own. Her moving away or even pushing you is a good sign, a healthy one, that shows she is growing and developing right on schedule.
How to handle it: Remember that it’s not about you—it’s not personal. Know that she still needs you for many things and loves you very much. Try not to interfere with her activities. If she wants to watch ants carrying a big twig, or chase a butterfly, give her the space to do so on her own. Unless she’s doing something unsafe, like trying to pick up a broken piece of glass, let her learn about the world on her own, at her own pace. But be on standby for when your child is tired or in need of reassurance. That’s when she’ll call, “Mommy, Mommy!” and run into your waiting arms for comfort and love.
Bonding is the close attachment formed between parents and babies. This close feeling is nature’s way of making sure that parents develop an instinct to care for their young. It is bonding that guarantees babies will be nourished and kept safe and protected.
You may be a deep sleeper and deep sleepers are not awakened by noise. But parents who are well-bonded with their babies will hear them cry at 3 AM and rise to care for them. That’s even if those (exhausted and sleep-deprived) parents tend to be deep sleepers. Waking up in this case is the parental instinct kicking in, thanks to good bonding.
Sometimes bonding happens as soon as the baby is born. Sometimes bonding takes time. And sometimes, unfortunately, bonding fails to happen altogether. In fact, a study published in 2014, found that one in four children never form a strong bond with their parents. That’s a lot of children and parents that aren’t really making it.
Bonding is important not just because it makes parents care for their infants. It’s important because bonding is what makes babies and children feel safe and secure. It gives them a good feeling about themselves. It makes them feel worthwhile as human beings, and not just needy little burdens and brats that don’t let their parents sleep.
The study mentioned above found that the 40% of babies who never experience bonding grow up to become aggressive, defiant adults with a tendency to hyperactivity. The same study found that 25% of those children failed to bond because their parents didn’t respond to their needs. In other words, just by responding to your baby’s needs, you are helping your baby to bond with you.
Remember that when you feel your energy flagging in the early days after birth.
How can you know if you’re bonding with your baby? Well, for one thing, if you look deep into your baby’s eyes and he or she looks back at you, you’re definitely bonding. If you’re a breastfeeding mom, your baby’s cries may cause your milk to let down. That’s a really good sign you’re bonding with your baby. And of course, if you hear your baby crying in the middle of the night, even when you are deep, deep asleep, it’s because you’ve done a great job of bonding with your baby.
But what if you aren’t really feeling the love? What if you don’t really feel that attachment to your new baby? What if your new baby somehow feels like a stranger to you?
Bonding Isn’t Always Instant
Again, it’s important to remember that bonding is not always instant. There are all sorts of things that can delay bonding. Moms that have babies via C-section can find it more difficult to bond with their babies. They don’t always get to see and hold their babies after birth and that makes a difference. Babies born prematurely may need to spend time in the intensive care unit away from their mothers. It may also take longer to bond with an adopted baby.
In all these cases, moms and babies can’t spend time skin-to-skin in the early days after birth, something that really helps make bonding happen. But even when baby is biological and the birth is uncomplicated and there’s plenty of skin-to-skin time, bonding can be delayed. Some mothers get the baby blues, and that can make bonding difficult. Other moms may feel so exhausted from giving birth that exhaustion gets in the way of bonding. A difficult birth may mean more pain in the days after the birth, and pain is a major factor in preventing early bonding between mommy and baby.
For the father, bonding can take longer because fathers don’t nurse their babies and don’t have the same natural, skin-to-skin closeness with baby. Not nursing the baby also means spending less time with the baby. Some parents opt to have daddy give the baby a bottle of expressed breast milk or formula just to give the father some equal time. Of course, while not the same as breastfeeding, fathers can change baby’s diaper, bathe baby, and spend time rocking, comforting, and singing to baby.
Here are seven things you can do to help you bond with your baby:
Be with your baby as much as possible. Begin by asking the staff to let you room-in with your newborn.
If your baby is in neonatal intensive care (NICU), visit your baby as often as you can. Ask the staff if you can hold and touch your baby. If you can’t, talk to and sing to your baby.
Use a baby carrier or sling to keep your baby close to you whether you’re going about your chores or going out. Choose the carrier or sling over the stroller whenever you can. The more you keep your baby close to you, the easier it is to bond.
Spend as much time as you can with your baby at home. Sing and talk to your baby, pat your baby, rock your baby in a rocking chair or in your arms. Voice and touch will help you and your baby to connect.
Breastfeed your baby if you are able and feel good about doing so. Nothing creates so strong a bond between mother and child.
Consider sleeping with your baby by your side. It’s called co-sleeping. Do some research on the subject and consult with your baby’s doctor. Some experts feel it isn’t safe. Some say it is both safe and beneficial in a variety of ways, as long as you do it correctly.
Massage your baby gently, using a bit of olive oil or baby lotion. It’s great skin-to-skin contact. Massage can calm babies and ease colic, too. Massage has been found to help with postpartum depression, too.
Dads And Bonding
Dads have it harder bonding with their babies. Here are some ways to help foster father/baby bonding:
Start bonding before the birth by being with mom for doctor’s appointments and tests; by placing a hand on the mom’s belly to feel the baby move; and by imagining yourself as a dad.
Be there for labor and delivery and do what you can to help.
Once baby is home, be involved as much as possible by changing diapers, comforting and singing to baby, and maybe feeding baby a bottle at night so mom can sleep a bit more.
Wear the baby in a carrier or sling and take a walk together.
So let’s say a few weeks or maybe months have passed and your baby still seems a bit like a stranger to you. It is probably a good idea to speak to your baby’s doctor at this point. The doctor should be able to tell whether you need professional help or just more time and effort to get that connection going.
