Teaching a Child How to Perform the Heimlich Maneuver


Heimlich Heroes teaches kids how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver and other life-saving methods.
Heimlich Heroes teaches kids how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver and other life-saving methods.

It’s not unusual to hear about a child who performs the Heimlich Maneuver on another classmate and saves a life. Nevertheless, the occurrence of it never ceases to amaze and astonish adults. How did that child know how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver? How did the child recognize the signs of choking and keep his cool?

Here are some examples of some quick-thinking Heimlich Heroes:

  • A teacher, Judy Rader, popped a few almonds in her mouth between classes to get her through until lunch. When one lodged in her throat, one of her students, Sam Barrera, just 15, knew what to do. He put his arms around his teacher’s abdomen, felt for her belly button with his finger, went up two inches, clasped his hands together and pulled in and up. On his third thrust, Sam literally lifted Rader off the ground and the almond popped out.
  • At Walnut Grove Middle School in Midlothian, Texas, September 10 is “Basilio Rocha.” It’s the day when Basilio Rocha, a 13-year-old student, saved the life of a 12-year-old classmate who was choking on a muffin. Basilio had learned the Heimlich last year in his sixth-grade health class.
  • In Kersey, Colorado, 13-year old Gabe Valentine was honored at Platte Valley Middle School for administering the Heimlich maneuver to a friend. Gabe had learned the skills two years ago when he took a course for 11-13 year-olds at the North Colorado Medical Center.

Teaching a child how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver isn’t just empowering for that child. It could save a life at some point. Yes, it’s hard to imagine a small child performing the Heimlich Maneuver. It’s hard enough to think that your child might be faced with a life and death situation. But knowledge breeds confidence and by empowering your child with some first aid and life saving skills accomplishes a couple things. It encourages grit and resolve in your child. It breeds confidence and leadership. It also tells your child that you trust them enough to aid in the case of an emergency, that you think they’re grown up enough to take on some grown up responsibilities. And kids don’t just love to be given adult responsibility. They reach deep down when a grownup believes in them and performing astonishing feats.

What is the Heimlich Maneuver?

The Heimlich Maneuver is a life-saving procedure developed by Dr. Henry Heimlich. The procedure is meant to clear the airway of a choking victim by harnessing the power behind air pressure that builds up behind the diaphragm and kinetic energy. By applying quick thrusts to the upper abdomen (just above the belly button), the force of air in the lungs pushed out with a thrust can dislodge and expel an obstruction or piece of food lodged in the airway. The advantage of using the Heimlich Maneuver over a slap on the back is that the air pressure pushes the obstruction up and out of the mouth instead of further down into the airway.

Kids are just as able to learn this procedure to save a life. In fact, kids who learn the Heimlich Maneuver feel more empowered because they feel less powerless when someone is choking and can make a difference.

What does a child learn as a Heimlich Hero?

Any child taught the Heimlich Maneuver will be taught to recognize the universal signals of choking. They will learn when it’s time to act, where to stand, where to place hands, and how to administer the procedure properly. They will practice the procedure over and over until it becomes an automatic response.


First, they will learn how to assess if someone is choking.

If an adult is choking, they should see any of the following behaviors:

  • Coughing or gagging
  • Hands on the neck or breastbone
  • A look of panic
  • Inability to talk
  • Wheezing
  • Passing out
  • Turning blue: Cyanosis, a blue coloring to the skin usually around the face. lips, and in the fingernail beds.

In an infant or toddler is choking, a child who learns the Heimlich Maneuver should learn to recognize certain behaviors in infants not present in adults. Infants and young children don’t clutch their throats. They may cry or cough weakly and may begin to turn blue if they’re choking.

Second, they will learn how to get into position and perform abdominal thrusts (Heimlich Maneuver).

  • Stand behind the person. Wrap arms around the waist. If it’s an adult who is being rescued, it may be too difficult to tip the person forward.
  • Make a fist with one hand. Place the fist two inches above the belly button.
  • Grasp the fist with the other hand. Make a quick jerking movement backwards toward the person’s belly. The movement should be in and slightly upwards.
  • Perform a total of 5 abdominal thrusts. If the obstruction doesn’t pop out the first time, repeat the thrusts five times. If the obstruction still doesn’t come out, call 9-1-1 or ask someone nearby to call for you. Then repeat the 5 abdominal thrusts.

Note: The American Heart Association does not recommend the use of back blows. Although the American Red Cross recommends them, they can do greater harm, can lodge the obstruction deeper into the airway and can cause internal injuries.

If the person becomes unconscious, perform standard CPR with chest compressions and rescue breaths.

How Does Heimlich Heroes Teach Kids About the Heimlich Maneuver?

The Heimlich Institute has developed 42-inch dolls equipped with an internal airway, lungs, and a diaphragm. Kids learn the Heimlich Maneuver by practicing real- life situations on the dolls.

The Legalities of Road Rage: How It Varies

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, road rage occurs when “an individual commits a combination of moving traffic offenses [that] endanger other persons or property; an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of one motor vehicle on the operator or passenger(s) of another motor vehicle caused by an incident that occurred on a roadway.”

Despite a clear definition, many states have not enacted road rage laws and don’t have an official road rage policy. Legislation is on a state-by-state basis and any charges made against a perpetrator usually involve an accessory crime such as property damage. If however, road rage leads to personal injury or loss of life, states can charge the perpetrator with criminal offenses.

The following are examples of road rage legislation by a handful of states, or lack of it.


In Connecticut, road rage is considered a 3rd degree criminal mischief, a felony misdemeanor for juveniles. First degree criminal mischief is considered a felony especially if property damage exceeds $1,500 or if the damage occurs to a public utility. Second degree criminal mischief occurs when reckless damage exceeds $250.


In Florida, left-lane hogging drivers who drive ten miles slower than the speed limit can be ticketed and fined $60 under a larger “road rage” law. One component of the road rage law addresses teens and aggressive driving. While not necessarily road rage, aggressive driving is defined as two or more of the following acts simultaneously or in succession:

-Exceeding the posted speed limit by 15 mph or more
-Unsafely or improperly changing lanes
-Following another vehicle too closely
-Failing to yield the right-of-way
-Improperly passing
-Violating traffic control and signal devices


In Massachusetts, a state known for its strict driving laws, a teen drivers or permit holders who commit certain types of motor vehicle violations are required by law to complete a SCARR course and completion of the course may be mandated by court. Known as State Courts Against Road Rage, the course was developed as part of JOL legislation (Juvenile Operator Law) to address the increased risks teen drivers present on the road. The law is designed to ensure that teen drivers are not only getting the best possible training before they are fully licensed but that they are also aware of the responsibilities associated with getting behind the wheel. Teen drivers found guilty of road rage or vehicular crimes are usually required to take the SCARR course as a court-ordered mandate. The objectives of the course are to

-Make students face the driving behaviors that got them into the class and discuss how they will change that behavior
-Make students understand the possible consequences involved with dangerous driving
-Educate them on how to handle and prevent a variety of driving scenarios.


The State of Texas doesn’t have an official road rage policy. It makes the assumption that drivers who commit road rage probably have other moving violations too. If road rage results in a physical attacks against another driver, the attack is covered under existing assault laws.

If You Don’t Live in a State Without a Road Rage Law, Should You Feel Relief?

Not so fast. If you have a teen driver and you drive in a lenient state, it doesn’t mean you don’t have worries. Teens by nature of their rapidly developing brains don’t have the maturity or experience as drivers to handle all situations. While they might not be aggressive drivers by nature, unexpected incidents while driving can set off even the most mild-mannered teen. A fender bender caused by your darling daughter hitting the gas instead of the brake at a light can escalate. How many times has your teen dissolved in a screaming, crying fit under stress? You might know that that fit isn’t aggressive but would an unfamiliar driver?

In many cases, a first time aggressive driving offense will be dismissed by a knowledgeable judge.

Some states like New Jersey understand the immaturity of teen drivers and are changing laws to reduce crashes caused by teen drivers and to give teen drivers more time to practice, to gain driving experience before unleashing them into the wild. New Jersey raised its legal driving age to 17. The state has the lowest rate of teen-related car accidents in the country. Teen drivers can get permits at 16 but can’t get licenses until their 17th birthday. In Massachusetts which raised its driving age to 16-1/2 several years ago, the state is considering legislation to raise the driving age to 17-1/2.

But there are other factors a police officer might charge your teen driver with based on perception, cultural bias, neighborhood, and situation.


