Thursday, July 31, 2008

Kids and Bullying

We all know one. We all understand how it feels to be on the receiving end of what describes as: "Bullying is intentional tormenting in physical, verbal, or psychological ways."

We all know what it was like just twenty, thirty or forty years ago when such action took place. We were told to retaliate, to fight back and to forcefully and often with force, rebuff the bully as best we can. A scene from Christmas Story set in the fifties illustrates the gratification and almost instant remorse when Ralphie confronts his tormentors.

There is a good chance that your child will be bullied at some point. Even the ones who seem aggressive to others may have the tables turned by still older kids when they reach school. There are certain things you can do as a parent of a pre-schooler that will help your child get though this period - and it is often just that, a stage, a phase or a brief period of time. How they react to the bully will influence how long the bullying actually lasts.

For instance, if you suspect your child has been bullied - and believe me, it can happen incredibly fast and often be unbelievably brief, here are some suggestions for you as a parent.

Bullies thrive on your child being upset. In a pre-school setting, where the group is often small, some of these techniques may not work. But now is the time to practice with your child. Michelle New, PhDClinical Child Psychologist, Kentlands Kids, in Gaithersburg, MD suggests that the child "Practice not reacting by crying or looking red or upset. It takes a lot of practice, but it's a useful skill for keeping off of a bully's radar. Sometimes kids find it useful to practice "cool down" strategies such as counting to 10, writing down their angry words, taking deep breaths or walking away. Sometimes the best thing to do is to teach kids to wear a "poker face" until they are clear of any danger (smiling or laughing may provoke the bully)."

She also believes that best method is to "Act brave, walk away, and ignore the bully. Firmly and clearly tell the bully to stop, then walk away." This will take practice and may not make any sense to your child now but later, it will definitely help with the problem.

Fight back with words although not to the bully. tell your child to tell an adult. Some states, bullying is actually against the law and the bully's parents are responsible for their child's behavior. Teachers, principals, parents, and lunchroom personnel at school can all help stop bullying.

The key is to talk about it.

Another idea that may help is getting your child interested in outside group activities that build confidence or skills that make them feel more comfortable in public settings.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Kids and the Dark Side of (Aggressive) Behavior

Consider this: "Individuals with unrealistically positive self-perceptions are viewed as particularly vulnerable to receiving social information that may threaten their high self-esteem and increase the likelihood of aggressive behavior because of the extremely positive nature of their self-perceptions."

We want our child to perceive themselves as a member of society. And when that perception carries over into a pre-school setting, manifesting itself as bullying, we are shaken to the core. "Not my kid" is often the reaction from parents who receive reports of this kind of behavior. The problem lies mostly in the child's ability to understand what they are doing.

Often, the child will exhibit aggression when they perceive that they can do anything and do it well. Assuming that the child does not suffer from a disorder such as ADHD, the behavior the child demonstrates can be linked to several distinct possibilities.

1. Poor supervision
2. Harsh or erratic discipline
3. Parental disharmony
4. Rejection of the child
5. Low involvement in the child's activities
6. Lack of encouragement and reinforcement of polite or considerate behavior in the child, combined with giving attention and reinforcement to the child when he yells or throws a tantrum.

While tantrums are somewhat different than actual bullying, the behavior is often manifested in similar ways. According to "A child wants a sense of independence and control over the environment — more than the toddler may be capable of handling. This creates the perfect condition for power struggles as the child thinks "I can do it myself" or "I want it, give it to me."

Unfortunately, aggressive behavior in your child may have something to do with how you react to aggression. Here is short checklist of some behaviors your child may be unwittingly picking up from you:

1. You must win an argument, no matter what the cost.

2. Walking away from a dispute, even if it doesn't really affect your life, is a sign of weakness.

3. Compromising to settle a disagreement is a loss you can't live with.

4. "Real men" are aggressive, and it is important to encourage aggressive behavior in sons.

5. "Real women" are submissive and dependent, and shouldn't protect themselves from abuse, and daughters should learn to defer to the men in their lives.

Good news is that most experts in the field judge this behavior as temporary. "Starting around 8 years old, children's self-perceptions become more accurate (i.e., congruence between self-perceptions and objective indicators) as children increase in their awareness of areas of incompetence and become better judges of their functioning."

Next up: A look at the passive child who must deal with aggression.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Kids and Nature

Are your children suffering from a lack of nature? Oddly enough, this becomes more prevalent when the child becomes older but can, and as I have come to understand, also afflict our pre-school aged children.