Bonding can happen all sorts of ways. It may be your heart feels so full the very second you lay eyes on your baby and the connection is immediate. Or it could be that three months into your relationship, baby cracks a smile for the first time and you feel that zing to the heart. And maybe you don’t call it “bonding” but “love.”
However it happens and whatever you call it, bonding is one of the best things we get to experience as human beings. There is simply nothing so wonderful as the feeling of connection to a new being. And nothing as powerfully important to your child’s wellbeing, from birth to adulthood.
What have you done to help bond with your infant? When did you realize you felt bonded to your baby? Have you ever experienced a delay in bonding? What helped you bond with your baby?
Co-parenting following a divorce can be complex, frustrating and confusing. However, every day, parents around the world are coping with the challenges and raising happy, well-adjusted children. As founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network I’ve found there are many factors that can have a positive influence on your effectiveness as a co-parent. All of them begin from the inside out.
In this article, we review eight major keys to insuring a more successful co-parenting outcome for you and your children during, and long after, your divorce. Remember that co-parenting is a life-long endeavor. But when you master the skills suggested here, life will be better and more rewarding for everyone in the family. And that’s a goal worth attaining!
Watch Your Attitude
Attitude plays a big part in the success of any child-centered divorce. If you approach your divorce with a commitment to making it as positive an experience as possible for the children you love, you are on your way to succeeding.
What attitudes are you conveying about your divorce? Try to catch your thoughts and the way you speak about the divorce. Are you filled with negativity? Are your days consumed with a “poor me” state of consciousness? Are you attracting and spending time with others who share these sentiments? If so, it’s time for an overhaul in your thinking and attitude.
A child-centered divorce is created over weeks, months, and years of attention to positive parenting. It’s never too late to start regardless of how long you have been divorced. The decisions you make today will affect the relationships within your family tomorrow and for decades to come. Co-parenting is a life-long experience. Why not approach it with a positive attitude for the sake of your children?
Evaluate Your Perceptions
The world is what we perceive it to be. Whether you believe your lot is good or bad—you will be right—and create an outcome to justify your belief.
If you perceive yourself to be a victim in your divorce, you will focus on evidence to prove that to be true.
If you instead take your divorce as a life experience to learn from, you will derive many benefits and value from the divorce, no matter how much pain is also involved. You will also accept responsibility for the part you played in the process and be more willing to contemplate new ways to live your life in the future that will bring more positive results.
Sadly, it’s through challenging experiences that we grow and learn the most from life. Are you discovering meaningful lessons for yourself? Are you role -modeling effective decision-making and cooperative co-parenting, despite the challenges you face?
Look For The Gift
There are always lessons to be learned from painful experiences. If you perceive those lessons as “gifts” to you—wisdom and opportunities you will never have otherwise experienced—you can move on from your divorce a better, stronger, wiser person. There is always a gift to be received if you look for it.
Take your lessons to heart. Get support in making better decisions in the future. Know what to do and not do when dealing with new relationship issues. If you’ve learned from the past, be grateful for the gift of understanding so you don’t repeat old patterns and instead make smarter choices.
Be A Respectful Co-Parent
Moving on after divorce is but a small piece of the puzzle if you are a parent. Working through the challenges of creating successful communication with your ex is a goal that must be worked on continuously. Keep your children in mind before making any decisions related to their well-being and you will stay on course.
Because you and your former spouse will be parenting your children for many years—and decades—to come, it makes sense to start off on the best possible course. The first step is to develop a respectful co-parenting relationship with your ex. Remember that your ex is your child’s other parent, whom they love. Treat your former spouse with that level of awareness and dignity in all your communications and he or she will be more likely to return that same level of respect to you. Changes may not happen overnight. But with patience and persistence things can and will improve.
Learn To Let Go
If you truly want to transform your life after divorce you must learn to let go of negative emotions that hold you hostage. Negative emotions include anger, resentment, blame, jealousy, hatred and anxiety. There is, of course, a time and place for experiencing those emotions. Feel them; mourn the dream that turned sour. Then make a decision to let them go. Do this for your benefit—not on behalf of your former spouse.
Negative emotions can hold you in limbo and suck the life out of you. When you experience negative emotions, you get stuck in a place that’s painful to experience and it makes you unpleasant to be around. For the sake of your children—if not for yourself—decide to let it all go. Be determined to move on.
It’s not always easy to do, but the contrast of living in your pain is not an easy place to be either. Which state would you prefer? Which state will give your kids the better opportunity to enjoy the innocence of their childhood?
When you’re stuck in emotional turmoil your children feel it and are helpless to change it. Reach out for professional support if you can’t release the anger, hurt, grief, and other emotions that hold you hostage in a doom and gloom mindset.
The big step after letting go of your negative emotions is learning to forgive. This begins with you. Forgive any mistakes you made related to your marriage or divorce. Forgive your poor choices, immaturity, or naiveté. Acknowledge yourself as someone who is open to personal growth, change, and transformation. Feel your worth and start doing things that express self-love.
Next take the big step of forgiving your ex. This does not mean condoning his or her actions or hurtful behavior. It means you are determined not to let them affect you any longer.
You are cutting the emotional chords that bind you and keep you from enjoying the new possibilities in your life. Behind forgiveness is freedom. Don’t you want to be free of the pain, hurt, insecurity, and rage that holds sway over you? Cut the chord and be free! It’s a gift to yourself and to your children as well!
Make Time For Yourself!
One of the healthiest things you can do in creating a positive attitude is to make time for yourself! This is a choice that will pay off on many levels in your life. Think about reinventing yourself in new ways that excite you. Take a yoga, meditation, or exercise class. Pursue a new hobby. Volunteer at an animal shelter or hospital. Start a craft or business enterprise that excites you. Make time for strolls in nature, sports activities, watching your weight and diet. Treat yourself to a message or facial. Get a new hairstyle. Indulge when you can.