Coding for Kids: The Benefits Are Greater Than You Know



When Hadi Partovi was ten, his father brought home a Commodore 64, one of the earliest types of personal computers. The computer had no games, no real activities; but his father handed him a coding manual and told him and his twin brother if they could figure out the code, they were free to design their own games.

At the time, Partovi lived in Teheran during a turbulent period: the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, the Islamic Revolution, and an eventual war with Iraq. During these years when he and his family spent countless hours in the basement taking protection from Saddam Hussein’s bombing campaign, he and his brother learned code. Eventually, when his family immigrated to the U.S., Partovi was proficient enough in code to become a computer programmer and paid his own way through Harvard University, graduated with a job offer from Microsoft and then went on to develop his own seed companies. It’s a “rags to riches” story, a perfect illustration of the American Dream. It also illustrates the power of giving kids the right tools when learning is ripe. Coding, computer science too, are important tools for kids to learn. Partovi agrees and is working hard to get computer science taught in every U.S. school.

Partovi’s story isn’t unusual. Look at any leader in the high-tech industry and most will tell you how coding was a transformative learning experience. It was a tool that changed the way they thought about the world. It served as a tool of creation, a way each was able to create and transform a bit of reality.

Research backs up the benefits of coding for kids especially in the classroom. Kids who learn coding and programming logic are better problem solvers, have stronger analytical reasoning skills, and become more involved, inquisitive learners and have a drive to construct knowledge. It’s also a STEM discipline, one that teaches kids how the internet works, how many systems they rely on function. It’s also a skill critical for a global economy driven by technology.

Why not wait for schools to provide coding for kids? Well, there’s a problem. According to Code.org, Partovi’s nonprofit, less than 10 percent of U.S. schools offer AP computer science, and many schools are unable or unwilling to change curriculum because experienced teachers and change costs money. As a result only 25 states in the U.S. count computer science courses toward graduation. Code.org is working to change those statistics but in the meantime, you shouldn’t wait for programming to come to a school near you

Sure, as a concerned parent, you can write and call your state’s department of education, but change comes slowly. Your best bet is to introduce coding and computer science introductory courses right in your own home.

There are a wide range of online programs that teach coding, some of them free. A good first step is to sign up at Partovi’s Code.org, look through the site, and try out the Hour of Code challenge. Yes, as a parent, try it out. It’s fun, easy, and teaches basic code through the “drag and drop” method. Essentially, the code is prepackaged with action labels. If you want a certain action, you select one of the code packages, move it to the field, and drop it in place. Visually, it makes coding much easier but you can see what each string of code is meant to do.

Next, have your child try it out. The site has a wide range of exercises for all ages that teach the mechanics of coding, all for free. There is also a 20-hour intro coding course for all ages. After playing on this site, you should feel inspired to check out other coding apps and programs.


Scratch: The makers label this game for players aged 8 through 16. The truth is, it’s enjoyable and beneficial for anyone just learning how to code can benefit from Scratch. Designed and maintained by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch uses the drag and drop method, and allows kids to design interactive games, stories, and animation. Scratch has a step-by-step guide, a downloadable User’s Manual, and Scratch Cards which are mini-lessons kids can follow to create simple subroutines. And the best part? Your child can share his creation with other kids in the Scratch online community.

Stencyl: Similar to Scratch, Stencyl promotes itself as coding without the syntax. But don’t be fooled. Kids who learn the mechanics of Stencyl are learning programming logic. It also uses the drag and drop method and is so intuitive that younger children can benefit. While basic games are free, any advanced exercises must be purchased but this game has multi-platform capability.

Khan Academy: I am a big proponent of Khan, have written extensively about his service, and recommend his videos to my students. The site houses over 2,400 videos on nearly every subject including basic programming and computer science. The instructor goes over concepts, demonstrates them on a whiteboard platform, and guides the viewer with step-by-step methodology.

Code Academy: This website is user-friendly and teaches kids of all ages the basics of code (including HTML/CSS, Javascript, Ruby, Python and many others) through fun and simple exercises that feel like games.

Hackety Hack:  You have to download from the site to your computer. But afterwards, your kids can learn about Ruby, an open-source programming code.

Code Monster:  Particularly good for kids, Code Monster works like a WYSIWYG program but in Javascript. In one box, you type code. In the other, you can see what the action looks like. The program prompts and guides the player. You follow instructions and if you get stuck, you either hit the Reset button or you skip to the next lesson. There are various lesson sections and Code Monster does save lessons and work.

Minecraft: It’s the programming game we parents love to hate and it has quite a cult-like following. Fundamentally, the game is about building and breaking structures. But the game has educational benefits that even teachers recognize and use in the classroom. In the Minecraft domains, kids create, and test boundaries in ways not possible in the real world. They solve problems, use analytical reasoning, and benefit through the interactive community. Gamers who have mastered Minecraft post interactive Youtube videos and give “cheats” to wanna-be programmers. If you haven’t heard of Stampylongnose, don’t worry. You will. Joking aside, Minecraft does offer educational benefits in this Lego-world-like, drag and drop game. Disadvantages? It’s not free, you must download and confirm the application before using it, and sometimes it kicks the user into demo mode.

If your child uses an iPad or tablet, check out the best coding apps in this comprehensive article by Vicki Davis, computer science and IT Integrator,

When choosing a coding game for your child, consider your child’s level, cognitive abilities, and your own tastes values, and educational outcomes you’d like to achieve. If you’re unsure, ask the technology specialist at your child’s school, other parents, educational/parenting magazines, or technology publications. Whatever you choose, know that exposing your child to coding and computer science isn’t just a prudent decision. It’s an investment in the future.


Homeschooling: How to avoid burnout

As a parent, you know that burnout is a very real condition. Once that little bundle of joy emerges from the womb, the day-to-day, the laundry pile that’s been sitting in the middle of the bedroom floor for a week, the sticky fingerprints on the door frames, the toilet misses, the revolving door on the kitchen, the week-long battle with hair lice, that 24-hour stomach flu that turned in 72 hours once it contaminated the entire family–it can become tiresome,  monotonous, and just plain hard. Despite the hard moments, parents have dreams. Our children represent a little piece of immortality for us and when that child is just a baby, a proverbial lump of clay, we are responsible for his or her development. Just like the perfect life we imagine when we marry our spouses, we have dreams and expectations for our children. Burnout happens when our dreams or expectations are a little unrealistic or blips in the goals sideline us. Little setbacks can lead to disappointment, frustration, and burnout.

For homeschooling parents, the pressure can be much greater and so can the burnout. Homeschooling parents, on top of the day-to-day routine, are with the kids ALL THE TIME, are responsible for the maintenance, upkeep, and education for those bundles of joy. On top of dreams, homeschooling parents have to choose the right curriculum, find a schedule that works, must assess each child’s learning style, and must keep  the love of learning burning. Knowing that you want your child to be someone important, that you want your child to reach his potential is a lot of pressure. What happens if you fail? You can’t blame the school district, or the teachers, or anyone else but yourself. And if you fail, oh my gosh, your child might not become what you wished for.

One major factor in burnout for parents and homeschooling parents is expectation, unreasonable expectations. We ALL do it! And we all beat ourselves up when we don’t live up to our own impossible expectations.

For example, in the early years of my parenting, some twenty-five years ago,  I thought my child would become a Doogie Howser! He started reading letters at 18 months. He started reading novels in first grade. He was a voracious reader and I thought, wow, I have so much responsibility to develop this intellect. This brilliance. I had the find the right programs for him. I had to get him tested. I had to do EVERYTHING in my power to make him into the prodigy I thought he was.

You know parents like that. I used to be one and in the beginning I drove myself crazy. After the second child and third child came along, the dream kind of took a back seat. I was tired, just staying on top of things. And my oldest? He grew up just fine.

Perhaps, you were like that. You dreamed (okay this is stretching it a bit but stay with me) that your future Einstein would be the ONE who solves the Twin Prime Conjecture. Or perhaps you’ve decided, since the U.S. lags behind other countries in STEM readiness, your child will follow on the heels of Steve Jobs. Only problem? You’ve never been one to embrace science,  math, or computer science and now you’re trying to guide your own child. Then again, maybe you’re not aiming toward the stars but you want your homeschooling environment to model a real classroom, one that lends legitimacy to your efforts. You’ve invested countless hours and money to convert your dining room into a state-of-the art classroom replete with a computer, progress charts, brightly colored posters, worksheets, Montessori-like manipulatives, and organization. Only problem? You’re really not that organized and our child resists it too.