Author Richard Louv (Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder) offers a couple of suggestions on how to create a place for your child to experience all of his senses to their fullest. Although Mr. Louv does not necessarily trash technology, a fact of life that even he admits will give the child a degree of learning that can be had nowhere else, he does say that using only television and computers as a source of stimulus does a great injustice to a child’s curiosity.

There is no need for you to pack your bags and head to the closest national park – although the experience is well worth the time and effort you may expend getting your child (and you) to a place where interaction with nature is almost unavoidable (save for hiding in the trailer the entire time). You are in the “big picture” when you are out in nature camping, hiking or fishing. But in many cases, your backyard will do just fine. A walk around the neighborhood or through an open field can be just as rewarding.

But I have found that the simplest exposure to nature is often the most rewarding. Are you stopping to watch a spider spin a web? Do you explain what you know to your child about the nature you grew up with? They revel in your knowledge of subjects that are new to them. Do you take the time to give them a little insight into what they are looking at?

My husband still has a set of nature encyclopedias from almost fifty years ago that do two things for your children when I take them out to show them what they are seeing: they illustrate some of the wonders of nature in vibrant close up color and it also lets them see reference materials in a book. Although I am big believer in reading stories to kids, these little snippets of information fuel their imaginations and give rise to an openness for their natural surroundings.

Can you answer questions like “why bees are attracted to clover”? Books like “The Reason for a Flower by Ruth Heller might help. Or “why birds fly”? Try Up, Down, and Around Big Book by Katherine Ayres and Nadine Bernard Westcot. You can follow along an ant path in Bug Safari by Bob Barner

This is a stop-and-smell-the-roses experience that you get with your child, often only once. Don’t pass up the opportunity to help your child learn from the one person they will rely on for decades to know the answer. I’ll only be an influence for a couple of years but you will always be there with new insights, great antidotes about your experiences with nature and with any luck, knowledge of the world around them.

Just on final word on the subject: Keep it positive. Suggesting that bees sting and spiders bite is good as a warning to keep children out of harms way but do so after you have the opportunity to offer some of the reasons for their being. Then tell them why they will get stung or bit.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Kids and Bad Language - Seven More Words You can't say in Pre-school

I've raised four kids of my own and have, throughout the years, heard just about every shape of bad language. Only not when they were pre-school. This is largely a result of three factors, most of which are beyond our everyday control.

We work long hours, quite possibly longer than our parents did. Add in the time it takes to get to and from work, pre-school. grocery shopping, etc., etc. and a twenty four hour day quickly evaporates.

Secondly, with so little time to spend with our kids during the course of the normal workweek, we tend to turn to the media for help. And there are some excellent presentations available not only on television (another post at another time) and online (same with this topic) but what you choose may not be all of the media your child receives.

Lastly, we often know folks who expose their children to things we may not have dreamed of allowing our three- and four-year-old to and those kids talk. They explain the nuances of Indiana Jones or the Pirates of a Caribbean and re-enact numerous scenes. It may not make any difference whether your child has scene the actual movie, their interest is piqued and they will always seek more. It is one of those "taste of sugar" things. Once you have it...

I have seen an increase in certain language and words that seem key to these performances, most of which are intended for an age group (although they are equally marketed to this toddler set) that is much older, capable of understanding what those words mean and are able to grasp a parental conversation about the subject. Three is too young to understand the societal reaction of such talk and worse, the negative reflection that automatically shins right back on the parent.

Here are the words that I find most offensive, too telling (something strangers interpret to be a result of poor parental upbringing - and we know that is probably not true) and unacceptable in all group settings. It is just the time we live in.

No pre-school or daycare environment should permit their students or charges the following words: guns, swords (and any reference to weaponry), kill, hit (or any reference to physical violence), and completely to the flip side of the equation, kiss, marry, and sex.

Hey, it happens and most often when you least expect it. Bunch those words with the language that is generally out of acceptable social behavior (and this might mean trying not to laugh as four- and five-year-olds try out words like diarrhea or fart, the phonetic sounds of those which might make us chuckle. Doesn't make it right though.

According to some experts, the use of bad language is a cry for independence, a means to gain acceptance or as a way to gain attention. In most cases it is more of a way to show intellectual superiority (I know something that you don't).

Parents have got to be as firm as I am in the school situation if they expect their child to listen later when the topics become more serious. Watch the language you use, stay focused on the topic of what is acceptable and what isn't and reward good behavior every time.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Kids and Sun: It's Hot Out There!

Remember when you were a kid? No sunscreen, no t-shirts, no sunglasses, no worries. Remember your first sunburn? Chances are you were in pain and with little else in the way of information on the subject, you were liberally applied with a solid white coating of Noxema and more or less told to "walk it off".