By nurturing yourself, you make it possible to give your children your total attention when you are with them. During and after divorce your kids need you more than ever. You can’t be there for them if you’re not there for yourself to renew your spirits. It’s all part of the child-centered divorce formula and it works if you play your part.
Do the best you can. Be the best parent and co-parent you can be. Take it day by day. If you need help, reach out for it without embarrassment or shame. You’re not alone. And the help you need is out there for you!
Handle Your Conflicts
Disagreements are inevitable between divorced parents from time to time. Develop good communication skills and you will minimize the damage that results.
When a conflict with your ex arises, be a good listener. Most disagreements come about from misunderstanding. Clarify what you heard to make sure that was the intention. Mistaken assumptions can cause hurt feelings.
It’s a good idea to get into the habit of paraphrasing what you think your ex said and ask for clarification. Apologize if you misunderstand or leave out something critical. Be understanding if your ex is the one to make the error. Try not to put your ex on the defensive or jump to negative conclusions.
Find a middle ground with which both of you can live. Take turns getting to “win” the debate or issue at hand. Agree to disagree if necessary. Learn to move on.
Try one of the co-parenting scheduling tools available online. They help reduce conflict, simplify communication and coordinate all co-parenting decisions and activities for a better, happier outcome. If talking on the phone results in frequent arguments, choose instead to put all communication in writing. The goal is to make co-parenting smoother, easier and more positive on both sides.
Your children will thank you when they’re grown.
Co-Parenting Bonus: Take The High Road
Dr. Phil often says, “Every relationship needs a hero.” Be the one who can step up and look beyond the ego gratification of being right or getting your way. Why? Because it’s in the best interest of your children for you to minimize conflict.
That doesn’t mean you become a doormat. Stand up for your values. If an occasional concession won’t harm your children’s overall wellbeing, consider whether you can let it go. It’s not about being “right.” It’s about being the best parent you can be for the kids you love.
If you must stand firm, do it without using “I told you so” putdowns. Make your points using “I” language and stating your feelings. Avoid “you” language that’s insulting or insensitive.
It takes a mature, aware adult to take the high road when a conflict is taking place. Be that person. Be the catalyst for behavior you can be proud of. In the future your children will remember who made them feel secure, protected and loved. They’ll acknowledge you for it.
We were so intrigued by Rosalind Sedacca’s advice on positive parenting and divorce for a recent piece here on the Kars4Kids Educational Blog for Parents, that we asked her to elaborate on the subject in a guest post. To our great pleasure, she immediately accepted the challenge. We believe our readers will find this blog post both helpful and informative!
Divorced Parents: 5 Ways to Avoid Scarring Your Kids!
Let’s face it, divorce impacts everyone in the family. But it doesn’t have to scar your children if you remember to put their emotional and psychological needs first when making crucial decisions. Keep in mind that every decision you make regarding your divorce will affect the wellbeing of your children in a multitude of serious ways. Of course, the emotional scars are not only harder to see, they’re also much harder to erase.
Here are 5 ways to avoid scarring or wounding your kids as you move through your divorce and transition into your new life afterwards.
1. Emphasize that your kids are not at fault.
It is common for children to tend to blame themselves for divorce, no matter how bad Mom and Dad’s relationship has been. The younger the child, the more likely this is so. Sit down together and talk to your kids, emphasizing that they are in no way at fault for your divorce.
You can say something like: “Mom and Dad don’t agree about certain key issues and that has created conflict. Even when some of the issues are about you, it does not mean you are to blame. You are an innocent child whom we both love.
“Sadly, Mom and Dad disagree about certain important issues — but not about our love for you. You are not to blame for our divorce.”
Divorce always results in change within the family. Some of those changes can be beneficial and create a more peaceful environment for your children. Just don’t ever burden them with adult information and judgments.
Remind them instead that change is an inevitable part of life and not necessarily bad. Let your children see that everything in life keeps changing. “You grow bigger every year. Seasons change, clothing styles change, your school classes change. Sometimes it takes a while to get used to changes, like when you get a new teacher or try a new sport. In time you may come to like these new changes. Let’s give it a try.”
When you belittle, put down, or in any way disrespect your child’s other parent – regardless how justified you may feel in doing so – it hurts your children in deep and long-lasting ways. Children innately love both their parents and feel a connection to them. When you insult their other parent it creates confusion, guilt, sadness, anger, insecurity and low self-esteem in your children.
Instead, remind them that Mom and Dad will always be their parents and will always love them. Reassure them that no one will replace Mom or Dad either. “We will both always love you and be there for you, no matter where we live or how things should change.”
Then make it your business to do the right thing on their behalf.
As tempting as it may be, never confide adult content, the down and dirty details of your marriage, to your children. They are not psychologically prepared to handle the emotional complexity. Many adults aren’t either.
Save your venting for trusted friends, a divorce counselor, or a support group. Never ask your children to spy; to act as messengers between parents; or to provide inappropriate details about the other parent’s home life. Involving them in the nitty-gritty of your divorce pressures them in many ways – none of which are positive.
It is not your children’s place to assume adult responsibilities or to help you to find evidence against your ex. Let your kids be kids. Don’t rob them of their childhood.
Before making any decisions regarding divorce issues, think about the consequences for your children. See the outcome through the eyes of your five, ten, or fifteen year old. Ask yourself: what will they say to me about this when they are grown adults? Will they thank me for the way I handled the divorce – or be angry and resentful about my attitude and behavior?
The choices you make now will affect your children for years and decades to come. For their sake, take the high road and be the role model they will come to respect and later want to emulate.