These little blips on the radar, these obstacles on the path to achieving your goals and dreams are actually causing you to swerve off course, making you more than a little bit upset. And I’ve talked about it before. Your bad mood puts everyone in a bad mood. Your negative attitude can poison the entire family.  So if you’re heading to burnout, and you’re thinking about forgetting the homeschooling plan, take a moment, breath, and reflect.

What are you feeling? Let’s analyze it. Signs of burnout can include the following symptoms:

  • You cry more easily.
  • You lose patience if the toilet seat is up.
  • You overeat or you have no appetite.
  • You overreact.
  • Your decision are irrational.
  • You have no sense of priority.
  • You want everyone and everything to go away, to just leave you alone!

In addition to unrealistic expectations, other factors can contribute to burnout. A week when all the kids are passing around that stomach flu and all you’ve been doing round the clock is cleaning up throw-up is enough to set off a burnout episode. A new move, your husband’s new job, day savings, a new baby, or just too much structure can trigger burnout, can throw a wrench into a normally smooth homeschooling routine.

So what should you do?

From my tenure as an army wife, I have a handful of experienced homeschooling friends who offered up kernels of wisdom. Many parents in the military community homeschool. While reasons vary, the primary objective seems to be consistency. Military families undergo a lot of change and must find a way to maintain consistency. But perhaps your mission is more of a lifestyle change? Perhaps you homeschool because your children have special needs?

When you feel the signs of burnout, my friend Beth made it clear. Think about the reasons why you decided to homeschool and find a way to get back to that grassroots principle. Beth is a low-key breath of sunshine who has moved countless times during her husband’s military career and has homeschooled all eight of her children (I counted Beth. I think I included everyone.). There were times when her husband was deployed for long spans of time. There were times, after his retirement when they lived in different cities for his job. But through it all, she managed to homeschool. Her oldest is out of college and married. Her next two are in college, and she’s educating the rest. There  are good days, bad days, days when you throw in the towel and head to the park, days when you put the oldest in charge and head to the hairdresser.

So what are other tips to prevent homeschooling burnout?

Micki Colfax, author of Homeschooling for Excellence offers some practical tips to ward off burnout.

1. Lower your expectations. If you homeschool, you don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to be superwoman. Pick and choose the activities or co-ops that work best for your family, and for your homeschooling goals. Sometimes a simple schedule change, moving school from morning to afternoon, moving the co-op to a closer location can make an enormous difference. This also applies to your child. Get to know your child before you impose your dreams on his learning. Perhaps he doesn’t want to become a mathematician? Then again, perhaps computer programming is his passion. Introduce your child to learning and feed that spark if it takes off.

Feed your child’s love of learning. If he wants to be the next great mathematician, encourage him. If he doesn’t, that’s okay too.

2. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. You aren’t supposed to be like anyone else. You are you. If you’re homeschooling, you don’t have to be as proficient as a certified teacher. You only need to be a facilitator and a mentor for your kids. Also, and this goes back to the reasons why many homeschool, if you didn’t want your children to attend compulsory education because of the pressures of standardized testing, why pressure your kids to be as academically accelerated as those in the public school. Let your child set the pace. If you child enjoys the pace, wants to move faster, great! If your child needs more time for mastery, then slow down and relax.

3. Find support. Parents need support, a sense of community. Homeschooling parents especially need support to avoid burnout. Co-ops, homeschooling chat groups, online forums, and conferences can connect homeschooling parents with others. Having other parents to share ideas, to brainstorm with, or to complain to is healthy and constructive. The same is true for your children. Peer groups where kids can do problem-based learning under the tutelage of another parent with expertise can ease the load and can give you a much needed break.

4. Take a break. If you’re feeling overwhelmed one day, forget about school. Take the kids to an indoor trampoline and burn off steam. Head to the park, to an art center, to a friend’s house. Homeschooling parents need mental health breaks. So do kids.

5. Change your teaching style. Structured learning might sound great on paper but it might be counter to your innate style. If you’re trying to maintain a tight rein on structure, and your kids are feeling the tension, it’s counterproductive to the process. Also by changing the teaching style, you’re also teaching your child flexibility. Being flexible is a critical life skill especially when children learn that change is part of life.

6. Simplify. Mary Pride, author of The Big Book of Home Learning suggests that you ask yourself, “Am I overdoing it? Am I making simple subjects too fancy? What can I eliminate? Do I need to be doing this at all? Is my child too young for this subject? Should I give it a rest? Are there other worthwhile things we would like to study or do and come back to this later?” If your child is ready for more complex, they will show you. When you teach, their eyes won’t glaze over. They will remain intrigued, interested, and motivated.

7. Schedule time for yourself. This is important. Even if you have to pay someone to watch your kids a few hours a day, taking time for you can prevent burnout.


Homeschooling Parents: What You Should Know About the GED Exam

Earning a high school diploma from an accredited institution means that one has achieved a certain level of proficiency in high school coursework. It’s the minimum credential employers look for and an educational requirement for college entrance. Homeschooled children don’t necessarily have the backing of an accredited institution; and while most have diplomas, they’re usually endorsed by their parents.

In the past, homeschooled children took the GED Exam to prove to employers and colleges that they had achieved a basic level of proficiency. But the trend requiring the GED has shifted. Homeschoolers no longer need it. In addition, modifications to the GED itself is making it, as a standard, increasingly obsolete; and some states are looking at alternatives to replace the GED.

History of the GED

Developed during World War II, the GED exam (general education development) was a way the military could provide a credential for servicemen who were deployed into combat before high school graduation. Successful passing of the GED exam provided servicemen with a certificate that could be used as proof of high school equivalency in the civilian workforce. For servicemen applying to college after combat, it was as acceptable as a high school diploma and had universal acceptance in all 50 U.S. states and in Canada. For adults who couldn’t afford to take four years to finish high school, it was a cheaper, faster alternative.

Unfortunately, there were issues with the GED. It carried a stigma. Those who took it were compared to high school “drop-outs.” And study after study showed that passing the GED wasn’t the same as four-years of learning. Learning outcomes were better for those who invested the four years of learning and studying for the GED simply wasn’t equivalent. (Cameron & Heckman, 1993; Tyler, 2003).

In 2011, the GED went through a major overhaul. Under fire for not being in compliance with common core standards, the American Council of Education (ACE) entered into a partnership with Pearson Learning. Pearson, the sole GED test designer, has brought the test up to common core standards that is supposed to assure colleges, universities, and prospective employers that adults with the GED are able to complete and succeed in a more “global economy.” Unfortunately, the change has made a much more expensive test that is more difficult to pass. While the cost for the old GED test was $30, the new one designed by Pearson Learning is $120 (prices vary by state and may include fees) and requires customized materials for purchase that teach potential test-takers needs in order to pass the test.

According to data collected through the GED Testing Service, the new test is problematic. The pass rate has been abysmal.

“There was a drop this year of almost 90 percent in the number of people who earned a GED across the country this year. In 2012, 401,388 people passed, and 540,000 passed in 2013. Only about 55,000 passed this year.”

The numbers are similar throughout the country. In Georgia, as of Nov. 31, Online Athens reported, “5,340 people had completed the test and 2,270 had passed, a 51 percent pass rate. For the 2013 calendar year, 28,732 people completed the previous test and 22,178 passed, or about 77 percent.”These figures should be concerning to you if you’re a homeschooling parent. and the steep costs mean that most who take it will have to shell out hundreds of dollars to pass. Some states, as a reaction, are reevaluating the credibility of the GED and the feasibility of replacing it with alternative tests.
This change just reinforces reasons why homeschooling parents don’t want their children to take the GED. Why take an exam that a) doesn’t measure the potential learning, b) has a high fail rate, and c) is exorbitantly expensive.

Homeschooled Children Are Not Drop-Outs

While not the rule, generally speaking, homeschooled children tend to outperform their peers who attend traditional school programs. In one study, 16,000 homeschooled subjects were analyzed in reading, language, and math. The “mean in reading for homeschoolers was at the 79th percentile; for language and math, the 73rd percentile. Iin addition, nearly 80% of homeschooled children achieved individual scores above the national average and 54.7% of the 16,000 homeschoolers achieved individual scores in the top quarter of the population, more than double the number of conventional school students who score in the top quarter.”

How Can Homeschooled Children Prove High School Proficiency?

