Monday, January 17, 2011

I have been a Certified Professional Nanny for almost 15 years, working with children and families from birth into their teen years.  I have studied children’s brain development both in the classroom, through books, and during lots of personal experience.  I know that the bond babies make with mom or dad in those first few months are vital to the neurological connections that are being made in their brains.  As children get older, the connections also are made through many stimuli like touch, feel, taste, sight and sound.  I understand that a toddler’s brain will develop best through real experiences.  They should be learning balance, coordination, speech, spatial dexterity and social skills.  Learning the ABC’s, numbers, shapes and the rest will come but do not need to be pushed at this stage.  In fact stressing a child out (and yourself) to learn these lessons earlier and earlier could have negative effects to the development process.  The energy being used to memorizing these skills could go instead to the improvement of age appropriate activities.

All this I know from my training, however, I am also a mom.  A few weeks ago my almost 3 year old daughter had a play date with a child 5 months younger.  During play time the other child began to sing her ABC’s.  She got every letter right!!  Not only that, she went on to count to 20 without missing any numbers.  My daughter says “1, 2, 17” and her idea of ABC’s are “A, B, Q, X.”  Suddenly my mommy jealously kicked in.  For a moment all understanding of how the brain works and what is age appropriate flew out the window, and I found myself wondering if my daughter was not as smart.  Would that mean she would not do well in school and then not get into a good college Then would she not get a good job and be HAPPY!

Okay, maybe I did not consciously think all this in that instant, but my emotions went around these issues.  My head started spinning with worry.  I know the reality that even if this child was showing signs of greater intelligence by saying her ABC's at 2 years old that does not mean my daughter will not do well in school.  Happiness does not come from your intelligence or your job. 

But the issue goes even deeper because I know that being able to recite ABC’s and count to 20 at the age of two does not equal great intelligence.  It means that this other child has strengths in areas different from my child.  Perhaps she is an auditory learner and has caught on to the “ABC song" quicker than my child. Perhaps her mother has worked very hard training her daughter to be able to count to 20. 

Whatever the case is my story is not unique.  There is a natural instinct in parents to want their child to excel at academics and to compare them to other children.  It’s hard for parents to resist this temptation and choose instead to see their child’s strengths.  If it is difficult for a mom like me who has been extensively trained and witnessed many children grow healthy and bright who did not know their ABC’s at 2, how much more difficult is it for parents that do not know these things.  Therefore it is understandable why it is so common for parents to push their children to learn things they do not need to be pushed to learn. 

I was able to quickly regain my rational thinking and genuinely praised the child for her skill.  I did not run home and try to force my daughter to learn these same skills.  I choose instead to find the things she is really good at, like her imagination and willingness to play with others.  Remember that EVERY child has stills and talents that they can do well.  It is our honor as parents and caregivers to find those strengths and nurture them. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

My child hates to do home work. How can I help?

I remember coming home at the end of a long day at school and being so exhausted that I did not want to even look at a school book.  I was lucky, when I went to school (many) years ago, we had a normal amount of homework.  I was able to get most of it done at school.  Today for better or worse, our children tend to have so much homework that they often could spend most of their precious time in the evening finishing it. I don’t blame children for not wanting to do home work after a long day at school.  No matter what age, they need some time to be kids – even when they are 17 years old.  When you add after school sports and other activities to the equation you have an overload.  

I always think the best time for a child to do their homework is right away when they get home.  But often times they are exhausted and overwhelmed and just need some down time.  Here are a few suggestions to help make it easier.  

1.         Limit after school activities.  I know this is a big challenge but too often today our children are overloaded with too many activities they “kind of” enjoy.  Let your children each pick one they really like and MAYBE offer a second.  Give your children some time to be children. 

2.        Feed them a healthy snack after school.  Whether you are leaving right away to make it to an after school activity or you are staying home, this is an important step.  Avoid sugar/carbohydrate loads.  Try cheese and fruit.  The fruit will give them a burst of little energy now and the cheese will sustain them until dinner time.  

3.        Give your children the choice if they want to play right away or do home work.  You will be amazed at the response your children will have when you ask every day what their preference is.  There might be some days your children choose to do homework right away, and there may be days that your children are just too tired.  Be sure your children understand what else is on the schedule for the day before they make their choice.  And once your child has made the decision for the day, hold him to it.  

4.       Make sure that at least 2 times a week your children have 60 minutes in the evening to do what they want to do.  Give your children time to relax and enjoy themselves. 

5.        Talk to your children about motivation.  Ask them what they want to be when they grow up and help them to understand how the homework they do today will help them accomplish their goal.  For example if your daughter wants to design buildings as an architect, she is going to need to be really good at math.  If your son wants to write books, he will need to be really good at spelling and grammar.  Help your children to see that they work hard at some things in his life like sports or video games, and there is also value in working hard to finish homework.