What is “positive parenting” and why is it better than what our parents did? It’s what I’ve been wondering as the web fills up with parenting articles telling parents that positive parenting is the best and only way to parent. I can’t help but feel a little protective of my own parents: I think they did a good job. I came out all right. And anyway, what IS positive parenting, anyhoo?
Emphasis on Clear Parental Expectations
Is it just some frou-frou psychobabble term for being nice to your kids—or is it a firm and original style of parenting that merits a closer look? Is it something I should be doing with my own kids—or am I already doing it? “Positive parenting emphasizes the communication of clear parental expectations, collaboration between the parent and child, praise and reinforcement for desired behaviors, and the avoidance of harsh consequences such as physical punishment,” says Dr. Sarah Vinson an Atlanta-based psychiatrist and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Morehouse School of Medicine.
“Many ‘old fashioned’ parents used positive parenting techniques, too. It just may not have been packaged as such, yet. Whenever parents help their children set goals, act as positive examples, support their children, they are relating to their child based on positive parenting principles,” says Vinson.
So, let’s say you’ve never done anything like this with your kids, is it too late to start now? Will positive parenting confuse them? Dr. Vinson admits that, “Like anything else, change is difficult,” but reassures parents that, “Those who are conscientious enough to use forums such as this to be better informed, are probably already practicing some aspects of positive parenting.”
Lynette Louise, a mental health and parenting expert, suggests that the new positive parenting style isn’t only good for the child, but good for the parent, too. “Positive parenting [if] done correctly builds positive emotions and heightens self-esteem in parent and child, not just the child. One cannot look back at a different time and think that what was done then should be done now, only because it was done before. In many ways we could say that today’s challenges with violence and drug abuse are directly related to yesterday’s parenting. But whether that is true or not is irrelevant, since yesterday was a different world,” says Louise.
According to Stacey C. Brown, who counsels families at her private practice in Florida, positive parenting can preserve a grownup’s sanity. “Parents tend to get along with each other better if they are using positive parenting techniques. One parent doesn’t have to worry if the other parent is too heavy-handed or using negative strategies, so trust is higher, fun can be had and problems are looked at as opportunities.”
Jared Heathman, a Houston-based child psychiatrist, puts the emphasis in positive parenting back on the child. He says that positive parenting results in better conduct. “Using positive reinforcement and complimenting favorable behaviors can result in improved conduct. Children generally experience improved self-esteem and pleasure in receiving compliments. They will often repeat rewarding behaviors in an attempt to receive continued reinforcement.
“In contrast, children learn to tune-out repeated scolding as it is an unpleasant experience,” says Heathman.
Children As Unique Individuals
Some experts feel that positive parenting is important for what it says about children. Once upon a time, children were expected to be seen and not heard. This is no longer the case. “What’s loosely called ‘positive parenting’ is important because it’s opening up parents (and educators) to a new and true perspective on children. This ‘positive’ outlook views each child as a unique human being, just like mom or dad, with a drive toward developing his or her own individual personality and chosen success. Today more than ever success in life requires one to be independent and creative, not merely a copy of the traditions of the past,” says parenting coach and educator, Jesse McCarthy.
Is there a problem with positive parenting? Could all that praise backfire? According to John Sovec, a psychotherapist with a practice in Pasadena, CA, it’s crucial that praise be given only where indicated. “Praise needs to be held for true accomplishments. Many parents are feeding their kids a constant diet of praise for even the most mundane accomplishments and this affects the child’s ego structure. Rather than being able to self-regulate, these children can become grandiose, feeling that even their simplest actions deserve the highest praise and attention.”
WATCH: Teacher Chris Ulmer, 26, who teaches at Keystone Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, and spends ten minutes complimenting his classmates each day.
Not all the experts, however, are ready to throw out the baby with the bathwater. “As a teacher of the ‘at risk’ population of Los Angeles for 25 years I’d have to say that positive parenting is important because it’s a different world than the agrarian, pre-industrial world of so many years past. Some old-fashioned parenting techniques may still work and are valid; while others, like severe corporal punishment and starvation (sending a child to bed without supper) would now be considered cruel or illegal. We teachers are no longer allowed to use old-fashioned techniques like corporal punishment, which used to be legal, so we have to use our wits and be more progressive in our approach,” says P. M. DeVuono MA Ed., Classroom Algebra and Life Skills teacher, blogger, and published author.
DeVuono has developed what he calls the Two Choices Technique which he says “builds trust, self-esteem, intrinsic self-discipline and eliminates many arguments.
“The trick is in wording what you want so that your kid is making their own choice between two alternatives of your selection. One of the choices should usually be unpleasant and quite possibly cause the child to lose face; the other choice (the one you really want) is a better choice that allows the child to save face.”
You could say, ‘Do it my way or else!’ But that takes away the child’s power and does not teach judgement. By skillful wording—putting the face-saving choice last when it was time for her to choose—your child gets to exercise judgement and be the big girl or boy.”
Hmmm. Interesting. But is that manipulative? Is it fair to the child? How does this approach jibe with the idea of really seeing your child as a unique human being rather than one made in the parents’ own image?
Holly LaBarbera believes that the main thing is not to use shame as a motivator, something that was probably part and parcel of the way parents used to parent. LaBarbera makes a distinction between shame and guilt as parenting techniques. “I think there are ways that ‘old fashioned parenting techniques’ work very well. It is important to set limits and expectations for children in order to help them feel safe and secure, understanding how the world works and that there are consistent things they can count on. Setting clear expectations and limits also helps teach personal responsibility. I fear that some of these things are getting a bit lost, although they are very important.