High School Diploma: While not endorsed by an accredited institution, homeschooling parents can purchase diplomas and endorse them themselves. With accompanying transcripts, the diploma should be accepted by employers and college admissions. If not accepted by college admissions, homeschooling parents can get help, legal if necessary, through the Home School Legal Defense Association. An advocacy group for home schooling parents, it has created legislation that protects the rights of homeschooling parents to educate their children at home. It also negotiates guidelines by which homeschooled children can access secondary education.

Homeschooled children who apply to college should indicate that they’re homeschooled. Why? Since most colleges receive some kind of federal funding and many students need FAFSA, a federal source of financial aid, a student must show proof of high school proficiency. Even without a high school diploma from an accredited institution, homeschooled students are eligible for financial aid on a federal level.

Alternative Tests of Proficiency: Since the roll-out of the new and intensely difficult GED, a few states have begun adopting alternative testing for students who don’t want to take the GED.  One exam, HiSET is the high school equivalency exam offered by ETS. The tests costs $50 and covers five subjects: reading and language arts, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies. Like the GED, HiSET is computer-based, modular (can be taken in parts or in total). Another type of standardized test is called TASC. Developed by CTB/McGraw-Hill, an educational publisher, the test also covers five subjects and costs a mere $52. Not nearly as difficult as the GED, it was designed as a transitional test to help students who didn’t learn concepts under a common core curriculum develop those skills.

If homeschooling parents want to register their children for the alternative tests, they should check with State guidelines and standards. Most but not all states recognize the alternative tests.

In cases where colleges ask for something more than a parent-endorsed high school diploma, Home School Legal Defense can advocate and if a homeschooling parent ends up in court, the advocate claims it will provide full representation to members.

Parenting Advice: How to Maintain a Positive Mental Attitude

“If momma aint happy, ain’t nobody happy. It’s an old saying with timeless wisdom. It’s the theme of many song lyrics, the driving force behind successful memoirs, and a truism of life. When the mom isn’t happy (or even the dad), it affects the mood and rhythm of the home and family.

Most everyone can agree that life has its trials. Parenting is stressful and unpredictable. Marriage and other significant relationships are hard and take work. Being an adult isn’t as fun as kids portray it to be. There’s way more work than time; more expenses than money, and more emotional demands and expectations than you can possibly address. And someone is always unhappy. Or so it seems.

What makes the journey better or worse is attitude. A negative mental attitude sets you up for failure. It spreads like a poison and affects everyone around you, and not for the best. It’s frequently intertwined with perfectionism, the need to get everyone done, to be good at everything, to be everything to everyone. And it’s impossible to be perfect. It’s unrealistic and it sets us up for failure before we’ve begun.

So what is the secret to a positive mental attitude and how does one achieve it? According to the Dalai Lama, one must achieve a calmness in mind to develop a positive mental attitude. For those of faith, prayers can achieve that inner state of calm. For nonbelievers, calm can be achieved through introspection and lived experiences. But here’s the kicker, lived experiences means living a full life, one with risk, learning, and introspection.

Another key to happiness and a positive mental attitude is a drive to develop our own sense of compassion toward others by helping others develop themselves. It’s a bit of a pay-it-forward mentality and it reaps return benefits to the recipient and to the giver. Think about the time you volunteered at the homeless shelter, served meals on Thanksgiving Day. Didn’t it boost your day?

A positive mental attitude requires work, discomfort, and constant effort. It also means we have to continuously feed our minds and hearts with messages that foster the positive.

Does that mean we ignore the negative, live under a rock, or listen to Anthony Robbins tapes on repeat? (Note: Just in case you don’t know him, Anthony Robbins is an international speaker, an affirmation guru, and life coach who has purportedly helped millions of executives, entrepreneurs, and regular folk reach phenomenal financial success and personal satisfaction). No. But it does mean that we should nourish our minds and souls the way we nourish our bodies.

I knew this message from the Dalai Lama, the need for introspection, compassionate service to others, and inner calm. But I must admit that I occasionally struggle with that positive mental attitude. I’m Type A personality to the max, listed as an ox (a work animal) on the Chinese Astrological chart, and turbo-charged as a person. I love work. I love goals, the rush of having just a little too much to do. I also know that having a positive mental attitude isn’t merely good for me. It’s good for my family and unless I live certain practices, I can’t expect my children to learn them either.

I decided to survey others, about a hundred of my closest friends to find out how they maintained a positive mental attitude. Okay, I’m lying but I did survey at least a hundred people at work and on social media. The following is a compiled list of responses from people who use methods that help them maintain a positive mental attitude.

1. Take care of your own needs. A wise mother in my community shared this story. On one family trip, she got to the hotel and realized that she had packed for everyone but herself. No clothing. No toiletries. Nothing. She realized that it was time to take care of herself and how often as parents we put ourselves last. Even if you go to the gym three times a week, or schedule an annual physical, you are taking care of yourself. You are putting yourself on a list along with the dry cleaning and grocery shopping. You have merit and value.

2. Stay in the moment. Also known mindfulness, its seeds sprouted in Silicon Valley, where technology and stress coexist in equal measures.  Based on transcendental meditation, its focus is to teach the mind better focus and inner calm. It uses visualization, teaches the meditator how to isolate the stress and essentially excise it from the psyche. Being mindful also means to stay in the moment. It’s the awareness  that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally,” Instead of harboring on all the unfinished chores, focus on the moments you’re spending with the kids. Enjoy and laugh through that movie. Savor the salty deliciousness of popcorn. Enjoy that book, the sensation of chocolate melting on your tongue. Get it?

3. Write in a journal. Journaling about deeply emotional events can be a transformative activity. That’s the analysis of Dr. James Pennebaker, a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin and author of several books, including Opening Up and Writing to Heal. “When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health.” They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function. If they are first-year college students, their grades tend to go up. People will tell us months afterward that it’s been a very beneficial experience for them.”


Journaling for just 15 minutes a day is found to improve outlook, mood fluctuations, and outlook.
Journaling for just 15 minutes a day is found to improve outlook, mood fluctuations, anxiety, and school performance.

4. Tell yourself affirmations. I used to think this was totally hokey. But here’s the funny thing. The brain is the most impressionable organ in the body. You can convince your brain to change it’s thinking. Ever heard the expression, “Fake it till you make it?” Here is the premise. By surrounding yourself with positive messages or by using self talk to interrupt a negative tape recording you have going in your head, you can effectively train your brain to think more positively. Try it. The next time you’re beating yourself up. The dinner burned. The kids were upset with you. Your boss reprimanded you for missing the point of a meeting, interrupt any negatives thoughts by saying, “Stop!” Look in the mirror and say, “You stop! Now!” Sounds ridiculous. But one of two things will happen if you do it. First, you’ll be totally embarrassed and you’ll giggle. Or, you’ll realize that you’re no longer ruminating over the same issues.


Positive affirmations are a type a self talk. Self talk can help us interrupt negative thoughts patterns.
Positive affirmations are a type a self talk. Self talk can help us interrupt negative thoughts patterns.

5. Build routines to eliminate chaos in your life. Yes, chaos breeds chaos. If you’re running from one crisis after another, if your house is always in shambles, if you’re constantly missing appointments, you’re living without a routine. When you’re productive, when you feel like you’re organized, it’s builds confidence and that contributes to a positive mental attitude. In 2003, during my husband’s one-year combat tour of duty in Iraq, I was a wreck. I had seven teenagers at home and a four-month-old infant. I was in graduate school, working, and totally distraught. I discovered this bizarrely effective organizer website called FlyLady.net. The mission of the site is to teach its followers how to organize, accomplish, declutter, and think positively through the act of routine and organization. It’s based on the premise that everyone can be productive for 15 minutes. And 15 minutes at a time moves mountains. It helps us feel good, like we’re on top of life, like we’re in control.

6. Eat small regular nutritious meals.  Eating small, regular, nutritious meals maintains and stabilizes fluctuations in blood sugar and can stave off moodiness, headaches, and fuzzy thinking. Include low-fat protein sources with each meal, lots of fresh vegetables, and some complex carbohydrates. Fresh fruit in the afternoon is a better pick-me-up than a candy bar; water or diluted juices hydrate better than coffee or soda.

7. Move. Movement of any kind is good for the body and the mind. In children, short movement breaks can improve concentration. Also, regular exercise a few days a week, a brisk morning or afternoon walk, aerobic or low-impact exercise is shown to reduce stress, improved sleeping, improves flexibility, and releases endorphins.

8. Take an adult education class. Learning is a transformative experience. It engages the mind. It builds confidence. It pushes boundaries and constitutes living a rich life. Many community colleges offer reasonably prices classes in just about anything–bowling, cooking, knitting, snorkeling, motorcycle riding and maintenance. Learning is fun.