But now they tell us that those kinds of burns, the ones that don't blister, that cause pain and redness that can last for hours, even days, are the ones that cause the most damage later in life. These first-degree burns were common place in the days of my youth and they all seem to lead towards a playground filled with nut-brown children by the end of summer.

I have even heard that the sun is different. although my scientifically minded husband tells me that the sun is the same, it is the sun's ability to get to us through some sort of diminished atmosphere is the real problem. That leaves your child facing a summer sun that might just be akin to life under a magnifying glass. You burn faster and quicker than ever before - so do your kids.

According to, there are ways to treat that sunburn, if for some reason your failed to apply enough sunscreen or worse, failed to re-apply it (more on that further along). They suggest: "The main treatment of a sunburns involves control of pain and includes use of an acetaminophen or ibuprofen containing product for a few days. You can also use moisturizers and a 1 percent hydrocortisone cream three times a day, cool baths or wet compresses, and drinking lots of fluids. If peeling occurs you can continue to apply a moisturizer until the skin heals."

Turns out, that in the quest to keep your kids safe from the sun, clothing is not enough. Most summer time attire has a SPF rating well below 10. That means that you need to do several things in addition to just covering them up.

Keep them inside. As much as we want our children to exercise, and we all know the allure of video games and television, the hours between 10am and 4pm are the worst in terms of exposure.

Even if it is cloudy, apply sunscreen and slather it on. Even children without sensitive skin (those born with genes that might be less Scandinavian and more Mediterranean) need to apply protection. That sunscreen should contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

And as if that isn't enough, most insect repellents counteract the sunscreen you apply. You should probably be shopping for a combination rather than two separate products to protect your kids.

Choose a sunscreen with the highest SPF rating possible. Skin cancer is serious business and won't actually surface in your kids until they are adults.

Put it on liberally and 30-40 minutes before they are going out. If you are taking your child to pre-school or daycare, supply the sunscreen with their name on it.

And lastly, sunglasses. Sheryl Berman, M.D., a medical officer in the FDA's Division of Ophthalmic and Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices, says that wearing sunglasses reduces the risk of eye damage due to sun exposure, but doesn't completely eliminate it.

"Even when we talk about 100 percent UV protection, light still enters from the sides of sunglasses and can be reflected into the eye," she says. Some people choose sunglasses that wrap all the way around the temples. A hat with a three-inch brim can help block sunlight that comes in from overhead. Be sure to choose sunglasses with polycarbonate lenses which are generally recommended for children because they are the most shatter-resistant.

Keep in mind that the only medical claim manufacturers are allowed to make on sunglasses is that they may reduce eye strain or eye fatigue due to glare.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Food and Kids: Smarter Shopping

Your children are under attack. Each day they are faced with a barrage of food suggestions in too many locations to list.
From television to movies to games and simply helping you shop for groceries, your pre-school aged children's diet is under attack. In the last of our five posts on diet, topics that will improve your child's learning abilities, we look at how you shop.

There is a great deal of price inflation taking place in the produce department. This is, without a doubt, on of the most costly sections in the store. Staples, such as potatoes and onions have risen in cost almost 100% over the previous year. Now, what was once a regular price is now the advertised price. Start here with your shopping list.

Organic has become the watchword for good health. And if you think the regular fruits and veggies have gotten expensive, wait until you make the decision to buy food grown in sustainable environments. (As I mentioned in a previous post, avoid big box stores and their attempt at organic even if it seems less expensive.)

But be careful if you choose to buy other than organic.
There is a full list of 43 Fruits & Veggies was developed by analysts at the not-for-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) based on the results of nearly 43,000 tests for pesticides on produce collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2005. Peaches were the worst. Onions were the best (in terms of pesticide content).

Avoid processed foods (or food primarily sold in the center of the store). Soon as a food gets a manufacturer'label, you can bet on elevated levels of something - usually salts, oils, or fats. Rememebr, no fats listed on the label means trace fats can actually be there (less the 0.5 grams of trans fat is zero trans fat).

Whole wheat does not mean whole grain.

And lastly, do not allow these low nutrition items in the house. Most kids will know how to get these things if they are smart and will ask at your weakest moment. If they are not at home, they cannot be consumed.

Here are some simple tips.

Shop with a list - coupons are not usually printed for the items listed above.

Use farmer's markets where possible.

Take the time to make good food. (I know it is difficult, but food is a priority, not an afterthought.)

Help your children understand the importance of a good meal with family, healthy snacking, and exercise.