“One newer approach to parenting that is very different, and much better for child development, is moving away from using shame as a way to influence behavior. Shame is an intense feeling that you are not worthy of love, that there is something inherently wrong with you. Many parents unintentionally use shaming techniques when they say ‘what is wrong with you?’ or ‘how could you do that?’”
Shame Keeps Us Stuck
“When people feel shame, they are actually less likely to make changes in behavior; if they believe there is something wrong with them, that they are stupid or lazy or worthless, then no change in behavior will ever fix that. Guilt, on the other hand, can inspire change. Guilt focuses on a particular behavior, such as ‘you should not have hit your brother because you hurt him.’ When a person feels badly about what they did, yet they feel that they are a good and worthy person, they can change that behavior and do something differently next time. Guilt motivates change while shame keeps us stuck,” says LaBarbera, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Okay, so I’m getting shame=bad, guilt=good. What else? Well, if you listen to Sherlyn Pang Luedtke, one motivator that is definitely on the way out is fear. “My son’s 6th grade classmate started crying in class in anticipation of his parents yelling at him because he got a B,” says Luedtke, a parent educator, best-selling author, and Founder of Present Parent Training.
What about positive parenting after divorce? Are the considerations of divorced parents any different when it comes to parenting? Rosalind Sedacca, CCT, “The Voice of Child-Centered Divorce,” advises parents to, “Put yourself in your kids’ shoes and think about the insecurities, fears, anger and anxieties they are experiencing—which are different at different ages and stages—including teens and young adults. Consider that your children love and need both parents and when you put down, disparage or disrespect their other parent around your children you are hurting them and changing who they are.
“Don’t rob your kids of their childhood due to your divorce. Be compassionate, considerate and understanding of their feelings. Most important of all, be the role model they need and deserve. They’ll thank you when they are grown!” says Sedacca.
Role model? So is modeling behavior a part of positive parenting? Cara Maksimow, LCSW, CPC, confirms this idea. “Positive parenting is about not only teaching your kids but by showing them. The best way to have your children be kind and optimistic is if that is what they experience from you. For example if they hear you complain, they will learn to do the same.
“Increasing a sense of gratitude and building resiliency can help children to be more positive and focus on the good. Look for opportunities to bring up a more positive perspective on everyday events. For example if you see an ambulance go by you may want to say, ‘someone is being saved and helped right now,’ as opposed to, ‘someone is hurt or in trouble,’” says Maksimow, a therapist, coach, and author.
Nu, So What is Positive Parenting and Why is it Better than What Our Parents Did?
So does all this sound way complicated to you? Are you still not getting the difference between this positive parenting approach and regular old fashioned parenting? Barbara Harvey has a neat way of parsing the difference between these two styles. “Old fashioned parenting was based on telling children what to do and how. But not necessarily why. Positive Parenting focuses on training children not just on what and how, but also why,” says Harvey, Executive Director of Parents, Teachers, and Advocates, a parent development group in Atlanta, GA. “The real difference between the two is that old fashioned parenting is focused on parents controlling their children. Positive parenting focuses on parents training children to control themselves.”
Jamie D. Hartsfield, a licensed professional counselor in Suffolk, Virginia elaborates on the issue of control. “Positive parenting is crucial in establishing and maintaining a close parent-child relationship, built on trust and mutual respect. We know that our control over our children is really an illusion- and we’ve got to move beyond that so that we can influence their behavior and choices in a way that doesn’t break our relationship with them.
“Allowing or creating natural consequences for a child enables us to get on the same side as the child, and even have empathy for them as they’re reaping the consequences of their choices. It sets the bar higher than the old-fashioned ‘do as I say and ‘because I said so’ parenting techniques. Positive parenting is a way to effectively discipline our children while promoting close, trusting relationships!” says Hartsfield.
Not everyone agrees that positive parenting is an improvement over the way our parents and parents’ parents parented. Tom Kersting, for instance, a New Jersey psychotherapist and parenting and relationship expert for Fox News. “I am a big advocate of old-school, positive parenting and it is something that I constantly promote on the national stage. What I am seeing in today’s generation is an over-indulgence and coddling of our children.
“Many parents believe this is how to show love and support for our children but it is backfiring. In the last year alone I have had more referrals of middle school age kids with anxiety disorders than the previous 15 years combined.”
But Lee Uehara at Pump Mama, disagrees. “Positive parenting is important to help children feel safe; be open-minded; and using positive directives, facilitates the focus on what you want them to do.”
Most of all, says Laurie Gray, founder and president of Socratic Parenting LLC, and the author of A Simple Guide to Socratic Parenting (Luminis Books / 2014), positive parenting tools yield more positive results over time, compared to old-fashioned techniques. Gray says the most common mistakes that parents still make are:
Believing negative tools will result in positive long-term outcomes
Basing their relationships with their children on control rather than connection
Believing that they can be more successful in disciplining their children than they are at disciplining themselves
Tips! We’ve Got Tips!
Ready to dig in and get started on positive parenting your own children? Here are some tips from the experts:
Compliment the growing length of time between displays of negative behavior. “With children that have frequent problems, it may be difficult to find a behavior worthy of a compliment. In this case, consider complimenting the child when increasing periods of time pass without negative behaviors,” says Jared Heathman.
Catch your child being good. “Make it a point to catch your child being good. When you do, put just as much energy and effort into praising that behavior as you would criticizing or scolding for something you would not want the child to do,” says Sarah Vinson.
Include children in plans. “Create an environment in which children can thrive alongside their parents, e.g. include a toddler in making breakfast, have a teenager help plan the family vacation,” says Jesse McCarthy.
Listen to your child’s feelings and thoughts. “Listen to and acknowledge a child’s feelings and thoughts. For example, instead of blowing up on a ten year-old for failing a test, wait for him to share his own concerns (after all what human being, child or adult, enjoys failing?),” says McCarthy.