There are so many other great suggestions offered by people on social media and I apologize if I didn’t include them. Just remember that a positive mental attitude is achievable but it’s something you have to work at, consistently and diligently. Unlike a brownie, it’s effect on your mental health has long-lasting benefits.

Parenting From Prison


If you’re reading this article from prison, you probably didn’t find it yourself. You didn’t search with keywords “parenting from prison” on your own. Someone else, perhaps a caregiver for your child or a professional connected to your case saw the article, knew you were parenting from prison, and sent it to you.

If you’re in prison in the United States, you are one of the more than 2 million adults or juveniles incarcerated by the U.S. prison system. And as a prisoner, you probably don’t have internet access, and any contact you do have with your family is limited to snail mail, occasional phone calls, periodic visits, and if you’re lucky censured emails..

If you’re parenting from prison, no doubt you will miss key life events in your child’s life. You won’t be home to pack lunches, to hear the day-to-day stories, to brush her hair, to kiss him goodnight. And that absence is devastating to you, and to your child.

According to the Urban Institute,  your child is one of the nearly 10 million children nationwide who has a parent who is or was incarcerated. And the separation has devastating consequences on you child’s emotional and cognitive development.

Children with one incarcerated parent tend to suffer from separation anxiety, household instability, financial need, antisocial behaviors, feelings of isolation, shame, and stigmatization.

These kids, according to a report by the Department of Health & Human Services, have greater chance of getting involved in drug abuse or illegal activities. And these children “are twice as likely as other children to be involved in state services, such as TANF, mental health services and child protective services (Washington State Department of Social and Health Services 2008).”

Bottom line, a child whose parent/child relationship is severed because of incarceration suffers because he or she doesn’t have access to the incarcerated parent.

But your influence does matter even from prison. If you are parenting from prison, you are still a mentor for your child. And there are ways you can you can mitigate the impact of incarceration on your child even if access is limited.

So this is where you have a choice. You can choose to do nothing, to avoid contact with your child. Or, you can take measures to improve yourself and to maintain a presence in your child’s life.

Ways You Can Improve Yourself

Narrative Writing Courses and the Arts: Did you know that some of the most famous authors served time in prison and wrote while incarcerated? O’Henry wrote 14 short stories while imprisoned for embezzlement. E.E. Cummings, author of Winnie the Pooh wrote an autobiographical novel while imprisoned in a French prison during WWI. Some reported that writing alleviated the boredom, kept sanity at bay. Others wrote because the isolation served as material for countless stories.

You should write. Write letters. Religiously write in a journal ten minutes every day. Don’t have a paper? Write on toilet paper (no joke). Writing is a form of expressive language and research shows that writing especially narrative writing where you talk about your own stories, can do much to reduce stress, mood disorders, depression, despair, and boredom. Expressive writing helps us to make sense of the world, of our own emotions and our actions. It can help us with old traumas.

For some prisoners, writing a personal narrative (even through poetry) provided a sense of meaning. Life mattered. Their stories mattered and one day their stories would serve as a legacy for others. Most of all, writing gives prisoners a voice, a means by which to feel heard.  Organizations such as PEN America Center help prisoners throughout the U.S. prison system with their prison writing programs, mentoring programs, and contests. operate Prison Writing programs and contests and offer free mentoring for prisoners who wish for editorial instruction. In addition writing, many prisons offer arts programs, theatre, and bring in volunteer troupes or teachers who work with prisoners at no cost. Like narrative writing, any participation in the arts reduces boredom, improves quality of prison life, and has therapeutic benefits.

Parenting Skill Programs: A variety of parenting programs are offered by or sponsored by the U.S. prison system. Parenting Inside Out is a parenting skills training program developed for criminal justice involved parents. The program is for incarcerated mothers and fathers who parent from prison. In addition, there’s a community version for parents once they leave the prison system. The program been effective at reducing recidivism and improves parenting skills and family relationships.

Continuing Your Education: Budgets have been cut throughout the prison system. But some states still allow prisoners to pursue college degrees or allow continuing adult education. One university, ASU offers online courses and workshops designed specifically for the prison community. In New York State, Governor Mario Cuomo is talking about free education for prisoners. Learning isn’t just beneficial to parents on the outside; it’s particularly important for incarcerated parents. It expands the imagination. It adds value and improves self esteem. And for parents in prison, it can make one more marketable after release from prison.

Therapy: Most prisons offer individual and group therapy. Therapy helps one develop greater self awareness. And like parenting programs, it helps to talk to other parents going through the same experiences in prison.

Meditation and Exercise: Meditation and exercise can improve concentration, sleep, can reduce stress and anxiety, and outlook. Many prisons bring in yoga and meditation coaches and offer classes to inmate.

Ways You Can Support and Parent Your Child

Recommend educational videos and guides for your spouse, partner, or your child’s caregiver. Sesame Street has a program series called “Little Children Big Problems–Incarceration.” The series, which covers a variety of topics including divorce, illness, and death provides videos, scripts, advice, resources, and toolkits for caregivers. It also has a series of videos geared to a child’s mental state and helps to validate feelings a child might experience when their parent is incarcerated.



Be honest with your child. Tell them in age-appropriate language why you’re in prison and that it’s not their fault. When a parent is incarcerated, children might feel a sense of guilt or responsibility, as if they caused the incarceration. It’s important to share with your child why you’re in prison, what you did, and what the consequence is. It’s also important that children understand there are choices–good choices and bad. By being honest, your child can feel a sense of connection because you opened up and shared something personal with them.

Validate your child’s feelings. Help your child  to process his or her feelings. When a parent goes to prison, it’s a traumatic loss like a death. All of sudden, mom or dad is no longer available. They’re not here when a child is scared, no longer here to provide comfort or care. Your child can vent to a caregiver but it also helps if you encourage your child to speak freely about his or her feelings in letters, in televised visits, or through writings.

Encourage your children to talk: Children can benefit from expressive writing and the arts. Encourage your child to write letters, to keep a journal. Ask them for drawings or ask a caregiver or your spouse to encourage your child to draw.

Look into televised visits. Parents in prison need support. Parenting from prison provides many challenges and frustrations. Time marches on. The incarcerated parent misses key life events–birthdays, graduations, school plays, and proms. A parenting support group can help an incarcerated parent process feelings of loss, shame, grief, and anger. It can also offer constructive ideas for maintaining a parent/child relationship.

Seek out parenting events.  According to the Bureau of Prisons, the prison system provides opportunities for healthy bonding with children and families. Not only is it important for the children; it’s important for the parent in prison. It connects them to the outside, to loved ones, and gives them a positive focus, a reason to get through the incarceration. It also helps parents in prison practice some of the parenting skills they might learn in parenting support groups. An increasing number of prisons offers on-site events, family events, and even family weekends and sleepovers.

Maintain a level of involvement: Depending on the prison and level of security, parents in prison can maintain some involvement in their childrens’ lives. Prisons offer televisiting where parents in prison can visit remotely. Some prison will allow parents to be involved in parent/teacher communication. At one maximum-security prison in New York State for woman, mothers have some opportunity to participate in parent/teacher conferences, to talk with their children about homework, school problems, and upcoming events. The child feels less alone knowing that their parent in prison has a level of involvement and interest in their lives.

Incarceration doesn’t have to signal the end of a parent/child relationship. It is possible to parent from prison and without a question, you are a mentor for your child. You can influence your child, encourage them, teach them right from wrong. You can make them feel that they matter. Most importantly, you can mitigate the negative effects of incarceration and prevent your child from reproducing the patterns and behaviors that lead to criminal activity.



National Mentoring Month: Mentoring for Change

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” It’s a timeless saying. It’s reminiscent of a little kid tagging along with the “big kids” if only to be like them. It’s implied when a small child imitates a parent in play or mannerism.

It’s also a saying that aptly describes a mentoring relationship.

Anyone can be a mentor–a parent, a teacher, a coach, an older student, or even a perfect stranger. Mentoring is key in shaping behavior. It’s how babies and young children learn survival and adaptive behaviors such as walking, eating different foods, hygiene, conversational skills, and academic skills. Parents who are doctors tend to have children who become doctors. Actors tend to give birth to future actors. As mentors, we pass on the knowledge and habits that we know best.