Set up rules with consequences. McCarthy suggests setting up rules that have natural and clear consequences. “For example, whereas with yesterday’s ‘punishment parenting’ dad might have just randomly spanked a child for not putting on his shoes, with today’s ‘positive parenting’ he would just remind his son that unfortunately they won’t be able to go to the park then, today.”
Work on challenges as a family. Sherlyn Pang Luedtke suggests regular family meetings to give “everyone a chance to speak and work through challenges together.”
For divorced parents: Always ask “Do I love my kids more than I hate or dislike my Ex?” “This will remind you that every decision impacts your children in ways that will affect them for months, and even years ahead,” says Rosalind Sedacca.
Point out the bright spots in a day. Cara Maksimow likes to do an exercise with kids called Fill Your BAGhappy. “We identify bright spots during the day by spelling BAG and asking questions: B-What is the Best part of the day today? A-What did you Accomplish? G-What are you Grateful for? Use those as a starting point for a discussion on the good each night,” says Maksimow.
Hold your child accountable. “If your child gets a poor grade or gets in trouble, don’t bail him out or point the finger at the teacher or at someone else. Instead, let your child deal with the consequences; this is the only way children can learn from their mistakes,” says Tom Kersting.
Focus on the goal. Lee Uehara says that implementing positive parenting is about focusing on what you want kids to do. “For example, not ‘Don’t Run!’ but rather, ‘Walk slowly down the aisles of this store,’” says Uehara.
Finding a caregiver or a daycare for your child can be a stressful, guilt-ridden experience. Take this advice from a twenty-five-year veteran parent. But it doesn’t have to be if you do some research, preparation, and some mindfulness training. Yes. Finding the right caregiver or daycare isn’t merely about finding the right place for your child. It’s about putting yourself in a good mindset when it comes to leaving your child in the care of someone else.
Let’s be honest. No one will love your kids as much as you do. No one will do a perfect job watching them and caring for them either, including you. So when the times comes when you must find a caregiver or daycare for your child, you should keep that in mind. No caregiver, even a licensed one will replace you and no daycare will ever be just like home. Sometimes, if you do your homework right, it can be a stimulating, safe, positive complement to your parenting.
And it might just be a healthy parenting break for you too!
How to choose the right childcare or daycare solution
Analyze yours and family’s schedule
Map out your work and family schedule on a master family calendar, one located where everyone in the family can see it. Figure out blocks of time when you will need coverage for your child or when you feel a real break might be most productive or beneficial for you. Knowing your schedule in advanced makes the childcare search more productive. You can immediately weed out caregivers or centers that don’t provide daycare when you need it. It also makes it easier to assess whether an individual caregiver flexible hours or an established daycare center with structured hours works better for your family.
How old is your child?
This is a real consideration. Not all caregivers or daycare centers take children younger than three months. Others are capable of caring for newborns as young as six weeks but stop when your child enters nursery or preschool ages.
Consider your child’s temperament
Is your child easygoing, flexible with change; or does he need predictable structure every minute of the day? Is your child shy and timid, upset easily with noise and chaos? Does your child have an outgoing, fiery personality? How does your child behave in new settings around new people? This should be a real consideration when interviewing childcare providers or daycare centers. You should ask the provider during the interview about their approaches with children who are afraid or how they handle the exuberant, explosive temperament.
Make a list of wants and needs
Make a list of needs and wants. Do you want lunch to be included in the cost or do you want the provider to serve your food. Does your child have allergies that require special food handling? Do you want the provider to feed breastmilk that you provide? Do you need early and late care? These are just some of the wants and needs you should list on your priority list. There should be others too. Consider setting, cleanliness, licensing, years of experience, location, religious orientation as some of your parameters.
Does your child have disabilities or special needs? If so, you will want to find a caregiver or daycare provider who has the expertise to work with your child.
Another consideration might be educational. Some early childhood centers feed directly into early elementary and then elementary. For example, Montessori programs frequently offer early childhood programs that begin at ages as young as three years. Other larger daycare centers incorporate kindergarten and take children between the ages of six weeks and six years.
A most important consideration is licensing. Not all childcare providers are licensed. More often than not, family home daycare providers do operate without state licensing. If having a licensed provider is important, check with the Office of Licensing through your state. Your state’s Department of Human Services may maintain a database of licensed providers.
Consider your budget
This is a major deciding factor for many parents. Many parents must choose a childcare or daycare provider based on economics rather than quality. As a result, many parents are forced into a situation where they worry about the welfare of their children.
Find childcare or daycare providers that meet our criteria
In many states, the Department of Health and Human Services maintains a database of licensed home daycare providers and daycare centers. The database frequently includes any licensing infractions or issues with the provider. There are also a number of online services that advertise services of childcare providers and pre-screen the providers with background checks. Sites such as Care.com and Sittercity.com maintain search engines with licensed providers or independent sitters that have passed background checks. Also the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) provides a search engine of accredited childcare programs as well as information on choosing an early childhood program, ways to find the best care for your child or infant, and tips to ease the transition from home day care with an individual caregiver to a daycare center.
Visit childcare or daycare facilities
Once you locate a few childcare or day care providers that fit your wish list, set up a time to visit and interview teachers and directors. The following are some questions to ask in your interview.
How long have you been in business?
Do you have a current state license?
Do you have other accreditations?
How many children do you enroll at one time?
Do you have space for my child?
If not, can we get on a waiting list, and how long is it?
What are your hours?
What is your sick-child policy?
What’s your holiday schedule? On what other days are you closed?
How flexible are you with pickup and drop-off times?
What are your fees?
Do you offer scholarships or sibling discounts?
Is there a late-pickup fee?
How and when would you bill us?
Do you supply diapers, or is that up to the parent?