Sometimes a mentor is a rock star. When my cousin Donna was ranked in 2009 as one of the top female executives in sports by Forbes Magazine, it came as no surprise to me. As kids, I remember how much Donna adored rock stars, entertainers, and emulated them. She had this floor-t0-ceiling poster of Donny Osmond on her wall. In fact, she had so many posters of stars, not a postage-stamp-sized space of wall remained uncovered. As part of her ritual, she used to say goodnight to Donny Osmond as part of her bedtime ritual. I used to giggle, but in hindsight, I’m convinced Donna took the path she did (she worked for the NBA and World Wrestling Entertainment) because of those mentors.

Sometimes mentoring is unintentional. When a child adopts bad habits from an adult, a manner of speaking, a ritual, in many cases it can be traced back to a parent or mentor. If the behavior is maladaptive, it can become detrimental to the child. The following clip illustrates how we as parents serve as mentors to our kids. When our children pick up certain habits, we have to reflect on our own behavior and wonder how we contributed.

Take this anti-smoking ad that ran from 1967.



Is mentoring effective? Based on a study conducted in conjunction with The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Over five years, researchers tracked almost 1,000 children and teens registered with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. Those who had a mentor were more confident in academics and less prone to behavioral issues. An interesting finding was among teenage girls. Girls with mentors were “four times less likely to bully, fight, lie or express anger than girls without a mentor.”

The most telling results of mentoring programs were compiled by researchers, Carla Herrera, David L. DuBois, and Jean Baldwin Grossman. The report, “The Role of Risk: Mentoring Experiences and Outcomes for Youth with Varying Risk Profiles,” funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, tracked more than 1,300 youths from seven different programs in Washington State. The following statistics are sampling of the findings:

  • Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37% less likely to skip a class.
  • Mentors help with homework and can improve their mentees’ academic skills
  • Mentors help improve a young person’s self-esteem.
  • Youth who meet regularly with their mentors are 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking.
  • About 40% of a teenager’s waking hours are spent without companionship or supervision. Mentors provide teens with a valuable place to spend free time.
  •  confirms what we know anecdotally or intuitively — that mentoring works.
  • The strongest program benefit, and most consistent across risk groups, was a reduction in depressive symptoms — a particularly noteworthy finding given that almost one in four youth reported worrisome levels of these symptoms at baseline.

And mentoring programs aren’t solely for kids at risk. Mentoring programs affective with kids with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and other developmental disabilities. It is widely used in corporate environments to help managers develop improved leadership skills. It’s also used in schools as “study buddy” programs that promote acceptance and improve academic outcomes. There are even mentoring programs for physicians in practice.

So, in honor of National Mentoring Month, consider becoming a mentor. If not for your own child, consider volunteering an hour a week to someone in need.

Parenting, the Holidays, and Teaching Your Kids About Frugality

It’s the end of another calendar year; and as we approach the New Year, many of you will be moaning over depleted bank accounts and higher credit balances. Some of you will make resolutions to reign in that spending. Others will feel shame, guilt, a need to self-flagellate, to punish or torture themselves as penitence for out-of-control spending. And if you’re parents to once-bundles-of-joy-who-demand-expensive-gifts-but-get-bored-with-them-after-a-week, you might threaten retribution. “Because you don’t appreciate what I gave you, I’m giving you underwear and socks for the next three birthdays.”

There are alternatives. You don’t have to make New Year’s Resolutions to reign in out-of-control spending. You don’t have to inflict self-harm to punish yourself. You don’t have to threaten your children with utilitarian gifts. You can change the course you’re taking.

By tracking the little expenditures, you can cut your spending.

You can teach your children frugality. You can give your children a lifetime lesson they can implement during good times, and bad.

I’m not suggesting that you should teach your children to reuse tea bags, that you should raise hens in your backyard, or dumpster dive for precious morsels. No. I’m suggesting that you should teach your children that spending money is about making choices, about creativity, about self-control. It’s about making a change in a mindset, about documenting expenditures, and realizing that little things do add up. Those flavored lattes at $4.00/cup, those breakfast sandwiches on the go, those quick stops for prepared dinner food at the market all add up to a lot of money. And that money you casually blow could be saved for a family vacation, to buy something special, memorable, something the entire family can benefit from. It can also be used to pay off debt, your car and mortgage, college tuition, or any other serious expenses that arise. And major expenses do arise.

I first became aware of frugality in my 20s and 30s. I was working for a company that paid its employees once a month. That one paycheck had to last an entire month. We had little kids. We had to pay utilities, rent, car payments, and food from that once-a-month paycheck. So I joined a food coop, one where I could purchase bulk products. I shopped at supermarkets that carried bulk and set a grocery budget. And I shopped for clothing at consignment and thrift stores. I wasn’t a die-hard tightwad. But I noticed that not spending money on fast food and not running to the supermarket for one missing item and coming home with three grocery bags did add up.

Then I subscribed to a handy little newsletter called The Tightwad Gazette. Published by Amy Dacyzyn, a military wife and mother to six children, The Tightwad Gazette, a compilation in book form, created a cult following. Dacyzyn insisted that by documenting expenditures, by consciously journaling (yes like a food journal) where money was spent, one would cut back and save. She was living proof. She had a debt-free life, a Maine farmhouse paid in full, and she and her husband had raised six children on an annual naval salary of $29,000.


When my now-twenty-four-year-old daughter turned four, I decided to apply some of her principles, just to see if I could. I threw an enormous birthday party for my daughter with a $25 budget. Sure, it took some planning. I made homemade ice cream, a triple-layer chocolate birthday cake (to this day, it’s the best cake I ever made). I made prizes from the lids of orange juice cans, melted crayons, and aluminum foil. And the exhilaration that I could keep to that budget really taught me what I hadn’t been doing all along.

I don’t generally practice frugality like Amy Dacyzyn, but her suggestions are sound and the lessons she offers, that she passed down to her own children, make perfect sense and teach resiliency and creativity.  What are other lessons your children could learn from frugality?

Self Sufficiency: Not all children will appreciate this. My older sons used to complain that there was nothing in the house but bulk food that had to be cooked. As teenagers, they were hungry, always hungry. And the food they wanted to eat, they wanted it to be ready for consumption in a second–not in an hour. Some of my daughters remembered the lessons of cooking from scratch, of buying bulk supplies, of always having staples and replicated those lessons in their own homes. Some didn’t. But they did learn self-sufficiency. Two birthdays ago, my 25-year-old son decided he was going to make me a birthday cake, as a surprise. He found a recipe, enlisted his 11-year-old sister, and gathered ingredients to make the cake. After adding five pounds of flour and a dozen eggs into a mixing bowl, he paused. “Something doesn’t feel right.” When he checked the recipe, he realized he’d followed a recipe for a multi-layer wedding cake, and not for a two-layer birthday cake. Rather than throw the entire fiasco into the trash, he adjusted. The cake, a purple three layer monstrous birthday cake was much larger than he planned. It fed over twenty people, and went into the family annals of storytelling. I could not have been prouder. The cake, dense, moist, slightly sweet, and grossly misshapen was delicious and illustrated how this child had internalized self-sufficiency.

Delayed gratification: The most difficult aspect of frugality for some kids is the delayed gratification. For one of my children, waiting for a special pair of leggings or boots from her favorite store is agonizing. The store in question gives out special dollars that are good only during certain dates. During the waiting period, I try to influence this child with shopper’s sense. I tell her that shopping before Christmas is crazy; the only time to purchase anything of value is after New Year’s when merchants are clearing out inventory. It’s when some stores slash prices by 75 percent. That’s when I buy most of the kids’ clothing, shoes, major appliances, gift wrap or anything else I might use in the coming year. It’s hard for me too. I have to plan, to resist impulse shopping like my daughter. But gradually, ever so gradually, she’s picking up the habits. When January approaches, she looks for store circulars, looks for the best buys on items she’s waited patiently for. And when I’m certain the prices on her favorite leggings couldn’t possibly drop any further, we buy them.

But there’s a more important lesson in teaching children delayed gratification. According to Stephen Wallace,  an associate research professor and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University, “learning self-control, even over other [urges] is an important part of psycho-social development. It teaches young people how to delay gratification and certainly not to seek it at the expense of someone else’s physical, emotional, or social well-being.” As children grow into adults, there will be less parental supervision. And children turned adults will find themselves in situations with greater temptation and greater risk. Not exerting delayed gratification can lead to some pretty serious ramifications such as drug abuse, alcoholism, and unwanted pregnancy. By teaching your children lessons of delayed gratification, you are providing them with practice for life’s temptations during the adolescent and early adult years.