What other supplies would I need to bring for my child?
Do you encourage visits from parents?
What do you expect from me as a parent?
How do you communicate with parents? Will you give me a daily report or is there another process for informing parents of what children did during the day (naps, bottles, BMs, etc.)?
Can I bring my child in for a pre-enrollment visit?
And, do you have any references? A most important tip is to observe the children. Do children seem happy, relaxed, interactive?
Do call other parents who currently use or who have used the childcare provider. While visiting the provider, ask any parents you see questions, if they’re amendable.
Consider doing a trial run
A two- or three-day trial run can give you and the provider essential information. It can tell you if the relationship with your child and the childcare provider is a match, if the provider is who they say, and if your child is happy.
Monitor your child’s behavior
Preparation is the best prevention when leaving your child with a caregiver or daycare center. Know that separation anxiety is the norm, and if your child feels clingy before you leave is to be expected. The following video makes suggestions to parents about the separation process.
When I was little, I spent weekend mornings watching Bugs Bunny, Wylie Coyote and the Roadrunner, and the Pink Panther episodes. It was a ritual I relished; and at the time, wasn’t considered educational or hazardous. It just was something kids did on Saturday and Sunday mornings. They watched cartoons just like they played outdoors or played “Cowboys and Indians” with cap guns. No one talked about the impact of watching too much television, or the impact of television on cognitive development.
Captain Kangaroo circa 1960
And the only real educational programs at the time were Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo. Those of us raised in the 50s, 60s, and 70s watched Captain Kangaroo and fondly thought of the characters as television friends who helped us as we grew up.
With the advent of public television in the 60s and the subsequent technological revolution, and studies that focused on links between television viewing and violence acts committed by children, the subject of watching television, how much television, and the quality of television programming were highlighted. Educational television was good. Saturday morning cartoons were not so good. And parents who plopped their children in front of the television for a couple minute of parenting reprieve or as a convenient babysitter were chastised as relinquishing parental responsibility.
As an educational tool, television is considered a passive medium, one that limits the viewer’s engagement, has an addictive quality, and diminishes creativity. But there are exceptions.
With the flood of digital media, online videos, gaming, social media, and Cartoon Network, it’s hard to know what’s good and what’s not. It’s hard to sift through the abundance of literature, reviews, and parenting guidelines. And it’s hard to know precisely how much or how little time is too much television time. Can educational television be beneficial to our children? To what extent? And if so, what are some of the best educational programs? Is SpongeBob Square Pants the best we can do?
Children younger than 2 should not be exposed to television viewing. While television can be entertaining and mesmerizing for infants, long-term studies show that television has a negative effect on infants younger than 2.
Studies found that language skills in children exposed to television during the 0-2 year window had less interaction with parents. Less interaction means less language and conversation that impacts vocabulary and language development. Television viewing also interferes with play. Play in infants is shown to be crucial in cognitive development and emotional health. Also, television viewing at night is complicit with sleep disruptions. Poor sleep patterns in infants has been linked to mood, behavior, and learning.
For preschoolers, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 to 2 hours a day of television viewing, even educational television. In this age group, television viewing can enhance social skills such as sharing, manners, diversity, and cultural awareness. But pediatricians recommend that parents monitor shows for educational value, information content, and violence. Parents should also watch television with children. Watching with your child encourages parent/child interaction. It can also be a launching point for conversations, a way for a parent to mitigate concepts that might be confusing or scary for young children. And for increased language benefit, parents should read to preschoolers, not only as a way to reinforce vocabulary used in the television shows. They should read books about themes discussed in the television shows to help young children understand the world around them.
For older children and adolescents, pediatricians caution parents to be vigilant. Television viewing should be educational, of a higher quality and screened to limit gratuitous violence, suggestive material, drug orientation, and programs that skew healthy body image. If you plan to discuss a provocative subject with your child, television programming can be a good launching point, a segue to a more serious conversation with your child.
As preschoolers develop language skills, television can reinforce storytelling skills such as plot, sequence, character development, and theme.
What are educational television programs to consider?
Sesame Street: This program exposes kids to cultural and ethnic diversity and real-life concepts. Its focus on language skills, reading, context, conversation, and social skills has been shown, with decades of research, to improve educational outcomes for kids, especially kids from lower socioeconomic communities. And it’s adult spin on timeless favorites engages older kids and adults into the television-watching experience.
Mr. Rogers: Filmed in Pittsburgh, PA, Mr. Rogers has special meaning for many of us raised in his neighborhood. Mr. Rogers, a minister and social worker, felt it important to teach children about peaceful interactions, about acknowledging feelings and learning how to communicate them to others, about working with others, learning, and other common themes that young children might encounter. What’s special and lasting about this show is the narrative, the soothing nature of Mr. Rodgers himself, processes he feels important for young children to understand, and the importance of community and relationships. For those of us who interacted with him in Pittsburgh, he treated each of us the way he treated his television characters–with respect, kindness, and validation.
Super Why: Super Why reinforces reading, syntax, contextual clues in reading, analysis. This show also teachers basic literacy skills like alphabets and phonetics, and engages the viewers in the storyline.
WordWorld: This show takes letters and words and superimposes it on real life so that children begin to associate words with their meanings. Children learn site words through recognition and context.
Sid the Science Kid: This is science explored on a playground, early childhood level. Sid, the main character asks questions and explores subjects the way a child might. It goes over scientific method, shows its application, and reinforces critical learning and analytical reasoning.
Reading Rainbow: Reading Rainbow brings books alive and spark an interest in reading. Narrated by Lavar Burton, it also draws in curiosity from those of us who knew Lavar Burton as Geordie in Star Trek: The Next Generation and want to see him again. The show engages young readers but explores story themes more in-depth. For example, some books discussed discuss slavery and its relationship to U.S. history, the intersection of people of different cultures living and interacting in an urban setting, moving away and the feelings young children go through, anger and methods to cope, and so on.