Setting and maintaining a budget: This is a hard one. My eight year old still doesn’t get that money isn’t always available if I stick my ATM card into the bank machine. He doesn’t understand that the dollar bills that shoot out of the machine are finite. What comes out must go in and once the money’s gone, it’s gone. Teaching children how to budget is a valuable life skill. Learning how to budget is learning how to live within boundaries. There are just boundaries in life we have to live within. It is our fiscal responsibility to live within our means, to not spend more than we make. With credit cards, it’s easy to fool ourselves that spending is limitless.

The simplest way to show a child a budget is two-fold. Give him a weekly allowance and discuss how much he has to spend. With paper and pencil, write down the weekly allowance, what items your child wants to buy, and show him how quickly the money goes and where it goes. Amy Dacyzyn encourages this method. If we keep a spending journal, if we write down where we spend every penny, then we’ll get a sense of spending habits, how much we actually spend, and where the money goes. It’s an essential lesson to pass on to our children.

Fiscal responsibility: Fiscal responsibility means that we take responsibility for financial obligations we have. We have to pay rent/mortgage, our phone bill, for water, electricity, and heat, for groceries, for clothing, and many other essentials. This is a life skill that many adults never master. Most importantly, we don’t write checks from an empty bank account.


Many of the above lessons seem grown up and some are just dry and boring for kids to retain. We don’t need our kids to cost-compare health insurance or cell phone plans. We do need to motivate them that frugality is a good thing, a life skill that providers freedom. So what are ways we can teach our kids about frugality without making it painful and boring?

Make it a game: Dacyzyn said that frugality became a game. She knew it was possible to buy essentials at the store. But how much fun would it be to get it for little to no money at all. By making it a game for her kids, by teaching them to look for deals as though it was all part of a scavenger hunt, she taught them to see frugality as a creative alternative, a game rather than a chore.

Set a goal: For all those little items you convince your child to do without, set a goal (with your child’s input) for something big to save for. For example, a trip to the beach could be the result of ten dinners at a restaurant. That xBox that costs hundreds of dollars–that could go toward the ultimate goal.

Give an allowance: If your child doesn’t have an allowance, give her one. Not only will you suddenly become a generous parent. Unbeknownst to your daughter, you will be teaching her how to budget without her permission. How evil!

Cost comparisons: After Christmas, look for free fliers from local stores. Stores routinely advertise store specials and while many specials seem similar in cost, there are always anomalies. Fliers are great ways to show your child cost comparisons between stores, between brands, and between items.

Flea market shopping: I have always loved flea markets and garage sales. This is where bargains on clothing and home furnishings can always be found. I purchased towels, sheet sets, clothing, chairs, paintings, and many other homegood items this way. Flea markets, while not always cheap, are fun and cheap activities for kids. My kids love some of the sidewalk sales in Manhattan, the closest city to my home. Items are never cheap but they’re carried by artisans, jewelers, potters, and designers. Sometimes the vendors, at the end of a flea market, will slash prices to move inventory.

Coupon cutting: This is a game for my kids. Whatever store we shop in, my kids search the aisles for coupons. Then we compare the coupons to store circulars. Sometimes it’s a game how quickly we can save $20 for a routine shopping trip. While coupon cutting used to be a fun Sunday pastime when I was a kid and the Sunday paper always had the coupons and fliers, there are coupon-cutting services that offer coupons for pennies and do the cutting for you. My kids do like shopping for coupons on the internet.

Frugality as a life lesson is actually a gift you can give your children. By teaching them how to live debt-free, how to delay gratification, how to navigate when money is low and save when money is plentiful, you are better-preparing them for the real world. And you are them lessons that extend well beyond the pocketbook.







Poet, Parent, Writer: A Profile of Varda Meyers Epstein

Ursula K. Le Guin, an award-winning novelist and self-professed introvert once wrote, “Hardly anybody ever writes anything nice about introverts. Extroverts rule. This is rather odd when you realise that about nineteen writers out of twenty are introverts. We have been taught to be ashamed of not being ‘outgoing’. But a writer’s job is ingoing.”

It’s an iconic statement, and perfectly sums up how it feels to be a writer.  Writers don’t like the spotlight but are happiest when their work makes a difference. Writers tend to ruminate, ponder the relationships between seemingly unrelated people and things. Writers are deep, sullen, sometimes awkward, and are frequently the silent partners, the creative energy behind the ideas. It’s also a fitting introduction to Varda Meyers Epstein, the subject of today’s blog.

To read Varda’s articles or stories is like stepping into an altered dimension you didn’t know existed. She takes you in, shows you a new way of seeing the world, and imparts a clarity you just can’t shake. She is also the creative force behind the Kars4Kids educational blog.

In addition to the blog, Varda has written and been published in a wide-range of publications on subjects including but not limited to politics, parenting, and child development. She is also my childhood friend, one I’ve known over 40 years.

MH: You do mention tidbits about being the third generation of your family born and raised in Pittsurgh. What is so unique about Pittsburgh?

VE: Pittsburgh is first of all, beautiful with green and rolling hills. When I visit, I can’t seem to drink in enough of the view. Pittsburgh has this rep of being dirty or unrefined and nothing could be further from the truth. It’s a college town. Rather than unrefined, I’d say Pittsburgh has this feel to it, where all are like family. Maybe it’s because of the things we share, for instance, our love of sports, our odd accent. Once upon a time, Pittsburgh was an important city, because of the rivers. Now it’s got the air of a small town.

It was dirty once, because of pollution from the steel mills. But it was cleaned up and the steel mills are no more. As for unrefined, how do you explain the history? The Mellons, Andrew Carnegie? Gene Kelly! Maybe if it didn’t have “Pitt” in the name we’d give Pittsburgh the respect it deserves.

MH: There are many prominent journalists and writers from Pittsburgh such as Stewart O’Nan and Michael Chabon. Why do you think Pittsburgh is such fertile ground for blossoming writers?

VE: Funny you bring that up. Willa Cather wrote Song of the Lark practically around the corner from my childhood home. Pittsburghers have courage, something a writer needs in large quantities. Writing is about turning your heart inside out and showing it to the world at large. When the writing is true, it’s like bearing your soul for all to see. Pittsburghers are rough and tough but soft at heart. The writer gets to that little kernel of truth in the middle.

MH: How do you choose what you write about?

VE: In some ways, I don’t. Rather the subjects I write about choose me. But it isn’t always like that. Sometimes someone will ask me to write about something, and then I have to think if there is an interesting angle or perspective to the topic: does it speak to me?

If it doesn’t speak to me, I can’t write it. But usually, I can come up with an angle that pleases me. For instance, everyone is enthusing about The Book With No Pictures. But I didn’t think it deserved all the hype and I had specific reasons I disagreed with the popular perspective on this viral topic. So I wrote about it. But not in the way everyone else wrote about it. That is important to me: to bring something new to the table, to the conversation.

MH: Charles McGrath, a frequent contributor to The New Yorker once said that other writers claim he has five different styles he uses when writing an article. What are some of your styles?

VE: I definitely agree that a writer has different styles, though I’ve never counted mine. Let’s see:

There’s the scientific.

The mystic.

The biographical.

The advice giver.

The political analyst.

The interviewer.

The foodie.

The media maven:

The debater.

The reporter.

Probably more! I don’t think writers can be placed in neat little boxes. I do confess that my favorite style and the one that seems most popular with my readers is the mystic. Second choice is science. I love cognitive neuroscience topics.

MH: Once you write a story or an article, what outcome is most important to you?

VE: I want to touch my readers. Receiving feedback is very important because when I don’t get comments or likes on an article I think is a worthy one, I get the blues. It’s like a personal rejection.

MH: Can you share a memorable comment from a reader?

VE: Definitely this one from someone who read my piece about Yemima Mosquera the other day: “In all honesty all I knew before reading this was that a girl who was converting to Judaism was murdered by evil. Now I know so much more. She had a name. She had a story, hopes and dreams and such sweetness. I think this was written by an angel although some say it was Varda Epstein which could well be one and the same thing.”

Best. Comment. EVER.

MH: Social media is rather important to any wannabe or established writers now. It’s also a great networking tool. I’ve reconnected with distant cousins and old elementary school friends. How has social media affected you?

VE: I was a nobody until I got a computer. The Internet and with its advent, social media networking, earned me a following. This is largely due to the backspace button! You can’t backspace over spoken words, but you can edit the written word to your heart’s content. My mind runs a mile a minute, so when I speak, I have a tendency to put my foot in my mouth.

At the typewriter, it’s different. It takes more thought. You can reassess what you’ve written and change the tone or the perspective according to what you think will be acceptable to your reader. I’m a better me in type than I am in person. That sounds sad, doesn’t it? *sigh*

MH: How is networking essential for a writer?

VE: Networking means finding people who will take and publish your work. Networking means finding the perfect interview subject, or finding someone to help you get a press card. Networking means building a following who will appreciate what you have to say. Networking means getting help with ANNOYING computing issues.

MH: You have twelve children. How does parenting flavor your writing? For any parents who want to write, do you have any recommendations?

VE: Having 12 kids means I have to be super organized. Or maybe it is the other way around: my household works because I am organized to begin with. I think a writer has to be super organized.

If I think back to my teen years, I remember how I’d get all these amazing ideas so fast that they’d replace each other before I’d get them down. I was a bit scattered, you know? That doesn’t work for writing.

A writer must be sharp, must be sober and organized, to set down thoughts in a logical order. A writer must pin down a topic and stick with it to its fruition. It doesn’t work to shoot out a lot of ideas and just go here, there, and everywhere. You have to be focused. You have to be able to edit and edit and edit some more until the piece is perfect and there is not another thing you can do to make it good.

MH: If you could impart a kernel of wisdom to new parents, what would it be?

VE: Babies need to cry for at least a total of 2 hours a day in order to be healthy. It’s the way they air their frustrations. You can try your best to calm them, but they will still manage to get their 2 hours (or more) in, in one 24-hour period. If you really take this in and understand it, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself and your relationship with your new infant.

MH: Are there any particularly interesting stories you can share about social media and the people you’ve connected or reconnected with?

VE: How about us, Merlipoo? I’ve known you since we were seven. Then I lost you. I’d hear things about you, but had no actual contact with you. I loved you. I love you still. And you weren’t in my life until you got a Facebook account. And now we work together on the same writing team. Is that amazing or what?

THAT is the power of social media.

Parenting and B.F. Skinner: It All Boils Down to Operant Conditioning

Do you remember the Youtube video that went viral about the three dogs that learned how to drive a Mini-Cooper? In case you don’t, I’ve included the clip to remind and entertain you.

In the video, three dogs rescued by the SPCA in New Zealand are trained by professional animal trainers to drive a mini-Cooper. Through months of painstaking training, the dogs are taught simple behaviors that when fit together will create a series of behaviors needed to drive a car. By the end of the training period, the dogs were able to climb into the driver’s seat, start the ignition, put the car into gear, accelerate, and navigate the car around a track.

It’s a masterpiece in operant conditioning and illustrates how a well-designed behavioral modification plan can reinforce desirable behaviors and eliminate less desirable ones.

Operant condition? Dog training? What does all of this have to do with parenting?

Parenting children, raising them to be fine, upstanding, stand-on-your-own-two-feet adults who make us proud requires training. As we mold our children’s behavior, we aren’t simply teaching them how to eat, maintain personal hygiene, how to become good students, or even the careers they pursue, we are molding their value systems. And all of this behavioral molding depends on operant conditioning, a system of operant and reinforcement first proposed by B.F. Skinner, a behaviorist and the Father of Operant Conditioning.

Who is B.F. Skinner? Think back, way back to your freshman year in college, Psychology 101. Remember the name? How about classical conditioning, the Skinner Box, lever-pressing rats, or pigeons that could read?

In 1948, B.F. Skinner conducted experiments with rats and pigeons to show that behavior could be changed or shaped through reinforcement. In one experiment, he placed a hungry rat in the skinner box, a box with a feed cup and a lever. Initially, the rat was rewarded with food if he approached the lever and touched the lever. Over time, the rat learned that touching and ultimately pressing the lever rewarded him with food. Desirable behavior was reinforced by food and the rat pressed the lever with increasing frequency. More interesting though, behaviors that offered no reward diminished.

Skinner also suggested that free will in humans really wasn’t random. It was also based on a series of reinforcements and that human beings tend to behave in ways that offer reward or that avoid punishment.

Here’s an example. You’ve joined a playgroup and for months, you’ve had positive feelings toward the other mothers, the social interactions you’re child is getting by playing with other toddlers, and the commaradarie you feel to those other mothers. Then one day, you make an innocent comment to a mother whose child has a cold. “Have you ever thought of using some of those natural treatments like Echinacea?” Instead of a balanced response, the mother screams at you and informs you that a) she doesn’t need another adult telling her how to raise her child, and b) there is no supporting evidence that those natural herbal treatments work one bit.

Your initial reaction is one of shock. Then, the effect of this negative interaction slowly begins to modify your behavior. You begin to feel negatively about the playgroup and look for other playgroups. You think about taking a mommy and me class offered at the same time. You avoid places where you feel you might cross paths with this mother.

Are these decisions based on free will? According to Skinner, they’re based more on operant conditioning. He believed that operant conditioning was the basis of all actions, thoughts, and learning. It was responsible for habits like smoking and alcoholism. It was responsible for our parenting styles and the life partners we choose.

Confused? Here’s another example, how you as a parent reinforce desirable behaviors.

You have a newborn and after a couple months of getting your baby on a feeding schedule, you and your child are still not sleeping. The problem? Your child doesn’t seem to know night from day. Throughout the bewitching hours (that cranky time from late afternoon and until night when babies tend to be cranky), your child is clearly tired, cries despite being fed, changed, or burped.

That was me in 1988. My now twenty four year old was a colicky, fussy infant and after too many sleepless night, my pediatrician recommended one of the most useful baby books of my parenting career. In 1985, Dr. Richard Ferber, a pediatrician and former director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital in Boston, published his landmark book, Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems.

The basic idea of the book is to train your child to soothe himself to sleep through operant conditioning. After a soothing, regular bedtime ritual (a bath, lullaby, or a last feeding), put your baby in bed awake, walk out, and close the door. Even if he cries, wait out short periods, five minutes or so, and then walk in. Rub your baby’s back, talk to him in a soothing tone, but don’t pick him up. Over a period of weeks, increase the “waiting” time to ten minutes, twelve minutes, fifteen minutes, etc. It’s painstaking and you might find it hard to watch the clock, but over time, you baby will learn that crying doesn’t reward him. You don’t pick him up at bed time, and he learns how to soothe himself to sleep.

While the Ferber Method, as it is called, has been the subject of criticism and has been deemed as cruel to a crying infant, it’s a perfect example of operant conditioning. If you consider Skinner’s theory when applying the Ferber Method, by not responding to your baby’s crying at bedtime, the crying, an undesirable behavior, diminishes over time and sleeping becomes the outcome.

Why is operant conditioning so important?

It’s the basis of all learning. Human beings learn by making associations, consciously or innately. Infants learn that breastfeeding provides milk and comfort. Saying “dada” makes mom and dad very happy. And in the teen years, doing homework and chores earns greater rewards and privileges.

It can be used to manage behavior. Teachers use operant conditioning methods in the classroom to manage classroom behavior and to keep students on task. It’s also a method you can consciously employ at home to encourage more constructive behaviors. Recently, my youngest found out that not brushing his tooth caused multiple cavities and a crumbling tooth. Despite our pleadings and naggings, the negative reinforcement was powerful reinforcement and helped shape new behaviors. He now flosses and brushes twice a day; and when he gets his cavities filled, his desire to avoid the pain of fillings will reinforce the benefits of tooth brushing and good personal hygiene.

Reinforcements must change with time. Based on the behavior, you need to change the reinforcement. Giving a teenager a lollypop isn’t as powerful of a reinforcement as it is to a toddler. Getting the keys to dad’s car means nothing to a five year old.

Non-adaptive behaviors don’t last. Generally speaking, human beings have an innate drive to survive. Learned behaviors that interfere with that need to survive don’t last, except in the case of addictions.  In each of us, there is a strong drive to survive. If you child is engaging in life-threatening behaviors like alcohol use or drugs, you need to aggressively take action to break that learned association and to replace the kind of reward a child gains by taking drugs. If you have a child in this situation, you should seek professional help.

While it’s easy to think that human beings operate on a more enlightened level and that the choices we make are based on free will rather than conditioned responses, B.F. Skinner would probably disagree. Though current behavioral thinking has discounted some of Skinner’s conclusions, the core of his theory, operant conditioning has stood the test of time. Human beings and animals alike learn behaviors because of a operant conditioning. As parents, becoming aware of the power of and creative uses of operant conditioning can make parenting a more thoughtful journey.