New Electric Company (Kindergarten age): Based on the 1970s version of PBS’ The Electric Company, this show continues to teach phonics, grammar, and spelling. It creates skits with lively narratives and engages kids with humor and silliness.
Between the Lions: A play on words (Between the lines), this show covers early literacy skills, reading, but teaches analytical skills. How to figure out words in context? How to glean the meaning of a reading passage? What is the plot?
Magic School Bus A narrative-based show, this show explains processes and the workings of the world kids are most tuned into. It also takes kids into the fray, allows them to imagine what it might be like to be intricately involved in a process and that engages the imagination and creativity of a child.
Cyberchase Cyberchase blends adventure and learning, with the characters finding out things about real-life skills (like map reading) as they work to protect the land of “Cyberspace.” Because it deals with computers and digital media, it has particular relevance in today’s world.
Nova: For older school-aged children and adolescents, Nova covers topics that span science, culture, history, music, and many subjects kids might be interested in but on a more complex level. Most topics covered by Nova are set up with a narrative and chronology that helps viewers see a process in its entirety.
Trust: when it comes right down to it, it’s the basis of all relationships. And sometimes we learn this the hard way. Which is bad enough, but it’s even worse to watch from a distance as our children learn the meaning of trust abused, and how easily it can happen.
You warn your child: don’t take that precious toy you got as a gift to school. But she doesn’t listen. She comes home from school, in tears, crestfallen.
You already know what happened. Your child’s obvious caring for that toy made her a target. A “friend” begs to hold the toy for a minute. “I just want to see it, hold it,” says the “friend” who then dashes it to the floor, smashing the toy to bits. She laughs in triumph, taunting your child.
The Loss of Trust
You hate that your child had to go through that. You hate having to explain meanness and cruelty to your child. But once brought to light, you can’t put the genie back into the bottle, now can you (even though your child thinks you can do ANYTHING, leap tall buildings in a single bound, for instance, and here she will learn otherwise, as well)?
Or it could be a different scenario in which the abuse of your child’s trust may not be as malicious as all that. Her friend pleads to borrow her Supersonic Dashing Mad Madeleine doll, promising to take excellent care of the beloved dolly. You know what happens next.
The “friend” loses the doll, or damages or breaks it, and makes no effort to replace the item. Her apology isn’t all that heartfelt. She doesn’t much care.
“How could this happen??” moans your child. “Doesn’t she know how much I love that doll?”
Actually, no. She doesn’t know. She’s not mean or malicious, just not thinking about the repercussions of her behavior.
This too, is a lesson for your child. Don’t lend the things you love to people unless you know for a fact your item will be returned in the same condition. It’s not something you can trust. You have to watch for signs. You have to watch your friends’ behavior, really get to know them before you can trust them with your things.
And sometimes you have only your instinct to go on. And sometimes your instincts will be wrong.
And at this point, there is yet another lesson for your child to learn: forgiveness.
She has to forgive the little girl who broke her toy—let’s call her “Belinda”—because Belinda isn’t really capable of taking care of important possessions. It’s not in her skill sets, to date. How can you be mad at Belinda for breaking a doll when she doesn’t even take care of her own things?
“But how could I know that about Belinda?” asks your daughter—let’s call her Claudia—when you tell her she has to forgive and forget.
Here’s where you (at last!) have a teachable moment. “Think of the way Belinda dresses,” you might say. “Does her hair stay neatly tied all day? Are her shoes tied properly? What does she do when she drops a piece of apple on the floor during snack? Does she have to be told to pick it up and throw it away?”
Now sit back and watch the wheels turn in Claudia’s head.
All very well for young children, you might be thinking, but what about teenagers? With all their drama, you can tell they’re still learning about trust issues and relationships, too. How do you help them past the hurts? How do you help them learn the lessons?
The truth is it’s not much different. You ask the relevant questions and then sit back and watch the wheels turn—watch your child work it out in his head.
Let’s say your son Bob works very hard on a school project with another boy named Jim. Bob does most of the work, while Jim is somehow never around to help out. The project is handed in, gets a great grade, and Jim takes most of the credit.
Bob has a right to be infuriated. Worse yet, there’s no way for him to tell the teacher the truth without making Jim look bad, which would make Bob a stinker for telling on him.
So Bob comes home and tells you the entire sad story. How do you help him?
First of all, you listen, and show him you care. Let him see you feel his hurt and let him know you’re on his side. Don’t criticize him unless you want him never to tell you about anything ever again.
Seriously, don’t do that. Don’t criticize him. Not now.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t help him work out what really happened, his part in the whole sad story, his mistakes, and what he might have done to protect himself.
You do it with questions. Just like you did in the above example with Claudia and Belinda and the broken/lost/damaged dolly. You ask the sort of questions you hope your child will ask himself the next time around, BEFOREHAND, when judging whether or not to trust a person with his friendship.
And then you let your child draw his own conclusions. In the case of Bob, here are some questions you might ask:
Were there signs this could happen?
Is Jim generally a hard worker?
Have you seen other cases in which Jim took the credit for something someone else did?
Why do you think Jim acted as he did?
Is there something you can do to prevent this from happening in the future?
What did you learn from this experience?
The questions you ask your child may seem self-evident to you, but they are not at all evident to him. In posing these questions, you are teaching
your child about the qualities that define friendship, the qualities that deserve our trust and respect. You’re teaching him what friendship means.
By extension, you’re showing your child how to be a good friend. You’re teaching him to be the kind of person who inspires trust in others: a person with integrity who cares about others.